History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

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!


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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04 August 2014

Halloween in August

It feels a bit odd to be thinking about Halloween in August.  People are still sporting tank-tops and flip-flops.  There are no paper cut-outs of black cats and witches' hats in the drugstore.  And, most telling of all, the Starbucks sign is still dominated by frappuccino promotions, with not a hint of pumpkin spice in sight.

But I have Halloween on the radar because, tomorrow, my very first Halloween book, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, hits the shelves.

I call this my Halloween book because it's set in October, in that season of mist and shrinking daylight hours, of changing leaves and that sudden, sharp chill in the air.  And part of the book, the part that's set in Cambridge (the American one) in 2004, really does deal with Halloween.  My modern heroine, Eloise, is having her English boyfriend Colin to visit in her tiny studio apartment in Harvard Square, just in time for the annual grad student Halloween masquerade bash.  There's even a plastic pumpkin filled with those pot-bellied candy corn pumpkins and mini-Twix with bats on the wrappers.

But in England in 1806, where the bulk of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla takes place, there is no Halloween, or, at least, not Halloween as we know it.

I did a bit of scrounging around, to see what rituals and practices my characters might have been familiar with, and here's what I discovered:

The tradition of the evening of October 31st as a night on which ghosts walk goes back a very long time. One version has it that Halloween originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when the dead wandered among the living, and was later transformed by Pope Gregory IV into a Christian holiday, Hallowmas, in the 9th century.  The name “Halloween”, or “Hallowe’en”, comes from the festival of Hallowmas: All Hallows Eve, All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, and All Souls Day, in which the dead are remembered.

The modern holiday of Halloween, with its costumes, jack-o’lanterns, and trick or treating, is generally held to be a mid-nineteenth century Irish export to America.  “Mumming and guising” were popular in the Celtic fringe (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), but they don’t seem to have taken much of a hold in England.  

There was a form of trick or treating: going door to door collecting “soul cakes” to pray for those in purgatory.  Bonfires were lit, to guide the souls to heaven or to scare them away from the living, depending upon whom you ask.

The Reformation appears to have put paid to many of these practices in England.  In the seventeenth century, the introduction of Guy Fawkes Day—a commemoration of the 1605 plot to blow up King and Parliament—meant that the bonfires moved over a few days, to November 5th.  Elements of the older holiday remained in rural communities in England, with bonfires, carved turnip lanterns, bobbing for apples and other traditions which varied by locale, but the gentry did not observe these rituals.  

The bottom line?  Halloween, as we understand it, would have been unknown to Miss Sally Fitzhugh or the Duke of Belliston, although they might have been aware of the superstitions attached to the night as practiced by the tenants on their estates.  

I wasn't able to use Halloween in the historical part of my narrative, but I did have October itself as an asset-- that season of leaves fallings, light dying, mists rising.  My historical characters might not have Halloween, but they had the atmosphere of Halloween.

Minus the candy pumpkins, of course.

What's your favorite season?

30 July 2014


A very talented group of my friends have put out a massive historical romance box set (10 full-length novels). It's only available for a limited time, and it's extremely well-priced. So if you haven't tried these ladies, I highly recommend checking out TEMPTED BY HIS TOUCH!

Q&A with Erica Monroe

What’s your favorite historical romance? I definitely have a few. Books that have really changed how I approach writing are Bound by His Touch by Meredith Duran, A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant, and Forever and a Day by our own Delilah Marvelle (yes, I'm a fan girl!).

What is the first romance novel you ever read? The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. To this day, I have a huge weak spot for spy romances.

Would you want to live in the time you write about? What would you love? Hate?
Honestly, I don't think I'd like to live in the rookeries, LOL. I love writing about them because it astounds me how these people can deal with these harsh circumstances, this back-breaking poverty, and still have hope. That's what I really wanted to show when writing the Rookery Rogues series--love comes even in our darkest hours. But given that I'm pretty outspoken, I don't think I'd fit well into the traditional roles offered to women. I would definitely hate being pigeon-holed. I'd probably have to be like the heroine in A Dangerous Invitation, who sets herself up as a fence for stolen goods and learns how to shoot a flintlock better than the men around her. I think I'd enjoy that!

If given the choice between a duke, a rogue, or an alpha hero, which would you choose? In literature, always a rogue. I like the unconventional views, and the dangerous side. In reality, I gravitate toward beta heroes normally.

What tempts you? (Chocolate, caviar, long walks on the beach…) Gluten free pastries, gluten free cider, extra dirty vodka martinis, television, and a great deal on clothes!

Rapid fire round:
Designer purses or Target special? Target, always! I am a thrift shop queen.
Heels or flip flops? Ridiculously high stiletto heels, though I spend most days in ballet flats.
Rich or famous? Rich. I don't think the paparazzi and I would have a grand love affair.
American hottie or sexy Brit? Sexy Brit, though I married an American hottie who claims he'll learn to do a British accent (11 years later, I have yet to hear it).
Where’s your happy place? Being at home with my husband, surrounded by our two dogs and our cat.


Daniel took one look at the bannister, then at her, and tugged her closer to him. His hold was strong, but not unrelenting. She was flush against him, so close she could feel the beating of his heart. Warmth replaced brisk wind, and his presence blotted out loneliness until she was part of something greater, something powerful beyond herself. 

Kate feared that heady sensation. Passion didn’t stick to predetermined routes and checklists.
When he spoke, his breath tickled her skin. His voice rumbled in her ear. “I don’t want to lose you again.”
A tremble tore through her. In those few months after he left, she’d woken with those words on her lips, whispers from dreams wherein he’d fulfilled his promise to return for her. He was here, and she forgot the reasons why she should loathe him.

Everything but the smell of bergamot and cloves disappeared.

About the Book:

A boxed set with ten sizzling historical romances from ten bestselling historical romance authors. Fall in love with fabulous tales of intrigue, suspense, wit, and passion featuring dukes, rogues, alpha heroes…and the women who can’t resist them. JUST 99 CENTS from July 27 - Sept. 21---then it disappears FOREVER!

Scoundrel Ever After by Darcy Burke - Once upon a time there was a very bad boy who met a very nice girl....

Lady of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle - Educating a man in the art of love takes time. Lots of it.

Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson - Passion and secrets simmer against the glittering backdrop of 19th century musical celebrity.

To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield by Bronwen Evans - What's a lady to do when a notorious rake wins her estate in a game of cards?

Undone by Lila DiPasqua – One steamy, emotionally charged retelling of Rapunzel…Rescuing this beauty from the ‘tower’ is only the beginning…

The Problem with Seduction by Emma Locke - Elizabeth Spencer needs a man. She doesn't need to like him—because while she needs a man, she doesn't particularly want one.

A Dangerous Invitation by Erica Monroe - Daniel O'Reilly returns to win back Kate Morgan’s heart and prove he's innocent of murder.

Once Upon a Duke by Eva Devon - A widow looking to get seduced. A duke more than willing to oblige.

Great & Unfortunate Desires by Gina Danna - A marquis with a guilty past takes a bride in a world where love is fatal.

Dark Surrender By Erica Ridley - Trapped in darkness…. Their passion burns bright!

27 July 2014

The Nanny Conundrum

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices "designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner." But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet's nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we've done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a "dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower's proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can't believe they didn't feel some of the same concerns I've experienced myself. I've been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet---

 “I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer," Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?

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21 July 2014

Laid Low ...

I really did mean to have a blog post for you all today, but my head feels like I'm the one having a drill applied to it. Off to sit in a dark room ...

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