Today, we are glad to welcome Regency romance novelist Claudia Harbaugh of Her Grace in Disgrace to tell us a little about herself and of course her debut book Her Grace in Disgrace.
Autumn: Congratulations on your debut book Her Grace in Disgrace. Can you talk a little about your writing background?
Claudia: I laugh about my first conscious foray into being a writer. I was probably 9 or 10 and sat down one day with a clean, empty notebook and began to copy from one of my favorite books, most likely the Bobbsey Twins (this, I know, dates me). I was so proud of myself! After realizing that copying a book does not an author make, I took a hiatus of many, many years. In my early thirties, I wrote a mystery novel. Self-publishing in those days was mostly for suckers, so I sent off a query or two with the expected results – none. I realized something at that point, too. I was not superwoman. Now, I know women that can do it all, but I am not one of them. So, I concentrated on raising my family and doing the dozens of volunteer things that I did. There was one more stop on my journey; in my forties I discovered theater! My church had an active theater team and I joined. Not only did I act, but I began to write as well. To date, I have written at least 5 full-length plays and a number of smaller pieces. Finally, we get to the weeks before my 58th birthday. I lied, let me go back a bit. For my 57th birthday, I had gotten a Kindle and fell in love. I began to voraciously read Regency romances. So I’m staring down the barrel at my birthday and I just decided. I’m going to write a book and I’m going to start with a Regency romance. Two months later, it was published. It may sound fast, but it was decades in the making!
I have just finished reading Her Grace in Disgrace and I find Isobel to be a very unlikely heroine (in a good way). She has a lot of imperfections and is even a little prickly at times. Do you think it is important to write flawed female characters?
I do, simply because we are all flawed. Who wants to read about someone who seems perfect? It’s not real or relatable. Think about the woman you know that seems perfect. She’s the one who always looks and behaves flawlessly…and you hate her, right? And then, if you have the opportunity to get to know her you find out that there is a very large crack in her veneer and she is after all human. I prefer to start out with someone who is obviously flawed but goes on a journey to chip away at some of those flaws and become a better person. Isobel is not a perfect person. I would imagine at first, while perhaps pitying her plight, readers are frustrated with her. But in the end, she realizes her mistakes and tries to make reparation. And she is extended grace. The old Isobel would have refused to accept it, but the new Isobel does accept it and becomes vulnerable and more open to extending grace to others. She is still not a perfect person, no one is. But she has grown as a human being. Isobel’s personality does not change, however. She will reappear in Book 2 and we’ll see what mischief she will be up to.
The novel’s setting takes place during the Regency Era. What drew you to historical romance and this time period particularly?
The Regency era is a wonderful backdrop for romance because of the contrasts. Outwardly, all was politeness, but there was tension in the lack of equality between men and woman, rich and poor. A great story can be built from such contrast. I know we think that our generation is worse than any other generation – ever. But the Regency, while all glitz and glamour on the outside, was rotten to the core. Extreme poverty was a huge issue, while the elite 10,000, the crème de la crème of society spent what would constitute a typical laborer’s monthly wages or more on a pair of boots or a length of lace. Alcoholism was rampant in all rungs of society. The poor drank because they were hopeless, the rich because they were bored (and hopeless). The idle rich were so bored that they did crazy things to amuse themselves the men and even some women would bet on anything. The men’s clubs had betting books that would wager what a certain someone might wear or with whom he or she would dance. Gambling was epidemic and men would lose their entire fortunes on the turn of a card. As far as fidelity in marriage was concerned, it only mattered what things appeared to be. If discretion was maintained and a cheating spouse conducted his or her affairs unobtrusively, then society turned their collective heads and considered it acceptable. Yet, despite all of this, there was an elegance and refinement in that period. The language was rich and carefully crafted. It was necessary for the people of that day to “read between the lines”. I love the dialogue of the Regency and when someone does it correctly, ie Jane Austen, it is marvelous to read and enjoy.
You must have done a lot of research on the setting and Era. Any interesting facts or trivia you picked up along the way?
Oh, yeah! The names and titles in this and other periods of British history can be difficult to keep track of. Here’s an example: A son was born to the Duke and Duchess of Windham. They named him Edward John. But he is not Edward John Windham, for that is their title, not their last name. Occasionally the title and the last name are the same, but not often. So, the Duke of Windham’s last name is, say, Grantham. The little boy is, therefore, Edward John Grantham…or is he? Many sons of titled men have a lesser title inferred on them at birth. In reality, Edward John Grantham is the Earl of Blackwood. So what do they call the little tyke? The parents would most likely call him Edward or Eddie, as would his siblings, but most everyone else would call him Blackwood. Okay, got it? Now, the Windham’s have a second son and name him Reginald Peter. So he is Reginald Peter Grantham. Does he also have another title? No. Only the eldest son in a family will inherit the titles. So young Reginald will most likely be called Reggie by the immediate family, but others would call him Lord Reginald. This is just one example, it varies with the titles, but it’s a little tricky to keep track of people and their various names.
