Thanks for joining us again at Duck Chat!
Today historical author Jenna Petersen is our guest.
With books like Scandalous, Lessons from a Courtesan, Her Notorious Viscount, and her Lady Spies series, which includes From London With Love, Desire Never Dies, and Seduction is Forever, Jenna has become a premier and much loved author since her first book hit the shelves. She’s now working on a new series, The Billingham Bastards, which she talks about here.
Jenna is married to her high school sweetheart and they live in Central Illinois. She has a degree is psychology, loves to travel, live baseball and football, and runs ever-popular The Passionate Pen blog. And some of you may know her as Jess Michaels, the name under which she spices up her historical stories.
We have a lot to talk about, so make sure you leave a meaningful comment to be in the running for a copy of Lessons from a Courtesan and Scandalous that Jenna is graciously donating to give away. So let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Jenna, let’s talk about your most recent release, Her Notorious Viscount, first. Can you give us a look into how the story idea started and then tell us about the itself and its characters?
JENNA PETERSEN: Sure! Her Notorious Viscount was released in April of this year, so it’s likely still in many bookstores and online outlets everywhere. I am a huge MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fan and I’d been wanting to write a fighter hero for a long time. I had written an older book before I got published and it had some elements I really liked (wild twin inherits brother’s title), so I ended up combining the two and voila! HNV was born.
In the story, my hero Nicholas has been living in London’s notorious underground for years, making his living and his name as a fighter. But when his twin brother dies, he has no choice but to return to Society and take the title of Viscount. My heroine, Jane, lost her own brother to the Underground and the ravages of opium addiction and she sees an opportunity to use Nicholas’s connections to perhaps find him again. But Nicholas has a price: Jane must “retrain” him in the niceties of society.
It’s sort of a reverse My Fair Lady with a touch of Cinderella.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
JP: I don’t know if I would retire any question. I can’t think of any that I roll my eyes at when I see them. LOL
DC: For those folks who don’t know, tell them about The Passionate Pen, how it got started and what you do there.
JP: The Passionate Pen is my site for writers which I started in 1999. It contains a list of romance publishers, romance agents, articles and links, as well as my diary toward and beyond publication. Right now I’m updating it once a month. We’re celebrating our ten-year anniversary this year and the last contest ends on Monday (June 29). We’ve had interviews with some wonderful editors and agents, as well as prizes. This month’s prize is a year-long membership to Romance Writers of America. You can enter at PassionatePen.com (go to the Happy Anniversary page to find the contest).
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?
JP: I’m a big plotter, but even with that, there are always some surprises in every book. As I get to know the characters more and become more comfortable with their story, often what I planned isn’t as germane as wherever they take me. So I try to hear it and go with it when I can.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
JP: Not as often as some authors describe. I think it comes from being a plotter again. But occasionally a character will not go the way I want them to. At that point I’ll usually backtrack and try to figure out where I went off the track. And sometimes the way I’m being pulled is right.
DC: Do you have a favorite character from any of your books, one who made you laugh, cry, gasp in outrage, anything along those lines?
JP: I really like both Nicholas and Jane from Her Notorious Viscount. I think I can relate to them. The idea that you just don’t belong and maybe you don’t even want to… that’s sort of poignant. And in the end, they find a friend and a partner in each other, which I also liked. Plus their shared pains over lost brothers did have me tearing up a couple of times. LOL
Excerpt from Her Notorious Viscount:
Jane Fenton watched as another group of giggling, simpering young women spun by her in the arms of the current group of eligible bucks and titled lords. She held back a sigh and tried to keep her toes from tapping to the beat of the country jig, beneath her plain, serviceable gown.
How quickly things changed. Just two years ago, she had been one of those silly girls, enjoying her Season with all the hopes in the world for the future. “Jane,” the Countess Ridgefield said at her side. Her employer lifted the gold-rimmed spectacles she kept on a chain around her neck and scanned the crowd. “Do you see anyone of my acquaintance?”
