» An Interview With Historical Romance Author Cecilia Grant

An Interview With Historical Romance Author Cecilia Grant

This interview first appeared at the Dashing Duchesses blogsite.

I am so pleased today to bring you this interview with new historical romance author Cecilia Grant. I discovered the lovely Lady Cecilia when she commented on a blog posting I had made describing my penchant for unusual plotlines. In point of fact, I was beginning to wonder if I just didn’t fit in, either as an author who tended to write romantic plotlines that revolved around such things as a “syphilis misunderstanding”,  or as a reader who yearned for more than the average Regency ballroom scene. Cecilia was so enthusiastic about some of my described works in progress that I sat up and took notice.  Maybe there was an audience out there for odd ducks like me. Thus, when her debut came out in January, I snatched it up to see what was skittering about Cecilia’s head.

If you missed Cecilia Grant’s incredible debut A Lady Awakened, you quite simply need to be boxed about the ears.  Rectify that travesty immediately, please. Prepare yourself, though. Your expectations of romance and courtship are about to be turned upside down. The first half of the book has some of the most gut-wrenchingly awkward intercourse you are ever going to read. And it is going to make you howl with laughter, even as you cringe for the train wreck unfolding masterfully before your eyes.

 Jennifer’s summary for A Lady Awakened: Mrs. Martha Russell is a most pragmatic sort of female whose husband has just kicked off without an heir, leaving the country estate to Mr. Russell’s philandering, servant-abusing brother. Martha feels responsible for protecting the people she holds in her charge, and realizes she and her currently empty womb are the remedy to the problem. If she produces an heir in a timely fashion, said smarmy brother will be held at bay and the virtue of the servants and the farmers’ wives will be safe. Enter Theo Mirkwood, a young rake who has been cut off and banished to the country for frivolous excess (a.k.a. the stud who agrees to fill said empty womb. For pay.)   Theo’s willing to take on the needs of the pretty widow, and concludes this will be a pleasurable interlude for his country penance. Only, Theo quickly discovers Mrs. Russell isn’t interested in anything close to pleasure.

With this setup, one’s interest is definitely piqued. However, what makes A Lady Awakened such an incredible story is how deeply the characters are drawn, how sympathetic they seem despite their truly horrific choices. Ms. Grant’s voice is stellar, perfectly capturing the humor and disgust of the necessary intimacy that must occur, with horrifying frequency, to a woman who is absolutely convinced of her martyrdom and determined to not enjoy the process of getting there. And Theo’s character evolution from a man used to taking his own pleasure, to a man determined to deliver hers, is subtle yet stunning.

 Cecilia’s next book in the series, A Gentleman Undone, was just released yesterday, May 29th 2012, and is available wherever books are sold. I have been waiting for more Cecilia Grant to read for four long months now, so I cannot tell you how happy I am about this. Without any further chattering on my part, I give you the lovely Lady Cecilia!

1) Cecilia, tell us a little more about your newest release, “A Gentleman Undone”. Does it follow any characters to whom we were introduced in your debut?

Thank you for inviting me to visit with the Dashing Duchesses, and I love that you made me Lady Cecilia instead of Her Grace Someone-or-Other!  I will assume I’m an earl’s daughter, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  If I’d only learned to play the piano, I’m sure I would have been a great proficient.  No one can have a finer natural taste in music than I.

A Gentleman Undone follows the one Blackshear sibling we didn’t meet in A Lady Awakened:  Martha’s brother Will, second-youngest of the family, who was away in the Napoleonic wars during that book.  It’s the spring of 1816 now, he’s back in London, and, armed with a somewhat overdeveloped sense of duty (runs in the family), he’s determined to fulfill a promise to a fallen comrade by providing for the man’s widow.

This will take money, so he ventures into a semi-respectable gaming club and tangles with unscrupulous cardsharp Lydia Slaughter.  She’s fifty shades of wrong for him (to begin with, she’s another man’s mistress) and therefore, of course, she’s exactly what he needs.

Readers have asked me whether Martha and Theo appear in this book; yes, they do.  Martha’s and Will’s other siblings – Andrew, Kitty, and Nick – appear as well.  And there’s actually a supporting character here who had a single passing mention in A Lady Awakened, though that’s something I did mostly for my own amusement and I’m not expecting people to notice it!

2)  That sounds amazing, and almost the opposite sort of story to your first. I love it that you are exploring many types of stories and moral dilemmas. Please, please, please tell me there is an unusual plotline in your new release!

