Fan2Author Interview: Judith James

This summer I had an honor to interview Judith James for the blog and I was in awe of this woman. She’s my personal CALGON! She never fails to take me away with her wonderful writing. In anticipation of her new book ‘The King’s Courtesan’ which came out last month, she graciously agreed to come over and play :)

b2b: Hello Judith and welcome to b2b! I’m so happy and humbled by your visit. I have so many questions to ask you, and none are coming to mind right now. I feel tongue-tied and my brain’s frozen! Okay, here we go…Are you enjoying your summer so far? How exited are you with ‘The King’s Courtesan’ coming out?

JJ:  Actually I love these questions! And thank you so much for inviting me, it’s a pleasure to be here with you today.  I’m having a great summer so far, although as my deadline approaches I wouldn’t mind a little rain. It’s hard to work when you want to go out and play. Of course it would also be hard to work if a hurricane hits and the power goes out. I was at a lovely seaside wedding last week and I’ve made it a couple of times to the beach so I’m happy. I’m very excited about The King’s Courtesan coming out, and as I am with all my books, a little anxious too. It feels a bit like your child’s first day at school.

b2b: It’s no news to my readers how much I enjoy ‘Judith’s world of Restoration’, but what I like as much are your AFTERWORD notes. I truly enjoy reading the ‘behind the story’ notes of any book, so tell me more about your research and ‘behind the story’ of ‘TKC’…

JJ: Well as always, while I was researching I found some amazing facts and interesting characters that gave me ideas for future stories. I stumbled across some very interesting highwaymen, and learnt that in the mid 17th century the courts were kinder in many ways then they were in later years. I had assumed people were hung for the most minor of offenses but in fact, while robbery with violence was a capital offense, robbery itself was not until nearly the end of the century. Research is always challenging my preconceptions.

In regards to THE KING’S COURTESAN, some things that surprised me were that icehouses were fairly common in people’s cellars, and many nursery rhymes and fairy tales popular today were popular then as well. Dick Wittington and his cat had already been to London, Nell Gwyn was referred to as Cinder Whore, a Cinderella reference, and Mother Goose tales were well-known and popular. Charles II, my favorite monarch for his wonderful curiosity and sense of humor, actually pardoned a man who tried to steal the crown jewels because he found him amusing, his actions daring, and his story entertaining. Charles had a very sardonic sense of humor and was inclined to forgive a lot if he was entertained.  He wasn’t very forgiving of the Farnley wood plot though, which figures in the story, and many thought he used it as an excuse to rid himself of certain people who were a thorn in his side. That wouldn’t be the first time it happened or the last.

His relationship with commoner and bawdy house born actress Nell Gwynn was a fascinating one, his tolerance for Lady Castlemaine’s outrageous temper and string of lovers legendary, and his ardent pursuit of Francis Stuart, who rejected him for another was the talk of London at the time.  An aristocratic woman like Francis Stuart would never have married a man like Robert, who was a mere baronet before Charles raised him up. A woman like the violet eyed Castlemaine would never genuinely love anyone, and a woman like Nell was content to take would she could and share what she must. Hope Mathews shared something in common with all of them, (and no I don’t mean Charles but that too) but she wanted something more.

b2b: See, that’s what I mean! You never fail to enlighten me! Just if someone out there hasn’t read any of your books, would you tell us a bit about them and what’s coming up for you in 2012?

JJ: Oh I expect there are still a few of those! BROKEN WING was my first book. You might call it a healing and redemption story with a wounded hero, a strong-willed and unconventional heroine, and more than a dash of high seas adventure. It had a small print run and didn’t stay in stores long but it has maintained a fairly steady presence through Amazon and kindle. It won an IPPY, made a few best of lists and got a great PW review which was not bad for a book with exotic locales and a male ex prostitute as hero.

HIGHLAND REBEL was my first foray into the 17th century, a place I’ve grown to love and have yet to leave. Cat Drummond was a pretty kick ass heroine shouldering major responsibilities while battling the limitations imposed on her because of her sex, while Jamie was a pragmatic, easygoing and very cynical almost anti-hero, with a great sense of humor. They were both trying to keep the people they loved out of the brewing Jacobite wars and though they were a bit of an odd couple they were perfect for each other.

LIBERTINE’S KISS, as you know, was a story of childhood friends who reconnect years later. It was inspired by the poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester who I named William and gave a happy ending while freely borrowing his amazing poetry. His biographers all mention an extremely doting and solicitous tutor in his early years, (who slept in his bed to protect him) without making what to me was an obvious connection to some of his later behaviors, something that I did in that book. It was great fun watching Elizabeth grow from a somewhat timid Puritan miss to the confident woman who had both Charles and Will wrapped around her finger.

