The Riskies Welcome Back Michelle Willingham!

“A keen sense of the era and delightful characters that keep readers coming back for more!” –RT Book Reviews on An Accidental Countess


The Riskies are happy to welcome back Michelle Willingham, to talk to us about her new direction–into the Victorian era! We’ll have three winners this weekend, as Michelle is giving away copies of The Accidental Countess, The Accidental Princess, and a free download of her Undone story An Accidental Seduction!

Riskies: Welcome back, Michelle! You have your Victorian hat on this time. Tell us about your new series…

Michelle: Every author has a “book of her heart,” and for me that was The Accidental Countess! I kept beating down publisher’s doors, trying to sell my first Irish medieval, and in the meantime I wrote a more traditional setting of Victorian England. So The Accidental Countess was technically the second book I ever wrote. I kept trying to sell it, but the heroine was a little too “snarky” for many folks. She was a joy to write, and how often do you get a heroine who considers poisoning the hero on the first page because he forgot he was married to her? I had far too much fun. I wrote it for myself and didn’t worry about the rules. I simply wanted to be entertained. I didn’t have a clue who the villain was until the last chapter, and I think that made the suspense plot believable. It took me selling another 4 books before I offered Countess to Harlequin, and even then my editor wanted to hold off on the release date. She asked me to write a connecting book which became The Accidental Princess. I knew the heroine of Countess had a sister, but she was off at finishing school and I didn’t know much about her. I decided to do a secret royalty story, along the lines of a Gothic romance. I wanted a true fairy tale with a possible prince and a woman who was trapped in the rigid life of a Victorian lady. Since neither heroine ever dreamed she would become a Princess or a Countess, that’s how the “Accidental” part was born!

Last, my editor wanted me to write a connected novella for the Harlequin Historical Undone line. I ended up writing a prequel, telling how the hero and heroine in Countess actually got married, and that was the story of An Accidental Seduction. The novella has its own happy ending, but then Countess starts about 3 months later, and their marriage is tested to the limit…

Riskies: What was the inspiration for these books?

Michelle: The Accidental Countess reminds me a bit of The Bourne Identity with a hero who doesn’t know what happened during 3 months of his life. Unfortunately, he happened to elope during that period, and he remembers nothing about his wife! The story is about falling in love all over again. The Accidental Princess was inspired by all the Victoria Holt fairytale romances I read as a teenager, and it’s a Cinderella reversal where the hero is a common soldier who may or may not be a prince. I was able to incorporate elements of Titanic with the developing romance continuing on board a steam ship bound for Germany. I loved researching the interiors of Victorian steam ships, and they were incredibly luxurious with chandeliers, ballrooms, and promenade decks.

Riskies: I love the recipes on your website! (especially the yummy-sounding sugar gingerbread). How does that fit into the story?

Michelle: The heroine of Countess is a Cinderella figure whose family suffered through poverty, and she had to cook for the family in order to survive. In the book, I wanted to include some of Emily’s recipes, so I consulted some historical cookbooks, made some of my own changes, and tested some of the recipes. It was fun, and I ended up finding a favorite gingerbread recipe for Christmas as a result! Technically the title is “Molasses Cookies” but there’s a tablespoon of ginger in the recipe, so that makes it a perfect gingerbread cookie dough. The recipes are here on my website!

Riskies: What other research did you have to do? Was it a challenge to change gears from the Medieval era to the Victorian?

Michelle: The etiquette and clothing of Victorian England are completely different from Medieval times! Also, I found the pacing of the romance was very different–more subtle, but it could definitely be scandalous in its own way! Out of all the research I really enjoyed learning about steam ships the most (used in The Accidental Princess). I visited the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia and asked for primary source photographs of ships from 1855. I used The Great Eastern ship as a model for my boat. Although my ship was only traveling from London to Bremerhaven, in my mind it could also make transatlantic voyages. Okay, so there was a little creative license there, but I wanted the more luxurious interiors!

Riskies: These covers are gorgeous! Do they reflect the stories?

Michelle: It’s a good thing I have nothing to do with covers because otherwise there would be stick people on the front! Princess is probably my favorite of the 3, because the heroine truly is a strong woman. I love the expression on her face, as though she’s already behaving like a princess. Countess had a bit of controversy surrounding the cover. Originally, the woman was lifting her skirt and baring her stocking. The art department ended up nixing the scandalous leg, and I’m glad. I like the gorgeous dresses! Overall, I would say they’re a good representation of the stories.

Riskies: What’s next for you?

Michelle: In September this year, my last book in the MacEgan Brothers miniseries will be published. Surrender to the Irish Warrior tells the story of Trahern MacEgan, and it was the most challenging book I’ve ever written. The heroine is the survivor of a brutal tragedy, and the two of them have to heal their broken lives and find love in each other. It took a lot of emotional energy out of me, but in the end I think it came out well.

