I don’t think it’s much of a secret to AAR regulars that I love books by Sherry Thomas. I am so very impressed with her work, in fact, that, along with Elizabeth Hoyt and Joanna Bourne, Sherry’s books give me hope for the future of historical romance.
And you know what? I didn’t feel that way—truth be told I felt exactly the opposite—as recently as a year and a half ago.
On May 19th, the author’s third historical romance, Not Quite a Husband, hits bookstore shelves and it’s everything I’ve learnt to expect from Sherry Thomas: Complex, layered, and thoroughly adult.
Sherry not only took the time to answer a few of my questions, she also offered up two early finished copies of the book that she will send to the lucky winners as soon as she receives them from the publisher. Look for details on how to enter at the end of this post.
But, first, a few words from our sponsor about her new book and what she’s planning for the future:
Sherry, well, our first question never varies too much, so let’s kick it off with our Official Books with Buzz Interview Starter Question: Can you tell us a bit about Not Quite a Husband?
Not Quite a Husband was originally inspired by the 2007 movie The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The story of The Painted Veil is that of a marriage in real trouble, a couple very much estranged who travel to the dangerous interior of China in a time of cholera outbreaks. It was one of the best romantic dramas I’d ever seen—I think of it as a Laura Kinsale film, with complex characters, dark emotional conflict, great sexual tension, and a gorgeous backdrop. And I loved, loved, loved it up until the very end when SPOILER the hero dies! END SPOILER. I came out of the movie theater shellshocked, and on the spot I decided that I would write my own version of the story as my next project and give it a happy ending.
The first thing I did was to reverse the gender roles—no point writing the same story. In The Painted Veil, we have a rather socially awkward microbiologist who somehow manages to marry this beautiful girl. In Not Quite a Husband, the hero is instead the popular, desirable figure, and the heroine a socially awkward physician who somehow manages to marry him.
The marriage does not work out. An annulment takes place. When the story opens, he finds her in the most remote corner of British India, high in the Hindu Kush mountains. And what follows is a journey home, both physical and metaphorical.
You and I briefly discussed the book a few weeks ago and you told me that you really challenged yourself as a writer in creating this one. Without offering up any spoilers, what can you let readers know about the particular demons you faced?
I said that? LOL. To be honest, never in a single moment in my career have I ever wanted to challenge myself. I’ve only ever wished for easy stories that write themselves. However, lately all I’ve had are stories that kick my butt to the Magellan Strait and back.
The problem with the writing of Not Quite a Husband was that for months on end I could not correctly calibrate the interaction between the hero and the heroine. Had I been writing the book on spec, I’d have set it aside until I knew better. But writing on a deadline meant that I must still go on whether I was one hundred percent sure or not.
I went through the first half of the book five times. And then after my editor gave her verdict, the entire first half of the book—and much of the second half, too—went out of the window. I spent three weeks in December writing 18 hours a day. By the time revisions were done, my face was full of spots from stress!
Not that I’d ever want to repeat those revisions again, but they were worth it. And that was all I faced, spots, not demons.
One of the common themes to your three published books is the fact that you tell the story of your characters in your current present and also at pivotal points in their pasts. What is it about this particular method of storytelling that appeals to you? Do you see yourself sticking with it?
LOL. Okay, the first time I wrote Private Arrangements, way back in the previous century, I wrote it in chronological order. My then-agent read it, and gave me a valuable piece of advice. Start the story when they meet again, she said, because that’s when it really begins. I thought about it for a minute and decided she had no idea what she was talking about. There was no way I could write like that.
Never say never. Five years later, when I accidentally came across the manuscript and resolved to rewrite it, I knew she’d been right. The story should be layered and the past and the present should unfold at the same time. It was the correct technique for that particular story.
As a person who dislikes to repeat herself, I was absolutely certain that my second story would not have the reunited lover theme. Been there, done that. And no shared past between H/H meant that there would be no alternating time lines either. I wrote 40,000 words in the first draft of Delicious before I realized that it simply wouldn’t work, that without some sort of history, there was no way a man going after his servant wouldn’t come across as all kinds of smarmy. Even so I resisted the alternating storyline. I threw out those aforementioned 40,000 words and completed a new draft, and all it had was a quick prologue set in the past and everything else was in the present. That manuscript was roundly rejected. I went on to two more full drafts, with the role of the past expanding with each one to tie everything together.
After all the demons and spots (yes, more spots, my skin has truly suffered for my art) with Delicious, because the hero and the heroine could not spend much time together, I ran back to the bosom of the estranged-couple theme, figuring whatever other problems I’d come across, they’d at least spend all their time together, little knowing all the further dermatological problems that awaited me!
