The fast-paced world of romance publishing is always offering up great new authors to discover. As part of our #FirstFictionMonth coverage, we're spotlighting three new voices who are each debuting in their own way this year.
Jennifer Ryan will be making her print debut with At Wolf Ranch (on sale February 24, 2015), the first in her thrilling romantic suspense series, Montana Men. The novel focuses on Ella Wolf as she flees to her family’s ranch, certain that the man who murdered her sister is now after her. Luckily for Ella, a ruggedly handsome cowboy is bent on protecting her from the killer.
Despite finding eBook success with her best-selling The Hunted and The McBrides series, Ryan is excited to finally have a novel in bookstores, admitting during our discussion at RWA that she's “really more of a print person.” And her path to print publication is the stuff of writers' dreams. While attending a panel discussion during a previous RWA convention, Avon editor Lucia Macro mentioned that she would love to see more romantic suspense novels. Taking the cue, Ryan sent Macro her manuscript, and a short three weeks later, Avon bought her series. It's no surprise, really; Ryan is adept at writing those gripping scenes that leave you flipping pages till the end.
Ryan’s romance-writing career took off with a bit of a happy shock: the discovery that she was pregnant with third child. “I was reading all the time—I read 10 books a week while my kids were growing up!” she says of her time as a stay-at-home mom with her first two children. But when they grew older, she decided it was time to go back to work as a computer programmer. That plan quickly changed when she discovered that she was pregnant again with her daughter. With another baby on the way, she decided that writing romance novels from home just made sense.
So what inspired her to base her series on the cowboys of Big Sky country? “When I was younger, I had a friend in California with a small ranch and horses. I would spend my weekends riding horses with her, and I just thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world," she explains. "I grew up daydreaming about cowboys, because who wouldn’t? I remember thinking, there’s got to be a cowboy our there for me—And I ended up marrying a military man!" Ryan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children, and can usually be found immersed in a world of books.
We chatted with debut author Lillian Marek over email about her first novel, the Victorian romance Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures (on sale November 4). This novel answers the call for romance in exotic locales, since its heroine Lady Elinor and a distractingly handsome family friend find love while exploring Italy and the ruins of the ancient Etruscan civilization. Marek writes with humor, historical knowledge and just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Writing historical romance was an easy choice for Marek. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else—you could call it a compulsion. For a number of years, I got my writing fix, so to speak, as a journalist, but it’s much more fun writing fiction,” she says. Her focus on romance was inspired by a friend’s suggestion to pick up Loretta Chase’s romance novel Mr. Impossible. “I absolutely adored it,” she says. “I started devouring romance novels, especially historical ones, and had a glorious time. Then I thought it would be fun to write them, so I did.” As simple as that!
Getting published was a bit more complex than her decision to write, but after winning a few romance-writing contests, Marek felt confident enough to pitch her book to Sourcebooks. Not only did Sourcebooks buy Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, they bought the rest of the proposed series as well. "I was, as you can imagine, ecstatic," she says. Marek lives near Long Island Sound with her husband, where she enjoys taking long walks along the coast. We're excited to see where the next intrepid installment in Marek's Victorian Adventurers series takes us!
Rhonda Helms is venturing into the world of New Adult print with her love- and music-inspired novel, Scratch (on sale September 30). Scratch is a departure from her usual romantic young adult novels, which are “frothy and fun,” she says during our conversation at the hotel Starbucks. New Adult is an up-and-coming genre, marketed towards young women in their early 20s—a grown-up YA reader, if you will. New Adult focuses on characters finding themselves and struggling with choices and consequences, from first jobs to first loves, as they explore life after high school. “It’s got that young adult voice [first person], but with more adult situations. I like the fact that you can write these characters that are a little bit older, and there’s lots of high emotion,” Helms explains. Helms has a knack for writing convincing dialogue between her young characters, perhaps inspired by conversations with her 18-year-old daughter!
In Scratch, college senior Casey attempts to keep memories of an unpleasant past at bay by losing herself in her gigs as a DJ. She tends to keep others at a distance, but when a fellow student takes an interest in her, she wonders if letting him in might be worth the risk. Helms knew music would be a big part of the book, and explains, "Music is really important to me. I was a DJ too for a while—It was awesome!" Scratch even includes a track list which “reflects stuff that would be on Casey’s personal playlist or music that she would play in the club,” Helms says. Here's a sample track from the list.
