DON’T TEMPT ME: Susan Holloway Scott interviews Loretta Chase

Don't Tempt Me sm Susan: There’s plenty that’s noteworthy about Loretta Chase’s delicious new historical romance, Don't Tempt Me.  It’s a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, and it’s received great reviews.  But review quotes and sales numbers aren’t what readers will remember about Don't Tempt Me.  It’s Lucien de Grey, Duke of Marchmont, and Zoe Octavia Lexham, a hero and heroine who sparkle with originality.  It’s the dialogue between these two–witty and poignant and so full of sexual tension that some pages may scorch your fingers.  But then that’s the magic of Loretta’s writing: one minute you’re laughing at loud, and the next ready to wipe the proverbial tear.  If you’re already a fan of Loretta’s books, then you know exactly what I mean.  If you haven’t yet read her, then the good news is that you have her entire wonderful backlist waiting for you.  Either way, you won’t want to miss Don't Tempt Me.  

But now it's time to question the author.  First, Loretta, what’s it all about?  In a nutshell.

Loretta:  Zoe Octavia Lexham, a harem captive for twelve years, risks her life to get home to England again, only to find that England’s not wild about having her back.  (Here’s English Society’s idea of a harem).  The only man who can make Society change its attitude toward her is a childhood friend, the Duke of Marchmont.  Handsome, witty, rich, and very, very fashionable, he’s also the laziest man in town and, apparently, not overly intelligent.  But he says “Nothing could be simpler” than making her respectable again, and Zoe can’t afford to be picky.  And if I say any more, it’s no longer a nutshell but an essay.

Children-Schoolroom-ca-1820 Susan:  While Don't Tempt Me is a “stand-alone” book for you, the hero and the heroine are hardly “stand-alone” characters.  Their families and friends are very much part of their lives and decisions in both good and bad ways, and yet Zoe Octavia and Lucien de Grey, Duke of Marchmont, are completely separated from their families for years at a time.  What role did you see “family” play for both characters?

Portrait of the Benua Family-Olivier-w Loretta:  I think family, whether dead or alive, is crucial to character development.  We don’t come out of nowhere; we come out of a context.  In this story, though, I brought the family up close and personal to the hero and heroine, partly because it’s funny and partly because it’s poignant and partly because of that separation you mentioned.  Lucien’s reacted to his experience by becoming detached from everybody.  Zoe’s the opposite:  She made a family of sorts for herself in the harem and she's determined to be part of her family when she gets back to England.  She takes desperate measures to keep from being ejected from the nest–and her refusal to let them eject her is what, eventually, brings Lucien the connection he’s missed.  Too, family interactions are a great way to demonstrate character:  People behave differently with family than they do with friends, and I loved the opportunities this story gave me to show the comic aspects of aristocrats acting like a normal family.

Harem Bathhouse-Manuscript of the Zanan-nameh by Fazil-Yildiz in the University of Istanbul-w Susan:  In your last book Your Scandalous Ways, your heroine Francesca was a genuine, unrepentant courtesan and not simply one as a titillating plot contrivance. In Don't Tempt Me, Zoe has spent nearly half her life in an Egyptian harem, and you don’t sugar-coat that experience, either.  How did you research the life of a European woman in a harem?  How did it affect Zoe? And how did it make her uniquely ready to conquer London society?

Loretta:  I’d learned quite a bit about harems in Egypt while researching Mr. Impossible.  This book offered a chance to explore the material further.  Zoe’s harem, though, was bigger than the average Egyptian harem–which refers, basically, to the the women of a family.  But the more important the man, the bigger the harem.  I’d read that Ali Pasha of Albania had three hundred women in his harem.  Considering how small Albania was/is, this sounded like half the female population! 

Harem reception-Lewis 1873-w This is why my model was the Sultan’s harem, of the Topkapi Palace.  With hundreds of women, and all the slaves and eunuchs, things get complicated.  I thought a smart, educated young English woman, even at twelve, could adapt and, as she matured in that world, would master its ways.  Cruikshank_Loo_in_the_kitchin-wk This experience makes it easy for Zoe to deal with, say, the hierarchy of English society and the hierarchy of household staff.

