Veteran romance author Lorraine Heath has written more than 60 novels over the past 20 years. Her latest, When the Duke Was Wicked (out today!), is the first in her brand-new, deliciously titled new Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series. Will the rakish Duke of Lovingdon (love it!) forgo his wicked ways and give in to his love for Lady Grace Mabry? In this guest blog post, Heath offers a peek into her creative process and shares how real life has a tendency to influence her while she's writing.
I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. When characters visit me, asking for their story to be told, they aren’t always forthcoming with what that story entails. Very often, they simply give me a glimpse—a scene or two—something to intrigue me, to make me want to explore what leads to the scene and what follows. When the Duke Was Wicked, the first book in the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, was no exception.
When I began writing the book, my husband had just finished a successful prostate cancer treatment, and three of my friends had beaten breast cancer. Cancer was very much on my mind. I didn’t originally intend for Grace, my heroine, to have cancer. She was quite obsessed with marrying for love, but as I wrote the story, I realized that she needed to be struggling with something internally in order for the reader not to find her motivation weak. It needed to be something hidden, that her husband would discover on their wedding night. She planned to reveal it before the wedding, wanting someone who would love her so much that whatever her secret was wouldn’t alter his feelings. I considered an accident that had resulted in scarring, something that made her self-conscious. Then I envisioned the scene where Lovingdon, with his wicked ways, would seduce her. And when I envisioned him undressing her, I realized she’d had a mastectomy. During Victorian times, cancer was a disease that no one talked about. It was shameful to have suffered through it. So of course Grace didn’t tell anyone, not even her dearest friends. Her parents knew, and that was it.
When writing a story, we want the characters to have to face their deepest fears. Lovingdon had already lost his first love to disease and never wanted to love again. But he does fall in love with Grace. And then he discovers she’s had cancer—sees that physical indication—and it terrifies him, angers him. He can’t bear the thought of loving and losing again. There’s no guarantee that she will remain cancer-free. But during the time period for this story, the treatment of breast cancer was advancing so I could realistically have a character who survived it.
As a writer, I tend to incorporate in my stories whatever I need to work through. Not always, of course. I tend to be cruel to my characters, and I’ve never had anyone be cruel to me. I’ve never been abused or beaten. But there is usually something reflected in my writing that is part of me. Unfortunately cancer has been very present the past few years. Writing about it, giving my characters an optimistic and hopeful story, has allowed me to work through some of my anger and fears. Grace is such a strong character that I think I channeled some of my friends into her. She faces the disease with dignity and an indomitable spirit. She is determined to make every moment count, because she doesn’t know how many she might have left. She won’t be cowed. I think she is a remarkable character, one who has given me the opportunity to acknowledge those who face cancer—any cancer—with such grace.
Thank you, Lorraine! Readers, will you be adding When the Duke Was Wicked to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Kayla Marie Photography)
Science and love? At first, it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in his highly informative new book, The Science of Happily Ever After, Ty Tashiro, PhD, presents tips for how to best go about choosing a mate—wisdom generated from examining lots of true-life stories and scientific research in the fields of sociology and psychology. In this guest post, Tashiro explains how we should stick to three wishes—and no more—when it comes to selecting our ideal partner.
If a fairy godmother granted you three wishes for your ideal romantic partner, then what traits would you wish for? When a bright undergraduate in my Psychology of Relationships course at the University of Maryland asked me this question five years ago, I found it so compelling that I eventually decided to devote two years of my life searching for the answer. I knew that guidance about how to wish wisely for enduring love was buried somewhere in the thousands of scientific papers about dating, sexual attraction and marriage. The answers I found are explained in my new book The Science of Happily Ever After.
I know that three wishes does not sound like much, but consider the following thought experiment to see why three is the magic number: Imagine that a bachelorette has an opportunity to choose among 100 eligible bachelors who are randomly selected from the population. Let’s say that her three wishes for traits in a partner include some who is: tall, college educated and employed at a good job.
