Alex Stanton just inherited a dukedom but his true passion is uncovering charlatans and frauds wherever he finds them. Spiritualist and medium Evangeline “Evie” Jones is the biggest fake of all and he’s determined to expose her lies for all of London to see. Her prim manner and ladylike airs don’t fool him. He sees the hunger beneath and recognizes a worthy opponent. He can’t deny the dark undercurrents of lust between them.
Evie worked her way up from the gutter and she’s not about to abandon the life she’s built for fear of this aristocratic dilettante. She knows his type. She sees the attraction simmering beneath his animosity, and she knows how to use it to keep him off balance. They strike a bargain. He has one week to prove she’s a fake. If he fails, he has to abandon all further attempts. If he succeeds, she’ll not only retire but make a public statement explaining all her tricks.
Neither expects to find anything in common, not to mention anything to love, in the other. Both are blindsided by the affinity and blossoming tenderness between them. But even if it were possible for a lowly charlatan to live happily ever after with a duke, more is going on than either suspects. Someone else has brought them together for a sinister purpose of his own.
Dabney: Hi, Julia? How are you? Staying sane and safe? I hope so!
Julia: Hi, Dabney. Thanks for having me.
Julia: When I started to write seriously, I made a list of things I wanted to write about. “Asylum” and “Charlatan Medium” were the second and third items. I’m honestly not sure why, except that they were stories I wanted to read and hadn’t been able to find (at the time, anyway). The Madness of Miss Grey, my asylum tale, turned into a friends to lovers story. The two characters were natural allies, which made me think about how a romance would work if the protagonists happened to be natural enemies instead. I knew I wanted to introduce Alex, the hero of The Ruin of Evangeline Jones, as a secondary character in the first book, so I made him, in his words, “an exposer of frauds,” the perfect enemy for a charlatan.
Dabney: Your leads, Alex and Evangeline, have been around the block a few times–I loved that they weren’t dewy-eyed and young. Do you prefer writing about (slightly) older heroes and heroines? If so, why?
Julia: As an older woman, I definitely find it refreshing when a heroine is closer to my age and experience, and I’d like to write older characters in the future. I don’t know that I can claim to have done that yet. People described Helen in the previous book as an older character, too, and she was only 26. Evangeline has definitely been around the block (she’s been a homeless beggar, a drudge in a house of introduction, and now a medium) and she’s world-weary. But she’s actually only twenty-four. Part of the fun for me as a writer was giving her that backstory, then trying to imagine the type of person she’d age into. She’s definitely someone who’s willing to cross a few moral boundaries to survive, but she’s not necessarily happy about it. Alex is in his thirties, but, again, his backstory was more relevant for me than the number of years. His life hasn’t been easy, but, unlike Evangeline, he’s always had material comfort, so he has certain blind spots about what it might be like to live in poverty.
Dabney: My favorite part of the novel is its setting–the world of Victorian spiritualism. It’s clear you researched this period and its secrets in depth. What were the most interesting things you learned.
Julia: I developed a bit of an obsession with Houdini. Before I started researching, I had no idea that he’d once been a medium. At first, he thought of it as just another part of his magic act, but he was horrified when he saw how seriously his clients took the seances. Even after he became famous as a magician and escape artist, he couldn’t let go of his guilt, so he ended up investigating other mediums. His book A Magician Among the Spirits is still in print and a really good read. Without it, I wouldn’t have known how spiritualists went about tricking people.
As for the tricks, there seems to be limitless ways different mediums operated. From ectoplasm made of cheesecloth, to setting themselves on fire (as you can probably imagine, a trick that sometimes went very wrong), and enlisting accomplices to discover private information about people. Some of the tricks seem simple to us now and it’s easy to judge those who fell for them, but many of them were celebrated intellectuals. Famously, Arthur Conan-Doyle was a true believer, even going so far as to refuse to believe Houdini’s “powers” were fake, even after Houdini had told him so. He thought Houdini was being selfish with his gift.
Dabney: Both of your books have animals that play a part in the story–one a dog and one a cat. Do you have a preference for one over the other? What’s fun about writing beasts into your prose for you?
Julia: I’m a cat person in real life, but Hector, the Great Dane in The Madness of Miss Grey, is my precious. He was such a big part of the story because I wanted Helen’s slowly thawing attitude toward him to mirror her attitude to Will. I used to joke that Hector thought the book was about him. He was fun to write because he was so absolutely devoted to Helen and Will, always underfoot and taking up massive amounts of floor space. Bastet, Alex’s cat, is aloof like Evangeline. Alex likes that about both of them because he’s someone who finds intimacy difficult at first. He feels an affinity for people and pets who hold him at a distance. But Bastet’s behavior was harder to write because it isn’t dynamic. Hector was always running around and getting in trouble; Bastet just glares and saunters from the room.
Dabney: Evangeline is a woman whose mysterious past has left her very few options, something it’s clear Alex, a Duke, initially neither understands nor sympathizes with. How prevalent were women like her at the time? What percent of people in Victorian England lived in what we would consider poverty?
Julia: Like most people, I tend to be judgmental of those who take advantage of others. Having said that, when you read some of the accounts of what it was really like to be poor in the Victorian era, it’s difficult to condemn the mediums who did what they had to do to rise above their situation. By the late 19th century, something like 25% of the British population lived below the poverty line. At the start of the book, Evangeline has risen in the world. Her career’s taking off and, though still poor, she’s living comfortably. I wanted her to have a backstory that reflected how hard poor people had it.
I discovered that it was very difficult for a woman alone to make enough money to live on. There was no safety net, except for the workhouse (which terrified people) or a few charities. Women earned a lot less than men for doing the same work. Employers always assumed feminine labor was worth less and that a female employee would have a man, whether a husband, father, brother, or son, to make up the shortfall. Hours were long, so it’s not like you could just work two jobs to make up the difference. Some historians think this might partly explain the high number of prostitutes in Victorian cities, particularly London. A high number of women were supplementing their meager income with sex work of one sort or another. Evangeline’s roommate and best friend is one of them, but Evangeline herself chooses to become a medium. Her conscience is troubled, but not enough to stop and potentially starve.
Dabney: I loved seeing Helen and Will–the leads from The Madness of Miss Grey in this book. (Will is one of my favorite doctors in historical romance.) What similarities do think the two couples have? What differences?
Julia: Oh, thank you for saying that about Will! It was great to bring them both back and it felt important since Alex and Helen had only just begun their relationship when the first book ended. I wanted to see how their bond had grown and how Will fitted in. Alex and Will have clearly bonded too, and they’re united in their protectiveness of the women in their lives.
Before I started writing, I didn’t realize I was such a big fan of conniving heroines, but now I’ve written two in a row. I think they both have good reasons (Helen is unfairly imprisoned and Evangeline doesn’t want to starve), but still… I clearly have a type. And both heroes are unaccountably attracted to this very aspect of their heroine’s character.
As for differences, Will and Helen are opposites in many ways. They have to figure each other out. But Alex and Evangeline’s romance is a case of like meets like. They may come from different worlds, but they “get” each other at a deep level. They’re good opponents at the beginning of the story because they anticipate each other’s moves. The same thing applies when they become lovers. Their differences are all on the surface.
Dabney: I am hoping that the next book in the series is Jude’s story. So tell me, what is next?
Julia: There are no firm plans for Jude’s story, but I’m hoping to hear more on that soon. I have the book all plotted out and, for once, the heroine does virtually no conniving. The hero, however, has secrets. Big, potentially deadly, secrets. I would LOVE to write it. Fingers very much crossed.
Dabney: Thank you for talking with me!
Julia: The pleasure was definitely mine. Thank you!