For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Roseanna M. White. Roseanna is a bestselling, Christy Award winning author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please tell us something interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I’m probably one of the most boring people in the world, LOL, but… hmm … though I write primarily historical romance, I divide my reading time fairly equally between that, contemporary romance/romantic suspense, fantasy (especially fairy tale retellings), and non-fiction.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
In Edwardian London, not all that glitters is gold as a lady and an intelligence officer’s secret mission take them from the city’s dazzling ballrooms to its covert intelligence offices.
Sir Merritt Livingstone has spent a decade serving the monarch in the field, but when pneumonia lands him behind a desk in the War Office Intelligence Division just as they’re creating a new secret intelligence branch, he’s intent on showing his worth. He suspects an aristocrat of leaking information to Germany as tensions mount between the two countries, but he needs someone to help him prove it, so he turns to The Imposters, Ltd. No one knows who they are, but their results are beyond compare.
Left with an estate on the brink of bankruptcy after their father’s death, Lady Marigold Fairfax and her brother open a private investigation firm for the elite to spy on the elite. Dubbed The Imposters, Ltd., their anonymous group soon becomes the go-to for the crème of society who want answers delivered surreptitiously. But the many secrets Marigold learns about her peers pale in comparison to her shock when she and her brother are hired to investigate her best friend’s father as a potential traitor.
Lady Marigold is determined to discover the truth for her friend’s sake, and she’s more determined still to keep her heart from getting involved with this enigmatic new client . . . who can’t possibly be as noble as he seems.
Why did you choose to write a story set around a PI firm?
I actually had a dream about it! Not often can I claim that as inspiration for my stories, but I woke up one day from a dream about an Edwardian-era PI firm called the Imposters. I only had vague impressions, of course, but I knew they used disguises to spy on high society, that it involved a brother-sister duo, and another twist I saved for book 2. 😉 I jotted down the idea and then waited another year or so for more to come to me to turn it into an actual book plot instead of just a concept.
How does writing about a PI firm interact with MI5 and the intelligence community at the time?
In reality … not at all. In my fictional world, the Imposters are called upon by Sir Merritt, who’s been recently assigned to the new division called MI5 as they attempted to combine the efforts of army, navy, and police intelligence branches under one umbrella. He needs some help proving a colleague innocent of the worst possible suspicions—espionage and treason. And the Imposters prove to be just the people to lend him a hand while he recovers from some health issues.
In the story, the characters have a connection to the Edwardian circus. Can you tell us more about what the circus would have looked like at the time and how it intersects with your story?
This part was so much fun! I wanted my aristocratic investigators to be capable of some amazing physical stunts and derring-do, so as I pondered where they could have learned it … and why these nobles would need to work for a living … it hit me. Their father had wasted his fortune on entertainment like circuses and theater groups and traveling acrobats! Which not only made for an enchanted childhood, it allowed Lady Marigold and her brother Yates to pick up some skills most aristocrats would never learn.
Facing bankruptcy, they dismissed all their other servants and now their whole estate is run by them and the Caesars, a family of retired circus performers. Which means a stable full of lions and panthers instead of horses, “servants” who are ringmasters and lion tamers and trapeze artists, and fun wherever you turn.
One of your characters is all about frugal fashion. Can you tell us more about how she would have altered a less-expensive wardrobe to look fashionable during the early 1900s?
Wherever there is high fashion, there’s a cheap knock-off! And Lady Marigold has the advantage of both an attic full of high-quality dresses from decades past and a circus costume creator at her disposal. Together, they remake her mother’s and grandmother’s old gowns; they dye them, add lace and beading, cut off excess fabric, add new panels, sew on feathers and sequins …
The result is an audacious wardrobe that absolutely overpowers and outshines the rather normal-looking Lady Marigold … which is exactly her point. People always notice her hats, but never her face. Leaving her free to go about her more secretive business.
Were resources easy or difficult to find on these topics? Do you have a favorite resource?
Most of my circus research was done online, where there are some fabulous websites dedicated to the history of the circus. I also very much enjoyed writing the Caesars, my circus troupe, as a Romani family; my husband has done some work among the Romani in Bulgaria, and I am fascinated by the culture of these historical wanderers!
For the MI5 side of things, I started again with internet research but ended up ordering an ENORMOUS book all about England’s first formal, unified intelligence division. I didn’t even attempt to read the whole thing, but the early chapters on the formation of MI5 were quite helpful!
As for the fashion … I’ve long had many, many books on that. My favorite is called “Fashion” by the Kyoto Fashion Institute. It has such stunning photographs, and wonderful descriptions, too.
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
I discovered a true story I so wanted to include! It happened exactly when my book is set, and even in the Fairfaxes neighborhood! And it was about … get this … a FAKE HEIRESS. A young lady and her mother moved to the area, claiming to be rich and living like it. The lovely young woman soon had many beaux, and before long she was engaged to a wealthy doctor. Her cover story was that her inheritance hadn’t been released yet, it was being held until her 21st birthday, so this doctor was suckered into paying for all these ladies’ expenses.
Well, one day the daughter’s new car went off a seaside cliff, quite by accident. But when she came to, she realized that it was all too much, that she wanted out of the lies and deception, so she ran away, letting everyone assume she’d died in the crash. She went off to Scotland to start afresh … but was discovered within a couple months.
I SO wanted to find a way to work that in, but it just didn’t fit. So it remains a fun, but unused, bit of history for me. =)
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
Of course! Book 2 in the Imposters will be coming in March 2024, A Noble Scheme. This one follows two of our other Imposters, Gemma and Graham, as they go off to rescue a kidnapped boy. In A Beautiful Disguise we meet them both and know they’re at odds, but we don’t know why. In A Noble Scheme, you get their whole story, and some adventure besides! The circus themes are played down in that one, but their theater training takes center stage.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
One of the key themes from A Beautiful Disguise is about the masks we all choose to wear before the world. We craft them so carefully … we hide behind them … and yet we’re then disappointed that no one knows the “real us.” I hope that through Marigold’s adventures, we can all better appreciate that we, at our deepest, truest level, are so very beautiful in the Lord’s sight.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Roseanna, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy
It’s available at all the major retailers, and you can purchase signed copies (and tie-in merchandise!) directly from me on my website.
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
You can find my website at RoseannaMWhite.com, and I’m on the major social media platforms @RoseannaMWhite too. =)
We’re off next week for the US Labor Day holiday. The following week, Denise Weimer will be joining us to talk about her latest historical romance. See you then!