Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research
26 March 2015
08 March 2015
The Perfect Girl is Gone
Growing up I loved fairytale. The only Disney princesses in my childhood were Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (which definitely dates me). I liked all of them, had books and records with their stories (dating myself again) and was particularly attached to my Aurora and Phillip paper dolls. But from a young age I also always liked flawed heroines like Emma Woodhouse or Barbara Childe or villainesses like Achren in Llyod Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain or Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers. As I said in my a blog on my website, "for one thing (as I noticed as a child) they usually get to wear the best clothes :-) (only compare Emma with Fanny Price or Becky Sharp with Amelia or Milady with Constance). But more seriously, I think it’s in large part that they often are characters who break rules and defy conventions." As a child, I liked them because they *did* things instead of waiting around to be rescued. Conventional heroines tend to be too perfect. Which tends also to go with a lack of inner conflict.
When I started writing, my favorite of my heroines tended to be those who pushed convention the most. Until I got to Suzanne in my current series, definitely flawed and conflicted, definitely a rule breaker, and definitely not the sort to wait around to be rescued.
Fast forward a few decades to the holiday season of 2013 when I heard about a new Disney movie that was supposed to have heroines outside the traditional mold. It seemed like a good time to take my daughter Mélanie, then two, to her first movie in a theater. We settled into seats with peppermint hot chocolate, and there was Anna, who is sweet but also human enough to make mistakes and brave enough to try to fix them and who saves herself by committing an act of love instead of being the passive recipient of a true love’s kiss. Anna is an interesting heroine in her own right. But she isn’t the one who sings that song, the song little girls are singing on countless playgrounds. Elsa apparently was originally going to be a villain in the mold of Maleficent or Ursula or Snow White’s stepmother. Her character evolved as the movie was being made. In fact when "Let It Go" was first written, they weren’t sure whether Elsa would be singing it as a heroine or a villainess. But instead of a wicked queen she ended up a Disney princess who is also a tortured heroine, struggling with her powers and her identify, trying to be perfect, facing the fact that she has to be herself.
Mélanie likes both Anna and Elsa for Halloween she wanted to be Anna and wanted me to be Elsa (picture above), but we saw far more Elsas than Annas out trick or treating. The Elsa toys are by far the hardest to find it stock. Mélanie sings all the songs from Frozen but she particularly loves to belt out “Let it Go.” “The perfect girl is gone” is a long way from “Someday my prince will come” or “Someday I’ll be part of your world" (Ariel is probably Mélanie's other favorite Disney princess). No matter how ubiquitous the song has become, i don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing my daughter sing “Let if Go.” Or of hearing it on our CD, or our video, or her singing Elsa doll or her Frozen karaoke microphone…I'd much rather have my daughter strive to be herself than to be perfect.
24 February 2015
They keep a man servant, do they ...
An aside: my best friend from college is half Turkish. Until recently, his family still had a place in Istanbul. The first time I went, I was uncomfortable with the servants. Several of them didn't even seem necessary, which made me even more uncomfortable. Then my friends dad said something that really stuck with me: They didn't have servants because they needed them; they had servants because as wealthy people (he's a cancer surgeon) they had a duty to employ people. That really stuck with me and made it easier to understand the mindset my characters might have had.
So, I was flipping through my copy of The Complete Servant before loaning it to a friend and I found some very frank discussion of costs and how many servants (and what type of servants) various households would be expected to keep. Someone with only 100 pounds a year would have still kept a maid. Elinor and Edward after their marriage in Sense and Sensibility would have had several (a cook, a maid of all work, a man servant to act as footman and groom, and perhaps a gardener). Bingley and Jane would have had a full complement, and Darcy and Lizzy, still more.
09 February 2015
A Visit to Houghton Hall
We arrived and had the experience of strolling up the house.
We explored the marble hall.
And strolled into the library.
Mélanie was delighted by a child's bed in the bedchamber.
And by coronation robes.
It was wonderful writing inspiration - like walking into one of my books. Watch for the exhibit to come to a city near you.
03 February 2015
Fabulous 18thC Dressing Presentation
I'm testing out the Blogger App ... a friend posted this very cool video to FaceBook today, and I thought you might all enjoy it. Not sure the app will embed it properly though. My apologies if you have to follow the link to youtube.
28 January 2015
Travels in Englandc 1782: The Theatre in the Haymarket
"Last week I went twice to an English play-house. The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.” The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.” I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer. The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.
For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling. And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous. I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom. Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.
All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence. At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.
Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up. I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed. I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one. Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool. In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery."
11 January 2015
The Incomparable Inspiration of Georgette Heyer
I reread her books frequently, and I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, though I do have a fairly consistent top three. The Grand Sophy which has a wonderfully tough, independent heroine, a nicely understated love story, a sharply-detailed cast of secondary characters, laugh-outloud humor, and an hysterically funny ending in which all the characters and plotlines converge. Veneita which beautifully captures the wonder of finding a friend and lover and manages at once to be deeply romantic and yet have a keen edge of reality (I also realized writing this that Venetia and Damerel toss quotations back and forth, which is probably yet another reason why my Suzanne and Malcolm do the same). And An Infamous Army, set in Brussels in the weeks before and then during the Battle of Waterloo. An Infamous Army started my interest in the Napoleonic Wars and introduced me to a collection of real historical people who figure in the book and who I’ve gone on to use in my own books (Wellington, Fitzroy Somerset, the Prince of Orange, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Lennox). And its rebellious heroine and quietly honorable hero are a fascinating pair. I wanted to write a book about Waterloo ever since I read it and finally did with Imperial Scandal.
Those are my favorite three, but they leave out so many others I love–Sylvester, Arabella (after whom I named my Madame Alexander doll when I was ten), Frederica, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child…
The Paris Affair concludes with the characters converging at an inn in the French countryside). Heyer continues to influence my in myriad ways, from her sharply drawn secondary characters to her wonderful action set pieces to her vivid period detail.
Have you read Georgette Heyer? Any particular favorites? What makes those books stand out for you? Writers, has Heyer influenced you?