Friday, September 4, 2009

Interview with Blythe Gifford

I’d like to welcome our guest today, Blythe Gifford. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

Blythe: I’m all about the chocolate, so thanks!

You're welcome. We aim to please our guests. I understand you have a new release out called IN The MASTER’S BED. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?

Blythe: IN The MASTER’s BED is a spinoff of The HARLOT’S DAUGHTER. It’s my fourth medieval romance from Harlequin and my third story revolving around a character born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. The heroine is inspired by a real person, the daughter of King Edward III of England and his notorious mistress. The story begins when the heroine runs away from home, disguised as a boy, in order to study at the university. There, hidden among men in a place where women are forbidden, she meets a man who, for the first time, makes her want to be a woman. But what will happen when he discovers her secret and she’s discovered IN The MASTER’S BED?

IN The MASTER’S BED is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?

Blythe: I must give credit to my editor for the title. The hero is a “master” at Cambridge University, so the bed is his.

What made you decide to write in this genre?

Blythe: I’ve always loved historical romance, so when I was swept up in a corporate layoff many years ago, I decided it was time to tackle that dream. I’ve been interested in the fourteenth century and royal bastards since I read Anya Seton’s Katherine in junior high, so it was natural to begin there.

Where did you get your idea for this particular book?

Blythe: Those who read The HARLOT’S DAUGHTER (though you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this story) may recall that the harlot’s other daughter, Jane, was already what we would call a “tomboy.” She had studied a little Latin, so I always knew that in her story, she would run away, dressed as a lad, to make a life for herself that was very different than her beautiful sister’s. A university was the ideal answer.

What are your favorite historical research books and why?

Blythe: It always depends on the particular story. After four books, I’m relatively comfortable with 14th century food, clothing, travel, and customs. For this book, I had to delve into daily life at a university. Very different from court and castle! Some of my sources included The UNIVERSITIES OF EUROPE IN The MIDDLE AGES, by Hastings Rashdall, A HISTORY OF The UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, Vol. 1, by Damian Riehl Leader, FROM BOYS TO MEN, by Ruth Mazo Karras, and The KING’S HALL, by Alan Cobban. Not light reading, but loaded with interesting tidbits when you dig.

Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?

Blythe: I loved both my hero and heroine in this story. I’ve told you a little about Jane. The hero, Duncan, is from the north of England. It’s wild and beautiful border land, but Englishmen from the south think barbarians live there! Duncan has had to prove himself to overcome the prejudice of their perceptions. He’s smart and strong and tries to protect everyone in his care, but there’s a softer side that he hides. That’s the side full of the pains of the past and the longings he won’t admit. But if you listen as he plays his gittern (guitar), sometimes you might be able to hear them.

Tell us about how you develop your characters. Do you create character sheets, do interviews, that sort of thing? How does your research affect your character development?

Blythe: I generally have a concept of who they are and how they need to grow, but writing for me is really a contact sport – I have to be in contact with the computer! So I throw them into a situation and see what arises as I write. Sometimes, if I’m stuck, I’ll do a first person stream of consciousness and that helps me get into a character’s head. Usually, I’ll have an “aha!” moment three quarters of the way through the book and I realize “so that’s why s/he is that way!” But research – in an historical, it’s like a magic wand! Whenever I’m stuck, I can go back to history and some nugget will emerge that helps move me to the next step.

In this book, that happened with the heroine. After I began writing, I discovered there really was a woman who attended a medieval university, disguised as a man, for two years. This was reported in an academic paper and the professor believes it actually happened. I was relieved to think that it was a plausible scenario. From that paper, I borrowed the event of how “s/he” was revealed to be a woman and that scene became a climactic, defining moment in the book.

What are some common speech terms, dress modes, transportation or housing facts that you found interesting for your time period?

Blythe: As a high school student, I avoided taking Latin, convinced it was a dead, useless language. Now, as I write medievals, I wish I’d studied it! In the University, students were to speak and debate in Latin, not just be able to read it. As for clothes, today’s cap and gown is a direct descendent of the medieval garb. One of the purposes of the long cloak and the hat at that time was simply to stay warm! I also learned that “trivia” developed from the Latin (there it is again!) trivium, the first three liberal arts a student must study. And because books were scarce, cursory lectures were those in which the master simply read a book aloud to the class. (Hence, a “cursory” understanding, or one that is just on the surface.) As for housing, I call the medieval hostel a “14th century frat house.” Some things don’t change much in 700 years.