1. If we conservatively say that someone “tall” is 6' or taller, then 80 of the 100 eligible bachelors would walk out of the room because only 20% of men in the United States are 6' or taller.
2. The wish for someone who is college educated would rule out 16 of the remaining 20 bachelors because 30% of men have a bachelors degree.
3. If having a good job were code for someone who has a job that pays pretty well, maybe someone at the 70th percentile in yearly income ($60,000/year) then only one man would remain out of the initial 100.
You can play this wishing game with just about any set of three wishes, and it almost always whittles down 100 possible options to just about no options. However, this is more than just a game. In online dating situations, it’s common for people to inadvertently narrow their pool of available dating options by specifying certain characteristics of people they will date. Although people should certainly maintain standards for who they will date, it’s unfortunate when something that is not a real necessity, but is rather just a preference (e.g., height, love of the outdoors), rules out hundreds of potential partners who might have possessed the traits that really matter for long-term relationship success.
I wrote The Science of Happily Ever After with the goal of explaining why it’s important for singles to prioritize the three things they want the most in a partner and to be stubborn about getting partners who fit those criteria. This is not a book about settling for someone mediocre, but rather a book about how to be smart about prioritizing what you really want.
The Science of Happily Ever After is filled with entertaining stories about people looking for love, the common problems they face while trying to choose a partner, and straightforward explanations of the vast body of research on romantic relationships. I also explain why many people squander their three wishes on superficial traits and provide suggestions about the traits that can significantly improve the odds of finding relationships that are satisfying and stable.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, sometimes it’s easy for singles to wish that they had somebody, anybody, who could fit the “responsibilities” of being a partner. However, one of the saddest situations is ending up with a lifelong partner who simply fills a role. For singles looking for happiness that can endure, they should be sure that they have a good idea about what it is that they want in a partner, so that they can be sure that they find exactly what they wish for.
Thanks, Ty! Readers, will you be checking out The Science of Happily Ever After? Visit Ty's website to learn more.
Melanie Shankle's best-selling memoir, Sparkly Green Earrings, delivered a laugh-out-loud portrait of the good, the bad and the hilarious aspects of motherhood. In her new memoir, The Antelope in the Living Room, Shankle turns her keen observation to marriage, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments of her own 16-year union with husband, Perry—all with her trademark, relatable humor. In this guest post, Shankle takes a refreshingly honest look at the holiday of love: Valentine's Day.
I’m sorry if the title led you to believe this was going to be any sort of actual researched work detailing the true history of Valentine’s Day. Because you’ll never convince me that it’s not just a holiday made up by Mr. Hallmark to find a reason to sell greeting cards and boxes of chocolate in that historically dead period between Christmas and some relative’s birthday.
And since the dawn of Valentine’s Day, it has proved to be a harbinger for most women as the day of the year we most prepare ourselves for disappointment. Maybe you’re in the minority of women and your husband actually shows up with two dozen roses and a piece of jewelry from the jewelry store at the mall to tell you he’d marry you all over again. If that’s the case, good for you. We’re all happy for you even though we may not like you. Also, you can quit reading now.
But for the rest of you, I will share a little story. In The Antelope in the Living Room, I write about the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I spent together. We’d been dating a little less than a year and he showed up at my apartment with a giant tin full of red cinnamon-flavored popcorn. And because I was a 24-year-old girl in love, I assumed there was a good chance that there might be a ring box containing an engagement ring at the bottom of that popcorn.
I was wrong.
My daughter read the story from my book out loud about the popcorn the other night, and she stopped at the end of it, looked up at me with a look I can only describe as pity and said, “I can’t believe you thought Daddy was going to put a ring in a bunch of popcorn to ask you to marry him. You didn’t know him AT ALL back then.” And I laughed out loud because she is so right.
