So glad you could make it to Duck Chat!
Janet Mullany is our guest today.
Raised in England, Janet now lives in Washington, D.C. where she writes her historical novels. Her first Regency was a Signet, Dedication, which released in 2007. Two years later The Rules of Gentility captured readers’ interest, and now A Most Lamentable Comedy is her latest book and was just released last month.
Be sure to leave a comment or question for Janet. She’s giving away a copy of A Most Lamentable Comedy, so you don’t want to miss out! Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Janet, you just had a book release a couple of days ago. Congrats! Why don’t you tell us about A Most Lamentable Comedy as a whole first, and then we’ll talk about it more specifically.
JANET MULLANY: Thanks for having me visit–it’s great to be here, and thanks for the smart questions. OK, Comedy… when I was finishing up The Rules of Gentility (HarperCollins 2007, Little Black Dress 2009) it struck me that I should prove it wasn’t a one-off book. So I picked a minor character from that book and made her my heroine. It’s quite a different sort of book because I was a bit exhausted by Philomena’s wide-eyed innocence and endless gabbing about bonnets and Mr. Linsley’s trousers. So I decided to write about a bad girl. And I had to come up with a hero who was a match for my heroine; so he’s pretty bad too! I was also inspired by a couple of minor characters in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend who marry and then discover that neither of them has any money.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
JM: Oh, the writers’ life stuff, like my typical day. My life is very boring.
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?
JM: Yes, and it’s great when it happens. The last completely unexpected episode I had was in the book I’ve just finished, Improper Relations (2010, Little Black Dress–I do hope they let me keep that title!), when I couldn’t sleep and got up and wrote for about half an hour at 2:00 am. It was completely surreal and surprised me (in a good way!) when I read it the next day.
DC: Now please tell us about Nicholas and Caroline from A Most Lamentable Comedy.
JM: They’re basically a couple of con artists seeking their next mark. She’s broke and is looking around for a new husband–or lover–to pay her bills and prevent her from going to debtors’ prison. He’s a gigolo who thinks he’s found his usual target. What they don’t realize is that neither of them has any money, or that what they really need, as well as money, is community and love. Mrs. Giggles’ review described Caroline as “a gloriously flirtatious hussy with a PhD in gold digging,” which is pretty accurate. I was eventually quite appalled at having this gorgeous, amoral hero who’d screwed his way across Europe (for money) so I ended up giving him some other work on the side–for instance, music teacher, spy, ratcatcher, and cabinetmaker. He’s very good with his hands (in more ways than one). He’s nice to kids. Both do have some redeeming qualities, but there’s no great orgy of repentance and forgiveness and transformation. I just don’t write that sort of book.
Excerpt from A Most Lamentable Comedy:
Lady Caroline Elmhurst
Devil take it. I have seen this done a hundred times on the stage and read it a hundred more in novels, yet tying my sheets together proves almost impossible in real life.
“Milady, they’ll break the door down,” my maid whimpers.
“Don’t be a fool. Here, put these on.” I throw some petticoats at her. We have been unable to stuff all my possessions into my trunk and bags, and I am determined to leave nothing behind for that rapacious cow of a landlady to take. I wrench at the sheets and break a nail. “Oh, don’t stand there sniveling. Come and help me.”
Mary shuffles across the room, half in and half out of a petticoat.
Outside, the thunderous knocks on the door resume. “Open up, madam. We know you’re in there,” bellows one of the seething mob of creditors. Heavens, it is like the French revolution! How dare they!
“I am unwell, sirs,” I call in a quavering voice, tightening a monstrous knot that takes up half the length of the sheets.
“She’s a dreadful liar and a whore to boot,” says a female voice, that of my landlady Mrs. Dinsdale. I can imagine how she stands there, mottled arms cradling one of her infernal cats, snuff sprinkled over her shoulders and grubby shawl. My shawl, my precious blue Kashmir, that I gave her in lieu of rent, the dirty, fat, ungrateful thing.
“Send your maid out, then.” The door shudders under their blows, and the tallboy we have pulled in front of it shifts a little on the floor.
“She is very poorly, too, sir. Why, she is covered with stinking sores–oh, horrors, I believe it is the smallpox.”
Is there a pause for reflection? If there is, it lasts but a few seconds. I loop the sheet around the bedpost, tie it in another hefty knot, and sling my rope out of the window. The trunk and bags follow. “Out!” I hiss to Mary. “Oh, sir,” I call out, “I am too ill to move. I beg of you, come back another day.”
“Enough, Lady Elmhurst. We’ve had enough of your tricks and lies. Open the door, if you please.”
“Sir, I cannot. Have pity on a poor widow.” I shove Mary toward the window.
“I can’t. I’m afraid of heights.” She clings to me like a limpet.
I shake her off.
“Oh, don’t ask me to do it, milady.”
“Would you rather I leave you here? Get down that rope, girl.” I long to slap sense into her, but she is my only ally. I peer out of the window. There is a good six feet or so below the knotted sheets, but if she lands on one of the bags she’ll have a good soft landing. “Come on, Mary. We’ll laugh about this later, I promise you. I’ll give you my blue-spotted muslin.”
“Very well. And an inside seat in the coach.”
“Yes, yes, but go.” I shove her out of the window. “I fear I shall swoon,” I add loudly, for the benefit of the creditors outside the door, hoping it explains the silence that results when we have flown the coop.
