History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 March 2007

Naked Winners!

RobynL, you are the winner of the Naked Trilogy (Duke, Marquis, and Earl)!

Lois, you are the winner of a signed copy of The Naked Earl, right from Sally's own hands.

Please email me so I can send you your books!


30 March 2007

The Rise and Fall of Paradise

The book I'm currently working on (Pilgrimage of the Heart) is set in 12th Century Spain and southern France, and I am gorging myself on the research.

Society in Moorish Spain in the 12th Century was a rich mixture of Muslims, Arabized Christians known as Mozarabs, Catholics, and Jews. Spain itself was divided into territories regained by the Christians in the north and the Almohad Kingdom of Granada in the south.

Alliances shifted as the struggle between Moors and Christians waxed and waned; many Muslim mercenary forces fought alongside Christian armies, and vice versa. The famous hero El Cid, for instance, once fought on the side of the Moors against Christian forces.

The Knights of Solomon's Temple, or Knights Templar, founded in 1118, was the most respected military order of the time, trusted and admired by both Crusaders and Saracens. The rival Order of St. John, or Hospitalers, never gained either the reputation or the enormous treasure garnered by the Templars, who served as bankers as well as diplomatic emissaries for both Muslims and Christians.

Southern France, or Occitania, in the 12th Century exhibited all the panache of the high middle ages: troubadours and the concept of courtly love, knights and ladies, tournaments and the code of chivalry, literary and cultural traditions that would be passed on into the Renaissance. Immortalized in songs and stories, it is an age we still relish.

Occitania was also a breeding ground for heresies such as the Cathars, and the area was sought by the Templars as a foothold for establishing a Templar presence in Aragon and Castile.

Templars owed allegience to the pope, not the king of France, who wished not only to gain control of lands in Occitania but to promote a crusade against Moorish Spain and drive out the Muslims. France also wanted to crush the Cathars, and to this end, prodded by the pope, the French king launched the bloody Albigensian Crusades to wipe them out.

In Spain, under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, this religious fervor led to the fall of Granada in 1492 and the end of a society in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews had once coexisted.

--Lynna Banning

29 March 2007

Naked Gardens?

Don't forget that Sally MacKenzie is giving away a signed copy of her newest book, The Naked Earl, and the Hoydens are giving away a full set of the Naked Books (Duke, Marquis and Earl!).

True confession time--I’m not much into research. I don’t hate it, it’s just that I often end up falling in and drowning when I’d only meant to stick my toe in. And nine times out of ten, I end up deciding I really didn’t need that nugget of information I was searching for.

In The Naked Earl I got tangled up in gardens. Since the only thing I know for certain about plants is they make me sneeze, I had a definite learning curve. It turns out horticulture was quite a hot topic in the 18th and 19th centuries for at least two reasons: theories of garden design were changing and the variety of available plants was expanding.

The bulk of The Naked Earl is set at Baron Tynweith’s estate. Lord Tynweith prefers the older, formal style of gardening that was already falling out of favor in the early 1700s--orderly, geometric designs with parterres and topiary. I chuckled at this line from Alexander Pope’s satirical “Catalogue of Greens to be disposed of by an eminent Town Gardener” which one of my books said appeared in the Guardian in 1713: “a Quick-set Hog shot up into a Porcupine, by its being forgot one Week in rainy weather...” Maybe that’s what inspired me to give Tynweith a twisted sense of humor--he has a separate topiary garden where the shrubbery is trimmed to depict some inventive shapes not suitable for viewing by the ladies of the party.

Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-83), among others, swept away many formal gardens when he redesigned properties in a more natural style--though his form of “natural” often had him totally redoing the estate, digging lakes where there weren’t any and planting hundreds of trees. Uvedale Price (1747-1829) and Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824) found Brown’s efforts boring--they favored the more irregular Picturesque style of landscape gardening. Humphry Repton (1752-1812), possibly the most prominent garden designer of the Regency, brought pieces of these various design philosophies together. Repton was an accomplished salesman. He produced “Red Books” which allowed clients to see what their property would look like before and after his proposed work. Some “Red Books” survive today.

Once a landowner decided on a design, he now had a much wider variety of plants to incorporate into his garden. Travelers--missionaries, soldiers, even professional plant hunters (!)--collected specimens from all over the world and sent them back home. The number of nursery gardens--and nursery catalogues--greatly increased. The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804, and the collection of exotic plant species at Kew grew rapidly during this time.

Here are a few of the books I poked through to educate myself, however slightly, on botanical issues: Plants in Garden History by Penelope Hobhouse (ISBN 1-86205-660-9); Seeds of Fortune A Gardening Dynasty by Sue Shephard (ISBN 0-7475-6066-8)--an account of the horticulturally significant Veitch family; and Regency Design by John Morley (ISBN 0-8109-3768-9). (I love the picture on the cover of Regency Design. According to the jacket, it’s called “The Artist and His Family” by Adam Buck (1813). Check it out on Amazon. What do you think that child is doing with the cat? Don’t you think all hell is about to break loose?)

27 March 2007

Interview with Sally MacKenzie

The Naked Earl
By Sally MacKenzie
Zebra Books—Available Now!

He Took Her By Surprise

When a naked earl climbs through the window into her bedchamber, Lady Elizabeth Runyon does the proper thing: She screams. Loudly. And then…well, Lizzie has had enough of being proper. She wishes to be bold. Wanton, even. She won’t be commanded to put on her nightgown. Just this once, she will be absolutely daring…

She Returned the Favor

Robert Hamilton, Earl of Westbrooke, has no intention of being tricked into marriage by a detestable female, and if he has to flee naked across a rooftop, he will. Jolly good there’s an open window waiting--as well as an undressed, slightly drunk, and alluringly beautiful Lady Elizabeth. Oh, dear. If they are caught together, he might have to marry her. The idea is delicious…and the temptation is irresistible…
Naked, noble and irresistible--who could resist one of Sally MacKenzie's heroes?
--Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author

Sally is going to be giving away a signed copy of The Naked Earl to one lucky poster, and the Hoydens are going to be giving away a full set of the “Naked” books (that’s right, we’ve got copies of Duke and Marquis!) to a poster who’s certain to become a new fan. Be sure to let us know when you post if you’re new to Sally’s books, or a long time fan, so we’ll know which drawing to put you in!

