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28 September 2011

Imperial Scandal Preview


Last week I received a wonderful gift in the form of an envelope filled with coverflats for my next Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch book release Imperial Scandal (April 2011 ). This week I'm buried in deadlines. So it seemed a good time for post a preview of Imperial Scandal. Here's an excerpt that takes place at the Duchess of Richmond's ball, the iconic entertainment at which Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon was on the march. The ball was on 15 June, 1815. The battle of Waterloo followed on 18 June. This except picks up on Suzanne at the ball with Aline Blackwell, her husband's cousin, and the Duchess of Richmond’s daughter Georgiana Lennox.

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Swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands, veiled the rose trellis wallpaper in the Duchess of Richmond’s ballroom. Ribbons and flowers garlanded the pillars. The younger Lennoxes had thrown open the windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze to stir the hot, heavy air. Cool moonlight blended on the parquet floor with warmer light from the brilliant chandeliers. The flames of dozens of branches of candles shimmered in the dark glass of the French windows and the brightly polished gilt-edged mirrors. The strains of a waltz rose above the clink of glasses and buzz of brittle talk. But Suzanne had the oddest sense the delicate atmosphere could shatter as easily as one could break a champagne glass with a silver spoon.
“There are so many dignitaries present, from so many countries,” Georgiana Lennox said. “It’s quite a chore keeping precedence straight.”
“Just like Vienna,” Aline murmured.
Indeed the profusion of medals, braid, and gold and silver lace glittering in the candlelight called to mind scenes at the Congress, as did the perfume, beeswax, and sweat vying with the sweet of aroma from the banks of roses and lilies that decorated the room. But the two hundred some guests crowding Georgiana’s mother’s ballroom were a small crowd compared to the thousand and more Prince and Princess Metternich had entertained at their villa.
“It looks splendid,” Suzanne said.
Georgiana gave a smile slightly strained about the edges. “You’d never guess my sisters use this room as a schoolroom, would you? Or that we’ve been known to play battledore and shuttlecock in here.” She scanned the crowd. “I do wish Wellington would come.”
“He may have ordered the army ready to march,” Aline said, “but he obviously isn’t in a panic. Half his officers are here.”
“But there’s a distinct dearth of Dutch-Belgians.” Georgiana tugged at a loose thread in her sleeve. “None of General Perponcher’s officers has put in an appearance.”
“Lord Hill is saying everything that is reassuring.” Suzanne scanned the soldiers thronging the floor with ladies in gauzy, ribbon-trimmed gowns in a hothouse of colors—lilac, rose, Pomona green, jonquil, cerulean blue. Her gaze settled on a man in Belgian uniform. Good God. Surely that handsome face with the slanting cheekbones belonged to General de la Bédoyère, who had taken his regiment over to Napoleon and was now one of his aides-de-camp. La Bédoyère met her gaze for the briefest moment, a reckless glint in his eyes, then continued to glance round the room.
Aline pulled her lace shawl closer about her shoulders despite the heat in the room. “Georgy’s right, Perponcher’s officers not being here is worrying.”
Georgiana shot a surprised look at her. “You’re always so calm, Allie.”
“Calm?” Aline’s voice turned unwontedly sharp. “My insides are roiling about, and for once I don’t think it’s anything to do with the baby.”
“But–”
“My husband’s military doctor, Georgy. That means he’ll be near the front. Which does rather strain one’s savoir-faire.”
Suzanne put an arm round Aline and squeezed her shoulders. With everything else going on these past days, she’d quite failed to think about what her young cousin was going through. “Geoff’s been through countless battles.”
“And he’ll be in much less danger than the soldiers. I know.” Aline’s shoulders were taut beneath Suzanne’s arm. “But somehow it doesn’t help.”
Georgiana flicked her fan open and then closed. “The Prince of Orange gave it to me,” she said, fingering the amber sticks. “So odd to think of him commanding troops. I can’t help–“
“If one ignores the smell of nervousness in the air and half the conversation, it could almost be a normal evening.” Cordelia emerged from the crowd to stand beside them. Though Suzanne knew just how little time her friend had had to tend to her toilette, she was as dramatic as always in jet-beaded gossamer net over cream-colored silk.
“Define normal,” Aline said.
“There’s the rub. If–” Cordelia broke off as a tall, sandy-haired man in a colonel’s uniform came toward them. Colonel Peregrine Waterford. Suzanne had met him in the Peninsula and seen him once or twice in Brussels.
