History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 October 2006

Welcome, Sandy Blair!

A Thief in a Kilt
By Sandy Blair
Zebra Books — November 2006

A Rogue By Any Other Name

Scoundrel. Seducer. Sir Ian MacKay deserves to be called the Thief of Hearts. Yet he is a man with a mission: to return Scotland’s rightful king to his ancestral throne. But first he must find out the true identify of the mysterious woman whose beauty and wit have dazzled the court...and why she is avoiding him. Can it be possible that Kate Templeton is an English spy?

Though Ian insists that no woman has ever refused him, Kate vows to resist his scandalous charm. Leading him on a merry chase all over Scotland is the best way to safeguard her heart. Yet a passionate confrontation brings them together at last and the only word on her lips is yes...

With a magical blend of humor, passion, and adventure, THIEF IN A KILT is sure to steal hearts. New York Times Bestselling author Lorraine Heath

Blair's attention to historical and regional detail supports a fine balance of action and romance, making this political potboiler a winning read. Publishers Weekly

A Thief in a Kilt is set in 1411, duing the reign of James I. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

A Thief is book #3 of a loosely related series, so I had only a wee bit of latitude with regard to the time period. Had I been able to push it forward fifteen years as I had originally thought to do--to the first year of James’s release--the tale would likely have been far different.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The most difficult part has been assessing the real leaders of the period and keeping track of alliances which regularly changed dependent on the year, chieftains, marriages or church matters.

What sparked tis book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

It was the character, Ian MacKay. He first came to life in A Rogue In A Kilt. Sensing he could take over the story I sent him on a mission, knowing full well he’d return. Immediately following A Rogue’s release, fans began asking for The Thief of Hearts tale, so here he is.

Did you have to do any major research for his book?

I had three research projects running while writing A Thief: I had to find interesting quotes by famous authors in print prior to 1411, 2.) I had to learn the history and layout of the Tower of London at the time, and then 3.) plot the chase sequences via a geological survey map.

Did you stumble across anything really intersting that you didn’t already know?

Hmm…I found the Tower’s history fascinating. Did you know the guards fed the lions (who survived a few years in cages barely larger than their bodies) not bulk horse meat and such, but live sheep and goats?

The more I researched Albany, the more confused I became about the man’s motivation and character. Worse, each historian, lettered men all with umpty-nine degrees, were adamant that their assessment of Albany was the correct one. (Bottom line: I ended up taking them all with a grain of salt.)

And I had fun plotting Kate’s run, deciding when she’d hit rivers, castles, etc.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up?

Oh ya, what author hasn’t? In both A MAN and in A ROGUE, I mentioned potatoes, a New World veggie that had yet to be introduced in Europe. (I plead temporary insanity…I’d been researching the Great Irish Famine for The Dragon’s Pride and had potatoes on the brain. ) Why no one picked that goof up prior to the book going to print is anyone’s guess.

I do use “ye” (rather than thee, thy, thou) across the board for reading ease. That’s a long standing, mutually agreed upon decision between my editor and me.

And not until after A THIEF went to proof pages did I learn that during this period the Tower was locked up not at midnight--as I had been led to believe--but 10:00PM. Imagining all sort of “history police” emails, I contacted my editor in a panic. I was able to remove “midnight” but couldn’t rework the paragraph—much less the scene--without creating a major headache in another department...namely printing.

What/Who do you like to read?

I enjoy good writing, be it historical Romances (Henley, Garwood, Heath), non-fiction histories, historical fiction (Rutherford, etc) or mainstream fictions like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and MY SISTER’S KEEPER. I’m currently enjoying A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bryson. (I do NOT, however, read “How-To” books.)

How did your writing carreer take off? Was it a Zero-to-Published kind of thing? Or did you have ten finsihed books under the bed before you sold?

I finished my first manuscript in 1999, then joined RWA where I learned why it was being rejected. Rather than rewrite it, I started anew, and entered my second manuscript into the 2003 RWA’s Golden Heart. It won Best Paranormal manuscript, which garnered my agent Paige Wheeler, who sold it in a two book contract to Kensington.

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 a “thoughtful pantser,” a linear thinker, a plodder, simply putting one foot in front of the other. I will have one character well fleshed out in my head and know something about my black moment before I start, but beyond that…it’s a great adventure. And I tweak as I go. (I loathe rewriting.)

What are you planning to work on next?

Thanks for asking. I’m currently working on two things…First my next time-travel, A HIGHLANDER FOR CHRISTMAS, scheduled for release in October 2007.

And second…as a thank you to readers and to celebrate the release of A THEIF IN A KILT, I’m giving one reader an expense paid trip to the 2007 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention being held in Houston, TX this coming April. The gift includes round trip airfare from any major city in the contiguous US, your registration fee and all meals, book signings and publisher parties that includes, a 5 night stay in the convention hotel, and a special dinner with yours truly. Details and application form can be found on HERE!.

30 October 2006

Faking It

I'll wager that most historical writers love doing research. I'm not a research junkie, but I'd rather do research than "write blind" any day of the week. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, a crucial piece of information refuses to come to light. I sift through the haystack of facts, but the needle continues to elude me.

Now I'm left in the unenviable position of having to "fake it" -- to make an element of my story seem realistic, in the absence of facts.

Maybe this is something only the anal-retentive among us worry about. Heaven knows I've read some less-than-plausible plot lines in published historical novels: the wealthy Duke who is not only convicted for murdering a commoner, but sentenced to death; the dukedom that will fall into the widow's hands upon the duke's death (seems to me the King would have something to say about that); the shy, well-bred, shelterd young virginal Lady who inexplicably decides to toss her morals and her skirts in the wind and have sex with a stranger at a masked ball.

Those situations could have been made believable with the right treatment -- maybe the Duke murdered another peer? -- but it takes a deft hand to make the implausible work.

My own dilemma is a bit different. In the absence of facts, I have to make the plot point as believable as I can without defying all that I know about history. The point is a simple one: Would my heroine -- an unmarried, aristocratic young lady in Regency England -- have been able to take music lessons at the Royal Academy of Music? I've decided to make the situation plausible by utilizing the attitudes of various characters in the story, as follows:

* Her Viscount brother disapproves of her going to the Academy, saying the neighborhood might be unsafe;
* Her father, an earl, forbids her from going;
* Her friends' husband, himself a commoner, remarks that a lady as wealthy as the heroine will have the musicians at the RAM falling over themselves to give her instruction.

I'm hoping that having these characters comment on the heroine's actions from their own individual point of view will carry away the disbelief of any readers who know more about the history of the Royal Academy of Music than I've been able to uncover.

Now I'm wondering about the rest of you. Have you been faced with a situation where you couldn't find the facts you needed? Or have you read a book where the author was so skillful that you were able to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride?

Cheers for now,

27 October 2006

In Search of a Village (with loving thanks for the help)

It started about two and a half years ago, when my husband Michael mentioned he might want to cut back on his work as a bookseller, but wasn't sure how he'd fill the extra time.

"Oh really?" I said in what I hoped was a casual tone of voice, "Well, do you think you could look up the answers to a few questions I have about... uh... Whigs and Tories?"

After which, I figured, we could move on to Lords and Commons, elections and property, boroughs that were rotten or merely kind of ripe, parliamentary reform movements, Luddism, the radical press... and all the rest of the stuff that was beginning to drive me bats.

