Author Hope Tarr has just digitally released her 2002 RT Reviewers' Choice Award-nominated Victorian romance, Tempting. Readers will be delighted to follow hero Simon Belleville, the head of her Majesty's Morality and Vice Commission, as he rescues and then falls in love with Christine Tremayne, a young woman on the run. Today the author answers our questions about this charming tale and explains the revisions that she made to get the story ready for it's e-version. Plus, don't miss your chance to check out an excerpt of the story at the end of this interview, and enter to win a copy of Tarr's Vanquished!
You've said that Tempting is the book of your heart. Can you tell us a bit about the story as well as what makes it so special to you?
Tempting is a "My Fair Lady" story with a twist, actually several twists. My hero, Simon Belleville meets the heroine, Christine Tremayne in the attic of the brothel on which, as Queen Victoria's Morality and Vice Commissioner, he's just led a raid. Even while believing her to be a prostitute, it's clear that something about this girl is different. (Unlike the other inmates, she is locked up, for one). Rather than dispatching her to Newgate Gaol, he enrolls her in a finishing school for daughters of tradesmen run by his friend and former mistress, the woman who once taught Simon to "talk proper." His plan is to prepare Christine for a position as a lady's maid. Only Christine does a bit too well in the school, attracting the attention of a wealthy lord in the market for a new mistress. Outraged, Simon takes her out of school — and off to his remote country estate where he alone serves as her tutor.
This book is so very special to me in a number of ways but chiefly because I've had to fight so very hard for it. Back in 2000 when I first wrote Tempting, agents loved the Cinderella aspect but shied away from the interfaith element. "Because of the uncomfortable role of Jews in Victorian England, the hero's faith is too problematic for him to be the protagonist in a romance novel," said one agent, herself Jewish.
That brings me to the second "problem" flagged: era. Back in 2000 when I was still writing Tempting, Regency was all the rage, Victorian not so much. "Can't you move it to the early 1800's?" I was repeatedly asked, including by my editor. And as much as I wanted to be a team player and go along, I just couldn't. Something stopped me and that "something" was more than simple intractable stubbornness. Tempting is a "My Fair Lady" story and MFL needed to be set in Victorian England, the London of railways and poor houses, morality societies and factories with chimneys belting out great clouds of bilious smoke. There were poor houses and factories during the Regency too but not in the same sense. When my dairymaid heroine comes to London, that London needs to be a big, terrifying behemoth of a metropolis that truly tests her mettle.
First published in 2002, the story was nominated for an RT Reviewers' Choice Award for best innovative historical romance. Why do you think Tempting deserves the label "innovative"?
Foremost, because of the Prologue — and I'll leave readers to discover why. :)
Also, the interfaith romance to some extent but mostly the exploration of class. In 2002 when the print version of the book was first published by Berkley, most romance heroes and heroines hailed from society's top drawer." In Tempting, Simon isn't just a repackaged Professor Henry Higgins. He has grown up in terrible poverty in the worst of the East End slums, becomes a self made man by stealing away to India and working his way up through the ranks of the East India Company, and goes through the very same elocution instruction and social polishing program through which he puts Christine. Even for 2012, I'd say that's quite a twist. :)
Your hero, Simon Belleville, works as her Majesty's Morality and Vice Commission. What inspired you to create this post for him?
The Victorians had a "society" and "commission" for just about everything and promoting (translation: policing) public morality was a subject of which they never seemed to tire. As an aspiring Member of Parliament, Simon can't possibly refuse a post that is considered a high honor. That he has grown up in the very environment that he is now in charge of "cleaning up" adds another layer of internal conflict to his already highly conflicted psyche.
Simon is an unusual hero for another reason, he's secretly Jewish. How did his heritage play into this story and the formation of his character?
What's interesting to me isn't so much that he's Jewish but that he's had to hide being Jewish. Instead of being his authentic self, he's assembled a variety of masks that filter how the world sees him — the world except for Christine. I think anytime any of us have to conceal who we are at our core, that concealment will cause big problems in our lives and relationships, including the relationship we have with ourselves. Christine's seeing beyond Simon's masks isn't only uncomfortable. It's absolutely terrifying for him as it would be for any of us.
