Anne, you’ve been on quite a roll lately! At the August Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane, you were the essential member of the all day workshop on storytelling we did together (I’d have been helpless without your teacher skills); you were presented with the organization’s service award for the year: and then you won the Ruby award (RWAust’s RITA) for best long romance of 2008 for The Stolen Princess, first in your Devil Riders Regency historical series.
Then while you were recovering from the conference, word arrived that Library Journal had given you a starred review for your new September release, To Catch a Bride. Way to go! Among other things, LJ said:
“English Regency society and the back streets of early 19th-century Cairo spring to vibrant life in this enthralling and thought-provoking tale of survival, secrets, and social class. VERDICT: Threaded with charm and humor, this action-rich, emotionally compelling story is the third in Gracie's popular "Devil Riders" series. Though it stands on its own, it is sure to entice readers to read the others.”
MJP: Having been fortunate to read the book early, I couldn’t agree more. So, for starters, can you tell us about your Devil Riders series? How did you come up with it, how long will it be, are there any ongoing themes?
AG: Thanks, Mary Jo. I wanted to do a series about four men, friends since school, who'd been at war together. When I discussed it with my editor, she suggested I make all the men younger sons, who not only had to adjust to peacetime, but who had to make their own way in the world. It's strayed a little from that beginning -- as you know, characters tend to have a life of their own once they hit the page. The series was originally supposed to be four books, but it might stretch to more. I don't know yet. My publisher will decide on that. I have no shortage of stories. Or heroes.
As for themes, I don't consciously set out to write books with themes, I just work on characterization and plot. But redemption through love is often a theme that crops up in my work.
MJP: Can you tell us about To Catch a Bride?
AG: It's a story about Rafe, a younger son who grew up estranged from his father and older brother. Now his brother, the Earl of Axbridge, married for ten years but childless, has urged Rafe to marry. It's Rafe's duty to provide the next generation, the son who will eventually inherit the title. (After the Earl, then Rafe dies.)
Rafe agrees, but then discovers his brother has made an unholy bargain with his bride-to-be. So on a whim, he agrees to look for the long-lost granddaughter of Lady Cleeve -- she's missing in Egypt. All he has is this sketch of her, when she was 12.
MJP: I adore exotic settings, and loved that part of TCAB is set in Cairo. The setting seemed very authentic to me. How hard was it to research?
AG: Research is a mix of so many factors. For a start, I had visited Egypt briefly when I was a child, and my father was there as a young man, so I have photos from that time and an echo of sensory details. Mostly I used travellers' diaries from the Regency period and books published about Egypt at that time. And I use maps — I love maps —and images such as engravings and paintings of the period to help me imagine that world. I use a lot of images -- I made a really spectacular collage for this story, but I can't show it because it gives too much of the story away. Here are a couple of images that helped me.
MJP: Were there any Really Cool Facts that turned up in your research, but you couldn’t fit them into the story? If so, now is your chance to tell us about them!
AG: I became really interested in attitudes to the plague. Yes, the plague -- bubonic plague that wiped out half of Europe a few centuries before. It still um... plagued Egypt during Regency times -- I knew there was disease, but I hadn't realized it was the actual plague.
I became fascinated by the factions that had formed around beliefs as to how one caught/prevented it. Some contemporary accounts refer with utter scorn to the ridiculous notions of contagionists, and there were all sorts of mad (to us now) beliefs about how you caught it and how to prevent it. Pretty much everyone, from all factions, was agreed that there was no cure for it, once caught.
I also came up with a Really Cool Cat that I did manage to incorporate into the story. ;) An Egyptian Mau cat - the breed wasn't established as such, but the antecedents of the Mau were there (and Mau is Egyptian for cat) and when I saw this picture, I couldn't resist.
MJP: The hero, Rafe Ramsey, received a well-deserved KISS award from Romantic Times magazine. Was he challenging to write?
AG: Not really. As all good heroes are, he was a bit recalcitrant at times, but once I stopped trying to make him do what he didn't want to do, he moved along just fine. I love writing the sort of hero who thinks he's in perfect control of his life. It's so much fun when he meets the heroine and suddenly his well-ordered world turns upside down. And Rafe is lovely -- he's so cool and elegant and buttoned-down, and yet so protective and honorable.
MJP: The heroine, Ayisha, is a rare handful. Was she a challenge to develop, or did she spring into your mind fully formed?
AG: Pretty much fully formed. I was talking to a friend of mine about Rafe and the kind of heroine who'd bring out the best in him, and she said, he's always cool, and in control. What you need is the sort of girl he's never had to deal with, who doesn't play by his rules. And suddenly Ayisha sprang into life. She's had a tough life, and she's got serious secrets -- the kind of thing that could destroy her. But she has a wonderful zest for life, and she battles to make a good life for herself and those she loves. She's very loyal and loving and she and Rafe are really made for each other -- though neither one of them realizes it at first.
MJP: What’s are you working on now?
AG: I'm writing Nash's story. I'd started the fourth story of the series and realized by the end of the first chapter that this hero wasn't Luke at all, but was Nash. It's a lighter story — Nash is a bit of a bad boy. The way he's shaping up, he's a little bit like Gideon in Perfect Rake. Possibly naughtier. And the heroine keeps bees. Being a beekeeper myself, I've always wanted to write a story with bees in it, but you can't force these things. I was well into this story when I suddenly realized she kept bees.
MJP: Here’s an excerpt which gives a good idea about Rafe and Ayisha:
He felt her body soften under his. Rafe relaxed. The skirmish was over. Miss Cleeve had decided to be sensible.
"Having exchanged compliments, I suppose I should introduce myself. Rafe Ramsey, at your service." He released her and started to sit up.
A mistake. The moment she felt him shift off her, she exploded into action. He wrestled her back down beneath him. In three seconds he had her pinned under him again, only not quite so neatly this time. Lord, but the girl was all bones. And piss and vinegar.
"This is extremely tiresome of you, you know. I mean you no harm."
"You'll break my arm," she growled.
"Probably," he agreed. "If you keep struggling like that. It won't be intentional on my part — "
At that moment a ray of moonlight lit her face. Rafe stared at his prisoner. She was... lovely. Her eyes were rather fine — blue, or green, or somewhere in between — fringed with dark lashes and set at an intriguing angle. Her nose was small and straight, her lips full and lush. And her skin, under the truly amazing amount of dirt, felt soft and smooth.
"My God," he whispered. "What a rare little beauty."
She jerked her head back and biffed him on the nose, hard.
"Oof!" It hurt like the very devil. He had to hand it to the little demon. She didn't give up easily. Without letting go of her wrists, he managed to plant an arm over her head and held it pressed to the floor. His nose ached. His eyes watered.
She gave him a smug look.
"Whoever brought Cleopatra to Rome wrapped in a rug knew his business," he told her with feeling.
The rather fine green eyes narrowed to furious cat-slits.
the full extract is here:
MJP: Any final words about the book?
AG: I had a lot of fun writing this one. I hope people like it. I'm a little worried about readers reactions to the Egyptian setting, which is a fair part of the book. I love the occasional venture into other countries, but I'm told many readers hate foreign settings in books. What do you think? Do you like or dislike unusual settings, and why?
MJP: Anne will be giving away a signed copy of To Catch A Bride to someone who comments on this post by midnight Thursday. Happy reading!