The truth was that research-wise I'd gotten way out of my depth, by asking some very ambitious questions about a historical England I didn't understand very well. Imagine trying to decipher the New York Times' op-ed page, if you'd never taken basic high school American history and civics.

I knew I wanted to write a spy story, but not one about aristocratic guys protecting the Crown. Nor (though I greatly admire Nita Abrams' Couriers series) did I want to write one about going behind Napoleon's communication lines.

I wanted something grittier, late-breaking news that my contentious hero and heroine would have to struggle to make sense of even while they were trying to make sense of their own relationship.

And I was also mulling over this provocative bit from Benita Eisler's Byron biography:

Starting in 1793, when the Girondist government declared war on England, patriotism was invoked to justify further curtailing of individual freedoms. The political reality that permitted the Regency to waltz on unafraid was that England had become a police state.

Police state? Our cherished, charming, civilized Regency? And how could I possibly judge, when I was still on such shaky ground when it came to the basics of Whigs and Tories, Lords and Commons? Perhaps, I thought, I should ignore all that political stuff.

But I like a challenge, and luckily I'm married to a guy who does too. And anyway, aren't love stories always in some way about liberty and autonomy (if not always about sleuthing and research)?

Michael did cut back to parttime at the bookstore. And he turned his bookseller's instinct for what's new and interesting into a researcher's passion for facts, details, and analysis that makes sense of it all. Together, we began to piece together the puzzle of post-Waterloo conflicts over political liberty and to draw our own conclusions.

Eisler's "police state" is too harsh a judgment. When all's said and done, Regency England had some of the most advanced democratic institutions in Europe -- including a wildly lively press that I envy them for. But that's not to say that there weren't some pretty dicey things going on -- threatening individual liberties and even (to take an issue that's been in our newspapers lately) habeas corpus.

For the backdrop of The Slightest Provocation, I finally chose a true story of government-sponsored espionage and provocateuring, the case of a man who became known as Oliver the Spy, and an event called the Pentrich Rising that took place in 1817 in the southeast corner of Derbyshire.

My hero and heroine, Mary and Kit, uncover the real-life Oliver scandal through its affects on my made-up village of Grefford, which I located not too far from the real town of Pentrich. Michael and I followed the story to Derbyshire in search of the sights and sounds, the feel and the smell of Grefford.

And as Doreen said in her post a few weeks back, there's nothing like being there. Tramping through fields and forests, following the routes the mail coaches would have taken, wandering through old churches and venerable stately homes. There's something magical about gathering threads of historical actuality to spin into a dream fabric of historical romance.

And next post, I promise that I'll get to the fun of that research trip. But meanwhile, here are some of my most important sources (most of which Michael found for me), about tradition and change, power and protest, during the post-Waterloo Regency:

English Country Life 1780-1830, by E. W. Bovill (I got this one from the Beaumonde website)

Waterloo to Peterloo, by R. J. White

Popular Disturbances and Public Order in Regency England: Being an Account of the Luddite and Other Disorders in England During the Years 1811-1817 and of the Attitude and Activity of the Authorities, by Frank Ongley Darvall

Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain 1790-1988, by Bernard Porter

England's Last Revolution: Pentrich 1817, by John Stevens

None of these books are currently in print in the U.S. We got used copies of the first four at ABEBooks.com. As for England’s Last Revolution -- our graduate student son was able to get his hands on the single copy rattling around in the university inter-library loan system.

And here's a terrific online source for Oliver the Spy (and if you follow out its sublinks, to a wealth of related information.

With all my love and thanks to Michael,

26 October 2006

Welcome Back, Laurie!

My research for writing books began long before I had anything written and even longer before I had anything written worth reading. In 1994, I finally got a computer with special scanner software that turned scanned pages into text my computer could read to me. Since, before the scanner software, I had to have someone read to me, I didn't get a great deal of research done and thus put aside writing for many years. Nothing was more frustrating than needing a scrap of information and not have a reader scheduled for another three or four days.

Once I got the scanner, I became a bit maniacal about scanning. Much of it was novels I had wanted to read, but the research materials began to flow, too. Let me note here that, for a person with a reading disability to scan texts is perfectly legal, as long as she doesn't share them with anyone else. I'm really adamant about this.

Some of the first books I scanned were purely out of personal interest. These were books on aromatherapy. I was editing an alternative health newsletter at the time and the notion of fragrance and healing fascinated me. Amongst the books on scent I found was one called Fragrance. Through a researchist, I found that author's phone number and got my copy directly from him.

Somewhere in all those fragrances the idea for Family Guardian was born, though it didn't get so much as outlined, let alone written, for another ten years. Sadly, because of the length of Avalon Books historicals, I didn't use a fraction of my research. I had to concentrate on the relationships and romance over the perfume.

Other books I read were The Regency Companion and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew—classics. Somewhere along the way, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Quizzing Glass, and I joined The Beau Monde, still with nothing worth reading written. I was still in research mode and working and preparing for grad school. I also subscribed to The Regency Plume for a while, too. One place I got the most information was The Regency Library. I also took on-line classes once I got connected. Victoria Hinshaw taught one on English Country Houses. I just got access to that information a few months ago when I was able to recover data off of my old computer I thought lost forever after a spectacular crash—the joys of being married to a software engineer.

Although I have been to Europe three times, I have never made it to Great Britain. This is mainly because, until very recently, Guide Dogs from foreign countries were not allowed into Great Britain, and I would not leave mine behind for several days. That has changed, so I hope to go there in the not-too-distant future.

Without the advantage of travel, I began scouring used bookstores for travel guides and diaries. I found a couple of gems that are quite old. Our Own Country, circa 1885 and springtime in Britain.

I also asked questions of people in Britain and who had traveled there. I have books of maps, something I will likely always need a reader for, so I probably got a few things mixed up with the translation from person's perspective to mine.

I also have fashion books. I get them mixed up since they all seem to have the same or similar titles, but they and the plates I got through The Regency Library have been quite helpful. In one scene, my heroine is wearing a costume that is straight out of one of those La Belle Assemblée plates of the same year. It just sounded pretty to me and something she would wear.

When researching my Georgian novel, The Widow's Secret, I went to an eighteenth century reenactment ball. Everyone was more than happy to show off their costumes to me right down to the embroidery on their stockings. And my dear friend, the late Lynne Brantley, who introduced me to The Beau Monde to begin with, made me a Regency costume.

It's fairly conventional forms of research, and I am always adding to it. I love the sites like Gutenberg that give us access to electronic copies of old books. I am slowly working my way through about fifty I downloaded from there and Google Books and another site for persons with reading disabilities Bookshare.org.

I have to thank technology for my beginning to write. I had wanted to and knew I could not until I could research. Until I had the software to do that, it was too cumbersome and time inefficient.

25 October 2006

Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

Well, today isn't shaping up to what I expected at all. School called. Kid home with a bad cough now.

Speaking of kids:

This is definitely not a highbrow post... but I've mentioned that I hate research. So, in an effort to make it palatable to myself, I discovered kid's picture books. Quick and easy and then I save the heavy research for things which really need heavy research.Here is one I like a lot: Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The cover says one can "see inside an amazing 14th-century castle." It's a fun book to browse and has lot of interesting details.

