DUCK CHAT: Getting to Know Bronwyn ScottTuesday, June 16, 2009 10:00
Welcome to another fun day of Duck Chat!
Bronwyn’s first book with HH is the one with a really fun cover, Pickpocket Countess. She followed that up with Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady, Libertine Lord, Pickpocket Miss, which is a Harlequin Undone!, and The Viscount Claims His Bride. Harlequin is also releasing a Regency Bundle of her books, exlcuding the Undone!, in January 2010. Her latest book, The Earl’s Forbidden Ward, available in both print and e, is out this month through Mills & Boon.
She also enjoys success writing as Nikki Poppen through Avalon Books. The Romany Heiress, The Heroic Baron, and The Dowager’s Wager are a few of her titles under that name. Bronwyn is married; she and her husband have three kids and live in the Puget Sound area of the U.S. She is an instructor of speech communications at her local community college, loves traveling, and considers Italy her second home. Bronwyn will be talking to us today about all of her books and then some.
Be sure to leave that meaningful comment, ‘cuz Bronwyn’s giving away a book or two! Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Bronwyn, I’d like to first chat about your covers. Most of yours are, of course, romantic, but you have had one really fun cover, which is my favorite, Pickpocket Countess. I know there was some flack about it here and there by some readers, but I don’t think they got the point of the cover. What was your reaction when you first saw it?
BRONWYN SCOTT: I loved it! Pickpocket Countess was my first cover at Harlequin Mills and Boon. I thought it suited the mood of the story and the characters well. The appeal of the book from the start was always Nora, the heroine. She’s strong, sexually confident, and bold in all aspects of her life. I thought the idea of the heroine grabbing (or caressing if you prefer) the hero’s backside was quite apropos. The colors are gorgeous and there’s enough detail to let the reader know at first glance that this will be a Regency era story.
Right now, I’m working on Jack and Dulci’s story (they’re both secondary characters in Pickpocket Countess) and I told my editor I wanted another cover of that caliber for them. I was so disappointed to hear that Pickpocket Countess was a one-time shot. There will never be another cover like that. Honestly, I don’t really get what’s not awesome about the cover. It was different, but I didn’t think it was that controversial…apparently it was. It was great publicity, though, for my debut novel. Even over a year later people at conferences say, “You’re the one who wrote the butt cover book.” I say “Yep, and the story’s pretty darn good too.”
DC: Pickpocket Countess is also my favorite book of yours so far (followed closely by Notorious Rake, Innocent Miss). Where did the idea for the story come from? Would you tell our readers about Brandon and Cat?
BS: The original title for the manuscript was the Cat of Manchester, but that didn’t have enough marketing cachet to it. Marketing really grabbed on to the line that ends one of the later chapters which used the phrase pickpocket countess.
I got the idea of a female Robin Hood over dinner and wine one night talking about potential story lines. I’m a big fan of twisting iconic story lines and fitting them to new time periods or tweaking them around in substantial ways. I’ve always liked Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare work like Love’s Labors Lost where he puts the story in a time period outside its original intention.
Over dinner the Robin Hood story line came up and I kept thinking about a time in more modern English history when the poor were especially at the whims of the rich. I kept going back to the earlier parts of the Industrial Revolution and thinking that would be a great time period. Then I went back and more fully investigated the Reform Act of 1831 and knew I’d found the right time. But I still thought the plot sounded too ordinary, so I decided to make the Robin Hood character a female. Once I did that, I felt I had something a bit different—there would be no debut balls for her and none of the story is set in London. This made research fun. It was great to get out of London and away from tonnish personalities and lifestyles.
There were two challenges with the story. One was the pacing. The story starts out with action and it has to keep escalating. It was a great mental exercise to figure out ways Brandon and Nora would be able to one-up each other. I am very proud of how the plot and pacing turn out. The story is a fun, energetic romp, a good adventure. I enjoy reading adventure stories where I get sucked into the plot. I forget about whether or not the hero and heroine are in bed all the time, I’m more interested in how they play each other. I loved reading reviews that picked up on the adventure energy, and the sharp dialogue. Romantic Times loved it and gave it a four-star review. Most people loved it for those reasons. But I got disappointed with readers that said there wasn’t enough sex, or that they skipped ahead to the sex. I think they missed out, although the sex scenes were pretty steamy since the characters are two older, mature, consensual adults.
