I guess the most important thing to know about me is that I’m a big geek, and the thing I’m geeky about is primarily stories. If you ask me what’s been going on in my life, the odds are I’ll tell you what I’ve been reading and watching. With a bit of encouragement I can keep it up for quite a while. For example, my roommate and I spent the better part of an hour last night discussing the characterization on Gossip Girl (best-written and -acted show on TV!).
One of my other favorite things to geek out about is food: my day job is cooking at a natural foods deli in Seattle, where I live.
A Lily Among Thorns has a heroine who is a former prostitute turned inn owner and a hero who has chosen to be a tailor. Both protagonists work for a living. (Which is so refreshing!) How did this story come about?
You know, the origins of this story are shrouded in the mists of time–I’ve been working on it on and off since college. The main impetus for the story was that I was reading a lot of traditional Regencies at the time (anyone remember those? They looked like this:
There was a very particular kind of alpha hero that was popular in them who wore an unreadable expression at all times and often had mysterious underworld connections. He was invariably saved from his dark past by the unconditional acceptance of an innocent but unconventional young woman. So I wanted to swap that dynamic around and see what it looked like if that dark-past-ed intimacy-fearing person was a woman and the unconventional innocent was a man.
I realized (a little sadly) that my heroine simply couldn’t do the things those heroes did (have lots of lovers, consort with low people, etc.) and still be accepted into society. Plus, how would an aristocratic young woman end up in that situation in the first place? So I made her a teenage runaway who ended up in a brothel, and then I needed something for her to do afterwards. Why an inn and why a tailor specifically, I can’t remember.
Solomon is more of a beta hero, who is actually intimidated by the heroine at the beginning of the story. He is actually teased by the heroine at one point about his womanly behavior. Yet he never comes across as less masculine. Give us some insight into writing his character and what a beta hero means to you.
Well, there’s a few things going on here. Four, I think. There’s alpha vs. beta, physically imposing vs. not, traditionally masculine vs. traditionally feminine (butch vs. femme might be a more compact way to say that, maybe?), and emotionally strong vs. emotionally weak. Those things often get conflated, both in romances and in our society, but I think they’re all totally independent of each other.
It’s kind of a fun game to try to place people. I’ve been playing it all day since I came up with the system, in fact! Captain Picard is a butch, emotionally strong alpha who doesn’t rely on physical strength. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a femmy, emotionally strong (open to debate), physically imposing alpha. Batman is a butch, physically imposing alpha who’s emotionally weak (I love the dude, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t call his friends "friends" because that would be too touchy-feely, and his parenting skills leave something to be desired).
Solomon is beta. But he’s pretty butch (apart from his focus on clothes), he’s physically imposing, and he’s emotionally strong.
I knew going into writing him that he was a beta. I didn’t really think about the other stuff while I was writing, but when I went back and did revisions, I paid a lot of attention to them, because I knew readers would too. I didn’t change anything that was important to the character, but I did change some superficial stuff to amp up the other three categories. I wanted the book to be saleable.
And in the revisions stage with my editor, I did a whole lot of small changes to make sure his emotional strength was really, really clear. Serena’s a jerk to him plenty of times, and because a lot of the book is in her POV it wasn’t always obvious in the first draft that he didn’t feel particularly crushed about it. He’s definitely Serena’s equal in their relationship–the one person who <i>isn’t</i> intimidated by her, even a little bit, after the first couple of hours (can you blame him? she gives good scaryface)–and I needed to make sure readers saw that, and not "kicked puppy."
Sometimes it seems like romance heroes (and heck, men in our society, which I imagine must be a lot of pressure) have to be butch, physically imposing, alpha, AND emotionally strong. At least they get some leeway on that last one, so long as they work their issues out by the end of the book!
All of that stuff gets mushed together and called "being heroic". But for me, the only non-negotiable thing is that eventual emotional strength, knowing you can count on him absolutely when things get tough. The rest is just personal preference, like being attracted to freckles or curly hair.
