Friday, May 29, 2009

We Welcome NY Times Bestselling Author, the Fantastic Eloisa James

New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her novels have been published to great acclaim. A reviewer from USA Today wrote of Eloisa's very first book that she "found herself devouring the book like a dieter with a Hershey bar"; later People Magazine raved that "romance writing does not get much better than this." Her novels have repeatedly received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Library Journal and regularly appear on the best-seller lists.

After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and head of the Creative Writing program at Fordham University in New York City. Her "double life" is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she's written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women's magazines such as More to writers' journals such as the Romance Writers' Report.

Sex After the Seventeenth Book

I know the title of this blog sounds like a depressing pamphlet that you hope not to receive from the AARP. Open it up, and you’ll find yourself deep in an article on the benefits of little blue pills and gauzy scarves thrown over lamps.

While I’m thankfully still a long way from AARP membership, I sympathize! There are times when a writer simply thinks, been there. And: I am so DONE with that! Except here comes another contract, and another hero and heroine, and they want their sex life. …I’m simply not sure that I’m up for another spell of screaming pleasure as Slot A joins Slot B.

So this blog is about how a writer renews her own interest in writing this most difficult type of scene. There are three important rules I try to remember:

A). The scene must be germane to the story—in short, the reason why the sex works for them has to grow from their individual personalities, from the growth they’ve made during the novel. No instant, perfect sex in my novels. It’s not like that in life, and it’s remarkably tedious to read on the page. One of the worst things a writer can do, imo, is suddenly drop the personalities of her two characters and morph them into shiny, moaning sex machines. Sex is the most intimate thing two people do, and therefore the most revealing. Remember that!

In my current release, This Duchess of Mine, Jemma and Elijah married years ago, only to separate and live on different continents for years. They had an OK sex life for the brief weeks they were together – but nothing to write home about. I needed to face that head on. This was sex that had backstory.

B) Remember that tenderness is as sexy as actual sex. As readers, we want to go well beyond the bedroom door. But we want it all: the wildness and the sweetness. Not to wander into tmi territory, but intimacy increases intimacy. We love our spouse more the next day, frankly. Remember that too!

Elijah and Jemma have a broken marriage – while they learn to give each other a lot of pleasure, they need to love and forgive as well. Those moments are as important as the wild boinking.

C) And finally, who says it all has to happen in bed? Or on the desk, for that matter? One thing I’ve found is that creating the setting that’s essential to an intimate act makes it more interesting for my characters, myself, and my readers.

In This Duchess of Mine, Jemma takes Elijah to a neglected, tumbled-down Roman bath. The ensuing scenes? Some of my favorites, in all seventeen books: a joy to write, and (I hope) a lot of fun to read as well. So there’s my final thing to remember – change it up!

I’ve got two questions for you: what’s your favorite unusual setting that you remember from a romance – and what’s one that you wish you’d read? Maybe someone can help me out here. I remember an Amanda Quick (or Judith Ivory?) with a huge barrel of rose petals… great fun! How about you?

Leave an answer to Eloisa's post or a general comment and be entered to win a copy of the signed hardback UK edition of Desperate Duchesses.

To learn more about Eloisa and her wonderful historicals, visit her website at


Tammy Schubert said...

I can't remember the name of the book or the author--I'm bad at that. However, there was a great love scene in a cave that had a steaming pool inside.

Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning,

Thank you for joining us today. I think any scene where the tenderness...foreplay...get you as much in the mood as the heroine is a well-written scene. For us AARP types, we like to feel warm (or hot) from how gently he (or she) sets the mood before they merge.

There was one, (the older I get the less I can remember names!!) where the heroine was desperate to have a child (ticking Bio clock)and set a whole scene with the meal, wine, satin sheets...and they ended up on a lounge chair on the patio.

Great post.


J Perry Stone said...

YAY, YAY, YAY! I'm SO glad you're here, Eloisa and your post is extremely timely for me. I'm at a loss as to how I might approach those scenes.

So I am loving This Duchess of Mine. I think Jemma is a hoot and I especially loved that scene between her and her rival ... and the need for an insult. That was wicked and hysterical to read at the same time. Your abilities with characterization make my mouth notch open.

