Susan/Miranda interviews Loretta:
One of the questions most often asked of writers is “Whose books do you read?” The name that always comes to my mind first is Loretta Chase. Throughout a career that began with traditional Regencies and now has expanded to Regency historicals, Loretta has always pushed the boundaries of the genre with unexpected characters, exotic settings, and her own sparkling brand of humor. Her books are not only frequent award winners (she has won RWA’s prestigious Rita award twice) and USAToday Bestsellers, but also reader favorites, with Lord of Scoundrels a regular on most lists of “Best Romances of All Time.”
Just released this month, her latest book, Not Quite a Lady, is classic Loretta, with a delicious hero and heroine (not to mention a splendid pig named Hyacinth), and I’m happy to report that it’s already gone into its second printing –– yayy, Loretta!
Because Loretta and I found so many things to chat about here, we decided to split this interview into two parts. You’ll find Part One below; Part Two will be posted next Friday.
Susan/Miranda (and Friend of Loretta *g*)
1. Your May book NOT QUITE A LADY returns to the Carsingtons, a family already dear to readers of your earlier books. Can you tell us a bit about NOT QUITE A LADY?
This is the fourth–and the last (for now) in the series. The youngest brother, Darius, is a rake and a scholar. Determined to avoid matrimony, he accepts his father’s challenge to revive a tumbledown estate in Cheshire. There Lady Charlotte Hayward, also determined to avoid matrimony, stumbles–quite literally–over him. There’s a lot of falling down, and a pig, a bulldog, a dairy (please see my blog of 10/28/06, Beautiful Dairy), a laundry, and superstitious carpenters, among other things.
2. The rural setting of this book is so vividly captured that it becomes
almost another character. WordWenches visitors already know you often take
your research beyond libraries. Can you tell us more specifically how you
researched the background for this book? Is Lithby Hall based on a actual place?
What kind of research did you do to capture Darius’s interests in farming
and husbandry? And did a real pig inspire Hyacinth?
It all started with the pig, actually. Hyacinth was inspired by the Empress of Blandings, of P.G. Wodehouses’s Blandings Castle stories.
Imagining a pig is easy, even for a city girl, but getting Hyacinth’s world right was trickier. What did a sty look like, exactly? What did it smell like? To create a believable fictional environment, I needed, among other things, live pigs. There being none in my neighborhood (dogs abound–not a pig for miles) my husband and I made a research trip to Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Sturbridge, Massachusetts that recreates New England village life in the early 1800s. It turned out that they not only had plenty of farm animals, but these were historically accurate English farm animals. I was so excited. Not only was I able to get up close to pigs, and hang over the sty fence the way my characters do, but I could interrogate the interpreters at OSV, who offered all kinds of fascinating information about farm animals and farm life.
One of the many things I loved about writing this story was the chance to look at the great English country house from a different angle. As I noted in LORD PERFECT, a great estate wasn’t simply a big house in a pretty, landscaped park. It was a rural community, where a great many people worked, and it provided for itself to a great extent. It could include a brew house for making beer, a dairy, a laundry, a home farm, a plantation–with logging as well as carpentry operations, a blacksmith, etc.
Not all of the research was hands-on, though. I did read books that explained how country estates worked, as well as, in crumbling volumes of the Philosophical Magazine from the 1820s, the kinds of articles Darius might have written about agricultural experiments.
Near my desk hung a map of the area of Cheshire where the story is set, and yes, I did base it on a real place: Lithby Hall is an adaptation of Dunham Massey (more here), with elements from a few other estates in the area. For a sense of the place(s), here are some more pictures.
3. While Darius was obviously the next Carsington brother to earn hero-status, NOT QUITE A LADY is every bit the heroine’s story –- maybe even more so. Which one came first into your imagination: Darius, or Lady Charlotte Hayward? What makes them so perfectly right for one another?
Charlotte came first, and I do agree that it’s her story to a great extent, because of the nature of her problem. The spark for her was Lady Dedlock in Charles Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE. Lady Dedlock is a tragic character, and the view of her situation is not only Victorian but very middle-class. However, in 1822–the time of my story–she would have been about Charlotte’s age and part of a world that wasn’t Victorian–yet. So I thought What If? What if she’d come from a family much higher on the social scale? What if her family wasn’t dysfunctional? What if she wasn’t so suppressed? What if she was mischievous and clever and down-to-earth? And, most important, What if she met an earthy, intelligent, sexy guy like Darius who’s the antithesis of the Victorian male?
My aim is to create believable soulmates, and that seems to require the right balance of similarities and differences. She loves the country, and she cares about the same things Darius cares about. They’re comfortable with the animals, the land, the ebb and flow of country life. They’re both earthy, close to nature. They’re earthy in the sexual sense, too–that’s how she got into trouble in the first place. But each character also needs something, and the other provides a balance. So she’s very emotional and he’s very cool and methodical. She’s got a lot of shame, and he has none. In the course of the story, he takes the shame away and she makes him feel deeply. She learns that she can trust a man with her heart and he discovers the profound happiness of giving his heart to one woman, forever.
4. Many of your heroines are older women who, one way or another, have
experienced something of life, and Lady Charlotte is no exception. What makes
for an ideal heroine to you?
When you set a story among the early 19th C British aristocracy, a young, inexperienced girl may seem almost childish by today’s standards (and I do have to walk that tightrope between historical accuracy and connecting with my 21st century audience). She really is fresh from the schoolroom, where she’s probably not been very well educated, compared to men. What do these girls have to say to the much more sophisticated and experienced male? What do they have to offer the hero besides innocence and freshness–and how much can an author who isn’t Georgette Heyer do with that? Maybe, too, I shy away from inexperienced heroines because of the kinds of heroes I create. I want to give these guys partners who test their mettle. And a woman like Charlotte, who’s had a Really Bad Experience with a man, is going to present a challenge. How will the hero prove himself worthy of her? How will he earn her trust? Those are the questions I want to deal with.
To be continued next Friday — but please feel free to ask Loretta any questions you may have now!