Pool in a Harem-w Too, in the harem’s hothouse atmosphere, a smart, observant girl would develop a keen understanding of human psychology.  The cultural differences are important,too.  She’s coming from a world in which people are more demonstrative.  Emotion isn’t a dirty word.  And dirty words aren’t dirty words:  In that world of women, the focus is on sex, and this is what they talk and think about.  So she walks and talks and generally behaves differently from English women.  It's comedy material, yes, but it's also an eye-opening–and arousing–experience for the men, especially her jaded duke.  (For more harem gossip, see my post at the Avon Romance Blog.)

 English DukesSusan:  The proliferation of dukes in historical romances is epidemic, and for the most part they’re often depicted as pleasure-seeking-slacker-rakes. But Lucien takes his title and responsibilities very seriously––and I have to say it earns him a solid place alongside the other great Loretta Chase heroes.  You make him suffer, yes, but he also gets over it, and gets along with his life.  Is he based on a real-life peer?

St James Sq 1799-wk Loretta:  I stole the Duke of Norfolk’s house for him, and shoved the Duke of Richmond (descendant of Louise de Keroualle, the heroine of your latest, THE FRENCH MISTRESS) down a rung on the ladder of precedence to make room for Marchmont.  But he wasn’t based on any duke in particular.  I was thinking about what happens to a young man psychically when he’s abruptly thrust, in the most unwelcome circumstances, into a position of great responsibility.  I was thinking, “teenager–rebellion–avoidance–denial.” 

 Gambling at roulette table ca-1800-w But this is also a man strongly influenced by a father figure, Lord Lexham, who takes his public duties seriously and is a devoted family man.  That made for a conflict between the outside Marchmont–the detached nobleman who refuses to take anything seriously–and the inside Marchmont, who knows his Duty, and gets it done via his secretary. 

 Harrietwilson-La coterie debouche As to raking, it seemed to me that a man as detached as Marchmont couldn't be the serial seducer type.  He has his 19th C equivalent of girlfriends, but it’s one at a time, for a (short, because he gets bored) time.  I wanted us to be aware, all along, of a the kernel of goodness at heart that's necessary in a proper hero–and I think the bond with family helps account for his not turning out all bitter and twisted and selfish.  I like to think the sense of humor and the wry self-awareness have grown out of interactions with the Lexham brood.

Almack's_Assembly_Rooms-wk Susan:  One of the hallmarks of your books is to establish the setting as a real place, and in Don't Tempt Me you’ve again managed to make early 19th century London seem fresh and vivid.  What aspects of the era did you choose to emphasize to make this work?

G-Cruikshank-Inconveniences-Crowded-Drawing-Room-1818-w Loretta:  Zoe's point of view helps revive endlessly worked-over ground.  She comes to England from another culture, and sees everything so differently.  Showing London through her eyes made it fresh.  She allowed me to delve more deeply into the old, familiar places.  In her eyes, Hyde Park and the Green Park
are wonderlands of greenery.  Everything, from the exterior of White’s Club to the claustrophobic royal Drawing Room, is unfamiliar and needs to be interpreted, and her interpretation isn’t like everyone else’s.  (The black and white drawing is of the famous Almack's Club.)

Drawing Room at St James's- Microcosm-Rowlandson-w  Susan:   You’ve always been aware of how fashion and clothes make your characters behave (or not.)  The stunningly awkward hoop skirts required for formal court dress play a major part in the courtship been Lucien and Zoe –– and that’s all I’ll say so as not to give too much away. 1778-jeune-dame-de-qualite-en-grande-robe-wki Would you share a little more about these ritualized hoops?