Thanks so much for letting me visit again! I’d like to offer 3 prizes today–a free download of An Accidental Seduction, and signed copies of The Accidental Princess and The Accidental Countess. For a chance to win, just post a comment or a question and tell me what’s your favorite fairytale?

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Riskies Welcome Back Michelle Willingham!

  1. mariska says:

    Hi Michelle,
    what a great book ! I’m so curious about a book of your heart πŸ™‚

    My favorite fairytale, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast coz I love HEA and HE !

    uniquas at ymail dot com

  2. Alison says:

    your books sound fascinating! – but what a change from medieval Irish. My favourite fairy tale is cinderella , but I like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast too as the heroine loves reading and the hero looks OK for most of the film, until he turns into the handsome prince (not!).

  3. Kirsten says:

    LOL, those are my favorites too! I still LOVE to read those kind of stories.

    (Cinderella:) Woman who’s life is in poor state meets (attractive) man. They have a ball together, fall in love HEA.

    (Beauty & the Beast:) Woman meets man who is not what he seems to be (possibly he’s disguised) they get to know each other, fall in love HEA.

  4. Lavinia says:

    I just finished my second of Michelle’s books and can’t wait to go on. Great interview. If I have time I think I’ll make cookies this afternoon.

    I am curious to see how your medievals differ from the victorians.

    Lavinia

  5. Jane Austen says:

    I adore the Victorian period almost as much as Regency. I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell right now. I was hooked for your book when you said the heroine wanted to poison the hero on the first page.

    My favorite fairytale is The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Although the Barbi version totally ruined the story. I have a copy illustrated by Kay Neilsen…..insert sigh here.

  6. Hello, Michelle ! I LOVE your Irish books (I have them ALL) and I can see why you stood by The Accidental Countess. It truly is a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So nice to know that the book of your heart CAN be published if you stick with it!

    I love Beauty and the Beast and my first book, the book of MY heart is a Beauty and the Beast story.

    However, I am partial to Cinderella right now. I work for my evil stepmother, Walmartia, right now, but I just know my prince (or at least my BOOK IN PRINT) will rescue me from that drudgery one day! I don’t even have to move to a castle. I just want to work in MINE writing instead of in Walmartia’s baking all day!

    Do you find period cookbooks as fascinating as I do? Some of those recipes are so complex and I think I never realized how complicated their cooking might be.

  7. Diane Gaston says:

    Hi, Michelle!
    I love that you are bringing us another new world to explore with you, even though the Victorian era is not my favorite (hate muttonchops and plaid suits). In your hands, I know all three stories will be great!

  8. RachieG says:

    I love Cinderella…something about the pumpkin and the fairy god mother make me happy every time I listen to it!

    rachie2004 @ yahoo (d0t) com

  9. Hi all! Just got back from church, so I’m glad to be here. πŸ™‚

    Mariska and Alison–I love the Beauty and the Beast tale, also.

    Kirsten–I think every woman wants to swept off her feet by a handsome prince!

    Lavinia–thanks so much! Yum on the cookies. πŸ™‚

    Jane Austen–Oh, the Twelve Dancing Princesses is a wonderful story. That was a favorite of mine as well. I used to check out these mammoth books of fairy tales from the library as a girl, and I have a collection of World’s Best Fairy Tales that I’ve given to my daughter.

    Louisa–I LOVE historical cook books. I treasure one that was given to me this summer by my grandmother that contained my great-grandmother’s recipes. The humor and love on the pages just shines through. I can almost hear her speaking. And thank you for your kind words!

    Diane–there are no muttonchops in my books. πŸ™‚ Petticoats and corsets, yes, but no chops! LOL. Actually, I ran into an interesting scenario with my heroine in the prequel “An Accidental Seduction.” Since her brother was off in London and she didn’t have the wages to pay the servants, she dismissed them without telling anyone. Since she had to then get dressed without any maid, she had to adjust her dresses to button down the front and also get rid of the corset. Scandalous! This was only temporary, of course, but it made for an interesting Undone story. πŸ™‚

    I’m enjoying hearing everyone’s favorite fairy tales!

  10. I just realized there was a typo in my blog entry. Doh! It should be:
    “I knew the HERO of Countess had a sister…”

    It’s Stephen’s sister, not Emily’s. Emily doesn’t have a sister. Sorry about that! πŸ™‚

  11. Lorraine says:

    I love the idea of two romances for one couple! Victorians are so interesting–there was so much going on at that time to draw from historically and technologically.

