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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

01 April 2008

Welcome, TJ Bennett!

The Legacy
AVAILABLE Now!

“Bennett delivers a powerful evocation of an exciting period in history most romance novels have ignored. Her full-blooded characters take you on an emotional rollercoaster, for a trip you won't soon forget. We'll be seeing more of this author, and I can hardly wait.”
~ Susan Squires, New York Times bestselling author

" This story is superb....The Legacy is a riveting story that explodes with tight action. Drama at its best, this is one overpowering, extraordinary tale."
~ 5 out of 5 cups, Coffeetime Romance ~

When secrets destroy, can love live on?

When her brief, disastrous marriage to a fortune hunter ends in scandal, Baronesse Sabina von Ziegler's vengeful adoptive father imprisons her in a cloister. Nine years later, however, following the teachings of the reformer Martin Luther, she arranges a daring escape. She is free at last—for the moment—a noblewoman of conscience, and has learned a lesson about trusting men she will never forget.

Wolfgang Behaim, a widowed commoner, is a tradition-bound printer from the rising middle class with a secret that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. Burdened by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father's death, he has no heart for love. Yet he finds himself suddenly betrothed to Sabina, the Baron von Ziegler's adopted daughter.
It is a marriage neither wants. Sabina again finds herself imprisoned by the Baron, in a dungeon this time, being slowly starved to death. Her only key to freedom is marriage to Wolf. And Wolf must marry Sabina, or the murderous Baron will reveal the secret from his past.

Though neither comprehends the dark purpose behind the Baron's machinations, they are forced into a union they never plan to consummate. But as they fight to discover the truth of the mysteries surrounding them, they find themselves challenged by a fiery passion they cannot resist. Can they overcome their past and find love even as lies, war, and an unexpected enemy conspire against them?

THE LEGACY is set in 1525 Reformation Germany. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

The Early Reformation period makes for fascinating history. I remember reading the story in school about Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, hammering his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, thus sparking the Protestant Revolution. I also remember the stories of the Gutenberg press and how it made the written word affordable for the common man, much the same way Henry Ford's Model T made the automobile affordable for ordinary people. So much happened that set the stage for the modern era during those times, including the rise of literacy, Protestantism, and egalitarianism. So much of the Western world, particularly America, is heir to that history. How could I not want to find a way to tell a story from that time in a unique, exciting way?

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The climax of the book takes place during the Peasants' Revolution in the German regions. Unfortunately, I had to rely on secondary sources to do most of my research. The primary sources were in German, and I don't speak the language, despite being born there as an American military dependent. Learning the noble lineages and terms was hard, too, as well as figuring out who the members of the royal houses were at the time the story takes place. Everyone seemed to have similar names!

Also, each city and region had its own monetary system and currency. Trying to figure out what kind of money my hero would have earned, and what it would be worth today, was a nightmare. It was crucial to the story. I'm still not sure I got it right. Finally, inheritance law in the German regions was very different from those of other European countries and of England. I consulted two well-known professors from Harvard and from London who specialized in this period of German history, and did the best I could to stay true to the times.

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

The clothing! LOL! I didn't have Kalen as a source then, and although I used some extant fashion plates of German couples dressed in their finery to write descriptions of what my hero and heroine would have worn, I really wasn't sure what to call some of the pieces, or what the women might have worn beneath their clothing. When in doubt, I guessed or used deliberately vague language.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

There is only one thing I know for sure I got wrong: I used a contemporary menu of the times from a hotel in the region, so I knew it would be possible for my characters to consume the foods I described. However, I wasn't sure how they sweetened their dishes. I knew they wouldn't have used refined sugar then, so I found a source that seemed to indicate sugar beets were used for baked goods. It wasn't until I'd turned in my galleys that I found out the sugar beet didn't come into usage for sweetening until very late in the sixteenth century, darn it, and even then it would have been consumed only by the wealthy as a special treat.

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.

