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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 January 2008

Character Analysis: The Four Temperaments


Around the year 450 B.C. Hippocrates determined that four temperaments, derived from humours dominant in the human body, were responsible for a person’s behavior and the way they looked at the world; and therefore, there were four basic types of people:

The Choleric (liver)
The Sanguine (blood)
The Phlegmatic (phlegm)
The Melancholy (bile [kidneys])

A stable person would have all four temperaments or humours in balance.

Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.)


During the Middle Ages and even into the Renaissance, it was popularly held if a person behaved in a certain way (although it first applied to how that person might be fit for a career in the Church) that one of the four temperaments was too dominant. Nowadays, you could say his chakras need balancing. Both Chaucer and Shakespeare refer to the humors or to characters being melancholy, choleric, etc.

Emma Hamilton

Someone who was sanguine was the sparkling blithe spirit of the bunch, thrived in company, and enjoyed the spotlight. Their home lives tended to be happy and they were faithful in their relationships. Yet one of sanguine temperament also had the tendency to be shallow, enjoy peripheral relationships, go along with majority decisions regardless of his own convictions, and therefore his ideas could be changeable. These days we might call him a flip-flopper. In fact, many politicians these days might indeed be ruled by this humour.


Sir William Hamilton



A Phlegmatic was a stable sort who lacked the vibrancy of the sanguine personality to the point of appearing passionless, although he did form warm relationships (as opposed to antagonistic ones) with others. He was contemplative and tended to take his time to consider a situation, which lent him the appearance of seeming detached because he did not allow his own judgment or preferences to cloud a situation. Like the sanguine temperament, a Phlegmatic will go with the flow, but for the sake of tradition, rather than expedience. This was the temperament capable of detailed analysis: the writer, forensics specialist, or judge.

Horatio Nelson

The Choleric was a zealous type, quick to anger, and impatient and disgusted with those who don’t see things his way or who he sees as less intelligent than himself. With him it’s all or nothing, his way or the highway. They are leaders and achievers. But the Choleric can also be tender toward someone who has been maligned or injured—as long as that person is on the Choleric’s side. The Choleric is as intimidating a personality as he is an inspiring one, a leader who still manages to divide; the type who champions a cause he thinks will benefit all, yet who often ends up alone because of it. We’re back to politicians again; I’m sure you can think of a few snarling pit-bull types. Being a New Yorker, a native son who used to have a really bad comb-over comes to mind. So does a certain lame duck and his duck-hunting Vice.




The Melancholic is both an idealist and a doubter with little use for rules. Nothing he sees on earth meets with his approval; consequently he seems permanently disappointed, and in fact, a Melancholic’s downfall is despair and depression. His awareness of what the real world is like pains him because he knows it will never live up to his ideals for what it should be. He is slow to form relationships, but when he does, they are lasting ones (as long as they don’t end in disappointment). Injustice or personal harm to himself or one he loves can set him off like a cannon. Nearly every character John Wayne played, and hard-boiled noir detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade fit this description.



And Jaques from As You Like It (on Sunday night Kevin Kline won the Screen Actors Guild award for his performance in the role in Kenneth Branagh's screen adaptation) is a perfect example of the melancholic temperament, perfectly illustrated in the “seven ages of man” speech.



Kevin Kline as Jaques

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
— Jaques (Act II, Scene vii, lines 139-166)

The Four Temperaments also tempt me to think of the four basic types of children, or Four Sons, described in the Passover Haggadah, who are variously wise (the smarty-pants, know-it-all, brown-noser, apple-polisher), wicked (confrontational and churlish, but he’s my favorite because he makes a good point and has the strongest personality!), simple (the dog ate my homework), and utterly clueless (I know we did this last year, dude, but I still don’t get it).

These days, as writers we might play with astrology for character analysis as much as for fortune telling through our daily horoscope. In my historical fiction where actual figures are the protagonists and villains I find myself working backwards, if only by the most basic sun sign characteristics. I know their birthdate and I already know how they lived their lives and interacted with other people, and the astrological signs of the people they married or had affairs with. I don’t devote a lot of time to my real-life characters’ signs and I know there are numerous factors in a person’s chart that supposedly play into their personality and their destiny, but I’m amused at how often the people behaved true to form for their sign.

And if I were to apply the basic characteristics of the Four Temperaments to them, assuming their humours were imbalanced and they tended toward one Temperament or the other, I can see right away that, for example, at its most basic level, Emma Hamilton was Sanguine, Lord Nelson was Choleric, and Sir William Hamilton was Phlegmatic.

Do you ever choose an astrological sign for your characters and determine elements of their personality based on the characteristics of that sign? And then choose the love interest or villain based on a compatible or non-compatible sign?

29 January 2008

Welcome, Christie Kelley!


Every Night I'm Yours
by Christie Kelley
Available Now!

A WOMAN YEARNING FOR A TASTE OF THE FORBIDDEN… At twenty-six, aspiring novelist Avis Copley intends to wear spinsterhood as a badge of honor. But when she discovers a volume of erotica that ignites a searing fire within her, Avis realizes just how much she doesn’t know about the actual pleasures of the flesh. Determined to learn more, she devises a daring plan…

A MAN READY TO TEACH HER MUCH, MUCH MORE… Avis chooses Emory Billingsworth, a fellow novelist-not to mention a beautiful specimen of manhood-to instruct her in carnal pleasure. But when the brash earl of Selby, Banning Talbot, a man she has known for years, unearths Avis’ true intentions, he claims she’s made a dangerously bad choice. Volunteering his services for one wicked night of reckless, abandoned passion, Banning promises he will satisfy all of her deepest longings. Yet Banning cannot begin to imagine the effect his willful, voluptuous, and very eager student will have on him-or how far an innocent lesson in desire can go…

Every Night I'm Yours is set in 1816. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I love this year in particular because of the usual weather. This was the year without a summer due to the Mt. Tambora eruption in 1815. Being a weather nut, I found this year interesting.
But I love the Regency period in general. It was that last period in history before the industrial revolution changed the world for good. The dresses were beautiful, the manners and mores of the period make writing a book that challenges those social conditions exciting.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

I can’t think of anything that I dislike about the period. The Regency period is a bit tougher to write then other because so many people know it so well. After all, who hasn’t read Jane Austin book or at least seen one of the movies.

Writing about a spinster who makes a logical decision to take a lover wasn’t easy. Many readers wouldn’t expect a lady to do such a thing. It’s one thing when a lady makes an emotional decision based on love to let a man into her bed, but Avis’ decision is not emotional. She is determined to find out exactly what happens between a man and a woman. But after seeing her parents’ marriage, she is certain marriage is not for her.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I was writing another story that had my current hero, Banning and my heroine Avis as secondary characters. I had intended on writing that story as a stand alone book, but the minute Avis and Banning came to me it was obvious that they would end up together. The sexual tension between them they almost took over the other book. That first book never did get published, but it led to Every Night I’m Yours and a hero and heroine I fell in love with. The idea for their story came to me as a dream. When I was writing the other book, I awoke one night with Avis saying to a group of friends that she was going to take a lover. Well, I sat up and thought: No, spinsters from good families didn’t do that. Needless to say Avis wouldn’t let it go. After a few revisions (way too many to count) Avis’ dialogue ended up as the start of Chapter 2.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Honestly, I started writing this story in 2003. Three years later, it finaled in the Golden Heart as Her Scandalous Proposal and I sold it a little over a year later. It’s hard to remember the research I had to do for the book. My notebook has little tidbits that while interesting usually didn’t make it into the book.

I think the most interesting thing for me was reading some non-fictional accounts of married women who took lovers and even had their lover’s children. It’s fascinating to me to think that they just didn’t care about each other. Once the heir was born, their husbands left them alone. Now, I know that wasn’t the case in all marriages but it happened so it amazed me.

What/Who do you like to read?