Back then I had all these romantic, sappy notions of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and it involved candlelit dinners, roses and other grand gestures. But the truth is that real love isn’t just about a day of the year. True love is the daily commitment to share a life together that is sometimes messy and beautiful and frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. It’s the courage to pick up the pieces and fix what’s broken and constantly work to keep it all woven together.
And so for me, I’ve learned that Valentine’s Day isn’t going to look like it does in the movies or on Hallmark commercials, which is probably for the best because I really do not care for the chocolate assortment contained in those heart-shaped boxes. (It only takes biting into something with coconut filling once to scar you for life.)
So Valentine’s Day at our house is going to look pretty much like every other day of the year. There will be dishes to wash and dinner to cook and kids to drive to soccer practice. There might be pizza delivered for dinner and maybe a card that says, “I Love You” if it happens to be a particularly good year. There will be a car already started in the morning to warm it up for me before I have to leave the house and trash cans rolled out to the curb and leaves blown off the back patio because he knows they drive me crazy.
And what I’ve learned is that all those things look a whole lot more like real, true, lasting love than any piece of jewelry ever could.
Thanks, Melanie! What do you think, readers, will you be checking out The Antelope in the Living Room? Learn more on Melanie's blog.
(Author photo © 2013 by Leslie Lonsdale)
Today's guest post is from author M.D. Waters, whose debut novel, Archetype, goes on sale today. Set in the near future, it's the thrilling tale of a woman who wakes up after a horrible accident with no memory of who she is. Luckily, Emma has a handsome and loving husband, Declan, by her bedside to fill in the blanks. But as Emma recovers, she begins to have strange dreams that contradict what Declan is telling her—dreams that feature another handsome man who claims to love Emma as well. We asked Waters, who lives in Maryland, to share the secret of how she constructed such a suspenseful love triangle.
I’ve been dubious about love triangles since the creation of Edward-Bella-Jacob. Not that I didn’t love the idea. My issue was this: I didn’t believe it. The doubts about guy #2 were right there in the heroine’s thoughts, and you just can’t turn doubt into reality. If she’s in doubt, well, so am I.
As a writer, I understand the difficulty for the author. To resolve a love triangle, there has to be a clear winner, and the reader must be completely satisfied with the heroine’s choice. I even attempted and failed at writing one in an early novel. Why was it a big, fat fail? Because, like Bella, my heroine liked guy #2, but she loved guy #1. Where’s the conflict in that? I gave up attempting to write the triangle after that and didn’t look back.
I’ve only come across two triangles I believed, and to this day I’m envious they pulled it off so seamlessly. The first happens to be a popular TV show, “The Vampire Diaries,” and the second is Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter spinoff series, The Infernal Devices.
To resolve a love triangle, there has to be a clear winner, and the reader must be completely satisfied with the heroine’s choice.
I once heard Cassandra Clare speak on this very subject at a conference in New York City, and what she said about love triangles really made sense. No triangle is complete unless a conflict exists between the boys. (Or girls?) Making them friends, or in the case of “The Vampire Diaries,” brothers. What was missing from all these triangles I’d been reading, and what she managed to show in her Will-Tessa-Jem triangle, was a three-way connection.
It was, in a word, brilliant. But now that I understood, I still faced an industry sick of love triangles, so why bother writing one? Little did I know that I’d already done it. Oy, the horror!
That’s right. It wasn’t until Archetype was in the hands of my Dutton editor that I heard the words “love triangle” applied to my story. Someone even said it was “the best love triangle in years.”
I was in shock. Yes, I’d written about two men in love with the same woman. And yes, she loved them both in return. But for some insane reason I never saw it as a triangle. Probably because I never had the intention of writing one. It was just another accident in a long line of accidents in the history of Archetype. (That’s another story for another day.)
So upon hearing these words, I had to analyze what the heck I’d done. I never set out to make the reader fall in love with both men. All I’d wanted was to mask my real villain and hero from the reader. How? By giving them equal parts good and bad qualities, from personality to lifestyle.