I have to admit, I'm not much into the "interviewing your characters" thing that would give me this information. I do know my hero Wolf and his brothers, Günter and Peter Behaim, had a big sibling rivalry going on. They used to get in fights with each other when they were children, picking on each other mercilessly, but if anyone else tried it, they would stand side by side and back their brothers up against all comers.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I was inspired to write this outside-the-box historical romance about a printer and the runaway nun he is blackmailed into marrying when I came across a book entitled Martin Luther Had a Wife. The book described how the religious reformer met and married Katherine von Bora, an ex-nun. She and eleven other nuns engineered a daring escape from the convent and fled to Luther's doorstep in Wittenberg, asking for help in starting a new life. Luther decided to help the women, finding most of them husbands in a round of hasty matchmaking. The twelfth nun, Katherine, decided she'd rather marry Luther than anyone else, and theirs became one of the great love matches of history. It got me thinking: What must it have been like for the other eleven women? They went from nun to wife in such a short time. That must have been a dizzying, even scary, feeling. I started imagining what that would have felt like if I'd been one of the women, and thus The Legacy, about the fictionalized life of one of those other nuns, was born.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Oh, yeah, major research. I really knew very little about the time or place. One thing I discovered was that unlike most European nations, in the German regions women in business were considered equal to men and were allowed to speak in court for themselves, to own property in their name, and to make contracts without a man's permission. On the other hand, women who were not in business were considered little more than the property of their husbands, brothers or other male relatives. Even noblewomen weren't allowed to speak for themselves in a court of law, but had to rely on a male relative to represent their interests. It was a curious dichotomy.

What/Who do you like to read?

I've recently discovered Elizabeth Hoyt. I love her bawdy, realistic romantic heroes and heroines. Madeline Hunter, Laura Kinsale, and Susan Squires are perennial historical romance favorites. Colleen Thompson and JD Robb are favorites in contemporary romance (although JD Robb's books are classified as futuristic). Outside the romance genre, I thoroughly enjoyed Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, and Audrey Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

All of the above. LOL!

I started out as a plotter, although I seem to have gotten away from that with my latest work. I write multiple drafts, often cleaning up as I go. In fact, I'm a perfectionist, and I have yet to become comfortable with the idea that I'm not done after the first draft because I've worked on revising it all the way through. My writing critique partners and my agent always have to remind me there is more work to do. I usually will rewrite a manuscript a couple times before everybody is happy with it.

What are you planning to work on next?

Well, I've got the sequel to The Legacy, entitled The Promise (featuring the middle Behaim brother, Günter) due out in May 2009. I have a couple of stories I'm working on right now, both of which I call paranormal romantic suspense with science fiction elements, both contemporaries. Someday, I may wish to revisit the world of the Behaim brothers and tell Peter's story (he's a physician), but I don't see that happening anytime soon. I'd have to have time to do the research on the state of medicine in the early 16th century, and I've a full schedule right now, so that is a future project still on the shelf. For now.

40 Comments:

Blogger MsHellion said...

I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on this book. I'm depressed it's not officially shipping to stores until the 4th. I love the premise; I love the background...it's just so new and different...and you care about the historical details!

And I am curious what they'd use to sweeten their foods with. Honey, perhaps?

7:08 AM  
Blogger Kate Willoughby said...

Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my current favorite authors, too, TJ. And I, too, am glad you're serious about research. I can't stand getting yanked out of a book because of an anachronism.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Lark said...

I'm totally awed by your in depth research. I wouldn't know where to begin to research the historical details you describe. This sounds like a fabulous story. Can't wait to read it!

Lark

7:52 AM  
Blogger petite said...

This book is certainly historically fascinating and appealing. The Legacy cover is lovely and attractive. I look forward to enjoying this special novel.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Hi TJ!
I'm glad to see there will be another book as a followup to The Legacy! I see we enjoy many of the same authors, too!

-Lisa Marie

8:28 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

This looks so good! I love the premise of a book set in Reformation Germany. Random question-- did you get your hero's last name from Professor Ozment's "Three Behaim Boys"?

8:53 AM  
Blogger Lynne Marshall said...

I love to hear about the behind the scenes work that goes into books. Thanks for sharing so much with us.

Fascinating stuff!

Oh, and I've ordered you book!

9:03 AM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Hi, Kate, Lark, Petite, and Lynne! You found me. Mshellion, I'm so delighted at your enthusiasm. :-) Yes, I'm bummed that the release has been delayed until after 4/4 due to the printing plant fire, but IT WILL COME! Re: sugar--I never really found out what they used to sweeten their foods on a regular basis. Honey would have been available, yes, but it would have been an expensive treat as well, sort of how saffron is available to us, but most of us don't use it much because of the high cost. I have read that most people then had good teeth as a result of not eating refined and processed sugars, so I'm thinking they used honey but not that often (honey doesn't cause tooth decay), and didn't really rely on sugared goods the way we do.

