Writer's Corner for April, 2006

Adele Ashworth

What can I say about Adele Ashworth? That she's the author of Winter Garden, one of the most beloved - and respected - historical romances of all time? That she's a USA Today bestselling novelist? That she's the proud survivor of a major AAR message board kerfuffle?

As AAR veterans know, all of the above is true. With the long-awaited follow-up to Duke of Sin about to hit bookstores, Adele took the time to talk with us recently about her new release, her new series (great news for Winter Garden fans), and - yes, indeed - about the multiple hazards awaiting authors tempted to post on romance message boards.

--Sandy Coleman

 

Adele, well, first of all, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Duke of Scandal! Could you start off by telling us a bit about this second entry in your Duke trilogy?

Hi, Sandy, and thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview! Let's see. Duke of Scandal.

I introduced all three of the trilogy's dukes in Duke of Sin, and after writing Will's story in that first book, I decided to tackle Sam's next because he's the most serious of the three and I figured a serious hero might be easier to write. Will is brooding but very Beta, Colin is a charmer, a ladies' man to the extreme. Sam is. Sam. I know I say this about every one of my heroes, but after seven books, I truly believe Sam is my favorite hero so far. He's very conflicted when he agrees to help Olivia find his brother (Edmund, her faux husband), not only because Olivia is everything in a woman he would ever want in a mate, but because he's not sure if she's actually married to Edmund, and if she and Edmund are scheming against him. As his feelings for her grow, he's confounded by her honesty, her naiveté coupled with a glamour and sophistication he's never had to deal with in a woman. And she seems to like him genuinely, as an individual, something he's never experienced before. As the tale progresses there are other obstacles, of course, including a former lover of his (the one who caused "The Scandal" in his past) who is intricately tied to his brother, who stole Olivia's inheritance, who's engaged to someone else. the list goes on.

Part of the story is set in France, both Paris and Grasse (near the Riviera), and the plot centers around perfume and its industry. Olivia is half French. Her mother was a perfume heiress from Paris; her father was English, the Earl of Elmsboro. Sam doesn't trust the French because. well, because of "The Scandal" but he does agree to help Olivia find his brother on the Continent. This is really a Road/Cabin romance, and these two are together for the entire book, falling in love while conflicted by their feelings and past experiences.

Frankly, Scandal has been my absolute favorite book to write. It was a truly an enjoyable adventure, especially the second half of the book. It just sort of fell into place for me as I typed it. And it's the only book I've ever written that had me saying to friends, over and over as I wrote it, "This book is sooooo good!" (Usually, with almost every author I know, we hate the books we're working on, or at least have doubts about them, until - or even after - they're printed.) Honestly, I just loved Sam's story. It was actually exciting to write.

I found Olivia to be an especially terrific heroine - she's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, but she still remains vulnerable to Sam no matter how much she tries to avoid it. She's also a career woman whose quest for justice is aided by Sam. In fact, most of your heroines are on some sort of career path. Are those women more interesting to you as characters?

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Thanks, Sandy! I loved Olivia. She, and Madeleine (from Winter Garden) are the two heroines I've written who I would actually love to "be" - if that makes sense. I suppose I mean that I related to them the most, though I'm not sure why.

I don't usually set out to create a heroine with a career, though nearly every heroine I've ever written has had one. I think my reasoning is twofold. First, I love the idea of creating a "semi-feminist" in the Victorian world. I know these types of heroines aren't exactly historically common, at least not in the nobility where most of my heroines reside, but it makes me feel like these women in the past are getting to do what they love to do besides have babies and host parties and write thank-you notes. That leads me to my second reason, which is simply that if I didn't have a heroine who had a "career" I'd be stuck on chapter one thinking, "But what does she do?"

I know I've said this before, but I think because I write character driven romances, the characters, to me, need to have more "umph" to their personalities. It's my opinion (and I admit I could be totally wrong about this) that plot driven romances are better suited to heroines (and even heroes) who don't have regular "jobs," or at least not jobs they're working on during the story. They're busy fighting bad guys, or running from something, or plotting to expose the bad guys, or save the good guys, or she's stuck on a pirate ship, or kidnapped, or matchmaking at masquerade balls, or whatever. Again, in my opinion, plot driven romances tend to be about external conflicts keeping the h/h apart; character driven romances tend to be about the internal conflicts, and I think a heroine's "career" can add some great internal conflicts. Of course my greatest difficulty has been finding enough "careers" for all my Victorian heroines.