The second challenge was making sure that Brandon and Nora respected each other at all times. They one up each other in the course of their game, but they don’t do it in hopes of embarrassing the other or humiliating the other. They had to make their point and do it without crossing the line of respect. Otherwise, it seems unbelievable that they’d develop any kind of relationship where affections would be honestly engaged. For instance, in the scene where she ties him to the bed, I’m quick to note as the next chapter begins that the ropes weren’t tied so tight that Brandon has to call for his valet to come untie him. Because that would be awful!! How embarrassing to be naked and tied up and have to rely on your valet. However would he explain that without losing face? And it would say that he couldn’t trust her, let alone love her. Few of us love people who embarrass us or use us for their own personal gain.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
BS: Nothing really annoys me, so it’s hard to answer. But perhaps the question “how long have you written and how did you get started?” would qualify. I think my answer is fairly typical of what many authors say. I’ve always written. I liked to write. By third grade I’d written a Nancy Drew mystery play I had my class perform (I made up my own mystery, not a ‘stage adaptation’ (smiles) and by fourth grade I was writing for young author conferences. But I never finished a full-length manuscript or even attempted one until after my son was born in 1999. I used to play the piano a lot and I even had a piano job at a coffee shop that I was very proud of. But babies napping and piano practicing don’t go together well. I picked my writing back up as something to do that was relaxing and personal while the baby slept. It took two years to finish the manuscript, mostly because I didn’t outline it, I didn’t know what the characters were doing and because I had no particular discipline. I might go a whole month without writing anything. I think that was because I was pretty sure this book would end up like all the others—unfinished. But then I starting re-reading it and it was good. That made me get serious. I finished it and went to RWA in New York in 2003 and that was the start.
I didn’t sell that first manuscript, but I came home from New York with a plan and wrote a Regency because I thought everyone in historical romance should be able to do a Regency, it’s a staple like every piano player worth their salt can whip out Fur Elise or Moonlight Sonata. I wrote the Regency as a repertoire builder, an exercise. But this time I had discipline. I wrote it in three months and sold it a year later. It’s called The Dowager’s Wager and it became my first book.
DC: You’ve also written a Harlequin Undone!. Are those shorter stories easier or more difficult to write?
BS: They’re a blast to write. I love doing them. They’re a bit harder because you have to cut down on detail and background. These stories are only 15,000 words, even shorter than a novella. But the stories are fun because there’s a chance to use different locations. I’ve used the coast of Spain, Vienna, and Florence so far and I have plans for three more, one of which will be set in Vienna and the others will be somewhere in Italy. The stories are also fun because you can be a bit more explicit and bold.
DC: I enjoyed Julian and Sophie’s Undone! story. Can you give us a little insight into their relationship?
BS: They recognize a kindred soul in each other almost from the start. They both have chosen paths outside of society. Even though Julian is the brother of an earl, he’s the second son and he’s chosen a path out of the limelight of the ton. Sophie is accustomed to relying only on herself and she’s stumbled on to the path of being a jewel thief almost by accident, but she discovered she was good at it and she’s able to justify most of her thefts as ‘returns’ to legitimate owners.
Immediately, they have some fundamentals ideals in common. They both justify their actions in terms of ethics. Neither one of them think of themselves as particularly criminal, just officers of justice of a different sort. I think this imbues them with a code of ethics and a sense of respect. They’re also both people who enjoy game playing. Like Brandon and Nora, they like sparring because their wits are so equally matched and challenged. They’re also careful not to take things too far and hurt the other. Julian is a gentleman and he has his code of honor when it comes to Sophie. Once he realizes she’s in danger, he is quick to protect her even though it might make his job easier if she were out of the picture. Finally, they’re both flirty and bold which made it fun to write about. Neither one of them are shrinking violets or afraid of their passions.
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
BS: No, I am an absolute control freak. They don’t do anything I haven’t planned for them. I outline, I think ahead. I get most of my research done ahead of time so I don’t have to stop and go find something. Once I start writing, I write almost nonstop until the book is done.
As for dialogue, I know what kinds of things the character would say and how he/she might say them; some characters are funny, some are sharp, some are cutting. Nora, for instance, was sharp and she’d pick up on word play. Valerian wasn’t so much sharp as he was insightful. He would say things that would make the heroine stop and think about something profound.
I like to play with words and innuendo, so I think quite a bit about how the characters might say certain things.
DC: Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady was also a fun read. Paine and Julia are a great couple. Would you tell us about them?
BS: I liked them. They were a lot different than other character couples I’ve done. Nora and Brandon, Sophie and Julian, Grayson and Elena, Phillippa and Valerian, Andrew and Olivia are all mature people who have either been married, widowed (in the case of the heroines) or had mistresses (in the case of the heroes). But Julia is an innocent debutante and Paine hasn’t been innocent for a very long time. They’re my only couple that meets each other on sexually uneven ground. In fact, Julia and Paine were such an interesting couple that they became the dominant part of the story. Originally, I’d thought to spend more time developing the seedy-side of London aspect of the story and make the story more of a sensual awakening tale. I’d originally called the story “the Lady Awakes.” But it ended up in a different place, a much more character driven story than I’d thought it would be when I laid it out.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
BS: I always win. But they don’t argue too much because I’m such a fan of outlining. Jack has been the hardest character so far. He does a turn in Pickpocket Countess as a man who dresses as a fop but works for the king as a private agent. But when I sat down to write Jack and Dulci’s story, the fop part didn’t work out like I had intended, so Jack has been recrafted. After all, their story is set four years after Pickpocket Countess. It is now 1835. But I did write three different opening chapters before ending up with a first chapter that worked. I finally took some advice Claire Delacroix gave a few years back when she said she would write three chapters and then end up throwing them out because they’d be too much back story. She started to realize that chapter 3 usually ended up being chapter 1. That worked for me in this case.
