If you’ve seen the heart-shaped boxes in grocery stores recently, you know there’s a holiday coming up. Valentine’s Day, I think it’s called? Yes, February is definitely the month for romance.  (Well, every month is for romance, but February especially.)

Which is why it’s great to have a new release this month from USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie, author of the Naked Nobles series. Her historical romances are always clever, fun, and just a leetle spicy. Sally usually publishes a new title in the summer, but this year we are extra-lucky, because we will also get a novella from her–“The Naked Prince”–just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Sally has graciously answered a few questions for us! Read on to find out more about her new novella in the anthology An Invitation to Sin, her Naked Nobles’ latest mischief, and just what our Regency forebears did to amuse themselves.

How did you come up with the concept of the Naked Nobles?

Blind luck, actually. No planning at all. I was getting back to writing after raising my kids, so I wrote a Regency and somehow came up with the title The Naked Duke. When I sold it in a two book deal, they let me keep the title, but I had to come up with something to call book 2. My first attempt was pretty lame, so then I thought, oh, what the heck, how about The Naked Marquis? One thing led to another and suddenly I had a bunch of Naked nobles.

Your heroine in “The Naked Prince,” Josephine Atworthy, is a demure young woman who would never do anything improper…until she meets Lord Damian Kenderly, the “Prince of Hearts.” How did you shape such different characters into the perfect match for one another?

LOL–thank you! As you may be catching on, I’m sort of a “pantser”–I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t plan a whole lot. I muse over an idea and a group of characters, and if I’m lucky they will introduce themselves and if I’m really lucky, once I sit down at the keyboard, they’ll consent to do something interesting. I know I must sound like an escapee from Bedlam, but there you have it.

“The Naked Prince” is your second novella (appearing in An Invitation to Sin), and you’ve also published six novels in the Naked Nobles series. Was one particular story or character your favorite to write, and why? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell the others.)

That’s like asking me if I have a favorite child! I can tell you which one was the hardest to write–The Naked Baron. In that book I challenged myself by having two romances–a younger and an older couple. I almost bit off more than I could chew.

In your most recent novel, The Naked Viscount (June 2010), your hero and heroine race against the villain to find naughty statues that hide even naughtier secret papers. What inspired this sort of “chase” story?

As I said, The Naked Baron almost did me in, so I wanted to write something a little more straightforward for my next book. The Viscount started with the desire to have just one hero and one heroine and to stick to their points of view for the entire story. To adopt a more linear storytelling approach. And what’s more linear than a good chase story?

In casting around for plot ideas, I looked through my copy of Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter. It has some amazing period sketches–what we might call cartoons today–of the ton behaving very badly. I was especially inspired by Thomas Rowlandson’s Lord Barr…re’s Great Bottle Club. That became the basis for the sketch the hero and heroine are looking for in the Viscount. I’m not quite sure how the Pans with the prodigious penises came about…I told you, I’m not one to plan and outline. Maybe it was the alliteration.

I have to admit, I find it funny that some people (me) generally think of historical figures (anyone who’s been dead for a while) as prim and proper and as stiffly behaved as their formal portraits. So I was tickled by the notion of these Regency folks, er, kicking up their heels, as it were.

What is your writing routine like? What do you do if you ever get stumped for ideas?

My goal is to have a writing routine some day. Generally I force myself to sit on the living room loveseat by the picture window (not getting too distracted by the dogs and dog walkers and birds and things outside) with my laptop on my lap and stay there until I write five pages. In the last year I’ve taken to setting a timer for 3 hours, the goal being to spend at least that long focusing on the current project. (I have to turn the timer off if I go do something else, like get a cup of tea.) When I’m just beginning a new book, I’ll write more slowly–one good page is great at that point–and later on in the book I’ll occasionally do more than 5 pages at a sitting. An approaching deadline is a good motivator, but I don’t work well under pressure. I like to finish a draft and have a month to revise before the book is due.

When I get stumped, I plead with my characters to do something. I prowl around the house. I drink lots of–decaf!–tea. I play game after game of computer solitaire. I might page through a favorite reference book. I think some more about my characters and their families. I guess I just keep beating my head against the wall until something falls out or falls into place. I prefer not to leave a hole with “something happens here” in the manuscript and go on. I think some people do this and it works for them, but I’m just mad at myself when I get to the end and think I’ve got a draft and then I remember the hole.

I have to admit I think a lot about that quote, the one by the sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Why did you choose to write in the Regency time period?