Well, yes, I can see that finding careers for all your heroines might be a challenge! And, forgive me for backtracking a bit, but now you've mentioned Winter Garden - unquestionably, an iconic book. This probably isn't a fair question to ask the author, but why do you think that particular book struck such a chord in so many readers?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I'm really not sure. I think there might have been several little things about WG- key elements, if you will - that combined to make it a book readers really seemed to love. For instance, it's a book about a severely wounded hero, mentally and physically; a hero who's in love with the heroine from page one - an unrequited love story; it has a heroine who's smart and glamorously beautiful, and yet she's generally unaccepted by her peers - a woman who builds her own life by something other than how she looks. It's a dark book, a character driven book, and it's quite sexy - a book in which the heroine wants a short tryst with the hero, who, in turn, wants a lifetime with her.

When I set out to write WG, the only thing on my mind was to turn it around and have the heroine sexually experienced and the hero in love with her from the beginning. Everything after that just sort of fell into my lap as I wrote it. I never for a minute dreamed that it would be some big emotional rollercoaster for readers, and in fact, when I turned it in to my editor at Berkley, I was really afraid she wouldn't like it and would request lots of changes, particularly with the ending. When she called me and said she wanted no revisions whatsoever, I almost fell out of my chair. The book Berkley published was the book I wrote, word for word - literally my first draft. And honestly, I never thought it was any better than the other two books I'd written before it, and was really surprised by reader reaction.

As an added note, I must say that as an author, it's very, very difficult to have one of your early books so loved by readers because everything you write after is compared to it. A friend of mine, a Big Time Avon author, has one book that had the same kind of response to it. She's also said to me how frustrating it is to have so many of her later books/heroes compared to that one. I know what she means. As an author, you don't want to feel you've peaked with only your third book. Ouch!

Adele, I hope you don't mind if we talk for a few minutes about online message boards. You were - well, sort of famously involved in one of our AAR dust-ups a year or so ago in which your revelations about your characters in Duke of Sin stirred up more than a few of our readers. Do you regret your honesty? Would you do it again?

I love message boards, and I guess it's not a secret that I visit them a lot, though I don't post much anymore. This has more to do with my time than anything. I always visit AAR boards, usually once or twice a day, maybe because I've been coming here since before I was published and felt more like a reader than an author. And so, I've always felt comfortable posting at AAR, until last year after the Duke of Sin issue arose.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've never had a problem with readers' opinions of my work, whether they liked a particular book or not, and I've always been happy to discuss why I wrote a particular book, or part of a book, as I did. I think it's engaging to know what readers like and dislike, and I've never been one to take offense. Last year's "dust up" bothered me a lot, though, and it wasn't because of anything any reader said about Sin, it had more to do with my frustration in not being able to get my point across.

The Virgin Widow Heroine. I kept thinking, "who cares?" And yet a lot of people did. I admit I was taken aback at first because a virgin widow plot device has never really bothered me, especially if the story makes sense and her reasons for remaining a virgin make sense. My whole point in the argument (and I use that word loosely ) was that Vivian's virginity had absolutely nothing to do with ninety-nine percent of the story. When I first commented on this, several readers really took me to task, and really shocked me by saying I'd more or less "sold out" to my publisher and their concern for profits. And as much as I tried to explain that what might have been perceived as a "selling out" was really nothing more than an email from my publisher saying there might be a concern from the reading/buying public over a married heroine having sex with the hero who was not her husband, because even though the hero thought she was a widow, the reader knew from chapter one that she was still very much married to someone else. (And how many readers hate adultery in their romances? More than hate the Virgin Widow? I don't know.) That's all there was to it - one email from my editor about a line in a ten page synopsis, and one email back from me that said, "Hey, I can do it this way - I can make the husband an opium addict, impotent, and wow! that will actually add some dramatic tension! What a great idea!" Really, there was nothing more to it than that - a couple of emails and one minor (or so I thought) change at the very, very beginning stages of an idea for a story. That's it.

What frustrated me about the boards, and a couple of other posts I read on the Internet, was that I couldn't seem to get across to readers how minor this was and how it had almost nothing to do with the story. I read somewhere that a reader wished my publisher would have let me "write the book of my heart" and that it would have been so much better than "selling out for the book my publisher wanted" me to write. It's still frustrating to me that I couldn't seem to convey on the message board, and even the follow-up article I wrote for AAR on this subject, that Duke of Sin - and it's semi-plot - was not the book of my heart at that early stage. It was just an idea for a story. I've never had a publisher/editor/agent tell me I can't write the book I want to write. They only give me advice on ways to help me shape the story I want to write into the best book possible.

