Welcome, Tracy Grant!
Secrets of a Lady by Tracy Grant
(Previously released as Daughter of the Game)
In the glittering world of Regency London, where gossip is exchanged– and reputations ruined–with the tilt of a fan, Mélanie Fraser is the perfect wife. Devoted to her husband, Charles, the grandson of a duke, she is acknowledged as society’s most charming hostess.
But just as the elegant façade of Regency London hides a dark side, Mélanie is not what she seems. She has a secret: one that could destroy her perfect jewel-box life forever…and the cost to keep it is an exquisite heirloom ring surrounded by legend and power.
The search for it will pull Mélanie and Charles into a gritty underworld of gin-soaked brothels, elegant gaming hells, and debtors’ prisons.In this maze of intrigue, deception is second nature and betrayal can come far too easily…
“If Jane Austen and Len Deighton could have collaborated, they’d probably have come up with something very much like Tracy Grant’s original and riveting novel.” — Chicago Tribune
“A masterfully crafted novel; gripping and emotionally profound, with the page-turning suspense of The Alienist and the sweeping, swashbuckling adventure of The Scarlet Pimpernel.” — Penelope Williamson, author of Wages of Sin
SECRETS OF A LADY is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?
My family used to go to old movies a lot. When I was six, we saw the Olivier/Garson PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I knew it was based on a book, and I wanted my mom to read it to me. She said "I'm not sure you'll like it, but we can try." I was completely drawn into the world of the novel. To me, at that age, it was a story about girls (older than me but young enough that I could identify with them) dealing with their sisters and parents, growing up, falling in love. (Every time I reread Pride and Prejudice I get different things from it, but I was totally hooked at the age of six). I remember on a family trip to England later that year walking through a country garden pretending I was Elizabeth Bennet.
My mom and I went on to read the rest of Austen's novels together (I've subsequently reread them many times on my own) and then discovered Georgette Heyer. AN INFAMOUS ARMY, with its fabulous depiction of the Battle of Waterloo, started my interest in the Napoleonic Wars (at thirteen, I could pretty much recite an hour-by-hour chronology from the Duchess of Richmond's ball through the end of the battle). The Regency/Napoleonic era continues to fascinate me all these years later. I love the fact that it's a period on the cusp of change. The decadent world of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" hovers in the background, the more ordered world of Dickens and George Elliot lies ahead.
The French Revolution is still a real, vivid force (and reaction to it drives much of the politics), the Industrial Revolution has begun. Rossini's melodies sparkle with classical elegance, but you can hearing stirrings of romanticism in Beethoven's form-shattering compositions. Plus I love the clothes :-). And it's still possible to work a sword fight into the story.
What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?
Hmm... you know, there really isn't anything I dislike about the Regency era as a novelist (as an era to actually live in, it has a number of drawbacks, such as extremes of wealth and poverty even vaster than today, limits on freedom of the press and assembly, the slave trade, child labor, the position of women...). There are times I've found myself wishing railroads had been invented so I could get my characters from point A to point B faster (in SECRETS OF A LADY Charles and Melanie's search takes them to Brighton; in my original outline it was going to be Bath, until I realized it would take far too long) but overall I'm very happy writing in the Regency period.
What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn't get out of your head?
I started out my writing career co-writing traditional Regencies with my mom (as Anthea Malcolm). Our second Regency, which was never published, had a subplot involving a beautiful emige named Melanie and a young British politician named Charles who almost ended up getting married. At one point I remember thinking "if Melanie and Charles really did get married, it would be very interesting to see what would happen in about seven years, when some of the secrets behind their marriage came to the surface". I knew it wouldn't work as a genre romance--way too morally ambiguous--so I filed the idea away at the back of my mind. Years later, when I decided I wanted to write an historical suspense novel, I decided this was the perfect way to tell that story. I changed quite a few details and a lot of the back story, but I kept the names Charles and Melanie.
And then, as always seems to happen (I love the process of creating a book), I wove in other ideas that had been percolating. I'd been addicted to the show "Murder One". At the first appearance of the character Julie Costello--beautiful, mysterious, very tough, very damaged, very able to take care of herself--I remember thinking "she'd make an interesting heroine". I'd got hooked on "The X-Files" watching it in syndication on a trips with a friend who loved the show. I liked the idea of doing a hero who was brilliant but a bit of an outsider, committed to uncovering the truth in a corrupt world, compassionate yet emotionally isolated. And then there's my enduring fascination with THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL'S take on marriage and deception. All of those are bits and pieces that went into Melanie and Charles Fraser and SECRETS OF A LADY.
Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn't already know?
I've been writing books set in the Regency era for twenty years, and there are *always* new things I need to research for each book (which keeps it interesting, I love research). Charles and Melanie's search for the Carevalo Ring takes them out of the jewel-box security of their Berkeley Square townhouse into the dark recesses of the Regency underworld. I researched settings I'd never used before--the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, a brothel, a gaming hell; aspects of Regency society I hadn't touched on in my earlier books. Such as posturers or posture molls, women who would perform erotic poses, either scantily dressed or completely naked. Charles and Melanie encounter a posture moll at the Gilded Lily, a coffeehouse that doubles as a brothel. Charles is more shocked than Melanie.
I'd never actually written about Brighton, and when I decided they'd go to Brighton rather than Bath, I decided to set a sequence at a racing stable. Which I'd also never written about before, and which also entailed more research. And I never written so many scenes involving pistols--fortunately a friend's son who loves Napoleonic Wars history was able to help me. I was very fortunate in that I was able to go to England while working on the book. My good friend and critique partner Penny Williamson and I traced a lot of the path of Charles and Melanie's search on foot (we got very lost in the winding streets round Covent Garden, I can totally see how people could contrive to vanish in the Covent Garden stews). We also picked a house in Berkeley Square that I used as the model for Charles and Melanie's house. Pictures of various locations in the book are in the Gallery section of my website .