Ultimately, what I’d done was write two men that, as a reader, I wanted to win the girl. I had to stomp on the fact that one of them was destined from the start to be Emma’s #1. I made sure to write scenes with both men that made even me second-guess my plans. I had to—had to—believe every word, because any doubts I had would show in Emma. (Ah, the dilemma of writing first person, present tense!)
Ultimately, what I’d done was write two men that, as a reader, I wanted to win the girl. I had to stomp on the fact that one of them was destined from the start to be Emma’s #1.
This worked really well for me until it came to revealing the entire truth to Emma. She (and I) suddenly had to hate a man she (and I) loved. I couldn’t just point to him and call him “Bad Guy” and let things play out. Motivations played such a huge part in this story. Just about every square inch of this novel hinged on them, quite literally right to the very last page.
I came away from all of this seeing the love triangle in a whole new light. Cassandra Clare was absolutely right about the three-way connection, but I think too that, as the creator of these characters, we have to fall in love with all angles of the triangle or it won’t work. I’m already seeing a ton of Team Declan fans, as well as Team Noah fans. But then there are some, like me, who are Team Both, and I can’t fault them one bit.
Author photo by Crystal Bingham.
Q: Why did you decide to write about baseball in your upcoming mystery, Murder in the Ball Park?
A: I have always loved baseball, so it is no surprise that I finally worked the national pastime into a Nero Wolfe novel, my ninth as the Rex Stout estate’s approved continuator of the Wolfe series.
Murder in the Ball Park, from MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Integrated Media, opens with a murder scene in the mid-twentieth century during a game being played at the Polo Grounds, the historic New York baseball stadium that for decades was home to the New York Giants before they departed the Big Apple for San Francisco in the 1950s.
Interestingly, Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout also was an ardent baseball fan—and the Giants were his team. As his daughter Rebecca Stout Bradbury has told me, he loved the Giants but did not like the Yankees. Stout even set a Wolfe novella, This Won’t Kill You from the 1954 trilogy Three Men Out, at the Polo Grounds during a fictional Giants–Boston Red Sox World Series.
The Polo Grounds are long gone, having been razed in 1964. The site, at the north end of Manhattan near the Harlem River, is now occupied by the Polo Grounds Towers, a housing complex comprising four high-rise residential buildings. But the venerable stadium lives on in the pages of Murder in the Ball Park.
In writing this book, it was necessary for me to do research on the Polo Grounds, which as a Chicagoan I had never seen, but only heard about as a kid listening to Chicago Cubs games being broadcast from New York on the radio. The ball park had a strange shape, being long and narrow, more like a football stadium. This meant it had a very deep center field but extremely short dimensions down the left- and right-field foul lines—one of the factors in the book’s murder. Also, the stadium was nicknamed “Coogan’s Bluff” because of a promontory or cliff of that name that overlooked the field and was a vantage point providing non-paying spectators a view of the action far below.
Q: Why did you begin writing the Nero Wolfe stories?
A: My mother loved Rex Stout’s Wolfe stories and felt that because of their relative lack of gore, sex, and swearing, they were suitable for a teenager to read. I became hooked on them and after Rex Stout’s death, I wrote a Wolfe story as a gift to my mother. Years later, it was published as Murder in E Minor.
Q: What sets Stout’s detective duo apart from other fictional investigators?
A: The relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Wolfe is a genius, but Goodwin, unlike many detective sidekicks, is one smart cookie himself, and the two men complement each other. Wolfe is brilliant but sedentary, while Goodwin is fast on his feet and able to navigate the mean streets of New York, bringing suspects to the brownstone where Wolfe invariably unmasks the culprit(s).
Q: What’s the difference between continuing the Nero Wolfe Mysteries and creating your own investigator?
