BOOKTHINK: A number of romance authors' names are kicked around in bookselling circles from time to time, and one name that comes up more than any other is Georgette Heyer. I understand that she's more or less the matriarch of the modern Regency romance, also that some assert that her work, because of its high quality, transcends the genre. I'm assuming that she was an influence on you. Could you talk about this some?
MACKENZIE: Georgette Heyer was an early love. A librarian introduced me to her books when I was in grade school, and my mother and I worked our way through just about all of her titles multiple times. I loved her wit, diction, and characterization. My goal is to write like a modern Georgette Heyer - same wit, same fun characters, but more modern pacing, dialogue, and sensuality.
BOOKTHINK: I guess I'm going to have to read one of her books to see what the magic is about. Could you recommend one to start with?
MACKENZIE: Only one? I tend to remember scenes, rather than titles, so I went to http://www.georgette-heyer.com to refresh my memory. You might want to browse there - there are snippets from all her books. Some of my favorites are Arabella, Frederica, Lady of Quality, The Convenient Marriage, and The Corinthian.
BOOKTHINK: Ok, same question - this time Jane Austen.
MACKENZIE: I'm blushing here as a Regency writer and English major - okay, I feel like a fraud - but I'm just not that into Jane Austen. I'm sure I've read s and probably some others of her novels, but I get that "school work/assigned summer reading" feeling when I think about them.
BOOKTHINK: You're in good company. My youngest son has been devouring books for the past year or so, and I asked him recently which one he disliked the most. Pride and Prejudice was out of his mouth almost before I was finished asking the question! Anyway, the next logical question is, Who is your favorite romance writer?
MACKENZIE: I can't have any favorites - I have too many who are friends.
BOOKTHINK: Ok, a safer question: Most influential?
MACKENIZE: Definitely Georgette Heyer. Before I started writing Regencies - and before I started writing, Regencies were the only romances I read - the authors on my "auto-buy" list included Mary Balogh, Marion Chesney, Edith Layton, and Joan Wolf among others. Now I find I don't read as much, and when I do, I usually avoid Regencies to get a break from that world. Regrettably, I also find I have a really hard time turning off the internal editor, or worse, the internal proofreader when I read, especially when I read Regencies.
BOOKTHINK: One of the reasons I wanted to take on this interview was that I'd never read a romance novel before and, since one of yours (The Naked Duke) was beginning to make interesting noises in the used book marketplace - and this after only two years - I thought perhaps I could learn something about selling books in a genre which has up until now not been one of my strengths. Despite my lack of experience, I had expectations going in (I have no idea where they came from): I expected a central love story with numerous ups and downs but ultimately a happy outcome, I expected at least one antagonist (perhaps a rival), perhaps some danger, and lastly, I expected a good helping of sex, though primarily of the PG variety as opposed to graphic. Oh - and one other thing - I expected that any harsh realities of 19th-century England would be softened. With this in mind, I'd like to ask you some questions about what surprised me in The Naked Duke.
First, there indeed was an antagonist, but I hadn't expected that he would resemble the Prince of Darkness himself, especially given the somewhat breezy publisher's blurbs on the back cover. When Richard moves across the pages of this book, he leaves a very, very dark wake, a sort of Moriarty-like sense of doom that colors everything. Is this type of character typical of Regencies?
MACKENZIE: Well, perhaps Richard is a little over the top! I wouldn't say Richard's a character type typical of Regencies, and maybe if I'd written him later in my career, I'd have made him more balanced. When I first started writing The Duke, Richard was even worse! The thing to keep in mind, if you're going to read The Duke critically, is that it was the first manuscript I'd written in years. I was trying to see what I could do - what kind of emotions I could evoke, what kinds of characters I could create. I really wasn't thinking so much about publication.
BOOKTHINK: Another surprise, though on second thought I think this probably shouldn't have surprised me - there was at least some graphic sex, both consensual and non- (in the case of several attempted rapes). Am I correct in assuming that including this is a recent trend in the genre?
MACKENZIE: I would say that, in general, romances are trending hotter. There are two ends of the spectrum today - inspirationals that have no explicit sex and erotica that has lots of sex of various flavors. The sweet traditional Regencies - shorter "category-sized" books - are gone from the NY publishing landscape. I think Signet was the last to ax them a couple years ago, though they may be making a small comeback in YA (young adult) lines and in e-books. If you look at what has happened to the level of sensuality in other media - movies, TV - I would say romances have followed suit. But even older romances contained some explicit sex and sometimes even references to rape. Kathleen Woodiwiss, who sadly died in July, is credited by many as having changed the level of sensuality in romances, opening the bedroom door. Her The Flame and the Flower was published in 1972.
BOOKTHINK: Were any family members horrified?
MACKENZIE: My parents actually liked The Duke. They didn't comment on the sex scenes (thankfully!) - they said they liked the humor. Both my parents, by the way, were Regency romance readers. However, my sons and husband are horrified, but they haven't read any of my books, so they aren't horrified by any specific scenes - well, my youngest son did have parts of The Duke read to him by his friends. The older boys were in college or out of college when The Duke came out in Feb. 2005, so they were free to claim a connection to me or not. Youngest son was a sophomore at an all male Jesuit high school. He was trapped. Since I'd been a very active parent volunteer for many years, my new career didn't go unnoticed. However, he has admitted something good came of my writing - it provided him with a ready-made college application essay topic. His essay on how embarrassing it is to have a mother who writes these books was rather amusing - and heartfelt! - and it apparently was a hit with admission officers. He got in everywhere he applied.
BOOKTHINK: Great story. Speaking of sex, I certainly didn't expect there to be any gay adventures, but the book is sprinkled with references, and there's even an episode that involves the antagonist Richard and his valet Philip, though details are almost entirely left to the reader's imagination. Two questions: Is this a recent departure from the traditional genre, and why was this particular love scene soft-shoed?
MACKENZIE: Philip got into the book as an attempt to deepen Richard's characterization - and then I got rather attached to him. I had to be careful with the relationship, though, since if I did the research correctly, homosexuality was a capital offense during the Regency; however I think the burden of proof was significant, so it was more a matter of "don't ask, don't tell." I do think there may be other gay characters in Regencies, but I would say such characters aren't common. However, I've learned in erotica or erotic romance, gay sex is not so unusual. The scene wasn't explicit for three reasons: One, I didn't think my readers would want any more detail (a closed bedroom door is still appropriate sometimes); two, a more detailed scene didn't seem necessary to develop the story; and three, frankly, I didn't think I had the skill to write the scene convincingly in more detail.
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