Today, Whiskey With My Book welcomes Elizabeth Cole, author of the Secrets of the Zodiac series. The latest, A Mad & Mindless Night, releases on December 20th.
Riley: Elizabeth, thank you for taking the the time to answer my general, personal and possibly impertinent questions! Will you tell us something about yourself that is not in your author bio?
Elizabeth: Hmm…I’ve got an interest in arctic exploration. Not actually doing it, of course (too cold!), but reading about the historical expeditions and the scientific and technical advances that allowed explorers to go farther and survive such harsh conditions. I love reading about that…particularly when I’m in a very warm place with a fluffy blanket. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this history appeared in my future writing.
Riley: According to your bio, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a source of inspiration. Are you more inspired by Angel or by Spike?
Elizabeth: Giles, actually! He’s British, a librarian, knows magic, and doesn’t need a supply of O positive to get through the day. I’d totally sign up to be a Watcher if there’s a position open. (Note to readers: If you’re on the Watcher Council, shoot me an email.) I love the writing on that show, and I constantly find myself seeking out the same tone for a lot of my own characters. That balance of deadly serious situations and cool banter is really appealing to me.
Riley: What is your favorite thing about writing?
Elizabeth: I love the process of hashing out and refining an idea, working to make it a polished book. Many, many times, the final product looks very different from my early conceptions, but that’s part of the deal. Also, I have zero commute and my cat is my office partner. I’m motivated to keep writing and keep trying out new stories because I have so many ideas and I want to get them out of my head and onto the page. This really is the best job in the world…except maybe being a Watcher.
Riley: I have truly enjoyed the Zodiac books. What was your inspiration for the series?
Elizabeth: Would you believe that I don’t quite remember? I got the idea for the series several years before I sat down to actually write the first book with the intention to publish it. Even back then, I conceived of it as a series—I came up with the name of the Zodiac and the concept of twelve agents who use the signs as their code names. I also have some secret pasts for characters that I’m taking my time to tell. But as for the exact Aha! moment…I’m not sure. I just love reading romances set in the Regency period, and I love mysteries, so I guess putting them together made sense. That’s why there’s a mystery element to each story. The spies are all working to uncover plots or conspiracies, which is how they keep running into my fabulously intelligent and stunning heroines!
Riley: In the Zodiac series, I like the historical/mystery setting, but it is the characters that keep me reading. What kind of characters do you most enjoy writing?
Elizabeth: I like writing realistic personalities. The setting and the plots can get over the top (“Only one more smooch, my love! We have to save the world from evil again!”), but I try to keep my characters relatable. They deal with universal feelings like loneliness, anxiety, and fear. They have problems. The women are
often working to achieve or maintain independence in a world that doesn’t often support them. The men deal with the disconnect between public expectations and what they actually want in life. Nobody in my stories is a perfect person. Who wants to read about perfect people? I throw those books against the wall. I want to read about imperfect people who don’t give up despite the odds against them. And because it’s romance, I try to figure out how the heroine and hero will complement each other. Everyone is broken, but sometimes you find another person who’s broken in exactly the way that fits with your own brokenness. That’s what love is.
Riley: You also write medieval historical romance (Swordcross Knights series). Are there other time periods that interest you that may end up in a book someday?
Elizabeth: I’m very into Viking-era history, and I’m planning a short series in that time period. Seriously, I’m watching Vikings and The Last Kingdom for work. These are the sacrifices I make as an author! In addition to that, I may write some romances set in America around the Revolutionary War. Since I live in Philadelphia, I want to take advantage of all this history just lying around. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste!
Riley: What projects do you have in the works?
Elizabeth: There are two more books in the Swordcross Knights series, and of course the Secrets of the Zodiac is ongoing. Readers of both of those series will get more books in 2017. However, (now for something completely different), I’m also planning a series of contemporary paranormal romances. Imagine Buffy meets Supernatural meets The Librarians, but with more sexy times and a happily ever after. You’re excited about these books, face it. They will give me a chance to work out some ideas that haven’t fit into what I’ve written previously, and they’re also great for readers who maybe aren’t into historical romance (you silly people!). This series will be action-packed, yet nerdy and funny, too.
