Lady Emma Hardwick seems to have a lot of complications in her life in DUKES DO IT BETTER. How would you describe her as a heroine? Realistically flawed? Some of my favorite historical heroines are those written by Stephanie Laurens because I like a heroine who is shrewd and pragmatic. What attributes do you like giving your heroines?
Shrewd and pragmatic heroines are always going to be preferrable in my world because I understand those!
More than anything, I want my characters to be relatable in some way. Even if there are aspects we don’t like, or wouldn’t embrace for ourselves, I want their actions to make sense and ring true. Lottie (ANY ROGUE WILL DO) was a ‘control enthusiast’ because she’d learned the hard way that the only person she could rely on was herself. Phee (West End Earl) was always going to gravitate toward options where she could lone wolf to get things done, because independence meant safety.
But I remember writing Emma and feeling like it Just. Wasn’t. Working. As I pushed on, it became clear that the only way forward was to really let her emotions reflect my own experiences as a single mother. When you’re a solo parent you’re used to doing it all, carrying it all, and putting on a face that says you’re perfectly content to be alone. To make Emma relatable, I had to let the reader see her vulnerability.
At the beginning of each chapter, there are snippets from her personal journal. You see her core there. The loneliness, the longing for intimacy, the joy of motherhood, the bittersweet moments where she wanted to turn to someone and say, “did you see that?”, but no one was there. Those journal entries are remarkably similar to my own from my decade as a single mother. Like her, I wrote letters to my future partner.
I hope readers will agree that Emma is a work in progress—stubborn, passionate, and a realistic portrayal of single parenthood (in a fantasy world where money isn’t a major concern).
Why a navy captain for a hero? What was your inspiration?
Malachi appears on the page for the first time at the very end of ANY ROGUE WILL DO. He has maybe one page of that book, but there’s a line where he’s talking to the villain, and he made me laugh out loud. That’s when I knew this sketchy sea captain was going to be a hero. Up until that moment, he was just a one-off character.
I joke that this book is my Aquaman In A Cravat fanfic, because Jason Momoa was the physical inspiration for him—the kind of ‘handsome grimy’ that makes you want to force the man to shower, and offer to scrub his back.
When I wrote Captain Harlow at the end of ANY ROGUE WILL DO, I didn’t initially realize I was committing to writing an entire book with this guy. But man, Malachi was FUN. Once I did more research and realized how often the Royal Navy went without pay, I realized the ‘sketchy’ part of his actions in the first book made total sense and ran with it.
How would you describe the dynamic between Emma and Malachi?
Sexy. Honest. And yet, not. Theirs is the honesty of a one-night stand, where you let loose and can be real, without any expectations of that person sticking around and making things complicated. So, in a way, they’re incredibly honest at first—sexual, without being deeply emotionally vulnerable.
As that one night turns into more, it becomes obvious that they each have zones they don’t let the other into. Personal lives, career decisions, family dynamics.
However, opening those private areas of life to each other is where the real intimacy happens. That’s why, when Emma allows Malachi to meet and be a part of her family circle, it’s the beginning of her change.
There’s a scene toward the end where Emma is trying to keep things sexual, because that’s easy and uncomplicated. Malachi turns it emotional. He uses that encounter to convince her that he sees HER and the glorious mess that she is, and he’s all in. That forces a new level of honesty.
From the description for DUKES DO IT BETTER, it sounds like there is some mystery or suspense element in this book? Is that true for every book in this series? Do you try and maintain a balance between romance and mystery?
I could never write a decent mystery. Agatha Christie would haunt me from the grave and change my laptop password so I couldn’t write. Really, it would be bad.
This story is the final in a trilogy, so there were loose ends to tie up, which meant a certain element of resolving threats.
While I try to have external as well as internal conflict in my stories, I would never go so far as to label them as romantic suspense or mystery. There are so many authors who write in those genres better than I ever could!
Are there any supporting characters – whether friends or family – in DUKES DO IT BETTER who support the main characters? If so, how would you describe them? And how big a role do they play in this story?
Absolutely. This trilogy, the Misfits of Mayfair, is all about found family. If a reader liked the other two books in the series, they’ll be familiar with all the players. Both couples from the previous books feature heavily in this one.
Everyone has a part to play in Emma’s small social circle, and in this context, the reader sees how the past heroines help each other. Also, the bromance element was fabulous. All the men handling the appearance of Malachi five years after his actions in the first book, was incredibly fun to write.
As an author, it was such a joy to have my imaginary friends on the page at once, and I hope fans of the series enjoy the result. There’s even a cameo by the couple from my newsletter subscriber short story, The Wallflower Code.
Other authors I interviewed in the past have told me that the kind of books they enjoy reading are different than the kind of books they enjoy writing. What do you like to read? Favorite books? Favorite authors?
When I’m drafting, I avoid reading historical romances, but my go-to comfort read will always be a romance of some kind. Nothing beats a happy ever after. Everyday life is loaded with sad stories, so I choose to chase my happy with a guaranteed HEA.
Audiobooks are a way I explore beyond my genre. Having a great narrator who draws me into a story encourages me to cross into books I wouldn’t otherwise gravitate towards, like thrillers or memoirs.
As to favorites, my auto-buy author list used to be so much shorter! There are so many wonderful writers out there, and I look at their work differently now that I’m part of the industry. These days, that list is constantly growing.
There are the usual suspects, of course—Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Beverly Jenkins. But I also really love Kylie Scott, Pippa Grant, Alexis Hall, Robin Lovett, Mia Hopkins, Anne Aguirre, Catherine Stein, Virginia Heath. Daphne Chase’s Christmas story…how much space do we want to commit to this question? Bottom line: the romance genre is a rich and beautiful place, with something for everyone.
What are you currently working on?
I’m excited to have another contract with Grand Central Forever. The details haven’t been released yet, so I’m in that awful waiting period where I am writing but can’t talk about it publicly yet. However, I can say it’s a new series focusing on working class heroines with female friendship at the center of the stories.
Misfits of Mayfair # 3
Lady Emma Hardwick has been living a lie—one that allowed her to keep her son and give him the loving home she’d never had. But now her journal, the one place she’d indulged in the truth, has been stolen. Whoever has it holds the power to bring the life she’s carefully built crumbling to the ground. With her past threatening everything she holds dear, the only person she can trust is the dangerously handsome, tattooed navy captain with whom she dared to spend one carefree night.
Captain Malachi Harlow, Duke of Trenton, would rather throw himself overboard than return to society. But when the Admiralty calls him back home, there is no room for refusal. Crossing paths with the delectable Lady Emma is a welcome distraction that takes a more serious turn when they discover they have a common enemy. Working together could help them both—but will it also bring a temptation neither can resist?
Fiction | Saga | Romance Historical [Forever, On Sale: May 24, 2022, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781538735725 / eISBN: 9781538735732]
Bethany Bennett grew up in a small fishing village in Alaska where required learning included life skills like cold-water survival, along with several other subjects that are utterly useless as a romance writer. Eventually settling in the Northwest with her real-life hero and two children, she enjoys mountain views from the comfort of her sofa, wearing a tremendous amount of flannel, and drinking more coffee than her doctor deems wise.
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