I’m delighted to be interviewing Maggie Sims, author of the School of Enlightenment Series. Her romances are of a spicier subgenre than mine and I’ve been looking forward to this chat. Welcome, Mags!
Before we get carried away about books and writing, won’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for hosting me!
My love of reading started early. Even prior to my teen years, I would ask to be left at the public library for hours on a Saturday or during summer. I read Jane Eyre for fun, long before it was assigned in high school. In between the classics, I found the rounders of Harlequin and Silhouette books – anyone else old enough to remember the lavender covers?
My other big hobby is travel. Before marrying my dad, my mother was one of those glamorous flight attendants on Pan Am international flights. I inherited a passion for any and all travel from her – I can barely stand to eat at the same restaurant twice, for want of discovering new places.
My undergrad was at a small liberal arts college, giving me more opportunity to read and to learn to write better before I turned to business. I earned a CPA and an MBA and moved up the ranks of the corporate world.
Between that and living in New York City for much of my twenties, I was way too busy to settle down. Two moves and many trips later, I ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area and met the love of my life at the tender age of 32. We’ve been together ever since and retired a year before COVID. We currently reside outside Austin, Texas and have one old dog and two four-month-old kittens.
I love that we live in the same state. :)
What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite book or two? How about a favorite author?
If left to my own devices, I read romance almost exclusively. In fact, I joined a friend’s book club to force myself to get some exposure beyond romance. Within romance, I read pretty much all heat levels except sweet, and all periods – from ancient times to future, from paranormal to historical fiction (fictionalized versions of historical figures and events).
Does any author you know have a favorite book? I’d be amazed! Keeping it PG-13, I’ll pick two of my favorite comfort reads – the books I reread when my brain needs a break. They’re really different, so you’ll get what I mean when I say I pan-read romance:
You write erotica. I don’t read erotica and can’t imagine writing it. To me, it’s like a wild frontier. Even prolonged, steamy sex scenes make me somewhat uncomfortable. So this is new territory for me.
Ssooo…first, I don’t write erotica. But thank you for mentioning it. LOL! It gives me an opportunity to clarify.
Erotica does not necessarily include an HEA (happily ever after) or even an HFN – happy for now – ending. It’s about the sex; plot, story arc, and character development are secondary. (And if you’d like to further investigate the difference, I can point you…😉 teasing!)
Erotic romance on the other hand is a romance story, full character development – goals, motivations, conflicts, both internal and external, and a romance plot arc. What most in the industry specify as erotic romance is when the sex is integral to the characters’ journey: if you take the sex out of the story, the story doesn’t make sense. Example, trying to keep it PG-13 – in my first book, the heroine sees her hosts (cousin and his wife) fooling around and is curious. The 18-year-old turns to her cousin’s best friend to explore that curiosity, which leads to her being compromised and them needing to marry, etc. etc. – and that is only the first half of the book. Erotic romance is also different from steamy romance in the language used (think other four letter words vs. euphemisms for body parts, even in a more open-door romance).
Good to know!
When writing the more erotic scenes, is the writer concerned with showing tender emotions and the characters' physical reactions to each other?
In an erotic romance, it’s still about the romance. So while the characters might engage in sexual play earlier in their relationship than in a less steamy romance, their emotions are still engaged. Or maybe they experience unexpected emotion during the intimacy, or just after. The sex is included in the story because it’s a physical manifestation of their attraction to one another, which is emotion-based. Their thoughts and their physical reactions are on the page (if it’s done right) so the reader can relate to the characters’ growth in the relationship. It’s still a romance at the core of the story.
Would you mind going over the heat levels in romance? I’m assuming that erotica has varying heat levels within the subgenre as well?
Within erotic romance and erotica the differentiations are actually a different scale, honestly – for the different kinks (read kinks as personal preferences for sex, just as all of us have our own personal preferences of how and when and where we like to be touched). There are hundreds of nuances of BDSM (bondage, dominance/submission, sadism and masochism – a person can enjoy literally only one kind of bondage and nothing else, or that and some dominance, etc. etc.). Even without bondage and impact play, there are role plays and many other kinks/preferences…there are threesomes and foursomes and reverse harem, etc. (You asked!)
