The new Ravenels book is 'not just about romance and sex; it's about a woman being loved on her own terms.'
It’s time to say, “Hello, Stranger” to the cover of Lisa Kleypas’ latest novel.
Her upcoming release, titled Hello Stranger (naturally), is the fourth book in the Ravenels series, which began with 2015’s Cold-Hearted Rake. The saga centers on the Ravenel family, an aristocratic dynasty that just inherited an earldom.
Hello, Stranger follows the adventures of Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in Victorian England, as she is swept into suspense and intrigue when she is tempted by an affair with Ethan Ransom, a Ravenel bastard and mysterious former Scotland Yard detective with ties to a shadowy government organization.
The Ravenels series marks Kleypas’ return to historical romance for the first time since 2010, something highly anticipated by her fans as Kleypas has been a favorite of the sub-genre since her debut novel, 1987’s Where Passion Leads.
Kleypas exclusively revealed the new cover to EW, and as you can see above, it’s a delectable hot pink and depicts Dr. Gibson in a decadent gown that marks quite a departure from her normal physician’s garb.
In addition to sharing the frothy new cover, Kleypas sat down with EW to discuss the real-life historical inspirations for her characters, writing strong female heroines in the Trump era, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We first met Garrett Gibson earlier in the Ravenels series — had you always planned for her to have her own story?
LISA KLEYPAS: Her first appearance was in book 2 of the series, Marrying Winterborne, and she arrived on the scene to provide first aid for the wounded hero. Really, within the next chapter, she became so compelling and exciting for me that I knew that I had to give her her own story someday. So I hadn’t planned when I created her as a minor character, but sometimes as an author a character just seems to leap out of your brain fully formed, and so when that happens, you shouldn’t ignore it.
Where did your idea for a female physician/doctor come from?
When I write these historical romance novels, I do an incredible amount of research just to get the flavor of the time period and to pick up all these details that give the story life. As I was reading about important people back in the late 1800s in England, the name Elizabeth Garrett Anderson came up. I was shocked to realize that she was the only female physician in England for 20-30 years and I had never even heard of her. After she got into the British Medical Association through a loophole after completing all these studies at the Sorbonne in France, the British Medical Association changed their rules so that no more women could be admitted for another 20 years. And I could not stop thinking about her because what an incredible thing to be the only woman in an entire country for that long. So I based this character Garrett Gibson on her and, of course, used the name Garrett, because I loved the idea of using a slightly androgynous name for this really tremendously accomplished and brave woman.
And that fits with the loopholes you mention because an androgynous name might escape notice.
It’s heartbreaking and funny and amazing to read what these women went through to even get on the playing field. That’s something I’m trying to bring out in this series — because there are lots of wonderful historical romances that have a lot of scenes in the ballroom and ‘Can I get this wonderful man to marry me?’ but not as many where the woman is really the prize. She’s the one achieving and accomplishing things, and that to me is an exciting new twist to put on it.
You read a lot of historical romance where if women have a profession, they’re a governess or a baker or something still highly associated with typical traits of femininity. So I love that you’ve gone into a profession that a lot of people may not realize women could even hold in the Victorian era.
This woman Elizabeth Garrett Anderson should be really well known. She does not deserve to fade into history. If you read a biography of her, she went on to become the first female mayor of any town in England. There is just an extraordinary, driven woman. The more you read, the more you realize there were a lot of these women back in that time period, and they were all fighting and struggling to make something of themselves. If you look, you can find these amazing examples of women doing these things. That, to me, is really fun. It gives historical romance a whole different feeling and flavor. And more things to talk about.
Presumably a doctor would encounter some pretty gruesome things, especially in the Victorian era, which maybe romance readers aren’t accustomed to. Was that a challenge for you, and how did you find that balance?
