By Andreina Rodriguez
After stumbling upon some nineteenth-century documents in the Dominican Republic’s national archives about a man who had been forced into marriage, Lydia San Andres came up with the idea to bring this to life in a historical romance novel.
Compromised into a Scandalous Marriage (available now in paperback, ebook formats and all e-tailers) centers on Paulina Despradel, an heiress living in San Pedro de Marcorís, Dominican Republic, in the early 1900s. Banished from her family quinta in the middle of a storm by her conniving brother, Antonio, Paulina runs to her only source of help: her new neighbor, Sebastian Linares. While their attraction is evident, they must now be forced to marry. From there, Paulina and Sebastian must figure out whether a relationship can truly grow from a scandalous marriage.
Compromised into a Scandalous Marriage is San Andres’ first book published with Harlequin Historical — and the author is the publisher’s second Dominican author after Adriana Herrera. Prior to this, San Andres self-published several books. The historical romance author recently spoke to the Dominican Writers Association about the research behind her book, crafting together characters, and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Congratulations on the release of Compromised into a Scandalous Marriage! How are you feeling now that the book is out?
I’m so excited. I’m also so scared. There’s always a little bit of that hint of fear. Are people going to like this? Is this going to resonate with somebody? But really, I'm just really excited.
In your author’s note you wrote about these national archives in the Dominican Republic that you found, of a man who was forced to sign a marriage contract under threat of imprisonment. How did you decide to center your book on this?
I love looking through the archives because there's such a wealth of stories there, and of people. When I came across that specific document, it intrigued me so much. Obviously he was trying to get an annulment because he was forced to marry. I think that he eventually did get an annulment and he separated from the person who tricked him into marriage, because I think he was really tricked. But I thought, if this were a romance, how hard would it be for these people to get together after that? And that sort of sent my brain spiraling into different directions like, what would it take for a relationship to survive from something like that?
That’s so interesting! You also mention that the time, place, and – I can imagine – characters are different from what you found in those archives. What was the process like in putting pen to paper what you knew from the archives and what you envisioned?
I was stripping down the story to its basic details. Something that struck me was, how does a person have this happen to them? In the court case I found, I think the man was Dutch. And I thought, this is a man who has come to the country by himself. He probably doesn't have any family here. He probably doesn't know all that many people. He doesn't have that network of people he could call on for help. So starting there, it gave me enough material to say, OK, so then maybe that means that Sebastian has to have been gone for a while. Because if he had been living in San Pedro his whole life, he would’ve had a lot of people that he could just say, “You know what, this is happening to me, can you help me out? Do you have somebody?” You know how Dominicans are. So that kernel developed into the whole thought exercise of, “What would these people have to have gone through in order to find themselves in this situation?”
Speaking about that, I love that you got to visit the town of San Pedro de Macorís. I’ve never visited there but it’s fascinating being able to explore these areas and have it be the setting of your creation. You also studied architectural design. Can you tell us a bit about what you discovered while exploring the town?
I've had a fascination with this town because of its architecture. San Pedro started out as a fishing village that grew into this really prosperous town at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, when there was a sugar boom. A lot of sugar tycoons, I guess you could say from Cuba, settled here and started modernizing the sugar process. And then suddenly the town was incredibly wealthy. So a lot of the constructions you see there are from that time. They're so beautiful. They're just incredibly decorated with a lot of plaster work. As somebody from Santo Domingo, what I'm used to is either very modern constructions or the colonial zone, which is very much 16th-century, 17th-century type buildings. Obviously, there are a lot of later ones, but mostly you have that sort of colonial-era stone.
These [structures] were something completely different. They look like cakes. During one of my last visits — just after I finished the book — I went with my family and my sister, her partner. We went into this red-and-white firehouse that was built in 1859 and it's still standing, it’s still operational, and it’s incredibly beautiful. I had seen it from outside, but I had never tried going in. But we did and it was amazing.