Secondly, I absolutely agree with what you said. I admit to sometimes getting bored in sex scenes, but only if those scenes seem superfluous to the story. That said, what does an author do when everyone out there is screaming, "Make it hotter?" I just don't think that sex necessarily does the trick.

I'm also laughing at your "change it up" suggestion considering your penchant for the outdoors ;)

Thank you so much for coming here and I cannot wait to see you in DC.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I agree with JP. YAY! I really needed this advice. Thank you for blogging with us today. I'm working on a "romantic elements" book and its hard to write the absense of sex. So I'll be a good student and write down 1) be true to your characters, 2) tenderness is as sexy as sex, and 3) let my characters notice each other at unusual times. We can't all get caught between the moon and NYC, can we? :)

To answer your questions:
1) There is a scene in LaVyrle Spencer's Vows where the hero and heroine are forced into a closet for a parlor game. They are both reluctant, but as they are sitting there he grabs her ankle and pulls her in for a kiss. It was very innocent and sweet. The whole story changed after that point.
(There's also a scene in Elizabeth Hoyt's the Raven Prince in a brothel. Not sweet or innocent, but perfect for the story! I found myself blushing and smiling for a week after reading it!)

2) The driveway on a autumn night. This is from the book I'm working on with two teenagers. Maybe because I always wanted to be kissed on my driveway as a kid. Somehow in front of my house, God, and parents it never worked out. Hopefully, my characters will be luckier than I was!

Great advice, wonderful books. Thank you for helping us rethink our sex scenes today.

Debbie Kaufman said...


Unfortunately, Eloisa has a family emergency today. I have reassured her and her wonderful assistant, Kim Castillo, that we understand completely if she can't comment today. Family is always more important than a blog!

The GOOD NEWS: She can read and catch up later and we might get her assistant, Kim from Romance Author's Best Friend, to chime in a little today. We are still doing the give away, so every comment counts!

Kelly L Stone said...

Hi Eloisa,

It's wonderful to see you here! I always love to hear what you have to say about writing.

I like your point about the tenderness and intimacy-- I think a writer who does this well on the page is Anita Shreve. I'm terrible at remembering titles, but many of her early books show scenes that abound with the character's tenderness and love for each other despite the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.

Thanks again for your advice!

Best wishes,
Kelly L Stone

Cyrano said...

Thanks so much for visiting with us today. Your interview was inspiring especially since my WIP is quite erotic. Remembering my character's personalities, their flaws, their goals, their conflicts is very important. I plan on going back and taking a look at those love scenes now. To see if they ring true.
I want to commend you on all you've done in your life. Wow!! So much talent!! And by the way, Shakespeare is my favorite and his King Henry the fifth's quote, "All things are ready if our minds be so," is a sentence I intend to have tattooed on my back. (I'm into ink and I'm a tad crazy) But I truly love that quote and think it has so much meaning and depth.
Now, a love scene that had an impact on me was in a short novella entitled, Love's Prisoner by MaryJanice Davidson. The love scene happens in an elevator between a werewolf and a human woman (he was human during the deed to, no ick factor here) It was so hot and so consuming and so desperate I still get images in my mind to this day and I read the novella probably six years ago. Hmmm, where is that Red Sage volume? I may have to break it out again.
Anyway, thanks so much for your wonderful interview. I devoured every word.
Have a gorgeous Friday morning,

Oh, and PS, Tammy, I read that book with the cave and the steam. I have it somewhere, but can't find it. It was an amazing scene too!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eloisa,

As a reader I get a little tired of the perfect sex scenes, it is great to have a reminder that it really isn't always like that. So many women loose themselves in these scenes, then expect their husband to do similar. I'm so glad you are taking a fresh approach to this area!

Caroline Z.

Kim said...

Hey everyone!

Thank you, Debbie.

Does anyone have any questions about Eloisa? I'm happy to give a little behind the scenes!

luveurope1 said...

Hi Eloisa,
Congrats on the release of This Duchess of Mine! :)

This was a great blog, and your tips really make a lot of sense, not just in romance novels but in real life too!

