The world of romance novels is crammed with women of astonishing accomplishments and abilities. Sift through the life stories of those who write the books we so love and you’ll find achievers of all kinds.
And then there’s Eloisa James. As I was preparing to interview Ms. James, I checked out her Wikipedia page. The word that came to mind immediately was daunting. Ms. James is a year younger than I am. In the span of less than half a lifetime, Ms. James has attained degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. She’s a tenured English professor who’s chaired her department and headed its Creative Writing Program. She’s written twenty-four best-selling historical romances (her Desperate Duchesses series was just chosen by NPR as one of the 100 most swoon-worthy romances), as well as a memoir. She married an Italian knight whom she met on a blind date and they and their two children spend their summers in Tuscany. She’s elegant and impeccably dressed.
I was prepared to be intimidated.
Instead, in the almost hour I spoke with her, Ms. James was congenial and funny. We shared stories of our late 70’s era teenage years. She answered every question I asked. She, in the nicest way possible, told me how to pronounce her name correctly.
Readers, I’d start an Eloisa James fan page on Facebook but it already exists… and has 84K fans.
Dabney: Eloisa, thank you so much for meeting with me today. I’ve read all your books. (This is true.) Tell me about the most recent one.
Eloisa: It’s Four Nights with the Duke and it’s about a romance writer. In the 19th century, there were so many romance writers, silver spoon or silver fork writers, almost all who were women who supported their families. They were working romance writers. The whole plot of Four Nights with the Duke is stolen from the romances of the time.
Dabney: What comes out next?
Eloisa: Several things. Seven Minutes in Heaven is the sequel to Four Nights with the Duke. I think it will be released in late 2015 or early 2016.
I’m also publishing a stand alone romance called My American Duchess which will be out January 26th.
I got the idea for it while living in London. It was inspired by a pineapple. In early 1800’s England, pineapples were so expensive they were rented for dinner parties! I started thinking about how pineapples then were less expensive in America. My heroine, an American who’s come to London, makes a terrible mistake by eating the pineapple at the party she’s invited to. She realizes she’s made a grave social error and worries she’ll be ostracized. The opposite happens. My heroine Merry becomes the talk of the town. The story is about showing up in society and not understanding the rules.
The hero is an English Duke who has a twin, a dissolute drunk, who is engaged to the heroine. The hero thinks Merry’d make a fabulous duchess but he can’t take her away from his brother.
Dabney: I love the idea of the pineapple. Who knew?
Eloisa: Yes. I believe you don’t want to add the history onto the plot; you want the history to grow naturally from the plot.
Dabney: How did you start writing?
Eloisa: I started writing when I was eight years old. I started writing romances that were plays.
I wrote my first romance right after college. Passion’s Slave. There were sheep, a lesbian love scene, the heroine got spit in the eye by a camel and went temporarily blind… My boyfriend sent it out to all these publications. My favorite rejection came from the Sierra Club. They said it was frisky but not suitable for their publication.
I quit, went to graduate school in Oxford, and my mother called me and said Harlequin liked it. I didn’t pursue it.
Later on, when I wanted another baby, I decided to write a romance called Potent Pleasures. It sold. I got pregnant, I wrote my second book (Midnight Pleasures), and that began my writing career. It was the perfect antidote to my academic career.
Dabney: I know you teach creative writing. What advice would you give aspiring romance authors?
Eloisa: For me, in romance writing, you take your deepest fear and put into your books. Take something from your own life and put it into your book and it will work.
Dabney: If you were going to give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Eloisa: I get my books done with the help of a lot of editing. It’s so hard to write a book right now in the traditional book world. To succeed, every book needs to be top form.
I’d tell myself: “You could start editing a little earlier.”