Message From The Author
Sophia Nash's Dangerous Beauty
THE AUTHOR TALKS TO RT ABOUT CORNWALL, HER NEW SERIES AND THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HISTORICAL ROMANCE
By Stephanie Klose
What if this group of women were widows? Some had fabulous marriages, some terrible. How would it leave them? How would they go on?"
This line of thought, which popped into Sophia Nash's head while discussing a friend's bereavement, led her to develop a new series about a merry widows' club. The first book, A Dangerous Beauty (Jun., Avon), is also Nash's first foray into full-length historical novels after several successful Regency titles. It was an RT Top Pick last month.
In the upcoming, as-yet-untitled second book, Nash renames the group the Barely Bereaving Beauties. "Widows' club doesn't really explain who they are," the author says. "Barely bereaved" she thought better indicated the women's enjoyment of the financial and social freedoms their marriages may not have allowed.
The dangerous beauty of the launch title, Rosamunde Baird, endures a scandal that has society shunning her until the dowager Duchess of Helston invites her to join her widows' club. Nash based the duchess, who goes by Ata, on her own great-grandmother Ata, though she knew her only from family lore.
"It was an arranged marriage," explains Nash, whose great-grandfather was a French aristocrat with no money while her great-grandmother was a Peruvian woman from a good family with money.
In a family of very tall people, the real Ata was 4-foot-11 and affectionately called La Mouche (the fly). "She was always laughing, joy and light," Nash says.
The equally charming fictional Ata arranges for Rosamunde to cross paths with her grandson. The dashing Duke of Helston, Luc St. Aubyn, is a war hero who served in the Queen's navy under Nelson and is the anonymous writer of Lucifer's Lexicon, a wry, caustic dictionary that has taken London by storm. Coming up with appropriate witticisms for every scene in which they appear was one of the hardest things about the whole process, Nash admits.
To build on the literary leanings of her characters, Nash opens each chapter with an epigram from a real publication, Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
Luc and Rosamunde's story is set in one of the author's favorite places, Cornwall, a place that Nash describes as "the essence of nature" and "drenched in Arthurian legend and mystery."
"In some books," the author says, "the setting can almost become a character unto itself, and I tried to do that."
Nash wrote the book at her home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, which she shares with her husband, two children and two pets: a dachshund and tabby cat "who fight for lap rights all day long."
When she began writing, Nash admits she was a novice about the romance industry. "I didn't know about subgenres or the difference between single titles and lines. I just knew the authors I loved."
Nash credits her editors with never holding her back from writing what she wanted in her Regencies, even though her books broke some of the rules of standard Regency romances by going "behind the bedroom doors."
Still, she was set on someday writing single-title historical romances that were more epic in scope.
"When I was writing Lord Will and Her Grace (2005, Signet), I really wanted it to be a single title, but my editor asked for it as a Regency." She complied but admits that she knew it would be her last. When the reviews came out, Booklist wrote that it felt like an abbreviated historical, which the author took as further evidence that she should be writing longer, more developed books.
Her varied career path prior to becoming a full-time writer includes stints as a producer and television news writer, a congressional speech writer and the executive director of the Washington International Horse Show.
While she admits that her earlier work experience plays "zero role" in helping her write historical novels, it has aided her in other ways.
Working in the television industry "taught me the importance and reverence one must place around a deadline," she says, "and I haven't missed one yet!"
In addition, the constant rewrites that the news required -- and the fact that "OK was the highest praise" given -- led Nash to develop "the skin of a rhinoceros when it comes to criticism."
"I write for two people," the author explains, "my editor and my father." Her late father, a "sponge for European history," urged her to write initially and helped edit the first chapters of her first book.
"He knew everything about every period of history," Nash recalls. "He would correct things like the price of a horse. He'd tell me that the horse I described would be this price, not what I'd written."
His attention to detail continues to influence her work, and that's one reason why her books resonate with readers.
"People say that reading a romance is escapism -- contemporary is one level and
historical is another level that's further away from reality."
Historical romance, she explains, has the power to lift people out of their present realities, and "the allure of stepping back into the past" offers a welcome respite from the world. For that reason, Nash declares, "historicals will never die."
Excerpt from A Dangerous Beauty
He would do something to repair the repressed look he saw in Rosamunde Baird's eyes. He might not be able to completely restore her standing in the ton, but he could lead her down the path of delicious, unbridled pleasure.
He looked deep into her stormy eyes, the same color of the warm waters off the West Indies. "Well, I've formed a plan. First, chocolate three times a day. Then, an adventure, like today's, which you shall endeavor to endure. You shall just have to learn to love idleness and leisure, my dear. I assure you it has its merits. But first, I do believe we should correct one deficiency before the adventure begins in earnest."
She stared back at him mutely.
"Kissing. The deficiency in kisses. You know, the thing that separates us from the beasts."
"I had thought that was reason or compassion."
He ignored her. "Good. I didn't hear a 'no.'"
"But this is impossible. I'm in mourning."
He defused her with a steady look.
"And besides, perhaps I don't even like you."
"Me? You don't like me?" he raised his quizzing glass to his eye.
Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "Your Grace -- "
"Luc, if you please, in private."
"I -- I just can't afford to risk -- "
"My dear, what have you to lose that you haven't lost already?"
He could see in her eyes that there was something more on her tongue, but wild dogs wouldn't tear it from her.
She finally sighed. "Only my mind. But, what have you to gain from this ... this ridiculousness?"
"Why, bragging rights. I shall best you at every turn. Let me show you." He lowered his lips to hers, and she tentatively kissed him back. It was such an innocent, young girl's kiss that it was all the more poignant, and his gut twisted like a sail caught between shifting winds.
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