Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guest Author Today and Tomorrow: Virginia Henley - Writing the Lusty Historical!

Thanks, Regan, for inviting me to be a guest on your splendid blog. I know you are passionate about historical romance and I wish you great success in your own writing career.

My passion is history--not writing books! I was born in England and went to school there. That's where I discovered my undying passion for history. Because I enjoy the research, I decided to make my stories blend authentic history with a sensual love story.

When you write a historical romance, the focus must be on the romance, and you cannot let the history overwhelm the story. It is a delicate balance, and I have found that the heavier the history, the more it has to be leavened with a strong, sensual love story. I seldom bend history to fit my story; rather I bend my plot and characters to portray authentic history.

My readers wouldn't want the history without the sex, and they certainly wouldn't want the sex without the history. So it's a one-two punch that satisfies the reader, and satisfying my reader is what my writing is all about.

I learned early in my career that sex sells.

When I wrote my fourth book THE RAVEN AND THE ROSE, my editor suggested I make each love scene longer and sexier. So when I finished the next one, THE HAWK AND THE DOVE, before I submitted it, I went over the manuscript and made each love scene longer and more sensual. When Romantic Times reviewed it, Kathe Robin warned the readers that it contained explicit sex scenes. It won a Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Elizabethan Romance, so when I started THE FALCON AND THE FLOWER I decided to make it as sensual as I possibly could, and managed to get NAKED and VIRGIN in the first sentence. Lol!

The setting is Medieval Plantagenet history, but the book is one long seduction from beginning to end. The consummation is shocking, and as a result the heroine resists the hero even more. Finally, he locks them both in her tower room for three days. They have lots of food, but no clothes--they are both stark naked for three whole days and nights.
Publishers Weekly reviewed it and said: "Only a hard core fan of soft core pornography could slog their way through this one."

I was so upset I got a terrible case of hives all over my thighs. However-----It jumped onto Waldenbooks Bestseller List and earned me a reputation for writing sexy books, and I've been writing them ever since.

I don't want to give first time readers the wrong impression. My books are often lusty and bawdy, but they are a million miles from being erotica.

A good romance should build slowly and climax with a bang! To allow the sexual tension between the hero and heroine to build slowly, I often use the technique of having two couples. The secondary couple is allowed to have sexual encounters, and this satisfies the reader while she is patiently waiting for the main event to take place. So I've used sisters, brothers, friends, and even parents for titillating sexual encounters. If the story takes place at a royal court, I often show the king, queen, prince, or princesses enjoying lovemaking.

I have always enjoyed writing about real historical people, but in my first books I only used real people of history as my secondary characters. After six historical romances, I was ready to use real people from history as my hero and heroine. All the characters in my book THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL are real people. Princess Eleanor Plantagenet is the heroine, and Simon de Montfort is the hero.

I wanted them to jump off the page--I wanted the reader to be able to see them, hear them, and even smell them! They were passionate people, real flesh and blood, and I tried to show their strengths, their weaknesses, their emotions, and their sex lives.
History does not tell us how Princess Eleanor's first husband, William Marshall, died. It only tells us that it came suddenly after the wedding of his sister to Prince Richard, Eleanor's brother. I was suddenly filled with inspiration. I decided to show William Marshall die in bed, in the middle of the sex act, while consummating his marriage to Princess Eleanor. Such a brilliant idea!

History tells us that sixteen-year-old Eleanor was consumed with grief and declared she would never marry again! Unfortunately, she swore this vow of chastity before the priests and bishops gathered at William's deathbed. Now this caused no end of trouble when Simon de Montfort, The Warlord, came to the royal court of England.
Physically, he was a giant of a man. So right off the bat there is a marked contrast between Eleanor and Simon that I can exploit. My imagination began to work overtime, and I have him wear a black leather sheath over his penis when he rides his destrier, (strictly for penile protection you understand) but at the same time, when he undresses, a male who is naked except for a black leather thong over his cock paints a rather titillating picture!

In my books, I use bawdy, provocative language. My characters swear and curse. I use good Old English words like cock, whoremaster, shit, piss, and vomit. I sometimes use the word 'manroot' but my fellow author Marsha Canham laughed at me so much, I stopped using it!

A few years ago, I wrote a free short story for the anthology LOVE'S LEGACY the proceeds from which were to go to charity. There was a big launch party in New York, where the publisher assigned various celebrities to read our stories aloud.
They asked Marla Maples, who was married to Donald Trump at that time, to read my story. She refused because I had the word VOMIT in it. So, the upshot was they asked Joan Rivers to read it instead, and she brought down the house!

