Welcome: guest author Cecilia Grant!

I’m thrilled to welcome Cecilia Grant to my blog!

Ceci is a wonderful friend and a wonderful writer, witty and awesome with great taste in TV. Her debut historical A Lady Awakened is fantastic and fresh and charming and sexy, and if you don’t believe me, just ask Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell, who named it a 2011 Must Read!

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate—and housemaids—from a predatory brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes…for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all…love?

RL: You changed your hero’s name because the original name wasn’t popular among the upper class during the Regency.  Tell me more about the class connotations of first names!

CG: Theo was “Christopher” for a long time, because it’s a name that happens to please my ear. But it’s not, I found out after a little investigation, a name that a class-conscious Georgian baronet would have given his firstborn son. I know, because I paged through all the baronet listings in the online Peerage, and the only Regency-era Christopher I found was a new creation, probably in reward for military distinction.

The Georgian aristocracy (which baronets were a step below, but close enough to want to follow the same naming conventions) overwhelmingly tended to name their heirs – the eventual Regency aristocracy – after the past few hundred years of kings. Lots of Georges, Jameses, Henrys, Williams, Edwards, and Charleses. Occasionally you come across a more novel name that’s been in a family for generations, like Hungerford (or Theophilus, as I eventually re-named my hero), but for the most part, Regency peers were christened out of that small pool of fashionable names – which almost nobody addressed them by, anyway. Theo would be “Theo” to his brothers and sisters; “Mirkwood” to pretty much everyone else.

As a reader, I don’t mind a little creative liberty in hero-naming, but as a writer, I want to be respectful of those readers for whom it is an issue. Changing the hero’s first name to something historically plausible (in fact, verifiable) was a sort of low-cost no-brainer, so I did it.

That said, I have to mention that the other week I got an email from someone asking the derivation of the hero’s last name, because Mirkwood didn’t look English to her. And I had to say, “Uh, actually that’s just a play on the kind of surname historical-romance heroes always seem to have, all dark and threatening. No historical basis.”

So there you have it. My commitment to historicity lasts just until the next opportunity for a meta-textual joke.

RL: “Murkwood” isn’t nearly as pretty-looking, is it?

The sex in your book starts out awkward and complicated (the hero is into it at first, but the heroine is just doing her duty and won’t allow herself to enjoy it for quite a while), but I thought it was a very hot, almost kinky scenario.  Was it fun torturing your hero that way?

CG: I love that you thought the bad sex was hot! You’re the first person who’s said that, and now I’m going to have to go back and re-read it and see whether I mightn’t agree, just a little.

Torturing Theo was tremendous fun, both sadistic and masochistic. (I identify with whoever I’m writing at the time, so when things were going bad for him, and I was in his POV, I was feeling his pain.) There’s this one early scene in particular where things between them just go to hell in a handbasket and I was sure, while writing it, that any eventual editor would tell me I had to cut it or heavily revise.

That would have been a dealbreaker for me–literally, I promised myself I would walk away from a publisher who wouldn’t let me keep that scene, not so much because of the merits of the scene itself, but because it’s eminently representative of the kind of romance I want to write.

And then of course nobody – neither agent nor editor, though both had plenty of revision requests – raised any objection to that scene at all. So much for my pretensions to radical envelope-pushing!

RL: I can’t really be the first, can I? Come on, let’s see a show of hands, who else thought that was hot like burning?

It used to be that every romance I read had an unhappy, tightly emotionally controlled hero and a heroine who helped him open up. When I first started developing the idea for Lily ten years ago (which flips those roles), it was a very unusual book. But now I’m thrilled to see more and more of that type of romance being published: Meredith Duran’s Wicked Becomes You, Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband, and Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed are a few stand-outs for me, but there are plenty more!  Why do you think this type of romance is becoming more popular, and what drew you to writing it?

CG: This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, and I’m not sure my thoughts have jelled into a cohesive answer. But I’ll give it a try.

