Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today's Special - - Cecilia Grant

It's always fun to welcome debut authors and today we have one who's been getting a lot of buzz around the romance world.  After her debut book, A LADY AWAKENED, had been enthusiastically recommended by both Dish regular, Penfield and favorite author, Eloisa James, I knew I had to check it out.  The holder of a degree in English, Cecilia (as she writes on her website) is delighted to be writing stories after waiting tables, composing software Help files and answering the carpool-lane-violators hotline.  After reading A LADY AWAKENED, I'm delighted she's writing stories too! 

Welcome to The Romance Dish, Cecilia and congratulations on yesterday's publication of your debut novel, A LADY AWAKENED!  Will you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the story of an intimate bargain between two of the unlikeliest partners imaginable. Martha Russell needs to conceive a child, ASAP, in order to pass it off as her late husband’s and prevent a nefarious brother-in-law from inheriting. Her new and idle neighbor, Theo Mirkwood, is more than happy to assist - until he finds out she means it to be all business and no pleasure.

At odds in the bedroom and beyond, they try each other’s patience, foil each other’s intentions, push each other to the brink of calling off the whole agreement... and form an improbable friendship. And then more.   

You created such a wonderful sense of time and place – from the language to the working conditions to the social and political climate - in this book without making it seem like a history lesson.  What type of research did you do to get it so spot-on?

I’m glad it read that way to you, but I always squirm a little when someone praises my historical detail because there are so many historical-romance writers who are better at that part of the job than I am.

I started out with a few general books - Trevelyan’s British History in the Nineteenth Century and Richard Muir’s The English Village were particularly useful - and then for specific issues, like how a roof in early 19th-century Sussex would be thatched, I did a lot of fact-hunting online.

Research can make you tear your hair out sometimes, not least because it results in this enormous iceberg of which you might only utilize the tip. In the roof-thatching example, I learned the names for all the different parts of the roof, as well as what material would have been used (different regions of England thatched with different grasses or reeds), only to wind up writing the pertinent scene from the point of view of a character who wouldn’t have known any of that terminology and wasn’t paying particular attention to what the thatchers were doing anyway.

Maybe one day I’ll write a book with a roof-thatcher hero.

What would you most like your readers to know about Martha and Theo, the heroine and hero of A LADY AWAKENED, before beginning their story?

Martha and Theo are going to fall in love. It’s going to look extremely unlikely for awhile but I swear they eventually will.

There was certainly nothing “typical” about this story, especially in the way Theo and Martha viewed both themselves and one another.  (Which I found very refreshing.)  Martha, in particular, is such a complex woman and not all that likable, especially at first.  (I strongly encourage readers to stick with the story as both her growth and Theo’s are immensely satisfying.)  I imagine this book will generate a vast array of reactions.  What was your inspiration for creating such atypical romance characters?  Should we expect more of the unexpected in your future novels?

I’m never going to be the kind of writer who comes up with a strikingly original plot, so I concentrate on original characters. And the quick-and-easy way to create an original character is to identify some of the most ubiquitous personality traits in the genre, and then write the opposite.

There are a lot of romances in which the hero needs major change and growth (repudiation of his rakish ways, for instance) in order to be worthy of the heroine’s love, but relatively few where she’s presented as not yet worthy of his. Heroines tend to be pretty likeable, and relatable, from the get-go, and the downside of this is that they don’t then get the big dramatic growth arcs that the heroes get.

So one of my goals was to write a heroine who, when we first meet her, is not ready to hold up her end of an adult romantic relationship, and has to struggle with her own growing pains at the same time the hero is struggling with his.

On the hero’s side, the most ubiquitous characteristic I could come up with was competence - romance heroes tend to be at the top of whatever field they’re in, whether it’s spying or leading society or just raking around - and so I wanted to write a man who wasn’t there yet, and who would stumble a bit on his way to getting there.

Should you expect more of the unexpected in future works? Well, you should probably expect more not-immediately-likable characters. As a reader I’m drawn to those, and so I like to write them too.

Speaking of future novels, your next book, A GENTLEMAN UNDONE, will be out in May, 2012.  (Gorgeous cover!)  Anything you can tell us about this one?

A GENTLEMAN UNDONE is the story of Martha’s brother Will. He’s got to come up with some money, quickly, to discharge a debt of honor incurred at Waterloo, but when he ventures into a gaming club he tangles with an ice-in-her-veins cardsharp who might be his ruination... or might be exactly what he needs.

Will is probably my most conventional protagonist so far; tortured and deeply honorable. Heroine Lydia is the more atypical character in this book. I wrote her partly in reaction to Martha, actually: after all those months spent with a prim, mulishly nonresponsive heroine, I wanted to write someone completely different. Lydia lacks scruples and has what you might call a vehement sexuality.

