Period romance author Jess Russell hopes to whisk her readers off to a time long-ago when women wore elegant dresses, men were chivalrous and all love stories ended happily.
Russell first created such a world in her debut book, “The Dressmaker’s Duke,” published in 2014. It is a historical romance that also incorporates rich visual details, classic conversational language and some very intense romantic scenes.
Russell is a pen name for Jessica Rausch Gibbons, a 1979 Tullahoma High School graduate who now lives with her family in New York City.
Now, Russell has returned with more romantic tension in her second book, “Mad for the Marquess.”
Russell recently set down with The Tullahoma News to talk about her latest work and her love of period romance.
A romantic beginning
Russell said she has had a longtime love of romance novels.
“I have always loved romance novels. I used to devour them in high school – my escape from rigorous ballet classes and teenage angst,” she
Favorite childhood books include well-known works from authors Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.
“My favorite books of my girlhood were ‘Jane Eyre,’ ‘Wuthering Heights,’ ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and, of course, ‘Pride and Prejudice,’” she said. “All period romances. I think the time frame being other than my own augmented the romance for me. Different clothes, different rules of life. Perhaps a more chivalrous time?”
Russell didn’t gather the courage to pen her own romantic stories until later in life, however.
“I am dyslexic. I danced or acted or made things. I never thought of trying to write. But, this one scene kept playing over and over in my head. I was approaching a certain age, OK 50, and thought, why not,” she said.
Predicting that the book wouldn’t take off, she decided to give writing a shot anyway.
“I told myself my writing would go nowhere, but I would do it anyway,” she said. “That one scene became an entire book which I entered in many contests and was fortunate enough to be offered three publishing contracts. ‘The Dressmaker’s Duke’ became a huge best-seller.”
Looking the part
Her love of history also inspired her to begin to design her own historical costumes.
“My mother taught me to sew at the age of 8. My first effort was a pair of polka dot shorts that I wore into rags. I love clothes and fashion,” she said.
Russell said she particularly enjoys turning something old into something new.
“I dedicated part of my website to a segment called ‘Trash to Treasure,’ she said. “Basically, I take a thrift store find and reinvent it. I have never liked using a conventional pattern. I make my own or, as with Trash to Treasure, I buy something readymade and take it apart and re-make it.”
Her first book was even inspired by her love of sewing.
“My first book was about a dressmaker,” she said. “As the old saying goes, write what you know. Then I found myself wondering how would I do my part to market this book? The idea came to do a sort of take on ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ I enlisted my potential readers to help me create this gown by voting on its design elements. It was actually a lot of fun.”
New title, new gown
“Mad for the Marquess” began similarly to “The Dressmaker’s Duke,” – with one scene, Russell said.
“It is the very opening of the book When Anne, my heroine, arrives at Ballencrieff Hall, an asylum in the Scottish Highlands. And her first encounter with Lord Devlin, my hero.”
Russell said she is drawn to dark characters that her readers can really get into.
“I am drawn to darker characters with real flaws,” she said. “How these people grow and learn to love is the journey I am most interested in revealing to my readers. Coming from an acting background, character drives my stories. However, plot worms its way in, insisting on a villain and side stories.”
Russell said she is proud to have written a second romance novel.
“The romance genre often gets a bad name, despite being one of the most popular choices of readers,” she said. “Many of these books can be rather light and very formulaic. Yes, you must always have a HEA (happily ever after) but how you get there is the fun. I choose to torture my lovers just a bit to really earn their HEA.”
Reality versus fiction
While in love with the Victorian and Regency eras, Russell said she is best suited for the modern era.
“Of course, as much as I love the notion of going back in time I never would,” she said. “A woman’s role was very narrow. She was basically owned by her husband, and if she did not marry, she could perhaps teach, be a companion, or go into service.
“I touch on this in ‘Mad for the Marquess.’ Several of the women in the asylum have the diagnosis of ‘female hysteria,’ which was a catch all phrase for anything from being nervous to being ‘over-sexed.’ So I will stick with my imagination and stay right in the here and now.”
So while she travels back in time through her works, she also invites her readers to come along for the ride.
“Firstly, I hope my readers are entertained, and maybe even moved,” she said. “Maybe they recognize a piece of themselves in a particular character. In this book in particular, I hope readers will come away being just a bit more accepting of the differences in folks. In this day and age we need empathy and tolerance.”
In her next book, Russell will feature a Civil War hero who takes a ball to his right shoulder, with the incident taking place in Tullahoma.
Russell’s books are available for download and in print at: The Wild Rose Press, iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
For more about Russell, visit https://jessrussellromance.com.