He's also not only Jewish but enormously conflicted about being Jewish. Being identified as a Jew was a definite contributor to the terrible thing that happens in the Prologue. Beyond that, being Jewish in Victorian England wasn't precisely a plum situation. Jews were kept from holding national political office. At the time the book is set, Members of Parliament were sworn in on three oaths: supremacy, allegiance, and abjuration; the latter concluded with “on the true faith of a Christian.” That left out a lot of people, not only Jews, but also Quakers, atheists and agnostics, Muslims, and Roman Catholics.
Heroine Christine doesn't start this story in a usual fashion either, she meets Simon while she's imprisoned in a brothel attic. How did she end up there?
I can't give the story completely away. ;) Suffice it to say she's come to London from the country to escape her brutish cousin, who's the trustee for her family's dairy farm, and her plan to find honest work hasn't worked out exactly swimmingly.
Simon and Christine's tale has been called a Cinderella story. Why do you think that readers respond to this storyline and why do you?
More so than any other fairytale archetype, the Cinderella tale is about not only overcoming but also becoming.
In just about any other fairytale I can think of — and being a fan girl of ABC's Once Upon a Time I've been brushing up — the heroine starts out as a princess. Sure, Rapunzel may be a princess locked away in a tower, but she's still a princess whether she knows it or not. Snow White may be on the lam from a wicked stepmother and roughing it in a cottage with bachelor dwarfs, but she's still a princess. (Only see how quickly she delegates the cooking and cleaning to those woodland animals).
But Cinderella is different. In most versions, her father is a gentleman merchant. Once he dies, she descends to scullery maid status. And though the appearance of a fairy godmother may seem to tidy things up rather neatly, bear in mind that Cinderella has to choose to accept these gifts — the coach and four, the killer gown, those great glass slippers. It's not the love of a prince that transforms Cinderella, it’s the choice — her choice — to step out and ford her own path.
In Tempting, Christine too faces a choice. When Simon offers her an education, the chance to become not only a lady but also a self-supporting lady, she could say no, or better yet, "bugger off." Instead she chooses to say yes. And that's where the fairytale, and the fun, begins.
You have just re-released Tempting in e-book format after making extensive revisions to the story. What are some changes that you thought was necessary to freshen up the tale?
I shortened it considerably. Originally it was more than 100,000 words and about 5,000 of those words were unnecessary scenes and or laborious dialogue and description. The new Tempting is a leaner, tighter, and yes, better book. I like to think I've learned a thing or two about craft in the past almost decade. I think my readers will agree — and be pleased with the result.
I also removed the original Epilogue. After ten years away from the book, I decided I loved not only Simon and Christine but also my secondary characters far too much to tie everything without giving them the possibility of having Happily Ever After stories of their own. As an aside, Simon and Christine make cameo appearances in Vanquished, book #1 in my "Men of Roxbury House" series.
You have decided to share an excerpt from Tempting with RT readers. Can you give us a little set up for the scene (and maybe a bit on why you choose this part to share)?
This scene takes place in the first third of the book. Christine has spent three months at the London finishing school, three months during which Simon hasn't trusted himself to visit her so much as once. Alerted by the news that a lord wants to make her his mistress, he hies on over — and finds not the Christine he remembers but the powdered, coiffed, extreme makeover version of her. She's well on her way to appearing and behaving as a young lady ought — and Simon couldn't be less pleased. In point, he's mad with jealousy — and watching male romantic jealousy play out in the pages of a romance novel is something I find really fun.
What could be more Tempting than this Victorian romance? How about the fact that it is on sale for only 99 cents! And after you download your copy, enter to win a copy of Vanquished which includes a cameo from the couple from Tempting!
GIVEAWAY ALERT: One lucky reader will win a copy of Hope Tarr's Vanquished. To enter, leave a comment below telling us why you love Victorian-era historical romances. You can also e-mail your response here with the subject "Hope Tarr Giveaway." Giveaway ends March 9. U.S. mailing addresses only please.
BLOG UPDATE 3/9/12: Winner: jbeth28