So... here's today's funky list of random tidbits:

Page 11: "Every castle had a 'sally port.' From this small, easily overlooked door half-way up a wall, troops could sally forth (go out) in secret."

Page 12: "The toilets were not nearly as primitive as you might imagine. They often had wooden seats, and some even had wash basins. There was no toilet paper, but a handful of hay did the job almost as well."

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh... I'm not sure about that last part. But whatever.

Page 20: Some common spices and herbs: cloves, buckwheat, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, aniseed, licorice, pepper

Page 21: The reeve might fine the manor peasants if he caught them baking at home.

Page 25: "Oxen produced almost as much in dung as they ate in food, and removing the muck as a full-time job."

Page 26: Prisoners who refused to plead would be crushed to death by tying them down and pressing on them with weights. Many would beg visitors to jump on the boards so they would die more quickly.


Gotta run and nurse my kid.

24 October 2006

Welcome, Laurie Alice Eakes!

Family Guardian
by Laurie Alice Eakes
Avalon - August 2006

Surrounded by the most beautiful scents and potions in the world, The Honorable Miss Clarissant Behn toils away, unconcerned with romance. She doesn’t spend her days planning a wardrobe for the Season or wonder who she will marry. Against all conventions and Society’s rules, Miss Behn spends her days engaged in trade.

If anyone learns that her perfume business is the source of her family’s prosperity, the scandal will ruin both her business and her chances of marriage. Years ago she loved her sister’s forbidden betrothed, Tristan Apking. But he disappeared five years ago and is presumed dead.

But when Tristan returns to England, alive and mysteriously prosperous, keeping secrets could cost Clarissant his love and possibly their lives. Overcoming his deep sense of loss at her sister’s heart seems to be an impossible feat. Juggling everything for everyone else, Clarissant tries to keep the balance while finding love and happiness for herself.

Lovely Original Traditional Regency: Every so often if one is lucky, they will come upon a rare jewel when they least expect it. Finding FAMILY GUARDIAN by Ms. Eakes was one of those lucky finds.
—M. Rondeau (Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

FAMILY GUARDIAN, has a Regency setting. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

The date is 1817 to be specific. Because of the background of the hero, it needed to be post the Napoleonic wars. As to when I got interested in the time period, I think it was when I was fourteen and read my first Georgette Heyer. Then, in the 80s, when the Regency was so very popular, I read every one I could get ahold of. Later, I started reading nonfiction about the time period. Actually, I love the whole Georgian era. It's such a time of transition, of moving to an age when class started breaking down, people started having rights and freedoms. An awakening.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Mostly the formality of the language and address. Titles don't bother me, but the constant Miss This and Mr. That is difficult to keep writing and hard on the reader, so I fudged a bit. The language is a little less formal—contractions—and the forms of address a little more familiar than would have been completely proper at the time.

Have you ever gone to any reenactment events to conduct research?

Not for the Regency. I did sail on an eighteenth century frigate to get the feel of the sea for another novel which, being an American Revolutionary War tale, will likely never see the light of day.

What/Who do you like to read?

Jo Beverley hands down is my favorite author. Patricia Veryan, though, sadly, she is no longer writing, and an English historical novelist Gillian Bradshaw. Lots of others creep in and grab my interest, and these two authors have managed to sustain quality throughout their careers. Other than Regency and Georgian, I read lots of other historicals, though westerns don't do much for me. I also love women's fiction and romantic suspense. I also read considerable amounts of nonfiction from modern politics to historical treatises written centuries ago.

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 am more of a plotter in that I have a structure, a framework that I follow—i.e., my main plot points, lots of info on the goals and motivations internal and external, romantic and spiritual, of the characters, and definitely the dark moment and the conclusion. Within that, I make a list of everything that needs to happen. Literally a list. Then I start working out scenes, outlining those in detail before I write each one. I try to outline a few in advance, following the goal, conflict, disaster or reaction, dilemma, decision routes. This has cut down considerably on my rewrites. I used to do four. I still may do four of the first chapter, but not the whole ms. I prefer to write all the way through then edit.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I haven't a clue. I read some stuff about perfume and wanted to write about it, but didn't want research to take over the story, and I wanted characters who weren't the usual lords and ladies of the time. I sought for little twists to give the characters some interesting backgrounds... And it just started coming together. This is also a kind of boy-next-door, best friend turned love interest story, and I have always loved those next to bad boy stories.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I did a lot more research than the story ends up showing, mostly about scents. I learned lots of fascinating facts about fragrance like their herbal and floral compositions, how perfume wasn't made with chemicals but essential oils, until Channel came along, how fragrance affects our senses... It all got me really interested in Aroma therapy.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up to?

Nothing that stands out, and I am sure that at least one reader will point them out to me. I did run into a copyedit problem where the copyeditor changed Spenser to Jacket. I asked her to change it back to be historically accurate, and I confess that I haven't had the courage to see if they did this. I'd probably be depressed if it still says jacket.

What are you planning to work on next?

I am working on a Regency-set historical for Steeple Hill, the inspirational line for Harlequin. I have a few other projects to get out there, too, and this is my main focus—this series for Steeple Hill.

23 October 2006

Museums and Libraries

Kalen’s upcoming trip to the Kent University Museummade me green with envy.. How I would love to tag along. Not only because she is a walking encyclopedia and just being around her makes me feel more knowledgeable but also because I love seeing, reading and, when I can, touching a primary source is what makes the Regency come alive for me.

Fortunately, I live only 90 minutes from Washington, DC, an area that abounds in museums and galleries. If you are not as lucky as I am , you can visit most of these spots on the Internet.

My all time favorite is what I call the "treasure chest" at the National Gallery of Art. Its official name is The Study Room. This explanation of the riches available for study is from the NGA website: “The Gallery's collection of prints, drawings, and illustrated books contains almost 100,000 Western European and American works on paper, dating from the twelfth century to the present day."

Students and “qualifying scholars” can make an appointment to view specific works. I qualify as a “scholar” so you could too. I have spent hours studying one of seven volumes of Rowlandson cartoons. For me they are a cross between a political cartoon and a Jay Leno monologue.

There are also books of architectural drawings published in the early nineteenth century – from lesser known architects like James Paine to the much honored Robert Adam. I came across an interesting anomaly when I compared the two designs they both did for the same house – I am saving that for a later posting.

The National Gallery of Art website is www.nga.gov Once there click on “resources” on the left hand side of the screen for phone number and other pertinent details if you are interested in visiting the study room. If not the website has many of its pieces available for online viewing. Be sure to check out my current favorites Guardi and Canaletto.

Are you interested in the medicine? The National Institute of Health has a special library for those with historical questions in the field. The collection there includes original works and reproductions. The single finest work I ever examined there was Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica. When published in 1543 it was a groundbreaking study of the human anatomy in such detail that it took seven volumes to display all Vesalisus's drawings. The work emphasized, for the first time, an anatomical view of the body, signficanly different than what had been seen before -- as Wikipedia says "seeing human internal functioning as an essentially corporeal structure filled with organs arranged in three-dimensional space." Not only is it valuable medically it is also a work of art.

The copy I looked at was a reproduction and I still was awed by the detail and intensity of the drawings. The good news is that this work is now available online. If you have a minute go to www.nlm.nih.gov -- in the search box enter ‘Archives Turn the Page Online’, then click on the first option under the National Library of Medicine. When you are directed to the Turn The Page website click on ‘Books’. De Humani Corporis Fabrica is the third book on the list. Once there you can leaf through Vesalius's masterpeice and read English summaries of the Latin text.

