Vows of Pain & Passion: An Interview with Author Leigh Lee
She refuses to trust . . . he refuses to love.
Noble born Adaira Godwin is a determined young woman whose life is all mapped out until she runs into a stone wall—Norman warrior, Renouf de Sinclaire, who has other plans for her. Set in eleventh-century England during the Norman invasion, Vows of Pain & Passion is the story of two headstrong characters, enemies from different lands. Can they overcome hatred, language barriers, religious beliefs, and their own fears, or is their love doomed from the start?
At last, I’m making good on my promise to introduce you to author Leigh Lee, the talented writer of Vows of Pain & Passion,which has spent ten weeks (TEN, people!) on Amazon’s bestseller list for Medieval Romance. I was fortunate to meet Leigh last year through our mutual publisher, Black Opal Books, and she was gracious enough to accept my invitation for an interview here at Writing in the Buff. I shot some questions her way, and Leigh promised to deliver The Naked Truth. Please keep reading to learn more about Leigh and the details behind this bestselling novel.
Leigh Lee is a writer of historical and contemporary romance, married to her hero. Writing is a love that has survived the raising of two children and a career in healthcare. Since the age of nine, Lee has been writing down stories and saving them in a box that she has carried with her from Philadelphia to Michigan and Georgia. Lee and her husband now reside in upstate South Carolina with their 19-year-old cat.
Q: I understand you researched for a year prior to writing a single word of your novel. What did that entail? How did you begin?
A: I began researching for Vows of Pain & Passion online. The first thing I did was look into Ancient English history. I was surprised to learn that there were many ruling factions back then. The Anglos, the Saxons, Normans, French, not to mention Scottish, Norwegians, and even for a time the Romans, ruled the English countryside. I contacted, at a university in Scotland, a professor who specializes in the Norman Invasion and the High Medieval time, to verify some facts. The Normans of Normandy (Northwestern France today) invaded England in 1066 A.D. They left the Bayeux Tapestry, a chronological, visual history of the Normans’ victory over England, much documented years later in King William’s Domesday Book, a written valuation of all property and names of landowners in the king’s realm. There are many myths and legends to draw from, as well as songs and church records.
Q: What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel set in Medieval times?
A: Well, for me, it was important to bring that period to life for the reader. I wanted the reader to visualize the scenes, see the Medieval clothing, taste the foods, smell the scents, and see how people of that time actually lived and loved. It meant doing hours and hours of research on the high Medieval time. For example, I researched how they ate, what they ate, Medieval recipes, wines, period ales, etc.
Q: Recipes? Did you try any?
A: No I didn’t try any of the recipes, but I did notice they were not too unlike what we eat today. The Romans, who occupied England from 43 A.D. to about 410 A.D., brought spices and seasonings with them, previously unknown to England. So by the 11th century, Renouf’s and Adaira’s time, Medieval food tasted quite similar to ours today, especially stews and soups. The Normans introduced pears, fallow deer, and reintroduced rabbit, a delicacy, and pheasant. Though everyone, rich and poor alike, drank ale, the Normans brought their habit of drinking wine. Vineyards and wine drinking existed in England; however it was a lavishness left over from Roman occupation, and not the common man’s beverage.
Q: Were Renouf and Adaira, the hero and heroine, drawn wholly from your imagination, or did you model them after actual historical figures?
A: Renouf de Sinclaire was a compilation of many brave warriors who were chronicled through the High Medieval time. The Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, later King William of England, had loyal men fighting along his side at the Battle of Hastings. To those, he rewarded rich fiefs, land and coffers of valuables. Hate for the Normans was strong among the English nobles, many of whom were killed immediately. Those who survived fled to Scotland and other areas beyond Norman rule in the hopes of one day returning to reclaim their lands. But William, Duke of Normandy, was quick to squash rebellions and burned large tracts of farmlands to reduce risk of further uprisings. It was hard to raise an army if you could not feed it.
