Murder-mystery and Gothic literature fans will love the newest addition to Dorothy Love’s lineup, A Respectable Actress. Accused of the shooting death of her leading man on the stage of Savannah’s Southern Palace theater, famed actress India Hartley is sequestered at Indigo Point, the St Simons Island home of her defense attorney Philip Sinclair. As Philip works to clear her name India discovers that he is hiding a startling secret of his own. One that may well hold the key to her freedom. Read our story spotlight on A Respectable Actress with Dorothy Love to learn more.
Story Behind A Respectable Actress
Tell us a bit about the story behind your latest novel. Where did you find inspiration?
All of my novels are inspired by the lives of real 19th-century women. A Respectable Actress is inspired by the life of Frances Anne ( Fanny) Kemble, a beautiful and wildly famous British stage actress who came to the US in the 1830’s, married the richest plantation owner on St Simons Island, Georgia, and moved there with him where she wrote an account of her life among the alligators, swamps, rivers, and the large slave population her husband owned. I used her published journal to learn what it would have been like to live there at that time. I gave one of her daughters, Fan Butler, an off-stage cameo in A Respectable Actress. My little private salute to Fanny.
Vivien Leigh inspired my character’s name. Vivien’s given name was Vivien Mary Hartley and she was born to British parents while they were living in India. Like my fictional character she made her stage debut at an early age. I named my lead character India Hartley in honor of one of my personal favorite actresses.
What was the hardest part about writing your novel: Getting started? Keeping it going? Finding the perfect ending?
What I find hard about writing is that it’s always a challenge, even after 20 books, because with each one, I try to write a better book and the bar keeps getting higher and higher. That’s why I was thrilled when the review in Romantic Times said that with this book I have outdone myself. That’s the goal every time and why it gets harder with each book. Writing is craft that is rarely perfectly mastered, which makes it simultaneously rewarding and exasperating.
What trait do you love most about your main character?
India is famous, adored everywhere she goes not only for her acting ability but for her beauty. But she is under no illusions about her fame. She knows that it’s only a matter of time before audiences find a new actress to love, before her beauty fades and she is forgotten. So she looks for meaning in every performance, and she looks for a way to make a lasting contribution to society that goes beyond giving her audience an evening’s entertainment. She accepts that no matter what she does, there are some who will never think she is respectable. But she knows who she is and what she is about.
When readers get to the last page, what do you hope they take away from the story?
Every reader brings her own experiences and expectations to a story, and makes her own meaning from it, so I’ve always hesitated to say what readers should take away from it. Some will read for the suspense, some for the history, some to solve the mystery, and some to experience the romance between India and the handsome lawyer hired to defend her. If I had to state a “take away” it would be that there is always hope, even in the worst circumstances, and that often the greatest treasures in life arise from the ruins of our mistakes and circumstances.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m completing revisions for a biographical novel about Mrs. Robert E Lee and her servant Selina Gray, who became the savior of President Washington’s belongings during the Civil War. Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray will be published next June. I’m beyond excited to publish my first ever biographical novel.
Character Interview with India Hartley
What is the most interesting thing about you?
I was born backstage at a theater in London
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
At the moment? Confused, terrified, and yet strangely hopeful
What do you do for fun?
Take walks around Indigo Point
Share a favorite childhood memory:
Listening to my aunt play her mandolin
What is your life motto or goal?
Life’s greatest treasures often arise out of ruins.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I had been more cautious about trusting my father’s business partner. Perhaps then I wouldn’t have lost everything.
What is the most important thing to you?
Giving a performance that moves my audience … and marrying my lawyer, Philip Sinclair.
Biggest pet peeve:
People who say the acting profession is not respectable.
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