 Loretta:  Reading about hoops elsewhere had opened my eyes to their seductive possibilities, but then you suggested DANGEROUS LIAISONS–not the Laclos novel but a book published in connection with an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art.  The marvelous illustrations offered the sort of detail one longs for–as well as abundant inspiration.  But I think with hoops, the pictures really are worth a thousand words, so I’d direct readers to Candice Hern’s wonderful collection of prints
and I’ll point out that Cruikshank’s comical illustration strikes me as more accurate an illustration of a Drawing Room than the one below it by Rowlandson–certainly it's closer to the one I describe in Don't Tempt Me.

Susan:  You've given us three very different Fallen Women so far.  What's next?

Loretta:  Another Carsington book, featuring a woman of weak moral fiber, a man who prides himself on having no imagination, and a haunted castle in Scotland. 

SusanIt seems that's all we're going to get out of her.  That means it's your turn, readers.  A question or comment earns you a chance to win an autographed copy of Don't Tempt Me.  And if the interview has made you curious for more background info, check Loretta's website for links to interviews and blogs.

Haiku with me

Holiday Barbies   

Endless rain descends,
Great pines, ice-seized, crack and fall.
It’s dark and cold here.

Iced tree 2 Not quite two weeks before Christmas, we had some interesting weather.  After two days of furious rain, icy winds moaned and shrieked.  I looked out on a Thursday night and saw the trees glazed with ice, beautiful in the moonlight.  The next time I woke, the house was strangely cold and quiet and dark.  Some of you may have heard about the big ice storm  (more here and here ) in the Northeast U.S.  We were electricity-less, some of us, for nearly two weeks.

Iced tree I was there, ladies and gentlemen, and I want to tell you that an old-fashioned holiday season, minus electricity, is no fun in the modern world.  It is most certainly not fun 

when the copy edit for my latest opus arrives a day late, a week before Christmas, and turns out to be the equivalent of the gift of a bag of coal.  “Was I that bad, Santa?” wondered I.  Thing is, actual coal I could have used during the power outage. 

On the day the power finally came back on and stayed on, eighty bazillion emails streamed onto my computer screen.  Among them were Wenches emails.  Many Wenches emails.  (Yes, not only can we find something to say week after week–well, actually, they can, as I am the Emerita Wench, mostly gone–but we still find stuff to talk about among ourselves.) 

I begged the ladies to put it all in a nutshell for me, as I was busy avenging crimes against the conditional, subjunctive, and pluperfect.  Anne Gracie wrote the following:

Japan 03 Email avalanche,
Distressing to contemplate.
Summary better

Which was not only brilliant, but presented as a gift to a desperate sister author , along with the suggestion that I make my holiday blog a Haiku Event.  Hmm, thought I.  That Aussie Wench’s one smart cookie.  And so, with thanks to Anne, I offer an opportunity to haiku.

Japan prints There are many ways to approach haiku.  To keep things simple, I suggest we use the definition listed in my American Heritage Dictionary.

Haiku:  A Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally evoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.

The Last HellionTherefore, on this 11th day of Xmas, instead of eleven pipers piping or whatever, I invite you to give us a haiku suiting your present situation:  the view from your window, events of today, reaction to the blog, something you et–it’s up to you.   The winner, chosen at random or on a whim or for some other reason, will get a copy of one of my books.  You've got until midnight Friday 9 January.  Haiku me.

THE LAST HELLION–Wench Susan H Scott interviews Wench Emerita Loretta

Green Barbie 196KB We promised Loretta Chase hadn’t entirely left the Word Wenches, and here she is back again, exactly as we promised.  Emerging from the depths of writing and revisions, Loretta returns to talk about the reissue of  THE LAST HELLION This is one delicious book, filled with Loretta’s usual mix of charm, wit, and truly unforgettable characters.  And for those of you who haven’t had the good fortune to discover this book for yourselves yet, here’s a hint to tempt you: Dain, the LORD OF SCOUNDRELS himself, reappears in these pages.  ‘Nuff said. 

