History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 October 2006

Welcome Diane Whiteside!

By Diane Whiteside
Brava - September 2006

Even a perfect gentleman has a little devil in him.

Once a starving Confederate war veteran, Morgan Evans is now a wealthy man respected for both his business acumen and his chivalrous Southern manners. He would be the perfect catch for any woman, but only one holds his constant attention. Jessamyn Tyler Evans has been his obsession since the time she derailed one of his spy missions by holding him hostage in her bed for days. Her innocent explorations awakened a fierce hunger inside the young Morgan, and the passion and intimacy they shared frightened them both. Jessamyn spurned Morgan for his cousin, and Morgan vowed that someday he would drive her as wild with desire as she had driven him. Now Jessamyn has returned. The payback has begun…

Jessamyn has an obsession of her own: hunting for a legendary family treasure in the hills of Colorado. To do so, the spirited widow needs a husband, and Morgan Evans is only too happy to join her masquerade…for a price: she must submit to being his, body and soul, surrendering herself to whatever he demands. It’s a devil’s bargain to be sure.

Their union is as treacherous as it is passionate – and the only thing they can trust. Searching for a treasure that may not exist – a treasure others would kill for – two lovers are moving deeper into unmarked territory, where no threat is more perilous than everything they feel…

"Packed with riveting suspense, hot and steamy love scenes, and romance, THE SOUTHERN DEVIL is a fast paced story that will keep readers turning the pages to get to the exciting end. Not relying on sensuality alone, Diane Whiteside has penned another winner to add to her Historical resume." – Historical Romance Writers

The Southern Devil is set in post-Civil War America. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

The building of the Transcontinental Railroad has always personally fascinated me, because my great-great-grandparents, as an Irish immigrant couple, worked on it. As a writer – The Irish Devil, my first western historical, had to be set in 1871 Arizona to use my hero’s background from the great Irish famine, my heroine’s experiences during the Civil War, and Arizona’s silver mining history.

Post-Civil War America is a fascinating balance between the vitality of Manifest Destiny and western expansion, the Gilded Era’s extravagance and arrogance, and an incredibly rapid pace of technological change. Underlying all of this are the unsettled wounds from the Civil War, expressed in a violent atmosphere that surprises remarkably few people.

As a romance writer, I find in this era lots of God-fearing alpha males with all the characteristics of Special Forces soldiers – but just waiting for the right woman to give them an opportunity to settle down. Wonderful!

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

Personally, I really dislike the racism, especially because I instinctively demand that I write realistic fiction. There were many races present, who made many great contributions, and who have many fascinating stories to tell. Yet it’s extremely difficult to find a credible way to show the races interacting together socially, as equals, long-term. I keep trying to do so but I also feel obligated to show the bad side, too. In THE SOUTHERN DEVIL, Lucas Grainger – a secondary character – has an extremely good friend, John Little, who’s a half-breed, former Army scout. As soon as he hears that Little’s being beaten up, Lucas rescues him and then makes sure that Little has a good job for the rest of his life. For the rest of the book, I show them as friends whenever possible. I just keep wishing I could do more, as a writer, to show the other ethnic groups.

The two things that constrain my plotting in this period are (1) motivating my heroines to jump into my hero’s bed and (2) syphilis.

Every erotic romance author always has to credibly motivate her heroine’s choice to enter into the relationship. As a historical author, I like to also consider the factors present during post Civil War America – notably social status and the likelihood of pregnancy. Also, given that I tend to write action adventures with a fast pace, an erotic romance works best if my heroine has some sexual experience so the romance’s "getting acquainted" period can move more quickly. If a respectable, unmarried woman openly had an affair, she’d almost guarantee the loss of her social standing. Put all of those things together and I tend to make my heroines widows, just to respect their own caution about protecting their long-term standing in the community. Mercifully, medical science and the amount of violence during that period makes widowhood easy to provide when plotting a book. My only unmarried heroine – Rosalind, in THE RIVER DEVIL – was so rich and of such high social status that she could afford to laugh at society, should she become pregnant during an affair.