A: I have written five Chicago-based historical mysteries for Echelon Press featuring a Chicago Tribune reporter named Steve “Snap” Malek, who ends up as an amateur sleuth. In these stories, I can totally invent new people and situations. In the Wolfe stories, I use the template created by Mr. Stout and make sure that the recurring characters he created continue to have the personas and behaviors he imbued them with. When people read my Wolfe stories, I want them to be comfortable with “old friends” Nero, Archie, Saul Panzer, Lon Cohen, Fritz Brenner, Inspector Cramer and others.
Q: Are you involved with other Nero Wolfe fans?
A: Yes indeed. Just last December, I was keynote speaker at the annual Black Orchid Banquet of the Wolfe Pack, an organization of Nero Wolfe aficionados. The subject of my talk was The League of Frightened Men, my favorite Rex Stout novel. I urge anyone who hasn’t read that story to do so.
Thanks, Robert! Readers, Murder in the Ball Park comes out today!
Very few people are lucky enough to love their job as much as David Menasche loved teaching high school English in Miami. One of his favorite lessons was called "The Priority List," in which he asked his students to rank ten words—wealth, love, education, for example—in order of importance to them.
Even after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2006, David continued teaching—until a debilitating seizure in 2012 made returning to the classroom impossible.
Instead of giving up and letting his illness become the focus of his life, David reevaluated his own priorities, ultimately deciding to end his treatment and embark on a journey to reconnect with former students, who were scattered across the country. Fifty cities and 8,000 miles later, David has reunited with more than 100 students, all eager to let him know the positive influence he's had on their lives.
Menasche shares his courageous journey in his new, incredibly moving memoir, The Priority List, which will inspire readers to reflect and reassess their own priorities. In this guest blog post, David shares the story of the "no-going-back" day he realized he wanted to become a teacher.
For me, teaching wasn’t making a living. It was my life. Nothing made me happier or more content than standing in front of a classroom and watching my students “catch” my passion for language and literature.
For 16 years I taught 11th graders at a magnet high school in Miami, and my classroom was my sanctuary. So much so that on the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 when, at the age of 34, I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiforme, an incurable form of brain cancer, and told I had less than a year to live, I did what I always did: I went to school.
I am a pragmatic man. I know there is no reason I should still be alive. The cancer never lets me forget that it and ultimately it will win this battle of wills. But I choose to live for today and cherish the memories of yesterday. I may no longer get to be in a classroom, but my time as a teacher was time well spent.
The novelist Alice Sebold wrote, “Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.” I backed into my dream-come-true while I was studying journalism at Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village. One of my favorite professors convinced me to sign up for the Teachers and Writers Program. The program placed aspiring writers in New York public schools and gave them the opportunity to teach. I was sent to teach a group of eager first-graders in upstate New York.
The small village, with its frozen pond in the center, was enchanting to a Miami kid like me. On my very first day, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach the kids by the book. Instead, I read to them from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I couldn’t help but be animated and energetic when I read it, as Whitman had always had that effect on me. When I looked out at my six-year-old students, sitting Indian-style in front of me, I saw wonder in their eyes. Their hands shot up, and they called out questions before I’d even finished reading. Watching their reaction to Whitman’s poetry, I got an idea. “Tell you what,” I said, “why don’t we go outside and write our own poems.”
The kids squealed with delight. I bundled them up and marched them outside like a flock of ducklings. Giving each one a small stack of yellow Post-it notes and crayons, I asked them to write down the things they saw—one item per piece of paper. They ran around looking at everything, and like Whitman, I thought, they had a blissful enthusiasm for their surroundings. They wrote words like “rock” and “leaf” and “snow.”
After I noticed one of my little duckies with frozen snot on her upper lip and shivering, I shepherded everyone back inside and asked the kids to stick their notes up on the board and rearrange them until they were in an order that they liked. When they were finished, they had written a poem. The students jumped up and down with the same sense of accomplishment and joy that I felt watching them learn.
