History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

20 October 2007

Welcome, Donna MacMeans!

Welcome, Donna! I knew from the first time you told me about your book, it was destined for print. Congratulations on the release!

Thank you, Kathrynn, for allowing me to become a hoyden for the day. It’s always been a secret desire (wink, wink).

LOL! (Donna is referring to my telling her how I would have loved to have finaled in the Golden Heart, like she did. She went on to win!

Your debut historical, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, is set in the late Victorian period. How did you become interested in this time period?

Well, that’s tied up with what sparked the book. So my answer may seem long, but it all comes together in the end. Mrs. Brimley was my third complete manuscript. The previous two were both contemporary romantic suspense. Although I’d always read historicals, I think I was intimidated by the research to try one on my own. A couple of years ago, Lori Foster sponsored a writing contest that required three pages illustrating sensual tension. A contemporary and an historical weekly winner would be chosen and sent to an editor who had a reputation of purchasing novellas from some of the winners. I came up with an idea, basically a reluctant striptease, and realized it would work better in a period when the women wore a lot of clothes. What better time than Victorian? Once I started working on the story, I realized it would make a dynamite book and never bothered to enter that contest.

Obviously then, you had to do some major research for this book. Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Yes. I definitely did mega-research, and as I knew nothing – everything was a revelation . Due to the nature of the story, I really had to understand women’s period clothing, particularly underclothing. I had to know how it all fastened, and more importantly, unfastened. Needless to say, I now own a rather complete library on this subject. I also traveled to a number of historical clothing exhibits so I could get up close and personal with the clothing.

I also needed to study the sexual mores of the period. This was very interesting as the Victorians were careful to tiptoe around anything written that suggested sexuality – yet one look at the small-waist corseted dresses, with a bustle in the back to emphasize one’s rump, and you know it’s all advertising. Anyway, I found a study that suggested many Victorians believed that a woman could only become pregnant if she experienced the big “O”. This certainly wasn’t the only belief of the period, but it was one that could provide the necessary motivation for my book.

And that motivation would be…?

Finishing schools were prevalent during Victorian times to give girls that special polish needed to attract a suitable match. One important duty of a wife was to bear the mandatory heir and spare. My fictional finishing school realizes its graduates would be better equipped to perform this role (given the aforementioned study) if they knew something about bedroom etiquette. As my heroine is pretending to be a widow, they believe she will make a perfect instructor. However, my heroine is a virgin and in hiding from her lecherous uncle. In order to stay in hiding, she needs information and fast.

And she finds that information….?

From a disreputable rake/artist who just happens to be my hero. After some mishaps, they barter an agreement whereby he will answer one question about intimacy for every item of clothing that she removes as his model.

Sounds fun.

Oh, it was – and very, very sensual. I would have won that darn contest had I entered way back when.

But you’ve picked up other MAJOR contest wins along the way – wink, wink.

Yes. Among other awards, Mrs. Brimley won the 2006 Golden Heart award for Best Long Historical. Recently, my hero, Lord Nicholas Chambers, picked up an accolade of his own – the Knight in Shining Silver Award from RT. They said (as a bad boy) he was so bad he was good. You’re familiar with the K.I.S.S award, as your Sir Robert Breton of Dark Rider received similar kudos.

Thanks for the plug, Donna! So what’s next?

About the time Berkley offered a contract for Mrs. Brimley, I was partway through another story set in the same Victorian time period but with other characters – most notably an invisible heroine. The first chapter of that book, The Trouble with Moonlight, is included in the back of Mrs. Brimley. It’s another fun, sexy read. That one has a June 2008 release date.

Otherwise I’m currently working on a sequel to Mrs. Brimley – William’s story.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ve had such a great time chatting about Mrs. Brimley, I’d like to hear from your readers. I didn’t exactly paint William as hero material in Mrs. Brimley so I’m going to have to have a good heroine reform him. Readers, tell me what you look for in a hero.
I’m going to offer an autographed copy of the book to one person posting a comment. If you’ve already read Mrs. Brimley, comment anyway and we’ll negotiate something else from my treasure trove. Also, you can generally find me most Tuesdays on the Pink Ladies Blog http://www.pinkladiesblogspot.com/ or hanging out with the Romance Bandits on http://romancebandits.blogspot.com/. Otherwise, check out my website at http://www.donnamacmeans.com/. Thanks so much for having me Kathrynn.

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Blogger Anne said...

"Readers, tell me what you look for in a hero."

Heros -- hmmm, I love historicals, but have been immersed since the summer with action/mystery/suspense fiction this summer. I'm in love with two heros, Jack Reacher by Lee Child and John Rain by Barry Eisler.

On the surface these two characters have zero hero qualities.

Jack Reacher is an unemployed drifter who has only the clothes on his back and a folding toothbrush. How can that be heroic? But he's tough and gentle; all muscle and brains. Fights for what's right, and isn't above bending rules. Don't you dare mess with him or his people.

