Amara: I write historical romance set mainly in Victorian Britain, and I’m sort of obsessed with the contradictions and transitions of that era. Well, the contradictions, transitions, and the fashion. Let’s not forget the fashion! I have a PhD in English literature, specializing in 19th-century British novels. In my other life, I’m a community college professor of English literature and composition. So writing historical romance enables me to combine my academic side with my creative side. I have a wonderfully supportive family, two incorrigible cats, and an unhealthy fondness for chocolate.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Amara: ALWAYS A STRANGER features a Japanese performer named Hanako Sumaki at the Great Exhibition of 1851, whose employer is using her and her performances toward a nefarious end. Lord Skylar Ridgemont has been charged by the Royal Commission running the Great Exhibition with validating the legitimacy of all performers there. I have a tendency to ponder what kinds of characters I don’t see very often, and I don’t often see many diverse characters in Victorian romance. It also occurred to me that the Great Exhibition, which was intended as an international showcase, must have involved a wide array of characters from different countries and ethnicities. Combined with some PUNCH cartoons from that era, I pictured an Asian performer in the center of the Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition, and Hanako’s character took over from there. Here’s a short excerpt:
A heavy thump on his shoulder distracted him. “Lord Ridgemont, as I live and breathe. I had hoped to find you here. Of course, the odds that the Great Exhibition’s newest royal commissioner would be in attendance were in my favor.” The Marquess of Bartwell spoke sotto voce, barely audible above the general din of the grand hall. He almost didn’t catch the note of amusement in Bartwell’s voice. “Are you real, or simply a wisp of my imagination? Is it possible I have not seen you in a year, coz? Oh, are you as enamored of these exotic performers as I?” “You know, I expect, that Carleton insisted I interview the performers personally and ensure they are properly contracted,” he replied. His coat constricted his neck and shoulders now. Everything tensed at the sound of the new title, the one that shouldn’t belong to him. “Now shut your trap, my friend, and let the crowd enjoy the show.” Busy work, that’s what the duke had given him. Put him in the role of nursemaid or, worse, herder . . . as if he were a collie nipping at heels. I have found no evidence that Far Eastern performers have been contracted formally, the duke had explained. I hope I can rely upon you to take the matter in hand. You will recall the scandal we suffered last month regarding that sleight-of-hand trickery. It was quite embarrassing how many visitors he swindled before we discovered him. Every element of the Great Exhibition must be beyond reproach. Looking at this ethereal female, robed in vivid silk and framed by the backdrop of black drapes, he could not believe her to be a thief or a cheat. She could not be a menace to anyone, although Bartwell’s dazed expression suggested she could be capable of mesmerism. She looked delicate and slight, as if she might be blown away by a stiff wind. Then she flicked open two large red fans with an authoritative thwacking sound. It was not delicate or slight. This was not a parakeet or a pigeon. Her sharp, precise flashes of movement resembled a raptor, swift and dangerous. She twirled and flipped the fans with a mastery that transformed them, wielding them with more audacity than he had ever seen in a ballroom. A remarkable feat, considering how many ladies had communicated with him quite explicitly and persuasively with their fans across crowded rooms. No mere coquette’s device, these fans became weapons, slicing the air and holding her audience in thrall. The metallic clacks as she rhythmically opened and closed them dominated the alcove. She never moved from her spot. Yet the fans danced in the air above her. Blurs of red spun and rippled around her. Her gestures quickened to a flashing crescendo, and she tossed one fan high into the air. For a moment, her gaze drifted over the crowd before freezing in his direction. If he were prone to fancy, he might say her eyes locked with his. Golden eyes. How extraordinary. Fortunately, he was not prone to fanciful thoughts.
Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Amara: I started out writing literary fiction as a panster, but I’ve found that writing historical romance has made me more of a plotter. But even then, I create an outline or synopsis but don’t actually write the story straight from beginning to end. As I write, I tend to jump around to whatever scenes are foremeost in my mind.
Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Amara: I try to keep some sort of writing implements with me just about all the time…a small notebook, my smartphone, etc. This can get tricky when I have notes strewn in various places and formats and have to organize them.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Amara: Ah, I find research to be one of the most interesting parts of writing! Even the smallest, fleeting details may need research for authenticity. For this book, a few of the things I delved into were Japanese ukiyo-e art, the history of Tessen war fans, Japanese international relations (or rather the lack thereof) in the 19th century, a variety of languages, and even what kind of trees were in Hyde Park (and specifically in the Crystal Palace) during the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest? Most rewarding?
Amara: For me, the most challenging aspect of writing is the burden of responsibility. By that, I mean, I feel (and I’m sure other writers do too) a responsibility to readers to be authentic and accurate and engaging. That awareness of readers is very different from just writing for the joy of writing. I know I can’t please everyone all of the time, but I can try! The easiest aspect? I’ll let you know when I figure out if any of it is easy! The most The most rewarding? The most rewarding part is the flip side of the hardest—it’s always rewarding when I find out people enjoyed my books!
Jen: If this book was made into a movie, who do you see playing the main characters?
Amara: After watching the movie PACIFIC RIM, I absolutely see Rinko Kikuchi as Hanako. Petite and self-contained, she has a powerful and emotional core. As for Lord Ridgemont, I picture Chris Hemsworth. Uncertain and almost shy at first, Ridgemont grows increasingly confident as he resolves to help Hanako at any cost. Kikuchi and Hemsworth would reveal the inner strength of these characters beautifully.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Amara: I’m currently working on Book 3, tentatively called NEVER WITHOUT LOVE. It’s set in the same time and place ALWAYS A STRANGER and my previous book NEVER TOO LATE. This next book focuses on a London widow who must return to her childhood home to care for her dying grandmother. After leaving 20 years prior to elope with a virtual stranger, she faces a difficult homecoming. On her trip home, she has to rely on one of the people who has the most reasons to revile her: the brother of the fiance she jilted when she left. Many years have passed, and old wounds are slow to heal. But she and her reluctant ally find themselves inexorably drawn to each other out of more than just necessity or sympathy. a Rafflecopter giveaway