Eva Leigh’s Temptations of a Wallflower brings to a close her Wicked Quills of London trilogy, which features heroines who write for a living – a newspaper editor, a playwright and, finally, the author of a number of popular erotic novels. In each book, the heroines have been independent, spirited and intelligent, determined to succeed in their chosen field in spite of the fact that, as women, the odds are very much stacked against them.
It’s no big secret that Eva Leigh is in fact, the alter ego of Zoë Archer, who has penned a number of successful historical/adventure/steampunk/fantasy novels, most recently, the Victorian-set Nemesis Unlimited series, which I’ve also read and enjoyed. So when I was offered the chance to have a chat with the author, I couldn’t resist asking her about her different writing personas and about the themes she has explored in her most recent books.
Caz: Having read a number of the books you’ve written as Zoë Archer, I have to ask you – exactly who is Eva Leigh?
EL: Eva Leigh continues to write kick-ass heroines, just like Zoë Archer, but they kick-ass in a more metaphorical rather than literal way. Eva Leigh novels are Regency-set historicals, while Zoë’s books have an action and adventure component. It was mainly so readers knew the difference between the two subgenres. I love getting to be both Eva and Zoë—plus I have a real name, so I have three personalities!
Caz: Lucky for us you don’t have trouble keeping track of them all! Each of the heroines in your Wicked Quills of London series – Eleanor, Maggie and Sarah – are women working in a man’s world. One of the things that jumped out incredibly strongly in Forever Your Earl, was the way in which you have Eleanor “educating” Daniel about what it’s like to be a woman, and making him think about things that had never occurred to him before. (I’m thinking particularly of the scene in the alley where he is teaching her how to walk like a man). Is this something that you always intended to be a part of these stories, or is it something that crept in along the way?
EL: I’m very up-front about being a feminist, and I want my books to also have a strong feminist sensibility. While I didn’t intend to speak explicitly about gender roles, it evolved naturally in the course of writing these novels. While not every romance novel is feminist, I feel the very act of writing by and for (primarily) women is itself a feminist act. We’re giving voice and stating the importance of the female experience, putting our emotional lives front and center. Heroines in romance novels don’t die, as they often do in other genres, providing motivation for the hero to go out and get heroic revenge. In romance novels, we’re at the center of the book, not an accessory to a man’s journey.
Caz: In Temptations of a Wallflower, Sarah (the heroine) writes erotic novels. We have this impression of nineteenth century society being incredibly rigid and buttoned-up – which it was, in some ways – and yet anyone who does a little research into the subject will discover that there was plenty of pulsing passion and seething sexuality to be had in the form of erotica and pornography back then, just as there is now. Share some of that salacious detail with us. ;)
EL: I find it kind of funny when people say that people in earlier centuries, especially women, didn’t have the same explicit desires. As Victoria Dahl said in a recent panel discussion about feminism and romance novels, the reason why so many conduct books existed at this time wasn’t because people were more proper. In fact, those conduct manuals were trying to regulate and control behavior. They wouldn’t have been published if people were “behaving” themselves. All it takes is a simple internet search for 18th and 19th century pornography, and you’ll find yourself inundated with words and images that would shock even today’s jaded populace. People loved sex, and all its variations, just as they do now.
Caz: Exactly. It’s a desperation to control women by making them feel unfeminine and somehow “less” about being interested in something that is such an essential part of life. One of the things I really liked about Sarah in Wallflower was the way in which she owns her desires; not just in terms of her writing, but her sexual desire, too, and doesn’t feel ashamed of it. She sees it as perfectly natural, even as she realises how society would view her should her secret ever be exposed.
Another thing I really liked about the book: there are a lot of “in-references” that are especially relevant to romance readers, particularly the way Sarah finds her current project evolving from the erotic to … something else.
EL: It’s not a secret that romance novels are perhaps one of the most embattled forms for literature in our culture. Every few months, someone in the media sneers and belittles romance. We’re seen as easy targets. So when writing about women writers, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore what it means to be a woman who makes her living from her pen (or computer). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my role as a romance novelist, the societal expectations, the misinformation, the ignorance, the process. It’s all reflected in my work.
Caz: I’m sure that anyone who has read the series will agree with me when I say that I think you’ve done that very successfully, across all three books, and in ways which are very individual to each heroine. Oh – and I can’t leave the subject of the new book without asking this – Jeremy Cleland? A distant relation of John?
EL: That was definitely intentional! (John Cleland wrote the erotic novel Fanny Hill while imprisoned for debt during the 18th century.)
Caz: Hah! I always like it when there are references like that to pick up on.
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
EL: I have a new series starting for Avon next year, called The London Underground. It’s about Regency shady women (a con artist, a smuggler, and a woman who runs an underground sex club) and the aristocrats who fall in love with them. They will definitely challenge the notion that historical heroines have to be demure virgins!
Caz: I’m in!
Given your three different identities, I imagine you probably don’t have a huge amount of free time – but what do you do when you’re not writing?
EL: My husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso, and I moved into a house about a year ago, and we’re in the process of doing improvements and renovations. When I’m not doing that, I love to bake, do crafts, and get outside.
Caz: Thanks for talking with me!
Eva Leigh’s deliciously sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues as a Lady’s secret career writing erotic fiction is jeopardized by real-life romance…
In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.
Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?
Read an excerpt here.
Eva Leigh is a romance author who has always loved the Regency era. She writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, spending too much time on the Internet, and listening to music from the ’80s. Eva also writes in multiple romance genres as RITA-award nominated Zoë Archer. She and her husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso, live in Central California.
Thoroughly enjoyable interview. There’s no such thing as too many strong heroines.
I’ve enjoyed Ms. Archer’s books because the heroines are strong in a way that’s believable for their time period and because the heroes love them because they are strong, not in spite of it.
Great interview. I enjoyed the insights into Eva Leigh’s thoughts on female writers, readers and characters.