In Conversation with Kait Jagger
The Lord and Master Trilogy author chats with editor Mary-Ellen Deily and book reviewer and blogger Sandra Fuda Lombardo about her characters, inspirations…and motorcycles!
M-ED: You’ve said that you wrote this book after becoming frustrated with reading one poorly written Romance too many. But how did you shift from reader to writer? What was your first step, and how long did it take you to take it?
I should preface my response by saying that there are many, many extremely talented romance novelists out there right now. If I’d been holding myself up to superlative storytellers like Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas and Elizabeth Hoyt, doubtless I’d never have put pen to paper.
I’ve spoken in the past about the ‘bad romance’ that finally convinced me to have a go at writing my own, and couched my response to it in terms of ‘disappointment’ and ‘dissatisfaction.’ But if I’m honest, what this book, an international best seller whose writer doesn’t need my good opinion, really made me feel was angry. Angry at the whisper-thin portrayal of the heroine’s career, friends and back story, angry that I was being asked to admire a manipulative, frankly boorish alpha hero who, I’m not making this up, kept hiding the heroine’s birth control (presumably because that was how bad he wanted to be her baby daddy).
No word of a lie, the sheer rage on behalf of thinking romance readers everywhere that this book provoked in me started me making a list of everything I would do differently even before I even finished reading it. I began writing the opening scene in Lord and Master within days. After that, the trick was just not to stop.
SFL: And you’d never written fiction before this?
Not for publication, no. So I suppose I owe that writer and her not-my-kind-of-hero a debt of gratitude, eh?
M-ED: Luna is a fantastic character—smart, brave, loyal and human in her sadness and fears. Did she arrive in your mind a fully developed character? What traits did you think were essential to making her your kind of heroine?
Imagine a woman standing in the bright sunshine. And then picture the sun starting to set, shadows creeping in. Then imagine her in twilight. That’s the journey Luna’s character has taken inside my head since her conception three years ago. She started out as a happier, less complex, less dark woman. I can’t even tell you why that changed, except that the darkness seeped in as I was writing her.
In terms of the traits I felt were essential, there are so many qualities I admire in other women, there’s no way I could squeeze them into one character! So I focused on making Luna a ‘fully fleshed’ heroine, with a career that’s important to her, close friends she relies on, the kind of insecurities I’d like to think are common to many women, and a compelling back story.
M-ED: In what ways is Luna like you? In what ways is she different?
Other than the fact that we’re both PAs and lapsed Catholics, Luna isn’t much like me at all! I only wish I could be as restrained and cool under pressure as she is. One thing we do have in common is our tendency to fall back on parlour tricks when we feel out of our depth. Like Luna, I’m not a naturally outgoing person and like her I sometimes mimic the confidence of my more self-assured friends, or people I admire, when I’m in social situations.
SFL: You’ve referred to Stefan as a ‘quiet alpha.’ What does this description mean to you?
There’s a meme in romance circles to do with heroines who are TSTL (Too Stupid to Live), i.e. women who because of their insufficient common sense are in constant need of rescuing by the hero. Me, I think there should be a similar sobriquet for arrogant alpha heroes, something along the lines of TCTL (Too Conceited to Love)! It was really, really important to me that Stefan came across not just as a driven, confident lead male, but also as open-minded, playful, self-deprecating and… lovable! And if that meant dialling down his alpha intensity a notch, so be it—I think he’s a better man for it.
M-ED: I sense that you love Arborage nearly as much as Luna. What role does setting play in your book(s)?
I based Arborage loosely on Chatsworth House, a stately home in Derbyshire that was the setting for the Keira Knightly movies Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess. Chatsworth is really a model for how you turn a money pit of a historic home into a successful business, and Deborah Devonshire, wife of the 11th Duke of Devonshire and driving force behind this transition, was my inspiration for the character of Augusta Wellstone.
I wanted Arborage to come across as a living, breathing place in these books—another character, as it were. So I spent a lot of time working out the detail of how the house and surrounding estate look, the emotions they provoke in Luna.
SFL: In general, the trilogy is widely varied in terms of location and scenarios the characters find themselves in. How much of this reflects your own life?
I’ve travelled across the length and breadth of Britain to research this book and bring its locations to life, and I truly hope my Stockholm scenes reflect my abiding love for Sweden’s capital city. The only other way I purposefully strove to make the trilogy ‘true to myself’ was in the sex scenes. I’ve read one too many romances where I’ve found myself raising my eyebrows at a particularly acrobatic sex scene, thinking, ‘Hunh, I see how it’s possible to have sex this way, but to enjoy it?’ So I made a promise when I started writing these books that I would include no sex act or position I hadn’t tried and taken pleasure from myself. Period.