I really have a lot of respect for readers, especially the thoughtful readers who post their concerns on the AAR boards. I find their opinions fascinating and I'm never offended by reasonable thoughts and opinions. We authors learn a lot this way! Do I regret my honesty? Not at all; I regret that I just couldn't explain myself very well, and the more I tried, the more it seemed to upset people, and the more frustrated I became. Would I do it again? :::sigh::: I have to say probably not. Not because of what anyone said or posted, but because in the long run it doesn't really matter why an author writes a book the way she does, there will always be readers who love it (or a particular plot device) as much as others hate it or wish it had been written another way. Discussion is one thing, but arguing with the inability to get your point across just seems to waste time.

I think online message boards are great places, and I'll continue reading them. Can't help myself - I'm addicted! And of course if someone asks me a question directly (usually this is on the Avon Authors Board or my blog on my site) I'll certainly answer! But I think reader boards are best left to readers.

Fair enough. Now let's get back to your books. I know that you're deeply involved right now in writing the third book in your Duke trilogy. Could you give us a hint or two about where you're going with it?

Oh, wow. LOL! Um. Colin's book is. difficult. For now, I'm calling it Duke of Desire because Colin is such a flirt, though the title may change. I'll know in a couple of months. But it's been a (fun!) challenge to write because of his flirtatious nature; I've only written one book where the hero was such a ladies' man, Stolen Charms, and Jonathan was a darker hero than Colin is. The hard part is that Colin is pretty amusing and lighthearted in his appearances in the first two Duke books, but his own story is turning out to be a bit more serious in tone than I'd first expected.

The story revolves around a famous soprano, Lottie English, who is really - unbeknownst to anyone - the Lady Charlotte Hughes. Colin is an opera fan who's been in love (lust) with Lottie for three years, is enthralled by the rumors surrounding her identity, and decides the sensual woman of the stage is going to be his next mistress. In chapter one he propositions her backstage during a performance, and she flirts a little and says she'll get back to him on that (in Victorian speak, of course ). Proper Charlotte then goes to see him at home and tells him she'll marry him as Charlotte if he'll sponsor a tour of Europe for her. She wants to sing all over the world but is held back by her brother, the earl, who refuses to let anyone know she's "on the stage." This is where Colin learns the love (lust) of his life is really a proper lady, and the only way he's going to get her into bed is to marry her. And so, the marriage of convenience begins.

Duke of Desire also has a "someone trying to ruin/kill" plot element, a forgery element, and lots of sexual tension. I have to say that the first love scene was very difficult for me to write, too, because it's the first one I've written where the h/h aren't in love or even know each other very well, and it's all from Colin's POV since he thinks he's making love to Lottie, not Charlotte. Quite a complication when she doesn't enjoy it at all and refuses to have sex with him again. Colin, though, has other plans, and I'll leave it at that.

Adele, probably another question that should be filed in the "not fair" category, but with so many books under your belt and with at least two holding legendary status, is there any book you've written that is a favorite of yours?

Ha! I don't know about legendary status, but thank you for the compliment! Actually, it's not that this is a "not fair" question, but one of those that is just so hard to answer. We authors get asked this question a lot, and in my case, it stumps me every time. First, I'll say that I think it's easier for a reader to say she liked "this book" more than any others because she is reading it in its completed form. She has nothing invested in one particular author's books except what she paid for them and her time in reading. So, I think this may be why she - the reader - asks this question of an author. She can pick a favorite. I know I can pick mine from my favorite authors - I can even list them in order of preference! Okay, I realize that wasn't your question, but that explanation just came to me.

As for my favorite book. it's like picking a favorite child. You just can't. Usually, when in the middle of a book, I hate that book (with the exception of Scandal as I said above). When I'm into the next book, I loved the previous one soooo much more! With previous books, it's difficult for me to remember them explicitly after so many years, and even harder to remember what it felt like to write each one. For example, I loved My Darling Caroline when I wrote it. Loved that book. But I won't even read it now because I know I made a lot of mistakes (like use of the word "sexy" which I don't think I'll ever live down) and I'd cringe if I had to go through it again. One thing I'll never do is read one of my books after it's published unless I must. This is going to happen this summer when I'll be forced to read Winter Garden for the first time since it was printed in preparation for writing the new WG series.

But, just so I'm not avoiding this question altogether, I'll say what I loved about each book:

  1. My Darling Caroline: I loved Caroline, and writing a genius for a heroine.
  2. Stolen Charms: I loved Jonathan, and the whole romp to find emeralds in France.
  3. Winter Garden: I loved writing the mystery, the darkness of the plot, the interaction between the h/h, especially their dialogue.
  4. Someone Irresistible: I loved Nathan, and I absolutely loved the dinosaur aspect.
  5. When It's Perfect: I loved the gothic feel, and the back story with Christine.
  6. Duke of Sin: I loved the villain, and his interaction with the h/h.
  7. Duke of Scandal: I love everything about this book, especially the final four or five scenes.
  8. And finally, let me say that the easiest books for me to write were Scandal and Winter Garden. I have no idea why.