I was going to talk about the supreme experience of the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress, but I think I will save that for next time. If I were to visit your home town what gallery or library should I be sure to visit?


20 October 2006

Top Picks: Medieval Costume Books

This post is from an author who writes medieval romance and has a VERY limited collection of historical costume books. So I went to Amazon and spent some time perusing medieval costume books that focus on 13th,14th, and 15th century France and England. I thought I might share what I found in the way of inexpensive, highly rated reference books (books that an author on a budget could afford).

I excluded the "how-to-make costume books" because I don't sew and I really, really need wonderful color illustrations so I can get a visual of my hero and heroine's clothing. I hunted for books that were noted for their references: specifically, the dates and sources (e.g. bibles, manuscripts, psalters, rubbings, statuary etc.).

Two books that fit those criteria and consistently scored high with reviewers were:

Medieval Costume and Fashion (Paperback) by Herbert Norris
Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries (Paperback) by Mary G. Houston

The first is under $20 and the second is around $20. I've picked up a few costume books at the national RWA library bookstore that cost a lot more, but these two seem like they might be especially useful. I put an order in today.

Next, I'll look into textiles and fabric books. I know velvet and damask were worn by the very wealthy as early as the 13th century in France and England (and of course, silk) . . . so it wasn't all just wool, hemp, and leather--- and on occasion, horse hair shirts. But that's another post . . .

If anyone has a favorite costume book for this time period, I'd love to hear about it!


19 October 2006

Must Have List: Georgian Costume

Over on the Word Wenches blog Susan Holloway Scott/ Miranda Jarrett and I started talking books . . . always a dangerous subject (especially when she and I both have an inexplicable “thing” for the faceless dummy in the grey silk suit from the Met’s new costume book, Dangerous Liaisons.

My costume library is huge (total overkill for the average researcher who just wants to know what her characters would have been wearing), but here are a few books that I think are essential to anyone writing Georgian (including Regency) set novels:

History of Underclothes by C. Willet Cunnington (ISBN: 0486271242)

It’s cheap ($6-$12), fairly accurate, and easy to digest.

Fashion by The Kyoto Costume Institute (ISBN: 3822812064)

The 2-volume Tashen edition can be had for about $8 from The Strand in NY (check Abe Books). The first volume contains all the pictures from Revolution in Fashion: European Clothing, 1715-1815 (which is going for a cool $225 on Amazon right now!) PLUS the second volume takes you up through the Victorian era and into modern fashion.

Jane Austen Fashion by Penelope Byrde (ISBN: 1900318121)

A fantastic little book filled with information from Jane's letters,

contemporary fashion plates, and more. Byrde's other opus The Male Image is the Holy Grail of men's costume through the ages. If you ever find a copy for less than $50 grab it! You won't be sorry.

Obviously no list will ever be comprehensive or complete, but these three are a great place to start. Somewhere down the line I’ll put up a post for lunatics and costume freaks (or people who just have too much dang money).

18 October 2006

Ten Tidbits about Medieval Weddings

Okay, I'll admit it: I hate research. Well, unless it involves a trip to the UK or something like that. But, I do find it absorbing. Finding interesting details is like discovering a gem in the sand.

I like funky lists, so here goes:

Ten Tidbits about Medieval Weddings

1. In the early days, most weddings were outside on the steps on the church. After vows were exchanged the couple went inside for mass. As the middle ages wore on, more couples were married inside the church. One's place in society determined how far inside the church one could have the ceremony.

2. Gloves were frequently given as wedding presents to the guests. www.drizzle.com/~celyn/mrwp/mrwed.html

3. Here is a recipe for Sugared Almonds, a traditional wedding feast treat: http://www.godecookery.com/begrec/begrec54.htm

4. Marriages could be prohibited if the couple was too closely related or they had taken a religious vow.

5. Blue instead of white was the color of purity, but wedding dresses could be any color.

6. Brides often went without a veil and wore their hair down. This would sometimes spark debates about whether or not it was proper for women to be in church with their heads uncovered.

7. A couple could not be married during lent or advent or other fasting days.

8. The man stood on the right side, the woman on the left because she was "formed out of a rib of in the left side of Adam."

9. Garter tossing dates to the middle ages when the wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room. www.dfwx.com/medieval_cult.html It was done to protect the bride from the raucous crowd.
10. At some points in the middle ages it was forbidden to have sexual intercourse when you were naked.

Ya gotta wonder about number ten. Who was enforcing that anyway? LOL!

17 October 2006

Welcome Margo Maguire!


by Margo Maguire
Books–September 2006.

Romance Junkies:
Margo Maguire has given readers of historical romance a brilliant book. The Perfect Seduction has a brave heroine who yearns for a passionate destiny, and a broken hero who is redeemed by love. Which is why I am giving it the highest rating of 5 blue ribbons. I enjoyed a daily escape into this lush historical, the setting of which is perfection. I just couldn’t get enough of The Perfect Seduction."

Romance Reviews Today:
Their romance, combined with other features in the story, such as the suspense of what will happen when Kathryn’s true identity is inevitably discovered, and the intrigue concerning Edric’s continuing problems with disgruntled Saxons, make THE PERFECT SEDUCTION almost impossible to put down. It’s got it all, immensely likable characters, an entertaining story, passion and romance. Read it and see if you aren’t perfectly seduced by Edric, Kathryn, and their tale.

All About Romance:
Grade B

The rich historical setting that evokes the politics of the time without dragging the story into history-lecture territory, together with Maguire's vivid storytelling, really make this book…

THE PERFECT SEDUCTION has a Medieval setting. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

The Perfect Seduction is set in the year 1072 and it’s a follow-up book (although it stands alone) to The Bride Hunt, which came out in January 2006.

My interest in the Medieval period came about after I’d been a nurse for several years and needed a break (due to burn-out). So I went back to school and got another degree in history. During that time, I took several Medieval courses and found myself thinking that some of the stuff I was studying was truly stranger than fiction, and way more interesting. The day-to-day life of the people, life inside a castle, transportation, plumbing, clothing, attitudes … it’s all fascinating, at least it is to me J.

Something sparked my interest in the Norman Conquest (I can’t remember what it was) and I picked up William the Conqueror by William C. Davis. This is how I usually get ideas for my books – by reading history texts. The Davis book gave me a lot of insights into the period and the events of 1066 and beyond. It made me antsy to write about ‘real’ people of the times – how the conquest affected the lives of the people, both Norman and Saxon.

I came up with three books, meant to be in a series, but I switched publishers after the first book. So only the second two are connected, but I really loved writing in this period.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

One of the things I love about writing Medievals is that although there is a lot of information about certain events, the details are often lacking. Many of the true historical sites are long lost. It gives me, as an author, a lot of leeway for making up details. For example, in The Bride Hunt, my hero goes off to the site where King Malcolm of Scotland is getting ready to do battle with King William. History tells us that there was no battle, but that Malcolm ‘became William’s man’ and gave him some sort of allegiance (short-lived as it was). Why was there no battle? We don’t know. I – me!— I decided that it was because of my hero.

