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Author Interview with Jenny Hartwell

How to Court a Covert Lady is out tomorrow! Jenny was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

You can get your copy of this thrilling historical romance HERE!


Did you always know you wanted to be an author? How did you get from there to where you are today? 

My authorly aspiration didn’t rear its head until I was an adult. I was actually a high school history teacher once upon a career, and I spent a lot of hours grading dry five-paragraph essays on the fall of Rome. Academic writing was what I taught and what I’d done myself in college and grad school, so creative writing wasn’t even a twinkle in my heroine’s eye.

But everything changed the day my sister (with a creative writing degree in her pocket) said to me, “We read so many of historical romances. We should try writing one.” And so, we did. And gentle reader…that book was not very good. We had head hopping. Flat characters. Purple prose. That manuscript is on a google doc somewhere, best left to languish. Even so, the experience was beyond valuable as I learned a ton…and fell in love with writing.

My sister quit the book to focus on music, but I was determined to continue on as a solo artist. I attended my first writing conference (Emerald City Writers’ Conference) and then joined the organization that sponsors it, Emerald City Romance Writers (originally Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America).

At my first meeting, I sat in the back and hardly spoke. (Shout out to all my fellow introverts white-knuckling it through new experiences!) Fast forward a handful of years, and I was the group’s president! Along the way, I asked lots of questions, and my fellow writers were so generous with their knowledge. And now I’ve got a three-book series coming out with Dragonblade Publishing. Dreams, even those you don’t discover until you’re a full-fledged adult with a mortgage, can come true!

Historical Setting Related: How much research do you do into the time period and places you write about?

Historical authors frequently spend countless hours in research rabbit holes. Some topics, like how long would it take for a barouche pulled by two horses to travel from x to y?, aren’t that exciting. I was lucky to come to the Regency era with a history degree under my belt, which aided me greatly with a general knowledge of the time period and confidence in navigating online sources and reading primary documents. However, my Ladies Covert Academy series required that I dive into some off the beaten path topics.

In How to Court a Covert Lady, my heroine is a fencer. I didn’t know anything about fencing when I started, but by the end of the book, I could talk about ripostes, lunges, parries, en garde, and epees with ease. Maybe someday I’ll actually take a fencing lesson and can ask random people if they have six fingers on their left hand before challenging them to a duel. A girl can dream, right?

In book two in the series, the heroine is a botanist who accidentally creates an early form of pepper spray. That was some wild research. Did you know that the actual invention of mace happened in the 1960s by a couple who had an alligator named Ernest stashed in their Pittsburgh basement? I feel like that story could give Tiger King a run for its money.

And in book 3, the heroine writes fiery political treatises and partners with a group of lady reformers. For that book, I was deep in the rabbit holes of voting policy in Regency England and the creation of incredible lady reform groups who were the forerunners of the women’s suffrage movement. And sadly, I learned about the Peterloo Massacre when thousands of peaceful reformers, many of them women who’d brought their children and picnic baskets along for a day of political speeches, were attacked by soldiers on horses with their swords drawn…and their bellies likely full of beer.

Real life can be stranger than fiction, and as a historical author, I get to dive into topics both fun, bizarre and tragic to incorporate into my novels.

Writing Process: How do you handle the distractions of working from home, especially if you’re sharing the space with others?

 I know the stereotype of a writer is someone in a coffee shop jauntily typing on their laptop while sipping a latte, but I get way too distracted for that. Should I get back in line for a pastry? That must be a first date over there…and it’s not going well. Why is some cretin talking on speaker phone in public?

In essence, I’m a delicate flower. If the conditions aren’t perfect, you’d better not expect any literary blossoms from me. My conditions: silence. Empty house. Down blanket on my lap. Glass of water at hand. Maybe a chocolate break or two.

But…I’ve had to adapt over the years. We lived in our basement during a major remodel, and I would be trying to write with nail guns blasting, a literal jackhammer at work right above me, or one of the crew crooning along to his Cher playlist. (Ok, that last one was actually very cute.) So I learned to write in my car. I’d find a spot in the shade with a nice view of the water, push my seat back as far as it would go, and prop my laptop between me and the steering wheel and crank out a few pages.

And during the pandemic, when the members of my household were all at home, all the time, all talking quite loudly on their zoom calls…I was not a productive writer. I was not a productive anything. The solution? I ended up writing in my garage on an old love seat. In the winter, I was out there in a down coat and wool fingerless gloves. My garage companions were spiders, dusty lawn equipment, and the rumble of garbage trucks in the alley. But at least I was writing.

And this last year when my wrists started to give out when I was on a writing deadline, I had to adapt once more. I started writing with dictation software which allowed me to finish my book. However, this does make the empty house even more crucial, as dictating a steamy scene with witnesses is a no go.

Now, I’m not such a delicate flower. I can adapt. I still prefer writing at home in the quiet with my little blanket on my lap. But when the situation calls for it, I can be a hearty weed and survive under adverse conditions.

Did you have a favorite book or series when you were growing up?

When I was a kid, the day after going to the public library, I would pretend to be sick so I could stay home from school and read all day. I read everything.

I devoured adventure stories, like Nellie Bly, the reporter who wanted to see if she could make it around the world in 80 days. Classics like Fahrenheit 451 and Little Women. Historical recountings of important women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Helen Keller. Fantasy books, like Anne McCaffrey’s series about dragons, the Narnia books, or Piers Anthony.

And if a girl had a weapon in a story, I was in. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley was an absolute favorite, and now that I reflect on it, perhaps that’s why there’s a lady with a sword on the front of my novel!