by Christine Wells
It's my pleasure to welcome back to the lair a historical romance writer who has received many accolades since her highly anticipated debut PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS wowed readers in 2008. Sherry is a double RITA finalist this year with PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, which is a strong contender for both best debut and best historical romance. You can read more about Sherry on her website.
Sherry's third novel, NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is out now. Go and buy it. You'll be glad you did! Here is the blurb:
Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith's. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn't possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?
Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won't rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?
First of all, I have to say that I read Not Quite a Husband almost in one sitting, sending my children to bed early and burning my husband's dinner (he assures me he likes his roast pork a little char-grilled). Can you tell our readers about your hero and heroine?
Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are no longer married. In fact, since their marriage was annulled, legally speaking, they were never married. But of course it was an annulment based on lies--non-consummation and a manufactured invalidity with the wedding ceremony itself, as they lived in an era when divorces were hugely damaging, and annulments a much more discreet way to end a marriage.
Bryony is a physician and surgeon. The fact that she is a doctor plays an important role at several points in the story. Leo is a mathematician. I'm not sure whether his being a mathematician matters tremendously to the plot, but I want him to be a mathematician because I find that kind of brilliance sexy. :-)
Bryony and Leo are English but the story is set against the backdrop of an uprising in the North-West Frontier of India. What made you choose this setting?
LOL, it was what I could find.
The book is inspired by the movie The Painted Veil, which is set in 1920s China. In the movie, the remote, dangerous location is absolutely necessary for the couple to repair their relationship, because it forces them to be in close proximity and rely on each other in ways that they wouldn't in a big city.
So given that I had a certain time window in which to set my book, somewhere between 1894 and 1899, I went looking for colonial conflicts around the world. My original idea of central Asia did not work--it was not really a destination for Englishwomen. I looked as far as South Africa and New Zealand, but eventually decided to try my luck with the area where Osama Bin Laden may be hiding today, knowing that the Pashtun tribes of those mountains have a long history of resisting foreign influence.
And bingo, lo and behold, there was a spate of trouble in the North-West Frontier of India in 1897. I mapped them out and settled on the Swat Valley Uprising, because it happened so unexpectedly and violently--the British garrison in Swat Valley was caught completely by surprise. (I didn't want my H/H to be headed knowingly into danger, lol, can't have them be too stupid to live.)
I've noticed that the theme of estranged lovers recurs in all three of your published novels. It's one of my favourite tropes. What draws you to write about heroes and heroines with shared pasts?
DELICIOUS is more of a forbidden-love story, but PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS and NOT QUITE A HUSBAND are definitely estranged-lover stories.
I think it is not so much heroes and heroines with shared pasts that draw me, but the idea of how do you deal with a relationship that has gone off the rails. How do you recover from that kind of disaster and rebuild? That fascinates me. It goes to the very foundation of what romantic love is. Is it a lesser entity--rising with lust and waning with time--or is it grand and beautiful, capable of the kind of forgiveness, understanding, generosity, and commitment that make life worth living?
I would like to believe the latter so I aspire to it in my books.
Laura Kinsale once commented that readers are hard on heroines, that if you don't write a "nice, kind, smart, sassy, beautiful, not-too-strong, not-too-weak heroine" you need to prepare yourself for flak. The heroines you write are strong, flawed and not always "nice". Do you think readers' tastes are changing a little? Or do you agree with Claudia Dain, that just as there are alpha and beta heroines, there are alpha and beta readers?
I never think about likeability when I read romance heroines. My two favorite heroines of all time are Louise from BEAST, by Judith Ivory, and Melanthe from FOR MY LADY'S HEART by Laura Kinsale. Neither of them would even look at me in real life, but I'd probably totally girl-crush on them! Whatever Laura Kinsale was doing, she was doing something right.
When I write, it's the same: I don't ask myself whether my characters are likeable, I only ask whether I understand why they are the way they are.
I'm not an authority on whether reader tastes are changing, since we did have these strong, flawed, and not always "nice" heroines before, in very, very successful books. Maybe it's like milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Readers can like more than one kind of heroine, just like you and me can like more than one kind of chocolate. Maybe the supply of dark chocolate has been low, so people have been consuming more milk chocolate. But now that dark chocolate is more readily available, people are realizing that they like it too. :-)
Please tell us 3 quirky things about you.
1) I have a dysfunctional sense of vocabulary. When I came to the U.S., I was thirteen, and had an English vocabulary of about 150. I had to quickly bring myself up to speed to handle school and then beef up my word bank to tackle the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is a vocabulary-heavy--or at least used to be--standardized test American high school students have to take). Words like "puissant" and "invidious" entered my vocabulary long before words such as "potty" or "nerd." As a result, it often has to be pointed out to me when a word is a 25-cent word, or an archaic word, or that I can just say "collarbone" instead of "clavicle."
2) I am incapable of writing anything based on my own life. I'm writing a contemporary romance on spec, and the heroine is 1/4 native-American. And I have been mulling whether to take out that 1/4 native-American part. Because, well, the ancestors of Native Americans came from Asia and I'm from Asia and I don't want people to think I'm writing about myself! Nuts, ain't it? That's how much I don't want the facts of my life to end up in my books.
3) I cannot eat alone without reading. There will be times when it's midnight, and I finally sitting down to my dinner, then I get up, while my food grows cold, and search all around my house for something I want to read.
Sherry has generously offered a signed copy of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND to one lucky reader who answers her question:
I am personally neutral on the "exotic-ness" of book settings--a well-done setting is a well-done setting, whether it is the familiar pleasure grounds of London, or the jungles of Amazon. But since NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is set rather far and away--the North-West Frontier of British India, today's North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan--I'd like to hear what are some of the great less-used settings you have read in romances, settings that truly come alive.
My personal favorites are Provence as portrayed by Judith Ivory in BEAST, and Hawaii in Laura Kinsale's THE SHADOW AND THE STAR. (In fact, recently, while planning for our long overdue family vacation, and looking over which island of Hawaii we wanted to go, I instantly recognized the landmarks on Oahu from THE SHADOW AND THE STAR, so of course that's where we are going! I'm going to re-read the Hawaii portions of TSATS before we leave.)