Jen: Today we welcome Erica Ridley to Romancing the Book. Erica, will you share a short bio with us?
Erica: Erica Ridley learned to read when she was three, which was about the same time she decided to be a writer when she grew up.
Now, Erica is a USA Today best-selling author of historical romance novels. Her latest series, The Dukes of War, features roguish peers and dashing war heroes who return from battle only to be thrust into the splendor and madness of Regency England.
When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, ziplining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.
Jen: Tell us about the Dukes of War, and The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress!
Erica: The Dukes of War historical romance series features roguish peers and dashing war heroes who return from battle only to be thrust into the splendor and madness of Regency England.
Captain Xavier Grey returned from the Napoleonic Wars a hairsbreadth away from catatonic. No one knows what happened but him, and Xavier isn’t saying a word. He flees London for the countryside, intending to spend the rest of his days alone in his small cottage.
Jane Downing is a wallflower with a serious book habit and well-honed inner snark. She’s tired of being invisible, and sets out to turn the man of her dreams into her real life lover. She lands on Xavier’s doorstep just in time for the snowstorm of the season.
Captain Grey suddenly finds himself snowbound with a bluestocking. And she has an unbelievably tempting plan for heating up the winter nights…
Jen: Tell us about the excerpt.
Erica: When Captain Xavier Grey finds himself snowbound with a sultry bluestocking intent on seduction, he does what any honorable soldier would do: He tries to make her think of him as “just a friend.” Failing that, he figures he can at least distract her attention with the dusty old library he hasn’t seen since leaving for war…
Xavier gritted his teeth. This was Operation Platonic Friendship. He was not to think about the taste of Miss Downing’s mouth or the sway of her hips.
They needed to spend the entirety of the day discussing Wordsworth and Voltaire. Or rather, something less… provocative. He didn’t want to make a good impression. Perhaps he ought to engage her in a lively debate on whether library books were best catalogued by size or color.
“What do you think of my collection?” he found himself asking, instead.
“Well…” She poked her head from around a corner. “The topics are varied enough, but at least half have never been read. The pages aren’t even sliced.”
“You can do the honors, if you’ve found something you’d like to read.” He adjusted a small pillow and stretched out upon the chaise longue. He didn’t much care who sliced the pages, but if offering her the privilege made him seem like a good friend, he’d be happy to lend his knife.
Eyes sparkling, she bounced in place. “I can read anything that I want?”
“As long as it isn’t…” He hesitated. What had she mentioned earlier? Sugar? Shogun? “…shunga scrolls.”
The corners of her mouth quirked. “Nobody reads shunga scrolls. They just look at the pictures.”
He cut her a flat look.
She gave an innocent flutter of eyelashes and selected a book from the shelves. “Lay back down. I’ll read something to you. How about the Odyssey in original Greek?”
He couldn’t even remember purchasing it. “Do you mind if I snore?”
“I hope you do. But I’ll translate aloud in case you manage to stay awake.” Rather than take another chair, she perched at the foot of the chaise longue with her back toward him. “Ahem. Page the first. ‘Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero…’”
There. Xavier relaxed his head against the cushion. Nothing could be more respectable.
Or less stimulating. He hadn’t actually intended to snore, but nor had he anticipated the level of mortal dullness in which Miss Downing read aloud. She could not have infused less life into her tone had she merely been counting sheep.
He might have told her not to bother translating, since it wasn’t doing either of them any favors, except he saw no advantage to being rude. His goal was to be perceived as a friend, not the enemy. Enemies could incite passion.
Miss Downing’s monotone could only incite slumber.
After a while, he let his eyelids drift closed. It had been a long, cold night filled with nothing but vivid waking dreams. He had been exhausted from the moment he rolled out of bed. Her tone was pacifying in its relentless uniformity, the words forgettable and relaxing.
He almost didn’t notice when she skipped from Calypso to Circe in the space of a breath. Her low words droned on without hitch. His eyes flew open. How could she have turned thirty pages at once without noticing? How could she have skipped the Trojan horse without noticing?
Sleep forgotten, he propped himself up on one elbow to glance over her shoulder at the text.
And roared. “What the devil are you reading, woman?”
She jumped, her cheeks flushing a rosy pink. “You said I might read whatever I wished.”
