After I graduated from college I stopped reading romance for seven years. Those first three years, I lived in Prague, where English books were extortionate and none of the handful of bookstores sold romance. Then I moved to London and did an MA, which required hours and hours of reading legal and academic articles.
I finally picked up a romance novel again in 2009, and was hooked all over again. But I had ideas of what the genre was like—as if it wouldn’t have evolved—until I read about an author who’d released a novel the year before to huge acclaim.
Joanna Bourne’s second debut (because it came out 25 years after her actual debut), The Spymaster’s Lady, changed everything I thought I knew about romance. With its clever, resourceful heroine and lyrical language, the novel helped me realize that romance can be literary and smart as well as entertaining.
I’m so thrilled to have Jo as my guest today. She’s giving away the hotly anticipated BLACK HAWK (which comes out tomorrow, people!) to one person who leaves a comment, but first: Welcome, Jo!
1. Your debut novel, Her Ladyship’s Companion, was published by Avon in 1983 (you write beautifully about your first sale on Dear Author) and then you embarked on a career globe-hopping with the federal government. What made you decide to start writing romance again after a 25-year hiatus writing for the government?
Fairly straightforward answer to that one. I stopped working overseas and returned to the United States. It was work I loved, but it was time to move on. Letting go of an 80-hour-a-week job does leave you with a little more leisure time.
Now I can use all those exotic impressions from all those foreign places in my writing.
2. Readers have been antsy for years waiting for Adrian’s story. Your last novel, The Forbidden Rose, is set when Adrian is twelve, and on the All About Romance website you say, “Think of the worst twelve-year-old you’ve ever known, and then hand him a knife. That’s Adrian.” How would you describe Adrian as a romantic hero?
Folks tell me Adrian is a ‘bad boy’ hero. A sort of James Dean. Adrian is the lad from the wrong side of the tracks. Dangerous, because he doesn’t play by the rules. Unpredictable. A little ruthless. Definitely not safe to love.
I try to take that aspect of the young Adrian and run with it. What would a ‘bad boy’ — a very, very intelligent bad boy — make of himself? Black Hawk, the book that’s going on the shelves November first, is partly a Pygmalion story telling what Adrian created out of the raw clay of a street rat and thief.
I hope folks enjoy reading about the teenaged Adrian as much as I enjoyed writing him. I hope folks like seeing him change.
In maturity, Adrian is still dangerous, still ruthless, still unpredictable. Just — he’s not at all a ‘boy’ of any kind.
3. Your novels feature spies and other characters who operate on the fringes of society. Like writers, spies occupy the best place from which to observe a society’s quirks. What are the strangest aspects of Revolutionary French and Regency British history you’ve discovered from your research? Are there aspects of your own culture you find you can critique or understand better through writing about Europeans from two centuries ago?
What makes this particular era so exciting and so disturbing and so just-frustrating-as-heck is that we’re not talking about some fight between Good and Evil. Both sides of the conflict were right about so much. Good people fought other good people over issues that mattered.
So some of what I’m doing when I write is, I look at why people take the side they do. I match them up with folks who have made the opposite decisions and I try to toss in a moral choice here and there, just to make life difficult for them — in the best tradition of Romance writing. Nothing too heavy-handed, I hope.
4. I own a time machine (shh, don’t tell anyone), and I’m letting you take it to any place in history…except the ones you write about. Where are you taking it, and who are you visiting?
Paris. The 1920s. Where else? The Paris of A Moveable Feast. Hemingway, Picasso, Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter.
Eloquence and elegance. Clever words and fine wine. Dinner at Les Deux Magots. I’m the one in the back with a cup of coffee, watching and listening.
5. Your blog is a fantastic resource for other writers, and you clearly put a lot of time and effort into sharing your knowledge of the writing craft. Why is it important to you to help other writers improve? What’s the best and worst writing advice anyone’s given you?
Best advice — ‘Never, never, never give up.’ A published writer is an unpublished writer who didn’t give up.
I probably got given all kinds of bad advice, but since I didn’t listen to any of it, I’ve forgotten it all.
Time to pimp BLACK HAWK! Tell us all about it.
Oh goodie. Here goes.
We follow Justine and Adrian from their first meeting in Paris just after the French Revolution, through — oh, it’s just one perilous mission after another, with them being sneaky and competent. They work against a common challenge as often and as enthusiastically as they connive against each other. Their final confrontation comes in London when the long war between England and France draws to a close.
Adrian is the slum-bred brat. Year by year, he sheds that slum from him Learns to speak correctly. Heck, learns to speak correctly in six languages. In the end, he threads his way through every level of British society, but he’s at home nowhere.
Justine, daughter of the French nobility, suffered terribly in the Revolution. But she’s not a damaged soul. She wouldn’t let those bastards have the satisfaction of destroying her.
Adrian and Justine understand each other as no one else in the world can. It makes them good friends and tender lovers. It makes them dangerous enemies to one another. In Black Hawk, they’re both lovers and enemies. Then it gets complicated.
Joanna’s giving away a copy of Black Hawk to one lucky commenter. Leave a comment by Monday November 7 to enter.