Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome, Rose Lerner!

Rose Lerner and I met in 2004, long before either of us were published, at the Emerald City Writers Conference. Over the years we've become critique partners and good friends, and I'm delighted to welcome her here today to talk about her new release, A Lily Among Thorns. I first read this book years ago for critique, and it's one of my favorite historical romances EVER. Solomon and Serena are such wonderful, well-developed characters, and I love how they play against the usual romance stereotypes. Today Rose is answering my questions about her books, not to mention Avatar: the Last Airbender (one of our current favorite shows), and giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one reader who comments by midnight on Monday.

I know you do extensive research for each of your books. What was your favorite part of your research for A Lily Among Thorns?

Probably the research on London. During the Regency, the divide between London and the rest of England was really marked, kind of like the way we conceptualize New York City versus small-town America. It's not just based on the reality of those places, it's symbolic. (Anyone else tune in for the first episode of Hart of Dixie?)

Most aristocrats of the time had a foot in both places, because they spent the Season in London and the rest of the year at their country estates. But Solomon and Serena, my hero and heroine, both work for businesses that are based in London. They're Londoners year-round. That means something important about their self-images and about how others see them. Plus, Serena has strong ties to the seedier side of London life. So I wanted the feel to be right.

The Regency Underworld by Donald A. Low, Black London by Gretchen Gerzina, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, and Immigration, ethnicity, and racism in Britain 1815-1945 were all great resources for me.

What was the hardest part?

A forged marriage certificate is an important plot point in the book. My protagonists can't find a reliable way to prove it's forged, so they decide an annulment is the simplest way to go. But annulments were hard to get! Society valued the security of marriage very, very highly and made it very difficult to invalidate.

I've read over and over that you could get an annulment if a marriage wasn't consummated, but it's just not true. The truth is that you could get an annulment if the husband was permanently impotent--and there was a hard-to-fake test to prove it. Using a false name was not, in and of itself, grounds for annulment, and neither was being underage. Mistaken identity (twinswap, anyone?) was a pretty safe bet but irrelevant to my book. Coercion and fraud were grounds for annulment but what exactly constituted coercion and fraud were interpreted differently by different judges, and in all cases interpreted fairly narrowly. I tore my hair out over this stuff!

I love that LAT has such a unique title. Why did you choose it?

I like using quotes for my titles. They carry a lot of associations and meanings with them, and that really appeals to me. My first book was called In for a Penny from the saying, "In for a penny, in for a pound," which worked a few different ways with the story, and my WIP is tentatively titled Sweet Disorder, from a poem by Herrick.

"As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters" is a quote from the Song of Solomon. (And I'd like to thank Alyssa Everett for convincing me to keep the title in that form. I was originally planning a play on words that would have been a big mistake.)

What I like about the title is that it speaks to how Serena misreads situations because of her own fears. She sees Solomon's faith as a threat to their relationship, because a respectable Christian could never accept someone with her past and reputation. But to him, his religion also means the love expressed by the Song of Songs. It's about doing the right thing, but it's also about reconciliation and forgiveness.

She also sees herself as a cold, prickly person who can't help hurting the people around her--a thorn among lilies. But Solomon helps her see the truth: she's a lily among thorns, a vulnerable young woman who's managed to survive and even do well, despite danger and challenges on all sides.

Your heroes tend to be "betas." Did you set out to write betas on purpose, since they're so rare in the genre, or is that just the kind of hero your muse delivers to you? Can you see yourself writing an alpha hero someday? (Not an alpHOLE, of course ;-)  )

Hmm, it's tricky. In the case of Solomon, I definitely did it on purpose. There was a very particular type of alpha hero that was popular in Regencies when I started writing Lily. He was beautiful and fashionable and snarky and he showed absolutely no emotion. He had two tells: going a shade whiter under his tan, and a muscle working in his jaw. That was it. His mother could die in front of him and maybe he'd go all out and do both.

