After a number of scheduling issues on both our parts Lauren Willig and I were finally able to sit down to talk about her latest Pink Carnation novel The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. As I think you'll see below Lauren is a serial workaholic. With a background in English history Willig has managed to write a series of historical novels that never get old.
Kelly Hewitt: The last time we chatted you were balancing Harvard Law School and the writing of your popular Pink Carnation books series - two perfectly successful careers at once. I read now that you've finished school and are working at a law firm. Do you think you'll always be a two career kind of person?
Lauren Willig: Life moves very quickly—either that, or we haven’t chatted in way too long! Since our last confab, I’ve left the practice of law. After a year and a half juggling briefs and book deadlines, I decided that enough was enough. The two career model did wonders for my writing, since I had no choice but to write like a maniac whenever the opportunity presented itself, but little for my temper or my social life. I am sad to say that since becoming a full time writer, I have lapsed back into all my old bad habits.
All that being said, I do think I am a two career person, in that I find it much easier to do anything while I’m dodging doing something else. One of the wonderful things about life as a professional writer is that it does often feel like two careers for the price of one. One of these two careers consists of my writing life, which boils down to me, my computer, the characters who inhabit my head, and the coffee with which I fuel them. The other is my author life, in which I get to dash around to conferences, give talks, and answer questions for websites such as yours.
Kelly: Aside from being jealous of your dual ability I have often wondered how it is that you found time to write a book a year with the rigorous law school. A lot of the authors I have chatted with who only write for a living have expressed the difficulty and pressure that comes along with writing a book a year. Is it fair to assume that you are a very scheduled and disciplined writer?
Lauren: Ha. Ha ha ha. Insert hollow laughter here. I’m about as disciplined as the Blob. (No offense to the Blob, who, for all I know, might have a rigorous scholarly work ethic when not spreading himself out over large quantities of terrain and engulfing screaming teenagers). I tend to write in fits and starts. I’ll have stretches of a week or two when I’ll write like the wind, followed by a week of scowling at a blank screen. This may be because I wrote my first four books while scheduling my writing time around other things, or simply a facet of my character. I suspect the latter. Fundamentally, I’m an adrenaline worker. When left to myself, I tend to procrastinate and overthink until panic takes hold, at which point everything suddenly gets done very, very quickly. In the context of a book length project, this divides itself up into lots of little cycles of procrastination and panic.
Kelly: How has the transition from law school to law firm affected your ability to write?
Lauren: The most jarring aspect of moving from an academic calendar to a bona fide job was my inability to schedule. School and novel writing go together like peanut butter and chocolate, largely because one knows exactly what all the major stress points are going to be before they happen. My editor had been very nice about letting me schedule book deadlines around exams, papers, and the other milestones of the academic year. In an office, on the other hand, one can never predict when a crisis will arise, consuming nights and weekends—or when a crisis will suddenly subside into calm. It made planning out writing time rather tricky and taught me valuable lessons about seizing any free moment to write, with no nonsense about muses or writer’s block.
Kelly: We have chatted a few times about our mutual interest in Renaissance European history and the fact that we both have pursued masters degrees in English history (I, sadly, was not so smart as to jump to law school instead of finishing). (Correction: Lauren finished her MA and went on for her doctorate.) When history grad students get into a room the first thing that happens is that everyone gives a rundown of what they think they'll write their looming thesis on. I know you inevitably chose a different path but what did you think you were going to write about?
Lauren: After getting my MA, I spent several years working on my PhD before I jumped ship, including a year in England on fellowship trudging back and forth between the British Library and the Public Records Office. My plan was to finish the dissertation while in law school, so that I could walk off with the PhD and JD at the same time. But by a strange fluke, I signed my first book contract my first month of law school. There went all my dissertation-writing time!