Jane stifled a smile at the picture Lady Ridgefield made. The feather Jane had placed in her employer’s hair earlier in the evening had begun to list downward, sticking out at an odd angle to the side of her head. Her spectacles, which she really should have been wearing all the time, although she argued that point with Jane incessantly, were crooked and gave Lady Ridgefield a madcap appearance that lightened Jane’s heavy heart considerably.
Although flighty, Lady Ridgefield was one of the kindest women Jane had ever met. She knew full well she was lucky to have obtained a position as her lady’s companion. Other young women of her acquaintance had not been so fortunate in their employers.
Rising to her tiptoes, Jane scanned the crowd.
“Lady Williamston is over by the punch bowl,” she said, then lowered her voice to indulge in Lady Ridgefield’s love of gossip. “Likely putting whiskey in her cup from that secret stash she keeps inher reticule.”
Her employer giggled like a school miss. “Anyone else?”
Jane continued to whisper little details of the attendees around the room, adding her own commentary to the descriptions until Lady Ridgefield’s cheeks were pink with pleasure.
“Whom would you like to speak to first?” Jane asked with a pull of dread in her chest.
Once they were with the other ladies of her employer’s rank, she would be forgotten again, despite the fact that many of the women had once been friends of her mother and father. This constant reminder of what she’d lost was never easy for Jane, no matter how she prepared herself for the inevitable.
“There is a commotion over there,” Lady Ridgefield said with a wave of her fan. “What is happening, Jane? I cannot see!”
Jane turned toward the entrance to the ballroom. As silly as she was, Lady Ridgefield could be quite observant when it came to matters of Society. Indeed, an unnatural crowd had formed at the entrance to the ballroom. Someone very important must have entered. How pleased Lady Ridgefield would be if Wellington or even the prince himself joined their party tonight. It would keep her employer happy for months, which Jane had come to see as a lofty life goal.
Finally the crowd parted, almost as if Moses himself were moving them aside. But it wasn’t a biblical figure who stepped away from the fray. No, indeed, the man who sauntered into the ballroom did not look like the kind to read a Bible, let alone belong in one.
Rather, he looked like sin.
Jane sucked in her breath despite herself. The stranger was tall, very tall. More than half a head bigger than any of the men who surrounded him. But it was more than his superior height that drew her attention. He had a presence about him. A strength that was reflected both in the lean lines of his body and the way he moved.
He was dressed . . . oddly. His coat was a few seasons behind the fashion and his shirt looked a little faded. Plus the items were ill-fitted, too tight in some places and far too loose in others.
Certainly he was aware of the scrutiny of those around him. One would have to be daft not to see and feel it. And it wasn’t friendly interest, either. Shock, anger, even disgust were reflected on the faces in the crowd.
Jane looked at the interloper more closely, surprised by the ire he inspired. There was something familiar about him, but she didn’t think they had ever met.
“It is a man,” Jane murmured since Lady Ridgefield had now begun tugging on the woolen sleeve of her ugly gown. “I do not know who he is. I feel like I’ve seen him before, but . . .”
She trailed off. He was getting closer now, and for some odd reason her heart began to pound.
“I know who it may be!” Lady Ridgefield whispered. “Oh, I had heard he might be making a return to Society, but I never thought he’d dare come here tonight!”
“Who is he?” Jane asked, ever more distracted the nearer the man came.
His eyes, God, they were beautiful. Bright, almost painful blue against his tanned skin and dark, close-cropped hair. She started when she realized one of them was faintly blackened, as if he had recently been in a fight.
And then he turned his gaze on her. Those eyes that had so surprised and captivated her moved over her in one sweep. If Jane’s heart had pounded before, now it felt as though it stopped completely. As though time had frozen as this man looked at her.
But then he moved on, dismissing her just as everyone dismissed her.