The non-nurturing woman is a fascinating character to me for a lot of reasons, probably beginning with the fact that she transgresses against one of the bottom-line social expectations for her gender.

Have you seen the toilet-paper commercial where a bunch of women address the camera about how important toilet-paper-related cleanliness is for themselves and their families? I can’t imagine anyone ever shooting that commercial with a bunch of men, even though men, too, have families, and presumably put just as high a value on that sort of cleanliness as women do. There’s just this assumption that women will be the ones to “own” that concern, since it can fit under the Nurturing umbrella.

In that societal context–even aside from the whole question of whether or not nurturing ought to be women’s sphere–the non-nurturing woman is automatically an arresting figure.

And I’m not alone in thinking so. Look at all the people gobbling up those books about Lisbeth Salander. Look at the ratings for Revenge. Thorny, emotionally unavailable heroines are interesting, and why wouldn’t romance join the rest of pop culture in recognizing that fact?

The obvious challenge, for the writer, is figuring out to what degree you can integrate a character like that into a romance without either diminishing the character (I’m starting to think I’d rather not see Emily Thorne soften up and fall in love with anyone. Stay strong, Emily! Eyes on the prize!) or writing something that’s not true to the fundamental precepts of romance.

But that sort of challenge is invigorating. Between Lisbeth Salander, and the feistiest historical-romance heroine you can name, is a big swath of characterization territory just begging to be mucked around in. So I hope we’ll be seeing a greater and greater incidence of “difficult” heroines alongside the more-traditionally-accessible kind.

RL: Tell me about the coolest book you read for research for ALA.  (And bear in mind, one of my favorite research books is The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution, so “cool” doesn’t necessarily preclude “obscure”!)

CG: I wish I could say I’d read Theo’s bête noire pamphlet, The Utility of Agricultural Knowledge to the Sons of the Landed Proprietors of England, &c &c, by John Claudius Loudon. But I never did succeed in tracking it down–I’m not sure the text has survived–so to get the general flavor I read some of Loudon’s other agriculture-themed work, in particular his posthumous publication (get ready)–

Self-instruction for young gardeners, foresters, bailiffs, land-stewards, and farmers; in arithmetic and book-keeping, geometry, mensuration, and practical trigonometry, mechanics, hydrostatics, and hydraulics, land-surveying, levelling, planning, and mapping, architectural drawing, and isometrical projection and perspective: with examples, showing their application to horticultural and agricultural purposes.

It’s a dry book, as you can imagine, but the context makes it kind of sweet: you can picture an ambitious, disciplined boy whose parents can’t afford a Rugby education working his way through the pages, memorizing how many gallons make up a firkin, and learning how to solve problems like the following:

If 12 roods of grass be cut down by 2 men in 6 days; how many roods will be cut down by 8 men in 24?

Of course I also picture the breeches-clad Beavises and Butt-heads of the era confronting the title with bug-eyed outrage, or falling asleep and drooling on the pages.

RL: What’s your favorite TV or movie romance of 2011?

I’ve talked elsewhere about my love for like-minded government wonks Ben and Leslie on the show Parks and Recreation. So instead of repeating myself I’ll put in a word for a non-romantic TV relationship I loved in 2011: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on the BBC’s Sherlock!

It’s not a slash-fiction thing, I swear. I don’t want to see them kiss, or silently yearn for each other, or anything like that. [RL: Well, that makes one of us!] (In fact I’m totally down with Sherlock meeting his match in a female adversary, as I hear is going to happen in season 2.) I just get a lot of the same enjoyment out of that relationship that I do out of a good romance. See, you’ve got Dr. Watson, back from the war, at loose ends, not quite sure what’s missing in his life–and little does he suspect that the cure for what ails him is a rude, brilliant, high-functioning sociopath who’s going to be constantly dragging him into danger!

