This particular interview is on the occasion of your book Lady Beware being released, so we’ll start there. I’ve read the story and can certify that it's a roaring good read, with a hero who is perhaps your darkest and most tormented. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the story?
JB: I keep meaning to keep a diary of the genesis of a book, but somehow I’m part way into them before I remember. If I remember correctly, I was playing with a story for Thea as I was finishing To Rescue A Rogue. (That features her brother, Lord Darius Debenham.) A scene came to me of her meeting a mysterious, threatening stranger in the private parts of her home during a ball. It was a vignette, but I hadn't the slightest idea what was going on.
At the same time, I was in the final stretches of To Rescue a Rogue and had a military officer turn up to offer proof that Dare hadn’t fled the fighting at Waterloo. I wasn't happy with a deus ex machina, but that seemed to be how it was shaping up – until the walk-on military officer gave off vibes, and I realized he knew Dare and had issues with him. And somehow, it all spun out from there.
That's what writing by the flying into the mist madness means, folks! It’s always exciting when a character becomes instantly vivid and assertive, but I had all sorts of problems, starting with Lord Darien and Lord Darius in the same book. Come on! I tried to persuade Darien that wasn't really his name, but he’s not the most persuadable person, as Thea finds out. Fortunately Dare's soon off-stage, so it's not too silly.
But it was clear that the man in the corridor was Darien, and it all began to take on a life of its own. For example, I didn't expect the instant sparks between Thea and Darien. I thought she was much more reserved. I was angling toward a forced marriage, but she did the, "You've got to be joking!" and I rolled my eyes and went with it. It was pretty well like that all the way through the book.
MJP: Lady Beware is the 14th book in your long running Company of Rogues Regency historical series. Ten are about Rogues proper, and other stories are about friends and connections. (And there's a novella, too! Here's more information: http://www.jobev.com/booklist.html ) Will you tell us the premise of the series, and how it grew?
JB: Slowly.*G* I wrote the first draft (my title then was A Regency Rape, which tells you how much I knew) in 1977. I created the Company of Rogues (then the Harrow Band) because Nicholas needed friends, but I already had the idea of doing spin-off stories.
Most of the Rogues were in place then, except Lucien, Marquess of Arden. I created him separately around 1989 when I wanted to try my hand at a harder, more physical sort of hero. When I dug out the old Regency Rape, I realized I could add him to the Rogues, and I ended up selling the two books together. My titles then were The Delaney Bride and The Pride of the de Vaux. Better, but I still didn't get it about titles.*G* They ended up, of course, as An Arranged Marriage and An Unwilling Bride.
These days, with the popularity of series books coming out close together, it probably does seem strange, but in the early nineties, it didn’t seem so to me. Nor did moving between different periods; I was interleaving Rogues books with medievals and the Georgian Mallorens. I'm very grateful to my readers for their patience.
The length of time and the number of books has been a very special experience, creating a deep relationship with these men, especially the original Rogues. After all, Nicholas, Lucien, and the ones in An Arranged Marriage have been alive in my brain for thirty years, even though their stories have only spread over three years from 1814 to 1817.
MJP: You and I were first published at almost exactly the same time, and we were both drawn to writing series from the beginning, but I cut my Fallen Angels trilogy off at seven books because I felt longer would get out of hand. <g> How do you keep track of so many characters and not clog the stories with them?
JB: I don’t include them all in every book, because that would become ridiculous, I think. And they do have lives to live. They can't all be in Melton hunting, or in London for the season, or in Ireland, Dorset, or especially Canada. Sometimes readers complain that they haven't heard what's happening to so-and-so, and I do try to slip in a bit of gossip now and then, but I try to let reality trump.
I enjoy bringing in whichever seem to have true roles to play, however, and then we see how their lives are going, and also how they've changed. We’ve seen them all go through major life events and some serious challenges. They've married, taken up new responsibilities, had or acquired children. Even more interesting to me has been the way relationships between them have shifted as a result.
Also, of course, an equal number of women have joined the Company of Rogues, becoming full members, of course. No sexual inequality allowed. They've brought their own characters and expertise, such as Susan's familiarity with smugglers, and Blanche's with the seamy side of life.
The trouble is, the Rogues and the Mallorens have spoiled me for writing simply one-offs or even shorter series. I want worlds – big, complex, ever-changing worlds with large, interlocked casts. And just at a time when some readers are getting fed up with series, and are not willing to wait a decade or two for them to spin out. (Quite reasonably, I must say, if I put my reader hat on.)
MJP: How do you keep all the details straight?
JB: I keep thinking computers are made for a task like this, but I haven’t found them to be much use yet. I've tried various databases, but somehow they don't sync with the way my mind works, and still, the human brain can do things that computers can't, so that's the key element. I have put all the principal characters into a genealogy program to try to keep track of the babies and known relatives.
I started with file cards and now I have a massive three-ring binder, but there are so many scraps of information that don't fit neatly into any one place, so I stuff them somewhere and hope. Then there are the things I never knew I'd want to know. How was I supposed to realize ten years ago that the name of the neighbour’s dog would be important? (That’s a made-up example, just in case anyone’s mentally searching.)
