Two Writers, One Book

Hi all –  I met one half of Ursula LeCoeur when I spoke at the Philadelphia chapter of RWA last year.  Ursula told me that she had written a Victorian romance set in Romantic New Orleans.  As we all know – I’m all about the Victorian 🙂  So I thought it would be great to have Ursula here today on the eve of the Romantic Times reader convention in New Orleans.  But before I turn the blog over to Ursula, I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re celebrating the Bandits Anniversary with a Facebook Party on Friday, May 8th.  Woohoo – Let the Good Times Roll!

 We’re ecstatic this week over the launch of The Willing Widow on as an ebook. It’s our debut romance in our Love in New Orleans Series. We want to thank all the Romance Bandits for inviting us to share our story with you.

We know plenty of mothers and daughters who are content to go shopping and have lunch occasionally. Not us. Several years ago, we decided to write romances. Together. We write we and our because Ursula LeCouer is two people—mother and daughter, Mary and Helen.

writing partners at work[1]How do two people write as one? With patience, unlimited long-distance phone service and something resembling an outline. Helen, with a nod to J.D. Salinger, insisted we write the romances we wanted to read. We love the Regency, London and the English aristocracy, but we wanted a setting closer to home. New Orleans, where we know the food, faith and fantasy, was an obvious choice.  

We began by dividing the points of view between us, which meant dividing the historical research.

I wrote Renee Desselle, a young widow of a fine French family, who starts her own millinery because she’s artistic, loves hats and doesn’t hesitate to do what she wants. I filled my days both online and in libraries studying Victorian styles in hats and dresses in 1880s ladies’ magazines  to learn about fabrics, feathers and hat trimmings. I combed old etiquette books and cookbooks to delve deeper into Renee’s world.   

Helen created William Collins, newly arrived from Ireland to assist his Uncle Patrick, owner of  Collins Cotton Factorage. She learned the intricacies of cotton grading, pricing and shipping as well as the many services cotton factors performed for their planter clients. To write William’s adventures, Helen investigated the rituals on All Saints Day at Catholic cemeteries and the voodoo ceremonies at Fet Gede on All Souls Day.

Our division of labor worked better than we ever imagined. Just as a man and woman falling in love slowly learn about each other’s interests and past history, each of us discovered the secrets of the other character’s life in our writing partner’s chapters.

I didn’t know William and his Irish sweetheart had planned to elope, or that the young lady had failed to meet him at the appointed time. I didn’t know the extent of his bitterness, which led him to court Renee in hopes of bedding her, not marrying her.  

Helen didn’t know the reason for Renee’s ambivalent feelings for her dead husband or the circumstances that led to her intense fear of her former mother-in-law. She had no idea why a young woman as beautiful as Renee believed she was unlovable.      

We wrote in chronological order. As we finished our chapters we emailed them to the other for editing. Each of us rewrote sections of the other’s work. In conversation, we’d never finish each other’s sentences, but we often did this on the printed page. When I found myself at a loss for the right word, I’d leave a question mark or an ellipsis and Helen completed the thought or the scene. She did the same to me. Back and forth the emails went until we were both satisfied with the text.

Over the phone, we cleared up the many disparities: Are Renee’s eyes blue or topaz? Where does Renee keep the wine decanter? Is Charlotte Russe Uncle Patrick’s favorite dessert?UrsulaLeCoeur_TheWillingWidow_1400px (2)[1]

Together we read through our romance one last time before sending it to our agent who guided it through Amazon’s White Glove Program.

“I really like that,” one of us would say about a description or a bit of dialogue. “Which of us wrote it?”

We’d laugh and realize we didn’t know. The Willing Widow is a blend of the best of both of us. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

So how about you?  More and more historical romance writers are choosing different settings and time periods for their novels. Is this trend away from the tried-and-true Regency one you welcome? Do you look forward to a romance without a duke, earl or viscount?  Someone leaving a comment will receive a copy of The Willing Widow.

Thanks again to Donna MacMeans for giving us a chance to reach out to all of you Romance Bandits readers. We’d love to hear from you. Please comment below or email us at or contact us through our website at

Excerpt of The Willing Widow below:


New Orleans 1884

Chapter 1

Renee’s first customer of the afternoon dashed from the shop, nearly slamming the bustle of her dress in the door. Sighing, she turned to her assistant. “Madame Voison won’t be easy to please.”

“A mal de tête perhaps,” Michelle said with a sniff. “In any case, Madame Voison doesn’t have a head for a hat.”

