My favourite author of queer historical romance, KJ Charles, is releasing a new series, starting today with An Unseen Attraction. She stopped by for a quick chat on her inspiration for these stories, favourite characters and some amazing art for the series.
Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship...
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding... it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.
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1. Your new series is coming soon. Can you share what inspired you to write these stories specifically?
KJ: As always, a lot of things kind of bubble away together. I love Victorian Sensation novels (the ones with complicated plots, coincidences, secrets and murder and often a lot of Gothic touches) and I’ve wanted to try my hand at one for ages. I also really wanted to write a series that reflected the real diversity of Victorian London—people of colour, disabled people, nonbinary people, immigrants from all over Europe as well as the back and forth with India, and of course working people with the kind of jobs Victorians had. We tend to have a vague idea of the late Victorians as either putting covers on their piano legs or murdering prostitutes in a dark alley with very little in between. Plus I’ve done a lot of historical romance about lords and earls and gentlemen, and they’re always huge fun, but I was itching to get into the streets a bit more.
So this series is very much trying to give a flavour of Victorian London outside the drawing rooms but not down in the gutters. We have a lodging-house keeper, a taxidermist, a private detective, a journalist, as well as some more...unconventional professions. It was a lot of fun.
Oh...and the fog. I read an entire book about London fog, including the 1873 fog that was the worst on record and shut down the city for a week, and was immediately compelled to centre a lot of the action around it. How could I not?
2. Speaking of inspiration, contemporary romance writers often have Pinterest boards with celebrities who are their visual inspiration for the characters they create. It must be different for historical romance, so I'm wondering where do you get the ideas for your characters' appearance?
KJ: There are a lot of visual records—paintings, engravings, and the like—as well as a good amount of early photos to use as reference for clothes and general demeanour. I have only once had a celebrity in mind for a character’s appearance (Dominic from A Seditious Affair, a dead ringer for Rufus Sewell). I sometimes find a random photo that looks right, but mostly the characters exist in my head, which is why I am shockingly bad at fan casting.
3. It's an unfair question but do you have a favourite book/character in the series, whose story are you most excited to share with your readers?
KJ: Hah! Um. I am really fond of Clem in An Unseen Attraction. He’s dyspraxic, which is all too often unrecognised now, let alone in 1873 where the condition was completely undiagnosed, so writing him as a neurotypical person was a lot of work, and I hope I’ve done him justice. He’s basically the heart of the trilogy for reasons which I hope will unfold as we go.
I also really wanted to write his and Rowley’s relationship. We hear a lot about ‘alpha males’ in romance, and I wanted to write a romance without an alpha male in sight. No posturing and shouting, but strength through kindness and consideration.
(I am also very fond of Justin Lazarus, the fraudulent Spiritualist in book 2, because he is an absolute stone cold vicious bastard. Bit of a mood change for that one.)
4. You have shared some great art for this series. Can you tell us more about it?
KJ: The trilogy is based round a pub, the Jack and Knave. I didn’t come up with that name—I offered my Facebook chat group the chance to name it, and reader Darla Sharp had the flash of brilliance. But having got it, I decided that the pub sign was playing cards, and at that point I realised that the extensive cast of characters actually divided pretty much perfectly into face cards of a standard pack. So Clem is the King of Hearts (as above, he’s the heart of the trilogy) with Rowley as his Jack; Justin Lazarus, who lies to people for money, is the Knave of Diamonds. And so on. (I’m not telling you who the Joker is...)
I asked illustrator Mila May to create art for the series as a thank-you extra to readers, and also because I adore her visions for my characters. Plus, the cast of characters is gigantic (I’m doing a family tree and a cast list to help) so I figured a visual aid or two couldn’t hurt...
You can find the art on my website!
Author Bio and Links
KJ writes mostly romance, gay and straight, frequently historical, and usually with some fantasy or horror in there.
Find her on Twitter @kj_charles or on Facebook, join her Facebook group, or get the very occasional newsletter.