Lisa Marie, good to see you here, too. Lauren, you busted me! I used "Behaim" in honor of Prof Ozment and his fabulous willingness to answer truly stupid questions, like a good professor does. In fact, I wrote him recently and asked if he'd like a signed copy of the book as a thank you, and he was absolutely delighted. Now if I can only get my hands on one...grrr.

TJB

9:57 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

What a fascinating story. I can't wait to read it. I LOVE the tie in to Martin Luther. A great use of the "what if" method! I cannot imagine doing all of that research and not speaking German.

I lived in a little German village for over two years when I was studying at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and then singing all over Germany and Austria. It was cheaper to live on the German side of the river!

I hope you get the chance to tell all three brothers' stories!

10:16 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

This is a fab book, and you're all going to love it (I lucked into an ARC!).

Ozment is a favortie author of mine. I'd LOVE to write a novel based on his The Bürgermeister's Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town. But I think I'll leave this period to TJ, who rocks it!

10:47 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

TJ, if you get around to Peter's story, I can hook you up with a friend of mine whose research specialty just happens to be 16th century Landsknecht barber surgery and medicine! In fact, he’s giving a workshop for us at the Historical Romance Writer’s convention on July 30th (the day before the main RWA conference) here in San Francisco.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Your publisher/agent? should try to sell the German rights. It sounds just like the sort of book people here like to read.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Kim Lenox said...

You're a historical writer after my own heart. We have similar processes.

I can't wait to read THE LEGACY!

11:34 AM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Doglady, I also lived in Germany many years ago as a military brat. Shame on me for not learning the language when I had the chance, eh? But I loved the country and hope to return someday.

Kalen, Ozment's Bürgermeister's Daughter was an inspiration for my first scene in the book. I was aghast that a father would hold his own daughter prisoner as Ozment documented in this book, and it got me thinking about the kind of predicament my heroine would have found herself in as an inciting incident in The Legacy.
And, moan, God, YES put me in touch with your guy who knows about 16th c. medical research! Your EVIL PLAN to lure me to RWA a day early is already working, you evil planner you. That workshop is going on my list, you betcha.

Gabriel, yes, I'm hoping eventually my publisher sells the rights to Germany, but I know that is a little ways down the road. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Kim, nice to see you again!

I see some ladies here who are angling for that $40 gift certificate to B&N or GermanDeli.com (you all can go to my website under Contests for more details if you don't know what I'm talking about). ;-)

TJB

12:27 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Oh a historical I can't wait for it to come out. I love historicals and this one sounds like it is going to be fantastic.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Deanne said...

I'm chiming in with Kalen... you all will love this book. (I was lucky enough to read it years ago in it's early draft form!) Even then I told TJ she was going to sell this book. (I wonder if she's getting tired of me telling her, "I told you so!")
I'll say this though... all that research still boggles my mind!
Yay, TJ!

Deanne

1:23 PM  
Blogger Teri Thackston said...

I am really looking forward to this book, TJ. It sounds fascinating and romantic and exciting.
Teri

3:29 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Virginia, I so hope you enjoy reading The Legacy!

Deanne--shock and astonishment! You broke your longstanding "I don't post for NOBODY record" for me. *wink* Nice to see you here, girlfriend.

Teri, thank you so much for stopping by. Nice to "see" some familiar folks at the Hoydens' place.

TJB

4:02 PM  
Blogger Pam P said...

I love this, TJ, something different. Came across a review about it the other day, read some more and right on to the wishlist.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Christie Craig said...

TJ,

It was great hearing more about your book. Can't wait to read it.

CC

5:54 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Waiving at Pam P! Thanks for stopping by.

Christie, thanks for hosting me over at Killer Fiction on Saturday, btw. That was a real hoot. Can't wait to read Weddings Can Be Murder when it comes out.

TJB

6:15 PM  
Blogger Colleen Thompson said...

It's great to see such an out of the box historical being published. Loved the story that inspired The Legacy, too. Thanks for sharing.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Judy Gechman said...

TJ - I had no idea you'd written this. I'm not at all familiar with the German Reformation period, but I can't wait.

I've never posted on a blog before. Hope I've done it right. And hope I haven't done this one multiple times.

7:51 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Hi, Colleen! Thanks for stopping in to the Hoyden's place.

And Hi to you, too, Judy. Looks like you did it right to me. ;-)

TJB

8:22 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Well, folks, it's almost midnight my time, so I'll be signing off now. I'll check back once tomorrow to see if there are any more research questions. In the meantime, feel free to join me on my next blog tour stop over at www.booksquare.com on April 2 (Wed)where I'll talk about the business of publishing with a "small" press. Loved visiting with you!