John Rain is an assassin with a conscience. He's a loner and is tortured by his nature.

I guess both these tough and dangerous men have vulnerabilities and they're the kind of men who women would love to tame! At least I'd like to...in my fantasy. In real life, I love my beta male just fine. :-)


11:08 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I like the Ivanhoe-types. ;-)

Dutiful, loyal, and honor-bound to do the right thing, even though it costs them.

Yep, a knight in shining armor to the rescue!

11:51 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

A hero with honor at the core of his being -- leaves lots of room for flaws but his essential good always triumphs.

Fun question....

5:10 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

My favorite heroes fall into two categories - the kind whose sense of honor and virtue tie him up in knots that only the heroine can untie and the kind whose behavior is dissipated to the point that you think no woman can save him - but the right woman does and all because she discovers the root of that dissipation and the core of goodness in him. Heroes who have no redeeming qualities make it tough for the author to redeem him and I love it when a great writer takes me on that journey without glossing over the rough stuff. I loved Wulfric in Mary Balogh's Slightly series. He was more the first type - straight laced and tied in knots until the lovely widow came along. The fact that HE became the pursuer was perfect. Kylemore in Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan skirts the edge of villainy and falls over the line repeatedly. Verity and the love neither of them can deny finds the good man long buried beneath all that anger. All of your research sounds fascinating Donna! I cannot wait to read Mrs. Brimley's story!

7:00 AM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Anne - Hmmm...I see contrasts in both these heros: tough and gentle, all muscle and brains (most certainly a contrast *g*), assassin with a conscience. Not sure I'd be crazy about an assassin for a hero in real life *g*.

I'm noticing that most of my reader mail are love pleas to my hero. Poor Emma gets tossed aside. So I'm really looking to explore this issue for future books. Thanks Anne

7:11 AM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Mary & Kathrynn -

Yes, a hero must have that essential goodness at his core. I like digging a bit to find it though. When I write my first draft, my heros are invariably too good, too bright and shiny. Where's the fun in that? So I have to darken them up a bit in the editing. Thanks for posting.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Doglady - good to see you! Well, I can't wait for you to read Mrs. Brimley either *g*, though it sounds from your examples that you like to live in a dark world with angsty heros. Mrs. Brimley is more fun and light, but my heros do tend to require some recovery by the heroine. I like that image of the heroine discovering that core of goodness and rescuing them. Thanks for posting.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

And Donna, when you told me the premise for the next story, The Trouble with Moonlight...I was sold. Gotta read that book. Told my son a betime story based on the premise, and he wants to know more about what happens with the invisible woman/jewel thief! I have the book on order from Amazon already...not for him, of course, for me!

8:56 AM  
Blogger Natalie said...

"Readers, tell me what you look for in a hero."

The first thing that pops into my mind is devotion. I want the feeling that the hero is focused on the heroine, and wants her, specifically because of who she is.

Other than that, I will admit a weakness for rogues and bad boys. If they are being redeemed, then I like the combination of potential naughtiness and seeing that their base character isn't really utterly bad. Maybe they had a reason for what they did, maybe they were reacting out of an inner trauma?

But the key for me is how they react to the heroine.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Loved reading about your process of developing and researching the book! I like heroes who are intelligent (to me it's the most sexy quality a guy can have :-). And I like heroes who are driven by a cause/work/goal beyond themselves. Then they may do questionable things (I love flawed characters) but they're driven by a resaon (Francis Crawford of Lymond is a good example).

9:49 AM  
Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Donna, big waves to you from your fellow Bandita. Kathrynn, great interview. Donna, great answers! Congratulations on the success of Mrs. Brimley and the Moonlight boo sounds fantastic too. Can't wait till that comes out.

Hey, Pam, thanks for the plug! ;-)

Tracy, you mentioned my favorite hero of ALL! He's so complex, it takes six huge books to sort him out!

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Sonja said...

The heroes I love are tough on the outside, soft on the inside. Examples: the tough businessman you think is all about making money, but secretly donates to good causes. The loner who loves animals. Soldiers in war who take orphans under their wing. Etc. The heroine who breaks through the shell. Movie examples---Pretty Woman, Sabrina (although you never see the soft side in those heroes until the heroine unleashes it.)

11:14 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Very interesting interview. I love historicals, as well as contemporaries. Your story sounds very interesting.

So where did you begin to do all of your research? And now that you've gained so much knowledge about the Victorian era, will you use this information to write more novels set in this time period?