As a reader and longtime Loretta fan, I’m personally delighted to see THE LAST HELLION returning in a fresh package for new readers to discover.  Would you tell us a bit about the story?
Cribb vs molin 1811 This was one of the cases where a secondary character intrigued me.  The Duke of Ainswood makes a brief drunk and disorderly appearance in LORD OF SCOUNDRELS.  That was all he was supposed to do.  But he kept bugging me.  What was his problem?  What was he covering up or running away from?  It turned out that the Duke of Ainswood is a drunken boor because he’s paid an unbearably high price for his position.  But his brand of self-destruction takes him slumming–and puts him on a collision course with big, blonde, and dangerous Lydia Grenville, crusading journalist (and secret romance writer).  This story is special to me because it was an opportunity to deal with some aspects of Regency life that one doesn’t encounter often in historical romances.  It was a way of getting into that Dickens world I love so much while allowing both my characters to try to fight the good fight–along with fighting with each other and falling in love.

The Last Hellion I’m terrible at summarizing my stories, so I’ll let readers look at the back cover blurb here and an excerpt here, at the Avon microsite.

Lydia Grenville is an untraditional heroine, nearly six feet tall, nearly thirty, and full of fire and conscience.  She’s also a “career woman” in a time when ladies didn’t work, let alone work as crusading journalists.  What inspired you to develop her character?

PyramidDatePalms Dickens gave me the general inspiration for the setting, and the novels he and others wrote in serial form gave me the idea for her pseudonymous ROSE OF CAIRO.  But more important, Lydia is one of the many woman characters I’ve created in reaction to women in 19th C novels and to 19th C sexism and misogyny in general.  Specifically, what set me off was critics’ reaction to Lady Morgan’s two-volume ITALY.   You can read her response to some of the criticism here.

LadyMorgan According to Paul Johnson’s THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN, “they hated Lady Morgan as a woman writer…and they were further incensed by the news that the publisher Colburn had paid her the immense sum of £2000 for the book.  Byron hailed the book as ‘fearless and excellent.’”  Everyone else went nuts.  Here’s a sampling from Johnson’s book:  “‘she spewed out of her filthy maw/A flood of poison, horrible and black.  “She was ‘an Irish she-wolf’ a ‘blustering virago,’ a ‘wholesale blunderer and reviler’; she wrote while ‘maudlin from an extra tumbler of negus in the forenoon.’”  This was typical “criticism” of the time–reviewers today are pussycats by comparison.  What fascinated me me was the how much they hated her simply because she was a successful woman writer. 

 It was a tough world, and journalism then was definitely no place for a lady.  So I got the idea of a    His Girl Friday heroine who was both a tough cookie journalist (a HIS GIRL FRIDAY kind of dame)–and a writer of highly popular romantic tales.  And the two occupations reflect the two sides of her personality.

Coffee Shop at Olympia While Lydia is unusual, her hero, Vere Mallory, Duke of Ainswood, outwardly seems that most stereotypical character, the rakehell peer.  But it only takes a few pages for readers to see the only typical thing about him is that he’s one more in a long line of deliciously unforgettable (and irresistible) heroes.   What makes him so special?
Blue Ruin-Cruikshank-g Well, he’s a big, dumb jerk, for one thing.  I love writing tough, smart, cool heroes like James Cordier of YOUR SCANDALOUS WAYS or Lord Rathbourne of LORD PERFECT.  But the Regency had its cowboys, too, and creating those types of heroes (Rupert of MR IMPOSSIBLE is one of my cowboys) is a different kind of challenge, and a different kind of fun.  Sometimes I think we have an overly refined image of what men were like then.  There’s a great passage in Conan Doyle’s RODNEY STONE:  “He was a type and leader of a strange breed of men which has vanished away from England–the full-blooded, virile buck, exquisite in his dress, narrow in his thoughts, coarse in his amusements, and eccentric in his habits.”   The “coarse in his amusements” concept influenced heroes like Lord Dain and the Duke of Ainswood.

Peep o Day boys-Cruikshank-g Another inspiration for this story and his character was Pierce Egan’s LIFE IN LONDON.  I could easily picture Ainswood in the situations Cruikshank illustrates.