Off the top of my head, the one unique place I can think of is in Lisa Kleypas's Devil In Winter where Sebastian and Evie have a romantic encounter in the billiards room, lol.

And another one, I can't remember the title or author, but the hero and heroine are both doctors, and the hero rents a houseboat as a romantic getaway.

luveurope1 said...

I'm sorry-I also forgot to say I'm sorry about the family emergency, Eloisa hope everything is OK! hugs!

Marilyn Baron said...

Thanks for blogging with us today and for your great advice.

As another member of the AARP crowd, I fit right in with my Petit Fours and Hot Tamales sisters in the memory (or lack of it) department. I've read and enjoyed a lot of romances but can't quite recall the names.

I am a big fan of Amanda Quick but can't remember the rose petal scene you referred to (although there may have been one).

Marilyn Baron

Kim said...

Nobody wants to dish about working with Eloisa? Now's your chance! Ask away. ;)

Eloisa James said...

Hi everyone!

I'm so sorry to be late -- my daughter has a chronic illness that landed us in the hospital for a bit, but she's coming out this afternoon, so I escaped. And she's just fine, so no worries there -- the DVD dispensing machine was working, and a rabbit came to visit, and she had a chocolate milkshake and chocolate ice cream for lunch. So basically, she doesn't want to come home.

But I did -- because among other things, the hospital had free wi-fi but (this will SHOCK you!), Petit Fours & Hot Tamales was banned as an adult site. *g* My BB was as well. And Twitter! Not that there wasn't much to occupy ourselves with: she's on a Christmas kick, so we watched Elf, Santa Clause, and Fred Claus and luckily my husband took over when I got to the point of raindeer homicide.

So let me go back and read what you'all have said and I'll try to answer any questions..

Eloisa James said...

J Perry,
Thanks for the kind words about This Duchess! And I'm looking forward to DC -- anyone coming to the RWA national who wants to come to a little party given by moi and Julia Quinn, stop by my BB!

Isn't it interesting how Nick's doing romantic elements, and Tamara's doing fairly erotic -- but the fact is that the rules apply to all of us! People keep asking me what I think of erotica. Well, I think the same thing I think about romance, and sci fi, and literary fiction, and all the rest of it. If it's written well, it's brilliant, sex and fun to read. But that goes for books with just romantic elements as well!

One thing I tend to revert to for inspiration is my own past. I don't mean to imply that I even HAD a wild past (in my next life, I mean to!) but that I fell so vividly in love. My heart would literally hang on the moment when I might see Xboy round the corner. That was entirely "pure" (since these boys rarely noticed me at all) but highly emotional and eroticized (to me)... it just goes to show that eroticism and sexuality aren't nearly as contingent on what happens in a sex scene, as how it's described!


who is going to take a tiny nap (these hospitals! Do they really need to take vitals every hour -- or at least it feels like that -- ALL NIGHT?)

But then I'll be back.

Gannon Carr said...

Hi, Eloisa! I'm glad your daughter is better. I'm sure the chocolate milkshake and ice cream hastened her recovery. :)

One of my favorite sex scenes--most recently, anyway--is To Sin With A Stranger by Kathryn Caskie. Let's just say the hero and heroine get intimate while she is reclining on one of the Elgin marbles. Very hot!

I can't wait to finally meet you in person in DC.

Enjoy your well-deserved nap! :)

I am Sam. Sam I am. said...

Hi Eloisa, glad to hear your daughter is doing better. I have a comment about a sex scene although its not really the actual act. I recently read "Remember Me" by Sophie Kinsella. The part where Jon brings Lexi to his apartment, trying to convince her of their love affair. He tells her how each time they made love they would plant a sunflower. Lexi goes to the patio and it's covered with tons of pots with sunflower plants all different heights. It really brought to life the intimacy they shared.

Take care and have a great weekend!

Kim said...

Yes! Anyone attending RWA in DC please come to our party. Just let me know you're coming so we can swap contact information. You can either pop in the "Meet Eloisa and JQ" forum on the bulletin board or through Debbie or J Perry. Its going to be a decadent bash with lots of homemade goodies and gift bags! We'd love to see you there.

