Today I have the pleasure of interviewing sister Word Wench Anne Gracie about the April release of Marry in Scandal, the delightful second entry in her Marriage of Convenience series. Before I proceed to asking Anne about her book, let me mention that the first book in the series, Marry in Haste, has received these nominations from the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA):
Favourite Historical Romance.
Favourite Continuing Romance Series.
Strongest Heroine from a romance published in 2017.
Favourite Couple from a romance published in 2017.
(Not to mention that Anne was nominated for the Favourite Australian Romance Author 2016)
So Marry in Scandal has large shoes to fill — and it does! I think I enjoyed it even more than Marry in Haste. Kathe Robin at Romantic Times gave the book a 4 1/2 Top Pick and said:
"The latest addition to Gracie’s Marriage of Convenience series is a beautifully rendered, emotionally powerful tale full of the wonder and healing power of love. Readers will empathize with her well-drawn characters and delight in the growth of their relationship, cheering them on to their HEA….A story readers will cherish."
And this from the audiobook narrator Alison Larkin: "I just finished recording the audiobook today – it's wonderful – vintage Gracie – everyone will love it!:
Anne, would you explain the premise of the series? And if you remember how you developed this idea, I'd love to hear!
AG: Thanks so much, Mary Jo. The idea for the series came when I was thinking about a man who'd been at war for years, dealing with soldiers, and having to face life in society again as an earl, responsible for a gaggle of female relatives. He'd be a real fish out of water. A soldier trying to manage spirited teenage girls, young aristocratic heiresses? How could I resist?
I wondered who he'd turn to help deal with them — because of course he'd need a woman to handle young girls — and Emm popped into my head, a poor spinster teacher — who ended up just as difficult to handle as the girls. Emm was, of course, wholly on the girls' side, and was determined to see they'd get the HEA she thought she'd never have. Of course, she and Cal fall in love — eventually. And the series follows each of the Rutherford girls.
There's Rose, the eldest, an outspoken beauty, apparently indifferent to the machinations of the Marriage Mart, Georgiana (Lady George) independent and animal-mad, whose past experience has made her determined not to give up her fortune or her body to some (probably useless) husband. And then there's Lily, the youngest, a shy, romantic dreamer who longs to fall in love.
It's called the "marriage of convenience" series, but that's just the starting point and you can guess what happens.
MJP: I loved Lily, the heroine of Marry in Scandal, and she has a wonderful character arc as she grows through the book. I thought this description of her from your website is spot on:
Lady Lily is the youngest of the three Rutherford girls. She’s a little shy, a little plump, and not very confident — and you’ll soon understand why. But there are unrealized depths in Lily, and when she’s abruptly thrown into a dreadful situation, she finds unexpected strength in herself.
She has two big reasons for her shyness. Would you care to discuss them?
AG: Thanks, Mary Jo. I loved Lily, too. She has problems, but she faces them with courage, even if she doesn't realize it.
Firstly her plumpness is a source of embarrassment, even though it's not her fault. There are two kinds of Rutherford women — the tall, slender kind and the short, plump cuddly kind. Lily is the latter, much to the disgust of her outspoken aunt, the tall, thin, terrifying Aunt Augusta.
“I see you have failed to follow my advice about the diet that was so effective for Lord Byron, Lily. You’re as fat as ever.”
“Lily isn’t fat,” Rose flashed angrily. “She’s lovely and rounded and cuddly. But not fat!”
“And besides, she did try that dreadful diet,” George said. “For two whole weeks and it made her quite sick for no result. Potatoes drenched in vinegar? Ghastly.”
“A small sacrifice for the sake of beauty,” Aunt Agatha said with all the complacence of a woman who had never had to diet in her life.
AG: Lily's other problem is that she has a reading disability that worsens when anyone is watching her. These days we have a better understanding of such things as dyslexia, but in the 19th century, people simply assumed it was stupidity (very far from the truth). When Lily's father discovers his eleven-year-old daughter still can't read, he takes the news badly.
