Maggie Robinson and a Lady Unlaced!

by Mary JoCat 243 Dover

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 Maggie Robinson by Megan Jonessmart, 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.

MJP: Here’s a delightful excerpt from The Heiress: 

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 Intheheartofthehighlander-200x300canny, 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> 

MR: Thanks so much for having me blog with you all. Another dream come true!
Inthearmsoftheheiress-270x405MJP: Thanks for joining us, Maggie!  I look forward to more Unlaced Ladies. <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>

Another Wedding of the Century

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

No, the title of this blog has nothing to do with that fancy shindig at Westminster Abbey last month.  I blush to admit that it’s still another release with my name on it. 

I’ve never had a busier publishing spring:

March—Dark Mirror, a new YA paranormal
April—The Bargain, a reissued Regency historical
May—Nowhere Near Respectable, a new Regency historical

And now for June:

The Wedding of the Century.

Wedding of the Century 2011 My story is called “The Wedding of the Century,” and that was picked up as the title for this anthology, the third time the novella has been released. 

It’s a long novella written almost twenty years ago for a Harlequin historical anthology.  I was vastly flattered to be asked since I was the first non-Harlequin author to receive such an invitation.  The theme was weddings, which is pretty much a no-brainer for a romance author. <G>

WOTC is set in the Gilded Age with a vastly wealthy American girl marrying an English duke.  My story is loosely inspired by the famous marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough, but with a happier ending.  (The real people ended up getting divorced.) 

To Marry an English Lord To Marry An English Lord. Or, How Anglomania Really Got Started

I don’t remember what gave me the idea for the story, though I do remember that these characters spoke in my mind more clearly than just about any other couple I’ve ever written.  Plot inspiration probably came from came from the fabulous book To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace. 

This book is sadly out of print now, but used copies are available for as little as $.21 + shipping, and if you like rollicking social history, this book is for you.  Lots of stories of the men and women involved in this transatlantic marriage mart and the delicious details of the lives they lived. (Here’s a picture of the famous designer Charles Frederick Worth Worth, an Englishman who worked in Paris and was the very height of fashion for the period.)

It’s something of a mystery how Americans, who famously tossed out the King of England and banned all inherited titles, nonetheless adore royalty and lords and ladies.  (I don’t precisely adore them, but I do enjoy writing about them!)

Lady Randolph Churchill It was a perfect meeting of needs: rich Americans in search of old titles, and English aristocrats in dire need of money.  Of course, human nature and hormones being what they are, the couplings weren’t usually that cold blooded.  The dazzling Jennie Jerome, daughter of a New York financier and sportsman, met Lord Randolph Churchill, a brilliant younger son of the 8th Duke of Marlborough, at a ball held on a cruiser moored at the Isle of Wight.  (I. e., it was all insanely fashionable.) 

Lord Randolph proposed and was accepted three days later,  Neither set of parents approved—the Marlboroughs thought the connection vulgar, and Jenny Jerome’s mother wasn’t impressed by the fact that Lord Randolph was a younger son, but the Prince of Wales endorsed the match. 

Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, John Singer Sargent The financial negotiations were very difficult, since Lord Randolph didn’t have much money.  Leonard Jerome settled 50,000 pounds on the couple for an income of two thousand pounds a year, but insisted on giving Jennie a separate income of a thousand pounds a year. 

This outraged the Marlborough lawyers: an American girl lost her American citizenship when she married an Englishman, and English law gave all the wifely property to the husband.  Leonard Jerome didn’t think it wise that a wife should be so completely dependent, a sentiment I can heartily agree with.  (The family portrait is Consuelo Vanderbilt and family, and hangs at Blenheim Palance.  It's huge!)

The marriage had its ups and downs, but must be considered a success if only because it produced Winston Churchill.  (He was born less than eight months after the marriage, which suggests that not all Victorians were straight-laced.  <G>) 

Blenheim Palance 
Winston was born at Blenheim Palace, the wildly overdone seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, and was first cousin of 9th duke.  (The one who married Consuelo Vanderbilt.)  Winston had a fascinating and very colorful career (did you know that he won the Nobel prize for literature) before becoming perhaps the most respected Englishman of the 20th century. 

My Wedding of the Century

My novella protagonists are very different from the glitterati since I was intrigued by the idea of two basically nice, down to earth people trying to find each other and a real marriage in the midst of all the fashion and drama of high society.  (Consuelo Vanderbilt’s autobiography is called The Glitter and the Gold, which captures the essence of that.)

The heroine, Sunny Vangelder, is a warm, laughing young lady who wants to marry for love rather than to fulfill the social climbing ambitions of her mother.  The hero is Lord Justin Aubrey, a quiet, introverted second son when he meets and is instantly drawn to Sunny.  She doesn’t even notice him that day at the garden party, where she is busy falling love with a charming snake.

The Breakers, Newport Then Justin unexpectedly inherits his brother’s dukedom, debts, and a very large house with a badly leaking roof.  He needs to marry an heiress, but he truly wants Sunny.  Forced into the marriage by her mother, Sunny can’t believe that love has anything to do with it.  (The picture is of The Breakers, the famous Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, RI. Some of the novella takes place in Newport.)

Naturally Justin and Sunny work things out, but in romance, the journey to the ending is the whole point.  I had a lovely time researching and writing this story (which is about twice the length of the average novella), and I’m delighted that it’s once more available.

I’ll be giving away a free signed copy of The Wedding of the Century to one person who comments on this post between now and Tuesday midnight. 

And before I sign off on this Memorial Day–a moment of silence for all those military men and women who have served this country since the beginning.

Worth gown--Empress Elizabeth of Austria Mary Jo , adding a picture of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria wearing a Worth gown