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Behind every book there's the story of its conception. And needless to say, behind the first two books in my five-book series -- Mistress of Pleasure and Lord of Pleasure (Aug., Zebra) -- there certainly is a story. After writing for 11 years and receiving more than 200 rejections, I came to the profound realization that I needed more than just a damn good story. I needed a miracle. And believe it or not, it came to me in the unexpected form of a 17th-century courtesan and my grandmother. I bet you're wondering how the two go together. Allow me.
While researching for a story that never sold, I stumbled upon the biography of a 17th-century French courtesan, Ninon de L'Enclos. It was rather odd and astounding that this fascinating woman had disappeared into the shadows of history. Her thoughts, her philosophies and her approach toward men and sex went beyond that of a typical courtesan. She had witty little sayings like, "That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful" and, "The resistance of a woman is not always proof of her virtue, but more frequently of her experience." Yes, brilliant, I know.
Like other courtesans, Ninon kept her bedroom door open to aristocratic men. But unlike other courtesans, she kept that door open for more than just sex. She held meetings in the confines of her bedchamber where these men would gather and discuss topics of sex, philosophy and love. These meetings sparked my idea for the humorous and naughty School of Gallantry, which would educate men in the art of love and seduction. The more I researched, the more I realized that it was the older Ninon that I wanted to write about. Which created a dilemma for an unpublished author who'd been struggling for 11 years. Because the heroine of a historical romance couldn't possibly be an elderly,
silver-haired woman. New York would never buy it, no matter how brilliant I told them it was. Ah, but what if this elderly woman was the grandmother of one of the heroines? That had potential.
How does my grandmother plays into this? At about the time I started writing this series, my grandmother reappeared in my life, after 20 years of complete and utter silence. (A whole other story.) I soon discovered that the grandmother I never knew was the quirkiest woman I had ever met. She was a retired opera singer who loved to sing to me all the time on the phone, especially on the answering machine. She had married well (and by well, I mean wealthy) and was living the life of an aristocrat. She was stunning for a woman of 70, had a heavy Polish accent, walked with a sashay and used amusing words like "Poom-poom," which meant sex.
She amused me, so much so that
I couldn't help but morph my Polish grandmother and the French Ninon together to create the fictional character that ultimately became Madame de Maitenon, the creator and headmistress of the School of Gallantry. And although I went on to sell my series to New York (yay me!), I will confess that my poor grandmother hasn't been the same since ... .
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