Proof by Seduction Enhanced Content

The enhanced content for Proof by Seduction is some photos, some audio clips, and Q&A.


Q. Where did you get the idea to have Jenny ritually slaughter an orange?

Audio Transcript

There were only three things in all of the books that I’ve written that are drawn directly from my real life experience, and two of them are in Proof by Seduction. The first one is this: Jenny uses an orange to tell someone’s fortune. Okay, so let me explain: There was a point when I was in graduate school, and I would have lunch with these really cool people. So naturally we discussed totally normal things, like “How long would it take to get scurvy if the only thing you ate was the free food that came at departmental seminars?” In any event, one of the questions we asked was “Can vegans do X”, where X was everything from wear leather, usually a no, to drive a car, usually a yes. Someone asked if vegans could perform animal sacrifices, and somehow this discussion turned into a daily ritual in which we would ask the almighty banana a question.

You’re wondering: What is the almighty banana? How do you ask it a question? Does it answer? This is how you tell a fortune with a banana. One, you peel the banana. Two, you eat the banana. Three, you think of a yes or no question, or any question that has a binary outcome really will work, but yes or no is best. Four, you shut your eyes, you toss the banana peel in the air saying “Almighty banana, tell me if the speaker today is going to be boring.” Four A, don’t ask the banana the outcome of past events – the banana gets irritated when you ask it questions you can answer with Google. You don’t want to irk the banana. Five, open your eyes and look at the banana peel. Six here’s one of the crucial parts – you make up something based on the configuration of the banana that supports the most likely result. So if you ask the banana “Is the sun going to set tonight?” Well, if you choose the answer to be no, and you are not above the arctic circle in summer, you have made a poor choice.

Seven, here’s the second crucial part – you need to protect the banana. If the banana says you will have sandwiches instead of pizza when you are grading Chem 1A tests in four days you need to send the people in charge threatening emails, saying things like “The banana will be disturbed”, or “Don’t dis the banana”, until they agree to provide sandwiches. And that’s the secret behind Proof by Seduction. The fundamental plot element in it was used by scientists.

Q. Jenny’s career as a fortuneteller is an unusual choice for a heroine. What made you decide on that?

A. Jenny’s career was a roundabout decision.

The very first book that I wrote—which I nominally called Flight of Fancy—featured a hero who was an ornithologist and a heroine who was…well, she had no real distinguishing features except the fact that she was clever. Her name was Claire, and she was young and needed to marry well because her brother was continually getting in all kinds of awful scrapes. There was absolutely no reason for her not to marry the ornithologist hero—absolutely none—and so it was a book without a story.

Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. What, then, happens for the remaining 18 chapters?

I vaguely recognized that this was a problem, and so I invented all kinds of reasons why the two couldn’t be together. One of them was that the hero couldn’t talk to girls because he got nervous. The other was that a friend of the hero’s, named Bernie, decided he was in love with Claire for…no discernable reason. Even I, in my not-yet-a-good-writer state, recognized this was a problem. So I invented a fortuneteller that Bernie relied on, and that fortuneteller told Bernie he would fall in love with Claire. The whole book was a complete farce that ended up unmasking this poor fortuneteller as a fraud blah blah blah.

It was not the most terrible book never to be published, but it wasn’t great.

In any event, I was attached to this story for multiple reasons, so after I wrote a second book (also not published, and also for good reason), I came back to this one and diagnosed it with a fatal lack of romantic conflict. But I still loved the characters.

One day out of the blue, trying to think of how to fix it, I started thinking about that fortuneteller. I wondered what would make someone choose that path. And I wrote this prologue (which doesn’t appear in the book as published):

In Jenny Keeble’s final year in the private school her unknown parents had paid to raise her, a prim-faced instructor wagged a finger and warned that an unmarriageable woman of little fortune and excess education had only two options: She could become a governess. Or—here, a dramatic pause, and a censorious frown—she could become a courtesan.

Mrs. Davenport intended to strike fear into Jenny’s breast. Jenny had, after all, been caught leading the other girls into trouble in the pond at midnight. Again. But at eighteen, Jenny could already swindle six spoiled debutantes into paying a penny a piece to take a dip in their drawers in March. She had no notion of fear.