My fourth book, which I’m working on, starts when the H/H meet and should feature fewer flashbacks. And I’ve got a bunch of various partial manuscripts lying around and none feature alternate timelines or anything like that. So, to conclude, I don’t have a particular natural inclination toward the past-and-present mode of storytelling, I just keep falling into it.
(The way a drunk keeps falling into the local pub?)
Let’s talk covers for a few moment. Personally, I thought Private Arrangements had one of the most appealing covers I’d seen in a while and Delicious fit in nicely with the brand identity created by the first one. However, both books are being reissued with new covers – classic clinch covers, as a matter of fact – which just goes to prove that clinch covers will never die. What’s the marketing department saying these days? Are clinch covers still the best way to sell historical romance?
Clinch covers are still the best way to sell historical romance, period.
Publishers do not want to give their books all the same kinds of covers. But sometimes artistic sensibilities must give way to market realities. And I’m frankly very grateful to be given clinch covers, because I want my books to sell. (And I’m also very grateful because at first I thought I’d get a pure mantitty cover and felt such a sense of relief that it was a good old fashioned clinch instead.)
I am generally just not a squee-r, but I came pretty close when you told me that you are venturing into contemporaries. What gives? Will you still continue to write – and please tell me you will – historical romance?
Historical romance will continue to be my bread-and-butter. There, you have it from the horse’s mouth.
And I haven’t ventured into contempories yet. I have a 2/3 finished manuscript written on spec, i.e., not under contract to anyone. It all started in May 2007, not long after I turned in the first version of Delicious, when I participated in a 200-word first-encounter writing contest at Dionne Galace’s blog. I didn’t win. I didn’t even make the finalists cut. But I was intrigued by the potential in the story.
I’d gone barely a few pages into the story when I received a 16-page, single-space editorial letter for Delicious. The contemporary story was abandoned right away and not picked up again until September 2007, after I’d turned in the second version of Delicious. And so it went. I very rarely work on it except when I’m waiting on my editor to get back to me on something.
For the longest time I thought it would be a novella. And then I thought it was a Blaze—I even have a Harlequin name for it, Her Billionaire Boy Toy. And only in February of this year—while waiting to hear about my proposal for book 4—did I finally came upon the proper plot development for the second half of the story.
As the Harlequin title suggests—the real working title is One Night Stands, by the way—that the story is about a woman who just wants to have a sexual relationship with her billionaire boy toy and nothing more. She is a socialist; he is a capitalist. Furthermore, he is old money—the great-great-grandson of the primary couples from both Private Arrangements and Delicious—and she can’t stand old money, for reasons of her own. He, however, wants considerably more.
I think of it as my take on Pride and Prejudice. Not that the plot bears any similarity to Ms. Austen’s book, but the charactors do, in that her great flaw is her prejudice and his great flaw his pride.
I know you are a fan of Judith Ivory, Susan Johnson, Laura Kinsale, and others, but here’s your chance to pimp writers who might be under readers’ radar. Who are you loving these days?
Meredith Duran. Bettie Sharpe. Laurie R. King. Sarah Addison Allen. Eva Ibbotson. I recently read Eva Ibbotson’s Madensky Square and I haven’t loved a book so much in a while.
Let’s finish it up with our Official Books with Buzz Wrap-up question: What’s next for Sherry Thomas?
What’s next is a British set historical romance—the Subcontinent locations for Not Quite a Husband were hella hard to research, so I’m taking refuge in the more familiar British Isles for the moment. The working title for the work-in-progress is The Perfect Deception.
I normally think of my books as either Judith Ivory books or Laura Kinsale books. Not that I dare to compare quality, but in what they character-wise and story-wise remind me more of. Private Arrangements, for example, with its verve and cheekiness, is to me a more Ivory book. Not Quite a Husband, on the other hand, with its angst and emotional intensity, is more Kinsale.
But The Perfect Deception is going to be a departure. In The Perfect Deception I’m trying to write a Loretta Chase book. More specifically, I’m hoping to write my own version of Mr. Impossible, without the Egyptian setting, that is.
Now everyone pray really hard that I manage to pull it off!
Did anybody else get chills? Mr. Impossible? Probably my all-time fave by the great Loretta Chase?
But moving on now, to enter for your chance to win one of two advance copies of Not Quite a Husband all you need to do is comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Thursday April 30. The usual small print applies: Contest is open to U.S. residents only. If you write for another review site or blog, please don’t enter.
Good luck to everyone and thanks to Sherry Thomas for her time and the giveaway books.