Today we welcome back historical romance author, Michelle McLean. Thanks for joining us again, Michelle.
Top 5 Favorite Things About Writing Romancing the Rumrunner
- The Research – I always have fun researching my books, but this one was particularly fun. Aside from a few movies set in this era (and reading the requisite Fitzgerald and Hemmingway books in school), this isn’t a time period I knew much about so I got to spend a lot more time researching than I usually need to. It was fabulous! This is such a fascinating era, one that I really enjoyed playing in for awhile.
- The Music – The music surprised me. I’d heard some songs (I’d been a huge Betty Boop fan when I was younger so it was fun to listen to the songs of Helen Kane, the woman who inspired the cartoon (despite the creator’s claims to the contrary)). Two things surprised me the most: 1 – it is almost all upbeat. I had a very hard time finding a song that wasn’t peppy. Even the sad songs were something you could really dance to. And 2 – they were naughty! And not all that subtle about it either. Some of the songs will downright make you blush! Check out Bettie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues”
- The Characters – I love all my characters, but Tony and Jessie were so much fun. Poor Tony just wants to get his life back on track and make sure he doesn’t make any more seriously horrible mistakes, and Jessie is in the same boat. They try so hard to stay away from each other but just can’t help themselves. Set against the already clandestine back drop of speakeasies and the flapper era, they were just an absolute blast to write.
- The Setting – I had a lot of fun with this. From Jessie’s butcher shop to Tony’s P.I. office to the speakeasies (Jessie’s underground gothic hangout The Red Phoenix and Tony’s plush and hip club The Corkscrew) the settings were fascinating to research and create in the book. I even spent days researching 1920s automobiles and had Jessie take one for a spin (btw, they had some seriously gorgeous vehicles back then, including Al Capone’s totally tricked out armored and bullet proof Cadillac)
- The Fashions – gorgeous! Fabulous! I don’t have the arms to pull off the dresses, but would love to try The fringe, feathers, sheer overlays, beadwork, rhinestones *happy sigh*. Oh, and the accessories – if I could pull off those bejeweled “across-the-forehead” headbands, I’d walk around in them all day.
- What’s really interesting to me is what a huge leap fashion took. Just ten years prior, women
were still lacing up their corsets, aiming for the tiniest waist possible. While skirts might have gotten fuller, bustles might have been added or taken away, necklines might have gone higher or lower, for the most part the typical silhouette of a woman hadn’t changed much in a very long time.By the late 1920s, when Romancing the Rumrunner is set, fashion had undergone a massive make over. Lacing up until you passed out was a thing of the past, and women moved to soft silky camisoles, panties, and bras along with their short hemlines, strappy dresses, and boxy silhouettes.
All in all, this was a simply fascinating time period to write. In fact, this might just be my favorite of all my books (just don’t tell the others)
In honor of my heroine Jessie, who runs her speakeasy under the alias The Phoenix, I’ll be giving away a 1920s style Phoenix necklace to one lucky commenter!
Romance and non-fiction author Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and loves her romance with a hearty side of suspenseful mystery. When Michelle’s not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and three very spoiled cats.
One of my favorite things about being a writer is when I come up with a sentence or two that really captures the essence of a character, the book’s tone, the conflict, or the setting. I may hate every other line in a chapter, but thank goodness for that one fabulous paragraph that keeps me going. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from my most recent release, The Pirate Takes a Bride. Tell me your favorite and win a copy of the book (digital or print).
By the way, you can read the first three chapters of the book by clicking here.
“Stop calling me sweetheart.”
“You prefer another sobriquet? Because I can think of a few that fit you far better than sweetheart.”
“And I can think of several choice names for you. Starting with—”
He put a finger over her lips silencing her. “Save them for later.” He winked. “When we’re alone.”
“Nick!” She seethed his name. “Don’t just stand there. We’re being attacked by”—she glanced at the men—“highwaymen.”
“Pirates,” Nick drawled. “Well, privateers, actually.”
“Pirates?” She frowned, unwilling to believe it.
A tall whale-sized man who looked as though he could lift a cannon with one hand stepped closer. He grinned, showing several gaps where teeth should have been. “Argh.”