11:54 AM  
Blogger Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Donna! Waving at you from Bandita-land. :> I just love heros of all kinds. Flawed and arch, priggish and arrogant, tough, angst-ridden, etc. because I love how authors like you, and so many other wonderful authors create the path for them to find themselves as good, honest, true men. It's the getting there that makes the story so fun, right!? Great question, BTW. Meanwhile I'll wave at Mary Blayney and all our Bandit pals - Hi Doglady! - and say great interview!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Donna, we've come a long way since that lunch in Nashville all those years ago, huh? :) I own my very own copy of Mrs. Brimley and am looking forward to reading it.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

Great interview, Donna and Kathrynn! I'm so looking forward to read Mrs. Brimley. Hopefully, I don't have too much longer to wait:) She sold out in the first week in my local romance bookstore.

I must admit, I have a weakness for a charming bad boy, though the knight in shining armour is a favourite, too. I think the invisible heroine sounds fab!

3:45 PM  
Blogger Kate Carlisle said...

Thanks, Kathrynn, for a lovely interview! Hi Donna!

I absolutely loved the excerpt of The Trouble with Moonlight and I'm so excited to read the rest of the book. I'm glad we don't have to wait a whole year for it. Woohoo!

And I'm really looking forward to reading your sequel to Mrs. Brimley. I can't wait to see who you've chosen to tame that charming cad, William!

4:00 PM  
Blogger bamabelle said...

Donna, Mrs. Brimley sounds positively sensuous and enchanting. Congratulations on all the success you are having as well!

I like all kinds of heroes. I like the ones that are full of honor and integrity. I also like the bad boys that just don't care about the opinions of others, with the exception of the heroine of course.

Have a wonderful weekend!

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donna, you have written such a lovely and very sensual book--I am not surprised everyone agrees!

I like my men to be alphas, but not necessarily dark and tortured. Light is okay with me, as long as they've got something special inside that only the heroine can unlock. I think a great writer can make me like just about anything--for example, I never would have believed I could enjoy a sports figure/celebrity as hero, until I read SEP's fantastic books.

Thanks for the great interview!!


5:20 PM  
Blogger Joan said...

A quick wave and hello, Donna!

All I can say is after reading Mrs. Brimley I found myself inexplicitedly drawn to painting classes LOL

Great book!

5:39 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Hi all -

Sorry to be gone so long. I knew I'd be gone for a long stretch this afternoon, but I didn't realize it would run THIS long!

Natalie - Loved your observation about devotion. I try to find a special way to show the hero/heroine were meant to be together, and then they discover it as well. The result - devotion (I hope).

Tracy - I'm with you. I like both the hero and the heroine to be intelligent. And they have to have a sense of humor. Those two characteristics, I think, go together naturally - but for me to like the characters they have to have both.

Sonja - I like the guys with a tough outside, especially if they try to hide that soft inside. You had great examples - Thanks!

5:58 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Jennifer - I had soooo much to research, the period itself, the history, England, clothing, etiquette, Victorian art - you name it! I spent considerable time in the library, but I also searched out and bought a lot of reference books as well. For clothing, C. Willett Cunnington is great. She has a book devoted strictly to the History of Underclothes that I found very useful. Norah Waugh was great in this area as well. I paint - or I used to paint - so much of the brush info I already knew. But I still did some research up at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

I definitely plan to reuse the research. I may have been drawn to the period due to the clothes, but I really love it and plan to stay here awhile ;-) The next two books take place in the same period. They don't involve art or artists, they do however, involve underclothes *g*

6:10 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Banditas! You know how much trouble I have with these letter boxes, so I hope you'll forgive me for answering in one email.

Hi Anna - Glad you could lift your head away from your latest WIP. Mrs. Brimley has had a vertical lift-off, hasn't she? I was surprised that Berkley included the first chapter of Moonlight in Mrs. Brimley, but if my reader mail is an indication - it's starting some very positive advance promotion.

Hi Jeanne - I think we can get away with a lot of maybe unheroic qualities as long as the characters are interesting - and as long as the heroine reforms the hero in the end *g*. Thanks for dropping by

Hi Trish, future winner of the current AT contest. If anyone reading this hasn't already voted for the best first line in RT's American Title contest, get yourself over to the Romantic Times website and vote. Trish's entry is wonderful.

Many years ago, Trish and I went out to dinner with a mutual friend not realizing we would be tossed together in so many ways. Not sure if it's karma, serendipity, or plain good luck, but it's cool.

Christine - If it helps, it's pretty hard to find a copy of Mrs. Brimley around my hometown as well. When you come to San Francisco this summer (because you MUST come to San Francisco) we'll have to make sure you get a copy of Moonlight as well.

Kate - Glad you liked Mrs. Brimley and the taste of Moonlight. I do love that book - lots of fun and ...other stuff (this is a PG-13 site, right?) *g*

Kirsten - I Love SEP's books. Did you know that she used to be an English teacher here in Columbus? What fun it must have been to be in her class. Fancy Pants is my all-time favorite. She made a golf pro interesting!

