Pride and Prejudice and Fetishes

Pride and Prejudice:Hidden Lusts is the newest rewrite of a classic, from the pen of Mitzi Szereto. While other re-imaginings walk the line between genres and audiences, this book does not. It may seem obvious to some, but I want it to be understood at the forefront: this is erotica. It's a book more suited to between the bed sheets than between Tolstoy and Bradbury. Allow me to illustrate:

"A lively and sociable young woman, she had no trouble in keeping them all amused, often taking them three at a time, since she saw no point in possessing three openings if they could not all be applied to at once. Wearing only her short stays, she took to the bed with a trio of gentleman, one lying beneath her, another on top, and still another positioned at her face, their eager members conveniently located within their opening of choice."

As illustrated by the excerpt, this is not the soft-core porn that one would expect to be associated with Austen. There’s anal sex, S&M, a range of fetishes and a whole lot of blow jobs. Which is fine if that’s your thing. But I think this book is appealing to the wrong crowd without knowing it. Instead of a demure, loosely bound woman on the cover there should be a girl bending over baring her ass with a Regency era gown on. That would set the correct expectation.

There. Now diehard fans of the classic Austen work will know what to expect and perhaps arrive at the page better prepared. And here is where the kernel of discontent is found. The great divide between readers on whether this is the brilliant retelling of a classic or full-on explicit abuse of well-loved characters. It is my personal opinion that Austen would not be rolling over in her grave over Szereto's novel. In fact, she might laugh a little.

Szereto fleshed out her character's sexual proclivities in a manner which complimented their appearance in the original work. But it is there the similarities between the works end. While the original touches on societal, educational and feminist issues in a way that is very tongue-in-cheek, this version is mostly tongue-in-ass.

My advice: if you are a regular reader of erotica, you will love the dirty, witty jaunt through a classic. If you are a lover of classics, read some hard-core erotica as homework first or brace yourself. If you don't want to watch Austen's characters get sodomized (and like it) than don't pick up Pride and Prejudice:Hidden Lusts. This book is meant for the more adventurous spirit.

Mitzi Szereto Interview

Mitzi Szereto discusses her latest erotic novel Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, sci-fi erotica and why she left the U.S. for the U.K.

What would you tell fans of the original who are curious about Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts?

I would tell them that if they’re expecting just another sexed-up version of Jane Austen, they’re in for a big surprise. Oh, there’s definitely plenty of sex to be found, but the book offers far more than that. It’s historical parody as well as satire – and Jane Austen was definitely a satirist, so I’m definitely being true to her spirit. With characters such as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Caroline Bingley, you can’t tell me Austen wasn’t poking fun at society. Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts is also a romance, in that there are those in my version who love greatly and with passion (and not necessarily the ones you expect either). It’s pretty much got it all: Regency prose, sexual mayhem, and a whole lot of fun. In a nutshell, if you want a book that’s different and doesn’t fit the mold, this is definitely it!

How is reinventing classics such as Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts and In Sleeping Beauty's Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales different than creating your own setting and characters?

To be honest, I do a lot of creating, despite these works being “pre-existing.” Taking plots and characters and making something new out of them is just as much work as creating something from scratch. For me, it was important to do justice to the original works, in that I wanted them to still be recognizable to the reader, yet be something fresh and new as well. It’s not as easy as some might think. In fact, it can be even more difficult, especially when you’re dealing with material that’s very well-known to people. In the case of Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, I wanted to turn readers’ expectations completely topsy-turvy and give them something they never expected or imagined. Same too, for In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed.

The character's sexual proclivities matched Austen's original presentation very well. Were they strongly inspired by Austen's view or did their erotic personalities change as you wrote them?

They were definitely inspired by Austen’s view. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, were she alive today, she’d have taken her characters a bit further in this realm – although perhaps not as far as I have! There seems to be this assumption by hardcore Jane-ites and literary purists that Jane Austen was some po-faced virginal spinster who’s probably turning in her grave at my “sacrilegious” re-interpretation of her work. I find this interesting, if not downright laughable. Have these people actually read Pride and Prejudice? There are some obvious references in Austen’s novel of sexual hijinks.

First of all, it’s alluded to that Mr. Bennet has strayed outside the marital bed. Then we have Lydia Bennet, who’s a serial flirt, which results in her running off with Mr. Wickham, with it likewise being alluded to that activities of a sexual nature are transpiring between them. I should also add that Mr. Wickham is technically a pedophile. Lydia Bennet is fifteen years old in the original novel. And before her he was involved in a situation of compromise with Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, who was also extremely young and, unlike Lydia, extremely innocent.