The Naked Earl is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I discovered the Regency in grade school when I discovered Georgette Heyer. I confess I had no interest in nor awareness of the historical period--I just loved Heyer’s stories, her wit, and her sexy, rich, aristocratic heroes--even if they did seem rather old. (They were probably in their early thirties--ancient to a preteen!) I love writing Regencies for much the same reasons--the chance to play with language and blue-blooded guys. (Who at thirty now seem too young!)

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

Sometimes I get frustrated when I come up with the perfect expression or image and realize I can’t use it because the word or concept hadn’t yet been invented. And the other thing that sometimes frustrates me--shh, don’t tell anyone!--is the hot breath of the Regency Police breathing down my neck. (Is it okay to say that on a blog called History Hoydens? Just put me on the “hoydens” side of the title.) I do want to get things right…well, more, I don’t want to get things wrong…and I do worry about making a major booboo. But I’m not an historical purist. I’m writing fiction--not history--for 21st century readers. So my heroines are usually virgins, but they’ll call their hero by his first name--at least by the time they fall into bed with him.

What/Who do you like to read?

Sadly, writing has spoiled the reading experience for me, though I’m hopeful this will change over time. Now I just can’t turn off the editor/proofreader. I do better when I don’t read historicals. I just finished judging my Rita books and was happy to find a romantic suspense and a paranormal I enjoyed.

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?

Definitely a pantser, which, frankly, surprises me. (My kids will tell you I’m a bit of a control freak.) Since my books are connected, I usually know who the story is about a book or two in advance, I just don’t know what the story is. When it comes time to write, I have to think about these people, who they are, what they want. I’ll often have a scene or two I know I want to include--it might be a pivotal scene, but more often than not it’s just a funny scene--and then I put the characters together and see what they do. It’s fun, when it’s not nerve wracking.

I do edit as I go--I am a freak about word choice and sentence structure--but I also edit again once the book is finished. I like to allow at least a month between typing “the end” and handing in the manuscript to go through the story, tweaking, polishing, making it as perfect as I can. By the time I send it to my editor, I feel it’s finished--and so far, I’ve only had minimal changes in my copy edits. But by the time I get the copy edits, I’ve gotten some distance on the story, so I have changes of my own to make. I try to restrain myself when the page proofs arrive, though. I edited the college magazine when I was a student, and it was very firmly impressed upon me that by the time the manuscript reaches this stage, changes cost money!

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

As I said, my books are connected, though all can be read independently, of course. In my debut novel, The Naked Duke, I introduced three male friends--the Duke of Alvord (the naked one), Captain Charles Draysmith, and the Earl of Westbrooke. Alvord’s sister, Lady Elizabeth, has had a crush on Westbrooke since she was a girl. The reader sees it in the Duke and in my second book, The Naked Marquis, though Westbrooke appears clueless. Finally in The Naked Earl these two get their story.

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

No, no major research for this book. It’s a “house party” story--lots of bedroom high jinks. I did begin my descent into garden hell, though. Miss Meg Peterson, who is the heroine of my fourth book, is very much into plants and garden design. I wouldn’t know a rhodedendron if it bit me in the derriere--well, I’d probably have a sneezing fit--so learning enough about vegetative matters to lie convincingly was a stretch.

The Naked Earl is part of your series of Naked Men (The Naked Duke, The Naked Marquis) Any more naked men to come?

The Naked Gentleman is scheduled for May 2008. It’s the aforementioned Meg Peterson’s story. And I’ve just accepted a contract to write three more books, so I think I can safely say there are more Naked men in my future.

Do you see yourself forging on to a new era when you’ve run out of Naked Men?

Hmm…do you think romance readers will ever tire of Naked men? Actually--especially when I think the Regency Police might arrest me--I seriously consider running off and writing science fiction romance. I have a plot already developed--and, no, it won’t be called The Naked Alien. At least, I don’t think so...
Thanks for "chatting" with us, Sally!

26 March 2007

In search of a romantic hero

When I was a child, my vision of the writer's life went something like this: I'd wake up at noon, go out to a seedy café for breakfast, and sit around all afternoon with a congenial group of writers in darkened coffee shops where most of the men wore sunglasses indoors. We'd talk about novels, characters, writing...we'd dissect famous and not-so-famous books, pulling apart the elements to try to decipher what made the stories work. We'd scribble on lined steno pads when the muse struck.

Now that I write romances, my writing pals are all women; the men in sunglasses are gone. But the deep conversations about novels is one element of the fantasy that I got right, thanks to some good friends who live nearby.

Last week, I had tea in San Francisco's Castro district with our own Pam Rosenthal, who is up for a much-deserved Rita award for The Slightest Provocation at this year's RWA Conference. Go, Pam! Back to tea. In the course of analyzing some of our favorite romance novels, Pam and I started talking about what made a fictional man a romantic hero. Was it wealth and power? No, clearly that wasn't it. There are plenty of "commoner" heroes, and that's my favorite stripe of historical romance. Was he a hero because he had power? Not necessarily, though most romantic heroes have stature in their own eyes, if not the larger world of Society. Was he the hero because he rescued the heroine? Nah. Cinderella is only one plot; there are dozens of others that don't involve a rescue fantasy of any sort.

At some point in the conversation, it hit me that what makes a man a romantic hero is how he relates to the heroine. He sees her hopes and dreams -- all of her ambitions, her plans, the secret fantasies she dare not speak for fear of being ridiculed (or worse), and he encourages her to act on those dreams, no matter how unrealistic they might be.

This is a particularly potent fantasy when the setting comes into play. I'll speak to the Regency and early Victorian periods, because that's the setting I know best. Women of that era -- even wellborn women -- were often just a roll of the dice away from prostitution. The death of her father, a profligate heir who drives the family into sudden bankruptcy, a cruel relative who takes over the family estate -- any of these could send a woman onto the streets. In a world where only a handful of women could own property or work for a living wage, the financial lives of women were tenuous.

Then along comes a man who looks at the heroine as a real person: a man who listens to her opinions, who takes her seriously enough to argue with her, who finds hidden depths in her and encourages her to share them with him and the larger world. He encourages her to be herself, to talk about all of her unrealistic fantasies and socially incorrect feelings. This is what makes a character a romantic hero.

The paradox is that he isn't a romantic hero until we see his interactions with the heroine. Without her, he's just another man. Noble and wealthy perhaps, but not the kind of man readers swoon over. Readers (at least this reader) swoon over men who know how to love a woman well. Men who recognize the deep inner characteristics of a woman and bring them to the fore. Men who will take on Society as a whole to help the women they love be happy.