THE KING’S COURTESAN, tells the story of Captain Robert Nichols, first introduced to readers in LIBERTINE’s KISS as a friend and suitor of Lizzy’s, and Hope Mathews, who, when Robert meets her, is a courtesan to Charles II.  Although it is a stand alone, those who read Libertine’s Kiss may enjoy visiting briefly with Will and Elizabeth again.  Robert, like many who’ve experienced trauma and been too long at war, suffers some symptoms of post traumatic stress. He’s a rigidly contained man with a lot of violence simmering within, while Hope is outwardly sunny, but a wary and determined survivor inside.  It doesn’t help that they come from different  backgrounds and different ends of the social spectrum, and are thrust together in a marriage neither of them wants. In essence it’s a story of loss and redemption, betrayal and love, with a bit of fairy tale, local legend, and current history mixed in.

My next book, HERS AT MIDNIGHT, scheduled for release next year, picks up a few years after The King’s Courtesan leaves off. Make sure to read the epilogue at the end of The King’s Courtesan for a hint as to what is coming next. As soon as I get a cover I will put it up,  along with the first three chapters, but to say much more about it now might ruin the surprise at the end.

b2b: I’m really looking forward to the next one. It sounds so good! It’s really hard for me to choose my favorite book you wrote. I will forever love Gabriel and ‘Broken Wing’, but all the others are close to my heart as well. Which of those were the hardest and the easiest to write and which couple did you like the best?

JJ: Oh my the hardest was definitely Libertine’s Kiss! I was rather ambitious with that story, weaving in the story of Charles’ Restoration, a childhood romance, Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queen, and Rochester’s and other 17th century poetry. There were a lot of threads in that story and weaving them together was very painstaking at times. Broken Wing was the easiest because I didn’t know any better and I had the luxury of time. I hope anyone who’s writing and not yet published takes the time to enjoy that first manuscript. There were no expectations but my own, and no deadlines but my own. That’s a luxury you only have with your first book. As for favorite couples, I think as a writer you love all your characters, but you always feel closest to and most protective of the ones you are just releasing into the world, and the ones you are trying to help find each other now.

b2b: Do you let someone read your work during your writing process? Who and why? Or do you wait ‘till it’s finished, then you let someone read it…and who?

JJ: In the past, for Broken Wing and Highland Rebel, I did have some people I used as Beta readers, but not until I felt I had the story I wanted. I wanted to get my vision if you will, out there first, without being influenced by other’s opinions. Once I had that, I offered the first draft to people I knew to be choosy, open-minded, and eclectic readers. I asked them to tell me if there was anything that jolted them out of the story, seemed to ring false, seemed inconsistent, etc. and it was a tremendous help. They were all readers rather than writers. I wanted to know their experience of reading the story, not suggestions as to how to write it.

I don’t use Beta readers anymore. Not because it wasn’t helpful but because there just isn’t the time for this extra step. When I get finished my first draft my editor is already waiting. She is now the first reader, and of course she gives suggestions too. I know many writers use critique groups but I think there’s a danger that you can lose confidence in your own voice or mute it if you are not in the right one. I highly recommend Beta readers though, if you have enough time. There’s nothing more helpful I think, then getting a feel for how a range of different readers will respond to your story.

b2b: Do you have a hard time writing the intimate scenes?

JJ: Mmmm.  Let me turn on the fan. Well…it depends on my mood. I never write them when I have a headache. I’m laughing but it helps to be in the right mood.  Looser, relaxed, yet very focused too. I sometimes have a glass of wine and close my eyes and….well I like my heroes and find them pretty sexy. Sometimes I find a certain song will get me in the mood. Tom Waits ballads  often take me there. 

Seriously though, my intimate scenes tend to be quite  organic to the story. Robert’s and Hope’s first encounter is a result of lust, loneliness, anger and alcohol,  and is not emotionally intimate though it is emotionally desperate. In the end, it makes them both uncomfortable with themselves and each other. To me, intimate scenes mirror the progression of the relationship, and as a couple’s relationship changes, it changes the nature and tone of those interactions and how they feel about them and relate to each other after. If I’m getting that right, generally they  flow with the rest of the story.

b2b: Tell me about the cover art of your books. I’m again very partial to ‘Broken Wing’ cover. Who came up with it? What about the other ones?