          “Shush, don’t say it too loudly,” Renee cautioned, though it was a comment she herself had made on occasion after certain ladies left her millinery.

“I’m sorry, Miss Renee.” Michelle lowered her voice. “You’ve always said there are two kinds of ladies in the world—those with heads for a hat and those without.”

“It goes for men as well.” Renee nodded toward the French doors that separated her shop from the haberdasher Francois Lanoux, who specialized in men’s top hats, bowlers and boaters. Then she picked up her pen and drew a quick portrait of the lady. Madame Voison was blessed with gorgeous skin, creamy-white and lined only faintly, which made her look almost childlike despite her sixty-plus years. Her pointed chin was somewhat severe, but a wide forehead and heavy brows accentuated her eyes—her best feature—icy blue and bright with an intelligence that made Renee curious to know her better.

Michelle gathered the bows, felts, and feathers they’d hastily displayed on the counter and put them in one of the chifforobes behind them. “I wonder if she was having a fit of some kind. Did you see the pulse throbbing in her forehead? She could hardly hold her neck still for me to measure her.”

Renee agreed. In the short time Madame Voison had spent in the shop, her eyes, though attractive, had jumped with … what? Panic? Fear? She pushed the lady’s agitated state from her mind and focused on a hat design. With a swift stroke of the pen, she placed different styles beside the sketch of Madame Voison. A wide brim wouldn’t suit at all.

Michelle peered over her shoulder.

“Maybe we’ll make a bibi for Madame Voison,” Renee said. “Those very small hats are coming into fashion in Paris right now. If it’s placed high on her head like this”—she pointed to one drawing—“with a chignon strap in back under her hair rather than a chin ribbon to hold it in place, everyone will look up at the beautiful hat and her amazing eyes.”

Michelle clapped her hands. “You are a genius, Miss Renee.”

A deep male voice shattered the calm of the shop. “I should say you are, Miss, and I’ve not seen the sketch.”

Startled, Renee dropped her pen. A dark-haired gentleman leaned through the doors. For one of Lanoux’s customers to peer into her shop and comment on her exchange with her assistant was absolutely unheard of. But that alone didn’t account for her breath hitching in her throat, her mind going blank. This gentleman was strikingly handsome, enticingly tall, with prominent cheekbones and rich, dark curls that seemed calculated to offset the etched planes of his face, the aristocratic nose, the strong jaw and … remarkable eyes.

She jumped from her stool then halted, trapped on the spot. The shop had grown uncomfortably warm.

For once, Michelle, slack-jawed, said nothing.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Renee managed. She dropped her eyes and looked at her sketches, forcing herself to consider something—anything—practical, even as she felt his gaze rove from the hem of her dress, over her hips and breasts, up her neck to her lips. What had this gentleman—obviously a newcomer to New Orleans—overheard? Had he seen Madame Voison, listened to their comments on her nervous state, heard Michelle say she had no head for a hat?

He bowed, a grin spreading across his face, his bright eyes twinkling. “I’m merely noting that you are quite smart to suggest a bibi. I’ve just come from Paris, and it’s quite the fashion for ladies of all ages and visages.”

Her skin grew warmer still, and she put a hand against her neck in a vain attempt to calm her racing pulse. Paris? The man had a deeply resonant Irish brogue, a sonorous, caressing voice. Struggling to gain her composure, Renee fixed her eyes on him, noting his high forehead and full lips. “I’m quite sure I don’t need your approval.” She nodded a curt dismissal, but the man didn’t move. “Do you have any particular business in a lady’s millinery shop?”

“I might. It’s quite possible.” He grinned again. “One never knows.”

“I think you’d look perfectly ridiculous in a bibi. I suggest you return to Monsieur Lanoux for something more appropriate.” She regretted the words as soon as they left her lips. Why was she reacting this way? She didn’t want him to leave. And he somehow knew it.

             He bowed again, his smile deepening. And didn’t move.

            “But what if I prefer your expertise? What would you choose for me—that is, if I insisted on purchasing a lady’s hat for myself?”

            She met his eyes, which were glittering with humor. “For you”—she stood back and blatantly admired his face and hair. “I’d choose something full-brimmed. It would call attention to your—”

“With ostrich feathers? Something flamboyant?”

“Purple felt, I think.” She stopped herself. Why was this man teasing her?

            “What a grand entrance I’d make at the opera.”

            Michelle giggled, and Renee couldn’t help smiling. “For the opera, gentlemen in New Orleans generally prefer a beaver top hat.”