Waterford greeted all the women, but his gaze lingered on Cordelia, warm with memories. “I was hoping I could persuade you to dance.” His voice was a bit slurred, as though he’d been dipping too deep into the Richmonds’ excellent champagne.
Cordelia’s answering smile was as distant as it was polite. “Thank you, Colonel, but I won’t dance tonight. My sister died only two days ago.”
Embarrassment shot through the colonel’s eyes. He murmured an apology and his condolences on her loss, then quickly took himself off.
“How ill-mannered,” Georgiana said. “I’m sorry, Cordelia.”
“I’m the one who should apologize, Georgy. Your mother wouldn’t thank me for letting you so close to one of my scandals.”
“Oh, stuff.” Georgiana gave a quick flick of her fan. A great deal had changed in her attitude toward Cordelia since Stuart’s ball two days ago. “Scandal seems quite irrelevant now.”
“Scandal is sadly never irrelevant. And the past seems to be always with us. Oh, good, here’s someone who should know something. Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia held out her hand to the cavalry commander, who was walking toward them. “Do tell us you have news.”
“I’m afraid not.” Uxbridge bowed over her hand. “But surely you don’t think all the officers would have leave to be here were the situation really dire?”
“Yes,” Cordelia said, “if Wellington wanted people to believe the situation less dire than it is.”
Uxbridge threw back his head and laughed. “Touché. It’s a pity you couldn’t have joined the cavalry, Cordy. I could have made something of you.”
“It’s just so hard not knowing,” Georgiana said. “Three of my brothers are in the army, as is Mrs. Blackwell’s husband.”
“And my husband,” Cordelia said.
Georgiana cast a quick glance at her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think–”
“Quite understandable. But Harry is my husband and the father of my daughter, and as it happens his fate is a matter of some concern to me.”
Uxbridge looked at her, brows drawing together. “Cordelia-”
“Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia put her hands on his shoulders with the familiarity of an old friend. “Tell us the truth.”
Uxbridge smiled down at her. “The truth, my dear Cordelia, is that I know little more than you.”
“But you rather think Wellington should have told you more as second in command.”
“You never heard me say so, Cordy.”
Cordelia laughed.
Georgiana shivered. “How can you laugh at a time like this?”
Cordelia smiled at the younger woman and put an arm round her. “My dear Georgy. It’s difficult to see what else we can do.”
“Spoken like a soldier’s wife,” Uxbridge said. He smiled as he spoke, but Suzanne caught a flicker in his gaze. She suspected he was thinking of his own wife, home in England with their children, and the chances that she’d find herself a widow.
The waltz on the dance floor had come to an end. A wail cut the air that took Suzanne back to the previous summer. Dunmykel, Malcolm’s family estate in Perthshire. Granite cliffs, the tang of salt water, clean pine-scented air. and the unmistakable sound of bagpipes. Kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders marched into the room. The candlelight gleamed off their white sporrans and the brilliant tartans that trailed over their shoulders.
The crowd drew back and broke into applause. “Mama wanted to show off Highland dances,” Georgiana murmured. Her mother was a daughter of the Duke of Gordon. “She did so want the evening to be memorable.” Georgiana bit her lip, for the evening was almost bound to be memorable for reasons that had nothing to do with the entertainment.
Yet when crossed swords glinted on the parquet floor and the Highlanders danced over them to the wail of the pipes, it was almost enough to drive out thoughts of the coming battle. Except that those swords looked all too lethal.
Suzanne felt a light touch at her waist as the sword dance gave way to a strathspey. “I could almost imagine I’m home,” Malcolm murmured.
She twisted her head round to glimpse an ache of longing in her husband’s eyes. She’d seen last summer how much Dunmykel meant to him. Even after their visit she didn’t understand the reasons for his self-imposed exile from his home and family. A homesickness he would never admit to was sharp in his gaze now. With a chill, she realized he was wondering if he’d ever see Dunmykel again.
She caught his hand in her own and squeezed it hard. He smiled at her. “You’re missing the show.”
She turned back to the dancers. Their legs, clad in red-checkered stockings, seemed to move ever faster. The sound of the pipes swirled through the candle-warmed air and bounced off the ballroom ceiling. Incredible to think that these musicians and dancers would soon be marching off to battle. On her husband’s side. And against her own.

