Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Author Vanessa Kelly

Please join me in welcoming debut author Vanessa Kelly, the first guest to Cogitations and Meditations. Her MASTERING THE MARQUESS launched last month to great critical acclaim from reviewers and readers alike.

Vanessa, hello and welcome. It's a pleasure to have you guesting here.


What started you down the story path that led to MTM? Was it a single idea, something that struck you in your research, or a particular character?

My story began with research I did some years ago in graduate school. My dissertation topic was on women and madness in late 18th and early 19th century British writers. I was absolutely fascinated with the topic and spent all kinds of time studying medical documents of the period, and reading about early treatments for mental illness. Women, of course, were sometimes put away in asylums by their male relations, either because they were genuinely ill, or because someone just wanted to get rid of them. I thought that would make an interesting dramatic basis for a story. Plus, I really wanted to have a scene in a madhouse!

Names convey so much of a character's personality to the reader. Meredith's and Annabel's names fit them to a perfect T. How did you name them and the other people in your story?

I came up with names by reading through various county and church records. My heroine, Meredith, is a mature, serious person—a bit unusual—and I wanted her name to reflect that. Annabel is young and sweet, so I wanted a name that would convey those aspects of her character.

Did you hope your readers would identify with Meredith or with Silverton? As the author of the story, whom did you see yourself most in tune with?

I really wanted readers to identify with Meredith, who’s had a pretty hard life. She struggles to be a good person and take care of everyone, which I think is something many women can relate to.

What part of the story did you find hardest to write? And why?

The climax. It’s very action-oriented, and I had a bit of trouble with the physics of the fight scene. My husband had to help me with that.

While Silverton had a sure touch in romancing Meredith, did you find yourself trying to egg her on? "Go for it, gel," etc.

Absolutely! Sometimes I wondered how she could resist him. [KS: I wanted to tell her, I'd have him, if she didn't want him.]

I adored the last scene of the book. How did you decide to end the story there?

I’m so glad you liked it! I wanted to bring Meredith full circle—to bring her home. Originally, the ending was going to take place just a few days after the climax, but a friend suggested that it should take place several weeks later, when she has truly found her happiness and been restored to her rightful home. I wanted readers to share in that.


What made you decide to be a writer?

I’ve been writing most of my life—first in university, then as a researcher and writer in the public sector. But I always loved to read fiction of all kinds. It just took me a while to realize that I wanted to write fiction instead of non-fiction. I also owe a real debt to Eloisa James. Her example as both a successful academic and a romance writer was a great inspiration. [KS: In the comments section, do tell us more about your scholarly life and your area of study?]

How/Why did you choose to become a romance writer?

I’ve loved reading romances since I was a teenager—they make me happy! [KS: Perfect reason to choose romance.] So when I decided to try my hand at fiction, it made sense to write the thing that I love so much.

What made you choose to write a Regency-set historical? Would you consider writing in other sub-genres and/or historical time periods?

I studied writers of the Regency era in grad school, and I just love the history and literature of the period. I’ve loved it ever since I read the novels Jane Austen in high school. And Georgette Heyer, of course!

How many manuscripts did you write before being published? Was MTM your first project?

MTM was my second project. My first book was a contemporary category that I wrote with my husband. It was competent but intensely mediocre. [KS: In the comments section, you've simply GOT to dish more details about this experience.]

Who would you say have been the most important people who mentored, adviced, and encouraged you in your publishing journey?

Starting out, I had wonderful advice from a friend who is an English professor and an editor. I also got great support from the members of my local RWA chapter, including Sharon Page and Opal Carew. And Julianne MacLean was really incredible to me—she critiqued my early manuscript and gave me a great deal of encouragement. [KS: That is what I love about Romancelandia. The authors are incredibly generous of their time and expertise.]

As a Canadian author, did you find it much more difficult that your American counterparts in bringing your work in front of agents and editors given that most of them are from NYC?

No, I really had no difficulties in that respect. There are some really good agents in Canada, too. My first agent was Canadian, and she was wonderful to me.

The Call Story.

I had gone out for a walk with my husband. When we returned home, there was a message on my voice mail from my agent, saying that it was very important that I call her. Unfortunately, she was out for most of the day, and I had to wait hours to talk to her. When I finally did get through to her, she put me on hold! Trust me, I was sweating bullets. Fortunately, she came back on a few minutes later and gave me the news that Kensington wanted to offer me a contract.


