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Vicky Dreiling

RITA Best First Book 2012 Interviews: Historical

RITA Best First Book 2012 Interviews: Historical

Welcome to part two of the 2012 RITA Best First Book interview series. Up today are the rakes and scoundrels, strumpets and spies, ladies and lords. Luscious historical tidbits follow, so let us know in the comments what struck your fancy and if you’d like to win this set of books.

About the nominated books…

The Darling Strumpet, by Gillian Bagwell: Nell Gwynn, one of history’s most famous courtesans, is the inspiration for this novel, set in 17th century London.

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian BagwellOpening lines: The sun shone hot and bright in the glorious May sky, and the streets of London were rivers of joyous activity.

Nell Gwynn’s six word memoir: From nothing to the king’s bed!

She is… one of the first actresses in England! Nell got her start in the theatre selling oranges, but it wasn’t long before her saucy wit and likeable sex appeal got her noticed. She rapidly became a beloved comic actress, and she and her lover and mentor Charles Hart, one of the leading actors of the King’s Company, inspired a wave of romantic comedies and became the William Powell and Myrna Loy of the 1660s!

What readers will love about the hero: He’s Charles II, King of England, one of the most charismatic men in history! But he understands Nell and can identify surprisingly well with her impoverished childhood and desperate need for security.

The first kiss happens… in the king’s privy chamber, after a private supper engineered by the Duke of Buckingham, who was raised with Charles II and was like a brother to him. Nell knows what she’s getting into—Buckingham has made it clear he wants to put a mistress in the king’s bed who will be friendly to him and influence the king for him.

A scene I vividly remember writing: There’s a scene when [Nell] and Charles Hart walk out to observe the devastation in the aftermath of [the Great Fire of London in 1666]. St. Paul’s Cathedral has fallen and the streets around it are unrecognizable jumbles of ruin. I wrote that scene as an exercise when I was taking Kerry Madden’s class—the direction was to have the character start in stillness and then move faster and faster and finally come to rest. I had Nell have a panic attack as she is overwhelmed by a sense of loss, devastation, and disorientation, which worked well in the context of the story. I know that area of London very well and could imagine how it might have looked in those awful days after the fire. And fortunately the diarist Samuel Pepys left a very vivid description of touring the fire area and what he saw.

An unexpected research detour: One of the books I read while writing researching The Darling Strumpet was Derek Wilson’s All the King’s Women, about the various women in Charles II’s life. Wilson wrote about Charles’s desperate flight after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and how a young woman named Jane Lane helped him by disguising him as her servant and riding with him to Bristol…. The Royal Miracle, as the whole odyssey came to be called, was a very formative episode in Charles’s life—after he was restored to the throne he told the tale over and over…. When my agent asked what I was going to write next, I suggested Jane Lane and her adventures with Charles, and was delighted to find that no one had written a novel about her yet!

What readers seem to love about The Darling Strumpet: Nell Gwynn’s life really was a Cinderella story—a rags-to-riches, local-girl-makes-good rise from obscurity and hardship of the kind readers love. She was born into poverty, with an abusive drunk for a mother and no father. According to legend, when she was a small child she actually gathered cinders and the leavings of fires and sold them to soap makers, and later she sold oysters on the street. But she rose to become a beloved comic actress and the life-long mistress of King Charles II.

The Devil in Disguise, by Stefanie Sloane: The title character is also known as “Iron Will,” a spy charged with the duty of protecting a lady who doesn’t approve of him at all.

The Devil in Disguise, by Stefanie SloaneOpening lines: Lady Lucinda Grey had not precisely decided what she would do if the overly eager Matthew Redding, Lord Cuthbert, compared her eyes to the Aegean Sea.

The protagonist’s six-word memoir: William Randall, the Duke of Clairemont, is a sexy spy for God’s sake. He doesn’t have the time to write a memoir.

The heroine is… part-owner in a horse breeding business. But it is a Regency historical, so officially she’s a tea-drinking, gown-wearing, waltz-dancing, pianoforte-playing lady of the ton.

What readers will love about the hero: See answer to question #1.