Unfortunately, I just don’t have as much time to read as I used to. But some of my favorite historical writers and instant buys are Christina Dodd and Victoria Alexander. New authors I’ve recently discovered Anna Campbell, Christine Well and Donna MacMeans. When I’m writing, I don’t read historicals. It’s too distracting for me. So when I’m writing, I search out contemporaries or paranormals. Some of my favorite authors from those genres are: Dixie Cash, Kathy Love, Julie Cohen and Tawny Weber.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

My writing process has changed drastically in the past couple of months. We are in the middle of a major remodel/addition to our house so my office has disappeared. When the job is all finished, I’ll finally have an office with a door all to myself. So for the book I’m currently writing, I’ve been hitting the coffee shops in my area. I plug in my iPod with classical music, sip my coffee and write.

I guess I consider myself a plotser, someone who uses a little of both the pantser and the plotter. I must have an idea of where the story is going, especially the beginning. The opening scene is so important to me for setting the tone of the story that I agonize over it. Then I need one big turning point and most importantly, the black moment. Once I have those things in my head, I can start writing and see where things go. I tend to write a first draft, then put it away for a week or two before cleaning it up. Luckily, I have a great critique group who will read the entire story and tell me the good, the bad and the ugly.

What are you planning to work on next?

I am currently finishing up on Banning’s sister’s story. She is one of Avis’ best friends and a member of the Spinster Club as Banning called them. The Spinster Club is a group of five women who are all determined to remain unmarried, or so they tell each other. Only one of the spinsters is doing her best to make matches for each of her friends and expose their secrets.

Thank you for letting me blog here today. I’d love to give one commenter an autographed copy of my book, Every Night I’m Yours.

28 January 2008

Copy Cat Art

Art, in many forms, has always fascinated me. Portraits because each one tells as story (or hides one or hints at one). As often as I go to the National Gallery of Art or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Tate, I still tend to visit my favorites: Vermeer for his play with light, Matisse for his bold color, sculptors like Rodin for his power and Houdon for the way he brings marble to life. There are artists that I do not enjoy (though I can respect them): Edward Hopper is one. I find the sense of isolation in his paintings painful. And I will always bypass the "moderns" for a look at Rembrandt.

Our personal collection includes original work by Western artist Michael Koloski, Alaskan artist Rie Munoz and Maryland artist Mimi Little. When we lived in Alaska I worked for Munoz and was shocked when another artist seemed to copy her work. It was surprising to me that no one else in the art community was upset by it. True, Muonz's art is not the kind that will hand in the Louvre (though her tapestries are fabulous) but still I was surprised to find learn then that there is no copyright on artistic style.

This all comes to mind after reading an article in the Saturday (1/26) Washington Post. LOOK- ALIKE WORKS MAKE FOR AN UNCOMMONLY PROVOCATIVE SHOW. The piece by post staff writer Blake Gopnik, reviews and comments on Baltimore show by artist, Christine Bailey, who deliberately copied the work of another commercially successful local artist, Cara Ober.

As the reporter points out, "Why shouldn't Bailey work in Ober's style...[a sample of Ober's work is pictured below] it's one that been out there for a decade or two already, and is shared by painters working all around the globe." Basically Ober's work uses bits and pieces from other sources to create a montage of color and style.

Bailey questions if and how one can "maintain an ethical studio practice" while offering art that is commercially appealing. Finally she decided to "drop the facade." The question then became whether she could be "Old Navy to Cara Ober's "The GAP?"

There has been strong reaction to her exhibit: vituperative emails as well those in full support, from Ober whose first response was "When I saw the invite to the show of your 'new work' I felt like a mother whose children had been raped and murdered." Ober and Bailey have gone on to develop a professional email relationship and while Ober still does not like the idea that she was chosen because she is commercially viable, she does "recognize" that Bailey's goal was more than profit oriented.

According to the Baltimore Sun, "the incident raises the issue of artistic plagiarism, especially in collage, a genre of art where other works are appropriated on a regular basis and used to create new work. "

There has also been criticism of the reporters work. This from Art Park Blog:
"It's just a concept show. It builds an obvious fence between those who believe Bailey has created an intreguing experiement, and those who consider her work fake and unoriginal. Heck, you can choose the side of the fence you sit on without even seeing the exhibit. "

I haven't chosen which side I am on yet and, by Bailey's measure, that makes her exhibit a success because, she insists, "what she is trying to do is make people talk: "My idea on art is that if it doesn't get you talking it isn't working."

In my experience architects do not complain when their ideas become part of the culture, even when most people are unaware that their ranch house owes its roots to Frank Lloyd Wright. Palladio has a window named for him that is commonplace in today's larger houses. Chippendale is a style of furniture that is so often copied that there is little attribution now.

I don't know as much about music or dance or interior decoration though it seems to me that Martha Stewart gives her work to the masses. Her trademark disappears when the packaging is removed or the individual uses her instructions to create a wreath or some other project.

But what I draw from this is that each aspect of creativity tolerates "copying" in its own way. Some with disgust, some with tolerance, for some it appears to be the highest form of praise. Please not misunderstand. My reaction to plagiarism and copyright infringement in writing is outrage but what I am considering here is the idea that in other creative pursuits the reaction to "copying" is not the same.

Your thoughts are welcome. Can you tell that I am just beginning to think this through? I have always learned more through discussion than by monologue.

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25 January 2008

Red: The Color of Romance?


Red is one of my favorite colors. I read The Virgin Blue (by Tracey Chevalier), a haunting, sad story that centers around the bad rap a red-headed woman had to live with in the 16th century—and it hooked my interest. I wanted to learn a little more about the color red.

Throughout antiquity, red has been used to represent danger, courage, passion, violence, and beauty. It is the first color the infant brain perceives. Neolithic hunters considered red to be endowed with life-giving powers and thus placed pounds of red ochre into graves of their deceased. Objects, animals, and trees were covered in red paint. Early Germanic warriors painted their axes and spear-catapults red to endow the weapons with magic powers. Roman gladiators drank blood of their dying adversaries to take over their strength. Sacred Egyptian mummies and the Dead Sea Scrolls were tinted with the color. Wearing a red ruby was supposed to bring about invincibility. Red bed-clothes were customary in Germany up to the Middle Ages and used as protection against the "red illnesses", such as fever, rashes or even miscarriages (note the red bed coverings in the painting Arnolfini Wedding by Jan Van Eyck, dated 1434).

The red rose is the symbol of love and fidelity, and fertility. Red wedding gowns, carpets, litters, scarves, and veils were (and still are) part of wedding customs in many cultures. Red is a symbol of romance and beauty. And when it comes to love and romance, who could forget the red rose? According to Greek legend, red roses sprouted from the blood of the beautiful Adonis when he was killed by a wild boar.

But somewhere along the way, red got a bad rap. The Virgin Mary's hair and the robes of angels were once depicted as red in medieval paintings. But by the 1500’s, Mary’s hair turned blonde and the angles wore white robes. At this point in history, the powerful European Christian church frowned upon any reference to the ancient religions—and their associated colors. The Germanic gods, especially the red-headed, red-bearded Thor, and his sacred creatures (the red fox, the red squirrel, even the skittish red robin) were depicted as evil and devilish.

Because sexuality was also associated with red, the color was demonized in Christianity. Red haired women were reputed to be witches and whores. The poppy became the devil's flower. The red rose--no longer assoicated with pure romance--became a symbol of Christ’s blood and sacrifice.

Yet with the exception of red hair-dye, the color remained an absolute favorite with powerful, the noble, the wealthy, and yes, the clergy. When the Spanish conquistadors discovered a new, more vibrant source of the color (a red pigment found in the guts of a tiny cochineal insect that lives on cacti in South America and Mexico), Spain ruled red. Red made the Spanish rich and they even killed unfortunate factory workers to keep the source a secret. Eventually, a French naturalist smuggled out live cacti from Mexico and started a cochineal ranch. Cochineal red dominated the dye industry until the 1800’s when synthetic dyes were produced.

I love red. I think red sells romance better than just about any color. Red-headed heroines rock, even though they may be viewed as clichéd. I read once that red-haired heros DON't sell. Do you think that's true? Anyone with red hair care to share your red-haired romance experiences? Do you think a red cover on a romance sells better than another?