Nick lifted a coil of rigging line Mr. Fellowes must have left lying on the desk behind her. He dangled the rope in front of her. “Give me your hands.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” She took a step back but was out of room to retreat.
He grinned. “Then why are you trying to escape?”
“Nick, you can’t. You won’t. I know you won’t.”
“Sweetheart.” He unfurled the rope, letting it fall with a hiss and a thud. “I don’t think you know me as well as you think.”
“There was a time you welcomed my embrace,” he said.
She sat, grateful to shift positions and glared down at him. “That was before I knew the real you. That was when I was under your spell.”
“Spell?” His brows rose. “Are you insinuating I used some sort of magic to make you want me? I assure you my natural charm and charisma are all I need.”
She could not bear to listen to his arrogant remarks any longer. “Pardon me if I must escape your oozing charm for a moment.”
Nick knew that was unfounded optimism. “My luck is shot to hell, Mr. Chante, but I have one or two tricks up my sleeve. We run first, hope the wind changes or that dark cloud up ahead turns out to be the squall we predicted.”
“Throw everything nonessential overboard. Lighten ship as much as you can. But prepare for a fight. If it comes to a battle, we hit her and run.”
“Begging your pardon, Cap’n, but once she’s broadside, we’re done for.”
“Exactly, Mr. Chante. So we force her to sail past us.”
Chante gave him a look rife with warning. Nick held up a hand. “It’s risky, I know. But it could work. We wait until she’s close, so close we’re looking up her skirts, and then we ease the sheets and let her go by.”
So what’s your favorite? The romantic sparring, the shipboard lingo, or something else? Winner announced Sunday (hopefully, I’m traveling!).
Years ago I began aseries titled Misadvantures in Matrimony. It was about four girls who formed a Spinster’s Club because they wanted adventures, not marriage. It was to be a 4-book series, and the third book was my favorite because it featured two of the girls and was based on the real-life story of an anvil priest in Gretna Green who mistakenly married the wrong couples to each other.
Here’s my Jaunty post about Blackthorne’s Bride, which ended up being nominated for a Rita award.
I always intended to write the fourth book, and I even began it, but I ended up changing publishers, and my new publisher wasn’t too keen on publishing the fourth book in a series they didn’t begin. So I put Nick and Ashley’s story away.
Readers, however, did not forget. Blackthorne’s Bride came out in 2007, and not a month (okay, maybe there have been a few months) has gone by since then that I haven’t received a reader email or question via facebook or twitter as to when Nick and Ashley’s story was coming. So today I’m thrilled to announce that the 4th book is out!
The Pirate Takes a Bride is Nick and Ashley’s story, and it picks up right where Blackthorne’s Bride left off. I can’t tell you how fun it was to finish this series–except the whole ship thing.
I love pirates, but I wish they didn’t spend so much time on ships. I had to ask my trusty dad to help me with the research again, and you know that means hours of me listening to lectures about wind gage and French versus British naval warfare tactics.
And, of course, Jaunty won’t be happy with me because there’s no porcupine. I tried to sneak one in, but they didn’t live off the coast of Gibraltar, where much of this book takes place.
But the upside of all of this? Pirates! Pirates are pretty sexy, and I think Nick is one of the sexiest of all. He’s just such a bad boy. He and Ashley have a past, and we finally get to find out what he did to make her so angry. Not that she’s without secrets of her own.
Pick up a copy of the book if you feel like a fun, adventurous read. It’s only $2.99 in ebook. Do you love pirates? Why or why not? Comment below to win a copy of the book (digital or print–your choice)! Randomly chosen winner announced Sunday, May 18.
BUY THE PAPERBACK:
Ashley Brittany is living a nightmare. She’s been mistakenly married to the one man she despises. Months ago, Lord Nicholas took her virtue then scorned her. Now, Ashley will do anything to have her revenge . . . anything but expose her ugly secret.
Nick Martingale has a secret, too: he’s Captain Robin Hood, a pirate with a fearsome reputation. But when Nick learns his archenemy, the Barbary pirate Yussef, attacked innocents Nick has sworn to protect, he can think of nothing but vengeance.
Only one person stands in his way.
The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome back historical romance author Theresa Romain. Theresa’s upcoming release is To Charm a Naughty Countess. Keep reading to find out how to win a copy!