For overall romance, the general standard I see in Facebook groups for readers is as follows:
Mild (ex. PG movie, Hallmark, “sweet”, some handholding, a chaste kiss, no detailed descriptions of intimacy, any intercourse and steamy scenes occur off the page or it fades to black, lots of emotional tension. There are further levels within this of no sex before marriage – one of my fellow Austin-area TWRP authors is Mormon, for instance.)
Medium (ex. PG-13 movie, second base, kissing and touching and intimacy shared but less focus on the body parts, majority of the sexy stuff is still behind closed doors)
Steamy (ex. R movie, sex on the page, doesn’t fade to black but might follow the participants through the door and into the bed)…on Instagram, ‘steamy’ refers to this and level 4, FYI, in case folks follow bookstagrammers for reading suggestions
HOT HOT HOT (ex. NC-17 movie, explicit sex, graphic language, anatomically descriptive in detail)…on TikTok this is called ‘spicy’ FYI
As a last note on this, you’re not alone in being uncomfortable with this subgenre of romance – spicy romance authors have been arguing with Amazon for the last two years, since they moved their ‘erotic romance’ category out of romance, and under Literature & Fiction / Erotica / Romantic Erotica. This stinks for authors put there (they call it ‘the Amazon dungeon’) because books under Erotica will not come up in general searches by readers – e.g. “Regency Romance”). But to find more categories of erotica and erotic romance, take a look at the Kindle store categories under Erotica.
Thank you for explaining all of this with patience and eloquence. What inspired you to write erotica... I see now I must correct myself... erotic romance? Please tell us about your writing and your writing journey.
I love sharing how I ended up writing the stories I chose to start my career as a romance author.
My mum is British, and I’m of an age where many of the full-length romance novels from my early romance-reading days were historical – Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsay, etc.
More recently, I found Maya Banks (her early books were much better than recent ones) and a couple other spicy / erotic romance authors. Then Fifty Shades came out and so many readers were looking for more of that, and authors were making bank.
Once or twice in my corporate career I had breaks between jobs. Back around 2000 I had one and I started to try to write a Harlequin romance novella (it’s still unfinished and has pay phones in it, so that will never see the light of day!). When we retired, I found I did not sit still well, and my husband did not enjoy my project management efforts left over from my corporate life (go figure…). And I was reading a lot.
I wondered how historical romance authors would tell a more kinky story. But when I searched for historical erotic romance, there were only a handful of authors who had written that. The business side of my brain woke up and said, “if you’re going to attempt this, go for the niche market where there is higher demand and less supply.” Sadly, in the 5 years it took me to learn the craft, write, rewrite, rewrite again, and rewrite again Sophia’s Schooling, there are a lot more on the market. And younger readers don’t read as much historical romance.
I am still amused at the two sides of my brain attempting to make this profitable. 😊
I cannot imagine you being anything but successful at whatever you attempt.
Do you feel that there are misunderstandings about your chosen subgenre?
Well, given that you did not differentiate between erotica and erotic romance, sure… 😊 But my guess is that many readers who don’t know that would probably not read either type of story. And that is ok. I’ll never (other than for peer reviews) knowingly pick up a book where the couple doesn’t have sex as part of their journey. As I told my friends when we were single – none of us would buy a $100 returnable dress without trying it on, so why would we want to commit to someone for the rest of our lives without testing all interactions for the right fit? But I also respect the fact that while that is right for me, it’s not for everyone. So I market accordingly, and tag bookstagrammers who read what I know to be at least something close to what I write, etc. I’d rather people read my book and love it, knowing what they’re getting, so they aren’t disappointed…and so I don’t get bad reviews, of course.
Your new series, School of Enlightenment, has a historical setting. Did you have to do a lot of research in that regard? Please tell us about it and about the first book in the series, Sophia’s Schooling.
The School of Enlightenment (4 books eventually) is a secret school that empowers young women of all classes in Regency England to take their future and their pleasure in their own hands. It helps titled young ladies navigate their husbands’ world of the House of Lords to influence the passing of laws that protect women and children, it helps working class women learn to manage their own finances. And yes, it teaches these ladies to know their bodies and how to derive pleasure from sex.