Tell us about your next book. When is it being released?

My next book is called Sex and the Single Earl. [KS: How awesome is this title!] It's the story of Sophie Stanton and Simon, Earl of Trask, two characters introduced in Mastering the Marquess. These two have known each other for a long time, and they drive each other crazy. I had a great time writing this book. It's set entirely in Bath, and it was a lot of fun to work with that setting.

What are you currently working on?

I’m starting to work on another Regency-set historical, which will feature characters introduced in Sex and the Single Earl.


Dramedy or Thriller = Gray’s Anatomy
Carrot Sticks or Ben & Jerry's = I'm allergic to dairy.
Color Mauve or Taupe = Neither
Beach or Forest = I love the ocean.
Spicy or Mild = Italian
Cruise or Drive = Life is a highway!
Cashmere & Silk OR Cotton & Birkenstocks = Linen and sandals?
LaZBoy or Queen Anne Chair = Chaise lounge
Marathon or Triathlon = I'd have to get off the chaise lounge.
Alpha or Beta heroes? Heroines? = Alpha, alpha, alpha. Heroines—all kinds.

So over to you, readers. Are you into alpha, beta, or gamma heroes? What about the heroines? Are you a fan of the traditional Regencies? What is your chair of choice (or is it a four-seater sofa)?

One commenter will be chosen at random to win a prize of books and author goodies!

To find more about Vanessa Kelly's "Regency Romance That Sizzles", visit her on her on the web at


Sandy said...

What a terrific interview, Vanessa. I have always liked regency era novels even though I decided to write mystery romance.

I'll stick with the alpha male and a equally strong heroine, but one willing to compromise.

I love the mountains and the ocean.

It sounds like a great read, Vanessa.


Keira Soleore said...

Sandy, welcome to the blog. Are you writing a historical mystery or a more contemp one?

Compromise is indeed at the heart of a good relationship no matter the personality types of the people involved.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading MTM!

No wimpy, insipid heroines or heroes for me! Give me a strong, virile leading man and a saucy, feisty wench any day of the week.

Love the genre - it offers a wonderful escape from reality into the imagination. Working on my first Regency novel now.

Best wishes for great success with MTM


Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Sandy - thanks for stopping by! I'm with you. I love the alpha male and the strong heroine combo.

Keira, thanks for having me at C&M! It's great to be here.

Dawn, Regency historicals are great for escaping, aren't they? Good luck with your novel.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Keira, to answer your question about my academic experience, I spent several years in a Ph.D. program for English lit. Alas, I didn't finish, but I did love the time I spent doing research for my dissertation. My thesis topic was on women and madness in the novels of Fanny Burney. I spent a lot of time reading her journals, especially during her time at the court of George III. Burney was a member of the inner household during one of the king's early phases of madness. Her take on what happened during that time is fascinating.

Kris Kennedy said...

Hi Vanessa & Keira~

Great interview! You independent thinking nature shows through in your Lightning Round answers, Vanessa. LOL :-)

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Kris! That's such a positive spin on scattered and unfocused!

Keira Soleore said...

Kris and Dawn, welcome to the blog.

Dawn, all the best with your writing adventure. If you have questions, Candice Hern's bulletin board has an excellent research section.

Kris, I devored THE CONQUEROR. It was marvelous. Dark, Kinsale-ish, very well written. A keeper for me.

Keira Soleore said...

Women and madness...oh, my. Vanessa, in your reading of modern romance, have you noticed a period or author trend towards this topic, or have writers generally steered clear of it?

Kelly Krysten said...

This book is on my Kindle waiting patiently to be read. Must start it soon, it sounds amazing!!

I am a fan of alpha, beta, and gamma heroes. Though I must admit that I don't really know the difference. I've never thought, 'What a beta!' while reading a story. Alphas are the best though! I like all types of heroines and am really enjoying the emergence of alphas in that department.
Great interview.:)

Keira Soleore said...

Kel, so you're a Kindle convert, too. I'm going to be the only Luddite left standing. Given who I follow on Twitter, you would think I'd've been an early adopter of the eReader. I hanker after the smell of musty old books not burnt electronics.

I urge you to move Vanessa's book to the top of your list. A great story in the style of traditional Regencies.

Meredith is a really strong character without having to be an uber-alpha. I like the idea of quiet strength and firmly-held inner convictions.