When the writing is finished, what do you most enjoy doing for fun and relaxation?

The writing, it turns out, is never finished. (I didn’t know this before I sold books and signed a contract.) Because I’m not a fast writer, I can’t really afford to take a month off to relax and re-charge: as soon as I hand in one book, I’ve got to be working on the next, whether it’s research, brainstorming, or actual writing.

Fortunately the writing is fun. I can’t say it’s relaxing, but it’s definitely fun.

I imagine your research requires a good bit of reading.  What types of books do you turn to for recreational reading?  Or do you even have time for that?

I read a lot of romance - mostly historical - partly for recreation, and partly to keep up with the market. That doesn’t leave nearly as much time as I’d like for other reading.

The books on top of my non-romance TBR pile right now are Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years and Helen Simonsen’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. And the last nonfiction book I really loved was Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Loss - in this case a stillbirth - is such a tricky subject to write about, but she does it without either pulling punches, or leaving you lying on the floor in a puddle of despair.

New Year’s is just around the corner.  Do you make resolutions?  If so, what are your resolutions for 2012?

Since about 1990 I’ve been resolving every year to stop picking at my cuticles. And now that I’ve gone public with it, 2012 will surely be the year in which I succeed. So thanks for that!

A LADY AWAKENED has been getting a lot of advance buzz.  What’s your favorite quote about this book so far?

I’ve been extremely lucky to have the book be so well received at some of the higher-profile blogs and review publications. There’s been more than one quote that would have buckled my knees if I hadn’t already been sitting down when I read it.

But my absolute favorite comes from the first reader who reviewed it on Goodreads - she said, “I felt like this book had been written for me.” I know what that feels like, as a reader, so to have accomplished it for someone else is just gratifying beyond words. 

Thank you, Cecilia!  Do you have a question for our readers?

Thanks for having me. I’d love to know if there are other fans of difficult, even off-putting characters out there. Anyone think the scheming, cigarette-puffing Thomas and O’Brien were the most interesting residents of Downton Abbey? Anyone secretly hoping to see Victoria Grayson smack down Emily Thorne? Tell me which unlikeable characters you can’t help but love!

One randomly selected person leaving a comment on today's blog will receive a copy of A LADY AWAKENED.  (U.S. and Canadian addresses only)



  1. I knew from another blog I had to read A Lady Awakened..and your next A Gentleman Undone. The covers and titles alone would induce me to buy both, but the storyline makes them at the top of my to buy list.

  2. Congrats on your debut release, Cecilia. O'Brien and Thomas do keep the drama and tension going on upstairs and downstairs. I think Mary is quite unlikeable a lot of the time. She can be downright mean.

  3. Congrats on your debut release! And what a book it is (I read the ARC)!

    Of course, given your resolution, if I do attend a signing of yours, I'm going to check your cuticles. Be forewarned! ;)

  4. Hi Cecilia,

    congrats on your release

    can't wait the book and read it and really love the cover so much ;)

  5. Woe is me!! I am International. The cover for A LADY AWAKENED is gorgeous.

  6. Hi Cecilia! Welcome to The Romance Dish! We're delighted to have you join us today. :)

  7. I've heard nothing but great reviews. Can't wait to read it!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Sure does sounds interesting and sounds like a great book to curl up with on a winter night..

  10. Hi Maggie May! Aren't those beautiful covers? This really was an intriguing story. I'm looking forward to a Gentleman Undone!

  11. Sheree said, Of course, given your resolution, if I do attend a signing of yours, I'm going to check your cuticles. Be forewarned! ;)


  12. Eli, she really has been blessed by beautiful covers, hasn't she?

  13. Marybelle, gorgeous cover and a very intriguing story.

  14. Hope you enjoy it, Dyanne. Thanks for stopping by today!

  15. Sure does sounds interesting and sounds like a great book to curl up with on a winter night..

    Curling up with a good book is one of my favorite ways to spend a winter night! :)

  16. Cecilia -
    I wish I could come up with an off-putting characters for you but if any character is well-developed off-putting or not I appreciate having them in a story. Many times when one of those characters appear in a book I find them to be the charater that you love to hate!

    Congratulations on the release of A Lady Awakened. I can't wiat to read Martha and Theo's story and can already tell that the journey of reading the story is going to take us on a wonderful journey.

    Thanks also for having A Gentleman Undone coming out in the Spring. I have a feeling that Lydia is going to take Will on a wild ride and I can't wait to experience it along with them!