Along with her interest in music, Helms has always loved romance novels. “I started reading romance when I was a kid,” Helms says. “I would hide in my mom’s bathroom and read her Harlequins!” Growing up with those Harlequins, she knew she wanted to write. However, she says, “The first book I wrote, I had no idea what I was doing. I just sort of vomited out five chapters, and then didn’t know what to do next. . . It took me a year, but after that first book, I learned my process. But that first book was rough!” Seven books later, it looks like she’s gotten the hang of it.
Helms lives in Cleveland with her family, where you may find her enjoying time with her pets, reading or perhaps sampling her favorite cheeses. “A good aged Gouda is divine, and Asiago cheese is exquisite,” she says. Romance with a side of cheese: what more could you want?
Sabrina Jeffries' latest book in her Duke's Men series, How the Scoundrel Seduces, catches the heroine, Lady Zoe, in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis. Raised as the only child and heir to her family's Yorkshire Estate, Zoe is shocked to learn that she might actually be the daughter of an unknown Romany woman. Desperate to discover the truth and avoid the marriage her father is intent on arranging, she hires Tristan Bonnaud to help her track down her supposed mother. In this guest post, Sabrina Jeffries writes about the inspiration behind How the Scoundrel Seduces.
A few years ago, I realized that all my novels have at least one character pretending to be something he or she is not. Apparently, issues of identity are a big deal for me.
It shouldn’t surprise me—I grew up in Thailand as part of an American Protestant missionary community plunked down in the midst of an Asian, predominantly Buddhist community. Meanwhile, my high school was filled with kids who were military brats or diplomat’s kids or children of parents who worked for foreign companies with offices in Bangkok. None of us knew quite where we belonged or who we were. How could we?
That’s probably why my books often have masquerading heroines, spy heroes, or just plain men and women who aren’t what they seem as they struggle to figure out how much of their façade is real. Because I can relate. When you grow up in a mix of cultures and communities, you learn to blend in anywhere, and it makes it hard to figure out who you really are.
At first glance, the heroine for How the Scoundrel Seduces, Lady Zoe Keane, should be very secure in who she is. She has been raised with the expectation of taking up her father’s mantle. She’s that rare thing in the English peerage—a peeress in her own right, a woman who can inherit land and a title from her father (or mother, if her mother was the previous title holder). That should make her feel comfortable with her identity, right?
Except that it doesn’t. Bad enough that her situation has already made her different from all the other ladies, who are peeresses by reason of being daughters or wives to a peer. But Zoe’s father, who was an army major before he inherited the title, has raised her to be his heir. So she acts a bit like a man and not like the other ladies, who are waiting around for a husband.
I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I?
Plus, she doesn’t resemble her parents—she’s olive-skinned and exotic-looking. And her aunt has just revealed to Zoe that she may secretly be the child of gypsies (the Romany). That would mean Zoe couldn’t inherit a thing if anyone found out, since England didn’t have a legal construct for adoption during the Regency.
So Zoe is truly confused about who she is . . . or who she should become. And I had great fun with that. It’s always more interesting when a heroine (or hero) is in a period of flux. It gives the author a chance to capture the character emerging from the cocoon, unfolding her wings and learning to fly.
In Zoe’s case, she has to figure out what she wants. Marriage to her father’s cousin and second heir, to solidify her claim to the estate? Independence, even if it means losing her inheritance? Love with a man who might keep her from getting what she’s been bred to have?
By throwing in the possibility of Zoe being from another culture entirely (Romany), I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I? After all, it’s hard to figure out what you want when you don’t know who you are.
Which brings us back to why I create characters who are trying to work out their true identities. Because with every one, I get a little closer to figuring out my own. And what more can a writer ask for?
(Author Photo by Jessi Blakely for Tamara Lackey photography)
In Falling for Max, her latest book in The Kowalskis series, Shannon Stacey chooses quite the unlikely hero to sweep readers off their feet. He's shy, awkward and filled with anxiety about women, and Tori Burns is determined to fix him right up. But does he really need fixing? Because honestly, who's the more realistic dream boy—A pirate on a motorcycle with a heart of gold, or the sweet boy-next-door you never saw coming? In this guest post, Shannon Stacey writes about her decision to cast an unlikely leading man.
Sometimes a secondary character comes along who’s meant to fill a role in the lives of the main characters, but then takes on a life of his own. Max Crawford, the hero of Falling For Max, was such a secondary character. He was simply a friend of Josh and Katie (from All He Ever Dreamed), but as his character developed, I became more intrigued.
Whenever he appeared, I’d uncover more details about Max: Why he liked sports so much; why he’d moved to Whitford, the fictional town in Maine where the Kowalski series is set. I started a file to gather little tidbits about him, but all the while I was thinking, “What am I going to do with Max?”