“What do I do with the girl now? No man will want a wife who can’t read.”
“Don’t worry, you can live with me when I’m married,” Rose whispered. Lily gave her a troubled look. She loved Rose, but . . .
“There are discreet institutions . . .” Miss Glass murmured.
Lily shivered. She didn’t know what a discreet institution was, but it sounded horrid.
So her problem caused her father to reject her and send Lily and Rose away, which cut deeply into Lily's sense of self-worth. And of course the "stupid" label follows her. But Lily
is a girl who follows her heart . . .
MJP: The somewhat reluctant hero, Edward Galbraith, appeared in Marry in Haste as a military friend of that story's hero, and he has his share of baggage. But he's an honorable fellow (of course!) who will do the right thing when scandal strikes. Would you tell us more about him?
AG: It's not Galbraith obviously, but this will give you an idea of my image of him. It's from replaceface, where you can upload a face into a portrait of the time — in this case the face of actor Brad Pitt.
In Marry In Haste, Galbraith seemed like a lightweight, a bit directionless, but the more I got to know him, the clearer it became that this was something of a pose.
Galbraith was a war hero, though he despises the label himself. He's in line to inherit his grandfather's title, so he knows he must marry, but resists any suggestion of love. In a way, with Galbraith, I was exploring what can happen when you send a young, idealistic, honorable boy to war. Here, Lily is talking with his grandfather, old Lord Galbraith, about him.
“He fought very bravely in the war,” she offered hesitantly.
“Oh, yes, mentioned in dispatches a number of times—not that he’ll ever speak of it.” He glanced at her. “His commanding officer, General Aldenworth, once congratulated me on my grandson’s bravery, then added that it was his considered opinion that the reason for my boy’s acts of heroism was that he didn’t much care whether he lived or died. Cut deep, that did.” Lord Galbraith gave a heavy sigh. “I think the fellow might have been right.”
MJP: One thing I like about your books is that the degree of sensuality is always exactly right for the story and the characters. I'd say this is definitely one of your most sensual stories. Do you have anything to say about that?
AG: Thanks, Mary Jo. I don't try to put in sensual scenes for the sake of it — or "for the market" —they have to be right for the characters and the story. In Marry In Scandal it was crucial to the development of the romance. Lily is an innocent but is naturally sensual, and this is what initially gets past Galbraith's self-erected barriers. He is powerfully drawn to her, firstly by her courage, then by her unconscious sensuality and warm open-heartedness. Eventually (of course) for all his attempts to resist it, he falls deeply in love with her.
MJP: There's an action subplot that I won't explain for fear of spoilers, but I want to ask, how do you find writing action scenes?
AG: I love them. In many ways action scenes are easier and more fun to write than love scenes — for me, anyway — or scenes that reveal character. I've been reading some historical novels written by men recently, and they're all wham, bam, pow! Page turning action. And I'm envious. LOL.
MJP: I love the covers Berkley has been giving you for this series! Which of the two remaining young ladies will star in the next book? And do you have a title yet?
AG: They're beautiful covers, aren't they? I feel very lucky to have them. The next heroine in the series is Rose, and her story reveals a long-hidden surprise. And finally there's George, who for all her resistance, will make her own convenient marriage, and . . . you know how it will end. <g>
I do have titles in mind for both of them, but Berkley hasn't approved them yet, so we'll have to wait.
MJP: Anne is giving away a book to someone who leaves a comment, or a response to the question below.
AG: Thanks so much for taking the time to read Marry In Scandal and interviewing me, Mary Jo.
(MJP: Reading the book early was a GIFT!)
AG: Here's my question: Lily has a favorite aunt and a difficult aunt. Do you have a favorite aunt? Tell us about her. Or if you don't have an aunt, what about an aunt-by-adoption? I have several of those, too! The book will go to someone who comments between now and midnight Friday.
And happy reading!