My partially written dissertation was grandiosely titled “Give Caesar his Due: Royalist Conspiracies in the English Civil War, 1646-1649”. It followed the movement of royalist groups in England and abroad between the King’s capture in 1646 and his execution in 1649. One of these days I really do want to dig out my three foot high pile of research notes and just finish the blasted thing, since it really was a great topic, replete with deeds of derring-do and lots of slapstick. My favorite episode was Charles I getting stuck in a window as he tried to escape his Parliamentarian captors. But for the width of the royal shoulders, the trajectory of English history might have been entirely different….
Kelly: I, of course, love that you use a history graduate student to frame your novels. You have also written about another bastion of graduate school life, teaching entry level classes. Do you have any graduate teaching horror stories? (I will have to share mine later.)
Lauren: Oh, heavens. How many of them do you want? Some of my personal favorites involved grading exams (advise to TA’s: open a bottle of wine before approaching those blue books) and finding gems like, “In the Middle Ages, there were no windows. That was why they called it the dark ages. Then in the Renaissance they discovered glass and everything became light.” The post-exam wrangling about grade is also always fun. I had one guy storm into my office and inform me that my giving him a “B” was unconscionable since he was an “A” student. He had brought his transcript to prove it to me. I pointed out that he might be an A student, but it still wasn’t an A paper. He didn’t agree with this. Fortunately, the professor did.
I have a whole bunch of other stories, but they’re not going into print.
Kelly: Your readers have commended the latest novel in your series, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, for your ability to keep storylines new and exciting, avoiding any of the staleness or repetition that are sometimes synonymous with multiple installments of a series. Is that something that you consider when writing?
Lauren: Repetition is something that any multi-published author has to worry about, and the equation becomes even more delicate when one is dealing with a series. Part of the lure of a series is a certain promise of familiarity. The reader wants to re-enter a familiar world. At the same time, no one wants to feel like they’re reading—or writing!—the same book over and over again. Trying to maintain continuity while keeping the series fresh is a constant challenge for me. In my next book, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, I moved the action to India to provide a fresh perspective on the series and the time period.
Kelly: Sometimes authors who write a series of novels will map things out in order to have a long term idea of where they are going. Is that something you've done for the Pink Carnation series?
Lauren: I do have long-term plans for the series, but they are always subject to change. For example, my image of the how the series is ultimately going to end hasn’t changed, but a lot of the stuff that goes on in the middle—the intermediate books in the series—has, as my characters grow and develop throughout a multi-book arc. I’ve learned to be more flexible in my plotting because clinging to one image or one idea often stymies the organic development of the series.
Kelly: How many books do you envision the series having?
Lauren: At this point? Um…. Let’s just say it’s entirely open-ended. At some point, I should probably sit down and make important decisions about how I plan to get to my eventual end goal, but at this point I’m still having way too much fun with the series to start plotting the wrap-up. I also love the freedom I have within the series to play with different tropes, character types, and historical events. The Napoleonic Wars cover a broad span of time, countries, and characters and I’m taking full advantage of that. For a more practical answer to your question, I can say that currently there are plans for three more Pink books underway (which would bring us to nine).
Kelly: So, the next book in the series will take place in India. Can you give Loaded Questions readers any exclusive info about the next book?
Blood Lily follows Lady Frederick Staines (nee Miss Penelope Deveraux) to India after her indiscreet behavior found her hustled into a hasty marriage. Penelope and her new husband are sent off to India to give time for the scandal to die down. What Penelope doesn’t realize is that far more dangerous challenges await them in India, where her husband has been appointed Special Envoy to the Court of Hyderabad. Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem—even her own husband.
In a strange country where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a spy called the Marigold leaves cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust: Captain Alex Reid, the man detailed to escort them to Hyderabad. But Alex has secrets of his own….
The first chapter of Blood Lily is available on my website here and I’ll be posting other updates and excerpts throughout the summer.
Kelly: Thank you so much Lauren for doing the interview and thank you for being so kind as to send along books for our "The Temptation of the Night Jasmine Book Giveaway!"
Lauren: Thanks so much for having me here, Kelly! It’s always so much fun to hang out with you at Loaded Questions.