Riley: What nerdy books, TV or movies are you reading or watching these days?
Elizabeth: Aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned, I’m finishing up Luke Cage now. I love what Netflix and Marvel are doing with all the Defenders characters. Westworld was impressive, and I may need to rewatch the season to catch all the little things I missed. I’m also just a wee bit excited for Rogue One. And of course, I’ve got a boatload of books to read. I’m in a science fiction phase, so at the moment I’m starting The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and finishing Proxy by Alex London. Oh, I also participate in #MurderSheDrank: A monthly Twitter get-together where we queue up episodes of Murder, She Wrote—you know, the old 80s TV show—and snark all night. All night. (There are also bingo cards.)
Riley: Elizabeth, this is where you are invited to add anything else you would like us to know…..
Elizabeth: You, reader, are a person deserving of respect and love. Seriously. It can be easy to forget this amid all the news in the world, and in the stress of the end of the year rush. Romance is sometimes criticized as escapist reading, but I believe it’s a way to remind ourselves of a universal truth: We all deserve the chance to be loved and happy. Schmaltzy? Maybe. Could be the eggnog talking… Oh, Happy Christmas!
About A Mad & Mindless Night
A rogue in search of a new life, a brilliant woman betrayed, and one path through a prison of lies…
Ashley Allander has been a rake, rogue, scandalmaker, and heartbreaker. Now, with one last chance to redeem his name, he becomes a spy. The Zodiac’s newest recruit leaves London behind to find an elusive inventor, but his target proves far stranger. Ash discovers an aloof host, bright lights in the sky, and a woman who is either an innocent prisoner…or completely mad.
Elanora Morrison is desperate. Her life’s work has been stolen from her. She’s been declared insane and kept far from anyone who might help. She gambles everything on a mysterious newcomer, risking her reputation, her life, and her heart to regain her freedom.
Together, Ash and Nora hold the key to a conspiracy between two warring nations. In the midst of danger, they find an improbable love, and the chance for a new future…if they live long enough to reach it.
The sixth novel in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series of full-length historical romances: Featuring sexy storylines, complex characters, and international intrigue, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
Excerpt from A Mad & Mindless Night
A Mad and Mindless Night
NORA MEASURED THE MOON’S PROGRESS across the sky. When she judged the time to be around one in the morning, she slid out of the bed, intent on her task.
She moved through the halls until she reached the bedroom where the stranger called Mr Allen was staying. She eased the door open, then closed it silently. Her eyes were adjusted to the darkness, but she spent a long moment surveying the room.
The panels of the canopy bed were open, and the man was sleeping, the covers pulled up over him so that his body was little more than a vague shape. He didn’t even twitch when a gust of air from the open window stirred the curtains of the bed.
Assured he was asleep, Nora took a few steps toward the clothes press, where the man’s belongings would be stored. She opened the heavy wooden door of the press, dismayed when it squeaked slightly. She glanced back to the bed, but saw no movement.
The darkness meant that she had to use touch more than sight to discover the contents. She quickly found a plain shirt and pants, which she might use to disguise herself. Putting them aside on a shelf, she continued her search, hoping for some clue of the man’s purpose, or something useful for her escape.
She discovered a packet of papers. She glanced over at the sleeping form again, but the shadows of the canopy obscured him. Unfolding the papers, she scanned the writing, searching for clues. Thoughts swirled in her brain, but she’d sort through them later, once she was safely back in her room.
Beneath the letters, she found something more—a stack of folded bank notes. A large stack, far too much for an ordinary person to carry about him on a trip. What was this man doing here? Nora bit her lip, considering her options.
Temptation struck her hard. That much money could get her very far indeed, with no questions asked. No. It was one thing to filch a few old pieces of clothing. It was quite another to willfully steal money. Nora shoved the stack of banknotes back where she’d found it.