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Any favorite real historical balls or parties in fiction? What makes them come to life for you? Writers, do you find it nerve-wracking to take on an iconic historical event? I'll give away a signed coverflat for Imperial Scandal to one commenter on today's post.

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26 September 2011

The VICTORIAN game of croquet

I'm not quite sure why croquet feels like it belongs at a Regency House party, but it clearly does. Maybe it's the sweet, stuffy nature of it? Or the historical and English feel of it (white linen and vast lawns). Whatever the reason, people can easily picture Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters playing the game on a sunny afternoon and many an author has stumbled into this trap.  Sadly, croquet is solidly Victorian.

According to English Costume for Sports and Outdoor Recreation it was introduced to England in the 1850s, most likely by Lord Lonsdale, who was one of the first to lay out a court at his country estate.

The OED also dates “croquet” to 1858: “Field 10 July 33/3   There is no game which has made such rapid strides in this county [Co. Meath] within a few years as croquet.”

Manuals for the game support such a date as well, Routledge's Handbook on Croquet dating to 1864 and Croquet, a new Game of Skill dates to 1867.We also have quotes such as this one from The Book of Croquet (1873):

"Some twelve years back...Pretty ladies were soon thumping those bright balls about with tiny mallets; and this game became quite popular...Does it not almost seem as if the process of croqueting and the fact that young ladies have pretty ankles, were discovered at one and same moment of time?" [skirts had risen several inches in the 1860s from their former ground-skimming length]

But wait, you say. Wasn't it just a tamed down version of Pall Mall? This theory is often advanced in defense of Regency croquet, but history does not support this development (unless you rely on Wikipedia). Pall Mall was a wild sport that required a loooooooong court (the mall) of crushed oyster shell (see Sin City: London in Pursuit of Pleasure for more on this). Pall Mall also died out in at the beginning of the 18th century, so there's no logical growth of the game from a wild and somewhat dangerous men's sport to a staid and ladylike game.


So let them play cricket, or tennis, or shuttlecock. Let them compete at archery, race their horses, or even steel their brothers' phaetons and go for a wild jaunt. Let them angle for fish in the lake, punt romantically across its surface, or skate if it's a winter-set book. But please, no croquet.

23 September 2011

Re-igniting the fire in the belly



In January 2012, my novella - Gauchos & Gumption: My Argentine Honeymoon – will be published by Turquoise Morning Press. This is a fictionalized memoir by my grandmother, Leora Maria Banning (see photo at left), about her trip to South America in 1910. Accompanying the journal are actual photographs she took on the Argentine plains with a simple box camera.

Writing this work has been something of a struggle. All writers struggle, I know. We go through periods of “ohmigod how do I do this?” And we wish for hope to sustain us - a sort of church for writers. For me, that “church” is other writers’ work. While working on Gauchos I have been buoyed up by four novels in my genre – western historicals – which I found inspiring. Naturally, I can’t resist talking about them.

Settler’s Law, by Doris H. Eraldi (Berkley, 2010). This isn’t a romance, exactly, but it does portray one of those really special unspoken-bond relationships that I find moving and believable. The hero (Settler, or “Sett”) is a man working to overcome an unsavory past and he has scars to prove it.

The setting, the Montana mountains of 1886, is so beautifully presented I never tired of the descriptions of woods and canyons, trees and rivers, the weather (!), even rough-and-ready towns. What drew me in and what sticks with me is the authenticity of the people, the place, and the story--not high drama in the “Indian war” tradition, but the quiet, wrenching drive for one human being to connect with another.

The sequel, Settler’s Chase, which deals with a woman’s desperate yearning for a child, is proving to be equally moving. As with Settler’s Law, I’m finding it hard to stop reading and this isn’t because of a “hook” at the end of each chapter; it’s because the story is compelling and has meaning beyond the world of “entertaining fiction.”

Hot Biscuits, Eighteen Stories by Women and Men of the Ranching West, edited by Max Evans and Candy Moulton (University of New Mexico Press, 2002), is an eclectic collection of wonderful tales that have that typical “cowboy” humor and a good deal of human sensitivity to the land and to the human condition.

These are stories of heartbreak, of surprises, and of struggle in the Old West that speak to us – or at least to me – today. There is a tenacity and verve to the characters depicted that I find heartening, even uplifting. Such stories make me laugh and wonder at the strength and grace of human beings under pressure.

Mama Grace, an Oklahoma Centennial Book, by Dana Bagshaw ( Evans Publications, Inc. 2006), is a novel based on an original (unpublished) work by Letha Crossman, the author’s grandmother. Mama Grace is the author’s great-grandmother. The story is told in diary format; the chapters are presented in order of occurrence as the title character, Grace Barnet, a pioneer woman, brings her five children in a covered wagon to Waynoka, in western Oklahoma, to farm. She made the trip alone, with the ammunition for her rifle stashed in her bosom and her baby son on her lap.

Neither the trip nor the life they found in Oklahoma were easy; the adventures and trials Mama Grace weathered brought my eyebrows up and tears to my eyes. This woman had real spunk, real fears, real heartbreak, and real triumphs in a land where water was scarce, prairie fires raged, renegade Indians and outlaws (“Three-Finger Jack”) rode free, and houses had no heat but for a wood-burning cook stove.

My Name Is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira (Penguin, 2010), a first novel, is fiction of the highest caliber about a young Albany, New York, woman who becomes a nurse during the Civil War. I was riveted by this story, amazed at the depth of insight into Mary Sutter’s thinking and emotions and pop-eyed at the unvarnished picture of the War, which included not only Mary’s personal trials but the impressively researched events that occurred in makeshift hospitals (the author is a nurse), in President Lincoln’s office, in Dorothea Dix’s parlor, and on the bloody fields of battle.