Yes, I realize that in Jane Austen’s day girls were married at a younger age, but let’s get real: an adult man with a girl of fifteen is very dodgy stuff. You’ll note that none of the other male characters in Austen’s novel had a habit of chasing after little girls, just Mr. Wickham. So Austen was definitely dropping us hints, but writing in a way that was considered “suitable” for a lady of her time and position.

Do you think Austen's world was as exciting as you illustrate, or is it a good-natured jab at Victorian era repression?

Well, technically it’s the Regency period, which came before the Victorians. Having said that, I think the Victorians’ repression vanished the moment the bedroom door shut, if you know what I mean! I suspect Austen’s world (at least for the ladies) was really quite dull. It seems there was little to do but visit people, have them visit you, and sit around at home waiting for yet more visiting to take place. Austen was rather unusual for women of that time and status, in that she aspired to do more than simply land a husband. In fact, she never married. It’s my opinion that she put a lot of herself into the character of Elizabeth Bennet.

Why did you decide to write erotica?

I didn’t actually set out to write erotica; it just happened. I thought I’d give it a go after having some difficulties with other fictional works I’d been trying to sell. By difficulties I mean getting close to placing the work with publishers or agents, then having it all fall apart. A chance meeting at a party in San Francisco with an aspiring writer of, if you can believe it, sci-fi erotica, may have planted the seed. This fellow pretty much took me hostage and made me read some of his work, which he conveniently had stored in the boot of his car. Well, I barely managed a couple of pages before I had to politely extricate myself from the situation; the stuff was pretty dreadful, to say the least.

Perhaps the experience took root in my subconscious, because a short time later I began to get bits and pieces of an erotic storyline happening inside my head until I finally had to sit down and start writing it. Ergo my first erotic novel was born: The Captivity of Celia. I published a handful more, writing as M. S. Valentine, then moved into a new direction, writing under my actual name and aiming for a more mainstream market. The M. S. Valentine novels did quite well and they’re still selling, but professionally it was time for me to move on to something new and broaden my literary reach.

Since then I’ve been doing a variety of works that cross genre as well as blending them. I always try to make each of my books stand out as separate and unique. I don’t see the point in producing work that’s like everyone else’s; nor do I want my next book to be exactly like the last one. In fact, my next release (Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance) is completely different from Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. I’ve moved from raunchy historical parody to Gothic-themed sexy paranormal in the blink of an eye!

Why prompted your move to the United Kingdom and how is the literary culture there different from the United States?

I’d always wanted to live in England, so I finally decided to do something about it. Nothing in particular prompted it. I’m not sure I can adequately or accurately differentiate between the literary cultures of both countries, as my experience is mostly from a British perspective, in that the majority of my professional literary life has been spent over here. For instance, I’ve appeared at literature festivals, been a creative writing lecturer at universities, and met some very renowned authors, such as Baroness Ruth Rendell. I’ve even had some British publishers.

One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a bit more support here toward the more literary side of literature, since there are so many authors of “literary fiction” in the UK. I’ve found that poetry too, is more supported in Britain. It’s alive and well in the literary sphere, and even encouraged as a course of study. I’ve met many “working” poets since I’ve been here. I don’t recall contemporary poetry being as popular a literary form in America.
Which of your novels was the most fun to write?

Definitely Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts. The characters are the stuff of genius, and having an opportunity to play with them and take them in new directions was the most fun I’ve ever had writing. Sometimes a random scene from the book will come to mind and I just start laughing, wondering how in hell I ever came up with such stuff. I hope readers will enjoy the book in the spirit in which it was written.

What is one fun random fact about you?

One? You only want one?

You can find Mitzi on Facebook, Twitter, catch a glimpse of her on Mitzi TV and find more info on Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts on her blog Errant Ramblings.

A Travel Memoir Without Skydiving

Michael Crichton has always been, and always will be, one of my favorite authors. Upon reading Travels, his travel memoir of his life, he's now one of the people I desperately wished I could have met. His views on life are unique and staggering; the mark of a brilliant individual. After closing the pages of Travels, I learned three life changing things.

One - I'm ridiculously jealous of his life. "By the time I graduated from high school," Crichton writes, "I had been to forty-eight states, to Canada and Mexico, and to five countries of Europe." Great, I thought, I'm already behind. But even beyond his travels, his life was fuller than most fictional characters. He went through med school, became a world renowned author, directed movies stars like Sean Connery, explored meditation and the mystical inner realm, scuba diving, mountain climbing, swimming with sharks, seeing auras, the list is positively endless. All of it made me determined to experience as much as I could.