What was that - "the new WG series"? You can't just drop a bombshell like that without further details!

LOL! It's not really a "bombshell" since I did mention this on the Avon board and on my blog. Okay, so it was "hidden" in posts that few people read and didn't jump out and say, "Adele's Next Book is Return To Winter Garden!" (And of course I hope they have a better title for me so it doesn't remind anyone of Peyton Place. ) But yes, in my last negotiation with Avon, I suggested this and they liked the idea. My hope is that if they sell well, Avon will reprint WG so others can read it without having to refinance their homes to pay for an OOP copy.

But, unfortunately, I don't have any real details yet. Since I'm still working on Colin's story in the Duke trilogy, I haven't given it a lot of thought. What I do know is that it will be either a two or three book series, the first of which is tentatively scheduled to be released in January 2008. Madeleine and Thomas will be featured in each book, but will be contemporaries of the h/h rather than the parents or other relatives. I want to stay in the same time period, with Maddie and Thomas still working and involved in the plots rather than enjoying the lake at the cabin as they rock their grandbabies to sleep. On the other hand, now that I think about it, Thomas did have a son from a previous marriage, didn't he? A son who was on the Continent tutoring as a gifted violinist? And a few readers have asked me to write a new story for Desdemona. Hmm. But don't quote me on any of these details! I'm not yet sure how this will work; as I said, I'm going to have to reread the first book to remember things.

I can't, of course, promise that readers will love these new WG books like they loved the original. Really, all I've decided at this point is that they will be dark books, and sexy-hot.

Well, it all sounds very intriguing - and a great idea, to boot! Finally, Adele, I'm going to end with another question that could probably be filed in the "not fair" category! Which romance authors make you cringe with envy?

Oh, Sandy, this is so not fair! LOL! If you had asked me about any author, I'd say I'm totally - to the ends of every fiber of my being (just threw that in for all you pp lovers.) - envious of Christopher Paolini because he's brilliant, enormously imaginative, and wrote the first book in the "Inheritance" series when he was just a teen. I mean, he's only like twenty now or something, isn't he? Maybe not even that old. But what an adorable kid! My son has been absolutely nuts about his first book, Eragon (and now his second, Eldest) since before Paolini had even made a name for himself. My dad met him at a booksigning and said he's just a down-to-earth, refreshing, sweet guy - who has now hit the Big Time. What a great fairy tale for him and his family! Oh, yeah, and the movie Eragon comes out this year. This kid's luck/talent/hard work never ends! - and I wish him all the best.

But you said romance, didn't you?<g> Let's see.

It took me a while to think about this question, too, because I can honestly say there isn't one author I'm truly envious of, but there are some things I do envy about certain authors.

I totally envy any author who writes magnificent prose, like Judith Ivory. Oh, to be able to put words together like she does! I envy all those prolific authors who also write great books, like Alison Kent (who also manages to update her blog constantly! Where does she find the time?) I envy any author who's made the bestseller lists, even the NYT list, but started writing about the same time I did, like Karen Hawkins (who, I might add, is one of my friends and a lovely person - I adore her!) I envy Lisa Kleypas because she's more beautiful than I am (okay, so she's more beautiful than any of us but I love her too, a good friend). I envy Michele Albert/Michelle Jerott because she writes the kind of contemporary RS that I'd love to write but can't quite manage even when I try. I envy Julia Quinn because she's so smart about everything and knows so much about the industry. I envy Eloisa James because she has a Ph.D. and lives in Italy; Kathryn Smith because she's soooo make-up savvy; Laura Lee Guhrke, Rachel Gibson, and Elizabeth Boyle, because they, more than anyone else in the world, can sit for hours with me in a martini bar and have me laughing so hard, and for so long, I actually lose weight. And I envy Judith McNaught because. well, because she wrote Almost Heaven, my absolute favorite historical romance (doesn't everybody love Ian? ).

I do have to say, though, that many of these authors are my personal friends. Romance Author Land is funny that way. We grow really wonderful friendships with people we admire, want to succeed and do well, cheer for when they do, cry with when they have setbacks, while still wishing we had their talent/fame/connections/luck/ability to manage time, etc. I guess it's safe to say that we all have something someone else admires or might truly envy, but I've never encountered any backstabbing in this business, nor have I heard of any. None. Maybe I'm just lucky that way.

Adele Ashworth at AAR

 

 

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