Nicola here and today I have the pleasure of chatting to Honorary Word Wench Mia Marlowe about her lovely new novella and her future writing plans. Mia's award-winning historical romances have been praised by readers and reviewers alike and her novella My Lady Below Stairs has been acclaimed as "worthy of Shakespeare!" It's a wonderful story and I was utterly charmed by it. Before we move on to the interview, here is a blurb:
Nobody misses Lord & Lady Hartwell's Christmas Ball, but they all go for different reasons. When Lady Sybil runs off with an Italian portrait painter, her bastard half-sister Jane Tate goes in her place. Lord Eddleton plans on proposing to "Sybil" under the mistletoe. Lady Darvish is on the hunt for her fifth husband.
And Ian Michael MacGarrett, the head groom with more than horseflesh on his mind, is determined to show Jane that love doesn't have to pretend.
Mia, welcome back to the Word Wenches!
Mia: First, thanks for inviting me to Word Wenches again, Nicola. At the risk of having a gushing fangirl moment, let me share that some of the brightest stars in my romance heavens make their home on this wonderful site. I’m feeling as if I’m in very fast company indeed!
Nicola: I love the idea of the Wenches being fast company! It's lovely to have you back and please tell us a little about your new novella.
Mia: It’s actually a reissue of my novella from A Christmas Ball, an anthology which was released in 2009 with USA Today bestseller Jennifer Ashley. When I moved from Dorchester to Kensington, my agent was able to secure rights to this story again. I’ve become addicted to reading on my phone, so we decided to offer it as an eNovella.
When I wrote My Lady Below Stairs, I wanted to try some out-of-the-box characters. Most Regency stories are peopled with lords and ladies, but I always wondered about the lives of those who toiled for their daily bread instead of being born to the Upper Crust. So I decided to give a Christmas miracle of love to my scullery maid heroine and her head groom hero.
Nicola: I do enjoy a historical romance with a different slant to the characters. Now, I know that we are only in November but Christmas is fast approaching and My Lady Below Stairs is set against a background of Regency Christmas festivities. What sort of research did you do into Christmas traditions and did you discover anything that surprised you?
Mia: Many Christmas traditions harken back to the Victorian era instead of the Regency. There were no Christmas trees during “Prinny’s” time. They didn’t become popular till Prince Albert brought them to England. However, Regency holidays featured a “kissing bough” fashioned of ivy (symbolizing women), holly (to represent men—guess they’ve always been prickly!) and mistletoe (which provided the all important little white berries). When a gentleman caught a lady beneath the kissing bough, he plucked a berry from the branch and when all the berries were gone, there could be no more stolen kisses.
Something that surprised me was the holiday game called Snap Dragon. Revelers actually snatched raisins from burning brandy while the rest of the party chanted a many-versed poem. Needless to say, there were plenty of burned fingers and tongues. These people seriously needed cable TV!
Nicola: Hmm, I don't think I'll be re-introducing Snap Dragon at my Christmas party this year but I am always fascinated to hear about these old traditions. I must admit that I was already hooked on your story from reading the excerpt on your website. What key elements would you say one gets from a Mia Marlowe story?
Mia: Thanks so much for those kind words, Nicola. Here’s the link to that excerpt in case your readers would like to take a peek as well: http://miamarlowe.com/books/stairs.php . My novels always include a bit of humor, some dramatic action/adventure, and a deeply-felt, sensual love story. Some of my works also include a sparkle of magic, but not all. Unless, of course, you count love. That’s magic enough for most of us.
Nicola: Lovely and very true! What character did you have the most fun creating and why?
Mia: I actually enjoy playing with unusual secondary characters. Lady Darvish in My Lady Below Stairs has been widowed 4 times and is on the hunt for husband #5. Rumor has it that they all died of exhaustion. This Regency cougar was a hoot to write!
Nicola: I love the concept of the Regency cougar! You write brilliant first lines that grab the reader and pull them into the story. How important do you consider that first line to be and how do you come up with the right one for the story?
Mia: Ever since Barbara Vey crowned me “the queen of first lines,” I do fret over my openers. My goal is to surprise, delight, or befuddle readers with my beginning. It’s very important to me to begin as I mean to continue. My opener is a promise to readers about what sort of story they’re going to receive from me. I don’t want to disappoint them, so I probably revise the first 500 words or so more than the whole rest of the manuscript.
Nicola: That's very interesting and I work in much the same way. So I have to ask… To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
Mia: To my sorrow, I am a pantser. I so envy those well-organized plotters who plan out every scene and plot point. I follow my characters around and trust them to lead me even if I can’t see how it will all turn out. On the plus side, if I don’t know how to untangle the black moment until it arrives, chances are my readers will be surprised too.
Nicola: It's always reassuring to meet another pantser! If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be?
Mia: Oh, that’s a terribly hard question, Nicola. Maybe the best answer is the tag line from my website. Timeless Historical Romance. Because I write in a number of different time periods (Regency, Georgian, Victorian, Medieval Scandinavia and 16th century Scotland!) it seemed to fit. I also like the tag because it suggests classic themes in my love stories—betrayal, jealousy, temptation, redemption, reconciliation—timeless elements in the dance between two souls.
Nicola: I couldn't resist slipping a Scottish picture in there. Any excuse! What do you believe are the most important ingredients in a historical romance novel?
Mia: More than getting the costumes or furnishings of the houses correct, I think it’s important to make sure the characters think about themselves and their world in a manner in keeping with their time. If a character does otherwise, there needs to be a reason. For example in My Lady Below Stairs, my hero Ian Michael MacGarrett believes he doesn’t have to be trapped in his current situation. Through his own efforts, he can better himself. He believes this because he regularly reads John Locke and has embraced some rather heretical democratic ideas.
Nicola: I confess I fell for Ian in a big way and he's welcome to discuss his heretical democratic ideas with me any time! Which aspect of your research do you enjoy the most?
Mia: All of it. But travel is the most fun! I’ve visited England a number of times and in my imagination, the cobbled streets are alive with the people who walked them hundreds of years ago. I remember passing a house where Sir Isaac Newton lived and wondering if his world made more sense to him than mine does to me sometimes.
Nicola: What resources do you find most helpful for this period? Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Mia: For the Regency period, there are reams of information available, but lately I’ve been enjoying Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Kloester. As far as tips for aspiring authors go, I’d like to invite them to submit a 500 word excerpt at http://www.miamarlowe.com for my Red Pencil Thursday. Each week I do an online critique for a volunteer and my blog readers weigh in as well. The goal is always to be constructive. I’ve had volunteers at every level of writing expertise, from total neophytes to Golden Heart winners and even one New York Times bestseller! At least one Red Pencil Thursday alumnus has gone on to sell.
Nicola: I've checked out your Red Pencil Thursdays on more than one occasion and they are a wonderful opportunity and I encourage people to take advantage of it. So what’s next for you, writing-wise?
Mia: I’m so glad you asked. In January, my first collaborative novel with New York Times bestseller Connie Mason will be released. It’s called Sins of the Highlander and I frankly LOVE this story. Our hero “Mad Rob” MacLaren is tortured by dreams of his dead wife. She’s alive and vibrant in his dreams. When he wakes, even if it’s hours till dawn, he doesn’t seek sleep. He can’t bear to lose her again so soon. Here’s a link to that excerpt: http://miamarlowe.com/books/sins.php
Thanks again for having me, Nicola. I’d love to give away an advance reading copy of Sins of the Highlander to one randomly drawn commenter. Since the action in My Lady Below Stairs revolves around a Christmas Ball, let’s talk about holiday festivities. Do you have a favorite tradition in your family that makes the season sparkle for you?