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23 January 2008

Love & Dangerous Liaisons

I'm in the midst of galley proofs for the May re-release of Beneath a Silent Moon, the second book in my Charles & Mélanie Fraser series. I always stress out over galleys, double-checking research facts I've checked a zillion times, looking up words in the O.E.D., questioning my grammar. I wrote about twenty pages of new material for the re-release and made some minor edits, so I'm being particularly careful proofing all the changes. But in and around all the fact checking and obsessing, I'm also enjoying a chance to revisit the story and its themes. Like all my Charles & Mélanie books, it's a spy story with lots of suspense and intrigue. But at the thematic core of the book are a variety of romantic and sexual entanglements, and how they play out against the manners and mores of Regency society. A world through which the echoes of the more licentious eighteenth century still reverberate.

The idea for Beneath a Silent Moon began because after thinking through a lot of the details of Charles's family for Secrets of a Lady (originally published as Daughter of the Game), I wanted to write a book in which I could explore the Fraser family further, particularly Charles's relationship with his father, Kenneth Fraser, and his sister, Gisèle (who are mentioned in Secrets of a Lady but don't appear). As always with my books, the historical context in which my characters would have lived deeply influenced the creation of the story. I knew that the tumultuous marriage of Charles's parents would have begun in the late eighteenth century, the era of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel scandalized late eighteenth-century society on both sides of the Channel, not because the world it described—in which seductions are strategized with the cool calculation of a chess game—seemed alien, but because it hit so very close to home. Lady Bessborough (sister of the Duchess of Devonshire and mother of Lady Caroline Lamb) compared the brilliant Whig hostess Lady Melbourne to the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Lady Melbourne was the mother of five children, of whom probably only the eldest was actually fathered by her husband. (The eldest son, Peniston, died as a young man, making William Lamb the heir, which paved the way for his troubled marriage to Caroline Ponsonby. Lord Melbourne seems to have been a fairly good sport about been succeeded by a son who was not his biologically, though reportedly he was never as close to William as he had been to Peniston).

Lady Bessborough herself had a long affair with the handsome diplomat Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, who was thirteen years her junior. Her sister, the Duchess of Devonshire, lived in a ménage à trois for years with her husband and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster. This is the world of Kenneth Fraser, Lord Glenister, and Lady Frances-the older generation in Beneath a Silent Moon. The world of Mozart operas such as Così fan tutte, where best friends try to seduce each other’s fiancées for a bet, Don Giovanni with his endless list of conquests, Count Almaviva, quick to turn his eye from the wife he was so eager to marry in favor of the girl who is betrothed to his loyal valet. The world of Fragonard paintings in which carnality pulses just beneath a spun-sugar surface. A world in which marriage is to cement alliances and produce heirs, seduction is a sport, and love is a game.

But amid this sexual license, a double standard persists. Men may be known as rakes and maintain their position in society (as Valmont does in Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Women have to preserve a veneer of respectability (as the Marquise de Merteuil does in the novel). Lady Melbourne was able to pass her illegitimate children off as her husband’s. Lady Bessborough and the Duchess of Devonshire were not so fortunate. The Duchess of Devonshire went to France to give birth to her illegitimate daughter (by the future Earl Grey), who was then raised by her lover’s parents as their own. Her marriage nearly failed and she spent considerable time away from her three legitimate children. Lady Bessborough bore Granville Leveson-Gower two children who were fostered out in secret and eventually raised by Granville and woman he married, Lady Bessborough’s own niece Harriet Cavendish.

Harriet doted on the children and, contrary to what one might have expected, the marriage was a success (Granville, Harriet wrote, “could make an arid desert smile”). The world of Harriet's generation (and of Charles, Mélanie, and the younger characters in Beneath a Silent Moon) had begun to change. The younger generation, as Lady Frances says in the book, “don’t necessarily play the game by the same rules.” This generation came of age in the era of Jane Austen’s novels, in which, for all their irony, love is real and can last. Of the romantic landscapes of Turner and Constable, of the vibrant emotion and daring innovation of Beethoven (whose one opera celebrates conjugal love). Romantic games were still a favorite pastime of the beau monde (Lady Melbourne’s daughter, Emily Cowper, also had children by a number of different men, including her long-time lover Lord Palmerston whom she eventually married after the death of her first husband; a visiting dignitary commented on how much Palmerston's son resembled him, not realizing the young man was theoretically Palmerston's stepson). But the games were played more subtly, with love holding greater weight in the equation. This world, the world of the Regency, teeters between the license of the eighteenth century and the restraint of the Victorian era. It's a world that I find endlessly intriguing as a novelist.

In constructing the romantic intrigues of my fictional Fraser, Talbot, and Mallinson families, I drew a great deal of inspiration from my research into the Lamb/Melbourne, Ponsonsby/Bessborough, and Cavendish/Devonshire families. For the series of epilogue letters I wrote for the re-release, mixed in with the letters between my characters, I wrote some fictional letters between Harriet Granville and Emily Cowper commenting on the events of the novel. Given the role their real life stories played in inspiring the book, it seemed only appropriate.

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22 January 2008

Welcome, Julianne Lee!

Knight's Lady
by Julianne Lee
Available January 29th!

Knight's Lady is the third book in a series of Time Travel books that take place in Medieval Scotland. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I don't think there's a particular period that interests me the most. Even an uneventful time or place has culture, custom, etc. that is different from ours. It's always interesting to find out what makes people tick, whether they're killing each other or creating great art.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Scotland being one of those places where things didn't get written down much, it is sometimes difficult to determine details of events. Very often I have to fill in details in areas where there just isn't any information to be had. I haven't had too many plot issues, though I did have to do a time shift in the first Tenebrae book because King Robert took so long getting from coronation to Bannockburn. His time in exile was an inconvenience, plotwise.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

The Tenebrae series began when I heard a news story about two fighter planes that disappeared over the Scottish Highlands. My first thought was, "They didn't crash; they went back in time." The planes were later found, and had crashed, but the idea stuck with me.

Did you have to do any major research for this book?

I do major research for every book. They say "God is in the details," and I like to include as much detail as I can. I have an enormous library I recently inherited from my father, which is heavy on history, particularly British history. I read bits of it constantly. I also travel to the U.K. as often as I can afford. It's an ongoing thing.

Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

No real surprises, though I was rather shocked by the story of how Edward II died.

What/Who do you like to read?

For pleasure? Stephen King. I love the spooky stuff, especially ghosts. I also like a good mystery, though I'm picky about those. I like to read out of my own genre, because I think it's important to look beyond my own work. The Janet Evanovich numbers books are my guilty pleasure because they're funny. Every June I pick up the new paperback edition and let the brain rest for a while. Then I return to books like "The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture."

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I'm a plotter, though I'm capable of changing that plot if an interesting idea arises. I graduated from one of the top acting schools in the English speaking world, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and so am trained in plot, characterization, and other dramatic principles. If something isn't working, I'm able to analyze the plot, determine why it's not working, and make appropriate changes. So my method is a combination of purpose and inspiration.

As far as drafts, I prefer to lay out a first draft without a great deal of polish or revision, then go back and make several passes through the manuscript until it's as clean as I can make it. It enables me to see the overall story as the reader would, to view the shape of the plot, the pacing, and to be certain the characterization is consistent throughout.

What are you planning to work on next?

I've just delivered a straight historical about Mary Stuart and the murder of Lord Darnley. We anticipate publication of that next fall. I hope there will be more Tenebrae books, and I'm currently researching a potential project about England's Mary I. There's a fascinating character.


21 January 2008

Eating the Plagiarism Elephant

I’ve been struggling for days now about just how to approach this post. And it’s come down to eating the plagiarism elephant one bite at a time. I sincerely apologize for the length of today’s post, but since this blog is about research, I wanted to talk a bit about an issue that seems to be causing mass confusion both on reader blogs and on writer loops: The difference between copyright violation (a prosecutable offensive) and plagiarism (an ethical violation), as well as just what constitutes plagiarism in fiction (as opposed to in the academic world of non-fiction where the cite and footnote rule).

WHAT IS COPYRIGHT

From Wikipedia: “Copyright is a legal concept . . . that gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited period of time. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who (if anyone) can perform it or adapt it to other forms, to benefit financially from the work, and other related rights.”

