New York Times Bestselling Author

Pink Anniversary Guest Post from Jessica– and Give Away!

As we enter the final week of Pink Anniversary Month, we have a final guest post!

This one is from Jessica, whom I have now had the great privilege of knowing for nearly as long as there’s been a Pink series.

But I’ll leave that to Jessica to tell….

Pink 1 coverSummer, 2006…I was preparing to start a job taking students to Antibes, France, for a month and looking for reading material to take with me. I perused Borders’ “Buy 2, get the 3rd free” table and a book caught my eye…The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. I have always enjoyed historical fiction and romance but at that point in my life it was not the major part of my reading list. (I didn’t even know what “The Regency” was until I became involved with this community of Lauren’s readers!). In other words, I’m not sure what made me pick up the book…the lovely fine-art cover? The enticing title? The color pink? At any rate, I did pick it up and I turned it over. And I read the blurb…a graduate student doing research in London.

At that time I was four years into my own doctoral program, not at Harvard but at the University of Illinois; not in history, but in French and second language acquisition. While I don’t remember why I picked the book up, I remember very clearly the thought that went through my mind as I read that blurb and met Eloise Kelly for the first time: “Finally! A book about my people!” Never had I seen a novel about a graduate student. I couldn’t not buy it.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation accompanied me on that trip to France. Pre-Kindle, the few books you took abroad with you, you re-read, even if you were only gone for a few weeks (at least if you read as quickly as I do!). I remember reading it in my un-air-conditioned bedroom, on the plane, in the Paris hotel. Even now, thinking of Pink I transports me back to the little apartment I shared with another trip chaperone, in that hot, dim upstairs bedroom, exhausted after a long day of teenagers and the southern France sun.

From the first page, when Eloise fell into a fellow Tube passenger’s lap, I was hooked. Not only did the historical story fascinate me, but the author actually got the graduate school part right! Despite the vast difference between the Ivy League and the Big 10, Eloise’s experiences resounded with me because I could see many of them happening to me. Her hours in Widener Library, my hours searching the various levels of UIUC’s Graduate Library (which I firmly believe were the inspirations for Dante’s levels of Hell); her search for primary sources, my struggle for participants; the uncertainty of Life After Humanities PhD. And, of course: the glory (struggle) and joy (pain) of teaching undergraduates.

Fast forward a few months, at a public library, in the W section. Lo and behold, there was another book by the same author…similar title: The Masque of the Black Tulip…ANOTHER BOOK! It’s a series! From there, I searched the internet for information on Lauren Willig…and I found this website, this community, and Lauren herself. It’s a magical aspect of the internet to be able to interact with our favorite authors, to connect with the minds that bring us the stories that captivate us. I adore reading outtakes, participating in contests to choose flower names or design mugs and tote bags, and hearing about Lauren’s upcoming projects.

Emerald PaperbackAlthough Eloise and I have taken different paths ultimately, I continue to feel that Lauren wrote me a literary soul sister. I recognize myself in her struggles with her dissertation advisor, the ache of a long-distance relationship, and, again, Life After Humanities PhD. I recognize her anxiety and awkwardness and tendency to fall over, knock down, or bump into whatever there is around her. And we’re both redheads with curly hair. (When her blind date at the Indian restaurant questions a redhead named Kelly siding with the English over the Irish in The Deception of the Emerald Ring, I was reminded that I’m a French professor who is a dedicated reader of a series where the French are constantly insulted and thwarted).

Lauren and her books have seen me through dissertation-writing and defense, my visiting professor position, being hired on the tenure track at the same university, and through the tenure track as I await the final two votes for my promotion. Fortuitously, she always seems to have a book coming out when I need a reward to inspire me to finish a paper or project or just another semester of undergraduate teaching (The Other Daughter is coming out in June, in time for my birthday – thanks, Lauren!). In August 2008, I had just found out that a professor on my dissertation committee whom I particularly liked would have to Plumeriaparticipate remotely in my defense. I permitted myself an afternoon of total breakdown, in the form of re-reading The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, which had come out earlier that year. I read The Betrayal of the Blood Lily over ginger cats cookies and Indian food, wearing a pink scarf, in a fit of silly themed-ness during my first year on the tenure track. I’ve re-visited my favorite couples, Miles/Henrietta and Geoffrey/Letty, so many times that I fear for my copies of The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Deception of the Emerald Ring. As the tenure track dragged on, I had to abandon my habit of indulging in a full afternoon to read new books in one sitting, so The Garden Intrigue, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, and The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla have all been read in bits before bed, which gave me a chance to truly savor them.

