February 19, 2019

Lisa Kleypas

Fan favorites and the joys of farming
Interview by

We talked to Lisa Kleypas about revisiting two iconic characters in Devil’s Daughter, figuring out just what their daughter would be like and the surprising joys of late Victorian farming techniques.

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Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter is easily one of the most beloved modern romance novels, frequently appearing or topping Best Of lists, and generally producing much squealing over its hero, the manipulative and charming Sebastian. Kleypas delighted fans by giving them a peek at Sebastian and his beloved wife Evie’s family in Devil in Spring, which featured the pair’s son, Gabriel, as the main love interest. And with Kleypas’ newest book, Devil’s Daughter, Evie and Sebastian’s daughter Phoebe takes center stage as she casts off mourning and attempts to take the reins of her late husband Henry’s estate. But when she encounters West Ravenel, the man who bullied Henry in boarding school, she’s taken aback by his kindness and maturity and the easy sensuality between them. We talked to Kleypas about revisiting two iconic characters, figuring out just what their daughter would be like and the surprising joys of late Victorian farming techniques.

Obviously, fans have always wanted more from Evie and Sebastian. So what made you decide to bring them back in the Ravenels series and to have not one but two of their children as main characters?
It’s been so much fun to write about them again! While I was pondering and plotting Devil in Spring, I knew I needed a special hero for the unconventional Lady Pandora Ravenel. He had to be the kind of man she would never aspire to marry: sophisticated, self-assured and socially powerful. It occurred to me that Sebastian and Evie would have a son around the right age, who would be perfect for the role.

Before I committed to the idea, however, I experimented by writing a scene between Evie and Sebastian. Sometimes it’s difficult, even impossible, to recapture the sense of two characters and their chemistry. To my surprise, it was easy and almost magical—the two of them instantly came to life, and I knew it was going to be fine.

Evie and Sebastian’s oldest daughter Phoebe also made an appearance in that book, and although I hadn’t planned to feature her as a heroine, I loved the touches of humor and heartbreak that crept into her dialogue. I thought it would be really satisfying to give her a happy ending in her own book, Devil’s Daughter.

How have Evie and Sebastian changed over the years?
I think there’s a clear sense they’ve really enjoyed their time together, and grown into their roles as the Duke and Duchess of Kingston. Evie is no longer a shy and insecure wallflower—she’s confident and happy and loves being a mother. Sebastian is still sarcastic and funny, but maybe a little less cynical. He definitely has an authoritative presence in the Ravenel series, since he’s now a man of tremendous power and wealth. In private however, he still loves to tease and flirt with Evie, and it’s clear the sensual side of their marriage hasn’t faded one bit.

How did you approach creating Phoebe, a character who is the daughter of perhaps your most beloved fictional couple?
Phoebe is very much like her father—she’s polished and articulate, and she has his lacerating wit. There’s an interesting parallel between Sebastian’s journey in Devil in Winter, and Phoebe’s in Devil’s Daughter. Just like her father, Phoebe is trying to manage a load of responsibilities she hasn’t been prepared for. She’s in charge of her late husband’s estate and has to learn a lot of stuff really fast. As the story progresses, however, you can see how much Evie has influenced her daughter. Phoebe tries to live by the values her mother has imparted, especially those of kindness and empathy.

West has become quite a fan favorite! Why do you think that is?
Yay, I’m so glad to hear that! I think he’s an interesting mixture of things. He’s irreverent and sophisticated, but also earthy and masculine. He can quote Shakespeare, make witty dinner conversation, fix a broken fence and plow a field. I think West’s most attractive quality is that he genuinely respects the people who are below him on the social scale, including the farm laborers, the servants, even the scullery maid in the kitchen. West’s keen sense of empathy is part of what makes him so smart and effective at managing people. It also makes him a terrific romantic partner—he loves women, but he also genuinely likes them.

Something I loved about West is that he’s a reformed rake, but one who has largely reformed himself, instead of being reformed by the heroine or his desire for her. What led you to make that choice?
West has a life-changing moment back in the first Ravenel book, Cold-Hearted Rake, that made the choice for me. At the beginning of that book, West was a bloated, alcoholic, self-indulgent wreck—hardly unexpected after a childhood of abuse and neglect. But West’s older brother Devon inherits a huge dilapidated estate and asks him to manage all these struggling tenant farms, and it’s the first time West has ever been given real responsibility. So there’s a particular scene when West goes out to a field of oats to talk with a tenant farmer. While they talk, the farmer shows him how to bind the cut stalks, and they work together. It changes everything for West. He feels a powerful connection with the land and the physical work, as well as the people around him. He senses this will give his life the meaning and purpose that have always been missing.