Shana: Welcome back, Theresa. The important question first: How is Little Miss R?
Theresa Romain: She’s doing great—thanks for asking! (Readers, Little Miss R is my kindergarten daughter, who seems to be a romance heroine-in-training just like Princess Galen.) Lately she has started writing her own books, which have “chapters.” I put that in quotation marks because each chapter is about one sentence long. But she’s so proud of her stapled-together stories! The last one was about two kids whose mom made them work a lot; not sure what she is trying to tell me. J It’s fun seeing her discover the joy of words—not just reading them, but writing them too.
Shana: Tell us about To Charm a Naughty Countess. This is part of the Matchmaker Trilogy, of which It Takes Two to Tangle was the first. The heroine, Caroline, was introduced in that book, right? What makes the Countess of Stratton so naughty?
Theresa Romain: She’s naughty because she doesn’t play by the rules of romance or society. For example—in the first chapter of the book (which you can read on my site), we see her in bed with a lover. Sometimes historical romance heroes get to start the book that way, but how often does a heroine have a lover? It was fun swapping the usual gender roles for this book. Since Caro is widowed and wealthy and knows she’s beautiful, she takes her pleasure where she wishes.
As for her attitude toward society: Because she once had neither rank nor reputation, she doesn’t take them for granted—and she can’t bear the idea of losing them again. And so she breaks through the strata of society by being pleasant to everyone. She wants to make herself socially indispensable.
Of course, this comes at a high price. Being Caroline—always entertaining, always on display—is exhausting, and it’s all a surface. No one knows what she’s truly like or what she really wants, because she doesn’t dare let anyone see. She doesn’t dare risk losing the goodwill of society.
Until our hero turns up, that is.
Shana: The hero in To Charm a Naughty Countess is rumored to be mad. The blurb mentioned anxiety. We don’t often think of people suffering anxiety in the nineteenth century. It seems more a product of current times, though I know people in every time think their period is the most stressful ever. Did you research anxiety and the treatments for it then?
Theresa Romain: I did research anxiety, because I needed to know if that was even a concept in peoples’ minds at the time. And as a general word for anguish or distress, it’s been around since the 1500s. So during the Regency, people might have used “anxiety” to talk about a feeling rather than a condition or diagnosis—which does still make sense to us today.
Of course, Michael doesn’t like to talk about his anxiety at all. About some things, he’s very confident, such as his ability to handle his dukedom’s affairs. Emotional matters and social situations are different, because they’re out of his control, and that’s what triggers his anxiety.
Two hundred years ago, there was no such thing as mental health treatment or medication—and even today mental health diagnoses aren’t as well understood by most people as physical ailments. I wanted to give Michael a hope for recovery that would have seemed plausible in the Regency, and one way that jumped out at me is what we today call cognitive behavioral therapy. Caroline uses these methods, which seem like common sense to her, to get Michael to confront the false beliefs at the heart of his anxiety. But his recovery is on his own shoulders.
Shana: Tell us about your writing schedule and style. Plotter or pantser? Early morning, midday, or late at night? Daily goal or whatever you feel like? Any must-haves when writing?
Theresa Romain: Coffee is the only must-have to get me started. Everything else varies! I usually start with a synopsis or outline for my editor, so I have to come up with the bones of a plot and a basic idea of character. Details get filled in as I write, and sometimes the story or characters twist in a way that surprises me. I do most of my writing during the day while my daughter’s in school, but every day is different since I have another job too. Sometimes I get more writing done in the evening, and I even have a notepad on my nightstand to jot down middle-of-the-night ideas (though my writing’s usually illegible in the morning). I set weekly goals to keep me progressing toward deadlines…but sometimes that deadline itself is also very motivating.
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Theresa Romain: Thanks for asking! To Charm a Naughty Countess is the second book in my Matchmaker trilogy, and the third will be out next January. It’s called Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, and readers will meet the hero and heroine as secondary characters in Countess. That book is set in Bath, which I loved researching—and let me just say the characters’ backgrounds led me down some interesting research pathways as well.
