Interview: Victoria Janssen

I’m a guest today at Risky Regencies, talking about “Research Mashups.”

As for this blog, remember how, a while back, I mentioned that a journalist friend was helping me with promotion? On the theory that she knows me really well and is willing to tell everyone how great I am, to cancel out my authorly shyness?

Well, she interviewed me. Below is the result.


Captain Leung, the coolly powerful privateer, silk-clad and barefoot. Maxime, the charismatic, magnificently endowed ruler of a dukedom by the sea. In The Duke and the Pirate Queen, Victoria Janssen’s third novel, these characters take the spotlight in a vibrant world even more lush than The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover, the Harlequin Spice novel where they first appeared.

Q: These two characters are unusual and very equally matched. At what point while writing The Duchess did you realize that Maxime gets his own book?

VJ: Probably close to the end. I didn’t think about him much until I had to write him. It was more that I wanted Captain Leung to have her own book and I thought – who would be a good partner for her?

Q: Some reviewers thought Maxime was such an alpha male that he should have been the romantic lead in the first book.

VJ: They’re totally wrong about him being alpha. There’s a section I had to cut from The Duchess in which he is completely not your typical Alpha Hero. (You can download it for free from my website.) He’s much more of a diplomat than “my testosterone drives me to be in charge.” So really he operates more in the sort of traditional female role of negotiation and emotional bonds.

Q: The cover art is compelling. It shows Captain Leung’s power and her muscles. How did you decide on her appearance?

VJ: I wanted Imena to look powerful and atypical of romance heroines, to make it clear she was different. So at a glance you would know that this was somebody interesting and there were other possibilities for women in this world. Also, I described her in a way that I thought Sylvie [a character appearing in both The Duke and the Pirate Queen and The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover, Janssen’s first Harlequin Spice title] would find hot!

Q: What made you think of having Captain Leung’s head be shaven and covered in tattoos?

VJ: Maybe the last Rush Hour movie, a movie with a woman with a map tattooed on her scalp. It seemed that her value was reduced to what she had tattooed on her, and I wanted to strike against that: “These are the things I choose.” And tattoos on your scalp…you have got to be tough to get that done.

Q: At 30, Captain Leung is the youngest of your heroines. What made you decide to write older characters?

VJ: I wanted to write about somebody in that stage of life because fewer romance, or even erotica, authors do. Not callow, but she’s not at that age where she’s looking back in regret, like Camille [The Duchess]. Stories about older women are more neglected in our society. There’re fewer role models.

Q: As fantastical as this book is, it also works as a story about a thirtyish career woman who is enormously competent at her job, going home to her usually unconventional parents who have turned suddenly conventional about pressuring her to get married. Is that what you intended?

VJ: Anytime you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you’re using an imaginary world to write about us, a lens or a mirror to make you think about the issue from an unexpected angle, like light shooting off a mirror at an angle. I try not to force it, but once I find it in what I’ve written, I can emphasize it a bit, to give the characters more depth and to develop a theme. Sometimes I find unexpected things about the characters this way.

Q: Is that what happened with the Venom/Cassidy character? You showed him to be rich and shabby at once, pretentious but lethal, especially with your dialogue.

VJ: To me, dialogue is almost inextricable from characterization. The bit on the desert island, for instance, where Maxime tells Captain Leung a big secret – I didn’t come up with that until I was writing that scene. I often discover things through dialogue. I’ll have them conversing back and forth and then my back brain speaks up. If I try to direct it too much, it gets really dry and flat.

Q: In an alternate universe, if the Squirting Squid tavern were real, where would it be?

VJ: Way south of South Street, one of those blocks where there aren’t any businesses left but a single bar. Except if was Philly, the drinks would be good, and the food would be, too – it would have been turned into a gastropub!

Q: Who are some of your favorite romance writers, and what did you learn from them?

VJ: Judith Ivory. I learned you don’t have to have a pleasant hero or heroine. You don’t have to like them immediately to be involved in the book.

Laura Kinsale. You can have cracktastic plots. You can have things in a romance novel that include penguins in the Falkland Islands, ninjas, heroes with vertigo. Very freeing.

Carla Kelly. The knack of writing about ordinary people.

Georgette Heyer. Fun with cross-dressing and banter.

Q: By the end of your career, how many books would you like to have published?

VJ: I cannot imagine an answer to that question. I can’t imagine an end. If I had to decide how many, I’d have to decide right now which ideas to use and which not to use.

Q: What are some things you would like to write next?

VJ: A Victorian-set romance with a lady adventurer and a candy magnate who’s also a spy…a bitter and angry candy magnate. A space opera. A young adult novel, with lots of angst. Definitely a Western, possibly steampunk or fantasy — a weird Western. And something with woolly mammoths.


If you’ve got questions for my FAQ, ask them here!

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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