I think there’s been a bit more variety in the genre recently, and that’s awesome. I do see more betas, femmy heroes, and physically not-so-tough guys in fantasy and mystery, and lots of those guys are both sexy and very popular with readers. Let’s get some more of that action up in romance! (This is NOTHING against alpha heroes, I love them too. I’d just like to see more variety.)
Rene is a fabulous supporting character. He is the kind of man you initially want to hate for his actions involving the heroine, but the more you learn about him, the more you start to root for him. Did he surprise you in any way or was his journey set for you from the beginning?
Thank you! I love Rene a lot myself, as you could probably tell. I knew what going to happen with him from pretty early on–I already half-planned to redeem him, but once I figured out that giving him the romance I did would make the story structure click into place, his arc was set. The trick was bringing readers along with!
Some of my critique partners really disliked him initially because he’s so mean to Serena. That was a great sign that they were invested in my protagonist and seeing things from her point of view, but not such a great sign that I’d done a good job with Rene’s characterization. Just because one of my characters is awesome in my head doesn’t mean they’re awesome on the page!
So I expanded the scenes that he narrates, elaborated his backstory with Serena, and carefully edited the scenes he appears in to give more hints at what’s going on with him and to highlight his underlying good-guyness. It seems to have worked!
I read on your website you prefer Hugh Grant in Sense & Sensibility over Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice. *gasp!* Explain yourself.
Well, I like S&S better than P&P. But also Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy just didn’t grab me. Sacrilege, I know! I’m a little afraid to admit it, but I loved Matthew Macfadyen’s performance because he really sold me on the whole "Darcy is just socially inept and it makes him seem like a jerk" thing.
Colin Firth can break your heart with those eyes (Mmmm, The King’s Speech), but Hugh Grant sparkles! He is just my type. I lurrrrve him. I liked him better in the Bridget Jones movies too! (AS AN ACTOR. Obviously Daniel Cleaver is a jerk and Bridget should not get with him.)
But really, why choose just one? Looking at this picture, I wonder if my top choice isn’t for them to make out with each other!
That is my top choice too! LOL. Do you do anything special on release day?
No, actually. I never do anything exciting with my advance either! People ask me and I have to say, "…I put it in the bank." Although I did treat myself to one big thing: I paid someone to paint over the rusting scratches on the side of my car instead of spending all afternoon doing it myself. That was awesome.
I enjoy perusing your tumblr. Do you ever find yourself inspired by something that comes across your dashboard? What are some of your favorite tumblrs to visit?
Thank you! A lot of hot people show up on my tumblr dash, sometimes making out or giving each other googly eyes, plus people post all kinds of thinky thoughts and nice dresses and art and everything is grist for the mill! So that’s a definite yes to inspiration. When I read the question, this was the first thing I thought of:
I can’t really articulate why but this picture is one of the most romantic things I have EVER seen, and it just popped up on my dash one day.
As for some of my favorite tumblrs:
Things Miss Frizzle Would Wear (remember the Magic School Bus?)
OMG that dress! (fashion through time)
Fuck yeah history crushes! (historical figures submitted by readers with crushes on them)
Daily Reenactor (photos of historical re-enactors and their stuff)
18th Century Love (cool stuff from the 18th century)
OMG…Cravats (hot dudes in cravats)
Racebent Disney (fanart of Disney movies remixed to take place in other cultures.)
Zoe Archer’s is probably my favorite author tumblr I follow, but there are a lot of great ones!
Anyone have any recommendations? I’m fairly new to the site and always looking to add cool blogs.
What is up next for you?
I’m not sure! I’m almost done with a draft of a book about the 1812 Parliamentary general election. By the local rules of her town, the middle-class heroine’s husband would be eligible for a vote…if she were married. The younger-son-of-an-earl hero is sent to the town to find the heroine a husband, but of course he falls in love with her himself! But it’s not sold yet so I don’t actually know yet if it will be my next book out or when it will be on shelves. I’ll keep you posted!
Thanks Rose! Today we have a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to giveaway. To enter, just leave a comment. Open through October 22nd.