One of the firemen actually escorted us inside. He took us up to the second floor. There's a really tight, beautifully decorated spiral staircase. I got a little dizzy getting up there because I have a thing about heights. We go upstairs and see a museum. They have uniforms and one of those carriages that used to be pulled by a horse with a pump and everything. They have so many pictures and all these ledgers. Even the furniture from that era and the room was decorated. The walls were painted and the floor has a mosaic from the 1800s. After we had seen that, he took us up another staircase so we could go to the very top. There's like the turret type thing, where the lookout will just be up there and just watch for fires and ring the bell. I did not go all the way to the top, but my sister did and her partner and they took pictures for me. I sort of peeked out a little bit, but I had no idea it was so beautiful inside.
Wow, that’s amazing, I definitely have to go visit! Now your book’s protagonist, Paulina is a quiet and polite female figure who is heavily controlled by her deceitful and toxic brother, Antonio. What inspired the way you wrote the character of Paulina?
Paulina came completely out of my head. She was in a position where she first had to depend on her brother for everything, and then she had to depend on Sebastian for everything. I just thought somebody who has been in that position probably learned how to contain herself. She probably feels a lot of frustration, but I don't know if she would be the type of person who would let it out and be outspoken about it. I think that's something that she is probably going to be learning after the events of the book: How to communicate the rage.
Yes, I’m definitely starting to see certain hints of that, so I’m constantly saying good for you, Paulina! And I think the really interesting part of this was also seeing how Sebastian is definitely the complete opposite of Paulina’s brother. And what stood out to me is that he and Paulina are very similar, but it's just funny how when they're both in distress, he can easily express himself and kind of show rage. Whereas Paulina's first instinct is to stay away and be quiet. To me, this gave off the theme of how women are expected to act not only then but even still now. Was that on purpose?
I don't know if it was on purpose, or if it was just an unconscious thing of being a woman in the world, and being a woman in the DR. And feeling those same things where you are expected to act and speak a certain way, and to not let your anger show. I think that we as a society don't really like confrontation that much. We will put a nice face on a lot of things, which is not always healthy. We internalize that in a lot of different ways. Men are definitely allowed to be more confrontational in a lot of things and in a lot of ways, especially in ways women aren't allowed. I think that did filter through to the characters.
And it’s really funny because I just finished the second book for Harlequin Historical and the heroine is in a similar situation to Paulina, but she’s completely different. She's incredibly rebellious, but not everybody has the luxury to be that rebellious and that outspoken.
Wow, that’s so interesting. I want to talk about your writing and the way you describe bodies. In romance novels, it’s so important to capture the tension between a couple, and you manage to do so in a way that’s both sexy and truly meaningful. What’s your inspiration when it comes to writing out those scenes?
I was really aware of the fact that Paulina was so dependent on Sebastian and he was very aware of it. He was not letting me forget it. Even though there was an initial attraction between them, the fact that all of a sudden she was one more person that he had to protect and take care of meant that he couldn't jump in or give in to everything he wanted to say and do. And I think that that conditioned a lot of the ways that they behaved around each other. There's a tension between like, “I really do want to be with you, but I really can't. I would feel horrible about myself if I did.” That was his struggle and, in a way, sort of became my struggle too.
When it comes to writing about characters and bodies, something that really hit for me – especially for writing for people of color – is that there's often this stigma of Latinos being sexualized and fetishized. Is there anything you hope the audience takes away from the way you describe your characters’ bodies and the tension they have?
I would hope that they take away the respect that they have for each other's bodies. I definitely have experienced what you say about Latinos being sexualized or even fetishized sometimes. I always try to steer away from anything that makes my characters feel too other or too exotic. And I really just try to show them as people. I think this comes down to one of the reasons why I started writing romances. From the first romance that I wrote, my characters have always been Latino and they have always been in a sort of island setting. They have always been set maybe not in the Dominican Republic but in the Spanish Caribbean. And I think it was in response to something that I was seeing: there were very few characters of color in historical romance in general at that time. And the few characters of color that I did see were sometimes, but not always, othered. I just thought, this feels weird to me. I would love to show how these characters are just inhabiting the world and they're just people.