Kim said...

I am Sam-I love that visual! How sweet.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Eloisa!

So glad your daughter is doing better!

The love scene in the flower bin is from Amanda Quick's DESIRE. It's got some really fun sex scenes in it.

One of my favorite sex scenes is from Jennifer Crusie's Welcome To Temptation, especially the first one, where the h/h are having bad sex. What they do to ramp it up is really hilarious.

OK Kim, here's a question for you - what are Eloisa's secrets for being so organized and productive? I'd pay good money to find that out!

Kim said...

Vanessa-that's an excellent question.

Sometimes I think there are 3 of her. LOL. We both keep calendars of her events, that's helpful.

J Perry Stone said...

Eloisa, I am very relieved your daughter is doing better. There is nothing more terrifying.

You should know, as I sit reading This Duchess of Mine, I am literally blown away by your dialogue. Every conversation is fraught with subtext, whether it is between Jemma and Elijah, or Jemma and Villiers, or Jemma and her rival.

Because I regard your writing as a personal benchmark of perfection, I do not have the self-loathing that usually comes with jealousy ... but you should know, I am terribly jealous. My copy, already, looks as though it's been read a thousand times as I always fold down the pages where I love the writing. It's a damn mess.

As for a personal question, I always learn from writers' processes. The cliche question is: plotter or pantser? What is your approach and do you write the whole thing first then go back for revisions, or do you polish as you go? Also, the Georgian Period, though bewigged as it is, is really a terrific vehicle for you to let down your hair. What's more, what a delicious era in terms of clothes. Are all of the outfits from your imagination, or have you done copious amounts of research?

Tami Brothers said...

Hi Eloisa and Kim. Thank you both so much for blogging with PF&HT today!!! And I'm really glad your daughter is doing well. My thoughts and prayers are with you and her.

Okay, fav love scene. Can't think of one but I will say the weirdest one I've read is in a tree. Come on? A tree. Must have been a big @$$ tree...grin... The other was on the back of a horse. Now, I've ridden horses. A lot of horses. I have no idea how that can be very comfortable, although it did come across very sensual...

Okay, my question for Kim (about Eloisa) is after 17 books, how does she keep everything organized? Does she use a storyboard, a notebook, a 3 ring binder or even an Excel spreadsheet? Inquiring minds want to know!!!

Have a great day to you all.


Tami Brothers said...

Woops. I forgot to say that although I have not yet read one of Eloisa's books, I have heard rave reviews form several of my PF&HT sisters (JP being the loudest....grin....) and will definitely be adding the Desperate Duchesses to my list...

Thanks a ton for sharing part of this story with us. You definitely grabbed my interest!

Eloisa James said...

HI Gannon! See you soon... (alas, July really is around the corner!)

Vanessa -- Desire! now how could I have forgotten that particular title? *g* And I LOVE that scene from Welcome to Temptation! Isn't that the one where he throws the lamp against the wall because she's not concentrating?

OK, the question of organization... Well, I doubt this will surprise anyone too much, but I'm actually pretty fanatically organized. My main secret (I think) is that I have a typed To-Do list, with everything on it from "Write Next Book" to "get cats immunization." Every day I take a yellow sticky and put it on my to-do list and then write a short list on the yellow sticky -- things I'm going to work on. So if I write 5 pages, I get to cross off "write novel" on the yellow sticky. That way, I just keep chipping away at the huge tasks, and I tend to get the small ones done. And I have the satisfaction of marking off a whole list of things if it was a good day.

It works for me. The other secret is to work in a really ferocious way -- so that you can take time off. I've spent all yesterday and today in bed with my daughter. I had a nap, then she got home from the hospital and she watched the old Parent Trap together (for the 19th time). I have down time, in other words. If I'm late with a deadline, I'm late. But if I don't take time off, I don't write well.

Hope that helps!

Eloisa James said...

