Posted in: Author interviews, Azteclady Speaks
Let’s welcome author Carrie Lofty to KKB! Carrie has agreed to let me grill her a bit before her historical romance officially hits the stands tomorrow, so let’s get right down to it!
Your debut full length novel, What a Scoundrel Wants, is released tomorrow, December 2nd by Kensington, with Scoundrel’s Kiss slated for release in late 2009. These are both historical romances set in rather unusual time periods—in the Middle Ages, one in England and the other in Spain. Your previously published short story “Through the Garden Gate”, is a time travel romance set in Sorrento, Italy in 1958.
And my first manuscript, Serenade, which will be available as a free serial beginning in January, was set in 1804 Salzburg. Guilty on all counts, I’m afraid. Would you believe I started out with more conventional fare as a grad student of history? My master’s thesis was on the American outlaws Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok. But perhaps studying the Old West for a decade made me eager to seek out new places once I left academia.
Why choosing unusual time periods or settings for historical novels? What about these two periods intrigues you? Or is it simply the challenge of going off the beaten path and trailblazing in a market that has, for the past couple of decades, seemed to narrow more and more?
If I had the market in mind, I’d walk that more well-trod path! But England isn’t so bad, especially because the Robin Hood myths are so recognizable. As for unusual settings, I think of it as travel. I want to see these places in my mind, either today or as they were in the past, so I’m lucky to work in a profession where delving into research and reading to my heart’s content is actually a plus. As with most writers, I’m creating stories that I’d want to read—ones that I couldn’t find on the shelves already.
If the setting and/or time period for a particular romance novel are unusual, at least to most romance readers, are there any conventions that must be respected by every author, or is it easier to set those same conventions in their ear when in a fresher setting? For example, the HEA—must there be marriage, children, prosperity, peace, health in the protagonists’ future, or can it be simply a continuation of the journey?
Romance is romance, no matter where or when it’s set. I love happy endings. But the ending should be appropriate to the characters. Meg and Will are the lovey-dovey, picket fences types, so I wrote an ending that would reflect a moment of peace in their lives, just as they step into a mutual future. As for conventions, I think readers need a window through which they can view an unusual setting, like having a tour guide. Perhaps that tour guide can be an English-speaking character in an unfamiliar place or time, but conventions work too—the expectation that the hero and heroine will fall in love and cherish each other. Eventually! The story of that love affair is still the central focus, no matter the details.
Does a novel setting and period offer more latitude in terms of character development, or does it make it more challenging for the writer? For example, what is considered heroic or gallant today is not necessarily what was considered heroic or gallant seven hundred years ago. How do you adapt that to a modern audience without playing false with historical fact?
Historical settings make right and wrong a little easier to portray. The hero is just and able to act according to a reliable moral compass. The villain gets it in the end—a righteous kill, where we all can agree the world’s better off without him. No trial or inquest. But the beauty of working within the Robin Hood mythos is that readers expect just as much of the old legend as they do actual history. As I like to say, the only thing we know about Robin Hood is that a wily outlaw once roamed the woods of northern England. That’s all. Everything else, from his name to his crimes to when he might have lived, is open to interpretation. So I worked on making details about everyday life, customs, and Meg’s alchemy accurate, then let my imagination do the rest.
Back in late 2006, you founded an author group or special interest blog, around the concept of unusual historicals—unusual both in setting and time period. What did you expected to accomplish with the blog? Have you been successful in achieving that goal?
My initial objectives were to fatten my TBR pile and make connections with like-minded writers, both of which proved easier than I expected. I’d also finished Serenade that fall and wanted to see if I was completely off-base trying to sell an unusual historical. Now the site is where I bring together the quirky sojourners of our genre and learn what everyone’s been able to sneak into the market!
What, if anything, in this endeavor has surprised you?
Well, we’re all very busy, so coordinating the blog can be a pain in the rear. Yet I’ve been pleased to hear how eager people are for a taste of something new. Unusual historicals may not become a staple in any romance readers’ diet, but we can provide the variety everyone likes on occasion.
What a Scoundrel Wants presents an alternative take on the legend of Robin Hood, specifically on the character of Will Scarlet. What made you choose him as your hero? (Other than Christian Slater’s portrayal of the character in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, that is)
Ah, Christian. He was the spark, yes. But after I started reading the old Robin Hood ballads, stories from as early as the 15th century, I began to see patterns. Robin was the star, obviously. Little John was the trusty sidekick, and Marian eventually became the love interest, although she didn’t debut until centuries later. Will was different. He’s been a cad, a dandy, a thug, a turn-coat, a newbie, a hothead, a doubter, and a victim. Basically, he is what authors needed for any particular story. I decided to see if he had the mettle to become a hero. But neither did I forget his roots, in that I had Friar Tuck reference Will’s place in the legend: “No ballad of yours will bear your name. Whether for masteries or misdeeds, I hear the first line now: ‘Brave Robin Hood’s dear nephew did traverse the merry wood.’”
