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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:

VICKY DREILING: One.

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: http://tinyurl.com/4o7qlwe

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:

STEFANIE SLOANE: Wine.

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:  The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

REVIEW: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

Dear Ms. Rich,

I have a love/hate relationship with historical novels. When they work, they can be wondrous – taking me to foreign lands, to different eras, into the rich and complex lives of the characters. Bad ones can seem endless and are worse if I get the feeling that these are just people dressed up in costumes yet spouting 21st century feelings and ideas. “The Midwife of Venice” is a trip to a world I didn’t want to see end.

midwife-of-venice roberta richHannah Levi is willing to risk death not only for herself but also for the entire Jewish ghetto of Venice. Despite the warnings from the Rabbi, she goes with the rich Christian man and his brother when they come to her squalid home in the middle of the night, pleading for her help. Hannah has a reputation of being the best midwife available and the Conte disregards the edicts against Christians seeking the medical help of Jews in a desperate bid to save the live of his frail, laboring wife and their unborn child. Knowing the danger she faces, even if things go right, Hannah demands the outrageous sum of 200 ducats. Without blinking, the Conte agrees to her price and the three set off to a palazzo so richly decorated it dazzles Hannah who is used to the cramped, dirty surroundings of too many people packed into too little space.

Things are as bad as Hannah fears and it takes all her skill to deliver the child, a beautiful boy, and save the mother’s life but the price Hannah earns is well worth it. With it, she can travel and ransom her husband from slavery at the hands of the Knights of Malta. Isaac had set sail for the Levant in the hopes of making their fortune in one trading trip only to fall prey to the marauding Knights who even the people of Malta agree are little better than brigands and pirates. But once there, he discovers that he is to be sold for the duration of his stay so that his labor will earn his new master money while all wait for the ransom. First one person then another buys him and Isaac works and schemes to survive the ill treatment in order to get back to the woman he loves. When horrific news reaches him and a terrible choice is laid out for him, will he finally give up on the dream of a future with Hannah? And can Hannah escape the clutches of the Prosecuti, the dreadful plague raging through Venice and the revenge minded men determined to see her dead?

Okay, I said I didn’t want to see this world end but I did wonder at how you were finally going to get Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta back together again. They’re separated not only by distance but also by the restrictions that have been placed on them. Isaac is a slave on an island and Hannah is dependant on getting enough money to sail after also outwitting those who would see her hung as a witch for her birthing instruments and or strapadoed for rendering aid to a Christian woman. You throw some formidable barriers to their HEA in the way and yet also neatly maneuver them over, around and past those roadblocks in ways that don’t strain my credulity.

1575 Venice and Malta also come to life here. The dark, cramped quarters of the ghetto in which the Jews are forced to live as well as the splendid marble palazzo filled with silks, spices and elegance are vividly recreated. The differences between Hannah’s life as a Jew and the unfettered existence of the Conte and his family are starkly delineated in every scene they both inhabit. The one person I would have enjoyed learning more about is Hannah’s estranged sister Jessica who now makes her way through life as a converted, high class courtesan. I was glad that they managed to talk and forgive before Hannah sails away forever.

Malta, on the other hand, sounds like a place to avoid – or maybe it’s the Maltese. Poor Isaac does make me laugh with his witty, though perhaps best left unsaid comments and thoughts about the people he encounters there. Of the whole lot, Sister Assunta seems the best with loutish Joseph and his sheep piss aromatic trousers a distant last. One thing I like is that not all of the people Hannah and Isaac encounter are bad. True both of them have to use their wits to navigate through life in a world that sees nothing wrong in persecuting Jews but they also discover that in some Christians and Muslims there is goodness to be found as well.

I wasn’t sure how well I’d like a book in which the hero and heroine are separated for almost the entire time. But here it works. Hannah and Isaac think of each other so much that the distance separating them felt as if it didn’t exist. There are little details of their life together they remember and hope to resume as well as major events that have cemented them together as a couple. Isaac might just win my hero of the year award for how he responds to a challenge that I doubt few could match. Though his decision wasn’t shouted from the rooftops and probably went unnoticed by the majority of people on Malta, it’s as big a gesture as any I’ve read about in a long time.

I’d not heard any buzz about “Midwife of Venice” but am glad that Jane sent it along to me to try. Hannah and Isaac are a wonderful, devoted couple and it’s great to see them reach their HEA with a bright and shiny future ahead of them. This is actually one book I’d love to see a sequel to. B+

~Jayne

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