History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 May 2007

Welcome, Bonnie Edwards!

Midnight Confessions
By Bonnie Edwards
Kensington--Available now!

Bonnie will be giving away copies of Midnight Confessions and Midnight Confessions II (!) to two lucky posters.

Faye Grantham didn’t quite know what came over her—except that her body was on fire. She knew what she wanted, craved, needed: hot sex. Right now. Tonight. But nice girls don’t get to do whatever they want, with whoever they want to do it with… Faye feels like someone’s trying to tell her something: go for it!

The long-gone ladies of the old bordello she inherited are with her in spirit—sexual spirit, that is. If the walls of Perdition House could only talk…oh, my. They do. And their ghostly tales of amorous encounters are awakening Faye’s desire for flesh-and-blood men. Who is she gonna call? Mouth-wateringly sexy Mark or hard and handsome Liam? Her wildest fantasies are about to get very, very real…

4 Stars from Romantic Times!Edwards establishes interest from the first page with an extremely unique plot. The story moves quickly as main character Faye goes after what she wants - with gusto. Without losing a beat or leaving out details, the novel achieves a sensual tone that is tasteful and sexy. MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS is definitely entertaining reading.

Midnight Confessions has both contemporary parts, and historical parts where we meet the ghosts of the women who once worked out of the house our heroine now lives in. How did you become pick the time period for the ghosts? What do you love about it?

I picked 1910-11 because so much was happening in the world. Millionaires were on the rise. Travel was exploding. Communication, technology and manufacturing were all moving in fast forward, it seems. A real middle class was rising. Fashions were changing rapidly. And since this was the first historical writing I’d ever done I liked that most people could relate to the times. I’d like to think most people even have old photos from this time tucked away in their homes.

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

I didn’t want to take the stories to the First World War. I wanted to remain in a time when all good things seemed possible. I also liked the idea of looking back and knowing that while my characters felt that nothing could go wrong in the world at large…the reader would know that in a couple years the war would engulf the world. A peak into a wondrous time of innocence. (even if the book is set in a bordello – LOL)

You’re writing erotic romance, how do you go about blending history with a really hot plot?

Oh, that was so much fun and surprisingly easy. Once I learned that Butte Montana was a hot spot for brothels and vice and every kind of sin (the Dumas Hotel is still there, a museum) it seemed a natural starting point. Then I learned that there’d been a Free Love Movement as far back as just after the Civil War. I began to think that if a woman was raised in this Free Love Movement her ideas of sex and marriage and a “woman’s place” would be different enough that she’d make a very forward thinking madam. And so I created Belle Grantham, the founder of Perdition House.

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

Actually I can’t say that I had any one thing spark it. I was at a writing retreat, needing to brainstorm a new idea and I had the idea of a woman inheriting a haunted bordello literally fall into my head. I couldn’t let it go…it electrified me. Any writer will recognize that feeling. All my creative sparkplugs started firing and I knew I was onto something. I felt vindicated every time my research gave me more to work with. It was as if I was meant to write this series. Which I didn’t realize was a series until I got started writing. That was when I knew I had more to say than one book’s worth.

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

I didn’t know anything much! But I’ve had a lifelong affinity for the time. I think most people look back to a period and feel a sense of “wouldn’t it have been cool to live then”. That’s what I’ve always felt about the early 1900’s. Everything I researched seemed to work well within the context of the stories. I discovered some things about Carrie Nation I didn’t know though. So I used her strident crusader mentality to offset Belle Grantham. Both the real woman Nation and my fictional character Belle wanted the same things. Respect for women. Kinder, gentler men. They just went after what they wanted in different ways. Nation went on the attack: she railed against alcohol and vice hoping that by banishing both men would treat their families better. My Belle wanted men to see women as individuals with choices. Especially by being financially independent. Heck, if women had had more choices for making a living back then, Belle might have run a school, but as it was, she gave some women financial freedom. At least that’s how I see it.

What/Who do you like to read?