The heroine in these books was usually very innocent and very emotionally open. She won the hero over by giving him the unconditional, almost unshockable acceptance he'd never gotten from anyone else in his life. And I wanted to see what that dynamic, specifically, would look like if you switched the genders.

In general, it's a little more complicated. I think in romance, sometimes "alpha" is equated with "strong." But when you get right down to it, it's just a personality type. To me, alpha means natural leader, someone who in any given situation will be calling the shots. Beta means someone who can stand back and give someone else their full support. Both of those are great things! They take different kinds of strength, that's all, and are conducive to different kinds of weakness. And I wish there was more of both available. I have a lot of love to give!

My very favorite type of hero is a combination, really. To me, Nev (the hero of In for a Penny) is a...well, I guess the kinky term would be "switch." I don't know if there's a romance term. He's the leader of his group of friends. People on his estate naturally like him and look up to him. When he needs to take control of a room, he can. But he's willing to step back and let Penelope be in charge when he thinks it makes sense.

My favorite flavor of alpha is so alpha he hasn't got anything to prove. Half the time he doesn't have to make you do what he says, because he can make you want to do what he says. He can even let you run things for a while and still know he's in charge, really. SEE: Captain Kirk. He can turn command over to Spock without thinking much of it--but that's his ship, Mister, and it always will be.

And my favorite flavor of beta will shut you down in a heartbeat if he doesn't trust you or like how you're doing things. I think what people miss, with the idea of betas, is that a beta chooses who to give his loyalty to. He doesn't just roll over for anyone that walks in off the street! And he can take all that energy that he would have put into maintaining his personal control over situations, and put it somewhere else.

SEE: Mr. Spock. He's got no interest in running the Enterprise. He loves being a Science Officer, and he's perfectly content to let Kirk have the responsibility, the credit, and the glory. That doesn't mean he can't 1) beat Kirk in a fight or 2) beat Kirk in an argument, if he thinks it's necessary. But most of the time, he doesn't.

Two different personality types in a mutually beneficial and emotionally satisfying relationship based on affection and trust. Beautiful!

Again, this doesn't mean I don't love lots of types of heroes, including the stiff-upper-lip alpha with a jaw square enough to draw a blueprint off of. Can I see myself writing an alpha? Definitely. In fact, I've got a plot bunny for a high-performing, alpha revenue officer right now! I don't know when I'll get around to his story, but hopefully soon.

What are you working on now?

I'm almost done with a draft of a book about the 1812 Parliamentary general election. By the local rules of her town, the middle-class heroine's husband would be eligible for a vote...if she were married. (Yes, this is historically plausible!) The younger-son-of-an-earl hero is sent to the town to find the heroine a husband, but as we all can see coming a mile off, he falls in love with her himself!

It's not sold yet so I don't actually know yet if it will be my next book out, but believe me, when I know, I'll tell everyone who will listen!

(Had to throw in an Avatar question!) I know Azula is your favorite, but what about the Gaang? Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, or Zuko?

Speaking of things we could all see coming a mile off, definitely Zuko. I love how cranky and angry he is. I love how he's staked his identity on living up to his father's standards even though those standards have never done anything but humiliate him and devalue who he really is. I love how he's not very good at things and compensates by trying way too hard and taking everything way too seriously. I love how dramatic he is about everything. I love that it seems perfectly reasonable to him that after his uncle refuses to blast him with lightning, he should go stand on a mountaintop in a storm screaming at Nature to do it instead. I just want to give him a hug and a towel and say, "You're getting all wet, sweetie, maybe you should take a nap instead."

But really, I could go on for that long about every single person in the Gaang. Avatar is one of the very best shows I've seen for just really consistent, sharply drawn, endearing characterization.

Thanks for stopping by, Rose! By the way, the Kindle edition of her 2010 release, In For a Penny, is on sale for $3.79 through 10/3.


  1. I too love the title and think poems are a great source for titles. I think it fits your premise and the cover very nicely!

