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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 April 2010

Welcome, Vanessa Kelly!

Sex and the Single Earl
by Vanessa Kelly
Available May 4th!

Their marriage was convenient...

Simon St. James, fifth Earl of Trask, knows he could do worse in the marriage of convenience department. Sophie Stanton may be a bit of a social liability, with her ungovernable ways and flighty nature, but Simon has responsibilities as an earl that far outweigh happiness in the household. As for happiness in the bedroom...he has to admit he sees Sophie’s potential in that arena...

Their passion was not!

But Sophie isn’t some bargaining chip to be traded, and she’s not about to let Simon St. James tell her how to live her life—even though she has nurtured a crush on the handsome young earl for as long as she can remember. If his idea of courtship is telling her what to do, then she is not interested, or at least she is trying not to be. But when his scolding words turn to scorching kisses, suddenly Sophie starts paying attention...




Sex And The Single Earl is set in the Regency period, specifically 1815. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?


The short answer is that it’s a follow-up to my first book Mastering The Marquess, which is also set in 1815. The events in Sex And The Single Earl take place about three months later. The long answer is that I wanted to write about the time period following Waterloo, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. My hero is something of a proto-industrialist who is intent on building an empire in the textile trade. Now that the war is over, he wants to expand his commercial holdings to the Continent. The economic and social dislocation that occurred in those months following the war is a factor in the plot, as well.


How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?


I became interested in the Regency period in the same way many historical romance writers did – through the novels of Georgette Heyer. From there I moved on to Jane Austen, which pretty much sealed my fate as far determining my favorite period of history. In graduate school, I studied British women writers of the Georgian and Regency era, especially Fanny Burney. Her diaries are a detailed and riveting account of life in artistic circles and at the court of George III.


I guess what I love most about the period is that fascinating combination of glamour, glitter, and wit exemplified by London’s elite society, co-existing alongside a truly gritty and flourishing underworld. The beauty and culture of the Mayfair mansions were only a few blocks away from the worst stews of London. But those worlds so often intersected in a strangely democratic way in places like Covent Garden and Vauxhall.


Throw in the danger and intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars and you have a killer combination.


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


There really isn’t much I dislike about this period. I just find it endlessly fascinating. There are always problems to plot around, though, and it can often be the little things that trip you up. Matters of social etiquette are probably the most common. Or details such as when certain dances or customs were first introduced into England. In my first book, I had a major plot point revolve around a breach of etiquette involving the waltz. I had to double and triple-check that the waltz was, in fact, being commonly danced in the year that my book was set. I think I might have even bumped the book up a year in order to accommodate that.


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


In Sex And The Single Earl, which takes place in Bath, I needed to set an important scene in the workhouse, in a specific part of town. I was never able to nail down exactly where the workhouse was located in that period, so I picked the street I wanted it to be in and put it there. It fit the existing neighborhood at the time perfectly.


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*


My hero is the ninth Earl of Trask, but the back cover copy of the book refers to him as the fifth Earl of Trask. I don’t know how I managed to let that one slip by! I’m hoping it’s corrected in the final version, but I may have noticed it too late. I’m sure there will be other slip-ups that someone else will point out to me.


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


Simon is an uber-alpha tough guy, but when he was young he liked to play the piano and sing. He also wanted to teach mathematics at university, but things didn’t work out that way.


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


As I mentioned earlier, Simon and Sophie were secondary characters in my first book. They took over every scene they were in and had really strong chemistry. I loved them right from the start, and knew they would be the hero and heroine of my second book.


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


Since the book is set in Bath, I had to do a ton of research on what the city was like in 1815. I have a sub-plot involving child prostitution, so I also had to research what the criminal underworld was like. Surprisingly, it was pretty extensive given the size of the town, because Bath was a resort that attracted rich people. There was a lot of poverty, too, which doesn’t really fit with our image of Bath in the time of Jane Austen.


What/Who do you like to read?