I like to read fun historicals. My favorite historical writer is Margaret Moore. Her settings are interesting and I love her heroes and heroines. There’s always a little mystery and suspense in her books and her secondary characters never fail to make me laugh! In contemporaries, I LOVE EC Sheedy’s romantic suspense books. She’s always a guaranteed good read. And her books are suspenseful and unpredictable. 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 write four drafts. As much as I’d like to write faster or fewer drafts, I can’t break the four draft habit. The first is basically telling the story. Getting the events down. (often the end is a mystery even then). The second draft is where the really hard work comes in. I switch scenes, move stuff around. Kill off characters or blend two characters into one etc. After that, it’s pretty much cleaning up and editing. But, I’ve been told several times I send in really clean manuscripts, so I guess the time spent is worth it. Doesn’t matter anyway, I can’t let a manuscript leave my hands until it’s the very best I can do at the time.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’ve got several ideas for both light and dark contemporary paranormals. And of course, Midnight Confessions III is tapping at my forehead, I think I’ll look at moving up to 1912-1914. The next release is set in the brothel, but unfortunately, it’s strictly contemporary. It’s a novella, Rock Solid, in the anthology BUILT, due in stores at the end of July.

30 May 2007

Actions Speak Louder Than Words...

Did you know that, in 18th and 19th century England, a woman could flirt entirely without words, using items such as a fan, her gloves, parasol, or handkerchief instead? Indeed, an entire flirtation could take place in silence with subtle gestures and motions which could be easily hidden from prying eyes. Here's a sampling:

The Fan
Carrying it in the right hand in front of face = Follow Me
Drawing across forehead = We are watched
Placing handle across lips = Kiss me
Drawing in across cheek = I love you
Fanning quickly = I am engagnedFanning slowly = I am married
Resting against right cheek = Yes
Resting against left cheek = No

The Glove
Biting tips = I wish to be rid of you
Dropping one = Yes

Dropping both = I love you
Thumb exposed on left hand = Kiss me
Smoothing them out = I am displeased
Striking them over shoulder = Follow me

The Parasol
Carrying it elevated in left hand = I desire to make your acquaintance
Carrying it elevated in right hand = You are too forward
Carrying it over the right shoulder = You can speak to me
Carrying it over the left shoulder = You are cruel
Dropping it = I love you
Tapping the chin = I am in love with another
Touching handle to lips = Kiss me

The Handkerchief
Drawing it across the cheek = I love you
Drawing it through the hands = I hate you
Folding it = I wish to speak with you
Twisting it in the left hand = I wish to be rid of you
Twisting it in the right hand = I love another
Drawing it across forehead = We are watched

I'd like to know how ladies could keep all this 'body language' straight--can you imagine having to memorize all these nuances, else you might convey the wrong message to someone, even if by accident? "Hmmm, I want to tell him 'yes' with my fan--but it is my left cheek I touch, or my right?!" And what if you were simply a klutz, prone to dropping things?! Better hope you only accidentally drop one glove--indicating 'yes'--rather than both, indicating "I love you"! Think of the trouble in which you might find yourself if you had a habit of touching things to your lips without thought!

I can't even think of any modern parallels--can you?

28 May 2007

Did Women Hunt?

One of the questions that is furiously debated on author loops and historical loops is: Did women hunt (before the common use of the leaping head, c. 1830)? I’ve always maintained that they did. Not in large numbers, and not all the time, or with every hunt, but there are certainly documented cases of women hunting during the Georgian era.

I recently got an amazing book, The History of Foxhunting by Roger Longrigg, which gives quite a bit of supporting evidence for my position:

1711 (from a period magazine): “I have very frequently the opportunity of seeing a rural Andromache, who came up to town last winter, and is one of the greatest fox-hunters in the country; she talks of hounds and horses, and makes nothing of leaping over a six-bar gate.”

1734 (from a period magazine): “Princess Amelia, out with the duke [her brother, Cumberland] and the staghounds had a fall and was dragged 200 yards, her petticoat caught on the pommel.”

1775 (from Pierce Egan): “Lady Salisbury constantly hunted the Hatfield Hounds . . . riding as hard as any sportsman in the field.” It should be noted that this was her own hunt, which certainly put up some peoples' backs (there are cartoons lampooning her as too masculine, going so far as to show her with 5-o’clock shadow!).

1787 (Rowlandson’s “The Return” from his hunt series; comment from Longrigg): “The lady being helped to the ground is most certainly a member of the pack owner’s household, since . . . only such ladies rode to hounds.”

1810 (From Nimrod’s Tours): His daughters [he being the 3rd Earl of Darlington] hunted with him, in scarlet habits; they were “too well-bred for foxhunting” too mind the smell of the broth which invaded the drawing room from the kennel.

No exact year (Lennox, Merrie England): “Lady Craven, upon Pastime, never shrank from either fence or timber.”