TJB

9:48 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Sorry I'm catching up with this post so late -- what a fabulous interview, and what a wonderful premise for a novel!! T.J., I'm curious to hear about your process from initial idea/premise to sale? It's such an "out of the box" location and time, as far as the perceived wisdom goes in publishing that nothing outside the Regency/Georgian era, unless it's Tudor England, will be commercial. My new heroines are the historical fiction & historical romance writers who have broken through that ceiling.

Was it hard to convince your agent of your idea? How hard was it to sell?

8:30 AM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Amanda, that is a loaded question, LOL! However, I deal with that very topic over on the Booksquare blog (www.booksquare.com) post today. In brief, it was a VERY hard sell. I did get an agent initially with the book (she loved it), but she was new to the romance market and only realized she couldn't sell it after a year. We parted company and I went solo for several years after that. It wasn't until a small publisher, Medallion Press, looking for outside-the-box historicals, opened it's doors in 2003 that I thought the book might have a chance to sell to them. I did indeed sell to them (without an agent) in 2006, both this book and the sequel.

I will say if you have the ability to write what the market trends are, fabulous. Go for it. For me, that wasn't an option. Like you, I enjoy different, and different is good. I have an agent now, but she doesn't represent my two historicals--she's working with me on getting my paranormals into the hands of the right editor. (They are also a little different--lean toward science fiction a bit, another hard sell in the romance market. Think JD Robb with interdimensional traveling.)

The moral of the story? Write what you love to write, always. Excellence will shine through. However, be prepared to be rejected repeatedly if it is a hard sell, and don't blame the editors for that--they have to buy what they think they can sell to their market. MP, my publisher, has a strong niche market, so the marriage between my books and their list worked out well.

Good luck!
TJB

9:38 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I might have guessed it was a Medaillon Press book. I've found quite a number of 'exotic' books there since Scott Oden's Men of Bronze that 'introduced' me to MP. :)

9:50 AM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Yup, Gabriele, Medallion Press loves unusual books. Scott's a funny guy when he's not killing off legions, too. :-) MP is lucky to have him.

TJB

3:49 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, I kill legions, too, in my writing.

Roman legions. :)

5:49 PM  
Blogger Judy Gechman said...

I've never commented before (successfully) on a blog. Hope it works this time. I looked for your book at Borders today but didn't find it. It sounds interesting. I never even heard of this German restoration period. Good luck with sales, TJ.

6:05 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Judy, the release date for The Legacy has been delayed a few days. There was a fire at the printing plant affecting several titles, not just mine. The plant is one of the largest printers of books in the US, so they're working hard to catch up on their inventory. I've been told the books will ship next week. If your local Borders doesn't have it in stock, they can order it for you, or you can preorder it on Amazon.com.

Thanks for looking for it, btw. The more people who ask for it in their local bookstore, the more likely the stores will be to carry it in significant numbers.

TJB

7:51 PM  
Blogger Marg said...

The more I hear about this book...the more I want it!

2:38 AM  
Blogger brownone said...

I was just over at the Jaunty's who have an interview with TJ Bennett today and found the book to be fascinating. I love the change of pace and setting and am looking forward to checking this one out!

5:03 AM  
Blogger catslady said...

I read such good things at other blogs I thought I'd come and read this one too and I'm glad I did because I'm even more excited about this book now!!

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking to see if the book is available anywhere now and I noticed on abebooks.com, it's being sold by a German bookseller within Germany. I think I'll ask one of my local stores to order it.

Mary M

12:13 PM  
Blogger flchen1 said...

Wow, terrific interview, TJ! I do like that this is such a different time in history than so many of the other books I've read--thank you for persevering and bringing these stories to life!

1:39 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Wow, Mary M! That's just...mind-blowing that a German bookstore already has it in their sights. LOL!

Brownone, Catslady, and Fichen1, thanks for checking out the blogs. I always figured that what I found so fascinating, others might, too. Looks like I was right. :-)

TJB

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The unique idea the book is so appealing. I am looking forward to reading the copy I ordered. Best wishes and good luck with your writing career.

7:02 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

Hey, folks, in case you didn't catch the announcement, we have a winner for the blog book tours! BROWNONE is the winner of her/his choice of a gift certificate from B&N or GermanDeli.com and a free autographed copy of The Legacy. Please visit my website's contest page and send me an e-mail to claim your prize.

www.tjbennett.com

10:10 PM  

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