Interview with Erin Satie, Author of the No Better Angels Series

Today, my guest is Erin Satie, whose new romance novel, The Orphan Pearl, is the third book in her No Better Angels series. As you will learn from her answers to some of the interview questions, Erin has done a great deal of historical research and has based her new book on a real, if nearly unbelievable, series of events from the nineteenth century. Then she has laced it with plenty of romance to enrich the tale. Erin is also the first of my guests to write her romance novels in the company of a lovebird. How very appropriate!

Please welcome romance author, Erin Satie . . .

Q:   Do you remember the first romance novel you ever read? What did you like best about it?

A:   Oh, very clearly. It was The Duchess by Jude Deveraux, and I loved everything about it. If you don’t remember that one, it’s about an American heiress who arranges to marry a handsome, charming Scottish duke… only to fall in love with the duke’s taciturn, irascible brother.

I loved the heroine’s difficult relationship with her sister, who is beautiful and shrewd and very unhappy. I loved the heroine’s slow realization that her seemingly-perfect duke wasn’t a man she could like. I especially loved the slow progress of her relationship with the hero, who turns out to be a famous explorer.

I’m not sure if I imprinted on The Duchess like a little duckling or if I got lucky and picked up the perfect book for me, but I continue to seek out grumpy heroes, gloomy, slightly gothic settings, and protagonists who bond over shared interests.

I later found out that the hero was based on Sir Richard Francis Burton, and this sparked a lifelong interest in explorers and adventurers—which has now come full circle, as both the hero and the heroine of my most recent book, The Orphan Pearl, are adventurers.

Q:   Is there any romance author you particularly admire, and if so, why?

A:   Many, many, many. Carolyn Crane would be near the top of the list. I picked up her first release, Mind Games, right when it was released. It was the first in an urban fantasy trilogy and I loved everything about it. Her heroine, Justine, is a hypochondriac. She eventually learns to use her hypochondria as a "superpower"—by offloading it onto other people, in order to manipulate them. It’s a twisty, grim sort of worldbuilding and she has an amazing voice. (There’s a great romance, too!)

Well, the paranormal market collapsed and Carolyn Crane has gone on to self-publish a string of wonderful romantic suspense novels. She won a RITA a couple of years ago, because she is brilliant. She has a quirky voice, an interesting perspective, and I really admire the way that she’s adapted to a changing market while staying true to what makes her special.

Q:   How do you begin thinking about a new story, with the characters or the plot?

A:   A little bit of both. This is my answer to a lot of craft-related questions. With this one, in particular, there’s a chicken-and-the-egg element to it. Who a character is determines how they behave, what sort of actions they’ll undertake. But the things the character does, the accumulation of choices and consequences, determine who a character is.

So figuring out a plot and figuring out a character are pretty intertwined. I go back and forth until I have a strong idea of who my main characters are, what the story will be about. The one thing I always plot out in advance is the emotional journey I want my characters to take—how will they change, what sort of person will they evolve into? And what are the steps along the way to reaching that new state?

Individual scenes, though, I often plot out right as I’m about to write them.

Q:   Without spoiling the story for readers, can you share something about your latest romance which is not in the blurb or any available excerpts?

A:   Oh, so many. The hero is very loosely based on David Urquhart, a diplomat and spy who fomented rebellion along the border between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, hoping to start wars that would allow small, independent states to form as buffers between the Ottoman Empire and Russia.

His superiors were not pleased when they found out what he’d been up to.

So they fired him. But, a few years later, Russia had been causing so much trouble with its constant encroachment into Ottoman territory that Urquhart was brought back into the fold. All of his dire predictions had come true, and he was recognized. So Urquhart won back his status and prestige, along with being drafted to conduct a sort of anti-Russia propaganda campaign.

That’s all true. In my made-up version of reality the hero, John Tacitus Ware, starts the book a couple of years after he’s been dismissed from the Foreign Office for trying to start a war. He has the opportunity to win his way back into the fold… if only he’ll agree to wrestle a sensitive secret out of the heroine.

Q:   When you begin to write, do you know how the story will end, or does that come to you as part of the process?

A:   My early drafts all have terrible endings. I’ve been lucky to have beta readers and editors honest enough to say, "The ending of this book has got to go. Come up with something better."

I’ll talk it out and go back to the drawing board. A little bit of distance from the manuscript often helps, too. Then I toss the bad ending and write something fresh. And (knock on wood) so far that seems to have been a good tactic. When I see comments about how my books end, they’re usually positive.

Q:   Other than one you have created, who is your favorite romance hero or heroine?

A:   Oh, this is a tough question! How can I choose?

I have to admit I become more attached to characters that I get to know over the course of a series—every new book deepens the sense of attachment. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane might be my favorite couple, but of course they’re pulled from a series of mystery novels. They meet, fall in love, and eventually get married, their relationship stretched out over a handful of books, and it’s glorious. Peter Wimsey is one of those Scarlet Pimpernel characters, outwardly silly and good-for-nothing but secretly a boiling cauldron of intense emotions and productivity.

