Loretta Chase, fabulous historical romance writer, is one of our favourite authors. Writer of Lord of the Scoundrels (the One Romance to Rule Them All) , Mr Impossible, Your Scandalous Ways amongst many others, her books are constantly praised as some of the best the genre can offer. Her latest novel, Don’t Tempt Me will be released in June 30 and it has been reviewed here.
It is with great pleasure that we present you with : A Chat with Loretta Chase
The Book Smugglers: Thank you for agreeing to have another chat with us: it is always a pleasure to have you around here.
Loretta: Thank you for inviting me. I do like this place!
The Book Smugglers: Don’t Tempt Me is your new book in the Fallen Women series. When you first visited us you talked about how the series came to be and how they would have heroines that have become “fallen”. The first book in the series, Your Scandalous Ways had a courtesan as the heroine. Can you tell us about how the heroine in Don’t Tempt Me is a fallen woman?
Loretta: I think that “fallen” essentially means that one has sunk in Society’s esteem. For women, this could happen very easily, and it was all about sex. A fallen woman’s had sex or is believed to have sex in violation of social rules. My heroine Zoe’s been in a Cairo harem for twelve years. (Here’s English Society’s idea of a Harem:
People assume she’s been doing all kinds of kinky things and participating in orgies. This is OK for guys but not OK for unmarried English ladies. Zoe was married–but since she was a second wife, does that count? The British public finds it all thrilling, and naturally, the media’s having a field day. The caricaturists have filled the print shop windows with titillating pictures .
These windows are the counterparts of the magazines we see at the supermarket checkout, and Zoe’s situation is like one of today’s celebrity scandals. In her time, though, a lady would shun notoriety. Ladies could get away with a good deal, but if they made public spectacles of themselves they were in disgrace, and an upper class woman who’s socially disgraced is a pariah. It’s difficult these days to grasp just how grim a situation this could be. As annoying as Zoe’s sisters are, their bleak appraisal of her position is on target. Of course, like my other heroines, Zoe’s going to fight back.
The Book Smugglers: Most of your heroines are women of a certain experience (even if not necessarily sexual) but you seem to be taking that idea that women “can” a step further with this new series. How was the reception so far to this concept?
Loretta: All of my story ideas have to pass muster with my agent and my editor. If they don’t shriek, “Have you lost your mind?” then I figure I’m good to go. So far there’s been no shrieking. As I’ve mentioned before, I never did know what the rules of romance were–apart from Love Conquers All, so I have no clue when/if I’m breaking them. It’s purely a matter of what’s captured my imagination at the time. For instance, reading Harriette Wilson’s biography inspired me to explore the Unrepentant Whore. Reading about harems got me thinking about that claustrophobic world and the effect it would have on a European girl’s psyche. And of course I thought about how English Society would react to a Harem Girl, and immediately saw the comic potential. As to how these kinds of heroines are received: So far so good. Naturally there will be readers who don’t like it, but no author can please every single reader. All we can do is our best.
The Book Smugglers:Your heroine , Zoe , has spent a few years in a harem. Did you end up having to do a lot of research on the subject?
Loretta: Definitely. I love research. Learning new things feeds my imagination. I learned a lot about harems while researching Mr Impossible. Starting out, then, I knew that the harem of an important man like my imaginary Yusri Pasha would be more like a sultan’s harem than that of the average well-off Egyptian. The latter was much smaller (the word, after all, simply refers to the women of a household), and the women weren’t as closely confined. Zoe had to be in a large, strictly guarded harem, or she would have escaped right away. Such harems did exist throughout the Ottoman Empire. Pashas would have hundreds of women, even in small countries like Albania. It was all about power and status, of course. And it wasn’t as much fun as some would think–even for the pasha or sultan. There’s a complicated hierarchy, both in terms of wives and concubines as well as in terms of the staff. It’s the ideal incubator for jealousy, intrigue, and treachery. And Mr. Powerful ends up having to bed his women according to a strict schedule–the only practical approach in a large harem. BTW, if anyone’s wondering, Zoe’s story isn’t as farfetched as you might think. Aimee DeBucq de Rivery , a cousin of Josephine de Beauharnais (Napoleon’s first wife) was kidnapped and ended up in a harem. She was 21 at the time, fresh out of convent school.
The Book Smugglers: Similarly, there is great insight into the day to day life in Regency England especially because Zoe, having being basically brought up in a very different society allowed for an “outsider” look that carried a lot of criticism for some of the rules. This added a degree of humour as Zoe attempted to conform – was that something that you set out to do when you started writing the story?
Loretta: Definitely. As you may have noticed, my stories tend to avoid the London Season. It’s not easy to make that endlessly worked-over ground feel fresh. But an outsider will have a fresh outlook, and Zoe’s definitely an outsider. For twelve years, during a crucial stage of development, this upper class English girl has been absorbing a culture completely unlike her native one, The harem world is all about sex. This is what the women are for; it’s mainly what they think and talk about. The goal is to be a favorite, and the competition is formidable–hundreds of beautiful women, all of them working on their seduction skills. Because it’s a Middle Eastern culture as well as an estrogen-overloaded environment, the atmosphere is emotionally supercharged. Zoe comes home to a world where feelings and sex tend to be hidden. This culture shock allows me to bring up some interesting details that the average aristocrat doesn’t pay attention to, as well as show English Society’s comic side, its weirdness and irrationality. And certainly Zoe needs to have a unique perspective, to be different and funny, to enchant my profoundly jaded duke.