My favorite book is A WOMAN OF PASSION, the story of Bess of Hardwick. This is another historical romance where all the characters are real people of history. I collected research material on Bess for about sixteen years before I felt competent enough to tell her story. Bess had four husbands, and I tell the intricate details of all four marriages. I had to fight tooth and nail with my editor to get it published, but the fight was worth it.
In my latest series of historical romances that I call Peers Of The Realm, I begin in the ever- popular Regency period. But I vowed to write about real historical people, and expose the real-life scandals of the nobility, which to me are far more interesting than fictional peccadilloes.

The first book, THE DECADENT DUKE, is the story of Lady Georgina Gordon, whose four sisters had all married dukes or earls. Her mother, Jane Gordon, was not only a political hostess and personal friend of Prinny, the Prince of Wales; she was also London's foremost matchmaker. She determined that Georgina should marry wealthy Francis Russell, the Duke of Bedford, who owned Woburn Abbey. When he died suddenly, Jane decided that her daughter would marry his brother, John Russell, the new Duke of Bedford. It caused a scandal and Jane Gordon was portrayed by the caricaturist Cruikshank, 'Chasing the Bedford Bull' with a lasso.

The second book in the series, THE IRISH DUKE, is the story of Lady Jane Russell, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, who married James Hamilton, the Irish Duke of Abercorn.

My editor liked these books so much, she asked if I would write a third book in the series.
THE DARK EARL is the story of Lady Harry Hamilton who falls in love with Shugborough Hall owned by dark and dangerous Thomas Anson, the Earl of Lichfield. This story tells of the scandalous amount of gambling that goes on in the nobility and how real fortunes are won and lost at the gaming tables.

I am presently writing the fourth and last book of this series LORD RAKEHELL. It is the story of Lord James Hamilton, heir to the Duke of Abercorn, who was lord of the bedchamber to Queen Victoria's son, Edward, Prince of Wales. The prince married Alexandra of Denmark and lived a debauched life.
The lives of these real people in history are far more fascinating than anything I could invent.

A few years ago I wrote a plantation novel set in the Southern States. I couldn't get it published because it is about slavery, and politically incorrect. So I decided to be brave and put it up on Amazon for download as a Kindle eBook. I loved researching the Civil War and walking the streets of Charleston doing research. I'm pleased to report that MASTER OF PARADISE has been well received by readers. I expected a bit of a backlash, but I'm happy that my readers have been kind to me. Marsha Canham designed the spectacular cover for MASTER OF PARADISE.

To make it in publishing, guts has got to be your strong suit. Talent helps, but in the end it's BALLS that count!


  1. Loved hearing the story behind the stories! Especially enjoyed the last sentence...about talent and balls!

  2. I stand in awe of the amount of research you must have done to be able to write about real historical figures. And I'm not surprised, really, that your readers have been accepting of your new self-published novel set in the south during slavery. I think readers are far more flexible and accepting than publishers think.

    Congratulations on your success. I hope your gutsy moves continue to pay off!

    1. Paula:
      I enjoy the research far more than the writing. Editors at Publishing Houses have bosses they must please, so unfortunately they can't always buy what they like.
      I wish I was more savy at technology. I've been trying for 3 hours to reply to everyone's comments. LOL!

  3. Lots of fun to get to know more about your work. I respect all the authors who write historicals and take as much care in making it right as you do.

    It was interesting to note your comment about your plantation novel. My good friend, Laura Castoro, who wrote historicals and contemporary romances as Laura Parker, also had a plantation novel that she could not sell to her publisher. It was always one of hers that I liked a lot and I have suggested she release it herself. Hopefully she will follow your lead and do that.

    1. Maryann:
      I hope Laura takes your advice and publishes her plantation novel as an ebook. They went out of fashion, but perhaps we can change all that.
      My friend Marsha Canham told me she wrote a plantation novel, but she has moved a few times and can't find it.

  4. Thanks for that inspiring and entertaining post, Virginia! It was fun to read about the path to lustiness that you followed! I thought of Tom Huff (Jennifer Wilde) when I read "sex sells." That was his favorite saying! And, you are so right, in the end it's BALLS that count. (I'm finally developing some as I get older and it makes it lots easier to take ups and downs of this crazy career!)

    You are awesome! Thanks for your friendship and support over the years. Congratulations on all your success, born of gutsiness and talent and great instincts!

  5. Great post, Virginia! Thank you for sharing your journey & insights. You continue to be a role model for all of us who love to blend history and romance into can't-put-it-down books. I'm so excited about the success you're enjoying as an indie author. Here's to many more years of bold, bawdy, BALLSy books!

