LJ Talks to Adriana Herrera, Author of "A Caribbean Heiress in Paris"

Adriana Herrera is well known in the romance world for her contemporaries (“Dreamers” series), but this year, she’s launching a historical series, “Las Leonas,” featuring three Dominican women in Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The first book in the series, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris (HQN, Jun.), features Luz Alana Heith-Benzan, who enters into a marriage of convenience with James Evanston Sinclair, Earl of Darnick, to help her expand her family’s rum business.

Why did you decide to make the move into historical romance? And how did you decide on Paris and the Exposition Universelle of 1889 as the setting?

Historical was my entry to romance. I discovered Johanna Lindsey in eighth grade, circa 1992, while visiting family here in the U.S. and fell deeply, irrevocably in love. My move to this space of romance is more a matter of publishing finally being in a place where they’re open to this kind of story—I’ve wanted to write historical for a long time. As for the setting, in the fall of 2019 I was planning for an upcoming trip to Paris and I randomly landed on an article from a Dominican newspaper talking about us attending the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The piece went on to say that the King Leopold of Belgium had snubbed our exhibition because Ulises Heureaux, our president at the time, had not paid back a loan. A scandal like that just begged to be researched! Turns out that indeed, the Dominican Republic, along with another 13 Latin American countries, was in the Exposition that year. More than 32 million people from all over the world came to be a part of the celebration. The Exposition Universelle was one of the first truly global events in world history. It was just too good of a setting to pass up.

Could you talk a bit about the research you did? There are so many great details that were obviously rooted in fact, from the Vietnamese restaurant where Luz Alana and Evan have lunch, to the wills and trusts the characters have to navigate, to a certain chair owned by the Prince of Wales.

Research was the fun part! With this series I wanted to center Latinx literature/culture/music in history, as well as highlight our presence at the 1889 Exposition. I wanted to showcase that our presence in Paris that year was not incidental. That we brought with us vibrant and thriving cultures. There is a very long history of people from the Americas—the Caribbean in particular—living and studying in Paris, and I wanted to render that as much as possible. When you travel that far, you arrive with purpose, with something in your sights. That’s the tone I aimed for in this first book.

Luz Alana is incredibly thoughtful about the details of her business, from the products themselves, including a line of cordials marketed to women, to the company’s profit-sharing model. How did you go about developing the business?

Some of the business ideas came from work I did in another life! One of my first jobs after college was to work with women’s cooperatives. I used some of those experiences to inform Luz’s business model and her interest inpartnering with women vendors and traders. I also wanted to give Luz something that was just hers. She cared very much about her family’s legacy, but she needed a passion project. Something that was tied to the matriarchs of her family. I also wanted to highlight some pieces of history, like the fact that during the second half of the 19th century most of the liquor retailers in Dominican Republic were women, or the role women played all over the world as trailblazers in distilling.

Evan comes across as pretty gruff and serious, but his story has some really fun, soap opera-style elements: a secret sibling! scheming to destroy their father! a showdown set to take place at a lavish birthday party! Was that contrast fun to write?

Soap-opera style moments are truly my favorite thing to write! There is nothing I love more than a rompy, slightly bonkers historical with a strong female lead. I cut my romance teeth on Johanna Lindsey and Julie Garwood—and watched two solid hours of telenovelas every day of my childhood—so yeah, the more drama the better for me. I am an absolute goner for a heroine who stands her ground by any means necessary and a hero who is irrevocably besotted from the first moment. My hope for this book was to write a fun, frothy story that also said what needed to be said about the place of women, agency, prejudice, power dynamics, feminism, the vestiges of colonialism, etc. Striking that balance took me a few tries, but I was determined to uncompromisingly give my heroine the sweeping, steamy, passionate, over-the-top historical romance that we all love to devour.

The secondary characters are all as fully drawn as the protagonists. Can you talk a bit about why you decided to balance businesswoman Luz with an artist, Manuela, and a medical doctor, Aurora? Not to mention Luz’s precocious 10-year-old sister…

I love writing friendships, and funnily this was the first time I got to really dig into female friendships in particular. The Leonas are very much inspired by relationship with my two oldest friends. I am more the Manuela of the bunch if I’m honest! But Luz Alana made sense as the first heroine because I love writing a striver. What made Luz such a wonderful character to write was that she was bold and determined to achieve her dreams but also wanted so badly to have some fun. She just needed a safe landing, and Evan was the perfect man for that. She is also a great middle point between Aurora and Manuela. Manu gave her a nudge to be a little reckless when she needed it, and Aurora reeled her in. In terms of their professions, that was intentional. With Luz I could explore the business and tradespeople from Latin America at the Exposition, as well as the rum, of course. Through Manuela I’ll explore our participation in the arts. With Aurora, I want to show not just her vocation as a healer but her activism. Feminist thinking and work was vibrant throughout Latin America in the 19th century, but we rarely hear of those stories. As for Clarita, that one was easy! She is the 19th-century, 10-year-old Dominican version of Lydia, Winona Ryder’s character in Beetlejuice.

There’s been some talk about the “Bridgerton effect,” where viewers of the Netflix series are moved to pick up more historical romances. Have you been seeing more interest in historicals from readers lately?

It certainly sparked interest around romance in general. I also think it’s great that a period show with a Black man as a lead is such an enormous hit. I hope that means people—readers and viewers—are more open to stories with BIPOC and queer characters in historical romance.

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