This seems fairly self-explanatory, but just to be clear, the copyright holder is usually the author. The author has leased “the right to copy [print]” to the publisher for a specific share of the profits and for a limited amount of time. Violating the author’s copyright is a crime, in every legal sense of the word. Anything from lifting passages of text for use in your own book to writing fanfic can violate an author’s copyright. Infringe on someone’s copyright, and you may well need a lawyer.

WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarism thusly: “1) to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; 2) to use (another's production) without crediting the source; 3) to commit literary theft; 4)to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Wikipedia says plagiarism is “the practice of claiming or implying original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else's written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one's own without adequate acknowledgement.”

Turnitin sums it up quite succinctly: “Plagiarism is an act of fraud.”

WHAT CONSTITUTES PLAGIARISM IN FICTION?

Let’s address type No 1 first: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own”. If an author takes verbatim (or near verbatim) the work of a non-fiction source and presents it as their own (for example as dialogue, or as part of the narrative scene setting) then they have plagiarized the source. This is essentially academic plundering. The punishment for this type of plagiarism in academic circles can be severe. Not only does the offender suffer an irretrievable loss of reputation, they could lose the ability to publish their work in the future, as well as their teaching position (assuming they have one). When non-fiction is plagiarized by a fiction writer, the repercussions are likely to be less severe, as whatever damages the original author could allege, they would not really include material ones (e.g. that they had lost sales of their work due to the theft). So at most we could expect a disclaimer about the appropriation and list of sources to be added to later editions of the book. Essentially an apology, a promise never to do it again, and a disclaimer. All of which could probably have been avoided by the inclusion of a simply author’s note (assuming fraud was not the intent of said fiction writer).

No 2, “to use (another's production) without crediting the source”, somewhat overlaps the other definitions, and I would say is more likely to apply to an academic setting where one is required to footnote sources.

No 3, “to commit literary theft”, is the type that most fiction authors most dread (and want to see punished more severely from what I’ve seen and read). This type of theft usually results in the book containing the plagiarized passages being yanked from distribution and some type of monetary settlement (see the case of Kaavya Viswanathan for a clear and documented example).

A monetary settlement assumes that the plagiarized source is still under copyright. Texts in the public domain can still be plagiarized, and if said theft is discovered the book may still be yanked from distribution, but there would be no case for anyone to sue the “author” of the plagiarized work (anyone other than said author’s publisher, anyway), as there is no copyright holder to claim damages. This point seems to be causing particular confusion, so I want to give an example to help make the point clear:

If I took Jane Eyre, switched it up a bit, kept large chunks of the narrative and dialogue intact, and claimed this altered work as my own original creation, this would be plagiarism (see the recent story of the yanking of one of this year’s EPPIE finalists for more on this). If, however, I took the idea of Jane Eyre and rewrote it from the POV of the mad wife, I’d have an original work, or I would if Jean Rhys hadn’t already done this and published it as Wide Sargasso Sea. A work such as this is an example of what is known as Intertextuality (to use the SAT word).
To go back to Turnitin’s simple definition, there is fraud in the first example, but not in the second.

No 4, “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”, also overlaps with the previous entries. And it is this part of the definition that can get fanfic writers into trouble (I say can, not will, as how an author chooses to address fanfic varies widely).

HOW TO USE NON-FICTION SOURCES WITHOUT COMMITTING PLAGIARISM?

This really is the 64K-dollar question, isn’t it? Firstly, it’s useful to know that you can’t plagiarize a fact. If I write a book that features some kind of historical event, I don’t have to worry about using commonly known and agreed upon historical facts (such as the date of a battle, who the general in command of the army was, who won the battle, etc.). It would be polite to mention sources I found of value in my research, but not necessary in a CYA kind of way. If I get down into the nitty-gritty of the real life of said general I might need to be a little more careful . . .

For example, in Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army, she used quotes from Wellington’s letters and journals (I think that’s right) as his dialogue. There are no footnotes alerting the reader to this usage in the novel itself, but there is an author’s note where she explains what she did, why she did it, and what her sources were. Had she failed to include this information in the author’s note, she would have been on shaky ground, but, because the usage is specific (Wellington’s own words = Wellington’s dialogue), limited, and articulated, I would say she’s in the clear. No fraud is taking place.

An author is also safe using quotes, so long as the quotes are clearly shown to be such. Let us return to Heyer for an example: In Venetia, the hero and heroine have a conversation consisting mostly of quotes. They bandy them back and forth. But it is clear in context that the words the characters are saying are quotes. So again, there is no fraud, as Heyer is not claiming that she made the dialogue up (in fact, such a claim would be contrary to the intent of the scene). Again, no fraud here. She needn’t go so far as to identify the source of each quote, as one would in an academic paper (and as I have seen suggested on numerous loops and blogs). So long as the quote is shown to be such and is not so obscure as to defy verification, the author has done their job.

Things get a bit murky when we hit the vast wasteland of world building. Setting a scene, accurately describing an historical object, place, etc. In some cases there is no other way to describe it, so the description itself is essentially a fact. In others, one needs to be careful not to appropriate a research source’s descriptions too closely.

Case in point: I based one of the estates in my books loosely on the real Osterley Park (it’s sort of an “inspired by”). I’ve been to Osterley, so I was mainly relying on my memory and impression of the house, but if I’d never been and I was extremely lazy, I might have simply found a description of the house and used it.

On Wikipedia, Osterley is described thusly: “The house is of red brick with white stone details and is approximately square, with turrets in the four corners. Adam's design, which incorporates some of the earlier structure, is highly unusual, and differs greatly in style from the original construction. One side is left almost open and is spanned by an Ionic pedimented screen which is approached by a broad flight of steps and leads to a central courtyard, which is at piano nobile level.”

So my plagiarized description might have looked like this: “Winsham Court was of red brick with white stone details. It was square, with turrets in the four corners, and the Adam's design, which incorporated some of the earlier structure, was highly unusual. One side was left almost open, but was spanned by an Ionic pedimented screen, and could only be approached by a broad flight of steps leading to a central courtyard.”

Here’s how I introduce Winsham Court to the heroine of my second novel:

They traveled up the shady drive, until finally the house came into view. Imogen gave an appreciative gasp and simply stared. The seat of the Earls of Glendower was every bit as amazing as the guide books made it out to be. The house was massive; four stories of soft yellow Bath stone that reflected the light back with a soft glow. The drive circled up to a semi-circular dais of steps that led to a massive door.

Imogen smiled, and looked about, trying to take it all in.

“Wait until you see the courtyard,” George advised her.

“What’s in the courtyard?”

“It’s not what’s in it. Lyon’s grandfather had the entire thing glassed in, and then fought with the tax assessor tooth and nail. The earl insisted it was all one window, but the tax assessor wanted to charge for every pane. I think the earl died still fighting, and the current earl finally paid the bill simply to have it over and done with; much to the dowager’s annoyance.”

So not only did I get to show you a bit about the house, but I got to drop in a bit of historical data surrounding the taxation of windows (which could have been a boring info dump, but I think I managed to make it into a fun detail that shows the character of the family). Do you need to know this about the house? Of course not, but it’s one of the things that makes Winhsam Court “mine” (note: Osterley Park’s courtyard is not glassed in, and I’ve clearly changed the red brick to Bath stone).

GENRE TROPES

Laura Miller sums the issue here up nicely in her article for the New York Times: “The trick here lies in distinguishing purloined motifs from the well-worn devices of genre fiction.”

Among the many things that can not be copyrighted (like facts) are general ideas, plots, and titles. Thus, it is perfectly legal (though possibly sloppy and lazy) to outline the basic plot of a novel and write your own version. Incorporate too many specifics and you might find yourself in a courtroom or on the wrong end of a plagiarism accusation, though. All genre fiction has some kind of common usage (I think of it as the promise to the reader). In mystery, there will be a mystery, said mystery will be solved, and usually the guilty will be made to pay. Mess with this “promise” and you might find your book shifted to the mainstream/literary fiction section of the bookstore. In romance, there will be a romance, and it will have a happy ending. Kill off your hero at the end and you’ll find your book right alongside The Talented Mr. Ripley in general fiction. As the old saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun, and this is certainly true in genre fiction. No matter how clever the twist or how beautiful the writing, at some point the basic, boiled-down plot is going to sound pedestrian (and identical to a plethora of other novels): Rake falls for virgin ingénue; Wicked Widow falls for nice guy; Uptight woman falls for bad boy; hurt protagonist leans to trust and love again; etc.