What readers seem to love about The Devil in Disguise: It’s witty, adventurous, and fun. Their words, not mine.

How to Marry a Duke, by Vicky Dreiling: In the midst of a mad matrimonial contest, a matchmaker falls in love with her client. Dreiling’s books are also nominated in two other categories.

How to Marry a Duke by Vicky DreilingOpening lines: The belles of the Beau Monde had resorted to clumsiness in an effort to snag a ducal husband.

Tessa Mansfield’s six-word memoir: Everything happens for a reason.

She is a … matchmaker.

What readers will love about the hero: Tristan’s wit and his sense of honor.

The first kiss happens… in a library.

I vividly remember writing… The proposal scene. I knew from the beginning that I wanted a Cinderella twist of an ending.

This book taught me… to expect the unexpected. The surprises are the best part of writing.

An unexpected research detour: I took a boat tour of the Thames that gave me the idea for the ill-fated barge scene in How to Marry a Duke.

What readers seem to love about How to Marry a Duke: The night before the RWA nominations, I told a friend I was managing my expectations–below sea level. Imagine my shock when I got the call and learned that I’d finaled three times. I have no idea how I got so lucky. ;-)

About the authors…

Number of books I wrote before this one sold:


GILLIAN BAGWELL: Zero; this was the first.

How I found my agent:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Random House party, RWA 2000-something. Jenn told the best beaver story ever and I was smitten. No, not that kind of beaver.

VICKY DREILING: By accident – twice. You can read the crazy story here:

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I attended a writers’ conference and paid extra to get critiques of my first 20 pages from two different agents. The first one I met with said she loved it and wanted to see the first 100 pages. She loved that and passed it on to her colleague, Kevan Lyon, who told me she was very interested and was willing to work with me as I finished the book—I didn’t even have a complete first draft yet. It took almost two years, with her reading my work and giving me feedback, before I finally finished the book. Kevan called me when she was halfway through reading it and said she wanted to sign me. And then she sold it—and a second book, as yet unwritten—within a few weeks.

Someone who helped me along the way:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Jennifer McCord, publishing professional. Jenn’s an absolute font of knowledge and a total mensch to boot.

VICKY DREILING: There are so many, but to keep this brief, I must mention my mentor Gerry Bartlett. She’s given me great advice and lots of encouragement.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: Besides Kevan, who I can’t thank enough, I received a lot of encouragement, support, and good writing advice from Kerry Madden, an author whose classes I took at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California when I came back from London in 2006.

One piece of wisdom I’ve gained:

VICKY DREILING: Trust my writing process.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: Just write the book. When I’m having a hard time I tell myself it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. I can revise it later and make it better. For me rewriting it much easier than getting than cranking out that first draft. And believe in yourself!

Acceptance speech—wing it, prepare it, or something in-between?

STEFANIE SLOANE: Totally prepared and ends with a Susan Sarandon moment where I demand world peace and encourage everyone to support their local animal shelter.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: If I’m fortunate enough to win, I would thank the RITA voters, my agent, and my editor. I think I can manage that without notes!

What’s coming up next?

STEFANIE SLOANE: The Scoundrel Takes a Bride will be published December 26th, 2012. Here’s the skinny: A notorious scoundrel, the right Honorable Nicholas Bourne has spent years in the East Indies amassing a fortune through questionable means. Still, his loyalty to his older brother, Langdon, and his childhood friends remains true and trusted. But when Lady Sophia Southwell, the woman promised to Nicholas’s brother, seeks his help on a dangerous mission, he is troubled—and torn. Unable to dissuade her from her quest to find a killer, he vows to keep her safe. This makes his mission the hardest test of his wits, honor, and skill. For Sophia is the secret love of his life. For years, Sophia has planned her daring act of revenge against her mother’s killer. She has painstakingly prepared herself by studying the criminal mind. Now she knows that the moment is right and that Nicholas is the man to help her. But she doesn’t count on the reckless temptation of his rugged sensuality or the captivating intensity in his deep eyes. When desire and emotion intoxicate her as they venture together into the darkest corners of London’s underbelly, Sophia must contend with a yearning even more powerful than the quest for vengeance: the call of love.