Reading such a work gives me pause: what struggles and anguish human beings are subjected to and survive, not without scars but with courage and nobility.

Are any of you inspired by or drawing on family diaries or autobiographies for your work?

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22 September 2011

History in Living Color


Thanks so much to the History Hoydens for hosting me today as I celebrate the recent release of my new Victorian historical, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS!

I’m the type of writer who enjoys a good challenge. Actually, the measure of the challenge’s difficulty depends on how 1) how much sleep I’ve had recently and 2) how much screaming my daughters have subjected me to that day. =)

For the story of ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, I wanted to focus on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine more than any exotic or unusual setting. With this in mind, I chose to write a large portion of the story with a country house party as the background. Although a country house party isn’t extraordinary for historical romances, I’d never written one before so it was exciting for me. Yet I also wanted to write of activities that could have occurred at a country house party that weren’t typical from my experience as a romance reader.

Therefore, I conducted a little research and found something which intrigued me: tableaux vivants. Or, in translation: living pictures.

We’ve probably all read romances featuring plays or dramatic readings. Well, tableaux vivants are still performances. Participants chose scenes from paintings or even scenes in history, costumed themselves appropriately, then stood before the audience as a scene or painting come to life. They did not speak and they did not move; they simply kept still.

In ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, our heroine—who is the hostess of the house party—sets up such a tableaux vivants activity for her guests. I’m sure the audience’s interpretation of various tableaux vivants would be thrilling indeed when the still portrayals were performed. However, instead of writing the scene of the actual tableaux vivants, I chose instead to write a scene which shows what I imagined to truly be the most exciting aspect—the choosing of which painting or historical scene to imitate and the decisions on how to costume the participants.

It’s one of my favorite scenes where the hero interacts with the other guests (let’s just say he was chosen to be the murdered Julius Caesar in someone else’s tableau vivant), and I hope you enjoy it, too. =)

Have you ever heard of or seen a tableau vivant before? What are some of your favorite activities at a house party to read about in historical romances?

One random commenter will be chosen to win a copy of my newest book, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS (open internationally)! Also, find out how to win the ROMANCING THE COUNTESS Book Tour Grand Prize of 50+ romance novels by visiting www.AshleyMarch.com

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21 September 2011

Welcome, Rose Lerner!

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Rose Lerner. Some of you may remember her from her critically acclaimed first book, In for a Penny. Her long-awaited second book, A Lily Among Thorns (doesn't she have the best titles?) is now in stores. Just to make things more interesting, she has a hero with a rather unusual profession-- and she's here to talk to us about him today. She has also very generously agreed to give away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to someone who comments on this post.

Welcome, Rose!


The hero of my new book, A Lily Among Thorns, Solomon Hathaway, is a chemist who manufactures dyes for the family tailoring shop. My memories of high school chemistry mostly involve being extremely afraid I would spill acid or cyanide on myself--I'm neurotic and a klutz, bad combination--and the little I did know didn't help me much with writing a Regency scientist.

Even after all my research, the occasional elementary mistake had to be corrected by scientific friends. Everyone's seen liquid nitrogen at some point, right? Wrong. A biochemist friend informed that no one had ever turned nitrogen liquid yet in 1815. I could mention liquid sulfur, but even that was a fairly recent discovery. (Wikipedia informs me that, "In the late 18th century, furniture makers used molten sulfur to produce decorative inlays in their craft. Because of the sulfur dioxide produced during the process of melting sulfur, the craft of sulfur inlays was soon abandoned.")

So I went to the library and checked out The Philosophy of Experimental Chemistry, Vol. 2 by James Cutbush, published in Philadelphia in 1813. It discusses common elements and compounds and their use, and suggests many practical experiments for the student or hobbyist.



While not much of what I read actually made it into the book, it really helped me understand what sorts of things a Regency chemist might have in their laboratory and the type of language they'd use to talk about their work. Some things sounded surprisingly modern, but among that were scattered terms like "sweet spirit of vitriol," "algorath's powder," and "Ethiop's mineral." That last one made it into the book: Solomon uses it to describe the heroine's dark hair. It's really an old term for a hydrosulphuret of mercury.

Here are a couple other bits from the book that originated in Cutbush's Philosophy. In the first one, Serena's estranged father has just shown up, throwing around some really awful threats. It's still early in the book, so Solomon makes a good faith effort to stay out of it, for about five seconds:

"Solomon clenched his fist. It wasn’t his business. He turned to Lady Serena, waiting for her to put her father in his place. But she didn’t. She just stood there. Her eyes reminded Solomon of an experiment he’d done with frozen mercury. He’d put a tiny chip in a glass of water, and in an instant had been left with a block of ice, and at the center a living drop of quicksilver. He was abruptly and blindly angry."