I enjoy reading histories and biographies of the period. In my grad school days, I loved both Fanny Burney and Jane Austen, and I was pretty partial to Samuel Richardson, too. As far as historical romance writers that I read, Loretta Chase, Eloisa James, Joanna Bourne, Madeline Hunter, and Anna Campbell are among my favorites. There are, however, too many great historical romance writers to list. I also read romantic suspense, and right now I’m devouring the back list of Karen Rose, who I think is monstrously talented.


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?


I’m a mad plotter, and do tons of pre-work before I start writing. In addition to my historical research, I do character biographies, GMC charts, a plot board, and usually a full synopsis before I commit words to the page. That results in a pretty clean draft. I do two revisions, which usually don’t take me very long.


What are you planning to work on next?


My third book is also in this connected series, and I’m really excited about it. The heroine is actually the villainess of Sex And The Single Earl. I’ve reformed her and hooked her up with a hero who drives her crazy.


I also write contemporary romance with my husband, under the penname of V.K. Sykes. Our first book, Caddygirls, is being published this summer by Carina Press.


20 Comments:

OpenID janeaustensworld said...

Thank you for a fascinating interview. Vanessa's reasons for adoring the Regency era could well be my own. - Vic

6:21 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Welcome to the blog (fianlly, I know we had issues getting you here; stupid blogger!). The book sounds fantastic!

I'm always amazed by plotters. My brain just doesn't work that way. I'm in the Jo Beverley school of people who write "into the mist" (I know where I'm going, and I'm pretty sure about a few landmarks along the way, but everything else is kind of fuzzy).

7:16 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Thanks for stopping by JAW! I adore the Regency, but I also have a sneaking fondness for the Georgian era.

Kalen, thanks for having me on the blog. As for plotting, I'm always amazed by people like JB, who can reach into the mist and pull out such great books. I really need the roadmap to keep me on course.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Welcome Vanessa! GREAT title! I love the pun.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Leslie, the title started out as a joke with my editor. At one point, we both went...hey...we kind of like it!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Welcome, Vanessa! How cool that you worked the underworld into Regency Bath. Did researching that send you off into any startling tangents, like unexpected eras? (I know I've always wanted to set a book in Bath because of its links to the Romans.)

11:32 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Diane,

My research did send me off into some unexpected plot tangents, especially since I never thought Bath had such a gritty underbelly. No going down the rabbithole into other eras, although I think a time-travel back to Roman Bath would be very cool!

3:00 PM  
Blogger Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha, Vanessa! Even though I am two oceans and two centuries away from Regency England, I am just fascinated by it! I have toured most of Southwest England, but I have not visited Bath, the Mecca of Jane Austen (have seen the original baths in Rome, though). So it will be a priority when we move back to the East Coast.

Looking forward to reading your new book!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Hi, Vanessa! Thanks so much for visiting us! I'm currently in the midst of 1815 research myself, as the book I'm starting involves Waterloo. It's a fascinating year between Waterloo, the associated financial speculation, the industrial unrest, etc... I'm particularly intrigued by your remarks about Bath having a dark undebrelly. I didn't know that, though thinking it through it's not surprising. Oddly, though I've written a bunch of Regency-set books, I've never written one set in Bath. Secrets of a Lady/Daughter of the Game was supposed to have a sequence in Bath, but the time to travel their was too long for the timeframe of the book, so I moved it to Brighton. I'm delighted to know you're a plotter like me (I'm the opposite of Kalen--I'm in awe of writers who can write *without* an outline). What' s a GMC chart?

4:44 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

What' s a GMC chart?

Goal/Motivation/Conflict. It's a whole school of thought about how to plot and write a novel and I know tons of people who SWEAR by it.

Makes me want to kill myself just thinking about it, LOL!

5:25 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Kalen! Vanessa, do you do chart for each character? And what do you start with in your plotting process--plot notes, character charts, the GMC charts? Or does it vary book to book? I'm fascinated by different writers' writing processes.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Tracy, it varies a bit for each book, but I always do a plot board and a synopsis. The synopsis, of course, is just a proposal and the story does change as I write it. But I do start with plot notes, which have been jotted down over the course of a few or even several months. I'd say the plot board is the one thing that remains constant for me with each book. I like the process of jotting stuff down on different colored stickies, and moving them around the board or completely re-writing them as the story develops.