Ah, J. Perry -- you just made my day! That's so nice. I love the image of my much-read book. I do exactly the same thing with books I'm learning from. I learned a lot from dialogue by doing just that to Susan E Phillips, Loretta Chase, etc. Mostly Oscar Wilde though, when it comes to dialogue. He's simply brilliant. I do often think in terms of plays -- plays can't fall down on the simple "he was thinking this" kind of thing that novelists get away with. Everything has to be IN the dialogue -- I think it's a very good model.


Eloisa James said...

HI Tami!

I'll just jump in and answer that question for Kim... I have a big folder with everything for a given book -- pictures torn from magazines, etc. Then I keep a big file called the "bible" for any given series. It includes all characters, maids, butlers, main characters -- all of them. Kim helps me here. She takes the copyedits and updates the bible for each book. Then the bible comes out to the copyeditor and my research asst to make sure names remain consistent. Even so, we make mistakes! But I really try hard.

And finally (not sure who asked this), I'm a pantser. I just plunge into a book. I end up cutting a lot, which is cruel. I'm found that if I can get even a month away from a ms, I become much more cold blooded and I can read a scene and decide that it's crap and needs to be cut, whereas earlier I think it's god's gift to dialogue.


Eloisa James said...

I just want to add that Brenda Novak's auction to benefit diabetes research ends in a day or two.

Anyone going to the RWA want to bid on lunch with me? I'm happy to look at synopses, bits of novels, dispense lots of info, even talk money and the inside of publishing...

Here's the URL:

the direct link is and my item number is:



Susan May said...


Thanks for being here with us today. With a chronicaly child also I understand the drop and go syndrome. Glad she is doing better.

I've enjoyed reading your books.

For my sex scene, I remeber one that took place on horseback. It was a horse with a special gait. Would be interesting, if doable.

Thanks for all the great advice and do come back again.

Eloisa James said...

HI Susan Mary -- back at you with the mom-sympathy.

There's an amazing horse scene in Prince of Midnight (Laura Kinsale) -- I spent a bit of time wondering how that worked!

Anyway, all, it's been really lovely being here. I'm going to crash into bed. The good news is that my daughter is definitely all better. The bad news is that feeling better has made her rather irritable. in fact, I think I'm seeing her as a teenager -- and I'm going to start scouting out hotels, because I'm Moving OUT!

hugs to all,

Thank you so much for being such a cheerful and welcoming group --


Cinthia Hamer said...

Oh, man! I'm absolutely POUTING because I had to work today and didn't get to join in the party!

Eloisa, it's been fantastic having you join us here at PFHT. I've been a fan since way back in the day of the initial release of Potent Pleasures. I still have that book, btw...wouldn't part with it for anything. I remember reading it and being blown away by how you took the Regency genre and gave it such a wild, decadent spin--and wishing I'd thought of it first! :)

One of the most unusual settings I've ever read for a love scene was on the edge of a bathtub in The Lady's Tutor, by Robin Schone.

I'm writing my first real historical and I think I've got a rather unique setting for a love scene. Won't give the details, because it's entered in a contest and we just don't know which judges are reading this. LOL!

So glad your daughter is doing better. Chocolate for dinner sounds like my kind of menu.

PS, I feel very left out b/c I won't be in DC to attend the party with you and JQ. JPS will just have to take lots of pics and give you two hugs from me.



Kim said...

Cinthia! You're not coming?! Say it isn't so. You have to come!

Thea said...

Amanda Quick's Desire scene where she loses her virginity in a vat of potpourri is also one of my favorites!! I also remember one of Karen Robard's books where the couple have been one the run for days (and she's a romance writer) and when they finally did the deed, it was a great love scene. but sometimes, sorry, it does get a bit gratuitious. What I like about Eloisa James is how emotionally complex her characters are and how much insight she has into the difficulties of marriage and intimacy. I'm actually annoyed with ELijah SO he better come through!!

Ana Aragón said...

I know I'm really, really late but I have a great excuse...following my son's baseball team to Lewiston, Idaho for the NAIA World Series...

BTW, Eloisa, I love your historicals and never miss a chance to pick up your latest. I especially like the fact that you have a Ph.D and write romance, which only goes to show that Smart Women Read Romance...Brilliant Women Write It!

Thanks for being one of our guest bloggers, and hope your daughter is out and about!