That's why a hero can be wealthy, or not. Titled, or not. Handsome, or not. His heroic qualities have nothing to do with the physical. Or even the internal. His heroic qualities only come to light when he begins to relate to the heroine. So it seems to me that the heroine is the one with the real power in a romance.

In my last historical Bedding the Beast, the hero is ugly and not particularly rich. But to the heroine's eyes, he is almost a god in his knowledge and wealth. He owns a small farm and a one-room house, but this is incredible wealth to a woman who's family was so poor, she never had brand new clothes. The hero's knowledge of her body and his insistence that she enjoy sex is something she never dreamed she'd find in a man. With that tipping the scales in his favor, she barely notices that he has a big nose, bushy eyebrows, and a scar on his face. To her, to the reader (I hope), he's clearly the romantic hero.

I'm still musing about this, still forming ideas and flushing out contradictions. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Virtual tea and scones, anyone?


24 March 2007

Winner, One Real Cowboy! Last Call.

Still looking for Susan Macatee!!! Please email me by Sunday, March 25th. If I don't hear from you I'll have to pick a new winner.

Susan Macatee! Please email me so I can hook you up with Jan and she can mail you your signed copy of One Real Cowboy!

23 March 2007

Hooked on Classics

Or, How Pam Develops a New Intellectual Passion

Michael, the bookseller husband, brings home a book Pam's never heard of, muttering about how he probably should never have ordered it, even if it did look so interesting in the publisher's catalog.

"Nobody's bought it in two years," he admits, "but I thought that you.... Well, here, you can take a look if you want to, before I send it back."

A total ingrate, Pam whines and grimaces about how she already has too many books to read, not to mention one to write. Michael nods sheepishly (or perhaps he's just bored with this old routine). Pam feels guilty now; it's not his fault, she chides herself, that she's behind on just about everything she's got to do.

Michael leaves the book within easy reach and wanders off. When Pam's sure he's not looking she peeks inside the covers....

The latest of these books was Erotikon, edited by Shadi Bartsch and Thomas Bartscherer.

And speaking of covers, isn't this one wildly provocative?

And very apt, for a book subtitled Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern. Because the painting, "Amor Victorious" by Caravaggio, is simultaneously an allegorical portrait of the Cupid of classical mythology and a naturalistic one of a street urchin from Caravaggio's own time -- rough trade with a dangerous look in his eye.

The essays are from an academic conference on changing conceptions of eroticism. It's a dense and varied selection, including stuff on Freud, Plato, and Hitchcock's movie Vertigo.

I haven't nearly finished it. But thus far I've been thrilled by the poem by Susan Mitchell that opens the volume. Also called "Erotikon," it begins with the myth of the god Cupid and the human girl Psyche, and goes just about everywhere from there. And it includes a beautiful phrasing of what's one of my own most cherished beliefs about erotic writing:
...there aren't enough tenses for all this to happen in, the past and the present fragmenting as they bop off one another...
I've never believed that sex happens all in the same tense -- no wonder it takes me so long to write the erotic encounters in my book.

The volume concludes with the novelist J.M. Coetzee's comment on Mitchell's poem:
Love and death. The gods, the immortals, were the inventors of death and corruption; yet with one or two notable exceptions they have lacked the courage to try their invention out on themselves. That is why they are so curious about us, so endlessly inquisitive. We call Psyche a silly, prying girl, but what was a god doing in her bed in the first place? In marking us down for death, the gods gave us an edge over them. Of the two, gods and mortals, it is we who live more urgently, feel the more intensely.
Oh yes, I thought. And I remembered the sculptures I saw in the British Museum, the Parthenon Marbles that Lord Elgin brought back from Greece. (As to whether I should have said "stole from Greece" -- well, that'll have to be the substance of a later post.)

In any case, I remembered the stunningly active and busy humans (on parade and on horseback), the serene seated gods on their thrones.

But was Coetzee actually historically correct about these matters?

At this point I know so little that I can't say.

Except to tell you that the Erotikon book has inspired me to begin to study classical art and literature.

And yes, there is a novel of my own implicated somewhere in this too. But mostly, right now, I'm just trying to learn all I can, for the beauty of the stuff itself, and also because classical history (as it was understood, misunderstood, appropriated, or interpreted) was so important to the European ruling elites from the French Revolution through the Regency.

The British and French thought they were entitled to truck all that sculpture back to the Louvre and the British Museum because they imagined their nations and national cultures as the heirs to the great empires of Greece and Rome. And of course there were the clothes; we all know about that yummy draped, classically-inspired white muslin (though in fact the Greek sculptures were highly colored).

But what about us today? How about, at least, our own pop culture? The big, cruel, sexy fun that's Rome, the comic book version of the Persian wars that's 300.

While as for Athens and Sparta going off in their little ships to take and retake each other's colonies -- I've got this private little theory that Thucydides' history of the Pelopponesian Wars constitutes the basis for several generations of space opera. Wherein we can identify the sophisticated Athenians, the uncouth Klingons (oops, Spartans), and -- private reference for anybody else out there who's a fan of Battlestar Gallactica -- the wild people from Thrace (as I'm told the Greek historians always called them). But all that is just my own speculation right now.

Anybody else out there fascinated by classical art and history? And wonder how it influenced other periods, including our own?

21 March 2007

How to poison someone...

Assuming no treatment is available, the estimated lethal dose for the Devil's turnip, also called the British Mandrake, is about 40 berries. This climbing plant with green-yellow flowers blooms in June and July. It is commonly found in public gardens of England and Wales. The berries are red with a dull surface and contain mottled black and yellow seeds. The plant has an acrid milky juice with an unpleasant odor and the thick, fleshy, white roots can be mistaken for parsnips or turnips.

After ingestion: The mouth begins to burn and the juice blisters the skin of the victim. Violent diarrhea, convulsive coma, nausea and vomiting occur. Finally, death comes within several hours from respiratory arrest.

The historical "cure" that sometimes worked: Keep the victim warm and quiet while giving them milk and eggs. Force fluids--water, juice--down their throat.

When the berries are distilled like an alcohol, it can cause abortions.

Medically, it can be used as a diuretic.

This is a great book: Deadly Doses, a writers guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner

19 March 2007

Moments of Discovery

At heart, I am not an enthusiastic traveler, but travel for research is something I love. There are two places I will visit whenever means and opportunity coincide: New York City and Great Britain.