  12. Virginia C says:

    Hi, Michelle! Your story lines are delightful, and the book covers are beautiful! I visited your site and signed up for your newsletter. I’m definitely going to try your recipes!

    My favorite fairy tale is “Beauty and the Beast”. I love the original version and the Disney version. It’s a great, timeless story of redemption and what is truly meant by “Beauty”.

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  13. Virginia says:

    My favorite fairy tale would have to be Cinderella. I love a good rags to riches story.

    Your book sound fabulous. What types of books are your favorite?

    lead[at]hotsheet[dot]com

  14. Jennifer says:

    Hi Michelle! The Accidentals sound like great reads – I love Victoria Holt and Titanic. πŸ™‚

    Favorite fairy tale is Sleeping Beauty.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Jane George says:

    Welcome Michelle! One of my favorite things about the Riskies is all the authors they introduce me to.

    I love the Beauty & the Beast story. That’s why one of my very favorite movies is Penelope, a reverse B&B.

  16. Jane Austen says:

    Jane George, how perceptive you are. I never came up with Penelope being a reversed B & B but it totally is. I think I like it even more now. Has anyone ever read Countess Below Stairs? It’s an interesting take on Cinderella….what about any Cameron Dokey?

  17. bheraldt13 says:

    Hi Michelle Can’t wait to try your recipes…. Grandkids love it when Grandma bakes. And I can’t wait to delve into your latest series! Los of snow this Winter BUT no better way to pass the time then with a cup of tea and a Willingham novel πŸ™‚ One question….. what is an undone novel? My favorite fairytale is Cinderella.

  18. Welcome Michelle! I’ve also been a fairytale junkie since childhood. πŸ™‚ I do love “Beauty and the Beast,” especially the Disney version (and the old French Cocteau movie, which is gorgeous!). I’ve also long enjoyed “Sleeping Beauty” but I think that’s because I do love a good nap…

  19. Daphne says:

    I love Puss’n’Boots–such a clever cat. πŸ™‚ Along more traditional lines I like the Grimm version of Donkeyskin. And, Robin McKinley’s version of B&B and Donkeyskin. Mercedes Lackey wrote a really great spoof “Fairy Godmother”.

  20. Lyoness2009 says:

    I’m a fan of Beauty and the Beast myself. I enjoy books on this fairy tale too!

    lyoness2009 AT hot mail **dot** com

  21. cara elliott says:

    Great interview Michelle!

    Sounds like a fabulous book, and what a fun backstory to it. Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    Now off to your site for the ginger-molasses cookies!

  22. Mary says:

    Michelle,

    I was first introduced to your books through the Riskies. I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian era and look forward to reading your new series. I agree with Diane that the muttonchops leave something to be desired. Glad to hear that your heroes won’t be sporting any. πŸ™‚

    As far as a favorite fairy tale, I’d have to say Beauty & the Beast. As a teenager I loved Robin McKinley’s book Beauty.

    Mary

  23. Kim in Hawaii says:

    Thanks, Amanda, for interviewing Michelle!

    Thanks, Michelle, for your sharing your β€œbook of your heart” with your readers!

    The Hawaiian Islands are exposing me to a culture very different from the European influence on the Eastern US. Sometimes it is hard to read the β€œfairy tales” as the Hawaiian names are long with many vowels (the language only has 12 letters). But one character from Hawaiian mythology is emerging as my favorite – Pele. She is the goddess of the volcano and has a hot temper! Her husband abandoned her; she set out to find him (thus creating the Hawaiian Islands); and has taken a string of lovers as consolation. Perhaps she is not fairy tale material, but an Urban Fantasy heroine.

  24. Jane Austen says:

    Kim, Pele sounds fun. I must pick up a copy of some Hawaiian tales. I prefer the Welsh tales….they took me to Wales in the first place. There’s this great tale of Rhiannon which I find amazing plus my favorite is the badger in a bag. You put a bad guy in a bag with a badger, close the bag and then beat the bag until the badger gets really angry. Almost as good as the punishment for patricide in Ancient Rome. Ahhh……the badger in the bag lecture was one of my favorites in college.

    Michelle, with your love of fairy tales and your Victorian novel I think you should pick up the book Forbidden Journeys edited by UC Knoepfelmacher. It has some of the most amazing Victorian fairy tales written by women. I took a class in it. For those of you who love Beauty and the Beast read Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s version. There’s a lot of hidden meanings involved.
    http://www.amazon.com/Forbidden-Journeys-Fantasies-Victorian-Writers/dp/0226032043/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266782767&sr=8-1

  25. Beth says:

    Love your books Michelle, looking forward to your take on the Victorian era. Favorite fairytale – The Twelve Dancing Princesses, it’s a bit bloody but I just loved it as a kid.

