Please help me welcome, multi-published, best selling, Regency author Sally MacKenzie. Sally has graciously offered to give away a copy of her latest release, Surprising Lord Jack, to one lucky commenter. All you have to do to be eligible is to leave your email address.
Ella: If you’ve been reading Sally’s latest series, The Duchess of Love, and I highly recommend that you do, you’ll know that the Duchess of Love is actually a mother intent on seeing her children well married. You probably already know I’m a fan of familial interference. Sally, what was the inspiration for this series?
Sally: Thanks so much for inviting me to stop by, Ella.
I’m not sure there’s really any one inspiration. I do have four sons, but I am most certainly not a matchmaker. The two who are married found their wives very much on their own–one couple met via an online dating site and the other met in college. However, the duchess also writes “Venus’s Love Notes”–a sort of newsletter of marital advice for the ton–which her sons find terribly embarrassing. I know what the inspiration for that was: my sons are also quite embarrassed by my writing (not that they have ever read a word of it). They are happy for me, but they’d prefer to think I don’t know anything about romance. In fact, my youngest son made the embarrassment of having a mother who writes romance the topic of his college application essay–and he was accepted everywhere he applied.
Ella: That sounds like he wasn’t really very embarrassed at all. This isn’t your first series. How long have you been writing and what prompted you to begin?
Sally: My first book, The Naked Duke, came out in 2005, and I’ve had a book or a book and a novella out every year since. I’d always wanted to be a writer “when I grew up,” and when the boys were young I wrote picture book texts and got a number of “good” rejections. But then my four sons and their varied activities took over my life. I ran the Cub Scouts and the swim team and was on the PTA. My writing was limited to school newsletters and auction programs. When the oldest boy was getting ready to leave for college, I faced the fact that I either had to get back to writing for publication or give up the dream. So I put my butt in a chair and my fingers on the keyboard and made myself begin and keep going until the end. And then I revised and revised.
Ella: What drew you to Regencies?
Sally: Georgette Heyer! I devoured her stories growing up. I think I even absorbed a Regency vocabulary–my husband, when we were dating, would give me odd looks when I’d use a word like “brangle” in conversation. I loved her wit most of all. And when I was surrounded by dirty diapers and crying babies, my mental escape was a Regency. My mother and I used to go to lunch once a month and stop in Borders to buy the monthly selection of Signet Regencies.
Ella: Oh, my. Georgette Heyer was my inspiration as well! You’re a USA Today bestselling author, what advice would you give a debut author or someone in the process of trying to get published?
Sally: Don’t worry so much about publishing or blogging or social media. Focus on writing your story, since that’s the only thing you can control. Try to banish any negative thoughts–get out of your own way–and write. Some people plot; some people don’t. Some people write every day; some people don’t. Figure out what works for you and then do it. There is no right way to write; there is only your way. Write the story all the way to the end, and then revise, revise, revise. And then start on the next story.
Publishing today offers many options–NYC publishers, small presses, e-publishers, self-publishing. Which option you choose depends on many factors–but none of it is important until you have a solid story ready to go to readers.
Ella: Is there anything you would have done differently in your journey to publication?
Sally: Not really. Oh, sometimes I wish I’d written more determinedly and sold when I was in my 20s or 30s, but then I remind myself I was busy doing other things. And I suspect the stories I would have written then would be much different from the stories I’m writing now. And while I did collect a number of rejections when I was writing picture books, I didn’t even submit my first published book to an editor. I sold as the result of the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart contest. One of the editors who read the final round liked the manuscript so much she got my contact information and called me out of the blue to offer a two book contract.
Ella: What’s next and when can we expect to see it?
Sally: Loving Lord Ash, the last book in the Duchess of Love series, comes out in March 2014. Now I’m supposed to be coming up with a new idea, which I hope to do once I have our house put back together. We just had all the carpets torn out of the bedroom level and hardwood floors put in. The floors look great, but there’s dust everywhere. And I’ve squirreled all our possessions away–it may take a while to get everything put to rights.
Ella: I sincerely feel for you. I’ve renovated enough houses to know what a disruption it can be. Without further to do, here is a blurb and excerpt of Surprising Lord Jack. This cover is to die for.
Frances Hadley has managed her family’s estate for years. So why can’t she request her own dowry? She’ll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she’s dealt with lately, though, there’s no way she’s going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls, and she’ll have much less to worry about…
Jack Valentine, third son of the famous Duchess of Love, is through being pursued by pushy young ladies. One particularly determined miss has run him out of his own house party. Luckily the inn has one bed left. Jack just has to share with a rather entertaining red-headed youth. Perhaps the two of them should ride to London together. It will make a pleasant escape from his mother’s matchmaking melodrama!
Miss Frances Hadley staggered up to the Crowing Cock’s weather-beaten door, her legs, backside, and feet throbbing with each step.
Blast it, men rode astride all the time. How could she have guessed the experience would be so painful? And having to walk the last half mile in Frederick’s old boots hadn’t helped. Damn icy roads.
She took a deep breath of the sharp, winter air. And if Daisy was lame—
She scowled at the door. If her horse was lame, she’d figure out another way to get to London. Hell, she’d walk if she had to. She was not going home to Landsford. To think Aunt Viola had been going to help Mr. Littleton with his nefarious scheme—
Oh! Every time she thought about it, she wanted to hit something—or someone.
She put her hand on the door. The drunken male laughter was so loud she could hear it out here. Pot-valiant oafs! At least drunkards were even less likely than sober men to see through her disguise. She almost hoped one of them would approach her. She’d take great delight in bloodying his nose.
She shoved open the door and was hit by a cacophony of voices and the stench of spilled ale, smoke, and too many sweaty male bodies. A barmaid, burdened with six or seven mugs of ale, rushed out of a room to her left.
