Behind the Pen of Deborah Simmons
(This interview was originally written for The Literary Times in 1996.)
Deborah Simmons is the amazing author of two wonderfully written books, Taming the Wolf and The Vicar's Daughter. Taming the Wolf is a dark, foreboding medieval and The Vicar's Daughter is a light, frothy, funny, and sexy historical set in the regency period. After having read these two books, I was amazed at how well she captured both periods - the books seem to have been written by two separate authors. Since then, I have bought copies of each of her other books and located this talented author on-line. I wanted to ask how she managed to write so well about two different periods of history.
This issue of managing two different periods of history seemed crucial to me. I have read many authors who write well about the regency period but write medievals that go too far where violence, poor living conditions, and attitudes against women are concerned. Other authors simply take a regency attitude when they write medievals so that the darkness and heaviness of the period doesn't come through. Deborah, however, really sets the tones necessary for each time period. Even though I found Deborah's ease at this amazing, it's not an issue for her. She says, ". . . I don't do anything special that I'm aware of, other than read a lot. . . My mother was an English teacher and a closet poetry writer who passed down her love for reading and writing to me."
While the initial change from the regency period to the medieval period was difficult for her, once she decided on the late 13th century, it seemed to coalesce. And, though she feels comfortable writing both eras now, she still finds medievals more difficult and swears them off after each one is completed. That is, until she gets bored with the regency period and needs another challenge.
Deborah says that the initial research of the medieval period was particularly difficult because the period is so vast. She persevered, however, and this initial work gave her a strong base of knowledge to work from. Now, intense research is not necessary for her and she can focus on characterizations. Because she is a stay-at-home mom, she can only work daytime hours during the school year. As such, it can take her six months to a year to complete a book. And of course, reading romances also slows her down.
Deborah loves to read romances and "grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart." She worked as a journalist on a small town newspaper until the birth of her first child. She decided at that point to try her and at writing full-time what she loved to read, romantic fiction. She particularly admires and was influenced in her writing by Amanda Quick, Julie Garwood, Anne Stuart, Jo Beverley, Arnette Lamb, Linda Howard and Laura London. Two books which greatly influenced her to write are Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Wolf And The Dove and Laura London's Windflower.
Deborah endured seven rejections before her first book, Heart's Masquerade, was published in 1989 by Avon. Since then, she has written exclusively for Harlequin Historicals. The titles of her books are as follows: Fortune Hunter (HH 132); Silent Heart (HH 185); The Squire's Daughter ( HH 208); The Devil's Lady (HH 241); The Vicar's Daughter (HH 258); and Taming the Wolf (HH 284). With the exception of The Devil's Lady and Taming the Wolf, her books so far are historicals set in the regency period.
Deborah's books are spicier than the other Harlequin Historicals I've read. She has never been requested to tone down their sensuality. She says, in fact, that, "... my editor tells me I've got a reputation (within the line) to live up to." Her reputation is deserved - she writes wonderfully intimate scenes filled with love and desire.
Of course, it helps to have tall, dark, handsome heroes and well endowed heroines with long-flowing tresses. It also helps that the heroes grow to love their heroines as they are, and love them, not in spite of themselves, but precisely because they are who they are.
The Vicar's Daughter is character-driven as opposed to being driven by a plot of intrigue and conflict. Both the hero and heroine's POV are expressed throughout so that we feel what the hero and the heroine are feeling. Having the hero's POV allowed me to know Lord Wycliffe and his obsession with schedules, order, and society's rules. It also allowed his growing obsession and love for Charlotte to shine through. The combination is very funny as we see Lord Wycliffe loosening up his methodical, logical, ordered life to accept the wonders Charlotte brings.
Deborah says she sees her characters in a scene or situation, and the book flows from there. For The Vicar's Daughter, she was inspired to write Lord Wycliffe's story by the husband of a married friend. Her friend had complained that ". . . her husband planned every aspect of their lives on a time-line. I thought it would be funny to shake up a guy like that with a more free-spirited heroine." This book is reminiscent of Bewitching by Jill Barnett, albeit without the supernatural aspect. The Vicar's Daughter is Deborah's favorite book because it is so filled with humor. It is also my favorite book by this author (although that might change after I read her others). It is also one of my favorite books by any author.
Taming the Wolf is more complex than The Vicar's Daughter. It is what I like to call a "road romance" because for much of the story, the hero and heroine are on the road from one place to another. This is where the Dunstan "the Wolf" and Marion "the Wren" meet, argue, fall in love, get into trouble, and save each other. Very strong images of dark and foggy forests, dank and dark castles, and dangers are expressed extremely well. While the heroine having to prove herself to the hero is common in romances, Deborah handles this adeptly in Taming the Wolf, taking the reader through tortuous twists and turns along the way.
A pivotal scene takes place late in the book. Dunstan has only seen Marion behave as a strong woman until her evil uncle arrives on the scene. Abused her whole life by this horrible man, Marion turns into a cowering shell of herself when he's around - just the way she had always been until she escaped him. The evil uncle batters and badgers Marion repeatedly and she takes it - until he insults her beloved husband. Watching the abuse, then seeing her falter and regain the strength he's always seen in her causes Dunstan to realize his love. Watching the Wolf learn gentleness and the Wren grow strong because of their love is absolutely profound.
Deborah obviously has a keen imaginary mind because her husband is not inclined toward the romantic. He doesn't read her books and wants her to write a book about a murder in their part of rural Ohio. She says, "Ugh, that's too realistic for this romantic!"
This romantic has certainly been busy. We have The Devil Earl, an historical set in the regency period to look forward to in May. In September, Maiden Bride, a sequel to the medieval The Devil's Lady, will be released. She is currently working on a sequel to The Vicar's Daughter and will tackle one of the Wolf's brothers' story for her next book. The Wolf has six brothers and I'm looking forward to reading each of their stories.
--Laurie Likes Books
||Deborah Simmons at AAR