Eloisa James: I do think that it’s necessary to mix painful and light. A reader, by picking up a novel, is asking to see a little slice of someone’s life. Well, a life that’s just good and happy and absolutely perfect is 1) boring and 2) envy-inducing. But reading about a life in which the characters overcome problems that are real and perhaps echo something in the reader’s own life can be a deeply satisfying experience.
Onirik: Your books are often enriched with substantial subplots: the story of Esmée livens up several novels of “the duchess quartet” and so does the story of Griselda in « the Essex sisters ». Why do you attach so much importance to secondary characters and how could you define those who will take part in this subplot?
Eloisa James: In order to create a series of books, I have to create a whole world. The problem with that is that I really start liking various characters and I want to know more about them. In the case of Esme, for example, she simply turned herself into a very important character as I wrote her. Griselda got funnier and funnier until I had to match her up. Yet I can’t write hundreds of novels in one series – so I end up with secondary romances and subplots. Affair Before Christmas (my November publication) is slightly different – the subplot has to do with a continuing character, but he doesn’t fall in love! I hope he will have his own book someday (and if you read Desperate Duchesses, that character is the Duke of Villiers).
Onirik: It isn’t love at first sight very often in your novels. The characters usually learn to know and love each other while changing a lot and giving their own selves much thought. Is this evolution of the main characters what you are really interested in?
Eloisa James: Yes, exactly. I don’t trust love at first sight very much. In my next book, Affair Before Christmas, the hero and heroine fell in love pretty much at first sight, and married thereafter. The book starts five years later, when their marriage is in ruins. Marriage is a tough business – and truly loving someone is a hard-won battle, I think. True love looks past the surface and into the heart – and you don’t see the heart at the first meeting.
Onirik: You dare to depict flawed characters: they may be selfish, ambitious, drunken…is it a way of making them more human?
Eloisa James: To me they are human. Before I start writing a book, the characters live in my mind for months and even years – picking fights, laughing, eating, doing normal things. Those conversations may never appear in the book, but I know an awful lot about each character before he or she goes on paper.
Onirik: You are both a lecturer at New York University and a writer. How can you manage these two time-consuming careers?
Eloisa James: Being a professor is actually a pleasure. I teach Shakespeare, which means that I teach texts in which people from the 17th century talk and walk about. That is an immeasurable benefit to me when it comes to writing my novels. I teach conversations – often about love, since it’s Shakespeare – and I go home and write conversations. The only problem has to do with time. Right now, I’m director of the graduate program at my university. That’s a lot of administrative work, since we have an M.A. and a Ph.D. program. But I have a great, helpful husband, and somehow we muddle through.
Onirik: You are a specialist of Shakespeare and you often refer to this great playwright in your novels. Has your desire to write been triggered off by his plays? Could you choose Elizabethan England as historical background?
Eloisa James: I think I actually know too much about Elizabethan England to think of it as a very sexy place. I like putting my imagination to work in a historical period about which I don’t know so much. I learned an enormous amount about the Georgian period when writing my new series, and that was fun.
Onirik: You know Europe very well, in particular Italy and I guess France. Do you fancy setting one of your novels there ?
Eloisa James: Affair Before Christmas opens in Paris! I adore Paris and lived there for a year when I was young. We try to go back every year (we’re in Florence for three months in the summer). I’ll paste the first few paragraphs from my new book below.
Saint Germain des Près
Ice hung from window sills with a glitter that rivaled glass, and new snow turned the sooty streets to rivers of milk. Looking at the city from the bell tower of Saint Germain, the Duke of Fletcher could see candles flaring in store windows, and though he couldn’t smell roasting goose, holly leaves and gleaming berries over doors signaled that all of Paris had turned its mind toward a delicious banquet of gingerbread and spice, of rich wine and sugared cakes. An ancient joy shone in passerby’s eyes and spilled from children’s laughter. Magic sang in the wild peals of church bells that kept breaking out first in one church and then another, in the way each sprig of mistletoe sheltered sweet kisses. It was Christmas… It was Christmas in Paris, and if there was ever a city made for love, and a season made to enjoy it in, the two of them together were as intoxicating as the strongest red wine.
In fact, philosophers have argued for years whether it is possible to be in Paris and not fall in love…if not with a ravishing woman, then with the bells, with the bagettes, with the gleam of the illicit that touches every heart, even those of proper English noblemen. The duke would have answered that question without hesitation. He had thrown away his heart after one glance at Notre Dame, had succumbed to the siren call of delicious food after one bite of French bread, and had finally – absolutely – irrevocably – fallen in love with a young and ravishingly beautiful member of the opposite sex.
From where Fletch stood in the bell tower, Ponte Neuf leapt the Seine in a voluptuous curve, and all Paris shimmered below him, a forest of spires and roofs, dusted with snow. Every gargoyle sported a long silver nose. Notre Dame floated queen-like above the other more narrow and anxious spires that seemed to beg for God’s attention. The Cathedral ignored such slender anxieties, counting herself more beautiful, more devoted, more luxurious than the others. Christmas, she seemed to say, is mine.
Onirik: The series that is being published in France at the moment is « the Essex sisters » and particularly « kiss me Annabel ». You have not hesitated to make of her an ambitious and perhaps a little unpleasant heroine at the beginning. What can you tell us about her and the book devoted to her?
Eloisa James: Annabel is very ambitious – but it’s an ambition born of desperation. I think we can all imagine that. She’s very beautiful, and in her time period, every instinct and custom drives her to trade that beauty for a rich husband, so that she can support her three penniless sisters. When she finds herself inadvertently married to a man she thinks to be as poor as a church mouse… well, it’s not fair! I love Annabel; I hope you do as well.
Onirik: I have already read the last volume of the series « the Essex sisters » but French readers don’t know them yet. Could you introduce these last two volumes to us?
Eloisa James: The last two volumes are the stories of the last two Essex sisters, Imogen and Josie. Imogen has hard a difficult few years, as you know if you read the first book in this series. So it took her a while to get through grief and be ready to fall in love again – but she does it with great joy when it happens. Josie is one of my favourite heroines of all time (though I suppose I shouldn’t pick favourites)—and I love her story. She’s a bit plump, very funny, and falls in love with all the clear-eyed irony of a Jane Austen heroine. I do hope you enjoy her.
Onirik: Your next series will be composed of six volumes. The presentation you make of it is very attractive! Georgian desesperate housewives! How puzzling! I can’t wait to know what you mean!
Eloisa James: Well…think about duchesses who are married – and the marriage isn’t going that well. The Georgian period was a much wilder period than the Regency period. Women moved to Paris and lived on their own; they had flagrant lovers and affaires; they basically lived an amusing and decadent life. It’s a really fun series!
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