by Mary Jo
Zoë Archer and I share an editor, the estimable Megan Records, and I discovered Zoë’s writing when Megan asked if I’d consider reading the first book in Zoë’s upcoming series. Such requests are not made lightly, but Megan thought I’d enjoy Zoë’s writing.
Megan was right. That’s why she’s an editor. <g> I loved Zoë’s unique blend of swashbuckling Indiana Jones high adventure, exotic settings, and magic. Given how readers often express the wish for something that hits all the historical romance buttons but adds something fresh and new, I thought Word Wench readers would enjoy meeting an intriguing new author.
So—meet Zoë Archer! Welcome to the Word Wenches. Zoë, please tell us about your Blades of the Rose Quartet.
ZA: First, thank you for having me on the Word Wenches! I’m not exaggerating when I say that you have been one of the biggest influences in my romance writing career, so the fact that I’m even having this conversation with you is surreal.
ZA: Anyway…I’ve been a steadfast romance reader for half of my life, and have witnessed the evolution of the genre from historicals to romantic suspense to paranormals. But I never truly found the kind of romance that I really wanted—classic high adventure. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved stories and films set in far-away places, where a capable, quick-witted hero and a (sadly, oftentimes incompetent) heroine were on a quest, with lots of action and adventure and hints of the paranormal. I wanted to see romances that had all of these elements, plus a heroine who could hold her own next to the sexy hero. Much as I tried to find these books, they were either scarce or non-existent. So I wrote them myself!
ZA: The Blades of the Rose is a secret organization that searches out and protects the world’s magic. Blades are both men and women, and though the books are set in 1874-1875, the women kick just as much butt as the heroes do, and in a way that isn’t anachronistic.
Each book is full of action, adventure, magic, steam punk gadgets, danger, and plenty of blistering romance. I like to describe the books as Indiana Jones with hot sex. Heh.
Faraway places with strange sounding names
MJP: I was fascinated by the Mongolian setting. Having researched some exotic Asians places myself, I’ve been dying to know how you managed the research for such a remote part of the world. You certainly made it convincing. Have you ever been to Mongolia?
ZA: Sadly, no. I read books, watched films and did quite a bit of Internet research. The original reason I wanted Mongolia as a setting was because I wanted to make use of the Gobi Desert. But the Gobi is just one part of a vast country. Rolling, grassy steppes make up a huge section of Mongolia, and the more I read about it, the more entranced I became with the country, the landscape, and the people. Do a quick Google image search for Mongolia and you’ll see just how gorgeous and dramatic the landscape is. A perfect setting for romance and adventure.
MJP: Here’s an excerpt for Warrior Tell us a little about the other books of the quartet. The hero of the fourth in particular looks interesting.
ZA: Each Blades book has a different hero and heroine, with one or the other being a Blade. The exotic settings don’t end with Mongolia. Scoundrel is set in Greece and the Aegean, Rebel is set in the Canadian Rockies, and the fourth book, Stranger, is set in England and a secret surprise location that you’ll read about later!
While I love all my heroes, the hero of Stranger is one of my all-time favorites. Catullus Graves and generations of his family have been making sophisticated and brilliant inventions for the Blades to use out in the field. He’s basically “Q” in the James Bond films, and that’s where we get the steampunk element—since he doesn’t use magic, just known Victorian science and technology in the design and construction of his devices. But one of the most unique aspects of Catullus as a hero in a historical romance is that he’s a black Briton.
It always seemed odd to me that romance protagonists, especially in historical romance, are so ethnically limited. I really wanted to address the wide variety of experiences and people, particularly given how diverse England truly was and is. The research I did into the history of black people in Britain was fascinating and truly eye-opening. It’s seldom explored in the context of romance. For example, I learned that there were never any anti- miscegenation laws in England, unlike in the United States, which meant it wasn’t illegal for black people to marry white people.
I also learned that the most common interracial relationships from the 18th century to the 19th century were between black men and white women, since migration patterns and other external forces created a larger proportion of black men to black women in Britain. And even though England participated in the slave trade until 1833, there was never a policy of institutionalized racism in the country. That isn’t to say Britain was a paradise of equality, but it was very different from the U.S. All of this impacts Catullus’s character—though he is, first and foremost, a romance hero, which means he’s clever, skilled…and very sexy.
MJP: Any idea why you enjoy this unusual blend of romance, history, and fantasy?
ZA: Historical romance was my first, and continues to be my best, love. Yet most of the action/adventure romances were concentrated in the paranormal or romantic suspense subgenres. I wanted all three! I think it appeals to me because it is so far removed from my actual experience, and I’d always dreamed about being a spy or some other incredibly cool person, racing around the world, doing incredibly cool things. The paranormal element seemed a natural fit, since many of the best adventure tales and films contain some kind of magic. Plus, it raises the stakes and makes everything a little more vital, a little more dangerous. Aside from writing these books, I’m not a huge risk-taker, so this was vicarious excitement.
How Zoë became Zoë:
MJP: Please tell us a bit about your background. Were you spinning tales in your head ever since you started toddling?
ZA: Oh, yeah. I think I started writing stories about five minutes after I learned how to hold a pencil. I wrote stories in notebooks and then on some early home computers. On long car trips, I stared out the window and thought up stories. My parents used to think I’d fallen out of the car, I was so quiet. Though I went through different career ambition phases during high school and into college and graduate school, it always came back to writing. I started in a PhD program in Literature, then realized I didn’t want to become an academic. I finished the program with an MA, and then went on to receive an MFA in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That program is very prestigious, but I think I’m the only IWW graduate to become a romance novelist!
MJP: I understand that you’re recently contracted for a new trilogy with Kensington. I love the premise. Can you tell us something about it?
ZA: The series is called The Hellraisers, and I love, love, love it! The log line is that a group of 18th century rakes inadvertently release the Devil from his prison and literally raise hell. It’s quite a bit darker than the Blades Series, but I’m having a blast writing it. Basically, my heroes are the villains, and it’s up to the heroines not only to save the Hellraisers’ souls, but also the world. Also, these books are going to be very, very sexy. You could almost call them historical urban fantasy romance. The first book is currently titled DEVIL’S KISS and is scheduled for a December 2011 release.
MJP: Zoë has generously offer a free copy of Warrior, first of the Blades of the Rose books, to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Friday. So this is your chance to learn more about her unusual stories!
Many thanks for visiting the Wenches, Zoë!