Captain Kirk would make a great con man, wouldn't he?

rattlesnake oil advertisement from old newspaperI’m currently reading a reprint of David Maurer’s 1940 The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. It’s totally fascinating; among other things, I had no idea how much the glamorous conmen of the first half of the 20th century relied on payoffs to crooked police and local political systems for protection from prosecution. (Am I naïve for thinking that sort of thing is no longer very common? Maybe.)

Anyway, here’s a tidbit I just had to share:

Indiana Harry, the Hashhouse Kid, Scotty, and Hoosier Harry [RL’s note: apparently a disproportionate amount of top conmen have been from Indiana] were returning to America on the Titanic when it sank. They were all saved. After the rescue, they not only put in maximum claims for lost baggage, but collected the names of dead passengers for their friends, so that they too could put in claims.

And here’s something I can’t help finding pretty romantic:

Once Jerry Daley made a little side trip to La Salle, Illinois. To kill time there he dropped in on a beauty contest. There on the platform was a little raven-haired Irish girl who immediately caught his fancy. He began to circulate about the crowd and sound out sentiment for her. She didn’t seem to be very popular. The fact that the odds were against her aroused Jerry’s sporting blood to the extent that he began to buy votes for her. Whenever he encountered opposition he called into play all his ability as a fixer [someone in charge of bribes to police, politicians, etc.] with excellent success. When all the votes were counted afterward, his little protégée led by an overwhelming number. That night Jerry married her.

That really shouldn’t be so cute.

Any other con artist fans out there? Welcome to Temptation and Faking It are two of my all-time favorite romances, and I’d love recommendations for more con-themed stories!

Q&A with Susanna Fraser (and a giveaway)!

Susanna Fraser's author photoI posted last week about my critique partner Susanna Fraser’s new release, A Marriage of Inconvenience, and how fabulous it is (as is her first book, The Sergeant’s Lady, which just happens to be on sale for half-price from Carina this month!). This week we are lucky enough to be a stop on her blog tour.

Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she’s happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He’s very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy’s quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?

A Marriage of Inconvenience cover image

It’s no secret that I am head-over-heels for James, so I’m afraid these questions focus unfairly on him, but Lucy is great too, I promise!

Q: James Wright-Gordon, the hero of A Marriage of Inconvenience, isn’t short, but he isn’t the tallest hero in the room either. And I bet that at this point in England’s history, the short jokes about Napoleon were flying fast and thick. How does James feel about them, and how does he respond, if at all?

A: There’s actually a point very early in the book where I describe the whole Gordon family as having a Napoleon complex, though of course I couldn’t use those words. Instead I had James’s sister Anna reflect, and James agree, that one reason their family might be so flashy and given to drawing attention to themselves is because they’re short and feel the need to make a lot of noise to make sure no one overlooks them.

As for how James would respond to a short joke, it’d depend on who was making it, and if it was directed at him or not. He’s confident enough to let 99% of such remarks roll off, but I can see him, under the right circumstances, saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, Lord TallGuy, I’m not much taller than Napoleon, and yeah, I have all kinds of ideas for improving the world…isn’t it a good thing England is in good enough shape that I don’t feel the need to try to take over for her own good? Now, about your vote on this week’s bill….”

Q: A Marriage of Inconvenience is a retelling of Mansfield Park. If you were going to retell Sense and Sensibility, how would you do it?

A: Ooh, interesting question. The first big change I made to MP’s plot in developing AMOI was to make James, the Henry Crawford equivalent, the hero. Which wasn’t that hard, because every time I re-read MP I feel like Henry is pushed kicking and screaming into adultery so Fanny will have an iron-clad reason to reject him and Edmund will have to cut all connection with the Crawfords despite his ongoing fascination with Mary. It’s almost as if Henry is shouting to me from the text, “No, I mean it! I really am reformed! I love Fanny! Help! Get me a happy ending!”

S&S is tougher, because to me it’s the least satisfying of Austen’s books as a romance. Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice work perfectly on that level, and I think Henry and Catherine in Northanger Abbey are adorable. Fanny and Edmund in MP may be uptight and priggish, but they’ll be happy prigs together, and Emma and Mr. Knightley work well enough that I can almost overlook the age difference. But with S&S, I feel like Elinor and Marianne deserve better men than they get. While Elinor has spine enough for two, I feel like she’s always going to be pushing and managing for Edward, which hardly seems fair to her. Marianne ends up with a man who fell in love with her because she’s so much like his tragic dead first love, and doesn’t she deserve to be seen as her own unique self, and not some kind of ghost or revenant?

