It must be pretty clear by now how much I love Loretta Chase’s books and how she figures very highly in my favorite writers list. We are talking real fan girl here. So, it should come as no surprise to you when I say that when Loretta replied to the email I sent her, praising her work right after I read and loved The Lion’s Daughter, I stared numbly at the computer screen for a good 5 minutes. And when I created the courage to ask her for an interview and she said yes? I was incoherent for 3 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. No kidding.
So here we go ladies and gentlemen, a chat with the one and only Loretta Chase:
Loretta: Thank you for inviting me. I’m delighted to be here. And yes, this time of year is extremely hectic but that’s mainly because it requires me to do something out of my normal routine and I disorganize and distract easily. Most of the time, my life is very boring: research and write today, research and write tomorrow, research and write the next day. Or for an exciting change of pace, go to a bookstore or library for more research material. When a book comes out, things get lively: Real human beings want to talk to me!
Book Smugglers: Your Scandalous Ways is your new release and it it’s the story of Courtesan Francesca Bonnard and James Cordier, an English spy. Can you tell us more about the story and how it came to be?
Loretta: The story, in a nutshell: James Cordier, my half Italian 007 of 1820, is fed up with the spy business. But before he can go back to England and try to have a normal life, His Majesty’s top secret agent gets one last mission: He must relieve Europe’s most expensive and exclusive courtesan of a packet of letters. He deems the assignment beneath him. Any beginner secret agent man could get some letters from a girl, he thinks. But Francesca Bonnard isn’t just any girl. She’s smart, sexy, and brilliant at manipulating men. The jewels adorning her beautiful body announce that she, too, is #1 in her profession. In short, James meets his match, and the world’s lamest assignment turns into the toughest and trickiest of his career.
Some of my books come from a deeply hidden place in my psyche. This one came from the local multiplex cinema. The James Bond movie Casino Royale gave me the idea for an early 19th C secret agent. It also inspired the setting.
Book Smugglers: I fell in love with both James and Francesca and how they were both jaded, flawed individuals. I specially liked that you made Francesca a very wealthy courtesan and unlikely many courtesans in romance novels, she is an unrepentant one with a lot of joie de vivre. In fact, one of the reasons why James is so attracted to her is because she is a lot of FUN: she fully embraces who she is. What made you take this sort of angle?
Loretta: A number of factors contributed to Francesca’s character. When I thought of creating a courtesan heroine, the first thing that came into my mind was the aria “Sempre libre”–“Always free”–from the opera La Traviata.
Book Smugglers: The book is set in Venice and having been there before, I was amazed at the detailed descriptions of streets, canals and buildings – it truly transported me back. The same goes for your descriptions of Egypt in Mr Impossible. The setting seems to be very important in your books – be it Paris, Venice, Egypt or Albania. Have you been physically to some of these locations to soak up culture, or is it through love of the cities through books/history?
Loretta: Thank you! Since I’ve been to neither Venice nor Egypt, that’s quite a compliment. Though I have traveled in Albania (many years ago) and in the UK, I rely primarily on books and cyberspace. Books have always transported me to other places and times, so history books, old travel accounts, memoirs, and so on, are as entertaining and fascinating to me as any wonderful piece of fiction. So I want to convey this feeling to readers–of history as another world, not a collection of dry facts, dates, and names. I try to make the setting not call attention to itself but simply be there, so that the reader is living, for the time of the story, in that particular time and place.
Book Smugglers: Your Scandalous Ways is the first in a new series called Fallen Women – can you tell us a bit more about the concept behind the series and what have you planned for after Your Scandalous Ways?
Loretta: Actually, it was my agent who gave me the idea. She pointed out that so many of my heroines are women of experience, though not all are sexually experienced. The idea of tackling fallen women really appealed to my longstanding desire to give history a do-over. There were so many different ways for women to become “fallen.” They were ostracized for having a love affair or bearing a child out of wedlock or being divorced–or even if people merely suspected they’d misbehaved. Meanwhile, of course, men who did the same things didn’t get into trouble. Well, that’s not fair. So Loretta, Justice Crusader, must fix it. The series actually started in the last book (so far) of the Carsington brothers series, Not Quite a Lady. In these stories, I’m responding to the Victorians’–and later works’–tragic ends for less-than-pure women. Each of the ways to be “fallen” becomes a starting point for a new story, a new heroine–and, of course, the man who’ll prove himself truly worthy of her love.
