DFH interview #5: Tessa Dare

As part of my blog tour for Sweet Disorder, I wrote a guest post at Heroes and Heartbreakers about the tradition of widows and dead first husbands in historical romance. For that post, I interviewed the authors of some of my favorite historicals with widow heroines, and I got back such awesome, detailed answers that I wanted to share the complete interviews with you.

Here’s what Tessa Dare had to say about Twice Tempted by a Rogue, possibly still my favorite of her books (although it has a lot of competition!).

ttbar-cover-250x410Luck is a double-edged sword for brooding war hero Rhys St. Maur. His death wish went unanswered on the battlefield, while fate allowed the murder of his friend in the elite gentlemen’s society known as the Stud Club. Out of options, Rhys returns to his ancestral home on the moors of Devonshire, expecting anything but a chance at redemption in the arms of a beautiful innkeeper, who dares him to take on the demons of his past—and the sweet temptation of a woman’s love.

Meredith Maddox believes in hard work, not fate, and romance isn’t part of her plan. But when Rhys returns, battle-scarred, world-weary, and more dangerously attractive than ever, the lovely widow is torn between determination and desire. As a deep mystery and dangerous smugglers threaten much more than their passionate reckoning, Meredith discovers that she must trust everything to a wager her heart placed long ago.

Dead first husband is hereafter abbreviated DFH.

RL: DFHs fall on a spectrum between evil abusive assholes and great guys the heroine could have been with forever if they’d lived. How did you decide where on the spectrum you wanted Mr. Maddox to land?

TD: Maddox falls somewhere in between, I think. He wasn’t a villain, but they didn’t have a passionate love affair, either. Theirs was a marriage of convenience in the truest sense. He was kind to Meredith, she worked faithfully alongside him, and he left her the business (an inn) when he died. Neither of them went into it hoping for anything more, so I think they were content together, if not wildly in love.

RL: DFHs mean something a little different in Regency-set historicals since divorce wasn’t widely available, and because women gave up so many property rights by marrying. How do you think that affected your story?

TD: I don’t think Meredith would have ever contemplated divorcing Maddox. They were life and business partners. She was the one who actually proposed marriage, not him!

RL: One of the cool things about widow stories is the contrast between the decision the heroine took to be with the dead first husband and the decision she takes at the end of the story to be with the hero—and because she’s been married before, she knows what it means to compromise her autonomy in that way. Widow stories are often about learning to balance love and practicality, if that makes sense? Like a lot of times the heroine married her first husband either entirely out of love without thinking about whether it was a good decision, or else she married him for practical reasons without loving him at all. How does Meredith’s first marriage shape the course of her romance with Rhys? And how do you think that applies to how she lives the rest of her life, and what she expects and doesn’t let herself expect?

TD: Meredith is a very pragmatic woman, by necessity. Her father was disabled in a fire and she had to support them both, while living in a small village with few employment opportunities. So her first marriage was very much a business decision. She needed security for her and her father both, and neither love nor attraction factored into the equation.

Her attraction to Rhys, on the other hand, is anything but practical. Here’s this handsome, sexy, wounded man who was the object of all her adolescent infatuations and quite a few of her grown-up fantasies. Now he’s suddenly come back home, after a decade of absence—and within a day, he’s decided that the two of them are destined to marry. It’s like a dream come true—and that’s exactly why she doesn’t trust it. She’s afraid that if she lets herself give into the romantic fantasy, she’ll lose what ground she’s managed to hold for herself and her community.

RL: In historical romances, heroines who aren’t widows (and even some that are) are often virgins. Did writing a sexually experienced heroine affect the story and the romance in ways you didn’t expect? Were you able to do things you couldn’t do in other books?

TD: Twice Tempted features a role reversal, in that the heroine is more experienced than the hero. Not only was Meredith married, but she’s had a few lovers since her husband died. Rhys, on the other hand, has been celibate for a decade, and even though he wants her fiercely, he insists on waiting until they’re married (or at least engaged). To Merry, this is an entirely novel concept—that a man would think she’s worth courting slowly and waiting to sleep with, especially since she’s not upper-class or a virgin. I enjoyed the chance to write a heroine who was comfortable with her sensuality and could hold her own, in life and in bed. And it gave Rhys’s pursuit of her a sweetness that made me so happy to write.

RL: What kinds of DFH stories in romance influenced how you wrote? Were you reacting to or interacting with any genre conventions that you were aware of?

TD: Well, I remember that I specifically didn’t want Meredith to be a virgin, or a woman who’d never experienced pleasurable sex. I wanted to let Rhys pursue her with all the same intensity and attraction that other heroes display toward the innocent virgin heroines. He doesn’t care that he’s not her first—he just wants to be her best, and last.

RL: Tell me a favorite historical romance you’ve read with a memorable DFH or first marriage.

The most memorable widow heroine I read recently was Violet in Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy. I also liked how Jennifer Ashley handled Beth’s first marriage in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.

Thanks, Tessa! You can read an excerpt of Twice Tempted by a Rogue on her website.

Check out the rest of the interview series:

4/4 – Theresa Romain
4/7 – Susanna Fraser
4/9 – Jeannie Lin
4/11 – Cecilia Grant
4/14 – Tessa Dare
4/16 – Lauren Willig
4/18 – Courtney Milan

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