Happy birthday to the paperback edition of The Orchid Affair!
For those of you who have the hardcover, I’ve attached the Q&A from the paperback. Enjoy!
Q. Where did you get the idea for The Orchid Affair?
A. I would love to claim that it came from days of painstaking study in the archives, but the truth of the matter is that this book is the fault of a little bit of recreational channel surfing. It was the spring of 2008. I had left my legal job in January, writing The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (Pink V) in a frenzied three month marathon. I turned in the manuscript and flopped down on the couch, planning an evening of complete and utter nothing. There was a homemade quiche in the oven and ice cream in the freezer and I didn’t have another deadline hanging over me for a whole eight months. Heaven.
In between poking at the quiche (Bake for forty-five minutes? Ha! More like an hour and a half), I flipped idly through channels on that big square box in my living room that had been collecting dust throughout my Night Jasmine marathon. I hadn’t meant to watch anything in particular, but a World War II movie caught my eye, about an American woman gone undercover in Germany as governess to a Nazi official’s two small children. The German officer was played by Liam Neeson. Even though I knew the heroine was meant to wind up with Michael Douglas in the end, I couldn’t help rooting for Liam Neeson. He was just so… Liam Neeson. He might be a double agent. Or something. Something not evil.
No such luck. Liam Neeson stayed evil and the heroine rode off in the sunset with Michael Douglas. Dissatisfied, I began brooding on the possibilities. What if I moved the general idea to an era in which the opposition wasn’t necessarily evil? What if I had a governess in the home of a Napoleonic operative? What if that Napoleonic operative looked like Liam Neeson? What if…. Oh, crap. My quiche was burning. I filed the idea away in my future plots folder, convinced it would join the graveyard of Lost Plot Premises, and went off to write The Betrayal of the Blood Lily (Pink VI). But the idea stayed with me… and here you have it!
Q. Why did The Mischief of the Mistletoe and Orchid Affair come out so close together?
A. Deep dark secret: I began writing Orchid Affair before Mistletoe. In fact, I started writing it right after Blood Lily. About six chapters in, I was asked to speak at a meeting of my local RWA chapter. I can’t remember the topic off-hand, but I think it was something about crafting a series. As I stood up there, talking about plots and story arcs, I blurted out, “Oh dear. I’ve been writing the wrong book.”
It wasn’t that Orchid was a bad book (at least, if you’ve made it this far with me, I hope you didn’t think so!), but it was the wrong book for the series story arc. I’d just written Blood Lily, which featured a difficult, deeply disturbed heroine. Laura, the heroine of Orchid, couldn’t be more different from Penelope, but they had one thing in common: neither was a happy camper. Their books were both darker books. In that moment at the RWA podium, I realized that I needed something light and cheerful to break up the Dark and Serious, something more in the spirit of the original Secret History of the Pink Carnation. And who better than Turnip Fitzhugh? When my publisher asked me, not long after, if I would be interested in writing a Christmas book, I knew it was meant to be. Turnip and Christmas went together like Christmas and pudding—or flowers and espionage.
I put Orchid on the back-burner and came back to it happy and refreshed after a few months of pudding-related antics and madcap comedy. It is a different and, I hope, a better book because of that brief intermission.
Q. Did you go to Paris to research this book?
A. I’ve spent a great deal of time in Paris over the years, but I put in a special research trip for Orchid Affair. It was a great hardship, but I’m very glad that I made the sacrifice, because a great deal that I would never have been able to discover long distance made it into the book. My favorite instance of life spurring fiction involved the Museum of the Prefecture of Paris. Like Eloise, I had imagined it as a townhouse museum, small and quaint, with mannequins in uniform. Like Eloise, I was rather taken aback at finding myself at a large, modern, and very obviously working police station, with policemen in puffy jackets hanging out by their squad cars smoking Gauloises. It took me several circuits of the building to get up the nerve to go inside, and ask, in my halting schoolgirl French, where the museum might be. It didn’t help that there was a guy being hauled into a holding pen behind me. A bored guard pointed at a sign that said “Museum, 3rd Floor—and I knew that Eloise was going to find herself in just the same predicament. A lot of locations changed because of that trip: Jaouen’s house moved from St. Germain to the Marais and Victor Hugo’s old apartment was coopted for Daubier’s use.
Q. How did Laura find out about the Selwick Spy School?
A. This is the danger of pruning; sometimes crucial information winds up on the cutting room floor. In a deleted scene in The Orchid Affair, we learn that Laura met Jane at the wedding of her last pupil in the late spring of 1803. Jane, for all her personal reserve, is very good at encouraging confidences. Hearing that Laura was between positions and impressed by her ability to blend into the shadows, Jane invited to Laura to apply for a position with some friends. You can imagine Laura’s surprise when she discovered that the “friends”, Richard and Amy Selwick, had no offspring to be tutored. What they did have was a spy school in want of pupils. That’s how Laura Grey became the first pupil of the Selwick Spy School. If you’re wondering if you’ve met her before, you have. Laura Grey was at Selwick Hall for the house party in The Masque of the Black Tulip, along with those other early recruits, the Tholmondelay twins and Mrs. Cathcart.
Q. Why a Frenchman—and a revolutionary one—for a hero? Isn’t that a big departure?
A. It’s true. Most of my heroes so far have been dashing English aristocrats engaged in acts of amateur espionage. (I dare you to say that three times fast!) Jaouen is, well, French. Not only is he French, he’s not the least bit aristocratic. He’s a lawyer from Nantes. To round it off, he’s not an amateur. He’s employed by the Prefecture, which makes him a card-carrying espionage professional. Oh, yes, and he’s a convinced believer in the principles of the original stages of Revolution.
I guess you could call that a departure.
While aristocratic hijinks are entertaining—and Bonaparte endlessly fun to mock—I wanted to do justice to the other side of the equation. I wanted to know what happened to someone who genuinely believed in the original principles of the Revolution, a child of the Enlightenment who fought for liberte, egalite, and fraternite. How would someone who championed the early stages of the Revolution cope with seeing it descend into anarchy, oligarchy, and, eventually, military despotism? Through Andre, and his memories of Julie, I had the opportunity to explore the psyche of someone who sees a promised utopia go hideously wrong and has to figure out how to go on after.
Q. Will you ever write Gabrielle’s book?
A. Several people have asked me about the dramatic life of Gabrielle Jaouen, that cranky adolescent, who, as Eloise discovers, grows up to go through husbands like Kleenex, outlives most of her children, and champions a number of progressive causes. (What else would one expect from a daughter of the Revolution?) One of these days I would love to write about her fiery progress from France to Louisiana to New York—but that’s well out of the purview of the Pink series.
Q. What’s up next?
A. It became very obvious to me over the course of writing The Orchid Affair that Augustus Whittlesby, that ridiculous poet, harbors a tendre for our favorite floral spy, Miss Jane Wooliston. And equally obvious to me that Jane does not return those feelings. Apologies to everyone who asked me for an Augustus and Jane match! But don’t worry, I have other plans for Jane….
As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Augustus Whittlesby gets wind of a top secret device, to be demonstrated over the course of a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is to join forces with that annoying American socialite, Emma Morris Delagardie, who has been commissioned to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment. Augustus is willing to take one for the team, especially since it will mean time spent with his goddess, Jane, who has been tapped to play the heroine. But in this complicated masque within a masque, nothing seems to go quite as scripted… especially Emma.
Stay tuned for The Garden Intrigue, coming out February 16!