So, let’s see, how would I do this? My Edward figure would marry Lucy Steele, and be more or less content with the arrangement. Edward needs to be managed and probably wouldn’t much care WHO managed him in the long run, and Lucy would manage to insinuate herself into the Ferrars’ good graces as Edward’s wife just as well as she ultimately did as Robert’s.

Then Colonel Brandon realizes it’s time to move on from his youthful trauma, and what better way to do so than with a nice, level-headed woman like Elinor? As for Marianne, the one thing I wouldn’t do is redeem Willoughby. I think Austen, and Elinor, had far more sympathy for the seduce-’em-and-leave-’em asshole than I can manage. No, I’d find a young officer, maybe one who comes to Col. Brandon for patronage and advice, someone dashing and handsome and romantic but also decent and honorable, for Marianne to have adventures with.

Look what you just did! In three paragraphs you took me from, “I don’t see myself ever adapting S&S, really not my thing,” to “Hey, what a cool idea! I should try that.” [RL: Mwahahahahaha! Victory!]

Q: You actually wrote AMOI first, even though The Sergeant’s Lady was published before it. Were you always planning to write Anna’s book, or did that develop as you wrote? Is anyone else from AMOI going to get to be a hero(ine)?

A: No, I wasn’t planning to write Anna’s story when I started AMOI. Over the course of the story, she grew on me, and Sebastian turned out more evil than he’d been in my original germ of an idea. So I thought, “OK, he’s a soldier. I’ll kill him, and give her someone better. She’ll have a whole army of better someones to choose from, and I love following the drum stories…”

As for other characters from AMOI, maybe. I’ve started Portia’s story twice. I haven’t gotten very far with it, but maybe I just haven’t found the right hero and plot for her yet. And there are a few people mentioned in AMOI who don’t get actual “screen time” I’d like to write about—Lucy’s younger brother who goes to India, even though that’d mean writing post-1815, something I’ve always said I have no interest in doing, and also James’s naval hero distant cousin. I know what happens to him, and it’s great stuff, but I’d have to somehow get past the fact I’m Stephen Maturin-level clueless when it comes to ship matters to write it properly.

Q: When Wellington becomes prime minister, how will he and James get along? James is pretty active politically so they’re bound to run into each other.

Yeah, they’d definitely meet. The House of Lords isn’t that big a place, after all. I think they’d respect each other, because they’re both perceptive enough to recognize brains and integrity even in someone on the opposite side of the aisle. They might even enjoy a certain degree of verbal fencing over issues. But they wouldn’t be close, because they’d be mutually baffled over how such an intelligent, well-intentioned man could be so wrong-headed about everything.

Q. Team Hamilton or Team Jefferson?

A: Well, Hamilton is the hottest guy on our currency, if you ask me. [RL: Couldn’t agree more!] But can I be on Team Franklin instead? Because I get the sense he’d be the most fun Founding Father to have a fling with, or just to hang out with at soirees talking about life, the universe, and everything. Or maybe Team Adams, because he seems to have been the best husband of the bunch.

Q: One thing I love about your books is how the secondary characters always seem like full people–what I mean is, I really believe that they think about things other than the hero and heroine, and that when they aren’t on the page, they’re living their own lives. Do you have any tips for writers on how you do that? And who’s your favorite minor character in AMOI, Anna excluded?

A: Thanks! I always try to remember that everyone sees himself or herself as the hero of the story. If you could jump into the book and interview one of James and Lucy’s housemaids, she’d probably say something about how they’re a lovely couple and she hopes they’ll be happy, but she’d mainly talk about what working for them means for her—how she’s lucky to be in a place where his lordship doesn’t molest the maids, and how nice it is to be working close to home so she can see her ailing father on her half-days, and how she hopes the second footman will kiss her again, but no more than that, mind, because she wouldn’t want to get pregnant and lose her place, but maybe someday, if they save their money, he could open a pub and they could marry. And while I’m not writing her story, or even usually giving it much conscious thought, that awareness is always in the back of my mind. Her life intersects with the hero and heroine’s, or she wouldn’t be on the page, but she has her own agenda and dreams she’s pursuing, always.

I think my favorite secondary character in AMOI other than Anna is James and Anna’s uncle, the Earl of Dunmalcolm. He’s a proud Scot, but he’s also mellow and easygoing, with a good sense of humor. He’s a lot like my dad and my uncles, really.

Q: What’s something good about storytelling you learned from watching Joss Whedon, and something you learned to avoid?

A: The idea that every character in a book (movie, show, whatever) considers himself or herself the hero came from listening to the Firefly DVD commentary. Also, I like the way Joss tweaks genre expectations and try to bring at least a little of that to my work. And he writes characters who never stop fighting back even when everything looks hopeless, which I love.

