This month’s book club pick was reviewed by Jennie and we’ve reposted it today for a refresher. Grant debuted with a magnificent historical novel, A Lady Awakened, at the very end of 2011. Since then we’ve been treated to two more remarkable stories featuring very different characters. Her latest book, A Woman Entangled was released this month. One really great thing about Grant’s writing is how often I can be surprised. Her characters will do things that I don’t expect or didn’t anticipate yet makes perfect sense.
The following are a few questions and answers to prime the Book Chat pump.
So far all of your books have featured related characters – do you plan to continue writing about the Blackshears and characters in their orbit?
I have a prequel novella for the oldest and bossiest Blackshear, Andrew. Part road romance, part cabin romance, with two people of opposite temperaments forced to pose as husband and wife. At the moment I’m calling it Lord of Misrule and it should be out in December.
That closes the book on the Blackshears. (Oldest sister Kitty has a happy-enough marriage, but there’s no love story there.)
As for orbiting characters, I’ve been working on a story for Will Blackshear’s friend/employer/fellow soldier Jack Fuller, but it’s gone in some kind of warped directions (more hate-sex than I’d anticipated) and I’m not sure it’s going to come together well enough for publication. Also, my agent has talked to me about writing a story for Kate’s sister Viola from A Woman Entangled, but I’m torn: I like to acknowledge the existence of women whose happy-ever-afters don’t include marriage and family, and I’d kind of thought of Viola as one of those.
Do you have any interest in writing other time periods or other sub-genres of romance?
At the moment, no. I like constraints, and Regency-set historical romance has a lot of those, in terms of what a writer can do and also how her characters can move in the world. Depicting a love story that doesn’t run roughshod over the rules of its time, yet has an equality and balance of power that’s palatable to the 21st-century reader’s sensibility, is a challenge that keeps me coming back to this sub-genre.
Kate Westbrook of A Woman Entangled is at first bent on bettering her place in society by marrying well – do you think she was on the wrong path (i.e. valuing the wrong things) or do you think that if love had not altered her path her goal would have been worth pursuing? Or, in short: was her social climbing understandable given her circumstances?
Short answer: yes, absolutely her social climbing was understandable given her circumstances.
Long answer: There were so few things a Regency-era lady could do to make any difference in her lot, and marriage was the big one. A brilliant match could mean a comfortable life not only for you, but for others in your family – you’d have the connections to help your sisters make brilliant matches of their own – and for future generations as well. It was, in a lot of ways, the most important work available to a young woman of a certain station.
It was also practically the only outlet for a lady with an ambitious nature. Completely apart from what you could do for your family, and apart from your desire for comfort and status, if you just had that inherent drive – as Kate does – to be the best at something, then marriage and social elevation was the obvious something to pursue; the course in which to try your skills and see what you were made of.
In writing Kate, too, I wanted to write a heroine who was upfront about wanting the things heroines tend to be rewarded with at the end of a romance. I read so many books featuring heroines who aren’t particularly interested in social status or material luxury, but who end up marrying dukes or billionaires. There’s a bit of a disconnect there, for me – it’s like we’ve agreed these are good things for a heroine to have, but we feel it’s unbecoming for her to actually want them. I’m not sure why that is.
And I’ll admit I feel a tiny bit conflicted about having Kate finally choose love over a chance at marrying into a higher station. It’s definitely the better choice for her: she’ll have a partner who values and understands her ambitious soul, and she’ll have substantive, gratifying work to do in helping him build a political career. But I think one day I’ll have to write a heroine who wants the glamorous life, and gets the glamorous life.
Do you feel like the traditional historical romance has been changed by the popularity of other sub-genres (new adult, paranormal, etc.). If so, is the change for the better or the worse?
This is a terrific question, and I wish I had a terrific answer.
I don’t read paranormal or new adult, and so there might be some subtle influences or changes in historical romance that I’m just not well-versed enough to pick up on. By and large, though, I don’t see it. Historical romance seems to forge ahead without a lot of reference to what’s going on in other sub-genres. Maybe the heat level goes up a little bit, as erotic romance becomes more popular. But apart from that I don’t think there’s much cross-pollination.
I wish someone better-informed than I would do a Letter of Opinion on this topic. I’d like to read it.
Have you felt stigmatized for your books being too challenging, too different, or too smart?
Ha! Yeah, that’s it; the people who don’t like my books just can’t handle how smart and challenging they are!
I don’t think any reader has a problem with a smart, challenging, or different romance novel. I do think readers have a problem with books that don’t deliver. If a book gets some buzz for being smart or challenging, or if the author is vocal about wanting to bring something different to the genre, then if the book turns out to be not all that smart, challenging, or different, it’s not only disappointing but irksome. I’ve had that response to books, and I’m sure plenty of readers have had that response to mine.
Stigmatized, though? No. I’ve gotten some marvelous reviews; I get lovely emails from readers; I was voted best debut author in the AAR poll. It would be pretty pathetic if I could look at all that and think it added up to stigmatized.
Where do you think the historical genre is growing?
I really don’t know. I read the DA piece a couple months back about Letting the Historical Die, and thought it made some good points. I worry that, to the mass of romance readers and potential romance readers, historical is sort of a niche or even a novelty genre as opposed to a place where you might find a story that resonates with your own experience, and reflects back the truths you’ve observed and intuited about the world.
I don’t know how we fix this, or how we break out and capture, say, the people who tune in faithfully to Downton Abbey but would never dream of reading a romance. (Not that crossover to non-romance-readers is the only or best measure of success. But it is one possible measure of growth.) I think it goes beyond simply having more books in settings other than Regency England – but I do hope a diversity of settings and eras is a direction of growth we’ll be seeing in the next few years.
What is next for Cecilia Grant?
I’m working on another three-book series, this time about a trio of small-time con artists who one by one fall in love and go respectable (more or less). It’s not contracted yet – I wanted to have a good big chunk of writing done before I tried to sell it – so I don’t have anything like release dates. I’ll post on social media and send out newsletters when I know more.
Thanks so much for inviting me here, and for the thought-provoking questions. It was a pleasure to answer them.
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As a reader, how do you respond to Grant’s books in general? Did this book work for you better or worse? If it was your first Grant book, did it feel different than the other historicals? Did Grant sell you on the idea of a social climbing heroine or was her naked ambition too raw for you? (is there a thing as too raw?)