I know you're very interested in opera and music. Have you ever worked this passion into a book? Any plans to?
I'd love to do a book with opera as a major part of the story (I love any sort of theatrical setting). I don't have any immediate ideas, but if I get to continue with Charles and Melanie series, I'm sure they will cross paths with a composer (perhaps even a real one) and an opera production. Meanwhile, I think my love of opera and music informs all my books. I listen to music while I write (mostly opera, but also other classical music, film scores, musicals). For each book, I pick a composer who to me reflects the mood and tone I'm trying to achieve in the book. SECRETS OF A LADY was definitely Beethoven. Though when I think about the story, I realize there's a lot from Wagner's Ring--the literal search for a ring that is said to hold power, the machinations of the older generation, the secrets about parentage.
I also love to work musical references into my books. There's a scene in SECRETS OF A LADY where Charles is thinking how intimately he knows Melanie--the amount of boiled milk she puts in her coffee, the precise chord in a favorite piece of music that always brings tears to her eyes. In my very first draft, the piece of music was Beethoven's 9th. Only then I realized (very embarrassingly) that it wasn't premiered until well after the book takes place. I listened to a bunch of Beethoven CDs and settled on the Moonlight Sonata, which is what I used when the book was first published as DAUGHTER OF THE GAME (only then I learned that it wasn't actually called the Moonlight Sonata until later). But even though I could imagine Melanie playing and loving that sonata, it never seemed quite right. Then the Merola Opera Program (an opera training program I'm on the board of) did THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, and I realized the Countess's aria "Dove Sono" was perfect. Just the right tone and the Countess is reflecting on the loss of happiness in her marriage, so it seemed particularly poignant. So when I got to make small changes for the book's re-release as SECRETS OF A LADY, one of the things I did was change the reference to "Dove Sono".
Last time I was in London I saw Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA at Covent Garden and learned from the program that the London premiere was in January of 1820. I was in the midst of writing the third Charles and Melanie book, THE MASK OF NIGHT, and I knew I wanted to have a sequence at the theater, so I was able to work in the LA CENERENTOLA premiere. The Covent Garden program even lists the original cast.
What/Who do you like to read?
Right now I'm reading a lot of 19th century novels. I just finished Henry James's THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY and in the midst of rereading Jane Austen's PERSUASION. I read less romance since I'm not writing strictly within the genre anymore but I read my friends' books and in the last few months I've read a bunch of wonderful historical romances which remind me of how fabulous the genre is--Kalen Hughes' LORD SIN, Monica McCarty's HIGHLANDER UNTAMED, Anne Mallory's WHAT ISABELLA DESIRES, and Candice Hern's LADY BE BAD. I read a lot of mysteries, and I particularly love mysteries with an ongoing love story that unfolds over the books. Dorothy Sayers's books, especially those featuring Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, are among my all-time favorites, as are Margery Allingham's books with Albert Campion and Amanda Fitton, and Ngaio Marsh's with Roderick Alleyn and Agatha Troy. In current mystery fiction, I love Laurie King, Elizabeth George, Anne Perry, and Elizabeth Peters. I regularly reread Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett. I love any sort of novel with an historical setting, whether it's any of the authors I've previously mentioned or the Elizabethan world of Philippa Gregory, Sarah Dunant's Renaissance Italy, or the 1930s and 40s of Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT.
Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?
I'm definitely a plotter. It's hard enough to stare at a blank computer screen while sipping one's first cup of coffee. I think I'd go mad if I had to stare at a blank computer screen with no idea of what was going to happen next. I brainstorm plot ideas with a wonderful group of writer friends, do a lot of thinking, jot down ideas in a notebook, and finally start laying out scenes and plot twists on index cards. When I have enough index cards to have the shell of a book, I lay them out on my dining room table (inevitably my cats decide to lie on them or chew them). Then I start to shuffle them around, play with when a revelation or a major scene will occur, figure out the key turning points in the story. I'll jot down bits of dialogue or business that occur to me on different cards and sometimes highlight different plot threads in different colors. By the time I start writing, I have a quite clear outline of the book, though inevitably I think of new scenes, plot twists, and sometimes even characters as I'm writing.
I think of my books in terms of scenes (my theatrical background, I think), and I write the scenes in layers, first sketching in the dialogue and whatever business and description occurs to me, then going back to polish, tweak, bridge transitions I wasn't sure how to handle. I usually start each work day by reading through what I wrote the day before. Then idea is that I will then just naturally start writing new stuff. It's never quite so seamless, but it does help. I'll often do a couple of edits of the manuscript, perhaps at a third of the way through and two-thirds through. And then I'll do a couple of revisions when I have a complete draft. That's all before my agent (Nancy Yost) and my editor (Lucia Macro) see it and contribute their always wise advice. I actually love the revision process. It's getting the first draft down that's hard.
What are you planning to work on next?
I have the third Charles and Melanie book, THE MASK OF NIGHT, finished, and I'm working on the fourth. I'm also working in an historical novel set in the French Empire in 1811. I have lots of ideas for subsequent adventures for Charles and Melanie and the other characters in their world. I'd love to explore Jeremy Roth and Raoul O'Roarke more. Both of them play prominent roles THE MASK OF NIGHT, and I have an idea I'm very excited about for a love story for Raoul...
Thank you, Tracy. What a fascinating interview! (Everyone remember to check back on Thursday for more from Tracy!)