Cutbush says: "Experiment 4. If a lump of frozen mercury be dropped into a cup of warm water, it will become fluid, and the fluid water in the same instant will become solid.
Rationale. The temperature of the water is reduced by the solid mercury to 32 or below 32°, which therefore freezes, whilst the frozen mercury absorbs the caloric of the water, and becomes fluid."

In another, Solomon's talked Serena into wearing a dress made with fabric from his uncle's shop to a high-profile event as an advertisement for his dyes. She's got a pretty scandalous past and tends to stick to conservative fashion choices to compensate, so she's a little nervous, but Solomon has come through: "The severe cut of the thin wool gave her height, and the deep apricot color made her hair and skin glow; yet neither the cloth nor the color seemed too rich for a hard-working woman of business. The long, full sleeves were gathered in three places by white ribbon covered with delicate gilt flourishes."

Cutbush says: "Experiment 26. If a white sattin [sic] ribbon be moistened with a diluted solution of gold in nitro-muriatic acid, and then exposed, while moist, to a current of hydrogen gas, the gold will be reduced and the ribbon become gilt with the metal.
Remark. If the silk be dry no effect takes place. By means of a camel hair pencil the gold may be so applied as to exhibit regular ornaments, or figures, when reduced."

Early on in Lily, I use the phrase "the bluish-white sheen of arsenic." According to Cutbush, pure arsenic is bluish-white. When sublimed in contact with air it becomes the "white arsenic of the shops," which I thought sounded extremely glamorous. I don't know why I find it so hard to imagine being able to go out and buy arsenic at the shops when there are plenty of poisonous things readily available for purchase today, but there it is.

If you're interested in checking out Cutbush yourself, he's been scanned into Google books. Here are a few bonus experiments I copied out that have absolutely nothing to do with my book, but that are fascinating:

"Experiment 15. If a solution of nitrate of silver be applied to any animal or vegetable substance, it will be stained of a black colour.
Experiment 16. If half an ounce of nitrate of silver be dissolved in 16 ounces of distilled water, the solution for blacking hair will be formed.
Remark. This is applied to the hair once or twice a-day, and when it has been used for a few days, the hair will become of a durable black colour."

I really don't think I want that in my hair. I'm curious what sort of color it creates, though.

"On the principle of silver combining with sulphur, Mr Hatchett informs us, is practised a deception in England by diminishing the current silver coin. It is done, says he, in the following manner: They expose the coin to the fumes of burning sulphur, by which a black crust of sulphuretted silver is soon formed, which by a slight but quick blow, comes off like a scale, leaving the coin so little affected, that the operation may sometimes be repeated twice or thrice, without much hazard of detection." Sneaky!

"Experiment 14. Draw a landscape with Indian ink, and paint the foliage of the vegetables with muriate of cobalt, the same as that used in Experiment 12, and some of the flowers with acetate of cobalt, and others with muriate of copper. While this picture is cold it will appear to be merely an outline of a landscape or winter scene, but on holding it near the fire it will be transformed to a beautiful summer landscape: this again will appear gradually to lose its verdure, and resume its winter dress, on being removed to a cold situation." I love everything about this.

Any particularly vivid memories of chemistry class? Tell me! I'll be giving away a trade paperback copy of A Lily Among Thorns to a commenter chosen at random!

To learn more about Rose and her books, you can visit her on her website here.

19 September 2011

Blog Talk Radio Interview with Isobel Carr



Instead of a blog tour to celebrate the release of RIPE FOR SCANDAL, my editor, Alex Logan, and I did a half-hour interview about my background as a historical re-enactor. We delved into why I’ve done just about every type of re-enacting except Civ-War, how clothing was held closed (during which I totally forgot about pins *sigh* which were probably the most common method for holding a gown closed during the 18th century), and just want kind of skivvies my hero might (or might not) be wearing! Give it a listen, it’s fun (and you can hear my “Burning Man laryngitis” as this was done the day after I got home from everyone’s favorite fire and art festival in the Nevada desert).

Blog Talk Radio Interview with Isobel Carr

16 September 2011

Maps, Glorious Maps


Okay, I admit it: I get confused easily in strange places and historical places are the worst for befuddling me. Some people can figure out what’s where from a list of directions (turn left here, take two steps forward, slide sideways, etc.) but not yours truly.

I need the visuals. Give me a map. Big, bold and preferably in color. A few angels and dragons don’t hurt, either.

I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – but the map describing the Fellowship’s quest thrills me to the bone.

Libraries of maps are wonderful places. The Beau Monde website offers many maps of London, which allow me to plot a walking tour through centuries-old streets.

