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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

27 October 2014

What Do the National Football League and the Medicis Have In Common?

It goes a lot deeper than bling and big houses. If you were to say “trophy wives,” you’d be warm, but the Medici women were prizes themselves, at least as wealthy and glamorous in their own right as any starlet or supermodel.

The rather sordid and sinister answer is: domestic violence.

During the course of my research for INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, when I came to the chapter on the 16th century unions of the stunning heiress, Isabella Romola de Medici to Paolo Giordano Orsini, the scion of a prestigious Roman family; and that of Isabella’s incredibly warped younger brother Pietro de Medici to their beautiful and spirited cousin Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, little did I realize how relevant their stories would become to current events.

To me, the horrific events of these two Medici marriages were shocking. I have written about countless royal unions, both connubial and extramarital. Because most royal marriages were arranged, and therefore not love matches, it’s no wonder that they failed to some extent—that there was acrimony, or adultery. But murder? And not the Henry VIII-trumped-up-charges-of-high-treason sort. But the kind of spousal assault designed to look like an accident where the husband then weeps crocodile tears. And gets away with it.

Fast-forward to the O.J. Simpson trial in 1996. Or only recently, when Ray Rice seemed to think it was ok to sock his then-fiancée-now-wife (who therefore can’t testify against him) in an elevator. Rice was steamed that a gossip blog released the hotel’s security camera footage. Because otherwise he would have gotten away with attacking his woman. The NFL was prepared to put their heads in the sand over the entire incident until the commissioner was compelled to go to the videotape.

We don’t have actual royalty in America. Those who are doomed to remember history will recall that we fought a war to NOT have a king. But we still love the idea of royalty, so we anoint football players (or other pro-ballers). Or pop/rock/hip-hop, etc., stars. Or Hollywood icons. Queen Bey. Prince. The money they earn from their talent on the gridiron or catwalk or soundstage buys untold riches, glitter, and power. And more often than not, a get-out-of-jail-free card as well, just like the Medici men of the Italian Renaissance, who whored and dueled and murdered with impunity, although their wives were hardly permitted to live by those same social codes.

Isabella Romola de Medici was a Daddy’s girl, protected during his lifetime by her father, the powerful Cosimo, Duke of Florence. But after Cosimo died in April 1574, Isabella’s oldest brother Francesco became Duke; and he had no use for his flamboyant sibling. Not only did he refuse to aid her when she complained of her husband’s mistreatment, he abetted Paolo in covering up the circumstances of her death. Francesco would do the same when his brother Pietro strangled their cousin Eleonora with a dog leash. The girl was a flirt, they concurred. She deserved it. Instead of Pietro being punished, Eleonora’s name and reputation were smeared and the family honor was considered tarnished by her behavior.

The Ravens’ Ray Rice is not the only NFL player in recent memory to physically abuse his partner. In 2012, K.C. Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, then committed suicide in the stadium parking lot, in front of his coach. If only he’d started with himself, instead. In June of 2013, Pacman Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals was arrested on assault charges for punching a woman outside a nightclub. In the summer of 2012, Chad Johnson of the Miami Dolphins was charged with head-butting his newlywed wife outside their home. He was released on bond a day or so after his arrest, but the team cut him within 24 hours of his release. That same summer, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his mother. Evidently, during a family visit, Bryant’s mother had become upset at him and asked him to leave, whereupon he allegedly assaulted her.

The power and privilege conferred upon these princes, whether by birth, marriage, or their ability to get the ball into the end zone has all too often given them a pass when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. Months ago, when I wrote my chapter on the two Medici marriages, I thought I’d encountered a “one-off.” But recent headlines tell another story. Whether the perpetrators wear the red, white, and green of the Medici, or the colors of an NFL franchise, their behavior is not much different. Title or not, these men feel entitled. And is it because we, as a society, have conferred the mantle of royalty upon them, that they somehow believe themselves above the law—and their women beneath contempt?


As “Linda Richman” used to say on SNL’s “Coffee Talk”—discuss!

