Diane Gaston writes Regency Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical. Her books have won Romance Writers of America's highest awards, the RITA and Golden Heart, as well as the National Readers Choice Award, The Orange Rose, and The Golden Quill. Her seventh Harlequin Historical was released in December and was reviewed here. Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady is a . . . romance with more depth and interest than most.”
Tell us a little bit about the set up for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady.
The set up is really for a trilogy. Three British Officers share a ghastly and distressing experience after the battle of Badajoz, an experience they agree to keep secret. It affects the rest of their lives.
Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady is the first book of the trilogy. Ensign Jack Vernon is a soldier whose true passion is to be an artist—art was once the outlet for the horror he witnessed at war, and now he intends to make a living by it. Painting the portrait of the stunningly beautiful young actress Ariana Blane is his biggest commission yet. Learning every curve of her body ignites feelings he thought were destroyed in battle. But he's not the only man who has Ariana in his sights . . .
What do you like best about your hero?
He's a wounded hero. I love wounded heroes! I gave him a difficult past even before he went to war and his past drives who he is now and also affects his future. I love that his emotions are blocked but come out in his art. And I love that when he paints, he sorta gets into the zone and forgets everything else, even the beautiful Ariana.
What do you like best about your heroine?
Ariana is more like a modern young woman than a creature of her time period and yet I think she is a perfectly believable Regency character. Being an actress means she does not have to worry about respectability, thus she can seriously pursue a career and be liberal about her love life. She's just a little too confident, however, and it nearly destroys people she's come to love.
What about the next two books?
Book two will be about a play-by-the-rules lieutenant who encounters a very unconventional young lady—right in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo. Book three is about a Captain who never forgets the young widow he rescued at Badajoz.
Did you have to do a lot of research for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady?
I sure did! I had to research the siege of Badajoz and the pillaging afterward, as well as the Battle of Waterloo and Brussels, Belgium. I had to research the London art world as well as the techniques artists used during the Regency. And the theatre world of the time period. The book is sprinkled with real people and real events, which is always great fun.
I especially enjoyed learning about the art techniques of the early 19th century, when artists mixed their own paints and prepared their own canvases. When I was a kid I used to paint in oils and I was even an art major my first year of college, but I just wasn't good enough.
What is it like to write for Harlequin Historical?
Wonderful! For the past four years Harlequin Historical has been edited by the UK branch of Harlequin, Mills & Boon, the same editorial staff responsible for Mills and Boon Historicals. The two branches of Harlequin regularly released each other's books so it was a logical consolidation. Since then Harlequin/Mills and Boon have increased the number of historicals released each month and their covers are to die for. Just look at the cover for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady!
They also try to give each author her own brand, in the cover art, the cover design, and in the stories themselves. My brand is to write about the Regency Underworld (Sex, Scandal, and Redeeming Love), so I don't write about lords and ladies unless I'm putting them in unusual situations where they must encounter the seamier side of the Regency.
The Harlequin Historicals are marketed like the other Harlequin series, shelved separately from single title romances and staying on bookshelves only during the month of release. That's why buying from ReaderToReader.com gives you an advantage.
Isn't it amazing how many readers enjoy the Regency-era genre? Are you concerned that the interest will fade?
No, not at all! I believe Romance readers increasingly want variety and are willing to encompass a wide range of subgenres. Readers have, for example, devoured paranormal and futuristic romance when a decade ago no publisher could sell such books. Even so, historical sales have remained pretty consistent, dropping only as much as book sales in general have dropped.
I think many readers will always like to escape into a world that is both distant and familiar. Regency historicals give them that familiarity. They know who Prinny is, they understand the Season and some of the social rules of the time. Or if they are new to the genre, they have probably seen Pride and Prejudice or other movies set in the Regency, if not having already read Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer. But the time period is enough different from the present to make the reader feel carried away.
The Regency was a time of great beauty in literature, architecture, art, fashion. It is a lovely world in which to escape, yet it is accessible enough that we can imagine ourselves in it. We can all see ourselves wearing empire waist dresses and carrying reticules. We can picture our heroes in pristine Beau Brummell-style clothing, neither powdering their hair nor growing handlebar moustaches and mutton chops. We can picture ourselves riding in carriages or walking through the beautiful countryside. The drama created by impending social change and war lends an excitement to the era. The Regency is a transition period between the decadent Georgian era and the more repressive Victorian era. Such times of transition are great fodder for fiction. And Romance.
Tell us about where you live and how that influences your writing?
I live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., a place that certainly honors the history of the United States of America, and being the seat of our federal government, a place where social change is discussed every day of the year. History cannot really be ignored, living here, not when you come across a building, museum, plaque commemorating our nation's past around nearly every corner. Washington, D.C. and nearby Alexandria, Virginia, include some neighborhoods that remind me a little of London, as well.
I also had an entire career as a county mental health social worker here in Virginia, which basically means I was a psychotherapist serving all ages and socio-economic groups. I learned a lot about what makes people think as they do and act as they do. I learned a lot about the difference between being rich and being poor. I learned that people can change, can grow, if they know someone cares about them. I would never write about a specific person I knew when I worked for the county, but what they taught me about life certainly is reflected in my fictional characters. I'm very grateful for having had the privilege of knowing them.
What's next for you?
In April 2010 Harlequin is releasing Pleasurably Undone, the first anthology of Harlequin Historical Undones, including my story, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh. The Undones are short (15,000 words) eStories for sale on the ebook site at eHarlequin and other eBook vendors, but this is the first print version, also with stories by Michelle Willingham, Terri Brisbin, Christine Merrill and Louise Allen.
The Unlacing of Miss Leigh was originally released in April 2009, on eHarlequin and shortly afterward was the number one best selling ebook on eHarlequin six days in a row. Recently released in the UK, it was one of the top ten best selling ebooks at Waterstone's, a large book vendor in the UK. It is my unabashed homage to Phantom of the Opera and all Beauty and the Beast stories. A disfigured former soldier, now recluse, advertises for some female companionship, and a virginal vicar's daughter answers the ad.
Book two of the Soldier's Trilogy should be released in 2010, but it is as yet untitled and unscheduled.
Check my website DianeGaston.com for more information and while you are there be sure to sign-up for my newsletter and enter my contests. You can also find me on Risky Regencies every Monday.
Thanks so much for having me here! It's been great fun.