Syphilis, on the other hand, was an all too-common, extremely gross, and deadly sexually-transmitted disease during this period. A common phrase was "One night with Venus and a lifetime with Mercury," meaning that one night with the wrong woman and a man would spend the rest of his life taking mercury salts to keep himself from rotting to death. It was well-known that this could be fairly readily prevented by steady use of condoms. Given all this, it’s very difficult for me to believe that any sexually-experienced, upper-class man would not have known that he needed to use condoms all the time. I also think it’s heroic for my hero not to want to take any chance of passing a disease on to the heroine, who he’s falling in love with, even if it means he’s uncomfortable in the bedroom.

I don’t like to think about distasteful topics like this. On the other hand, I also know that, if a woman at this period announced her upcoming nuptials, she’d be deluged with advertisements for condoms as "marital aids." So, realistically speaking, I believe I need to include condoms, which leads to all sorts of interesting convolutions in plotting. Camping in 1872 with condoms, anyone?

Of course, it also leads to joyous moments at a book’s end, such as THE SOUTHERN DEVIL’s finale when Morgan and Jessamyn for the first time deliberately try to start a family. Given the importance they both place on family, this is a critical moment and the beginning of their new life together. Not having a condom between them literally means that all barriers have disappeared.

Your bio mentios a lot of camping. Did you experiences outdoors influence your choice of setting, or contribute to it?

That’s a chicken-and-egg question. I’ve camped a lot across the western United States because I love it there and I write about the same landscape because I know and love it. It’s quite true that it’s easier to write about what you know.

Your books are erotic romances, care to talk a bit about how you blend the erotic with the historical?

My maxims for writing erotic historical romances are know thy motives, thy settings, and thy props.

Figuring out the motives is fairly straightforward; researching it’s the same, whether you’re writing sweet or steamy. Of course, it can take a serious amount of effort sometimes to really understand a historical character’s sexual thinking, since sexual mores change so much over time. It took me two years to understand Morgan’s reaction to being tied up by Jessamyn at the beginning of THE SOUTHERN DEVIL.

Researching settings takes more work, since actually visiting the historical setting or an equivalent is so useful. My camping experience has come in useful, plus reading period documents, of course. And God bless reenactors! A Civil War Historian, a wonderful magazine, reprinted excerpts from the Army’s Civil War era manual describing how troops camped. I used that information, plus my camping experience, for the love scene where Morgan seduces Jessamyn in a tent outside Ft. Sumner after a long day’s ride.

What/Who do you like to read?

Lots and lots of historicals, plus romantic suspense, science fiction/fantasy. Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Roberta Gellis, Georgette Heyer, Emma Holly, Elizabeth Lowell, J.R.R. Tolkien, Angela Knight, John Buchan, Zane Gray – the list goes on and on!

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’m definitely a plotter but I’m primarily character-driven. (A good book to me means fascinating characters and enough of a plot to stress them out.) I work from index cards so I see my plot as something fluid, not cast in stone. I clean up my manuscript as I go, but it usually works out to be four or five major drafts.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m currently working on THE NORTHERN DEVIL, which is Lucas Grainger from THE SOUTHERN DEVIL’s story. It’s a marriage of convenience story, in which the more Lucas falls in love with Rachel Davis, the more his actions drive her away.

After that, I’ll be working on BOND OF FIRE and BOND OF DARKNESS, volumes 2 and 3 of my Texas vampire trilogy. Since they really overlap in time, I’m very glad I get to write them one after another. BOND OF FIRE starts during the Peninsular War then moves to modern day Texas. BOND OF DARKNESS (formerly called BOND OF STEEL) is set in modern day Texas.