As sorry as we were here at the Wenches to see you shift to “Wench Emerita” status, we do know that it means there’s another new book on its way.  Would you please tempt us with a hint about what’s next, and when we can expect it?

As the green Barbie signals, I’m still somewhat deranged, having just completed revisions faster than the speed of light, so I’m not sure how coherent I can be about the new book.

Drawing Room at St James-Microcosm-w Let’s see.  DON’T TEMPT ME has brought me back to a London setting and, for the first time in a very long time, it’s the high society London we all know and love–with no road trips.  In other words, I’ve gone back to my Regency roots on this one–and it’s been quite a challenge, returning to that hallowed ground and finding ways to make it fresh. 

Inconveniences-Crowded-Drawing-Room-1818 When Zoe Lexham returns to England after twelve years in the exotic east, she knows everything a young lady shouldn’t and nothing she ought to know.  She’s a walking scandal, with no hope of a future…unless someone can civilize her.  Enter Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont.  Sarcastic, cynical, and easily bored, he’s known for loving women and leaving them–with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears.  He’s got everything–money, rank, and popularity.  He’s welcome everywhere.  Make Zoe respectable?  Nothing could be simpler…he thinks.

I’ll let the readers decide what they think.

Trouble after a spree-Cruikshank-g I’ve been invited to return at some point to talk more about DON’T TEMPT ME–and maybe some other things.  Once you’re a Wench, see, you’re a Wench all the way, from your first cigarette–oops, that’s WEST SIDE STORY.  Anyway, I’m not a Wench all the way, but I shall return from time to time.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a fresh new edition of THE LAST HELLION waiting for one lucky commenter. 

Farewell, adieu, arrivederla

Barbie_black_lace From Loretta, via Don Juan
‘Farewell, my Spain!  A long farewell!’ he cried
‘Perhaps I may revisit thee no more,
But die as many an exiled heart hath died,
Of its own thirst to see again thy shore:
Farewell, where Guadalquivir’s waters glide!
Farewell, my mother! and, since all is o’er,
Farewell, too, dearest Julia!–(Here he drew
Her letter out again, and read it through.)

Faretheewell XIX
‘And, oh! if e’er I should forget, I swear–
But that’s impossible, and cannot be–
Sooner shall this blue ocean melt to air,
Sooner shall earth resolve itself to sea,
Than I resign thine image, oh, my fair!
Or think of any thing excepting thee;
A mind diseased no remedy can physic
(Here the ship gave a lurch, and he grew sea-sick).

Nautical_3 XX
‘Sooner shall heaven kiss earth (here he fell sicker)
Oh, Julia! what is every other wo?
(For God’s sake let me have a glass of liquor;
Pedro, Battista, help me down below.)
Julia, my love! (you rascal, Pedro, quicker)–
Oh, Julia! (this curst vessel pitches so)–
Beloved Julia, hear me still beseeching!’
(Here he grew inarticulate with retching.)

True_briton_east_indaiman_1790 XXI
He felt that chilling heaviness of heart,
Or rather stomach, which, alas! attends,
Beyond the best apothecary’s art,
The loss of love, the treachery of friends,
Or death of those we dote on, when a part
Of us dies with them as each fond hope ends:
No doubt he would have been much more pathetic,
But the sea acted as a strong emetic.


Lord Byron says good-byes so much more entertainingly than I could ever do. 

Farewell blog.  Farewell, Wenches.  Yes, this is goodbye from this Wench.  From time to time you’ll see me again but only very occasionally.  My time here has been a fine time, thanks to you.

Brunette_blue Ciao.

The Angry Apostrophe

Black_lace_barbie From Loretta:

I recently learned that 24 September is National Punctuation Day.  In honor of the occasion–which coincides nicely with my recent blogs dealing with Annoying Errors, I thought we could talk about those interesting squigglies and dots and dashes we use to help readers understand what we mean.