This is also why I don’t like this period. A lot of times I search and search for details that I need, but I can’t find them anywhere. It’s frustrating!

Have you ever gone to any reenactment events to conduct research?

No, but I’ve visited sites that interest me. Castle ruins, mostly.

What/Who do you like to read?

I read all kinds of different things, a lot of thrillers (I really like Lee Child’s series) and some contemporary literature. I loved Reading Lolita in Tehran, and The Jane Austen Book Club, among others. Last summer when I visited the UK, I picked up a number of texts that I’m looking forward to reading, as soon as I meet my current deadline. But then, of course, I’ve got another deadline, but at least it’s a ways off J.

I think the first Medieval romance that I read was by Judith McNaught – A Kingdom of Dreams. Then one of Julie Garwood’s, I think it was The Gift. These are the books that made me a lover of Medieval romance novels.

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 would say I’m a hybrid!

I work from a synopsis. The one I send to my editor is about 10 pages long. The one I keep for myself is more like 20 pages long. So even though I have a good bit of detail to work from, I feel like a pantster.

Even with a synopsis, there are an awful lot of details to fill in, and I want some freedom to play with the characters or the plot. Sometimes I get going and things start happening (because they work) and I see I need to deviate from the synopsis. So I do. (And hope that my editor is ok with it!)

I write what I consider ‘good’ pages every day. That amounts to 5-10 pages that I don’t feel compelled to rewrite the next day when I skim over them. I do this pretty much every day until I reach page 200 or 250 of the manuscript. Then I do a printout and read the whole thing through for continuity, flow, pacing, characterizations. Not only do I correct problems at this point, but I regain my momentum (which usually gets lost somewhere in the middle).

From that point, I write the rest of the book, then do another printout and reread. Then it’s bye-bye manuscript, hello revisions.

What are you planning to work on next?

My current contract is for two paranormal 19th century stories. Some of my past historicals have had paranormal elements, and I’ve written a couple of Victorians, so this isn’t entirely new to me. It’s fun, and challenging.

These two books are about a couple of Celtic-style sorcerer-warriors (two sons of the high chieftain), who live in an island kingdom. When their peaceful world is threatened by an evil sorceress, the brothers must leave their place and time to go into the ‘plain,’ non-magical world. Each brother has to find a particular item of power that will help them combat the evil sorceress.

Sheesh – I’m no good at blurbs! No wonder my publisher has someone who does this full time. I figure if you just think “Lord of the Rings” meets “Harry Potter” and add a lot of romance, you’ve got the gist.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I’m not sure what sparked this book. I’ve had some of the characters in mind for awhile, and I guess I just developed a story around them. It’s been so long since I’ve had these people in my head, I can’t even remember where they came from!

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really intersting that you didn’t already know?

Oh yeah. I did a lot of background reading on the period, since I’m not as familiar with it (I mean the day-to-day stuff) as I am with the Medieval period. For example, it’s important to know that the first book occurs during the Napoleonic Wars, because it will have a peripheral impact on the plot and characters. But it’s not a major point to the story. The kitchen and its equipment, the carriages, the clothing, the money, the towns – these are the things that are crucial to the kind of book I write.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up?

ABSOLUTELY NOT! Er, I mean – I don’t think so. Actually, I think my earlier books had a couple of faux pas, but I can’t remember what they were or how I learned about them. I will say that I never knowingly use anything anachronistic when I write. It seems more of a challenge to go with what was real, and not make changes that make a book easier to write.

There is something that I like to do, that probably drives serious historians nuts – I enjoy taking unknowns and making stories out of them. For example, in my first book, (The Bride of Windermere, March 1999), the heroine was the illegitimate daughter of Henry IV. Who knows whether Henry had an illegitimate daughter? Who knows if he didn’t?

And then there was my Mandylion series (Scoundrel’s Daughter, 2004, The Virtuous Knight, 2004). These two books took the premise that the cloth used to wipe Jesus’s face during his walk to the crucifixion (the mandylion) was hidden away by the Templar Knights. Actually, no one knows if this cloth really existed or if it’s actually the shroud of Turin. There are references to it being owned by the king of Constantinople, and that it was lost during the Crusaders’ raid. In any event, I decided to make them two separate cloths, and put it in two books. These books are both a bit paranormal, too.

So, even though I try to get the facts right – if there’s any possibility that I’m dealing with an unknown, I take full license to turn it into anything I like!

16 October 2006

Extant Garments

Long before I ever thought of writing a romance novel I was an avid costume historian. And while secondary sources, like Janet Arnold’s wonderful books, are great, there’s nothing like being able to study an extant garment yourself. There’s nothing like recreating such a garment as accurately as possible and then wearing it.

This is how I know that corsets don’t pinch, that you can breathe in them. This is how I know that hoops, the deck of a ship, and a high wind are not a good combination. This firsthand experience colours my writing, allows me to know how my character’s clothing reacts in real world situations. I think (hope!) it gives added depth to my writing. Regardless, it’s a consuming hobby of mine.

I was lucky enough to be invited to give my underclothes workshop next month at the Northeast Ohio Romance Writers of America's Conference. While I’m there one of their members is going to take me on a side trip to Kent State’s fabulous museum.

The museum has two wonderful exhibits up right now that I’m dying to see: The Age of Nudity (1780-1825) and Sleuthing at the Seams (a study of a 1750s gown). I’m especially excited about The Age of Nudity as they have a chemise gown on display and I’ve never seen one in person. This garment also happens to be the Item of the Month on my website right now.

I’m a little sad that the curator won’t be there, so I won’t be able to do any hands-on studying, but I think the trip will be worth it all the same.

Do any of you have areas of study where you go a little overboard? Or am I the only one?

15 October 2006

Anatomy 102: The Hymen

My friend Scott (whose area of study is 16th century surgery) has spent the weekend pouring over all his medical texts. Oh, how we love the Scotty! He’s posted his own blog about what he found.

12 October 2006

Lascivious Lais and Lovesick Laments

Lynna Banning here. My new medieval romance (Crusader's Lady, March '07) is set in the 12th century. In the story, King Richard the Lionhearted (a minor character!) sings lais during his travels with hero Marc and heroine Soraya. The lais are often bawdy, but some are laments about love or romance stories of knights and ladies or famous heroes such as Tristan and Roland.

Traveling musicians (a trouvere or troubadour if male; a trobaritz if female) sang such songs at castles along their way, which served a dual purpose: (1) local "news" traveled from duchy to duchy; (2) romance tales, such as those about King Arthur and knights of the Round Table, spread across Europe.

What is so different about 12th century music? Almost everything.

1. For most songs, neither the tune nor the words were written down until decades later, if it all. What songs have been preserved (dug out of old manuscripts such as the Bamburg or Montepellier codexes) are single-line melodies either sung a capella or accompanied by the singer on his/her harp, lute or vielle (fiddle).
Troubadours usually wrote their own songs, and most troubadours were fine poets first, musicians second.

2. What did this music really sound like? We don't exactly know, although many early music ensembles of today are busy recreating their own versions of tunes using scholarly research and "best guess" approaches. Song lyrics were often a melange of Old French, Ladino (Sephardic Spain), medieval Latin, etc. The written-out music looked like square and diamond-shaped "notes" arranged on a four-line staff, with dots, flags,
inverted commas, and other squiggles indicating time values and rising or falling pitch.

