History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 January 2012

Welcome, Sara Ramsey!

Sara Ramsey  is a local Romance Writers of America chaptermate of mine, so I've been conversant with her career trajectory for several years now. She's a past Golden Heart winner (two of her books have finaled), and I'm really excited that these books are now being released into the wild as The Muses of Mayfair Series (with two more to come after her debut). 

HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE is a Nook First pick and will be available exclusively on the Nook starting January 23. It will release in print and on all other ebook platforms on February 23. Sara will give away an ebook copy (any format) to a random commenter on today’s post, and will be stopping by throughout the day to answer questions.

 You can read the first chapter here (and if you're anything like me, you'll be hooked!). 

One title to change his life…
A disgraced son with a dark reputation, William “Ferguson” Avenel is content to live in exile – until his father dies in the scandal of the Season. With rumors of insanity swirling around them, his sisters desperately need a chaperone. Ferguson thinks he’s found the most proper woman in England – and he won’t ruin her, even if he desperately wants the passionate woman trapped beneath a spinster’s cap.

One chance to break the rules…
Lady Madeleine Vaillant can’t face her blighted future without making one glorious memory for herself. In disguise, on a London stage, she finds all the adoration she never felt from the ton. But when she’s nearly recognized, she will do anything to hide her identity – even setting up her actress persona as Ferguson’s mistress. She’ll take the pleasure he offers, but Madeleine won’t lose her heart in the bargain.

One season to fall in love…
Every stolen kiss could lead to discovery, and Ferguson’s old enemies are determined to ruin them both. But as their dangerous passion ignites their hearts and threatens their futures, how can an heiress who dreams of freedom deny the duke who demands her love?

HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE is set in 1812.  Is there a particular reason you chose that year? Any key historical event you wanted to include (or avoid!)?

Sarah Siddons, one of the most beloved actresses of her day, retired in 1812. She doesn’t appear in my book, but my heroine is an actress, so 1812 is a subtle homage to Mrs. Siddons. Also, the next books in my series involve bits about the East India Company, the Corn Laws, and Waterloo, so it made sense to kick off the series earlier in the decade. And I want to avoid the “year without a summer” in 1816 and the mourning for Princess Charlotte in 1817, since it sounds positively miserable!

How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I fell in love with the Regency through the romance novels I started reading (way too young, cough cough) – I started with Westerns and medievals and sheikhs and pirates, but I always found my way back to Regencies. I think the Regency is so beloved because it yields all sorts of awesome fantasies, but it’s also more accessible than earlier time periods and less industrialized than later ones. The clothes are way more appealing than Georgian powdered wigs or Victorian hoopskirts. The parties are fabulous, the houses have more privacy than in past centuries, and the plumbing is on the verge of getting better (yielding heroes whom you can believe actually bathe every day ;)

The Regency is also interesting to me because I think it mirrors 21st century America – wars fought on foreign soils without a lot of sacrifice (from a rationing sense) on the homefront; extreme divides between rich and poor; and odd, uncomfortable shifts between vast excess and prudishness. So I think books set in the Regency give authors and readers a chance to think about modern life with a glossy bit of distance for those who just want the fantasy.

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

I don’t love the actual position of women in Regency society. If I lost my entire identity and all my rights upon marriage, I would either never marry, or find a tottering old (and titled, of course!) dude and hope for a quick end to him. But current romance novels tend toward heroines who aren’t meek, well-behaved, obedient wives. I’m sure strong, rebellious women existed, but I’m also guessing that – like all the dukes we’ve created – they didn’t exist in the droves that populate Romancelandia. I try to have my characters behave appropriately for the period, but I’ll happily admit that my heroines are probably more empowered than they might have been in 1812.

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?
I completely ignored the assassination of Spencer Perceval, the prime minister, on May 11, 1812. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in a Regency romance, and I didn’t know it had happened until I was checking the timeline for the book, so I decided most readers wouldn’t notice if I didn’t acknowledge it. If nothing else, we should all just pretend that my hero and heroine don’t care about current events J

Also, I’m sure there are times when Ferguson should be wearing pantaloons instead of breeches. But let’s face it – pantaloons just don’t sound sexy. I’d rather get flak over his pants from the people who know than have modern readers incorrectly picture him in some sort of frilly bloomers!