New York City because it is filled with excitement, information and really great shopping. The New York Public Library is the home of the only US copy of a book I have referred to before: Major General Lord Blayney’s NARRATIVE OF A FORCED JOURNEY. And this grand city is where I had a magical moment of discovery.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a second home to me. From my teenage years on I have spent, all totaled, days wandering the rooms. As a teenager I walked up to Rodin’s The Thinker, so close I could raise my head and look into his eyes. It was my first experience of art as an overwhelming, physical experience. I so regret that now there is a barrier that separates other visitors from that moment of discovery.

More pertinent to the Regency is a visit in 2000. There was a grouping of cut paper silhouettes on display among a diverse group of “newly acquired art”. I walked by the small, innocuous display three times before I finally heard the muse shouting LOOK AT THAT!

Cut paper silhouettes are an intriguing art form, very popular in the 18th and 19th century. We are familiar with it as silhouettes portraits. The examples at the Met raise a casual hobby to art. The forty two pieces (ten of which were on display) are “a series of landscapes combining elements of collage and silhouette.” According to Dr. Elizabeth Barker, Assistant Curator, Drawing and Prints at the Met, “each scene contains multiple layers of cut and torn papers in pale, smoky hues, occasionally strengthened with ink. When illuminated from behind, the scenes create subtle atmospheric effects.” In the regency they were generally placed in windows and lit naturally.

The only other comparable pieces are in a private collection in Northern Island. I have gone back to revisit these silhouettes three times and am amazed at their delicacy and beauty. A cut paper silhouette is a critical plot element in TRAITORS KISS, my first book for Bantam. It is still almost a year away from publication. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you!

There are dozens of moments of discovery I could share, but will limit myself to one more. It began with a long train ride from London to Leiscester to see the “needle paintings” of a well known artist of the Regency, Mary Linwood. From the age of thirteen she worked in needlepoint, eventually developing a kind of irregular sloping stitch that could be said to resemble painting She displayed her work, usually copies of the Old Masters, at shows in London at Savile house on Leicester Square. I used one of those exhibitions in my Kensington traditional Regency, THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY. The best place to find that out of print Regency is at a second hand bookstore or by emailing me for a copy.

A large part of Linwood’s extant collection is kept in Leicester where she lived from age nine. I arrived at a lovely old manor house on the outskirts of the city. To this moment I wish I had thought to take a picture of it. It was right out of a 19th century novel. Not a Great House but the sort of home a country squire would have enjoyed. An honest-to-god porter answered the door and bowed me into the entry hall. Talk about time travel. He took my umbrella and coat, invited me to sit down and went to a telephone (okay so not really time travel) and announced with a distinct edge of excitement, “Miss, the American Lady is here.”

It was a wonderful visit even if it was disappointing to find that lack of funding and improper storage had led to the deterioration of most of her work, fading well beyond their original coloring. Still, Linwood’s needle paintings are an impressive example of another art form of the period that we rarely see now.

Care to share a “moment of discovery” from your travels?

Mary Blayney

16 March 2007

The Trouble With Braies

In the Middle Ages, the style of western men's underwear changed for the worse---especially for romance writers.

By the 13th century, underwear “advanced” from the traditional, hot-looking loincloth favored by the Romans and other ancients, to the loose, linen underwear called braies (see image to the right; this medieval fellow has stripped to his braies while he works in the fields). The example I’ve posted here is often cited as one of the best, but believe me if you go looking for more you will be haunted forever with historical images of poor souls who have been tortured, burned at the stake, crucified, or hung in their braies.

Sometimes, research can just lead to too much information.

The almost trouser-like braies were stepped into, rolled around the waist and then laced or tied with a cord. They were voluminous, slit up the sides so you could tie them up if you needed to, and the hem ended just below the knees, at about mid-calf. I dunno, maybe they kept people warmer in the dank climate of ye olde England?

To braies I say, ugh. Even the word bugs me. It’s hard to spell and it looks funny (braies, or braes?).

There was (is) something inherently sexy about loincloths, but braies just don’t do it for me. As a historical author, I have to dress my hero knights in the pitiful things. I respect historical accuracy but, IMO braies look like pantaloons, and some shorter versions look like diapers. Let’s face it, braies aren’t sexy. I’d rather have my knight go commando when he has to undress for the love scene, than to have him fool with taking off his goofy-looking underwear. If you want to see a photograph of live man in a set of braies (with the hose-type stockings called chausses attached) check out the Society For Creative Anachronism's website: http://www.randyasplund.com/browse/medieval/chauss2.html.

Warning, it might be a mental image you’d rather not keep.

15 March 2007

Runnymede with Janette Kenny

Don't forget that Jan is giving away a copy of her debut novel, One Real Cowboy, to a lucky poster!

I'm a research slut and love digging through old books and discovering little known facts. So I was delighted when I was browsing though Kansas history and came across a settlement called Runnymede. If you immediately think of the Magna Carta, you get five bonus points, because the town was named after that.

And that's the sum total of reasoning behind the name. Runnymede, Kansas had a wild and exuberant existence and is the stuff cons and scams are built around. It all started back in 1885 when Irishman Francis "Ned" Turnly bought 1,700 acres of land in Harper County Kansas. Ned was a promoter of the first water, and promptly returned to England to launch his scheme.

Ned pitched his ideal town proposal of Runnymede to a group of wealthy Englishmen. His town would have no violence or crime, no 'riff-raff', and no liquor due to Prohibition, and would teach young men responsibility and the latest farming to implement on their own estates. All this for a mere $500 dollars a year from the wealthy fathers.

To the Englishmen who were pulling their hair out over the antics of their wild sons, it sounded like a dream come true. In the summer of 1889, Ned Turnly and his first group of young Englishmen returned to Kansas to build the town.

With in two years, Runnymede had grown to 500 British citizens, and boasted a lavish three-story hotel, nursery, livery stables, grocers and meat markets, stage lines, billiard hall and bowling alley, an Episcopal Church, a tennis club and art gallery, and many more businesses that catered to the Englishmen's' wants. The citizens lived in English-style homes and a few mansions. But the Kansas legislature refused to run a railroad spur to the town of foreigners, and the young bloods' passion for gambling, whoring and drinking soon took precedence over farming. They had horse races, steeplechases, polo matches and fox hunting, and bootlegging, and delighted in flying the Union Jack over Old Glory which didn't endear the lot of them to the Kansas farmers and ranchers.