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

Lucas walked into THE SOUTHERN DEVIL and demanded his own book. Actually, he rode down Raton Pass – a very steep, rocky pass – into Trinidad, an extraordinarily tough town. He received a series of letters from his family – which he shrugged off, might I add – but he charged into a saloon to rescue an old friend, a half-breed Indian scout. Then he informed me that he’d taken a vow never to get married. What could I do but plunk him down into a situation in which he had to get married to a woman that he’d fall hopelessly in love with?

THE SOUTHERN DEVIL was also inspired by a character – Morgan Evans. In THE IRISH DEVIL, Morgan went off to tell Paul Lennox, the villain, that he needed to start playing nice. Morgan was an extremely macho fellow and also quite the Southern gentleman – definitely someone who could easily accomplish the smooth gunplay this scene needed to end with. Yet, at the beginning, he froze at the sight of a glass of sherry and told me – very firmly! – that he wouldn’t drink the stuff until he could put Jessamyn Tyler in her place for having tied him up. There were entirely too many unpleasant memories associated with it.

I blinked. Who the heck was Jessamyn? Why had Morgan put up with being treated like that? Why hadn’t he taken his revenge before now? THE IRISH DEVIL wasn’t supposed to answer questions about him!

Well, Morgan graciously allowed me to wait until this year to have his story published. THE SOUTHERN DEVIL tells how Jessamyn managed to tie him up, he gets his revenge, and they find true love while racing to find lost Spanish gold deep in Colorado.

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

Jessamyn is every inch a Southern belle, as befits Morgan’s lady, so she rides sidesaddle. However, racing sidesaddle across some of the roughest terrain in America, during a period when fashion and sidesaddles were rapidly changing – well, let me just say that researching it took a lot of work.

I’ll talk more about this research in my next post.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Diane, it's so wonderful to welcome our first guest! I read the excerpt over on your website and then I ran out and bought your book on my lunch hour (it was right there on the shelf at WaldenBooks, face out!). It’s keeping company on my nightstand with Pam’s new book. *GRIN*

I'm a HUGE Deadwood fan, so I'm rediscovering the joy of the Western-set romance. I’m so happy that these seem to be on an upswing. Has anyone out there seen Broken Trail? Great understated interracial love story. I watched it yesterday while I was home with a migraine.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Broken Trail was AMAZING. I'm buying it for my father-in-law for Christmas. I loved the understated emotions. Is that the right phrase? The men were so deliciously stoic about their deep feelings.

Love this interview, Diane!

9:47 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I love your discussion of syphilis! Is that a strange thing to say? I can't stand reading about nineteenth-century man-whores who sleep with every woman in town, but never a word about protection. Hello? Terminal diseases = not sexy! *shudder*

That said, considering the modern day attitude of many sexually active men. . . I don't find it hard to believe that many of these guys just put it out of their minds and hoped for the best. But that's not heroic in any age.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Hi Diane, great to have you here -- your book (which I'm enjoying immensely) is keeping company on MY nightstand with Julie Anne Long and Henry James -- weird threesome, eh?

One of the fun things about being here is that I'm going to learn what makes people read westerns instead of regencies. I was fascinated by your discussion of your ancestors working to build the railroads. I think that 19th century America seems so foreign to me because my own family didn't get here until the end of that century, and then (until my generation) stayed huddled east of the Hudson.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm with Vicki about loving that you brought up the subject of contraception. I always seem to be struggling with how much detail to go into, what method to have my characters use (if any), etc. And then there’s the task of keeping it sexy . . . Maybe that will be the topic of my next post: Family Planning In Georgian England.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hello Diane, I would love to hear about your "sidesaddle" research!

It's a thing of mine. I have a small collection of photos I've taken at museums. Sidesaddles turn up everywhere there, unnoticed and dusty. So far, I've been able to track down the families that have owned some of the saddles hidden away in old California missions. Way cool what I learn! Haven't seen Broken Trail yet, but will most certianly read it.

Can't wait for your next post!


