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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 February 2015

They keep a man servant, do they ...

One of the discussions I see rather frequently on social media is about the lack of servants in a lot of books. I think a lot of modern people (especially Americans) are uncomfortable with the idea of servants. But our characters wouldn't have been! Basic living was HARD. Cooking was HARD. Cleaning was HARD. Caring for your clothing was HARD. See the theme here? Anyone who could afford to pay someone else to do all these menial tasks, did. And not just because they were HARD, but because they were time consuming and a person can only do so much themselves.




An aside: my best friend from college is half Turkish. Until recently, his family still had a place in Istanbul. The first time I went, I was uncomfortable with the servants. Several of them didn't even seem necessary, which made me even more uncomfortable. Then my friends dad said something that really stuck with me: They didn't have servants because they needed them; they had servants because as wealthy people (he's a cancer surgeon) they had a duty to employ people. That really stuck with me and made it easier to understand the mindset my characters might have had.




So, I was flipping through my copy of The Complete Servant before loaning it to a friend and I found some very frank discussion of costs and how many servants (and what type of servants) various households would be expected to keep. Someone with only 100 pounds a year would have still kept a maid. Elinor and Edward after their marriage in Sense and Sensibility would have had several (a cook, a maid of all work, a man servant to act as footman and groom, and perhaps a gardener). Bingley and Jane would have had a full complement, and Darcy and Lizzy, still more.








09 February 2015

A Visit to Houghton Hall

Over the holidays, my daughter Mélanie and I made two delightful visits to Houghton Hall, an English country estate built by Robert Walpole. But we did it without leaving the San Francisco Bay Area. The Legion of Honor Museum had a wonderful exhibit (currently touring the United States) which brought Houghton here. The exhibit included furniture as well as art treasures from the estate. And by projecting photographs on the walls, they actually recreated rooms so that one had the experience of walking through the estate (or castle, as Mélanie called it).

We arrived and had the experience of strolling up the house.






We explored the marble hall.





And strolled into the library.





Mélanie was delighted by a child's bed in the bedchamber.





And by coronation robes.


It was wonderful writing inspiration - like walking into one of my books. Watch for the exhibit to come to a city near you.

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03 February 2015

Fabulous 18thC Dressing Presentation

I'm testing out the Blogger App ... a friend posted this very cool video to FaceBook today, and I thought you might all enjoy it. Not sure the app will embed it properly though. My apologies if you have to follow the link to youtube.

http://youtu.be/h8WZw5-FDiA

28 January 2015

Travels in Englandc 1782: The Theatre in the Haymarket

This week Mr. Moritz shares his opinions and observations on a trip to the theatre (and most unpleasant it sounds, too):

"Last week I went twice to an English play-house.  The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.”  The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.”  I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer.  The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.

For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling.  And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous.  I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom. Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence.  At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up.  I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed.  I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one.  Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool.  In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery."






11 January 2015

The Incomparable Inspiration of Georgette Heyer

Happy New Year! I'm starting off the new year revisiting the start of my writing career. The first three of my mom's (Joan Grant) and my Regency romances have just been re-released as ebooks (originally they were published under the name Anthea Malcolm; they've been re-released under Tracy Grant). Georgette Heyer was a huge inspiration on my mom and me when we began to write Regency romances, so I've been thinking about her books a lot lately. My fascination with the Regency era began with Jane Austen’s novels (and before that with Garson/Olivier Pride and Prejudice that I saw at the age of six), novels that were actually written in the Regency, it was further cemented by reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency and eighteenth century-set historical novels. I still remember my first introduction to Heyer’s books. I was nine-years-old, and though I was reading to myself, my mom still read outloud to me as well. One evening we were at a bookstore, and I asked what we were going to read next. She held out a book with a cover showing a dark-haired young woman with side curls in a high-waisted pale green dress and said “let’s try this and see if you like it.” “This” was Heyer’s The Grand Sophy one of my favorite novels to this day. From the first chapter where Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey calls on his sister Lady Ombersley, I was entranced by this vividly created world. Over the next few years, I went on to read most of Heyer’s historical romances and several of her contemporary mysteries, some outloud with my mom, some to myself.