There are several theories why Runnymede became a ghost town: the depression and panic of 1893, the withdrawal of funds from the English fathers, or ennui coupled with a good dose of homesickness for England. When the majority of the citizens returned to England, neighboring farmers and ranchers swarmed into Runnymede and dismantled the buildings for the much-coveted wood. The church was moved to Harper Kansas, and all that's left of Runnymede is a lone tombstone. And a fascinating host of what-ifs.

14 March 2007

Back on the Euphemism Express

The last time we discussed euphemisms, we were specifically addressing historical names for the male member. They were varied and many, suggesting that men of every era have enjoyed discussing their bits and pieces.

But Kalen and I participated in a discussion of a certain female part over on Smart Bitches a few months ago and the results were quite different! A reader was complaining that she was going to lose it if she read the word nubbin in a historical romance one more time. Now nubbin is not my favorite word for clitoris, by far. In fact, I don’t even like nub because it reminds me of nubbin which sounds like a child’s nickname to me. "Hey there, little nubbin! Aren’t you getting big?" I also personally don’t like button, because I picture the hero clicking it over and over again in a vain attempt to turn it on, which is just unfortunate. Still, I don’t resent a writer for using those words, because the truth is, euphemisms for clitoris are hard to come by.

Why? Well, that is just too sad to contemplate. *sigh*

Regardless, there aren’t many options, but if you’re writing hot historical romance there’s really no way around using a euphemism. The heroine, virgin or widow, simply isn’t going to know the correct word for it unless she has some very specialized occupation. Biologist, maybe, or an artist who specializes in anatomical drawings. Heck, I’d seriously doubt your hero even knows the word, though one hopes he’s aware of the object in question.

So we see the same words used over and over again, which is enough to push anyone’s buttons. *Victoria clears her throat very loudly* Speaking of. . . Here are all the historical euphemisms for clitoris I could find:

love bud
boy in the boat
little man in the boat
little ploughman
little shame tongue (!)
peeping sentinel

Ha! Some of those are great! Anyway, nub and nubbin aren’t there because I didn’t find them in my Sexual Slang book (Alan Richter, PhD). Little shame tongue! Love it! Those Germans are crazy.

I kind of like pearl; I’ve never used that one. Usually I describe something like "a little bundle of nerves" or "hard bud". But I do feel this lack of a good term is a problem for those of us who write details. Does anyone out there have a solution? At least with men, you can just say c*&k and be straightforward about it if you like! (And I do.)

So writers, if you get this detailed in your books, how do you work around this? (And that wasn’t even supposed to be a dirty joke, it just happened.) Have you had a heroine who'd read an early version of Our Bodies, Our Selves? Readers, have you noticed these euphemisms and is there one that grates on your nerves when you see it?

13 March 2007

Welcome, Janette Kenny!

One Real Cowboy
by Janette Kenny
Zebra Debut--Available Now!

Jan will be giving away a signed copy of One Real Cowboy to one lucky poster!

Cord Tanner has a very simple plan: get paid to be Beatrix Northroupe's husband for a month so the prim, but very sexy, Englishwoman can gain rightful ownership to her family's stud farm. Money in hand, he's going to get as far away from Revolt, Kansas, as a fast horse can take him.

But Cord soon finds that he admires his Trixie's reckless courage--not to mention she's one great kisser. Maybe he's crazy to hope for a real future with her instead of heading for the hills, but now that someone's staking a dangerous claim to her farm, Cord's decided to stick around as long as the lady needs protecting. That wedding ring he put on her finger means her reputation is safe--and he's determined to win her heart. Cord Tanner may not be the most refined man on the frontier, but he sure is the lovingest...

4 stars from Romantic Times!

"Kenny's powerful debut -- with its seductive marriage-of-convenience plot -- has snappy dialogue, appealing characters, a passionate romance and a few too-close-for-comfort accidents that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they turn the pages."

One Real Cowboy is set in Victorian Kansas. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

The Old West was smack dab in the middle of the Victorian Era and there is no separating the two, and Kansas was crossed by several trails west during that time. The era is a writer's dream—there is just such a vast array of story possibilites to explore. The advent of the UP railroad to California brought culture to the west, as well as a parade of Europeon nobility. In any town from St. Louis to San Francisco during this time, you can find Opera Houses and bordellos, mansions and shacks, and all classes and cultures of people.

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

I'm always mindful to check and doublecheck facts because things changed so quickly and there was such an explosion of inventions and available transportation. But often it's nearly impossible to verify nagging little details that can trip you up. Plus there's the fact that a lady in the west could easily be wearing outdated clothes. I've also run across differing texts that contradict each other. Nearly impossible to tell which was is factual and which one is stretching it. So I tend to create a small town for my characters and story.

What/who do you like to read?

Wow, I read widely. Naturally I love western historical romance, though the pickings have been slim the past few years. I have treasured copies by: Kat Martin, Linda Lael Miller, Jill Marie Landis, Nan Ryan to name just a few. I also adore Regency set historicals, romantic suspense, contemporary romance and mysteries.

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 not an intense plotter though of late I've come to appreciate a story board and a synopsis (which I usually end up veering from). If nothing else, the board holds all the sticky notes I make as I'm researching and tweaking a story, and the synopsis is ignored in favor of a one line pitch or high concept blurb that I post on my monitor to keep me focused on the characters' goal, motivation and conflict. Ideally I love to get the rough draft written fairly quickly, but I often go over the previous days writing to refresh my memory and ignite the muse. So a finished draft has been tweaked several times. Still, I rewrite, research more to verify facts, and rewrite again.

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

I'd been researching an area to place my cowboy hero and happened upon the founding of Runnymede, KS—a totally British settlement that flourished for a short time with much partying and frivolity, much to the dismay of the young lords' fathers back in England. From there, my imagintion took over. How would a proper English lady with a prize herd of blooded thoroughbreds deal with a rough and tumble cowboy who'd never had a home or love? My heroine was everything he desired, and way out of his league, so of course I had to try and play matchmaker.

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

I had to really brush up on British Victorian society so I knew what mores my headstrong heroine could trample. Thanks to what constituted American society at that time, I was afforded leeway because my heroine was Americanizing herself with great glee. And yes, I did stumble across a fact that I implemented into my story—apple orchards were doing well in that part of Kansas, and thanks to Prohibition, bootleggers were making a killing off distilling applejack.

What comes next? Do we have more delicious cowboys waiting in the wings?

My next story is about Gil Yancy, a secondary character in One Real Cowboy. The manuscript is on my editor's desk, and I'm writing the last book in the Born in a Brothel trilogy which I'm loving. Also, I've got an idea for another western historical trilogy with three bad boy cowboys who really need taming—just in case my editor wants to keep me and my cowboys around.