VICKY DREILING: A novella starring a minor character from How to Ravish a Rake and three additional full-length Regency historical romances.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I’m just finishing my third novel, Venus in Winter, based on the first 40 years of the life of Bess of Hardwick, the formidable four-times widowed Tudor dynast who began life in genteel poverty and ended as the richest and most powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth; built Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall; and is the forebear of numerous noble lines including the Dukedoms of Devonshire, Norfolk, Somerset, and Newcastle, the Earls of Lincoln, Portsmouth, Kellie, and Pembroke, the Baron Waterpark, and the current royal family of Britain.

Oddest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:

STEFANIE SLOANE: I twist my hair around my finger. You know, like a mindless flirt in a really bad romantic comedy. Only I’m not flirting, I’m thinking. About the book, of course. Or what Kate Middleton might wear to the Olympics opening ceremonies. But probably the book.

VICKY DREILING: I wear Bose noise cancellation ear phones and listen to playlists I put together for each book. Readers can listen to the playlists on my website.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I don’t really have any particular rituals or habits. I need a reasonable amount of peace and quiet; that’s about it. One of my favorite quotes by an author is something to the effect of “I write when I feel inspired. And I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 o’clock.”

The worst part about writing a novel:

STEFANIE SLOANE: The writing part.

VICKY DREILING: Writing The End, because I know I’ll miss the characters.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: Feeling under the gun to meet my publisher’s deadline. My books take a massive amount of research and I feel overwhelmed when I start and wonder how I can ever possibly finish. I’d love the luxury of more time— and a big enough advance so I’m not worrying about money while I’m writing!

The part I relish:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Having written.

VICKY DREILING: The first kiss.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: It’s magic when I’m able to really get into a character’s world. When I first began working on The September Queen, I went on a research trip to England and visited Boscobel and Moseley Old Hall, two of the places where Charles II hid. Looking down into the actual priest hole where he hid at Moseley gave me chills.

How I fill my creative well:


VICKY DREILING: I read, watch movies, and go to lunch with friends.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I find that once I start writing and am in the groove things just come. I love it when I write a scene that I didn’t know I was going to write, or when a scene comes out differently than I thought it would.

I’m an author, but I’m also…

STEFANIE SLOANE: A wife, mom, volunteer, businesswoman, chocolate cake lover, pitbull advocate, and card carrying member of The Clash fan club.

VICKY DREILING: A reader and a mom.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I grew up around theatre, began my professional life as an actress, and then began directing and producing theatre. I founded the Pasadena Shakespeare Company and ran it for nine years, producing 37 critically acclaimed shows. My years of experience in theatre very much informed my writing about Nell’s life on stage.

Last class I took or skill I learned:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Last class I took? “Good God, get a hold of yourself because puberty is coming and you’re about to die” class with my pre-tween. Skill I learned? How to lock myself in the bathroom and avoid my “Good God, get a hold of yourself because puberty is coming and you’re about to die” pre-tween.

VICKY DREILING: A workshop with Michael Hauge.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I recently took a class in copy editing, adding an arrow to my quiver of word-related skills that can give me freelance work while I’m writing.

A book or author I recommend again and again:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Anything by David Sedaris. He’s hysterically funny and heartbreakingly true all at the same time.

VICKY DREILING: Loretta Chase.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: Well, of course Diana Gabaldon is a big favorite of mine. I love her books and have read them several times. She was at the Historical Novel Society Conference in 2007, the first writers’ conference I went to. I was working on The Darling Strumpet at the time and was really inspired by hearing her story and how she became a writer after being well established in a much different career. Especially because she talked about starting to write Outlander and considering it to be her “practice book.” Some practice book!

My favorite book at age ten:

STEFANIE SLOANE: The Black Stallion series. Walter Farley’s horse smarts and love for his subject, combined with the fantastic adventures Alec and Black experience, made for a reading experience I’ve never forgotten.

VICKY DREILING: Little House on the Prairie.

