2023 Pet of the Year Contest

Author Q&A: Houstonian Celeste Connally

Cindy Burnett
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Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord

Houstonian author Celeste Connally’s (formerly S.C. Perkins) new novel, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord, publishes next week. Set in London in 1815, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord follows Lady Petra Forsyth, daughter of the Earl of Holbrook, who has made a shocking proclamation: she announces that she will never marry.

Houstonian author Celeste Connally’s (formerly S.C. Perkins) new novel, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord, publishes next week. Set in London in 1815, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord follows Lady Petra Forsyth, daughter of the Earl of Holbrook, who has made a shocking proclamation. After losing her beloved fiancé in an accident three years earlier, she announces that she will never marry. A woman of independent means, Petra sees no reason to cede her wealth and freedom to any man now that the love of her life is gone. But when ballroom gossip suggests that a longtime friend has died of a fit due to her “melancholia” while in the care of a questionable physician, Petra vows to use her status to dig deeper – uncovering a private asylum where men pay to have their wives and daughters locked away, or worse. Just as Petra has reason to believe her friend is alive, a shocking murder proves more danger is afoot than she thought. 

Library Journal gave this one a starred review: "VERDICT: The fast-paced, witty plot benefits from a variety of supporting characters, including Petra’s feisty lady’s maid, a childhood friend, and a street urchin who runs errands not appropriate for a lady. A cliffhanger implies that there are more adventures to come. For fans of headstrong women sleuths and readers of Deanna Raybourn and Kerry Greenwood."

Celeste Connally is an Agatha Award nominee, and a former freelance writer and editor. Along with the Lady Petra Inquires Regency-set mysteries, she also writes the Ancestry Detective cozy mystery series as S.C. Perkins. A lifelong devotee of historical novels and adaptations fueled by her passion for history – plus weekly doses of PBS Masterpiece – Celeste loves reading and writing about women from the past who didn’t always do as they were told. You can find Celeste on Instagram and Facebook at @celesteconnallyauthor and at celesteconnally.com.

Celeste answers some questions that I posed to her about Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord:

What inspired you to start writing Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord?

I was watching a lot of period dramas such as Pride and Prejudice and Bridgerton during the pandemic – most of which I’d already seen before, of course – but this time I really took note of how the character of the unmarried spinster was always depicted as a sad, pitiable woman. Yet, I knew these women had to be really tough on the inside to make it through life in such a patriarchal world where they had few rights, and oftentimes very little social respect due to their spinster status.

Suddenly, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it would be to write a mystery set during the Regency years (1811–1820) where the main character was unmarried and could use all her unheralded internal strengths to help right wrongs – especially on behalf of other women. And then when I found articles about how women could be relegated to an insane asylum by their male relatives for little or no reason – and were almost never released – I knew right away I had the plot for Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord.

What kind of research did you have to do?

While I already had some notion of this, I learned very quickly that those of us who write the Regency (no matter what the genre) are held to a very high standard when it comes to getting our period-specific facts correct. From hairstyles, to clothes, to manners, to carriages, and the list goes on, I had to do quite a bit of research to make certain I was writing faithful to the time period. 

One of the biggest things I had to do was check my usage of various words or phrases to see if they were indeed used during early- to mid-19th century, and I found that process both fun and interesting! For instance, to my shock, I found the phrase “tack room” – which I initially used in my book’s very first sentence – was not used until the 1920s, and thus I had to change it to use “harness room” instead. 

However, while I want to be spot-on to the Regency era, I had to accept I was going to make mistakes. I reminded myself of all the historical movies and miniseries I’ve watched that contained a few anachronisms, and realized how I still enjoyed them regardless. It helped me to get over my fear of making period-specific mistakes, and I can only hope readers will be willing to overlook any errors as well! Nevertheless, all the research was so fascinating and enjoyable, and I truly loved every second of it.

Can you share something with me about your book that is not in the blurb?

While my main character, Lady Petra Forsyth, may have declared herself as never wishing to marry, that doesn’t mean she’s given up on romance…

Do you have any say in what your book cover looks like?

My publisher, Minotaur Books, is fantastic, and they absolutely give me some say in my cover. My editor asked me to send in thoughts on what the cover might look like, as well as visuals that both inspired me and might inspire the cover designer. I was then sent two gorgeous options, both of which I would have been happy with, but we felt the cover featuring the stately home best defined the book. From there, I only requested a couple of small tweaks because the cover designer did such an amazing job.

Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?

I recently turned in book two in my Lady Petra Inquires series, titled All’s Fair in Love and Treachery. As the title hints, it’ll will revolve around the unraveling of some secrets in Lady Petra’s world, as well as the real-life three days of city-wide celebrations that took place after London heard the news that Napoleon had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. It was fascinating to research and really fun to write, and I’m hoping it will be a satisfying read.

What are you reading now and what have you read recently that you loved?

I’m currently reading and loving A Traitor in Whitehall by Julia Kelly, which is a first-in-a-series mystery set in England during World War II. I’ll name two I really loved recently: Death and Croissants by Ian Moore, which is a delightful Agatha Christie-esque mystery set in France’s Loire Valley and features a grumpy British hotelier protagonist. The other is Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun by Elle Cosimano, which is the third book in the Finlay Donovan series, all of which are incredibly fun, so well written, and highly recommended (and excellent on audiobook as well).

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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