In my continuing series of transcriptions of old articles and interviews, I found two articles written by the great Loretta Chase, one from the time of the publication of The Devil’s Delilah (my favorite Chase) and one from the time of the epochal Lord of Scoundrels. Both articles were accompanied with different pictures of Chase from back then 🙂 but I was without my usual camera so only have a crappy pic of Chase with a perm from the earlier article. (I will replace the picture with a better one when I come back.)
From Romantic Times #76 (June/July 1990)
Something Completely Different . . .
by Loretta Chase
I’m slow. It takes a long time to sort through all the bric-a-brac in my brain and find a moderately intelligent story idea. This brain is not a neatly organized museum of Regency artifacts and documents. Its a dark, cluttered attic, crammed to the rafters with images from movies, books, opera, magazines, rock music, TV, and –though rarely — real life. If my brain were a TV show, it would be “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” In short, ideas for my Regency comedies develop from assorted oddities in this mental collection.
One oddity has been in the brain-attic a long time: Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. [
Regular readers of Word Wenches Blog know that Chase talks about Clarissa a LOT! ~~ seton] I had to read it in college. Few sane people nowadays ever read the book unless forced to by a sadistic professor. Clarissa is a very long, excruciating, tear-your-hair-out and wish-you-could-strange- the-author tale of . . . . seduction. While most of the details escape me, its fascinating seducer, Lovelace, has haunted me for years.
When I was trying to develop a concept for my fifth Regency, Clarissa elbowed all the rubbish aside and rudely thrust itself forward. Hastily I shoved it back, but too late, evidently, because something stuck: the idea of a chapter-by-chapter seduction. Also, through some twisted process of illogic, I concluded that this seduction must be triggered by a wager.
An idea for the wager’s stake came from the memoirs of Harriette Wilson, the famous courtesan. Lord Worcester wrote her a lot of love letters, which Harriette found out could be worth 25,000 pounds in a breach of promise suit. Many What Ifs, Whos, Whys and Hows later, my basic premise was born: X can retrieve some indiscreet letters from Y only if X seduces Z. What sort of person (Y) would propose such a reprehensible bargain? What sort of person (X) would agree to it? Who was Z?
Characters are my priority. Until I understand them, it’s impossible to develop from the initial concept any sort of plot. I have to hear their voices, see hpw they move, know everything they think, which usually takes time. In this case, the story idea was so potent that it swiftly brought the main characters to life, complete with strengths, flaws, and past history.
He (X) got my attention first. He usually does. Tall, dark, handsome, sexy, fatally charming, Julian is the sort of guy who strolls by — and you immediately collide with a lamppost. Because women do, invariably, litter his path with their devastated bodies, he respects nothing about them except their taste in men. He knows women, inside out. Unlike Freud, Julian knows exactly what they want, each and everyone of them.
No sooner had I disentangled myself from the lamppost than an evil gleam came from my eye. Y, owner of the letters, would be clever enough to use Julian’s vanity against him, and confront his rampant ego with the Ultimate Challenge: Z.
Z (the seducee), obviously could not be a knockout. Your everyday-variety, breathtaking beauty, remember, is Julian’s bedtime snack. Instead, she has Presence: Lilith is mature, imperious, poised — a widow whose reputation is above reproach. Julian represents everything she despises; furthermore, he’s played a villainous role in her past. But just in case that’s not enough, she’s also recently betrothed.
I saw their interaction as a collision: Irresistable Force meets Immovable Object. Using every weapon in his arsenal, he will stalk her, steadily, ruthlessly, cold-bloodedly. She will fight him every inch of the way, drawing blood if necessary.After all, conflict is important, and the fiercer, the better, right? Ye-e-es, but this is escalating into some sort of mythic struggle between Good and Evil, for heaven’s sake. I even saw Julian as the Serpent in the garden, confronting a very obstinate Eve. was I ready for mythic?
