by Anna Sugden
A perennial reader favourite, and an inspiration to many of the Banditas, Eloisa really doesn't need an introduction! But, for those few of you who may not know who she is ...
After graduating from Harvard University, New York Times best-selling author Eloisa James got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Director of Creative Writing in the English Department at Fordham University in New York City. She's also the mother of two children and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight.
The latest in her fabulous Duchesses series - Duchess by Night - will be available from June 24th. (You can pre-order from Amazon by clicking on the cover, just as you can order any of the books featured on our blog)
You can find out more about Eloisa and her books at http://www.eloisajames.com/.
Many of you will remember that last month, I gathered questions from you for Eloisa. Today, we have Eloisa's answers! So, without further ado, over to Eloisa.
Eloisa: I'm delighted to be here. Thank you all for such interesting questions. I’ll be popping in throughout the day to see if you have any follow-up questions, so don’t be shy!
Christine Wells asked How do you go about planning your series books? The Duchesses seem even more intricate than Eloisa's earlier series and I wonder do you know the progression of each thread and how you tie them up before you begin book 1 or is it a more organic process? How do you keep track of all the details? And finally - would you ever consider writing romance set in the Elizabethan age or is that too close to your academic life?
Eloisa: I only wish that I had the time/wherewithal/organizational skills to plan out a series of 6 books. I don’t….they tend to just jumble along. In fact, this series was originally “planned” for 4, and then I had to call up my editor and say, um, it’s turned to six. I keep track of the details by starting a “Bible” with the first book, listing all characters, locations, descriptions. I update it for each book. It’s not fool-proof, but it works!
And you nailed it re the Elizabethan Age – not romantic enough for me, because I know way too much about it.
Aunty Cindy wants to know how you keep writing one great book after another?
Eloisa: I love you, Aunty Cindy! One thing I’ve learned over my career is that some readers will love one book and hate another, and vice versa. But the author has to love them all – or she should revise until she does. It takes hard work.
Annie West asks - how do you plan a series? How much information about future books do you need when you write the first one? How did you meet your Italian knight?
Eloisa: I met Alessandro on a blind date [Anna: some people have all the luck!]
I don’t need hardly any information to start a series, though the more, the better. I just need to know the main cast of characters and have a general idea: ie, I want to write about sisters (Essex sisters) or desperate housewives/bad marriages/duchesses (Desperate Duchesses).
Kelly would like to know about your revision process? How do you create such steaming hot sexual tension?
Eloisa: I write blindly ahead, not allowing myself to revise much. What’s the point of polishing if a scene might get deleted later (and plenty do)? If the sentences were all perfect, it’s that much more painful. As for sexual tension…you have to wait to write those scenes until you really know the couple well. So I might skip an early sex scene and only come back when I truly understand my couple and I (just like a reader) can’t wait until they finally make it work! I have to feel what the reader is hopefully feeling – that’s what makes it work.
Ms Hellion is curious to know what kind of woman it will take to win Villiers? (I was hoping you might give a bit of a character description of her. *LOL*) And I am curious, since you're an English professor and all, who is your *least* favorite literary author and why? (It is my sincere hope that even English professor avoid some literary works...and I wonder what they might be.) *grins*
Eloisa: Ms. Hellion….ha! Never! You’ll have to wait. You might have met the Duchess of Villiers already…and then again, you might not *g*.
And my least favorite author -- Henry James: turgid, self-indulgent, and windy.
Bamabelle is curious to know which of your heroes is your favorite? Who is your favorite literary hero in general?
Eloisa: I’m very fond of Shakespeare’s Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing).
And I don’t really have a favorite hero – though I must say that I have a terrible weakness for Villiers. I think you are all really going to like him in Duchess by Night. He’s everything I like in a man: flawed, beautiful, thoughtful, sarcastic.
Jo asks Eloisa if she could tell us something about her teaching and writing schedules. What courses do you teach? Is the DWGS (Dead White Guy Syndrome) gone from university curricula or are you still fighting the battle? And however do you mesh a full teaching load with an obviously prolific writing career?
Eloisa: I am the “Shakespearean,” so-called, at the Fordham University LC campus. I work together with 3-4 other early modern specialists to make sure that we offer Shakespeare at both campuses, together with other kinds of classes – on poetry, science, culture, other dramatists, etc. Since I mostly teach DWGs, I don’t bother too much with the battle, but I know it rages on, particularly in more modern fields.