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find at least one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

I found a potential gaff just this week. My hero’s father and brother die in a murder/suicide, which the family covered up as a carriage accident. But I didn’t know that suicide was such a legal issue during the Regency – I knew it was a scandal, but I didn’t know that a suicide would be punished postmortem by confiscation of property. Luckily the brother was the suicide and wouldn’t have had much left to confiscate, but if I had known that earlier, I might have referrenced it.

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.  Or maybe what Heyer heroine you could see him falling for?

Ferguson started out as a redhead, but after two different beta readers said they were seeing Carrot Top rather than Prince Harry, I yielded to public opinion and made him a dark auburn. And he’s definitely a schemer – he plots to get what he wants, and since he wants my heroine, you can be sure he’ll contrive some great schemes to win her. He can laugh at almost anything, so if a plan fails, don’t expect him to brood for long.

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

I knew next to nothing about British theatre, but my heroine, Madeleine, is an actress, so I had to do some research there. Madeleine plays Hamlet, and even though everyone knows she’s a woman, the wig and costuming help to protect her real identity. The most fascinating bit I learned about the theatre was how often women during the Regency played “breeches roles” – either roles written intentionally for women dressed as men, or originally male roles given to a woman. Sarah Siddons was the first woman to play Hamlet in the late 1700s, but these cross-dressing roles continued throughout the Regency. I had already planned to have Madeleine cross-dress at the theatre, but I was extremely relieved when my research supported my plans.

I was amused to see that you and I share an obsession with Robin McKinley’s wonderful Damar books (The Hero and the Crown  and The Blue Sword), and that most of your favorites are also on my list of keepers. Would you like to talk a little about what makes these particular kind of heroines your favorites?

I’m really drawn to all of McKinley’s heroines because they have a sort of stiff upper lip – like real people, they get worried/terrified/overwhelmed, but they just keep going and muddle their way through with intuition rather than letting all the things they don’t know petrify them. A lot of my life has felt like that – I may not be fighting dragons or demon sorcerors, but moving from Iowa to California at eighteen and pursuing writing were both leaps into the great unknown that I was completely unprepared for. So I love stories about normal, unprepared women doing extraordinary things for themselves and their friends.

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?

My writing process is really, really ugly. I’m theoretically a plotter, but I’ll get halfway into the book and pants my way into a completely different ending, which requires multiple drafts to sort out. I tend to do the equivalent of 1.5 rough drafts, since I have to rewrite so much of the beginning to match the new ending; then I go through a polish draft and a proofreading draft. I’m trying to avoid scrapping every beginning, but I haven’t been successful yet – if anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!

The Golden Heart. I have to ask about it. Anything you want to share about your experience (I blathered about mine on my website, LOL!)?

Winning the Regency Golden Heart in 2009 and finaling in 2011 were an absolutely amazing experiences, and I can’t speak highly enough about the opportunities and confidence it gave me. It sped up the process of signing with an agent, and the week of Nationals felt like an extended prom – one where I was the belle of the ball, not hanging out on the bleachers with my friends (my school was tiny, and prom was in the gym...so the Golden Heart beats it by a mile).

The best part of the Golden Heart, though, was meeting so many other great writers from all over the US, Canada, and Australia. The 2009 group has stayed very active, starting the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog, and the 2011 group has also stayed in touch. This was possibly the best way to meet authors I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know, and since they’re all great writers with bright futures ahead, I feel really, really lucky to be involved with them. 

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m finishing up edits on SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, which is the follow-up to HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE – it should be out in March. The series focuses on a secret club of female artists who help each other pursue their artistic passions: HEIRESS features an actress, SCOTSMEN has an author, and the third book, THE MARQUESS WHO LOVED ME, involves a painter. If the audience loves these books, I’ve got three more in the plotting phases; if not, I’ll cry into my wineglass for a day or two, and then finish the super-secret YA project I keep coming back to before starting a new Regency series. 2012 is going to be a busy year, and I’m really excited to get my books out to readers!

Don't forget that Sara is giving away a copy and that she'll be stopping by to answer questions!


Blogger Audra said...

Wonderful interview -- I sputtered my coffee gleefully at "..(yielding heroes whom you can believe actually bathe every day ;)." -- I love Ms. Ramsey's sense of humor!

Her comments on why Regency-era were great -- certainly that's why I read and love Regency romances. (Also, it's not my pet historical era, so any inaccuracies or fudges go pleasantly over my head!).