I love Jericho Barrons and Mac from the Fever series—Barrons because I love a dangerous alpha, Mac because I love how much she grows and changes. For the first few books, I’d bite my nails as I read thinking, "No, Mac, stay away from that Barrons guy…" and then, by the end, I thought, "Match made in heaven!"

I love Rupert and Daphne in Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible—a perfect odd couple, and Rupert is so much more than he appears at first glance… I should probably stop here.

Q:   When you suffer from writer’s block, how do you unblock?

A:   I picked up my best trick at an RWA presentation years ago. I wish I could remember who the speaker was so I could pass on the credit. Maybe Linda Lael Miller?

The trick is really simple. It’s called ‘List of 20.’ Grab a piece of paper and write out the plot problem you’re trying to solve as a question. Then try to come up with 20 possible solutions. The first few are usually terrible but by the end, I always come up with something good.

Another trick I use, if I really can’t figure out how to progress, is to ask myself:  where did I go wrong? Often, the problem that feels like "writer’s block" is just the fallout from an earlier mistake. Often, I’ve made a character do something against his or her nature. Once I correct the error, the block vanishes.

Q:   Beyond the satisfaction of the happily-ever-after ending, in your opinion, what else does reading a romance novel offer its readers?

A:   I wrote a blog post about escapism a while back ( where I tried to break down all the different ways that we "escape" into a romance novel. So if you want the long answer, that’s where to find it.

The short answer is that it depends on the book and the reader. I think there’s a kind of escapism which is about setting your worries aside. Picking up a novel to be as far away from the stresses of daily life as possible—to see those stresses effortlessly conquered.

And that contrasts with a kind of escapism that’s about testing out ideas and theories. Adopting beliefs or attitudes and playing out the consequences. Asking ourselves what an ideal relationship would look like and visualizing it.

But how do you tell which is which? I know a lot of people make jokes about how "perfect" Mr. Darcy is. He’s rich, handsome, principled—in some key ways, he’s an ideal man. So maybe Darcy is an example of that first kind of escapism, forgetting about real men with their real flaws and indulging in the fantasy of a perfect man. But I’ve always thought that Darcy represents the other kind of escapism. He’s got some really wonderful qualities, but they’re mixed with a lot of bad ones—he’s rude, snobbish, proud, and judgmental. It takes Lizzy a long time to see past his flaws and appreciate his good qualities. So maybe it’s a lesson about reserving judgment and giving guys who make a bad first impression a second chance.

Q:   Do you have a pet who keeps you company while you write? Can you share a favorite story about this furry companion?

A:   I have a dog and a lovebird, and my lovebird often sits on my head while I write. My dog is a bluetick coonhound. I live on a farm in Kentucky and one day she showed up at my door—about a year old, all skin and bone, and she’d just given birth. I adopted her in stages. I tossed a bit of food at her for a few days. Then I bought a flea bath so I could pet her. Then I got a dog bed and put it on the porch. Then I finally bought a collar and let her inside.

She’s a hunting dog and I’m a vegetarian, which is an odd match, but we get along.

Q:   Many authors have said that writing the first pages of a new story are the hardest to write. Do you find that to be the case?

A:   Whatever part I’m writing at the moment is always the hardest to write. "Oh, once I get past the beginning, it’ll be smooth sailing," turns into, "Oh, man, the middle is the worst, I feel like Sisyphus trying to roll a gigantic stone up a hill," and then, "Won’t this book ever end? I am exhausted, I have nothing more to give, the well is dry and I can’t dig any deeper."

Oh well. I find writing satisfying, not easy.

A woman in a blue sleeveless dress sits on the lap of a man in a dark blue shirt. There is an arched bridge over a river in the background.

The Orphan Pearl   Blurb

The road to redemption lies along the primrose path…

Lady Lily Spark has been missing, presumed dead, for years. Now she’s back in England, and in possession of a secret that could change the course of history. And she has no intention of giving it—or herself—up to anyone.

John Tacitus Ware doesn’t know Lily’s secret. All he knows is that she has one—and he’ll have to win it from her if he wants to regain his place at the heart of British diplomacy.

John and Lily are playing a dangerous game, with war and peace as the stakes. But as John’s ruthless ambition collides with Lily’s skilled manipulation, the attraction between them may change the rules for good.

The Orphan Pearl   Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble:

Author head shot, with blond hair parted in the middle and pulled back, wearing a navy blue scoop neck sweater.

About the Author

Erin Satie was born in California, but she’s lived all over the world. She went to college in New York, studied in Morocco and Egypt, worked in France. She endeavors to always have visited more countries than she’s lived years.

But when she’s not traveling, she lives on a farm in Kentucky with a hound dog and a lovebird and writes historical romance novels.

Connect with Erin online at:
Web Site:
Twitter:   @erinsatie