            “Alas, so staid compared with purple felt. But when in Rome.” He sighed dramatically. “I suppose you’re right. I must see Lanoux.” He bowed once more and retreated to the men’s shop.

Through the thin lace curtain covering the glass doors, Renee watched him in conversation with Lanoux, who now placed felt and beaver prototypes on the counter. The Irishman stood at least a foot taller than the shopkeeper, and an impeccably tailored black suit made his broad shoulders, narrow waist and long legs all the more appealing.

Michelle remained beside her. “That gentleman,” she whispered, “has a head for a hat.” 



  • Jane says:

    Congrats to Helen and Mary on their debut release. New Orleans is one of my favorite settings and I actually haven’t read many historicals set there. The only one I can think of is Lisa Kleypas’ “When Strangers Marry.”

  • Hi Donna! Hi Helen and Mary. Welcome to the lair. And congratulations on the release of the Willing Widow. What a great title!

    I’ve read a few books set in New Orleans or just outside it – I remember back to the 70s and 80s when American historicals were much in vogue. I actually miss those days when historical romance was set basically everywhere from Russia to Australia. There was a sweep to those long, dramatic stories that’s a bit harder to find these days, much as I love a good Regency romance.

    • Anna,
      It’s a big world and I agree with you that historicals should be set anywhere from Russia to Australia. Writers limit themselves when they think only Regency England. Helen and I love Regency. Our bookshelves are full, but it may be time for all writers to branch out again.

  • ki pha says:

    Congrats ladies!! To be honest I love anything historical so I’ll pick anything up that fits my fancy. Regency, Victorian, The Colonies, Civil War, Aussie, Western….. You name it, I probably will have it on my shelf or reader somewhere.

    • ki pha,
      You sound like the ideal romance reader–ready to try any setting and any time period.
      I hope you dip your feet into 1880s New Orleans.
      This is our first in the Love in New Orleans Series. We have plans for many more because it’s a fascinating time period as well as a fascinating setting.

  • Amy Conley says:

    Congrats on the book it appears quits interesting.
    As far as romance nnovels go I don’t have a preference for any time period. To me, romance is romance.

    • Amy,
      You’re absolutely right. Romance is romance. Two people can fall in love in any city, any country and telling that story well is what matters.

  • flchen1 says:

    How fascinating and what a delight to meet you, Helen and Mary! Thanks for sharing your story of how you came to create your debut story! Looking forward to picking it up! I do enjoy books set in uncommon settings and times–while I like the more traditional Regencies, I also love stories set in the Old West, in ancient Asia, and ones set in medieval times… the Roman empire is also an intriguing time period… so many times, so many stories to tell! Best wishes on your continued storytelling!

    • fichen 1,

      I hope you enjoy the New Orleans setting. You sound open to all locations and time periods.
      We chose New Orleans because we knew it. We lived there as a family for nine years. Helen and her two siblings still live there and love it.
      I’m going next week for the RT convention. Can’t wait. I’m itching for a pecan praline.

  • Annie West says:

    Hi Helen and Mary, and Donna.

    I’m fascinated by your writing process. It sounds daunting to me but I know someone who successfully writes with her sister and I suspect knowing each other is a major ingredient in making it work.

    I love variety in my romances and a variety of settings are fine by me. I discovered a soft spot when I was young for stories set in Victoria times but all across Europe. I also love reading stories set in the ancient world as well as regencies and…well, basically it’s a great story I look for rather than a particular setting. Good luck with this one!

    • Annie,
      The writing process with each of us taking a character’s POV fascinated us as we went along. I do think you’d have to know your writing partner well to make it work. We were kind in our criticisms of each other’s passages and worked toward one goal of making the book better.
      I hope you enjoy it.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Helen and Mary

    I do love the sound of this one I read a lot of historicals set around New Orleans during the 70’s and 80’s maily pirate ones and I loved them I have always loved histoircals regency Victorian any way 🙂 and seeing as I don’t travel much reading gives me the chance to travel so I am happy with stories set anywhere

    Congrats on the release

    Have Fun

    • Helen,
      Books do allow all of us to travel to different places and different times. Especially different times. As far as I know, we have no time machines yet. We did a lot of research to create the 1880s world. Since New Orleans is a town where people live to eat rather than eat to live, we included lots of food descriptions because that was so important to the rhythm of their lives. On our website,, we post Southern recipes regularly.