For example, a short summation of my debut novel might be: Unconventional heroine falls for conventional guy. How many books can you think of that fit that basic plot? I can think of quite a few (ranging from historical to contemporary to paranormal) the idea isn’t original, but my own interpretation and expression of it is.

THE HOMAGE

From Wikipedia: “Homage is generally used . . . to mean any public show of respect to someone to whom one feels indebted . . . It is typically used to denote a reference in a work of art or literature to another, at least somewhat widely known, work. In literature and film, an homage is similar to an allusion, except that whereas an allusion merely refers to another work, a homage typically repeats a recognizable scene or stylistic element from the other work.”

I’ve seen this topic come up on several blogs. The main thing with an homage there is no intent to fool the audience into thinking that the author thought it up all by her lonesome. The whole point is that the target audience will be, by in large, familiar enough with the original source to recognize it. Let’s go back to Heyer’s Venetia. Stephanie Lauren’s uses the same set-up (country miss encounters rakish neighbor while blackberrying on his property) in her novel Tangled Reins. Anyone familiar with Heyer would catch the reference right away. Is this plagiarism? No. It’s an homage (note: she doesn’t lift any of the wording of the scene, just the idea for it). She’s reaching back to a beloved touchstone of the genre and tipping her hat to it. I took the idea of a conversation in quotes from this same book and used it in my upcoming book, Lord Scandal. Again, this isn’t plagiarism, as the quotes are all different, and I wrote the whole scene myself (good lord but this scene was a bear to craft), but anyone who’s read Venetia will—I hope—get a warm little glow as their memory reaches back to Heyer. Anyone who hasn’t read Heyer will simply have to enjoy the repartee.

To sum up, I think Janet over at Dear Author said it best: “The plagiarist conspires against his fellow writers to claim what they have created as his own, dishonoring his own work and the professional respect among those whose reputations as writers vest in their written work – be they writers of academic scholarship, fiction, poetry, drama, essays, etc. The plagiarist’s transgression exists on a material level (conversion of another’s work) and a philosophical level – a blow against the spirit of the general community of writers and readers.”

I’m sure my fellow Hoydens will have a lot to say in the comments, considering that several of them have either been the victim of plagiarism themselves or have had a close friend victimized.

19 January 2008

Winner, The Vanishing Vicountess!


Ciara, email Diane at diane@dianegaston.com and she'll send you your copy!

18 January 2008

Look, Toto! We're Back in Kansas!

What do the Dalton Gang and Osage Chief Black Dog have in common?
They’re part of Kansas history. Specifically, the southwest corner of Kansas. And why in the world am I interested?

Because my granddaughter is getting married this July, and she lives in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Never heard of it? Me, neither. So I thought I’d do a little research...

BAXTER SPRINGS, just west of Joplin, Missouri, was once a rest stop for the Osage Indians traveling to their summer hunting grounds; they believed a mineral springs situated there had miraculous healing powers.

First Kansas Cowtown. John Baxter established a trading post/tavern beside the Indian trail and near the springs, and was thence known as “Baxter’s Place.” Following the Civil War, Baxter’s Place was known as one of the wildest cowtowns of the West, offering a respite to drovers bringing herds north from Texas to Missouri and earning the moniker “First Cowtown in Kansas.”

Quantrill Massacre at Fort Scott. Following the Civil War, Quantrill’s Confederate guerrillas struck north of the springs along the Military Road between Fort Scott and Fort Gibson. A contingent of troops massacred there are, for the most part, buried in the Baxter’s Place Cemetery.

The Spa. When incorporated in 1868, the city was christened Baxter Springs. When the railroad moved to Texas, so did the cattle drives, which left the city deeply depressed. But, taking a cue from the Osage, the city fathers capitalized on the mineral springs and the town became a famous health spa.

The Dalton Gang. The business boom also brought bank robbers Jessie James, Cole Younger and the Dalton Gang. Later, with the discovery of lead and zinc in the area [see Galena, below], Baxter Springs became prosperous. Now it is the largest community in Cherokee County. The Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunions after the Civil War (continuing until 1914) brought fame and hordes of veterans and their families to the city.

GALENA. Situated even closer to Joplin, in the rocky hills, Galena was sparsely settled by hunters and farmers until lead was discovered in 1877. Indians knew of the metal long before white settlers, but in 1877 a German farmer, Egidius Moll, found heavy stones containing lead on his property. By June, the Galena Mining Company was a mining rival of the Joplin Mining Company, across the state line in Missouri.

Mining Boomtown. A boomtown was the result: tents, wagons, log, frame and box buildings hastily thrown together sprang up; almost overnight 10,000 people were counted. Empire City, to the north, quickly grew to be a rival mining town, and in July 1877 a stockade was started to block easy access between Empire City and Galena. At 4 a.m. one morning in August, a Galena posse of 50 angry men tore down and torched the wall. The war between the towns’ residents got so bad that the main road connecting the towns became known as “Red Hot Street.” Doctors and undertakers began working nights and sleeping days.

Galena had many saloons, dance halls and gambling halls that became hotbeds for violence as outlaws, gamblers, and miners flocked to them. In the late 1800s the area had 30,000 miners working 250 mines.

The Steffleback Treasure. A scandal ensued. A Miss Steffleback opened a bordello in the 1890s, and she grew wealthy over the years by getting customers drunk, luring them into a back room, stealing their gold and having her son kill the hapless victims with an ax. He dumped the corpses in abandoned mine shafts. She got away with it until one of her “girls” tattled; Steffleback was arrested, tried, and sent to prison in Lansing, Kansas. She died in 1909 without revealing where she had hidden her stolen treasure.

The Railroad. In 1879 the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad extended its line to Galena and the town saw passengers, freight, and lead shipped through the area. The town build a school and before long three churches. By the late 1890's Galena had 265 producing mines, two banks, 36 grocers and more than 4dozen retail stores.

Sources: Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce; www.legendsofamerica.com

17 January 2008

Shipwrecked, with Diane Gaston!

I like to begin my Regency Historicals in an exciting way. I’ve written an encounter in a brothel, a Gretna Green wedding, a swordfight in Hyde Park (A Reputable Rake, my 2006 RITA winner), childbirth, and a duel in which the hero apparently dies. For The Vanishing Viscountess I wanted something especially exciting. I wanted a shipwreck.

I’d come across accounts of shipwrecks in my Annual Registers . The Annual Registers, a bit like almanacs, covered everything noteworthy from the preceding year, such as the issues before Parliament, general history, literature, and announcements of marriages, births, and deaths. Included is a section called Chronicles, which lists news events of the previous year. These accounts can range from events that have made their place in history, like the Peterloo Massacre, to events that seem trivial in comparison:

“Thirty fine ewes in lamb, the property of Mr. Minchin, Bramdean, were killed in a meadow at Alresford, by a dog. Only two or three of them were bitten, but the timid animals were driven into a ditch, and kept so close together that they were smothered.” (August, 1814)

I own Annual Registers for the years 1810 to 1820, the decade of the English Regency. Even though they are in horrible shape, they are among my greatest treasures!

