It’s Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and romance, whether as a couple, with family or friends. In light of the holidays, we’re joined by someone immersed in love and relationships – Haines-based writer and best-selling historical romance author, Lenora Bell. Born and raised in Haines, Bell is a teacher with a master’s degree in creative writing. She has lived and worked on five continents and recently returned to Haines with her family. She is the author of eight historical romance novels, the most recent of which The Devil’s Own Dukeand she just finished her ninth book, which is due out in September 2022.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KHNS: Lenora, thank you very much for joining us today.
Lenora Bell: Thank you so much for having me, Corinne and happy Valentine’s Day.
KHNS: Great, so how did you start writing a historical romance? What inspired you?
Bell: Well, it probably started when I was growing up in Haines and, you know, those long, dark winters, my parents really encouraged us to read the classics. So we read a lot of Jane Austen, a lot of Brontë sisters, a lot of Dickens. I turned to those stories, especially Jane Austen, which were about the female experience. Jane Austen’s stories feature women struggling with issues they still grapple with today. Social differences, class differences. Female independence, therefore, and… also a love story. I am a romantic. So I gravitated. I turned to these stories. When I was growing up, I then got a master’s degree in non-fiction writing at Portland State University. It was for travel writing, and really, my heart was with the romance. I just wanted to write and read romance. I always scribbled romance novels on the side. So I graduated, and I’m grateful that I studied writing because it influenced my romantic writing as well. I think it was just a natural progression for me.
KHNS: How did you get into historical romance like going back, you know, versus sort of looking at today’s themes and plots?
Bell: Well, first of all, let’s think about what a romance novel is and a romance novel, you know, you’re sure, you absolutely know you’re going to have conflict, because conflict brings story. But what makes a romance novel a romance novel is that you also know that you are absolutely guaranteed there will be a happy ending. For me, it’s the most uplifting and joyful form of writing because you know very well how it’s going to end. So it’s my job as an author to make the conflict believable enough to sow doubt in the minds of readers. How will they reach this happy ending? Is it going to be a difficult and satisfying happy ending? So I was sold on romance novels. I love romance novels. I love Jane Austen, I think I mentioned that before… I have always been fascinated by fashion, I have throughout history visited the Victorian Albert Costume Museum in England with my parents at a very young age, and just wanted to live there for the rest of my life. . Because I’m fascinated by clothes. The stories that are are also attached at the end. So it’s a long answer to say that I’ve always been fascinated by historical fiction. Then I just decided to write it because I fell in love with the books of a historical romance author, Eloisa James.
KHNS: There’s so much inspiration from that Victorian period, and as you said, a lot of the themes are ongoing, and a lot of the themes that women still face today.
KHNS: So it’s interesting that when I was doing research for this interview, I learned that romance was the most popular and best-selling genre of the pandemic, according to Forbes. Not only is it great storytelling, but it also touches on those deeper themes. I think romance is often seen on the surface, as more frivolous. But in reality, it delves into very powerful themes of class, gender, and power dynamics. You know, justice – people who do bad things get punished and bad things happen to them. Then the women triumph in the end. Can you talk about your writing process and how you immerse yourself in these larger themes?
Bell: Well, that’s exactly what you said. Not only do women triumph in the end, in a romance novel, love triumphs. He will always triumph. So these are books that celebrate the power of love. In my opinion, what the world needs now is love. And we all need… I like to describe my writing as fun, frothy, sexy, and feminist. These things are all connected, they all go together. Most of these books are written by women, for women. And they are written through the female gaze. By that I mean they follow female history, female desires, and female flourishing throughout the story arc that has always interested me. And the way I start, so I wrote Oh, my God, I just shot my ninth book.
KHNS: Congratulations, wow.
Bell: Thank you. Thanks, that sounds like a pretty big accomplishment. The ninth book is “Duke Most Wicked”. So these are books by Duke, which deal with class differences. Sometimes it is the woman who is a little richer than the man. Sometimes it is usually the duke who is the richest. So these books not only explore relationship and intimacy issues, they also explore class differences. I like to do research at Regency England to explore these differences. But also for me, each of my books has something really fun to look for in terms of women or heroines in my books. They’ve always done it, it’s not necessarily a job, but it’s an interest or a hobby… My most recent book that I’ve done has a pianist and a composer as heroine. So I did a lot of research with my mother, who is also a pianist and composer. She also composed a song, she composed a Christmas carol for the book which is going to be published in the book. So it’s just this wonderful creative collaboration where I can do research, I learn things that I can engage with my friends and family. It’s a fun and collaborative creative effort.
KHNS: It’s great, yeah, so much fun. So what’s it like to connect with readers?
Bell: Well, I guess you could kind of say that as a historical romance writer, every day is Valentine’s Day. Because my head is in this space where I think of love. I think about love every day, how’s it going? How is he growing? What is the conflict that could prevent it from flourishing? How does a satisfying and deeper emotional connection work? What happens in a relationship? It’s not easy to write these books. You know, when I started, I thought, oh, I can write a romance novel. It’s actually it’s really difficult because you know, you create these two characters, you know, they’re kind of opposites, because you want to be in conflict. But you also have to create characters that complement each other and come together in ways that make them more complete, more together. … (And) So for the book that Amy Kane is selling right now at Haines Bookstore, and, by the way, I love Amy, she was so championing of romance. She was so welcoming to me. The book she’s selling right now is ‘Devil’s own Duke’… when I was living overseas, I think maybe outside of the bookstore, they run a book club, and it’s called, I don’t know the full name of this. It’s called like French wine, something from the literary murder mystery society or something. But they featured one of my books for one of their readings, and Garrett (Montgomery) at Port Chilkoot Distillery prepared a cocktail for the meeting. It was during confinement, it was last year. He called it “The Bodice Ripper”. I loved it. It was like gin and peach juice. But for me, like Amy being at a local bookstore… I love that Haines supports the local. So here we have a local author, we have a local bookstore, we have a local distillery, and everyone gets together to discuss books, and maybe also for a little celebratory libation. I just think it’s a wonderful way to celebrate community and connection.
KHNS: That’s great, I love that you say every day is Valentine’s Day for you. But what do you think of Valentine’s Day in general?
Bell: Oh, well, you know, anything that celebrates love, I’m all for. And in the romance community, we generally like to call it Galentines Day, simply because we celebrate the power of a lot of romance novels. Mine in particular celebrates the power of female friendships, as well as a romantic relationship. My books always feature a fantastic team of girls (laughs). You know, they will always have beautiful female friendships. So Valentine’s Day, Galentine Day, call it what you will, it’s a chance to celebrate. And for you know, just feel that connection.
KHNS: Yes, it’s a day of connecting, it’s a day of appreciating loved ones, romance and celebrating love. So Lenora thank you so much for joining us this Valentine’s Day.
Bell: Thank you very much for inviting me, and The Devil’s Own Duke is available at the Haines Bookstore (and online) and I’ll sign and bookmark it, and maybe some other loot, if you let me know.