(Isn’t it just like the setup for an excellent romance? That person who seems like anathema to you is, it turns out, exactly what you need! A lot of their dialogue, too – impatience and exasperation with a side of insuppressible respect – wouldn’t be out of place in a good romance. God, I can’t wait for season 2.)

In movies, although I had some issues with the movie itself, I thought Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were insanely adorable together in Crazy Stupid Love. In the back of my brain I was thinking, “Eww, I hate this trope of the player who meets the One Special Woman who makes him change his ways” (Like you, I always feel bad for all the previous women who weren’t Special enough), but the actors’ combined charm just mowed down my resistance.

RL: What’s your favorite non-romance historical fiction book?

CG: Two spring to mind. Jennifer Donnelly’s YA novel A Northern Light, set in the early-20th-century Finger Lakes region of New York, is sort of an anti-romance – you’re rooting hard for heroine Mattie to break her engagement and take that scholarship to Barnard, and when she does, it’s hugely exhilarating–while also being a deeply romantic account of how a girl with the odds against her finds her voice and forges her own future.

And Geraldine Brooks’s March, an imagining of the Little Women father’s experiences in the Civil War, stays with me for a lot of reasons, but chiefly for one pivotal moment in which the protagonist fails, in utterly craven fashion, to step up and stand with the former slaves among whom he’s been living. I have a thing for stories of people who fall short of what they’d like to be/ought to be, and this was a particularly vivid one.

Wow, I will definitely be checking those out, especially the Donnelly book. I love early-20th-century coming-of-age stories SO MUCH. Thanks for visiting, Cecilia!

What was your favorite TV or movie romance of 2011? Cecilia will be giving away a copy of A Lady Awakened to one lucky commenter (in the US or Canada)!

34 thoughts on “Welcome: guest author Cecilia Grant!”

  1. I already bought this book because of the Dear Author review–sex that starts out awful, yes please–but hearing the author likes romance authors I love, like Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan and Meredith Duran, I am tempted to buy it twice!
    So don’t enter me for a copy, but my favourite TV romance of 2011 is Emily/Nolan on Revenge. (Shhh. Shhhh. It’ll come.)

    1. I know Rose is with you about Emily and Nolan, but I keep changing my mind. It doesn’t help that I missed big chunks of the show early in the season (I kept falling asleep – the show comes on kind of late here and I wasn’t yet invested enough to make myself stay awake) & thus didn’t have a full picture of the Emily/Nolan dynamic.
      And here’s a Thought Question: Am I supposed to be rooting for Victoria? Because I am, at least a little.

      1. I’m pretty sure you are. My personal first choice would be for her and Emily to team up to take down Conrad, but we’ll see…

      2. And now I note it was Rose who actually mentioned the names, and feel silly! Still, I also love Ben/Leslie, so it all works out!
        Emily would not have to give up scheming if Nolan were her man. He admires her fiendish ways!
        Victoria, I dunno. I can’t forgive her for how child Amanda was tormented… but she is great.

        1. Actually, I HAVE stated my admiration for those same writers elsewhere on my blog tour, so you were correct all the way around.
          And BTW, I can’t wait for Team Human. When I read the description on Rose’s Book Smugglers post, I thought, “Now THERE’S the vampire book for me!”

  2. Peter/Olivia in Fringe – I just want those two to work out their interdimensional issues and figure out who’s from where so that these people can be happy!

    1. I’ve never seen Fringe, though I’ve heard great things about it. It would be too confusing if I tried to start watching now, I bet – I’ve heard enough about parallel dimensions to be pretty sure of that.
      Have Peter and Olivia been a sort-of-couple since the start?

  3. I had to laugh over your comments about Crazy Stupid Love. I felt the same way about those two characters. They charmed the pants off of me. I’d never actually understood Ryan Gosling’s appeal before that movie. I understand it now. lol. I think that was my favorite of 2011.
    Rose, you brought Cecilia Grant and this book to my attention and after reading this interview I’m even more eager to try it out.

