She solidified my adoration with her September release, A LILY AMONG THORNS, which I had the pleasure of reading early for review. If you love thoughtful-yet-sensuous stories populated with intricately drawn characters, take my advice: pre-order LILY now.
Rose: EEEEEE! I’m so excited you’ve read and liked the book! It’s always nervewracking when something new comes out and not very many people have read it–there’s this irrational fear in the back of your mind, “Oh no, I’ve lost it, everyone’s going to hate it.” Hearing nice things from friends really helps.
I’m thrilled to welcome Rose to my blog today as part of my Hearts and Minds giveaway, where we’re giving away a copy of either IN FOR A PENNY or A LILY AMONG THORNS (winner’s choice). Welcome, Rose!
1. Other than a love of Georgette Heyer, what draws you to the Regency period?
Well, I think it’s mostly that. Not just Georgette Heyer, of course, but that I read a lot in the genre and the stories being told about the Regency era are the kinds of stories I like to read. I love the way that Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer comedy-of-manners stuff blends with the more passionate stuff. (See question 5 below!) So I already knew I was going to write Regencies before I ever did any research or really learned much about the era.
That said, it’s a really fascinating period. A lot of things were in flux, economically and socially. England was making the shift to an industrial society, and from a limited monarchy to…well, to a much more limited monarchy, but the whole way people thought about government and their relationship to it was changing. The modern past-time of Talking About How Reading Girly Books Rots Women’s Brains was just gaining popularity.
The more I read about the era, the more familiar it sounds in many ways, and the more neverendingly, incomprehensibly different it sounds in others. I love that contrast.
2. Your novels are so richly detailed that I imagine your bookshelves are bursting with historical reference books. What are your favorite sources for research?
Well, I do a lot on the internet. If I need a small detail, I’ll use Google or check Wikipedia or use my Seattle Public Library subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary. If that fails, I’ll ask my Regency writers’ loop.
When I need a lot of background knowledge about something, though (for A Lily Among Thorns, it was chemistry as practiced in the Regency, London’s criminal underworld, women’s property rights, England’s queer subculture, to name a few), then it’s time to hit the library.
I used to rely on interlibrary loan, but I finally got a card at the University of Washington library last year. They have a fabulous collection. I’ll just do a catalog search and bring home a giant stack of books, then throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. If I really love a book and think I’ll come back to it, I’ll buy it. Sadly a lot of scholarly nonfiction is very expensive, but my collection does keep growing…
I put a partial bibliography on my website for each book. The one for Lily isn’t up yet, but the one for In for a Penny is here.
3. I’ve written before about the wonderful way you write characters’ accents, and how you use those accents to highlight differences in their class situations. Now that I’ve read A LILY AMONG THORNS, I can see even more emphasis on how characters struggle against their own class expectations and prejudices. What made you so interested in these aspects of British culture?
You know, I was just thinking about this myself. The heroine of my WIP is solidly middle-class and that’s an important part of the book (and has required loads of new research! Almost all my Regency knowledge is aristocrat-based). I don’t set out consciously to write stories about this, but it just keeps coming up.
It does seem to be part of a trend in the genre–I’ve read more historicals with middle class and working class characters in the last two years than I did the whole time I was in high school.
When I was five or six, my mother took me to a costume exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. I’d never seen a corset before and was horrified when my mother explained what it was. “Don’t worry, Rosie,” she told me. “No one in our family ever wore anything like that, because they were peasants.”
The idea was planted in my mind early that “the past” as presented in museum period rooms and Hollywood costume dramas and most history textbooks (except for the often boring and poorly presented “social history” sections) was specifically the rich past. And not only was it not the whole story, but it wasn’t my story. A world where every single character comes from old money leaves me feeling vaguely uneasy and out of place if I think about it too hard.
I love reading those stories and I love fantasizing about enjoying fabulous wealth (the clothes! the jewels! the autocratic tone of command!), just as I love superhero movies despite being vaguely uncomfortable with the whole “vigilante justice” thing. But it takes months and months to write a book and I just can’t suspend my disbelief that long, I think.
4. As a writer, I have to ask you: did you do anything as an unpublished writer that helped prepare you for the rigors of being a published author (like establishing a daily writing time, or developing a support network of other writers)?
