From her traditional Regencies to the European Historicals she writes today, Mary Balogh has long been one of the most beloved – and most respected – authors in romance. Never afraid to take a chance, and admirably supported by her publisher,
Mary Balogh has quietly blazed trails and broken taboos, racking up one of the most impressive backlists in the genre.
Mary, first of all, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. It's been quite a few years since your last interview with AAR. I went to our readers for many of the questions I'll be asking, and let's start off with a popular one. You have many devoted collectors of your traditional Regencies and, as you know, the prices can be quite high. Are there ongoing plans to continue releasing more of your older Signet titles in new editions?
Yes. After the Web trilogy (the third one, The Devil’s Web will be out in late December) there will be The Ideal Wife and A Precious Jewel – sorry, no exact dates yet. I think all the books related to those two (Dark Angel, Lord Carew’s Bride, The Famous Heroine, The Plumed Bonnet, A Christmas Bride) will probably follow. And eventually I hope all or most of the other books will be out too. It is starting to happen!
You’ve always been something of a quiet trailblazer. Considering the publishing climate today and the fact that publishers seem to be more conservative than they were in the past, do you think you would be able to create for the first time today a heroine who is a prostitute? Secondly, did you face much opposition at the time?
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You mean Priscilla from A Precious Jewel. She was such a minor character in The Ideal Wife that she did not even make an actual appearance in the story. But Gerald, the man whose mistress she was, did appear in that book. And somehow their story came to me full-blown and haunted me for months. I knew I couldn't write it. Priss was a working prostitute before she became Gerald's mistress – and I was writing Traditional Regencies at the time! I sounded out a few fellow writers (never an editor) and they agreed with me. But the story refused to go away. Finally I wrote it-it took me two weeks – and put it away on a shelf for almost two years. Then I decided to send it in without comment and see what happened. The next I heard of it, it was in copyediting! So no, there was no editorial opposition at all. And quite honestly I don't know what is acceptable now. Are publishers more conservative? This is the first I have heard of it. But then, I always keep myself aloof from the business and I don't read much romance. I don't want to be influenced by trends or fears of what is happening or might happen in the publishing business. If my own publisher went out of business, I would probably be the last to know!
Well, it’s safe to say that things are more conservative these days, Mary - there's lots of sex, sex, sex,
of course, but I think a book with a prostitute heroine would have a very
hard time finding a publisher. So, perhaps "limited" would be a better term.
Women faced far fewer choices back in those days and desperation breeds desperate measures. Still, many of your heroines also seem to be quite practical about their decision to make a living in the way they could. What is it about these women that you find so fascinating?
You see, we understand that women's choices were very restricted in those days. They probably did not. That was just the way life was. There were certain jobs that upper class women could do and certain jobs that lower class women could do. But unemployment must always have loomed and must always have been a terrifying prospect. I write about strong women, women who somehow cope with whatever life throws their way and survive – but in a Regency context. Priscilla in A Precious Jewel, for example, finally came to a choice between being supported by her old governess, now the owner of a brothel, and the girls who worked for her or supporting herself by becoming one of those girls. I have had some readers blame her for the choice she made, but as I see it she had enough pride and integrity to earn her living n the way those other girls did instead of acting the lady and living off heir earnings. And so she became a prostitute herself and worked hard to be a good one.
Many, many of readers mentioned how much they've enjoyed your Christmas stories. Do you have any plans to create any new ones - or maybe even a full-length Christmas-set novel?
Not at the moment. There don't seem to be the Regency Christmas story anthologies that there used to be. As for a book, setting it at one particular time of year restricts its sales appeal. Who knows what the future will bring, though. I always loved writing those stories and novels. To me, two lovers, a child, and Christmas itself are the perfect ingredients for a heartfelt romance.
I can hear the virtual sighs of disappointment all across the Internet right now! I will go on record here with the fact that Slightly Dangerous is my favorite of all your books and one of my very favorite romances of all time. It seemed to me to be Mary Balogh's homage to Pride and Prejudice. Am I off base with that observation?