Jenny took the words to heart nonetheless. After all, she hated other women’s children almost as much as she hated their husbands. At Mrs. Davenport’s urging, she listed her primary skills: Leading others astray. Embroidering. Convincing people to part with valuable pocket money. It was a short, but encouraging, list. Jenny was capable of earning herself a living—and not through needlework.

I had no idea what was going to happen to the story after that, but once I wrote those paragraphs, I knew that Jenny was going to be in charge. I had a few more false starts before I found the story, which my friends Tessa Dare and Carey Baldwin will explain:

Audio Transcript

Courtney Milan: Let me introduce the version of Proof by Seduction that was originally read by my two friends Tessa Dare and Carey Baldwin: “This was going to be the fine romance between Bernie, the man who used Jenny Keeble’s services as a fortune teller, and Jenny. And the book started with him deciding that he was going to demonstrate to his mathematically, scientifically inclined friend that Jenny in fact was a lovely fortune teller who could tell the truth.”
Tessa Dare: So I’m Tessa Dare, and this is a story of how Proof by Seduction became a book about Jenny and Gareth, instead of a book about Jenny and Bernie. With me here is Carey Baldwin.
Carey Baldwin: Hi. But she didn’t want to hear it at the time.
Tessa Dare: Interestingly enough, it was not the first time that Courtney had tried and failed to write a hero named Bernie, but that’s a story for another audiobook. So there was Jenny and Bernie in this scene, and then Bernie’s friend who was much more good-looking.
Carey Baldwin: Taller.
Tessa Dare: Taller.
Carey Baldwin: Much taller.
Courtney Milan: Smarter.
Carey Baldwin: A lot smarter.
Tessa Dare: More interesting.
Carey Baldwin: Hotter.
Tessa Dare: With better dialog. And he had this big linking sign over his head that said “hero”, basically, and his name was Gareth.
Courtney Milan: And they went to Gareth’s house to determine how Gareth was going to determine scientifically that Jenny was infact good at it. I sent this scene to my dear friends, and they told me the following:
Tessa Dare: Courtney was coming to visit me in California that day. And she would be getting on a plane in a matter of hours. So when I sent back the critique, it was with the message “Please still get on the plane”, because I knew she would be upset. But I had to be honest with her and tell her that it was very clear that Gareth was the hero of the book. Even though Courtney seemed to be insisting that Bernie was the hero of the book, Jenny was definitely saying otherwise.
Carey Baldwin: And by a complete coincidence, I had sent her a similar email saying “Oh, I think Gareth would make a much finer hero than Bernie
Courtney Milan: I think I put up about 12-13 hours of fuss about this. Lengthy fuss.
Carey Baldwin: I think we almost weren’t BFFs anymore after that.
Courtney Milan: No, that’s not true.
Carey Baldwin: For about five minutes.
Courtney Milan: And then we went and got massages, and in the middle of a massage I realized they were right.
Carey Baldwin: Because we were.
Courtney Milan: Because they were.
Carey Baldwin: Yeah, we obviously were.
Courtney Milan: They obviously were. And then I sold the book, so I really can’t complain.
Tessa Dare: You would have come to that conclusion yourself eventually.
Carey Baldwin: And tell us what happened to Bernie.
Courtney Milan: That’s too complicated, no.
Tessa Dare: Bernie was pushed off a cliff, and was eaten by sea monsters.
Courtney Milan: Bernie stopped existing due to his fatal inability to be relevant.

Q. Gareth is rigidly logical and very opposed to emotion, in general. Was it more parts fun or challenging to deal with him as a hero?

A. Gareth was 100% fun to write! He was absolutely one of my favorite characters to put on paper, simply because it was just so much fun to bait him.

But I think it’s a mistake to think of him as logical rather than emotional. Closing down on emotions is in itself an emotional response for Gareth. That’s something that he has to recognize as the book goes on: that it is, in fact, illogical for him to continue to avoid his emotions. The two are not opposed. They can play nicely together!

White London rowhouses all in a row
A London Rowhouse

Q. Gareth’s personality is an interesting mix of crushingly awkward insecurity and pompous arrogance. People usually think of those traits as mutually exclusive. What motivated you to write him like that?

A. Wait, do people really think of those traits as mutually exclusive? That surprises me. In my experience, most who come off as pompously arrogant are in fact deeply insecure. Arrogance is usually overcompensation, and it’s a mistake to read it as confidence.