3. Tonal orientation was based on church modes developing out of chant, not on our modern western "keys" and "scales." Musicians were expected to know these modes (Dorian, lydian, Aeolian, etc.) well enough to not only stay in tune with fellow players but to improvise along the way.

4. The modern acoustic standard of A + 440 vibrations/sec was unknown. If playing with two or more musicians, you agreed on the mode and the starting pitch, which often depended on an instrument's tuning.

5. Skilled impromptu improvisation was highly valued. Thus, few songs were ever sung or played the exact same way twice.

6. Multiple parts, or written-out harmonizing lines, grew out of French medieval church chant (known as the "Notre Dame School") and slowly spread to other parts of Europe.


10 October 2006

Does practice make perfect?

Back in 2003, I was writing lots of romantic erotica, but my dream was to write a big Regency historical -- someday. Someday, like after I learned enough about London, about Regency history, about the clothing and costumes and customs. After I learned how to write a longer book, to manage an external plot and weave in a cogent sub-plot.

Someday, after I mastered all of that, I'd write that big historical novel.

Then I went to the New York RWA conference and heard Dennis Palumbo speak on The Three Cosmic Rules of Writing. You've never heard of Dennis? He's a psychotherapist in L.A. who works with screenwriters (and he's a screenwriter himself -- his most famous script was for "My Favorite Year"). His first cosmic rule of writing -- You Are Enough -- changed my entire perspective. His message was that I, with my present set of skills, could write that Regency historical novel NOW. Anything I needed to learn would best be learned by writing the novel.

After hearing Dennis's presentation in 2003, I started brainstorming ideas for that novel. In 2004, with a solid idea in mind, I went to London to do some hands-on research. Just standing in Grosvenor Square (even though it's very different today than it was in 1815 -- did you know that they used to lock the gates to the park, and only residents on the Square had keys?) gave me confidence that I knew enough about Regency London to start the book. When I came across details I didn't know, I put a comment in the manuscript and looked it up later, or asked one of my History Hoyden pals. I revised scenes as I went, writing the best book I knew how.

Five months later, I had a completed manuscript and an agent excited about shopping it around. And all because I was willing to take a chance and tackle a book I didn't think I was ready to write.

Flash forward to the present. I'm working on a book that my agent is less than excited about. When I pitched the idea to her, I got a litany of "you can'ts" -- You can't make the hero an artist; you can't make the hero less wealthy than the heroine; you can't have the heroine improve the hero's appearance. Getting an assessment like that from my agent was a major rug pull. I wandered around in the desert for weeks, berating myself and convinced that she was right and I'd never be able to sell this book.

Somehow, a little spark of confidence flickered to life in the pit of my belly, a little voice whispered "F you" to the agent, and I decided to write the book anyway. That's not to say it's been easy. I question every aspect of the plot, I try to sanitize the characters at times, I struggle with almost every scene. But these characters want their story to be told, whether the book sells or not. Selling is not the be all and end all of writing, after all. I often compare writing to musicians who play scales and arpeggios for practice. Do they think, "Oh, I just wasted an hour playing scales when I should have been practicing that Beethoven concerto?" No. They accept that practice is an important part of honing their skills. And if this manuscript of mine turns out to be "practice," I'm trying to hold onto the confidence that all this practice will make me a better writer.

I'm sure a lot of writers have similar stories, and I'd love to hear them. Did you ever write the book of your heart and have it succeed? Did you have it not sell, and were you aware that it helped you hone the next book?

Another interesting thing that I've learned while struggling with this book. The scenes that have been the most difficult to write, the ones that feel like pulling teeth with a pair of Vise Grips, don't read that way. Test readers have assured me there's no evidence of the difficulty I felt while writing. I wonder why that is? Perhaps a solid foundation in craft will carry me through the most difficult passages. All I know for sure is that my writing process, such as it is, changes with every book I write. There's no formula out there for me to use again and again, no scientific experiment that yields the same results each time, no recipe, no "wash, rinse, repeat." As Machado said, "Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking."

I'm in a self-reflective mode today, but I hope I've given you food for thought.

Bliss to all,

06 October 2006

It Takes a Village

A true, slightly embarrassed confession: I do a lot of my research through nineteenth century fiction. I don’t always believe what I read, but I probably believe more than I should.

Still, how can one resist all that social and material complexity spilling out of the pages of nineteenth century British novels? (So long as you check the facts later.)

Suppose, for example, you wanted to write a romance that begins with a marriage between social unequals, as I did, in The Slightest Provocation.

But we’re not talking about a Pride and Prejudice kind of marriage, which has earned the reader’s full understanding that if anyone dares question his choice of a wife, Mr. Darcy will eat him for breakfast.

My couple -- the younger son of a marquess, and the daughter of a wealthy brewer -- have not yet to achieve the self-confidence of a Darcy and an Elizabeth. Passionately in love, of course, they're young, untried, and perhaps a little intimidated by gossip and nastiness (though they'd never admit it).

And in order to give this situation some real depth, I wanted to be very specific about what the social gulf between these lovers would mean.

Well, here’s depth for you: depth and furious, corrosive specificity, from the Regency-era radical journalist William Cobbett:

The big [landowners]… make use of their voices to get, through place, pension, or sinecure, something back from the taxes. Others of them fall in love with the daughters and widows of paper-money people, big brewers, and the like…

Cobbett was spot-on in his facts. According to historian Lawrence Stone (Open Elite), it was bankers and brewers who bought into the landed gentry in the greatest numbers. (Bankers and brewers – now there’s a country that loves its ale.)

But it was Cobbett's poisoned italics that made me sit up and take notice. Because it seemed to me fairly likely – no matter how deeply in love they were – that my hero and heroine might encounter a certain cynical response to their marriage.

What I needed now was a setting for this clash of backgrounds and disparity of classes. I needed a social world to surround my troubled marriage, and I blundered into it while I was researching women’s charitable activities in the English countryside. Maybe sometime I’ll write about the fascinating stuff I found there and didn’t use. What I did use was something I should have known all along.

Because what better description of the contrast between landed and commercial money in the English Regency can be found than this one:

The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but [the Woodhouse] fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself…

It’s Emma, of course – in Emma's point of view. And for all it's quietness, Austen's irony is even sharper than Cobbett’s. Emma was brought to new life for me by a clear-eyed reading of the passage I quoted above, in Superintending the Poor: Charitable Ladies and Paternal Landlords in British Fiction, by Beth Fowkes Tobin.

Because as Tobin points out, Emma may suppose herself the leading personage of Highbury, but the provenance of her family’s money (not land but “other sources”) puts her further below Mr. Knightley than she prefers to think. We know her other delusions; add to them her slightly windy protestation that “the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family.”

Compare those mere “several generations” to the venerability suggested by the name Donwell Abbey (no doubt it’s been in the Knightley family since Henry VIII wrested it away from the monks). The subtlety – the precise notching of economics and a young woman’s dizzy, defensive self-regard – takes my readerly breath away.

But for the purpose of the book I was writing, what I most particularly got from Tobin (and of course Austen) was Highbury. Grefford, as I called it, would be a theater for a rivalry between the neighborhood’s first and second families. A village with a shoemaker, girls’ school, post office, carriage inn and drygoods shop – it would provide an audience for a love affair begun at the borders of a venerable landed estate and a much lesser one – and (no surprise) a love affair redeemed and rediscovered there.