Do you have any authors that inspired you?

Blythe: Many, going all the way back to Anya Seton, as I mentioned before. I loved Laura Kinsale, Penelope Williamson, and Megan Chance, but I think we’re in the midst of a Renaissance and there’s a wonderful new crop of historical romance writers to enjoy.
What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?
Blythe: Chatting like this, I hope! Romance readers are the best fans in the world.

What do we have to look forward to next?

Blythe: My next story about a medieval royal bastard should be out in 2010. Date and title TBD, but this time, the story takes place on the other side of the border – I’ll be setting a story in Scotland for the first time.

Thanks, Blythe!

Blythe: Thanks for having me. The therapy has been great. I feel better already. And I invite everyone to visit me at I’ve a few more stops on my “Blog Until You Drop” tour and would love to see you. And also, please sign up for my e-list and I’ll let you know when the next book is out.

To celebrate her book release, Blythe is offering a signed copy of IN The MASTER’S BED to one lucky commenter on today's blog. She will be around all day today. I'm sure some of you have questions or comments for her, so please ask away...

After many years in public relations, advertising, and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years later, she became an overnight success when she sold her Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist manuscript to Harlequin. Blythe lives and works along Chicago’s lakefront, nurturing her muse with art, music, history, long walks, good food and good friends. She loves to have visitors at:


* Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved ®and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

*Photo by Jennifer Girard.


Emmanuelle said...

And yet another "new author" to read (new for me anyway) ;-)
Congrats Blythe for your new release !
I love historicals and especialy medievals (I'm happy to see more and more authors writing medievals btw).
Is there a recent release you've particularly enjoyed reading ? (it's always nice to have a recomendation from a pro ;-)

Anonymous said...

Good morning Blythe. Thanks for joining us. If you need more chocolate, let me know. Although while we're on the subject, can you send me a box of Frango Mints? Thanks also for the history lesson. It's always interesting to find out where things come from. I never took Latin either, choosing French. Should have majored in Spanish since I now live in the Southwest! So were there any scenes in the book that you or your editor decided to cut in the final version? Enjoy your day.

CrystalGB said...

Hi Blythe. Great interview. In The Master's Bed sounds good.. Love the cover.

Blythe Gifford said...

Emmanuelle - glad you're a medieval lover. I don't get as much time to read as I used to, but recently finished Joanna Bourne's MY LORD AND SPYMASTER and really enjoyed it. (Not a medieval, sorry!) Kim - thanks for having me. Frangos are the best, aren't they? No deleted scenes, but I did have to dial back a little on the hero's (accurate) medieval view of women to make him palatable for the modern reader. Crystal - I love the cover, too!

etirv said...

Good to see you here, Blythe! Really looking forward to reading ITMB! I like this blog's title, I've always said that you get the best and most cost effective therapy from reading good romances!


Amber Scott said...

Hi Blythe! Great title and premise. I'm curious, in what ways has your advertising background helped in self promotion and name building?

Debra St. John said...

Hi Blythe, I am with you on the chocolate! There's no better form of therapy.

Thanks for the fun into on word origins. It's always neat to find out where the way we speak today actually originated from.

Estella said...

ITMB sounds like an excellent read!
Do you plot your books or write by the seat of your pants?

Blythe Gifford said...

Etirv (or should I say Delilah?) - so true on reading romance. Amber - I think my background helped me understand that it's necessary to communicate clearly, simply, distinctively, and frequently in order to break through. And to realize that I'm NOT the expert on titles and covers! Debra - thanks for being here. It was fun trivia to learn. (joke!) Estella - I started as a pantser and am learning to plot more with each book. But there will always be surprises as I write.

Pat White said...

Hi, Blythe! I'm very excited to read "In the Master's Bed"! Regarding your 2010 release, how was the transition to setting your book in Scotland?

Blythe Gifford said...

Hi, Pat - As a long time Anglophile, setting a story in Scotland was like learning to write left-handed. But I think I finally got the hang of it!

Mari said...

Hi Blythe. I love the cover by the way.
I think illegitimacy is an interesting topic to tackle in books, as there are many characters in history who have become infamous, such as Lucrezia Borgia, for example, that led interesting lives in spite of, or because of their parentage.

Blythe Gifford said...

Mari: Having now written five books about royal bastards - and one about a non-royal one - it does give you a great built in backstory/conflict. And it was not necessarily the stigma in medieval times that it became later. (And thanks on the cover!)

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