11 July 2010

Guest Author: Michelle Willingham

This week on Unusual Historicals we're welcoming back Michelle Willingham, whose Harlequin Historicals Undone short story, "Innocent in the Harem," is set in 1565 in the Ottoman Empire. Michelle is a RITA® Award Finalist of over a dozen books and novellas. Today she joins us to talk about this short story and her her other fantastic Harlequin projects!

Prince Khadin knows his days are numbered. His death could come at any moment, but even he cannot help but be distracted by the Bedouin princess he sees making a daring bid for freedom from the slave market. Even in captivity, her courage and purity attract Khadin to her as much as her beauty. Unable to resist the temptation, he takes the maiden back to the palace harem—to be brought to him at night...

Tell us about "INNOCENT IN THE HAREM" and the background history of the story.

"INNOCENT IN THE HAREM" follows the journey of Laila Binte Nur Hamidah, a Bedouin horse whisperer, after she escapes slavery and is brought to Prince Khadin, the (fictional) son of Suleiman the Magnificent (also spelled Süleyman, 1494-1566). They share sensual nights together, even knowing that each night may be their last. And though Laila longs for her freedom, the longer she remains with her prince, the more she longs for both of them to escape the dangers of the palace.

In real life, Suleiman had eight sons, whom he sent off to various provinces within his kingdom, in order to avoid rivalry between the heirs. If one of his sons posed a threat to the throne, the sultan could have him killed. Nearly a hundred years later, princes might be isolated in The Cage, which was almost a form of house arrest. Some of them went mad from the confinement, while others were poorly prepared to rule, having been kept apart from palace life.

Murder, plots of intrigue, and danger were all a part of palace life. Even the concubines were fiercely competitive. One tried to kill another woman's son by throwing him into the baths, because sometimes the sultan would often make the mother of his child into one of his wives. I used this as a plot element for my hero, along with another true story where a woman traded her turn on the sultan's couch and was executed for it. Real life was definitely filled with danger!

What made you decide to write about the Ottoman Empire as a setting?

This was a personal challenge for me. I've been writing both Irish medievals and also in the Victorian time period, but I knew absolutely nothing about the 16th century Ottoman Empire. The exotic setting of a harem was fascinating to research, not to mention that the clothing was completely different from kirtles and petticoats. I'd always wanted to do a setting that was very unusual, and it was such fun to learn about the customs and the area of the Topkapi Palace. For me, it was like doing an Arabian Nights setting.

What was the most interesting bit of research you came across?

There were two things, that stood out to me. I never realized that the sultan's mother, the valide sultana, was involved in choosing which women the sultan slept with.

Second, it was surprising to find out that the blood of princes could not be spilled, so poisoning and strangling were the preferred methods of execution.

What's next for you after this?

My next short story for Undone will be released August 1st and is titled "PLEASURED BY THE VIKING." It leads into my next book, SURRENDER TO AN IRISH WARRIOR, which is the last in my Irish medieval MacEgan Brothers series. It's available August 1st from eHarlequin.com and September 1st in retail stores.

I'm offering up three prizes today for three lucky commenters. First, a free download code for "INNOCENT IN THE HAREM." Second, a code for "PLEASURED BY THE VIKING." And third, a signed advance copy of SURRENDER TO AN IRISH WARRIOR. All you have to do is tell me which would be your favorite hero: a Turkish prince, a Viking, or a medieval Irish warrior? Good luck!


Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! Visit Michelle's website for a list of current releases, excerpts, and more information.

Readers, what a great bunch of prizes. To make it clear, I'll be drawing three winners next Sunday. Let me know which hero you prefer, or if all three make your mouth water. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!