Debut Author Spotlight: Cecilia Grant

Name: Cecilia Grant 

Book: A Lady Awakened 

Current Home: Seattle, WA 

Job (when not writing): Data wrangler 

Do you write under a pseudonym?: Yes. A non-writing friend of mine calls Cecilia Grant my “secret superhero identity,” and I like having one of those.

How many manuscripts do you have hidden under the bed?: One complete, and about half a dozen that I started, abandoned after a short time, but never could bring myself to throw away.

How long did it take you to sell your first book?: From the time I first submitted something to an agent, until the day I got The Call, about 2 and 1/3 years.

What was it like writing A Lady Awakened? Did you know at the time that it was going to sell to a major NYC publishing house?

Considering the number of people who write books as compared to the number of debut authors actually picked up by the big houses each year, it’s hard to imagine that anyone knows their book is going to sell! I certainly didn’t.

A Lady Awakened was, however, the first book I started with publication as a conscious goal. All my previous writing had been partly for the purpose of learning to write, and partly for the enjoyment of my lone beta reader and me. So I had to make certain changes to my process: for example, I gave up writing in omniscient 3rd person with frequent intrusive authorial commentary (picture a clumsy imitation of George Eliot filtered through Georgette Heyer), and learned to write in tight 3rd person from the hero’s and heroine’s POV only.

Your historical heroine, Martha Russell, has recently lost her husband and is now in a fight against her brother-in-law. She has decided on a course of action to assure her future by producing an heir (whether it be by her husband or another man of her choosing). As a modern woman was it difficult to get into Martha's mindset or were you able to feel her desperation?

One of the things I love about writing historical romance is “trying on” mindsets that are alien to us today, and I got to do a lot of that while writing Martha. What would it be like to grow up under the shadow of a mother lost in childbirth? To be raised primarily by an unaffectionate governess? To look at marriage as a necessity for economic security rather than a choice of the heart? To have a sense of noblesse oblige, feeling responsible, in a slightly patronizing way, for all the people your estate employs or rents farms to? Those are all foreign experiences to me, and that made them fascinating to explore.

The man Martha chooses as a lover, Theophilus Mirkwood, is a complete rake and he is currently exiled from Society. He certainly doesn't seem the heroic type. What was it about Theo that made you believe that he could be reformed?

I don’t actually think of Theo as a rake! “Rake,” to me, connotes a certain callousness, maybe a streak of self-destruction, and a preoccupation with the hunt and the conquest. Theo likes women, likes sex and thinks he makes a fine picture with his clothes off, but he’s not self-destructive and he hasn’t got a predatory bone in his body.

Because of that, and because of his fundamentally cheerful, affectionate nature, he was redeemable right from the start. In fact, I suspect he eventually would have grown into respectability and responsibility even if he’d never met Martha. She just came along at the right time to be his catalyst and then to reap the rewards of his growth.

Can you describe where you drew your inspiration for creating these two characters?

I started with a premise — two strangers get together for the purpose of conceiving a child, and suffer through some dismally un-sexy sex — and then it was a matter of coming up with two characters who could dismay and appall each other to maximum degree.

The idea of a sexually-nonresponsive-and-not-a-bit-ashamed-of-it heroine especially appealed to me because it would be such a contrast to what you usually see in romance. And once I had her, it followed that her hero had to be someone who saw himself as God’s special sexy gift to women. The characters got a lot more nuanced (I hope) in the writing, but that’s where they started.

What aspects of A Lady Awakened are you most proud of?

I’m a reader who really enjoys language (that part where Theo says that her name is like music? — he gets that from me), so the things I’m proudest of tend to be sentences with a pleasing rhythm, key words recurring, etc. The little dance of “yes” and “no” that happens over the course of the first mutually satisfying love scene, for example, is something I didn’t consciously design but was happy to see unfold. 

What parts of the book were most difficult for you to write?

Endings are always a struggle for me. Scene and chapter endings, especially, because the current fashion is to stop in an unresolved place, so that the reader will be compelled to move on right away to the next scene or chapter. My natural tendency is to wind a scene down and end it on a quiet note, so I have to fight that habit. 

Your second novel, A Gentleman Undone, will publish in May. How is this novel different from your first? What will draw readers to this second book?

A Gentleman Undone is darker than A Lady Awakened — the hero and heroine are both damaged souls, grappling in their different ways with burdens of guilt — and more emotionally intense. The romance progresses through a more conventional sequence: they spar, flirt, and kiss before they get naked. The setting is different too. Instead of the pastoral countryside it’s London streets and gaming clubs, and instead of land management they discuss concepts of probability and strategies for winning at cards.

As far as what might draw readers to the book ... Well, if you like high-stakes redemption stories, and you’d particularly like to see one where the hero and heroine are equally in need of redemption, this might be your kind of book.

Do you have more questions about Cecilia Grant and her writing process? If so, let her know in the comments below. And be sure to stop by RT's Everything Romance Page for more genre coverage!