“You said you were reading the Odyssey!”
“I said I would read you the Odyssey.” She motioned him back to his pillow. “I’m reading something else.”
“That’s not ‘something else.’” Heart galloping, he reached for the book.
She held it aloft with her other hand. “You can’t have it. I’m right in the middle.”
“Absolutely not. That’s The Memoirs of Fanny Hill, and it’s not fit for human eyes,” he ground out.
Her brows arched. “Then why do you have it?”
“Because I’m inhuman! Give me the damn book or I’ll—”
“Oh, lay back down. You were almost asleep. I’ve already read most of what you’re afraid of, so there’s not much harm in reading the rest.”
He collapsed back against the chaise and covered his face with his hands. No wonder the woman’s storytelling abilities had been execrable. She’d been quoting from memory whilst reading an entirely different story. One in which an innocent country miss was procured by a bawdyhouse madam and then descended into a life of erotic abandon.
“What part are you at now?” he rasped, his throat dry.
Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Erica: The notes app on my phone saves my life! I keep it beside my bed to jot down those middle of the night brainstorms. For whatever reason, the text-to-speech apps don’t understand a word I say, so if I’m in the car, I leave myself a voice note, and transcribe it myself when I get home.
Because I live on a macadamia farm in the rainforests of Costa Rica, it’s a four-hour drive to get to the big city—and I can easily spend all four hours gabbing into the voice recorder app. In fact, that’s exactly how I plotted The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress! The hard part was listening to hours of my own voice, and organizing the separate thoughts into an outline.
Jen: How do you come up with characters names?
Erica: I tend to get easily confused when I’m reading and two or more characters have similar looking names (Sally, Sully, Scully) so I try to make sure mine are as varied as possible. It’s very rare that one of my books will have two main characters whose first or last names start with the same letter, and I try to vary the number of syllables, as well.
While I’m at it, I also have to make certain that the names I use existed during that time period, so I take note of names I find in contemporaneous documents, such as periodicals, books, wedding registries, etc.
The opposite is true for my titled heroes’ estates. One of my recurring characters—the Duke of Ravenwood—exists only in my mind, because I have no wish to commit accidental libel against a real person!
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Erica: Several years ago at a readers’ luncheon, I was seated at a table with two readers who loved my first book—but interpreted a few elements in vastly different ways. They had stumbled across each other before they found me, and expected me, as the author, to settle their argument.
Once I got past the excitement of having real-life fans (it was my debut novel, and they were the first fans I’d ever met!) I realized how much every reader interprets a story and its characters through the lens of their own life experiences.
Jen: What’s been the highlight of your career to this point?
Erica: Is it wrong that I don’t know whether to answer, “hitting the USA Today bestseller list” or “roller-blading through Paris with Eloisa James”? 😉 Actually, the thing I love the most is getting feedback from happy fans.
Nothing else in this world can compare to hearing someone say that one of my books made their day, or got them through a tough time, or made them miss their subway stop for the second time in a row.
During the dark days of revision and editing, when I worry that every book is never going to be finished, those kinds of comments are what helps me get through.
Jen: What did you do to celebrate your first book? Do you do anything to celebrate a sale, new contract or release?
Erica: To celebrate the sale of my first book, I went out for a fancy dinner. (Fondue!) I also had launch parties for my first two books. I held the first one at a local independent bookstore. The launch party for the sequel was much larger, and I even hired actors to walk among the crowd dressed and in character as the hero and heroine. I lived in Florida at the time, so the woman who played my heroine was also a Disney princess!
Because I now live in Costa Rica—and because more and more readers prefer e-books to paperbacks—I now do my launch parties online, typically via Facebook. No more Disney princesses, but online parties can be just as much fun, and I’ve met some really great people.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Erica: Next in the series in The Major’s Faux Fiancée, which releases in June. In this story, Major Blackpool returns home to play pretend beau to the girl next door to save her from an unwanted betrothal. But once they’ve announced their faux engagement, neither one can cry off without doing damage to the other’s social status. Daphne intends to remain a spinster, so she plots to make the major jilt her first—without realizing he’s busy plotting the same thing! With both of them on their worst behavior, neither expects their fake betrothal to lead to love…