Jen: Today we wecome Holland Rae to Romancing the Book. Holland, will you share a short bio with us?
Holland: Holland Rae is the author of several works of erotic and romantic fiction in both the contemporary and historical genres, and enjoys pushing the limits of freedom, feminism, and fun in her stories. She has been an avid writer for many years, and recently moved back to her home state of New Jersey from Boston, after completing her education in journalism and creative writing.
In her free time, she loves to travel, and spent a semester abroad living in a 14th century castle in the Netherlands. When not exploring the world, she likes dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars, and talking to strangers.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Holland: So Heart and Dagger is really my homage to pirating. I find the idea of the Caribbean, even by the 1800s, to be this sort of vast and wild place – an intersection of trade, cultures and all walks of life, and I thought that it would make for a great book setting.
Around the same time, a friend of mine touched on the all too pertinent issue of diversity in romance, by asking why there weren’t many Indian heroes, and it all just fell into place that the book would be set in Hispaniola, this busy, trade heavy, ship heavy part of the world in such a trade-rich part of history.
I also wanted to turn the pirate romance novel on its head. I’ve always been fascinated with pirate lore and the sea myths, but my favorite part was reading about the female pirates like Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Ching Shih. It wasn’t exactly easy for a woman to carve her own path at the time, so it’s easy to see how they might have crossed the law for independence. My heroine, Catalina, undergoes a similar evolution, but she uses her powers as a feared warrior of the sea to help people who felt as trapped as she did. All in all, this book came about because I missed the chance to be a pirate queen by a few hundred years.
“Like you, Armand?” she asked him. Her voice had reached an even tone, with no emotion evident, and that was far more terrifying than her angered yelling. Like him. He could have been her husband these years now, had he ever written back, had he not turned himself away from everything London and Paris were to him. He had been a coward and fool.
And yet, the knowledge did not serve to calm his temper in the slightest. Instead, he nearly ground his teeth to dust, as she continued her even speech.
“I have never needed a man to care for me,” she said, her gaze so full of disdain, Armand felt himself growing smaller in the wake of it. “I have never needed anyone to care for me.” This time, when she spoke, there was no denying the sadness that filtered through her words, or the expression in her eyes, and Armand felt his own grief in it, felt his own sadness as it mirrored hers.
“Why are you trying to change me?” she asked him. He knew he needed to back down, knew that if he spoke right at this moment, as this woman stood before him in her britches, then he would regret it forever. He knew all these things, and yet the anger seemed to consume him, anger, fear, sadness.
“It’s about time someone tried.”
He watched her finish dressing and leave without another word, but there was no denying the pain he saw in those beautiful eyes, and he felt all the hurt he had caused her as acutely as if someone had dug a knife into his very own body. Of course he didn’t want to change her, not the glorious laughter that exposed her long stretch of beautiful neck, not the way she treated the world’s misfits, offering them love and joy, so much more than just clothing and food. There was not a single thing in the world he would change about Catalina Sol.
He stopped short, eyes still wide upon the doorway through which she had only just left. If he didn’t want to change her, then why had he said so? Why had he said the one thing he knew would hurt her more than all the rest?
Because she had done the same.
She hadn’t even said no, hadn’t even rejected him in a way that stood to break him, but as Armand stood in Catalina’s chamber all alone, he realized he hadn’t proposed out of honor. He hadn’t suddenly developed the sense of responsibility that had forsaken him all those years ago.
He had proposed because he wanted to marry her. The thought was like a knife turning in his belly, and it sent a shard of new pain through his temple.
He had wanted to marry her.
As she had lain in the morning sunshine, her hair spread around her, that delicious glow upon her skin, Armand had believed it his duty to marry Catalina, but it hadn’t been his duty. It hadn’t been his responsibility. It had been his desire.
And then she had laughed, had laughed and thrown his betrayal of their once future in his face, and Armand hadn’t understood why he had been so angry. But he understood now, he knew exactly what had driven him to say the words he knew would bring her to her knees. Because she had brought him to his knees and Armand Rajaram de Bourbon, earl, comte, somewhere in line for an Indian princehood, didn’t like the sensation one bit.
Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Holland: Oh man, so I come from a family of artists. My grandmother is a fine artist, my dad is a graphic designer, my grandfather was a playwright, lyricist and humorist and my mom is a poet. I’ve been around writers and artists my whole life, so following this crazy, wild career path didn’t actually feel so crazy and wild. It helps enormously to have people around you who have gone through the same challenging process, so I never believed it wasn’t possible. Having other writers also kept my book piles well stocked and I always had someone to turn to for questions – my mom actually taught my first writing class when I was eight years old.
Jen: Is there a genre you’d like to write? Is there one you’ll probably stay away from? Why?
Holland: Lately I’ve been really exploring the idea of breaking into YA. I know it’s a challenging market to breach, since it is so popular, but I’ve really come to discover that it’s the most important genre, especially in this day and age. With the world we’re living in, it’s more important than ever to preach diversity, acceptance and allyship and most especially for kids reading at the most impressionable times in their lives.
I’m really interested in writing characters that aren’t often represented and also helping to dismantle some of the more insidious elements of misogyny, sexism and toxic masculinity that young people are often taught is okay – acceptable, even – but lends itself to unhealthy relationships and people in positions of power that abuse it for decades. Helping to raise the next generation of intersectional feminists is one of my core standards and I’m working to be better at it every single day. I also want to write cozy mysteries, but mostly ‘cause I think they’d be fun as anything.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Holland: I have done so much research for this series! A lot of it was historical – determining when certain trade routes or trade items were popular, what sort of ships were common in the era, the clothing, the language. It’s particularly fun with an area like the Caribbean, because it was so trade heavy that there’s influences from all over the world. I also got to look into seafaring myths and songs and the like, to really get a vibe for the era. Also, whenever I write historicals, I do a lot of word origin searches or idiom origin searches, because certain phrases are surprisingly modern and can really throw you.
Jen: If you were able to travel in time, where would you go and what 3 things would you take with you?
Holland: So this is a conversation I have with my family a lot. I think it’s Outlander’s fault. Anyway, I’m going to go ahead and pretend that I’m allowed to have my glasses/a lifetime supply of contact lenses and move on from there.
I’d definitely want a notebook and a pack of pens. Have you ever written with a quill and ink? It’s maddening – and I write in cursive! I don’t know what I would do without my pens and of course I’d want to record everything, so that’s an important one.
Probably number two would be contraceptives of some sort. I mean, it’s sounds silly to say that I’ve done a lot of research on syphilis, but I’ve done a lot of research on syphilis, and it was just so incredibly pervasive. I’d want to get it on with my hunky Highlander or Viking lover without working about STDs or, godforbid, getting pregnant at the time. Anytime in history, really.
I honestly don’t know – I’m just thinking logical stuff here, like a supply of Advil and another of penicillin, but I also think a sports bra would be super helpful if I ever wanted to dress like a boy, stuff like that. Good walking shoes.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Holland: So Heart and Dagger is book one in The Ships in the Night Series. I’m also done with book two, Heart and Veil, which focuses on a character you meet in book one. This series had always been a trilogy in my mind, so I look forward to finding out what that third book is about. I’m thinking there’s a pirate treasure thing involved.
I also write erotic romance under a different name, so I have some other series to complete there.