Lawyer by day, romance author by night, Arabella Stokes is a prime example of what it means to be a writer at heart. Come what may, she MUST write! She even has a name for the alter-ego muse who simply won’t let her rest until her ideas have been put down on paper.
Her first novel, PROOF OF LOVE, is a Georgian era romance (as opposed to Jane Austen’s Regency). After the interview, leave a comment for a chance to win an e-book copy of PROOF OF LOVE!
1. You published your first book, a historical romance, in February 2012. What can you tell us about that story?
Proof of Love is a Georgian-era romance, which is a little bit unusual. Most of the ‘cravats-and-foxhunts’ romances are set in the Regency era, which Jane Austen made so popular. The Georgians were the generation before the Regency, so we are talking Mr. Darcy’s parents or grandparents — the big white wigs, the huge panniered dresses, and colorful velvet-and-satin clad gentlemen. The Georgians were a bit more earthy and less inhibited than the Regency crowd, so that is fun. At the same time, the Georgian era was a time of scientific discovery, religious questioning, and political change. The Georgians brought you the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the Declaration of Independence and Declaration of the Rights of Man, the first movement for abolition of slavery, the rise of social reform and philanthropy movements, and so much more. A nobleman in the Georgian era was likely to be a scientist, philosopher, or political reformer. Not just the men, either — Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (played by Keira Knightley in the movie The Duchess) was active politically, supported scientific endeavors, and was quite the scandal in a way Regency and Victorian society would not have accepted.
My story began when I read an article about one of Georgiana’s in-laws, an odd little man named Henry Cavendish. Despite being born into a wealthy and powerful family, he spent his life in scientific pursuits — he discovered the element Hydrogen, worked out a way to calculate the weight of the Earth, and developed our understanding of electricity. My hero, Edward, the Duke of Danesleigh, is a much more attractive and socially-adept version of Henry. Edward, being a man of science, does not believe in love. He selects a bride with a cold, calculating eye toward future generations — improving the ‘pedigree,’ if you will. To his surprise, he can’t control his emotions where Susan, his bride is involved. When a secret from her past threatens their future, he has to act upon his feelings and desires instead of logic and science.
2. What drew you to the romance genre? What about your novel in particular do you think romance readers will love?
I always read romance — starting with fairy tales, then moving on to those magnificent Victoria Holt gothic romances in middle school. I spent one summer in high school reading through my best friend’s collection of Harlequin Presents paperbacks, and I tried my hand at writing one way back then. It was awful, and I gave up writing for a long time! As an adult, I love romance even more. I’m a family and criminal lawyer, which means I see some really sad situations, and there are rarely happy endings. So I come home to read and write stories where sympathetic characters rise above adversity, where people behave heroically, and where true love, in the end, conquers all. I think — I hope! — that my novel will provide that for my readers.
3. I hear your next project is a southern contemporary humorous romance. What is that all about?
I am still writing the Georgian stories — I have a followup to Proof of Love completed — but I got an idea that just wouldn’t go away. My muse, Bridget, is very annoying that way. When she gets a story bit between her teeth, I just have to hang on and enjoy the ride. I grew up Southern Baptist, in the Bible Belt of North Florida/South Georgia, but I’ve spent my life fantasizing about gorgeous British noblemen. So I (or rather, Bridget) took that idea and ran with it. Cassie, the heroine of Holding Out for a Hero, is a South Georgia preacher’s daughter who dreams of meeting the Duke of her dreams. It looks like her fantasies are coming true when a wealthy British businessman comes to her hometown to build a factory. But even the best roses have thorns, and James turns out to be more Wickham than Darcy. In the end, it turns out that a real hero may have been there all the time, and a real nobleman may wear a police uniform. I pitched it as “If Bridget Jones was a Southern Baptist.”
4. Now that you have one book published and another well underway, do you find that it gets easier or harder?
Writing is hard, hard, hard. I agree with Dorothy Parker, who said that she hated writing, but absolutely loved having written. It is easier now in the sense that I know I can write a book. I know that I can tell a story that people will enjoy. So the wondering if I can even get words onto paper is over. But the more I write, and the more I learn about writing, the more I realize what I would like to achieve, and it is frustrating when the words don’t do what I have in mind. I have ideas for beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional stories, and I have to fight to make them real. Sometimes I end a writing session feeling like I just went ten rounds in a boxing ring!
5. What is your writing process like?
I have to write every day. Every day. No exceptions. If I skip a day, I skip two, and then it is three weeks since I’ve put a word down. The only way to be a writer is to write. I wish I had the luxury of writing in silence. I started Proof of Love when my daughters were in middle school and high school, and because of the day job, I had to squeeze my writing in when and where I could. I remember drafting one scene (the infamous strawberries love scene, of all things!) in the car line picking my youngest up from school. I write to the accompaniment of television, pop music, and sibling rivalry.
I get an idea, usually for a scene which I can see in my mind almost like a movie. I fantasize about it — a lot of writing for me is staring into space! Then, as the story develops, I find songs that capture something of the emotion I want to express. For example, in Holding Out for a Hero, there is a scene where something horrible happens to Cassie at a party, in front of the whole town. I listened to the Dixie Chicks’ Tonight the Heartache’s On Me over and over while I wrote that one.
6. Spreading the word is one of the most daunting aspects of publishing with a smaller press. How do you get your titles out there?
Oh, that is hard. I don’t know that I’ve got any answers for you. I published Proof of Love with a small press, and they were absolutely wonderful to work with. But in the end, your book is just one of many, many, small press books and the odds are overwhelmingly against a reader finding you. That’s the main reason I’m pursuing traditional publishing with my contemporaries.
7. Becoming a published author is never an easy path. How do you make it through the tough days?
I’m just too stubborn and ornery to quit. I’m blessed to have found some wonderful friends and writing buddies along the way (Hello to the ladies of the SFWG!!!), and they are right there with encouragement, sympathy, and a kick in the pants when I need it.
8. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you can share with aspiring writers?
1. Write every day. Tell yourself you will write 100 words. Once you do that, you can quit, even in the middle of a sentence. I find that once I start, I will keep going; it’s the sitting down and getting started that I loathe. So swear to yourself that you will write 100 words. Every. Single. Day.
2. Find a writing buddy or critique group you trust. There is no substitute for a friend who loves you and wants you to be successful, and yet has the fortitude to tell you when something just isn’t good enough yet. As I said, I am blessed with a fabulous crit group, and I have one friend who I call “The Book Midwife.” She went through blood, sweat, and tears with me as I gave birth to my book, and I cannot thank her enough!
To keep up with Arabella, take a look at her website, arabellastokes.com, where she blogs when she can find the time. (In her words, “writing comes first!”) She is also active on Facebook and Twitter (@romancemama), and responds to emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comment below to win a PROOF OF LOVE e-book. The giveaway will remain open until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, February 20, at which point a winner will be chosen at random. Best of luck to you all!
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