I have the pleasure of welcoming historical romance author Bess Greenfield on Buried Under Romance for an interview today. Her latest release is The Count's Last Mistress, a beautifully-told historical romance set in Europe.
An unforgettable, sexy tale of good intentions gone awry, deception, and unexpected passion between an aristocratic French cavalry officer and a free-spirited American painter in Paris...
When her social conscience and avant-garde art trigger rumors of mental instability, New York heiress Jeanne Delancy flees to Paris to begin her life anew as an independent painter. But the political turmoil of 1871 leaves her with an abandoned child to protect and a tragic mystery to solve. Struggling and desperate, Jeanne is stunned to receive an absurdly lucrative commission from a handsome, aristocratic cavalry officer. The former wallflower has every reason to mistrust the arrogant, yet charming comte de Chaumenay, but she finds the offer difficult to refuse and her new patron even harder to resist.
Consumed with remorse over his past, war hero Olivier Valencourt is certain the beguiling American beauty he discovers in a Montmartre hovel holds the key to his redemption. To convince her to reveal a truth only she can tell, he plots to win her confidence through patronage, patience, and his never-before-tested powers of persuasion. But it doesn't take long for the bohemian's unconventional wisdom and innocent sensuality to obliterate his self-control and divert his agenda entirely. While the strong-willed opposites struggle to reconcile their deepest longings, dangerous alliances and scandalous secrets threaten a tragic repetition of history.
Why did you choose to set your historical romance in nineteenth century France?
I was inspired by several biographies of painters who lived in Paris during the 1860s and 1870s, especially those about Mary Cassatt, who boldly stretched societal boundaries when women’s choices in life were so curtailed by the double standard. At first, I intended to avoid the tragedies of the Franco-Prussian War and Commune of 1871. After all, Mary Cassatt had the good sense to leave France before those events, but then I realized my story would be more compelling if my heroine had personal ties which compelled her to stay. Adversity defines character. It can also be the source of gut-wrenching conflict, which authors love. The harrowing circumstances of that time presented an opportunity for seeming opposites, my dark, tortured hero and my gentle, free-spirited heroine, to find their way to each other as a result of courage, selflessness, and compassion.
What was the most surprising or fun aspect of writing The Count’s Last Mistress?
I enjoyed seeing my characters evolve as they unwittingly fell in love with each other. The hero of my story could not be more different than the heroine, yet they share some key beliefs and values which make them perfectly suited for one another. He is French, aristocratic, driven by duty, and emotionally repressed whereas she is American, open, trusting, and makes every decision based on what her heart tells her to do. It was such fun to watch the heroine draw out the hero and change him without ever trying to do so. I laughed and cried as I wrote. (Not at the same time.)
How did you go about doing your research for the book?
I researched late nineteenth century French history and pre-Impressionist painters in Paris for months before I began my outline. I also read a lot of novels by Zola and Flaubert to get a better sense of the time. As I was working on the first draft, I did more research for specific descriptions of Montmartre, dance halls, and the châteaux of Burgundy and details regarding everything from indoor plumbing (or the lack thereof) to the extent of the French railway system in 1871. [Mary: Wow, what meticulous research you did! It really reflects in the story.]
You're currently working on the sequel to this book. How many books do you have planned for this series?
I plan four in all, each focusing upon a different member of the musically gifted Valencourt family. The next is set mainly in Manhattan during the Gilded Age, depicting the highest and lowest strata of society. Class inequality is an unavoidable theme for me. [Mary: I'm very much looking forward to this! Class inequality is a theme that I like to read, especially historically when class was larger-than-life.]
About the Author:
Originally from Pittsburgh, I graduated from Cornell University and University of Pittsburgh School of Law. After a succession of jobs (cocktail waitress, receptionist, journalist, lawyer), I've discovered I'm happiest working as a novelist, immersed in my imagination and history. I currently live in beautiful Colorado, with my husband, three children, and our dog, Houdini. When I'm not writing new stories, I love playing tennis, reading, traveling, hiking, or having coffee with friends.
Find Bess on her website: http://www.bessgreenfield.com/