The problem is, even though West has changed his ways by the time Devil’s Daughter begins, he still judges himself harshly. He can’t let himself off the hook for having been a bully and a wastrel. I think that’s where the love of another person comes in. Phoebe forgives and accepts his past because she sees how much there is about him worth loving. It’s what we all need, isn’t it? Someone who’s aware of our flaws and loves us no matter what.

While they feature many of the same characters, Devil’s Daughter is a much brighter and more comic novel compared to Hello Stranger, which was practically a romantic suspense set in the Victorian era. What was that shift in tone like for you as a writer, and was it born out of the characters themselves or something else? And when conceiving a series, do you ever have an overall mood in mind, or does it change based on the individual books and couples?
It depends 100 percent on the characters. When conceiving a series, I have a few plotlines in mind, but the mood occurs organically with each book. I was pretty sure Hello Stranger would have a darker tone because both Ransom, a government agent, and Dr. Garrett Gibson, a female physician, routinely deal with life and death as part of their jobs. And Ransom really works that brooding Irish romanticism! West, who appeared as a minor character in that book, provided a lot of the comic relief, but he also had some touching moments and some take-charge scenes. It was the first time I could see what West would be like as a hero. In light of his personality, I knew his story in Devil’s Daughter would be much sunnier and lighter—and I knew there would be extra fun in adding some glimpses of the original Wallflowers!

Phoebe’s first husband, Henry, died after a lifetime of bad health. Did you have a specific illness in mind while writing about him?
Yes, I based poor Henry’s condition on Charles Darwin’s mysterious disease. Darwin had lifelong health struggles, suffering from a weird collection of symptoms. Among other things, he had excruciating chronic gastrointestinal infections, headaches, nerve pain, skin rashes and ulcerations, all of which eventually turned him into an invalid. Physicians and scientists have debated various diagnoses ever since Darwin’s death in 1882. Some experts think it was Chagas disease, caused by an insect that bit him when his ship The Beagle sailed near Argentina. Others believe his problems were caused by lactose intolerance, Ménières disease (inner ear disorder), mitochondrial DNA abnormalities, chronic arsenic poisoning or even hypochondria.

So I read some of the latest papers and articles about Darwin’s health issues, and the Royal Society makes a pretty convincing case that Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease) would explain almost all his symptoms including the nerve pain. I thought it showed something wonderful about Phoebe’s character that she loved Henry enough to marry him in spite of knowing how difficult it would be to care for him when he became an invalid.

This is the first romance novel I have ever read that has a sustained plotline about the benefit of modern (for the time) farming. Where did that come from? And did you enjoy learning about farming as much as West and, eventually, Phoebe do?
To my surprise, I did enjoy it. I’d never thought much before about how technology and science were changing farming practices during the Victorian time period—what an upheaval! Some people were determined to cling to the old traditional methods, whereas others were eager to take advantage of the new machines and scientific discoveries. To me, it made sense that West, who wasn’t raised with any farming experience, would want to learn all the latest stuff. He cares more about results than tradition. At the time, of course, a lot of the landowning aristocrats, and many of the tenant farmers as well, were leery about making changes to a system that had worked fine for hundreds of years. I sort of understand that, since I’m the kind who’s resistant to upgrading an iPhone unless I absolutely have to!

What’s next for you?
I’m busy working on what will probably be the final Ravenel novel, featuring Lady Cassandra and Tom Severin. I’ve been looking forward to writing this for a long time—Severin is an antihero. Brilliant, charming, massively successful, immoral and so disconnected from his feelings that he’s very nearly sociopathic. He has only one weakness—he is completely fixated on Cassandra. He would do anything to have her, even knowing it’s impossible. As we’ve seen in past novels, all Cassandra has ever wanted is a loving husband and children and a cozy home of her own. She is domestic, affectionate, sweet and private in nature, and she knows she would never be anything but a trophy to Severin. Fate is really going to have to put these two through the wringer if they’re ever going to find a happy ending!


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Devil’s Daughter.

Author photo by Danielle Barnum Photography.

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Devil’s Daughter

Devil’s Daughter

By Lisa Kleypas
ISBN 9780062371935

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