Hi Joan - You might want to check out the "life studies" classes. Heck, if you're going to paint, might as well be a real live model - at least that's what Lord Nicholas Chambers's says.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Bamabelle - Thank you. The bad boys are fun to write, no matter whether they are historical or contemporary. I think when they don't care about someone else's opinion it shows them to be confident, definitely a heroic quality. Thanks for stopping by

Kathrynn - you can pre-order Moonlight at Amazon? I didn't know that! Of course, the things I don't know can fill a book - wait - they did *g*.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Pre-order Moonlight already??? Wow! Will do that!

Thank you for posting with us. And thank all of you wonderful Bandit Authors for stopping by, too!


6:46 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks for the info. I didn't know there was a book devoted to the history of undergarments. That's kinda funny.

I have a historical story rumbling around in the back of my mind. Maybe one of these days when life slows down just a little, I'll do the research necessary to write it.

Good luck with your next books!!!


7:18 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Jennifer -

Don't let the research intimidate you or stop you from telling your story. Actually, the research is the easy part *g* and it's actually a lot of fun. You'll learn all sorts of stuff, some of which will find a way into your story, much of it will not. But you never know. Those things have a way of coming back in a later book. Good Luck. I hope you give it a go.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

I can't resist a tortured hero, both reading them and writing them.

You all know the type - the guys with the dark past, who can only be redeemed or healed by the love of a woman.

Think Mary Jo Putney's Fallen Angel series. No one does tortured heroes as well as MJP!

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds intriquing, my kind of book.

6:03 AM  
Blogger jo robertson said...

Donna, I just finished Mrs. Brimley on my Caribbean cruise -- I should say I gobbled it up. I adored the book and can't wait for the next one about the invisible heroine. The excerpt was intriguing and whetted my appetite. You are an amazing writer and I'm proud you're among our Banditas!

I think it will be challenging to make William into a hero given his behavior in Brimley and especially as contrasted with Nicholas, so I look forward to seeing that character developed and redeemed.

10:53 AM  
Blogger bamabelle said...


you said:
The bad boys are fun to write, no matter whether they are historical or contemporary. I think when they don't care about someone else's opinion it shows them to be confident, definitely a heroic quality.

I completely agree. I think that they don't accept the mold society wants them to fit in, but rather forge their own path, is very heroic.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Caren Crane said...

Donna, I loved Nicholas in Mrs. Brimley. The fact that he truly was a rake, yet worked so hard to protect Emma's reputation, won me over completely.

I suppose I like a certain measure of self-sacrifice in a hero. The willingness to take one for the team--or the heroine!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Jo -

When I wrote Mrs. Brimley, I hadn't really thought much about sequels. I was more concerned with selling the first book :-) At the time, I was playing with maybe doing a series on the graduates of Pettibone School, as they would have unique skills to offer. However, those wiser than me suggested the sequel be about William. When I explained I hadn't painted him as hero material, they said - so much the better. So reforming the arrogant, controlling William Chambers will be a bit of a challenge - rest assured I will make him suffer for the harm he caused Nicholas and Emma. Buwhahaha

3:10 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Cynitha -

I agree with you completely. I love Mary Jo Putney's novels, and she's such a sweet lady if you get a chance to meet her. At least three months a year I return to my alter-ego as a CPA, so I'm a bit on the analytical side. Perhaps I'll take one of MJP's novels and analyze her hero. Might as well learn from the best *g*

3:14 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Joella -

I hope you like Mrs. Brimley. The book was a lot of fun to write, I think that enjoyment may have shown through.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Bamabelle - I think the ability to forge one's own path is important to us as individual's as well as to fictional heros. It's tough to do though. Perhaps that's why we like to read about those that try.

Caren - Nicholas was a sweetie and such a smooth talker. I miss him all ready. :-)

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A hero should be willing to help whenever possible, be caring and supportive. He should also be gentle and kind with a humorous side. One who offers a shoulder to lean on.


4:56 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

I was intrigued with your interesting interview. The book sounds simply fascinating. As far as a hero is concerned, he has to have heart, sincerity, total and complete devotion and loyalty and be able to accept what life hands him and deal with it.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

Hi RobynL - I think you just described my husband ;-) I think this is how the hero should be at the end of the book, but at the beginning he can be a little less perfect.

Hi Ruth - That's one quality the hero must have - he must be intriguing. Otherwise we wouldn't care for him *g* Thanks for posting!

8:08 PM  
Blogger Donna MacMeans said...

And the winner is...Sonja!

If you could visit my website at www.DonnaMacMeans.com and leave me your contact information, I'll send you a copy of The Education of Mrs. Brimley. Thanks for all the wonderful observations, everyone. You've given lots of ideas for developing the hero in my WIP. And thanks Kathrynn once again for allowing me to play with the hoydens for the weekend.

10:13 PM  

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