Two - We can never know everything, not as a person, not as a race. Crichton was able to experience so much and have this vast list of accomplishments because he was open to it. He didn't feel too learned or "traveled" to gain value from anywhere he could. Even those who know everything about one aspect of life only know that aspect. Existence is endless and we can never discover it all. A wise person must have an open mind.

Three - All travel, whether internal or across endless borders, is done to discover yourself. Through the lens of a foreign place or state of mind, we are able to see ourselves more clearly. Crichton states this numerous times as he rediscovers it time and time again. Each new adventure leads to a new realization about himself. His travel caused him to end relationships, change career paths, huge and drastic measures that most of us are scared to even think of. And yet he did; each and every form of travel helped him learn about himself and reset his path.

Crichton is truly a wise man, because he admits that his knowledge is limited and minuscule in comparison to what he doesn't know. He admits that a person must test themselves to discover themselves. And that an opportunity should never be passed over, but embraced to it's fullest potential. His memoir left me excited and passionate about experiencing new things. And while I'm envious of what he's done, I can smile because as far as I know, I've got him beat in at least one thing; I've been sky diving.

The Existential Beatrice and Virgil

The book jacket describes this as a story of a monkey named Virgil and a donkey named Beatrice. And it is. Kind of. Henry is an author desperately in love with his Holocaust flip book idea. He wants to create one of the first fiction accounts of the Holocaust because, as he says “surely, amidst the texts that related what happened, those vital and necessary diaries, memoirs and histories, there was a spot for the imagination's commentary,” and he wants to balance this with an essay. Neither can stand alone, but they are not truly linked, so he suggests putting them in the same cover, back to back. The idea is wildly rejected. He then meets a taxidermist, also named Henry. Taxidermist Henry is writing a play about two creatures he stuffed and named Beatrice and Virgil.

The character of author Henry seems to be Martel himself; bestseller list book, difficulties creating a passionate strong second work, a unique experience, birth of said creative second work. He meets taxidermy Henry and together the two Henrys seem to function as the flip book author Henry wished to publish; creative story meets factual balance and grounding. Martel writes about an author writing a flip book while he stitches his own flip book into one piece. The creative Holocaust story is told in taxidermist Henry’s play about Beatrice and Virgil and the reader is grounded to reality through author Henry’s life. The ending of Beatrice and Virgil could illustrate Martel’s thoughts on how he must proceed in creating his fictional Holocaust work. The fiction must force itself into reality and reality must give it pass. Beatrice and Virgil reads like the making of Beatrice and Virgil, which I believe is what creates that feeling of torn through a wormhole.

When I closed this book, the first thing I thought of was a monument in Berlin entitled “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” It’s a blunt and blatant title, but aside from that, it makes no assumptions about the Holocaust experience. It is a collection of cement blocks arranged in rows and rows. They start at your feet, barely inches high, and then soar to eight feet. A person is meant to walk between the blank gray walls and the shifting corridors and just think about the Holocaust. There is no statement of what the Holocaust is, was, caused, or could have been. It simply stands to force people to be confronted with this moment in history.

I take you to this monument because it is the closest reference I have to explain Beatrice and Virgil. I can’t discuss this as a traditional fiction piece because it doesn’t function as one. I was bored through the majority of this book; there’s no action, no character development, no real plot. But closing the book, it does cause one to think about the Holocaust, the “Horrors,” and how there are no words. It is this uncomfortable state of mind that one can’t express, that I believe was Martel’s goal. You’re thinking about the Holocaust; it’s pain and victims, it’s senselessness and creation of powerlessness. Perhaps this is what it was like to experience the Holocaust. There are no words or reason. There are only musing and near misses and laundry lists that attempt to explain the feeling. If it is, then Martel is a genius.

For those who are fans of Life of Pi, be prepared; the two works do not share a very common reading experience. It’s a heavier read that asks more from its reader than its predecessor. My advice: do not read this as a novel. Embrace it as an artistic experience. Focus on the emotions created as you take in the words. Do not try to make sense of the world of the dual Henrys and instead let your mind “feel” Beatrice and Virgil’s experience.