Kris Kennedy said...

Thanks so much for saying so about THE CONQUEROR!! Can't tell you how much it means to me. And even bigger thanks for liking it so much! (Can you thank someone for liking something? LOL)

I'm the queen of scattered, and I'm certain what I saw was clear thinking, independent-mindedness. ;-)

I like my heroes alpha, but you know, I can totally do a confident, self-directed beta with a sense of humor. In a big way. :-)

Keira again (LOL)~
Regarding madness in romance . . .

I know you were asking about women & madness, but Jennifer Ashley's recent release has a hero with Asperger's. (Not that that's 'madness' but still....)

I wonder if we won't start seeing more of this, as we know more about mental illness, but also as we push against boundaries. We like (need?) to do that, we humans. The genre has explored paranormal in many permutations. I wonder if now maybe our collective unconscious (in fiction) will migrate to our inner 'not-so-normal' selves.

Interesting thought.

Keira Soleore said...

Kris, I'm waiting for my copy of Lord Ian to arrive. I couldn't believe it when I first heard about it, and so I'm dying to find out how she did it. It's the ultimate tortured hero, isn't he?

Writers have done relatives or first spouses who were depressed, but I don't know of any trends, so I'm curious to know if there indeed have/haven't been such trends.

I'll be watching with you to see if a h/h or both with mental illness of some sort becomes a trend. I suspect not, because it's such a noticeable "trait" that it would look suspiciously like a knock-off.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Keira, that's a really interesting question. Like Kris, I immediately thought of The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie. Anna Campbell's second book also has a supposedly mad hero. I would bet that if we see any kind of trend it will be the "mad" hero, rather than the heroine. Heroes can be dark and tortured, i.e., Byronesque, but the prevailing image of the madwoman is much less romantic. Think Jane Eyre rather than Wuthering Heights. I don't know if we can push past those cultural stereotypes.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Kelly! Thanks for stopping by.

Kris Kennedy said...

Good point, about it being more acceptable for the hero to have a 'mad streak,' rather than the heroine.

(Men are 'allowed' to be fatter too, in real life. Is this fair?)

Often the feminine madness we hear about is of the religious sort, or the put-your-children-in-a-car-and-drive-it-off-a-cliff variety.

Masculine madness, though, is often portrayed as the artistic sort (and often the alcoholic sort, too :-). Or, as you say, Vanessa, the Byronesque variety.

Very, very interesting . . .

Sketching out a mad heroine as we speak . . .

Kelly Krysten said...

Um, Keira...I've never read a traditional regency. Wait! Does Jane Austen count?*g*

No ereader? Nothing wrong with that!!! I was a late convert. Mer likes to force others to do

Vanessa Kelly said...

Keira, I don't have an e-reader, so I'll join you in the Luddites corner.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Kelly, think old school historicals, but with sex!

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, what a great interview. Vanessa, what great questions! Keira, I like this idea of having guests (bats eyelashes winningly and waves opened pack of Tim Tams).

Vanessa, congratulations on all the fabulous buzz for Mastering the Marquess! I had to do a lot of research on treatment of mental illness for Untouched - it's a fascinating and absolutely terrifying subject, isn't it? What was your favorite book? I think mine was a book called Madmen by Roy Porter which was published with the much more evocative title Mind Forg'd Manacles in Britain.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Anna, hooray! Thanks for stopping by.

Madness is a fascinating and terrifying topic to study - in any period. And Roy Porter was my absolute go-to guy when it came to research. Years ago, I was digging around at the Wellcome Library in London, reading some old medical treatises from the late 18th-century. Believe it or not, someone had actually made notes in pencil in the margins. Only one other person had checked it out in years - it was Roy Porter! I was sorely tempted to steal it.

Andrew Scull has also written some great works on the social history of madness in the 19th century. Most of his work is on the Victorians, but it's really, really good. And Elaine Showalter wrote a very interesting and famous book called The Female Malady.

Oh, this is such a great topic to talk about!

Keira Soleore said...

Why, Fo, I'd truly be honored. I thought you were *koff* too big for your britches. Let's chat on e-amil and take it from there?

Luddites unite, you and I, Vanessa.

Kel, thanks for reminding me to stay well away from Mer at National.

Kris and Vanessa, you two bring up a valid point there. Flaws in heroes are more acceptable, more the norm, than in heroines. Is it because while we want to fall in love with the heroes, we identify with the heroines?

