She has two books in stores this month, released by Sourcebooks Casablanca: THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH, set in the exotic world of a 19th century circus, and THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, a fast-paced and passionate retelling of the story of two timeless lovers who would die for each other. This gorgeous romance gives the poem a whole new depth and a happy ending.
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us, Mary Ellen. Good to see such great reviews for both books. You’ve said one was inspired by Noyes’ “The Highwayman.” The other is an 1875 circus romance. These are two very different themes. What intrigued you by each?
The seed for my circus romance was planted when I researched my 1893-1923 generational saga, HEAVEN’S THUNDER, and learned that the circus had visited Denver in the early 1900s. A big circus. With elephants! And what was then called a cameleopard (giraffe). Curiosity piqued, I began to research traveling circuses. Although no one circus is the basis for THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH, P.T. Barnum's comes close.
Emmett Kelley, arguably the most famous clown ever, was a friend of my dad’s. Emmett would appear in centre ring, in the middle of a huge spotlight, a white, upside-down smile dipping toward his chin. In his white-gloved clown hands he’d carry a broom and dustpan. He'd step outside the spotlight and start sweeping it into a smaller circle. Then, smaller. When the spotlight was no bigger than a dinner plate, he'd sweep it into his dustpan. To me, a little kid, it was magic! My heroine, Calliope Kelley, is named for Emmett Kelley.
Yes, at one time traveling circuses carried magic to rural areas throughout the country. My mother told me one used to set up every summer in her small town’s fairgrounds. She said my uncle and a couple of his friends would help set up for free tickets. How fortunate you were to see the iconic Emmett Kelley. He is a legend.
THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH came out of research you did on an earlier project and your unique connection to the circus. What drew you to the theme of “The Highwayman” for THE LANDLORD’S BLACKEYED DAUGHTER? And please tell us it has a happy ending.
When I was in grade school one of our assignments was to read a poem in front of the class. I couldn’t decide between “The Highwayman” and Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” (I love horses). Why yes, I was an overachiever, why do you ask?
I chose Alfred Noyes. The bell rang before I finished and no one moved. At that moment I decided I’d be an actress when I grew up. And I’d write a romance inspired by my favorite poem. I’ve achieved both goals, although THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER took longer (I played Nellie is South Pacific at age 19).
First, I want everyone to know that THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER has a happy ending. And now, here’s an excerpt:
1 April, 1787
Elizabeth Wyndham gazed at her reflection in the mirror above her dressing table. Dispassionately, she scrutinized her ink-black hair, which fell in ringlets on either side of her face, not unlike a spaniel’s ears. A scowl caused her delicately arched brows to descend toward her dark brown eyes—so dark that from a distance they looked like lampblack. “You’re a fraud,” she said to her image. “A cheat.”
Grace’s face flushed. “Ye’re an authoress, Mistress, not a . . . one of them . . . improper ladies.”
“Tie them around my neck and wrist, please.”
“I don’t anticipate trouble,” she said. “I’ve known these cats since they were cubs. I’ve fed and watered them.” She wrinkled her nose and adjusted her mustache again. “I’ve even cleaned their cages.”
And I’m almost finished with the first draft of an historical romance, THE MIDNIGHT BRIDGE. While traveling to London, my heroine’s, coach is held up by a highwayman named “Conky Blue.” His real name is Trev Kendal, he’s a Cambridge law student, and he robbed the coach to win a wager (he returns the stolen goods). He’s also the adopted son of self-proclaimed Texas emperor, Michael Kendal. When my heroine leaves England to join her uncle’s household, she’s dismayed to find herself falling in love with Trev, who is now Michael’s lawyer. Because even though she’s never seen his face, she loves Conky Blue…
Ah, another story where a highwayman plays a major part. Sounds great, Mary Ellen. Hope we see it in print soon.