SFL: How did you decide how much eroticism to include in your books? (I’d never classify them as purely erotica as there’s so much depth and story) Was it just who Stefan and Luna were, or did you go in thinking, ‘Stefan is going to truss Luna up like a Sunday chicken?’
Ha ha, no. I do road test some of my ideas with my husband, who as you might imagine is very supportive of my writing career ;-). Other than that, my only other guiding principle in terms of how much detail I include, how far the sex scenes go, is that I want them to inspire my readers, not make them feel inadequate. I am also, in case you couldn’t tell, not a fan of the ‘magic orgasm,’ where the heroine achieves completion without any kind of effort on the hero’s part. It’s a lie I’m not willing to perpetuate.
M-ED: Luna’s relationship with her female friends is another thing that sets your books apart from many. Why did you want her to have these close friends? Are close friends important to you?
Ah, I guess that’s another thing I have in common with Luna! Genuinely, if the characters of Jem, Kayla and Nancy ring true to readers in any way, it’s because I borrowed shamelessly from my real life experiences with my four best friends from university. Drunken misadventures? Check. Weird, shared musical obsessions? Check. Cruel-to-be-kind, if-I-don’t-tell-you-who-will unsolicited advice? Check!
But I think Luna’s friends are also critical to telling her story. She’s so reserved, she isn’t going to volunteer to tell it herself, that’s for sure!
SFL: What are some of your favourite books? Favourite authors?
Too hard, too hard! There are so many! My all-time favourite novel is Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, which combines elements of historical fiction, mystery, love story and dystopian science fiction—basically all my favourite genres rolled into one. But I also love authors as varied as Isaac Asimov, Susanna Clarke, Nick Hornby, Sarah Waters, Oscar Wilde and Philip Kerr.
In terms of romance writers, the aforementioned Milan, Thomas and Hoyt rank high on my list, as does erotic romance author Robin Schone. And then there’s the grandmother of all romance writers, Charlotte Brontë, before whom each and every successful romance writer today should be genuflecting on a daily basis. If Luna Gregory is even a tenth of the woman Jane Eyre was, I’m content.
M-ED: You’ve said many times that you love the Romance genre. Are your books Romance novels? Is the genre more fluid than many realise, or is there a better genre term to describe them?
Absolutely my books are romances. And yes, the genre is fluid, or maybe the word is more like varied. There are so, so many sub-genres the sit under the romance umbrella these days, including paranormal, westerns, gay and lesbian romance…it really is a golden era for readers who are looking for something a little different when they crawl under the covers at night, Kindle and glass of wine at the ready!
M-ED: Was it more difficult, or in any way different, to write the back story for Stefan than for Luna, because of gender?
The books are told from Luna’s POV and I’ve said all along that she was my focus, so I didn’t have just as much legwork to do in terms of ‘colouring in’ Stefan’s past. But if you’re asking whether I found it more difficult to imagine Stefan’s history because I’m a woman…no, honestly I didn’t. The main thing for me with both of them was that their back stories would make you like and understand the character better.
SFL: How did Stefan end up as Swedish rather than British?
There’s a lot of baggage that comes with being a member of the landed aristocracy in this country, ‘silver spoon’ syndrome, if you will. I didn’t want Stefan to be afflicted by this burden. At the same time, I admire the Swedish perspective on everything from business, to child rearing to sexual equality…so it was an easy call for me, making him Swedish.
M-ED: Tell us more about the Enduro. Why that motorcycle, and how did you decide that this was the right bike and hobby for Luna?
Thank you for asking this question! I gave Luna’s choice of bike a lot of thought. First, the reason I decided to make her a biker is because the motorcyclists I’ve met are a study in contradiction: they love the freedom and excitement of biking, but they are inherently level-headed. They drive defensively, look for obstacles and potential dangers in a way that car drivers don’t. And I thought that paradox would suit Luna’s fiercely independent but controlled nature well.
As to why she drives an Enduro, I point you to a TV series Ewan McGregor made in 2004 called Long Way Round, documenting his 19,000 mile journey from London to New York by motorbike. McGregor’s bike of choice? The BMW Enduro.
To put it bluntly, no way was my heroine going to drive a sissy bike.