I really appreciate that and I want to thank you for bringing this work out into the world for that very reason. Going back, I know you have a lot of knowledge and passions under your belt when it comes to architecture, history, and especially bringing about representation for people of color. What’s your method for bringing all of this together?
I don't know if I even have a method. My subconscious just kicks in and all the little things that I'm obsessed with sort of get piled in. I think you can probably see it when you read one of my books. You can totally tell what I was obsessing over. When I was writing Compromised, I was working through a little bit of an empanada phase. So there is definitely a scene there where they’re eating empanadas. Sometimes I don't even notice what's going on until after I read it.
It’s like when you write a journal entry and you go back and see what your mind was really focused on at the time. I can only imagine being able to do the same, but in a book that you wrote and published. From all those passions, obsessions, etc, do you feel that one ever shows itself more than the other?
I would say that it's kind of an equal thing because they go together, right? Because architecture is a response to history. And even walking in Santo Domingo or any city, I’m that insufferable person who will be pointing out details and dates and telling you little things about history. Like, did you know that none of these balconies are original to these houses? All of these balconies were added in the 1800s but the houses are from the 1600s. For me, it all sort of feeds into each other and it’s sort of like a seamless thing.
This is your first book published with Harlequin. How was the process for making this book different from the others?
My other books are self-published because, when I started writing in 2014, I didn't approach anybody. I just said, “You know what? I don't know if anybody's going to be interested in this. I may just write one book and nobody will read it, and then that'll be it. And then I'll write other stuff.” I was really gratified to have such a warm welcome into the romance community. But at the time, I didn't think I could approach anybody. So I did self-publish everything that I have out so far, and that's something that I don't want to continue doing. I want to continue with a hybrid of traditional publishing and indie publishing.
But mostly what is different is that those books are not set in the DR. They're set on a fictional island that doesn't have a name, but is very similar to the DR. And I did it because I love research and I love history, but I also really love making things up. So I wanted to be able to grab little things from the history of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 2014, I went to Cuba for the first time and I remember walking around with my eyes wide open like, “I want to put that building into my story,” and “I want that corner in it.” I was like, I'm not going to limit my mind. I'm just going to grab details from all these places and I'm just going to create a fictional city. So while I did a lot of research, it's not a faithful representation of any one place.
What do you hope to explore more of in your future books?
There are so many things. I have a master's degree in art history and one in museum studies and I have so much material that has to do with art and art history in general. There’s also so much of Dominican art history, specifically, that I really want to explore in my future books. There has to be something, maybe set in a museum. I am actually trying to figure out some things, maybe a short story that will be set in a museum.
One funny thing is that I had a Patreon for a little while, where I was putting up two posts every week. One of them was a little post about something to do with Dominican art history. And then later that week, I would write a micro-story that has to do with whatever that topic was. So even though I feel like I know a fair bit about Dominican art history, that experience made me connect the nonfiction and the fiction parts and I ended up learning so much more. I really want to keep on doing that.
About the Author:
Lydia San Andres (She/Her) lives and writes in the tropics, where she can be found reading, sipping coffee, and making excuses to stay out of the sun. As much as she enjoys air conditioning, she can sometimes be lured outside with the promise of cookies and picnics.
She writes historical romances set in the Caribbean with Latinx characters who are much more fond of the tropical heat than she is.
Andreina Rodriguez is a journalist from Queens, New York. Her work appears on all 12 NBC local websites, Refinery29, CNBC, Latino Rebels, The Mujerista, #WeAllGrow Latina, and Modern Brown Girl.
You can follow her on Twitter @andreina_rodrgz and follow her work through andreinarodriguez.squarespace.com