20 October 2014

A Sunday Escape into the Past at the Pelican Inn

A few weekends ago, I was looking for something fun to do with my daughter Mélanie that wouldn’t involve crossing one of the Bay Area’s many bridges  would be relatively mellow while still giving Mélanie  an adventure, and would ideally also provide me with writing inspiration. It seemed a perfect  day for a visit to the Pelican Innhttp://www.pelicaninn.com/. The Pelican Inn, tucked away on the road to Muir Woods on the northern California coast is a reproduction of a 16th century inn. Francis Drake and his crew landed on the coast not far away, and the inn takes it's name from Drake's ship, which was originally called the Pelican before being renamed the Golden Hinde.

I told Mélanie we were going to visit a castle. And if not quite strictly speaking a castle, the white-washed, slate roofed inn certainly conjurs up an era of castles. Mélanie and I enjoyed the bountiful brunch buffet on the patio (complete with delicious housemade scones that were fabulous with Stilton and marmalade) while I made notes for a scene in my WIP set in a coaching inn that I realized I could model on the Pelican Inn. The bar shows what a bar was like in a British inn or tavern - not a long counter but a a small window at which barkeep dispenses pints just as the Pelican Inn’s bartenders do. The dining room has a huge brick fireplace, candle sconces, and wood paneling. The white washed walls, open beams, low plaster ceiling, slightly uneven floors, and the sort of rambling quality one expects of an old inn all help transport one in time.

After brunch Mélanie took my Guinness and her mug of milk outside to the garden where I soaked up more atmosphere and she looked for butterflies among the flowerbeds.

I held her up so she could peek through one of the casements and showed her how thick the window ledge was. It was a lovely afternoon, an escape to another time and place, and priceless inspiration.

What places transport you to another time? Writers, do you have favorite settings near to home that evoke settings in your books?

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15 October 2014

Welcome back, Erica Monroe!



Thank you so much for having me again at History Hoydens! It’s such a joy to be here. Today I’d like to tell you a little about the setting of my latest novel in my historical romantic suspense Rookery Rogues series, Secrets in Scarlet. Now, a rookery is an old term for the poorer neighborhoods in London (basically the slums).

While the first book in the series (A Dangerous Invitation) largely took place in the Ratcliffe rookery down by Wapping and the London Docks, Secrets in Scarlet is contained to the Spitalfields rookery in East London. Spitalfields borders up against the surrounding rookeries of Bishopgate and Whitechapel.

Spitalfields wasn’t always a rookery though—once it was a busy community teeming with prosperity. The area was home to many Huguenot weavers, who when they emigrated from France they brought with them the secrets of the silk weaving in Lyons. The entire family would help weave on draw looms or hand looms.

Everyone in Britain wanted silk woven by these ex-French weavers. Skilled weavers were certainly not a dime a dozen, and though the process was incredibly time-consuming, they were able to make a better living than they would in many of the other occupations available to the lower class.

But during the 1820’s, all that changed. Britain revoked the Spitalfields Act, and now people could trade freely with France, so the Spitalfields weavers were no longer the ones producing this silk. Coupled with the new machinery that dramatically reduced production times—and the need for so many weavers—the small town descended into hardship. As Charles Dickens states in his 1851 “Spitalfields” article for the Household Worlds journal, “From fourteen to seventeen thousand looms are contained in from eleven to twelve thousand houses – although at the time at which we write, not more than nine to ten thousand are at work.” Most of the production moved to factories in Manchester or Lancashire that utilized steam power. In my upcoming novella Beauty and the Rake, my heroine, Abigail has weaved—either in a factory or in her own home—since she was a child, and it’s all she knows.

In Secrets in Scarlet, I created a factory that exists on White Lion Street. This factory has somewhat factual basis, because it was marked on a map I found of the Spitalfields/Whitechapel areas during the Ripper slayings (so as to whether or not there was a factory actually on this site in 1832, your guess is as good as mine, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence). My textile factory solely does the weaving of the raw silk, so no steam power is needed. My heroine, Poppy O’Reilly, goes to work as a weaver in this factory not only to pay rent, etc, but so that she can save up enough money for her daughter to attend a finishing school someday.

