Interview: Kaye Dacus

Welcome Kaye! Thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress. We’re excited to have you here today to talk about your new novel Ransome’s Crossing, the second book in your historical series, The Ransome Trilogy.

1- What inspired you to write about the Regency Era where the majority of the action took place on a ship?

At the end of my first year of graduate school (spring of 2005), after I’d gone through a massive push to get the first draft of Stand-In Groom finished, I needed something totally different to work on, since I knew I’d spend the next year working on rewrites and revisions of SIG. About a year earlier, I’d seen the A&E movies based on C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. I was enthralled by them, not only because my love of Jane Austen’s novels gave me a love (and knowledge) of the era, but because Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel so I already had a somewhat romantic view of officers in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. (We’re talking romance novels here, people, not “reality.” Rose-tinted glasses are required.) The fifth through eighth movies of that series include a vitally important character . . . to me, anyway. The character of Lieutenant William Bush—and not just the character, but the actor portraying him, Paul McGann.

It was upon viewing the two final movies in the series that I completely fell under William Bush’s/Paul McGann’s spell. It’s in the character’s observation of and remarks upon Horatio’s relationship and marriage to Maria, a woman well below his station—in life and in intellect. In the movie Duty, when Horatio remarks to Bush about how he knows Bush thinks this is a bad time to get married (when England is about to go to war again in 1803 after a year of uncertain peace during the Peace of Amiens), Bush responds with a remark wondering if there is ever a good time to marry.

Which instantly got me thinking: what kind of woman would it take to make a man like that change his mind?

And that’s where the idea started.

2- What type of research did you do to help you write The Ransome Trilogy?

I had already done quite a bit of research on the era just from being an English major in college—my senior literary criticism thesis was entitled “Wealth and Social Status as a Theme in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” so I had a pretty strong background already in the era. Once I fell in love with the Hornblower movies, I turned to reading the C. S. Forester books upon which they’re based—oh, and then there was also the movie Master and Commander, which led me to Patrick O’Brian’s books. Both men were meticulous with their research. And there’s so much of a fan base for O’Brian’s books that there’s a huge amount of historical background material available based on his books—which gave me a starting point for researching the Royal Navy of the early nineteenth century.

When Ransome’s Honor released, I posted an abbreviated list of the resources I used in researching the era, which can be found here: http://kayedacus.com/2009/06/18/ransomes-honor-the-research/

3- Occasionally in my research I’ll come across some obscure but interesting fact that I find a way to fit into my story. When I was reading Ransome’s Crossing I found myself fascinated by the little tidbit that turpentine was used as a cure to an ailing stomach. Where did you discover that little fact and did you intentionally work it into the story?

I discovered that tidbit when was trying to figure out what types of drugs or remedies a sailor could get his hands on in the ship’s infirmary which he could use to taint someone’s drink to the point that he or she knew it had been tampered with—without its actually being poison or harmful to the person who ingested it. When I saw in one of my books that turpentine was generally included in the inventory of the infirmary, I looked into it further and that’s when I discovered that it had been widely used aboard sailing ships for stomach ailments for centuries and was still used in the early nineteenth century.

4- I loved Charlotte. She is by far my favorite character—not that I don’t love them all—but she epitomizes everything I look for in a woman protagonist. She’s strong, daring, caring, smart and a little devious. Do you have a favorite among your cast of characters? Or do they all have their own special places in your heart?

All of my characters are special to me in their own ways. No matter how much an author protests that the characters she writes aren’t anything like her, we all know the truth—there’s a little piece of the author in each character she creates. It was a lot of fun writing a character in this particular historical setting who could throw propriety and caution to the wind and act outside of the societal norms—without becoming a 21st-century woman in costume.

5- I never saw the ending coming, and I loved it. It worked perfectly for me. Did you always know how Ransome’s Crossing would end, or did it come to you as you were writing?

When I first started working on the story idea, I thought it was going to be a single, stand-alone novel—maybe even a category-length romance novel. But the more I worked on it, and the deeper I got involved with the characters, the more what-if-ing I did and the more story possibilities opened to me. In the initial draft of what I thought was going to be a stand-alone novel, I had a scene in which William returns to his friends’ home in Portsmouth and he has received a letter. When asked about it, he tells his friends that it’s from his mother—she and his sister are coming to Portsmouth for a visit while he’s there. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Once I realized I had too much story for even a single, stand-alone trade-length novel, I went back and re-read my manuscript to see if I had enough story for two books or, preferably, for three. I knew there was enough for a full novel set in Portsmouth surrounding William and Julia’s romance. I knew that what I was thinking of for once they arrived in Jamaica would probably be long enough for a single novel. But a two-book series is a hard sell. So how could I come up with enough material for a third book, especially the one in the middle.

Then I ran across that throw-away reference to the letter from William’s mother that she and Charlotte were coming to Portsmouth for a visit. And I realized I’d forgotten to include their visit. So that would give me at least a little more bulk to the first book.

Then, something wonderful happened. As soon as the carriage bearing William’s mother and sister arrived at the Yateses’ townhouse, Charlotte bounded out and announced she was supposed to be a viewpoint character in that book. Little by little, as I wrote her scenes, I discovered she had a major secret she was keeping from everyone. Finally, just as if I were reading a book someone else had written, she revealed that her secret was a secret fiancé who just happened to be the steward of Julia’s plantation. And that she wanted to get to that secret fiancé no matter what—up to and including cutting off her mane of luxurious hair and living the hard life of a midshipman aboard a Royal Navy ship for a couple of months to get to that secret fiancé.

Once I knew that, the plot for the second book fell into place—and yes, I knew as soon as that story fell into place how it would end. That ending is in that first synopsis I ever wrote of Ransome’s Crossing. And I have never been so excited to write the ending of a book as I was to write that one.

6- Do you have other eras you’d like to explore in your writing? What are some of your other favorite time periods in general?

I just turned in a proposal for another three-book historical romance that’s a sequel-series to this one, set in the early Victorian era—roughly 1849–1851, with Prince Albert’s Grand Exhibition as a central set piece for the last book in the trilogy. At this point in time, I’m somewhat more interested in British history than anything, and could see myself writing books set anywhere from King James forward (post-Tudors, post-Elizabethan). I did, however, grow up in New Mexico, and I minored in American History (specifically focused on the Civil War era) in college. I’ve lived in Tennessee for more than fourteen years now—the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere—and love the history that surrounds me here, too. So I don’t really see that I’ll be limited to any one particular era of history.

7- I know you write for adults, but could you share with us a couple of your favorite children’s books growing up?

I loved reading as a child. Some of my favorites were the Black Stallion books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series, and Madeleine L’Engle. As a young teenager, I became obsessed with historical romances through a series produced by Scholastic called Sunfire romances. Each of the thirty-some books were set during a unique and important event in U.S. history and revolved around a young girl falling in love. Those led to both my love of history and my desire to write romance novels.

For more information about Kaye Dacus, visit her website at http://www.kayedacus.com.

Kaye, thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with us! I (impatiently) await Ransome’s Quest!

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