Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Author: Sara Ramsey & Heiress Without a Cause

Today I'm all aflutter to host the fabulous Ms. Sara Ramsey as we discuss her inaugural release, the fun and fabulous regency romance Heiress Without a Cause.

After winning the Golden Heart in 2009 and being named a finalist again in 2011 (with the first two books she wrote, but lets all pretend we aren't green with envy over that), Sara is launching her delightful Muses of Mayfair series with those Golden Heart recognized novels, featuring artistic, rebellious highborn ladies and the rakish lords who love them.

Sara grew up in a small town in Iowa, and confesses to an obsession with fashion, shoes (of course), and all things British. She graduated from Stanford University in 2003 with a degree in Symbolic Systems (also known as cognitive science) and a minor in history. After graduation, she worked at Google for seven years in a variety of sales, management, and communications roles. She left Google in 2010 to pursue her writing career full time.

And now she can add "published author" to her impressive CV.

Heiress Without a Cause

One title to change his life…

A disgraced son with a dark reputation, William “Ferguson” Avenel is content to live in exile – until his father dies in the scandal of the Season. With rumors of insanity swirling around them, his sisters desperately need a chaperone. Ferguson thinks he’s found the most proper woman in England – and he won’t ruin her, even if he desperately wants the passionate woman trapped beneath a spinster’s cap.

One chance to break the rules…

Lady Madeleine Vaillant can’t face her blighted future without making one glorious memory for herself. In disguise, on a London stage, she finds all the adoration she never felt from the ton. But when she’s nearly recognized, she will do anything to hide her identity – even setting up her actress persona as Ferguson’s mistress. She’ll take the pleasure he offers, but Madeleine won’t lose her heart in the bargain.

One season to fall in love…

Every stolen kiss could lead to discovery, and Ferguson’s old enemies are determined to ruin them both. But as their dangerous passion ignites their hearts and threatens their futures, how can an heiress who dreams of freedom deny the duke who demands her love?

I was lucky enough to read Heiress Without a Cause before its release, and the blend of heartfelt romance, realistically drawn characters, and risky Regency situations sucked me right in. Here's a little peek inside:
Her heart beat faster and she lowered her voice. “Perhaps we should practice how we might appear together in the demimonde.”

She was useless as a flirt, but he was smart enough to grasp her meaning. “You want to practice being my mistress?”

“I find my acting improves with experience,” she said, hoping she sounded like a coquette but fearing that she sounded like a fool.

He laughed. She flushed bright red as the heady bubble of attraction burst. She was indeed a fool… she didn’t know how to play these games… he was helping her out of charity, not desire. She turned away from him, wishing she could hide in a carriage as easily as she did in ballrooms.

He reached across the carriage to stroke her cheek. “Mad – it’s not you I’m laughing at. Imagine my predicament, though. I have the most beautiful, talented woman in London as my mistress, and I cannot touch her without ruining her.”

She looked back at him. Several emotions flickered across his eyes in the dim light of the coach, but mockery was not one of them. “And I have the most notorious rake in London in my carriage to save my reputation. Aren’t we quite the pair?”

He watched her for a long moment. She saw the battle play out on his face. Abruptly, the darker side won, and he shifted his hand to her wrist and pulled her toward him.

She landed in his lap, too astonished to do more than squeal with surprise. Wish her face mere inches from his, she could see the banked, smoldering look in his eyes – just as he tilted her mouth and kissed her.
Can you see why I couldn't put it down? I sat down with Sara this week (in the metaphorical, via email sense) to get the inside scoop on her debut release.

Vivi: My favorite historical romances are always so integrated with the period that they simply could not be told the same way in any other era. Your book is so deliciously Regency. What drew you to the era? Did you always know you wanted to write Regency?

Sara: I adore, adore, ADORE the Regency. Some of it is standard: I like the clothes and the parties, of course. But I’m intrigued by Regency romances because I like the challenge of conforming to all the Regency expectations while still finding fresh ways for my characters to break the rules.

I also think the time period is interesting because it parallels the modern world in a lot of ways – the extreme gaps between blatant excess and crushing poverty, the odd hypocrisies between sexual freedom and prudishness, and how obsessed people were with gossip rags. It makes the Regency a lot more accessible to modern readers than some historical time periods. Still, I like the fantasy factor of historical romance, and no matter what I write in the future, I doubt I’ll ever abandon historical influences.

Along those lines, I’ll share something embarrassing - my first attempt at a romance was very Viking and very dirty. My best friend and I wrote the first chapter during a high school sleepover, and by the end of the chapter, the heroine (disguised as a boy) was discovered by the hero when he tried to whip her for insubordination. Obviously we were operating under the influence of the 1980s romances, and it will never see the light of day!

Vivi: I love a good in-it-together, falling-for-one-another amid potential social ruin story. Did you set out to write that kind of story or did it just develop organically? (Sort of my version of a plotter vs. pantser Q.)

Sara: My process for HEIRESS was so messy that I’m not sure I can claim that I planned anything! In the first version, there really wasn’t any scandal; instead, Madeleine’s long-lost fiancĂ© from France turned up demanding to marry her in what was ultimately a convoluted attempt by Ferguson’s father to keep them apart. I scrapped that entire storyline, killed Ferguson’s dad, and started over when it became clear that my pantsing was totally off-the-wall insane.

I loved the characters, though, and those ill-fated 40,000 words were almost like an alternate-reality character development exercise for them. I lost a lot of words, but they were still the same people. And as I got to know them better, I knew that they would skate on the very edge of social ruin to get what they wanted – so I played that up in the new version, and ended up loving it.

