Thank you Carrie for doing this interview with us at Yankee Romance Reviewers. Your book is really luscious.
Terra: Why do a story about Will Scarlett and is it because he is the bad boy you would just love to get your hands on?
Carrie: In the old Robin Hood ballads, Will has been portrayed as a cad, a dandy, a thug, a turn-coat, a newbie, a hothead, a doubter, and a victim. He's always been what authors needed for any particular story. I decided to see if he had the mettle to become a hero. He's like a bad boy who's trying really, really hard to do the easy, amoral thing, but his conscience and sense of justice keep getting in the way. I love that contrast, and it made his inner personality so much fun to write.
Terra: How hard was it to come up with a story some years beyond Robin Hood, keeping with the back story of Robin and the time period and making it a delicious romance to sink your teeth into?
Carrie: I'll be honest in that the inspiration came from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which Christian Slater played Will. Sure, at the end of that film, Robin and Marian have their happy ending--but what about Will? He'd only just started to grow up, so I didn't imagine his relationship with Robin would be quite so easy-peasy as we might hope. I wanted to more about how he developed into a man, so setting the novel a few years down the road felt natural. As for the romance, that was the fun part! Sparks just flew whenever he and Meg got together.
Terra: What made you decide to give your heroine a handicap? How do you think people of that time period would have accepted a woman with her ailment?
Carrie: I actually don't remember why I first decided to make Meg blind, but it was part of her character from the first. And like you did, I jumped quickly to the notion that she wouldn't be accepted. She's an outcast not only because of her blindness, but because of the illness it caused, her father's attempts to find a cure, and her ongoing fascination with alchemy. All of these things together set her at odds with most people, scarring her and making her a little, shall we say, morally flexible--just to get by.
Terra: You have kept up with the corrupt politics that were in Nottingham at the time of Robin but seem to have stepped it up a notch. If you were a peasant from that time how would you feel about having such a slight reprieve before the corruption started all over again?
Carrie: Excellent question! I would've been happy to have a champion like Robin or Will, first up. But more realistically, I think people make their way in life. When we see corruption or unfairness today, we get upset, do what we can, contribute to worthy causes, protect our families, choose strong leaders to help make a difference--probably not all that different from years past, once you strip away the technology.
Terra: What is it that makes us women fall for the bad boy, good boy persona and why is it that we think that our attentions will change him?
Carrie: Ah, the mystery of why we love romances! I write stories to get at the heart of this. Why? Why do people fall for each other? Why do formerly unconquerable men suddenly get twanged on the head by love? As for the bad boy, I think the appeal is in what he doesn't reveal to everyone else. He's tough, macho, distant, sarcastic, a little reckless, and people may or may not trust him. But what he reveals to his woman, that secret realm of vulnerability and dreams, is intensely exciting--as is the relationship that fosters such an intimacy. Everyone wants to be part of something special, and the moment of connection between a bad boy and the woman he loves is very special.
Terra: Our heroine seems to have trust issues. That small niggling voice from her heart tells her she should trust but the larger niggling voice from her head confuses her and steers her in circles. Why wouldn't this type of behavior turn any sensible man running in the opposite direction?
Carrie: On some level, Will understands that he hasn't behaved in a trustworthy manner. He knows what it is to be suspected of the worst, and to actually be guilty of what he's accused of doing. Maybe if he were a completely faultless hero, he could have reason to run and find a girl who appreciates his goodness. But Will isn't perfect, and he starts out behaving in rather duplicitous ways. Pair this with Meg's inherent lack of trust for people--in that people have scorned her for years because of her blindness, and even her own sister betrayed her in a rather personal way--and she's just not capable of falling into his arms and declaring her love. Not at first, anyway!
Terra: The story focuses around our heroine and her sister. Will there be another story to come with the sister as the heroine and will she be as difficult to deal with?
Carrie: Oh, Ada. Yes, Ada's a difficult one. She's the heroine of the late 2009 sequel, currently titled SCOUNDREL'S KISS. In it, Ada has a great deal of growing up to do, which involves facing up to her fears, her faults, and her past. There to guide her--or perhaps to goad her--is Gavriel, a warrior-monk with his own laundry list of issues. Their love story is adventurous, tender and heartbreaking, in that I love to see two wounded people able to heal each other.
Terra: The tension between our hero and heroine is quite intense. Their arguments seem to be based on misconstrued words and feelings. Do you think that couples of today have much the same problems and barriers?
Carrie: Of course. Men and women haven't changed, even if we aren't charging through Sherwood with a sword and a pack of soldiers at our backs. And I believe men and women are essentially insecure when it comes to love. There's nothing more rewarding, but there's also nothing more terrifying--that possibility of opening up, hoping, dreaming, and being crushed under for it. That insecurity and fear makes people wary. So I hope I've been able to portray genuine emotions without contrivance or too much melodrama, just the way I see that men and women struggle and strive to connect.
Terra: Considering our heroine's occupation, why hasn't half the peasant population turned her in with the claims of witchcraft clinging to her so strongly?
Carrie: Fear! Actually, Meg keeps a really low profile until she meets up with Will Scarlet. So I think her isolation, something she enjoyed but also fought against, kept her safe. Obviously that isn't the case so much when she gets out into the world. Their fear holds them off only so long, and then mob justice comes for her.
Terra: As an author of such a delightfully decedent delicious romance, what is the one main thing that will make the reader fall in love with this novel and why?
Carrie: As much as I love and identify (in some respects) with my dear Meg, no one and nothing holds a candle to Will Scarlet. Strong, contentious, just, comic, sardonic, vulnerable, proud, and ultimately triumphant, he's a hero for the ages, and I hope readers fall in love with him too.
