Today, we’ve put Elizabeth Hoyt to work. She has stopped by Smexy Books to interview author Juliana Gray, whose debut book, A Lady Never Lives releases today. Elizabeth and Juliana, take it away!
One of the lovely things about being a published author is getting advance reader copies (arcs) of debut books for the purpose of blurbing them. It’s quite a perk to discover new authors before everyone else! I was given Juliana Gray’s A Lady Never Lies last spring and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the story, the wit of the characters, and the elegance of the writing. Imagine my excitement then when I got the chance to interview Juliana!
Tell us a little bit about your publication story, Juliana. What got you into writing romance?
First of all, thank you so much for interviewing me, Elizabeth. It’s an absolute thrill for me that you enjoyed A Lady Never Lies, because when I first decided to take up writing seriously, I went to the 2007 RWA conference in Dallas, and your novel The Raven Prince was in the registration goody bag. I hadn’t actually read romance for some time, but I stayed up late reading that book when I should have been networking in the bar downstairs, and when I finished at about 3am I was completely hooked and knew I had to write historical romance at some point. I even went down to the Grand Central signing specifically to stalk you in person, LOL! As it turned out, my first book, Overseas, was about a First World War infantry officer time-traveling to modern-day Manhattan, and ended up getting sold to Putnam as a mainstream novel under my real name. But I was still desperate to write romance, so my agent and I came up with Juliana Gray and somehow convinced Berkley to run with it!
What a fascinating story—particularly the part about The Raven Prince providing early inspiration ;-). Will you be continuing to write mainstream novels? Did you start writing your historical romance titles before or after you’d sold Overseas?
I’ve signed with Putnam for two more books, and my next mainstream novel, which is set in the 1930s, releases next spring. But the truth is, I sort of backed into writing mainstream! I was working on a historical romance manuscript that wasn’t quite there yet, and the idea for Overseas hit me between the eyes one day — just this image of a First World War infantry officer walking the streets of modern Manhattan. I wrote the whole story out in this wonderful creative frenzy, but when I was finished it just wasn’t anything I could sell as genre romance in terms of length and subject matter, so we had to market it elsewhere. Now, of course, I’m thrilled to have a foot in both camps. I love both genre and mainstream; I find them equally challenging to write well, and I put my all into both types of books.
I grew up on Shakespeare — our family vacation every year was a week’s visit to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon, with its replica Elizabethan stage — and I’d always thought that Love’s Labour’s Lost really made the perfect setup for a romance trilogy. Three gentlemen swear off women for a year of Serious Academic Study, and of course three irresistible noblewomen show up on their doorstep first thing. What could be more fun?
Indeed! I loved that you not only showed the interaction between the aristocratic visitors to Tuscany, but there’s also the play between the native servants—a sort of males vs. females subplot. Was that entirely from Love’s Labour’s Lost? Will Giacomo and Morini be appearing in the rest of the Affairs by Moonlight trilogy? And will their delicious power struggle continue?
The servant subplot is not taken directly from Love’s Labour’s Lost, but it’s a classic Shakespearean element and one that I really enjoyed developing. Whenever things got too serious, or whenever I was stuck for the next move, I could drag one or the other of them out for comic relief or a bit of country wisdom! Yes, Giacomo and Morini play critical roles in the next two books, as the full mystery of the castle’s past tangles up the lovers’ lives, and they are huge fun as they battle it out.
The setting in A Lady Never Lies is almost another character—it’s that important to the story. How did you choose Tuscany as your setting? Have you been there?
The underlying theme of A Lady Never Lies — and the entire trilogy, really — is of renewal and rebirth, of starting over and making yourself into the sort of person you always wanted to be. So I wanted to take my characters out of London, out of England, and into somewhere remote and beautiful and close to the earth. I’ve visited Tuscany a few times, and not only is it all those things (particularly when you go outside the more well-beaten tourist paths), it’s also very accessible to readers. It’s on everyone’s list of places you want to visit. It’s romantic and exotic and yet familiar, and it was also a popular destination for English travelers then and now, so it made a good historical fit.
I was so thrilled to find out that you chose the late Victorian for your time period—so unusual! Why?
I’ve always been obsessed with the period leading up to the First World War and was planning to set this trilogy around 1910. But we were already pushing a lot of romance conventions, so we decided to bring the story back a bit to 1890. Regardless, the same elements were still in place: technological change, social change, artistic change, and yet the relationships between men and women, as well as the aristocratic conventions that make historical romance so compelling, remained much as they had in the previous century. So you have this wonderfully combustible mix of old and new, of tradition and innovation, just begging for romance.
The hero of A Lady Never Lies, Phineas “Finn” Burke, is perhaps the sexiest genius/inventor I’ve ever read. ;-) And! Finn invents automobiles of all things. What got you interested in the dawn of the automobile?