There is certainly some Jane Austen influence in the storyline and characters. Are there any other writers that influenced your writing?
I don’t think it would be obvious to recognize, but one writer did have a lot of influence on me. Her name was Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Mertz and, sadly, she recently passed. Her series about Amelia Peabody, intrepid traveler, and archaeologist is my favorite of all time. In her books, there is suspense, history (a bit later than mine- late Victorian), humor and romance. Her characters are strong, flawed, memorable and a lot of fun. I wish they were real and we could be friends.
Let’s talk about the romance. I appreciated that the story was clean, old-fashioned and classy. Why this creative choice?
Yes, it was. It’s what I like to read. I get it that some people enjoy the steamy stuff and I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t enjoy it. If I read something that has lots of naked, throbbing body parts, I yawn and skip the pages. I’m probably strange, but it bores me. So, for me…I just can’t write that stuff. Maybe it’s because I had a hysterectomy when I was in my mid-thirties and my libido tanked. Who knows? But I am happily married and still enjoy all that goes along with that…you know what I’m talking about ;). I guess, to me, less is more and the suggestion is sexier than spelling it out. Okay? I think we covered that : D
If you could choose one character in your story that you relate to the most, which character would it be?
I think I’d have to say Lady Joanna. She is the me I’d like to be, but there is a lot about her that is reminiscent of me a number of years ago. She is young, impetuous, outspoken and has a ready wit. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she also does not let others to dictate to her. She has a strong sense of self, despite her youth. She definitely has room to grow, but she has a great foundation.
Any new projects coming soon? I heard something about a sequel regarding the widows in this story (reminds me of the school in Little Men). Can we look forward to seeing more of Joanna? I have to admit she is my favorite and even reminded me slightly of Jo from Little Women.
You know, I never read Little Men…I’ll have to rectify that! I am working on book 2 which is the sequel to Her Grace in Disgrace. It is as yet unnamed. This book features Laura, Lady Tyndale (she’s not Laura Tyndale because that’s not the family name, I never actually came up with the family name. She would either be called Laura by family and very close friends or Lady Tyndale) and will also highlight another “widow” Serena Endicott. And yes, Lady Joanna and Lord Charles (he is the second son of a duke and therefore is Lord Charles…are you getting it?) will have their own book. It’s planned as #3 in the series.
You are a self-published author. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Read! And then read some more. After a while, write and then write some more. Anyone, well, most anyone, can write a book. Not everyone can write a good book. As an author, you may have something to say, but if it isn’t well written, if your characters do not evoke empathy or anger or some sort of emotion from the reader and if your storyline is stagnant or jumps all over the place you won’t attract readers. The book must pull you in. So, figure out what kind of book you want to write. Read voraciously in that genre, both good and bad, so you can learn which is which and then write. Writing is like any other talent, it must be used to become better. Make sure you have at least one person who will give you honest feedback and listen to that person. Don’t assume you know everything. Lastly, I’d say “Go for it!”
We also like to do something a little fun here at The Silver Petticoat Review where we ask our interviewees a series of fun pop culture questions (our “Petticoat Personality Test” if you will) to close the interview. Here are Claudia’s fun answers! First up, what movie/TV show or book character turns you on?
Wow, how do I pick? I’m going to say, Colin Firth, …in whatever he’s in! I do love a man with a British accent and if he’s yummy besides…all the better. But that really doesn’t answer the question… I want to say Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, but that’s not accurate. I love their relationship and the actor turns me on, but not the character. I’m going to say, Richard Castle, from the tv show Castle. I love a sense of humor in a guy!
What character turns you off?
Honestly James Bond. I really don’t like anyone who likes himself so much there’s really no room for anyone else.
Is there any kind of music or any songs that inspire you?
Probably Christian Rock. I like Chris Rice…which, of course, shows my age.
Is there any movie or TV couple past or present that you rooted for?
Tons of them. So many shows have this long drawn out tension between the male and female leads. But one I think stands out. Lucy and Jack (Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman) from one of my favorite movies: “While You Were Sleeping”. I knew they would end up together, but I still couldn’t help rooting for them all along the way. I love that movie….sigh.
What are you reading and/or watching right now?
Just finished a Regency by Charlotte Dolan and need to download something for tonight. The tv show I’m watching on Graboid is Revenge. Lots of drama and romance! And it takes place at the beach. I love the ocean!
Any guilty pleasures?
Game of Thrones on HBO…I already talked about my aversion to graphic sex…well, there’s plenty of it there. But the story and characters are so compelling, I put up with it. I just joke with my husband, oh, it’s time for boobs!
If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A cheetah. They are wild, but gentle too.
If you could see one book adapted into a movie or TV show what would it be?
The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.
You can find Claudia’s debut novel Her Grace in Disgrace at AMAZON
You can follow her on her website: http://www.claudiaharbaugh.com/
To find out more about Grace in Disgrace, read my review HERE
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