Lauren Willig

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Interview By: Tamazon

Date: October 05, 2010

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"The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" | Signet Select | Romance | 10/5/2010

Please tell us your latest news!

Today, my first book, "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation", is being re-released in mass market paperback! As someone who grew up believing that "Paperback Writer" was a vocational theme song, I can't tell you how thrilled I am.

"The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" opens with Eloise Kelly, a modern day grad student, in search of footnotes for her dissertation, "Aristocratic Espionage During the Wars with France, 1792-1815", aka "Why I Like Men in Black Masks". She's on the trail of those elusive men in cloaks and knee breeches, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and, the most mysterious of them all, the Pink Carnation.

Eloise is on the verge of giving up and going home when she stumbles into a secret cache of papers (and a very dishy Englishman!), propelling us all back two hundred years to Paris in 1803, where a young lady named Amy Balcourt is determined to track down the Purple Gentian-- so she can help him. Intrigue, skullduggery, and all manner of mistaken identities ensue.

Will Amy unmask the Purple Gentian? Will the Purple Gentian thwart Bonaparte's invasion of England? Will Bonaparte get poked by a parasol? (Um, YES). And who IS that damned, elusive Pink Carnation?

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

This is one of those rare and amazing opportunities where I have had the chance to go back and do it again! Well, sort of. I wrote "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" between summer of 2001 and fall of 2003, in between teaching class, researching my dissertation in the archives of England, and, in a shocking last minute career switch, starting law school. The book came out in hardcover five years ago, in 2005.

When you add it all up, there's been nearly ten years between when I began the book and its mass market debut. During that time, I've switched careers twice and aged... well, you can do the math. Despite that, there was only one thing I wanted to change. In the original version of the book, I included a throw-away line about consumptive poets as a tribute to the silly poets sketch in Blackadder, Season III. (I'm a huge Blackadder fan.) It was a blatant anachronism, but I figured people would get the joke and take it as it was meant, as a nudge-nudge wink-wink between author and reader. Instead, it really threw a number of people out of the story. So the one thing I've changed about the book-- and it really is the only change I've made-- was to take out that line.

As a side note, I do have another "Blackadder" reference hidden in my upcoming Christmas book, "The Mischief of the Mistletoe" (coming from Dutton on October 28th!). Points to anyone who gets it!

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Oh, goodness, I can never answer this question. I have a revolving pantheon of favorite authors that only seems to get larger as I get older. If I have to pick just one, though, I'll go for an oldie and a goodie: L.M. Montgomery. Her characterizations are flawless, she isn't afraid to write about both sorrow and joy, and she has a cunning way with a turn of phrase. On top of writing truly touching prose, she's a brilliant social satirist. For all those reasons, "The Blue Castle" is one of my favorite books of all time.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I've been told I have a very distinct voice. If I had to characterize my writing style (other than, hey! it sounds like me!), I'd say that there's a distinct element of tongue in cheek to my writing. I very much enjoy writing humor. At the same time, I also love playing around with different styles and tones, trying to match the voice to the occasion. Some scenes call for lyricism, others for moody atmospherics, and yet others for broad slapstick. I'd like to think that over time, I've become versatile enough to hit all those notes.

Do you see writing as a career?

My dream is to be one of those hoary old career authors who, at the end of the day, can boast hundreds of books in different styles and genre. I'm always impressed by those authors who are constantly stretching themselves, trying new things, testing the limits of their skills. That, to me, is the essence of professionalism in writing. Here's to years and years of writing to come!

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Because it was the best way to deal with all those voices in my head? I've always told myself stories, since I was a very small child. I can still remember my first construction paper "book" and the thrill of discovering that, wait! these stories didn't just have to live in my head! I could write them down! And so I did. I've been writing out my stories ever since.

How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?

Originally, they advised me to turn down the book contract and focus on law school, but once they saw that first book in the store, they came around. They've been wonderfully supportive about my writing. My little sister is my go-to person on everything I write; she's read drafts of all the books since the very first one and has put in hours and hours talking me through plot conundrums. Her fee is very reasonable: one frappuccino per session.

What did you do before you became a writer? Do you write full time?

I've had a strange and rackety career path. Straight out of college, I toddled off to Harvard to study history, on the theory that the best possible way to write historically accurate romance novels was to acquire a PhD in the subject. In 2003, I decided it was time to be practical. I didn't want to stay in academia and I knew there was no chance of ever making my living as a writer, so I took a deep breath and enrolled at Harvard Law.

Fate has a strange sense of humor. One month into my law school career, I signed my first book contract. I emerged from law school with a JD and three books under my belt, then, being a very risk averse person, went on to practice law at a large New York law form-- under contract for more books!-- before deciding, after a year and a half, that book deadlines and doc review don't mix and that all those emails from my friends asking me if I was dead might be kind of a hint.

I now write full time. And by "write", I mean "think of strange and new ways to procrastinate".

What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?

I'll take one from column A and one from column B. Fundamentally, my writing process involves caffeine. Lots of caffeine. And pacing. And occasionally muttering to myself. I like to know where I'm going for the next five chapters. If I don't know that, I get stuck (see muttering and pacing, above). If I plot too far ahead, however, I walk myself into plot problems, with my characters going one way and me trying to force them another. So it's a delicate balance.

Do you have a favorite object that is pertinent to your writing? If so what is it and please describe it. (Pen, Coffee Cup, Pet, Blanket, Chair)

I have a desk chair that I fondly refer to as the Death Chair. This chair has been with me since my second year of grad school (i.e. it slightly pre-dates the original "Secret History of the Pink Carnation". I purchased it for $9.99 at Walmart in 2000. It is currently held together by two screws. If I lean the wrong way, it and I both go over. I also have a very bad habit of sitting cross-legged on the chair while I write. Have I mentioned it's on wheels on a very slippery wood floor? Several people are currently lobbying for the replacement of the Death Chair by something slightly less likely to cause concussion. What can I say? I like living dangerously.

Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing? Example..get coffee, blanket, paper, pen and a comfy place

Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks! (Seriously, at this point, shouldn't they be paying me?) When I'm in heavy writing mode, I usually drag myself off to my favorite Starbucks, glower at anyone sitting at my favorite table, arrange my latte (pumpkin spice in fall, gingerbread in winter, caramel macchiatto most other times) just so, and use that to kick-start my writing day. My favorite Starbucks was closed for renovation a little while ago and it was absolutely devastating. I had no other choice but to take a break and go shopping. Oh, the hardship; oh, the pain.

What main genre do you write in?


Thanks so much for having me here! I had so much fun hanging out with the Night Owls.... If you'd like to hear more about "Pink Carnation" or my other books, please do come visit me on my website, You can also find me hanging out on Facebook.

Happy reading!

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