Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scandalous Interview and Giveaway with Author Carrie Lofty

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome historical romance author Carrie Lofty to the blog. Carrie is the author of Scoundrel's Kiss which is released today. You can read my review of the book here.

Q: Welcome Carrie to Scandalous Women! Tell us about a little about yourself and how you got started writing?

I've been writing since I could string words into half-baked sentences. I started reading romance when I was 13, long about the time I became seriously interested in the history of the Old West. Writing historical romance was a perfect fit! But I floundered for years and years. I didn't have it in me to take my ambitions seriously.

Then my husband went to graduate school, a degree program that sent him to Virginia for a summer internship. I stayed behind in Wisconsin with our two daughters. I realized that if I wanted to get back out in the world and have my place in the sun, I needed to become dedicated. I finished my first manuscript that summer, then sold the following year.

Now I live in Wisconsin with our two daughters, ages 6 and 7, and write full time. I love that we've been able to fashion our life to provide such a marvelous opportunity for me to really make a go of my career.

Q. I absolutely adored SCOUNDREL’S KISS and thought it was one of the best historical romances I’ve read in awhile. What sparked the story idea?

I knew that the heroine, Ada, would become an opium addict, and I knew that I wanted to feature a warrior monk as the hero. Then it became a matter of finding the medieval country where those two plot elements could be realistically set. The kingdoms of Spain became the perfect choice: ready access to opium, tremendous network of holy orders, and cultural laws in a massive state of flux. That latter became very important because it allowed freedom to pursue some otherwise unconventional plot ideas!

Q. Medieval Spain is an unusual setting for a historical romance which is one of the reasons why I was so overjoyed to read it. Were there any concerns about the setting? Is there anything about this period that constrained your story?

If anything, the setting was far more liberal than I first imagined. Women could participate in long-term affairs without reproach. Monks could get married. Young people could get married without witnesses or a priest—simply by declaring themselves married. Where were the taboos? I had to shuffle a few plot elements to sustain the appropriate about of tension.

As for my concerns about Spain, I knew that I needed to present the setting and the politics in a way that would permit the average reader easy access to the story itself. I simplified much of the very intense political and religious backstabbing of the day, making note of my alterations in the Author's Note. But I was hoping that the big hook—an opium addict and a warrior monk—would garner enough attention so as to drag a few reluctant readers along with me!

Q. Ada is an unusual heroine for a historical romance, not only is she highly educated, but she’s on her own and has an addition problem. What kind of major research did you have to do?

I wanted to know, first of all, what would've been possible for a woman of her time. Educated women did exist, and in Iberian, they ruled kingdoms and powerful families. However, they suffered a great deal of suspicion from lay people. I image that even the most respected female scholar would still be subject to a great deal of superstition and mistrust if she wondered out of court life and into a regular village.

As such, Ada is not only deeply troubled and haunted by the string of poor choices she's made, but she's almost entirely misunderstood. Even scholarly mentors are wary. This perfect storm of circumstances means that she has very few people to turn to, leaving her rather desperate and lost.

Q. Gavriel is a warrior who decides to join a religious order to atone for his past. I was intrigued to learn that rules were a little different for this order than others. How much is it based in fact, and how much is fiction?

Believe me, it would've been a lot easier on me had the Order of Santiago been a regular old religious institution. Gavriel would've been constrained by his vows, tempted, fallen…all without any snags. But the Jacobeans, as they were called, were a special lot. Pope Alexander III gave them special dispensation to wed and keep personal property—no vows of celibacy or poverty for these boys!

This was all in an attempt to recruit more men into the ranks of Christian warriors who would defend the kingdoms from Islamic tribes to the south. As a result, I had to get a little creative with Gavriel's story to demonstrate just why his vows of obedience, non-violence and celibacy were so important.

Q. What was life like for women in Medieval Spain compared to England?

All children, no matter their sex, inherited equal shares from their parents' estates. The only thing that boys received over their female siblings were war armaments. So a family of five would find its estate split into five equal shares. This made the proper courtship of women very important because they were bringing their own property into the marriage.

Sexual rules were also rather lax. A woman could live as an unmarried lover for any length of time with no stains to her reputation. That same woman could eventually marry another man and be considered a perfectly great catch. The key, again, was the conflict with the Moors. The frontier between the Christian and Moorish strongholds was thoroughly and violently contested. Far fewer women lived in those villages. Bachelors didn't want otherwise acceptable women taken off the marriage market because of indiscretions!

The only crimes that were severely punished were adultery and the promotion of adultery—because they destabilized good Christian marriages—and engaging in sexual relations with Moors. Such a crime was punishable by death, even among prostitutes. Rape was also difficult to prove because rules regarding pre-conjugal chastity were considerable less strict.

Q. You are also a member of Unusual Historicals. What was the impetus behind the blog?

I founded UH in November of 2006 after completing my first manuscript, which was recently selected to launch Carina Press, Harlequin's new all-digital venture, in June 2006. That historical romance is set in 1804 Salzburg. I received numerous rejections and wanted to know whether that lack of success was because of my writing or an unadventurous market. (I also wanted to fatten up my TBR pile with new, exotic reads!) Now three years later, it still serves as a great place to network and connect with fans of historicals set outside of the usual times and places!