Excerpt from Beatrice and Virgil:
BEATRICE: What name will it have?
VIRGIL: That's a good question.
BEATRICE: The Terror?
VIRGIL: Sounds like something done quickly, involving running and panting. Not enough calculation to it. Besides, it's been used before.
BEATRICE: The Tohu-bohu?
VIRGIL: Sounds like a dairy-free dessert.
BEATRICE: The Horror?
VIRGIL: That's stronger.
BEATRICE: Even better: the Horrors, plural but used in a singular construction, the curve of the s like a ladle in a soup from hell, serving up the unthinkable and the unimaginable, the catastrophic and the searing, the terror and the tohu-bohu.
VIRGIL: We'll call it the Horrors.
BEATRICE: So, how are we going to talk about the Horrors?
                                                                                              Courtesy of Spiegel & Grau

Heidi Durrow Interview

Durrow discusses her novel "The Girl Who Fell From The Sky," winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, her experiences being biracial and bendy straws.

In one moment, Rachel contemplates her conflict with her dual race and how one always seems to win out: “I don’t want being Danish to be something I can put on and take off. I don’t want the Danish in me to be something time makes me leave behind.” Do you feel as if you can equally embrace both races or is it as Rachel worries; that one gets left behind?

More and more as I get older, I feel like I am able to embrace the totality of my identity. But growing up I didn’t have that feeling. Like any kid, I wanted to fit in. Being both black and Danish was pretty different—and beyond that inexplicable. I just started saying what was easy for other people to hear for a long time. Now, I’ve given up being polite or making other people comfortable and so I just speak my truth.

How did you decide on this narration style for the book, traveling between character perspectives and time shifts? How did you pick the characters whose perspective you were going to adopt?

I started writing the book from Rachel’s perspective and realized soon that I needed other voices to tell the story because she is an unreliable narrator. And by that I mean that she’s got stories she’s unable or unwilling to tell at first, but the reader needs to know. The characters came about very organically. The character Jamie/Brick came about almost by accident—I thought that he was going to be a character in an unrelated story, but then realized no, he was a witness. Laronne’s character came about because I wanted someone to advocate for Nella. Each character is able to tell a little bit more of the story.

The time shifts were more deliberate. I wanted to show how much the tragedy defines not just Rachel but those surrounding her. And so in the first part of the book Rachel’s narrative goes through many years and the other characters live in the intensity of the tragedy –just a couple of weeks pass.

While it is not as explicit, there is the underlying issue of substance abuse and it impacts many of the character’s lives. Do you believe Rachel will end up “hereditary” like her mother and fall into addiction?

Ah, are you thinking sequel? Hee hee. Well, you know, I think I can say without spoiling the book that there is more hope for Rachel at the end than not. (How’s that for dodging a question?) But yes, alcoholism is an important thread to the story. I wanted to write a story in which this issue was dealt with – alcoholism destroys people but it also destroys families. But then also beyond that I wanted to depict characters who are dealing with alcoholism but who are not bad people—they are struggling people—they are people with struggles and in that way there is hope.

This novel functions both as a discussion of race as well as an exploration of healing. Did you have a primary subject in mind when you wrote it?

I think the book necessarily operates on both levels—and I did have that in mind when I was writing it. It’s been healing for me to share it!

This novel won the distinguished Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Do you feel that this honor changes the way readers approach the story?

I hope it allows readers to recognize that the book is operating as what I hope is a good and compelling story, but also as a book that challenges assumptions they may have, and most importantly offers them new questions to have about the world. I think that is the best thing about the Bellwether Prize—that it signals that the book raises important questions for us as a citizenry that can put us into a meaningful dialogue with each other.

What has your experience as a full-time writer been? What advice or recommendations would you have to other writers?

My experience as a full-time writer has been brief—I sure do hope it continues! And it has been amazing. What an absolute blessing that I get to do what I love most in the world every day and share stories that mean something to me with others. I have to pinch myself every morning to remember that it is all real. My advice to other writers working on getting the book out in the world: keep writing, and don’t give up. You just need the one gatekeeper to greenlight a project. The difficulty is in finding that one gatekeeper, but if you keep looking you are certain to find him or her.

What is one fun random fact about you?

I drink coffee (really anything not clear or light) from a bendy straw.

Visit Heidi Durrow at Facebook or her site for tour dates and Mixed Chicks Chat podcast on her biracial experience.

In the Shadows Cast by Light Boxes

Put on your light boxes and draw a mint bath. February approaches and we must be prepared. Light Boxes by Shane Jones is a tale of a town trapped in the weather and will of February. Balloons and birds fall from the sky; the design of February begins its dominion.

Thaddeus Lowe, his wife Selah and their daughter Bianca protest the death of flight by drawing ghosts of the colorful levitations behind mirrors and under teacups. In the town, a collection of men wearing bird masks and calling themselves The Solution approach Thaddeus to do more than doodle in secret. A war is brewing against February.

