The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome back historical romance author Christi Caldwell. She’s consistently a bestseller, and if you’ve ever read one of her books it’s not hard to see why. She writes heartwarming, sexy, and delightful Regency romances.
Readers, keep reading to find out how to win your signed print copy of For Love of the Duke!
Shana: Welcome back, Christi! Tell us about To Trust a Rogue, the newest in the Heart of a Duke series.
Christi Caldwell: “To Trust a Rogue” is really a story about a second-chance at love. The hero, Marcus, Viscount Wessex and Eleanor Carlyle were desperately in love, until one day, she just left with nothing more than a note. That betrayal was a defining moment for both of them, and from it, Marcus fashioned himself into a carefree, charming rogue determined to never again, trust in love. Flash-forward 8 years later, and Eleanor is back, and with a daughter in tow. Now, a poor-relation living with her eccentric aunt, she is in London to face the demons of her past, and…Marcus. For me, this was an emotional book. Lots of tears were shed while I wrote this story.
Shana: From the reviews I’ve read, this book is receiving kudos for the way the emotional aspects of the story resonate so deeply with readers. How do you manage to write such powerful emotional scenes? Do you draw on past experiences or are you able to step into the characters’ shoes?
Christi Caldwell: For me, writing is a cathartic experience. I began seriously writing when my son Rory was born, and I learned his diagnosis of Down syndrome. There was so much emotion: fear, shock, pain, blended with this overwhelming love, and eventual joy. In the days after his birth, I put words onto a page, and found a sense of healing from the process.
When I write, my characters are multi-dimensional. If they know joy, I go into the greatest moments I have known. I pull from how I felt; the whole sensory experience, that is absolute happiness, and I try to paint that with words. I do the same with the fears and agonies that I knew, and still sometimes know, for my son’s struggles. There is no greater agony than seeing your child hurt or suffer. And because of that, there is never a shortage in the emotional well I have to draw from for my characters.
Shana: I know you have two little girls who, along with your son, are the light of your life. If your girls were to read your books when they got older, what would you want them to take away?
Christi Caldwell: I would want them to realize my books are about broken and imperfect people, because ultimately we are all in some way flawed, and it is those flaws that make us beautiful and unique. We struggle. Life is hard. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes cruel. And just because we might know struggle or tragedy, or pain, there is always love, which is more powerful than anything. Every person, for the hardships they know, can still find a happily-ever-after; they still deserve it.
Shana: That’s really lovely. Who are some of the authors who’ve influenced you the most and who made you want to become a writer yourself?
Christi Caldwell: I grew up on Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, and Jude Devereaux. I was a pretty lonely girl without a ton of friends, but found a love of books, early on. I cut my teeth on romance novels at age 13, and lost myself in those stories. They were authors whose books shaped me; authors whose emotion I felt bleed off the pages. I wanted to do that. And at fifteen, my mom found my first work in progress, a Regency romance and said: “Are you writing romance novels?” I smiled and said: “Yes. Someday I’m going to be romance author.” J
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Christi Caldwell: February 19th, I’ll be releasing Book 3 in my Lords of Honor series titled “Rescued By a Lady’s Heart.” The story is about the Duke of Blackthorne who returned from the Napoleonic Wars without the use of one of his legs and half of his face burned. Shunned by his family and society, he’s become a recluse whispered about and feared.
Enter his heroine, Lily Benedict. She is equally broken, and motivated by reasons of revenge and desperation, she takes employment inside his household. In the process, she finds love.
This is a darker story, about two equally broken people healing one another.
Readers, now it’s your turn. One reader who comments will be randomly chosen to win a signed print copy of For Love of the Duke (U.S. and Canada only; international reader will win the ebook). The winner will be announced Sunday and contacted via email.
* * *
It wasn’t until I reread the completed draft of my new Regency romance Listen to the Moon that I realized responses to scarcity was one of its major themes. Most of the characters in the book are dealing with the aftermath of major childhood scarcities of one kind or another.
