Amazon Romance expert Lena Cohen spoke with authors Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean about their upcoming releases and historical romance. Eloisa James recently won the 2013 RITA award for best novella for "Seduced by a Pirate," and Sarah MacLean won the 2013 RITA award for best historical romance for "A Rogue by Any Other Name."
Lena Cohen: Both of your
recent books, Once Upon a Tower and No Duke Goes Unpunished, coming this
November, include heroines who have a very strong sense of self. Do you find
that writing regency enables you to exemplify characteristics of strong
Eloisa James: I think there are
strong independent women in every genre. In Once Upon a Tower, I was thinking of Romeo and Juliet because I am a Shakespeare
professor. If you go back and look at Juliet, she’s the first woman on the
English stage to propose marriage to a man. So I gave my heroine that sense of
Sarah MacLean: Yeah, I have to agree. Every great romance
novel is about some kind of strong female; the heroine always wins. For me I
cannot imagine writing any other kind of heroine than the heroine who saves the
day. In The Rose of Scoundrels series,
and particularly in No Duke Goes Unpunished,
my heroine always saves the day because no good hero can really succeed without
a strong heroine by his side.
LC: Are there things
about the time period that play into character development or influence
character development in a different way than if you were writing in another time
SM: I think that’s an interesting question because
certainly there are things that are special to regency or historical romance. I’m
writing pre-Victorians now but the thing about the character development in
general is that it comes from the breathlessness of the time. I am always amazed
by contemporary writers and paranormal writers because it feels so much more
difficult to capture that breathless of romance, when the characters can just
text each other and fix things in a text or phone call.
EJ: I agree absolutely.
You know, we write about dukes. If you look at the actual period, a lot of the
women who got married were pregnant but not in the upper ranks. So these rules
that regulated ladies and gentleman are a lot of fun to play with. My book coming
out next spring features my first non-gentleman. He’s the son of a duke but he’s
illegitimate. He’s not acting like a gentleman, but he is fencing with the
daughter of a duke so it’s creating a really interesting class crash. We use
class a lot. I think we use the strictures of class to create tensions that you
can’t now. I mean now I just break up with someone in a text and it’s over.
LC: Both of your books
seem to not only celebrate the independence of your heroines but also showcase
either their curiosity or desire for assurance in regard to love or sexuality.
Could you talk a bit about your thought process behind including this and the
role that it serves?
SM: The book you are referring to, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, the
whole plot is predicated on the heroine being extremely logical and needing to
know what is coming on the night of her wedding. So it’s a really fun writing
sex as a theme in historicals because it’s there. It’s there for us to play
with in a way that it is not there in contemporary. I mean sex is all around us
EJ: But I think what
you are seeing in both books is that when you are writing romance, you can
either just write the romance and stick the sex in, but the harder thing is to
make the sex an integral part of the growing process of the two characters.
EJ: Yeah I mean that is
hard. With Once Upon a Tower, I was
really interested in what would happen to Romeo and Juliet if they had a great
dance and then they got married. [Laugh]
It’s hard; learning how to be intimate for two young people is extremely hard.
SM: This all goes back
your first question about your strong heroines but I think that what’s so
remarkable, and what is so remarkable about Eloise’s story, is this sense that
women heroines really do inspire readers to make change. In my first book the
heroine is sort of dumpy and overweight and she makes a list of the nine things
she would do if she were a man; if she wasn’t constrained by society. I get
letters all the time from women who’ve decided that they’re going to make their
LC: How does that feel
on a personal level to know you have such an impact on readers on other writers
that you are literally impacting lives and potentially changing lives?
EJ: Feels good. [Laugh]
SM: Yeah it feels
EJ: I was the first
romance writer asked to give a talk at the national book festival last fall,
and I was being followed by a Nobel Prize winner. You know they are intense,
right? And so I did have sort of an anxiety break down beforehand. I was like, “Ok,
he has changed countries” and I have written The Taming of the Duke. I thought about it a lot, and I just
decided in the end, our triumphs are smaller. They’re the one letter. They’re this
letter. They’re someone who read your book when they were dying or read it to
their sister when they were in the hospice and she laughed, or she made her
bucket list and she made it through. I had one letter from a woman who had a
brain tumor, and she didn’t want to get the operation until the fourth book
came out. This was Pleasure for Pleasure.
SM: Oh my goodness.
EJ: She couldn’t do it
before Pleasure for Pleasure came
out. And so I sent her the book, obviously. So that’s my Nobel prize-winning
moment. When she wrote me in that Josie mattered that much to her that she you
know that she reached out to me and said, “Can you give me the book?” “Can you
please give me the book?”