I reread her books frequently, and I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, though I do have a fairly consistent top three. The Grand Sophy which has a wonderfully tough, independent heroine, a nicely understated love story, a sharply-detailed cast of secondary characters, laugh-outloud humor, and an hysterically funny ending in which all the characters and plotlines converge. Veneita which beautifully captures the wonder of finding a friend and lover and manages at once to be deeply romantic and yet have a keen edge of reality (I also realized writing this that Venetia and Damerel toss quotations back and forth, which is probably yet another reason why my Suzanne and Malcolm do the same). And An Infamous Army, set in Brussels in the weeks before and then during the Battle of Waterloo. An Infamous Army started my interest in the Napoleonic Wars and introduced me to a collection of real historical people who figure in the book and who I’ve gone on to use in my own books (Wellington, Fitzroy Somerset, the Prince of Orange, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Lennox). And its rebellious heroine and quietly honorable hero are a fascinating pair. I wanted to write a book about Waterloo ever since I read it and finally did with Imperial Scandal.
Those are my favorite three, but they leave out so many others I love–Sylvester, Arabella (after whom I named my Madame Alexander doll when I was ten), Frederica, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child


My mom's and first two books in particular were modeled on the style of Heyer’s later Regencies (her earlier books have more adventure elements) - London season settings, banter between the central couple with sexual tension beneath the surface, humorous subplots involving secondary characters, comedy that plays off the manners and mores of the time, Our first book, The Widow's Gambit (begun when I was thirteen and published when I was still in college) is the story of three orphaned sisters who gamble their small inheritance on a London season in the hope of the beautiful eldest sister making a good marriage. Our second, The Courting of Philippa, concerns a young novelist who blossoms from an ugly duckling into a swan and finds herself with two unexpected suitors but is still intrigued and maddened by a fellow writer of more serious novels who had the audacity to write an unfavorable review of one of her books. Our third book, Frivolous Pretence, is set against the back ground of the divorce trial of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of George IV (the former Prince Regent). The hero and heroine are a married couple with tensions in their own relationship. It is still set against the social whirl of the beau monde, but my mom and I were developing our own style which has carried over into my Malcolm and Suzanne books, with an intrigue-drenched plot, real historical characters and events intertwining with fictional ones, and a central couple with a complex history. Still Frivolous Pretence has a lot of Heyeresque elements, including, like our first two books, a finale in which all the characters converge on a single location and the subplots intertwine and complicated each other. Heyer excelled at these endings. The finale of The Grand Sophy is particularly brilliant and hysterical, and Devil's Cub and Friday's Child are also favorites of mine. Even now,  writing thrillers, I lean towards these types of  endings though with less humor and more suspense (The Paris Affair concludes with the characters converging at an inn in the French countryside). Heyer continues to influence my in myriad ways, from her sharply drawn secondary characters to her wonderful action set pieces to her vivid period detail.

Have you read Georgette Heyer? Any particular favorites? What makes those books stand out for you? Writers, has Heyer influenced you?

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07 January 2015

Wearing this cover, my book is Clark Kent

Hi everyone! Rose Lerner here. I'm visiting to celebrate the release of True Pretenses (Lively St. Lemeston #2), about which I talked a lot while I was blogging regularly at History Hoydens—although at the time, it was going by the working title Crimson Joy. Here's the back cover copy.

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Never steal a heart unless you can afford to lose your own.

Through sheer force of will, Ash Cohen raised himself and his younger brother from the London slums to become the best of confidence men. He’s heartbroken to learn Rafe wants out of the life, but determined to grant his brother his wish.

It seems simple: find a lonely, wealthy woman. If he can get her to fall in love with Rafe, his brother will be set. There’s just one problem—Ash can’t take his eyes off her.

Heiress Lydia Reeve is immediately drawn to the kind, unassuming stranger who asks to tour her family’s portrait gallery. And if she married, she could use the money from her dowry for her philanthropic schemes. The attraction seems mutual and oh so serendipitous—until she realizes Ash is determined to matchmake for his younger brother.

When Lydia’s passionate kiss puts Rafe’s future at risk, Ash is forced to reveal a terrible family secret. Rafe disappears, and Lydia asks Ash to marry her instead. Leaving Ash to wonder—did he choose the perfect woman for his brother, or for himself?

Warning: Contains secrets and pies.

kindle · nook · kobo · samhain store · more buy links 

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Here's the real cover, which I absolutely adore:

True Pretenses cover

How lucky did I get with that one? (A friend of a friend pointed out they look like Regency Mulder and Scully which tickled me pink.)

A couple years ago, I noticed one of Cecilia Grant's books was given the wrong cover on BookLikes—a Polish-language academic text. This led to a meme where I, Isobel Carr, Jackie Barbosa, Olivia Waite, and Ros Clarke made alternative scholarly covers for our books.


For fun I also did a few romance classics like Lord of Scoundrels and The Black Moth.

So I figured I had to do one for True Pretenses too! (Yes, I am the person who hates to have an incomplete set of anything.) Now unveiling...the True Pretenses alternative scholarly cover:


(Image credit: The beautiful photo is by Froggieboy via Wikimedia Commons.)