I tend to write men who are confident and charming. They don’t worry about how to talk to a woman and don’t have trouble finding a date. They’re mostly blue-collar guys who work hard, play harder and walk tall in their worlds.
Max isn’t like the other men in my Kowalski series. He isn’t like many other romance heroes at all, actually. He’s shy, awkward with people he doesn’t know well and he likes his life a particular way. He has a great sense of humor, but most people don’t get it. He has an interesting hobby that he turned into a career, but not many people know a lot about model railroading. Between finding social interactions awkward and working from home, Max finds it hard to meet people—especially women.
I loved writing Max’s story. He’s inspired by several people very close to me who share a lot of his traits, so his journey to happily ever after was important to me. And it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I realized his heroine would be Tori Burns, another secondary character from the series.
Tori is younger than Max and quite the opposite of him personality-wise. She’s friendly, if a little cynical due to her family situation, and has no trouble talking to people. If she wasn’t purposely avoiding serious relationships, she wouldn’t have any problems attracting a man. She begins spending time with Max after watching him get shut down while attempting to talk a woman. In a little twist on My Fair Lady, she wants to help coach Max and make him more “dateable”.
Watching her slowly come to appreciate qualities in Max that people around him tend to find weird was personally satisfying to me as well as professionally. As I mentioned, Max was inspired by several guys in my life who are close to me, and I want them to find women who love them the way they are. I wanted the same for Max. I didn’t want him to change in a way that made it easier for a woman to love him.
It was a challenge, balancing Max’s quirks with expectations many readers have when it comes to leading men in romance novels. He’s physically attractive, of course. But I’m also hoping that, along with Tori, readers will find Max interesting and fun, and slowly fall in love with him just the way he is.
Thanks, Shannon! See more from Shannon Stacey on her website. Readers, what do you think about non-traditional romance heroes?
This weekend, Trisha and I had the pleasure of attending the annual RWA Conference. RWA (Romance Writers of America) is an organization that supports and advances the careers of romance authors, and the RWA conference is a four-day gathering of publishers, writers and supporters with over 2,100 attendees. It is held in a different city each year, and this year it was held in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo and puffy tacos.
The conference is a fast-paced affair. Days are packed with panels about pitching novels to publishers and developing realistic characters, as well as book signings by favorites like Nora Roberts and Jill Shalvis. It all culminates in an award ceremony for the best books of the year in which the winners recieve a RITA or a Golden Heart award. And at night, there are parties! Fabulous parties with great food, plenty of drinks and incredibly friendly guests.
That's the thing about RWA: It's a gathering of the friendliest, most helpful bunch of people you'll ever meet. The romance writing community is famously supportive, and the RWA conference is a chance for writers who have been sending emails back and forth for months to finally meet in person. Many authors we met said they couldn't have finished their book if it wasn't for the support of romance writing chatrooms and friends along the way.
Stay tuned for more posts about RWA, including romance trends to look out for, a roundup of the party circuit and more!
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.
Romance novels are filled with all types of dashing male leads. But what does Marie Force, author of the newly released I Want to Hold Your Hand, have to say about the hero trope? In this latest novel in the Green Mountain series, sweet and caring Nolan attempts to win the love and trust of Hannah, whose heart still mourns the husband she lost to war. In a guest post, Marie shares what it takes to be considered a true hero.
As a romance author, I spend a lot of time with “heroes,” the word we use in the romance community to describe our male protagonists. I’ve written all kinds of heroes in my 30-plus contemporary romances. Some are "alpha," some are "beta," some have swagger and others are just downright hilarious. All of them have qualities that endear them to the women who love them in the books—as well as the women who love to read about them. However, I think Nolan Roberts, the hero of my latest book, I Want to Hold Your Hand, might be the most heroic of all.
Several years after the death of his close friend Caleb Guthrie in Iraq, Nolan realizes he has feelings for Caleb’s widow, Hannah. Nolan, Hannah and Caleb grew up together in the fictional town of Butler, Vermont, and their friendship endured into adulthood. After Caleb’s death, Nolan and Caleb’s wide circle of friends are a source of comfort for Hannah, who goes out of her way to keep up the traditions her late husband enjoyed so much with his unruly tribe of friends.
Over time, however, it becomes clear to Hannah—and her very large and nosy family—that Nolan has special feelings for her. In All You Need Is Love, Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series, we see the Abbott family take great pleasure in delivering Nolan’s frequent messages to Hannah.