  26. Jane says:

    Congrats on the new release, Michelle. I’m another who loves Beauty and the Beast. I think the message in that fairy tale is one of the most important.

  27. Lorraine–it was really fun to explore their backstory and use the same couple twice. It’s not often that you get to do that. πŸ™‚

    Virginia C–the Molasses Cookies are so good. But I have to have a light glaze on them, just to give them that touch of sweetness. YUM.

    Virginia–I love historical romances, humorous contemporary, and paranormal romance. LaVyrle Spencer is my all-time favorite author, though.

    Jennifer–thanks! One of my favorite Holt romances was “On the Night of the Seventh Moon.”

    Jane, you know, I’ve never seen Penelope! I do know which movie you’re talking about, though. I’ll have to try it. πŸ™‚

  28. Yay, Michelle! And hello, hello to you.

    I find the story behind the story always fascinating reading. How the writer took stories from the public domain, turned them around, upside down, and punched a few holes in it to recraft their own unique tale. And you demonstrate this beautifully.

    My favorite fairytale is Snow White, who through her kindness gains the affection and loyalty of the dwarves, men who society is often unkind to. Naturally, her generosity of spirit is a draw for the reward of marrying a prince.

  29. Jane Austen–I haven’t read Countess Below Stairs. Is it a full-length book or a short story?

    Bheraldt13–the Undones are short historical novellas (around 50 pages). They’re a little on the sensual side, but not erotica. Typically they’re released in electronic format so people can read them on Kindle, an e-reader, or their cell phones. They are bringing them out in print anthologies, however, and one of my earlier novellas (The Viking’s Forbidden Love Slave) is coming out with our own Diane Gaston’s novella (The Unlacing of Miss Leigh) this April. The name of that anthology is Pleasurably Undone. My hope is that, for those readers who don’t yet read e-books, they will all go into print eventually. Fingers crossed!

    Amanda–I loved the cake scene in the Disney Sleeping Beauty. Great fun!

    Daphne–I haven’t read Mercedes’ spoof,but it sounds like a great story!

  30. Kim, heh, on Pele as an Urban Fantasy heroine.

  31. Mary–I haven’t read Robin McKinley’s book, but I adored Judith Ivory’s book BEAST. Wonderful twist on the fairytale.

    Kim–Pele’s story does sound fascinating! Are you enjoying that weather? I’m so jealous.

    Jane Austen–thank you for the book recommendations! I’ll check those out. With the badger in the bag, it just sounds like it was meant for a Monty Python spoof. πŸ™‚

    Beth–so many fairy tales were morality tales and warnings to children. For me, the Red Shoes was the bloodiest. Yikes.

    Jane–Definitely love the message in Beauty and the Beast. Another story I liked, to my surprise, was Disney’s Cars. It’s really a B&B reversal where the main “car” hero Lightning McQueen is a complete jerk at the opening and finds his inner beauty at the end. It’s a great story, one I never expected to like because I’m not into car racing.

    Keira–Snow White is a nice tale, but it used to scare me as a child with the witch and the apple.

  32. killian says:

    Loved reading The MacEgan brothers’ stories, will miss them. My favorite fairytale is hard to pick, Rapunzel(loved her long hair) and Rumplestilkskin, a farm girl turns straw into gold and the troll gets her first born. Beauty and the Beast teaches to love from the heart and looks aren’t everything. Look underneath. Have old Athens Cookbook and recipe for Hard Tack: Make 16 holes (four rows of four) in each square with a nail.Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes. These should not be brown as they will be to hard to eat.It has helpful hints: Cures for Rheumatism: Place a pan of chicken droppings under the bed.or, Collect some pill bugs and fry them, then eat them.or Drink bats blood.Ladies Home Journal, Philadelphia, March 1890Glad I didn’t live back then, yuck…

  33. Jane Austen–thanks! That’s another thing I like…YA has really grown a lot. I enjoyed PC Cast’s House of Night series quite a lot, as well as Rachel Vincent’s Soul screamers.

    Killian–love the recipes! What a scream. πŸ™‚

  34. Hello Michelle, dropping in late in the day to say hello and thanks for a lovely post!

  35. Hi Janet! Thanks for having me. πŸ™‚

  36. I’d have to say Cinderella is my favorite fairytale. πŸ™‚

  37. CrystalGB says:

    Hi Michelle. Great interview. My favorite faerytale is Cinderella.

  38. librarypat says:

    I like the sound of all your books. The covers are lovely. Have heard good things about THE ACCIDENTAL COUNTESS. I look forward to reading all your books.
    I don’t have an ereader.

    librarypat AT comcast DOT net

Comments are closed.