In this exclusive Q&A, romance author Sarah MacLean interviews Loretta Chase about historical high end dressmaking and her new book, "Vixen in Velvet."
Sarah MacLean: With The Dressmakers series, you've turned the classic historical romance heroine on her head - here we have three heroines who have skill and income, not always marriageable traits for women in the 1800s. If that's not enough, the Noirot sisters might be described as scoundrels in their own right. What drew you to these heroines?
Loretta Chase: Well, the clothes. But seriously, high end dressmaking in the 1830s was like haute couture today, and this is not a job for sissies. Competition is brutal. Success demands steely determination, ruthlessness, single-mindedness, and all those other sterling qualities I and my heroes like in a heroine. Plus the clothes, which in the 1830s are highly entertaining.
SM: Your heroes, on the other hand, are historical romance perfection - wealthy, arrogant, and titled. Each one must at some point come to terms with his heroine, who not only cares more for business than for love, but is also descended from scandalous bloodlines. What is it about the cross-class romance match that we just can't resist?
LC: It’s a great romance fantasy, so subversive. In real life, cross-class relationships were usually disastrous for women. In romance, the woman triumphs over centuries of class-consciousness, and makes the hero a greater man than he would have been otherwise. Too, I always like a good fight—with wisecracks—between two strong-willed people who come from different worlds.
SM: A hallmark of your novels is your attention to historical detail. One of my favorite scenes in all of romance is the moment in Lord of Scoundrels when Dain breaks the sticks of Jessica's fan-slash-dance card--a dance card plucked straight from history. In The Dressmakers series, the dresses and hats designed by your heroines come alive on the page--thanks to your effortless descriptions (the product of no doubt meticulous research). Does your love for the research inspire your stories? Or does the story come first and the research follow?
LC: It works both ways, but I love research and it definitely juices my imagination. Prints and paintings help me envision a scene: the setting, the mood, and the ways I can use elements of the environment, like the British Institution or Vauxhall, for action. With a fashion plate, I’m looking at it usually from the hero’s point of view, which is often comical as well as sex-focused (he’s a guy!), and as a way to forward action. In Vixen in Velvet, the (mostly dreadful) poetry so popular in 19th century ladies’ magazines inspired a subplot.
SM: While we're on the subject of Lord of Scoundrels: The book is regularly identified as one of the best romance novels of all time. Why does Jessica & Dain's story resonates so powerfully with readers?
LC: I wish I had the answer. All I know is that the writing gods must have smiled on me when I created those two characters. It was a special book. It felt that way when I wrote it, but I cannot analyze it.
SM: So many historical writers (myself included) are influenced by your work. Who do you count among your literary influences?
LC: Thank you for saying that! It’s a major compliment. Because, look: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and all those screenwriters of screwball comedy—are just a few of the writers who’ve inspired and influenced me.
SM: What can readers expect from Dressmakers #4?
LC: Lady Clara Fairfax will finally meet her match. And so will the hero. There will be clothes, off and on. But probably no poetry.
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