I'm still experimenting with character charts and biographies. Charts are quicker and great to use for a quick reference, but when I did in-depth bios I really felt like I got in my characters' heads. We'll see what happens with the next book. Oh, and I only do character charts for my hero and heroine, although I will do short bios for the important secondary characters.

Kalen, I HATE GMC charts, but I always force myself to do it. Most of the time I don't have a clue if I'm doing it right or not, but it does make me think through my conflict. So that's useful. But I'm always getting stuff like goal and need mixed up!

I've also found working with archetypes to be helpful in clarifying what type of characters I'm dealing with.

But I use all that as pre-work in order to ground myself and get a feel for the characters and story. Once I start writing, I try to ignore most of it, except for the plot board and/or synopsis.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Kim, I think you'd love Bath. It's such a gorgeous city!

Tracy, it wasn't easy finding the gritty underbelly of Bath, but I finally hit pay dirt with some great books on its social history. But it's not something that most of the history/architectural books or historical associations like to dwell on. I guess they prefer the image of Bath as a genteel resort.

7:49 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

I've heard several people ask why there are so many romances placed in the Regency Period. When you look at what was happening in the world, you see what a gift it all is to authors. The plot possibilities are wonderful.
This sounds like a fun read. The marriage of convenience that becomes more is always fun. Nice word play with the title.
Am glad you take time to research and be as accurate as possible. It makes the story stronger.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for sharing your plotting process, Vanessa! I put scenes on index cards, which is similar to stickies in that in lets me move scenes and revelations around. Great for spotting where there are still holes in the plot too :-).

11:16 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I took a full day workshop on charting with sticky notes . . . nearly had a breakdown when I tried to do it myself, LOL!

For me, writing is all about discovering the story as I write it. I can produce a coherent synopsis, but the final story usually only resembles the bare bones of what was there. Everything morpths while I'm writing it (everything except the protagonists, who sort of burst forth like Athena from my head and have very clear ideas about who they are and what they will and will not do).

If I didn’t have to turn in a detailed synopsis to my editor I’d never write another one as long as I live! I long for the day that I’m established enough for my editor to just take it on faith that I’ll deliver something wonderful, LOL! I’m so the queen of the cocktail napkin pitch.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@ librarypat: I've heard several people ask why there are so many romances placed in the Regency Period. When you look at what was happening in the world, you see what a gift it all is to authors. The plot possibilities are wonderful.

I think there’s a whole host of reasons why this era is so popular, but mostly I think it’s that readers love Jane Austen (even if they’ve only seen Firth’s A&E wet-Darcy), Georgette Heyer (and now that her books are being reissued everywhere, I just expect this love to surge anew), and the old Trads and their authors trained the entire world that historical romance = Regency setting. No other setting got its own specific and prolific line.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Kalen, I read Jo Beverley's article about flying into the mist. I really wish I was a more intuitive writer!

Librarypat, thanks for stopping by! I agree that the Regency period provides great fodder for stories.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Late to the party Vanessa, but I wanted to drop by and tell you how much I LOVED Mastering the Marquis so I can't wait to read Sex and the Single Earl. I visited Bath as a young girl and found it fascinating. What sorts of sources did you use to create the Bath of your novel.

Another pantser here and I write very much the way Kalen does - a few landmarks and then let the story unfold as the characters reveal it to me. However, there are times when I get stuck or write myself into a corner that I REALLY wish I had done a bit more plotting!

1:32 PM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

Louisa, thanks so much for your kind comments!

The most reliable sources I used for Sex And The Single Earl were histories of Bath written by academics. I had a few tomes, I can tell you! But I managed to track down some good social histories, and there are a wealth of books about Bath's architecture. I spent quite a lot of money at the used books store. I also went to Bath while I was writing the book and spent time in places like No. 1 Royal Crescent, which is a fantastic townhouse in the Crescent that's been converted to a museum. I did some research on the internet, but there was very little info that I could track down that way on the Regency underworld of Bath.

6:19 AM  

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