Thursday, August 22, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Author Claudia Harbaugh

Claudia Harbaugh, Author
Author Claudia Harbaugh enjoys reading and writing about the Regency era. Her passion brings us her novel HER GRACE IN DISGRACE. Reviewers enthusiastically endorse the historical romance, “A cast of original characters turn THIS novel into a well written story with surprising and humorous twists and plots.”

Besides being a confessed Anglophile, Harbaugh is devoted to her family, loves to read, and enjoys being by the ocean. She also has a Shih Tzu named Camden, “who is very cute and a little spoiled.”

Don't miss the excerpt following the interview.

Q: What about Regency romances appeals to you? Why do you enjoy them?
Claudia Harbaugh: The Regency era is a wonderful backdrop for romance because of the contrasts. Outwardly, all was politeness, but there was tension in the lack of equality between men and woman, rich and poor.

A great story can be built from such contrast. I know we think that our generation is worse than any other generation - ever. But the Regency, while all glitz and glamour on the outside, was rotten to the core. Extreme poverty was a huge issue, while the elite 10,000, the crème de la crème of society spent what would constitute a typical laborer's monthly wages or more on a pair of boots or a length of lace. Alcoholism was rampant in all rungs of society. The poor drank because they were hopeless, the rich because they were bored (and hopeless).

The idle rich were so bored that they did crazy things to amuse themselves; the men and even some women would bet on anything. The men's clubs had betting books that would wager what a certain someone might wear or with whom he or she would dance. Gambling was epidemic and men would lose their entire fortunes on the turn of a card.

As far as fidelity in marriage was concerned, it only mattered what things appeared to be. If discretion was maintained and a cheating spouse conducted his or her affairs unobtrusively, then society turned their collective heads and considered it acceptable.

Yet, despite all of this, there was an elegance and refinement in that period. The language was rich and carefully crafted.  It was necessary for the people of that day to “read between the lines”. I love the dialogue of the Regency and when someone does it correctly, i.e., Jane Austen, it is marvelous to read and enjoy.

Q: Many of your reviewers praised your character development in HER GRACE IN DISGRACE and said it was nice to read “characters with some meat to them.” How did you develop your characters so that readers care about them?

Claudia Harbaugh: Not wishing to sound crazy, the characters really come alive in my head. After a while they start directing their own dialogue. I do my best to give them their head, so to speak. So, to answer the question, I’m not sure I do anything in particular except try to allow them to behave as a real person would. None of my characters are based on any one person. They are a bit of an amalgam. Most of the characters have a little of me, God help them, and little bits of others that I meet along the way. But there is no conscious modeling after anyone. People care about people when they are real and vulnerable. My goal is to make my characters vulnerable.

Q: Reviewers of HER GRACE IN DISGRACE say that your heroine is not your typical Regency heroine. What’s different about her? Why?

Claudia Harbaugh: Isobel is a flawed human being. Often heroines in romances are all goodness and light. Not Miss Isobel Kennilworth. I would imagine at first, while perhaps pitying her plight, readers are frustrated with her. But in the end, she realizes her mistakes and tries to make reparation. And she is extended grace.  The old Isobel would have refused to accept it, but the new Isobel does accept it and becomes vulnerable and more open to extending grace to others. She is still not a perfect person, no one is. But she has grown as a human being. Isobel’s personality does not change, however. She will reappear in Book 2 and we’ll see what mischief she will be up to.

Q: Did you write HER GRACE IN DISGRACE to deliver a message? Or were you writing purely to entertain your readers?

Claudia Harbaugh: Purely for entertainment, but as I wrote, the theme of grace reared its forgiving head and I couldn’t ignore it. So, it is woven into the story, but it was not intended to overwhelm the tale. I read romance for entertainment purposes and I wrote HER GRACE IN DISGRACE for the very same reason.

Q:  Did you do much research to assure historical accuracy? Where/how?

Claudia Harbaugh: Well, first of all, I read a LOT of Regency fiction myself, so I have been learning facts and nuances through osmosis. But, still, when it came down to it, I had a lot of research to do. All I can say is thank heaven for the internet. There are a lot of sites out there and I can’t point to one, or even a few in particular. I would just write along and come across a sticking point. For example, the characters must travel from London to Hertfordshire. How far was it? How long would it take? How fast could a coach go? And so I went to Google maps and other sites to answer those questions. Some of my research didn’t actually end up in the final book, but was needed to give me a better understanding of how it all worked.

