Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast is one of Bookish’s must-read romances of the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why. The novel features a strong and silent hero who secretly loves comfy pillows and books, and a fierce heroine who is taking control of her own destiny. We were lucky enough to catch up with MacLean at BookExpo to learn more about these characters and her writing process. Here, she shares the key to a good meet-cute, the importance of joy in her daily life, and the way classic romances inspired Brazen and the Beast.
Bookish: In three words, what can readers expect from Brazen and the Beast?
Sarah MacLean: Grunting. Love. Action.
Or perhaps… Pillows. Books. Orgasms.
Bookish: Hattie and Whit have a unique meet-cute: She finds him bound in her carriage and later throws him out of said carriage. What do you think is important in a good meet-cute?
SM: I think you have to immediately get a sense of the characters. You have to be invested— especially in a meet-cute like this one where it happens on the first page. In the very first line of the book, we see Hattie staring at an unconscious Whit, and she’s thinking “Oh shit, this is getting in my way. I don’t have time for this business.” When Whit wakes up you immediately see him in Whit mode: Where am I? Is everybody I love safe? How do I get myself out of this situation? And wait a second—who is this woman who just blindsided me?
What I love about these two is that Whit is always planning. He always thinks he’s got the drop on everything, whereas Hattie is like a whirling dervish and he can’t ever predict where she’s coming from. I’m very proud of this meet-cute because I think it shows readers the game they’re about to enter, and that it really is a game between Whit and Hattie.
Bookish: As a reader, do you have a favorite meet-cute?
SM: I like any meet-cute where things are moving very quickly and you immediately understand who the leads are and why they’re in conflict. Pacing is so important. I love the one in Joanna Shupe’s Tycoon, which is set in Gilded-Age New York City. The heroine stows away in the private rail car of the president of a Manhattan bank, and needs him to pretend they’re together so she can escape the people who are after her. I also love the moment where the hero and heroine first interact in Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound. The hero is a dragon shifter and she’s a thief who’s been challenged to steal from him. She steals one penny from his hoard and he loses his dragon mind, not because she’s taken much from him, but because she’s broken through all of his defenses. She’s nothing like he expects.
SM: This is a rompy adventure novel. I was really inspired by classic romances and those old-school delicious, breathless, wacky adventure novels. The romance genre is borne out of adventure novels, and writing that kind of fast paced, action-packed, cat-and-mouse plot is not a thing I’ve done for a long time. When I sat down I wanted to write a cat vs. cat book, as opposed to cat vs. mouse. Both of my characters are strong enough in their own right and they’re perfectly matched as rivals. My goal was that every time Whit wins, the next scene Hattie has to win. It’s a constant amping up of the excitement.
I was also reading a ton of paranormal romance while I was writing this book because I have a podcast called Fated Mates that discusses Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, so I think that’s embedded in here too.
Bookish: This series deals with themes of privilege in terms of money, gender, power, and class. You’ve said you want each book to explore privilege in a different way. What was different for you in writing about that theme here versus in book one?
SM: The whole series is about the ways that privilege and the lack of it impacts us, and the promise of privilege and what that brings to us. In this book, we have two characters who struggle with the fact that they’ve never had much privilege. Whit was born into poverty, lived in poverty, and was promised a shot at a title and its accompanying privilege that he found out was all a lie. Hattie had money growing up but she’s always been marginalized by virtue of being a woman, being a fat woman, being someone who never feels comfortable in society. Privilege comes with a lot of dark baggage and it’s something I think so many of us who have privilege are realizing in 2019. We need to do our best to acknowledge and face what privilege brings to us. Rejecting that privilege, because of what aristocracy and nobility does to people, is a critical thread in my next book, Daring and the Duke.
Bookish: Nicknames are popular in romance novels, and I love that Whit nicknames Hattie “warrior.” How did you decide that’s what he would call her?
SM: That came really late in the process. It came when I started to think about how Hattie approaches the world. With that meet-cute, she could’ve spiraled into manic-pixie-dream-girl-land, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t the story I was writing and it wasn’t Hattie. Writing Whit and Hattie together gave me a much better sense of who Hattie was in the world by virtue of how Whit thought of her. “Warrior” came 350 pages into the manuscript. I realized, “That’s what she is. That’s how she lives in the world.” It’s kind of how we all live in the world in 2019. We don’t have a choice we all have to be warriors. Hattie became a talisman for me, and she’s one for Whit. She’s his warrior, and maybe we could all stand to be a little more like her.
