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The Gloves Come Off! Welcome Duchess Alyssa Alexander With Her Debut Novel, The Smuggler Wore Silk

It’s Duchess Jennifer McQuiston here, and I am wiggling in my seat (I know, Duchess’s aren’t supposed to do that, but I am very excited!) You see, tomorrow is fellow Duchess Alyssa Alexander’s debut for her very first book, The Smuggler Wore Silk, and she has graciously agreed to let me interview her for the Dashing Duchesses.

Alyssa-Alexander-214x300This is a gutsy decision, because Alyssa and I are close friends. This means that she knows from past history (and umpteen examples) that sometimes my interview questions can make even the staunchest of heroines blush. I’ve promised her I will be gentle (I lied, of course).

I’m also removing my gloves, one finger at a time, and am now briskly warming them in her hero’s lap in anticipation of such a delicious opportunity.

But first, here’s a bit about Alyssa.

Dibs on my hero’s lap, Jennifer!! I didn’t write Julian for you. I wrote him for me. Er…wait. No, I wrote him for all woman-kind. Sigh….

But, if one can even focus on a Duchess when there is a wounded gentleman hero spy around, here’s a little about me: I live in Michigan, but should have been born someplace hot and sunny where drinks are served with paper umbrellas. I work a full time job outside the home, am a full time mother and wife, and am a debut romance writer. My life is a whirlwind every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, as long as I get to take those occasional breaks someplace warm and sunny.

Alyssa’s debut, the Smuggler Wore Silk, is already generating much well-deserved buzz in the historical romance world and has garnered the highest possible rating (4.5 stars and a “Top Pick”) from RT Book Reviews, which said: “Alexander makes her debut with a thrilling, wild ride of a spy thriller that sizzles with passion. Readers will follow her three-dimensional characters through a maze of plot twists and turns. Like an intricate puzzle, Alexander has all the pieces of the ideal romance and arranges them in the perfect picture. She is a rising star you won’t want to miss.”

9780425269527_medium_The_Smuggler_Wore_Silk1Isn’t that the most amazing review? I couldn’t be more grateful! And, for a little insight into a debut author’s world, I was so terrified I couldn’t open the email to read it at first. I had to let it sit in my inbox for about 10 minutes before I worked up the nerve check it! And when it was wonderful, I was thrilled. Here is a little blurb about the book:

After he is betrayed by one of his own, British spy Julian Travers, Earl of Langford, refuses to retire without a fight, vowing to find the traitor. But when the trail leads to his childhood home, Julian is forced to return to a place he swore he’d never see again, and meet a woman who may be his quarry—in more ways than one.

Though she may appear a poor young woman dependent on charity, Grace Hannah’s private life is far more interesting. By night, she finds friendship and freedom as a member of a smuggling ring. But when the handsome Julian arrives, she finds her façade slipping, and she is soon compromised, as well as intrigued.

As she and Julian continue the hunt, Grace finds herself falling in love with the man behind the spy. Yet Julian’s past holds a dark secret. And when he must make a choice between love and espionage, that secret may tear them apart.

I’ll start with a low-ball question first, because I don’t want to frighten our blushing debut author. Every author worth her salt owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the authors who inspire them to dig deeper and reach higher in their own writing. Who would you like to send a shout-out of thanks to in the writing world for being so darn amazing? (*cough-Joanna Bourne-cough*)

Ah, you know me too well. Yes, I love the incomparable Joanna Bourne, and also the brilliant Cecelia Grant, for their skill with characterization. Mary Balogh for her internal dialogue. And Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt for instilling a love of the mysterious side of romance in my youth.

The Smuggler Wore Silk is a lush, suspenseful Regency-set historical, and is the first book in your “A Spy in the Ton” series. Why did you choose to write Regency-set historicals, Ms. Alexander, instead of, say, dino-erotic-steampunk? And more importantly, why spies?

Hm. Dino-erotic-steampunk. Most interesting…Perhaps I should reconsider my genre? But no, I’m too in love with the Regency! I never thought about writing anything but historical, primarily because I have a fantasy involving a handsome lord in black evening wear and a crisp white cravat whirling me across a ball room gilded with candlelight. I’d be wearing a lavish satin gown with my hair curled and piled high. And as candlelight is flattering to everyone, I’d be stunningly beautiful. But alas, it truly is a fantasy. I could never be a proper Regency miss. I’m terrified of horses, would likely trip over the hem of a Regency gown, prefer running water and toilets to a hip bath and chamber pot, and wouldn’t remember how to address the second son of a marquess without a cheat sheet tucked into my reticule. But a modern girl can always dream…As for why espionage, I love adventure, action, and characters with secrets. Given the war with France during the Regency, espionage is a natural fit. Plus, putting characters in harm’s way brings emotion to the surface. When everything a person loves is in danger they will go to extraordinary lengths to protect it.