9:33 AM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Thanks for the lovely comment, Audra! I'm glad to know at least one other person loves Regency romances for some of the same reasons - always good to know I'm not off in left field by myself :)

9:55 AM  
Blogger Beebs said...

Hi Sara, great interview, I love being introduced to new authors.

I did know about Perceval's assassination and I did read it in another book.

That being said, since it's not relevant to the story, I doubt it's omission would bother me, I just love a good story, it doesn't have to be filled with facts.

I agree about the pantaloons, breeches are way sexier. Good luck with the new release.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Congratulations on your debut. Who are some of the romance authors that you enjoy reading?

10:32 AM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

@Beebs - thanks for the comment! Do you remember which book you saw it in? Was it directly related to the plot in some way, or was it just mentioned? It's so hard to strike the right balance between acknowledging events that were current at the time vs. distracting readers with facts that aren't crucial to the plot.

@Penfield - thanks! Sarah MacLean has a new release coming this month that I'm eagerly awaiting - she's probably my favorite 'newer' author at the moment. I also love Joanna Bourne, Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, and my precious stack of Georgette Heyers. And one of my favorite discoveries last year was Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey series - it's more mystery with romantic elements than classic romance, but I devoured the entire series and then forced my friends to read them too.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Beebs said...

Hi Sara

I remember it was in the Steepwood Scandals series, published by Harlequin/Mills & Boon but I can't actually remember which book it was.

It was relevant to the particular story, think the hero was a politician or in the House of Lords.

It must be difficult for a writer knowing which events to include or leave out, some readers like a lot of facts, some don't.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

I've enjoy all of the same authors including Deanna Raybourn. Have you tried Sherry Thomas yet? She's relatively new has a unique voice.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

@Beebs - interesting! I'll have to look into those books.

@Penfield - I haven't tried Sherry Thomas yet. I'll admit that I get oddly stubborn about the stupidest things, and so I haven't read her because everyone claims I'll love her. Ridiculous, right? But I have one of her books sitting on my Kindle, and as soon as I finish the book I'm writing, I'm going to binge read for a couple of weeks - I'll move her up on the list ;)

1:39 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Sara--your book looks awesome! What a great premise for a series. And yes--I absolutely love the way pantaloons LOOK, but the word itself is just embarrassing.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Rose, thank you so much!! I've really had fun with the premise, and it's great that my 'job' is to learn more about the Regency arts.

Also, I'm glad that people seem to be coming down in the 'no pantaloons' camp - I can barely even write the word with a straight face, let alone have my hero flaunting them about town :)

3:18 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I like the word pantaloons, but can't use it as my books are set too early (and I'm sure my editor would nix it in a heartbeat as "not sexy", LOL!).

I'm just glad that there is a wide variety of writers and styles out there, so I can have both Dunnett and Quinn (much as I adore Dunnett, can't imagine reading her on a plane surrounded by screaming babies and snoring men).

3:28 PM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Isobel, thank you so much for interviewing me! And thank you for forgiving my anti-pantaloon bias ;)

I've never read Dunnett, but I just read up on her on Wikipedia, and now I wish I had discovered her ages ago. She's going on my TBR list - any recommendation on where to start?

3:37 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Start with The Game of Kings. Books are dense with a wonderful anti-hero at their center. Just wonderful.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

You are new to me as a reader, so I am off to find your books. I loved the interview and your "confessions" just make me want to read the books. Rock on!

6:12 PM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Thanks so much, Renee! I'm so happy you enjoyed the interview.

I'll let you in on a secret -- the release date was supposed to be 1/23, but HEIRESS just went up today on the Nook! It's exclusive there until 2/23, and then it will be available in all other formats. I hope you enjoy it!

7:21 PM  
Blogger Ashlyn Macnamara said...

I can't wait to read this, Sara. Unfortunately, I don't have a Nook so I'll have to wait a month. Best of luck with sales.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Thanks Ashlyn! I really appreciate that you stopped by :)

8:53 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

We'll have her back next month when her second book releases so there'll be a handy reminder for our regular readers.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Lady Leigh said...

Fun interview! I loved getting a sense of your voice and humor, Sara. I can't wait to read Heiress!

7:09 PM  
Blogger Sara Ramsey said...

Thanks so much, Leigh! I was happy to get my interviewing feet wet on a blog I love so much :)

7:19 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Penfield, you are the winner of a copy of Sara's debut. Please come back with an email address or twitter addy so she can get you your prize.

8:14 AM  

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