Bookish: As a romance author, you’ve explored love in a variety of forms. What’s your personal definition of love?
SM: I think love is about seeing someone and honoring them for who they are and being deeply loyal. Being loved is about having people help guide you to that place where you’re your most authentic self. I think that’s the story I tell in all of my books.
Bookish: This book begins on Hattie’s birthday and it’s the start of the Year of Hattie, where’s she’s taking charge of her life and going after what she wants. If you were to do a Year of Sarah, what would that entail?
SM: I would work really hard to embrace joy. I try in my daily life to think about things that make me happy and spark joy. For example, I recently watched this French rom-com called The Hook Up Plan twice. It’s so delightful and filled with such pure happiness. The Year of Hattie is about Hattie laying claim to herself. She will always be less than perfect in the eyes of society, but that doesn’t make her less than perfect. Hattie’s claiming herself, her business, her people, her life for herself. Happiness is a revolutionary act and that’s why romance is so powerful. The most revolutionary thing you can do is live happily.
Bookish: Whit’s an excellent romance hero. He’s intimidating but deep down wants to protect everyone. His home, filled with books and pillows, is particularly revealing of this. How did you go about crafting his character?
SM: Whit is short for Saviour Whittington. From the start, when I invented the Bareknuckle Bastards, I knew Whit would have been the runt as a kid and as he got bigger, older, and stronger, he’d be the first one into the fray to save the day. The Bareknuckle Bastards make their first appearance in The Day of the Duchess, and Whit doesn’t talk. His brother Devil is a fox–sly, clever, and always has something to say. Whit is silent, but still waters run deep. So that was my directive: Who is Whit when he talks? Who is he when he’s in his private space? Who’s allowed into that private space? What does that space look like? I was like, well he clearly reads a bunch of books by lady feminists, he obviously has pillows everywhere, and he has a really big bathtub in his room. Now I’m saying all these things and realizing he’s a 2019 dream man. He just wants to cuddle in front of the fire. He wants to Netflix and chill. Everyone, give this book to men in your life. You ask what women want, they want this.
Bookish: This series is about three brothers and a sister. You’ve been building up to the story of Ewan and Grace since the beginning. Can you give us a hint about what readers can expect from Daring and the Duke?
SM: It’s very emotional. What’s interesting about writing Grace and Ewan’s story is that the person you are when you’re a child, the friends you have, your first love–it has to evolve. You’re different at 35 than at 14. Ewan has really stagnated. He’s had a lot of trouble acknowledging the boy he was at 14 is not the man he is now. Therefore the love he had at 14 can’t be the love he has now. I’ve never written a book like this. It’s very fun for me to write it. The whole series is about the characters’ pasts and how they have to throw them off and live in the present.
Bookish: Hattie’s friend Nora gets a little love story of her own here with Nik. Will readers ever see the full details of that in a short story or novella?
SM: There is more of their romance included in the next book. I loved Nik so much in Wicked and the Wallflower. She’s a strong female character who knows what she wants, knows how to run a business, and has no patience for any of the men’s drama. When Nik and Nora met the first time, I knew they’d have a thing. I also enjoyed writing Nora and Hattie’s friendship in this book. I haven’t written a best friend storyline in a long time.
Bookish: Since Brazen and the Beast won’t be on shelves until July 30, what books do you recommend readers pick up while they wait?
SM: You should read Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners, which is delicious and involves the there’s-only-one-bed trope. If you love a fat heroine, check out Sierra Simone’s Misadventures of a Curvy Girl. For sports romance readers, Naima Simone’s WAGS series follows an NFL team and the second book, Scoring Off the Field, features an unrequited friends-to-lovers plot and is so, so good. Kristen Callihan is one of my top five writers of all time and Fall, the third book in her VIP series about a rock band, is my favorite. I just finished Robin Lovett’s Toxic Desire–it’s bananas and so sexy and incredibly fun. Adriana Herrera’s American Fairytale is just out and it’s delicious.
A life-long romance reader, Sarah MacLean wrote her first romance novel on a dare, and never looked back. She is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical romances, and the author of a monthly column at The Washington Post celebrating the best of the romance genre. She lives in New York City with her husband, daughter, dog and a ridiculously large collection of romance novels. She loves to hear from readers.