Maggie Robinson has been a regular Word Wench reader and commenter for years, and the Wenches celebrated when she sold her first book. She’s now written 8 historical romances as Maggie Robinson, and 2 darker, sexier books as Margaret Rowe, as well as novellas and short stories in three anthologies.
Maggie is with us today because I so enjoyed her July book, In the Arms of the Heiress. The first of her Ladies Unlaced Series, it’s smart, fresh, and funny, and is set in 1903, a delightful and unusual time period that Maggie takes full advantage of. Maggie, would you care to tell us about Louisa, Charles…and Maximillian Norwich?
MR: Charles is a working-class hero who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps as a scholarship boy, and then risen on his own merit in the army. The after-affects of the Second Boer War have just about broken him until Louisa rolls into his life in her little French car. She appears to have every advantage, but as we know, looks can be deceiving. Her family has interfered with her happiness forever, and in a burst of demonic genius (she thinks), she invents a husband to keep them at bay. "Maximillian Norwich" is impossibly perfect and suave. Charles agrees to play him for a visit to her family, though he's far from perfect or suave. What he IS, though, proves to be perfect for Louisa.
MJP: What drew you to 1903? How is it different from the much more usual 19th century settings?
MR: Some years ago I did a "Turn of the Centuries" exhibit for a local historical society museum. We had a ton of artifacts and photographs from the Gilded Age, and the era always resonated with me. When I had the opportunity to leave the Regency behind, the choice was obvious–Gibson Girls Gone Wild! (We settled on Ladies Unlaced for the series name instead, LOL, especially since the Gibson Girl was a uniquely American type.)
It didn't hurt that Downton Abbey was making such a splash, though my series is set about a decade earlier than Season I. The early 1900s were such a turbulent time, and it's been fun putting my characters in cars instead of carriages.
Nice, France, early November 1903
Dear Aunt Grace,
It is with the heaviest of hearts I write to tell you my beloved husband Maximillian is dead.
“You are killing him?”
Her maid Kathleen had the most annoying habit of sneaking up behind her when she least expected it.
“It’s not as if he even exists,” Louisa Stratton replied, wiping up the splotch of ink.
Kathleen opened the terrace doors to the Mediterranean, and a chill damp breeze almost blew Louisa’s letter away. It was supposed to be warmer in the south of France. It was not.
“How did he die, then?”
“I don’t know yet. Avalanche? Train wreck?” Maximillian might be a mountaineer when he wasn’t in museums, clad in tight leather, his face burnished by the great outdoors. The tender lines around his cerulean blue eyes from squinting at the sun would fan like out like ecru lace. Louisa would trace them with a fingertip as he hovered over her—
Kathleen slammed the doors shut. “Both would have been all over the newspapers.”
“Damn it.” She should have thought of that.
“Indeed. You’ll have to find something less sensational. A heart murmur, perhaps. A septic finger.”
Louisa brightened. “Yes! He was picking late roses for me and caught a thorn. Such a tiny thing, yet so dangerous. You know how he spoiled me—fresh flowers every day, no matter the season. The man should have been wearing his gloves. His hands were so lovely. Long and smooth, with hardly any hair on his knuckles. He could do anything with them.” She gave Kathleen a naughty smile.
Kathleen tsked. “None of that talk. It still won’t work. After all, Maximillian Norwich is supposed to be an important man. You’ve made him so. You know your aunt always reads the obituaries and she’ll wonder why you didn’t put the notice in.”
“I was simply prostrate with grief. Half out of my mind. She thinks I’m mad anyway.”
Louisa usually had an answer for everything. If there had really been a Maximillian, she was sure she’d show all the proper feeling for losing the love of her life. She probably wouldn’t rise from her lonely bed for weeks, perhaps months. Years. She’d rival the late queen in her longing for Albert, only be far more attractively dressed.
MJP: What was the inspiration for the Evensong Agency—and wouldn’t we all like to have one of those to call on?!!
MR: Who doesn't want a Fairy Godmother? The Evensong Agency has been "Performing the Impossible Before Breakfast Since 1888," under the auspices of canny, mysterious Mrs. Evensong, who once ran a duke's household. As a writer, the agency provides a platform for me to include more ordinary individuals than just dukes and debs.
MJP: You have a background well designed for creating a writer. Can you tell us more about yourself and how you got your start as an author?
MR: Well, I used to 'pretend" a lot as an only child. That segued into becoming an English major in college, an English and reading teacher, and library clerk. So, books R us, so to speak. To write them now is a dream come true. I fiddled around for years but never got serious until 2006, when I decided to try to get my act together. Two years later I got my wonderful agent Laura Bradford, and the rest is historical romance!
MJP: Your next books in the Ladies Unlaced series will be out from Berkley in October. Please tell us something about In the Heart of the Highlander.
MR: Mrs. Evensong–that is, the faux Mrs. Evensong–gets to have her very own adventure with a hot Scot. She lays a trap for the man responsible for said hot Scot's wife's death, and almost winds up joining her!
MJP: What else is stirring in that creative imagination of yours?
MR: My editor has what I hope will be Ladies Unlaced #3 on her desk, featuring an unconventional artist and the secretary who's pressed into becoming his temporary governess (all arranged by the Evensong Agency, of course). In November, I'm in an anthology with five other writers, Snowbound for Christmas. I challenged myself to write a contemporary novella, but I couldn't help making the hero an English viscount. Some habits are hard to break. 🙂
MJP: I understand perfectly—when I wrote a western novella called “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know,” I made the hero a gamblin’, amblin’ younger son from England. <G>
Maggie will be giving away a copy of In the Arms of the Heiress, or any other book from her backlist to one commenter between now and midnight Tuesday.
So–what do you think about historical romances set in the 20th century? Do you like the idea? Are there other periods you'd like to see used? And are automobiles an improvement over carriages? <G>