The United States Geological Service (USGS) has been mapping the United States for the past 125 years. It’s now making all of those glorious maps available online. (Yes!) They can be searched by state and location, plus date.

Studying a map can tell so much. Battlefield maps talk about the land’s shape (e.g., mountains, valleys, rivers, etc.) and people’s movements at different moments. Both Waterloo and Gettysburg look very big and exciting through their maps. Yet it’s still possible to see the difference Gettysburg’s mountains made, as compared to Waterloo’s wheat fields. I needed a map to figure out how my hero escaped from Napoleon’s France in "Caught by the Tides," my Regency novella.

Of course, then there are the author questions to answer, like where on earth should the hero and heroine live. Looking at maps of cities can help figure that out. For example, ancient Rome looks totally different from pre-Civil War Texas. Figuring out how settlement boundaries fluctuated over time gave me fits when I was writing my Texas vampire books! Maps were a godsend.

Some books raise even more specific questions, like how to move characters through backrooms. Marie Antoinette’s Versailles had many more rooms for shuffling underlings through, while Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace had fewer, bigger rooms for entertaining. But compare both of those to China’s Forbidden City with its 9,999 rooms in one massive complex? Well, the options there were infinite!

Reader, have you ever enjoyed a map in a book? Authors, has a map ever helped you write a book?

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14 September 2011

New Release: THE ROYALS: THE LIVES AND LOVES OF THE BRITISH MONARCHS



I'm pleased to announce the release, on September 22, of my second nonfiction title this year:




THE ROYALS: THE LIVES AND LOVES OF THE BRITISH MONARCHS.


This gorgeous illustrated hardcover book is a Barnes and Noble exclusive (so you will only be able to find it at their brick and mortar stores and at their web site). It covers over a thousand years of history, from William the Conqueror to Prince William of Wales. In fact, Prince William's wedding this past April was probably the primary reason that an editor from beckerandmayer! (the third party publisher who produced the book on B&N's behalf) contacted me just before Christmas last year and commissioned me to write the book. And while I know perfectly well that dear William is not yet a monarch (and there are other royals I profile in the volume who also never sat on the throne), B&N chose the title and was most emphatic about sticking to it.


THE ROYALS has a unique feature, which makes me feel like "history hoyden Barbie" when I peruse it: interspersed throughout the book are big opaque envelopes. Inside them are facsimiles of historical memorabilia, including (among other items) letters from Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard, an invitation to Queen Victoria's Jubilee, Edward VIII's infamous abdication speech, and an invitation (in case yours went missing in the mail last spring) to the wedding of William Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton.



The book also includes historical sidebars about notable events during various reigns.


The turnaround time for this book was insane. I delivered the first draft in 28 days, and I was working on two other books simultaneously. The research was staggering, but in some cases, I was thankfully able to rely on information I already had and research I had already done for my previous nonfiction titles.


Despite my angst, I am extremely pleased with the result. It's a very pretty book and (because I genuinely do love research and royalty), I learned about several figures whose lives I hadn't delved into before, including some of the recent and current crop of Windsors (George VI -- he of the stammer; and the Queen Mum, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon; and QE II and Prince Philip). And of course, there's a good deal of material on William and Kate, in addition to some wonderful photos from the royal wedding.



Writers: have you ever felt like you were playing "beat the clock?" What's the fastest turnaround time you've ever had to deliver a manuscript, or revisions? Do you often find yourself juggling multiple manuscripts? How do you cope?

11 September 2011

Colonial Beauty Recipes


I've been pondering if a Colonial American romance might work---editors have in the past said no, but as I reader and a writer, I am looking for a fresh setting and fresh story. And there was such a thing as an American beauty (a must for a romance heroine). So I researched a little about what colonials thought was attractive--not much different than today---signs of good health: good teeth, nice skin, nice hair. I looked into what it what it might require cosmetically. Here are a couple of recipes I thought were interesting, including one on how to freshen up your room:

Rose Balm- For hands, feet, elbows, and general dry skin

1/2 pound hogs lard (can be purchased in grocery stores labeled "lard")
1/4 pound or less of white wax (candle stubs or canning wax work well)
Rose water*

Alkanet root or cochineal pigment (if desired)
Place lard in a good size bowl. Pour a couple tablespoons full of rose water over the lard and mix well with your hands. Let it set for a day. Most lard purchased in stores has preservatives in it, so no worries about spoilage.

After a day, place lard in a double boiler. Slowly melt down the lard. If using pigment, add your pigment at this time. Once the lard is melted, add your wax. This is where you decide how hard you want your balm to be. More wax equals a harder balm. Err on the side of caution and add less the first time around, and if it isn't hard enough for you once it has cooled, melt it down again and add more wax. If it isn't soft enough, melt it down and add more lard. Once you have figured out the right consistency, If desired or needed, add more rose water while the concoction is still liquid. Pour liquid into small containers to cool (votive holders work well) and enjoy!