Well, my husband says I was never contemporary, and he’s probably right. I’m actually not very interested in history, either–back in the dark ages when I was in school, history was just boring dates and battles and politics. But I read Georgette Heyer’s books growing up and loved them, and then I read tons and tons of Regencies while I was raising my four sons, so it seemed like the logical choice. My husband points out that even when we were dating, I’d sometimes revert to Regency-speak without realizing it.

You’ve written about soldiers, botanists, governesses, and antiquarians. What’s the most intriguing tidbit of information you’ve ever turned up during your research?

You mean besides the naughty prints and the fact that many of what I suppose we’d call political cartoonists drew pornography on the side? I guess the biggest thing I learned–it’s too big to be considered a “tidbit”–is that landscape gardening was such a big deal back then. (Not that I really knew what landscape gardening was before I waded into my research.) And that new plants were being introduced regularly from foreign parts–there really were plant hunters in the Regency.

What are a few of your favorite books–romance novels or otherwise?

Oh, gee, this is such a hard question. I have so many writer friends now, I don’t look at books like I used to. (I don’t see covers or titles, I see my pals’ names.) I just read what I thought was a great book, but I was judging it for the RWA RITA contest, so I can’t tell you what it was.

I can say some of my favorite Regency writers when I was “just” a reader were Mary Balogh, Joan Wolf, Marion Chesney…oh, and lots more. I’ve just spent a week moving boxes and boxes of my keeper books to make room for the 80 some college swimmers who invaded our house for a dinner in January–I really began to see the beauty of e-books as I popped Advil for my aching back, I’m afraid.

As to research books, The London Encyclopaedia, edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert; Regency Design by John Morley; and Regency Style by Steven Parissien are three of my favs.

Your romances have lots of funny moments…often involving embarrassing situations for the characters. Can you return the favor and share an embarrassing moment of your own?

Oh, there are SO many. I image I spend a good portion of my life embarrassed–that’s why I write those scenes. Most of my embarrassing moments aren’t huge, public things, though. They are more along the lines of forgetting someone’s name…even someone I’ve known for years. (Wait, maybe that’s actually a senior moment.) And I turn fifty shades of red if anyone asks me about the s-e-x in my books.

What’s next for you in the Naked Nobles series, and beyond?

Thanks for asking! The Naked King, the last Naked noble, releases in June. That’s Stephen Parker-Roth’s story and happens about two months after “The Naked Prince.” Then I start a new project that I’m calling the “Duchess of Love” series. It will probably come out starting in 2012. It’s a trilogy about three brothers whose mother is “the Duchess of Love,” the premier matchmaker of the ton. I’ve already written a novella, the tale of how the duchess met her duke, to kick it off.

Thanks so much for being here, Sally!

And now, a Valentine’s Day gift for us:  Sally’s offering her three stories about the Parker-Roth family–signed copies of The Naked Gentleman, The Naked Viscount, and “The Naked Prince” in An Invitation to Sin–to one random commenter this month.  Also up for grabs are two MORE copies of An Invitation to Sin, plus signed goodies to go with them.  Three prizes this month!  To enter, just leave a comment on this post letting us know:

Sally’s characters got an Invitation to Sin. What kind of invitation would you most like to get, and from whom?

USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie writes the Naked nobility series–funny, hot Regency-set historicals–for Kensington Zebra. Her sixth Naked book, THE NAKED VISCOUNT, arrived on bookstore shelves June 1, 2010, and the seventh, THE NAKED KING, will be out in June 2011.  There are also two novellas, “The Naked Laird” in LORDS OF DESIRE and “The Naked Prince” in AN INVITATION TO SIN (February 2011).  Sally graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame in the first class of women. She’s a Cornell Law School dropout, former federal regulation writer, recovering parent volunteer, and mother of four mostly grown sons. A native of Washington, D. C., she still resides in suburban Maryland with her husband.  Please visit her on the web at www.sallymackenzie.net.

CONTEST RULES: To enter, leave a comment on this blog post. The contest will close at noon ET on FEBRUARY 28, 2011. I’ll select a winner from among all entrants using random.org. Your chances of winning depend on the number of comments – so don’t spam, but feel free to get all sociable-like to increase your odds. I will announce and contact the winner no later than March 2, 2011. The winner will have one week after notification to provide me with a snail mail address; then an alternate winner may be selected. For shipping reasons, only US residents are eligible to win.