    1. Thanks, Shelly. I finally figured out how to answer the comments. Only took me 3 sodding hours!
      History and Sex, my favorite way to spend an evening!

    2. Virginia,
      I knew you'd figure it out! By the way, I don't suppose you'd care to elaborate on your favorite way to spend an evening...? Does the history come before the sex? Just kidding...

    3. Regan:
      Before, during, and after!
      I always say that if you read my books you learn a bit about history, a bit about sex, and a helluva lot about human nature.

  6. Virginia, loved this! A friend (male) used to write plantation novels way back when they were called "slavers." They had (for the time) lots of sex. He got an outraged letter from a reader named Mrs. Meyer who was shocked, dismayed and otherwise disgusted by the sex. The letter was such a classic that every year he gave a "Mrs. Meyer" party. The invitations came on a Xerox of her epistle & we had lots of fun!

    I got the work vagina in the first sentence of my thriller, HOOKED. I was and am very proud of myself for that & am happy to learn I'm not the only one!

    1. Ruth, that's a great story. I love to shock people, especially my readers.
      I bet HOOKED sells like hotcakes!

  7. Sally:
    Thanks for taking time to leave a comment. Balls and a sense of humor are necessary in this business. On a radio interview when I was asked if my husband and I practice the sex scenes, I replied:
    "Yes, that's why he's so short--it's from banging his head on the headboard!"

  8. I loved reading this, Virginia! Thanks for sharing. I wish I could have heard Joan Rivers read your story! (I hope you got a recording so you can relive that.)

    1. Lauren:
      Thanks for taking time to read my blog.
      No, of course I didn't get a recording.
      Probably Dorchester recorded it, but they are out of business now, and fat chance of ever getting my hands on it.

  9. I agree with Lauren -- I would have paid anything to hear Joan Rivers read your story. She (and you) must have brought the house down. Real history is anything but boring, as you so eloquently state here. Can't wait to read Master of Paradise.

    1. Kelly:
      Thanks for taking time to leave a comment. Joan Rivers is a woman after my own heart--she is fearless and will say anything to get a laugh. I was expecting a backlash with my Plantation novel, but for the most part, reaaders have been very accepting.

  10. Thanks, Virginia, for allowing us to get a look at your writing process. Joan Rivers? I'll bet that was, indeed, a hoot. MoP is on my Kindle and I'll read it as soonas I finish writing my new book. Good luck with it!

    1. Fran:
      You are very generous to download my latest book to your Kindle. Like you, I wish I had more time to read, but writing always gets in the way. LOL.

  11. Great blog, as always, Virginia. I can see you sitting there speaking because that's exactly how you talk as well as write! And for the record, I laughed at the word "manroot" itself. It's hard to visualize one of your splendid love scenes when a hairy carrot-like projection pops into mind. I've been happy and proud to be your friend for almost 30 years, and we've slogged down a lot of publishing roads together. I'm glad we're riding this new wave of self publishing together as well.

    Marsha Canham (trying for the 8th or 10th time to post..hope it goes through under "anonymous")

    1. Marsha, I'm so sorry about the posting problem. It's apparently a Google/Internet Explorer interface thing. (Virginia had to reload Google to get through). But you're here! And I love your long time friendship with Virginia. Amazing so many master storytellers are buddies.

  12. Marsha:
    Yes, we have traveled this sodding hard road together. I still laugh when I remember going to Montreal to a conference and spending all the money they gave us at the most expensive restaurant we could find. (They did not even post the prices on the menu.) That's the night you sang the aria from Carmen.
    Re: Manroot. A romance buyer for a big chain was taking her mother out to dinner. My book arrived in the mail, and her mother asked, "Is that the Manroot lady? If so, I'm not going out to dinner, I'm staying in to read her book."

  13. I, too, love hearing the stories behind the novels. You are one terrific naughty lady, Virginia. And a treasured one, too. Susan Connell

  14. LOL Virginia...yes...Les Halles. I remember the waiter standing there with a "deer in the headlights" look on his face when we were testing out the accoustics. Malle Vallik was with us too (now the head honcho for ebooks at Harlequin), so yes, it's amazing how we all sort of stay together in this odd, crazy world of publishing.

    Marsha Canham

  15. I enjoyed the post and reading about your research and your novel. Congrats on the new release.

  16. Virginia,
    I just want to thank you for being a guest on my blog this week. It's obvious from the comments you've received that you have many fans out there who love hearing from you. And, I'm one of them! Keep writing those wonderful lusty historicals!!

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