Mary’s face, like a white, piteous flower in the dark, gazes up at me. Her mouth opens. If she is to scream, we are lost, and she seems set to dangle indefinitely in mid-air like some ridiculous spider. I look around the room for something to inspire her descent, and dart back to the window with it. She does scream a little as cold water hits her–doubtless she thinks it is the chamber pot, but even I am not so hardened–and then swears horribly as she lands. The china jug rolls from my hand as I fling myself onto the rope, there is a loud scraping sound as the bed moves, and I find myself catapulted on top of Mrs. Dinsdale’s cabbages.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
JM: In this book I found myself saying “Oh no, you can’t possibly do/say that. That’s outrageous!”–usually to Caroline. And I’d go ahead and let her do it anyway.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
JM: If I’m not in the mood, anything. I’ve found myself actually doing housework to avoid it.
DC: The Rules of Gentility sounds interesting. Would you tell our readers how the idea for it came about and then give them a look inside the story?
JM: I started writing it for my own entertainment (and to be honest, it’s all for my own entertainment!) after writing some fairly dark and angsty stuff that will probably never see the light of day. I tried to translate Bridget Jones into the Regency, but I gave up that idea after not finding a substitute for cigarette and calorie counts. I wrote in first person/present tense (my other Regency chicklits are too) and when I got bored, switched to the hero’s voice and then alternated between them. Basically it strings together a whole lot of Regency tropes–the fake engagement, high adventures in low places–and spoofs them. I also felt it was a sort of back to basics book in that Philomena, the heroine, is a fairly ordinary sort of girl, although stinking rich, and doesn’t have any hidden talents or aspirations. Her career is to make a good marriage. And although I took some liberties I tried to keep it as historically correct, or as historically likely, as possible.
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved since you started writing? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
JM: I find I’m more interested in relationships between women–I mean (before you get too excited)between friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, in historicals. I’m also very conscious of the implications of the HEA for the heroine. If the duke marries his mistress, will she have any friends? What will his friends think? The rest of his family?
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
JM: I try not to think in terms of genres. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always written what I’ve wanted to and my brilliant agent finds a niche for it.
DC: You’re originally from England. How long have you been in the U.S.? Any usual or funny stories going from one country to another?
JM: Decades. An embarrassingly long time. My husband still says I’m unintelligible! When I return to England I sound like a loud American for about ten minutes and then sound like an English person with an American vocabulary. I was very distressed that my niece’s husband said I sounded posh.
DC: Is there perhaps an American historical in your future? Or an English hero in America story? Anything along those lines at all?
JM: I love the idea of culture clash and I do have a ms. that’s about an English lord in the 1880s prospecting for gold in the Rockies. He marries the local blacksmith (a woman). My agent said it made her cry a couple of times (with emotion, not hopelessness, which was good) but I think the ms. needs a lot of work and I don’t know how it would fit in with what else I’m writing.
DC: Tell us about your first Regency, Dedication.
JM: Quite simply I wrote the sort of book I wanted to read. It was published as a Signet Regency, and was rather unusual for the line. It’s a second chance at love story, and the hero/heroine were in their early 40s/late 30s respectively; they’re old enough to have fallen in love with other people and have grown up since their estrangement, and they have some fairly adventurous sex (it’s the only Signet Regency with two bondage scenes!). Having written that, I’m amazed at how tame all this seems, which just shows how the genre has grown in four years.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
JM: Start writing earlier and don’t be shy about paying someone else to clean the house. I’m a late bloomer.
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
JM: Buy this book’s books!
DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?
JM: Beware the banana peel on the boudoir floor.
DC: You also write under the name of Jane Lockwood. Why did you choose to write under a pseudonym? Can you tell us about your books written as Jane?
JM: It was a contractual obligation to do with options and so on, since I was writing vastly different material for two different publishers. I would have been quite happy to write under my own name–I don’t have any sort of reputation to protect. I published one book, Forbidden Shores, an erotic historical that did not sell particularly well–readers either loved it or hated it. It was about sex and abolitionists, and had a threesome in which no one was particularly happy because each one was in love with the other who did not love them back. There are some things about the book I’m very proud of, other things that didn’t work so well.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
JM: Gardening! Well, not right now, it’s dark. I’d probably be working full-time in performing arts management (I currently work four days a week for a baroque music ensemble) or I’d be doing some sort of online marketing/design.
DC: What’s on the horizon for Janet Mullany?
JM: Lots! I’m very lucky. As I mentioned, I have two Regency chicklits for Little Black Dress–Improper Relations and one that isn’t even a twinkle in my eye. I have a two-book contract for Harlequin Spice, the first to come out in 2011 under yet another name, Liz Diamond. And next summer I have the first of two paranormal, alternate-historical books about Jane Austen from HarperCollins–it’s about Austen joining forces with vampires to defeat a French invasion. In September, 2010, I have a novella in a Harlequin anthology with Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, and Susan Krinard of paranormal takes on Jane Austen novels. Mine is a contemporary based on Emma, my favorite Austen (I’m not sure what the title will be although we called it Bespelling Jane). I have lots of writing to do!
– dark or milk chocolate? – dark
– smooth or chunky peanut butter? -chunky
– heels or flats? – flats
– coffee or tea? – coffee
– summer or winter? – spring (sorry!)
– mountains or beach? – mountains
– mustard or mayonnaise? – mayonnaise
– flowers or candy? – flowers
– pockets or purse? – pockets
– Pepsi or Coke? – So long as it’s diet…
– ebook or print? – print (until there’s an ereader you can use in the bathtub)
And because they’re still fun:
1. What is your favorite word? – island
2. What is your least favorite word? – laved
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – opera
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – poverty
5. What sound or noise do you love? – cello
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – alarms
7. What is your favorite curse word? – I cherish and use them all.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – entomologist
9. What profession would you not like to do? – I have this fear that I’ll end up in the shack at the gate of an impound lot.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “It’s OK, you don’t have to meet all your dead relatives, only the ones you like.”
DC: Janet, thank you for spending the day with us!