LC: How have you dealt
with that transition in your career from when you were first starting out, and
maybe nobody knew your name, to now being someone that people recognize, admire,
write letters to. What’s that transition been like?
EJ: [To Sarah] You’re
right at the beginning of that.
SM: I am right at the
beginning of that. No Duke Goes Unpunished
is my seventh book, and it’s weird I am not going to lie. I got into an
elevator here and a woman walked up to me and said, “Oh my god, you’re Sarah
MacLean.” And, I thought, “How weird, how did she know that?” [Laugh] It’s very strange for me right
now to be going through. Of course it’s flattering but overwhelming and I just
I hope I can live up to it. I am
constantly thinking about making sure I’m not smoke and mirrors.
EJ: That’s so
SM: [Laugh] I know.
EJ: My recognition has
grown over a lot more books (22 books). We had a signing yesterday, and a woman
came in and then she bursts into tears. You’re in a different space at that
point because, to her, I am someone who is not me, right? You are not sure why
she’s crying. Is she crying because ofOnce Upon a Tower? I wrote a book where the heroine lost a baby so that book circulates
among women who have had that experience, so I often get people coming up and
bursting into tears. In the end you don’t know why she’s crying; all you can do
is give her a big hug. [Chuckle] But you don’t know what the real interaction
is. So, it’s like you said, that’s odd. It’s wonderful, it’s affirming, and it
makes me want to go back and write. It gives me kind of rejuvenation. I’m like,
“Ok, I can handle this day to day.”
LC: You both attended
Harvard University. Are there experiences in your time there that influence
your writing or is there something in the water that inspires exceptional regency
EJ: I love the fact
that we have enough Harvard graduates to be one half of a baseball team. [Laugh] No it’s a volleyball team, isn’t
it? [Laugh] As a romance writer you
have to get back to that moment when, you know, you were so desperate for the
guy in the orange jacket (which he always wore) to turn the corner so you would
see him. For me a lot of those years are not about Harvard they’re about recovering
the emotions. You have to get back to the age of your heroines, and I was that
age mostly when I was in college.
SM: My degree from Harvard is a graduate degree so
I have a different experience than Eloisa did. My undergraduate degree is actually
from Smith which is an all-women’s college so we didn’t have that many men
around. I actually think my Smith experience is coded into most of my books. A
lot of the female relationships that are written into my books come from that
EJ: Friendships, yeah.
SM: My second book was
about a house full of women and it’s one hundred percent what it was like to live
in a house full of women at Smith. I think it’s hard to not to look back on
your life at that time when you were sort of having those breathless moments
and put that stuff into the books.
LC: Do you have a
favorite book you have written or one that’s closest to your heart?
EJ: I would say that
the book that is closest to your heart is the one you are writing at the
moment. I am so excited about my book coming out this spring by it because my
hero is not a gentleman. A gentleman would never seduce a lady. (Well if you’re
not a gentleman and your nickname is Thorn, you do whatever you want.) For me,
the key is with every book is to come up with something new, something you’ve
never done, you know a challenge. If you don’t challenge yourself, the readers
are going to be bored because you’re just calling it in. So it’s a big
challenge this time. I’m writing and rewriting and rewriting, but its fun. I’m
really enjoying it.
SM: I think that’s probably true, you get so into
the book that you’re working on. I just finished the final bits of No Duke Goes Unpunished, which
comes out this November and this book is really different for me. Talk about a
challenge. What I love about this book is that I have known this character’s
story from the beginning. I knew that the hero who is a bare-knuckled boxer was
a fallen duke, and he was known throughout London as being a killer. And I knew
that his heroine would be the woman who he was to have killed.
EJ: Who about to marry his father as I understand
SM: …challenge. Yeah
who was about to marry his father…
EJ: His almost stepmother. Talk about a challenge.
SM: Sometimes when
you’re writing something you have the idea in your head. You think to yourself,
“This is it.” “This is the idea.” And then you get the page and you’re
thinking, “How am I ever going to pull this off?” It’s been a really
hard time for me to turn these ships around but, gosh, I am crazy about them
LC: How do you
navigate that when you hit that point in your writing where you’re not quite
sure how to get out of a situation or where it’s going next?
SM: You do a lot of
drinking wine with your friends. [Laugh]
EJ: You do. You
literally go to wine bars and talk it through. And you leave and, you’re like,
“Oh, I have it.” And then you go back to your desk and, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t
SM: And it’s gone. [Laugh]
EJ: It is one tiny
little thing that still works. So you have some of it. And that’s what you do.
LC: Well you both pull
it off very well. Thank you for time and, lastly, congratulations on your
recent RITA awards!
EJ & SM: Thank you! Thank
you for having us.
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