June 26, 2019

Sabrina Jeffries

Creating a duke dynasty

We talked to Sabrina Jeffries about writing a blended family, the surprising tradition of funeral biscuits and what jobs she thinks her characters would have if they lived in the modern age.

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Sabrina Jeffries’ new historical romance series has quite the irresistible hook: an entire family of dashing dukes. The half brothers’ unlucky-in-love mother, Lydia, has been married three times—each time to a duke. Eldest son Fletcher “Grey” Pryde, duke of Greycourt, who is somewhat distant from the rest of his family due to a difficult childhood, finds his reserve tested by the forthright and unconventional Beatrice Wolfe. We talked to Jeffries about writing a blended family, the surprising tradition of funeral biscuits and what jobs she thinks her characters would have if they lived in the modern age.

Where did the idea for an entire family of dukes come from?
Honestly, I was planning on the heroes having different titles when I thought to myself, “I could make them all dukes. It would be a duke dynasty.” I started laughing (I never watched “Duck Dynasty,” but I have friends who did), and that was it. I had to make the series all dukes. Then, while researching it, I realized that there’s something of a precedent for it, since Elizabeth Gunning (famed for her beauty) married two different dukes, outlived both of them and was engaged to a third. So it’s not THAT far out of the realm of possibility.

Are the funeral biscuits that Beatrice and Grey spar over at the very beginning of Project Duchess a real tradition? And if not, how did you come up with such a hilariously macabre idea?
They’re a real thing! It was mostly confined to Lincolnshire, but they were in occasional use in other places during this period. Just check out this article about Austen’s funeral descriptions, which also has examples of the wrappers. They truly are macabre.

I laughed out loud when it was revealed that Grey’s mother named all of her sons after famous playwrights. Did you have a reason for which son was named after which writer?
Not really. It was hard enough figuring out playwright surnames that wouldn’t be too weird for hero first names! The only problem I ran into was that I initially wanted Greycourt to be Greystock and Thornstock to be Thorncourt, but my critique partner told me Greystock was just too close to Greystoke, from Tarzan. Although I’d done that on purpose, I didn’t want readers thinking that I had done it cluelessly instead of as a nod to Tarzan. What I couldn’t have known when I switched the ends of the two names was that Elizabeth Hoyt would come out with the Greycourt series within months of mine. The first book of her series was released while I was dealing with a family crisis, and anyway, it would have been too late to change the title name because my book was also well into production. I guess romance minds think alike!

Project Duchess is a very witty and light-hearted romance, even though both Beatrice and Grey have some very upsetting past experiences that come to the forefront as the story unfolds. How did you strike that balance as a writer?
That was difficult. But my previous editor used to say that I write deep emotion with a light hand. I’m not sure exactly how that works, so I can’t really tell you! I do know that I was influenced by Judith McNaught and Amanda Quick, both of whom use comic elements to lighten sometimes dark stories. Also, I’m a huge lover of Shakespeare’s work, and he practically invented the idea of comic relief. When I’m writing comic scenes, that’s how it feels to me—as if it’s a release from the emotion of a previous scene.

Most Regency readers know that the behavior in that era was extremely codified, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that spells out just how restricted women in that society were like Project Duchess does. Where do you do your research for all those rules about how to behave in society?
I got most rules about ballroom behavior from information I’ve culled through the years from a variety of sources. I also used From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance, a compilation of various period sources about etiquette and dance in the 19th century, but since many of its sources are Victorian, it was only useful insofar as it covered the Regency. There are also some excellent online sources from dance enthusiasts and Regency enthusiasts.

The funeral stuff is well documented if you know what you’re looking for. Women simply weren’t allowed to attend funerals. It was thought that their over-emotional reactions weren’t dignified. Anyway, I could probably write a whole article on funerals in the period, but that would be a bit . . . morbid. ☺

Which member of Grey’s family was the most fun to write?
It’s a toss-up between one of the twins and their mom. It was hard to balance Lydia’s grief with her wit, however, so it took me a while to get that right.

What jobs do you think Beatrice and Grey would have if they lived today?
Hmm. Beatrice would probably be an animal trainer or a funeral director. Grey would be a real estate developer. Or perhaps a lawyer, since he had the capacity to read and comprehend legalese at a young age.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book for you?
Since Project Duchess was about a blended family, I had a rough time explaining who everyone was in relation to everyone else without using gobs of narration. Fortunately, my editor came up with the idea of using a newspaper gossip column to provide the explanations naturally. That worked very well.

What’s next for you?
I’m plotting Thorn’s book. It’s too early for me to even tell you what it’s about, since I don’t know yet. But between Grey’s book and Thorn’s is a book about Beatrice’s brother, Joshua, and Thorn’s twin sister, Gwyn. The title is The Bachelor (all the titles of the books in this series—and only the titles—are based on reality TV shows). Between Project Duchess and The Bachelor is a novella entitled “The Perfect Match,” which will come out this Christmas in an anthology called Seduction on a Snowy Night, which also includes novellas by Madeline Hunter and Mary Jo Putney.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: See our cover reveal of Sabrina Jeffries’ The Bachelor.

Author photo by Jessica Blakely for Tamara Lackey Photography.

Get the Book

Project Duchess

Project Duchess

By Sabrina Jeffries
Zebra
ISBN 9781420148558

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