Adaira Godwin, the heroine of Vows of Pain & Passion, was a typical Lady of the Manor, betrothed to the son of another noble landowner. Before the coming of the Normans, many nobles ruled and protected their own lands. If there came a time when there was no son to pass property on to, Lords of adjoining lands would combine properties through marriage. This not only increased wealth of both families, but it also enlarged armies to protect from invasion of warring parties. Since the Normans killed most of the noblemen and spared the noblewomen, many women like Adaira, left at the mercy of the Norman warriors who conquered them, were married off to Norman warriors. It was William’s hope to eradicate the Anglo-Saxon’s beliefs, customs and language by wiping the slate clean and dissolving the English into the Norman populous, forever ending chance of conflict. And it worked, for English noble families were united with Norman families, and children were born. In the process, even the old Anglo-Saxon language blended with old French to become similar to what we consider the English language today. Many of our English words today have French origins, such as, entrepreneur, hors d’oeuvre, and connoisseur. I bet if you think about it for a bit you can come up with quite a few others.
Q: What drew you to romance as opposed to another genre?
A: I have always enjoyed reading romance. I love the different ways men and women think, and how that can influence relationships. It is even more fun to take two characters, a male and female, place them in an unforgiving situation and watch them find ways to play it out to resolution—and of course fall in love. It is even more fascinating for me to see how these characters might have existed in past times.
Q: What advice would you offer to someone interested in writing historical fiction?
A: First, I must make a distinction. In my humble opinion, historical fiction is different from historical romance. Historical fiction involves the telling of a fictional story that occurred during a famous event from a past era, keeping all things as accurate as possible. I view a historical romance as a romanticized version of what actually happened, using facts and knowledge of the time to enhance the setting of a love story. Making that distinction, I would recommend that anyone who wants to write a historical romance should first read the genre before trying their hand at writing one. Study how other authors bring the stories alive. Most historical romances must have a happily-ever-after ending, are more beautiful and fantastic than real life, and though flawed in the beginning, the characters grow and change to redeem themselves in the end. I joined educational websites, such as Savvy Authors, and Romance Writers of America, and took courses to sharpen my writing skills. I scoured articles, blogs, and Facebook and Twitter for articles on how to begin a career in writing. I also studied publishing houses and small presses to familiarize myself with what types of manuscripts/story lines they were looking for. I studied the authors that these publishing houses have already contracted to learn what styles of writing interested their editors. Lastly, I developed a circle of friends, social media contacts, of other authors with which to share information and ideas. In the process, I have made some lifelong friends and gained valuable advice. Authors love to help other authors and writers. So don’t be shy. If you have a desire to write, ask one for help. Well, that is just about it, and that was the easy part. Next came the actual writing of Vows of Pain & Passion, the months of rewrites and changes to make it what it is today. I am very proud of my first novel, and would love to share a portion of it. Please read the first chapter of the book HERE, and I invite you to visit my website www.leighlee.com for additional information. There is also a book trailer for Vows of Pain & Passion on YouTube.
Q: What other historical romances would you recommend people to read?
A: I grew up reading the great Johanna Lindsey and Rosemary Rogers, among others. When I am not writing, I love to settle down with a good book. My favorite authors, in no particular order are: Tanya Anne Crosby, Kathryn LeVeque, May McGoldrick, Angeline Fortin, Shelly Thacker, Dorothy McFalls, Diana Crosby, Jude Deveraux and Monica Burns.
Q: Last but not least, do you have another book in the works? What’s coming next?
A: I have a few books in the works. My next, which is under contract now, takes place in 1833 America. Specifically, Lancaster, PA, my old stomping grounds as a child. It is the first in a two-book series that entails the life and love of an English lord, Alexander Bradford, who flees to America to escape his tarnished reputation in his homeland, and the woman who dares to love him. Book two of the series takes place in Gettysburg, PA during the American Civil War and is about Alexander’s son, Jeffery Bradford, a Union surgeon and the little spitfire woman with a questionable past, who is hiding from the law disguised as a male, a union medic. If you loved Renouf de Sinclaire, you will surely enjoy getting to know Alexander Bradford, and his son, Jeffery.
I am also in the process of writing a sequel to Vows of Pain & Passion, entitled Vows of Revenge. This second book tells Sir Evan Garnier’s story and yes, as suggested at the end of the first story, Oswald returns as an embittered man sworn to destroy the Sinclaire family line and legacy.
I would like to thank you, Lisa, and all your readers here at Writing in the Buff, for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences and my novel. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again!
Thank you, Leigh, for spending time with us!
Don’t forget that you can read the first chapter of the book on Leigh’s website — just click HERE. Thanks for dropping by to meet Leigh, and I’ll see you Friday for Observations from the Tub!
Have a great Wednesday –