Q:  How important is the history part of your romances? Could you have the same plots in a modern setting?

Claudia Harbaugh: It would be much more difficult for Reginald, Duke of Warwick to maintain a bigamous existence in the 21st century. A lot of my plot would be unbelievable today. But, with a few alterations I suppose it could translate into modern day. People have the same desires and needs and hopes no matter who they are and where they come from. We all have similar struggles and finding oneself as well as true love are among those struggles.

Q:  What makes a good villain? How relevant is a villain to telling your story?

Claudia Harbaugh: I think a good villain is a complex villain. No one is all bad, nor all good. My villains in HER GRACE IN DISGRACE were not pure evil. They were weak men or women who made some very bad choices. I think the heart of villainy is selfishness and lack of empathy. Isobel could have been a villain, because she began as a self-serving egotist. Thankfully, she picked up some empathy along the way and emerged as a heroine. As to relevancy, all stories must have the constant tension between right and wrong. What a boring story it would be without a villain!

Q:  What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas for plots?

Claudia Harbaugh: I really wish that I could answer that question, but I honestly don’t know. I write because I have to. It is a sort of God-given desire and gift, I suppose. I adore stories. I love to watch movies rich in dialogue and human interaction and conflict. I think the phrase that helps me craft a plot idea is simply: what if? What if this happened or this person did this or that. My brain is fertile ground for make-believe.

Q:  What’s next?

Claudia Harbaugh: The Widows of Woburn Place Book 2. You’ll see the familiar cast of characters and some new ones. However, Isobel and Saybrooke were the main protagonists in Book 1, Laura, Lady Tyndale and a new character will be the main protagonists in Book 2.

Q:  Tell us something about Claudia Harbaugh. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Claudia Harbaugh: I really love my family. My husband, John and I have two beautiful daughters, two wonderful sons in law and three adorable grandsons (aged 3, 18 mos and 4 mos). The hard part is that one daughter lives in Rochester, New York with her husband and two boys and the other lives in Walford, Iowa with her husband and son. We live in Virginia. So, when I can, I go to visit and spend time with them and they come here as well.

We also have a Shih Tzu named Camden (named for the town in Maine, not New Jersey). He is very cute and a little spoiled. I adore the ocean, but rarely visit even though it is fairly close to me. Another activity I enjoy is theater, as a member of the audience and as a participant. I am active in my church drama team and write and act in plays that we perform at Christmas time and occasionally in the summer.  

My favorite thing, besides spending time with my family, is reading. I read every night for at least an hour, often longer. A perfect day for me would be lying on a sandy beach, kindle in hand, reading and munching on snacks and occasionally cooling off by playing in the waves.

About Claudia Harbaugh

I have had a love of "story" for as long as I can remember. Reading has always been a passion for me. I waited until my 50th decade to publish a book, but I have been writing for many years; mostly plays. I am fascinated by the words people use and how their interaction with others reveals who they are. Words are my thing. I love movies and tv that are rich in clever dialogue.

I am a self-confessed Anglophile. Everything sounds better with a British accent. And while the mystique of early 19th century England fascinates me, I doubt very much that I could survive there. I am much to outspoken and independent.

I am grateful that I can say that I have been happily married for almost 32 years (we’ve been married for 40…just kidding). My husband John is my biggest cheerleader. Together we have two beautiful daughters, if I do say so myself. Courtney is nurse and she and her husband Greg have two boys, Carter (3) and Evan (5 mos). They are truly my delight. Megan, our youngest, is at present a stay at home mom. She and her husband Daniel have one boy, Elijah (18 mos) who is my other delight. Unfortunately, they all live far from me, but I make an effort to see them as much as possible. We also have a Shih Tzu named Camden, who is very spoiled, but also very sweet. My faith, family and love of spinning stories are the heart of who I am. HER GRACE IN DISGRACE is my first novel and the first book in a planned series: The Widows of Woburn Place.

Reginald Aiken, Duke of Warwick is dead and his young widow is not grieving…until the will is read.

Isobel Kennilworth Aiken, Duchess of Warwick spent 6 years of her young life in a loveless marriage. Now, at the age of 24, Isobel is a widow. As Isobel awaits the reading of her late husband’s last will and testament, she feels no grief, but in fact is quite hopeful. She is eager to start her life anew. But, as the droning of the solicitor’s voice washes over her detailing the bequests to various servants and family members, a shock awaits her. The "other woman" was not his mistress, but his lawfully wedded wife and together they had a son. Six year old Reggie is now the Duke of Warwick, displacing Reginald’s brother Charles. 