Ready or not, my brain produces only one story idea at a time. So, filled with foreboding, I wrote an outline and three chapters. I knew the whole thing was a terrible mistake. I mean, I dont do Intense. I do people stumbling, falling down, getting struck by flying objects, and bashed into walls. I do lots of wisecracks (in Regency terms, witty — one hopes — repartee). I do Lust, yes, but normally with an eye for its humorous possibilities. KNAVES’ WAGER, obviously, was not going to be that kind of tale. In the true “Monty Python” spirit, my writing demons had decided it was time for Something Completely Different, and this was the only story they’d give me. Also, since these friends are notoriously inconsiderate, they had to make the writing beastly difficult.
For instance, the story was hot, and my publisher [that would be Walker & Co, the same company who published Jo Beverley’s Regencies at the time ~ seton] doesn’t print Steamy Regencies. So one challenge was to create throbbing sexual tension without articulating S-E-X. If hands wander below the neck, the writer can’t say so. She can only induce in the reader the necessary state of mind.
Another challenge was to move between comedy and the dramatic war of the wills without jarring the reader. Another was to steadily increase the tension between the pair to the breaking point without giving myself a permanent migraine.
The major issue, though, was Change. In order for Love to conquer in KNAVES’ WAGER, my protagonists had to change, which human beings instinctively resist. This is why their struggle is so fierce. In order to tell their story truly, I also had to change as a writer, step down from my pedestal of comic detachment, and probe their hearts and minds. It’s dark there, and spooky. Yet, each time I emerged from those dark, elemental places into the light of comedy, the comedy seemed to grow sharper and brighter.
Meanwhile, back in the attic, a new story thrashes feverishly about. It seems to be replete with throttlings, flying objects, and demented characters. Looks familiar? A comedy, of course. Mythic? Intense? One can’t be sure anymore.
I have three main pieces of advice for new writers of Regencies. First, understand the behavior and the morals of the period in order to be authentic, because Regencies have a certain tone and style that sets them apart from regular historicals. Second, you have to make a complete commitment: writing every single day and taking it seriously as a craft. And third, stock up on aspirin!
From Romantic Times #130 (January 1995)
LORD OF SCOUNDRELS by Loretta Chase
Sometimes one book carries the seeds of the next. In THE LION’S DAUGHTER, I created a villain who aroused my curiosity. The next book, CAPTIVES OF THE NIGHT, told his story.
In Captives, what stirred my creative juices was the Parisian den of iniquity I’d created, called Vingt-Huit, which offered sins to suit every taste.
My new hero, Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, fourth Marquess of Dain, the Bane and Blight of the Ballisters, is a patron of Vingt-Huit, and LORD OF SCOUNDRELS is his story.
The den of iniquity has numerous clients, whose tastes and personalities range from the mundane to the monstrous. Dain dalls into the monstrous category: six and half feet tall, and every inch of it dark and brutally hard, rich, powerful, dangerous, and definitely SEXY, as in half arrogant English aristocrat and half hot-blooded Italian.
His face is harsh and hard, the face of Beelzebub himself. He is dark and hard inside as well. His is a Dartmoor soul, where the wind blows fierce and the rain beats down upon grim, grey rocks, and where the pretty green patches of ground turn out to be mires that can suck down an ox.
But Dain’s days of stomping through Paris, roaring Fee Fie Foe Fun, are numbered. He meets his match in “a razor-tongued, supercilious bluestocking of a spinster” named Jessica Trent, who’s determined to extricate her brother Bertie — the greatest nitwit in the Northern Hemisphere — from Dain’s evil clutches. From then on it’s an obstacle-strewn journey from 1820s Paris to London to Dartmoor.
In addition to getting peeks at both the notorious Vingt-Huit and the shocking wares of a certain Parisian antique shop, readers will meet with an assortment of minor characters, including a pair of diabolical steeds named Nick and Harry. There will also be scenes of scandal, mayhem, startling revelation, and throbbing sensuality. The occasional tear might be shed, but swiftly banished by laughter — because my heroine believes that romance is “curry, spiced with excitement and humor and a healthy dollop of cynicism.”
Luckily, curry’s varieties are close to infinite. My next book, PRINCE OF ROGUES [This is THE LAST HELLION, actually ~ seton], uses a different recipe.