From here the plot begins to evanesce as reason eludes capture. February is an idea, a man, a season, a state of mind; it's harsh and scary, embarrassed about itself, wants to change and isn’t even really February. It's at this point that Light Boxes truly feels like a dream – the more you try to focus on it, the more convoluted it becomes.

Jones’ alien view of images throughout the beginning was enjoyable. “The priests dipped their lanterns into the fabric of the balloons” is certainly a poetic image of setting things on fire. Not riveting, but new and refreshing. But this folk tale world fades away as the story transitions and leaves behind just about all of the things that were entrancing. It grows startlingly dark and modern as it becomes an allegory for a sad, depressed writer (probably overwrought by February as well).

I wish the book, short as it was, would have ended halfway through. I enjoyed the fable of seasonal depression; the mood, the season and the mindset of the characters. Thaddeus puts it so well when he desperately hopes, in a tone trying to convince himself, “that everything doesn’t end with February.”

On a superficial level, it’s fun to enjoy the experience. The abstract dream world Jones creates is an invigorating divergence from the “traditional” novel. But once the reader looks for meaning or substance, it flits away. At the end all that remains is the lingering smoke one gets after the torches are snuffed out.

Excerpt from Light Boxes:
List Found in February’s Cottage Detailing
Possible Cures for February
1. Valerian root and vitamin C tablets taken in the dark
2. Yoga and meditation
3. The melting of snow in children’s palms
4. Light boxes?
5. Hot baths taken with mint extract
6. Touching the moon in places the moon doesn’t know exist
7. Consumption of St. John’s wort
8. Feeding the garden inside
9. Giving Bianca back
10. Twisting your fears into desires
11. Mood diary
12. Hydrating the body
13. Paying attention to the girl who smells of honey and smoke
                                                                            Courtesy of Publishing Genius Press

Kindle: Can't Read With It, Behind The Times Without It

All right, here's the story. Many of my friends know me as a purist, so when "Santa" gave me a Kindle, I was teased a bit about my Benedict Arnold tendencies. But the world is trying to slough off it's love affair with the worn covers, dog-eared pages and rustic aromas of our cherished paperbacks, so I figured I should keep up. Tech savvy, etc.

I gave it a fair shake.
I did.
Got all excited about the free classics I could download. Bought a functional and classy cover so my Kindle can adventure out with me. And most importantly, I read a whole book on there that I was excited to finish. (Light Boxes. Delightful. Check it).

At the end, I "closed the book," and felt I had been robbed of the experience. So dear followers (and Amazon if you're listening), here are my critiques:

1. Books jump to the first page of the story, no introduction. I want the visual aesthetics of the cover, the title page, and the quote or inspiration. It sets the stage and preps the reader for the experience. It's the foreplay, if you will. I'm not just ready to jump right in; you've got to tease me a little.
2. When I try to use the highly promoted highlight feature, the pages restructure. Yes, that's right. It's frustrating to read a page and find it different when you return. It affects the pacing and narration of the story. It's incredibly frustrating when the pages realign for every underline. (FYI - called Amazon and they'd never heard of the issue before. See if yours does it. Let me know.)
3. There are no page numbers. I've seen this complaint many many times in the forums and always see the same baloney answer from Amazon: "we want you to be able to change your font size, so clearly page numbers are impossible." Well, other readers do both, so why are Kindle readers subjected to "locations?"

Now, technology can be great and there are perks to my Kindle:

1. I can "back up" my growing library. I like being prepared and I'd be lost without my collection, so in an emergency like a fire (knock on wood) I could save the spirit, if not the body, of my beloved paperbacks.
2. I can tweet as I'm reading. It's certainly much easier than trying to pull out my phone and hold the pages open to the desired inspirational/funny line. Slower, but easier.

I don't think eReaders have to be a disheartening experience. I just think the Kindle is. It is not made by readers. In my experience with the Sony Reader, it seems to be more in line with the purist's needs. It's not an ebook, but a scanned book; with all it's scars, illustrations and glory. It realizes that page numbers are a fixed part of a literary existence and embraces them. So there's hope out there.

So at the end of our adventure, where do we stand? It comes down to this: I still can’t use the Kindle as my primary reader. I tried, but too much is lost in translation. I’m going to stay old-fashioned.

But that's just me. What do you think of your eReader? Addicted? Furious? Too busy reading to check out it's bells and whistles? Comment it up.

Lauren Willig Interview

Willig discusses her newest Pink Carnation novel "The Orchid Affair," her law degree and which of her characters she'd most like to flirt with.

You called this your “Sound of Music” novel because it is about a governess. How aware were you of other governess/nanny tales when you wrote Laura and did it change how you shaped her?

