Monday, March 26, 2012

Interview + Giveaway with Leigh LaValle

Leigh LaValle's debut The Runaway Duchess is garnering fantastic praise such as "a powerful debut" from Tessa Dare, "an enchanting debut...the promise of true love" from Courtney Milan, and "exciting" from RT Book Reviews. So, when we got the chance to host Ms. LaValle we jumped at it. Jamie gave her book our highest rating: 5 hearts! It was that amazing.


Meet Leigh:

I live in the Pacific Northwest with my family. When I am not writing, mommying, or reading, I am rarely seen cleaning, and more often found hiking or, when I am really lucky, in the white powder of the ski slopes. I am also a devoted yoga practitioner and instructor.

I hold an honor's degree in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. My poetry is published in several small literary magazines.

The Runaway Countess was a finalist in the 2011 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest. It is my second completed manuscript, the first having been relegated to the dust bunnies under my bed after my son was born.

Connect with Leigh: Author Site | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Jamie & Kati: Hi Leigh! Thanks so much for sharing your debut book with us.
Leigh LaValle: Thanks for having me here at RRFTLOR! I am excited to chat with you all today.

J&K: Who is Leigh LaValle? (author, mommy, yoga instructor, international woman of mystery...)
LL: Leigh LaValle was born in a time when ladies shopped at the modiste and rogues sent heated looks across a crowded ballroom. She likes intense emotions and the sizzle of romance, and firmly believes that love conquers all. (Leigh LaValle likes to talk about herself in the third person because it makes her feel like a queen.)

I, being the Leigh of Leigh LaValle, have always had a great love for the written word. My first story was written on a little notepad and was a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, except the Good Witch of the West was actually a babysitter (Interestingly, my first published novel is also a retelling of a favorite story.) I went on to earn a BA in English Literature with a Minor in Creative Writing.

I applied to a few MFA programs in Creative Writing, but decided to give ‘the real world’ a try before I went back to school (and more debt). I also decided I was in my head too much. I needed to learn to be in my body before I could write the stories I wanted to tell.

I went on to study yoga, meditation and massage. I hiked, skied, biked and camped across the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I apprenticed with a master yoga teacher and taught yoga for over a decade. Yes, this was my version of ‘the real world’. It was a lovely utopia where I did not work 9-5, I had lots of vacations days, and no one told me what to do.

Now, I have a 4-year-old son who loves to tell me what to do. My husband has a 9-5 job and we worry about paying the bills and other ‘real world’ grown up things.

I am thrilled to have recently released my first book, THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS, and am happily working on more writing projects.

J&K: Tell us about THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS [no copying blurb :)]
LL: THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS is a Regency retelling of the Robin Hood legend in which the figurative Sherriff of Nottingham captures one of Robin Hood’s Merry Maids.

Trent Carthwick, the Earl of Radford and Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, must find the famed highwayman plaguing his county before lawlessness spreads into riot and revolt. However, his seductive captive, Mazie Chetwyn, refuses to tell him anything about her masked accomplice. The two spar and cajole and test each other to exhaustion. Brought close by fate and laid bare by circumstances, they are given a rare glimpse into each other. What they discover is a beauty beyond measure. The two enemies fall in love.

J&K: What prompted you to write a Robin Hood-like story?
LL: I was inspired by the 2008 Presidential race. I know, what could be less romantic or sexy than politics;) But, truly, I was considering the huge ideological rift in our country and I kept thinking that, if we could only take time to understand each other’s backgrounds and the reasons for our opinions, there would be a lot less animosity amongst fellow Americans. It’s a great lesson for today’s climate as well.

I chose the Robin Hood tale because 1. I love it and 2. I thought it provided a great opportunity to juxtapose conflicting viewpoints. Truly, stealing is not the answer, no matter how justified the reasons. But neither is oppression. As the book opens, the hero and heroine are stuck on their respective sides. She thinks he is a selfish, power hungry politician, he thinks she is a criminal. Throughout the book, they (and the reader) explore the pros and cons to each side.

J&K: Plotter or pantser?
LL: Oh, how I wish I were a plotter! How I try and try! I would love to have my stories figured out before I sat down and wrote them. It would save me so much time and so many words. I make detailed charts and lists but, in the end, much of my story comes out as I write. I cannot truly know my characters and the deepest layers of their motivations until I have spent hours and hours (and more hours and hours) with them.

J&K: Do you have any writing rituals? (drinking wine, blasting music, complete silence...)
LL: I definitely need silence when I write. If I have to work in a coffee shop, I bring noise-cancelling headphones. Usually I work at the library while my son is at preschool. I always sit in the same seat (I am sitting here as I write this). I bring my lunch and I hunker down for the day.

