Who doesn’t love a good historical romance? One of the most perennial genres in publishing, the sweeping stories of dashing heroes, swooning women, and often beautiful locales have enchanted readers for decades, including bestselling author Adriana Herrera. So, crafting a historical romance of her own made a lot of sense. With A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, Herrera wraps you in the warm, enticing intimacy of the genre while introducing a radical heroine, the times in which the book takes place, and a female friendship group you’ll long to be part of. I chatted with Herrera over the phone about crafting her ravishing historical romance novel.
Nerdist: What were the origins of A Caribbean Heiress in Paris?
Adriana Herrera: I was doing research; my family and I were going to Paris in early 2020. It was the last trip we ended up taking before lockdown. I actually lived in Paris during my gap year for a few months studying French at the Alliance Française. So I know Paris, but I hadn’t been in a while. Wherever I go, I always research Dominicans. And I came across this article from a Dominican newspaper talking about the first time the Dominican Republic had been at a World’s Fair in Paris. It was talking about the 1889 World’s Fair, which was the centennial of the revolution. It was a big one because they unveiled the Eiffel Tower. It said the Dominican Republic had been one of the countries exhibiting and there had been other Latin countries also exhibiting.
So I did a little bit more digging, and thankfully—I owe it to my mother who insisted that I learn French—I was able to go to the National Archives from the French library. The Dominican Republic and 12 Latin countries were invited to come and exhibit at the World’s Fair. About 5,000 people from Latin America came that summer to Paris as part of the delegation. And the Dominican Republic was one of them. So that was the origin of the idea.
I was like, “This is cool!” So I found a guidebook with illustrations of each pavilion. Each country built their own pavilion to exhibit their stuff. They had like a big map where each of the countries was and [it showed]the different products that they brought. The Dominican Republic brought lumber, rum, and amber, which is one of the minerals in the DR. So I thought, “What if one of the exhibitors was a woman?”
From there, what was the process of taking that really cool idea and shaping the final story of Luz Alana and Evan?
I love historical romance. It was the first kind of romance that I was into as a teenager. I’m really obsessed with Edith Wharton. I’m very interested in that time period specifically. So I was thinking, “How can I make this story have all the stuff that I love about historical romance?” You know, the dresses, the balls, the parties, the rompiness of it, and make it sexy. But also to address the things that I feel never get addressed in historical romance? Like, where does the Duke’s money come from?
I didn’t want to do it in a way where I had to burden my heroine Luz with experiencing discrimination on the page. But I also didn’t want it to be a vague thing. I wanted it to be addressed in a way that was clear and where there were consequences and accountability from Evan, who is this white man with all this privilege and power. To me it’s about creating characters for whom these realities were something that they’ve been negotiating and thinking about for longer than the moment that they met.
Luz has an ancestry where there had been slaves in her family and there had been people who had been freed from slavery. They have this business model that’s very conscious of the haves and have nots. Then there’s Evan who understands the atrocities that had come from his family, how that wealth came to be. But also in his real life, negotiating a business partner and best friend who was an Indian man with whom he had to manage the discrimination and prejudice. And his cousin Murdoch is also a black man. I felt like I couldn’t have a hero who didn’t have an understanding of those realities before meeting the heroine.
That makes so much sense as at every turn their romance felt believable yet magical, authentic yet fantastic. How do you go about crafting realistic romance?
I really have to think about motivations. To me, I write strivers, people who are careening towards something, barreling towards that thing, and it’s why they get up in the morning. Luz Alana is very driven. Almost to the point where she’s got tunnel vision. And so is Evan. But they care so deeply about their loved ones, right? They have these people who they would do anything for. Evan and his sisters, the history he has with his family and being the protector because his dad was the kind of person that he was. And here’s Luz in the same way who basically has the entire legacy of her family and her sister’s future on her shoulders.
I feel like two people with that level of intensity about the things that they’re passionate about would connect in a way that’s incendiary. There’s no 50% or whatever, it’s 100% only. And it was really delicious for me writing their intimate moments because they are so into each other. That’s how they approach everything in their lives: all or nothing.
This is excitingly just the first in a new series, Las Leonas. What can you tease about what’s coming next for the brilliant women of the book?
The next book—we don’t have a title yet, but I hope we’ll have one soon—is about Manuela. She’s an artist. She’s Dominican but born and raised in Venezuela. I have a little bit of history there from the Dominican Republic and the reason why Manuela’s family ended up exiled. But her family came to Venezuela in the 1860s. They were exiled and their financial situation is kind of desperate. She’s supposed to marry this man for him to help her family with their finances. But she ends up meeting the Duchess of Sundridge, who’s in this book. And then that doesn’t quite work out as it was as expected. So the next romance is a lesbian couple!
What I want to do again is just to show the presence that Latin people had in Paris. There were many artists in Paris during that time period studying in the Académie des Beaux-Arts and bringing their knowledge back to Latin America. I also want to talk about the lesbian scene in the turn of the century, which was vibrant, and beautiful and there was a whole culture around sapphic love in Paris. I just want to really shine a light on all that.