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October 15, 2015

Lady Emily Celebrates 10 Years: An Interview with Anne Hawkins, Literary Agent for Tasha Alexander

Posted by emily

With the recent release of THE ADVENTURESS, Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates talks about her client, bestselling author Tasha Alexander, and her 10-book Lady Emily mystery series. The first installment --- AND ONLY TO DECEIVE --- was released 10 years ago, and in honor of its anniversary, Anne reveals what she found so special about that first manuscript and why she believes Lady Emily’s popularity has only grown since then.

Question: What did you see in Tasha’s first Lady Emily manuscript (AND ONLY TO DECEIVE) that caught your attention?

Anne Hawkins: AND ONLY TO DECEIVE is a book that works on so many levels. It is, of course, a historical mystery, but it is also a novel about personal and intellectual empowerment, themes that resonate with the modern reader. Lady Emily is a charismatic character, and Tasha populates Emily’s world with a cast of interesting, even quirky people, whose actions showcase different facets of life in the Victorian era. The great charm of the book, however, is the author’s voice. By balancing an aristocratic tone with subtle humor, it draws the reader into the spirit of the historical milieu.

Q: As an agent, were you thinking then of potential for a long-term series?

AH: Absolutely. While other kinds of crime fiction can succeed as stand-alone books, mystery almost always works best as a series. Of course the key to a successful series is creating a protagonist that readers will want to follow book after book, and once I met Lady Emily, I knew that she was that kind of character. She’s smart and charming, but inwardly chafes at the restrictions society places on ladies of her class (especially as these restrictions are personified by her very proper and overbearing mother).

Another factor is setting a historical mystery in a time period that today’s readers enjoy and can relate to, and late-19th-century England is a perennial favorite. At the time AND ONLY TO DECEIVE was purchased, there weren’t many mysteries set in Victorian times, and as the acquiring editor Carolyn Marino said, “You know, Anne, Tasha could own this.”

Q: Why do you believe the series still works 10 books later?

AH: Tasha keeps changing things up from book to book. Lady Emily and her husband, Colin, have the means and opportunity to travel, so, in addition to their adventures in England, others are set in such places as Vienna, Istanbul, Paris, Venice and Greece. New locales also present an opportunity to introduce new cultures and one-time-only characters that add interest and variety.

Lady Emily lives in a world of privilege, surrounded by mansions, servants, beautiful gowns and lavish entertainments, but all that would get tiresome over 10 books without some new elements. Tasha keeps things fresh by introducing some not-so-glamorous issues of the time, such as the rise of anarchy, the suffragette movement and the dire conditions brought on by the industrial revolution, just to name a few.

Q: What makes Tasha such a marketable writer?

AH: From the very beginning, Tasha’s books have appealed to a broad readership --- not just genre mystery fans, but also readers of historical fiction, contemporary women's fiction and romance. This kind of cross-over potential keeps her readership growing.

A lot of credit goes to Tasha herself. She has a friendly, easygoing way about her, and that shines through in her personal appearances, interviews and on social media. And speaking of social media, Tasha knows that it is an author’s responsibility these days to be active and current on such platforms as Facebook and Twitter, as well as to maintain an attractive and up-to-date website. She has been conscientious about this from the beginning, and it has paid off.

Q: Would you comment on working together with Tasha on all of these books?

AH: When Tasha and I first agreed to work together, I was astonished to learn that she had written AND ONLY TO DECEIVE with a toddler running around the house. Having had a couple of toddlers of my own, I knew just what kind of dedication she must have. To her great credit, she continues to put in that same kind of hard work and discipline into every book, whether researching, writing, editing, or doing promotional activities. And she never, ever misses a deadline (music to an agent’s ears).

Tasha is a professional, and that makes for a great working relationship. When decisions need to be made, she and I always look to what will benefit her career in the long run, not what may be expedient in the short term. That sounds obvious, but sometimes matters aren’t clear cut and need to be hashed and rehashed before coming to a final decision. It also requires trust in each other’s good judgment, and that is something that can only be built over time.