I also learned that I may be more of a pantser, but I have to do some plotting initially or else I work myself into serious trouble. I’m a lot less reluctant to kill my darlings after that experience, though – cutting a scene now is nothing compared to cutting half a book.

Vivi: Your characters are so brilliantly developed. There is a fabulous duality in many of them, especially the heroine, Madeleine - who embodies both the daring actress and demure spinster - do you see her rebellion more as a balance of her two sides or as the emergence of her true self? Do you have any tips on character development for authors aspiring to your level of awesomeness?

Sara: Thanks – I’m blushing! This question makes me happy because I hoped Madeleine’s duality would come across. As I wrote her, I thought a lot about how people often have many goals that sometimes come into conflict with each other, and how hard it can be to make a choice between two lives that can both be satisfying. Yes, Madeleine wants to be an actress – but it’s not the only thing she ever wants for her life, just the thing she most wants right now. Her lesson throughout the book is how to balance her current desires so that her true self can emerge – but she won’t know what that true self is until she understands what she really wants.

If you’ll allow me to geek out for a minute, I think some characters feel one-dimensional because their goal is something quite basic / outside of themselves: find the artifact, save the child, get revenge. But if someone’s goal is basic/elemental, I often don’t find their character arc quite as satisfying – I may love the plot, but going from “I need to defuse this bomb or people die” to “yay I defused the bomb!” is pretty straightforward for the character. I’m more interested in characters who have to choose between two competing, higher-level desires – in Madeleine’s case, the need for acclaim/recognition vs. love and companionship. Humans are usually confused about what they want (or maybe that’s just me!), and exploring that confusion can really speak to the reader. Just don’t ramble like I did in this paragraph, or you may lose them :)

Vivi: Your hero is a former rake, but instead of being glorified for it as can be a Regency theme, his past becomes a genuine obstacle for him - were you intentionally taking a less fanciful look at what reputation meant in that historical era than we sometimes see in Regency Land?

Sara: I try really hard to avoid logical inconsistencies – to the point that my roommate probably doesn’t want to watch TV with me anymore because I’ll sometimes nitpick the entire episode (like last week’s Once Upon a Time, when I pointed out during the climax that one probably can’t roll down the back window in a sheriff’s car from the inside – not sure she’s forgiven me yet).

Anyway, I love reading about rakes, but I have trouble believing that they could all be reformed easily. Reputations are really hard to shake, even now – it must have been worse back when honor and duty were such a huge part of the social fabric. Ferguson became a duke and had never done anything bad enough to be ostracized for it, but that didn’t mean everyone would suddenly love him. I didn’t set out to make a statement with him, but he certainly doesn’t find redemption easily.

Vivi: As I mentioned above, I'm in love with your characters - even those who play more minor roles. I'm excited that there are two more Muses of Mayfair books to look forward to (Amelia & Prudence! I can't wait!), but I'm also dying to know if there will be romances for Ellie & the twins. Pretty please?

Sara: There are at least three more: Amelia’s book, Scotsmen Prefer Blondes is coming in March, and Ellie’s book, The Marquess Who Loved Me, is coming sometime around June – she wasn’t even a Muse when I started the series, but she steals every scene she’s in and won’t allow Prudence to go before her. I’ll write Prudence’s book, which is still untitled, for a fall release. Beyond that, the twins may get their books if readers are interested; otherwise, I have plans for a new Regency series to kick off next year.

Vivi: How did you come about your decision to self-publish your 2009 Golden Heart Winner & 2011 Golden Heart Finalist manuscripts?

Sara: It was a tough decision, but I’m thrilled that I made it. When my 2009 book didn’t sell, I put it aside and focused on writing the second book (which went horribly at first, as I mentioned above). That became my 2011 book, which my agent shopped to editors this summer. My agent and my beta readers loved it, but editors were lukewarm about it, and it became clear that no one was going to make a great offer for it.

But self-publishing options are so much better than they were in 2009, and I know more about the industry than I did then. I also worked in the tech industry for seven years before pursuing publication, so I felt confident that I could figure out the technical aspects – and since my jobs were all around marketing and communications, I’m actually excited about creating a business from my self-publishing and figuring out how to get my books into the hands of readers.

Beyond that, though, I’m just tremendously excited to have my books out and to share them with other romance lovers. My agent and I both believe in these books and were heartbroken when they didn’t sell traditionally – but while traditional publishers excel at distributing blockbusters, they simply can’t afford to take the same risks on newer authors. It’s a business decision, and I respect that. And traditional publishing is still the right path for some people, just as self-publishing is the right path for others. For me, given my expertise and interests, self-publishing is the way to go. And hopefully it will pay off – but if it doesn’t, at least I will know that my books had a shot with an audience and didn’t just languish under my bed with the poor ‘80s-style Viking romance I scrapped fifteen years ago :)

Note: Over at the RUBY BLOG TODAY Sara is giving away a Nook copy of HEIRESS to a random commenter – it was chosen as a Nook First exclusive, and will only be available on Barnes and Noble for the next month. If the winner doesn’t have a Nook, she will give them an ebook or print copy of their choice on February 23.



Sara Ramsey said...

Thanks for hosting me, Vivi! You're the best :)

Vivi Andrews said...

My pleasure! Happy release day!

Kali Robaina said...

Congrats on the release! I've been in the mood for a Regency and this looks amazing!

Sara Ramsey said...

Woot! Thanks Kali! I hope you enjoy it :)

Kali Robaina said...

Just don't tell my Kindle I'm reading on a Nook...