It was a challenge. I’ve always considered myself really squeamish when it came to the sight of blood and operations and all that. Around this time in 1870, Joseph Lister invented the catgut ligatures that basically just dissolve in the body. In order to understand things like that, I’ve had to look at actual surgical pictures. I’m not putting every single gory detail in the novel, but I have to know so I can know how the character thinks, what’s in the back of her mind. So maybe 20 percent of everything I research actually goes into the book, but the most fun part about being a novelist is that whatever character you’re writing about, you have to approach the scene from their viewpoint. So I can be the heroine, the bad guy, the hero, and I have to know what their background is and what their experiences are — it’s like playacting.
This book definitely seems to have a lot more of a mystery or thriller feel to it, given Ethan’s profession, and that’s something we don’t often get in historicals. What was it like diving into that?
So fascinating. I actually have made Ethan part of this very small group of maybe eight handpicked men that are really the precursors to MI6 agents. Everything was being invented as they went along: crime fighting, detective techniques, fingerprinting. All these things were just being invented and the time period of this book is right before the Jack the Ripper case, when finally detective science really exploded because they were trying to find Jack the Ripper. So making Ethan a man of action and making him a historical-romance James Bond has really been fun. Especially because I have a soft spot for Daniel Craig, so he’s good inspiration.
Romance has changed a lot over the years, but I feel like it’s become particularly pertinent in 2017 with some writers like Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean taking up language of “resistance” in their stories. Garrett fits right in with this ilk of woman: as a doctor who has charted her own course, studied her own self-defense, and can hold her own in a fight. Do you feel it’s more pressing now to be telling this stories with female protagonists who really hold their own and are looking for relationships of mutual respect? And while you’ve been writing, have you felt any sort of change in your approach to your female characters or more of a responsibility to write them in a certain way?
I don’t feel like it’s been a deliberate effort, as much as it’s just been sort of a natural evolution. When you look back in history, you see the issues they were struggling with are still resonating now and still echoing now — it seems to me a very natural connection to make. And right now, when women’s healthcare is being threatened and women’s rights and issues such as harassment, when these things are being debated, you certainly want to illustrate “Gee, we’ve been doing this for 150, 200 years.” Why not show that it was a realistic struggle back then and that some women really were making huge strides? We can take our inspiration from them, and we can also be inspired by the men back then who were tremendously supportive and open-minded. There were men like that back then too. We kind of get deceived by the Victorian ideal that the man is this stern, patriarchal figure and the woman is this weak, submissive doormat. But that’s not the reality of how it was back then — that was the ideal. We’re struggling with what some people’s ideal is versus reality.
From the moment we meet Garrett, she is concerned about balancing a relationship/love and the career which she has dedicated her life to (the “having it all” question). For so many women, that’s still sadly a very real question and concern. How do you think that’s shifted from the Victorian era to now?
It’s not that I’m projecting a modern dilemma onto these historical levels. It’s the exact same thing we’re all dealing with — so I don’t know when as a society we evolve to the point where it’s no longer an issue when it’s been going on for more than a century. You can see it’s really deep-seated. I want this to appeal to my regular readers, but also to get some younger readers because I think that the image of historical romance needs a little dusting off, to be revealed as being very vibrant and very relevant to young women, as well as women my age, or middle-aged women, or older women. It’s not just about romance and sex; it’s about a woman being loved on her own terms. And that’s okay to want to be loved on your own terms and to find a man who’s willing to love you that way.
When I started reading romance novels, it was just exciting to have a female be the protagonist, and it was exciting to know that there was going to be a happy ending and there was going to be a lot of sexual fulfillment for a woman, which back then was questionable — should women find pleasure in it or not? Thank God we’re beyond that. So now that’s a given, women should be romantic and enjoy that part of their nature, now we get to move on to what other kinds of fulfillment does a woman deserve?
How do you get the world to understand that romance novels are not trifles, but dealing with deep, profound, hot button issues?
