Excitement city! Theresa Romain is visiting my blog today AND she is giving away her latest release To Charm a Naughty Countess to one lucky commenter from the US or Canada! Theresa is an amazing writer. I’m in awe of her. She performs magic on words and stories. When she agreed to visit my blog, I took the opportunity to pick her brilliant brain.
CAN A RECLUSIVE DUKE…
Brilliant but rumored mad, Michael Layward, the impoverished Duke of Wyverne, has no success courting heiresses until widowed Lady Stratton takes up his cause–after first refusing his suit.
WIN LONDON’S MOST POWERFUL COUNTESS?
Caroline Graves, the popular Countess of Stratton, sits alone at the pinnacle of London society and has vowed never to remarry. When Michael–her counterpart in an old scandal–returns to town after a long absence, she finds herself as enthralled with him as ever. As she guides the anxiety-ridden duke through the trials of society, Caroline realizes that she’s lost her heart . But if she gives herself to the only man she’s ever loved, she’ll lose the hard-won independence she prizes above all.
To Charm a Naughty Countess features a socially astute heroine and a logic-driven, socially backwards hero. Yet, as with all your characters, they are completely sympathetic and complex. How did you conceive and develop Caroline and Michael?
Thank you for hosting me today, Susanna! And thanks for your kind words about Caroline and Michael. I’m really glad you enjoyed their story.
To Charm a Naughty Countess is the second book in my Matchmaker trilogy, and Caroline actually appears as a secondary character in the first book (It Takes Two to Tangle). As a popular and wealthy widow, she seems to have everything a woman in Regency society could want. But she didn’t marry for love and she’s never had a real romantic relationship—and in ITTT, there’s one brief scene in her point of view that reveals how lonely she is. Caroline’s character journey is to figure out what will really satisfy her heart and contribute to her sense of worth.
As for Michael’s character, you could describe him in a nutshell as “Caroline’s opposite.” Where she’s socially accomplished but rudderless, Michael has an unshakeable sense of purpose. He’s a duke, and he has dedicated himself to the careful stewardship of his dukedom. But outside of that, when there’s no plan or script or ledger, he has no idea how to act. Social interactions seem like a time-sucking mystery to him.
As the story progresses, though, they prove not to be quite as opposite as they seemed at first. By the end of the story, both Caroline and Michael are stronger than they were at the beginning. And I hope they bring out the best in each other, too.
You write deep novels with less action and more dialogue and inner exploration. How did you plan this novel?
I started with two ideas in mind.
1. Since the first book in the trilogy took place in 1815, the second would take place in 1816. That was known as “The Year Without a Summer,” and I wanted the terrible cold (due to the ash cloud from a huge volcanic eruption) to drive the story.
2. I wanted to write a virgin hero. I hadn’t done that before, and a virgin hero seemed like a good counterpoint to Caroline, who’s had some love affairs.
So you could say first I bashed the hero into a real-life historical event, and then I bashed him into the heroine. The character of Michael was shaped by both of those things, and the plot of the novel—a Pygmalion story in which he hunts for a wealthy bride after the endless winter causes crop failures—arose from there. I guess my plots tend to be driven by characters rather than the other way around. Exploring character is, to me, one of the most interesting things about writing romance.
Your prose is just stunning. Did you always want to be a fiction writer? What other authors do you admire and have influenced your style?
Wow—well, thank you very much! That means a lot, coming from you. (Readers: if you haven’t read Susanna’s novels, grab them. The history is rock-solid and the characters are hilarious.)
Actually, I never expected to be a fiction writer. My older sister liked to write stories as a kid, and since I idolized her I tried writing them too. Blech. I did not enjoy writing at all; there were just no stories I wanted to tell. At the time, I much preferred to read or draw horses.
In college, I got an English degree by taking all of the literature classes and none of the creative writing classes. Nonfiction seemed to be my skill set, and writing NF got me through grad school, into my first post-graduation job, and even my first book. After years of NF, I was a little burned out, so in my spare time I started writing fiction. (Apparently “not writing anymore” was not an option?)
Learning to write fiction was like learning to write, period. I hadn’t expected it to be so different from writing NF, and it took me a long time to figure out my fiction voice. That happened over the course of years—and is probably still happening—as I read a lot, wrote a lot, and revised a lot. All my reading in British literature and history in college definitely influenced me, as did a slew of romance writers ranging from Jane Austen to Julia Quinn.
What was the hardest part in the development of this book? What was the easiest?
The easiest part was the plot. I know, I know: I said usually my characters inform plot, and it is true. But having a specific historical event—the Year Without a Summer—to hook plot details onto really helped shaped the story structure. Halfway through the book, the story shifts from London to Lancashire, and that new setting helped keep the story clicking along in my imagination.
The most difficult part was figuring out Caroline’s attitude toward Michael at the beginning of the story. I must have gone through seventy million drafts (conservative estimate), striking different tones in those first few chapters. Should she be flirtatious? Resentful? Offended? Cavalier? After all, these two have something. In the end, I think she wound up being pretty pragmatic, which is something the oh-so-logical Michael would respect and respond to well.
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Thanks for the great questions, Susanna. Now I have one for readers. The first thing that catches Michael’s eye is Caroline’s social brilliance; the first thing that catches hers is his sense of purpose. (Ok, yes, they each think the other is easy on the eyes, too.) What qualities make you like a character or want to stick with a story? One random commenter will win a copy of To Charm a Naughty Countess! Open to US and Canadian addresses.
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Historical romance author Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. She lives with her family in the Midwest, where she is working on her next book.