No exact year (early to mid 18th century): The historian of Goodwood [estate of the Duke of Richmond] states that large numbers of ladies came out with the Charlton hounds.

25 May 2007


I've got an area on my website called Errata and Outtakes, where I periodically make myself an honest woman by fessing up to any historical error I or others find in my books.

And I'm overdue for a new entry -- the howler in question being from Almost a Gentleman, It's in the words of the pathetic Lord Crashaw, who is touchingly (to my mind, anyway) and hopelessly in love with Phizz Marston, my heroine in disguise. Ruefully envious of my hero (who he thinks also prefers men), Crashaw tells him that:
...after all, you’re one of those rugged, handsome sorts. Vigorous, not at all nancy on the outside: you’re the type no one suspects.... young, rich, got that title that goes back to the Stone Age...
At which point, if you've got better historical chops than I did when I wrote this, lights should be flashing and sirens blaring out an ear-splitting, code-red Anachronism Alert. Because in 1823, no one could or would have said Stone Age. In a world whose history was bounded by the Bible and the classics, the concept of human pre-history simply didn't exist -- and wouldn't for another generation, until the Darwinian revolution in thought.

What I find a bit ironic and more than a bit frustrating, though, was that when I wrote poor Crashaw's lament I was hitting the reference books bigtime. To try to express a reasonable simulacrum of how a secret homosexual might speak to another. And I flatter myself that the period word nancy worked pretty well -- so well that my attention was entirely diverted away from Stone Age.

Well, it's hard enough for a historical writer to remember that in 1823 your hero couldn't just strike a safety match to light his cheroot. But for me what's vastly more difficult is getting a grip on people's vague frames of reference -- the sort of things they wouldn't know thoroughly, but might know enough about to mention, perhaps having picked up reference in their idle reading, or from popular small-talk. In late Victorian times, Lord Crashaw's Stone Age sally might have been very effective indeed.

Or course, I don't want my story choked with arcane or technical knowledge. There's nothing more deadly about the historical novelist who creates contemporary detail by means of musings like, "Ah, Mercator... he'll be a great map-maker someday."

But I do like the occasional dash of hyperbolic speech -- especially, as in the case of poor Crashaw, when it masks intense emotion. Or in The Bookseller's Daughter, when my heroine finds herself thinking there isn't enough oxygen in the small space of the bookshop for herself and my hero. Because in 1783 bookish, free-thinking Marie-Laure could have known that oxygen had been named and understood as a component of air just a few years earlier, by both the French Antoine Lavoisier and the English Joseph Priestley.

As a history hoyden, btw, I can't resist telling you here that neither of these great chemists were done right by history. Priestley had his home and laboratory in Birmingham burned to the ground in 1791 by a "Church and King" mob, for his support of the French Revolution. And in France three years later, Lavoisier (that's him with his wife and scientific partner) was executed by the Terror for having held office as a tax collector before the Revolution.

But as a novelist, I try to keep that kind of information from running roughshod through my books -- or at least to excise it from the second drafts. Still, I have to admit that I always feel the temptation to set a romantic story of personal transformation against the real-life details of political and scientific upheaval.

And I wonder, you writers out there, how you deal with instances of period knowledge while you write your romantic story?

While as for you readers, do you like these bits and scraps of throwaway erudition? When do you think it works and when do you think it doesn't?

And everybody, please let me know about any errors you find in my books, and I'll cheerfully (ok, not so cheerfully) post them on my Errata page.

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23 May 2007

Is she ... or isn't she? On White Weddings

I started thinking about this post five days before my May 19 wedding, realizing that I would probably be out of town when my turn came around again, so I wanted to get a jump on writing it. These days, last minute wedding plans include juggling one’s blogging schedule. At least Queen Victoria didn’t have to worry about that detail. However, she was an enthusiastic and passionate diarist, so I think her majesty might have enjoyed blogging, had it been invented at the time. The words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh [on her own musical talent], “If I had ever learned, I should have been a great proficient,” come to mind.

Since I chose to wear an ivory wedding gown (much better for brown-eyed redheads than bright white) I began to think about the concept of the White Wedding. On the one hand it could be argued that a 21st century woman north of her mid-30s is laughable in white, with all its virginal connotations; on the other hand, most of us should consider ourselves blessed to live in an age where just about anything goes.

Me in my wedding dress during a fitting

I remember reading the following chant in a book about various superstitions that my grandmother owned:

“Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.”

