January 01, 2016

Stephanie Laurens

From cancer research to romance
Interview by
In a 7 Questions interview, we asked Stephanie Laurens about her career as a cancer researcher, how she keeps her characters straight after writing over 60 novels and more.
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Our Romance Top Pick for January is The Lady's Command, the first in a thrilling new Regency series by bestselling author Stephanie Laurens. In a 7 Questions interview, we asked Laurens about her career as a cancer researcher, why Regency romance is such an evergreen genre and more.

Describe your novel in one sentence.
The Lady’s Command is a crash course for two headstrong, willful and dominant characters in what it’s going to take to make their recently celebrated marriage work.

Readers may be surprised to learn that you hold a Ph.D. in biochemistry and used to work in cancer research. What prompted you to leave the world of science behind? Do you ever feel any sadness that the degree you spent years working toward now goes unused professionally?
I left the world of science behind when it became not so much about the science itself—which I loved!—but more about bureaucracy and science-politics. So no, I have not one single regret over leaving science, because staying was no longer an option; the field no longer delivered what I wanted from it. And although the degree itself, meaning the piece of paper and the letters after my name, may no longer be relevant in my work as a novelist, a Ph.D. in any research subject is more about imagination and creativity applied to researching facts and asking that evergreen question: what if? That is exactly the same skillset needed to write a novel. The skills honed in my previous life as a research scientist stand me in excellent stead in my career as a novelist.

You’ve penned over 60 books, almost all of them Regency-set historical romances. What is it about this particular genre that you enjoy so much?
Quite aside from the glamour of bygone days, of the British aristocracy arguably at its height, of the balls and soirees, the clothes and extravagant lifestyles enjoyed by the Upper Ten Thousand, to me there are several advantages in writing in the historical sphere, one of which is that there were no phones, no cars, no planes, no Internet—so people had to deal with each other face to face. For a novelist, that means a greater degree of intensity and immediacy in all interactions. In addition, in the Regency era, there was a very powerful and—for a romance novelist—useful shift in social attitudes taking place. Prior to the early 1800s, the aristocracy and nobility rarely, if ever, married for love. In pre-Regency days, for a young lady of birth and fortune, marriage was all about cementing dynastic alliances and the passing on of property; the only question a young lady was asked about marrying was whether she would receive an offer for her hand.

But after 1810, courtesy of gradually changing social mores, the romantic question facing a young lady of the aristocracy became three-fold: Should she marry for love, should she marry for wealth and position, or should she not marry at all? Of course, gentlemen of the same social strata were also facing the same novel set of questions, so would-be sweethearts had to explore what love meant to them individually and jointly, and whether love was, in fact, the mast to which they wished to pin their future.

Essentially, for the first time in history, aristocrats faced the same questions that women and men face today. Having characters dealing with the same fundamental questions about love and marriage is an important, possibly essential, factor in crafting romances that resonate with the audience of today. To my mind, that is one big reason why Regency-set historical romances work so well with modern audiences.

Devoted readers of your books will remember the main characters of The Lady’s Command from a previous novel, The Lady Risks All. Given how many novels and series you’ve written, as well as your tendency to have familiar faces pop up in later novels, how do you keep track of all your characters and make sure you keep their detailed worlds straight?
It helps that I view the world my characters populate as essentially one world—I just move to this social group or that. And because the world the majority of my characters inhabit—the aristocracy—is, socially speaking, a small one, then it is to be expected that they are acquainted with each other and that there’s always a connection somewhere.

As for keeping each character’s story straight, I can always check back on anything I’m unsure about just by reaching out and picking up the relevant book. I rarely lose track of my principal characters, but I have resorted to a spreadsheet to help with the names of their staffs! Remembering the names of the butlers and housekeepers in the various major houses is definitely a challenge!

In this novel, you upend the traditional romance trope of wrapping things up nicely at the end with a wedding by instead having Edwina and Declan already married at the start. Why did you make this choice, and how do you feel it affected the way you approached their romance?
An essential truth when working on the romance of strong-willed and independent characters is that often the wedding is only the beginning of the forging of their relationship, rather than the end. Although Edwina and Declan had a reasonable period of betrothal, with Declan often away at sea, they hadn’t spent that much time together, and during the time they had spent together before the wedding, both were projecting their most amenable faces. For characters like these two, after the wedding is when the real work of understanding each other starts.

As for how that affects the writing of the romance, not having to deal with the initial hurdles of getting to know each other, first lust and first intimacy, frees me to concentrate on the true building of the relationship and how it evolves to integrate the demands of their individual personalities.

Like Edwina and Declan, who travel to West Africa, you and your husband have undertaken some fairly epic travel adventures together. What is one of the most important lessons you have learned about love from traveling as a couple, and where did you learn it?
I couldn’t say where, as this is a lesson built on lots of experience over many years, but I would have to say that cultivating patience (perhaps that should be Patience) and the ability to just let the unimportant stuff pass without comment is arguably one of the most critical traits—and one that probably also applies in ordinary day-to-day life—but when travelling, it’s essential.

The Lady’s Command kicks off a new series and features a larger, overarching mystery and ends on a cliffhanger that will surely leave readers desperate for the next installment. Can you ease our curiosity and let us know what (and which couples!) the next three novels have in store for us?
The second installment, A Buccaneer at Heart (May 2016), is Declan’s older brother Robert’s story. Robert picks up the baton for what by this point become a multi-leg mission, and the third book, The Daredevil Snared (July 2016), commences when the youngest Frobisher brother, Caleb, steps in and effectively filches the next leg of the mission before anyone can tell him nay. The final installment, Lord of the Privateers (December 2016), is the story of what happens when Royd, the oldest of the Frobisher brothers, takes on the last leg of the mission, and in so doing, discovers a great deal he hadn’t known about himself—and about the lady who, for the past eight years and more, has held his heart.

(Author photo by Kingma+Kingma)

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The Lady’s Command

The Lady’s Command

By Stephanie Laurens
Mira
ISBN 9780778318613

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