Well, I had experimented with different writing schedules and knew a lot about my process, and that was very important. I joined my local RWA chapter and gone to our local conference several times, and made a lot of contacts and friends and learned a lot about the industry and the craft and marketing and pitching, and that was very important.
And I wrote a lot and had (and continue to have) a great critique group, which brought my writing to a place where I could write a good book in a reasonable amount of time, and that was very important too.
But in some ways the toughest things about the shift were the parts I couldn’t really prepare for: the amount of time I suddenly had to spend marketing, and the emotional pressure of deadlines and being responsible for my career. Suddenly the stakes are much, much higher, and that makes writing (and procrastination!) feel different.
You just have to deal with that when it hits, so I think the number one most important thing you can do is have people to deal with it with you.
In my case, the most important part of that support network was my critique group, the Demimondaines: Susanna Fraser, Alyssa Everett, Vonnie Hughes, and Karen Dobbins. They have always been there for me, before and after publication. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
5. On your website, you answer several either/or questions to help readers get to know you better. One of your questions—Colin Firth or Hugh Grant?—is clearly wrong. The answer should be neither of the above because there’s no one hotter than Jonny Lee Miller in Mansfield Park. But I have another one for you: Jane Austen or Emily Brontë?
Well, definitely Jane, Wuthering Heights isn’t really my bag. However, I’m just going to change it to “Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte” and answer that instead, because that’s a really tough one for me. My relationship with Jane Austen is really complicated and my relationship with Charlotte Bronte is really simple.
I adore Jane Eyre on every level. Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed by how earnest Charlotte is about everything and wish she had more of a sense of humor. Okay, I’m done.
When it comes to Jane Austen, though, there’s a whole Dostoyevskian love-hate thing going on, where I love her and then I resent her because I love her and that gives her the power to reject me. Here’s the thing: I identify with Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. I talk too loud and I love things too much. I’m not particularly elegant or refined or reserved. I’d probably shamelessly ogle militia officers, too.
Jane Austen is brilliant and incisive and talented and insightful and she makes hilarious jokes. I admire her unreservedly as a writer. But…I think it’s easier to unreservedly like her as a person if you can imagine yourself snarking with her about other people at a party, whereas I can never shake the feeling that she and her friends would be snarking about me.
The last time I read Mansfield Park, a couple of parts made me actually physically shake with anger.
You have to be pretty invested, to reread a book for the third or fourth time even though you know it’s going to make you shake with anger. I owe a lot more, creatively, to Jane Austen than I do to Charlotte Bronte (although I firmly believe the Regency historical genre is a marriage of the two literary traditions!). In for a Penny occasionally shares JA’s verbal tics and contains probably a dozen references to her books, many of them thematically integral to the book.
But Jane Austen’s books don’t work for me as romances. Whereas Jane Eyre, for me, embodies the intense, perfect connection with another human being that romance is all about and that I try to capture in my books.
You can read various contemporary and Victorian reactions to Austen here. I found them while searching for Charlotte Bronte’s own thoughts on her (which are there, but a more complete version is here).
And I found that I was as annoyed by some of the criticism (Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Never was life so pinched and narrow….All that interests in any character [is this]: has he (or she) the money to marry with?…Suicide is more respectable”) as I was by some of the praise (“[…]No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger–things that should now be left to ladies’ maids and sentimental washerwomen”).
I guess what it comes down to is that I have pretty strong opinions about both authors, and I can talk about which I like better and why, but a lot of times (I don’t at all mean you, obviously, but look at those quotes I just quoted!) the choice between Austen and the Brontes is set up in this weird symbolic way where you’re being asked to choose What Kind Of Woman You Are, or to choose between Realism and Melodrama, or between Repression and Sexual Liberation, or whatever dichotomy has been set up.
Even Charlotte Bronte’s negative comments on Austen were a direct reaction to her publisher’s suggestion that she write more like Austen! It’s nuts. Female authors are not in competition and they aren’t all role models for each other, either. We can all write different kinds of books that appeal to different people and all of them can be great.
Um. Sorry that got a little ranty…
Rose is giving away one of her novels to someone who leaves a comment on this post. Seriously, you want to read her books, so make sure you leave a comment!
And, because this interview series is to celebrate my husband finishing his PhD, I’m also giving away a copy of one of the books he studied: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
Leave a comment by Monday September 5 to be entered!