How the 19th century Paris art world and her own past inspired Adriana Herrera's next novel
With her latest novel, Adriana Herrera is once again here to upend any outdated notions of historical romance.
An Island Princess Starts a Scandal, which EW can exclusively reveal the cover for here, follows Manuela del Carmen Caceres Galvan, who is preparing to show her paintings at the 1889 Exposition Universelle and spend one last summer of freedom in Paris with her two best friends. But when Cora Kempf Bristol, Duchess of Sundridge, makes a tantalizing offer for a parcel of Manuela's land, she counters with a scandalous deal — her land for a summer with Cora. It's an ideal trade, until Cora is plunged into desires and the temptation of a future she thought long-since dead.
As part of her storytelling, Herrera always aims to uncover truths of the past for her readers. "There were a lot of lesbians doing art in Paris, who were also very much in public life," she tells EW. "And a lot of them had pieces presented at the Exposition. There were at least a dozen different women who were openly lesbians and who had pieces at the Exposition. Being able to put all that real history within the context of this romance has felt like a challenge, but one that I am excited about because I'm hopefully delivering a little piece of history that's been lost because people didn't really know about it."
An Island Princess Starts a Scandal hits shelves May 30. We called up Herrera to talk the inspiration for her eye-catching hot pink cover, the research rabbit holes that absorbed her, and more. Check out the cover below and read on for more from the author.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You established this wonderful girl gang in A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, but how did you decide whose story to tell next?
ADRIANA HERRERA: I wanted to balance the pairings. I knew that the last book is going to be Apollo, and he's the Duke and has this bigger arc of redemption. He's an important character in the first book, and he is a little bit of a morally grey character. So, I wanted to give him a little more time to earn his HEA [happily-ever-after]. So, it was partly a practical decision. But because they're a queer couple, I wanted to have them at the center of the story as a whole as well.
We met Manuela in A Caribbean Heiress in Paris. But tell me more about her and what to expect from her.
Manuela is probably the character that's most like me. Because she has a little bit of a wild streak, but she also hides a lot of her pain too. I think people who read the first one are going to be surprised at the depth of her because we don't really see what her life is like in the first book. We see her as this wealthy, vapid girl who just wants to have fancy things, and we'll get to know her in a different way. One thing that is a big part of her story too is that, in the 19th-century, Latin America had gone through a lot of war. It was our century of liberation starting with the Haitian revolution. So, a lot of people were displaced, A lot of people had to go into exile. A lot of people had to end up living in places that were not their homeland.
Manuela's family is from the Dominican Republic and she was born in the Dominican Republic. But her family had to go into exile in Venezuela after the War of Independence in the Dominican Republic. Some of that is a really big part of how she views herself, someone that has been displaced and then has to be displaced from her family in a way because she is queer. That is something that will be an interesting thing to see because she comes off as such a superficial person.
A Caribbean Heiress in Paris gave us this exciting, new vision of what a historical romance can be. By taking the groundwork you've already established there, and then, pushing it even further by having this be a female-female romance, it's leveling up to a degree. Was there a sense of that in your writing? I know that's not necessarily something you're thinking about because you are just writing the stories that are true to you and your voice.
I mean, it kind of does, right? Because you never know how people are going to react to what you write, and something that really has come through in how the book has been received is that people have really felt that the space and history that I'm writing in is something that they didn't know a lot about. As is the way that I put in representation and diversity. So that felt like a responsibility to try to continue that in this next book.
I knew that Manuela's story was going to be about queer life and lesbians in Paris at that time, which was a very, vibrant period of women being in relationships with women. Paris was a very, very gay place. Women were living openly as couples in Paris in a way that I don't think we even can grasp in how we think about how people lived in the past. It was really in the open. That particular piece I wanted to show as much as I could. There's a big connection between lesbians, art, and the Exposition that I had so much information about. And so, I was like, how do I even harness this so that I can tell the romance and blend it in? But I've found so many interesting things.
One big theme in this book is also organizing and women as collective, especially in the arts, which also was a big thing at that time. I ended up finding this fascinating stuff about this woman named Flora Tristan, who was Peruvian and wrote this essay in 1843 that was what radicalized union workers. She also was Paul Gauguin's grandmother. So I was like, she has to be in the book. It's so fascinating what you can find as you start digging in.
This cover is so vibrant and eye-catching. How much input did you have into this, especially this incredible pink color?
This was a very collaborative effort because I am kind of a control freak (laughs). Because it really is part of what I'm trying to do with this series. I had a very particular vision of how I wanted to go into the historical space and a huge part of it is representation. I was lucky enough that Harlequin was able to let me look at models, so I could pick which model would do the cover shoot. We played around with different concepts. They wanted it to look a little bit more modern than the first cover. I was like, "Oh, I don't know how I feel about that."
Cause I loved the concept of the first one. But I said, "If you're going to go modern, I feel like we have to go really modern. So, let's do Valentino Pink." They were into it. Zendaya had done this great campaign for Valentino with Valentino Pink. And I wanted to have that vibe. It perfectly fits Manuela, who is very different from Luz, who was more serious. Luz was trying to get her business off the ground. Manuela is basically trying to get into as much trouble as she possibly can in Paris while she's there.
How much was the art world and burgeoning movements like Impressionism something you wanted to include?
I do talk a lot about art and the actual physical gallery where the art was being exhibited and Montmartre as the place of the artist. It's an iconic place in Paris where the bohemians were — and that was the hotbed of lesbian life in Paris at that time. Toulouse Lautrec's art showcased that night scene. Lesbians in the art world were very interconnected at that time. And there was this emerging scene of new kinds of art. Not just the impressionists, but Art Nouveau was starting to come out. Munch and all these other guys were starting at that time.
Part of my focus is how are you able to become a working artist? Art was also changing in terms of it was more accessible — magazines were coming out and they were commissioning illustrators to come and do comics or illustrations of a scene for a short story. The Belle Epoque was the time where art became commercial in a real way. It became part of how people did business, advertisements and things like that. I'm trying to hopefully portray that a little bit. It was a really exciting time to be a working artist in Paris at that time.
Luz was very focused on her business, whereas Manuela is still finding herself and her place in the world. What are some of the key differences between the two stories?
The tone is similar. It's Manuela finding her way in the world and making her way. The big difference is that Manuela doesn't really have a plan. Manuela's plan is to have a good time before she has to go back home and get married to someone she could never love. She's basically going in as her last hurrah. Manuela's figuring out her future with the reader as opposed to Luz was after what she wanted. And also, the Duchess is a really complicated character. Probably one of the most complicated that I've written.
Evan was a much more self-actualized type of hero. There was stuff that he was trying to figure out, but he was very self-aware. He saw Luz and he knew he wanted to help her. The Duchess is a lot more selfish. She wants this piece of land that Manuela has and she's basically willing to do anything to get it. Her arc is a lot more dramatic in terms of her being broken down by love, as opposed to Evan who made some changes but was already in a good place. The Duchess has to be humbled a lot more than Evan had to be. It feels to me more like an old school romance. I wanted to lean into more over-the-top drama. If you watched Bridgerton season 2, then that's some of the over-the-top levels that I'm going for with this one.