I still remember the day I first started stalking… er…. learned about Sarah MacLean. I was perusing Dear Author, trying to figure out which books I wanted to read next when I came across an outstanding review for Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart. Now, an A ranking on Dear Author doesn’t come along every day of the week. In fact, the thought of actually having one of my books reviewed on Dear Author makes this Duchess want to dive into a bottle of Jim Beam.
A really big bottle of Jim Beam.
With one of those ginormous straws that McDonalds serves that you can fit 10 Wendy’s straws through.
But at the time, all I could think was, “I want to be this woman when I grow up.” So I promptly read Eleven Scandals, and chased them with the two others in the series (her smashing debut historical Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake and its mathematically predictable but equally stunning Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord). And I studied them. Admired them. Despaired of ever being able to write anything half so yummy.
And then came the moment that changed my life. No, not the book deal that would finally place me among the exalted ranks of published authors… I am talking about THE moment. An unsolicited email from Sarah MacLean. Apologetically introducing herself, saying my editor had sent her an advance copy of my book, and that she would love to provide a cover blurb. And all I could think was ohmygodohmygodohmygod… THE Sarah MacLean emailed me. Not because she had to, but because she is an incredibly nice person. And then came her blurb and I thought ohdearlordohdearlordohdearlord she really did like it. And she has continued to say such lovely things about me, I am beginning to wonder if she might not be a little touched in the head.
So, in the spirit of paying it forward, I am so pleased to be on the Duchesses today to introduce you to the Sarah MacLean I have come to know over the past few months, the one with a wicked sense of humor, the ready, expert advice, the very large dog in the not-so-large New York City apartment, and the musician husband who puts up with all of that.
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover is the 2nd book in her newest series, the follow-up to A Rogue by Any Other Name. It is the story of Pippa, a well-bred girl who is self-admittedly odd. And it isn’t just her spectacles – it’s the way she sees the world, with or without them. Pippa is about to get married to a perfectly boring but pleasant peer, and has precious little experience to know if she is bringing everything she ought to the contract. So, she sets out (like any good scientist!) to discover what is missing in her understanding of matters between a husband and wife. The man she propositions to be her “research associate” is Cross, is a darkly dangerous earl with a dark past. He is also ginger-haired (le sigh!) and the close friend of Pippa’s new brother-in-law. Cross is not going to give the lady what she seeks, but he can’t quite convince himself to leave well enough alone when she might move on to get her information somewhere else.
1) Sarah, Your newest historical series is a grittier reality than your first 3 books, based around co-owners of a gaming hell: London’s fabulous (and fictitious) The Fallen Angel. I predict readers who have grown bored with the average Regency ballroom scenes will love this—I know I found it a refreshing change! Within the walls of the Angel, there is a lot of gambling, a little whoring, and more than a little true love to be found. What prompted you to choose this setting as a backdrop for all four books, and did you count a trip to Vegas among your tax deductions in 2012?
When I conceived of the Rules of Scoundrels series in early 2010, I knew that I was going to go a little darker than where I had left the Love By Numbers series. I mean, I’m Sarah MacLean, so I’m betting I’ll never actually write really dark . . . my heroines are too quirky and my sensibilities lean too far toward funny. That said, I love me some heist moves. And Ocean’s Eleven? Yes, please.
I started researching Regency-era casinos, and discovered a remarkable man named William Crockford, who was basically the grandfather of the modern casino. The history on the man himself is hazy, and he’s more myth than fact these days, but it’s generally accepted that he grew up the son of a fishmonger in Temple Bar and pulled himself up by his bootstraps, first running dice games in the slums of London, then running his own small hell, and finally trading up for an enormous casino on St. James’s, just across the street from White’s gentlemen’s club.
By all accounts, there was nothing sexy about William Crockford – he was ham-fisted, pasty faced, foul-mouthed and fouler-smelling, with a penchant for prostitutes from his childhood neighborhood that could hot have helped matters. But the seed of the idea was already planted . . . Crockford’s casino became The Fallen Angel, and Crockford himself became four fallen aristocrats—scoundrels, no doubt, but clean, handsome, charming (when they want to be), and desperately in need of love.
And, yes, actually, a trip to Vegas is part of my 2012 tax expenses. With another (and a visit to the Clark County Public Library with Julia Quinn!!!) coming March 3rd! Vegasites! Please join us!
2) No disrespect to your husband Eric, of course, but you must be the most sexually frustrated woman in the world to write this key element of romance so beautifully in your scenes! The drawn-out frustration between Pippa and Cross in One Good Earl Deserves a Lover is a most perfect example of this art form at its finest. Can you give us some tips for how to maintain that all-too-important degree of frustration and angst in our own lives?
I read this question out loud to Eric, and he said “most people think we have an amazing sex life.” To wit, I replied, “Jenni is not most people.” To wit, he replied, “I gathered that. Most people also wouldn’t ask you that question in public.”