I write a lot in the summer. That’s the glory of an academic career – you have a blissful summer, free to do as you wish!
Anna Campbell, knowing that Eloisa is a Shakespeare scholar, wonders what her favorite play is and why? Also, apart from the titles, does Shakespeare influence Eloisa's romance writing?
Eloisa: Measure for Measure – I love the intricate look at government and the question of family values. Shakespeare influences my writing in a million ways: because I teach his plays, day in, day out, I’ll often find myself echoing a phrase I just taught, or just plain borrowing it. Same goes for character. I teach a great deal of other dramatists from the period as well – Affair Before Christmas was deeply influenced by the works of George Chapman, for example.
Terrio is crious about where Eloisa gets her ideas for her "not exactly in the bedroom" love scenes. I mean, I don't want to ruin any books for anyone but in a boat?! And in a historical yet! Where did she come up with that one? And Strip Dominoes. The story of where that came from should be entertaining.
Eloisa: LOL – I don’t know! The imagination is a lovely thing. I made up Strip Dominoes as well.
Susan asks - how much research goes into Eloisa's books? Do you do it yourself? Do you hire it out? Does the research inform the plotting, if you're a plotter? Or does the plot come first & then the research?
Eloisa: I generally do all the basic research. When the Duke Returns (my December 08 book) circles around the hero, who’s a kind of Romancing the Stone archeologist, based on a real Georgian explorer. I bought books about him, and ordered his own books off Amazon. But a lot of the smaller research is done by a wonderful research assistant, Franzeca Drouin. She not only helps me as I’m going by answering random questions (what is the name of that pen they used again?), but she reads the entire manuscript once it’s done, several times, making sure that the words I use were in use at the time.
Generally the plot idea comes first and the research follows.
Beth Andrews would like some time management advice?
Eloisa: Type up a long list of all the things you have to do, separated by professional and household. It’s likely daunting and depressing – everything from write a bestselling novel to get the wallpaper off the upstairs bathroom wall. Fine. At least you know the parameters. Now get a small yellow sticky, look at the list, and take a small segment of 3-4 of those and make a new list on the sticky. This list might look like this (because this is my sticky for today):
1) Work on City of Vice article (academic article that was due in October!)
2) Romance Bandits interview
3) Clean basement alcove
4) Work on email/inbox
That’s enough! At the end of the day I tear that sticky off and throw it away, and plan what I could do the next day. That way I get to feel a sense of accomplishment, by chipping away at big tasks (cleaning the basement, writing an article).
Flchen1 asks - do you start off knowing you'll be writing several related books or does the second take off from the first with a life of its own? If it's the former, does that make it easier, to have that in mind as you plot? (Or is it more work, juggling the various plots and characters?) What kind of books do you like to read? And nosy me, how did you and your DH meet? :)
Eloisa: I plan in a series. It’s so much work to create a whole world that I can’t imagine doing it for only one book. Just think of all the servants, addresses, and extra people who appear in even one novel. It’s a lot of work, juggling all the plots and people – and I’ve definitely made errors. Some of my characters have changed age in disconcerting ways. You have to forgive yourself for your mistakes, and keep going.
I like to read romance! I write a romance column for Barnes & Noble review page that goes up every third Monday of the month. That allows me to read as many wonderful romances as I want, without even having to pay for them! And those of you on my Bulletin Board know that I give away all those books every month on my BB, so do keep an eye on the BB and the column.
But I also read all kinds of other stuff – fantasy, mysteries, literary fiction, women’s fiction – I think it’s crucial to bring in new ideas all the time.
And as to how I met my husband…see above. Blind date!
Helen is curious about how Eloisa came to write about the Essex sisters?
Eloisa: These things spring organically from my own life, most of the time. I live in the same town as my sister, and I was thinking about our relationship. I wanted to write about sisterhood, as something that’s vexed and complicated – but in the end wonderfully affirming and loving. So those novels were both about falling in love with men, and realizing that sisters share a deep love as well.
Many thanks again to Eloisa for being here today and for taking the time to answer all our questions.
As Eloisa said, don't be shy about leaving a comment or asking other questions. Two lucky commenters will each win signed copies of Desperate Duchesses and An Affair Before Christmas!