JJ: I have two favorite covers. Broken Wing, which was my first, and Libertines Kiss with it’s gorgeous colors and that necklace. I’ve been very lucky with covers and  have them all up on my wall. Broken Wing was with Medallion, a smaller independent press at the time, and they were justifiably proud of their covers. Obviously someone in the art department had read the manuscript and really tried to make the cover reflect the feel of the book and the actual story. I know they did a photo shoot for it with a model named Ryan. I thanked the art department and the artist, Arturo Delgado in my acknowledgements for that one.

b2b: Let’s talk titles…How hard is it to ‘name’ your ‘baby’?


JJ: Well…it is and it isn’t. Broken Wing came to me after my first chapter. I was listening to a cover of Willie Nelson’s Angel Flying to Close to the Ground. It really captured the feel and theme of the story for me and acted as a kind of guide or beacon in way, keeping me on track. It really resonated with me.  Medallion loved it too so it stayed. Since then I’ve learned not to grow too attached to titles as they are often changed. Now I find a working title that resonates for me as I’m writing, and when the time comes I work with the production team to find one we are all happy.

b2b: We all have favorite books, authors… How about you? Are you willing to fess-up?

JJ : Ok you almost made me spill my coffee laughing there. I have too many to mention and that’s not avoiding your question. If you check me on Goodreads I have rated 165 books and the average rating I give is 4.48. That’s because I only list and rate books that I have read and loved. I have a ton of them by many different authors in many different genres. I don’t get the chance to read much lately though, except for research, so I am way behind and there are probably many more that will be favorites when I get the chance to read them.

b2b: What’s on your TBR right now?

JJ: I have three books there right now. Two are the monster doorstoppers. One is George R.R. Martin’s latest which I waited I think 5 years for, so it can wait a little longer. The other is one I bought as a present for my sister’s birthday and a one sentence tagline hooked me hard so I bought a copy for myself. The book is called The Passage and the hook, by Entertainment Weekly was “The Stand meets The Road”  I won’t be getting to either of them for a couple of months at least though. The third book is one by Bev Pettersen. I read a book of hers for a cover quote a while ago. She writes a kind of Dick Francis with romance blend but from a more female perspective. She tells a great story, and having worked on a racetrack I got hooked pretty quick. I’m leaving her latest for a treat when my final draft is done.

b2b: I’ve yet to read George R. R. Martin, although I did catch the HBO series “Game of Thrones” based on his book “A Song of Ice and Fire” and I’ve fallen in love with the world he created.

Now, that ends up our ‘professional’ portion of this interview. Are you ready to get personal? Or are you going to chicken out on me?

JJ: Oh oh!

b2b: …Let’s get Personal:

So, tell us a bit about yourself, something personal that you’d like us to know…anything that makes you comfortable…or not…like how many times did you fall in love? What’s your favorite meal of the day (food)? Flannels or Silk? Do you like to cook? What’s your favorite spot in the house? Cats or Dogs? Champagne or Beer?  Your favorite time of the year? What are your fears? Your Joys?

JJ: Oh! This is a bit like those questions James Lipton asks on Inside The Actor’s Studio.

Favorite meal… breakfast, favorite food, Eggs Benedict. By the way does anyone know where that name came from?  Love to bake bread, cook roasts and make soup in winter. Summer is for salads and microwaves. Silk in summer or when company is coming, flannels when it’s snowing and you’re all alone.  My favorite spot in the house is the by the window overlooking the harbor, with a nice glass of wine in my silk robe, or cocoa in my flannels. I don’t like beer or champagne (unless it’s at brunch with orange juice). I love dogs but have cats, and my favorite time of year has been the fall ever since I saw a school bus and realized I never had to go back to school again. My greatest joy is my daughter and my family, and just being alive. Good days or bad a look out the window can always remind me it’s a wonderful gift. 

As for love…I have a soft spot for bad boys and wounded heroes and I’ve  fallen in love with all of my men, Gabriel, Jamie, William, Robert, and now, fickle woman, I’m falling for Jack. My first crush was…well never mind. Suffice to say I was thirteen, he was older and the neighborhood bad boy, and he stood up for me and walked me home when some neighborhood boys were calling me four eyes and toad on account of my admittedly horrid glasses. Come to think of it he reminds me a lot of William. My first kiss was on the end of a dock on a summer night, and no it wasn’t with him.

b2b: Judith, you’ve been such a trooper and I’ve had so much fun getting to know you a bit better. Thanks for ‘coming over to play’ and I hope you come back next year!

JJ: Thanks so much for inviting me Melanie, and thanks for everyone who dropped by today. I’m happy to answer any questions and I have one for you.

Where was your first kiss?

I really hope you remember.  I’m going to be giving away a signed copy of The King’s Courtesan and one other book of your choice to one lucky commentator so don’t be shy!