DC: I know I gave you a little bit of a hard time in my review about less action in The Viscount Claims His Bride, but I did enjoy the story and I know other readers really liked this book for that same reason. Do you even think of things like that when writing? Are you surprised at the reactions you do get from your readers on this type of issue?
BS: I usually feel like I know what people will appreciate ahead of time. I’ve noticed I have two pretty distinct readerships out there. I have a lovely historical readership that just adored The Viscount Claims His Bride. They got into the setting, the descriptions of the weather, of Cornwall and its wildlife, the cool bit about visiting Trist House while it was under restoration (which it really was that year), the banking issue that plays a small part in the story, the conversation Beldon and Valerian have about the Bickford fuse, all of that had enormous appeal for them. Romantic Times even noted the excellent overview the book provides about post Napoleonic Europe, which tickled me silly because I am a double minor in history and foreign policy. These readers liked Viscount, and I knew they would. They’re the readers that also liked Pickpocket Countess for the maps of Manchester and the reform politics. They’re not the readers that liked Notorious Rake, which was too sexy for many of them and not very deep on plot or historical relevance.
On the other hand, the Notorious Rake readership loved the two Undones but found Viscount too slow for their tastes. The second Ramsden brother book (Peyton’s story), The Earl’s Forbidden Ward, will probably appeal more to the Viscount group, but the last book, Crispin’s story and currently untitled, is sizzling hot and sexy and will appeal to the Notorious Rake group. Crispin spends plenty of time in bed with the unconventional heroine, Aurora Calhoun. Still, for history lovers out there, I do have some interesting historical background. Aurora is set on racing in the premiere steeple chase of the time; St. Albans. I found great documentation of the 1835 St. Albans steeple chase; the list of riders and horses, who finished, who fell, which horse had a fatal accident on the course, the controversy about the starting line and the controversy over who wins, even information on the hotel the riders stayed at. As you can see, I was very excited about that part of the book.
DC: Would you tell us about Val and Phillipa, please?
BS: I wanted to explore the whole ‘return of the childhood sweetheart’ aspect of relationships. 20/20 did a special a few years back about how people are turning to old high school sweethearts for their second significant relationship (after a divorce, after a death, these are people we seek out to reconnect with). It was also interesting to me that scientists think we have a love radar that is pretty accurate up until the age of 18. This makes sense to me. When we’re 18, people start hounding us “what do you want to be?” “What are you going to do after high school?” They also start stressing what kind of qualities we ought to be looking for in a mate and all this crowds our love radar. The pre-18 love radar for most of us, draws us to people who are like us, value the same things, see the world the same way. I wanted to explore that with Val and Phillippa. He’s loved her since he was 15 and she’s loved him, but the world gets in the way and pulls them apart for several years. When he returns, she’s been widowed, she’s been a duchess and now she’s running a huge estate/mines, etc. on her own. She wants to believe her initial instincts about Val were right years ago before the world got in the way, but she’s struggling to trust her own love radar in regards to Valerian. In this story, the villain is a perfect foil for the love radar theory. On the surface, Lucien is everything society says she ought to respect in a man and a second husband, but beneath the surface the reader learns he is very corrupt.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
BS: Home improvement projects like rearranging furniture , cleaning up the kids’ bedrooms, and a good Macy’s sale.
DC: You also write under the name of Nikki Poppen. Would you tell us about the books you’ve published there?
BS: Under my own name, I write for Avalon Books. They were the ones who bought my first manuscript The Dowager’s Wager. I have written six books with them since 2005. There’s a regency series which starts with The Dowager’s Wager, followed by The Heroic Baron and Romany Heiress. I also have a Victorian series which starts with Newport Summer (came out February 2009) and “The MadCap,” which comes out in December, and another book that isn’t under way yet. The books for Avalon are for the public library system, so they have to adhere to a certain code: the hero can’t drink excessively, have mistresses that we know about, flaunt his sexual prowess, or smoke. The Heroine is absolutely a virgin or the issue of her purity never really comes up and there are no explicit love scenes. Essentially, PG or PG-13 rated romance books. My editor over there is Faith Black and she’s hilarious. I love working with her.