On the avoid side, sometimes I think Joss is a little too trigger-happy with the character death. I can see his point that in his kind of story, no one is safe, and I don’t like the opposite extreme, where an author gives you all kinds of warning that SOMEONE WILL DIE and it turns out to be the third cousin who barely has a line or someone who was just introduced in this book, seven books into the series. But I think there’s a happy medium, one in which, say, Tara and Wash might still be alive. [RL: Okay, I agree with this more. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, Joss Whedon!]

Q: What’s your favorite romance of 2011 so far?

A: My dirty little secret is that I’m continually way behind on my TBR pile and I’ve barely read any romances published in 2011 yet, even though we’re almost a third of the way through the year. But I really loved Bonnie Dee’s Captive Bride, and I’m not just saying that to toot a fellow Carina author’s horn. She paints a vivid portrait of an unusual setting (1870’s San Francisco), with a strong, likeable hero and heroine I rooted for from their first appearances on the page, and makes me believe they could make a 19th century interracial marriage work. [RL: Wow, she really sold me on that one. ::adds to TBR pile:: You can read more about Captive Bride here at the Carina website.]

Q: I hear you’re giving a workshop at the Emerald City Writers Conference. Tell me about it!

It’s called “How to Write Like a Full-Time Writer When You Can’t Quit Your Day Job,” and it’s about productivity strategies for the busy writer. I have a full-time job on top of my writing, and my husband has a full-time job and does some freelancing and teaches a class at UW one quarter per year. Oh, and we have a daughter in first grade. I recently joked that two-career couples were nothing, we’re a FOUR-career couple. It’s not easy. But the alternative is not writing, which is unacceptable.

Q: What are you working on now?

Two projects, neither of which is under contract anywhere, but here’s hoping! The first is a short historical romance novella about a common soldier’s widow in the Peninsular War who has to remarry quickly and how she and her new husband adjust to and come to love each other. The second is a historical fantasy, hopefully first of at least a trilogy, featuring a young woman whose unusual upbringing and paranormal abilities lead to her becoming the only woman officer in Wellington’s army.


Susanna will be by to answer comments and give away a copy of AMOI to one lucky commenter!

Quick book rec

My critique partner, Susanna Fraser, has a new book out today from Carina Press: A Marriage of Inconvenience!

(She gets the best covers, seriously.) I read this book in critique group, and I can tell you that it’s awesome. The hero in particular has one of the most charming narrative voices I’ve ever seen in a romance. (Lucy is great too! I just can’t help loving James best.) It’s a prequel to her first book, The Sergeant’s Lady, a Peninsular War story that I believe is on sale this week if you haven’t already read it!

Susanna is doing a blog tour, giving away copies of the book at most of the stops, and she will be here on my blog on April 19th! Last time she talked about Team Wellington vs. Team Napoleon, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with this time.

Making someone a cake is an incredibly intimate thing

I moved this week! My new apartment is still filled with boxes but I can already tell I’m going to be very happy here.

I hired movers, which I’ve never done before. It was an interesting experience–I never thought about it before, but movers get a really unique insight into people’s lives. At one point, I was saying that I didn’t know where to put the leaf from the dining room table, and one of the movers said, “The most common place to hide a leaf is under the bed.” I had no idea! Then I mentioned that I wasn’t sure yet how we were going to lay out the furniture in our living room. The mover told me, “Well, the most common layout I see for this living room…” I was fascinated.

Then my roommate and I were watching Ace of Cakes, and Duff said, “Making a cake for someone is incredibly intimate thing. It’s like taking their joy and making it into a tangible object.” I’d never thought about it like that before. But isn’t it beautiful?

Duff with some cakes

People often relate to the world in really job-specific ways. It’s something I love to play with while writing–after all, half the fun of fiction is experiencing the world from inside someone else’s head. It can be difficult to capture because of course, I only have experience doing my own job.

It’s something that’s especially relevant to A Lily among Thorns, because my hero and heroine are both from quasi-upper-class backgrounds, and have both chosen to be tradespeople: my hero is a chemist who works for his uncle’s tailoring shop, and my heroine is an innkeeper. And they see themselves as defined by those things in opposition to a lot of the people they knew growing up. I worked hard to make that a part of their characterization.

Which is all leading into my exciting announcement that my workshop, “Making Your Hero(ine)’s Job Work for You,” has been accepted by the Emerald City Writers Conference! You should all register for the conference (when registration opens) and come! It’s going to be super fun. I had an absolute blast giving my sex scenes workshop last year and I know this will be just as awesome.