I grew up in the heyday of the gothic novel, when it was impossible to pass a bookstore without bumping into a scantily clad governess cowering at the edge of a cliff, chased by a hero in a top hat. I reveled in Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, Barbara Michaels and Mary Stewart. Nine Coaches Waiting is still one of my all time favorite novels. (It was re-read many times in preparation for Orchid Affair!) The governess trope was one that was familiar to me and dear to my heart—and I didn’t want Laura to be anything like them.

In the classic governess model, aka The Sound of Music Rules, the heroine is a child person. She likes children. She particularly likes these children. She goes all warm and fuzzy about them. That’s not Laura. Laura is a governess by necessity. It’s not that she dislikes children, per se, but they’re her job, and not something about which she gets all sentimental. She’s a practical person with a clear view of character and that makes her a rather good governess; she doesn’t coddle or cosset her charges, but she’s very good at ferreting out the most efficient way of getting them to do what she wants them to do.

Likewise, your classic governess (at least, the sort who winds up with the brooding hero) tends to be young and a little bit uncertain. My governess is thirty-two and she’s been governessing for sixteen years. She knows exactly what she’s doing—except when it comes to spying. And Andre Jaouen.

That being said, there were some governess tropes that simply had to be included in the book. Any governess book worth its salt has to have (a) a scene where the heroine takes the hero to task for his housekeeping arrangements, and (b) a scene where the governess attends a party wearing a dowdy dress and feeling awkward. There was no way I was writing a governess book without them…. But, Laura being Laura, she adds her own unique twist to both.

Laura is, as you pointed out, much older than the rest of your heroines. Did you worry that she would be received differently by your readers?

The short answer to that is yes. And by yes, I mean YES. I was worried about this book on a number of levels. Not only is Laura older than most of my heroines, she’s also the first to be a real working girl. She’s not a member of society; she’s not a lady of leisure; she’s entirely separate from the social world and preoccupations of my earlier characters. She’s not even a duke’s daughter fallen on hard times; she’s the half-Italian, half-French child of a Venetian poetess and a French sculptor, stranded in England at the age of sixteen.

In fact, I was so nervous about this book—and how my unusual hero and heroine might be received—that, in a fit of cold feet, I put it off and wrote another book instead, the much more lighthearted Mischief of the Mistletoe, which came out this past Christmas. But Orchid was sitting there waiting for me. I went back to it after I wrote Mistletoe, although still with serious misgivings—and was absolutely flabbergasted by how positive the reaction to both Laura and Andre has been so far.

It’s a valuable lesson in trusting to the stories you want to tell and not letting yourself (okay, myself) be scared off by the perceived conventions of the market. As for older heroines, I have another one I want to write about, even older than Laura: Miss Gwendolyn Meadows! (And her exceedingly pointy parasol.)

You have a very strong sense of what a woman will relate to and find humorous. For instance, when Eloise is unpacking in her Paris hotel, she muses "Fortunately cocktail dresses pack small. So does the aspirational lingerie that one buys in the hopes of things like romantic weekends in Paris, that then generally sits in the back of the drawer, gently yellowing." Nearly all women will read this and chuckles to themselves. How did you develop this voice?

I’d love to pretend I did it deliberately, but—it’s really just the way I think. And talk. I’ve been told that reading my books is a bit like being stuck next to me at a dinner party, only I get to do both sides of the conversation.

I’d say that my particular narrative voice came of a youth spent watching British comedies (oh, Blackadder, I owe you so much!) and reading pretty much everything that crossed my path. The writer who made the deepest impression on me stylistically was Elizabeth Peters. My modern heroine, Eloise, owes a lot to Peters’ Vicky Bliss.

Laura is very aware of her ineptitudes as a spy and laughs at herself as she completes her stealth assignments. How do you approach each character's attitude to her clandestine life?

Part of what draws me to fiction—and what I love about writing this series—is a fascination with character. What is it that makes people tick? Why will one person react one way while the another has the opposite reaction? The secret spy world of the Pink Carnation makes a great touchstone for drawing out character. It’s such a bizarre thing when you think about it, the very idea of abandoning your identity, going undercover, not knowing who you can trust or what you can believe when you yourself are no longer to be believed or trusted.

All of my characters have taken very differently to that, based on their own natures. The heroine of my first book, Amy, leapt at it, not factoring in potential consequences; others are incredulous; some try to game it for their own ends (Mary Alsworthy, I’m looking at you). Laura treats espionage as a job, much as she did governessing. She’s both conscientious and honest, which means that she’s intent on getting it right (no matter what else, she prides herself on her competence), but is very aware of her own inadequacies and the gaps in her training.

