Yesterday my newest historical romance, A Gentleman’s Game, hit stores. This is the first novel in the Romance of the Turf trilogy (there was also a prequel novella, The Sport of Baronets), which is set in the Regency horse-racing world.
I love London and ballrooms, but it was fun to research some different parts of England as my characters–along with a string of Thoroughbreds–make their way from Newmarket to Epsom for the race of the year. Nathaniel and Rosalind’s story includes Shakespeare, sugared almonds, a sheepdog, and secrets–along with a lot of other things that don’t begin with S.
For the curious, Chapter 1 of A Gentleman’s Game is posted on my website. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out!
For fun today, I’ll give away one of my Holiday Pleasures or Matchmaker books in print. Winner’s choice! I’ll choose a winner at random on Sunday from among all commenters. Open internationally.
Do tell, what’s something that’s made you happy this week? It’s been a really busy week (in a good way) and I’d love to catch up on what’s going on with all of you.
Find A Gentleman’s Game at your favorite retailer:
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.
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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?
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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…
Sale! BOGO! Free! Irresistible words, right? When I’m walking through the store, I can’t help but give a second glance to something with a special tag on it.
I’m the same way with ebooks: if a book’s been on my wish list and it goes on sale, I’ll probably just get it rather than checking it out from the library or begging for someone to gift it to me.
Can there be too much of a good thing, though? As big as my print TBR pile is, there are even more ebooks waiting to be read on my Kindle. Does a sale do an author any good if the books never get read—or if they don’t get read until long after the excitement of the sale is over?
I don’t have an answer (and even if I did, it wouldn’t be “buy fewer ebooks,” because that’s just not how I’m wired). But I’m wondering anyway, because for the first time in my romance-writing career, I’ve got a free book. For the month of January, the novella The Sport of Baronets is free at all major ebook retailers.
My publisher’s hope is that readers will give my book a try, like it, and come back for more. Hey, that’s my hope too.
I’m wondering, if you read ebooks, where’s the sweet spot for you in terms of price and must-read-ness? If you download free books, are you as likely to read them as books you paid for? Is there an ideal sale price at which you’ll give a new author a try? Or when books are on sale, do you still stick to your wish list?
As I said, I don’t know the answers—even for myself! Maybe I’m an especially whimsical buyer. What about you all? I’d love to know what you think. And if you’re keen on sassy enemies-to-lovers romance set in the Regency horse-racing world, maybe you’ll give my freebie a try?
It’s not Christmas without all of our favorites and traditions. There are a few I wouldn’t give up for the world and some I could do without. Here’s a list of some of what I consider the best and the worst of the holidays.
Best Christmas Song: Hark How the Bells
I love the harmonies in this song. It’s so pretty how the voices sound like bells.
Worst Christmas Song: Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
This song just makes me sad. It’s not funny to lose a loved one at Christmas.
Best Christmas Beverage: Eggnog
Worst Christmas Beverage: Gingerbread Latte
Gingerbread should not go in beverages.
Best Christmas Dessert: Peppermint bark
Peppermint and chocolate together for the win!
Worst Christmas Dessert: Vanillekipferl
These are the European crescent-shaped cookies with the powdered sugar that sticks to your hands. I get that they’re traditional, but they just don’t taste like much.
Best Christmas Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life
I love the theme of this movie and all its quirks. One of Jimmy Stewart’s best.
Worst Christmas Movie: Bad Santa
A conman, a kid, stealing on Christmas Eve. Christmas movies couldn’t get any worse.
What’s on your best and worst list?