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
BS: I have learned to make them more three dimensional, but that’s always a work in process. I’ve only been writing since 2005 so there’s lots to learn. The big difference I can see these days is the style of revisions my editor at Harlequin sends. Early on there were comments about how realistic it would be for a character to think certain things at certain times. These days I’ve gotten a lot better at placing introspection in more logical places. I’ve also gotten better at working in back story tidbits. Instead of paragraphs of back story or a big self-disclosure chapter, now I try to work in the bits and pieces through dialogue tags. You can check this out by comparing The Dowager’s Wager to The Viscount. But I think readers will really see it in Crispin’s story and with Jack and Dulci.
DC: The Earl’s Forbidden Ward from Mills and Boon is due out this month. Can you give us a sneak peek?
BS: I like this story so much! The heroine, Tessa Branscombe, is a diplomat’s daughter from Russia. Her father, a British diplomat, dies in St. Petersburg and she and her sisters return to London. Unknown to her, the Russians believe she is in possession of a list her father compiled of British businessmen who’d be willing to fund a rebellion against the Czar in exchange for guaranteed water rights in the Dardanelle Straits. The British want this list and so do the Russians. The race is on. Enter Peyton Ramsden, the Earl of Dursley (and Paine’s brother). The Foreign Office asks Peyton to masquerade as the Branscombe girls’ guardian in order to get the list, but he falls in love with Tessa Branscombe in the process.
Peyton and Tessa are both sharp, sophisticated adults who understand their political world. I had a great time with their history. There’s also some nice scenes with Crispin to keep him in the forefront of the reader’s mind! If you read The Earl’s Forbidden Ward, you get a solid sense of where Crispin’s coming from and the kind of battles he wages with himself. [Ed. click here for an excerpt]
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
BS: I like 19th century history, so I am very happy there. I would like to do more American fiction. I have great hopes of doing American history stories along the lines of what Philippa Gregory has done with English history. I would also like to write American centered historical romance. I’ve not yet figured out why there’s such a small market demand for 17th-19th century American romantic fiction because I love that time period.
DC: How long does it usually take for a UK publication to make it over to the U.S.?
BS: It really depends. My North American releases came out in the UK within a couple months of their release here. But The Earl’s Forbidden Ward is my first UK release where the UK release has preceded a North American release.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
BS: Keep writing! I took several years off of fiction writing (from age 24 to about age 32) and I’m not sure why I did that. I did spend a lot of time writing at work. I am a college professor, so there’s plenty of nonfiction writing to do. But I didn’t do anything significant with fiction writing after grad school.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
BS: Well, I’d still be teaching college because that’s what I do in ‘real life.’ But I’d probably be playing the piano in some kind of semi-professional way.
DC: What’s next for Bronwyn Scott?
BS: I am thrilled to be the historical faculty member for the South Carolina Writer’s conference this October in Myrtle Beach (so if you’re looking for conference to attend where you get a lot of hands on time to write and work with writing professionals, come check us out).
I am looking forward to finishing Jack and Dulci’s story in July and starting Beldon and Lilya’s story in late August.
I’ll be celebrating Crispin Ramsden’s hot story the first part of 2010 (approximately, there’s no hard core release date set yet) Then, I’ll be free to start a new set of characters. It’s all under wraps right now, but I’ve got two great series coming up and I can hardly wait to get to them!
- dark or milk chocolate? – Dark!
- smooth or chunky peanut butter? – Smooth
- heels or flats? - Heels (I’m only 4”11 ¾)
- coffee or tea? – Tea (herbal, no caffeine here except in chocolate).
- summer or winter? – Usually winter but this year I can hardly wait for nice weather
- mountains or beach? – Mountains
- mustard or mayonnaise? – Mayo!!!
- flowers or candy? – Candy but I like both quite a lot.
- pockets or purse? - Purse
- Pepsi or Coke? - Pepsi (but caffeine free of course).
- ebook or print? – Print.
And just because:
1. What is your favorite word? - Penchant and hence (my students crack up when I say “hence it follows that ….”)
2. What is your least favorite word? – The F word.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Great music. For me this is anything from Mi Caro Bambino to Meatloaf to the sound track from highly underrated Broadway musical Martin Guerre.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Quitters and the whole concept that you can get ‘burned out.’ It’s absolutely true that winners never quit and quitters never win.
5. What sound or noise do you love? – Harp strings and the hammered dulcimer. Steel drums. My kids laughing. Birds in the early, early morning around 4:30.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – My kids fighting in the car.
7. What is your favorite curse word? – I love it when my heroes say “Lucifer’s Balls!”
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – Television News Anchor!
9. What profession would you not like to do? - Anything in health care. Yuck.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That would be the best review ever.
DC: Thank you so much, Bronwyn, for spending the day with us!