This is reason #43,109 that I do not buy into the traditional construction of the alpha male. The man who tells a woman, “Yes, I know you want me. Your mouth is saying ‘no’ but your body is saying ‘yes,’ and I’m going to listen to your body” is operating from a place of insecurity.

If he really believed his own words, he wouldn’t need to push. He’d know deep in his soul that she would come to him, that he wouldn’t have to override her judgment and taste. He is so secure in his own worth that he doesn’t have to override hers to prove that he’s right. Secure people do not need to push other people off balance; they want to help them be secure, too.

The most gracious, giving people I have met are often extremely secure. The confident person has no need to make others feel badly about themselves. And conversely, one of the most proud, arrogant individuals I’ve ever worked with was painfully insecure.

I’ve had people tell me that Gareth is the most alpha of my heroes, and I find this appalling. Alphas are supposed to be leaders of men, and let’s face it—Gareth couldn’t lead mice into a cheese factory.

Most people who yell at others and run roughshod over their feelings are not leaders of men. Think about the people who have really motivated you to perform in your life. How many of them were massive jerks? And how many of them were people who respected you and your abilities, and treated you fairly?

Yep. That’s what I thought.

Q. One of the things that Jenny and Gareth have in common is they both are very lonely. Would you say that Gareth’s isolation as the Marquess of Blakely is by choice, whilst Jenny’s isolation as Madame Esmerelda is forced? Or do you think their motivations and options render it more complex than that?

A. I don’t think it’s that simple. Both Jenny and Gareth are isolated, and it’s a result of choices that they’ve made. In fact, I’d say that it’s very much the result of their vocations. Jenny’s isolated because she’s lying to everyone else, and because all her life, people have told her that she’s worse than she is. She avoids other people and society in general because she thinks that if they knew the truth about her, they would never believe her to be their peer.

Gareth is isolated for almost the exact opposite reason—that he’s been told that he’s better than everyone else, and so doesn’t have a solid set of peers that he can relate to. He’s a marquess and a Blakely, and he keeps himself apart because he doesn’t believe that he has peers.

Q. Jenny has an extremely sweet and genuine friendship with Ned, despite the falsehoods at the core of their relationship. Was it difficult to balance that authentic affection with the facts of Jenny’s profession?

A. In the precursor to this book there was a heroine, Claire, who had a hapless little brother. I loved the characters too much to let them go.

In that book, Ned was the brother of the heroine, and while Ned and Jenny aren’t related in reality in this book, their relationship dynamic is very much that of older sister and little brother. I absolutely loved writing Ned and Jenny’s relationship. It was so painfully bittersweet.

For whatever reason, it’s much, much harder for me to write relationships that are simple and uncomplicated. Difficult balances are my favorite thing to write.

I’ve always felt that the heart of this book is as much about the two brother-sister relationships (Gareth/Laura and Jenny/Ned) as it is about the romance between Gareth and Jenny. Because I had to reread these books to make the enhanced edition, I actually might make a stronger statement: I think the brother/sister relationships in this book are stronger than the romance.

Q. Jenny spends a lot of time trying to get Gareth to understand her boundaries as regards their relationship. Was her first abortive turn as a mistress the primary motivator there or was it a combination of her other life experiences as well?

A. Jenny has spent her entire life not receiving respect. I think that acting as a man’s mistress really brought to the forefront all her feelings on this matter, but she learned, very early on, that if she doesn’t insist on getting what she wanted, she was never going to get it.

Jenny’s insistence on independence also is driven by the fact that she has been abandoned so many times. She doesn’t trust other people to give her things, because other people go away. She is much more comfortable giving than being given.

Q. In direct contrast to Jenny and Ned’s relationship, Gareth not only resists connecting with Ned, but is terrible at connecting with his sister, Laura. He generally credits this to his grandfather’s influence, but do you feel there are other reasons?

A. Gareth is bad with people generally, and he’s never had anyone to teach him how to get it right. In fact, most of the people in the world—not just his grandfather—have been teaching him that he’s better than everyone else. And since he’s rather isolated, nobody is in a position to correct him.

His own natural inclination is quite introverted, and that’s probably not a complete description. After I’d written the first draft of Proof by Seduction, I read Look me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, about his experience with Asperger’s, and I realized that for whatever reason, Gareth felt a lot internally like Robison described. I wouldn’t want to venture a guess as to how far down the spectrum Gareth falls, but it made a lot of sense to me. The only change I made to the text after I read Robison’s memoir was that I made more mention of Gareth’s eye contact. Gareth doesn’t notice this is happening—he’s of a social status where people would naturally not make friendly eye contact. When this happens in the book, Jenny interprets it initially as arrogance. It’s only a little later that she starts to translate it as unease.

