A: Anna has no idea of the extent of her following. She does know that I put stories about her on my Facebook page. And she knows that people are aware of her Justin Bieber obsession. Luckily, she happens to be the type of person who is quite happy to have an audience. For example, Lord Justin Fiebvre is a charming minor character in my December book, The Duke is Mine whose character was entirely designed by Anna. She found the lyrics of various songs so that I could try to weave them into his dialogue and feels very possessive about him. She’s always asking if people like him, and I have to remind her that the book isn’t published yet (December 27th is coming, though!).
After winning the American Book Award for Poetry, my father, Robert Bly, was just famous enough that if we went out to dinner as a child, another guest would almost certainly greet him at some point during the evening. I saw then that most fan interactions with authors are entirely good-hearted. Those cheerful readers of my father’s poetry were a positive part of my childhood, and I hope Anna always feels the same about my readers.
Q: You have taken many the Facebook posts that you wrote during your recent year in Paris and turned them into a memoir of sorts. The book, “Paris in Love,” will be released in April 2012. Can you tell use a bit more about this book and how it came to be?
A: When my husband and I took a sabbatical and decided to move to Paris for a year, I was quite sure of one thing: I wanted to remember the year. Luca was already fifteen, and I had the chilling fear that once he grew up I would forget all those funny teenage moments, the way I had forgotten most of the adorable things he did as a baby. So I started keeping a brief journal, of sorts, on my Facebook page. It started out quite simply, but I found that I truly enjoyed the challenge of catching an evocative moment in a brief burst of prose. I posted once or twice a day. The book proceeded quite naturally from those updates, although Paris in Love includes longer essays and many details that were not put onto Facebook. The book turned into a quite funny look at our year: life in Paris with Anna, Luca, my husband, my mother-in-law’s plump dog… and all those Parisians. The website is up, if anyone would like to see an excerpt: www.parisinlovebook.com. And my publishers have made lovely holiday cards to be printed out. They tell a Paris-lover that you have ordered the book as a present, and a delicious slice of Paris is coming her way in April. Do check them out—there are four different cards, and I think they’re all gorgeous (especially the one that depicts the four of us!).
Q: “As Kiss at Midnight,” the first of your fairy-tale based novels, appealed greatly to my quirky sense of humor. The menagerie, the broken-down castle full of wacky dependents and Gabriel’s non-subservient servants all amused. But, Jennifer was struck most by the name of many of the secondary characters: Biggitstiff, Mr. Tippet, Princess Sophonisba, Mr. Toloose (Jennifer's favorite) and Lord Dimsdale. How much thought did you put into the names of these characters? Did you mean for their names to reflect their personalities (i.e. the dimwitted Lord Dimsdale)?
A: Yes. I love names, so some of these characters changed name six or seven times (thanks to universal replace on the Word program). I think hard about the less obvious ones, as well—the first names of main characters, for instance.
Q: Your writing and your career as a professor of Shakespeare both suggest a love of literature. You usually incorporate historical works into your novels in some way (Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in “Pleasure for Pleasure,” Lord Byron’s “Salome” in “A Duke of Her Own” and Samuel Pepys’ diaries in “Duchess by Night” to name a few). Which comes first, your story idea or the historical works that help to inform it? Is it difficult to weave them together?
A: My story is always first. The moments when I weave in a bit of poetry here or there are incidental to the greater movement of the plot—except in my last two books. In When Beauty Tamed the Beast (published in February, 2011), I structured the fairy tale around a metaphorical look at T.S. Eliot’s famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The language pops up here and there, but bigger ideas spring from the poem as well, and those ideas drive the plot. In my December romance, The Duke is Mine, a fragment of poetry is essential to the novel as a whole. That brief bit of poetry was not borrowed; I made it up. But I made it up with a lifetime’s worth of English literature behind me.
Q: You teach at a university, you write novels, you read and review books, write columns, attend and speak at conferences and are a wife and mother. Do you ever sleep? Where do you find the time to do it all?
A: I sleep! In fact, sometimes I think that is the only secret I can tell people about: I sleep a lot. And I nap. As for how I get things done…. I figured out quite a while ago, that it’s OK not to be perfect. When I publish something, it’s the very best that I could write at that moment. I think giving up perfectionism is the key to getting a lot done—and that goes for parenting, household work, and writing.
Q: A new e-novella, “Winning the Wallflower,” comes out from Avon Impulse on December 6th. The story is about Lucy, a wallflower, and a man who doesn’t appreciate her or even know her despite their betrothal. Lucy isn’t willing to be taken for granted, so she forces a confrontation that makes Ravensthorpe actually notice his erstwhile fiancé. It is a superbly done short story that serves as an introduction to Olivia Lytton, the heroine your next full-length book, “The Duke is Mine” (which is out December 27th). What would you like readers to know about “Winning the Wallfllower?
A: Well, that was a lovely introduction! I had such fun writing about Lucy. She’s a wallflower because she’s quite tall, and she let that fact define her for most of her life. I came into my height very early and was mortified by being tall. I was always looking for flat shoes, and judging men on their height. It took me a while to realize that I like wearing a heel, and I don’t mind looking over men’s heads (it happened every day on the French subway system!). I took those feelings—and my revelation about not catering to the idea that women should be petite—and gave them to Lucy. I think that a story sings if it has a basis in the author’s own story, and “Winning the Wallflower” has that… I hope everyone loves it as much as you do!
with big hug, Eloisa
In support of Eloisa James' interview, RNN is giving away to one winner copies of all four books in James' Essex Sisters' series: "Much Ado Abou You," "Kiss Me, Annabel," "The Taming of the Duke," and "Pleasure for Pleasure."
To enter, please leave a comment on this post. Contest will be open until December 9th and is open to international readers. The winner will be drawn at random and notified by email on December 10th.