If so, I wonder how the m/m and f/f romances would play out mental illnesses.

The interesting thing about LORD IAN is that his Asperger's is not curable. It is mitigable, in that the hero learns (and grows), but the problem's still there. Those stories are rarer.

Kelly Krysten said...

Okay, Vanessa, the 'with sex' totally sold me.LOL! What does this say about me?*g* Oh, but I do love the old school historicals. Am so reading this tonight!!

Kelly Krysten said...

Keira, glad I could help. Mer can be very
Loved LORD IAN! And when my mom heard there was a romance hero with aspergers she immediately wanted to read it. Mom never reads romance. Can't wait to see if she gets hooked.:)

Keira Soleore said...

Okay, Vanessa, the 'with sex' totally sold me.LOL! What does this say about me?*g*

A word of advice, Kel. Never ask such a leading question in my vicinity. I will always take prompt advantage.

Anna Campbell said...

Sadly, Keira, I AM too big for my britches but I think it's more to do with my pantry than my ego ;-)

Anna Campbell said...

Vanessa, those books sound great. And wow, if I play six degrees of separation with you, I'm REALLY close to RP! He wrote another general history of madness that was terrifically interested but that Madmen book concentrated on the Georgian period so it was really what I wanted for my story. I tried some of the French postmodernists on the subject but seriously in terms of things you could use for a book, they were utterly hopeless! Even if I could manage to decipher the endless sentences.

Vanessa Kelly said...

That's a great point about identifying with the heroines, Keira. I also think there are centuries of social and medical stereotypes about women and madness or, as they called it in the old days, hysteria. It's hard to get past those.

You know, Fanny Burney's heroines all have the equivalent of nervous breakdowns - some quite spectacularly. Her depictions of these illnesses are really interesting, and much more nuanced than you might expect. Perhaps because she saw the real thing close up at the court of George III.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Anna, I don't think I've read the Madmen book. I'll have to look for it. And I hear you on the French postmodernists - enough to drive you round the twist!

Lois said...

Hi and terrific interview there! :) And I think I know you two from somewhere. . . something about bluestockings and all. ;)

Me, I like them all, and I look for all. I certainly have alphas I love, but I defintely also have my favorite betas and if they are combos, gammas, love them even more. :) So, I'm not a strong and fast only want alphas, but I want them all -- if I enjoy them, then I like that personality. :)


Keira Soleore said...

Lois, welcome to the blog. And yeah, your name's kinda familiar. Wonder from where and since when. Hm.

Yes. I like heroes who grow from gamma or beta to alpha, too. Especially, if they grow selectively. (Not like that! Sigh!) I meant, that under certain situations, their inner alpha rises to the surface, but the rest of the time, they're a comfortable beta.

Keira Soleore said...

Fo, no comment on your latest comment. :)

E-mail, yes.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Lois - thanks for stopping by!

Keira, I like the idea of betas growing into their inner alphas.

Keira Soleore said...

Vanessa, you bring up a rather interesting point. It's not because most readers of romance are women and identify most with heroines, but rather than women have been depicted with "fragile" mental states for centuries, so we now want to see men with afflictions and women who heal them, instead of the other way around.

Keira Soleore said...

"that" not "than"

Vanessa Kelly said...

Excellent point, Keira. Great discussion today - thanks for having me here!

Keira Soleore said...

Vanessa, thanks much for making the time to follow up on everyone's comments. It's been a great pleasure having you here. And it's sure been a good discussion.

I hope some day, like the Tori Carrington team, you and husband will get back into writing a romance novel together.

Thank you to all the visitors of the blog today. Thank you also to all the commenters for writing in.

The winner will be announced tomorrow morning.

Chiron said...

Great interview! It's always great to learn more about an author.

I love heroines of all kinds and I love both alpha and beta males. I'm not sure if people realize that in Bridget Jones, Darcy was a beta male! Sometimes they are simply yummy...


Hey, get out of the way of my recliner, I'm watching Bridget Jones again!!

Chiron O'Keefe

Keira Soleore said...

Chiron, welcome to the blog. Oh yes, despite all his major brooding and open coat walk through the mist :), Mr. Darcy was a beta through and through, with even glimpses of sensitive gamma peeking through.

Do read Vanessa's book. Check out the excerpt on her website. The story's marvelously done.

And your recliner story--heh! Your inner alpha showing, eh?