In Nolan’s mind, a quiet, unassuming town mechanic doesn’t stand a chance with the woman who was once married to the larger-than-life Caleb Guthrie. He also wonders what Caleb would think of Nolan having feelings for Hannah, even if he’s never acted on them—until one significant night when everything changes between them. Afterwards, they can no longer deny the attraction that has simmered between them for quite some time.
I think it takes a special kind of man to step into this situation with his eyes wide open to the emotional battlefield he’ll need to navigate to bring this woman into his life. Nolan puts Hannah's happiness, well-being and needs so far above his own, it's as if his own needs don't exist. Nolan also puts up with her huge and interfering family who want to celebrate the fact that their beloved Hannah seems to be taking an enormous step forward with a man they love and respect, while torturing him with their special brand of Abbott “involvement” all the same.
Nolan never blinks an eye, even when Hannah’s father and grandfather “kidnap” him to gauge his intentions towards Hanna. He puts up with her twin brother’s grilling and the concerns of townspeople who have stood by Hannah during her darkest hours and want only the very best for her. He stays steady in the face of the emotional reaction Caleb’s brother has to hearing that not only is Hannah dating again, but she’s seeing one of Caleb’s closest friends.
Through all of this, Nolan never wavers in his love for Hannah or his determination to see her happy again, no matter what it takes. His love for her is the one true thing in his life, and that, more than anything else, makes him the most heroic of heroes.
Thanks Marie! Readers, will you be checking out I Want to Hold Your Hand? Find our more about Marie and the book on her website.
Love the romance of Jane Austen, but looking for something a bit saucier? Then Jayne Fresina’s tantalizing Once Upon a Kiss, the first installment in The Book Club Belles Society series, might hit the spot! As five young women of a quaint English village delve into the new and scandalous novel Pride and Prejudice, it sparks some not so lady-like desires in rebellious and clever book club member Justina Penny. In this guest post, Fresina shares her love for those immortal Austen novels and her inspiration (as well as her trepidation!) as she pens a new series of romance in the Regency Era.
I became a Jane Austen fan at fifteen — and yes, that is a long time ago, and no, I’m not saying just how long! My first exposure to Jane’s work was a BBC TV production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which my English literature teacher, Mrs. Jones, had advised the class to watch. Oh wise, dear Mrs. Jones, of the irrepressible enthusiasm and bright eyes gleaming through enormous glasses. She knew I’d be sucked right in.
After that I saved up and bought a set of all Austen’s books, eagerly working my way through them, absorbing myself in that Regency world of ballrooms, bonnets and manners. What a world it was. Somewhere to which I could escape from being an awkward teenager for a few blessed hours.
Years later, when I finished my first Regency series for Sourcebooks and my editor asked if I had any ideas for another series, I jumped at the chance to write a playful homage to Austen’s work. I didn’t want to write a sequel, or prequel—or ‘quel’ of any kind. Nor did I want to risk offending Janeites and Lady Catherine de Bourghs the world over. (“Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”)
So I created “The Book Club Belles Society,” a small group of young ladies in a country village, living when Jane’s books were first published. The Belles include Justina Penny (Jussy), her sister Catherine, and their friends Diana, Rebecca and Lucy. Some of the ladies are good and proper. Some aren’t. Some would never put a foot wrong. Some always leap without looking. Naughty or nice, one thing they have in common is a love of books.
What did Jane’s contemporaries think when they read about Darcy and Lizzie? Were they inspired to seek their own Mr. Darcy, or did they (ahem . . . Jussy) find him a bit of a bore?
In 1813, the Critical Review found only suitable moral instruction (I hear Jussy sighing heavily) within its pages. “An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way...” As for the author, “The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers.”
Blimey, did Mr. Collins write that review?
Was Pride and Prejudice a moral lesson for naughty girls (ahem . . . Jussy), or was that just the male point of view?
The more wayward members of my Book Club Belles society, I’m afraid, do not take much guidance from the book, but they relish the romance. Especially when a man who appears to be the very embodiment of Mr. Darcy appears before them in real life, and suddenly they find their own lives taking similar paths to those of Austen’s heroines.
I hope Jane herself would find my attempts to recreate Regency English village life amusing—and not too saucy or impudent. It’s a dodgy business taking a beloved story and putting your own voice to it. This series is my homage to Austen, my thanks for the hours of pleasure her books have given me. As I worked on Once Upon a Kiss and the introductory novella “Before the Kiss” I was very conscious of staying true to Jane’s world—as far as I, a humble fan, ever could.
And Mrs. Jones, if you’re still out there somewhere, thank you!
Thank you, Jayne! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Once Upon a Kiss?
