Amazon romance expert Lena Cohen spoke with best-selling author Elizabeth Hoyt about the timeless nature of her characters and internal versus external power in this exclusive Q&A.
Lena Cohen: I’d love to talk a bit about your latest release, Duke of Midnight. The characters have some secrets they are withholding in this book. How did that play into developing their personas and relationships?
Elizabeth Hoyt: I have layered characters so you don’t always find out everything about the character the first couple of pages. In this case, the hero is a Duke and is extremely powerful but, when he was younger, his father was murdered in front of him and he hasn’t told anybody. I think that often with characters it’s important when they have secrets that they reveal them to each other, as opposed to just the reader because there’s another layer. So, in this case, he does tell the heroine later in the book exactly what happened and what his reaction was.I think almost all my characters have a public persona and a private persona, and I think that happens in real life too. The private one is often much more interesting, especially if you’re falling in love and becoming intimate.
LC: Did you have a sense when you started the series where the characters would be at this point or do they sometimes surprise you?
EH: Both, because I knew all along that the hero was going to be a very powerful man. I didn’t initially know who his heroine was going to be. When you have a powerful man, it’s important to have a powerful woman. So the question is, is she powerful externally in her social position, or is it internally? In this case, it’s very much internally. Artemis, the heroine, has no social position. She’s of aristocracy but she’s lost everything because her brother was considered mad, which at that time people thought could be handed down in families. So she’s not marryable, she has no money, she doesn’t have any social position but her power comes from within so I think it’s actually a very good match.
LC: You masterfully add an edge to historical romance, does the time period help exaggerate the ability to portray a darker shade of adventure?
EH: I think so, definitely, because I write in the Georgian period which is right before the Regency and a little grittier. My books are set about the 1730’s and 40’s. To me, it’s a grittier more colorful time period. There were some very poor people, a lot of crime, a lot of poverty and all the social ills that go with that, such as addiction in the form of gin. At the same time, there were very rich people who were guilding everything – ceilings were gold, their clothes were gold, their carriages were gold – living this opulent over-the-top lifestyle and they’re really close together. So I think that contrast and the kind of personas that come from that are so interesting. I think that greed is more interesting, edgy, than rich people who just take it for granted and that’s all it is.
LC: Even though you’re writing historical, do you draw parallels from your life or our current time?
EH: I think historicals are a fantasy world, but you want to have real characters so the worries they have are human worries that are going to be there all along. So characters like the Duke are from the time period but they’re universal in that I want my characters to transcend the time period.
LC: You have a distinct voice. How did you uncover your voice when you first started writing?
EH: I think I’ve always had it. [Laughs] I started writing when I was thirty-five so I was a mature woman, I had two kids and was married; not much of a career but I knew who I was.
LC: Has it changed as you’ve been writing?
EH: No. I don’t think it’s changed; I think I’ve become surer of it. I think most writers do because you know what you’re doing. With the first book, it’s like “What am I doing? Is this good? Where am I going with this?” You develop a certain surety over time.
LC: You also have an alter ego called Julia Harper for contemporary romance, so you have two very distinct, different voices. Can you talk a bit about the differences?
EH: Yeah, right now I’m writing a contemporary that will be out next summer. I do think I have two distinct voices; I think that contemporary is more of what I sound like every day. My contemporaries are very light, very fast, and funny. They have a lot of plot and characters, are more off the cuff, not to be taken as seriously. This is the beauty of writing two different genres, by the way. I like doing both. With historical I can do more serious stuff, more stuff about what it means to be in love. In contemporaries I’m more interested in character lightness and how I can make the plot more complicated.
LC: Do those two voices parallel two different sides of you?
EH: Oh, probably. And there are more sides of me obviously, and with everybody. I grew up as a very shy teenager. I think a lot of writers are like that. I think part of it was the idea of what people saw of who I was and who I felt I was inside. I always knew I was a strong person inside but that didn’t project; people just thought I was shy and quiet. So I think a lot of what I write about is the difference between what people think that person is and what they really are.
LC: Are a lot of your characters based on you?
EH: Yes and no; I think strength of character is universal but not necessarily. For example, the heroine in the contemporary is a CPA and I’m really bad at math [laughs]. So, no, not necessarily, and of course with the heroes, part of what they embody is me as well but a lot of it is not.
LC: Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written or one that is closest to your heart?
EH: Well, you know, they’re all special but I think To Seduce a Sinner, which is the second book in The Legend of the Four Soldiers series was particularly close because it was so darn hard to write. The hero was something of a clown on the surface, he was the life of the party, often making quips, but inside he wasn’t like that. To make that person a hero was a little more difficult, and the heroine in contrast was actually very shy. She was probably the closest to what I was as a teenager; extremely shy, socially awkward. But I must say, I ended that very well – the beauty of finding out what they loved about each other was a good one but those books can be the hardest to write.
LC: What are you reading now?
EH: I am reading Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady, which I’m late to the party on that one. I started reading and was like “Dude, this is really good!” and everyone is like “Yeah, we know.” [Laughs] It’s stupendously good. I’m really pleased to be reading it.
LC: What is next for you?
EH:Duke of Midnight came out in October and then the contemporary under the name Julia Harper will be out summer or fall of next year!
LC: Thank you so much!
EH: Thank you!
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