Romance author Martha Waters on why she loves a marriage-of-convenience story
If you're a fan of rom-coms or romance novels, you probably have a list of favorite tropes: enemies to lovers, there's only one bed, and the tried-and-true marriage of convenience, to name a few.
For Martha Waters, who writes Regency-era romantic comedies, there's no shortage of dizzying plot possibilities within these well-loved tropes. Her next book, To Marry and to Meddle, makes use of the marriage-of-convenience plot to theatrical ends.
The next installment in her Regency Vows series, it follows Lady Emily Turner and Lord Julian Belfry. They agree to wed to help Emily escape impending nuptials with a man her father owes, and because their union will lend theater owner Julian a certain level of respectability.
But it turns out they have very different ideas of what their marriage will be. While Julian wants Emily to maintain her enviable place in society, she's eager to roll up her sleeves and get involved in the world of the theater. Will his insistence on respectability tear them apart, or will they find a way to compromise?
Below, EW can exclusively reveal the cover for To Marry and to Meddle, out April 2022. We also called up Waters to pop her some questions, including how she chooses her tropes and what it was like delving into the world of the Regency theater.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you had Julian and Emily's story in mind? How did it evolve over time?
When I started writing To Have and to Hoax, the first book, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write a story for Emily someday, but I didn't really have any clear concept what that would look like. Then as soon as I wrote the scene in To Have and to Hoax where they go to the Belfry, which is Julian's theater, and they meet, as soon as I had them meet, I was like, "Okay, they're clearly going to get together."
I knew I wanted to write a romance for the two of them, but it has evolved somewhat. I originally imagined Emily and Julian's book taking place further into the future, like a year or more after To Have and to Hoax and To Love and to Loathe, whereas now it's taking place almost immediately afterwards. I always envisioned it as a marriage of convenience, so that much has stayed true. But the details have shifted over time, especially since I wrote them together on page a lot in the first two books. As I'm writing this one I've had to go back and make sure I'm not writing anything that contradicts anything I've already written in one of the first few books, which I'm kind of mad at past Martha for putting them on page so much. It's a lot more difficult now.
Your first two books used delicious tropes — second-chance romance and enemies to lovers — and this one is all about the marriage of convenience. Is that a favorite of yours? How do you choose which ones fit with a given story?
I really love marriage of convenience for the same reason I really love marriage reconciliation in historical. I'm not as interested in writing unmarried heroines in a historical because it makes your job as an author a lot trickier because there are all these strict rules governing their behavior. You have them either already be married or get married right at the very beginning of the book, then you can cheat and get around all the strict rules governing the heroine's behavior.
A lot of this book takes place in the world of the Regency theater. Can you tell us more about the inspiration and research behind that?
I read this book called The Time Traveler's Guide to British Theatre because I don't know that much about the theater world, or at least historically what it looks like. When I first introduced the character of Julian, what interested me so much about him was the idea of someone who comes from the world of high society but who has done something — i.e., bought a theater and running it — that makes him a black sheep of his family and cast him out of polite society. Pairing him with a very prim and proper heroine who has this really immaculate reputation, it's been a really fun contrast to write. When I started writing, I knew that I wanted to play up that dynamic a lot, and so I wanted to have Emily try to get involved with the theater once they got married. A lot of the book is about Emily coming into her own and finding her own agency and being out from under this overprotective wing of her dreadful parents. Introducing her into the world of the theater has been really interesting. She gets to meet actresses and women who are seen as not at all respectable by society. I've done some research on actual actresses from the Regency era and what their lives look like, and the way that polite society interacted with the theater world.
Do you have a theater background, either as a performer or just a fan?
Not really. Definitely not as a performer, other than the very ill-fated musical theater class I took in high school, which, the less said about that, the better. I just needed an elective. I learned that I do not have a future on the stage. I would say I'm a very casual theatergoer. I'm not someone who in every trip to New York has to go see whatever the hottest new show is. I like going to the theater, but I'm not someone who's super-obsessed with it. It's kind of intimidating to write this book because I know so many people are so passionate about the theater, but it's been a really fun opportunity to learn more about something I don't know that much about, especially in a historical context.
Do you have a favorite research rabbit hole you've fallen down so far?
I went down this intense rabbit hole with the whole patent theater system, where there were only a few theaters during the Regency era that had these royal patents that would give them license to perform serious drama. And then I started researching like, "How did this come into effect? When did this end?" In an earlier drafts of the book, I basically was trying to like rewrite the entire history. I was trying to introduce a bill into Parliament to end the patent theater system, which is what happened eventually, like several decades later. My editor was like, "This might be too much for this one romance novel. If you don't want to do that, if that feels like too much, it's okay to not have your hero petitioning Parliament." And I was like, "Okay, maybe this might be going overboard."
For the cover, did you have any specific asks for designers? Where did the sort of waiting-in-the-wings concept come from?
That was my editor's idea. She really wanted to use the picture frame as the framing device on the cover of To Love and to Loathe, which was relevant to the plot of that one. She wanted to use a theater as a framing device on the cover of this one, and she had that concept really early on. My main thing always with illustrated covers is I just want the characters to look right. I sent my editor notes like, "Okay, she has golden hair and curls and blue eyes." It's really funny. The first comment I had when they sent me the first draft of the cover was, "They look so much like themselves," which is silly, but it was just the first thing I thought. I don't really visualize my characters super-clearly when I'm writing, but as soon as I looked at the cover of this one, I was like, "They just looked like they're supposed to look." It's my favorite of my three covers so far.
I feel like this orange dress on the cover is very much Featherington-esque. It reminds me of Penelope on Bridgerton. Would you agree?
Yes. [Laughs] We need to make Featherington-esque [a thing]. I want to use that in everyday conversation all the time.