Wednesday, April 15, 2009
IMHO welcomes Madeline Hunter!
I hope you had a wonderful Easter and are having a not-too-terrible tax day (and if you haven’t filed yet, today’s the day to do it, folks). To take your mind off it all, let’s welcome our next guest host here at IMHO.
Anyone who loves historical romance recognizes the name Madeline Hunter. Madeline’s first romance was published in June, 2000, and she received the award for Waldenbooks Bestselling Debut Author that year. Since then she has seen seventeen historical romances and one novella published. Over four million copies of her books are in print in the US and her books have been translated into nine languages. She is a two-time RITA winner and six-time finalist. Sixteen of her books have been on the USA Today bestseller list, and she has had titles on the NY Times print list, Publishers Weekly list, and the Waldenbooks paperback fiction list. She has received two starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, and Romantic Times has awarded fourteen of her books 4 ½ stars.
On a personal note, Madeline’s By Arrangement series inspired me to write outside-the-box historical romance, so you can imagine how excited I am to welcome her here today. Madeline will place an autographed copy of her newest release, The Sins of Lord Easterbrook, in the “COFFEE, CHOCOLATE & ROMANCE” gift basket. She will be joining us as she is able to respond to comments later in the day.
IMHO: Madeline, please tell us about the book your readers almost didn’t read.
MH: Thanks, TJ. In my case, most of the books that almost did not get written actually did not get written. For example, I once had this cool idea for a book set in medieval Lithuania. While my agent did not actually discourage that setting, her long pauses during our conversation told me what she was really thinking. Lithuania? Not even Russia? She wants to set a book in Lithuania! (Just change the setting, a friend said. I tried. It didn’t work. It usually doesn’t.)
I have been blessed with editors who were open-minded. When I pitched By Design, my editor did not blink at the fact the hero was a stone mason and not a knight. No one at my publisher sent back word that I should not leave England for most of Lessons of Desire. In fact, I have been the one to tell them to go easy on the back cover copy in a few cases----the one to say that at point of sale, it might not be wise to highlight the way a book bends the expectations.
One book almost did not get written, however. At least not the way I finally wrote it. In this case, the failure of nerve would have been mine alone, though.
As I prepared to start The Romantic, and was working out the plot, I had some choices to make.
This was the last of the Seducer series. Julian Hampton was one of those secondary characters that readers wrote to me about from the start, asking for his story. I knew that I was going to pair him with Penelope, the older sister in the Duclairc story.
Pen had a story thread winding through all of the books that had to be resolved. In the first book she had separated from her husband, an earl. The tensions over that, the reasons and the repercussions of the separation, had been showing up for the fifteen years of the series. I could not end the series without settling the matter and, in my opinion, letting poor Pen find happiness.
By the time I got to Book Five, I knew Julian Hampton was the man for Pen. As family solicitor, he had helped negotiate that separation. The problem was this---Pen was still married, and she could not get a divorce in her historical time and place.
What to do? The easy answer was kill off the evil earl between book 4 and book 5. I even worked up a story based on that assumption.
It felt like a cheat. That is the only way to explain it. I had dangled this woman’s entrapment in a horrible marriage all through the series, and to resolve it off stage just seemed wrong. However, the alternative that I wanted would break a taboo in romance novels. In order for the story to be about how Pen gets free of the earl, and how Julian protects her, Pen was probably going to commit adultery.
I went with the story that, in my opinion, had to be written.
I tried to avoid the adultery, but the time came when in all plausibility I could not keep these two apart. The story reached a moment when I knew that in reality, both our reality and theirs, two people in their relationship would become lovers.
I did not write that scene lightly. I don’t have a lot of patience with most so-called rules, but I respect power of the few rules that really exist. I called my editor and told her where it was going. She was less concerned than I was, but I knew that the sales of this book were going to take a hit.
When it was published, the reaction was not as bad as I expected. I did receive some scathing letters about this aspect of the story and a few Amazon reviews that curled my hair. And the book, of which I am very proud, had one of my lowest print runs. However, most readers cut me some slack in breaking this rule, and the actual sales did not get hurt as much as I anticipated.
I learned a few lessons from this. The first is that if a writer’s gut says a story angle is a cheat, it probably is. The second is that if we write stories that are unusual, we just need to be realistic about their receptions. But the third is that the readership is probably more flexible than anyone gives it credit for being.
IMHO: Thanks for telling us the story behind The Romantic. I think you have a point that going against reader expectations can be a risky choice, but when the story is well-written, readers can forgive a lot! I found the choices you made in The Romantic daring but realistic in context, and I really enjoyed the book. And frankly, I probably would have loved reading a book set in Lithuania, too!
Now, IMHO readers, what do you think? Do you sometimes like to read romances that take risks? Or are there some lines you think shouldn’t be crossed, no matter what? Leave a comment for Madeline, and remember that you need to leave comments for at least two authors throughout the month (more comments equals a greater chance of winning) to be eligible to win the gift basket with signed books by Carrie Lofty, Madeline Hunter, Anna Louise Lucia, Emily Bryan, and me, TJ Bennett, as well as the $25 gift certificate to See’s Candy and one pound of coffee beans to get your buzz on. So, start commenting!