It’s an interesting question: how would you react to the offer of a chance at espionage?

You have a secondary degree, a JD from Harvard Law School, yet you write historical fiction. Was law your first interest or was it writing? How often do you find your law degree applicable to your writing?  

By a strange quirk of Fate, I received my first book contract my first month of law school. I was one of those irritating people who knew by the age of six that I wanted to be an author. By the time I hit college, I realized that I wanted to write historical fiction, and, instead of focusing on writing classes, it might make sense to take lots of history and literature so that I would have something to write about. To that end, I toddled off to Harvard for a PhD in English history and couldn’t figure out why people kept laughing when I told them it was for the purpose of writing more accurate historical fiction.

While in grad school, I learned a couple of hard truths. One was that academic history isn’t best suited to writing fiction. The second was that the professorial job market was nearly as difficult as making a living as a novelist. At twenty-six, I decided to do the practical thing. I would switch to law school, the last refuge of the liberal arts major, and always be assured of a roof over my head.

And that’s when I got my book contract, for The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and its sequel, The Masque of the Black Tulip. Since I was already in Harvard Law, it made sense to stick it out, so I wrote three more books, graduated magna cum laude, and then went off to a large New York law firm where I practiced as a litigator for a year and a half before deciding that I could be a novelist or a lawyer but not both at once. Guess which one won?

Since I don’t write legal thrillers, it’s hard to find the ways in which my legal degree is applicable to my novels but I’d argue that it comes through in a larger world view. Law school is less about the learning of particular precepts and more about shaping the way one thinks—and that definitely comes through in my books.

You have such an in-depth and wide reaching knowledge about this era, and the "celebrities" in it. How did you decide to write about this time and where did this love of the it come from?

You can blame it on two very different causes: 80’s TV mini-series and my dissertation. When I was ten, one of those wonderfully over the top mini-series about Napoleon and Josephine came on TV, heavy on the love affair, light on darker realities. I was hooked. I badgered everyone in the vicinity for books about the Bonapartes. I went through other historical obsessions in the years that followed, but the Bonapartes always stayed with me, so much so that I wrote a novel about Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense de Beauharnais, my senior year of high school. (I just got to visit with Hortense again as I was writing Pink IX, since she’s best friends with that heroine. When you’re a writer, nothing ever really gets left behind….)

I abandoned the Bonapartes as I shifted backwards in time, studying the Renaissance in college (doesn’t everyone love Renaissance Scotland?) before moving on to Tudor/Stuart history for my PhD. I started writing the first Pink book at the end of my second year of grad school, just to keep myself from thinking in footnotes. I wanted to remind myself of what it was that I loved about history—and how better to do that than to write a novel of swashbuckling derring do? I couldn’t set it in the English Civil War, since that was my dissertation topic and felt way too much like work, so I fell back on my old friends, the Bonapartes. And thus the Pink series was born… and I learned far more about the early nineteenth century than I ever imagined I would, from Irish rebellions to English society matrons to mad Indian rulers. 1803 and 1804 were very busy years….

You traveled to France in November to research for this piece. How did your experience there weave into Laura's and Eloise's perception of the country?

I had a dual mission in France. I wanted to scout out the modern city, to see what Eloise would have seen and experienced (and eaten; eating what Eloise would eat was a very important part of my mission. When researching a book, no sacrifice is too great, even when it comes to flaky pastries and marzipan pigs). I also needed to research the historical conspiracy she would have been researching, a plot to assassinate (or kidnap—the conspirators and the Ministry of Police had a polite disagreement as to which it was) the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, replacing him with a member of the royal family.

Both Eloise and I needed documents currently housed in the Musee de la Prefecture de Police, which I assumed was going to be one of those cute little townhouse museums with mannequins in period costume. Er, no. It turned out that the museum was housed inside the police station. I figured that out the hard way—and because I did, so did Eloise and Colin. You just can’t plan things like that….

You briefly spoke about your next Pink Carnation novel "Pink Nine." What can you tell us about this next installment? When is it expected to be out?

Pink IX, coming out in January 2012, features that ridiculous poet, Augustus Whittlesby. Like Orchid Affair, Pink IX takes place entirely in France. As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, English operative Augustus Whittlesby gets wind of a top secret device, to be demonstrated over the course of a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is to join forces with that annoying American socialite, Emma Morris Delagardie, who has been commissioned to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment. Even so, it should leave plenty of alone time with Augustus’ colleague (and goddess), Jane Wooliston, who has been tapped to play the heroine. Or so Augustus tells himself. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing seems to go quite as scripted… especially Emma.

