Last year author Isabel Cooper wowed readers with her debut novel No Proper Lady. This paranormal historical romance, which won RT's September 2011 Seal of Excellence, set itself apart from other stories by incorporating an innovative time tavel element. The author, who is about to release her much-anticipated series second, Lessons After Dark, joins us to talk about what she's learned between books one and two, which she jokingly calls, "Lessons after my Debut." And make sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win this new book before it's in stores!
1. There’s more to a story — even in a romance — than two people.
This is something I learned while working on No Proper Lady. Eleanor, the hero’s younger sister, was originally more of a motivating force than anything else. Simon needed a reason to be angry at Reynell, angry enough that he’d be willing to work for the possible death and certain magical screwing-with of his former best friend. What reason would be good enough? Well, messing with his little sister seems pretty solid. Okay, then!
Except, as I wrote the book, I found that Eleanor needed to have more and more of a role in it, that writing her with Simon and Joan (the heroine, from the future) brought out aspects of them — and aspects of the story — that might not have come out otherwise, and that she was interesting in her own right. I liked writing about her, and I liked how she had her own agenda and character arc. Likewise, Gillespie, though he only appears in one scene, was a lot of fun.
So, in my latest book, Lessons After Dark, I have a whole host of secondary characters. The romance between Olivia and Gareth takes center stage, of course, but the rest of Englefield’s population gets a fair amount of time too. Their agendas and issues play a large role, both in establishing Englefield as the “weird” school for “gifted" children (aka children with supernatural abilities) it’s becoming, and in showing the characters, and the development of Olivia and Gareth as they get closer.
2. It’s fun when characters don’t get along — at least in moderation.
The friends-to-lovers romance is one of my favorite tropes, as is the coworkers-to-lovers arc. I like writing characters who have reason to confide in each other, to trust each other and to spend time together; it really makes the path to love run a lot more easily, both as a reader and as a writer. But as I was working on No Proper Lady, I realized that some of my favorite scenes to write were the ones where Simon and Joan were very definitely not on the same page, as it were.
Fights are horrible to live through, but great to write. Snarky comments! Glaring! Shouting! Dramatic gestures! Emotional speeches! It’s a chance to turn the character dynamics up to eleven, and it’s good times.
Gareth and Olivia, the main characters in Lessons After Dark, do A LOT of fighting. Especially at the beginning. And because they’re both co-workers, and because Gareth’s Mr. Stiff Upper Lip and Olivia’s good at being subtle, and because they actually do have to work together and can’t just come out and yell at each other, they fight in the snidest terms I can think of, the sort of fight where you say “Oh, how nice,” and mean “I will stab you with a hatpin, fool.”
I think I was giggling a lot when I wrote those scenes.
From a logistical perspective: oh my God, Google Documents, or whatever equivalent you use, makes everything so much easier. I wrote No Proper Lady by emailing a giant Word document to myself all over the place, which really discouraged me from working on multiple computers. Unless I was on vacation for a week or similar, it was less trouble just to wait until I was back at my main machine, even if that meant I lost a day or two—and even if I might not have time then. This is the sort of thing you can do when you’re not on deadline, but it still wasn’t great.
For Lessons After Dark, I was on deadline. Fortunately, I had also started doing all my writing online by that point. I wrote bits of it at work, bits at home, bits on the MBTA between Boston and Providence — you name it.
I love romances in historical settings, but man, do I also love modern technology!
- Isabel Cooper
GIVEAWAY ALERT: Three readers will each win a copy of Cooper's Lessons After Dark. To enter, leave a comment below telling us what you love about paranormal historicals. Or email your comment here with the subject line "Isabel Cooper Giveaway." Winners will be announced on April 2. U.S. mailing addresses only please.
BLOG UPDATE 4/6/12: The winners are Kim Swiderski, Sharyn Lewis and Cristy Cundiff.