In truth, some of my readers are probably clearer about some details than I am. I had an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from a reader who’d just discovered me and read all the Rogues in order, one after the other.
MJP: What conclusions have you reached about writing long series?
JB: That it’s the ideal way to go if an author enjoys world building, but daunting if one thinks about it. (But then so is writing a novel. It took me years to get the guts to sit down and start work on something that might not be finished for a year.) Even just writing a story for each Rogue meant ten novels (though in the end I didn’t write one about Hal, but wove his story in with the rest.) Ten novels is a life’s work to some authors. So I'm not sure anyone could or should set out to do it.
It was great to move into the post-Rogues phase, to not have threads to tie up anymore. Even though there are Rogues in Lady Beware and a Rogue connection, all the pivotal events rise from Darien's family and history. That was writerly fun.
MJP: You also have a much loved Georgian series about the Malloren family, which is headed by the dark and irresistibly sexy Marquess of Rothgar. After the Mallorens were married off, you wrote two connected books, Winter Fire and A Most Unsuitable Man. Will you be doing more stories in that world?
JB: Talking of writerly fun, that's what I’m working on now. :)
The MIP (Manuscript, Mess, and/or Masterpiece In Progress) starts from scratch, which is fun when most of my recent stories have been building on others. Thus far has the young, rakish Earl of Huntersdown is helping the mysterious Sister Immaculata from Italy (but is she really a nun?) by giving her a lift through northern France toward England. Then there's a thunderstorm and creepy peasant women, and that's just the beginning of their problems. Wench Susan Scott tagged this story, “The rake on the make, and the nun on the run.” *G*
MJP: What are the differences you find between writing Regencies and Georgians?
JB: Oh, lots. Any change of period changes everything, even if only in subtle ways. The two generations between the 1760s and the 1810s cover the developments of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the Enlightenment and then the closing in as a reaction to the American and French Revolutions. These things had powerful effects on people’s thoughts, values, and morality.
Changes in costume and travel were radical and there was even a move from a stylized aristocratic culture which was almost theatrical in its etiquette to something we see as much more “natural,” though in fact it was often structured just as much.
All this affects the tone of a novel and also the logistics of the plot. I can’t have people racing around in 1760 as they could in 1816. As an example, my first doodles of the rake/nun book (which had neither a rake nor a nun) were Regency and set in England. I was having a lot of trouble finding a rational route that would be slow, chancy, and likely to land them in trouble.
As soon as I thought of it being a Georgian, however, it was easy. Nearly every road in England was slow, chancy, and likely to land them in trouble. Then I put them in France, which makes everything even more unpredictable.
Though the Regency wasn’t nearly as pure and prissy as some people like to think, the Georgian was much more disorderly, racy, and in some ways quite amoral. This makes sexual adventures more plausible, because society truly was less censorious.
The other major difference is that in 1760 the royal Court was still central to the lives of the aristocracy. One simply can’t have characters ignoring it, especially if they’re in London. (And if not, why not? For part of the year, at least.) The king was a person of considerable power still.
By the Regency, the king’s insanity had pretty well killed the Court and though the Regent assumed many of the royal functions, he couldn’t create the same sort of aura. Society spun off into a social whirl largely apart from royalty and rigid court formality.
In Lady Beware I had fun using that social whirl. I don't always use a lot of Regency Society in my books, in part because it's so easy to fall into a rut of cliches, but as Darien's purpose is to be accepted by the ton during the Season, that was the setting. I romped merrily through balls, routs, Almack's, theatres, and parks, and included some manly stuff such as Jackson's, Tatt's, and horse races. I even remembered to mention that Darien got the royal nod, because that was still important. Can't ignore court entirely.
I tried to get them to an Opera House masquerade, as described in Pierce Egan's Life in London, but again Thea put her foot down. She's one tough chick in her own well-bred, daughter of a duke, way.
That's when I remembered Lady Harroving's masquerade. In my first book, Jane and Lord Wraybourne have adventures at his aunt, Lady Harroving's risque masquerade ball. I'd already used the now Lord and Lady Wraybourne in an earlier scene, so I gleefully dragged out this, too. It worked just as well, and was much more believable. Much though I'd have enjoyed it, Thea Debenham was not going to sneak out of her house to attend a thoroughly scandalous event. As I said, I love it when characters truly come to life. And I loved what we learned about her parents during the approved preparations for her to attend a masquerade.
I just came across this painting of a young Regency hussar officer. As Darien
was in the hussars and mentions the ridiculously ornate uniform, I thought you
might enjoy it. And that Michael Bartlett is not a bad looking fellow, either!
Could almost be Canem Cave at about eighteen... But no, he's too unshadowed. In
an alternate dimension, perhaps.
I hope everyone's going to have as much fun with Lady Beware as I had writing it.
Jo, thanks so much for sharing your writing process, and all those delicious little historical tidbits! I hope other readers enjoy Lady Beware as much as I did.