The new attachment made by Joseph Marie Jacquard hastened the downfall of these skilled weavers. I show this loom in Secrets in Scarlet, as my heroine Poppy works in a textile factory devoted to the weaving of silk. Though it’s often referred to as a “Jacquard loom,” it’s actually an attachment that can be used with many mechanical looms. It could be operated by one person, and because of its punch card system, suddenly it was possible to work complex patterns into the silk without having to reset the loom each time. You’ll see in the next picture that a portrait of Jean Marie Jacquard was actually woven on his jacquard loom! (I find this terribly clever and punny.) Modifications of this loom are still in use today in many clothing factories. In fact, because of its punch card system, the jacquard attachment is cited as one of the first steps toward modern computing.

For Poppy, the Jacquard loom makes her feel independent and in control. She’s in London under an assumed name, so that people won’t find out she’s really not a war widow—and that her daughter isn’t legitimate. It’s exhausting, excruciating work in the factory, from sun up to sun down, but it allows her to at least be able to make an honest living. Surrounded by immigrants like herself (she came to England from County Cork as a child), she feels at home. I loved being able to draw these parallels between residents struggling to embrace the changes forced upon them, to Poppy and her fight against society’s harmful views of her life.

Today, Spitalfields still boasts a charming community. One of my favorite blogs for research during writing Secrets in Scarlet was Spitalfields Life (http://spitalfieldslife.com). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Book blurb:
When a girl is murdered at a factory in one of London’s rookeries, Sergeant Thaddeus Knight of the Metropolitan Police comes in to investigate. But it’s not just the factory owners that Thaddeus wants information on–the devilishly intriguing Poppy O’Reilly is a puzzle he’d like nothing more than to solve.

Protecting her young daughter is the most important thing to Poppy, and Thaddeus threatens the false identity she’s carefully constructed. The last thing she should do is allow Thaddeus close to her family, yet she can’t stay away from him. With danger around the corner, will the secrets of a scarlet woman lead to their undoing?

Buy Links if you allow them:
All Romance E-Books: http://bit.ly/1sSzjyB

Author Bio:
Erica Monroe is a USA Today Bestselling Author of emotional, suspenseful romance. Her debut novel, A Dangerous Invitation, was nominated in the published historical category for the prestigious 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Suspense. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, sci-fi junkie, lover of pit bulls, and shoe fashionista. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.





22 September 2014

Anne Boleyn, Donizetti, and Fact & Fiction


Most historical fiction takes some liberties with the historical record, from the minor to the sweeping. I try to be accurate but inevitably in developing plots that feature real and fictional characters and combine real and historical fictional events, one is putting real historical figures in situations that are not part of the historical record and filling in the blanks that aren’t known. In Vienna Waltz, I imagined what might have happened behind closed doors between Tsarina Elisabeth and her former lover Adam Czartoryski. They may well have actually resumed their affair, as they do in my novel. They certainly weren’t embroiled in the investigation into the murder of my fictional Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, as they also are in the book.

I recently wrote a blog for the Merola Opera Program about the historical reality (and unreality) behind Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena. It’s a history post as much as an opera post, so I thought it would be fun to rework it here, with a bit more emphasis on m perspective as an historical novelist. Anna Bolena, which premiered in 1830 tells the story of Anne Boleyn. Every historical novelist has to decide at what point in the historical tapestry of events to begin the story. The opera’s libretto by Felice Romani, based on Ippolito Pindemonte’s Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli’s Anna Bolena, begins with Enrico (Henry) and Anna already married and glosses over Henry’s desperation for a male heir which led to him divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon (not to mention breaking away from the Catholic Church) and the political machinations of Anne’s family which also played a role in throwing the two of them together.

When the opera opens, Enrico’s interest has already turned to Giovanna (Jane) Seymour, one of Anna’s ladies-in-waiting in the opera, as she was in real life. Anne’s former betrothed was named Henry (Harry) Percy, not Ricardo (Richard) Percy as in the opera. The change was perhaps to avoid confusion with King Henry. The tendency of a name to be used over and over in an historical era can cause all sorts of problems for the historical novelist. I’ve never actually changed a name, but I have used nicknames to help differentiate.