My own sexual satisfaction aside, Jennifer, I’ve always thought that the most important part of a romance is the frustration and angst. Sex should never be used to reward characters in romance—it should always be used to complicate matters. Don’t believe me? Go reread your favorite romance. I don’t care who wrote it or when . . . the sex bit makes everything worse before it gets better. Go read. I’ll wait here.
Back? I was right, wasn’t I? Even if the sex is stunning and beautiful and earthshattering, by the cold, harsh light of day, it’s changed everything. And you can’t take it back. And that’s the part I love most about writing romance.
3) I noticed in One Good Earl Deserves a Lover a lovely (and laudable) fixation on hounds. The boring fiance for example, offers to let Pippa name the dog he is buying and that is one of the things that prompts a little freak-out moment for the usually level-headed heroine (as in, Oh my word, this thing is going to be permanent!) Trotula, Pippa’s spaniel, tries to jump in a carriage in one memorable scene that made me think, “Yup. MacLean knows dogs, all right”. Tell us about your own dog, and whether you would ever write a heroine that didn’t like dogs…
Thank you! What a lovely compliment. I like hounds. Very much . . . and I don’t entirely trust people who are not dog people (so, probably not on the heroine who doesn’t like dogs). Dogs are handsome and loyal and willing to cuddle anytime you like, and they do not leave socks on the bedroom floor. They’re like the perfect hero.
My own hound, Baxter, is a rescue dog who chose us. We were in Union Square and he approached us and climbed right into Eric’s lap. We were (of course) totally smitten, so we kept him. He now spends his day sleeping on numerous beds (dog and human), following the sunshine across the floor of the house, and snoring.
His likes include: long walks in the park, toys that squeak and fortune cookies
His dislikes include: baths, vacuums and weather.
(I’m attaching a picture of his sweet face.)
4) One of the things that makes Pippa so odd is her fixation on scientific matters. The girl can name every bone in the human body (although really, in my opinion, that’s less odd than remarkable). What is your favorite bone and why? And no, no, the obvious answer will not suffice.
I assume by “the obvious answer,” you mean the funny bone. Har har.
My favorite bone is the mandible—the lower jaw bone. Aside from being one of the strongest bones in the body and the strongest of the facial bones, it’s the only bone in the head that moves and one of the few bones in the body that develops with two right angles. Pippa would be very impressed.
I prefer it to other bones because jaws are super sexy. I like them big and square. And set in irritation. Or randiness.
5) The intimate scenes in your books are… how shall I put this… remarkably sensual. I don’t just mean hot, I mean lush and decadent and emotionally jarring, the kind of intercourse every woman should have, every single time. I remember writing a scene for one of my earlier books and when I was through I shook my head and told myself, “Do it again. And this time think, ‘How would Sarah MacLean write this?’” What key elements are necessary for intimacy in Regency Romance?
Well, first . . . thank you so much for your kind words about the naughty bits. I say that because I find them to be the hardest parts of a book to write. They slow me down like mad—I can write 10 pages of normal book in a few hours, but then it takes me a week to write 10 pages of sex. There’s so much to think about—pacing and staying true to characters and making sure the sex matters and drives the story forward—and it’s just not there for sex’s sake.
In some of my books – One Good Earl Deserves A Lover and Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s heart, for example—sex actually doesn’t even happen until three-quarters of the way into the book. Sometimes, in order to remain true to your characters, that’s how it has to be. So, my advice is—make sure you’re using intimacy to get your characters closer together and to bring your readers closer to the characters.
And don’t worry so much about “the rules.”
6) On your website, you have the following quote: “I write books. There’s smooching in them.” I love this, because it’s like you are giving the middle finger to critics of the genre, and proudly embracing everything I love about Romance. In my opinion, part of your success in touching readers is that your stories perfectly straddle the all-important line between serious matters and a fun romp. How important is humor in your own life, and what impact has this outlook had on your characters?
Well . . . my favorite bone is the funny bone, so . . .
Humor is essential to my world. Life is sometimes painful and sometimes unexpected and always weird. And the only way to live it is to face that pain and surprise and oddness with a laugh. In my experience, humor can disarm enemies, reverse opinions and charm the pants off of people (sometimes literally).
I imagine that, because I feel this way, my books tend to be rompy rather than dark and brooding—though I do love a black moment as much as the next girl. But I can’t have heroes who aren’t clever and I can’t have heroines who aren’t funny. This is why they eventually all border on screwball comedy with a twist of sexy pain—but is that so bad?
Thank you so much for joining the Duchesses today, Sarah!
Thank you, Jennifer! And may I just add . . . this interview was one of the most fun I’ve ever experienced!
(To wit Duchess Jennifer blushes and figures she must not have offended Duchess MacLean too much!)