Historical Romance Writer Madeline Hunter On Revising, Writing Visually, and Humor

Posted by June 3rd, 2014

the accidental duchessWe are proud to have Madeline Hunter with us today! Madeline is an award-winning historical romance author whose books have been translated in twelve languages and featured on the USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestseller lists. Her new book, THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS, is published by Jove, an imprint of Berkley Books. It features the unlikely love affair between Lady Lydia and the Duke of Penthurst in 18th century England. In this Q&A, Madeline shares her love of revision (or not), how her art history background influences her work, and what inspires her humor. 


Janet Umenta: Most writers would agree that revising is difficult, but what was the most enjoyable part when revising THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS?

Madeline Hunter: I love to revise! It is far easier than writing new material for me, so the danger is I will spend my working time revising, if given the choice. The really enjoyable part of revising is when my editor asks for what I call substantive revisions (as in rewriting whole sections.) It is such a cool team project then, so I dig right in, glowing with renewed inspiration. (No one is believing this, right? See question #5 about my sense of humor.)

All joking aside, I’m not sure “enjoyable” and “revisions” go together. The reason why they don’t for me is mostly psychological. Finishing a manuscript is a big deal for anyone, and I’m no different. To then have to go back and revise— my brain wants to move ahead to the next project instead. With this project, as with all of them, the most enjoyable part about revisions was when they were finally completed.

It is critical to revise, of course. And critical to receive editorial feedback so the revisions improve the story and book (which I grudgingly admit they always do). Whenever one of my friends says her editor never asks for revisions, I assume her editor is not doing her job very well.

JU: Lady Lydia rebels against an extremely male dominated society that does not allow her much freedom. How do you feel today’s readers will relate to Lydia’s plight?

MH: Although women today do not have the same constraints, I think that we still deal with expectations, both spoken and not, about behavior and life plans, that infringe on our freedoms. That is what Lydia is really rebelling against— not that she can’t become a doctor, for example, but that from childhood she was expected to conform to a social template called “Daughter of an Earl” that required her to act and think and choose in certain ways. I think today’s readers will understand that, because conventions of behavior still restrict all of us.

JU: I loved your description of 18th century English high society. Does your art history background play a role when writing historical romances?

MH: Art History made me very visually attuned, and also gave me a deep visual memory. I write visually. By that I mean that I see my scenes playing out in my head, in detail. I know that when I enter a room, I do not take an inventory, but see in broad sweeps with a few telling details that occupy my attention, and I write my settings the same way. Readers think my books contain much more description than they actually do.

My work in Art History also influences plot development. I have had episodes play out like stories derived from famous paintings, for example. I do not label these, or point readers in any way to the paintings. They are just sources of inspiration for me.

JU: Both Penthurst and Lady Lydia show great complexity and growth in this story, which makes for an entertaining romance novel. What is your advice to romance writers who are working on developing their characters’ relationship with each other?

MH: I think that the themes of the best romance novels are not really about romance at all, but about the character growth for which the relationship serves as a catalyst.  How does this relationship and its conflicts and challenges change the characters, and make them choose to be different people than they might otherwise be? In a relationship that is meaningful– and I mean any relationship, not only a romantic relationship— people are about as vulnerable emotionally as they will ever be, and as challenged to do some self-scrutiny regarding values, goals, and priorities. All kinds of questions come up: What am I willing to give up for this other person? What in life really matters to me? How can I be as good a person as he seems to think I already am?

All of this has its source in real life as we have lived it. We know these things go on in the human mind and heart because they have happened to us. As authors, we need to be brave enough to strip mine down through our defenses to acknowledge our own emotions and experiences and vulnerabilities, then draw upon them when we write our books. If we do that, our characters will ring true, will show growth, and will resonate with readers.

JU: What was the inspiration behind the humor and wit in THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS?

MH: I think it is impossible to write any humor that does not derive from your own sense of humor. So whatever is in my books reflects me and how I see the world when I allow that sense of humor free rein. The verbal exchanges are similar in tone to those I might have with my husband, or he might have with his friends. I listen a lot to how people talk.

I have to work a bit at tapping into my sense of humor when I write, and envy the authors who seem to live life humorously, so it just flows right into their stories, effortlessly. I have considered that it might help if I drink some alcohol while I write— you know, to loosen me up—- but I worry that I will turn into the Author from Central Casting, with an ashtray of cigarette butts and a half-empty liquor bottle on my desk, so I have not experimented with using booze yet.

Madeline Hunter, author of Accidental Duchess


About Madeline Hunter

New York Times bestselling author Madeline Hunter’s new book, THE ACCIDENTAL DUCHESS, comes out June 3, 2014. Madeline has written numerous historical romance novels and over six million of her books are in print. Madeline has a Ph.D. in Art History, and she teaches at the college level. Connect with Madeline Hunter on Twitter, Facebook, and her personal website.



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