John Toogood, my valet hero, grew up with a scarcity of praise from his hypercritical father. Sukey Grimes, my maid-of-all-work heroine, grew up with a whole range of scarcities after her own father abandoned the family: food, money, clothes, fun, openly expressed affection…but I think the lack of security is the one she still has the most trouble getting over. Things feel precarious to her, and she responds by hoarding—not any physical thing, but her own emotional integrity. As she tells John, “I want to keep my heart for myself, because I feel as if, if I give it away, I’ll—I won’t have it anymore, and I need it.”
It takes a lot of work and a lot of love for her to finally decide that, in her words, “Hearts weren’t meant to be pickled and kept on the shelf for a hard winter.” Even after she’s decided, it takes more work and courage for her to act on it.
Sukey started out as a minor character in an earlier book, Sweet Disorder, about a wounded officer trying to get a prickly widow married off to help his brother’s election campaign. Sukey was Phoebe (the widow)’s part-time maid, and the rest of the time she worked for Mrs. Humphrey, who owned the boarding house across the street.
Mrs. Humphrey was a very minor character in that book, and pretty much all I knew about her was 1) that she was very abrasive in her manner; 2) that the corners of her mouth turned down like a bulldog; 3) that she demanded lunch when Phoebe hosted a charity committee quilting bee; and 4) that, as Phoebe explained angrily after Mrs. Humphrey embarrassed her in front of the hero, “Do you know she goes through the clothes we bring and selects the least worn sections for her own quilt?” But she isn’t all bad, either: she has Phoebe’s best interests at heart.
When I had to round her out into a more prominent character in Listen to the Moon, I decided to make those bits cohere by making her pathologically cheap as a reaction to extreme childhood poverty. She’s a food hoarder, too. None of which makes her a bad person, but it does make her a very unpleasant employer for poor Sukey, who’s expected to do the grocery shopping (or foraging, in some cases) and cook dinner on a tiny budget, without snacking!
“I’m not cheap, I’m thrifty,” my mother used to say a lot. The difference, to her, was that cheap implied stinginess, a lack of willingness to share resources. Her parents were working-class children of the Depression, and they rose to the middle class over the course of her childhood. They were two of the cheapest people you could ever meet, but they were also two of the most generous, especially when they started to have more to share. My grandfather did everyone in the extended family’s taxes pro bono (he was an accountant and then a tax lawyer), and for years every car my mom and her brothers drove was his hand-me-down. When my mom taught Head Start, my grandmother bought art supplies and bathing suits for her students. They regularly hosted the extended family holidays, too.
My grandfather’s mother (whose mouth turned down like a bulldog—my mom used to call it “making a Grandma Ettie face” when someone was really cranky or disgusted, but that was Great-Grandma Ettie’s face all the time) owned a little Jewish bodega in Brooklyn, and he grew up eating the food from the store that had gone bad and couldn’t be sold. I don’t know if it was as a result, or just luck, that he had a cast-iron stomach, but he would eat anything. I remember once we had a jar of applesauce in the fridge with mold growing on it. “It’s still fine,” my mom said. “Just scrape the moldy part off the top and eat the rest.”
My grandfather, though, said, “Don’t be ridiculous, mold puts hair on your chest,” and ate the mold off with a spoon. (The story in Sweet Disorder about the rotten sausage? That was his war story, by the way. Only it was a kosher salami IRL.)
And boy, did Grandpa hoard food. If it was on deep discount, he bought it and saved it. He never threw anything away. When he died, he had an entire enormous freezer in the basement (I’m not sure I can accurately convey the sheer size of this freezer) full of freezer-burned meat he’d bought on sale. At his shiva, my cousins and I poured ourselves bowls of cereal from the cabinet only to realize it was all about four or five years out of date. (We realized by biting into it. Maybe the grossest mouthful I’ve ever taken.)
