Today I’m introducing you to Hearts Through History author Bliss Bennet, whose latest book came out yesterday!
Minerva Spencer: Before we start talking about your writing, tell us a little about yourself and what you write.
Bliss Bennet: Despite being born and bred in New England, I’ve long been fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. I worked as a children’s book editor, book reviewer, and a college professor before turning my hand to penning fiction. I’ve published several academic books about the history of children’s literature, as well as four historical romances set in England during the 1820s. Though I’ve visited Britain several times, I continue to live in New England, along with my spouse, my daughter, and two monstrously fluffy black cats.
As for my fiction, I write smart, edgy novels for readers who, like me, love history as much as they love romance. My Regency-set historical romance series, The Penningtons, has been praised by the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews as “well worth following”; my books have been described by USA Today as “savvy, sensual, and engrossing,” by Heroes and Heartbreakers as “captivating,” and by The Reading Wench as having “everything you want in a great historical romance.”
MS: Do you write full-time or part-time?
BB: I write full-time, but only half of my time is spent on fiction writing. For the past five years, I’ve served as chair of the Publications Advisory Board for the Children’s Literature Association, which oversees the book publishing program for the largest academic organization devoted to the study of children’s literature. Advising other academics on their book projects helps me put my own writing into perspective.
I also review romance books of all types, as well as write think pieces about the intersection of gender and genre, at the Romance Novels for Feminists blog (under my legal name, Jackie Horne).
MM: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
BB: When I was a teenager, I longed to write a Newbery Award-winning young adult novel. Then, when I began working in children’s book publishing, I dreamed of editing a Newbery Award-winning novel. Then, when I became an academic, I actually wrote analytical pieces about young adult literature. It took me a really long time to realize that when it came to fiction, what would really get me to put fingers to keyboard was writing about adults, not about kids or teenagers! Although my daughter is still holding out hope that I’ll write a young adult fantasy novel someday…
MM: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?
Perhaps because I was born in New England and came of age during America’s bicentennial, I’ve always been fascinated by history. Yes, I’ll admit it—my favorite exhibit at Disney World when I visited as a child was the Hall of Presidents. And the most memorable book from my childhood was My Brother Sam is Dead, about the less heroic side of the American Revolution. Yep, history geek to the max!
But after spending five years researching and writing a dissertation about 18th and 19th century British children’s literature, my historical interests shifted from America to England. And after studying so much about the period, it only seemed natural to choose historical romance when the idea of writing a novel started to bubble around the edges of my mind.
MS: If could meet anyone in history, who would it be?
BB: Jane Austen. She was both so smart and so snarky—I think she’d be an amazing person to be friends with. Unless, of course, she chose to skewer me on the edge of her razor-sharp wit…
Are there specific books or authors who have influenced you as a writer?
I’m not sure I’d say “influenced,” but there are definitely writers I wish I could write as well as: Courtney Milan; Cecilia Grant; Meredith Duran; Loretta Chase; Rose Lerner; Elizabeth Kingston; Liz Carlyle; Mary Jo Putney; Laura Kinsale. Writers who care about history, and who also care about crafting three-dimensional characters who are influenced by the beliefs and issues of the times in which they live.
MS: Give us a brief rundown of your process. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?
BB: I’m definitely a plotter. I like to go into each new book knowing exactly who my two protagonists are, what they desperately want, and what is keeping them from achieving their goals. And especially how they each are going to impact the other, hinder and help the other to grow emotionally. I also like to know what the major turning points are for each story before I begin. I sketch in an outline in Scrivener before I put down any words. I’ve worked with writer/teacher Laura Baker, taking her Discovering Story Magic class online once a year, and each time I come out with the bones of a new novel.
I like to write from start to finish, editing as I go. And I often get distracted by researching—which makes for a slow writing process, compared with other romance writers I know. I find nonfiction writing much easier than fiction writing, perhaps because I’ve been doing it for so much longer, but I wouldn’t give up either. Both provide their own satisfying rewards.
MS: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
My books tend to feature more history than the typical Regency romance currently being published by the New York houses. But they feature more romance (and more sex) than most literary historical fiction. My books are for readers like me, who love history as much as they love romance, and I didn’t want to compromise that, just to get published. So after being told several times “love your writing, can’t see a place for it on our list,” I decided to turn to self-publishing. I like having control over the process, especially the cover designs. Fun fact: I sew the costumes for all the models on the covers of my books.
The first novel I published, A Rebel without a Rogue (2015), was actually the second book I wrote. I’ve since published three other stories about the Pennington siblings: A Man without a Mistress (2015), A Lady without a Lord (2017), and A Sinner without a Saint (2018).
BB: My latest release is A Sinner without a Saint, which was published this September. It’s the fourth and final book in my Penningtons series. It’s my first male/male romance, so I had to do a lot of research about attitudes towards homosexuality during the Regency (Louis Crompton’s Byron and Greek Love was a great source!) SwoaS is also set against the background of the founding of England’s National Gallery, and I researched art collecting, art exhibitions, and Regency-era attitudes towards different genres and styles of painting. It’s hard to imagine a time before museums, when most of the world’s most revered paintings were owned by the rich, and only the privileged few were able to view them. But I won’t be taking my local art museums for granted any time soon
My next series, which is tentatively titled Unexpected Inheritances, tells the stories of five girl cousins and the wishes they all make as children, which all come true when they reach adulthood—but not quite in the ways they expected. I’ve just started working on the first book this week!
An honorable artist
Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .
A hedonistic viscount
Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.
Sinner and saint—can both win at love?
But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable—his heart?