Book Smugglers: I am a “Hero” type of reader i.e. I usually fall in love with the heroes rather than the heroines but the opposite happens when I read your books: Your heroines are so spirited, competent, intelligent and independent that it’s easy for me to relate to them. Do you set out to write them with a purpose or do they spring to life out of their own accord?
Loretta: That is quite a compliment. Thank you! The matter of the heroine is a chicken-and-egg kind of question for me. When I first started writing romances, I knew I wanted to replace the passive or victimized women of the Victorian novels I loved with women who took charge of their lives and would not let the male-dominated culture rule them. But those are the kinds of women who spring to life in my psyche anyway. Here’s the way I see it: Romance demands a powerful, larger-than-life hero. I simply want to create a woman worthy of him. So she needs to be intelligent, savvy, determined, resilient, and so on. This often means she needs to have experiences or abilities that the average lady of the time might not have. Or–as in Francesca’s case–she’ll have survived and triumphed over the kind of personal catastrophe that would destroy other women. Or she fights back–overtly or via manipulation–in situations where other women became victims.
Book Smugglers: One of the things I love about your books is the special attention you give to the historical background – be it Canal building in 19th century England, a discussion of medieval Icons or Albanian nobility. How do you usually build your stories – do you come up with the characters first and then work out the setting and the time period or it is the other way around?
Loretta: My mind isn’t linear, so the creation process is a tangle. A nice word for this is “organic.” But really, it’s just a mess. A setting comes to mind, and I start wondering what kind of people would be there and why. But simultaneously I’ve got character ideas in my head and am wondering where they need to be, what environment will challenge them. So character and setting feed each other. And for me, the setting is a character. Characters have to interact with it. In some ways, the setting is the matchmaker and stage manager, bringing together people whose paths might not otherwise cross. Rupert and Daphne of Mr Impossible, for instance, would never meet at Almack’s, and if she were not in Egypt, facing all those physical challenges, she’d never realize she’s not just brainy but incredibly brave, while Rupert would never have the opportunity to show what he’s capable of. Physical hardship, being cut off from the familiar world–these elements are great for bringing a couple together and forcing them to stay together. The same goes for a canal, a valuable icon, or a rare papyrus.
Loretta: I used to be more of a junk collector than I am now. I think my idea for the antiques and curiosities shop in Lord of Scoundrels came partly from Dickens and partly from the dimly lit little shops I used to haunt, starting in high school. I definitely study the various items, just as I do the settings, though I can’t say what inspires me to start researching, say, Russian icons. I can say that it’s all based on real stuff: the lewd timepiece in Lord of Scoundrels; Francesca’s jewelry, the various artifacts in Daphne’s house and the things she and Rupert stumble over in their travels up the Nile. And yes, I even studied the various attempts to decode the Rosetta Stone, so that I could put Daphne just a step or two ahead of everyone else at the time, in her grasp of some essentials of hieroglyphic writing. In short, while she beats me in the brains department, I win the nerd prize.
Loretta: There’s no way I can choose a top 5. Maybe a top 100. I’d have to include all of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Even their weaker works contain jewels. My keeper shelves include some traditional Regency gems (The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton, His Lordship’s Mistress by Joan Wolf, The Ice Queen by Elizabeth Hewitt), Eva Ibbotson’s A Countess Below Stairs, a couple of LaVyrle Spencer’s books–mainly the later, bigger books–and contemporary romances by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie. The list is mainly oldies for a reason: As time has passed, I’ve been reading fewer and fewer books in my own genre. This is because I can no longer read them like a normal person. I get all analytical–and no, I can’t turn that off–and it’s like grading papers instead of reading. Even the A+ work gets over-analyzed, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. This is one of the drawbacks of working in the same genre for so many years. But having an excuse to buy gigantic picture books of Georgian jewelry or Venetian palazzi, for instance, is some compensation.
Loretta Chase holds a B.A. from Clark University, where she majored in English and minored unofficially in visual art. Her past lives include clerical, administrative, and part-time teaching at Clark and a Dickensian six-month experience as a meter maid. In the course of moonlighting as a corporate video scriptwriter, she fell under the spell of a producer who lured her into writing novels…and marrying him. The union has resulted in more than a dozen books and a number of awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Rita award. You can talk to Loretta via her email address Author@LorettaChase.com, visit her website at www.LorettaChase.com, and blog with her and six other authors at WordWenches.com.
And now, to close our Long Weekend with Loretta Chase event, we have three copies of Your Scandalous Ways to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment by Sunday midnight . We will announce the lucky winners on Monday. Good Luck!