“Yes, indeed,” Lady Ridgefield crowed as she lowered her spectacles and grasped Jane’s arm in a death grip. She was practically vibrating with excitement. “That is him! His name is Viscount Nicholas Stoneworth. He just inherited the title from his poor late brother—”
“Anthony Stoneworth,” Jane finished, her gaze rushing to the man who now had a name to go along with his harsh, handsome face.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
JP: The computer. Email. Right now I should be writing. LOL
DC: Is there an old story in the back of a drawer somewhere that you’d like to pull out some day to work on again?
JP: Her Notorious Viscount was the first time I had looked at an older story for inspiration, though I never once used any of the old writing. I tend to like to move forward. I have so many new ideas that are exciting me right now, I can’t imagine wanting to go back and re-write over writing something new. It doesn’t mean I never will, I certainly have a lot of stories in my back pocket (9 that were never published before Scandalous, October 2005), but for now I’ll keep moving forward.
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?
JP: I’m not sure I write my characters differently as much as just natural evolution in my writing. I think working with my editor, May Chen, and my agent, Miriam Kriss, has really helped my writing evolve over the years. I hope readers will see that too when looked at, say, Scandalous (my first book) versus Her Notorious Viscount (my latest).
DC: I’m excited about your Billingham Bastards series. First, would you tell our readers about the series as a whole?
JP: I am too! The Billingham Bastards is about a Duke who finds out his father isn’t exactly who he thought he was. When he realizes he has a number of illegitimate brothers, he decides to find them.
What the Duke Desires is the first book in the series and is due out in October of this year.
DC: Can you give us a sneak peek into Simon and Lillian’s story, please?
JP: It’s out on October 27, so it’s technically a November release based on the wacky world of romance release dates. LOL Here’s a little summary of Simon and Lillian’s book:
Simon Crathorne has never felt quite “right” in his own life. Even with his friends, he never fit. But now his father is dead and he has inherited the Dukedom, and all the responsibility that goes with it. And since his father was always known as a highly moral, upstanding man, Simon has big shoes to fill. Lillian Mayhew doesn’t buy the late Duke’s exalted reputation one bit. A lifetime of hearing her father talk about the man’s sins and seeing the torment her family endured at his hands has made her bitter and a final secret she discovered as her father lay dying has turned her bitterness to a drive to destroy the good name of the man she feels wronged her. No matter the price.
But when Simon and Lillian meet, sparks fly and passion erupts, leaving Lillian with an ugly choice. Can she abandon her quest for revenge, just as she is on the cusp of fulfilling her duty? Or will she betray a man whose past turns out to be a murky sea of lies and betrayals neither one could have ever anticipated? A man whose kiss could change her life forever.
DC: Anything you can tell us about the next two books at this point?
JP: I’m writing Book 2 right now, An Unwanted Duchess, and it is scheduled for August 2010 at this point. My hero and heroine are already married, but it’s not a love match when the story begins and when the hero finds out he doesn’t really know who he is, he runs. My heroine follows and their evolving relationship, as well as my hero’s redefinition of himself, is really the story of the book. I think when people read What the Duke Desires, they’ll know exactly who the hero/heroine of An Unwanted Duchess are.
The third book I’m very excited about. When my July 2008 release, Lessons From a Courtesan, came out , there was a LOT of interest in seeing a story for my hero Justin’s brother, Caleb, and my heroine, Victoria’s best friend, Marah. The two of them obviously shared some kind of “off screen” moment at the end of the book, but Caleb had discovered he was a bastard and it tore his world apart. So…their story will be the final one in The Billingham Bastards series! And you’ll see a little of Caleb in An Unwanted Duchess, as well.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
JP: Not really. I love writing historical romance, whether defined as “erotic” or not. That is where I get most of my ideas and where I feel the most passion for my work. So I can’t really see myself writing something different, at least not at this point.
DC: You also write as Jess Michaels, where you write steamy historicals. Your next book out is the third in the Albright Sisters series, titled Nothing Denied, and it’s due out next year. May we get a quick look into that book?