    1. Me too! I’d seen Emma Stone once before, in Easy A, and didn’t care for her at all. And the only thing I’d seen Ryan Gosling in (besides snippets of The Notebook on tv) was this dreadful tween-targeted show about a high school on board a cruise ship. He was maybe 14-15 years old, and he was terrible – think of the worst stilted, would-be-hipster teen-boy performance you’ve seen, and I can almost guarantee you Gosling on “Breaker High” was worse than that.
      So I was stunned to like them both in CSL as much as I did!

      1. I wasn’t a fan of Easy A either! I thought I was the only one…I try to remember that Penn Badgley’s character annoyed me, but I have a lingering negative association with Emma because of it. I’ll have to try Crazy Stupid Love I guess!

    2. Angie, Cecilia drew your name out of the hat! Congratulation. E-mail me your address (lerner dot rose at gmail dot com) and I’ll have her send you the book. 🙂

    1. My tv ignorance now reveals itself: I’m not familiar with Luthor. I googled it, but only got things about Lex Luthor.
      It sounds like something I should know about. Can you post a link?

  4. I love Sherlock! And I can’t wait for it to come back.
    I think my favorite romance this past year has been Rory and Amy’s story in Doctor Who. There have been some issues with it, but Rory’s amazing and it’s so cool seeing them together and dealing with everything that they’ve seen running around with the Doctor.

    1. Okay, I’ve never seen a full episode of Doctor Who. I tried once, when I was in high school (ages ago), but it felt like a big in-joke I wasn’t in on.
      Nevertheless, I keep hearing from people who love it. If I started watching now, would I be totally at sea?

      1. You’ll be fine if you start with the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure. They made it a good place to jump in. And it’s where Amy and Rory get introduced. I’m a bit biased since I think Rory is one of the coolest characters on TV, but that makes it a doubly good place to start as far as I’m concerned. 😉 That’s the Fifth series from 2010.

  5. Congratulations on your debut! I’ve already won the book, so no need to enter me in the drawing.
    I enjoy the early Sherlock Holmes movies, but I think that Hollywood has ruined the franchise with the current Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law version. I don’t like how they portray Sherlock as sloppy and how Dr. Watson is suppose to be as intuitive as Sherlock.
    I watch Revenge, but I like Once Upon a Time even better? Have you seen that show?

    1. I just can’t buy Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes! I don’t know why; he was totally convincing as a genius in Iron Man, but every time I see a trailer for one of the Downey/Law SH movies, I just think “WRONG!”
      I’ve noticed Once Upon a Time has an active following on Twitter, but I missed the beginning few eps (it was opposite The Amazing Race) and figured I probably couldn’t catch up now. I hope they’ll rerun it from the start when the season’s over.

      1. Once Upon a Time’s premise sounds ridiculous on paper, but it works. All the fairytale characters that we read about in childhood (Snow White, Cinderella, Prince Charming, etc.) are cursed and they are transported to present day USA. They don’t know they are characters from a book and the show goes back and forth between the past & present showing this transition. The mayor is the evil queen who put the curse on everyone, so she is doing everything in her power to keep them from remembering.

  6. Thanks for the giveaway ^_^
    I really love Once Upon A Time too. I spend the whole time cheering for Snow White’s character because she’s so cute, and I’d love for Red Riding Hood to get a bigger part because she is awesome. Also, I want them to hook Rumpelstiltskin up with someone because I find him weirdly attractive

    1. Okay, I haven’t seen an episode of Once Upon a Time, but I’ve loved that Rumpelstiltskin actor ever since I first saw him in The Full Monty, so I completely approve of him finding a hookup!
      Is the straw-spinning girl from Rumpelstiltskin in this world? And does she even have a name, in the fairy tale? I suddenly realize I have no idea what to call her!