Book 1 is about the untitled cousin of an earl who was orphaned, and the earl’s best friend—a second son with a secret he considers shameful—who is suddenly thrust into the earldom.
Book 2 is about a working class girl with East Indian heritage who wants to open a bakery combining British pastries and her great-grandmother’s recipes.
Book 3 is about a widow who owns an apothecary and an earl who is connected to the school…but I haven’t figured out what I’m sharing in the blurb yet, so I’m keeping that vague.
Each of these books, in addition to having all the romance steps of discovery and interest, doubt and dark moments, and ultimately a grand gesture and an HEA, have some historical details about laws and road surfaces and workhouses, and tell a story of strong women who navigated behind the scenes, around the same time that the Blue Stocking Society was working out in the open for changes. I am just sad that my research had to be mostly from my home due to COVID.
If anyone is interested despite all my warnings above 😊 then Sophia’s Schooling can be found here on all major retail platforms. Or if anyone is unsure and wants to dip their toes in my world without committing to buy a book, sign up for my newsletter that talks about books, wine and travel once a month, and they’ll receive a free 23k word novella. Sign-up link is on my website www.maggiesims.com.
Love the premise! Is the next book in the works?
Book 2 is actually available for preorder on some platforms currently here and everywhere on October 19.
There is also a spinoff short story from Book 2 that is coming out in a winter holiday anthology on October 18 – and I didn’t even ask for that date.
Books 3 & 4 are in the works now – yay!
Wow! Go, you! Any last thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my books and my subgenre. I know your audience is less likely to be mine, but I hope this has been somewhat informative. My experience to date with The Wild Rose Press has offered me the chance to get to know many fun, friendly authors, especially you.
It’s also helped me read quite a bit outside even romance – if I may plug the suspense book Not My Child by Lis Angus, and the YA Fantasy From Brick & Darkness by J.L. Sullivan – they are TWRP 2022 debut authors like you and I.
Your book is one of the next on my list to read, and I’m excited to continue this journey with you.
If your readers want to know more, they are welcome to visit me at www.maggiesims.com, and/or follow me on social media (I’m mostly on Instagram). They are also welcome to email me directly, especially if they have specific questions or concerns, at firstname.lastname@example.org. 😊
Thanks so much for joining us today, Maggie. This has been great -- educational, interesting, and fun. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through The Wild Rose Press and look forward to sharing our writing journey, too! I just love your sense of humor and your confidence. I wish you much success.
And now, for those of you who might be interested in some extra spice, following is more information about Maggie's books along with some excerpts!
Sophia’s Schooling (School of Enlightenment Book 1)
An innocent country girl...a jaded earl...an education in pleasure.
Orphaned at eighteen, Sophia has learned love means loss. Now she must leave her country home to navigate the opulence of the London Season, although she has no desire for romance or a husband.
Edward, the newest Earl of Peterborough, is struggling with the business of his family estate. He has shunned marriage due to a shameful secret, but with his title comes the need for heirs.
Despite their misgivings, Sophia and Edward cannot resist their attraction. When she accidentally discovers his penchant for spankings, her curiosity is her undoing. A clandestine meeting risks a scandal. Only marriage to a reluctant bridegroom can save her reputation. But perhaps the School of Enlightenment can give her an education in love.
Edward gave a mental snort. “You continue to disobey orders.”
Sophia groaned in frustration, probably suspecting where his statement was leading. “I’m very sorry.” She sucked in a breath. “I shan’t do it again. As I came out alone, I thought it would be safe.” She sent him a sidelong glance. “Is this a punishable offense, my lord?”
Perfect. She knew she was wrong. She saw what was coming. Her side-eyed glance told him she mayhap even invited it. Who was he to refuse a girl a spanking?
He took a deep breath, wishing… No. She’s not mine to covet. But she is mine to punish tonight.
His eyes shuttered as he considered. Was he taking advantage of her naiveté about Ton rules? He knew she’d enjoyed the last punishment and could not deny either of their desires. He almost heard the turn of the key as his conscience was again locked away.
He pushed, “We have been over this, Sophia. Punishment is an important learning tool. Hopefully, it shall be an incentive for you to obey specific directions in the future.”