Q. What/Who do you like to read?

I love lush, beautiful writing, so my favorite romance authors are Candice Procter, Penelope Williamson, Laura Kinsale, and Patricia Gaffney. They all craft such amazing stories, not simply packed with emotion and fascinating characters, but with poetic language to describe every aspect of the hero and heroine's lives. I read those books and knew that's what I wanted to write. Those are the kinds of stories I love to read, so why not give them a try in my own style with my own unique voice?

Q. What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed over time? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I start with the setting. Always. Then I research and brainstorm in tandem, trying to find my characters. What sort of people could have lived in this time and place? Are they native? Just passing through? There for the long haul? Bored and desperate to get out? Once I have the setting and the characters very firm in my mind, then I start writing and never look back. You could call me a prepared pantser!

I tend to write very messy, very long first drafts. The first pass of revisions is to clean up continuity, cut down on tendency toward verbal diarrhea, and firm up my chosen themes. After a few beta readers have their say, I hit it again for a third and sometimes fourth revision. But I don't like to sit on a draft too long, lest it begins to revolt me!

Q. There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels," Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Empower! I've thought about this a great deal because I have two young daughters, and the question as to whether or not I'll let them read my work when they're old enough has been asked of me before. I grew up reading romance novels. They appealed to the romantic in me, naturally, but I always had a clear sense of what was fiction and what was reality. The fiction included the rip-roaring or overly coincidental plots, the too-good-to-be-true sex, the outrageous male bodies. The reality, however, was that love should be respectful, relatively equal, and satisfying to both parties involved. No other genre more clearly explores those possibilities. I like to think that years of reading romance made me better able to spot my prince when he came along!

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

I hope the prejudice is changing. We see articles almost weekly now where people in esteemed places finally admit to reading romance, or they finally step up to defend this worthy genre. I suppose our Puritanical history might have something to do with the prejudice, but art itself has generally been seen to represent suffering. "Pretty" paintings are less worthy than grim, ultra-realistic ones. Fiction with a happy ending is suspect because it's easier to relate to and must, therefore, be easier to write! Ha!

Q. What are you planning to work on next?

As I mentioned, I'll be helping to launch Carina Press in June. In my untitled historical romance, a widowed violin prodigy begins a steamy affair with the renowned composer she's always idolized, only to learn that he stole the symphony he's most famous for. In addition, co-writing with Ann Aguirre under the name Ellen Connor, our "Dark Age Dawning" trilogy of hot-n-dirty apocalyptic paranormal romance will be coming soon from Penguin. Plus I have a few more unusual settings up my sleeve: WWII, Victorian South Africa, medieval Venice…

Thanks Carrie for stopping by.  Since today is the release date for Scoundrel's Kiss, Scandalous Women is giving away a copy of this fabulous book. Note this giveaway is only available to my American and Canadian readers. Giveaway ends on January 12th at 12 p.m. EST.

Here are the rules:

1) Just leave a comment with your email address at the end of this post.
2) If you twitter about the giveaway, you will receive an extra entry.


Felicia said...

I haven't read many historicals, but this sounds really good.

Twittered contest: http://twitter.com/FERISHA/status/7411221635

Carrie Lofty said...

Thanks for the invitation to stop by at Scandalous Women! I'm happy to be here and talk about my latest. I'll be around all week to answer questions.

All the best for the new year,


Maria Ferrer said...

I love historicals with unusual settings, and I love Spain. I was just in Barcelona. This is a must for my reading list. Thank you Elizabeth for helping me discover a new writer. Can't wait to read it.

Barbara E. said...

I love historicals, that used to be all I read until all of these other awesome books came out - paranormals, urban fantasy, etc. I still enjoy the wonderful settings and events in a great historical, so I'm looking forward to reading Soundrel's Kiss. And I can't wait to check out your new Ellen Connor trilogy too.

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thank you very much for the excellent interview with Carrie Lofty. Thank you to Carrie for sharing. I hadn't realized that medieval Spain was more liberal than modern America. Nor that Carrie had so much going on. Wow.
Here's to a superb 2010!
I look forward to Carina Press & Carrie & Ann's DARK AGE DAWNING trilogy.

Malle said...

Thanks, Carrie. I am looking forward to the series you are writing with Ann Aguirre!

throuthehaze said...

I love historicals and this one sounds great!
throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Rebekah E. said...

sounds like a great book.

Johanne said...

The books sounds very exciting and I love reading historical novels.
Thank you and all the best in the New Year.


Moth said...

Spain sounds like a really interesting locale. Can't wait to read this one! :)

Julie said...

I, too, had not realized how different medieval Spain was from England. Thanks for the eye-opener, and for the chance to win. :)

julieguan AT gmail DOT com

Julie said...

I tweeted about this here: http://twitter.com/hafelina/status/7552605133

julieguan AT gmail DOT com

Carrie Lofty said...

Moth, sweetie, you won over here! Go give Bev your info :)