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a whole lot unusual in the plot (I’m not a very plot-oriented writer to begin with), but I did try to twist the core relationship dynamic as much as I could.  “Wounded man/healing woman” is such a prevalent dynamic in romance; I wanted to explore the question of what happens if the wounded man meets an adamantly un-healing, wounded-in-her-own-right woman.

There’s this thought Will has, when the two finally go to bed together:

Maybe this was what he’d needed all along.  Not a pure-hearted woman who could lift him out of darkness, but one who dwelt there herself.  Already corrupted to such a degree that nothing remained to ruin.  Incorruptible, now, more incorruptible than the most virtuous maiden.

That’s sort of a recurring theme, that “eye of the hurricane” notion that the way to redemption might be by walking straight into the heart of one’s darkness or corruption, instead of trying to run the other way.

Apart from that, I’d say the book is probably unusual in its amount of sheer detail about blackjack strategy. (It gave them something to talk about while stealth-flirting.) Also, this may be the only romance out there that contains an explanation of the Game Show Paradox :)

3)  Blackjack… my favorite Vegas game! Ahem. Not that this lady err…. gambles. Aside from describing such gentlemanly pursuits as gaming, most romance authors are praised for their ability to write a lovely, soul-touching sex scene. Your brilliance, in my humble opinion, is that you can also write an inept one that is every bit as memorable.  What was your inspiration for Martha and Theo’s initial awkwardness in “A Lady Awakened”?

Oh, I just love bad sex. It gives a writer the opportunity to explore so many compelling emotions: disappointment, awkward self-consciousness, that lonely sense of distance from the other person, maybe even shame and anger. Also, I think – I hope? – it’s just as universal an experience as good sex, so readers can relate to it with that special sort of sympathy with which we relate to others’ humiliations. To me, that’s maybe even more soul-touching than the good stuff.

In general I don’t believe romance novels necessarily have to function as fantasy, and I like the idea that a relationship can transcend an ungainly beginning to become something lasting and worthwhile.

4)  Speaking of reality versus fantasy, one of the things I enjoyed about “A Lady Awakened” was that it painted a beautifully honest picture of English country life, including the immense responsibilities of estate management. How did you research such things?

I had a few books, although those tend to concentrate on the big historical/political picture rather than the day-to-day human angle. My favorite research source for those details is small “hobby” blogs. When I needed to set scenes in a church, I found some guy’s blog where he was cataloguing all the rural churches of Sussex, with helpful photos. When I needed to have some grain go through a mill, I found someone’s explanation of different kinds of historical mills and how they worked. When I had a farm family doing laundry, I found documentation of how it was done back then.

None of these were big official educational blogs; they were just labors of love by people who found the subjects interesting enough to want to put up what they knew online.  That’s the internet at its best, if you ask me.

5)  In “A Lady Awakened”, both the hero and the heroine make some early moral mistakes that would tempt some readers to condemn them, but which are deftly enough executed to render the characters sympathetic. Is there anything you could never bring yourself to allow a character to do?

This is a great question, because as soon as I think of an answer, I think, “But I should try that because it would be such a challenge!”

Well, the thing that immediately jumps to mind is rape.  I don’t see how you redeem a guy who’s done that.  (No, I haven’t read To Have and to Hold.  People keep telling me to, but it’s hard to find a copy!) Really, anything that involves taking pleasure in someone else’s terror is just overwhelmingly difficult for a hero or heroine to come back from, in my opinion.

Romance is a great genre for exploring questions of morality, though (actually, now that I think of it, most genre fiction is great for that – look at detective noir or sci-fi), and so I think I’ll always be drawn to heroes and heroines whose character flaws lead them into shady actions or moral mistakes.

6)  What’s on tap next after “A Gentleman Undone”, and when can we expect it?

A Woman Entangled is scheduled for next spring. It’s sort of a “one generation after the fairy-tale ending” premise: heroine Kate Westbrook is the daughter of a society-defying true-love match between an earl’s son and an actress. Embarrassed by her eccentric family and sick to death of living in a social no-man’s-land, she’s determined to find a way to claim all the consequence that ought to belong to the stunningly beautiful granddaughter of an earl.

Sometimes abetting her and sometimes thwarting her schemes is her father’s young barrister colleague Nick Blackshear (brother of A Lady Awakened’s Martha and A Gentleman Undone’s Will), who’s dealing with his own family shame because his brother just married a courtesan.  And as Kate gets closer to realizing her ambitions, she begins to recognize an inconvenient attraction to Mr. Blackshear… just as he’s finally getting over his own long-standing crush on her. Complications ensue!

That sounds amazing too. I am currently writing about a long-standing crush myself, and they have so much potential for mayhem. Thank you so much for joining us today Lady Cecilia! It has been lovely discovering the woman behind the voice.