The Book Smugglers – at the same time that there is criticism there is also admiration and Zoe’s need to be accepted by society. I particularly like that scene in the Drawing Room, where debutantes were shown to Her Majesty. Is that based in your research?
Loretta: It’s based on first-hand accounts and a nice collection of illustrations I acquired. Here is one:
So often in books we refer to the debut or coming-out, but rarely take the readers through the presentation–with good reason. Having someone make a slow progress in an immense crush of people simply in order to curtsey to the Queen is not exactly page-turning material. But since this event is going to make or break Zoe, it’s a major scene. I fussed over every detail because she’s an outsider, and will notice what insiders take for granted. Happily, I found an excellent description of this precise Drawing Room, so all I had to do was decide how Zoe would view it and where she’d fit in the proceedings and how she’d behave. The scene’s funny but it’s also emotional–partly because so much is at stake for her and partly because the Royal Family still hasn’t fully recovered from the loss of a loved one. The hoops are important, too. People tend to have the wrong (i.e., Victorian) mental picture of hoops as well as corsets. I studied everything I could get my hands on. I wanted not only to get it right but to use the hoops–and I think I milked that costume element for all it was worth. (Ana’s note: definitely one of the best scenes in the book.)
This Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition (and book)
deals with an earlier time period, but provided a good sense of the hoop and its comical and seductive possibilities.
The Book Smugglers: Can I just say how much I loved Lucien? The whole Mental Cupboard thing, the need of not to “ wear expression”, his code of honour, his own story arc of accepting responsibility, it was all amazing. I don’t think this is really a question though, but feel free to talk about Lucien!
Loretta: You may say it all you like, because I fell desperately in love with my lazy duke from the moment he entered the morning room of White’s. In developing his character, I was thinking about how a young man reacts and who he becomes as a result of a series of painful experiences. And then how he reacts when someone he thought was dead suddenly crashes back into his life. Of course, since my books aren’t angst-focused, he had to be funny. Yet we need to know there’s something under the jaded, witty aristocrat’s cool facade. So it was important to juxtapose the dry wit and the “I don’t care” attitude with the mental cupboard. Then there are his two simple rules, his code of honor. The implication is that he’s too lazy for more than two rules; the reality is, those two rules tell you who he is at heart, and why he’s worth loving. It also helps explains how he is eventually able to fully accept the position that cost him so much and that he never wanted. Still, I hope it’s clear that only someone like Zoe could aggravate him into doing this.
The Book Smugglers: Don’t Tempt Me is on top of being a Fallen Woman story is also a combination of two of my favourite tropes: the Reformed Rake story and the Childhood Sweethearts. Do you have any favourites tropes yourself: what sort of stories are closer to your heart?
Loretta: I love Childhood Sweethearts. I love the past that comes back to haunt. It seems that most of my stories deal with people coming to terms with the past in some way. Second chance stories of all kinds are favorites. As you know, I’m a big fan of do-overs, and have more than once rewritten some element of a Victorian novel.
The Book Smugglers: Let’s talk about inspiration and influences!
What inspired you to become a romance writer – and why historical romance particularly?
Loretta: What inspired me was the need to write, preferably for pay. I’d been writing professionally, for video, for some time when my husband posed the horrific question, “Don’t you want to write a book?” Well, yes, I did, and had, but my early efforts went nowhere, and I thought that was just a dream, completely impractical. But he kept pushing, and so I did a rethink. I knew I was capable of writing a novel–had I not written many thousand pages of one?–but incapable of finishing it unless I had some sort of structure. Genre fiction offered structure. I chose romance because I’ve always been partial to love stories and usually felt that they didn’t get enough attention in the Great Literature I’d read. Romance gave it plenty of attention. I chose historical romance because I love social history and doing research and think of it as a way to travel in time.
Who are your greatest influences or favourite authors?
Loretta: The greatest influence is Charles Dickens. He’s the superstar in a large group of English writers I love, especially the writers with a sense of humor. I simply responded, on a gut level, to his voice, and I learned just about everything from him: characterization, dialogue, narrative. It’s so easy to see what he does, how he does it. Easy to see, impossible to do: He was a genius, and he had his own peculiar view of the world.
But he taught me what the tools were and showed me how to use them. Other writers with a sense of humor would include the obvious ones like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse, and the less obvious, like George Eliot, with her wry view of human nature. The list is much longer than this: I’ve been a devoted reader all my life, and a great many authors have influenced and inspired me.
The Book Smugglers – Are you working on the next book already – what comes next in the Fallen Women series?
Loretta: I’m working on another Fallen Woman book that’s also a Carsington book (two in one!–Again!) I finally felt ready to move into the early 1830s to tell the story of Peregrine and Olivia, who were adolescents in Lord Perfect. (Ana’s note: squeeeeeeee)
The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our dear significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read—hence, we have resorted to ‘smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Loretta: Yes, I am a smuggler–even through books are my business! But let’s just say that there’s some Pot Calls Kettle Black going on in my household, as I don’t doubt is the case in others’.
That’s it from us and Loretta this time, gentle readers. A huge thank you to Loretta for, if I may so, an utterly fascinating chat (the bit about Josephine’s cousin was surprising, to say the least) . But enough with the fan girl stuff and on with the giveaway:
We have one copy of Don’t Tempt Me to giveaway to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment on this post by Saturday 27th June. Contest open to US and Canada residents only. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on Sunday 28th. Good luck!