Sarah M. Eden is a USA Today best-selling author of witty and charming historical romances, including 2019’s Foreword Reviews INDIE Awards Gold Winner for Romance, The Lady and the Highwayman, and 2020 Holt Medallion finalist, Healing Hearts. She is a two-time “Best of State” Gold Medal winner for fiction and a three-time Whitney Award winner. Combining her obsession with history and her affinity for tender love stories, Sarah loves crafting deep characters and heartfelt romances set against rich historical backdrops. She holds a bachelor’s degree in research and happily spends hours perusing the reference shelves of her local library. Sarah is represented by Pam Pho at D4EO Literary Agency.
Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new book series, the Gents?
Sarah M. Eden: I have a Regency-era series that followed the romantic misadventures of a family of brothers, the Jonquils, and throughout this series reference is repeatedly made to their late father and their parents’ courtship. From early on in my writing of the Jonquil Brothers’ books, I knew I wanted to write their parents’ love story. As I began planning what would be a late-Georgian era story featuring Julia and Lucas Jonquil, it became quickly apparent that the stories of Lucas’s tight-knit group of friends and their efforts to secure a happy ever after needed to be written as well. Those friends are known amongst themselves as “The Gents” and that is where this series was born.
What can you tell me about the first book, Forget Me Not, which just came out in September?
The tagline for this book is “Marriages can be arranged. Love cannot.” That is the very heart of this tale. Julia and Lucas grew up as neighbors and friends, but after a falling out have drifted apart. When Lucas returns to the family estate and realizes his neighbor actually despises him, he’s baffled. But when their parents announce that he and Julia are to be married, he’s horrified. After a string of missteps renders their new marriage even more of a disaster than they feared, it is up to Lucas’s best friends, the Gents, to help the disparaging couple salvage their future together.
That sounds like so much fun! Many of your books are set in the Regency era and the larger Georgian era. Why does this time period appeal to you so much as a writer?
I have always been fascinated by the late Georgian era: the Regency era and the 2-3 decades leading up to it. This was a time of upheaval and change. Revolutions in multiple countries. Shifting cultural attitudes. In English Society, the first tiptoes toward the idea of marriage for love. Uprisings in the undervalued classes. Shifting sands under the foundation of the privileged class. The fashions, cosmetics, and coiffures of these few decades are sumptuous and beautiful, and change drastically in this short period of time. Writing against this backdrop provides ample opportunities for deeply interesting, character-driven stories, that are both unique and familiar to readers. The time period feels so distant, and yet the struggles of the era are not so different from our own.
How much research do you typically do for your books?
Research is an enormous part of my writing process. I began researching the Regency era ten years before writing my first novel set in this time period. When deciding to shift into a different era or location, I give myself at least two years to do research and establish for myself enough foundational knowledge to write about it as authentically as I can. In addition to scholarly books on a time period or topic, I read archived newspapers, quarterlies, letters, journals, etc. from the era in which I’m writing. Some of my absolute favorite research is done in museums–studying exhibits, reading every word of every display, pouring over the resources offered in the gift shops, and talking with curators and staff experts. Learning from people who have a passion for a topic is such an amazing experience.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve come across while researching the Regency and Georgian eras?
There are so many! I read a book called Treasures Afoot by Kimberly S. Alexander, all about shoes of the Georgian Era. Not shoes in general, but specific pairs of shoes and what they tell us about the people who owned and made them, the occasions at which the shoes were worn. Through these pairs of shoes, we see tremendously intricate aspects of this time period and some of the people who lived then. It was absolutely fascinating.
You’ve also written books set in other eras (such as the Victorian Era) and places (such as 19th Century America). Does your writing and research process change for these other books?
One difference in research that I’ve had to contend with arises not so much from the change in era but the change in demographics of the people I write about. My 19th-Century-America-set books are focused on the experiences of poor, often illiterate immigrants. The circumstances of their real-life counterparts were such that I don’t have letters or journals to turn to. They were poor and insignificant, thus their experiences, perspectives, and struggles aren’t generally found in official documentation of the time. They were subject to significant prejudice, which means sources from the time period are skewed in their portrayal of these struggling people. Finding the information I need has been a little more of a struggle when writing about those whose lives were undervalued in the eras in which they lived, but that has also made bringing those experiences to life all the more rewarding.
The Gentleman and the Thief, your next book that’s due out in November, is the second book in your Proper Victorian Romance series. What inspired that series?
I have always loved the Penny Dreadful stories of the 19th Century. These were gothic, exaggerated, over-the-top stories of adventure, romance, crime and punishment, medical mishaps, horrors of a supernatural variety, real life dramas and mishaps, published in serial format, a chapter or two at a time, and sold for a penny per installment. Vampire stories had their birth in the Penny Dreadfuls. Sweeney Todd and Dorian Grey both came to be as anti-heroes in 19th century penny Dreadfuls. I find them so fascinating and so much fun, stories in which authors had permission to write the outlandish, the unbelievable, and the utterly over-written. So, when my editor in Shadow Mountain’s “Proper Romance” line and I began brainstorming the possibility of a series that involved these hallmarks of the Victorian era, I jumped at the idea. From that grew the idea of the authors of these tales using their time and talents to be heroes in the real streets of London for the poor and struggling people who made up their readership. It has been such a fun foundation on which to build this series.
So what are you working on now?
I very recently finished a round of edits on the third in my Victorian Proper Romance series, featuring another of the penny dreadful authors.
I am anticipating edits any day now on the final installment in my Jonquil Brothers Regency series.
And I will soon begin working on a romance set in the 19th Century American West.
Wow, good luck with everything! I’d like to finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
I actually began writing on a dare from my mother. I had been telling her how difficult it was to find books that really hit the sweet spot for me. After a long, rambling whine session, she told me that I should write a book myself, one that fit what I was struggling to find. For 18 months I secretly studied writing–checking out books on the craft, reading historical romances and taking extensive notes, even attending a local writing conference–and then wrote, rewrote, edited, and re-edited my first historical romance novel. When it was as good as I could get it, I went to Kinkos and printed it out and had it spiral bound, then gave it to my mother as a Mother’s Day gift. A number of years later, that book was published as The Kiss of a Stranger and was a USA Today Bestseller.
That’s fantastic! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
The two books I have been recommending the most in recent years are Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and As You Wish by Cary Elwes. They are both just fantastic. And for fans of audiobooks, the audio versions of both these books are absolutely superb.
And what are you currently reading?
I just started Naturally Tan: a memoir by Tan France. While most of my reading tends to be historical non-fiction or romance, I do enjoy mixing things up by regularly tossing in a memoir.