The men of Melissa Cutler's Catcher Creek series are irresistible, including the gorgeously rugged oil rights attorney Matt Roenick, hero of the third book, How to Rope a Real Man (out now!). He's certainly caught the eye of Jenna Sorentino, a single mom trying to get her act together and escape the tiny New Mexico town. In this guest post, Cutler shares her affinity for writing about strong, independent women and offers a sneak peek at Matt and Jenna's chemistry.
Melissa Cutler here, and I'm so excited to be on Bookpage talking about my latest western romance, How to Rope a Real Man. One thing that I hoped to achieve with this story—besides the most entertaining, engaging romance I could possibly write that left readers with a squishy, happy good-book high when they finished it—was that it would take a feminist stance. Even before this book, it was important to me that every book I write—from Harlequins to Westerns to small-town contemporaries—contain positive female relationships. And last year, I made a conscious choice to make sure all my books moving forward pass the Bechdel test (that, within the story, two women have a conversation about a topic other than men).
I’m not trying to write Message Books, but, rather, reflect our modern-day reality. The reality is, women are smart and capable. We form strong bonds with other women with whom we talk about things other than men; we often provide for our families financially; and we handle our shit. So in How to Rope a Real Man, single mom Jenna Sorentino is doing just that. She has strong relationships with her sisters and her best friend. She’s about to graduate college and has a job lined up that’s a strategic career move (with medical benefits, too!). And it was important to me to give Jenna a book hero who finds all those amazing qualities attractive. In fact, country lawyer Matt Roenick is my answer to the flood of alpha asshole heroes that have been all the rage lately.
I’m known for writing steamy romances, so you might ask: sure Matt is attracted to Jenna’s brain first and foremost, but is their physical connection present in the story? You bet. Do they have mind blowing sex? Heck, yeah. But like the vast majority of real life women, Jenna can’t easily orgasm during intercourse. Is that a problem for Matt? Nope. Matt has enough, er, tools in his toolbox that getting creative about Jenna’s pleasure is not an issue. Does it make their sex any less hot? That’s for readers to decide, but I think it makes those scenes even hotter.
I hope you’ll give How to Rope a Real Man a read. At its core, it’s a fun, heartfelt emotional journey of two people who are figuring out what they want out of life and falling in love in the process. Jenna is one of my favorite heroines, and Matt, one of my favorite heroes. Happy reading!
Here's the scene to whet your appetite:
With his eyes on the road, Matt cracked the knuckle of his middle finger and said, "I have a question I've been wanting to ask you. And I bet you've been asked it a hundred times."
As far as transitions went, this one was about as smooth as a dirt road after a rainstorm, but she decided to follow his train of thought around the mental U-turn. "You want to ask me about Tommy's father."
"That obvious, huh?"
She grinned and offered a shrug to show him she didn't mind. "He's not in the picture at all. Never has been, never will be."
Matt's breath gushed out in a whoosh and his torso folded in as though he would've doubled over if not for the support of the steering wheel. "What an idiot. I can't understand men like that."
One of Jenna's greatest sins was letting people believe Tommy's father wasn't around because he was a deadbeat. The truth was, the reason Tommy's father wasn't fulfilling his fatherly duties was because she'd never told him she was pregnant with his child. And unless she were to divulge the whole story of why she'd made that choice—which she'd never do because lives and livelihoods were at stake—then she came across as a borderline criminal, keeping a little boy and his daddy apart for no good reason.
“How are you coping with it? It's none of my business, but does the creep at least pay child support?"
Child support would've been nice. The money might have helped her cut down on her waitressing hours and given her more time with Tommy when he was little. "Tommy and I have managed all right. Rachel's helped a lot and now we've got the oil money coming in regularly." She touched his arm because gratitude was a good excuse to get her hand on him. "Thank you for being concerned about us."
He eased his arm away from her. "You almost told me something earlier but stopped yourself. You said you were juggling being a waitress and mom and something else."
It took her a lot of blinks to catch up with his second directional shift in as many minutes. And this time, she didn't like where they were headed. Not at all.
Her first instinct was to follow his lead by changing the subject. Then she thought about what a ridiculous conversational dance they were doing, twisting around every sensitive topic. How did she ever expect him to open up to her if she refused to do the same?
She scooted sideways in her seat, her heart pounding with a sudden burst of adrenaline. "I'll tell you something about me I've never told anyone, but it can't get around. Not even to my family . . . "
Thanks, Melissa! Readers, will you be checking out How to Rope a Real Man? Find our more about Melissa and the book on her website.
(Author photo by Tessa Desharnais)