My heroine Lydia's brother is a hothouse gardener and Lydia and Ash share a love scene in the orangery (I posted about Regency greenhouses last year). Plus, the book is about how lying and pretending interacts with the truth, so I really love this picture as an illustration for all the bullshit being stripped away until only the naked self (vulnerable but beautiful!) is left.

Isn't fruit the prettiest thing in the world? And vegetables. I am so glad my day job is in a kitchen.

In the comments, give me a suggestion for a romance you'd like to see a scholarly cover for! One commenter (chosen at random) will win an e-book of True Pretenses in the format of their choice, and I will make covers for at least my five favorite suggestions and add them to this post. (If I'm feeling inspired, I may do more!)

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And a few links: Sweet Disorder is 99¢ at all retailers through January 20th. Tell your friends!

I posted a free short re-imagining (~8000 words) of Sweet Disorder in which Nick is a vampire and Phoebe is a dragon and not much else is different: "Poor child of Doubt and Death".

To celebrate True Pretenses' release, I'm giving away an awesome gift basket, cleverly disguised as a suitcase full of cash and actually full of Jenny Crusie's Dempsey books, the first season of Leverage, a lovely malachite necklace, and much much more. Enter to win at my blog.

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ETA: Requested covers

1. 
Theresa Romain's Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress

Inspired by Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World by Londa Schiebinger. Image credits: Ordnance Survey Drawings - Bath from the British Library, and Still Life - Tea Set by Jean-Etienne Liotard, via Wikimedia Commons.

The rest are below the cut!





Read more »

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22 December 2014

At the Nexus of Art and Terror

I've been giving a good deal of thought this week to the hacking attack on Sony, which has now been confirmed as a historical first in America: a real wake up call to the threat of state-sponsored cyberterrorism. The North Korean dictator was angry at a cinematic depiction of himself in a Hollywood satire -- and wreaked revenge.

The effect is chilling. I believe the media did us a disservice by reporting the salacious aspect of the hacking, the snarky comments made by studio brass about starlets with whom they happened to have business deals and off-color jokes about the President of the United States. Some people laughed. Those of us in the entertainment industry should not have been remotely surprised that Tinseltown honchos could air kiss on a red carpet the same folks they disparaged behind their backs in an email. Hollywood insincere?? Yawn.

What the media failed to report was the real news. That the people at Sony were unprecedented victims of a new form of terrorism. At first it was cyberterrorism. Then it threatened to become literal, so the studio canceled the premiere of "The Interview," the movie that started it all.

Whatever one thinks of this film -- which may now be destined to remain in a vault -- North Korea's threats had the effect of dousing a fire with a wet blanket and smothering a work of creativity. Whether the movie is "art" is subjective. But when someone --or some country -- or some dictator --who doesn't like the way he, she, or it is portrayed, can effectively shut it down, potentially rendering any future depictions or similar artistic risks unproduceable or unpublishable -- everyone suffers.

Perhaps it was ill advised in the first place to "pard the lion" as Shakespeare put it. After all, Sony is a Japanese company and North Korean nuclear weapons can reach Japanese soil. But someone (and if I know Hollywood, it was lots of someones, with deep pockets and a cadre of lawyers on speed dial) green-lighted the decision to make "The Interview," they should have been savvy enough to anticipate the possibility of repercussions and be prepared to deal with them.

As we now know, Sony ultimately made the decision to cancel the film's premiere because no one would distribute it. Movie theatres were, understandably, terrified that North Korea actually would and could bomb them if they screened the picture, even though US Intelligence, as far as we know, revealed no credible capability. It was sabre rattling, but no one wanted to take the chance that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't.

However, rather than killing their investment entirely, Sony had other options. They own Playstation and could have made the movie available to individuals. It could have gone straight to video. Or Amazon or Netflix streaming on demand, They didn't necessarily have to cave in to the demands of terrorists.

Salman Rushdie.  Theo Van Gogh . One had to flee from a fatwah against his expression of creativity and live in hiding for years. The other was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam because he dared in his documentary filmmaking to criticize radical Islam.

Seth Rogen is hardly Salman Rushdie or Theo Van Gogh, yet his satiric comedy, which for all we know pales in comparison to Charlie Chaplin's masterwork, "The Great Dictator," may have changed the course of history in Hollywood. Studios which too often play it too safe, may now blanch at any political content, any screenplay that isn't as bland and colorless as Cream of Wheat.

As artists and as consumers of art -- both film and literature -- what should we make of this?

How might you have handled the Sony situation? Do you fear that the decision to capitulate to terrorist threats will hamstring artists in certain ways from now on?

I wonder how Napoleon would have reacted if an author had penned a novel condemning him during his lifetime.

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