The Romance Reader Interviews Rose Lerner

  The Interviews
New Faces 215
Rose Lerner
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by Cathy Sova

Welcome to our New Faces column, where you can meet debut romance authors and find out about their books. This time we're visiting with Rose Lerner, whose first release is the historical romance In For a Penny from Leisure Books.

Rose, welcome to TRR! Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1982. (I was born on the day Sir Thomas More was beheaded, which I think is pretty cool.) We moved to Eugene, Oregon when I was about 8, so I grew up in the Northwest. I went to Swarthmore, a little liberal arts college outside Philadelphia, Swarthmore. I had a great time in college (I majored in Math and minored in Russian--if you ever want to talk to me about theories of Dostoevskian discourse, go for it! I love that guy) but I really missed the Northwest. So after college I moved to Seattle. I really, really love it here, especially all the water everywhere, lakes and bays and whatnot. It's beautiful. I live with a couple of friends and their four cats--I have the big basement all to myself. A friend nicknamed it my underground lair and it stuck. The lighting is surprisingly good, though! It has nice-sized windows for a basement.

Are you coming to romance writing from another job?

I've had a few different jobs. I tutored math for years. I was a union organizer for eight months, too. It was the most intense job I've ever had and I loved a lot of things about it, but it didn't give me time to write, plus it required a lot of travel and long hours and my mom's health wasn't so great at the time, so I didn't last. I've worked at my local natural foods co-op for three years now. I'm a cook in the deli, and I love it (although I cook a lot less at home now that I do it eight hours a day at work!).

What led you to write romance?

I've been writing since I was a tiny child--after a certain age it was fanfiction for classic British lit, mostly. My first attempt at a novel was a sequel to Ivanhoe when I was ten. I wanted Rebecca to marry Brian. I got into romance when I was twelve. My middle school had a little career internship thing in seventh grade, and they paired me up with a local writer. She in turn introduced me to Carola Dunn, another local author who was writing traditional Regencies at the time (she's doing mysteries now). I read everything by Dunn in the local library, some of it more than once. The following year a friend loaned me my first Georgette Heyer, and it was all over.

All through high school we made trips to the mass-market paperback bookstore together (they had an entire wall of Regencies, which I still remember with awe) and wrote each other in-character letters as Regency debutantes, like the ones in Sorcery and Cecilia. From there it was a small step to "I could write a book!" In college I took a writing workshop and tried doing more "serious" literary writing, but luckily it didn't take. Romance is just a natural fit for me, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Tell us about your road to publication.

I wrote my first completed romance manuscript as a high school senior. It had potential and some good dialogue, but I'm mortified now to realize I actually submitted it to agents and editors. Gulp! I didn't get much done besides research in college, but within a year and a half of graduating I'd finished my second manuscript. I submitted and pitched it energetically with no results. (I still love that story and with major reworking it will become my second published book, Lily Among Thorns.) But I'd learned a lot about writing from the process of writing and revising it with the help of my fabulous critique group, the Demimonde. I started my third book, In for a Penny.

Writing Penny was a really hard process for me. The first quarter of the book went swimmingly--and then my mom died of cancer. We had been very close, and she loved romance and was always my most important reader. I didn't write for six months and I never got back the chemistry I'd had with the book--at least, not during the first draft. I forced myself to finish the book, but I couldn't force myself to revise it.

I pitched the book to Leah Hultenschmidt from Dorchester at the Emerald City Writers' Conference and sent her a partial, but by then I was feeling so pessimistic about my writing and my career that I didn't expect anything to come of it. Luckily, when Leah requested the full, the promise of a potential contract was enough to get me working again. I reread the manuscript, realized I did actually love this book, and revised it in a mad month-long dash. And the rest is history!

What kind of research was involved for your first book?

I did a lot of research for In for a Penny. I'd never written a story set in the country before, I'd never written a story set so late in the Regency before (the book takes place in 1819, and my previous two books were set during the Napoleonic Wars), I'd never...the list goes on. I researched farming, country life in general, the poaching wars, the 1816 uprisings, the Peterloo massacre, estate management and accounting, cross-class marriage, entails and marriage settlements, justices of the peace, contemporary opera, you name it.

Research is really important to me because it sparks a lot of my ideas (I'm a pantser, and I usually pause for a research binge a third to half of the way through a book) and also gives me a general feeling of comfort and confidence when I write. Plus, it's a lot of fun for me. I have a partial research bibliography for Penny up on my site if anyone's interested: http://www.roselerner.com/bookshelf/ifap_bibliography.html

Tell us about your debut book.

Nev, the hero, is a young man who's never had to take care of anyone but himself--until his father dies bankrupt and leaves Nev in charge of the family and an impoverished estate. He marries the daughter of a self-made man for her money and accounting skills, but when they show up at the estate they realize money is the least of their problems, which include but are not limited to: hungry, resentful tenants, Nev's family's propensity for scandal, an incompetent steward, a menacing neighbor, local poaching wars, recent crop failures--and their growing love for each other.

I love stories where the hero and heroine have come to an understanding about what their relationship is supposed to be--this is just a fling, this is a business partnership, this is a friendship, or, in the case of Penny, this is a marriage of convenience--and then because that understanding is important to them, they struggle not to fall in love. But of course they can't help it!

Who are your influences as a writer?

Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen are two of the biggies--they're both authors I strive to emulate but also have arguments in my head with on a regular basis. Then there are all the brilliant traditional Regency authors I read growing up. And--okay, this is going to sound nuts, but Dostoevsky taught me a lot about being brave enough to let my own weird self onto the page and trust that readers will respond to it.

My role model is probably Loretta Chase. She is such a powerful writer, and she writes such reliably, deeply satisfying romances while doing innovative and exciting things with the genre. Plus she has a fabulous website and a great blog. Someday I hope to be half as amazing as she is.

What does your family think of having a published romance author in their midst?

I think they're proud. My uncle is making all his friends read it, which is adorable.

Tell us about plans for future books.

My next book, Lily Among Thorns, is coming out in January 2011. Lady Serena is the owner of a prosperous inn and a force to be reckoned with in the London underworld. But she has never forgotten the miserable year she spent as a prostitute after her noble father disowned her--in fact, she has spent her life since then keeping everyone at arm's length, determined never to be powerless or dependent again. She also hasn't forgotten the drunk young man who, five years before, gave her the money she needed to buy back her contract at the brothel. So when Solomon shows up at her inn, asking for help in locating a stolen family heirloom, she recognizes him immediately. Serena jumps at the chance to repay the one debt she still owes. She believes the biggest threat to her independence will be the sparks that fly between them. But when disaster threatens, she finds they must work together to fight for their freedom, their lives--and England itself.

How can readers get in touch with you?

My website, www.roselerner.com. has a contact page with a couple different ways to get in touch with me. Hearing from readers is one of my favorite parts of being published!

Rose, thanks for joining us, and best of luck with your future releases! April 24, 2010

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