That was it for me. There was no turning back. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
Thank you so much, David. Readers, The Priority List is out now, and you can continue to follow David's journey on Facebook.
(Author photo by Chris Granger)
It's been a long, long wait for fans of Scott Sigler's science-fiction series that begin with Infected and Contagious, but the story finally concludes with Pandemic, out today.
Why, oh why, would an author make his readers wait this long to find out what happens in a series, especially when everyone's about to die?
Sigler offers a look into the years between the first two books and Pandemic—and why the conclusion kicks off in real time, five years after the events of Contagious.
If you read a series as the books come out, waiting for that last installment can be barbed-wire torture, you want your story, and you want it now. Waiting a year between books feels normal. But two years? That’s enough to make the die-hard fan rethink her devotion to an author. Three years? Oh, the insufferable agony.
The real jerks, however, straight-up tease their fans with that dreaded magic number: five years between books.
I’m one of those jerks. Allow me to explain why.
Five years . . . who does that to their fans? Well, lots of authors. If I can armor myself with two of the more famous examples, I give you Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. King averaged five years between books I-IV of his Dark Tower series (the first three books of which I personally count as the best trilogy of all time, of any kind). GRRM, of course, recently caught all kinds of Amazon-review hell for the five-year wait between A Feast for Crows, book four of his Song of Fire and Ice series, and book five, A Dance with Dragons.
Sometimes, delays happen.
Five years also turned out to be the wait between Contagious, book two of my Infected series, and book three, Pandemic, which is out today from Crown Publishing. The long pause in my series is a little different from those juggernaut properties listed above in one key way—that five year delay isn’t just in the publication dates, it’s also in the story itself. When Pandemic opens, the characters from Contagious (the few who survived that book, anyway) have been going about their lives for five years since Contagious ended.
I did this for two reasons.
First, the five-year fictional delay had to happen because of my storytelling style, in that all my horror/thrillers—not just the Infected series, but my stand-alone novels as well — happen in “real time.” The date of hardcover publication always coincides with the date the story in the book begins. If you open up Pandemic on January 21, you’ll see characters living in an eerily similar-but-fictitious January 21 of their own.
Second, Contagious doesn’t end like most thrillers do. The hero doesn’t snip the blue wire when the counter reads 0:01 and save the day with only a moment to spare. At the end of that book, shit goes wrong, way wrong, with world-impacting consequences. That big ending meant the story and the characters needed a little time to breathe. The world needed time to return to normal so that it was ready to face the next level of disaster in Pandemic.
Did this long delay affect my writing style? Absolutely.
For starters, I wrote Infected, the first book in the series, over the course of a decade while working at least one (and usually two) day jobs. The sequel, Contagious, was also penned while holding down a regular gig. After Contagious, I was able to leave those jobs behind. That gave me five years of hardcore growth as a full-time author between book two and book three. I am a changed writer, a stronger writer.
But like the characters in my book, I’m also five years longer on this Earth. I’m not just a different writer, I’m also a different person. Half a decade has done to me what it does to most of us: magnified my understanding of mortality. Everything ends, everyone dies. It’s also taught me that, sometimes, even the strongest of relationships don’t last. We are chaotic creatures: People grow and change, which can warp and shear bonds once thought unbreakable. This happens in Pandemic: The opening scenes show us how a love forged in fire has cooled and fractured, driving apart two people who clearly belong together.
Pandemic is dear to me because it catches me in creative flux: The story is stronger because I’m better at showing both the strength of love and the pain of loss. The span between books gave me the perfect way to illustrate the subtle shift of a good-to-going-bad relationship by not focusing on the slow process of dissolution, but rather giving the reader two jarringly mismatched bookends. Those who’ve been through such difficulties know that love doesn’t die in a spectacular supernova, but rather fizzles out in a slow, cooling fade.