GILLIAN BAGWELL: I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. My mother read them to us and I read them to myself over and over, and Laura and her family felt like members of my own family. She brought her experiences and the past so vividly to life. My sisters and I still refer to “Laura” and we know who we’re talking about!

Thank you, authors! The final installment in this series will appear next week, and the RITA winners will be announced at the RWA national conference on July 28.





REVIEW: How to Marry a Duke by Vicky Dreiling

REVIEW: How to Marry a Duke by Vicky Dreiling

Dear Ms. Dreiling:

I was curious about your book as it sounded like a fun historical romp. I like fun historical romps. I like books that don’t take themselves too seriously. This is not one of those books. This book featured unlikeable characters, a gimmicky setup, but was one of the best representations of the fantasy historical regency setting that seems to be a favorite within the genre.

how to marry a duke DrielingThe date is 1816 and our intrepid spinster heroine (Tessa) is attending a ball basking in the glow of the happiness exuded by her most recent and successful matchmaking attempt. At the same ball is our beleaguered hero who is attending the ball with the dual purpose of finding a bride and avoiding the debutantes. A conundrum, for sure.

Said beleaguered hero (Tristan, Duke of Shelbourne) seizes upon a genius idea. He approaches Tessa and presents a proposal to her. She can make him a match and he will give her a week to do it. The two have a private (the first of many) exchange in which Tristan gives Tessa a list of qualities he is looking for in a woman. He also adds this provision:

“There is one important quality I neglected to include”   He paused a moment as if assessing her.   “I should be able to detect a hint of…passion in the lady’s nature.”

Her jaw dropped.

He looked amused.   “Have I shocked you.”   (note, they were, just two pages earlier discussing his liasons with widows and adultery)

She tapped his paper.   “You said you want a respectable bride.”

“I do, but I plan to remain faithful and want a wife who will abandon her inhibitions,” he said.

She huffed.   “No, you want the impossible–a virtuous courtesan.”

“I want an angel in the ballroom and a temptress in…. private”

Tristan wants his bride to be smart and enjoyable and virtuous. Also a “temptress” in bed.   Oh and their deal is to be kept confidential. Chapter two ends with this:

“I want to keep our dealings quiet.   I’m weary of all the notoriety,” he said.

“The papers have made a jest of my honorable intentions.”

“I understand,” she said. “but I can’t promise secrecy when everyone is watching you.”

He let out a gusty sigh.   “No matter what I do I cannot avoid drawing attention.”

“I can make one promise to you,” she said, meeting his gaze.   “I will never reveal our conversations to another soul.”

Chapter three starts with Tristan arriving at Tessa’s home on her invitation where upon he finds 24 eligible brides and their mothers ensconced in Tessa’s home (her receiving room must be enormous to hold nearly fifty women). Tessa then declares to everyone that the Duke has retained her to find him a bride. Um, what happened to the “I will never reveal our conversations to another soul?”

Here is the gimmicky part: The 24 girls will be “courted” by Tristan and he’ll eliminate a few each week until he gives one a rose in a big rose ceremony at the end surrounded by his family, her family, and a dozen cameras. Oh wait, that’s the wrong show. Tristan will eliminate a few until he is betrothed to one and announces said betrothal at a big ball at the end, surrounded by his family, her family, and dozens of the ton looking on. Yes, this book is the Bachelor meets Regency England as defined by the romance genre.

I don’t find deceit or manipulation cute. I find it irritating at best, a fatal character flaw at worse but this was just glossed over as if she is doing this in his best interest. So instead of keeping his confidence and meeting her obligation, she forces him to court twenty four women over the course of several weeks. Nice and humiliating for him, not to mention the 24 women.

The first “test”?   The chits write an essay on why she wants to be the duke. Apparently the essay test was to for him to observe how they react in demanding situations and only one of them finished the essay so he says she passed. Tristan, however, is upset that the essays are so banal. Why is he even grading them if the content of the essay wasn’t the point of the essay test? Wouldn’t he just say:   “I’ve no need to read the essays. Only one of the chits passed.”