In real life, Percy and Anne wanted to marry and may have had a pre-contract. In the opera Percy claims they did, saying he and Anna were married in the sight of God. In the opera, Enrico pushes Anna and Percy together and Anna’s downfall comes about when she and Percy are caught in a seemingly compromising situation. In reality, though Henry or at least his agents may well have manipulated the accusations of infidelity against Anne to bring about her downfall, Percy was actually not one of the men with whom she was accused of adultery.

Musician Mark Smeaton was accused of adultery with Anne, as in the opera, and falsely confessed to the crime. In the opera he does so in the mistaken belief it will save Anna’s life. In reality, Smeaton probably confessed under torture. He was executed in real life, as he is in the opera. Anne was also accused of infidelity with her brother George, Lord Rochefort, as she is in the opera. In the opera. Rochefort and Percy are pardoned but choose to die with Anna. In reality, Rochefort was executed. Percy in fact, served on the jury at Anne’s trial, though he is said to have collapsed at the guilty verdict or perhaps before the vote was taken.

The opera ends with Anna going mad and going to her execution as Henry VIII and Giovanna Seymour are married. Henry and Jane Seymour’s marriage actually took place 11 days after Anne was beheaded, and the historical Anne was in fact remarkably stoic through out her trial and execution. Of all the changes, this one probably bothers me the most, because to me it weakens the strength the historical Anne displayed through crisis and tragedy. As an historical novelist, I will change a date here and here and put historical figures in fictional situations, but I try to stay true to the spirit of the actual person. I embroiled Talleyrand in fictional intrigues in Vienna Waltz, but I thought carefully about how far I thought it might go given his many real life intrigues.

How much does historical accuracy matter to you? What are some changes in historical fiction that you find particularly memorable for good or ill? Writers, how do you approach fictionalizing historical events?



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15 September 2014

Online Workshop: HOW ClOTHES WORKED


I've taught this twice before online and once as a live workshop. It starts next week (Sept 22nd).

Do you ever find yourself staring blankly at your computer screen while trying to picture exactly how your hero gets your heroine out of her dress and skivvies (is she even wearing skivvies; is skivvies a period word?). Does he undo a row of tiny pearl buttons (and did they have pearl buttons then?) or does he untie or unhook something (or does it unlace?)? Do her stays unhook in the front, or unlace in the back?

 

For answers to these questions, and many more (like, “Just what is the ‘fall’ on a pair of pantaloons, anyway?”) join author, re-enactor, and costume historian Isobel Carr to explore how the clothing of the extended Regency period (1800-1830) worked. Each day will begin with a message pertaining to a particular type of garment (or garments). There will be links within the messages that will show you extant garments, fashion plates, or reconstructed garments made from period patterns by experienced re-enactors and costume historians.

 

Isobel will also be available for discussions and questions about the item/s of the day, or any clothing bug-a-boo that’s been bothering you. Isobel has more than thirty years of living history experience (she grew up playing dress-up). She’s made and worn clothes from the Georgian/Regency era, including the stays, day dresses, ball gowns, and habits (ok, she was eight the last time she wore the habit, and her mom made it, but she still remembers wearing it!).

 

Don’t miss this month-long focus on the clothing of everyone’s favorite era!


-Isobel

The Schedule

 
Week One
Monday 22nd  Women’s Shifts and Stays
Tuesday 23rd  Other Women’s Undergarments
Wednesday 24th Round Gowns
Thursday 25th Apron-front Gowns
Friday 26th Dresses of the teens and twenties
 
Week Two
Monday 29th Habits
Tueday 30th Women’s Outerwear
Wednesday 1st Shoes and Gloves
Thursday 2nd Court Gowns / Maternity Wear
Friday 3rd Romantic Era Gowns
 
Week Three
Monday 6th Men’s Undergarments
Tuesday 7th Men’s Coats
Wednesday 8th Breeches, Pantaloons, and Trousers
Thursday 9th Waistcoats, Neckcloths
Friday 10th Men’s Court Wear
 
Week Four
Monday 13th Banyans
Tuesday 14th Buttons, etc.
Wednesday 15th Putting it all together and taking it off
Thursday 16th Q&A and Discussion
Friday 17th Q&A and Discussion


01 September 2014

INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Demi-millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony

Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them!

