You like to blend the contemporary with the historical? Why is that?
"The contemporary/historical blend of my books happened, like most things in my life, by accident. When I began writing the manuscript that became The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I had just finished my second year in the Harvard history department, and was beginning to experience the disillusionment that kicks in midway through the second year of grad school, when you realize that historians are divided, not just on the whys and wherefores, but sometimes even the hard and dry facts of the historical record itself. With fragmentary and contradictory evidence, even who did what when can become a matter for debate, much less trickier topics like the cultural mores or general sensibility of a time period. History wasn’t a solid ground, but a matter of interpretation, conceived and re-conceived through the successive lenses of the historians writing about it, colored by the preconceptions and preoccupations of their own eras.
As an aspiring writer of historical fiction, this disturbed me deeply. How could we write accurately about the world that was when no one could agree on what had been?
So, as a hedge, I added on a modern framing character to my Napoleonic-set story: a disgruntled Harvard graduate student doing her research year in London. (Which, of course, had nothing to do with the fact that I was a disgruntled Harvard graduate student on my research year in London.) My grad school friends egged me on, urging me to use my modern heroine as a mouthpiece for the annoying way advisors had of never answering emails, the tendency of microfilm readers to break down, and the general inadequacy of the history department coffee machine.
When my modern heroine discovers a cache of papers, we leap through her imagination into the historical story: we’re seeing what happened, to a certain extent, through her eyes, tinted by her modern sensibilities. I’ve had great fun with that over the years. Although I always try to be as accurate as possible with actual people and events, it’s provided me license to be playful, and introduce elements like “The Cosmopolitan Ladies’ Book”, with articles about “Ten Tricks to a Flirtier Fan!”—or, my personal favorite, a high speed sedan chair chase through the streets of London."
How did writing Purple Plumeria compare to the other books in the series? Was it easier? Harder? More fun?
"The longer a side character has been around in the series, the longer they’ve had to develop a quirky identity, the harder they are to write. Miss Gwen, in particular, was a tough cookie. She’s been around since the first chapters of Book I, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, laying about her with her sword parasol, firing off pithy quips, terrifying fops near and far. I knew that the side she showed to the world—sometimes prim, sometimes brazen, but always delighting in shocking and defying expectations—was part of who she was, but not the sum total of her. Somewhere, underneath there, was the real Gwen, the Gwen without the “Miss”, and I needed to figure out how to dig her out. Somehow.
The idea of writing about Miss Gwen was terrifying. I set about finding new and creative ways of postponing the inevitable: in this case, writing a whole, different, entirely unrelated stand alone novel set around World War I England and 1920s Kenya. (I confess, I wrote The Ashford Affair to avoid Miss Gwen. These things happen.) With The Ashford Affair safely handed in to my editor and my website pre-programmed for months to come, I had to face the fact that I’d run out of creative ways to procrastinate. I girded my loins—to ward off stray parasol shots—ordered a grande skim caramel macchiato, and set about trying to unlock the mystery that is Miss Gwen.
Once I’d gotten over that initial fear (and imbibed enough espresso), I had a ball writing Purple Plumeria. Colonel Reid is one of my favorite characters so far, and provided a perfect foil for the prickly Gwen."
What’s next for you?
"Right now, I’ve just finished my second stand alone novel, in which a modern woman inherits her great-aunt’s house in a suburb of London and discovers an unknown Preraphaelite painting hidden in the back of an old wardrobe. Who hid it there? And why? The discovery throws us back to 1849 and the early days of the Preraphaelite movement as the story zig zags back and forth between my modern heroine in 2009 and the people who lived in that same house in 1849. It’s a little bit Barbara Michaels, a little bit Kate Morton, and a little bit Desperate Romantics.
Now that my Preraphaelite novel (still untitled) is safely in the hands of my editor, I’m starting work on the eleventh book in the Pink Carnation series, tentatively titled The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. It’s the Little Season of 1806, and society has gone gaga over a book called The Convent of Orsino (think an early nineteenth century Twilight), sparking a vampire craze among the ton. But when a woman is found dead outside the townhouse of the reclusive Duke of Belliston, the situation turns serious. Sally Fitzhugh doesn’t believe in vampires— but what secret is Lucien, Duke of Belliston, really hiding?
I don’t have exact release dates yet, but the Preraphaelite book should be coming out in spring of 2014, with The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, aka Pink XI, to follow in August 2014. Stay tuned!"
Thanks for visiting, Lauren, and sharing your thoughts with us! To learn more about Lauren Willig, check out her website.
I can't wait to read her next stand alone novel...it sounds amazing! I also want to read the other books in the Pink Carnation series. What are your thoughts? Have you read Lauren Willig's novels?