In case I haven’t mentioned it in a while, I wanted to reiterate how lucky I feel to have a great writing group here in Madison, WI. Lori Devoti and Kathy Steffen, from the How to Write Shop, are part of my crew, and a handful of other published authors – not to mention the coolest, most supportive writing women I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of, published and unpublished.
One published author in our group is Christine Merrill, a Harlequin Historical/Regency author who has her 10th book coming out next month in England, and her 7th one here in the US (they’re released significantly earlier ‘across the pond’).
I hope you’ll get a sense of Christine’s sharp wit and sly humor in this interview. She routinely cracks us up at meetings (did I mention the Mad City Romance Writers have a great sense of humor, too?!) and it’s always a delight to find those qualities in her books.
So, without further adieu, I am pleased to introduce you to my friend and one of my favorite authors, Christine Merrill:
Hi, Chris! Thanks for letting me interview you here at the How To Write Shop.
You have two books coming out in July. One in the states and one in England. Tell us a little bit about them.
The US book, Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess, is the gothic sequel to Miss Winthorpe’s Elopement. I’d written an unhappy married couple into that book, with half a plan to find the sweet, marshmallow center of the wife Claire, and to get her and her husband, Tim, back together.
And then I realized that Claire’s motivation was that she was a total bitch. So I pushed her down a flight of stairs and wrote a book about finding her murderer instead.
In DLIG, Claire’s cousin, Daphne, disguises herself as a governess and ingratiates herself into the Colton household, looking for answers. I tried to hit as many of the old Gothic tropes as I could with an old dark house, a mystery, family secrets, and a hero who’s a danger to himself and others. I loved those stories, back in the 70’s, but the heroines tended to be dumb as bricks and totally helpless. Daphne is a little better, I hope. Although she still goes investigating in a nightgown.
But that book came out the year before last in the UK. I am several books ahead in releases over there. Their July book is Lady Drusilla’s Road to Ruin. That is the middle book in a trilogy and the hero is John Hendricks, who’s a beta hero with hidden depths. He walked out on his job as a personal secretary at the end of Lady Folbroke’s Delicious Deception, planning to get drunk and get out of town.
But almost immediately he lands in a runaway heiress story. Dru is trying to chase down her sister, who has eloped with a dancing master. She hires Hendricks to help her, and one thing leads to another…
Oh, my! So, if we really wanted to get our hands on the English releases, is there a place to do that? And the US release is already on sale at e-Harlequin, right?
Right. Lady Dru and my other UK releases show up on Amazon eventually as imports. Or you can go to:
Since I know you, I know you’re a Sci-Fi fan. How did you get into Regency Romance?
I kind of stumbled into the Regency. My cousin, Ann, was a big fan of them. When we roomed together in college, she got me hooked on Signets, which we read during exam weeks to relax. But I still read mostly contemporary, and that was what I meant to write.
I wrote what was going to be my one and only historical at a point before I sold, where I was trying to figure out what genre would work for me. But the market was dead, and no one even wanted to look at it. Still, after sitting on the shelf for a year or so, it won the RWA Golden Heart for Short Historical manuscripts in 2005, and was bought by the judge who was an editor at Mills & Boon.
Once I realized I could sell them, I became a real fan of that subgenre.
Seriously, I had an idea for a sequel to the first book, and was kind of crossing my fingers that they’d take it. But Maddie, my editor, loved it, and offered me a two book contract. Which led to another idea, and another and another. And without really thinking about it, I became a historical author. I’m still a big fan of science fiction, too, though. Currently reading Feed by Mira Grant, which is about zombies.
Is there anything in particular that inspires you when you’re writing?
I like to choose movies and music that have nothing to do with the Regency or historical romance at all, and pluck themes out of them that I can use.
For example, Lady Drusilla’s Road to Ruin is It Happened One Night. Actually, it’s nothing like that. But it is to me. My book Paying the Virgin’s Price was about a gambler. For that, I listened to the soundtrack to Guys and Dolls about a million times, along with a musical called The Happy End by Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht.
The Happy End is badly named. It’s the miserable German cousin of Guys and Dolls. And neither one has very much to do with my book. But they kept me centered on the parts of the story that were important to me.
Yeah, I can’t imagine Bertolt Brecht being a king of musical comedy. Good thing romances demand a true Happy End(ing). Can you tell us about a favorite couple in movies or fiction? What makes them special for you?
I’d say my absolute favorite couple in film is Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not. They were falling in love, or perhaps lust, during that movie, and it is obvious in every frame. Lauren Bacall is all of 19 years old. She keeps staring at Bogart with her smoky eyes, and every line out of her mouth sounds like a double entendre.
Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man are a close second. They stand as the perfect example of a married couple that hasn’t lost the spark. Witty, charming, and still very much into each other. And I want their 1930’s glamour and cocktail life.
Who doesn’t? (Those are some of my favorites, too.) Anything you’re working on you want to tell us about?
At the moment, I’m doing revisions on the third part of that UK trilogy, a story about the sister who eloped in Lady Dru. But after that, it will be a story with an actor masquerading as nobility, and a girl who thinks she’s marrying him for the money he doesn’t actually have. It will probably be some sort of con and caper book. And I’m hoping to use some of my theater history knowledge, which I haven’t needed since college.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers out there?
Probably two. First off, I’d recommend being a disciplined writer and setting a regular schedule, even if you don’t have a lot of time to work. Setting small frequent goals, like a page a day or even a hundred words, is what is going to make it possible to improve your craft and meet the big goal of having a finished and polished novel.
Then I’d recommend that they not be afraid to take risks. Just about everything I’ve really liked doing has involved something that could be considered a stupid career move. I got into historicals when they were dead. I’ve written about adulterers, drug addicts, and homely women. And I’ve redeemed a fair number of villains. I’ve been told that you’re not supposed to do this. But I like my characters to have big flaws because all real people do. And then I like to work them through those problems to make them grow at the end of the book.
I think there is a tendency for romance to make unnecessary rules about what can and can’t happen in the story, and what readers will and won’t allow. If we follow all of them, characters become too perfectly good, or two perfectly evil. Except for a few extremes, most people end up in the moral middle. I’d rather pull my characters from the shadow toward the sun.
What a lovely thought, Christine. And since I love your books, I can vouch for the fact that you examine the shadows and light in a very interesting and convincing way. Thanks so much for visiting the How to Write Shop!