The Story Behind The Shameless Flirt
(NOTE: This may contain some spoilers so do not read it unless you've already finished the book)
I identify so much with Mary. No, she's not me. No, I did not write myself into my novel. However, my past inspired me to write a character like her. School was a nightmare for me. I know a lot of people struggle with those formative years, but I got kicked around. It's hard to explain it to someone who didn't struggle to fit in, but school was like a twelve-year prison sentence. There was something about me that invited others to taunt and tease, and even if I was able to make an occasional friend, they eventually dropped me for someone better.
Wow. This reminiscing is getting me all maudlin. Yikes. Time to move on.
The point is that I was taught to protect myself from those who would hurt me. I had a loving family, but I learned to be on guard whenever I stepped out of my house and into the big, wide world. Though I would love to say that I became like Mina, who lovingly and kindly asserts herself, or even Ambrose, who can pretend the taunts don't hurt, the truth is that I became Mary.
Actually, worse. I was surly and snappish, biting at anyone who got too close. I'm sure others probably thought I deserved to be the loner I was because I chased away anyone who got close, but I decided it was better to run everyone off before they could hurt me. And that is what I wanted to convey with Mary. Everyone has their defense mechanisms, and I wanted to take a different take on them. One that is common in the real world but rarely shown in fiction. Shrewish heroines aren't generally endearing, and I wanted to write one.
On top of that, my own romantic history inspired Mary's. As in, I have no romantic history. Really. I write romance novels, but I've only been on a very small handful of dates, and not a single one of them was with a guy who actually wanted to date me. The first time a guy asked me out (which wasn't either a blind date or set up of some sort), I was thrilled...only to find out later that he'd asked me because he was desperate. He told me that he and his roommates had planned a group date and the girls he wanted to ask had been busy or said no, but he knew I would say yes. I hadn't thought there was anything worse than a pity date, but being someone's last choice was definitely it. Ugh.
And I don't want to go into all the gory details, but I will say that I had my own Henry Cavendish who broke my heart as badly as Mary's. I took a lot of literary licenses with the details, but the heartache was very much what I had felt at the time. Mary's backstory is more extreme than my own, but I did borrow heavily from reality. But then, most of my heroes and heroines have an essence of me in them.
I do have a weak spot for flawed people finding love, and I fully accept that part of that wish fulfillment on my part. :)
As for Ambrose, before writing his story, I wasn't sure what was wrong with him. I knew that his "devil may care" attitude was hiding his own insecurities, but I hadn't decided what it was. I knew that he was struggling with his place in the world, but it wasn't until I was researching out this book that I stumbled across the perfect thing. Dyslexia. It's so common yet I can't think of a single historical romance that I've read that deals with it. I did some digging into it and came across an article with an image that showed what it was like for those with severe dyslexia, and I was astonished. Sure, I'd heard the stereotypical things about dyslexia. I knew that it made it hard to read, but watching the letters literally move and shift on the page just floored me. Seriously, I got all teary about it, and my little heart went out to all those who struggle with that learning disability. And I could only imagine how horrible it would have been for people like Ambrose back then when they didn't understand what it was.
And while I have you here, I would love to reveal a few little Easter eggs. First, when Ambrose showed up in A True Gentleman, he says his visit has nothing to do with Mina's scare, but he was lying. Ambrose didn't get word until after the danger had passed, but he wanted to make sure everything was fine. When Graham asks him if he came because he wanted to check on Mina, Ambrose is sarcastic about it, but his answer was honest.
Also, I had an eagle-eyed reader ask me what was wrong with Mina in this book. No, she's not ill. She's pregnant! She's only a few weeks along, so she's not sure she is. Though she suspects she is, it's too early to start spreading the news, so she was keeping it between her and Simon. Later that year, Mina gives birth to a beautiful baby girl named Lily.