None of this is explicitly explored in the story. I really don’t think that anyone of the time would notice that someone fell on the mild end of the Asperger’s spectrum. They had no idea what Asperger’s was, and most of the symptoms can be interpreted in other ways. Wealthy, powerful men were allowed to be eccentric, and nobody expected an explanation. And at the time, the understanding of mental differences was so poor that the notion that someone could be a sane, functional human being, but not neurotypical, would have been beyond comprehension. So I’ve never really talked about this much. It’s really more of author headcanon than actual, textual truth.

Q. Where did you get the idea for Hat on Top?

Audio Transcript

The other real life thing? That was hat on top. I know someone who played that with grocery bags. Seriously. Also a scientist. That’s how he would have fun on the weekends. No, he wasn’t drunk, he was just a scientist. He can’t help it.

Q. In the climax of the book Gareth doesn’t just accept Jenny as his equal, but as his better and in the process overturns a lifelong belief in his own superiority that heavily influenced how he lived and connected to people. In the moment, he was obviously more concerned with Jenny, but was that complete overthrowing of his core beliefs easy for him to accept or did he continue to struggle with it here and there?

A. I doubt Gareth will ever get over all of the issues that he has—who ever does?

But I think that for him, getting to the point where he is able to admit that someone else is his superior is indicative of the fact that he’s becoming more secure. He no longer feels threatened by those who are out there.

And the thing that I think saves Gareth from being an incurable jerk (as compared to just, you know, a regular jerk) is that he is actually very fair-minded. Once he has come to the conclusion that Jenny is not his inferior, he wouldn’t go back on that. Instead, he’d realize that he learned a lesson—that he needs to examine his beliefs and try to be more fair to the people around him. I imagine that examination would take time, but with Jenny around to smack him (figuratively) when he gets overbearing, I think he’ll be a better person.

Q. Why elephants?

A. I have an aversion to the typical things that heroes give their heroines as part of a book. I absolutely hate the scenes where the hero takes the heroine out and gets her a brand new wardrobe—usually telling her what to wear, and encouraging her to drop her neckline over her protests. I know lots of people love that kind of thing but I personally don’t enjoy it.

(Possibly this is because I have had the experience of going shopping with someone who “knew better” and it was deeply, deeply humiliating. Every time I read one of those scenes, I wince. Because instead of imagining the heroine looking the mirror and thinking, “Oh, gosh, I’m beautiful!” I always remember my own reaction—which was “I have been doing this wrong for thirty-three years. I am so dumb.” But this is rather a digression.)

There’s that scene that’s in about 50% of the romance novels wherein the man buys the woman some absolutely gorgeous piece of jewelry. I hate that. (True fact about Courtney Milan: as of 2014, she has been married for six years. And she and Mr. Milan have not yet picked out wedding rings.) Jewelry, for me, is cold and impersonal. It’s something that every man gets a woman.

I’ve always felt that stand-ins for traditional romance aren’t nearly as romantic as something that is so purely personal that it gets to the heart of the person you love.

So, yeah. Elephants.

A dark building with stalls for cows, barn doors, and darkened windows

This is how I envision the interior of the stable.

Q. Proof by Seduction was your first book. If you could go back and change one thing about Proof, what would it be?

A. There are consent issues in Proof, especially involving that first kiss, that I have become much warier of writing as an author. I don’t think I would write a character like Gareth any longer, but I don’t know how I could change this book without completely rewriting it and making it a different book.

The one thing I most wished I could go back and change about Proof is something I did change for this version. In the original version, I used a word to refer to the Romani that is a racial slur.

I didn’t know the history of that word when I wrote this book. That’s not an excuse; I’m a writer, and I should have looked into it. I’m sorry I did, and for everyone who read it and was hurt by it, you have my apology.

I went through the book and found every instance of the word. It was never necessary. It added nothing to the story—no depth, no additional meaning, nothing except the capacity to harm people. I can’t defend its use, and I don’t want to. I’ve removed it. And if you didn’t notice until you read this… Well, that’s why I needed to take it out.