Here are some samples of accounts of shipwrecks from my Annual Registers:

“The brig Leaner, Fish, 236 tons per register, of and for Shields, from London, in ballast, being driven northward by the late furious gales, found himself embayed in the dreadful storm from S.E. in the night between the 4th and 5th inst. And soon after struck, about 1 a.m., an outer rock on that dreadful part of the coast at Longside, near Slains-Castle. The vessel being thereby thrown on her beam ends fell with her gunwale under a shelving rock on the main land, on which at this awful moment, two of the crew jumped, and had with difficulty only just secured themselves, when looking round they found their unfortunate vessel, with all left on board, eight men and a young woman, passengers, had totally disappeared.” (March, 17, 1818)

Edinburgh. This forenoon, a most melancholy occurrence happened at Leith. During the whole morning it had blown a very strong gale from east, and a boat in attempting to cross from Leith, with her crew, consisting of four men, a woman, and a child, was lost within a hundred yards of the pier, and in sight of hundreds of people, without any possibility of affording them assistance.” (May 21, 1819)

“Fraserburgh. A shocking spectacle presented itself this morning on the north side of Kinaird’s-head light-house, where during the night the brig Adonis, of Liverpool, had been driven on the rocks and dashed to pieces, and all on board perished; the wreck of both vessel and cargo strewed along the shore, exhibiting an awful catastrophe, the cargo consisting of hemp and tallow. Several dead bodies were repeatedly seen this forenoon, dashing against the face of the rocks by the violence of the waves, one of whom had the appearance of having been a passenger, as he had on a long black cloak. Several articles of children’s clothes have been also washed on shore.” (Oct 25, 1819)

Of course, I can’t find the accounts I’d read before, the ones saying all the women and children perished...but I did just read of murders and robberies, fires and riots...and a baboon escaping...and a balloon ascension.

Thank you for having me as your guest at History Hoydens!

Do you have any questions about shipwrecks or Annual Registers? Or anything?

One lucky commenter picked at random from my two days of being a History Hoyden guest will receive a signed copy of The Vanishing Viscountess, the book that earned Mary Blayney’s high praise.

* Ship Image - a painting by Robert Salmon, 1821, courtesy of Athenaeum


16 January 2008

Hellfire Clubs

I’ve been fascinated by the notion of the Hellfire Club ever since reading Victoria Holt’s “Secret for a Nightingale” in fourth grade. So, when I wanted something that exemplified the dark side of life for my latest novel, it seemed a logical choice to create a Hellfire Club. What I hadn’t realized, though, until I started researching the topic, was just how rich a history the Hellfire Clubs really have. If I were writing a slogan for them, it would probably go something along the lines of “Not just about decadence anymore!” In fact, far from being the freewheeling exemplar of general all around libertinism that I had believed them, the Hellfire Clubs were rooted in the politics and cultural shifts of a very particular historical moment.

Between the 1710’s and the 1730’s, Hellfire type clubs sprung up like weeds. The first of these was founded by Philip, Duke of Wharton (devoted readers of historical fiction will recognize him from his cameo in Karleen Koen’s “Through a Glass Darkly”). They were roughly forty in number, all “persons of quality”, meeting at Somerset House or various taverns in London, to call each other by silly names and partake of such delicacies as Hell-Fire Punch, Holy Ghost Pie, and Breast of Venus (small chickens with cherries for nipples). Although they were put out of business by a 1721 Order in Council designed to suppress “immorality and profaneness”, similar clubs sprung up all across the British Isles: at Oxford, in Dublin, in Edinburgh, and back in London. Like Wharton’s society, the Dublin club was founded by a nobleman (the Earl Rosse) and whispers abounded of blasphemies and orgies.

Where did they all come from? One explanation is political. In 1714, old Queen Anne died, George I stalked over from Hanover, and the Whigs came into power with a vengeance. By the 1730’s, Whig hegemony was assured, masterminded by the man considered England’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. It can be no accident that several of the members of the Hellfire Clubs, including both Wharton and Sir Francis Dashwood, dabbled in Jacobitism, the obvious opposite to the Hanoverian-Whig regime. The anti-clerical nature of the Hellfire Club, mocking the liturgy and toasting the devil, may be read, in part, as a critique of the established church of the day for lining up with the Whig establishment.

But why did the Hellfire Clubs take the form they did? Geoffrey Ashe, in his thought-provoking history of the Hellfire Clubs, roots their inception in several cultural convergences of the era: the rise of the rake, the prominence of coffeehouse culture, and the practice of the Grand Tour. Coffeehouses, which became the rage in the reign of Anne, were one of the main battlegrounds on which the Whig-Tory (or sometimes Whig-Whig) political struggles of the day were fought. In this period, “club” and “coffeehouse” were nearly synonymous. The Tories met at the Cocoa-Tree, the Whigs at St. James, turning their respective meeting places into political bywords. The original Hellfire Clubs, meeting as they did at coffeehouses and taverns, resemble nothing so much as these other coffeehouse societies—only with a diabolical twist.

When you look at the iconography and practices of the Hellfire Clubs, they’re an odd mix of ad hoc diabolism (toasts to the devil, mock liturgies, a baboon dressed as a priest, a naked woman in lieu of an altar) and classical mythology (attempts to replicate Eleusian mysteries). Here we arrive at the Grand Tour, where young noblemen abroad picked up scandalous ideas and carried them home with them to England, like so many souvenirs in their luggage. Diabolism was in vogue on the Continent, where dissolute noblemen such as the Duc de Richelieu dabbled in black magic. But their continental wanderings exposed young English aristocrats to more than that. The English Hellfire Clubs’ revels also bespoke a fascination with classical culture, with the rites of ancient Greece and Rome as well as French satanism. In 1732, Sir Francis Dashwood, who was later to form the most famous of the Hellfire Clubs, the Monks of Medmenham, founded a group called the Society of the Dilettanti. A prerequisite for membership was that members had to have been to Italy. The president of the society, in a clear nod to ancient Rome, wore a red toga and presided from a curule chair, while the Secretary’s “was always dressed as Machiavelli.” Later in life, when he turned his house at Wycombe into Hellfire Club Central, these classical themes continued, with the “Friars of St. Francis” practicing “English Eleusinian mysteries,” a remarkable mix of the ancient and the gothic all in one scrumptiously sinful package. In the Hellfire Clubs, the classicism so paradigmatic of the eighteenth century met and melded with anti-clericalism and diabolism, producing a fascinating hybrid.

Were there orgies and diabolical bacchanals? Absolutely! (And I’ve shamelessly borrowed from them for the book I’m currently working on). But, when we get past the more titillating aspects, the real fascination of the Hellfire Clubs lies in the way they draw upon so many paradigmatic aspects of early Georgian culture. In the meantime (since this has gotten very, very long), I’ll save the gory details of Hellfire Club ceremonial for another post….

-Lauren

15 January 2008

The Vanishing Viscountess
by Diane Gaston
ISBN 10: 0373294794


The prisoner stood with an expression of defiance, leather shackles on her wrists. Adam Vickery, Marquess of Tannerton, was drawn to this woman, so dignified in her plight. He didn’t recognize her as the once innocent, hopeful debutante he had danced with long years ago.

Marlena Parronley, the notorious Vanishing Viscountess, was a fugitive. Seeing the dashing, carefree marquess of her dreams just reminded her that shecouldn’t risk letting anyone, especially Tanner, get caught up in helping her escape. He would face the same punishment she did. The hangman’s noose.

Diane will be giving away a copy to one lucky commenter, so ask away!!!

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The Vanishing Viscountess is set in Regency England. I love the Regency! What’s not to love about it?

I suppose if I were forced to find something, it would be that there is so much history packed into the few years of the Regency that an author has a lot to plot around. You really have to make a careful check of important events of the time in which you set your story because there is bound to be something there that would affect your characters’ lives.

In The Vanishing Viscountess, it was not the history that constrained me, but rather the geography. My hero and heroine had to travel across the UK, so I had to be certain that I gave them a realistic route and didn’t bump them into mountains or dunk them in rivers. You can see this route on a Google Map on my website.



What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

The hero of The Vanishing Viscountess, Tanner, first appeared in Innocence and Impropriety. He was the marquess who coveted the Vauxhall singer with whom his secretary fell in love. He also was a strong, vivid personality who demanded a book of his own. So Tanner made me write his story! In Innocence and Impropriety, Tanner is accustomed to solving all problems by using his influence and wealth. I wanted to strip him of those advantages and make him live by his wits and resourcefulness.

But a scene also begged to be written. I had read several accounts of shipwrecks in my Annual Registers. Annual Registers are a bit like almanacs, giving the noteworthy political, society, cultural and news events of the year. I’m lucky enough to own Annual Registers from 1810 to 1820.

Peppered through the “Chronicles,” the news events in the Registers, are accounts of shipwrecks. The saddest thing about them is that the women and children never survive. I couldn’t get that idea out of my mind.