  • Shannon says:

    Victorian romances are becoming much more common (and welcome). And of course steam punk, which has become a new interest for me, is set in that period. New Orleans does seem to be a city made for telling stories. Congratulations!

    I loved to hear how you made research and writing move forward.

    • Shannon,
      Mary Hart Perry, who has a series of romances based on the loves of Queen Victoria’s daughters, says: “Victorian is the new Regency.”
      Helen and I think they’ll become more common, set both in Europe and around the world.
      It’s the logical next step. The children of Regency parents were Victorians, after all.

    • Personally, I love Victorians because I can’t imagine living in a world without indoor plumbing. 🙂 I love the sexy gowns of the Regency, the gas lights, the corsets. I’d love to see popular historicals break out from the Regency period.

  • Maureen says:

    Congratulations on your book! It sounds like an interesting way to write a story. I like all different types of settings. It is the characters that pull me in.

  • Maureen,
    You’re so right. It’s the characters who pull a reader into the story. I hope you’ll enjoy Renee and William. Both have been bruised by previous heartaches, so they are cautious initially.
    What’s wonderful about romance is the story ends with a happily ever after.

  • may says:

    I still have a thing for dukes. But I do read contemporary books too if I like the writer. I am a big fan of Sylvia Day and I like her historical and contemporary.

    • May,
      We probably all have a thing for dukes, but our Irishman in The Willing Widow, although not titled, is handsome with broad shoulders, long legs, curly black hair and blue eyes.
      He’s also fabulously rich. His family in Ireland has owned a whiskey factory for more than a hundred years.
      His Uncle Patrick in New Orleans is a cotton factor, that is, a broker who buys cotton from planters, presses it into bales, and ships it to New England and England to the mills. He takes a commission on every part of the process and is very well to do.
      I hope you’ll give William Collins the chance to impress you.

      • Woohoo – Another Whisky Laird! Or in the Irish sense, a whiskey laird. The lack of the “e” only applies to Scotch.

        I do love me an Irish hero! Seems to me there’s lots of “stuff” in this book to love.

  • Congratulations guys! So excited for you! I got my copy already so you can keep me out of the drawing. We need variety in settings and I’m so glad you’re meeting this need!

  • Welcome to the Lair, Mary and Helen. I loved reading about how you worked together to craft the book. And I love reading romances set in all kinds of different time periods and locales. Variety makes the genre more interesting and vibrant, in my opinion.

    • Trish,
      Thanks for the welcome to the Lair. This is a fabulous forum for writers and readers. We had a wonderful time together writing this book and we hope readers will sense the joy in it. I’m glad you enjoy all sorts of time periods and settings.

    • I think it would be great to have a writing partner. Can you imagine? They could talk you out of writers block, you’d have the writing strengths of both writers, two minds to work on plotting and character issues…I’m jealous. 🙂

      • Donna,
        It really does work very well. All those things you mentioned–pulling each other out of writer’s block, talking out plot points.
        We’ll look forward to discussing The Willing Widow with you in New Orleans next week.

  • bn100 says:

    Don’t mind different settings

  • Hi All –

    Sorry to be so late. I had a fraud seminar today but I see you all didn’t miss me one bit 🙂 I need to read Ursula’s book before heading to New Orleans next week! Should be fun –

  • Cassondra says:

    Oh, love the tension in the excerpt, ladies.

    While there are certain settings I enjoy less than others, I usually always love New Orleans as a setting for historicals. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe the romance of the place, and the mixture of cultures.

    Congratulations on your release!

    • Cassondra,
      We’re glad you enjoyed the tension between Renee and William. They’re quite a pair.

      We think New Orleans is America’s most romantic city. We gave our hero and heroine a dinner date at Antoine’s, one of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants, but we also set scenes in a cemetery for All Saint’s Day and at a voodoo ceremony for Fete Gede.

  • Cathy P says:

    Congratulations to both Helen and Mary on their debut! I like a varuety of settings and different scenery whether it is an American western, or takes place in countries such as Scotland, England, Ireland, Italy, etc. Love historicals the best of course.

    • Cathy –

      Smooches. .I went to a writers event recently and it seemed everyone was interested in contemporaries – not so much historicals. Thank you for your historical love! We historical writers need more like you

  • Mary Preston says:

    I love it all. Take me around the world & back again. Take me to ancient Egypt & Victorian England & more. Yes, I love a Regency romance, but the HEA does not stop there.

    THE WILLING WIDOW, great title, sounds fabulous.