Frustrated, she crossed her gloved arms. “Darn it. My feet hurt so much. I did not anticipate my bottom becoming sore, too. I shan’t be able to sit or stand comfortably.”
That wasn’t a no.
Purchase Sophia's Schooling.
Penelope’s Passion (School of Enlightenment Book 2)
Schooled in the art of pleasure, her real passion is baking. Required to marry, the earl’s heir finds his new courtesan more to his taste.
1816 - London
After her mother's death, Penelope Wood's hope of opening a bakery falls victim to the real need to support herself. When four retired courtesans present her with a temporary yet lucrative path back to her dream, she wants to hear more. Attending the School of Enlightenment, participating in a Virgin Auction, and becoming a courtesan all sound feasible. The most important rule--do not fall in love.
Lord Michael Slade, heir to the Earl of Mansfield, loves his family above all else, cooks for relaxation, and revels in his membership to a discreet spanking club. But his father is ill, and his mother is pushing him to marry. Even so, when he meets a dark-haired beauty who doesn’t mind a good spanking and discovers she's up for auction, he can't let her go to another man. He has to have her...at least until he finds a wife.
With an inevitable marriage looming and a vow to remain faithful to his hypothetical bride once he's engaged, both Penelope and Michael must protect their hearts, even as they find a connection they cannot deny.
“Hmm, a proper greeting first, eh? And a thank you, mayhap?”
“Of course, my lord, I am sorry,” Penelope said, aghast. Gor, how could I have forgotten my training so easily? Leaning up, she brought her lips to his in a gentle kiss. “Welcome, ’tis lovely to have you here with me.”
“All is well, Pen. I was teasing you.” Michael smiled. “But I would not be upset by you removing one article of clothing to thank me.” He arched his brows in hope and took one step back, releasing her.
“Oh!” She considered, tilting her head. Then, with a small smile, she bent and removed a slipper.
“Will that do, my lord?” She slid him a sidelong look. Internally, she berated herself. I should be
thinking of these games. But I like that he created this one. I like playful Michael a lot, I shall do better in the future.
He strolled over and fingered the bread peel, his lips pursed. “At the very least, the pair is really one article of clothing as you always wear them together. Beyond that, I can see I will need to be more specific. Fair enough, young lady.”
Preorder Penelope's Passion.
Roslynn’s Rebellion (free prequel for newsletter subscribers)
He wants to bury his secrets. She is creating a new secret school. Can they work together?
1813 - London
Lady Roslynn St. Pierre has no need for a typical Ton husband. Frustrated with the constraints women are forced to endure, she desires a partner who will show her unbridled passion as well as supporting her ambitions to empower women. If the rumors are correct, the Earl of Suffolk might be precisely the man for her.
Nicholas needs a perfect wife. To advance his parliamentary agenda, he must forge a spotless reputation in Society, putting to bed the whispers of his membership in a spanking club, which so scandalized the Ton. Besides, his lady wife will undoubtedly have no interest in his more prurient desires.
Roslynn is determined to win his heart and satisfy his secret needs. But her plans go awry when her idea for a secret school for women conflict with Nicholas’ expectations in a wife. Together, they must determine whether Ton expectations will dictate their marriage or they will forge their own relationship.
About the Author
Maggie Sims began her love affair with romance before her teen years, drawn to the Regency by her mum’s British influence. In her twenties, she did her best to live the Carrie Bradshaw life in New York City, albeit with less expensive shoes and more books
Despite reading hundreds of romance novels in her life, she was still blown away when she met the love of her life, an ex-Marine cinnamon roll with creative woodworking and culinary skills.
Having retired from corporate life, they live in Central Texas and are parents to a varying number of dogs and cats. When not writing, Maggie is a wine enthusiast, a travel junkie, and a romance reading fiend. She also sporadically crochets for KnotsofLove.org and does just enough exercise for that second glass of wine at night.
To find out more about Maggie’s latest reads, favorite wines, and travel destinations, sign up for her newsletter and follow her on social media.
It's no secret that I prefer fat HEAs. Where better than in a beautiful romance?
From me to you with a smile.
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