Carrie will be giving away one signed copy of one of her books to one lucky commentor. You must leave a comment about her interview or the excerpt along with your email addy to qualify.
"You, Scarlet, you are always moody here."
Near Melton Mowbray, England
Will Scarlet hated trees. Any trees.
Woods. Holts. And Sherwood Forest, most of anything.
Although Sherwood lurked at the end of a long day's ride to the northwest, Charnwood Forest taunted him with its resemblance. The stink of rotting leaves crawled into his nose. Noises like chattering goblins sounded through the ever-moving branches. Even at noontide, details hid within clusters of shadow.
A shiver skimmed his backbone. Crouched in the ferns, he glanced to see if the other dozen men working for Sheriff Finch noticed his nerves, but they remained intent on their task.
"God grant me leave from this hell pit," he muttered, crossing himself.
Sinking a knee-guard into the loam, he leaned forward along the road to Nottingham. Four warhorses slowly approached, riding out of Melton. Struggling fingers of sunshine burnished the mail of the foremost riders. One's lax posture suggested a light sleep, while another carelessly held the reins of his plodding mount. Slender-bodied horses followed, bearing riders in stately dress and the crest of the Earl of Whitstowe.
Will's superior, Roger of Carlisle, a close confederate of the Sheriff of Nottingham, stepped from the cover of brush. The nearest horses snorted and shied. Riders jerked to attention, raising flattop shields and unsheathing swords in a cold song of steel sliding along steel.
The earl's foremost guard, a gaunt man with ruddy cheeks, raised a gloved hand and brought the procession to an abrupt halt. "Who goes? Away now, man."
"No." Carlisle crossed thick arms across his chest. The boiled leather he wore made his stout, muscular body appear even more formidable. "I shall speak to Lord Whitstowe."
The earl himself nudged his horse forward. "What's the meaning of this?"
"I am Roger of Carlisle. I represent the Sheriff of Nottingham, Peter Finch."
Lord Whitstowe pushed back the hood of his embroidered surcoat, scowling. "My party has not reached the Nottinghamshire boundary. What business have you here?"
"Milord, you hold lands in both shires. Your obligation to King John is to protect these forests from poachers and itinerants."
Whitstowe's face darkened. "You lark about in the road and dare remind me of my duty to His Majesty?"
"I do, milord, on behalf of the sheriff, because you've failed to obey that duty."
Holding his balance, Will flexed his feet. Reputation held Whitstowe to be a man with sense as good as his breeding, but with a history of defying royal edicts regarding quitrents and armies. He deemed a number of royal demands wasteful and, on that excuse, disregarded them.
Hiding in trees usually meant trouble. But perhaps dealing with stubborn nobles required Carlisle's dramatic methods--forcing an audience in the road like a highwayman. A recollection of the wage Will stood to earn smoothed his sudden unease.
The second of the two lead sentries wore a conical steel cap, a nosepiece obscuring his face. He guided his warhorse between Carlisle and the nobleman. "You dare speak to Lord Whitstowe thus? Show respect, man!"
"Settle your temper, Hendon."
"Milord, I will not," said Hendon. "His insolence cannot be borne. You there, clear out of the way!"
Carlisle grinned. "You clear out. I have matters to discuss with your liege, gelding."
Hendon hoisted his massive sword and charged.
From all around, Carlisle's men jumped from their cover and rushed the procession. Cries and scorns slit the air as the two factions brought to blows. Swords bashed together with force enough to loosen teeth. Horses reared high. Arrows flew. A masterful shot pierced the neck of the first, ruddy-faced guard, dropping him dead at the hooves of the earl's horse.
Will watched in mute horror. Time blurred into a chaos of motion and violence. He should move. He should fight. But motives and meaning escaped him. How could he know which side to take if he hardly understood what sparked the fray?
A scream ripped through the impassive trees.
A woman? By the best!
Before he could deliberate, he leapt from his scrubby cover. No woman deserved to be caught out when men met with flaying swords.
He trained in on the echo of her distress and sped through a tangle of struggling bodies and deadly armaments. When he could evade direct conflict, he parried or ducked. But when he faced one of Lord Whitstowe's men in an unavoidable duel, he lunged.
Fully a hand taller, the challenger pivoted and swung his sword. The long, deadly blade caught Will on the left arm, embedding in muscle and leather-lined mail. Pain surged at his shoulder. He cursed, twisting and setting the other man off kilter.
Despite the torture of his injury at every flex and move, he gripped the sword with both hands. Again he lunged, pushing and attacking. The demand for survival and that ancient need to aid a woman in distress inflamed his assault. His physical responses slowed, but his mental acuity quickened. He waited for any misstep. When the man briefly exposed his neck, Will hacked through flesh with a sickening chop of steel.
The soldier gurgled and paled. Will wrenched his blade free, snaking from under the flaccid corpse as it collapsed. Blood coated his gloves and bile filled his mouth.
He spat, turning to behold another slaying--a slaying that turned his stomach more cruelly than the wound he suffered. Hendon, the earl's guard whose charge had sparked the fight, pulled his liege to the ground and bared his throat. The single slice of a dagger ended Whitstowe's life.
Stance relaxed, weapons lowered, Roger of Carlisle looked on. A grin stretched the weathered skin of his face.
They are in league?
When he met Carlisle's eyes, a cold sluice of understanding slid down Will's back. Treason. A plot. And he was stuck in its midst.
Another scream sprouted goose bumps on his neck.
He wheeled from the duplicitous butchery to find a woman in blue seized by Dawes and Munro, two of Carlisle's men. Dark stains of anonymous blood discolored their hands and tunics. The woman thrashed, whipping her head free of attempts to stifle her hysterics.