Of all your characters, who is your favorite? Why?

It’s so hard to choose! I like different characters for different reasons.

Character I’d most like to hang out with? Henrietta, the heroine of The Masque of the Black Tulip. Hen is the girl next door, everyone’s best friend, a thoroughly grounded, down to earth sort of person who values who friends and likes her family.

Character I’d most like to flirt with? Lord Vaughn, from The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. An jaded rake who’s seen and done it all, Vaughn is a master of the triple entendre. He exudes innuendo, even when he hasn’t actually said anything yet. You just know he’s thinking it. Vaughn isn’t a make-believe rogue, he’s the real thing, urbane and dangerous.

Character whose books I’d want to borrow? Charlotte, from The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. She’s my sort of bookworm.

And, then, of course, there’s Turnip Fitzhugh, from The Mischief of the Mistletoe. I don’t know about you, but I just want to give Turnip a hug.

Character I’d least want to run into in a dark alley? Er, that would be a toss-up between the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale and Miss Gwen.

What has your experience as a full-time writer been? What advice or recommendations would you have to other writers?

I’ve been a full time writer for—eek!—three full years now and I still feel like I’m just getting the hang of it. It’s a far more varied job than I would ever have imagined. In fact, I’d say calling it full time writer is a bit of a misnomer, since I spend a large chunk of my time in non-writing activities: going to conferences, traveling around on book tour, updating the website, researching, mailing packages, corresponding with readers, even designing Pink Carnation paraphernalia for a Pink shop on Café Press (all proceeds go to breast cancer research—it seemed appropriate to have Pink for Pink). Back in my youth, when I daydreamed about being a novelist, I never imagined the sheer variety of tasks that would go into it, or that I would find myself learning about publicity, marketing, and graphic design in addition to character, viewpoint, and pacing.
     As for advice….

(1) Read. Read lots. Read in all sorts of styles and genres. We can’t write if we don’t read.

(2) Don’t let yourself be put off by the conventional wisdom, whatever that conventional wisdom might be. People say all sorts of silly things. I was told you couldn’t set a book in France. And that my “voice” was inappropriate for historical fiction. Hmm. Write the story you want to write the way you want to write—these are your characters and you’re going to be living with them for a very long time. And if you don’t love them, who will? Readers can tell when you’re faking it.

(3) There will be rejection. It’s a tough industry. People have different tastes. Believe in yourself and your talent, but also be prepared to be flexible and retool when necessary.

(4) Don’t leave your day job—right away. Having another source of income gives you the freedom to take risks with your writing that you might not otherwise. It also cuts down on the incidence of writer’s block. It’s hard to be blocked when you know every writing moment counts.

(5) Have fun! There’s something magical about telling a story, about watching a world develop before your eyes, spooling out on the computer screen in front of you, taking twists and turns you might never have imagined. Revel in it!

For more information on the Pink Carnation series go to, where news updates occur weekly on Teaser Tuesdays, or her Facebook author page.

The Girl with the Predictable Story

Stieg Larsson started taking the world by storm while I wasn’t looking. I picked up The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo later than most and was excited to finally see what was stirring such a commotion. Closing the cover and putting it down, I was enraged. Can you call a book a mystery or thriller if you knew the ending in the first 12 pages?

I’ve heard arguments that this book is feminist in nature and I just can’t wrap my head around that. Yes Salander is a “tough” girl - tasering people, hacking into files and riding a motorcycle - but the only way she knows to interact with a man apparently must involve sex. There was a glimmer of hope as she began to trust and form a friendship, but in the end she responded the only way women Larsson create can - sexually. The suggestion that women must communicate through sex is simply demeaning.

I had also heard this novel is a bit gruesome, but this was not true for me. And perhaps I’ve just read too many “dark” novels (I like Palahniuk - a lot) but this felt more like it was reaching than achieving. When he discussed a sexual trauma, it was either vague or awkward. I mean, a parakeet stuffed up a vagina? I was smirking, not squirming in discomfort. It’s not easy to capture sexual trauma in a way that makes it true to the horror while keeping the reader’s fragile sensibilities intact. But it can be done.

At the end of the book, the overwhelming feeling from Larsson’s work was frustration. It felt unfocused; from the clichés and grammatical errors to the long-winded narration and the cumbersome relationship between the murder/finance storylines.

I slogged through 644 pages just to find out that I knew the “mystery” all along. I read with fervor, not because I was intrigued, but because I wanted it to be over. All the commotion suggests there is something good about this book. And I wish I could find it.
Creative Commons License
This work by H.E. Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.