  17. Hi Cecilia! Its so great to "meet" another very interesting new (author!! Your books sound great. It sounds like you give your characters some issues. I love that! My favorite heros are those with problems... or are the tortured types. They make the book so much more interesting. I am looking forward to reading your books. Thanks for the opportunity to win one!!
    bettysunflower at hotmail dot com

  18. Elizabeth Hoyt got a lot of grief from readers for Emeline Gordon, the heroine of To Taste Temptation. I found her to be true to her station in life at that time in history. Yes, she was prickly and a bit snobbish but that's exactly how I imagined someone in her circumstance would have been. I found her journey to be satisfying and her growth believable, much as I found Martha's journey in A Lady Awakened.

  19. You're right Pj, and i don't why now i really like "green" beside "purple" ;)

  20. It is not necessary for me to like any of a books characters as long as they captivate me. Twilights Bella Swan for me is depressive, sulky and always whining about something. There is a reason there is no team Bella!! P.S.your book is already in the TBR pile.

  21. I've read great things about this book and am so looking forward to reading it. Thanks for a good interview.

  22. Good morning everybody and thanks for the comments!

    Maggie May, aren't my covers spectacular? I've been trying to decide whether that's Paul Marron on the Undone cover, but I can't find a profile pic of him so can't be sure.

    Jane, they're re-running Downton Abbey where I live, and they just showed the episode with the scandal of Mr. Pamouk (sp?) The look on Lady Mary's face, the first time she catches sight of him, is so priceless. Petty Lady Mary FTW!

    Sheree, I thought about exactly that before answering the question! People are going to be checking out my cuticles at conventions now. Oh, well, extra incentive to kick the habit, right?

    Hi, Eli. I put your book in the mail yesterday and I think they said 4 to 5 days. So you'll be reading it soon!

    marybelle, I have had a few international giveaways and I'll make sure to have at least one more. I'll put something on my blog and/or Facebook when I know the date for sure.

  23. Hi Cecilia, what a great post! I love the covers of your book so that alone makes me want to read them. Love pretty covers. I love reading new authors books.

  24. The best thing about difficult main characters is finding out how they get their HEA - and the moment when they can accept that they are loved.

  25. Congratulations on your debut release, Cecilia! A LADY AWAKENED and A GENTLEMAN UNDONE sound like must reads. I love both covers and their blurbs. I am really looking forward to reading both of them. I love to read about difficult people coming into their own whether it is a hero or a heroine.

    As far as unlikeable TV characters, I don't watch much TV, so I don't have any.

    Happy New Year!

  26. Congratulations on your debut, Cecilia. It caught my interest when I first read about it, and all the buzz now just adds to me wanting to read it. I enjoy a more complex romance where we get to know the main characters a bit more and take time to build the romance as the story moves along.

    I love Revenge, and watching Victoria and Emily go toe to toe.

  27. Congratulations on your debut. I was lucky to win an ARC. A Lady Awakened is a different sort of romance novel. While Theo was a great character from the get-go, Martha is more prickly. She is somewhat judgmental and so self-reliant, that it takes time to see past the walls she has put up.

    The covers on your books are great. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

  28. congrats on your release! :) It sounds terrific! I agree with all the others, your covers are beautiful!

  29. Congratulations on your new book and the great reviews. It's funny how some characters I will like and others I won't but it all depends on how I view their actions. I like unique characters but not self indulgent ones.

  30. Cecelia, congratulations on your debut! I love unconventional characters, so I will definitely check out your work.

  31. I can't think of any specific characters at the moment, but I do like those who play outside the usual lines drawn around characters. It gets a bit boring with all the lovely, gentle ladies and handsome, devil-may-care or brooding gentlemen. I appreciate you shaking things up a bit. It isn't the perfect people in the world that are interesting. It is the different ones that make life interesting. The ones that frustrate you because they are so wrong, so clueless, so wimpy, so short sighted, or just too pig headed. Give me someone who needs a major attitude adjustment and fights it every step of the way. Life is to short not to take the more interesting path.

    Thanks for an interesting post. The covers for both your books are lovely. I hope the release of A LADY AWAKENED goes well. Have a great 2012.

  32. It definitely sounds intriguing,I will have to read it just to see how you pull it off.

  33. I think an unlikeable character or villain, if drawn well, would outshine the likeable character or hero any day. I find a lot of villains more complex and interesting than the hero. One that comes to mind recently is Loki from the movie Thor. Another wonderfully complex villain/hero character is Varis from Wolf in Winter by Paula Volsky.

  34. Hi PJ and Cecilia, these books have "Me" written all over them! They are going on my wish list right now! Congratulations!

    Happy Mew Year

  35. Both of these books have to go on my wish list. Love your covers Cecilia. Happy New Years everyone.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com