On Jan 17 I’m going to blog here about the Annual Registers and accounts of shipwrecks, so come back and take a peek.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I had to do tons of research on setting. Because this is a road story, I had to research a route for my characters to travel. My friend Delle Jacobs gave me the actual coaching route of the time period and I used that as my model. Then I had to research the towns and villages along the way, and what the the terrain would look like in autumn. I relied heavily on Google Maps and Google Earth. I wrote a little article in the January Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine about it.

I learned a lot about researching itself. I found that searching on Google Images almost always saved me time. I learned to use Answers.com for factual information about the towns and villages Tanner and Marlena would pass through, then I’d turn to Google Images for visuals.

I found a wonderful site for researching setting in Scotland: Undiscovered Scotland.

What/Who do you like to read?

I love to read Historical Romance, Regency Historicals most of all. But since I’ve been writing I find I am more compelled to read my research books, of which I have sooooo many. (Kalen and I are in a competition to see who can buy the most research books. I’ll bet she’s winning, but I give her a good run for her money) I just finished a biography, The Girl in Rose: Haydn's Last Love by Peter Hobday, which was pre-Regency but interesting. Before that I read Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson by Paula Byrne, also Georgian era, and Mistress of the Elgin Marbles : A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin by Susan Nagel. I’m into biographies of women these days.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

Now that I’m writing for a publisher, I have to write a synopsis and that means figuring out a plot ahead of time. If I didn’t have to do that, I’d be a complete pantser, although, like having my Google Map, I think having a roadmap for the plot makes the journey easier.

Even if I have a general idea of the main plot, I often don’t have a clue what the next scene will be. That’s the hardest thing for me, thinking up what comes next, what my characters will do next, how to get them from one big plot point to the other. There is no way I could do this ahead of time. I could never outline every scene; I just couldn’t do that!

What are you planning to work on next?

I have one book finished and due for release in October 2008. Scandalizing the Ton is my Regency paparazzi story, what I imagine it would be like if a lady was suddenly hounded by the press who are desperate to know the identity of the father of her unborn child.

After that I have an idea for a trilogy featuring three soldiers, and I have a novella for a Regency anthology with Amanda McCabe and Deb Marlowe.

I’m out most of the day today, Jan 15, but I’ll be back in the evening to answer any questions you might have. I’m also doing a chat tonight at Mystic Castle at 9 pm ET. Everyone is invited!

14 January 2008

What Would Jane Do?

As an old joke has it, there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe the people of the world can be divided into two groups, and those who don't.

When it comes to Regency romance, the war of words between two particular groups becomes heated. No, I'm not talking about the "no sex before marriage" group versus the "sex was invented long before the Regency" group.

The first group consists of the standard bearers of historical accuracy - - the group who, whilst reading an outlandish plot, will frown and muse, "that seems rather unrealistic for a Regency." I call this the "What would Jane do?" group.

I don't mean to sound disparaging, not at all. Our own little band of Hoydens is devoted to research in an effort to get history "right", or at least believable. It adds to a book's realism when the author knows the difference between a phaeton and a gig, or that young ladies usually went out shopping with male footmen (for protection, don't you know).

On the other side of the line are those who love a good story, regardless of the little (or large) mistakes that creep in. "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story," as they say. I confess, as long as a story is utterly believable and the plot rooted in character, I don't have a problem with the occasional lapse in accuracy. We've all been guilty from time to time, which is why so many authors have Mea Culpa pages on their blogs. These are innocent little mistakes that don't really detract much from the setting. I made one myself when I had a just-wed couple kiss in the church. Surely no Regency couple would behave so salaciously in a house of worship!

But then there are the plot lines that are so far out, so completely beyond anything reasonable for the historical time period, that even the most tolerant of readers is tempted to curse proficiently, as Jane herself might say. I'm resisting the urge to give examples, but I confess a personal pet peeve is any plot involving the heroine disguising herself as a boy and stowing away on the hero's ship.

Surely some would include my own The Spy Who Spanked Me in their list of unbelievable Regency plots. The fiction of Regency England seems to be overrun with spies lately, particularly spies who already have jobs as Dukes or Earls. I couldn't resist the urge to give that new sub-genre a bit of a send-up. (Please be warned that the book contains acts that might offend sensitive readers).

So, do any of you have any historical romance pet peeves you'd like to share? Any sins or omissions of historical accuracy you'd like to confess?

11 January 2008

Theorygirl Meets Charlotte Bronte

Oh lord, this post just crept up on me. Somehow I thought I was due up next week. Theorygirl, help me out here (that's her in the picture, blurring the air with her unruly ideas an hour after a presentation Janet Mullany and I gave at Romance Writers of America's National Conference last year on Writing the Hot Historical).

OK, my brainy muse says, I'll help if you agree to make an honest woman of yourself (yet again!) by backing up your claims (in the Historical Reads post) about Charlotte Bronte's Villette -- the ego, the eroticism.

I gulp and agree to it. Well, it's one of the ways I lurch forward as a writer. (Did I say that? Do I think that? Wow. That's... um, interesting. Now I've got to prove it.)

In this case, let's start with a quote from what the theory people like to call the "text," in order to show you something of what I found so hot in Villette. From an episode where the shy English teacher Lucy Snowe is prevailed upon to act in a student play, substituting in a male role for an indisposed student.

The play is a love triangle, about a good man, a fop, and a coquette. The role of coquette has inevitably been taken by the school's coquette, the hot, trashy Ginevra Fanshawe, who has spent several off-stage chapters discombobulating Lucy by flirting with her. One of the ways Ginevra has tormented Lucy was by confiding how bored she is by Dr. John, the good man in love with her (whom Lucy is, of course in love with). In the play, Ginevra's coquette is "made love to" (in the nineteenth century meaning) by Lucy's fop, both of them extemporaneously deciding to ignore the student actress playing the character of the good man, while the "real" good man, Dr. John, watches uneasily from the audience.

The spectacle seemed somehow suggestive. There was language in Dr. John's look...; it animated me: I drew out of it a history; I put my idea into the part I performed; I threw it into my wooing of Ginevra. In the... sincere lover, I saw Dr. John. Did I pity him, as erst? No, I hardened my heart, rivaled and out-rivaled him. I knew myself but a fop, but where he was outcast I could please. Now I know I acted as if wishful and resolute to win and conquer. Ginevra seconded me; between us we half-changed the nature of the role gilding it from top to toe.

It's as though a furious Fanny Price had stepped into the theatricals at Mansfield Park and by example dared a dilatory Edmund Bertram to really make love to Mary Crawford.

In some ways it presages one of my cherished moments in literary history, when the French writer and literary critic Dominique Aury told her lover that she could write "one of those stories you like." Her lover, who was on the verge of dumping her, didn't believe a woman could venture into Marquis de Sade territory. In reply, Aury wrote the scandalous, immortal Story of O. Her lover stayed with her for the rest of his life. "If you want it done right," the second wave feminist slogan ran, "hire a woman."

Nor does Lucy Snowe feel she needs entirely to masquerade herself as a man. Unlike my romantic girl in pants (Phoebe turned Phizz in Almost a Gentleman), Lucy eschews complete male drag. Begging a kind of Victorian modesty, she subverts modesty entirely by wearing a combination male and female dress:

Retaining my woman's garb without the slightest retrenchment, I merely assumed, in addition, a little vest, a collar, and cravat, and a paletot of small dimensions; the whole being the costume of a brother of one of the pupils. Having loosened my hair out of its braids, made up the long back hair close, and brushed the front hair to one side, I took my hat and gloves in my hand and came out.

I've lived long enough in San Francisco to know that incomplete drag is riskier and more suggestive than perfect masquerade. And I've been watching with interest how "acceptable" male-male bonding is becoming in certain hinterlands of the romance landscape, while female-female bonding evidently remains too risky for us.

How did Charlotte Bronte come to imagine such things in Victorian Yorkshire? Where did she get her intuitions of the permeability of male and female gesture and identity? How did she intuit the themes and variations, the hints of homoeroticism, that might just now begin to challenge, vex, and fascinate us at the boundaries of romance?