There are so many really off-base mistaken ideas that people have that women are going to want a man because of his money or his social status. I’m speaking of this infamous Village Voice article where they did a tongue-in-cheek article and put a romance novel cover illustration with Donald Trump’s head on the guy. I still don’t quite know what to make of it. But one of the questions they were asking in there was, “Do you think he’s a candidate to be a romance hero because he fits so many criteria because he’s supposedly a billionaire and successful, and so now is he a hero?” Someone that has not read what’s going on in the genre lately would ask that question. But anyone who knows what’s going on would never ask that, because money and success does not at all make someone a hero. A hero is someone who respects you, who challenges you, who supports you, who is your equal and gives you a run for your money, but would never hurt you or hit you or demean you. The idea of a what a romantic hero is or what women should be attracted to is so dimensional and so complex in these novels, and it’s not just about Prince Charming having a castle and being rich and therefore you want to marry him.
People who don’t read them insist it’s just two people falling into bed together and nothing else is going on. I would gather most romance novelists, and readers, know better?
The way that I’ve always felt when I write love scenes is that if a love scene is in there, it should be in the book because it’s reflecting what’s going on in their relationship or it reflects a new level of intimacy where it moves the relationship forward, but if it’s just there for gratuitous reasons it’s is actually kind of boring. You can read 50 Shades of Grey or one of those and you can read lots and lots of sex scenes, and then after a while it gets boring.
The excitement is not only just what’s happening in the bed, but then after we get out of bed, how are things going to be different? What’s he going to say next? What new thing is going to happen now because we’ve just been together in this intimate way? It’s hard to explain to beginning writers who are saying, “Could you give me some advice on love scenes?” and you wish you could just say, “Make sure he touches her knee.” But it’s not anything physical — it’s this idea that things are changing in our relationship and our emotions are evolved in this physical act and everything’s going to be a little bit different afterwards. That’s what makes everyone’s toes curl.
I read all different kinds of genres, and I love to try all different kinds of things, but there’s no genre that takes you on the emotional journey like a really good historical romance does. And it has to be historical, even though I love contemporaries, because there’s something about that historical setting that really carries you away farther.
This is your first historical romance series after you’d departed from the sub-genre for a little bit. What was it like coming back to historicals after some time away?
I did feel rusty, just because if you’re not swimming in it, thinking it, eating it, breathing it, then a lot of the language, just the historical details, do kind of slip away, so I had to really dive back into research and read a lot of my own past books, just to see what I was doing and where I had left off. But that was really exciting and fun because I realized that the direction that I wanted to go in was to really focus a lot on the historical research and to really derive inspiration from actual people who were living back then. That led to this new emphasis on strong female heroines with real-life inspiration from women back then.
I read this wonderful story about you dealing with a flood in Texas in 1998 and picking up a romance novel as a source of comfort. I thought that was really beautiful and lovely, especially given Hurricane Harvey and Irma, and such a concise way to explain what the genre means to so many people. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
In the past week, all these memories have been flooding back just seeing the hard time people are having. After we lost everything in the flood in 1998, and I mean like everything — my husband, my baby, and I and my purse were basically all we had — we were fortunate enough to get a motel room, and I remember waking up at 3 in the morning pretty much every single night for the week we stayed at this motel. There was no place to read in the room, so I had to go into the bathroom and sit on this cold, white tile floor, and I had the romance novel that I’d bought at Walmart.
I just remember waking up feeling such deep anxiety and stress. Just to sit there reading this book — it gave my brain enough of an escape and enough of a rest that it brought my stress down, it reminded me that there are happy endings, that everything was going to be okay. It was like a connection to all the happy experiences I’d ever had reading. It was an eye-opener to me. When I started writing again very soon after the flood, I had a new sense of commitment that I’ve never lost or forgotten since then. Knowing every single book I write could possibly be picked up by someone who had been through something like that and if they needed a good escape, I can’t let them down. I can’t do an indifferent or mediocre job on this book because — what if this is the one book they’re reading on the bathroom floor at 3 in the morning?
Hello Stranger hits bookshelves Feb. 27.