Message From The Author
From Battlefields to Ballrooms
VETERAN REGENCY WRITER MARY BALOGH BREAKS NEW GROUND
By Liz French
When you look at some of the trends in historical romances these days, you might believe that innovations like connected books, sexually experienced heroines, older women consorting with younger men and villains redeemed and reborn as heroes cropped up just a few years ago. But
a close reading of Mary Balogh's oeuvre would prove otherwise. Balogh began her illustrious career by pushing the boundaries of the "short and sweet" Regency romances. With her very first Signet Regency, A Masked Deception (1985), she shook up the genre -- with explicit sex. That got a lot of people excited.
"People, particularly reviewers, were always telling me that I was breaking all the rules of Regency romances, though the reviews were mostly good ones," Balogh recalls, adding that the books sold well.
"The funny thing was that whenever I challenged anyone or any group to produce these rules and tell me who composed them and who policed them and what the penalty was for breaking them, no one had an answer," she continues. "Sex is a part of any romantic relationship, so I have almost always included it in my books. I've often pointed out that if there was no sex in Regency England, Britain would be rather an empty island now, not counting the immigrants, of course."
Balogh also began connecting her romances early on. The first time she did it, with 1987's The Wood Nymph, she gave the rejected suitor from A Chance Encounter (1985) his own chance at love. "This sort of thing was not happening so much in those days," she says. "My characters become real people to me, though, and I am a bit of a soft touch. I hate to see people hurt or lonely or forlorn. It's nice sometimes to be able to play God and put the world to rights."
The author has since crafted many connected books, the most recent being her Huxtable quintet. Book four, Seducing an Angel, releases this month in hardcover from Delacorte. The story follows three back-to-back love stories (released in paperback) and stars another Balogh trademark: a nontraditional hero. Stephen Huxtable is only 17 at the start of the series (First Comes Marriage, March). "I told his elder sisters' stories first to allow him to grow up," Balogh says. She adds that she expected the "handsome, carefree, rather charismatic boy" to sow some "pretty wild oats" after inheriting an earldom. But that didn't happen. "All this posed a problem for me; he sounds bland, even a bit weak. He is neither."
But the Welsh-born Balogh says she relishes situations like that. "I always love the challenge of having a hero and/or heroine who does not quite fit the stereotypical mold." She also enjoys "making the reader fall in love with them despite everything." It's not only the reader who falls for Stephen. The widow Cassandra Belmont sets out to seduce him and soon succumbs to his charms. But Stephen desires more than just a mistress --
he wants the scandalous beauty as his wife.
"I love writing series, and often three books are not enough. Four are better, but why not get really greedy and go for five?" asks the hard-working Balogh, who gets a bit of a breather between books four and five. The story of Constantine, the Huxtables' mysterious second cousin, which she'll be writing shortly, will be released next year in hardcover.
"Constantine is an enigmatic character. Is he really guilty of the horrid offenses of which he stands accused -- and which he refuses to deny?" Balogh asks rhetorically. "Actually I can't wait to know his story myself! I'll be writing it this summer."
Con's story isn't the only writing adventure she's embarking on. Balogh has ventured out of the Regency era occasionally, penning a few Georgian love stories, two Welsh historicals set in the 1830s and one Crimean tale. She even wrote a time-travel novella that went between contemporary and Regency England. "I felt vastly uncomfortable in the former and sank like a glove into the latter," she quips.
However, at the urging of paranormal historical author Susan Krinard, Balogh is stepping way out of her comfort zone. She'll contribute a novella to Bespelling Jane, an upcoming Harlequin anthology of stories loosely based on four Jane Austen novels. "I just didn't think myself capable of writing about vampires or werewolves," says the author, who hastens to add that she likes reading paranormals, especially those by Krinard and Stephenie Meyer.
"Then I thought of reincarnation. I know a lot about it and firmly believe in it -- but was it paranormal enough? Susan assured me it was. And so I was in." Balogh's story, "Almost Persuaded," is based on Persuasion. "I decided to do the best I could to write a bang-up love story and hope no one notices that
I really am not a paranormal writer," Balogh says.
No doubt the only thing readers will notice is that the boundary-busting Balogh is at it again.
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