*You can substitute any scent you wish, just make sure it is strong enough.


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For Cleaning and freshening of rooms

Medium bottle apple cider vinegar
Dried or fresh:
Sage
Rosemary
Thyme
Lavender
Glass container with cork
Loosely layer your herbs in your glass container until just over half full. Fill with your apple cider vinegar and cork off. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for 6Â months. Resist the urge to sniff, the results will be more impressive if you don't. At the end of six months, pour off the vinegar and use for cleaning. The origin of this vinegar's story is in France, where a great plague was in full force. Four young men decided to take advantage of the situation, and broke in to the home of the sick. Amazingly, they themselves never got ill. They were finally caught and brought before the judge. The judge knew of their reputations, and made a deal with them. If they divulged their secret (how they themselves never came down with the plague, even after being in the homes of the sick), he would let them go free. Supposedly, this vinegar was their secret. This receipt is old even by the 18th century.


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Cleaning of the skin

White wine
Rosemary (fresh or dried)
Boil the rosemary with the white wine for about 15 min. Let set to cool and strain out the rosemary. Dip a fine napkin in the liquid, and rub face vigorously.


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Scented powder for body or hair

Glass jar with cork
Dried lavender flowers
Starch (corn starch is used late in the 18th century, wheat starch is more common during the period. If you can find dried, powdered laundry starch, this is perfect!)
Gently bruise lavender flowers to release the scent. Bottle the starch up with your crushed lavender flowers, shaking it to mix it well and cork it tight. More flowers equals more scent. Let set for at least two months, so the starch will absorb all the scent. Sift the flowers out before use.
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As a historical reader, the use of sage, thyme, lavender and rose water comes as no surprise. From the middle ages to colonial America, those scents persist. Particularly in historical romance.

I am always looking for ways to enhance the senses in my historical writing. As a reader, what other scents and smells have that "historical feel??, exluding the one of course, that probably dominated! The great unwashed!

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07 September 2011

Love & Protectiveness


I recently posted an excerpt from my next Malcolm & Suzanne book, Imperial Scandal, on my website. One of the commenters, Jeanne Pickering, had come great observations about the protectiveness (or lack of it) of one of the characters, Raoul, toward the heroine, Suzanne/Mélanie.

It’s his ruthlessness that gives Melanie her independence and her freedom to be “feral”, “fierce” and “reckless.” He never tries to protect her by restraining her actions. He uses her for those qualities seemingly without hesitation.

But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.

Which made me ponder the question, is protective behavior a sign of love? Or is it a sign of love to accept a beloved's need to run risks? Jeanne blogged about this question, and I blogged about it myself on my website. I've been mulling over the question some more since.

It's a question that one of my favorite literary couples, Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, struggle with. As Jeanne said, I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in Gaudy Night. Here's an excerpt where Peter and Harriet confront the issue:

[Peter]"But if it's only my own risk, I can afford to let it blow. When it comes to other people--"

[Harriet]"Your instinct is to clap the women and children under hatches."
"Well," he admitted, deprecatingly, "one can't suppress one's natural instincts altogether; even if one's reason and self-interest are all the other way."

"Peter, it's a shame. Let me introduce you to some nice little woman who adores being protected."

"I should be wasted on her. Besides, she would always be deceiving me, in the kindest manner, for my own good; and that I could not stand. I object to being tactfully managed by somebody who ought to be my equal."

Later in the book, Peter understands Harriet's need to run risks in the course of solving the mystery, despite the fact that her life has been threatened. Which in turn helps redress an imbalance that has been one of the issues in their relationship. Harriet has always felt indebted to Peter because when they met she was on trial for murder, and Peter proved her innocence and saved her life.

[Harriet] "I owe you my life--"

"Ah!" said he, smiling. "But I have given you that back by letting you risk it. That was the last kick that sent my vanity out of doors."

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes struggle with similar issues in Laurie King's wonderful series. They have an extraordinarily egalitarian relationship. Yet the scene that ends with them becoming betrothed begins with Holmes hitting Russell over the head and knocking her out so she can’t go with him after the villain. Granted Russell is still recovering from being abducted and exposed to heroin at the time. But it becomes part of their marriage negotiations (“I'll not marry a man I can’t trust at my back.”).

Malcolm/Charles, Suzanne's husband, is a bit more protective than Raoul. Not that he’s overprotective–-she runs a lot of risks at his side from even before they get married. But he slides into what she calls his “Brutus/Hotspur” moments where he tries to protect her or feels guilty because she’s been hurt or put in danger. As she says to him in Vienna Waltz, “Darling, I knew what you did when I married you. I knew I’d never be able to bear being your wife if it meant sitting on the sidelines or waiting like Penelope to see if you came back alive. If you wanted that sort of wife you shouldn’t have married me, however strong your chivalrous impulses.”

