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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

05 August 2007

Welcome, Colette Gale!



His exquisite obsession...

Christine DaaŽ heard rumors of the hideous Phantom said to haunt the great Opera House in 19th-century Paris. But its youngest and brightest star knows something no one else does-the truth. For in the darkness she thrills to the deep velvet timbre of his arousing voice, and quivers to the soft strokes of his leather-gloved fingers. He is real. Her inspiration. Her Musique d'Ange. Her liberator.


Her erotic awakening...

Condemned to the catacombs below, Erik has desired his obsession from the shadows, careful to keep his identity, and his secret, in the dark. Only he understands Christine's extraordinary talents and her beauty. Only he can pleasure her like no man has before. But his sensual power comes with a price-and a risk to everyone who stands between them. For Christine too is succumbing to her most forbidden and dangerous desires-and to the Phantom who's making them all come true.


UNMASQUED is an alternative version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, set in 1880s Paris. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I think it was more that the time period chose me, because of the story's setting. When I decided to write "my" version of The Phantom of the Opera, romanticizing and eroticizing the story and changing the ending, I knew that I would use the same characters and setting from the original version by Leroux. This is actually a period/location that I had never written in before, so I felt quite fresh coming to it--and a little overwhelmed. I really knew very little about the period.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

I actually loved this period, once I got into the research. The fashions are beautiful to me--I actually prefer the ornate look of the gowns, the bustles in the back, the falls and folds of the skirts, the decor, and the hairstyles to that of the Regency era, which is another time period in which I write. I really like the lushness of the materials and fashions, and it fit with the sensual story that I wanted to tell.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I am not too proud to admit that I've had a love affair with Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera musical since I first saw it seventeen years ago. I was completely entranced by the music, the set, the costumes, the story, when I first saw it in Toronto. Over the years, I'd seen the show more than ten times, I owned the double CD version of the London soundtrack (and listened to it constantly), and when the movie with Gerard Butler came out in 2004, I hoped...

...Well, I hoped that the movie would change the ending and that Christine would stay with Erik, the Phantom. :-)

Obviously that didn't happen, but I always wanted her to, so, a few summers ago, when I was between writing projects, I decided just for fun to write what I thought happened--in all of its lusty, erotic detail--during the Music of the Night scene. And when he came to her in her dressing room. And as the story evolved, it fleshed out and I wrote it in such a way that explained why she left Erik to go with Raoul at the end of the Webber play...a way that made me happy and satisfied me, the hopeless romantic.

I have read the Leroux book as well, and let me tell you, there is no hope for the Phantom in that book. No matter how much he loved and obsessed over Christine, there was no way to make him a hero. He was old, corpse-like, and a murderer. If Webber hadn't taken the story and romanticized it, I probably wouldn't have been inspired to write the story the way I did.

So, basically, I've taken what happens in the Leroux book and some of the same scenes from the Webber version and portrayed them from a different perspective. I maintained the villain from the original book, Philippe, the Comte de Changy (Raoul's older brother) and made him a most loathsome, repulsive creature. (He wasn't quite that bad in Leroux's story). And I continue the story after Christine leaves Erik in his lair to go with Raoul, so that there is a happy ending.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I did have to do a lot of research--not only about basic things like clothing, transportation, and Paris in 1880...but also about what it was like living and working in a theater during that time. I learned a lot about the "little rats" that grew up there--the little girls in the chorus who, if they were lucky, grew into starring roles and obtained protectors to help them grow their careers. Many of them were orphans.

It was also interesting to me to learn about the hierarchy of the employees of the theater--the Door-Openers (the lowest of the low, who lived and worked many levels under the stages and the theater, opening and closing the doors of the stage and floor), the ushers who maintained the boxes, etc. Fascinating.

One of the things that I also found interesting was that the Eiffel Tower was being built during this time, and the Parisians hated it; thought it was a monstrosity. I can't say I blame them, for it really did ruin their skyline.

What/Who do you like to read?

I read a variety of things--a lot of fiction, some non-fiction even when I'm not researching. I like mystery and suspense, I love historicals, I do read some erotica. Some of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Liz Carlyle, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Lisa Kleypas, and Roberta Gellis.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I've become more of a plotter, but it's an uneasy alliance with me and my muse. I only have vague ideas of what's going to happen when it happens. I generally clean up as I go, reworking as I write, because it's hard for me to go on if things aren't fixed. :-)

Writing a "seduced" version of a classic novel, however, has helped with the plotting issue--because the story is already in place, it's often a matter of changing the motivations or reasons for what happens in the original to fit my story. That's a lot of fun! For example, Joseph Buquet's death in the original, and in Webber's version is different than it is in mine. The result is the same, but the events leading up to it (which are offstage/screen) are different.

I’ve heard you say that UNMASQUED is Erotica, as opposed to Erotic Romance. Want to talk about that a bit?

This book is an erotic novel--it is erotic, explicit, pushes the boundaries--and I don't mean that simply in the sense that there is a lot of explicit sex. Yes, there is, but there are a lot of elements in the book as an erotica that are not in, say, erotic romance, or "romantica."

To me, there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica, and this book falls more toward erotica than erotic romance because it pushed the boundaries of what occurs in the sex scenes, and the motivations behind them.

There is a happy ending with the hero and heroine, and neither of them have intercourse with anyone but each other--but there are other elements that are not for the faint of heart. :-)

My erotic writing has been influenced by Bertrice Small's Sky O'Malley books, Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty series, Madeline Oh's PowerExchange, and The Story of O, and anyone who's read those books will recognize some of that influence.

What are you planning to work on next?

I've just finished my second book, titled MASTER, which is an erotic version of The Count of Monte Cristo--based on the original book (which is fabulous!) rather than the movie that came out a few years ago. That book will be released in May, and I'm working on another proposal as we speak. Hopefully, the third book will be released in 2009.

Thank you so much for having me! I'll be happy to answer any questions from the commenters!

3 Comments:

Blogger Lois said...

Hey, fancy seeing you here! :) Like I said once upon a time elsewhere, I do tend to avoid erotic romances and all, but this one I *really* can't wait for, especially after a week ago when I saw the musical for the first time in NYC. . . :) Wow-wee!! But I still love the movie too. . . although I have to reread the original book because I've forgotten it over time. LOL :)

Lois

8:29 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Hi Colette,

Congrats that it's finally out -- and on the gorgeousness of the cover. I'd love to do a belle epoque novel sometime too -- perhaps in the music hall milieu where the "other" Colette performed.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Hi Colette,
congrats on the book and I hope it does really well! I loved all the theater details because I too find the backstage stuff fascinating.
If you like that sort of thing, there's a documentary called Sing Faster which shows a performance of the Ring Cycle at the SF Opera from the backstage--fascinating and quite beautiful.

12:29 PM  

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