Dealing with a relatively well known character—most people have at least some idea as to who Will Scarlet was, whether accurate or not—how comfortable did you feel about built-in audience expectations for him?
I dealt more with expectations of the legend. For example, modern adaptations have made King Richard’s Third Crusade the backdrop, although most research puts the first mention of a “Robin Hood” person much later. I kept that setting because it fit what I consider romantic and sweeping about the legend. Also, no matter what role Will Scarlet has played, his youthful, masculine antagonism toward Robin comes standard. I retained that antagonism as a central part of Will’s character, at the crux of his relationship with Robin. One man is coming-of-age, another man feels somewhat past his prime, and both have to make hard choices.
By now your second novel, Scoundrel’s Kiss, is done and at your publisher’s, and is slated for release late next year. What were the differences, if any, between writing the first and the second novel?
That was the first time I’d written under deadline, which did inexplicable things to my mental process. Maybe more pressure? Plus the heroine, Meg’s sister Ada, is a tough cookie. She’s a manifestation of a lot of characteristics I don’t like about myself—either now or from my past—so I was pretty hard on her. Finding her happy ending was a thorny path. I was also assimilating research about a new-to-me location, medieval Castile in modern-day Spain, which meant learning and then portraying a very different culture. Good stuff, though. I loved the challenge, which really is the fun (and madness) of this process. I can’t wait for readers to check out the end result.
Do you plan to make it a trilogy or more? Or are new periods and settings in your writing future?
I’ve submitted proposals for two more Scoundrel books. The third would be set in Castile and Tuscany with a Jewish hero and a heroine who has two children, and the fourth would follow a Mediterranean pirate from Sicily to Crete, Greece, and Venice. Both feature lead characters that are introduced in either What a Scoundrel Wants or Scoundrel’s Kiss. Fingers crossed. I’m also working on a romantic historical fiction set in WWII and a sci-fi romance. Can you tell I get restless?
As a reader, the experience of reading a full length novel and reading a short story or a novella, are each unique—from pacing to subject matter, there are limitations and stylistic approaches unique to each. I have seen that you are planning on writing more short stories as well as stand alone novels; do you approach these projects differently, and if so, how?
The short stories are just for me. The novels are too, in a sense, but I have fewer market expectations for short stories. For example, I have no intention of breaking into contemporaries, but there’s a story in my head about dancers that I might just have to write down one day. So the shorter word count is a place where I can purge an interesting idea, rather than making a big “it’s a novel!” deal out of it. Limitations aside, the benefit is that I can get to the heart of the romance much faster. Skip the plot, go for the hot!
The manuscript had placed in two contests in the spring of 2007, one of which would be announced at Nationals in Dallas. So I attended on the pretext of being there for the contest result—and also to pitch for the first time. Hilary Sares arrived for my appointment, read the blurb on my business card, and said, “I want the full.” We spent the rest of the time talking about Russell Crowe [A: yummy! excellent choice, excellent indeed]. Who knew? Some weeks later, I mailed it to her on a Monday. She called me on Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t know the post office could move so quickly! Luckily, my little girls had started pre-school that week, so I was alone when she called and able to conduct myself as a professional—until I got off the phone, of course, whereupon I bounced around like a damn rabbit. Pizza and champagne followed, as well as an (eventually successful) agent hunt.
For some fun *evil cackle* complete the sentences:
Typos are unavoidable.
Plotter or pantser Plotted characters, pants-ed plots.
If plotter, full outline or sketch…sketch.
Perfect birthday gift chocolate and time alone. [A: keep the chocolate, gimme some books]
Preferred reading material is so very fiction historical romance, historical fiction, speculative fiction like (light) sci-fi and futuristic romances, and popular literary fiction. .
Keeper shelves or not? Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), Dune (Frank Herbert), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), Atonement (Ian McEwan), The Siege (Helen Dunmore), The Virgin Blue (Tracy Chevalier), Fire & Rain (Elizabeth Lowell), Santana Rose (Olga Bicos), A Very Long Engagement (Sebastien Japrisot), Mr. Impossible (Loretta Chase), The Outsider (Penelope Williamson), Water, Carry Me (Thomas Moran), Night in Eden (Candice Proctor), The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), and most all of Susan Wiggs‘ historical romances from the 90s (The Mistress, The Drifter, Halfway to Heaven, The Charm School)–which meant I was the world’s biggest fangirl when she gave me my cover quote. Oh, and the collected works of Shakespeare, a book I’ve sworn to finish before my girls head off to college.
How many? Um, several hundred? We live in a condo so I have to be very picky.
Take heart, we are almost done! In one sentence (yes, it can be a long, run-on sentence) tell readers why they should read What a Scoundrel Wants.
In these uncertain economic times—she says, only half joking—readers will love this escape filled with cinematic action, snappy banter, tasty-hot sex, man angst, a heartbreaking heroine, crazy explosions, and a hard-earned happy ending, all for less than a Starbucks grande mocha.
So there you have it, peeps, go forth and have some riproaring good time following wastrel/heroic Will’s advantures.