    Betas are very often misunderstood, but a well-drawn beta can be a very compelling character. Nev from Penny did come off as a very strong beta to me, but with a touch of rakishness to keep him interesting. :)

  2. Thanks, Jeannie! Do you have a name for your next book yet? I love "The Dragon and the Pearl" as a title, it conveys the setting realy well and they're both beautiful, strong images but at the same time it's such a startling contrast!

  3. I like betas, I think because they don't show up as often, so they are a refreshing change. The same way having a hero who isn't a duke is. (Sol wins on both counts!)

    Lilly has a forged marriage certificate, and the storyline you mentioned above also involves marriage laws. Did research for Lilly help you to the idea about the young woman in search of a husband for his vote?

  4. Wow, thanks for the shout out regarding your book title! One of my favorite things about your writing (and I like so much about it) is the way you subvert regency romance conventions--in the case of A Lily Among Thorns, making Serena the "flash cove" with the underworld ties, and Solomon the wide-eyed innocent. As Susanna says, they play against the usual stereotypes, and that makes the characters and everything they do feel fresh and fun.

  5. Hi J! Thanks for stopping by. :) Actually, no, it was research for a temporarily abandoned politically-active-bluestocking story...I came across a letter from a Whig political patroness instructing her agent to hasten a marriage (I think she enclosed a license), and the light bulb went off!

    Alyssa--Credit where credit is due! And thanks! My stories sometimes tend a little toward the angstier side of the Regency genre, I think, so it's good to keep the playful elements in there.

  6. I loved In for a Penny and am looking forward to reading A Lily Among Thorns. Thanks for an interesting column. I especially enjoyed your observations on your book characters.

  7. Thanks LSUReader! Hope you like LILY. :)

  8. I'm also a fangirl of In For A Penny! :) I was so bummed that we had to wait so long for your second book after the great debut of In For A Penny. I love the picture of Spock and Kirk and up to now I had never realized that Spock is a beta but you're so right. Spock would have never wanted to be the Captain. He only wanted to be in the second row right behind the Captain.

    claudigc at msn dot com

  9. Claudia--thanks so much! I can't promise the wait for my third book will be any shorter, since I haven't sold it yet, but let's keep our fingers crossed.

    See, this is why I like the Spock example--he really shows the range of character types you can have and still be a beta. And aww, yes to being in the second row right behind Kirk. I think I have a kind of a thing for really-good-at-second-in-command types (c.f. Geof Manthorne from Ace of Cakes).

  10. I love the discussion of betas! I love Nev - he's one of the best romance heroes I've read in a while. I love that he was attractive and had his own kind of power but he never seemed threatening to me, and I never worried for Penelope's dignity or safety. Often alpha heroes have me feeling very sad and indignant on behalf of the heroine, and that's a huge turnoff for me. "Switch" is a great term for Nev, haha! I'm really looking forward to LaT!

  11. Yuenmei--Thank you! And I totally know what you mean. I do enjoy an alpha, but I don't really enjoy it when consent lines are blurred. I'm often willing to cut him some slack with being pushy in the bedroom, but when it's in the rest of life...It makes me feel claustrophobic when an alpha just says, "We're doing this," while the heroine stands there saying, "I don't think we should do that and I won't do it," and he ignores her as if she isn't talking. I want an alpha who's confident enough to let other people have an independent existence and consciousness without that threatening his position.

    I love that you use the word "dignity," because yes, that's exactly it! I don't enjoy it when an alpha shows his alpha-ness by humiliating the heroine. It can be fun in erotica but for me, I don't like to see it in a romance where I expect these people to end up in a relationship.

  12. Well, now I'm dying to know what narrow-miss title you almost gave to A Lily Among Thorns.

    I love everything you said about alpha & beta heroes. I'm pretty sure I've read that exact line, about going a shade whiter under his tan. Maybe more than once!