Want to share the story of your sale?

At the urging of a critique partner, I sent a partial to Hilary Sares at Kensington Publishing. She replied within the week, asking for the full. I mailed it to her a few days later, and two weeks after than I got the call. Hilary wanted to publish Common Bond (working title of One Real Cowboy) and asked if I had another western historical. I told her ORC was the first in my proposed Born in a Brothel series. She loved the concept and wanted Gil's story, which meant I had to write it ASAP.

08 March 2007

Mustang Wild

By Stacey Kayne

Available Now from Harlequin Historicals

"This strong debut is a tale of one woman's struggle to overcome a father's deceit before she can find peace, forgiveness and passion with the man meant for her. Each character carries his or her own weight, adding depth and humor to this honestly written story."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews

No smooth-taking man is going to outwit her!
With the deed to her land and kid brother to protect, Mustanger Skylar Daines shouldn't have tangled with the likes of Tucker Morgan. His stolen kiss scatters her senses, and quicker than a whirling dust devil, they're wed!

What had started as a joke is now Tucker's worst nightmare. He's keen to fix the marital slip-up--then he tells Skylar the deed she holds belongs to him, and him alone. Perhaps Skylar shouldn't be so fast to have their marriage annulled. She's not about to be swindled out of the one thing she yearns for most--a home.

First they'll have to beat her father's murderer to Wyoming. Hearing the killer is after his ranch, Tucker teams up with a woman who has no trouble taking control of his mustangs--or his desire.

Hello Hoydens! Thanks for inviting me over.

Mustang Wild is set in the American West of 1880. How did you become interested in this time period?

An American History college course was a major catalyst in my writing aspirations, and essentially chose my genre for me. Heading back to college, I had just bought my first computer. While sitting in my history class, my visual brain steeped in facts and images of the American West, my mind began its usual wandering. With a computer at my disposal, I decided to try and type out my daydreams. Halfway through my history course, my first historical western romance novel was born.

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

The Wild, Wild, West…..what’s not to love? J In a lawless untamed setting, the sky is the limit—that’s what I love about westerns. Rugged, dusty, wild, resilient--there’s such an elemental connection between the setting and the characters. My mind is constantly searching for ways to submerge my characters in the beauty and grandeur of the American West. While writing my first western, Bride of Shadow Canyon, I discovered that an adventurous setting with ever-changing untamed scenery was a driving force of my imagination.

One challenge has been to find accurate maps of the terrain during my time period, figuring distance, settlements, and the amount of time required for travel. One of the most useful sources I’ve found are actual diaries of early pioneers, from online sites and published journals. Many give detailed accounts of days on the trail between military forts and the perils faced in between.

What do you like to read?

I love to read rich historical westerns, of course. I have a keeper shelf full of Garwood, Lowell, Spencer, Miller….just finished a wonderful western by Cheryl St. John. I also enjoy contemporary romance with some edge to it—I like heroes with a sense of old-fashioned justice J. I’m currently reading romantic suspense by Allison Brennon, Elizabeth Lowell and Roxanne St. Claire.

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?

For me, it starts with daydreaming. A book usually emerges in my mind as a funny or high-tension scene—no telling where that scene will end up in the book, because I do absolutely nothing in a linear fashion. Once I have a solid vision and vague idea for the course of the story, I start throwing down the bones of the book…for me, that’s dialogue. I’ll sketch out the major turning points of the story, roughly one hundred pages of nothing but dialogue and a few placement tags here and there. Once I have a solid flow for the story and the voice and personality quirks of my characters, I’ll start fleshing it out until I end up with what I like to call—the chunky stuff. At this point, I start to mold and merge, bridging the chapters together and brushing in the scenery. I clean as I go---by the time I write the last word in the last scene (no telling what chapter that will be), the book is finished.

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

Mustang Wild started with the hero. Tucker Morgan appeared in my mind lounged at a card table, good luck raining down on him in spades, and as the heroine observes, wearing a smile that can sweet-talk the spines off a prickly cactus. As charming as he is, I really wanted him to get knocked out with a skillet. (I’m easily entertained J) So, I had to come up with a scene requiring a skillet and an unconscious hero. Being a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy, Tucker needed a woman who could whip him into shape, and his mustangs too. Skylar took over from there.

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

The two most time-consuming areas of research for Mustang Wild were mapping out their journey from New Mexico to Wyoming, and Skylar’s technique for breaking horses, or gentling them, as it were.

I love to plot a journey, study the different settings and landscapes and paint them into the book. I have this crazy fetish for almanacs, geographical charts and landscape picture books. For Mustang Wild and Bride of Shadow Canyon I created storyboards with clips of scenery, a clockwise evolution of the story through scenery changes. This way, no matter what area of the story I was writing in, I could glance up at the storyboard and have an instant visual for the terrain. Very useful---looks pretty on the wall too!

Writing a lady mustanger was a challenge—I wanted a realistic portrayal of my heroine breaking horses. I visited a few horse ranches in my area, spoke with trainers, watched quite a few horse training videos, and read a mountain of books. After writing the scenes, I asked the experts to read them, and make sure I wasn’t having my heroine do something utterly ridiculous--wildly impressive, yes, but then, she’s got mad horse skills.

You’re a former Golden Heart finalist, like several of the Hoydens. How did that experience contribute to your selling Mustang Wild?

If anything, The Golden Heart taught me perseverance. The very day I finished my first manuscript, Bride of Shadow Canyon, I mailed it off to the 2002 Golden Heart—and to my sheer astonishment, it finaled. Two years went by before I finaled again with my fourth manuscript, Mustang Wild. The year after that I double-finaled with a western historical and a new single title romantic suspense manuscript…all of those Golden Heart finals and NO SALE. But throughout those five years I learned to set goals, to give myself deadlines, to suck up disappointment, and above all, to keep writing. So all in all, the Golden Heart was a wonderful experience, and though it didn’t contribute directly to my sales, it did help me to become a better writer.

You’re next release is Bride of Shadow Canyon, and then another “Wild” book. Are these related, or are you working on two series?

These are two different series, my “Wild” series and “Bride” series.

Mustang Wild is available now. Maverick Wild will be released later this year, with a third “Wild” book to follow in 2008.