I don’t usually figure out exactly what I was channeling in a book until it’s over, but I’m pretty sure Paul Bettany was the physical inspiration for Finn Burke — tall, red-haired, sexy, and really smart. (Yes, I have a thing for genius men!) But I was also thinking of William Russell in Flambards by K.M. Peyton, which is a wonderful book about an orphaned Edwardian heiress who goes to live with her distant cousins, and one of them is your classic foxhunting Squire Western and the other is a scientific genius obsessed with automobiles and aeroplanes. Of course, she picks the genius, and he is just too sexy, especially as depicted in the BBC television adaptation. And I confess, I was also channeling that fantastic Blake Edwards comedy The Great Race (starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Jack Lemmon), which takes place in about 1910 during a New York-to-Paris automobile race, and ends in a mad dash through the streets of Paris, involving overturned fruit stands and the Montmartre Steps. My sister and I still toss lines from that movie back and forth, after a few glasses of wine!
Well, now I’m going to have to rent the BBC adaptation of Flambards. ;-) Speaking of the overturned-fruit-cart scene, how much of the exciting (and hilarious) final race is historical fact? How much research did you do about early automobiles and engines and what kind of sources did you use?
The automobile race in A Lady Never Lies is entirely fiction (with a nod to Blake Edwards!), in that no such race actually took place, but the early years of the automobile were full of wacky competitions that took unexpected turns! The annual London-to-Brighton race is a classic example, and it’s still being run today with antique automobiles; you can see them gathering together in Hyde Park every November and it’s quite a sight. I did do a fair amount of research into automobile development, mostly through books and the internet, though I had to stretch a few facts to get my story the way I wanted it in 1890. There’s a historical note at the end of the book that puts everything straight.
There’s a bit of a magical element in the book. What made you include it?
Shakespeare loved to play around with magical elements, and I really wanted to bring that sense of fun and mysteriousness to the story. Besides, if you’re going to have three couples living in a centuries-old Italian castle, you’d better believe there are going to be a few ancient curses lying around!
I have to ask—how did you pitch A Lady Never Lies to editors/agents? What was your hook?
Luckily, I already had an agent (Alexandra Machinist at Janklow & Nesbit), and we pitched the trilogy to Kate Seaver at Berkley who was already editing the paperback edition of Overseas. Romance newbie that I was, I didn’t realize just how many of the so-called rules we were overturning — the time period, the setting, the Shakespearean backdrop, the academic red-haired hero — so I have to credit Alexandra and Kate for making the leap with me, and I hope that the trilogy’s unusual elements will draw readers in. As your own books prove, Elizabeth, romance fans will happily jump into less-familiar territory when the writing and story are strong enough!
Sometimes I think it’s better the less “rules” we know! Which begs the question: how did you learn to write? Were you a member of RWA from the start?
I learned to write as most writers do: first by reading, as widely and deeply as I could and from a very young age, and then turning out a few early efforts and realizing that wasn’t quite enough! So I joined RWA on the recommendation of an editor friend of mine, and I found many of the workshops incredibly useful, either by direct instruction or by pointing me toward other resources. Then once I had the basic toolkit, I could pick apart both my own writing and that of others, and figure out what worked for me. I still think it’s important not to get too hung up on technique. Certain things work well for one type of book or audience and not for another; you have to consider the effect you want to create and the voice you want to articulate. Otherwise all writing would sound the same, and where would be the fun in that?
Are you a full time writer or do you have a day job? Family? Hobbies?
I have four young children, so that would be my full-time job! Writing tends to get shunted into school hours and late nights, and as a result my house is in a state of cheerful yet perpetual disorder. Hobbies? Ha ha. I can’t even watch TV anymore, except for Downton Abbey!
What’s next after A Lady Never Lies?
The next book in the series, A Gentleman Never Tells, comes out in November and plunges into the romance between the second couple in the castle, Lord Roland Penhallow and Elizabeth, Lady Somerton. It takes place simultaneously with the first, so we get to find out that certain events and characters in A Lady Never Lies are not, in fact, Quite What They Seem. A Duke Never Yields, the final book, will be out in February and tie all the loose knots together. And I’m working on the next trilogy as we speak, with a few more surprises in store!
Wonderful! I have to say that I was completely hooked by the secondary couples whilst reading A Lady Never Lies—I’ll be looking forward to both A Gentleman Never Tells and A Duke Never Yields—and to seeing what you come up with next. Best of luck to you in your new writing career!
Elizabeth Hoyt is a New York Times bestselling historical romance author. Her latest book is Thief of Shadows. Visit her website, www.elizabethhoyt for upcoming titles and events.