There is a collective gasp as the revelation is made that instantly cuts off Isobel and Charles and dashes their hopes for the future. Isobel must indeed start again, not as a titled, influential and wealthy widow, but as plain Miss Kennilworth, tainted by scandal, something to be avoided at all costs in Regency England. Can she get past the disgrace and humiliation she has endured and fight her way back into society? Will she find love again with her childhood sweetheart, Andrew Stafford, former vicar, now Lord Saybrooke? Or perhaps she will rekindle the romance with Jeremy Ingles, Lord Westcott, who had caught her fancy at her come out six years earlier, but had not been ready to be leg shackled. 
But before Isobel can find true love, she must come to grips with her past mistakes and the people she has hurt along the way. She must discover who she is without the title of duchess to her name.

Chapter 1 

Isobel Kennilworth Aiken, duchess of Warwick, sat expectantly in her chair, the mid-morning sun streaming through the large window of the stately library at Wren House. The sunshine, so rare in London in April, cast a glow over the crowd that was gathered in the room. No one spoke. Dozens of eyes watched Isobel’s black clad figure for signs of distress, none came. She was the picture of elegance and serenity, her lovely face and large gray eyes revealing nothing. Inwardly, however, she was rejoicing. It would soon be over. They had buried Reginald in the family crypt near Warwick Park in Warwickshire and now they were back in Hanover Square at Wren House awaiting the reading of the will. Isobel smiled to herself and sighed. Seated to her left, her Aunt Maude, Lady Whitcomb patted her hand, mistaking the sigh of relief that escaped Isobel as one of sadness.

Reginald is really dead, thought Isobel once more, and soon she could have a new beginning. True, she had not been able to produce an heir. Therefore, Isobel knew that she would be relegated to the dower house in Warwickshire, but she was sure she would be welcome here at Wren House in London. Her husband’s brother and heir, Lord Charles had said as much. He sat beside her, fairly bristling with excitement. He is rejoicing almost as much as I am, thought Isobel. If Reginald had hung on another few months from the wasting disease he battled for nearly two years, Charles would have had to escape the wrath of the moneylenders by fleeing the continent. Lord Charles, second son of the sixth Duke of Warwick, was as rackety as they came, but there was no real harm in him. Of course he drank and gambled too much, as did all his peers, but Isobel knew that deep down, Charles was a good man. At least he wasn’t heartless and cold like his brother. But enough about Reginald. He was dead. She may only be the Dowager Duchess of Warwick, but she was free. Free to  begin a new life. She had done her duty and now she was about to receive her reward.

The solicitor, Mr. Pickens cleared his throat, signaling that the reading of the will would commence. The family hadn’t understood the delay and Mr. Pickens, ever the stickler for propriety had refused to say. No one but he and a handful of servants had seen the black-veiled woman slip silently into the room with a young boy in tow. They stood in the back, the woman clinging to her son’s hand. That was Pickens’ cue. He began to read.
“The ninth of April in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seventeen. I, Reginald Wilbur Percival Aiken, 7th Duke of Warwick, Marquess of Crewes, and Viscount of Fenwick, being of sound mind hereby bequeath…”

Pickens’s voice flowed over Isobel like a dream. He named servants and sums that were less than Isobel’s pin money, but to each servant the sum was a boon. The list of servants seemed to go on forever with names she did not recognize. It did not concern her. Pickens droned on past second cousins and cousins. There were no surprises. Those Reginald had approved of were rewarded handsomely. Those of whom he had disapproved were made to feel his displeasure from beyond the grave, including his sister, Letitia, who had wed a loose screw and was living to regret it. Letitia had not bothered to attend the reading.

“And to my wife…” Here Pickens paused and Isobel sat up a little straighter.

“…to my wife,” repeated Pickens seeming loathe to continue, “Adriana…”

There was a universal gasp. Isobel looked hard at Mr. Pickens.

“Surely, Mr. Pickens, one of your clerks has erred. My name is not Adriana.” Isobel’s voice was tinged with ice, something she had perfected in her four years as marchioness and two years as duchess.




  1. I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!

  2. I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!
    Following on GFC

    Shelf Full of Books