In my last blog, I indicated that one way to get a group of authors ranting and raving was to bring up the subject of copy editors.  Among other things, a copy editor is supposed to check our punctuation.  For some reason, copy edit changes used to disturb me far more than editorial changes.  I would go ballistic when a copy editor removed or added a comma, yet not even blink when an editor suggested I delete three chapters.

Virago It must be some kind of mental condition.  That would explain why I still twitch when I remember a very weird set of mistakes in at least one volume of Byron’s Letters and Journals.  Throughout, it’s was used where its should be and vice versa.  It drove me insane.

Yswfrontsm200dpi I know Byron was clueless about punctuation.  He admitted it.  I know a dash tended to be his universal punctuation tool–but he did dash very dashingly, we must admit.  I can understand his failing to master the art of commas, semi-colons, and colons.  An apostrophe, however, is sort of a spelling tool, isn’t it?  It marks contractions.  And he seemed to understand this aspect of punctuation..sort of…or was that his editor?  He uses tons of contractions.  They appear in practically every piece of his poetry I quoted in Your Scandalous Ways.  Here’s a sample from Beppo.

      Didst ever see a Gondola?  For fear
       You should not, I’ll describe it to you exactly:
      ‘Tis a long cover’d boat that’s common here,
       Carved at the prow, built lightly, but compactly;
      Row’d by two rowers, each call’d ‘Gondolier,’
       It glides along the water looking blackly,
      Just like a coffin clapt in a canoe,
      Where none can make out what you say or do.

Life_in_london_pg Yes, he had his own unique style but his grammar was fine and his spelling no weirder or more inconsistent than others of his time.  It seems bizarre that he got it’s and its backwards consistently.  I can’t help thinking those errors were not in the original letters but were committed by a typist, copy editor, or printer and somehow went through the whole production process without anyone realizing–or with everyone thinking that’s how he did it.

I’ve always wondered why it’s and its confuse anybody, but they clearly do because I see it all the time, including in newspapers.  Is it because English teachers don’t drum it into kids’ heads early and often enough?  It’s one of those things, like the use of lie and lay, that need to be drummed in because it’s easy to get confused.  In English we form possessive pronouns differently from the way we form other possessives, e.g.,  “Pavarotti’s voice was distinctive” but “its engine was broken.”

Chicago_manualHowever, while I can–sort of, and with sorrow in my heart–understand how apostrophes get misplaced, I have never figured out how apostrophes got into the plurals business–as in “Banana’s 89¢ a pound” or “keeping up with the Jones’s.”

Here is one approach to explaining the correct way to use apostrophes.  Here's a politer version of same.  And here are many examples of punctuation abuse.

A few years ago, Lynn Truss got so exasperated with stupid punctuation that she wrote a book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, about it.  Funny thing is, the book’s loaded with…um…punctuation errors.  Louis Menand, in the New Yorker (28 June 2004), reviewed her book, and suspected it was a hoax, because the errors, he said, started in the dedication and continued with gay abandon throughout the book.

In Jasper Fforde’s alternate reality novel, The Eyre Affair, a form of specially engineered bookworms (as in actual larval things, not nerds–and I cannot possibly get into the technical capabilities of these bookworms) excrete apostrophes.  That would explain the wretched excess.

Here's one proposed solution to apostrophe atrocities: abolish that little squiggle.

Fowler_the_kings_englishI don’t agree.  I’ve devoted my life to the English language, trying to master its intricacies.  Punctuation, grammar–all those dull, technical matters to me are part of the big game of exploring the expressive possibilities of a remarkably elastic language.  To eradicate a punctuation mark is like eliminating, say, metaphors.  Yes, it would make things simpler, but should language always be simple?  A straight line is the shortest distance between two points, but it’s not necessarily the most beautiful route.

But that’s just me.  Now it’s your turn.  Got a pet punctuation peeve?  An example of demented punctuation?  An argument for or against abolishing a particular punctuation mark?  A strange punctuation experience?  A profound indifference?

This is the place.  Now’s the time.