The big difference between Grandpa and Mrs. Humphrey’s reaction to scarcity was that he hoarded food, but he shared it happily. He also got very little affection from his parents, and he grew up to be a really affectionate dad and grandfather. During my reread, I realized Mrs. Humphrey’s stinginess was a foil for Sukey; that she was struggling to be generous in spite of her childhood deprivations. So was John, in his own way.
Which, again, doesn’t make Mrs. Humphrey a bad person. I’ve never been that interested in “good” and “bad person” as categories of analysis anyway. What I care about is accountability for actions. People aren’t good or bad; they just make decisions, and then they and the people around them have to deal with the consequences.
Up to this point, Sukey and John have made a lot of decisions to maintain their status quos, and now, they want to make decisions that have the potential to make them (and the people they care about) happy.
Good things are always risky. Happiness is always risky. It isn’t always safe to trust, or hope, or rely on other people, or reach for what you want. In fact, it often isn’t. But I want to believe that it’s worth it to keep trying.
I work every day to move past stuff from my childhood and past that makes it hard for me and the people around me to be happy and enjoy ourselves. I think everyone does. Romances help me believe it’s possible. Because in a romance, the risks you take for happiness always pay off.
And they lived happily ever after.
I’ll be giving away an e-book of Listen to the Moon to a commenter chosen at random. Open internationally. Void where prohibited. Open for entries through Saturday, 1/23. The winner will be posted on Sunday, 1/24.
Tell me, are you a packrat or a minimalist? Why do you think that is?
* * *
John Toogood dreamed of being valet to a great man…before he was laid off and blacklisted. Now he’s stuck in small-town Lively St. Lemeston until London’s Season opens and he can begin his embarrassing job hunt. His instant attraction to happy-go-lucky maid Sukey Grimes couldn’t come at a worse time. Her manners are provincial, her respect for authority nonexistent, and her outdated cleaning methods—well, the less said about them, the better.
Behind John’s austere façade, Sukey catches tantalizing glimpses of a lonely man with a gift for laughter. Yet her heart warns her not to fall for a man with one foot out the door, no matter how devastating his kiss.
Then he lands a butler job in town—but there’s a catch. His employer, the vicar, insists Toogood be respectably married. Against both their better judgments, he and Sukey come to an arrangement. But the knot is barely tied when Sukey realizes she underestimated just how vexing it can be to be married to the boss…
Ordinarily, as I take down my holiday decorations, I have a sense of purpose, and a little excitement about getting back to the business of “real life.” But for some strange reason, this year I didn’t. This year I felt a little sad.
Maybe that’s because I had an especially happy holiday season. Our family found time to get together a lot–not always easy now that both our “kids” and their spouses are busy with homes and jobs. We played games, ate fun food, indulged in little day trips and generally had a blast. I had a chance to see a few dear friends who aren’t often in town. I didn’t say “no” to much, and saying “yes” meant a month of small but stimulating new adventures. I didn’t get too far behind with shopping, wrapping or cooking, and so for the first time I didn’t reach Christmas morning like some kind of stressed-out zombie.
So yeah, this year I was actually reluctant to return to real life. It seemed like a joy demotion.
And that made me think I need to make some changes in “real” life. I decided that instead of making New Year’s resolutions I’d set goals about how I might keep that Christmas feeling alive.
So what was I going to miss the most? What could I do to make sure I didn’t lose it all?
Some of it I can’t handle all year long–particularly the fun of shopping for great presents. We go all out at Christmas, and obviously the budget can’t handle 365 days of that. Ditto with overindulging in pies, cookies, sweet potatoes, etc.
But when I listed my other favorite holiday treats, I realized I could–and should–incorporate more of them into the rest of the year.
Family and friends: It is way too easy to let deadlines and details swamp you, and force you to postpone time with the people you love. Too easy to write that email tomorrow, to get around to your Girls’ Night Out next month. My goal this year is to make being with those people a priority. I’ve already got dates on the calendar–and I wrote them in ink, not pencil!
