My guest today is Regency romance author Sheri Cobb South, who at 16 discovered Georgette Heyer, and came to the startling realization that she had been born into the wrong century. Although she believes she would have been a chambermaid had she actually lived in Regency England, that didn’t stop her from fantasizing about waltzing the night away in the arms of a handsome, wealthy and titled gentleman.
Since Georgette Heyer was no longer with us and could not write any more Regencies, Sheri came to the conclusion she would simply have to do it herself. In addition to her popular series of Regency mysteries featuring idealistic young Bow Street Runner John Pickett (described by All About Romance as “a little young, but wholly delectable”), she is the award-winning author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife.
A native and long-time resident of Alabama, Sheri recently moved to Loveland, Colorado, where she has a stunning view of Long’s Peak from her office window.
Sheri graciously agreed to answer all my questions, so here's the interview:
How often do you get lost in a story?
Sadly, not as often as I did before I began writing. After I started writing for publication, it became difficult for me to turn off the internal editor. I find myself thinking, “Why did the author do that instead of this? I think this sort of analytical reading can be a great tool for writers, but sometimes I just want it to leave me alone!
What’s your favorite fairy tale?
“Beauty and the Beast”! I have to confess, though, that the most popular Regency romance I ever wrote, The Weaver Takes a Wife, is loosely based on a rather obscure fairy tale called “King Thrushbeard.” It has some elements in common with the “Beauty and the Beast” tale, but the “Beast” in this case is the woman, who is proud and cold rather than ugly and ferocious.
How is it working with hot guys and sexy women all day?
This question made me laugh, because it sounds nothing like my characters! I don’t write explicit sex scenes, but even if I did, I would hope my characters are something more than their physical attributes. My heroes tend to be beta guys, and although their heroines may find them “hot” (and poor John Pickett always seems to become entangled—metaphorically speaking—with some girl, usually in spite of his best efforts), they certainly don’t see themselves that way. John has inferiority issues, as might be expected of a juvenile-pickpocket-turned-Bow-Street-Runner who falls in love with a widowed viscountess. As for Ethan Brundy, titular “Weaver” of The Weaver Takes a Wife, he is supremely self-confident—being filthy rich will tend to do that, I suppose—and his smile is surpassingly sweet, but Lady Helen’s initial reaction to his dropped aitches and unfashionable clothes is anything but “hot.”
As for my heroines, well, let me just say that I dislike the word “sexy.” To me, it seems to objectify, rather than compliment, the person it’s used to describe. My heroines are certainly not ugly, but their levels of attractiveness tend to vary according to the demands of the plot. John Pickett’s Lady Fieldhurst and Ethan Brundy’s Lady ’elen are both stunningly beautiful, in order to make the most of the difference in station between the ladies and their heroes. In The Weaver Takes a Wife, for instance, an average-looking woman, especially one with no dowry, might snap up a wealthy weaver if she thought he was her last, best hope of marriage, where a beautiful one might be able to attract anyone she pleased, even without the incentive of a dowry. And in the mystery series, Julia, Lady Fieldhurst’s beauty only serves to emphasize to John Pickett how beyond his reach she is. On the other hand, Margaret Darrington, heroine Of Paupers and Peers, sees herself as quite ordinary looking, especially when compared to her younger sister, but that’s certainly not how James Weatherly, Duke of Montford, comes to see her.
What’s something you’d like to tell your fans?
My newest release, Too Hot to Handel, is the book I’ve looked forward to writing ever since the series began! It was originally scheduled for March, but just before Christmas I learned that it would be postponed until June. I had nothing to do with this, but I felt so bad for readers who were left hanging at the end of Dinner Most Deadly (the book I call my Empire Strikes Back book, because I still remember how frustrated we all were in 1980, when we realized the end of that movie left so many issues unresolved that I wrote a novella, Waiting Game, to release in March, when Too Hot to Handel should have come out). Although it’s not strictly necessary to read this one to know what’s going on in the next book, it does offer readers a glimpse at how John and Julia are coping during their three-month-long separation between the end of Dinner Most Deadly and the beginning of Too Hot to Handel.
Each mystery stands alone, but those who want to follow the romance as it develops will probably want to read the series in order: (0.5) Pickpocket’s Apprentice (prequel/novella); (1) In Milady’s Chamber; (2) A Dead Bore; (3) Family Plot; (4) Dinner Most Deadly; (4.5) Waiting Game (novella); (5) Too Hot to Handel.
What is your hero’s “kryptonite”? In other words, what will bring him instantly to his knees?