From finding The Secret History of the Pink Carnation all those years ago, I’ve gained an online community I enjoy; an entrée and guide into the world of romance and historical fiction, along with the intellectual tools to defend the genre; and a smattering of botanical knowledge. Not to mention, of course, the gleaming row of books on my shelf with flower titles and pretty covers. And in Lauren and her generosity in her web presence, I’ve gained a friend who understands what my life was like in graduate school and wrote about it.

In French, there is a phrase that perfectly sums up my relationship with Lauren: lectrice inconditionelle, unconditional reader. If she writes, it I will read it. All because she wrote a novel about “my people.”

First of all, can we have a big cheer for Jessica for making it through and achieving tenure? Huzzah! And if the Pink books helped you to procrastinate– I mean motivate! Yes, motivate– your way through that, then I am very proud of the small role the Pink books have played in your success. Eloise salutes you. (And Miles offers a ginger biscuit.)

It means so much to me that the grad school experience in the books rang true. As a grad student, nothing maddened me more than books in which the heroine or hero was theoretically a grad student (often a Harvard grad student, since Harvard seems to occupy a peculiar place in the national imagination) and yet did very un-grad-student-like things, like completing an entire PhD in three years, hopping fields at will (an expert on the Italian Renaissance one day and Stuart England the next), or staying at the Georges Cinq.

I wanted a book that would speak to the real grad school experience (with a bit of, “hey! there’s a whole cache of never-before-seen papers!” wish fulfillment). I was fortunate, during the writing of this book, to have a phalanx of grad student friends who would sit with me at Burdick’s or Peets’ in Harvard Square and egg me on with suggestions like, “Oooh, oooh, add something about how advisors never reply to emails!” Or “What about when you go on dates and guys make snide comments about your field?”

To my grad school friends: I have tried, diligently, to incorporate all of those suggestions. If there were gripes I left out, Eloise and I both apologize.

It was the grad student element that drew Jessica to the books. What was it that captured your imagination?

One person who comments will be chosen at random to receive a Pink Anniversary Mug.

Also… I seem to have a number of unclaimed prizes piling up here! If you’ve contacted me about a prize and not received a response, please, please let me know in the comments. (In which case, I’ll know that something is wrong with my email and can fix it.)

20 Comments

  1. Jessica on February 23, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I am thrilled beyond words to have a guest post on Lauren’s blog!!! What a treat to have the chance to put into words how much the Pink series has meant to me. Happy decade, Lauren and Eloise!

  2. Sheila on February 23, 2015 at 11:46 am

    The beautiful cover of Pink Carnation is what attracted me first, then of course I became immediately hooked. The latest covers are beautiful in their way, with clothing more historically accurate, but not as unique. Think what I would have missed if that cover had not drawn me in! Horrors! Love the books and all the fun we have had on this site. Newcomers should rummage through the archives and see how creative some of the fans are in the cover and poetry contests. Thank you, Lauren, for everything.

  3. Betty S. on February 23, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks for an enjoyable post, Jessica. My attraction to the series came first from the cover and title, then from reading the blurb and identifying a connection to The Scarlett Pimpernel. Have so enjoyed this series and rereading these books in anticipation of Pink XII.

  4. Nikki B on February 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    My sister actually picked up the book from a library book fair and brought it home for me, saying it “looked like a book you would like.” And she was right! I have enjoyed each book, but I especially like Eloise and Colin’s storyline. It is just so cute!

  5. Ashley on February 23, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Awww. This is lovely and a far more interesting history with the series than my typical ‘it was recommended to me by a friend’ story.

    I’ve been a big fan of this series for a while and wish I had known you were teaching at Yale while I was an undergrad there, Lauren! I would have loved to have taken your class.

  6. bn100 on February 23, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    the characters

  7. Jane B. on February 23, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    I love the Regency period, and am in constant search for authors who do it right. When I came across The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, both the title and the cover drew me in. Hmm, I thought, looks interesting and carefully done.

    Then I met Eloise. A grad student protagonist! My own grad school experience was about as different from hers as possible: I got my MLS in a distance education program, being about 600 miles away from a residential program and not in a position to drop my entire life.(Classes met Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning. There’s nothing quite like getting up before dawn to go take a final.)There were still many common frustrations.

    And oh, the period details! The witty banter! Guys in knee britches making witty banter! (Sighs deeply.)I live in hope of an occasional Pink novella even after the official end of the series.

  8. Aleen Davis on February 23, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    The first thing that got my attention was the cover. Once I started reading it, I really liked the back and forth between the past and present. I love stories like that.