In my next post I’ll write about a research trip to England’s Peak District (I know, it’s a dirty job…) in search of Grefford, the village in The Slightest Provocation.

But first you tell me – how much of the setting and the social fabric do you perceive when you’re reading a novel? Is it different in romance than in other sorts of fiction? And if you write, how do you go about finding the specifics – both physical and social – of your geographical setting?


05 October 2006

Riding Aside Across Colorado

by Diane Whiteside

When I set out to write THE SOUTHERN DEVIL, I knew Morgan and Jessamyn would be racing the villains to find the buried Spanish gold. Racing, in fact, from Denver and across the Colorado Rockies, covering approximately 350 miles through a broad valley and some of the roughest, most remote country in America. Thanks to Morgan working for a California outfit, they’re using very high-tech pack animals – mules equipped with aparejos, which can carry more and travel longer and more sure-footedly than horses. On the other hand, the villains are entirely equipped with horses. THE SOUTHERN DEVIL is set very specifically in the summer of 1872, before mules equipped with aparejos had given Crook the edge in capturing Geronimo.

Jessamyn is going to have to ride over extremely difficult terrain, in order to keep up with ex-cavalrymen who are traveling as fast as they "safely" can and still race. So who’s Jessamyn?

She’s a Southern belle, born and raised in a horse-loving Tennessee family. She’s the widow of an Army officer, who served on the extremely violent Kansas frontier and encouraged her love of riding. Given the lack of other occupations, many Army wives competed in riding and sharpshooting at this time. Their fond husbands enjoyed bragging rights for their successes.

Army wives who were expert horsewomen were expected to be able to ride out on patrol with their husband to a distant post. At the end of a long day’s ride, their husband and his men would relax. But the wife would be invited to a ball, thrown by the post’s lonely officers and men. Thus, an Army wife was expected to be able to ride all day like a trooper – and then dance all night. In token of such expertise, they wore a riding habit cut and styled just like their husband’s uniform, down to matching the fabric.

What kind of horse does Jessamyn have? The most likely horses for her – again, on the Colorado frontier in 1872 – are a Morgan or a mustang, which would have been very close in size to what we know as a Barb, not today’s mustang. (The Federal government later released thoroughbred stallions amongst mustang herds to increase the horses’ size.) The best horse would have been a Morgan, which is very good in mountains and was readily available back then.

Morgan could have found a thoroughbred for her but it wouldn’t have been the best for the very difficult rocky terrain ahead. Even if he had done so, her backup horse would have been a Morgan or a mustang, given the greater availability of those breeds. But Morgans and mustangs are noticeably smaller and rounder than thoroughbreds and can’t use the same sidesaddle.

But could Jessamyn have found a useful sidesaddle?

The "tree" is the skeleton of a saddle, around which everything is built. For sidesaddle riding, the tree must fit the horse in all dimensions – barring luck and an extremely skillful groom close at hand – or there will be a very unhappy horse. As in, he may express by immediately bucking off the lady. Happily, the converse is also true. Some horses find the perfect sidesaddle so delightful that they take to it immediately, happily perplexing all viewers.

Americans bought sidesaddles from either the eastern United States or London. The best were London-made, whether commercially-made or custom-made. Eastern-made saddles were generally copies of London-made saddles.

However, London-made sidesaddles had one big advantage: they were safer, since they had a breakaway stirrup, invented in 1850. If the rider fell, the inner stirrup would spring free and the foot would slip out. (This only worked on sidesaddles, since the lady’s skirt protected the mechanism, which tended to attract mud.) American-made sidesaddles didn’t start incorporating safety features such as this – or the breakaway stirrup leather – until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Given that most people lived in cities, most commercial sidesaddles were built for city women – and their thoroughbred horses and their placid streets. The most widely available sidesaddle at this time– as it had been for the past 150 years – was extremely narrow in the tree and lacked a leaping horn. Leaping horns were a fairly newfangled invention – first appearing around 1830 – and ensured that the rider’s right leg remained in the saddle, even if the horse leaped over a fence.

This saddle would not fit the horses most available to Jessamyn, nor would it be suitable for the countryside she was about to risk her life riding across. (If I could have just slipped the date of my book back by a few years to 1874 or so, she could have ridden a fine American-made sidesaddle from the Gathright family in Kentucky, which would certainly have fit a Morgan or mustang. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t have had a breakaway stirrup. Argh!)

When I found that out, I begged Jessamyn to reconsider and accept riding astride. She was adamant. She was a perfect lady, in contrast to the villainess. She would maintain the distinction in her traveling method.

Wonderful. I did a serious amount of banging my head against the keyboard at this point.

Then I remembered those competitive Army officers. And I wondered exactly when and how Empress Elizabeth of Austria had gained a reputation as such a superb rider. And I started to smile. You’ll have to read THE SOUTHERN DEVIL to learn my solution.

A few books I found useful:

The Fair Lady Aside by Mary L. Thomas, illustrated by Linda Knudsen
The Western Side Saddle, written and illustrated by Rhonda C. Watts
The Sidesaddle Legacy: How to Ride Aside the American Way by Martha Coe Friddle and Linda A. Bowlby, illustrated by Sandi John Petrie
Manual of Pack Transportation by H.W. Daly, Chief Pack Master of the United States Cavalry (originally published in 1908)

03 October 2006

Welcome Diane Whiteside!

By Diane Whiteside
Brava - September 2006

Even a perfect gentleman has a little devil in him.

Once a starving Confederate war veteran, Morgan Evans is now a wealthy man respected for both his business acumen and his chivalrous Southern manners. He would be the perfect catch for any woman, but only one holds his constant attention. Jessamyn Tyler Evans has been his obsession since the time she derailed one of his spy missions by holding him hostage in her bed for days. Her innocent explorations awakened a fierce hunger inside the young Morgan, and the passion and intimacy they shared frightened them both. Jessamyn spurned Morgan for his cousin, and Morgan vowed that someday he would drive her as wild with desire as she had driven him. Now Jessamyn has returned. The payback has begun…

Jessamyn has an obsession of her own: hunting for a legendary family treasure in the hills of Colorado. To do so, the spirited widow needs a husband, and Morgan Evans is only too happy to join her masquerade…for a price: she must submit to being his, body and soul, surrendering herself to whatever he demands. It’s a devil’s bargain to be sure.

Their union is as treacherous as it is passionate – and the only thing they can trust. Searching for a treasure that may not exist – a treasure others would kill for – two lovers are moving deeper into unmarked territory, where no threat is more perilous than everything they feel…

"Packed with riveting suspense, hot and steamy love scenes, and romance, THE SOUTHERN DEVIL is a fast paced story that will keep readers turning the pages to get to the exciting end. Not relying on sensuality alone, Diane Whiteside has penned another winner to add to her Historical resume." – Historical Romance Writers

The Southern Devil is set in post-Civil War America. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

The building of the Transcontinental Railroad has always personally fascinated me, because my great-great-grandparents, as an Irish immigrant couple, worked on it. As a writer – The Irish Devil, my first western historical, had to be set in 1871 Arizona to use my hero’s background from the great Irish famine, my heroine’s experiences during the Civil War, and Arizona’s silver mining history.