Bride of Shadow Canyon will be out in April. Bride of Vengeance will likely be out in early 2008. Updates for official titles and release dates will be posted to my website: http://www.staceykayne.com/

07 March 2007

More Movie Talk--Pocahontas on Film

Mary was recently talking about films as research, and that sparked an idea for today's blog. First off, I must confess that though I write Regency-set historicals, my academic background is actually in American History, and I focused a lot in Grad school on "first contact"--the term modern historians use for the initial interactions between European explorers/colonists and Native Americans. This has always fascinated me, and there's always particular interest in the story of Pocahontas. Recently, the most well-known 'version' of Pocahontas on film was the horrendous Disney animated film, which just makes me angry on so many levels. How many little girls grew up, thinking that *that* was the true story of Pocahontas? If the entire story was going to be fiction, couldn't they just have made up a female Native American protagonist and some English colonists?

Director Terrence Malick's version of Pocahontas' story, the film The New World (2005), comes much closer to the truth. I must say, I was thrilled with the film. It was so beautifully done, and does an excellent job of portraying the atmosphere of "first contact." In fact, I think the first ten minutes or so, where no dialogue is spoken and the music grows to a crescendo as we see the English ships approach the shoreline, land, and "meet the natives," is some of the best filmmaking I've ever seen. Of course, like most versions of Pocahontas' story, her relationship with Capt. John Smith is romanticized in the movie--in truth, there's no historical evidence defining their relationship, so this is all speculation. However, it *does* make it slightly more interesting, I guess!

But what really impressed me was the copious research done for physical historic accuracy. Dozens of local professional scholars consulted throughout the film's development and shooting. Still, there's a lot of gray area open for interpretation, particularly because there are no accounts in Pocahontas' own voice.

Some of what the historians DO agree upon:

*Capt. John Smith (who was about 27 years at the beginning of the story in 1607) had been a colorful adventurer who left rural England at 15 to become a French mercenary (in the Netherlands, Hungary, North Africa, Near East). Returning home a decade later, he joined the newly formed Virginia Company and accompanied their 1607 gold expedition to the site which became Jamestown (much of what is known about his life comes from his own journals-often regarded with skepticism, during his lifetime and now). His overbearing personality made him unpopular among fellow colonists; however, he was tolerated because of his abilities as an outstandingly resourceful leader, survivalist, and negotiator with the "Naturals" (he was a military professional--most of the first wave of Colonists were middle class merchants, gentlemen, and goldsmiths). In 1608, the year he became Colony president, full scale war erupted between natives and settlers. In the film, Smith is told that King James has offered him an opportunity to head an expedition searching for a rumoured Northwest Passage to the Indies, and instructs his only friend, Ben (the ship's cook) to wait a few months, then tell Pocahontas that he had drowned; in effect, setting her free. (Historically, he was shipped home to recuperate from severe burns after his gunpowder pouch ignited, rumored to have resulted from yet another assassination attempt by fellow Englishmen).

*It seems likely that Pocahontas did save Capt. John Smith's life on at least one occasion--at one point, Smith was captured by a group of Powhatan hunters and brought to Werowocomoco, one of the chief villages of the Powhatan Empire, and was laid across a stone and was about to be executed, when Pocahontas threw herself across his body: "at the minute of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown".

Smith's version of events is the only source, and there are some skeptics. One reason for such doubt is that despite having published two earlier books about Virginia, Smith's earliest surviving account of his rescue by Pocahontas dates from 1616, nearly 10 years later, in a letter entreating Queen Anne to treat Pocahontas with dignity. The time gap in publishing his story raises the possibility that Smith may have exaggerated or invented the event to enhance Pocahontas' image. However, in a recent book, J.A.O. Lemay points out that Smith's earlier writing was primarily geographical and ethnographic in nature and did not dwell on his personal experience; hence, there was no reason for him to write down the story until this point. Some experts have suggested that, although Smith believed he had been rescued, he had in fact been involved in a ritual intended to symbolize his death and rebirth as a member of the tribe. However, in Love and Hate in Jamestown, David A. Price notes that this is only guesswork, since little is known of Powhatan rituals, and there is no evidence for any similar rituals among other North American tribes.

*Matoaka, nicknamed Pocahontas, was the favorite child of Wahunsunacock (chief of the Powatans). She was estimated to have been between ages 10-13 in 1607. There is evidence of her having brought food to the struggling Colonists and of her having been a guest/hostage at the time of the hostilities in 1612 (there is some annecdotal evidence that she had been held on John Rolfe's plantation 30 miles from Jamestown.) In 1614 she adopted "Rebecca" as her Christian name, married and had a son with John Rolfe who had arrived in 1609 to farm tobacco (a milder strain preferred by the English, which he had transported from Bermuda, where his 1st wife had died when they were shipwrecked by a hurricane). For two years they lived in a brick cottage on land given as a wedding gift from Chief Powatan. Their marriage alliance was thought to have helped stabilize native/settler relations for the next several years.

*The Rolfes moved to England where Pocahontas/Rebecca Rolfe was presented to Queen Anne at the Court of James I as foreign royalty and and became a celebrity. In 1616, they intended to return to Virginia. First person accounts of Pocahontas/Rebecca's death never describe its cause. Most likely it was aboard ship while still in English waters. Various unsubstantiated assertions have been "broken heart" (a Victorian era speculation), tuberculosis (then pandemic), and small pox (ran through SE England in waves; however, the ship was never quarantined for it, so it seems unlikely.) Most sensible guess: pneumonia, or some simple infection which, today, would have been treatable. She was ceremoniously buried in St George's churchyard at Gravesend where there is a commemorative plaque (location of her grave now is unknown). She was believed to have been 21 years old.

*Rolfe continued to Virgina. He died suddenly, commonly believed to have been killed (perhaps by mistake) by the Powatan Confederacy at the same time as the Indian Massacre of 1622. (Capt. John Smith outlived Rolfe by 9 years and died a bachelor). Thomas Rolfe (the son) returned to Virginia as a young adult and later was accepted by the Powatan. He is credited with having brought peace between the factions for a generation.

Anyway, I HIGHLY recommend the movie, if you haven't seen it--it's definitely a visual treat, and far closer to the 'historical truth' than most movies based upon actual events/people. (photos from the Colin Farrell Fansite)

06 March 2007

Repression Challenge

No, not that kind of repression, but since you've read this far don't stop now.

In 2007 I wrote a post about a literary challenge from the Biological Psychiatric Laboratory at Mclean Hospital (a research lab from Harvard Medical School) which offered a $1000 prize to anyone who could find literary evidence ,written before the 19th century, of a person who suffered a traumatic event, repressed the memory and later recovered.