“Where can I see about a bed for the night?” Frances had to shout to make herself heard. She had a deep voice for a woman, but was it deep enough? Apparently. The girl barely glanced at her.
“See Mr. Findley,” she said without breaking stride, jerking her head back at the room she’d just left, “but we’re full up.”
Oh, damn. Frances’s stomach plummeted.
She would not despair. If worse came to worst, she’d find a corner of the common room and sleep there. Or perhaps the innkeeper would let her stay in the stables. Even if Daisy were able to carry her, she could not go any farther. Night was coming on.
She went through the narrow doorway. A stout man with a bald head and an equally stout, gray-haired woman were sitting at a scarred wooden table, eating their dinner. Frances inhaled. Mutton and potatoes. Not her favorite dishes, but she was so hungry, the food smelled like ambrosia.
“Tonight’s the duchess’s ball, Archie,” the woman was saying. She waved a bite of mutton at him. “Do you think Her Grace found a match for Lord Ned or Lord Jack this year?”
Archie snorted. “Don’t know why this year should be any different than last year or the year before, Madge.”
“I suppose you’re right. I just—”
Frances cleared her throat. “Pardon me, but might you have a room for the night?”
The man looked over and frowned. “’Fraid every bed is full.”
“I see.” She bit her lip. Damn it.
“Oh, Archie,” his wife said, getting up. “I’m sure we can find something for the poor lad. He looks exhausted.”
“I am very tired, madam, and my horse is lame.” Frances was suddenly a hairsbreadth from groveling. Lying in a real bed would be heaven, especially compared to sleeping on the hard floor with the tosspots in the common room or on straw in the stable.
Mrs. Findley clucked her tongue. “You’re likely hungry as well.”
Frances’s stomach spoke for her, growling loudly. She flushed. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast, eight hours earlier. She should have packed something, but she hadn’t expected to be so delayed, and to be frank, she’d been too angry to think clearly.
And if she’d had a knife in her hand, Aunt Viola would not have been safe.
Mrs. Findley laughed. “Come, sit with us.” She took Frances’s arm and towed her over to the table.
“I-I don’t wish to intrude. If you could just spare a slice of mutton and a potato, I’m sure I would do very well.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” The woman pushed her into a chair and started filling a plate with food. “You must be starving.”
Frances’s stomach growled again, and Mrs. Findley laughed. “Poor boy.” She put the plate down in front of her. “Now eat before you fall over from hunger. I’m sure we can find you someplace to sleep.”
Mr. Findley was less inclined to charity. “Madge, the only room we have free is the one I save for the Valentines.”
“Well, none of them will be here tonight, will they? It’s the birthday ball, remember? They won’t miss it, no matter how much they hate attending. They’re good boys.”
Ha! Frances speared a bit of potato with her fork. Jack, the youngest of the Duke of Greycliffe’s sons, was far from a “good boy.” Aunt Viola was forever holding him up as an example of the evils of Town. A rake of the first order and likely a procurer as well, he was rumored to know—intimately—every brothel owner in London.
“I suppose you’re right.” Mr. Findley turned his attention to Frances. “What’s your name, lad, and where are you headed?”
“Frances Had—” Frances coughed. She could use her Christian name—spelled with an i instead of an e it was a male name anyway—but perhaps she should be cautious about using her family name. “Frances Haddon. I’m on my way to London.”
“London?” Mr. Findley’s brows shot up and then down into a scowl. “How old are you? You haven’t escaped from school, have you?”
“No, sir.” She focused on cutting her meat so she wouldn’t have to meet his eyes. “I’m, er, older than I look.”
Mrs. Findley laughed. “What? Thirteen instead of twelve? Don’t try to cozen us, young sir. We’ve raised three sons. Here it is the end of the day, and you don’t have the faintest shadow of a beard.”
This pretending to be a man was more complicated than she’d thought. Frances smiled and stuffed a large piece of mutton in her mouth.
“What can your mother be thinking to let you travel alone like this?” Mrs. Findley made a clucking sound with her tongue again.
Frances swallowed. “My mother died a number of years ago, madam. I live with my elderly aunt.” Aunt Viola would not be happy with that description, but she had passed her sixtieth birthday.
“Well, I can’t fathom even an aunt, elderly or not, letting a young ’un such as yourself travel up to Town alone.” There was more than a hint of suspicion in Mr. Findley’s voice.
“My aunt wasn’t happy about it, sir,”—Viola had been shouting so loudly it was surprising they hadn’t heard her at the Crowing Cock—“but I was desperate to go.” She wasn’t about to spend one more second under the same roof as that treacherous woman. “I’m to visit my brother. I would have got to London hours ago if the roads hadn’t been so bad.” She’d meant to stay the night with Frederick, see their man of business in the morning, and then go back to Landsford and wave the bank draft for the amount of her dowry in Viola’s face before taking it, packing up, and moving out.
* * * * *
USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie writes funny, hot, Regency-set books for Kensington Zebra. Her Naked Nobility series concluded (at least for the time being) with The Naked King, which was named one of ALA Booklist’s top ten romances for 2011; now she’s hard at work on a new “Duchess of Love” series. The prequel novella, “The Duchess of Love,” is a 2013 RWA RITA® finalist in the Romance Novella category. Bedding Lord Ned, the first full-length book in the series, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and also made Booklist’s top ten romance list of 2012. Surprising Lord Jack, the second book, received a starred review from Booklist. Loving Lord Ash will release March 2014. Her books have been translated into Czech, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. Sally graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame in the first class of women. She’s a Cornell Law School dropout, former federal regulation writer, recovering parent volunteer, mother of four grown sons (and mother-in-law to two daughters), and middle-of-the-pool Masters swimmer. A native of Washington, D. C., she still resides in suburban Maryland with her husband.