Post-Civil War America is a fascinating balance between the vitality of Manifest Destiny and western expansion, the Gilded Era’s extravagance and arrogance, and an incredibly rapid pace of technological change. Underlying all of this are the unsettled wounds from the Civil War, expressed in a violent atmosphere that surprises remarkably few people.

As a romance writer, I find in this era lots of God-fearing alpha males with all the characteristics of Special Forces soldiers – but just waiting for the right woman to give them an opportunity to settle down. Wonderful!

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Personally, I really dislike the racism, especially because I instinctively demand that I write realistic fiction. There were many races present, who made many great contributions, and who have many fascinating stories to tell. Yet it’s extremely difficult to find a credible way to show the races interacting together socially, as equals, long-term. I keep trying to do so but I also feel obligated to show the bad side, too. In THE SOUTHERN DEVIL, Lucas Grainger – a secondary character – has an extremely good friend, John Little, who’s a half-breed, former Army scout. As soon as he hears that Little’s being beaten up, Lucas rescues him and then makes sure that Little has a good job for the rest of his life. For the rest of the book, I show them as friends whenever possible. I just keep wishing I could do more, as a writer, to show the other ethnic groups.

The two things that constrain my plotting in this period are (1) motivating my heroines to jump into my hero’s bed and (2) syphilis.

Every erotic romance author always has to credibly motivate her heroine’s choice to enter into the relationship. As a historical author, I like to also consider the factors present during post Civil War America – notably social status and the likelihood of pregnancy. Also, given that I tend to write action adventures with a fast pace, an erotic romance works best if my heroine has some sexual experience so the romance’s "getting acquainted" period can move more quickly. If a respectable, unmarried woman openly had an affair, she’d almost guarantee the loss of her social standing. Put all of those things together and I tend to make my heroines widows, just to respect their own caution about protecting their long-term standing in the community. Mercifully, medical science and the amount of violence during that period makes widowhood easy to provide when plotting a book. My only unmarried heroine – Rosalind, in THE RIVER DEVIL – was so rich and of such high social status that she could afford to laugh at society, should she become pregnant during an affair.

Syphilis, on the other hand, was an all too-common, extremely gross, and deadly sexually-transmitted disease during this period. A common phrase was "One night with Venus and a lifetime with Mercury," meaning that one night with the wrong woman and a man would spend the rest of his life taking mercury salts to keep himself from rotting to death. It was well-known that this could be fairly readily prevented by steady use of condoms. Given all this, it’s very difficult for me to believe that any sexually-experienced, upper-class man would not have known that he needed to use condoms all the time. I also think it’s heroic for my hero not to want to take any chance of passing a disease on to the heroine, who he’s falling in love with, even if it means he’s uncomfortable in the bedroom.

I don’t like to think about distasteful topics like this. On the other hand, I also know that, if a woman at this period announced her upcoming nuptials, she’d be deluged with advertisements for condoms as "marital aids." So, realistically speaking, I believe I need to include condoms, which leads to all sorts of interesting convolutions in plotting. Camping in 1872 with condoms, anyone?

Of course, it also leads to joyous moments at a book’s end, such as THE SOUTHERN DEVIL’s finale when Morgan and Jessamyn for the first time deliberately try to start a family. Given the importance they both place on family, this is a critical moment and the beginning of their new life together. Not having a condom between them literally means that all barriers have disappeared.

Your bio mentios a lot of camping. Did you experiences outdoors influence your choice of setting, or contribute to it?

That’s a chicken-and-egg question. I’ve camped a lot across the western United States because I love it there and I write about the same landscape because I know and love it. It’s quite true that it’s easier to write about what you know.

Your books are erotic romances, care to talk a bit about how you blend the erotic with the historical?

My maxims for writing erotic historical romances are know thy motives, thy settings, and thy props.

Figuring out the motives is fairly straightforward; researching it’s the same, whether you’re writing sweet or steamy. Of course, it can take a serious amount of effort sometimes to really understand a historical character’s sexual thinking, since sexual mores change so much over time. It took me two years to understand Morgan’s reaction to being tied up by Jessamyn at the beginning of THE SOUTHERN DEVIL.

Researching settings takes more work, since actually visiting the historical setting or an equivalent is so useful. My camping experience has come in useful, plus reading period documents, of course. And God bless reenactors! A Civil War Historian, a wonderful magazine, reprinted excerpts from the Army’s Civil War era manual describing how troops camped. I used that information, plus my camping experience, for the love scene where Morgan seduces Jessamyn in a tent outside Ft. Sumner after a long day’s ride.

What/Who do you like to read?

Lots and lots of historicals, plus romantic suspense, science fiction/fantasy. Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Roberta Gellis, Georgette Heyer, Emma Holly, Elizabeth Lowell, J.R.R. Tolkien, Angela Knight, John Buchan, Zane Gray – the list goes on and on!

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 but I’m primarily character-driven. (A good book to me means fascinating characters and enough of a plot to stress them out.) I work from index cards so I see my plot as something fluid, not cast in stone. I clean up my manuscript as I go, but it usually works out to be four or five major drafts.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m currently working on THE NORTHERN DEVIL, which is Lucas Grainger from THE SOUTHERN DEVIL’s story. It’s a marriage of convenience story, in which the more Lucas falls in love with Rachel Davis, the more his actions drive her away.

After that, I’ll be working on BOND OF FIRE and BOND OF DARKNESS, volumes 2 and 3 of my Texas vampire trilogy. Since they really overlap in time, I’m very glad I get to write them one after another. BOND OF FIRE starts during the Peninsular War then moves to modern day Texas. BOND OF DARKNESS (formerly called BOND OF STEEL) is set in modern day Texas.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

Lucas walked into THE SOUTHERN DEVIL and demanded his own book. Actually, he rode down Raton Pass – a very steep, rocky pass – into Trinidad, an extraordinarily tough town. He received a series of letters from his family – which he shrugged off, might I add – but he charged into a saloon to rescue an old friend, a half-breed Indian scout. Then he informed me that he’d taken a vow never to get married. What could I do but plunk him down into a situation in which he had to get married to a woman that he’d fall hopelessly in love with?

THE SOUTHERN DEVIL was also inspired by a character – Morgan Evans. In THE IRISH DEVIL, Morgan went off to tell Paul Lennox, the villain, that he needed to start playing nice. Morgan was an extremely macho fellow and also quite the Southern gentleman – definitely someone who could easily accomplish the smooth gunplay this scene needed to end with. Yet, at the beginning, he froze at the sight of a glass of sherry and told me – very firmly! – that he wouldn’t drink the stuff until he could put Jessamyn Tyler in her place for having tied him up. There were entirely too many unpleasant memories associated with it.

I blinked. Who the heck was Jessamyn? Why had Morgan put up with being treated like that? Why hadn’t he taken his revenge before now? THE IRISH DEVIL wasn’t supposed to answer questions about him!

Well, Morgan graciously allowed me to wait until this year to have his story published. THE SOUTHERN DEVIL tells how Jessamyn managed to tie him up, he gets his revenge, and they find true love while racing to find lost Spanish gold deep in Colorado.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Jessamyn is every inch a Southern belle, as befits Morgan’s lady, so she rides sidesaddle. However, racing sidesaddle across some of the roughest terrain in America, during a period when fashion and sidesaddles were rapidly changing – well, let me just say that researching it took a lot of work.

I’ll talk more about this research in my next post.

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