27 June 2010

Guest Author: Laura Navarre

This week on Unusual Historicals we're welcoming Samhain author Laura Navarre as she celebrates the release of her hot Tudor-era romance, THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS. Here's the blurb:

Living breath-to-breath beneath the shadow of violence, Italian perfumer and apothecary Allegra Grimaldi was forced to learn the killing arts from the Hand of God--a religious assassin. She has sworn never to use her deadly skills, but now a blackmailer has her by the proverbial throat.

To save her family from an ugly death, she must do the unthinkable. Infiltrate the court of King Henry VIII, poison the heretic Anne Boleyn before she becomes queen--and frame Anne's bastard brother for the crime. Honest and principled, Sir Joscelin is the perfect pawn.

Allegra is clever, captivating...and her warning to Anne immediately rouses Joscelin's suspicion. Sworn to protect his sister, and striving for recognition from the powerful father who disdains him, Joscelin has no choice but to put aside his attraction to the mysterious lady and gather evidence to see her burn for witchcraft.

To avert a disaster that will change the face of Europe, this stalwart soldier of incorruptible integrity and the fallen woman who breathes deception must learn to trust each other--and discover the one truth that could save them all.

Why does The Devil's Mistress qualify as an unusual historical?

I think this story's unusual for several reasons. Although the Tudor period is very popular right now--given the Showtime series "The Tudors" and recent films like Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring the magnificent Cate Blanchett--for some reason there aren't many romance authors writing in this period. You can find plenty of good Tudor-set historical fiction beyond the well-known and worthy works of Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl). I've recently read Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell and it was superb. But, still, not many romance writers are working in this period. And I've enjoyed so much researching and writing about this passionate, elegant, dangerous world for THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS.

Another reason the novel is unusual is my heroine Allegra Grimaldi, who's a lady assassin. While you find plenty of kick-butt heroines in paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and romantic suspense, a dark assassin heroine is not very likely to appear in a historical, except for mine! For that reason, making the sale was a real struggle--even after the manuscript had started winning contests like Hearts Through History Romance Through the Ages and the River City Romance Writers Duel on the Delta. Thankfully, Samhain was willing to take a chance on the story, and released it June 1.

One of my greatest challenges in writing the novel was making this dark heroine sympathetic. The key is her motivation--why she's an assassin (to protect her blind father and little sisters, who are the villain's captives)--along with her obvious guilt, suffering, and reluctance to do these wicked deeds.

For anyone who's interested in the topic of dark heroes and heroines, I'm giving a two-hour workshop on this topic at the Emerald City Romance Writers conference in Seattle on October 1-3.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your "real life" influences your stories.

In my other life, I'm a diplomat who's lived in Russia and works on weapons of mass destruction issues. In the line of duty, I've been trapped in an elevator in a nuclear power plant and have stalked the corridors of facilities churning out nerve agent and other apocalyptic weapons. In this capacity, I meet many of the world's most dangerous men!

Inspired by the sinister realities of my other life, I primarily write dark medieval and Renaissance romance spiked with political intrigue. I'm fascinated by geopolitics, foreign affairs, what makes nations go to war and form alliances, and I view my novels--even my historicals--through that lens. For example, the villain in my debut release, THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS, is the Spanish Ambassador at the court of King Henry VIII. And my hero, the honorable Sir Joscelin Boleyn, is a diplomat who's just returned from several years in Paris, pursuing English interests at the French court.

Here's another example. My second release, THE DEVIL'S TEMPTRESS, takes place in Eleanor of Aquitaine's dazzling court, during the time when Eleanor and her son--who would become Richard the Lionheart--are in rebellion against her husband King Henry II. The war brewing between England and France is the backdrop for this story, and my heroine is Lady Alienore of Lyonstone, an earl's daughter and the queen's privy chancellor--and thus directly involved in the conflict.

Can you offer any recommendations for books similar to THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS that your readers would enjoy?

I love this question! In the area of historical fiction, I've read so many great books lately. Anything by Philippa Gregory set in the Tudor period is great, but my particular favorite is The Queen's Fool, a historical novel with a strong romantic subplot about Queen Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary") and a female jester at the queen's court. Robin Maxwell has done some great books, including The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. For a paranormal, fantasy, fairy-tale take on the Tudor court, I'd suggest Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan. Susan Wiggs has recently reissued the Tudor Rose trilogy, which starts with At the King's Command. Finally, for the most entertaining "real life" storytelling, check out The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, which tells Henry's story in first person from his own perspective. Similarly, the most dramatic and entertaining "real life" telling of Elizabeth Tudor's story that I've found is I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles.

What should your readers look forward to next?

My dark Crusader romance, THE DEVIL'S TEMPTRESS, a 2009 Golden Heart finalist as "The Devil's Virtue," is being released by Dorchester in late October. I'm currently working on another dark medieval, set in Anglo-Saxon England (with Vikings!), which also qualifies as an unusual historical. It's about an exiled lady on the perilous Scottish border who must choose between a Viking warrior and an enigmatic would-be bishop to save her besieged home.

Also, my agent JD DeWitt is currently pitching a sexy romantic suspense called "The Russian Seduction," which is a bit of a departure for me--the dedicated writer of historicals! Elevator pitch: When a hard-line Russian leader invades a neighboring country the U.S. has sworn to defend, war can only be avoided by a risky undercover liaison between a renegade Russian submarine captain and an ambitious, by-the-book American diplomat--the forbidden woman he's aching to seduce. So there's another book inspired by my "real life," although if I'd ever met a Russian submarine captain like my alpha hero Victor Kostenko, I would have been in trouble big time!

How can readers get in touch with you?

I have a brand-new website that I'm very proud of. I've also Friended many readers on Facebook and on Twitter. And you can always reach me by email at LauraNavarreAuthor@yahoo.com.

Thanks so much to Unusual Historicals for this chance to chat with your readers! I've really enjoyed it.


And we've enjoyed having you! Readers, you can enter to win a free copy of THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS by leaving a comment or question. Maybe you could answer this: Does Tudor-era romance appeal to you? Or, how dark can your heroes and heroines be before they're too dark? I'll draw a winner at random next Sunday. Open to everyone. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!