Does that mean I turned Pandemic into a romance novel? Not in this lifetime, sister. I engineered the climax of this book with one thought in mind: tear the roof off this sucker. I’m still that slam-bang author who wrote the grizzly tale Infected. While five years of added wisdom let me tell a story with more complexity and depth, I remained true to my soul, to my roots and to my kick-ass fans.
And to those fans, to the people who have been blogging, emailing, Tweeting and Facebooking at me for the last five years, demanding the conclusion to their much-loved story? To you, I say two things: Sorry about the wait, and I hope the end result was worth it.
Thanks, Scott! Fans of the Infected series finally find out what happens to the human race on the brink of mass extinction, as Pandemic comes out today!
Author photo image credit Amy Davis-Roth, surlyramics.com.
Sophie Barnes was born in Denmark and spent her childhood traveling extensively with her parents. She has lived in five different countries on three continents, speaks five languages and has a degree from Parsons School of Design. Barnes draws on all of these experiences while dreaming up the vivid, unconventional characters and highly entertaining stories featured in her historical romance novels, including the just-published The Scandal in Kissing an Heir—the second in her At the Kingsborough Ball series.
In this guest blog post, Barnes shares how her own adventurous life has influenced her work.
When I was four, my parents and I relocated from Denmark to Spain, but we would always return to Denmark, where my parents kept a holiday home, for the summer. On many of these occasions, we traveled by car, allowing ourselves a week or two to explore the different countries and their towns/cities along the way. I’ll admit that there was a point where I got a bit fed up with churches and cathedrals, but I have to say that I never tired of castles. Having visited many historical buildings from different time periods and built in varying styles, I can often find a way in which to describe the exact setting I’m looking for.
If I close my eyes, I can easily transport myself to one of the places I’ve visited in the past. I can feel what the ground is like beneath my feet: soft, prickly, rough, hot, cold . . . the climate, the sounds, the smallest detail of each object. I do this from time to time with places I miss, and I think it’s a wonderful exercise for me as a writer since it helps with the whole visualization process. Take the Kingsborough ballroom, for example: The feeling I wished to evoke in its description was largely inspired by the Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier in Paris. It’s a breathtaking room, and I remember how extravagant I found it when I visited it for the first time at the age of 18.
In The Scandal in Kissing an Heir, Lady Rebecca is locked away by her horrid aunt and uncle in a tower. The castle I describe here is largely inspired by a medieval one that a family acquaintance owns in France. I’ve only visited it once, when I was 14, but I remember the tower room and the large closet that was in there—not at all the tiny piece of furniture you find these days at Ikea. In fact, I’m sure there are rooms for rent in Manhattan with less space inside them than that closet. This, coupled with my own love of hiding in closets when I was little, led to the scene in which Rebecca has sought solitude in her wardrobe and Daniel asks if she will allow him to join her.
There’s also a scene in which Daniel and Rebecca visit a gaming hall on Piccadilly—a place named Riley’s. When Daniel and Rebecca sit down to play, whist is the game of choice, a game that I have fond memories of playing with my parents and grandparents when I was little. I definitely think that being raised with some knowledge of typical pastime activities from the Regency era has helped me with my writing. For instance, I’ve tried my hand at needlepoint, cutwork, and watercolors. I’ve taken piano lessons, walked along cobblestone streets and stood on the deck of a frigate. And although it’s been a few years, I’ve also ridden a horse and enjoyed a ride in a carriage.
In my opinion, it’s impossible to write a good book without pouring a lot of who you are as a person into your writing, which is why I often mention art in my books. The Scandal in Kissing an Heir is no exception. Lady Rebecca often finds solace in her sketchbook and watercolors, just as I have done on many occasions. In fact, I spent four years in art school, traipsing through museums and studying the great painters of years gone by. During that time, I drew a lot, filling sketchbook upon sketchbook with all kinds of drawings and watercolors. When I imagined Rebecca sitting in her tower room, I knew she wouldn’t have the patience for embroidery because she’s too lively, but lively people need a bit of quiet time from time to time, and when those moments present themselves, I just know that she’ll be drawing. But if it’s a fruit bowl, flower arrangement or landscape that you imagine will grace the pages of her sketchbook, think again, because this lady, like me, is a dreamer.
