1--What is the title of your latest release?
2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?
It’s a slow-burn Victorian romance about an art forger who gets dangerously entangled with the one man capable of seeing through her.
3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?
I’ve always loved Pre-Raphaelite paintings and they inspired me to write a series of books set in and around the late 19th century London art world. The first book, The Duke Undone, follows Lucy, a painting student at the Royal Academy. She wants to paint dazzling pictures and make a name for herself. With Artfully Yours, I imagined a heroine with a very different relationship to art. Nina never signs her name to anything she paints. As a forger, she exists in the art world’s shadow. Scenes take place in galleries and auction houses and museums, but also in the forger’s workshop, where she fakes Rembrandts with her brother.
4--Would you hang out with your heroine in real life?
I would, absolutely. I wrote Artfully Yours during the pandemic lockdown, when I was at peak loneliness and missing everyone. As a result, Nina feels more like a friend to me than any character I’ve ever written. She kept me company through difficult months. Also, I empathize with her divided loyalties and respect her scrappiness.
5--What are three words that describe your hero?
Ironic. Driven. Kind.
6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?
The hero, Alan, is a swimmer, so I researched swimming as a sport and pastime in Victorian England. I was surprised to learn that aquatic entertainments were a big thing in the 1880s! Professional swimmers would go for publicized endurance swims in the Thames, and some would perform feats in whale tanks. One famous family swimming troupe waltzed, smoked, and ate cake underwater. The smoking underwater bit seems particularly improbable, but that’s what the advertisements say.
7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?
I edit obsessively as I draft. I’ve tried to change my process over the years, because editing as you draft means you end up throwing away a lot of painstakingly polished prose during macro-level revision. But a book doesn’t feel “real” to me if the language isn’t credible. And if I don’t have enough historical knowledge to generate accurate details, I stop and research. I can’t use placeholders and move on. So, it’s slow-going, but when I get to the end of the manuscript for the first time, that’s my final draft, or at least, until I get input from other readers.
8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?
9--Describe your writing space/office!
Books and snacks, everywhere. I try to tidy it up, but it’s always chaotic. I have a table instead of a desk, so I can spread out, but there’s never enough room. I was comforted reading once that Virginia Woolf wrote surrounded by “filth packets.” If I look around right now, I’m confronted by so many lopsided towers of paperbacks, and open notebooks, and cups holding pens, and cups holding hot and cold drinks, and little bowls of roasted chickpeas and bigger bowls of grapes, and guilt-inducing stacks of overdue hardcovers from the library (that I will return very soon). It goes on.
10--Who is an author you admire?
I admire Sarah Waters. Her books are deliciously atmospheric, with intricate plots and gorgeous prose, and spine-tingling, toe-curling indulgences in period-appropriate melodrama. The ones set in the Victorian era feel Victorian, only they tell explicitly queer stories. Tipping the Velvet blew my mind when it first came out. I recently reread it, and it’s still great.
11--Is there a book that changed your life?
Books in general changed my life. That portal feeling. You’re in one place, and then you open the book in your hands and suddenly you’re somewhere else. I’ve still never found a magic that compares to that.
12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)
The “call” couldn’t have been more perfectly timed! I’d just arrived in London to teach a summer class. I’d gone to the National Gallery, and right before I left, I connected to the museum WIFI to check my email. And saw the message from my agent! It was incredible to get the news in London, in the National Gallery, a place my characters visited before I did.
13--What’s your favorite genre to read?
Romance! I used to read historical romance exclusively, but lately, I’m getting into contemporary too. I also read a lot of books published by smaller, independent presses. They’re often really surprising and don’t fit easily into genre categories. So instead of selecting titles based on genre, I look for new releases from particular presses, like Coffee House, McSweeney’s, Two Lines, Dorothy, FC2, Graywolf, Rescue Press, and Small Beer.
14--What’s your favorite movie?
This isn’t a movie (it’s a TV show), but I’m going to say Velvet, because for the past few years I’ve been obsessed. It’s what I watch the most. I’ve watched it and rewatched it, and I still rewatch episodes. I find it extremely mood improving. It’s set in a fashion house in 1950s Madrid, and it’s soapy and romantic and extremely fabulous and doesn’t miss a trope.
15--What is your favorite season?
Not a particular season, but the cusps, late spring and early autumn, when the weather feels changeable, and the wind fills the air with blossoms or twirling leaves.
16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
A circular walk through an area of outstanding natural beauty is ideal. With friends and various fruits.
17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?
On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera. The characters! The chemistry! Everything Herrera writes is romance gold.
18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
My dad’s an Italian chef and baker, and I grew up on his bread, zeppole, meatball heroes, chicken Milanese, and gnocchi. Garlic smells like home to me. It’s not even that Italian is my favorite, it’s more like I’ve got marinara sauce in my veins.
19--What do you do when you have free time?
The trees in North Carolina delight me. I wander around town and admire them.
20--What can readers expect from you next?
A Shore thing, the fourth book in the series, and the first to center queer characters. It has a seaside setting and lots of Victorian bicycles.
Nina Finch isn't suited for a life of crime. Raised by her art-forger brother, she can paint like Boticelli. But she'd so much rather be baking gooseberry tarts. She finally has the money she needs to open her own bakery. Unfortunately, her brother's carelessness lands her—and their forgeries—directly under the nose of London's most discerning art critic, Alan De'Ath. De'Ath knows the paintings are fake. He doesn't know that Nina had a hand in their creation. In fact, he offers her a job in his household. Accepting it is the most dangerous thing she has ever done....
Alan takes pride in seeing things other people miss. He plans to catch the forger and cement his reputation. There's only one problem: the closer he gets to the beguiling woman he hired, the less he trusts his perspective. Nina isn't what she seems. But despite their false start, she just might hold the real key to his heart.
As Nina and Alan’s attraction grows, divided loyalties threaten to pull them apart and shatter their worlds. They’ll lose everything, or discover how powerful true love can be....
Romance Historical [Berkley, On Sale: February 21, 2022, Trade Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593198322 / eISBN: 9780593198339]
Joanna Lowell lives among the fig trees in North Carolina, where she teaches in the English department at Wake Forest University. When she’s not writing historical romance, she writes other things as Joanna Ruocco. Those books include Dan, Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith, The Week, and Field Glass, co-authored with Joanna Howard.
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