Lord Rupert Latham! When John Pickett is summoned from Bow Street to investigate Lord Fieldhurst’s death, he sees Julia, Lady Fieldhurst standing over her husband’s dead body, and is instantly smitten. But her ladyship is not alone: Lord Rupert Latham is there as well. In fact, Lord Rupert has been trying for some time to convince Lady Fieldhurst that a discreet affaire would be no more than her philandering husband deserves—and it appears he’s going to get his way at last, until the discovery of Lord Fieldhurst’s dead body in her bedroom rather destroys the mood. John Pickett knows he himself can never hope to win Julia, but no one makes him feel his own inferiority quite so much as the suave and snarky Lord Rupert Latham. Lord Rupert doesn’t appear in all the books, but whenever he does, you can bet it spells trouble for poor John.
What will always make you smile, even on a bad day?
Fan mail! Writing is a pretty lonely occupation. Even though I meet weekly with a critique group, bounce ideas off fellow writers, etc., the actual process is butt-in-chair alone time. Sometimes it feels like I’m throwing words into a vacuum. So it’s exciting to have real, physical proof that, yes, someone is reading my books, and enjoying them enough to tell me so.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Sheer desperation! Oh, I see—you mean the process. I’d had five young adult novels published by Bantam, but then its Sweet Dreams series folded. I’d had some success self-publishing Regency romances, and even sold the large-print rights to those books, but in those days self-publishing required a considerable financial output before you could make a dime. I knew I was going to have to try something different if I wanted to be traditionally published again.
So I made a list of all the things I enjoyed about the books I’d written to date: humor, check; PG-rated romance, check; Regency setting, check. And I thought of what other genre(s) I might try that would incorporate those things. I came up with a mystery series set in the Regency period, with a romance thread that would develop over the course of the series. Since I’d had such fun with the “across the tracks” romance in The Weaver Takes a Wife, I decided to return to the well, this time pairing a young and inexperienced Bow Street Runner with a viscountess suspected of murdering her husband.
To Hot to Handle
The fifth installment of this series set in Regency England finds Bow Street Runner John Pickett under cover as a gentleman attending Drury Lane Theatre, where a rash of jewel thefts has taken place. An elderly Russian princess is to wear a magnificent diamond necklace to a production of Handel’s Esther, and the entire Bow Street force will be on hand to guard her.
It is only Pickett who will be seated amongst the aristocracy, however, and in order to preserve his incognito, Mr. Colquhoun recommends that he bring along a female companion—a lady, in fact, who might prevent him from making any glaring faux pas. But the only lady of Pickett’s acquaintance is Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, to whom he accidentally contracted a Scottish irregular marriage several months earlier, and with whom he is seeking an annulment against his own inclinations—and for whom he recklessly declared his love (Dinner Most Deadly), secure in the knowledge that he would never see her again.
The inevitable awkwardness of their reunion goes by the board when the theatre catches fire. Pickett and Julia, trapped in a third tier box, must escape via a harrowing descent down a rope fashioned from the curtains adorning their box. But an injury leaves Pickett unconscious, and when Julia discovers the princess’s diamonds in his coat pocket, she knows it is up to her not only to nurse him back to health, but to discover the real thief and bring him to justice.
Pickett opened the door of the theatre box, and immediately stepped back as he was struck with a wall of heat. The corridor was alive with flame, and as they stood staring into the inferno, a burning beam from the ceiling fell almost at their feet. Pickett slammed the door shut.
“We won’t be going out that way,” he remarked, glancing wildly about the box for some other method of exit. He seized one of the heavy curtains flanking the box and pulled until it collapsed into his arms in a pile of red velvet. He located the edge and began ripping it into long strips.
“What are you doing?” asked her ladyship, her voice muffled by the folds of his handkerchief over her mouth.
Pickett jerked his head toward the sconce mounted on the wall between their box and its neighbor. Its many candles, so impressive only moments ago, now appeared pale and puny compared to the flames dancing all around them.
“I’m making a rope to tie to that candelabrum. You can climb down into the pit and escape from there. And don’t wait for me. As soon as your feet reach the floor, I want you to forget everything you ever learned about being a lady—push, shove, do whatever you have to do, but get out, do you understand?”
“And what about you, Mr. Pickett?”
He glanced at the brass fixture. “I’m not sure if it will bear my weight, my lady. I suppose I’ll have to try—I don’t much fancy my chances in the corridor—but I’ll not make the attempt until I see you safely down.”
She leaned over the balustrade and looked past the three tiers of boxes to the pit some forty feet below, then turned back to confront Pickett. “Setting aside the likelihood that I would lose my grip and plummet to my death, do you honestly think I would leave you alone up here, to make your escape—or not!—as best you might? No, Mr. Pickett, I will not have it! Either we go together, or we do not go at all!”
The crash of falling timbers punctuated this statement, and although there was nothing at all humorous in the situation, he gave her a quizzical little smile. “ ‘ ’Til death do us part,’ Mrs. Pickett?”
She lifted her chin. “Just so, Mr. Pickett.”
Sheri is giving away a hard book copy of To Hot to Handle to one lucky commenter, so include your email so we can reach you!