On September 2, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Demi-millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony, will inaugurate the release of my 5th nonfiction "royal" title for NAL and my 20th published book in total. The time has just whizzed by since my first book was published in March 2002!

Royals endlessly fascinate me because it’s part and parcel of their official persona to seem so distant and remote, so unlike us at all—and yet of course they have foibles and flaws and failures as well as triumphs. Perhaps we are most intrigued by their missteps, because it does bring them down a bit to our level, even as we aspire to breathe their rarified air.

We’re also fascinated with royals as being larger than life, and we all know that the bigger one is, the harder one falls. And when a king or queen or prince endures an insufferable marriage, whether it includes flying crockery or adultery, even if we ourselves have trouble in the connubial bliss department, perhaps there’s something about the human psyche—call it schadenfreude—that makes us sit back and think something along the lines of, “Wow, at least I don’t have it as bad as they do, for all their wealth and titles.”

When it comes to royal relationships, I have profiled the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in every book I wrote, the dozens of sovereigns and princesses and dukes and princes—and their lovers and spouses—were selected for inclusion because I empathized with at least one, if not both, of the people in the relationship. Because in the end, it’s not about how many castles one owns. Or thrones. Or gowns or crowns. It’s about the choices one makes. Who one loves. How one copes in times of adversity. It’s the common thread of humanity that shapes my themes as a nonfiction author writing about royal lives.

Do you enjoy reading about real-life royalty? If so,why? And, if you're also an author, have any of their lives been featured in your own novels? 

25 August 2014

Family road trips - then and now



I'm at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week with my two-and-a-half-year-old Mélanie  (there we are above at the Member Lounge upon our arrival and below shopping on a trip  to Ashland last May). In the whirl of organizing things for the trip for myself, Mélanie, and our cats (who travel with us), I thought of what travel would be like for my characters Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch and their children in the Regency/Napoleonic era. I realized there were actually some surprising similarities.

We drive to Ashland (it's about a six hour drive with one stop). The Rannochs do a lot of their traveling in their carriage (though they take sea voyages, just as we sometimes take airplane trips). Mélanie has a DVD player to watch in the car (purchased for our trip in May and worth every penny). Malcolm and Suzanne's have a traveling coach, rather than a post chaise that only seats two, to accommodate themselves and their two children as well probably as Malcolm's valet Addison, Suzanne's maid Blanca, and Laura Dudley, the children's nanny/governess.  The coach includes traveling chess and backgammon sets (I recently wrote a couple of scenes in my WIP in which characters used both).

Our luggage fills the trunk of the car and usually the front passenger seat. The Rannochs would have their portmanteaux and bandboxes strapped to the back of the carriage, but I'm sure they would also have bags and hampers inside with toys and refreshments for the children. Some things are univeral in any era when traveling with children. 

The Rannochs stop at posting houses to change horses roughly every fifteen miles  (they would send their own horses home at the first stop and continue with hired teams).  They would have a private parlor at the posting house where they could refresh themselves with cakes or meat and cheese or even a full meal. The adults could have coffee, wine, or ale while there would be mugs of milk for the children, Colin and Jessica. As the eccentricities of the wealthy and well-connected would probably be tolerated, I imagine they'd be able to bring Berowne the cat in with them as well. 
Mélanie and I don't need to stop for gas on our drive to Ashland as we travel in a Toyota Echo with quite good mileage, but we do stop at a Starbucks for a latte for Mummy and milk for Mel and a scone or lemon bread. And while Suzanne would be able to nurse Jessica in the carriage, Mélanie and I need a nursing break :-). Our cats, unlike Berowne, stay in the car during the break.

Of course if Mélanie and I lived in Regency England, we'd probably travel by mail coach, if we were lucky, or else the common stage. Assuming we could afford to travel at all. Still, it's fun to think of the similarities and to imagine the Rannochs on their traveling adventures as we set off on own road trip.

Do you enjoy road trips? What are your favorite travel scenes in books?

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