Holly Newman and the real story behind “The Art of Love” series.
One of my sisters is the Director of Student Mental Health at a university. A couple of years ago she asked me if authors talk to their characters.
My response was a resounding yes!
She had a student who liked to write and said she talked to her characters. I told my sister it would be the subject of the conversations, not the fact she has conversations that might be suspect. My characters talk to me, especially when I’m trying to get them to do something they know they wouldn’t do, or when I’m going off the rails with their stories.
Take, for example, the Dowager Duchess of Malmsby. I took tea with her recently to discuss our series, “The Art of Love.” Her youngest son and five of her grandchildren are the subjects of the planned six-book series. The books are:
An Artful Lie – March 2023
An Artful Decision – June 2023
An Artful Secret – October 2023
An Artful Practice – June 2024
* * *
“Thank you for inviting me to tea this afternoon, Lady Malmsby.”
“Of course, dear. Cream in your tea?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Too bad. I don’t have any. I prefer lemon.”
I sighed. “I see how your reputation developed.”
“Which reputation are you referring to? I fear I have many.”
“Your reputation as a practical joker.”
“Oh, that one.” She nodded. “Yes, I’ll agree to that one. The peerage is such a fussy lot. Formal, proper, boring—there are a raft of terms I could apply.” She cocked her head to the side and slyly looked at me. “Admit it, I shocked you when I insisted the Duke of Ellinbourne was Viscount Redinger.”
I shrugged and reluctantly nodded. “Yes, that was not displaying the proper respect for his rank.”
“Oh, piffle. Miles was not raised to be a duke. His father was a churchman. When I first met him he had such gravity, so disappointing. Imagine my delighted surprise when he played along with my little joke! Inner depth to the man. I knew then he would be perfect for my granddaughter, Ann” she said, stirring her tea.
“Neither my grandchildren nor my youngest son have successfully traversed the marriage market maze so I have taken it upon myself to assist.”
“Are you claiming to have had something to do with your granddaughter Helena’s and the Earl of Norwalk’s romance in An Artful Compromise?”
She chuckled. “Helena didn’t think I knew she had the Adam in the Garden of Eden painting.” Her eyes danced with mirth. “I’ve known since I authorized payment for the carter’s bill. After three years of hiding the painting away, I decided the owner of the painting, and the man in the painting, should meet. He wanted to find and destroy the painting, and my granddaughter loved it. I enlisted the help of my daughter, Elizabeth, to see that the two met.”
She frowned. “But I didn’t expect a murder to cause the problems it did.”
“A-ha! So, I surprised you with that one, did I?” I fairly crowed with the knowledge I’d been a step ahead of the dowager duchess. After all, she is just a character. I’m the author!
She harrumphed and went on.
“My son Aiden puts out he is a confirmed bachelor; however, it was a disappointment in love that has made him shy of taking a wife. And the woman he felt wronged him is Lady Isabella Blessingame. He doesn’t know Isabella is as much a victim as he is, and he won’t listen if I try to tell him. So, I shall throw them together,” she said, her lips turning up in the corners as her eyes danced with secrets. “She may have been a sweet, naïve innocent when they first met; however, life has since honed her edges. Aiden is in for a few lessons in An Artful Lie.”
“That leaves romances for your son Arthur’s three children, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Merlin.”
‘Humm, yes. Guinevere would prefer to be amongst the musicians at a ball instead of a guest at a ball. I have my thoughts on who her match is. Lady Branstoke wrote to me about “Demon” Damon Partridge. She thinks he might be a perfect match for Guinevere.”
“Interesting,” I said, as I thought about that pairing for An Artful Decision.
“Do you know him?” the duchess asked me.
“Oh, that’s right. You are the author,” she said dismissively.
“Thank you,” I said drily. “What have you planned for Lancelot in An Artful Secret?”
“Miles told me about his youngest sister, Cassandra. She is the widow of the Marquess of Darkford. Her six-year-old son is now the marquess and others of the Darkford family want to take the child from her to train him to be a marquess.” She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Hers wasn’t a happy marriage. Her husband had some peculiar ways, very much into the occult. Lancelot writes gothic novels, anonymously, of course. Lady Darkford thinks one of his books is a veiled story of her life with Darkford. She wants to buy up the subscription so no one else can know her story. But she doesn’t know who the author is, and the publisher won’t say. At least not yet,” the duchess said, smiling.
I laughed. “If I understand you properly, you are not only a prankster, but you are also a meddler.”
She nodded. “My family is my entertainment.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ok, so for the last book, An Artful Practice, what is in store for Merlin, the physician?”
“A hedge witch.”
“An herbal healer,” she said.
“An herbal healer I can deal with. When you said Hedge Witch, all I could think of is a person who practices magic. But you are talking about an herbalist.”
“Am I?” she asked, looking at me over the rim of her teacup.
“Yes,” I said firmly. “I think,” I added, worry creeping into my thoughts. What does the duchess have in mind? I can only wonder.
* * *
So yes, dear sister. I do talk to my characters, and they talk to me.
Holly Newman is a pseudonym for Holly Thompson. She lives in Florida seven miles from the Gulf Coast with Ken and their six cats. Holly decided to be a writer when she was in the fifth grade and filled notebooks with stories—until a mean-spirited high school teacher told her she had no talent for writing. Crushed, for several years she stopped writing, but the writing bug didn’t go away. Her first book won first place in the University of Texas at Dallas fiction writing competition and was first runner-up for the Rita award from Romance Writers of America.
Holly’s interest in the Regency period came while in high school and she volunteered to re-shelve returned books at the community library. Every week there were Georgette Heyer novels to be shelved. Curious, she checked one out and became immersed in the world of the regency.
Fast forward ten years. When attending Science Fiction Conventions she met people who read science fiction; but also enjoyed the works of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, just as she did. They liked these books so much that they wore regency costumes at the science fiction convention. They even had regency era dancing on the convention program. These Science Fiction readers and writers knew a lot about the regency era. Intrigued, Holly did research on the era and quickly went from being a casual regency reader to a regency history buff. After that, with encouragement from science fiction authors, it was just a small step to writing regencies.