|Gail Burch: Maggie MacKeever Returns|
Before Amanda Quick was even a gleam in a publisher's eye, Gail Burch, writing as Maggie MacKeever, perfected the art of screwball Regency with books like The Misses Millikin and Fair Fatality. In an era where "nice Regencies didn't do things like that" she made heroines of "soiled doves" and widows no better than they ought to be. Writing under her former name (Clark), Burch invented the era's most outrageous sleuth, Dulcie Bligh, the Baroness of Bow Street. Taking a page from Modesty Blaise and looking ahead to the fashions of the 21st century, Dulcie sported multi-colored wigs and knew how to enjoy a fine cigar.
Then Burch vanished from the romance scene -- much to the sorrow of her fans. Recently she returned to Regencies with a multi-book contract, and Crescent Blues couldn't wait to get an advance peek at this new chapter in her writing life
Crescent Blues: Where have you been hiding all these years?
Gail Burch: Not hiding, but not writing novels, either; I was working in the film industry in L.A. Although I hate to admit to anything so trite, I had what in retrospect seems a classic mid-life crisis, chucked husband, career and everything else to go out into the world and find out what I was other than "Ronnie's Gail who writes books."
I was already on the fringes of the film industry -- my ex-husband owned a post-production sound house -- and so I wound up supervising dialogue replacement work for the movies. (People seemed to think that having written books I'd have an affinity for putting words into actor's mouths.) It was fun for a long time. I met a lot of interesting people. Most of them were nice, and some weren't. Hollywood is a fascinating place if you don't take it seriously. But after a while all the ego-driven nonsense started to wear a little thin.
Gail Burch: I'd always meant to go back to novel writing, someday. Once I took the time to reclaim the rights to my old books, find a new agent and sit down and write, I remembered how much I'd loved the whole process, and that was that. Being married again might have something to do with it, too. It's much easier writing romance when happily married than when going through a painful divorce.
Crescent Blues: What role did electronic publishing and E-Reads play in your re-emergence on the romance scene?
Gail Burch: A serendipitous one. In looking for a new agent, I had the good fortune to cross paths with Richard Curtis, who is not only a super agent but also the guiding genius behind E-Reads. He was interested in both me and my back list. E-Reads is in the process of re-releasing my earlier books. I was surprised by how many are still available online through Alibris and Amazon.
Crescent Blues: What was the genesis of "Maggie Mackeever" -- what prompted you to write your first books under a pseudonym?Gail Burch: Margaret is my middle name (after my mother's only sister), and MacKeever was my grandfather's middle name. (I found out later that MacKeever was the name of the minister who married his parents.) I was still suffering the after-effect of being an English major then and wanted to save my "real" name for hardback.
Crescent Blues: As a writer, what first attracted you to the Regency form?
Gail Burch: Georgette Heyer, who else? I love comedies of manners and the absurdity of male/female courtship rituals. Then I started doing research and discovered a fascination for social history. Regency England is rich with marvelous absurdities, and fodder for countless tales. And I absolutely adore the language. Modern slang isn't half so colorful. Can you imagine calling someone a pig-widgeon, or a ninmenog, or a twiddle-poop? I get to, in my books.
Crescent Blues: What sustains your interest in the sub-genre?
Gail Burch: The sheer fun and fluff of it, as well as the freedom. When I first started writing Regencies, very few other people were, and we could pretty do much as we pleased. (My first novel for Fawcett had a castle in it called Ballerfast, a drunken butler named Tarbath, and a housekeeper called Mrs. Snugglebutt, for starters. That was fairly risqué stuff in those days.)
Then Regencies took off, and everyone was publishing them, and all of a sudden there were all these rules and restrictions that had to be satisfied. I heard a lot of "Maggie MacKeever's readers wouldn't like it if…" Ironically, and happily, now I'm back to being able to do pretty much whatever I want. Cupid's Dart featured a match-making dog, Love Match a cranky parrot, Lover's Knot a hedgehog and a pig.
Crescent Blues: Your early romances featured some unusual (for the time) heroines, including a few "soiled doves" and widows no better than they ought to be. What inspired you to write about untraditional heroines?
