By Clea Simon
Cryptographer Guy Trevelyan, the Earl of Helsford, discovers that one of his deciphered messages is responsible for sending British secret service agent Cora deBeau into the arms of England’s most ruthless enemy. After rescuing Cora from a French dungeon, Guy realizes his role in her captivity. As Cora’s sworn enemy terrorizes her across England, Guy strives to earn her forgiveness and to convince her that she’s worthy of his love. But will he find the scars on her wounded soul run too deep?
Tracey Devlyn isn’t one to shirk a challenge. Like her defiant heroine, Cora deBeau, the debut author took on the Napoleonic Wars in her historical romantic thriller, A LADY’S REVENGE (Sourcebooks). We dared time to sit down with her (virtually) and discuss Regency romance, gender roles, and the risks a lady spy took while seeking a French killer.
A LADY’S REVENGE features a strong, defiant, but scarred heroine. Tell us a little about Cora deBeau, please.
At the age of ten, Cora deBeau’s parents were murdered before her eyes. Guilt and shame urged her toward a vengeful course of finding the killer, a Frenchman. For the next nine years, she learned how to be one of England’s most successful spies against the French. On the eve of her first mission, her childhood friend, Guy Trevelyan, notices her for the first time as a woman. An unfamiliar desire to give up her lifelong quest tingles up Cora’s spine. And that’s when she knew it was time to go, for nothing would stand in the way of her vengeance—not even love.
She may be a heroine, but she’s also a woman of her time: What are the challenges for a heroine like her, living in her time?
Intelligent and strong women have existed throughout the course of time, but most were held back to some degree due to social mores. Writing the character of Cora deBeau in any era would pose some challenges. She’s fearless and will work outside the bounds of any box constructed for her by society. The biggest challenge of writing a character like hers in 1804 England (think Jane Austen) was keeping the hero, Guy Trevelyan, heroic in the face of her strength. Men were raised to protect and care for the women in their family with a fierceness that bordered on suffocating. Thankfully, the unusual circumstances of Cora’s upbringing (raised by a spymaster) gave credence to and helped bolster her un-Regency like actions.
Was A LADY’S REVENGE your first book?
Yes, A LADY’S REVENGE is my debut novel—the first of three historical romantic thrillers.
How did you come to write it?
One day, a scene of a woman strapped to a wooden table in a filthy dungeon flashed through my mind. The story grew from there.
What drew you to historical thriller?
Quite by accident, I must say. From my debut’s first conception, I knew it would be an historical romance. Historicals were my first love and what I mostly read at the time. But I also loved it when a book or movie kept my heart pounding and my fingers shaking as they turned the pages. So, in a sense, the two collided naturally. The “flash scene” I mentioned in the previous question was a wonderful revelation, but also quite terrifying. Heroines in historical romance don’t get tortured. Period. But with a bit of ingenuity, perseverance, and amazing editorial, the “period” transformed into a comma.
Is there something about this period (Napoleonic Wars) that particularly attracts you? Something that is missing in modern times?
Lovers of historical romance are quite fond of the Regency period, as am I. For the type of story I was writing, the heightened French and English conflict provided a great venue for my group of international spies. Plus, this period established a little known division of the Foreign and Home Offices that laid the foundation of today’s British secret service.
A LADY’S REVENGE is the first book in a trilogy. Did you originally think of it as the first of three books – and if not, how did this come about?
Yes, I’ve always loved reading books in a series. It’s a great way to build reader anticipation for the next story—and the next, and the next…
Will Cora be your heroine in all three books? Will Guy reappear?
Cora and Guy won’t be the main protagonists in subsequent books. Each story in the trilogy will have a new hero and heroine. However, don’t be surprised if Cora and Guy pop in to help out in books two and three.
Is it difficult to leave plotlines dangling for the next book?
For me, the difficulty came in trying to figure out when to introduce the teaser/plotline for the next book. Timing is critical, because you don’t want it to overwhelm your current story, though you want to give readers a taste of what’s to come.
Your book crosses both high suspense and romance. Tell us a little about how you balance these elements, please.
Ah, you’ve found my weakness. This is an area where I’m still trying to find my wings. My editor has been a great barometer on how much is too much suspense in a romance. I tend to write more heavily on the thriller/suspense side. My editor encourages me to introduce the hero and heroine early in the story (preferably chapter one) and keep the two together as much as possible throughout the remaining pages. So that’s what I’m shooting for.
Have you drafted all three books in the trilogy yet?
Unfortunately, no. At least, not for this series. I knew who the protagonists were for each novel, but not their storylines. This is another area where I’m building my knowledge and skillset. When I propose the next series, my goal is to have a more detailed map from which to navigate.
What are the challenges of writing a trilogy?
Tying everything together, especially in a romantic thriller. There’s so much backstory that the author has to understand and recall what she put on the page versus what she’s keeping in her head. Plus, the author has to keep track of the progression of the romantic arc and the suspense arc—and the two must merge seamlessly along the way. The author also has to consider how a decision in the first book will affect the characters in subsequent books. It’s a lot to keep on top of, which is why I created a series bible to hold all the details.
Is there another period that you’d like to explore?
Oh, yes. I’m really intrigued by the late Victorian period. There was so much change and invention, especially in the medical field.
What is your writing day like?
My weekdays look quite a bit different than my weekends. Since I have a full-time day job, I don’t have a lot of time for writing, but here’s a glimpse of my writing day. I get up at 5:00 am and check email, visit my group blogs, and glance through my Twitter feeds for news. I’m off to work at 7:00 am and don’t return until about 5:30 pm. I spend some time with my family before heading up to my office to check email again and then I start writing around 7:30 pm and continue until 10:00 pm. On the weekends, I’m up by 6:30 am, writing until noonish. Then I take a three-to-four hour break and do what needs to be done around the house. I’ll also use this time to address emails, publicity, etc. Then I’m back at the keyboard until about 10:00 pm, with small sanity breaks, here and there.
Do you have any particular habits or rituals to get you into writing mode?
All I need is a computer and a quiet area.
Thank you, Tracey, for spending this time with us.
Thanks so much for this wonderful opportunity to connect with readers!
Tracey Devlyn writes historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey toward the heroine’s happy ending). An Illinois native, Tracey spends her evenings harassing her once-in-a-lifetime husband and her weekends torturing her characters.