    And is it wrong that I'd really like to read a romance in which that impotence test showed up as a plot point? I'm fascinated by the idea of a man agreeing to undergo it, and I'd also love to hear the impressions of the courtesans participating. Has anyone written that yet? Someone needs to!

    No need to enter me in the drawing :)

  13. Hello Rose!

    LOVED the post and all the BEHIND the scenes of a book! Sometimes the research is too cool!

    I loved Solomon and I'm looking forward to read the 'Penny' book :)


  14. I have A Lily Among Thorns on my TBR pile. The book arrived a few days ago, and it's soooo pretty. Congrats on the new release, Rose!

  15. I can't stand books in which the 'hero' completely ignores the heroine's wishes/concerns, but that goes in the other direction, too. :) Bickering couples don't do a think for me.

    I loved Nev, especially that he wasn't sure of himself, but that he grew into his role.

  16. Susanna here, posting a comment from Rose, who's having trouble getting it to come through just now:

    "Ceci--It's not a secret! When it was a trad, its working title was
    "The Tailor's Nephew" (which I still think would have been a nice name
    for a trad) and then I was thinking of renaming it "Thorn Among
    Lilies." I'm much happier with what I've got!

    Together you and me will have write ALL the weird plot points! I'd
    love to see that too, and I doubt it's been done...maybe it can be the
    same guy that drew that "A Lady's Heart" picture! The reader will
    understand why he's bitter. :)

    Melanie--hi, thanks! Let me know what you think of PENNY.

    Rosie--Isn't it? I love the cover! I wouldn't mind having that
    woman's necklace myself. Thanks! Hope you enjoy the book."

  17. (Susanna again, now posting as herself)

    I'm SO with you on the best kind of alphas being the ones so confident they have nothing to prove. And in a historical context where men just had so much more power and so many more rights than women, I can't feel anything but contempt for a man who feels the need to assert personal domination over a woman. (Really, I'd feel the same contempt in ANY setting, but it's worse in an era where the man already has overwhelming institutional power before he starts being PERSONALLY a bully.)

    I know I babble endlessly about the Vorkosigan Saga, but I'm thinking of the contrast between Miles Vorkosigan and Etienne Vorsoisson in KOMARR again. Etienne WANTS to be an alpha, so he tries to bully and dominate everyone in his sphere of influence and generally keep them in their place. Miles IS an alpha, and therefore confident enough to want to see HIS people grow into their own strength. That's the kind of hero I want to read and write about.

  18. Growlycub--Thank you! Bickering couples work for me sometimes and really really don't other times. It's a fine line. I can really enjoy antagonistic flirting when it's done well (SEE Han and Leia, or Tessa Dare's A Night to Surrender) but when it falls flat it bugs me like nothing else (for example I really didn't enjoy Mal and Inara's scenes in Firefly, although I know a lot of people did).

    Susanna--OMG yes! Alphas shouldn't need to tear other people down to feel strong, ESPECIALLY people who are already at a disadvantage. I feel the same way about historical heroes who simply don't take the heroine's opinions/concerns seriously or are openly amused by her anger/disapproval--she must get this crap from EVERYONE, and now she's supposed to get it from her husband too?

  19. LSUReader, you win! I've emailed you to get your shipping info, let me know if you don't get the email.

  20. Zuko: just YES. That's all. Everything about that character was impeccably crafted. (Except for [non]resolution to the mother narrative.)

    Meanwhile, I long for more beta heroes. Not only are they a relief from the endless parade of identical heroic formulae we get, but they are so much more interesting (and ideologically satisfying) as explorations of masculinity than your garden-variety alpha. (Is garden-variety alpha an oxymoron?)

  21. Yes! I actually wrote another blog post a while back about how much courage it takes, as a guy, to be beta. I do try to avoid the whole "betas are so much cooler than alphas" thing though because it's really the mirror image of the "alphas are cool, betas are lame" thing. It can be hard when there are alphas everywhere and like, two betas, but I just take a deep breath and say to myself, "There are lots of ways to be a man and they are all equally valid! It's not a competition!"