Q&A with THE ART OF SCANDAL author Regina Black

  1. What inspired you to write The Art of Scandal?

    I wanted to write a book about a woman in the public eye who was privately dealing with a betrayal that caused her to question everything about her life and identity. I started thinking about high-profile scandals involving women who stood by their powerful husbands while the world questioned their motives for doing so. A common question is, “Why would someone stay married after being publicly humiliated?” I wanted to answer that in an interesting but also very human way. Deciding to leave someone you planned to build a life with is difficult, regardless of how big the betrayal might be. And, of course, I made that decision even more complicated with an unexpected romance at the worst possible time.

  2. Art and artists play a big role in the novel. What importance does art hold in your own life? Do you make art of your own in a medium other than writing?

    Art has always been how I could express myself in ways I didn’t feel comfortable doing in real life. I grew up in a single-parent household with limited access to museums, plays, or concerts because we couldn’t afford to invest in them. But I’ve always found ways to make it a part of my life. I’m not a musician, but I love music, so when I was a kid, I made mixtapes, memorized song lyrics, and performed concerts for my family instead. I dreamed of writing books, but buying them was cost-prohibitive, so I practically lived in the public library. I don’t draw, but I do graphic design as a hobby. I love art and try to engage with it in small ways as often as I can.

  3. The Art of Scandal takes place in the political world of Washington, D.C. Do you have a personal connection to this space?

    I grew up in a fairly homogenous small town and rarely traveled until I went to college. Washington, D.C., was one of the first major cities I visited regularly. It’s a large, diverse cultural hub that buzzes with power-hungry energy, and it imprinted on me in those early years. I absolutely love everything about it. When I started brainstorming settings for The Art of Scandal, I immediately thought of D.C.—it’s the perfect place for a story about political intrigue.

  4. Were any of your characters inspired by people you know or public figures?

    I used bits and pieces from various public figures to develop my characters. Matt is a combination of Pete Buttigieg’s “Mayor Pete” persona and Bill DeBlasio’s progressive brand, which leaned heavily on the optics of his interracial marriage during his mayoral campaign. Anthony Weiner’s accidental tweets inspired the reveal of Matt’s affair. And I used the media attention that Michelle Obama and Megan Markle received for being Black women married to powerful public figures to inspire some of the pressure Rachel faces for being Matt’s wife. 

  5. The characters and community of Oasis Springs are all intertwined in numerous, messy relationships. How did you come up with all of these conflicts?

    I was a latchkey kid raised on daytime soap operas like The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives. Those shows always featured large families living in tight-knit communities with small degrees of separation between the characters. I wanted to replicate those messy connections that kept me tuning in daily to see what would happen next in the pages of a book. To do that, I created detailed family histories and biographies for every character, regardless of whether the information ultimately ended up in the final novel. This allowed me to spot opportunities to weave their lives together in tense, tantalizing ways that are slowly revealed as you read.

  6. Were there any characters or sections of the book that you found challenging to write?

    Nathan was the most challenging character to write for many reasons, but primarily because he starts the book very privileged and aimless in a way I’ve never experienced. Finding Nathan’s voice and figuring out why he failed to launch after high school took several revisions. Once I started to dive deep into his history with his family, many things fell into place, particularly all the reasons he would fall so hard and fast for a woman like Rachel.

  7. Were there any parts of the novel that evolved significantly between your first and final drafts?

    Aside from Nathan evolving as a character, Rachel was much more passive in earlier drafts, and Matt was more of a two-dimensional villain with no redeeming qualities. I was initially very sensitive to how complicated their situation was and hesitant to write inside the grey areas I ultimately explored in the final version. But once I decided to make Rachel the instigator of their million-dollar deal, everything started getting more interesting and real. I focused more on Rachel’s anger and grief over the loss of the life she’d invested so much time in. I also made her culpable in the slow erosion of her marriage. I developed Matt more as a person, into someone who could look in a mirror and still be the hero of his own story. I made him a loving stepfather who was genuinely clueless about how his marriage fell apart. I think it made the whole situation more heartbreaking.

  8. Did you learn anything about yourself through writing this novel?

    It forced me to examine many of my feelings surrounding the loss of my identity after marriage and motherhood. I stopped writing when I started a family because I thought it required a mental and emotional investment that should be reserved for my husband and daughter. I missed writing but felt guilty for grieving that part of my life when I had been blessed with this amazing husband and daughter. Writing about Rachel’s journey of returning to her art while still being a good mother and loving partner to Nathan helped me embrace the idea that pursuing my passion didn’t make me less of a wife and mother. It made me a better one. 

  9. Who are some of your favorite authors and did they influence the way you wrote The Art of Scandal?

    On Writing by Stephen King was the first writing craft book I ever read, and it made a huge impression on me. It taught me how important it is to write honestly, regardless of how messy or uncomfortable it may be. That’s what I tried to remember while I wrote The Art of Scandal and what I try to do in all my writing—no matter what the premise might be, it has to feel honest and true.

    My entry point into romance novels was primarily 1990s historicals by authors like Catherine Coulter and Jude Deveraux. They have definitely influenced the type of romances I love to read and write. Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back byTerry McMillian taught me that characters could have fully realized inner and outer lives in addition to existing within the romance plot. Range of Motion and The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg were two of the first books I read that focused on the inner lives of more mature, married women while featuring love stories. They expanded my idea of what a romance could be.