The text of the story doesn’t match with what is shown. And in that vein, let’s talk about Tessa as a matchmaker. She is the worst matchmaker of all time. It’s not like she is presented as a matchmaker by accident, and that her ineptness laughably leads to awesome results. No, she is proud of being a matchmaker. Her first thought when approached by Tristan is that this match could make her name. She thinks she is good at this but when news spreads to of her bachelorette scheme, Tessa belatedly recognizes that the duchess, Tristan’s mother, is humiliated because it is the mother’s role to find the wife. When the girls who are eliminated begin to spread malicious gossip, Tessa’s response again is of surprise. When one of the girls accepts a proposal from another man for whom she had a well known tender and the duke is humiliated, Tessa is surprised. She was sure that the girl wouldn’t accept another proposal. When the majority of the girls are vapid, cruel and uninteresting, isn’t she to blame as the matchmaker?

“If she had known these two were so horrid, she would never have invited them to participate in the courtship.   As she knocked on the next door, Tessa resolved to warn the Duke about them.”

Women are eliminated for not following the matchmaker’s directions.  This would be fine if she was running a school but she is trying to find the BEST PERSON TO MARRY THE DUKE, not the one who follows her instructions the best.

Maybe the point was that Tessa was deliberately sabotaging the list so she could catch the Duke for herself but she picked this slate just after meeting the Duke and there was no intimation that she had feelings of lust or anything for him. She wanted to make her name as a matchmaker.

Shouldn’t a matchmaker in society have an understanding of who she is dealing with? Shouldn’t she be astute about the inner workings of the ton, how gossip can spread, how it can be stifled? Shouldn’t her understanding of societal machinations be superior? Shouldn’t she be actively looking for people who actually MATCH? Instead of 24 random girls from society who look, superficially, to be a good spouse for the duke. I mean Tessa is like a pattern card for exactly how NOT to be a matchmaker. Tessa evinces so little insight into anyone and anything that there is no way I buy her as a successful matchmaker.
Further, wouldn’t her reputation have to be spotless? In fact, the characters drone on and on about reputations yet the two of them meet privately in her home frequently. Her response to his inquiries about the wiseness of their private meetings:

“I pay them twice the standard wages and hire more than strictly necessary, so they are not overburdened.”   She smiled.   “I treat them with respect, and in return they are devoted to me.   So you need not worry on my account.”

This is a shining example of the romancelandia fantasy historical.   It wants us to use the setting to provide conflict and color but it doesn’t abide by any of the constrictions of that time period unless it is convenient for the story.
There is some passing credence given to the mores of the times such as multiple references as how they should be careful with her reputation or how a matchmaking “career” is notorious and not really for a woman of her birth and station but of course, none of those mores are observed. Tessa’s butler dresses down Tristan and he takes it with good humor. Tessa is able to pass in and out of society without qualms and without censorship.   The private assignations continue. Her “career” (the word used repeatedly in the book) is discussed as if it should be an issue of pride instead of embarrassment. The debutantes and Tristan engage in frank discourse during one scene in which the girls get to question the duke and the first asks how many girls he has kissed. After one exchange, one of the gently bred ladies pumps her fist in the air in exultation.   Really?   At some point, I expected someone to burst out with “Who let the dogs out? Woop, Woop.”

We are supposed to think well of the heroine because she befriends spinsters. That’s her sole redeeming feature. She likes spinsters and wall flowers.

She’s distressed that he admits to knowing her better than any of the candidates. How can this be a surprise. She’s spent hours alone with him.   They talk.   He and the candidates play stupid games that she took a part in inventing.

Nothing really gelled for me in this book. I recall one page in which the heroine trots out a French phrase. Other than touche, I don’t remember there being even one other French phrase. What was the point of that?

“My mother confronted me about the barge after you left the drawing room,” he said, his voice rumbling.   “You took all the blame.”

“I made a promise to you, and I will not break it.” (What PROMISE?)

“You are loyal,” he whispered.

“To those I believe in.”   Je crois en toi.

I didn’t believe, or like, any of the characters in this story. I felt like it presented a historically unrealistic setting peopled with a heroine who couldn’t match two cards together let alone two people and a hero that was duller than dishwater. D

Best regards,


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