JP: Sure! It was such a challenge taking Beatrice, who was a real jerk in Everything Forbidden and Something Reckless and making her into a heroine. But it was fun, too, especially with the hero I matched her with! Their story is a February 2010 release (which means a late January date for “in stores,” probably). Here’s a description:
Shrewish Beatrice Albright is beginning to realize that her difficult nature has consequences. As her seventh unsuccessful Season begins, her younger sister is taken under the wing of her elder sisters and the invitations have dried up. Terrified she’ll be forced into old maidenhood and the company of her mother, she vows to find a groom by Season’s end. Even if he is suspected of murder.
The Marquis of Highcroft, Gareth Berenger is just as shunned as Beatrice since he is thought to have murdered his first wife. But when she demands they wed since no one else wants them, he isn’t sure. Gareth is a man of intense sexual desires and dominant predilections and he’s already seen the consequences if his partner cannot accept them. He proposes instead a trial affair. If Beatrice can handle his sexuality, then they will marry. But as much as Beatrice is drawn in my Gareth’s sensual and shocking seduction, she is also afraid to trust and surrender fully. And there are darker forces sworn to keep them apart and they will use violence to take Beatrice from Gareth.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
JP: Probably just to breathe, it will all work out. I tend to be very “what’s next” about life and worry about the unknowns. I am trying to learn to enjoy the moment more.
DC: If you were a book, what would your bluRb be?
Good question, though it’s hard to “blurb” yourself. It’s hard to blurb a book! LOL Um…
Jenna Petersen: You’ll want to sit next to her at dinner….
I don’t know. LOL
DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?
JP: I think it’s the same tagline I have on my bookmarks:
Darkly sensual. Highly Emotional.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
JP: I have a degree in psychology from the University of Washington and was planning to go back to school to get a Masters in Counseling. So I probably would have done that.
DC: What’s on the horizon for both Jenna and Jess?
JP: Well, the three Billingham books will be taking up a lot of Jenna time in the next couple of years. Right now Jess just has Nothing Denied on the horizon, but we’ll see if she has something else up her sleeve. LOL The best way people can keep in touch with me and see what’s next is to go to my website regularly, and you can also join my newsletter, which I send once a month!
– dark or milk chocolate? – I know dark is better for you, but milk!
– smooth or chunky peanut butter? – CHUNKY!!
– heels or flats? – Bare feet at home usually, but when out and about, heels.
– coffee or tea? – Diet Vanilla Coke.
– summer or winter? – Summer.
– mountains or beach? – Mountains.
– mustard or mayonnaise? – One look at my ever-expanding ass should tell you I’m a mayo girl.
– flowers or candy? – Candy, but only because my cats eat flowers and I find that stressful.
– pockets or purse? – Purse!
– Pepsi or Coke? – Coke!!!!!!!!! There should be only one.
– ebook or print? – I still like to hold a print book, but I love that technology makes getting my books easier! All of them are available in various eformats and Seduction is Forever was the #1 bestselling romance at Fictionwise for almost a month when it came out. Which was CRAZY!
And because it’s still a lot of fun?
1. What is your favorite word? – Yes.
2. What is your least favorite word? – Hugs. I hate it when people say “Hugs” in email.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – My husband’s never-ending support.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – People who are mean just for the sake of being mean.
5. What sound or noise do you love? – The cats purring.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – My nephew Jake crying.
7. What is your favorite curse word? – Fuck. I use fuck all the time. I should be better about swearing, but we don’t have kids so I’m afraid I often just GO TO TOWN.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – I can’t imagine being anything but what I am. I love writing.
9. What profession would you not like to do? – Anything that has to do with screaming children. I have a very low tolerance for that sort of thing.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “You made a difference.”
Thanks so much for having me! I look forward to talking to you guys in comments! 🙂
DC: Thank you, Jenna! We had a wonderful day!