I contacted Eloisa James after I finished reading This Duchess of Mine about five minutes after I put the book down. I didn’t understand it. I began the book disliking the characters. I finished the book still disliking them a little, but feeling as though I understood them.
Despite my disliking them, I cared about them.
This boggled my mind as a reader and an author. How did Eloisa make me care about characters I disagreed with? I was so impressed I sent her an email asking about her trick. Her answers fascinated me, and I asked if I could post our conversation on our blog.
Eloisa, being the gracious lady she is, gave me permission.
Thank you for this lovely note! I’m sorry it took me a while to answer. My characters were manipulative—I am too *g*. At any rate, I’m glad you decided to like them anyway. One of my goals as a writer is not to write characters that everyone will love, every time—but to try to write characters who have realistic traits, but still fall in love and are lovable.
I’ll give a shot to your three questions:
How do you transform your passion into focused research?
Passion is a vague word for writing…. what I have is an idea. The idea generally springs from some sort of historical fact, say the condition of toilets in the Georgian period (When the Duke Returns) or the discovery of digitalis (This Duchess of Mine) or the disgraceful conditions behind child-workers & gold wire buttons (A Duke of Her Own). I do just as much research as I need to to feel that I have a handle on that situation–because always the goal of a book is to create a great story, not to give readers an information dump. Knowing too much can be a liability sometimes.
How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?
See above. I take a problem: something that interests me about the past and then weave a story about it. For Affair before Christmas, for example, I found myself wondering what it was really like to have all that tall Marie Antoinette hair piled on one’s head. Voila: the plot springs from the question.
How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?
Well, underlying messages… I don’t know that I have all that many of those. I guess some come along with the characters. When I created a drunk in Much Ado about You, for example, I dried him out in Taming the Duke, so there was a message there about alcohol. But I don’t have the sense that many of my readers are looking to my books to solve their substance abuse problems. If I have an underlying message it would be that it IS possible to have a thoughtful, loving, and kindly relationship–and no woman should settle for less. And in tandem with that, marriage is no picnic, and that kind of relationship needs as much nourishing as any other. And finally, that every man can learn to be good in bed.
Awesome answers, right? And, can I just say how exciting it is to have an author respond to an email when you figure they are way too busy? Indie authors take note!
So I responded to Eloisa’s email because I thought she wasn’t giving herself enough credit with her answer to my third question…
Thank you for the reply! Yes, your answers do help, and give me insight into your writing. My mother, for instance, doesn’t like manipulative characters, and doesn’t understand why anyone would write about them. This is very helpful for me to explain why and how a writer can go in this direction.
I suppose underlying messages come more from readers’ perceptions of our work, rather than our purposeful insertion of a message. In This Duchess of Mine, I felt as though the underlying message was to never give up; that people can mature and make a difficult situation work if they both try. It’s a good thing to keep in mind for a young, professional, single girl like me!
Suffice it to say, I’m not sure I could ever pull it off myself. Props to you for working with difficult-to-love-but-we-love-them-anyway characters!
So there you have it. Big name authors like Eloisa James are pretty fricking sweet. I’m definitely going to check out another of her books just because I feel I understand her a little better and will probably enjoy her writing more because of it.
All the best,