Or am I (ahem) way off base here? Should I have saved this post for my other home in the Blogosphere, the Spiced Tea party where erotic romance writers gather? Where do you think the erotic frontiers of romance lie? Do you think any of us might be woman enough to face off against small, plain, angry, angry Charlotte Bronte?

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10 January 2008

Favorite Historical Reads of 2007

The New Year is filled with “Best of…” lists. We thought we would try something g along those lines but with our own Hoydens twist. Several of us have chosen a favorite historically set book we read in 2007. These are books we read in the past year, but they weren’t necessarily first published in 2007--in fact, we’ve included both historical novels and books written in the past that were contemporary when first published.

From Amanda Elyot - March by Geraldine Brooks

March, Geraldine Brooks’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction is not merely the best historical novel I read in 2007, but perhaps one of the best ever written. Her premise is a grabber: a “what if” that imagines what Mr. March, the father of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and devoted husband of Marmee, is doing while he is serving in the Union army during the early years of the American Civil War.

So, she begins with a story we already know and love and opens up the life of the one character who remains largely unknown in the source material. From there, she shows us a society and a nation that is torn at the seams and deeply frayed, seen though the eyes of an idealist who becomes more and more conflicted as the great conflict rages on. The narrative weaves back and forth between March’s rosier past and his present circumstances; and the last third of the story is told primarily from the first-person POV of Marmee who (as we remember from Little Women) receives a telegram that her wounded husband is in a hospital in Washington DC and has gone down there to be with him.

While her premise itself is a hook, Brooks’s wordsmithing is glorious; her soaring prose is reason enough to read the novel. Her tone and style feel like they are placed squarely and accurately in 1860s America, while remaining totally accessible to contemporary readers. And her imagery transports us to a distant place and time, never shying away from the ugliness and horrors of war and slavery.

And if all this isn’t reason enough to read March, Brooks crashed big-time through the paper wall of received wisdom in the publishing business (this was a big topic of discussion during the Historical Novel Society convention in Albany last June). Confounding all the supposed experts, who claim that you’ll never get a novel published that is (a) set in America; (b) set in the 19th century (in post-Regency years, even though we of course didn’t have a Regency); and (c) features a male protagonist, the heartrending and yet uplifting March became a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

From Pam Rosenthal - Villette by Charlotte Bronte

In 1842, two unsophisticated, unfashionably dressed young Englishwomen journeyed to Brussels, Belgium to study French and teach English at a school for young ladies, the Pensionnat Heger.

The purpose of the adventure was for Charlotte and Emily Bronte to improve their French, in order to equip them to open a school back in England. The teaching they did at the Pensionnat helped pay their fees.

Charlotte was twenty-six, Emily twenty-four. Shy and quaint, austere and stiff-neckedly Protestant, these daughters of a Yorkshire parson were completely out of their element in a sophisticated, continental, Catholic capital with its courts and cathedrals. Emily's stay was brief and miserable. After accompanying her sister home, Charlotte returned to the Pensionnat for an extra year of study.

They never opened their school. It's well known that after Charlotte's return to Haworth Parsonage the Brontes wrote some of the greatest of the Victorian novels. Charlotte gave the romance tradition the poor, proud governess Jane Eyre, the tortured Mr. Rochester, and the madwoman in the attic. Emily made us the less assimilable (but imo even more wonderful) gift of the angry, tragic lovers Heathcliff and Cathy, their fierce unquiet spirits still walking the moors at Wuthering Heights.

But it's less well known that during her year away from home, Charlotte fell unhappily and unrequitedly in love with her professor at the Pensionnat Heger, and that Villette -- her final, less well-known, but greatest, novel -- draws upon all the pain and passion of that experience of love and foreignness, distilling it into a wonderful, terrible, near-hallucinatory novelistic aloneness. Charlotte's "cold" outsider heroine Lucy Snowe cherishes within herself a burning matrix of self-contradictory desires -- for love, for power, for independence -- that still can shock a twenty-first century reader.

I'm not kidding about the shock -- when my book group read Villette a few months ago (even back-to-back with the uncompromising Wuthering Heights) we found ourselves awestruck by its egotism and eroticism, its furious insights into desire and gender. No wonder this book has never quite made it into "the tradition" -- or any tradition. All the more reason to read it.

From Lauren Willig - The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser

My pick for 2007 is George MacDonald Fraser's glorious spoof on swashbucklers, The Pyrates. It's a rollicking romp through seventeenth century high seas that sends up all our favorite stereotypes, from Charles II (complete with wig and spaniels), to the strong-jawed hero and the requisite bearded pirate who bursts out with "Arr" and "avast me lubbers" at the least provocation. It's one of those books that, while it makes no pretense at historical verisimilitude, makes you feel terribly clever for getting the historical in-jokes, such as the practice of the heroine, Lady Vanity, of classifying Society bucks as N.S.A.V., N.S.I.S.C., and N.S.A. (Not Safe at Vauxhall, Not Safe in Sedan Chairs, Not Safe Anywhere). As MacDonald Fraser himself says in his introduction, it's history not as it was, but as it ought to have been-- and a jolly good time it is!

From Mary Blayney - The Vanishing Viscountess by Diane Gaston

The Vanishing Viscountess is the latest book from Diane Gaston, one of
the most gifted historical-romance story tellers working today.

Diane's road to publication is legendary. Her first book features a
prostitute as a heroine and it took more than one trip to the Golden
Hearts for an editor to see what a treasure they had in The Mysterious
Miss M
and Diane's writing. A RITA win came next for Diane for her
book, A Reputable Rake. This woman has a career ahead of her and some
impressive books behind her.

The Vanishing Viscountess starts off with action, a sinking ship.
Diane finds a convincing way to put Marlena and the hero, Tanner,
together in a bedroom while still strangers and to keep them together
as they become friends and lovers.

Tanner escorts Marlena through England without the benefits of his
title and wealth, giving the author's version of a story many writers
are tempted to try. Diane succeeds beautifully. In the course of their
adventure their flaws both save and threaten them. While not exactly
edgy the author comes close as she presents the darker side of the
Regency, which is her specialty. Possibly because of her long career
in social work, Diane has the ability to draw flawed but appealing
characters that stay with you long after the end.

In the interest of full disclosure: Diane is a good friend of mine.
But loyalty and honesty are not at odds here. This is a wonderful book
that I encourage all to read.


From Tracy Grant - The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

I have a confession to make. Though Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady is one of those books I’ve always meant to read, I didn’t actually read it until this year. And the reason I finally read it relates to my own writing. When my publisher wanted a new title for the reissue of Daughter of the Game, one of the things I liked about Secrets of a Lady (the title we finally settled on) was the echo of the title of the Henry James novel, which I thought gave the title a lovely nineteenth century-novel feel. It then occurred to me that perhaps it would be a good idea if I read The Portrait of a Lady. (I had visions of being at a book event and being asked if I’d been thinking of The Portrait of a Lady when I came up with my title and having to confess that yes I had but that I’d never actually read The Portrait of a Lady.)

So one evening I made a cup of tea and curled up in an armchair with The Portrait of a Lady. The theme is one Henry James returned to frequently, from a fascinating variety of angles—a young American heiress abroad, confronting the mysterious complexities and intricate historical layers of England and the Continent. The opening pages immediately pull one into the world of an English country estate that is now owned by American expatriates. The opening scene, afternoon tea on an expanse of green lawn, is still vivid in my memory. But I read the early part of the book at a leisurely pace. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, but I didn’t feel compelled to race through the story. Yet, the more I learned about the characters, the more intriguing—and in some ways elusive—they became. Then in the midst of the book the story takes a time jump. After that time jump, the characters’ circumstances and attitudes have altered (this is particularly true of Isabel Archer, the heroine). I found myself turning the pages as compulsively as I would in a tautly written mystery. Looking for clues and answers, not to “who done it” but to who these characters were beneath all the layers James so brilliantly builds up. As a writer it was a fascinating lesson. And as a reader, it was an enthralling reading experience.

Now it's your turn. What was your favorite historically set read of 2007? Do let us know, and we can all start working on our reading lists for 2008!



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