Author Harper Cross, also known as Eight Lady Nancy Hunter, aka Nancy Yeager, author of the five-story series, Harrow’s Finest Five (Starting with novella “Too Clever by Half” and followed by four full-length Victorian historical romance novels) answered a few questions for me regarding her new book, Baby One Last Time, the first book in her series, The Agents of HEAT (published April 29, 2021).
The lighthearted romantic suspense book is a second-chance romance. Cynthia has been expelled from the secret spy agency, HEAT, and her only chance to redeem herself is by working with her “tall, dark and diabolical” ex, Derek Wilder. Harper calls it “a shot of action & adventure, a dash of snark, and a twist of fun.”
She’s got a lot of fun things to say about the process in her interview, too!
EMD: How did you get the idea for this book?
HC: The Eight Ladies Writing blog made me do it!
Seriously. The book, the h/h (Cynthia and Derek), the secret spy agency, and eventually the whole series grew out of a Christmas short story I wrote for the blog back in 2017, titled “They Shoot Flamingos, Don’t They?”. I had so much fun with these characters, who were ex-lovers reuniting in Flamingos, I wanted to find out how they’d met the first time. That became my 2018 Christmas short story, “They Shoot Lounge Lizards, Don’t They?”.
Fast forward to 2020 and the global pandemic. My creativity had stalled, then evaporated. I couldn’t finish the books I was supposed to be writing. I wanted to do something different. Something contemporary, snarky, playful. And I’d always wanted to know more about Cynthia and Derek’s secret agency. So I named the agency HEAT (Headquarters for the Elimination of Advanced Threats) and rewrote the “Flamingos” short story into a book opening, and months later, the first draft of Baby One Last Time was on the page.
(I also rewrote “Lizards”, added a few scenes, and now offer it as the free short story “Baby It’s Hot Outside“.)
EMD: What was your biggest challenge in writing Baby One Last Time?
HC: My biggest challenge was creating a fictional world that I love and want to revisit and hope readers will enjoy as well, but that I do not want to exist in the real world.
In the real world, to quote the Washington Post slogan, “democracy dies in darkness.” A real, off-the-books spy agency with this much firepower and lack of oversight could breed corruption, greed, abuses of power, and all sorts of anti-democratic outcomes. But in my fictional world, I can populate HEAT with agents and administrators who ultimately do the right thing and always do it for the right reasons.
I have to keep the story and events realistic enough to be believable, but trust my readers to know there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek, wink-emoji stuff happening in the story.
EMD: This is quite a change from the Victorian romance stories you wrote under the name of Nancy Yeager (nancyyeagerbooks.com). What do you think was the biggest difference in your process when you switched from writing historicals to action romance?
HC: I’m always a planner when it comes to writing (think: spreadsheets and scene-beat cards), and that didn’t change. However, my writing to editing ratio was the opposite for the contemporary romantic suspense than it is for my historicals. With the historicals, I write relatively slowly, but revise quickly. With this series, I write relatively quickly, then spend more time revising than I’m used to doing, and honestly more weeks (and months) than I prefer to do. But it’s just the way the process is working right now.
In part, that’s due to my approach to research. For the historicals, I have to do a lot of research up front, before I can form the details of the stories. The Agents of HEAT books are face-paced and action-packed. It feels natural to work at a faster pace and not break up the momentum by stopping to research. And of course I’m already immersed in the time period of now, which is, in some ways, easier. Still, I have to research weapons, crime operations, spy stings, the list goes on and on, and clean up those details during revision.
EMD: What’s coming next in the Agents of HEAT series?
HC: Next up is an HEA for Cynthia’s HEAT partner Mai and Derek’s brother Chase in Baby Call the Shots. The working tagline (which will improve, I promise!) is: I’m assigned to protect him from his enemies. He’s determined to save me from my past. But if our jacked-up hearts start calling the shots, someone will end up dead.
For me, one of the fun aspects of Mai’s story is that Chase was not the hero I’d originally envisioned for her. Then a scene popped into my head with Mai looking at Chase and saying, “Nope. Not him.” That kind of reaction is catnip to a sadistic romance writer, and I knew he was the guy for “our girl.”
EMD: I enjoyed Harrow’s Finest Five so much, and I’m sure you are going to bring the same smooth writing, sexy feels and gentle humor to this new series! I’m looking forward to it! To find out more?
Baby One Last Time is available in ebook and paperback at:
And available in ebook only at:
Learn more about Harper and her books and sign up for her newsletter at harpercrossbooks.com.
EMD: Thanks, Harper! Looks like good, escapist summer reading, in the (tote) bag!