Thank you, Sophie! What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Scandal in Kissing an Heir to your TBR list?
Attention historical romance lovers: There's a new series in town, and we think you're going to love it. Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard—the first book in Vanessa Kelly's Renegade Royals series—goes on sale today. The witty, engaging romp features Aden St. James—illegitimate son of the Prince Regent—who finds himself unable to resist the charming, beautiful Lady Vivian Shaw.
In this guest blog post, Kelly offers a peek into her writing process—and shares what's so fun about basing characters on real-life royal scoundrels.
Authors of historical romance face a unique challenge: How much history should they include in any one book? Readers love the historical details, and woe betide the author who skimps or makes mistakes.
Historical romance, however, is not historical fiction, although both share the goal of creating compelling characters in a vibrant period setting. But romance has an entirely different set of genre expectations. While it’s true that our readers insist on colorful and appropriate world-building, as in all romance, the love story must come first.
In my new series, The Renegade Royals, I worked especially hard to weave in historical elements while still keeping the focus squarely on the romance. That’s because the series premise is bolstered by several well-known British historical figures—the notorious sons of King George III. My heroes are the illegitimate sons of the royal princes, and one of the fathers is the famous Prince Regent himself.
My heroes are fictional, of course, although the royal princes and their base-born offspring certainly provided me with plenty of historical fodder. For instance, the Prince Regent, who gave his name to the era and later ascended the throne as George IV, initiated his scandalous career at the tender age of 17 when he began an affair with the famous actress, Mary Robinson. He took numerous mistresses over the years and had up to six illegitimate children. In fact, the seven princes who reached adulthood sired up to 22 illegitimate children.
Clearly, I had a lot of material to work with.
Aden St. James, the hero of Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, the first book in my series, is the illegitimate son of the Prince Regent. I began my research knowing who I wanted Aden to be, and knowing his social background (a spy, whose aristocratic mother had once had an affair with the Regent). That left me to figure out the mechanics—how old was the Regent when he fathered this fictional child, for instance, and was he actually in London when I wanted him to be? Those were the sorts of questions I had to answer in developing the background for my hero.
Believe me when I tell you that there were flow charts and diagrams involved in figuring out ages, dates, times and locations. And more than once I discovered that a certain prince was not where I wanted him to be at a given point in time. That’s one of the hazards of using historical personages in fiction—a written record exists. So just when I needed one of the princes to be in Brighton having an affair, he was inconveniently away in Germany for military training.
Another interesting challenge was deciding how much page time to give historical figures. Aside from the fact that the princes are fascinating (if often repellent) in their own right and could easily overshadow other characters, too great an opportunity existed to make mistakes. The more page time I gave the princes, the greater the risk of putting them in the wrong place at the wrong time, or having them act in a way that was contrary to the historical record.
My solution? Use them sparingly. In my books, historical figures inform the story rather than play an active role. In Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, the Prince Regent does appear in a few scenes, both in service to the plot and because he’s such a fun character. In Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom, my next book in the series (coming in April), the royal prince who sired the hero does not appear. It didn’t make sense for the story, so I kept that real-life person firmly off-stage.
And that’s just fine, because my readers are not selecting my books for detail about the lives of the British royal family in the 19th century. Yes, they enjoy historical elements, and, yes, they want to lose themselves in the extravagant and exciting setting of the Regency era. But they primarily want a heroine they can root for, a hero they can fall a little bit in love with and a happily-ever-after that fulfills their need for a romantic and satisfying read.
Given his own romantic adventures, I hope the Prince Regent would have approved.
Thank you, Vanessa! What do you think, readers? Are you planning on getting swept up in Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard?
They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)