Lights and color: A couple of the decorations just didn’t come down this month. I brought a small strand of starry lights into my office, and draped them across the little bookshelf I face as I write. And we left white fairy lights on a tree that twinkles perfectly through a trellis and turns our porch into a party every night. In the living room, which looked particularly bland and beige once the tree and garlands were gone, I’m going to buy a couple of colorful pictures for the wall. The rest of the house might get a color overhaul, too, if His Highness doesn’t put his foot down.
Music: We inherited a glorious Bechstein baby grand this year, and I spent the month of December sawing out some super-simple carols on it, trying to relearn pieces I could have played in my sleep when I was ten. I am not much of a pianist, despite years of lessons, and never will be, but I loved rediscovering it. I started to put away the sheet music as I tidied up the room, but then I thought…why shouldn’t I keep sawing away? I have some other music left over from my elementary school years, so why not try to relearn those, too?
Saying yes: Most importantly, I decided not to pack away my “let’s try it” mentality. A sense of adventure doesn’t have any particular season. In work and in play, I’m going to take a few risks.
How about you? What part of Christmas would you like most to keep for the rest of the year? Or are you, as I’ve been most years, just secretly glad to get back to normal?
I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift certificate, and a copy of my Tule novella, HIS DEFIANT PRINCESS, to one randomly chosen poster today, so I hope you’ll take time to comment!
Happy New Year!
I can’t believe it’s 2016. Last year went by like a bullet train. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was fortunate to join five fabulous authors — Allison Leigh, Stella Bagwell, Karen Rose Smith, Michelle Major, and Judy Duarte — to write the 2016 Harlequin Special Edition’s Fortunes of Texas continuity. It’s always a fun project because it’s a treat to collaborate with friends. But this year it’s extra special because it’s the twentieth anniversary of the beloved Fortunes series.
It’s hard to believe that after all the hard work and anticipation, the first book in the All Fortune’s Children series has finally hit the shelves. More on that after I tell you a little bit about the series as a whole.
After two decades, Fortune’s Children live on…If you’re a Fortunes of Texas fan, this year, you’ll reunite with some old friends and meet a potential new branch of Fortunes who live in Austin, Texas. If you’re new to the series, now is the perfect time to jump in. Each book stands alone, but harkens back to past years. You’ll be able to join the party no matter which book you pick up first.
A great place to start is with Allison Leigh’s Fortune’s Secret Heir. Allison kicks off the anniversary celebration with the first book in All Fortune’s Children, the 2016 series. I’m so pleased she could join us today to get this party started.
Nancy Robards Thompson: Welcome, Allison! I’m so happy you could join us. Tell us about the hero of Fortune’s Secret Heir? Why will we fall in love with him?
Allison Leigh: Ben Robinson is the hero of Fortune’s Secret Heir and I hope readers will fall for him the same way that I did—because I’m a sucker for a powerfully confident hero who’s hiding a marshmallow interior. He thinks he has his finger on the pulse of his world, only to have learned recently that he just might not.
NRT: Tell us about the heroine. Why is she the absolute perfect woman for the hero?
AL: Ella Thomas is perfect for Ben because she sees the world without the cynicism that the wealthy Ben possesses. Aside from the chemistry between them, she provides a soft place for his heart.
NRT: Since this book is part of Harlequin Special Edition’s Fortunes of Texas twentieth anniversary celebration, tell us about your experience writing connected stories with other authors.
AL: This is the first book in the 6-book continuity, The Fortunes of Texas: All Fortune’s Children. I’ve been extremely fortunate in having been involved with several Fortunes of Texas miniseries, and it’s a little like coming home with each one. I get to work with fabulous authors again, and also meet the newcomers to each miniseries. It’s always exhilarating.
NRT: What was your favorite scene to write?
AL: My favorite scenes to write in Fortune’s Secret Heir were the ones set in Boston. My husband and I visited there a few years go and really had a fabulous time. It was fun to revisit through Ben’s and Ella’s eyes.
NRT: What was the most difficult scene for you to write?
AL: The hardest scene is the end. Because I’m not always ready to say goodbye to these people who’ve become my friends along the way.
