One of the busiest writers out there, Judith Lansdowne discusses Lord Nightingale, her fears, and ferrets
Interview with Judith Lansdowne
by Cybil Solyn
NAME: Judith A. Lansdowne
PEN NAME (if using one):
BOOK(s): Amelia's Intrigue, The Bedeviled Duke, Legion's Ladies, Camilla's Fate, A Devilish Dilemma, Balmorrow's Bride, A Season of Virtues, Annabella's Diamond, Mutiny at Almacks, Lord Nightingale's Debut, Lord Nightingale's Love Song, Lord Nightingale's Triumph, Lord Nightingale's Christmas.
Coming out next year: The Mystery Kiss. Plus a slue of anthologies.
EMAIL(if you want to give it out): email@example.com
If you could be any animal you wanted what would it be and why?
I'd like to be a ferret, particularly a pampered and indulged one like my own Fearless Ferret Fawcett . (You'll guess how long ago we lived together since her namesake was just then at the top of her career.) Why? Well, they're definitely night people-- ah-- animals-- and love to laze the day away then play the night through. They're independent, loving and remendous jokesters. They're curious and funny and terribly appealing once you get to know them. All these things I see as pluses in life-- and the truth is, I already am most of these things myself so I wouldn't have to change much. I like myself the way I am most of the time, so I wouldn't want to change much.
How do you go about mixing history with your stories?
In Regency Romance, the history is as much a character in the book as the hero and heroine. It's everywhere, in everything, from the mode of transportation, to the food, to the manner of speech, to the morals and political situations of the day. But aside from all that, I also, sometimes, will base a plot on a historical event of the time period or a particular group of people alive at the time. This is fiction, however, and not to be confused with fact, so the answers I provide in the book for particular occurences are from my imagination-- it could have happened that way, though I'm not saying it did. Balmorrow's Bride, for instance, is based on the assassination of the Prime Minister, and we find that the villain was actually aiming for Balmorrow. Highly unlikely, since Balmorrow is merely a figment of my imagination, but it makes for a good story. Mutiny at Almacks overflows with historical characters and peeks, imaginatively, into their private lives and passions. In Annabella's Diamond, there's a group of scoundrels who are purely evil and they're based on another group of very real scoundrels from that time. Also, since the Regency period coincides with the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of industrialism in England, it's nearly impossible to avoid taking them into consideration when it comes to plot and characters.
Are there any interesting things you've run across in your research that you've said "I HAVE to put that in a book!" What and did you?
Yes, indeedy. The most recent being odd and somewhat unique Christmas traditions in Devonshire. Some of them are funny, some sentimental and one of them positively grossed me out. They're all in Lord Nightingale's Christmas. I do this all the time, sometimes with bits of research that only take up a line or two.
One of the things I like most about your books, as I've said they are automatic buys for me, is the strong female characters. How do you go about finding your characters?
My characters generally find me, especially the ladies. I begin writing with a fairly clear idea of who the hero is and what he's like. Then he meets the heroine-- and wham! This woman I don't know much about bounces onto the page and responds to him in her own unique way. Sometimes she's sensible, sometimes she's not, but she always seems to have a sense of humor and a rather fearless attitude toward life. All of my characters come out of my own experience-- people I know and love, particularly, but the characters are a mixture of these people rather than just one person. And the characters are always changing my plot as they evolve. So much so, in fact, that I never start with any more idea of the plot than say, perhaps, the first scene, or a piece of history I want to work worth. The characters rule. It's unnerving to say the least, because I'm never certain just how things are going to work out.
It is often said that women readers identify more with the male characters in a book. Do you find that to be true when you write your characters?
I don't know that I'd say they identify with the males. But I do think they want to be able to recognize and delight in the males or compare the male characters to the males in their own lives, or escape from the males in their own lives by reading about a complete opposite. There's apparently a definite link between the readers and the hero and even the male secondary characters, which is why I attempt to make even the least of my characters a three-dimensional person. I think it more likely that women readers identify with the heroine and put themselves in her place, reacting to the hero themselves, in their own way and then judging whether the heroine's reaction is similar to theirs, or totally opposite, or somewhere inbetween. I was surprised by the reactions I got to Bea Lange in Mutiny at Almacks. Apparently a good many women readers would love to be just like her.
Do you find that to be true when _you_ read romance novels?
I always want a hero I can love. Someone noble, intelligent and funny, but I find that I'm more of an observer when I read these days. I get inside all of the characters' heads and attempt to figure them out rather than identify with them. Though I will admit to this day that I did from teenage years to this day identify with Jane Eyre so completely that I can read the winter scene in August and find myself shivering despite the heat.
By the way, who are some of your favorite authors? Or name a few of your "keeper" books.
Good grief, Charlie Brown! My bookshelves are overflowing and I just gave more than four hundred books to women's shelters, libraries, and even the jail. I have always loved books. Among the older authors there's all of Fielding, Richardson, Dickens and Alger. Books like Tristam Shandy (probably the funniest book ever written), Jane Eyre (my all time favorite), and (don't get nauseous on me here) The Pilgrim's Progress, never leave my shelves. And I'm particularly drawn to British plays of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. Austen, of course, appeals greatly and I'd be a regular pariah if I didn't mention that I've read (several times over) all of Georgette Heyer.