“Have you come to haunt me?”
Nora whirled around and froze. Her heart dropped.
The man was awake, his upper body propped up on both elbows. He gazed at Nora calmly, as if it was perfectly normal for him to find strange women in his bedroom at night.
She had no idea what to say. She simply stared at him, wondering if he was going to rise from the bed and seize her, with the intent of raising an alarm. Or worse.
“Well?” he prompted. “Is this your usual practice, to hover over guests and decide whether or not to haunt them?”
As he spoke, he slipped out from under the bedclothes and took a few steps toward her. By the time Nora realized the danger, it was too late—an arm flashed out and a strong hand took her by the wrist, not allowing her to run away.
Not that it mattered. Nora was still too dumbfounded to move. The reason for her distraction was simple enough. He wasn’t dressed. At all.
Nora had limited experience, but she could say with complete confidence that this man was the most attractive one she’d ever seen or expected to see. Nora instinctively wanted to touch him, to add to her knowledge…and also for the pure pleasure of touching something so gorgeous. She blamed the night, which must also be responsible for her thinking that his eyes glowed a bit, with a warmth that she was surely just imagining.
“Do I meet your approval?” he asked, almost lazily.
“What?” Nora asked. She had no idea how long she’d been staring at him. “Oh! I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… That’s not what I… I need to leave.”
“Not quite yet,” he said, in that same calm tone. “You just arrived.”
“My name is Ash,” he said, looking her over curiously.
“Nora,” she whispered.
“That wasn’t too difficult, was it?” Ash reached out, grabbing a long dressing robe hanging from a nearby chair. Nora expected him to put it on, hiding his naked form. Instead, he draped it over her shoulders. “You really ought to acquire a better wardrobe, Miss Nora. That dress looks inadequate.”
“What about you?”
“Don’t criticize my sleeping habits,” he said, still sounding as if such a topic was not at all absurd to be having with a stranger in the dead of night. “I’ll get dressed…if you promise not to run away while I’m occupied.”
Nora turned her head to follow his movement. She told herself it was to make sure he didn’t notice any subtle changes in the order of the contents of the press. The result was that she got a scandalously good view of him from the rear. She turned her head quickly, lest he catch her peeking.
After a moment, he walked back to her, now dressed.
“There. We’re both quite respectable…well, slightly respectable. Now, tell me why you’re here in my room. You’re a most unusual ghost.”
“I’m not a ghost.”
He put a hand on her waist, then slid it around to her lower back, and gently pulled her close to him. “No, you don’t feel like a ghost,” he murmured.
Nora caught her breath. “As I told you.”
“I like to verify. Can’t just take your word for it.” He bent his head, and now his words came closer, his breath warm against her cheek.
“Mr Allen,” she began.
“Call me Ash, please.”
“Sounds sweet when you say it,” he noted, his mouth hovering over her own.
Then he kissed her, his lips grazing hers till she sighed against him, a need long forgotten now rekindling with this unexpected touch.
For all the audacity of his actions, he didn’t do a thing more than kiss her. Nora sensed no urgency in him, just a profound pleasure in the moment. It was as if time ceased to matter.
But time moved anyway. A few moments later, he drew away, slowly ending the kiss. He didn’t release his hold on her, though. He surveyed her for a long moment.
“Well,” he murmured. “Not a ghost. You must be a dream. Though you’re lovelier by far than any others I can recall lately.”
Nora took a deep breath. “I assure you I’m a real person. You’re holding me, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Do you mind?”
“Being held?” Nora paused. “I…I don’t mind.”
“Good,” he said. “Now, darling, tell me what brought you to me.”
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Elizabeth Cole is a romance writer with a penchant for history. Her stories draw upon her deep affection for the British Isles, action movies, medieval fantasies, and even science fiction. She now lives in a small house in a big city with a cat, a snake, and a rather charming gentleman. When not writing, she is usually curled in a corner reading…or watching costume dramas or things that explode. And yes, she believes in love at first sight.
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