Once upon a time, before 1840, the white wedding gown was a rarity. Women were married in their best clothes, regardless of the color. Everything was stitched by hand, there was no such thing as “ready to wear,” and garments were costly. Most people didn’t have a vast wardrobe to choose from anyway. The wealthy, of course, had their finest garments embroidered or embellished in other ways with gold and silver thread, beading, and other intricate handwork, but no matter the lavishness of the decoration, the intention was for the woman to be able to wear the wedding garment(s) more than once, or at least get some future mileage from a permutation of the skirt, bodice, or robe.

The Jewish Bride (also called The Loving Couple) Rembrandt van Rijn, 1666

If women could afford to have a new dress made for their nuptials, white—which gets so dirty right away—would scarcely have been the practical choice. Except for that window of time that so many of us write about, from the late 1790s until the end of the Regency, white was not particularly fashionable. Possibly because it just wasn’t practical. Later in the nineteenth century, many brides were married in “separates”: they paired their skirt with a tastefully virginal (more on that later) bodice that showed no décolletage for the ceremony, and a daring, low-cut bodice which was appropriate for an evening reception. Look at several 19th-century evening gowns and you’ll see how “immodest” the necklines were, compared to day-wear. I recently read a fashion article in The New York Times which stated that the clavicle was “in.” During the 19th century, after six p.m., it never left.

It was Queen Victoria who eschewed the traditional silver royal wedding gown and instead was married in a white satin gown with silver Honiton lace ornamentation. The date was February 10, 1840 at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace. Her headpiece—a long sheer veil cascading from a coronet of orange blossoms (which symbolized purity), completed the look that most brides would desire to emulate for the next 167 years (and counting). Although sleek and strapless shows off many a gym-buffed body (thank you Carolyn Bessette), turn to any bridal magazine today and you will still see photo after photo of poufy white dresses trimmed and embellished until they resemble a meringue.

Victoria and Albert's wedding

For the record, Prince Albert, to be thereafter known as the Prince Consort, wore skintight white knee breeches and his epauleted jacket was so festooned with medals and orders he would never get through Heathrow these days without a strip search.

A White Wedding, as the tradition came to be known in the 20th century, also not-so-tacitly connoted that the bride was a virgin. People still snicker about this, trust me. I attended a wedding not twenty years ago in which the bride was married in a pale pink confection, and the speculative whispers during the reception sounded like a nest of vipers had been imported into the catering hall.

I chose ivory because it suited my complexion. And okay, yes, because I dreamed of a White Wedding. I wanted the whole nine yards, and for a few moments last Saturday evening, it felt like my train was about that long.

Are you superstitious about what color you’d like to marry in? Given the rhyme above, and similar notions of the era, would you have some of your pre-Victorian characters (whether it’s the bride, her friends and family, and the groom’s family and friends) consider the psychology of color when they (or another character) wed and use it as a character trait?

20 May 2007

The State Dinner

CSpan is not a place I usually go to do research. However, I was glued to the TV the night of the State Dinner in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. A number of elements fascinated me. The guest list: why did the President invite the jockey and not the owners of Derby winner Street Sense? Why were so many TV reporters on the guest list and none from the print media?

The gowns: everyone looked fabulous. Who knew Secretary of State Rice would look so good in red? it was a daring choice especially since most of the other ladies opted for more sedate dark blue and cream colors that echoed the gowns wore by the First Lady and the Queen.

While fascinated by all those details, the real reason I watched was to find out which tiara the Queen would choose to wear.

I voted for the Regal Circlet of George IV. He designed it and although every queen since has shown it off, George IV is the only king who wore it -- at his coronation over a large plumed hat. (Aha, now that sounds like the Prinny of the Regency, doesn't it?). To the right is a picture of the current queen wearing it in a preliminary oil sketch for a 1989 portrait by Richard Stone.

Or perhaps she would choose the imposing Koh-i-Noor circlet which Queen Elizabeth, queen consort of King George VI, is wearing in the photo to the right. The Koh-i-Noor came to Queen Victoria when it was surrendered to her by Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849. in 1852, Prince Albert supervised the cutting of the diamond to increase its brilliance. It was reduced in size 42% to its current weight of 105.6 carats. Victoria wore the stone as a brooch and it could also be mounted in a tiara where it was set with 2000 other diamonds. It was later placed in the tiara in the photo at left and first worn thus by Queen Alexandria, wife of Edward VII.