Modern romance authors I love run the gamut. From Patricia Veryan (who has been my idol for years and years) to Carola Dunn, Karla Hocker, Clare Darcy, Paula Tanner Girard (whose sense of humor is most unique), Cindy Holbrook (who always has me giggling), Rosemary Stevens (who does lovely work and has just gone over to cozy mysteries with the most remarkable Beau Brummell mystery series), Jeanne Savery and Nancy Butler and Karen Harbaugh, Patricia Wright, Mary Jo Putney, Debbie Macomber-- Like I said, "Good grief, Charlie Brown, I LOVE books and there's not an author I can't find something good about. And then, there are the other genres. . . .
In one of our first letters to each other you said that you hoped you could keep writing good books. Why did you say that? Do you get afraid that you may run out of stories?
Yep! Because I don't ever want to write the same story over and just change the names, you know, I worry a lot about what I'm going to write next. Because my style and voice are me and never truly change, because the period in which I write is merely a twenty year span more or less, and because I'm constricted by my passion not to step outside the rules of Regency society without an adequate explanation for the action, the number of acceptable plots for me is not limitless. But as I said, it's generally my characters who write the story for me. So, even though I get really nervous, they seem to take it all confidently in hand once they appear on my computer screen.
My second favorite genre is paranormal. Do you have another genre that you like?
I adore the old-fashioned, blood and guts horror genre, but there aren't many of those around any more. Everyone's gotten too cerebral for me. Think Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Ruby Jean Jensen. Think vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, mummies and a demon here and there. What can I say? I was four, five, six, during the heyday of the horror movies and I had an elder brother who took me to see them every Saturday afternoon. I've never been frightened by any of them, just truly captivated by imaginations that can keep coming up with such stuff.
There has been this big to-do over authors leaving the Regency genre. I don't mind because once I find an author I love I know that I will enjoy any of the other genres she writes in. How do you feel about authors moving onto other stuff?
I think the other genres benefit from the experience of authors who came into them from the Regency, because I think Regency readers are the most literate and demanding of all readers, keeping us on our toes at all times. But when I find someone I love to read, like you, I read them no matter what genre they're writing in. At least I do until they write something so trite and stupid that I throw it against the wall. And even after that, I give them several more chances to redeem themselves.
The hardest thing for readers to grasp is that writing is a job, much like other jobs. A writer wants to move upward just as most workers want to move up the ladder of success. These days you can't do that in the Regency genre. To get more readers and better money, you have to switch genres. Hopefully this won't always be true, but it is right now.
Have you thought about writing in a different genre? Which?
Sure. I have a vampire novel that takes place in the caves of Kentucky, a paranormal involving an Indian shape-shifter and an historical about the second Duke of Buckingham under my bed. The problem with them is-- my sense of humor keeps getting in the way. Want to read one? :)
Do you know that I give your book, "A Season of Virtues" out to people that I want to convert over to Regency? I gave it to my best friend Jen last year after I _finally_ got her hooked on romance novels, and she refused to read it because she HATES, like she has nightmares about them HATES, parrots! But she read it anyway and was HYSTERICAL with laughter. She's become quite a Regency fan, but she still hates parrots… Why did you choose a parrot of all things for your series?
I didn't know that about Virtues-- Thanks!! Actually, I got a number of fan letters from historical readers who bought that book by accident-- having missed the "warning" Regency label on the cover. They've converted as well. Something about that particular book. . . .
Why a parrot for the series? With my apologies to Jen, I needed a non-human that could talk, be taught to sing and would have a life span comparable to that needed for the mystery plot which runs back twenty-five years. The green-winged macaw fit the (pardon my pun) BILL exactly. I sympathize with her hatred. I worked for a veterinarian when I first got out of high school, and I hate monkeys. However, a monkey in a book is most unlike a monkey biting your fingers through hockey gloves and spitting and hissing at you. Likewise for parrots. This parrot will not give anyone nightmares. He's a veritable charmer, unless you're a villain. He's actually indispensible to all four plots.
We all know that everyone loves a Rakehell, but I've been wondering what quality makes the best rake? What do you think makes for the perfect rake?
I know this is Rakehell :) but I have a real preference for Rogues. I like them noble but misunderstood, with artistic temperaments, high ideals hidden behind a facade of dissolution or scandal, and a definite appreciation of sensible women. We're talking male ego here, too. I do like ego in a man. But a hidden sensitivity must combine with it to catch my heart.
Is there anything else you wanted to say? Add?
As a matter of fact, yes. For those who think Regencies are simply drawing room comedies-- boy, are you wrong! I think we've got some of the best writers in the business and the variety of plots, characterizations, situations is as wide and compelling as in any other genre. We have something for everyone-- paranormals, comedies, mysteries, passionate love gone astray, spies, murder and mayhem, and above all true love-- not lust disguised as love (though the villain may encompass that aspect too). And most of this is all in one book! (Well, not always, but sometimes.)
Thank you for your time, I know you are really busy right now preparing for your book signing tour (we'll put a link to all the dates here with a note on the promotion you are having). Your Lord Nightingale series is (as are your other books) wonderful, and I expect that the book shops will have trouble keeping them all in stock. Is it true that you are having a book signing on a boat?!
Signing on a submarine. The Torsk, in Baltimore's lower harbor. My husband is a submarine veteran. He was on them for twenty-two years. When his buddies heard we were coming out that way, they invited me to sign on the boat and, of course, I said yes. Who wouldn't?