I cannot drink wine as I write. I wish I could . Believe me, I have tried. Anything more than a small glass fogs my mind. I save wine for a reward on those nights I am working late. (I am expecting baby number two in September, so it is a good thing I don’t need wine or lots of caffeine to write!) (Oooo..CONGRATS!!)

I usually can’t keep a deep focus for more than a few hours at a time. I try to take little breaks to clear my head throughout the day. Case in point, I just finished writing a really intense and exhausting scene. Instead of pushing ahead to write more, I decided to switch gears and answer these fun interview questions.

J&Kl: If you could trade places with any romance book heroine, who would it be and why?
LL: Wow! What a question. This is a hard one. It makes me think of the Jewish parable of the Sorrow Tree. This story was related to me as follows:
There once was a wise man known to have the power to heal the human heart. Many seekers came to him hoping to have their sorrows relieved. One day, a clamorous crowd came upon the wise man, each begging to have their personal pain healed.

The wise man instructed everyone in the crowd to write down the nature of their sorrows on a piece of paper. He then hung the scraps of paper from a tree, and told the crowd they could each be free of their own pain by choosing someone else’s sorrows. For, don’t we all believe our challenges are worse than those of others?

A few hours passed, and all the papers were taken from the tree. Upon talking to the crowd again, the wise man discovered that each seeker chose their own scrap of paper. They would rather re-shoulder the burden they were familiar with than take up the challenges of their neighbor. Relieved of their distress, the crowd quietly returned down the hill, each person believing their sorrow was not nearly so weighty as that of their neighbor.

The wise man smiled and returned to his meditation.
How does this relate to switching places with a romance heroine? Well, as a writer, I am acutely aware of the difficulty and hardship our heroines must face in their black moment. I don’t think I would choose to shoulder any of their sorrows over my own.

Of course, there are lighter stories in which the heroines don’t contend with darkness and despair, but I wouldn’t want to switch with them either. I love intense emotions too much . I enjoy reading lighter stories, but, as a life path, I appreciate the rise and fall of challenge and peace. I willingly step into the fire that shapes the clay of life.

Here is another saying, a Tibetan one this time:
Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.
Even as I love reading and writing stories, I would like to stay with the path that is mine. I am enamored with fictional worlds. I enjoy stepping into the bodies of my heroines, into their thoughts and feelings, but in the end, I want to come back to me. (Now, the other way I could answer this question would be ‘Which romance hero would I most like to… er… meet .’ Because that is where my mind went when I thought about being a heroine! Which woman would I want to be so I could have her man… and the answer to that… can I make a list of heroes? I could hardly pick just one.) (We know that feeling!)

J&K: What can readers expect from you next?
LL: Right now I am working on an anthology that will release in the spring. THREE WEDDINGS AND A MURDER is a fun project I put together with Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Carey Baldwin to raise money for breast cancer research. My novella in the anthology features Lady Catherine, a secondary character in THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS. (Well there you have it Jamie. The answer to your prayers in your review.)

I am also working on a story about Roane, the highwayman character in THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS. This will be a novella as well. (I am in a hurry to get Cat and Roane’s stories told before my baby arrives in September!)(I think Jamie just squeed in her pants.)

AND I am also working on a full length historical featuring a lady spy and the rogue who thwarts her. I hope to release this story in 2013.

J&K: Thanks Leigh!
LL: Thanks so much for having me! I enjoyed answering your questions. And now I am curious- which romance heroine would you like to be, Dear Reader? Or, alternately, which hero would you like to have as your own? One lucky commented will win a digital copy of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS.

GENRE: Historical
LENGTH: 102,167 words
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing Ltd. (March 6,2012)

Her heart longs for justice, but her body clamors for sin.
Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant…and surely as corrupt as his father once was.

Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers’ beloved Angel of Kindness to reveal the highwayman’s identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing—except a sultry, bewildering kiss.

And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability—her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong.

Warning: The delicious, if left-brained, hero might forever change all you think you know about the Robin Hood legend. Contains razor-sharp wordplay, skinny dipping and tortured hearts.
Get Your Own Copy: Kindle | Nook | All Romance | Samhain
Book Extras: Read an Excerpt | Jamie's Review

Well Dear Readers, you heard the lady. She's giving away an e-copy of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS to one(1) lucky reader. All you have to do is:
  • Leave a comment answering Leigh's question: which romance heroine would you like to be, Dear Reader? Or, alternately, which hero would you like to have as your own?
  • Fill out the rafflecopter form. You must leave a comment. All other entries are optional.
A huge thank you to Leigh for hanging out at the blog today and for providing both the giveaway and review copies of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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