I’ll have another release before then, though. The fourth historical romance in my Holiday Pleasures series—Season for Desire—will be out in October. The hero’s a grumpy American who sets off fireworks (the romantic kind, not the literal kind) with a woman who seems to be a spoiled aristocrat, but who proves to be more than either of them expects.
Readers, now it’s your turn. While Michael can handle matters of business with great confidence and efficiency, the only part he really likes about a ton ball is the end of it. What would be your favorite part of a ball? Would you dance every reel with dashing young nobles, or would you rather find a special someone for a quiet walk in the garden? Or maybe you would enjoy tasting the lobster patties—or spiking the punch?
One reader who comments will be randomly chosen to win a copy of To Charm a Naughty Countess. This giveaway is open to entrants from U.S. and Canada. The winner will be announced and contacted Sunday.
TO CHARM A NAUGHTY COUNTESS
CAN A RECLUSIVE DUKE…
Brilliant but rumored mad, Michael Layward, the impoverished Duke of Wyverne, has no success courting heiresses until widowed Lady Stratton takes up his cause–after first refusing his suit.
WIN LONDON’S MOST POWERFUL COUNTESS?
Caroline Graves, the popular Countess of Stratton, sits alone at the pinnacle of London society and has vowed never to remarry. When Michael–her counterpart in an old scandal–returns to town after a long absence, she finds herself as enthralled with him as ever. As she guides the anxiety-ridden duke through the trials of society, Caroline realizes that she’s lost her heart . But if she gives herself to the only man she’s ever loved, she’ll lose the hard-won independence she prizes above all.
Recently I was writing a workshop to give at a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. The topic was Crafting Historical Heroines (and Heroes) That Rock, and I was speaking about how to create characters that are historically accurate but who still appeal to modern readers. One thing I did in preparation was to ask my readers (via Facebook, of course!) who their favorite heroes and heroines are and why.
Here are a few of the responses.
Cora DeBeau from Tracey Devlyn’s A LADY’S REVENGE because she came out of France tortured not broken. I think this book should be given out at lady’s shelters. I understand abuse and ladies in abusive relationships should know THEY ARE NOT BROKEN only slightly dented.
Ian Mackenzie from Jennifer Ashley’s THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE. He is labeled “crazy/mad” to the world because of eccentricities. What draws me to him is he doesn’t hide who or what he is. He lives his life with the stares and whispers. Every time I read this story I am amazed how far he comes from the beginning to the end. I love how complex his character is and how Ms. Ashley doesn’t fix him but makes his eccentricities part of the great man he is.
Eve Dallas from the JD Robb series because she saves herself.
Darius Carsington (From NOT QUITE A LADY by Loretta Chase) because he runs so very, very hard and far from his heart, then slams back to it in an instant when the woman he admires is threatened. Then he runs that much faster back to her side, intellectual sword at the ready.
Skye O’Malley (the entire series and Legacy series) by Bertrice Small. She was as intelligent as any man, went against Elizabeth Tudor and won, survived countless obstacles in the pursuit of her own happiness and empowered her children, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren to do the same!
I love all the characters from the Stephanie Lauren’s Bar Cynster series all the men are heroes to their ladies and family as well as the ton, but their women are strong and a force to be reckoned with!
Sebastian and Evie from DEVIL IN WINTER. Sebastian taking a bullet for Evie was a sign of true sacrifice.
Jamie Fraser. There are many reasons to like Jamie (other than being a kilted, Highlander, of course!). He loves with his entire being. And he is willing to sacrifice himself for the people he loves. He sent Claire back through the stones to keep her and their unborn child safe even though it broke his heart to do so.
I wish I could have shared all the responses because I received so many fabulous ones. A lot of the characters mentioned were also my favorites and others I added to my TBR pile. As far as my workshop, One thing this “scientific” survey showed me was what all of these characters have in common.
In my opinion, the heroines are strong and resilient. They save themselves and empower other women. The heroes are at peace with themselves (at least by the end of the book). They don’t have anything to prove to society. They are willing to love with their whole beings and make ultimate sacrifices. In short, these heroes and heroines rock!
Who are some of your favorite heroes and heroines and why? WE are having some problems with an overactive spam filter. Please go ahead and comment, and if the comment doesn’t show right away, don’t worry. The JQs will be freeing comments all day.