  9. Alice on February 23, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Several things, the cover initially because that is what sparked my interest enough to even look at the book. Also I love books that hop between the past and the present. And finally, I really do love the grad school aspect. I love books about academia. And now, I am forever a fan.

  10. Christine on February 23, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Awesome post!

    Amazon suggested Pink Carnation based on past purchases. Pretty much nailed all my favorite genres.

  11. Paige on February 23, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    “Jane Austen for the modern girl” and “Pride and Prejudice live on” written on the gorgeous cover first captured my imagination!

  12. SuzanneH on February 23, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    As a foreigner I don’t connect with the grad student bit. Actually our education system is so different here that there were whole parts of Two L in particular which might as well have been in Japanese. Where I feel really connected to Eloise is through geography. The last time I was in London I stayed in Bayswater just around the corner from her in Queensborough Terrace. I used to walk the same streets and travel on the same tube line. Reading the Pink books brings it all back so vividly.

  13. Sarah R on February 24, 2015 at 5:10 am

    I loved how the novels alternate between modern day and historical. I loved the characters and couldn’t wait to see which next two characters would be paired together and fall in love. I just loved reading the romance part and felt a connection to the characters. One of the most important things for me in a book are having the characters be believable. I felt that with every book! And now my favorite romance historical novels are the regency period. I had never read books about that period before your books!

  14. Abby on February 24, 2015 at 8:00 am

    I am another former graduate student turned tenure track professor in early American history with six months left before I submit my tenure application and yes, I have loved having another history graduate student to compare notes with all these years. Lauren, we met at a book lunch in Connecticut early in the summer and I can now report that my book has been under contract with the Ashgate press since early November but the editor decided to do another round of peer reviews and I am waiting (again!) to hear back on a publication date. And yes, reading the Pink Carnation books is also something I do when the academic world feels as if it is getting the better of me- thank you, both Eloise and Lauren!

  15. Bess on February 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I have read romance on and off since high school. What first caught my attention with the Pink Carnation, besides copies being displayed all over my local Barnes & Noble, was the dual story line. That the modern story line included research and libraries was a bonus. I have a real weakness for books that take place largely in libraries or research facilities. That’s why I loved The Historian, which came out a few years ago.

  16. Claire on February 24, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    I read this on the recommendation of my mom, who knows my taste well and has steered me to most of my favorite series. What really hooked me, as with many others, was the grad student and research angles. At the time I was working on a dual masters in history and archival studies, so the book spoke perfectly to both my situation and my interests. However, it’s always made me sad that the only archivist in the series is something of a villain!

  17. Sarah H on February 25, 2015 at 9:27 am

    One of the things that I really liked was that the girls became the spies!

  18. Vicky on February 26, 2015 at 8:45 am

    My grad student days finished a year or so before Eloise’s, but I also spent/spend a lot of time in archives looking for historical records, in London and in Paris as well as North America. I loved Eloise’s adventures in archives (some of them had me laughing out loud in the subway) as well as the characters, the sparkle and plotting of the historical series. I enjoy my work, but Lauren’s books help pull through the difficult periods!

  19. Sue Gorman on February 28, 2015 at 12:55 am

    Great post Jessica!
    I found Lauren and the Pink Carnation through Katharine Ashe & the Ballroom Blog.
    Loved the dual storyline and the charactecters.
    I think of Eloise when my daughter who is in London for her semester abroad complains about the tube, the Royal Mail and the small bottles of shampoo!

  20. Laura D on March 6, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    I discovered the series out of sequence. A few years ago, after I’d read a review of Christmas books in the Washington Post, I decided to look for “The Mischief of the Mistletoe” during the holidays. In retrospect, this was an odd jumping-on point into the series. On the one hand, it was a good stand-alone read, if you were to pick one out-of-sequence book from the series to start with. I was next delighted to discover that there was an entire series that explained more about the characters I’d just been introduced to and I determined to start the series from the beginning.

    It was the high caliber of the writing and the humor that drew me in and kept me engaged throughout the first book and the others. Much of that entry book made so much more sense after I located and read the first Carnation book – although I was next thrown a bit by the Eloise subplot, since it did not seem to be part of the Mistletoe book I’d read. I wondered if the subplot had been dropped or resolved prior to Mistletoe but it all became clearer over time.

    So although I regret not reading the series in order, it was a belated Christmas gift that year to have discovered this series and the very entertaining and quirky (in the best possible way!) writing style of Lauren Willig! Thanks so much for consistently making me smile with every book! I am sad to hear it is ending this year!

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