Gail Burch: I never thought of them as untraditional, but my sensibilities are admittedly a little left of center. Sweet young heroines are fine for an occasional change of pace, but I prefer a quirky strong-willed character who can not only say boo to a goose but haul off and wallop her own true love if the occasion warrants. The more my people know about life in general and the opposite sex in particular when a story starts, the farther I can go with them during the course of the book.
Crescent Blues: Was this a conscious decision to push the envelope or do you see yourself as part of a larger trend?
Gail Burch: It was more my eccentric sense of humor than a conscious decision to do anything, although I've always had trouble thinking inside the box. I think everyone writing at that time probably eventually grew tired of the perpetually innocent heroine.
Crescent Blues: Which hero or heroine evoked the strongest response from your readers then?
Gail Burch: Oddly, it was Caprice, the heroine of my only Regency historical -- the other longer books were set in the Gold Rush American West. I say oddly because that was my least favorite book, and the one turned out to be the most popular. I had letters from fans begging me to write another book featuring Sebastien.
Crescent Blues: Which one resonates most strongly with readers today?
Crescent Blues: What was the genesis of Dulcie Bligh?
Gail Burch: You're asking me to remember something from a lifetime ago! I think I wanted to do a strong female heroine, older than was common for a heroine at the time, unconventional, sexy, meddlesome, amusing, with a nose for mystery and an absentee husband to die for -- I'm still a little bit in love with the glorious Maximilion.
Lucille Ball was interested in the Dulcie stories for quite some time as a vehicle for herself. I was glad when she finally decided against the project. Lucy didn't at all fit my notions of who Dulcie was.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to use your own name for Dulcie's adventures?
Gail Burch: I'd been saving Gail Clark for hardback. Being published in hardcover was a hugely big deal to me at the time.
Crescent Blues: Did you ever get the sense, despite fictional forebears such as Modesty Blaise, that Dulcie might have been a little ahead of her time?
Gail Burch: That's a kind way of putting it; thank you! Yes, Dulcie was out of step. Or I was. I think it was her psychic abilities that ultimately put her over the top. Were I writing that series now, I would handle a lot of things differently, but I wouldn't make her any less outrageous than she was then. I haven't read any of the Dulcie books for a long time.
Crescent Blues: Any chance you might continue her adventures?
Gail Burch: I doubt it. To resume a series after so long away from it would be tough. Although I did write a third book that was never published -- Putnam had contracted for it and then backed out at the last minute, I assume because the first two weren't selling well enough…
Were there interest in it, I might someday succumb to an impulse to drag that third manuscript out again. I was very fond of my Regency lady sleuth. E-Reads has reissued both Dulcie Bligh and The Baroness of Bow Street.
Crescent Blues: What do you think has been the greatest change in romance publishing, the romance market or romance readers since the early 1980s?
Time travel is new wrinkle, as is the use of magic, and angels, and vampires. It seems that anything goes now. And there's much more laughter in romances now than there was then. The little Regencies were always (hopefully) funny, but the longer romances in those days were pretty dramatic and filled with heart-wrenchings and angst. I love the historical Regencies that are being published now. A romantic hero with a sense of humor -- what more could any one ask?
The Internet has made a huge difference also, in the general exchange of information of every sort. In the old days, I haunted my local library. Now if I want to know something that isn't to be found in the stacks of research books I've collected over the years, I just go online. It also gives a writer a much more immediate connection with her readers, which is very helpful.
I feel ancient! Truly, I'm not. In the early Eighties, I was a mere babe. Still wet behind the ears. Barely out of leading strings.
Crescent Blues: Can you give our readers a hint about your next projects?
Gail Burch: Zebra has two more Regencies scheduled for publication this year: Lover's Knot, which is a sequel to Love Match, and An Extraordinary Flirtation. They will be released in June and December. I also have several other irons in the fire, including an Edwardian-era series featuring my most outrageous heroine to date. I'd also like to do a historical Regency or two. And then, who knows? Lately I seem to be developing a passion for dark brooding gentlemen with pointy teeth…
My Web site is being redesigned, but should be up and running soon. Visit me at www.maggiemackeever.com.
Jean Marie Ward