3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Victoria! Somewhere (isn't that the way about so much research?) a quote from Dumas (pere?) in his diary, where he's very casual about how much men are sleeping around and how careful they were to avoid syphilis. When you read the medical histories of syphilis, it's amazing how commonplace the knowledge was - except among rural folks.

But as soon as a "cure" was found in 1910, bingo! folks seem to have happily tried to not talk about it. I understand now, in the wake of HIV/AIDS, the submission guidelines for most erotica anthologies (not NY romance houses) is that if they're aimed at gay men, you have to realistically show protection. If they're aimed at a heterosexual audience, you don't have to realistically show protection.

Me, I stand with my male OB/GYN's view: I want the guy who'll look out for me first. That's who I write about, too.


10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Pam! Julie Alice Long AND Henry James keeping company with moi? That is a unique menage a trois!

My family's been on this continent for almost four centuries, basically always on the edge of the frontier - down to being on the flightline when they broke the sound barrier. In a western, I'm writing about a man and a woman, who are very isolated and with very few resources, fighting against great odds for everything that's important to them. What could be more exciting to a reader or a storyteller?


11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kalen - Contraception is just another prop, like the clothing or the furniture. In my opinion, you mention it as much as you need for motivation, plot or sensuality. For example, can you describe sliding on a condom just as sensually as you'd describe a stripper peeling off her glove?

It's so much fun being here hanging out where I can discuss these things! After all, you were the one I had that edifying chat with about historical condoms and how they were carried.


12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howdy, Kathrynn! Aren't sidesaddles fun? California has its own unique traditions of saddlemaking, which I've been reading about lately. Great, great stuff!

I'd love to see some of your photos someday.


12:02 PM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Hi, Diane (and all!),

Hope you don't mind if I jump right in with a question. I love how you give a sense of the reality of the time period.

Have you ever wondered how much "grity historical reality" readers will accept? I'm not a big proponent of sanitizing history for the sake of romantic fiction, but it seems to be a convention of our genre. I'm wondering if you've ever wondered how much reality of the time period would be too much.

Bliss to all,

12:23 PM  
Blogger Dakota Cassidy said...

Hello, Diane!

hookay, so color me uber-happy I live in 2006. Syphillis sounds like a whole lotta icky. LOL

Just wanted to stop in and say hello and tell you this was terrific insight to your genre for a contemp gal like me!

Dakota :)

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hullo, Doreen! I personally believe fans can take a lot of gritty historical reality. But I try to put in only as much as a contemporary or paranormal romance author would. I try not to use it because it's really, really fun to research - like all the stuff I could tell you about San Francisco's underworld in 1870...

In other words, look at a paranormal romance. The best ones make you feel like you're there. But they don't waste pages on description because they don't waste brain cells on making it up.

Or look at a good contemporary. See how they use nitty, gritty detail to pump up the emotional conflict. The villainess doesn't just wear a suit. No - she wears Prada! If you give out your historical detail for emotion, the reader will soak up the nitty, gritty detail and love it.


3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howdy, Dakota! Color me icky about syphilis too. *shudder* Trust me, I've never described it in a book and don't intend to.

I just figure it was a nasty fact of life that folks knew and dealt with - like high infant mortality. Reading up on scarlet fever was even less fun.

Can we move straight on to something spiffy like the really thrilling fact that when I write historicals I can quote any popular song I want 'coz they're ALL in the popular domain? Unlike writing a contemporary romance. Such fun, such absolute unadulterated bliss. . .

Glad you stopped by, Dakota!


3:10 PM  
Blogger Ann Jacobs said...

Hi, Diane. Great post! You've got me itching to read THE SOUTHERN DEVIL... I'm mainly a contemporary gal, but an erotic post-Civil War western can pull me in faster than any other setting/time other than the good ole present. The research is fun--I love to do it, but I end up getting so wound up with learning obscure facts that I miss deadlines right and left! BOND OF BLOOD is on my TBR list, just as soon as I finish my own vampire WIP.

3:47 PM  

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