Q&A With Delphine Ross
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Q&A With Delphine Ross
To start off today, my latest Q&A is with historical romance novelist Delphine Ross. Delphine’s debut novel The Poetics Of Passion comes out this summer on July 25th.
Q: Delphine, would you care to share with the readers and I, a little bit about what The Poetics of Passion is about and how you came up with the idea for the story?
A: First off, thank you so much for having me, Bianca, on Book Notions! The Poetics of Passion is basically a Victorian enemies-to-lovers revamping of “You’ve Got Mail.” Instead of a children’s bookstore owner and Tom Hanks, we’ve got Sebastian Atkinson, a passionate artist, and Musa Bartham, a love poetess with a scandalous family history, which has left her and her siblings outcast from society. To enable Musa’s sister Angela to make an advantageous marriage, Musa and Seb are forced to collaborate on a children’s book, unaware that they’ve been sending each anonymous love letters for the past year. As the saying goes, high jinx ensue.
I worked on The Poetics of Passion during the pandemic, aided by online workshops I took with romance authors such as Olivia Waite, Sarah MacLean, and Sherry Thomas. I’d been mulling writing a historical romance series about artists and writers and other artistic types for some time, and already had copious notes and family trees. I really wanted to write something witty and fun and romp-ish, which would make people laugh as well as tug at their heartstrings. I mean, the children’s book Musa writes has the Worst Title Imaginable: Poems of Morality and Goodness for Children to Abide. Luckily, Seb is able to set her straight. 😉
The backstory for Musa’s scandalous family is based on the love affair of Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais and Effie Ruskin; the Pre-Raphaelites were the rebellious bad boys of the 19th century art world. Effie was unhappily wed to the famed art critic John Ruskin when she met Millais; the subsequent dissolution of the Ruskins’ marriage so she could wed Millais led to much uproar in Victorian London. There’s a fascinating film about it entitled Effie Grey, which stars Dakota Fanning. It’s worth watching alone for the great period costumes.
Q: What made you want to write historical romance specifically? When did you know your calling was to be an author?
A: For as long as I can recall, I’ve wanted to be an author. One of my earliest memories is of looking at a book and a typewriter and trying to figure out why a typed piece of paper looked different from a printed book page. Seriously. As for historical romance, I’m a long time fan of the genre. I grew up reading Katherine Woodiwiss and Victoria Holt, though she’s more gothic suspense than romance. Today, in addition to the amazing historical romance authors I mentioned earlier, I’m particularly fond of Tessa Dare, Mimi Matthews, Harper St. George, Eliza Knight, Courtney Milan, Alexis Hall, and Cat Sebastian. During the worst of the pandemic, romance was all my anxious brain could take in. I needed to read those Happily Ever Afters.
Q: If you’re writing a new novel right now, is it a sequel to The Poetics of Passion, or a standalone novel?
A: I am working on a sequel of sorts to The Poetics of Passion, which is the first of the “Muses of Scandal” series. The next book, The Dance of Desire, is about Musa’s dancer sister, Angela, and her inconvenient marriage of convenience. (These situations never work out quite as planned, do they?) The Dance of Desire is set in Paris and has a ballet theme running through it. I also have a standalone novel underway about something completely different; I write adult and children’s nonfiction and fiction under another name.
Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to write a great historical romance?
A: Read romance as much as you can. Really get to know its tropes and reader expectations. For example, romances must have an HEA (Happily Ever After) or an HFN (Happily For Now). It always peeves me when I come across Valentine’s Day lists of “the best romance novels” that include Gone With the Wind or Nicholas Sparks—if there’s a tragic or unhappy ending, it’s not a romance novel.
I’d also encourage writers to understand the rich history of the romance genre and how truly radical these books are. What’s generally considered to be the first romance novel (Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson) was published in 1740—that’s nearly three centuries ago, decades before Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796. Since then, the romance genre has morphed, expanded, and shifted shape so many times that it’s mind-boggling. The genre also reflects the shifting of women’s roles in society. For example, the so-called historical romance “bodice rippers” of the 1970s reveals the shifting of sexual mores as a result of the Pill and the women’s liberation movement; the dominating “masters of the universe” erotica of Fifty Shades of Grey arrived in reaction to the financial crisis of 2008. (For a deep dive into the history of romance novels, I highly recommend Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop’s “Trailblazers” episodes of their Fated Mates podcast series.)
Bottom line: Be it historical or contemporary, romance is an incredibly rich, empowering, and varied literary form.
Q: If you were to write genres other than historical romance, what other genres would you try writing and why?
A: Believe it or not, I’m tempted to write a contemporary novel akin to someone like Kate Clayborn or Linda Holmes. Or a suspenseful literary vampire novel like Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. In my copious free time, sigh.
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block if you deal with it at all?
A: I’m fairly lucky that I rarely get writer’s block. Usually it’s enough for me to take a break and not torment myself. I’m a big believer in “flow” activities to help dissolve writer’s block: long walks, doing mundane repetitive tasks, working on something different. I think of my brain as a computer that just needs passive processing time without my direct involvement. Other times, it’s a matter of needing to research more deeply, especially with a historical element. I had a lot of fun reading about Pre-Raphaelite painters and book illustrators for The Poetics of Passion. On that front, I especially recommend Gay Daly’s Pre-Raphaelites in Love, which is really juicy.
Q: Does Hollywood have any interest or rights to your novel? Hollywood is in desperate need of originality and more book ideas wouldn’t hurt.
A: I would love that! I think it’s too soon to tell—The Poetics of Passion won’t be out for a little while yet. Anyway, Bridgerton seems to have cornered the Hollywood historical romance market for now, though imho you can never have enough!