Laura Willig began what eventually became her first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, while still a Harvard graduate student in history. (She later earned a Harvard law degree as well.) “It was my reward to myself for finishing two years of intensive graduate work,” she says. With three successful historical romances under her belt and a fourth—The Seduction of the Crimson Rose—about to be released, she recently rewarded herself again by quitting her job as a litigator to write full-time. Spying aristocracy, raven-haired beauties and treacherous assignations are, of course, included in the new book. Willig spoke with the Scene by phone from her home in New York City:
Scene: How long have you been writing?
Willig: I wrote my first full manuscript in fourth grade. I tried to send it off to Simon & Schuster. I was so proud of myself. I packaged it up, and my mother mailed it for me. It was handwritten and it was 300 pages long. It was called The Night the Clock Struck Death. I was very proud of the title.
Scene: Did they send you a response?
Willig: They sent it back with a form rejection letter. I was devastated. I was convinced my writing career was over right there.
Scene: Your first book was picked up a month after you started law school. Did you consider dropping out?
Willig: I’m an immensely superstitious person. I figured if I just sort of flung the law school thing away, and said, OK, I’ve got a book contract, and I’m going to be a full-time writer now, then suddenly the book contract would disappear. I always wanted to be a writer so badly that I kept waiting for something to go wrong. It’s like fairy dust. You think you’re going to wake up one morning and it will all have been a dream.
Scene: You wrote your second and third books—The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Deception of the Emerald Ring—while still in law school. Did the other students think you were crazy?
Willig: A little bit. It was an interesting mix of “You’re crazy” and “Oh my God, you’re so lucky; will you take me with you and let me be your research assistant?” The men wanted to know if I was writing porn for women. Sometimes male law students can be overgrown frat boys. They were all sort of amused and intrigued by this concept of writing a book instead of doing something legal over the summer.
Scene: For the nearly two years you were both a litigator and a writer, did you sleep at all?
Willig: It was touch and go for a while. I’d be at the law firm 15 hours a day and then try to lock myself up on weekends and put in full days on the book. I let myself have one social event per weekend as time off for good behavior. On weekdays, often I would leave the office, go to a cocktail party or something around 7:30, and then go back to the office afterwards and work until midnight and then get up the next morning and start again. I did get a lot of “Are you dead?” emails. So this is the first time in years that I’ve done just one job at a time. It’s nice not to have that dislocation of the mind where whenever you’re doing something, you think you’re supposed to be doing something else.
Scene: There’s a very playful feel to your writing. Are you having fun?
Willig: Part of the conceit with these books is that it’s all being filtered through Eloise’s imagination. Since they clearly aren’t serious historical fiction, what I wanted to do was play up some of the humor that comes with juxtaposing modern ideas with a historical setting.
Scene: You’re an expert at both the fast-paced contemporary world of Manhattan litigation and the world of English history. Do you see any common ground there?
Willig: Part of what I was pushing back against is the sense that the past is this completely inaccessible world. Having spent so much time in archives and with these much older documents, it’s amazing to me how incredibly familiar these voices are. Even though the trappings are different, the things they’re concerned about are remarkably the same.
Scene: And yet conveying an entire age can’t be simply a matter of changing the characters’ outfits or giving them different hairstyles.
Willig: Every era is full of contradiction. You look at our own, and it’s so hard to characterize. You can make all sorts of generalizations, but then you could come up with a dozen examples to show how those generalizations are wrong. I think it’s equally true of the early 19th century, the 17th century or any other era. What’s amazing about it is that this aggregrate of all these conflicting examples does add up, in the end, to a very specific historical feel. We have a sense of how these eras differ from each other, that the 18th century has a very different feel to it from the Regency, for example. And yet the composite parts—all these little moveable bits that go into it—are often not that dissimilar from each other. Trying to create that balancing act is, I think, one of the hardest parts of writing historical fiction.
If only they would show HUDSUCKER PROXY, the Coens' most overlooked and underrated movie. It…
One I'm really looking forward to is KANSAS CITY LIGHTNING, Stanley Crouch's book about Charlie…
Another excellent idea: Prints! Check out Sam Smith's shop of awesome limited-run movie posters: http://samsmyth.wazala.com/widget/?nicknam……
Just realized Rayna is wearing the same frilly pirate blouse I wore for school photo…
It hardly seems news that the classic White Christmas is a corny show with contrivances,…