When we met romance novelist Andrea Pickens last week, we asked her about the inspiration for her last three books, a trilogy centered on the exploits of three young women on their first missions after leaving a top-secret training facility run by British intelligence during the Napoleonic wars. “It always struck me that a lot of Regencies, well…” Pickens paused, recalibrating her answer. “So rarely in those novels do you find a heroine with a little kickass in her. I just thought it would be fun to turn the tables and have the women be the sword-wielding, swashbuckling action heroes for a change.” And how—trained by the finest operatives in Europe, the three women can rig an explosive or dance across the ballroom floor with equal aplomb, leaving their male counterparts in stunned disbelief.
“There are so many hints of the modern era in the Regency,” she continued, noting the intrigues that accompanied the shifts in European political power as well as shifting cultural values that saw a rise in sexual experimentation and drug use. All of these elements are woven into her stories; The Scarlet Spy, for example, includes a chapter set at a discreet party where the main course is Turkish delight generously laced with cannabis. (There are also a few subtly anachronistic details; the spies do yoga workouts each morning, and Santayana’s early 20th-century line about those who don’t study history pops up as a bit of dialogue.)
Pickens’s fascination with the period’s revolutionary aspects continues to inform her fiction; her next series will focus on a trio of scientifically-inclined women—a chemist, an archaeologist, and a botanist—each of whom has a dark secret in her past that requires the intercession of a romantic hero. Originally, she confessed, she had wanted to write a fourth book about the school for spies, this time focusing on Lord Lynsey, its enigmatic sponsor. “But my new editor thought it might be time to move on,” she said wistfuly. (She hasn’t abandoned the idea completely, and can in fact recount the plot in elaborate detail.)
Tonight, Pickens will be one of the featured guests at Lady Jane’s Salon, a new reading series for romance novelists co-sponsored by the literary website Beatrice.com (created by GalleyCat senior editor Ron Hogan) and Share the Love, a non-profit organization that donates “gently used” romance novels to women’s shelters and other facilities assisting women. Her reading, with novelist Hope Tarr, will begin at 7 p.m. at Madame X; subsequent readings will take place on the first Monday of each month.