  7. Hi, Cecilia! You’ve been one busy lady – touring here, touring there – since your book came out. I don’t know when you find time to read or watch TV. I can’t even find enough time to write lately. Congratulations again on your success!

    1. Shannon, thanks for stopping by. I went to order your book online and I see you’re doing very nicely, sales-wise. Do you think the new P.D. James P&P sequel has stirred up more interest in that world?

  8. I read ALA after I saw a recommendation on the Book Smugglers and I loved it! Such superb writing style, the storyline wasn’t hampered by misunderstandings/kidnappings/illnesses and the relationship developed very organically. I love me a heroine who is strongwilled, so the book is definitely a keeper. Looking forward to many more from you, Cecilia!
    Rose’s two books are on my TBR as well, per the Book Smugglers.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and yes, you absolutely must read Rose’s books! I didn’t know her when I first read IN FOR A PENNY, but I wrote her a fan letter and she wrote back and we got to be friends.
      And if you like strong-willed heroines, you’ll probably especially like Serena, the heroine of Rose’s A LILY AMONG THORNS. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone.

  9. Wonderful to see your interview! Such fun to see the two of you chatting. 🙂 I’m very much anticipating reading your novel!!
    Favorite TV romance of 2011? Downton Abbey. I know… cliche already, right? 🙂

  10. Currently reading Martha and Theo’s story now, and using it to bribe myself to get the day’s tasks accomplished so I can use finishing this great read as a reward.
    For TV couples, I blog about the Booth/Brennan romance on Bones over at the Heroes and Heartbreakers blog; I’ve been screaming at the TV for these two to get married and make babies already since the pilot…well, they’re halfway there. Also big time Barney/Robin shipper for How I Met Your Mother. Watching two committment phobic people fall hard for each other works as well on television as on the page.

  11. BELL, BOOK & CANDLE – I’ve always found Jimmy Stewart ENTIRELY unappetizing, but some of the films he was in are so good that I forget to notice. Kim Novak & the aunt are great, not to mention Piewacket and the wonderfully wicked plotting against the fiancee. THE BIG EASY – I was shocked no one listed this one–did I miss it? Dennis Quaid is so incredibly charming that you forget his looks are just average, and this film has MARVELOUS New Orleans local color, not to mention a terrific score. There’s also a VERY steamy love scene. CHARADE – Very stylish, with a strong Paris setting–and Cary Grant is his deliciously elegant self. DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN – An offbeat delight. Aidan Quinn is a bit skinny for my tastes, but his romance with Rosanna Arquette is charming, and this film even made me think that Madonna might be something other than a jerk (probably not–probably it was just good directing!) THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (TV remake with Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews). Just to watch Andrews’ lickable little moue is a delight. SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME – A very romantic version of the bodyguard falling in love with the body he guards. SOMEWHERE IN TIME – A ripoff of Jack Finney’s TIME & AGAIN, but the romantic element is VERY strong, the sets are gorgeous, and the Rachmaninoff love theme (from Variations/Paganini) is haunting. SPLASH! – Strong romance, even stronger comedy with John Candy, naked women at the Statue of Liberty, moron twins, “Woolly Bully”. WITNESS – I agree with Dede; & this film also says so much about community and violence. The bell-ringing scene is one of the most moving I’ve seen since the little girl in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (not a romance) thwarted a lynching. The photography is also spectacular. THE BEST!! WUTHERING HEIGHTS – Not one of my favorite tales, but the male lead in this movie is IMO the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. Surprisingly, that man is an actor noted for his craft, not his looks–Laurence Olivier!

    1. Sorry it took me so long to approve this! I never got a notice about it and didn’t see it until I logged into my blog today. I am not a fan of Jimmy Stewart either, but I love Destry Rides Again and some of his other movies anyway! He can be very charming if I don’t think too much about his politics. And wow, it’s news to me that Laurence Olivier isn’t noted for his looks! That was definitely what he was known for in our house…;)

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