Andrea here, and today I'm delighted to welcome my good friend Amanda McCabe to the Word Wenches to dish about A Manhattan Heiress in Paris, her new historical romance set in the 1920s. (fluttery sigh.) Amanda and I met many moons ago when we were both writing traditional Regency romances for Signet. She had since branched out into a variety of fabulously interesting time periods . . . so without further ado, let's hear what she has to say about how history inspires her writing!
You’ve started in Regency romance but have also written in a number of other time periods—Renaissance, Elizabethan, Victorian, Gilded Age Edwardian and the 1920s! Tell us a little bit about what draws you to exploring different eras.
I admit, I’m Amanda and I’m a history junkie!! I’ve always been fascinated by the past, ever since I found a stash of Jane Austen and various Gothic romances/Heyer titles on my grandmother’s bookshelf. (she was a history/book junkie, too!). One author she collected especially was Barbara Cartland, and while even as a ten year old I had scorn for her whispery, stammering, wide-eyed heroines, I loved the historical settings she used. Elizabethan, Regency, Victorian India, the theatrical world, Monaco casinos, smugglers in Cornwall, she had a bit of everything, and talked about them in author’s notes I devoured. They sent me to the library to find non-fiction works where I could learn more. So, strangely, I owe my love of history to—Barbara Cartland!
Writing in so many different time period must demand a lot of research. Have you always loved history?
My research library is pretty epic, I admit!! My husband sometimes despairs of the feeling he’s living in a library, since the books tend to crawl off overcrowded shelves onto the floors and tables. But I think research is the big “perk” of being a writer! I especially love it when I work an aspect of a period into a story that I didn’t previously know much about, like in “Playing the Duke’s Fiancé,” where my heroine was Victorian photographer (a la Julia Margaret Cameron). I knew so little about the process of early photography, and learned so much in the process. (This probably started with a museum talk I went to a few years ago, where the speaker was an expert on Victorian photography and demonstrated period cameras. I squirreled that info in my mind, sure I would use it sometime! I’m always on the lookout for inspiration)
In which era would you have most liked to live?
I always think I would LOVE to have a time machine (with guaranteed round trip) to visit whichever period I’m researching at the moment! The sights and smells, the way the language sounds, the clothes and houses, it would be so fascinating. (I might have trouble hiding my alien-ness from them, though! I would be constantly asking questions and demanding to know how things work). I think I would enjoy the Regency a lot.
Now, moving on to you latest book, A Manhattan Heiress in Paris . . . for you, what is it about Paris that makes it such a perfect setting for a romance?
Paris is my favorite city in the world! The first time I went there, I just sat and sat on a bench near the river and marveled at how beautiful everything was. The art and music, the food and wine, the architecture and the history around every corner (both good and bad), I couldn’t believe it was real. It’s also FULL of couples kissing and holding hands on every corner, wrapped up completely in each other (I even saw one couple kissing passionately on the escalator at the Louvre, riding backwards! I was a bit concerned about their safety…) It’s the perfect spot for romance, I’ve used it for a setting a few times. None quite like this book, though.
The story is set in the 1920s, and Paris was a center of creativity in the arts. Give us a little background about what was going on in the city at that time.
It was an amazing moment for the arts, a short time where things changed vastly after World War I! The fashions and music were very different from what came before, and Paris was a great center for contemporary arts of all sorts. The atmosphere and the favorable rate of exchange meant it was the perfect place for authors (like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds), artists like Picasso, and people just seeking a more artistic way of life, like the patrons the Murphys, to gather. The music also sounded new, reflecting the shattered and reshaped world, so of course I had to send my musician hero and heroine there! (and they even get to meet many of the real-life figures!)
Did this particular book require special research? Did you discover any surprises or things you didn’t expect?
It did need lots of research on many aspects of the times, which I loved (but also found a little daunting sometimes). I’ve dabbled in writing about the 1920s before (I have a mystery series set in 1920s Santa Fe, writing as Amanda Allen! But as this is the town where I live, the research was a bit simpler), but have never delved quite so deeply into the culture. I’m also a big jazz fan, an art form that’s full of emotion and historical significance, but I mostly listen to the 1950s and ‘60s stuff, and going back to early modern jazz was fascinating. I learned a lot about the Paris jazz clubs of the era, and the way their atmosphere encouraged experimentation and community. Finding how Eliza and Jack fit into the world was so much fun.
This is a more layered and complex story than a traditional, romance given the prejudices of society at the time. What were the biggest challenges writing a bi-racial couple in the early part of the 20th century?
It was a huge challenge, of course! I was VERY concerned about getting it right, and putting it in the context of romance fiction while being true to the times and the characters. I read so many books about the time period, especially the atmosphere in the music business, and I have a list of those resources on my website. If anyone is interested, click on History Behind the Book. I also found an invaluable book containing interviews and memoirs of biracial couples in different areas and periods of the 20th century tucked away on a back shelf of my local library. I knew the important thing was to make sure and build the characters in such a way that it was clear these two were so
ul mates (which Eliza and Jack are! No one understands them like the other), and their happiness depended on being together come what may. I admit I cried a bit at the end, seeing them realize that love, and I’m not usually a weeper over my story, unless it’s relief that it’s over…
I did have many more layers of beta readers/critiques/etc than I usually do on a book (I’d love to do that all the time, but deadlines often stand in the way!). I thought it was important to have that with this story.
And one last fun question. I know you’re a huge film fan. Who would you cast as Eliza. And who would you cast as Jack?
I do love to make Pinterest boards with inspiration for my books!!! (it’s not procrastination! It’s Important Work!) There’s an actress called Joanna Vanderham, who has been in a few historical drams like “The Paradise,” and I found her in a series called “Dancing on the Edge” about jazz musicians in the 1930s in London. I thought she had the delicate looks I imagine with Eliza, and a hint of the inner strength. And, I admit, though it’s not very original for a romance author, I did picture Rege-Jean Page as Jack! Watching “Bridgerton” season one during a covid lockdown was such a huge distraction and comfort…
We always end a blog with a question to our readers, so Amanda is posing one for you: “I would love to know—what is your own favorite city in the world?? There’s so much romance and atmosphere everywhere!"
(Amanda will be giving away a copy of her book to one lucky winner chosen from the people who leave a comment below. So be sure to chime in!)