Anne here, introducing my guest for today, Diane Gaston. It's not Diane's first visit to the WordWenches, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Diane made a splash in the regency world when her first book was picked up by Mills and Boon (Harlequin Historicals UK) with a riskily-premised courtesan heroine — and started a trend. Since then she's written 18 books and won many awards, including the top award for romance writers, the much-coveted RITA. Her latest book is A Lady of Notoriety, and it hit the shelves this week—and isn't that a stunning cover?
Anne: Diane, you described A Lady of Notoriety to me as both a book-of-the-heart and the third book in a two-part series. Would you care to expand on those two intriguing statements? (As someone who's written a four book trilogy and a five book quartet, I do understand.)
Diane: Ha ha, Anne. First let me say what a delight it is to be here again with the Word Wenches! When I planned The Masquerade Club series, it was intended to be two books, because I thought up two heroes – the hunky gambler/soldier/bastard son, Rhys, of A Reputation for Notoriety, and the incredibly handsome Xavier Campion, the “beauty” in my Beauty and the Beast story, A Marriage of Notoriety.
To my surprise, though, a character emerged in A Marriage of Notoriety who simply begged for a story of her own. Daphne, Lady Faville, played the “Gaston” (no relation) role in the Beauty and the Beast book. She was somewhat of a villainess in A Marriage of Notoriety, but she intrigued me–a beautiful, wealthy woman used to getting her way through her looks alone. Could she learn to be something other than a selfish, self-centered person? Could she be redeemed? Luckily I had a hero left over from the series, Hugh Westleigh, the younger son.
Anne: Oh, the delights of finding a hero waiting in the wings. Tell us about A Lady of Notoriety
Diane: A Lady of Notoriety is a book about redemption. The beautiful but self-centered Daphne nearly destroyed The Masquerade Club and created such a scandal for herself that she was forced to live abroad for a couple of years. She wound up in a convent in Switzerland where she faced her less than sterling character and struggled to learn how to be a better person.
On her way back to England she is rescued from an inn fire by Hugh Westleigh, brother of Phillipa, the woman she hurt in A Marriage of Notoriety. Hugh’s eyes are injured in the fire and Daphne winds up caring for him. Because he is blinded he has not seen her and she does not tell him who she is. He is captivated by her kindness and her mystery, and she falls in love with his strength and courage. For the first time Daphne feels truly desired for herself alone, not merely for her beauty. When his bandages come off, though, will he despise her, both for her injury to his family and for deceiving him? Will he believe in her redemption? Will she?
Anne: You seem to have a penchant for heroines who skim the boundaries of polite society — or cross them outright. What do you enjoy about risky heroines?
Diane: I think the most interesting women in any era of history, even in the present day, are those who push against societies expectations of women. These are the women who see the confines of their lot in life as walls to be broken down. They are doers, not victims. These are strong women, women I’d aspire to be like, although I’ll probably not rise much higher than being ordinary. So I take a superficial woman such as Daphne and challenge her to put others needs before her own. Or I choose a prostitute (she wasn’t really a courtesan) from that first book, The Mysterious Miss M, and make her passionate about giving her child a better life. My other heroines have run a school for courtesans (A Reputable Rake, the RITA winner), or have led social protests, or have been actresses, singers, governesses willing to fight for what is best for the children. I think readers like heroines they can identify with and aspire to be like. And, of course, readers want heroes they can fall in love with.
Anne: Yes indeed, and that's your RITA winning hero on the right. So tell us about the hero in A Lady of Notoriety? Were there any special challenges about writing a blind hero? (That's not a spoiler, I hope, because it's in the back blurb)
Diane: Hugh, the hero of A Lady of Notoriety, was a challenge because he had to spend half the book unable to see. How do you keep a blind hero from being an invalid? Hugh starts out raging against his situation, but immediately resolves to be as independent as possible. So the reader sees him heroically refusing to be dependent. My inspiration for him was the countless soldiers who come back from war with terrible injuries but who fight their way back to living active lives.
Anne: Could we have a brief taste A Lady of Notoriety, please?
Diane: This excerpt takes place while Daphne is caring for Hugh and they are getting to know each other (and falling in love):
“I am not angry with you, Daphne.” He turned to her, but could not see to face her directly. He placed his hand over hers. “I hope sometime you will trust me enough to tell me what it is that makes you so sad, but you are correct that tonight is not the night. I need to get myself in order first.”
His fingers, long and strong, wrapped around hers. The gesture brought tears to her eyes. No one touched her anymore. No one held her, not since the Abbess had once enfolded her in her arms. Daphne, sobbing like a wounded child, had clung to the old woman as if the Abbess had been her last hold on forgiveness. She wished she could be held now. She wished Hugh could hold her and comfort her like the Abbess had once done, but she didn’t deserve his embrace, not after wronging his family and deceiving him.
To her surprise, he released her fingers and slid his hands up her arms, to her shoulders, her neck, her face. His palms were warm and gentle against her cheeks and his touch roused her like no man’s touch had ever done before.
His cane fell to the floor and he cupped her face with both hands. “I wish I could see you,” he murmured.
He’d never touch her if he could see her, she knew. This might be her only chance to receive the comfort for which she yearned. There was no resisting it.
Anne: That's a lovely excerpt, Diane. Thank you for sharing it. You're coming up to 10 years of being published. Has anything surprised you along the way?
A Lady of Notoriety is being released almost exactly ten years after The Mysterious Miss M! Time does have a way of passing in the blink of an eye! Ten years ago I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the remarkable changes in the publishing industry. The ebooks. The self-publishing. The closing of Borders and other independent bookstores and the rise of Amazon. More personally, though, I am surprised at how difficult it is to produce fresh new stories each time. I have to challenge my creativity to come up with something I haven’t written before. Writing is harder work than I thought it would be, but I would not trade my writing life for anything! I am still living my dream.
Diane: I’m starting a new series, tentatively titled the Scandalous Summerfield Sisters. There are three sisters and a half-brother who each have dreams of marrying for love and living happily ever after, but instead their marriages merely cause them more scandal. There should be four books in this series, but you never know! I may have to sneak in a fifth book.
Thanks so much to the Word Wenches for having me as their guest!
Anne: Thanks so much for being our guest, Diane.
Diane is giving away a copy of A Lady of Notoriety to someone who leaves a comment on the blog or responds to this question: Do you have a favorite heroine? A real person you admire or one from history or even a fictional one? Who is your favorite heroine and why?