RAVISHING THE HEIRESS, my sixth historical romance and book two of the Fitzhugh trilogy, has achieved a new milestone for me. Not only has it received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, it has also been named by Publishers Weekly to its Best Summer Reads of 2012 list.
The list is made of sixteen books, roughly split between fiction and nonfiction, and RAVISHING THE HEIRESS is the only romance to cinch a spot. Which both thrills me and gives me a “Phew” moment, because I probably would have written a very different book if I hadn’t spent most of 2010 working on a young adult fantasy.
That young adult fantasy (THE BURNING SKY, due out fall 2013 from Balzer+Bray) is what I call a reverse Harry Potter, i.e., young mages attending a Muggle boarding school while trying to hide from and ultimately overthrow the dark lord--a great many teenagers running about, facing dangers both physical and emotional, trying to make it another day.
Not since I was a teenager myself had I written such young protagonists. But after a while I became comfortable. There are no secrets to writing teenage leads that exist separately from writing about people of other ages—characterization is characterization, be the character 16 or 60.
I turned my attention to RAVISHING THE HEIRESS late in 2010. Immediately I realized that the original synopsis I’d laid out, involving a cheerful twenty-seven-year-old Lord Fitzhugh who marries an equally cheerful twenty-four-year-old heiress, Millie Graves, would not work. I still wanted a marriage of convenience story, but I wanted one with real human cost, of hearts broken and dreams derailed.
Fortified by all my practice writing young characters, I decided to push the timeline back eight years, and have Fitz and Millie meet and marry as teenagers. The kicker? Fitz as a nineteen-year-old is head over heels in love with beautiful, vivacious Isabelle Pelham, the sister of a classmate who loves him back with equal intensity. But when a distant cousin’s title—along with a crumbling estate and debilitating debts—suddenly falls to Fitz, he has no choice but to give up Isabelle and marry for money.
Sixteen-year-old Millie has always been told that her entire purpose in life is to marry well, and thereby ally her family with a noble lineage. She never expects to fall in love with the fiancé her father presents her, but fall in love she does, hard and fast, only to realize that Fitz loves someone else and is devastated at having to marry Millie.
Talk about adolescent angst.
Yet from this inauspicious beginning, they grow up and build a shared life, forging an unbreakable bond. It would not have been remotely the same book had they not had eight years to overcome all kinds of obstacles and develop an absolute trust in each other. And they would not have had those eight years had I not spent the first so many months of 2010 learning writing a young adult fantasy.