Stay tuned between now and June, because each month one of the authors from the Fortunes of Texas: All Fortune’s Children series will stop by the JQ blog for a visit. Here’s how the lineup looks:
Stella Bagwell, author of Fortune’s Perfect Valentine (paperback available January 19, 2016) visits the Jaunty Quills on February 1.
Karen Rose Smith, author of Fortune’s Secret Husband (paperback available February 23, 2016) visits the Jaunty Quills on March 4.
Michelle Major, author of Fortune’s Special Delivery (paperback available March 22, 2016 ) visits the Jaunty Quills on April 1.
Nancy Robards Thompson – I’ll blog about my book, Fortune’s Prince Charming (paperback available April 19, 2016 ), on April 19.
Judy Duarte, author of Wed by Fortune (paperback available May 24, 2016) visits the Jaunty Quills on May 27.
In addition, our fearless leader, Harlequin Editor Susan Litman, will stop by to give you special insight into what happens behind the scenes of a series like All Fortune’s Children. Watch the JQ “Events” sidebar for specific details.
Now, for some prizes — Do you like on-going series like the Fortune’s of Texas? What’s your favorite book series? In celebration of the Fortune’s 20th anniversary, I will give away an e-copy of my 2015 Fortune’s of Texas book My Fair Fortune to THREE people who comment. Winners will be announced Sunday, January 10.
About Allison: A frequent name on bestseller lists, Allison Leigh’s highpoint as a writer is hearing from readers that they laughed, cried or lost sleep while reading her books. She’s blessed with an immensely patient family who doesn’t mind (much) her time spent at her computer and who gives her the kind of love she wants her readers to share in every page. Stay in touch at www.allisonleigh.com, @allisonleighbks, and facebook.com/allisonleighbks
I don’t know about you, but I can’t listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” without tearing up. It’s one line that gets me, every time. Whether it’s Judy Garland or Bing Crosby, Sam Smith or Michael Buble, when they reach “Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow,” I’m toast.
I think about all the people I’ve loved who are not here this Christmas, and all the precious moments that will never come again. All the firsts, and all the lasts. I think how sometimes I recognized that I was living a Last, and sometimes loss took me, helpless, completely by surprise.
And sometimes, even more poignantly, I realize that there are undoubtedly more Lasts yet to come.
Even so, every year, I put that carol on my playlist, because for all the bittersweet pangs it still brings me joy. It reminds me to honor this moment, the one I’m being given right now, before it, too, washes away on a tidal wave of time.
Besides, remembering all those happy Christmases can still fill me with joy, even though they now live only in my heart—and in the pictures I’m always ready to inflict on everyone else! ;-). Here are a few that I particularly love.
Her first Christmas…
Her last Christmas with Granddaddy.
The Christmas when the wrapping was still as exciting as the presents inside.
The Christmas she got the kitten,
and the one when they got the new puppy, along with the lecture about how to care for him. They seem to be listening, don’t they? They weren’t.
The Christmases we stayed up all night, assembling bright plastic things, eating the cookies left out for Santa (a sacrifice, but someone had to do it), and then, half-dead with exhaustion, scribbling thank-you notes to leave in their place.
The Christmas we lived the cliché, the parents buying the dollhouse that was age appropriate, and her grandmother buying the one that wasn’t. Only the big one survives. It’s still in Girlchild’s married, totally grown-up home today.
The Christmas when Boychild got so many toys it made his head hurt.
The Christmas when he wasn’t big enough to climb his new swing alone…
And the ones when I looked up, stunned, and realized I didn’t have babies anymore…
Is it the same for you? Is there some Christmas carol that touches you in all the sad and happy places, all at the same time? Which one? I’m giving away a special Christmas prize today—a $25.00 Amazon gift certificate to one randomly chosen reader who comments. I hope you can use it to make your coming Christmas a little brighter.
And to everyone, may this holiday be one in which you create beautiful memories that will make you smile (and even tear up) for the rest of your lives.