Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heroine in Disguise!

Two Harlequin Historical authors discuss their differing approaches to the woman disguised as a man premise.

The “woman disguised as a man” setup has been a popular hook for historical romance for decades and it remains so today. In fact, two Harlequin Historical September releases feature this theme: HIS RUNAWAY MAIDEN by June Francis and mine, IN THE MASTER’S BED by Blythe Gifford. I invited my fellow author from “across the pond” to talk with me about the appeal, and challenge, of writing these stories. First, I’ll turn it over to June.
Thanks for joining me, June. Tell me about HIS RUNAWAY BRIDE.
It’s set in 1502, so the beginning of the Tudor period. My heroine, Rosamund is English and my hero, Alex is a part Swedish, part Scottish baron, who is also a spy. They are tricked into a speedy marriage when Rosamund's godmother, the slightly wacky Lady Elizabeth Stanley, realises not only that they have travelled through England unchaperoned but also that they are made for each other. She is related to the king of England and soon the couple are involved in the intrigue and machinations at Henry Vll's court at Richmond Palace. Rosamund's wicked stepbrother is party to treason and has them in his sights. With their lives in danger Rosamund and Alex soon realise where their hearts lie and there is an exciting finale on the River Thames.

How did the idea come to you? Was it part of the core idea?
At the beginning of the book Rosamund needs to make a quick escape from her stepmother and as she will be easily recognisable as herself, she decides she needs a disguise. When she was younger she used to don her supposedly dead brother Harry's clothes for riding and knows she can make better speed wearing breeches. She also believes that she is safer travelling if folk believe she is a male until she encounters our hero. So I'd say yes, it was part of the core idea.

What was the most challenging part of writing that scenario?
I think the dialogue. How do they talk to each other in their different roles? What about Rosamund's voice? When she donned her disguise she did not expect to have to converse and answer questions from our very male hero. She's had little experience of being in young men's company and can only guess at what they would talk about. But she wants to find out more about this foreigner and what is he doing in her country. As for Alex he has ulterior motives for continuing with the pretence and has questions of his own that he wants answers to from her. As we know this dialogue is important so as to give the readers information about our two characters as well as to build our hero and heroine's relationship and to have the readers wanting to know when will the denoucement happen.

Why do you think it is such a popular scenario?
Because one can have the hero and heroine alone together in close proximity. This creates lots of lovely conflict. She has to remember to remain in character which is more difficult when she is playing a role day in, day out. She is bound to slip up. For our hero it is the temptation of having a woman in his bed and having to treat her like one of the boys once he has guessed her secret.

Thanks, June. My turn! Here’s a brief recap of IN THE MASTER’S BED.
It’s set in the late 14th century, so more than 100 years before yours. My heroine, Jane, who has never really enjoyed “women’s work” runs away from home in order to study at the University, where women were not permitted. Disguised as a man in a place where women are forbidden, she meets a master who accepts her as a student, thinking she is “John.” Living surrounded by men, she discovers that being a man isn’t as easy as she always thought, and that a certain man makes her want to be a woman for the first time. Of course, my hero, discovers her secret and, it turns out, wears certain disguises of his own.
How did the idea come to you? Was it part of the core idea?
Definitely. I saw this as a “woman in a man’s world” story and really wanted to explore what the sexes find so mysterious about each other. In addition, the book was a spin-off from THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER. In that book, I had already created a character who was a “tomboy,” as we would say today, so it was perfectly natural for her to masquerade as a boy.
What was the most challenging part of writing that scenario?
Given my setup, trying to figure out how men talk and behave when no women are watching! I’m sure some of my male friends will let me know if I got it right.
Why do you think it is such a popular scenario?
It allows the heroine much more freedom. She is released, as least for awhile, from the constricting requirements and expectations of her sex. That liberates the story, too, which the author appreciates! Also, I think the readers like being in on a joke, watching a baffled hero until he figures out what is going on.
But that sounds like a good topic for our readers.
Tell us: what do you like about woman-disguised-as-a-lad stories? We’d love to hear your comments.
And to learn more about us and our books, visit June Francis at http://www.junefrancis.co.uk/and Blythe Gifford at www.blythegifford.com.


Debra St. John said...

Hi Blythe! I do enjoy the 'woman-disguised-as-a-man' idea in a book. I agree that I love being in on the secret while the hero takes his time figuring things out. Ah, we do torture our heroes, don't we?

Carol Townend said...

Ooh, I adore Heroines in Disguise, and these both sound fascinating! And as for the wacky Lady Stanley knowing best - very promising - its lovely watching the H&H as they struggle against the obvious! Lovely interview, best wishes, Carol

Jeannie Lin said...

I also love the internal conflict the hero has to deal with once he's learned the truth, but he's trying to keep the secret.

In historicals, it really stands out as the ultimate defiance of convention. Both of your books sound wonderful!

Danni said...

Wow! this was such a cool post, I LOVE historical romances!! :D

Kathryn Albright said...

Hello Blythe and June,
These books sound fascinating. I enjoy a bit of fun at the hero's expense as he tries to figure out what is different about the "boy" he likes. I've read many stories set up this way, and they are so much fun. Woodiwus' Ashes in the Wind had this. Blythe-your parting shot--about the hero having some secrets of his own--is tantalizeing. Best wishes both of you for wonderful sales!

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

A bit late to the party, but as I just finished Blythe's book and have June's on my radar, had to chime in. This is one of my very favorite plotlines - lots of conflict and tension, and when the ruse is revealed by whatever means, both hero and heroine have to look at each other and their own lives in completely different ways.