Your cover is gorgeous, and very unique. (She’s got a gun behind her back, people, and a curious little smirk on her face!) I am not aware of any other historical covers that feature a pistol-wielding heroine. How did you conceive of the idea? And does it accurately portray the character of your heroine, Grace Hannah?

smoking gunsWell on this one, I have to give the shout out to YOU, Ms. McQuiston! For which I am entirely grateful! As I recall, it was your idea. Women with weapons are a common cover concept in contemporary romantic suspense, and you suggested using that concept for historical. Once the idea was planted in my brain, I couldn’t get it out. Since Grace uses a pistol to great effect in THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, and in the next book, IN BED WITH THE SPY, the heroine Lilias uses a cavalry sabre, it naturally flowed that each heroine would have a different weapon. As to the smile, that was the wonderful cover artist!

And, yes, the cover is perfect for Grace! Not only does she carry a pocket pistol on her smuggling travels, but, she’s a gently bred lady living in her uncle’s home. She appears to be every inch a lady. But at night, she meets with smugglers in pubs and travels across the countryside. So the idea of her hiding the pistol behind her back fits the smuggler hiding behind the lady.

OK, fine, you’ve called me out. I wanted some credit for that gorgeous cover! Although, I didn’t imagine anything half so beautiful. Now, please tell us a bit about your hero, Julian Travers. He’s a gentleman, he’s a spy, he’s a hell of a complicated new husband for our heroine to try to sort out. Why did a gentleman like Julian turn to spying in the first place? And why does he marry a woman he has begun to suspect of treason?

Ah, Julian. *sigh* My favorite type of hero. He’s strong, intelligent, charming and little bit wounded. As for why he turned to spying, that would be a spoiler! So, in my best Duchess-y manner, I shall simply say ‘atonement, my dears!’ Which is also why he offers to marry Grace. He is, at his very core, honorable, so when he compromises Grace, he has no choice but to propose. Yes, he believes she may be a traitor, but in the moment they’re discovered he follows his gentlemanly instincts. The espionage bit he works out later.

roostersThere was a very interesting article in the Washington Post in December 2013 (see it here). The article discussed the increasing use of the word “co$k” (think: barnyard fowl) in historical romances. Given that the Washington Post has left this particular barn door wide open for romance authors and readers everywhere, I’m officially pulling out the “hard”-ball question I warned you about:

Does Julian call his a “barnyard fowl” or something more civilized?
He does not, in fact, use anything related to “barnyard fowl” in the book.  As near as I can tell, he never really calls it anything, oddly enough (though I offer a disclaimer here: this was a quick perusal of those parts of the book, so I may have missed a mention or two.)

Wow. That’s almost TOO civilized! What does GRACE call it?
Arousal. But here’s a question, if I ever get to do a rewrite, what do YOU think Grace should call it?

Erm… aren’t I supposed to be asking the hard questions here?? Luckily, I know a place to send you as reference. In my first book, What Happens in Scotland, my shocked heroine wakes up in bed with a naked stranger and calls it an “erection.” On page 1, no less. So if you aren’t going to play hardball with me, maybe you could just indulge our readers by letting them know the first page where the idea of Julian’s “co$k” shows up… you know. In case we want to flip straight there.
Well… it could have been used around pages 143, 169, and 196. Just in case you want to evaluate whether the scenes are lacking without said word usage. In a purely intellectual sense, of course.

Please give me a second to peek at these pages, and then join me in cheering Alyssa on in her fabulous debut!

Thank you for interviewing me, Jennifer, during the week of all weeks! There’s nothing quite like the first release day of your first novel, I’m told, and I’m thrilled to share it with the Duchesses!

To celebrate Alyssa’s release, she has graciously agreed to give away a copy of The Smuggler Wore Silk . Just tell us your favorite… er… barnyard animal to enter! Winner chosen from all commenters on Friday, January 10th.

Jennifer and Alyssa first met when a meteor descended upon them and cracked them upside the head (that meteor was actually  author Kimberly Kincaid, who introduced them and got them started as critique partners, along with the fabulous Tracy Brogan). Together, they make up the Three Cheekas. (Yes, they know there are four of them. Use some imagination, folks!)

 Alyssa Alexander writes Love with a Little Danger from the decidedly NOT warm and sunny upper Midwest. When she’s not torturing her critique partners with hard-ball questions,  Jennifer McQuiston writes Different. Historical. Romance. She thinks Alyssa’s new book is pretty amazing, and gave her a cover blurb to prove it!

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