Two of my other favorite historical detective couples also confront this issue, Tasha Alexander's Emily Ashton and Colin Hargreaves and Deanna Raybourn's Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane. In both series, the heroes can accept their wives as partners in adventure but have moments, when Emily and Julia are in danger, where they find themselves rethinking the partnership. Needless to say, neither Emily nor Julia sees the situation the same way.

Of course, sometimes protectiveness is an issue of one partner having greater experience than the other. As Holmes says to Russell,

"I give you my solemn vow, Russell, to try to control my chivalrous impulses. If, that is, you agree that there may come times when--due entirely to my greater experience, I hasten to say--I am forced to give you a direct order."

"If it is given as to an assistant, and not as to a female of the species, I shall obey."

In one of my favorite TV series, Castle, Beckett frequently tells Castle to stay out of danger. After all, she's a police detective, and he's a novelist. Similarly, Colin and Brisbane are trained agents, while Emily and Julia begin the series as amateurs (unlike Suzanne who is a trained agent herself, which I think influences the way both Raoul and Malcolm see her).

Do you equate protectiveness with love? Or are you more inclined to equate love with stepping back while a beloved runs risks? What are other literary couples you can think of who struggle with this issue?

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02 September 2011


The Good Guys
Frontier justice in the old West grew out of the slow realization that dealing with horse thieves or bad characters by vigilante groups was not “the American way.”

However, improvised justice was the way of the West for a good long period and it gave way to law and order only gradually. In Cheyenne, Wyoming, for instance, the head of a vigilante group charmed the governor of Wyoming Territory into appointing him county sheriff by taking a sheet of paper and writing out the appointment. This was in 1869, when Wyoming had four counties the chief law enforcer was responsible for 16,800 square miles of territory.

When frontier towns grew large enough to acquire a town charter, the first order of business was appointing peace officers. In one town, they appointed a marshal to enforce the laws, then realized they hadn’t put any laws on the books!

Keeping order on the frontier demanded courage and firearms skill. A lawman lived in a world where firearms were available to all, and his success often depended on who was the most skilled at slinging bullet - the good guy or the bad guy.. Consequently, gunslingers and gamblers often became peace officers.

Wild Bill Hickok, for example, a belligerent nonconformist and professional gambler, outshot a fellow cardsharp in Springfield, Missouri and thus earned a reputation which he embroidered at will and a position as a lawman. Some of Hickok’s deeds were real; as an Army scout in 1868 he rescued 34 men from an Indian siege by riding through the attackers to get help. He subsequently kept the peace in Kansas, often killing men in the line of duty. But when he overstepped in Abilene in 1871, killing both a drunk and a police officer, the city council fired him.

Other town marshals often misbehaved: one, a saloonkeeper, was discovered to be drugging and robbing his customers.

County sheriffs were a cut above town marshals in the hierarchy, and while sheriffs themselves were often found to be horse thieves and worse, when the town council sized up a new lawman, built a jail, and hired a man to keep law and order, often it was a fair exchange. The marshal had a small force he could call on for help in emergencies and this in itself kept the “chief” under control.

The third and highest level of lawman was the corps of federal officers operating in a state or territory; these were U.S. marshals, charged with enforcing federal laws and pursuing criminals such as mail robbers and Army deserters, and they also lent a hand to the local sheriff or marshal. U.S. marshals were appointed by the President, with consent of the Senate, and they had the power to select their own deputies. Such positions were highly coveted.

When a citizen of the West had a complaint, he would sometimes have to contact a law official hundreds of miles away: either the town marshal or the county sheriff. Between them, these two positions served to uphold frontier law.

The local sheriff had the edge in power and prestige, and many personally tracked down the lawless. Sheriffs were elected and thus had to campaign for favor. Sheriffs maintained the jail, served court orders, and sold tax-delinquent property. In Wyoming, sheriffs inspected owners’ brands on all horses driven out of the state; Utah’s sheriffs also maintained the county dog pounds. In Colorado sheriffs fought forest fires; in Texas they fought prairie dogs; and in New Mexico they searched for straying livestock.

Town marshals served as health inspectors, fire inspectors, and sanitation commissioners. Sometimes they collected taxes and license fees for saloons, houses of prostitution, and dog owners. They also served subpoenas, presided over the jail, kept official records of arrests, gave evidence at trials, and maintained order in the court. All this sounds fairly prosaic until you realize these men were also charged with making arrests.

To me it is most significant that, in the unruly, untamed settlements of the West, the need for law and order was perceived as a high priority and that, while there were notorious abuses on the part of law enforcers, for the most part such men were honest, conscientious, law-abiding citizens who believed in justice and the rule of law.




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