It was unintentional. Until readers started telling me that the book reminded them of P&P, I had not noted the similarities. But it does prove the danger of both reading and writing romances. It is very easy to imitate unconsciously or even-heaven forbid – to plagiarize. I suppose Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth has always been one of my favorite scenes in all literature. Unconsciously I must have wanted to write a similar scene myself and did in Slightly Dangerous which is, by the way, probably my own favorite among my books. I fell in love with Wulfric w-a-y back the moment I created him in A Summer to Remember.
You’ve anticipated one of our reader questions! You've created so many memorable - and groundbreaking characters - do you have any personal favorites?
Oh, goodness! Well, Wulfric, obviously. And a few other alpha males-Edmond in The Notorious Rake, Tresham in More than a Mistress, Luke in HEARTLESS. And a few feisty females, who are the opposite of my own personality – a Freyja Bedwyn, for example. I like a few of the beta males I have created too – Lord Carew is perhaps my favorite of those. I have had fun with some minor characters – Agnes, the dragon housekeeper in Slightly Married, the four ladies of the night in Slightly Sinful. And of course, there are thegroundbreakers, like the horribly disfigured Sydnam Butler in Simply Love and Priscilla, the prostitute, in A Precious Jewel. I enjoyed creating Perry and Grace in A Promise of Spring since she was ten years older than he-an interesting challenge. Oh, and there was Emmy, the deaf-mute heroine of Silent Melody. Try to write a novel with hardly any dialogue!
A few readers wondered what happened to the promised story of the hero's sister from More than a Mistress. Will you ever get the chance to write it?
I hope so. I fully intend to write Angeline's story. But first I have to finish the quintet I am working on – three books to go – and then I think it will be Gwen, Lady Muir's story (she first appears in One Night for Love) and then Angeline's. So it will be a while. I look forward to writing that book, though. It will have to be something of a farce, I think, given the way I developed her character in the first two Mistress books-when I had no thought of giving her a book of her own.
Claudia Martin's story in the Simply series is next? And, please, tell us more about that quinetet!
Yes, Simply Perfect, Claudia's story will be out next spring. And she is one of my favorite women characters-a rather starchy school headmistress in her mid-thirties. I am currently writing a five-part series about the Huxtable family-three sisters and a brother and their male second cousin. The basic premise is that the brother unexpectedly inherits an earldom at the age of seventeen when the second cousin's younger brother dies. The cousin cannot himself inherit because his father had married his mother two days after his birth and so he was forever legally illegitimate. He is rather a mysterious figure through much of the series and his book will be last. The plan is to bring out the first four books one after the other, three in paperback, one in hardcover, probably in the late summer and fall of 2009. In the fall of 2008 there will be an Avon anthology with stories by Candice Hern, Jacquie D'Alessandro, Stephanie Laurens, and me. What we have done is all write a story with the same basic plot premise-two people who knew each other ten years ago meet by chance when they are both stranded at a country inn for twenty-four hours. We have not conferred at all and have not yet read one another's completed stories. It should be interesting to see how similar and – more important – how dissimilar they are.
Mary, you seem to be saying that you don't read much romance – deliberately. So, we'll finish up with a two part queston: What authors do you read, and is there anybody you'd like to recommend to our readers?
I read anyone and anything that can grab my attention and hold it past the first 50 pages or so. Particular favorites are Susan Elizabeth Phillips (okay, I do read some romance), Bernard Cornwell, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, P. D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Sue Grafton, James Patterson (when he is not collaborating with another author), Thomas Perry, Deepak Chopra, Paramahansa Yogananda. I'll probably think of any number of others as soon as I have sent this on its way. I read a lot of
single title books too especially ones that sit on the NYT bestseller list for months at a time and finally arouse my curiosity. This way I have discovered real gems like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Lovely Bones, The Kite Runner, and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. As for recommendations to other readers – well, any or all of the above, but reading tastes are such individual things. That is why there are so many books out there – something for everyone.