As I said in my two years post post, it sounds like a scam, right? But it was not. An Washington Post discussed the research of scientists and literary scholars who published their findings in the journal of Psychological Medicine.

The group, headed by Harrison Pope of Harvard Medical school, claim that repressed memory, also known as amnesia is "a culture-bound syndrome' --- creation of Western culture sometime in the 19th century." Apparently literature as far back as Homer show characters suffering from other disorders ranging from disjointed thinking, schizophrenia and depression. The literary work of other cultures was explored and no "convincing" example was found of a traumatic event followed by repressed memory and recovery of the memory before the year 1800.

In the second half of the 19th century evidence of trauma related amnesia in literature is plentiful -- the article refers to Dickens TALE OF TWO CITIES in which Dr Manette's time in the Bastille is so terrible that he has no memory of it until events in the plot cause him to recall the experience. The researchers contend that if the condition existed before this and other literary proof, evidence would be found. There in lay the challenge.

The news is that the challenge has been won. It's old news, actually, but I feel compelled to inform all historical writers so they no longer think that they must avoid stories with an amnesia plot. Here is what the Biopsychlab reported in May of 2007:

"The libretto of the 1786 opera, “Nina,” wins our $1000 award for a case of “repressed memory” in a written work before 1800.

“Nina” is a one-act opera with a score written by Nicholas Dalayrac and a libretto written by Marsollier. The full title is: Nina, ou La folle par amour, comedie en un acte, en prose, melee d’ariettes, par M. M. D. V. Musique de M. Dalayrac. It was published by Brunet in Paris in 1786. Several subsequent translations into English are available; one of the best known is the 1787 translation by Berkeley, which is available online through Eighteenth Century Collections Online. The libretto is not available online.

Nina's repressed memory is global, that is she recognizes no one and remembers nothing after the traumatic event, which involved the death of her lover in a duel with another suitor. I encourage you to read the full article at biopsychlab.com where there is a discussion of the differences between the 18th century understanding of amnesia and what it has evolved to today.

This post is based on information from a Washington Post article by Shankar Vedantam, the Biopsychlab website and from my previous post of March 6, 2007

Have you ever used amnesia in a book or do you have an idea working? How do you describe current medical conditions in historical terms in your work?

02 March 2007

Time Well Spent: the Ladies of Llangollen

The book I'm working on is demanding a heap of research, some of which the finished product will flaunt, much of which, I hope, it will offer in the spirit of flirtatious discretion. Which suggests an affinity of historical romance and eroticism - but perhaps that's another post...

Anyhow, I'd been really enjoying the research, adorning my notes and outlines with occasional dialogue or internal monologue in the voices of my characters, and welcoming those voices as a sign that there's actually a book there. Suggesting, perhaps further affinities, this time with schizophrenia or would-be sainthood - which would occasion quite another sort of post...

When, caught in the midst of all this busy process and satisfying rumination, I found myself beguiled by a voice from a farflung corner of my research.

I'd wanted the true-life figures Lady Eleanor Butler and her Beloved (as she calls her) Miss Sarah Ponsonby as off-stage characters in my book. I had in mind sending a pair of the characters whose voices I've been hearing, go to visit this couple in their cottage in North Wales, but I wasn’t sure they were still alive in 1828.

So I went to the library to check their death dates in Elizabeth Mavor’s The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship. But the book I found first was the now out-of-print Life With the Ladies of Llangollen, Mavor’s collection of their daybook entries.

Which was just as good, I thought, for what I needed. I made a quick scan of the pages and indeed, I’d soon found an entry for 1828. I closed the book and tried to ignore the siren song that had wafted out of it.

Our Pleasures though Very Sublime will not be very expensive for next Winter.
Amazing how pushy certain books can be, even so unassuming, sweet-natured, and elegantly terse a one as the one I held in my hand.

I opened it again, at random.
Lovely Morning. Intense White Frost. Brewed.
In the moment it took me to unpack the compressed language, I was hooked. Ignoring more pressing tasks, I took the book home and let it do its magic on me.
1788, January 1. Soaking rain. Gloomy heavy day. Three. Dinner. Roast Beef. Plum pudding. Half past 3 till 9. Still close night. Reading - making an accompt-Book. Then reading Sterne to my Beloved while she worked on her Purse. 9-12 in dressing room reading - writing to Mrs. Goddard Bath. A day of Sensibility and Sweet Repose.
Making me wonder, in March 2007, what’s the last day of Sensibility and Sweet Repose I’ve had, for it seems that I'm busier than ever, even after having received early retirement from my day job. Maybe the Internet and air travel aren't everything they're cracked up to be. Perhaps my Beloved might let me read Sterne to him some evening; possibly we’ve overdosed on Big Love and Battlestar Gallactica.

Of course, there’s a certain sameness to the Ladies' days and nights. But in so responsive a universe as they inhabited, sameness acquires its own sublimity. By January 14 Mrs. Goddard has sent back two views of Bath. And after a day of “storm and gloom,” there’s delighted notice paid to a “lovely celestial night. Millions of stars, silver moon.

Dressed in their invariable costume of men’s waistcoat and women’s skirt, the Ladies weren’t bothered by repetition (nor, I find am I, as I work my way through the fifty years they spent together). Of course, they’d probably had quite enough excitement at the beginning of their idyll, when, in 1778 (in Mavor's words), "to the fury and consternation of their aristocratic Irish families, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby eloped and fled to a cottage in North Wales.”

When I finish the daybook entries (and the chores I’ve neglected for it), I’ll have to read Mavor’s study of their lives. To find out more about the families and the elopement, and how, as the Amazon blurb puts it, “their fame traveled widely: Lady Caroline Lamb and Josiah Wedgwood visited them, Wordsworth and Southey wrote poetry under their roof, and other celebrities of the day became cherished friends.” I gather, from having done some web surfing, that no one's quite sure about whether the couple "qualifies" as true lesbians or simply as a “romantic friendship.”

Frankly, either way is okay with me, happy as I am simply to pass the cycle of the seasons in their valley and to puzzle over gnomic diary entries like "Expenses: 1795 August 13: Thos. Simon for killing his cat 1s." To pretend that, along with the poet Anna Seward, I am part of the party invited to “drink tea and coffee in that retreat, which breathes all the witchery of genius, taste, and sentiment.”

And perhaps to look out my own window rather more often.


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