Queen Elizabeth wore neither of these to the State Dinner. According to the press release she wore the Queen Mary tiara as shown below. The only picture I have of the Queen Mary Tiara shows the top-most element as drop pearls, standing upright. It is identical to the one shown below in every other aspect. It is entirely possible that at some point the pearls were replaced with diamonds.

My study of tiaras centers around the most impressive book I own. Geoffrey C. Munn has written what I consider to be the definitive book on the subject: TIARAS, A HISTORY OF SPLENDOUR. The book weighs over five pounds and has more than 400 pages filled with photos, exploring the history and ownership of tiaras, from ancient to modern times with an entire chapter on the tiaras and circlets of the British Aristocracy. Because they were generally worn for well- photographed events the book is a veritable provenance of important tiaras, covering generations of ownership in paintings, drawings and, later, in photographs.

If I was disappointed that the Queen did not choose one of my favorite tiaras, I was delighted to see the necklace I had first saw in the photo of the Queen Mum with Prince Charles, above. The necklace comprises three strands -- 105 -- diamonds. It is called The Festoon and was made for the then Queen by her husband, George VI, from a collection of diamonds he inherited with the throne. That necklace has always fascinated me -- the audacity of it, the extravagance. When would Queen Elizabeth wear something like that -- such an eye-popping testimony to conspicuous consumption. Why to a State Dinner of course.

Anyone else fascinated by jewels? Do you have any books to recommend?

18 May 2007

Girl with the Pearl Earring, or Not....

I took an unplanned excursion to my local bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and who should be there on a quiet Friday night---but one of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier. I settled in to listen to her read from her new release, Burning Bright. Afterward, she took questions and I asked her if the film made from her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring was true to her vision. She said no, not exactly, but seemed hesitant to elaborate other than to say that the setting was a little more lush and the people a little prettier than in her book. I was glad to spend the hour in her company and when her signing ended, I kept thinking about the enigmatic the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Scholars debate, but the girl is possibly the artist Johannes Vermeer van Delft’s daughter. The portrait was painted around 1665. Her unguarded expression, as if someone she knew had just called her name, is compelling, as are the colors, the light, the turban, and that big, beautiful pearl. Without knowing anything about the painting of the “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” I would have picked up Ms. Chevalier’s book just for the wonderful cover.

I had no idea that the spectacular pearl was undoubtedly a fake. Artificial pearls were invented by M. Jacquin in France in the mid 1600’s and were actually thin spheres of glass filled with l’essence d’ orient, a prep made of white wax and the silvery scales of the river fish called abette. Cultured pearls were also starting to appear in Venice, but Vermeer’s girl is most likely wearing a glass drop-earring which has been filled with l’ essence d’ orient and varnished to create a “skin” to look like an real pearl. Fake pearl jewelry made in this manner was highly fashionable in Holland at the time.

Set against the costly lapis pigment Vermeer used to paint her brilliant blue turban, and the earthy yellows of her cape, the pearl stunningly highlighted. And thanks to Tracy Chevalier, the coming-of-age, historical what-if story about the young girl and her magnificent earring is priceless.

16 May 2007

From the Ballroom to Hell

Hello, all you hoydens out there! It’s a beautiful spring day here in the mountains where I live, and that translates into slim research pickings. I’m having trouble finding a blog topic out in my back yard. They didn’t drink margaritas in Victorian England, did they?

Another reason my mind isn’t on research. . . I’ve just finished writing my first contemporary romantic comedy. So aside from a few quick Google queries on lock-picking and S&M (don’t ask), I haven’t spent much time on picking up new knowledge.

When I realized it was my turn to post, I grabbed a book I hadn’t spent much time with and started thumbing through it, looking for interesting tidbits. The book is titled From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance. Pretty enticing, huh? It’s a collection of advice from dance and etiquette manuals published during the nineteenth century. The vast majority of these were published for Americans, but there are some snippets from British books as well.

Americans were a uniquely hungry audience for this type of advice. There was no rigid hierarchy here in the new country, and people moved (slowly) up through the different strata of society. But once you moved up, how to be sure you understood the myriad rules of the polite world? Talk about stress! Add to that, there was no ton, no permanent group of fashionable people to set the standards. So where did they get them? From England, of course. And I daresay the upper-crust Americans followed these British "rules" more closely than the British did.

There were hundreds of etiquette books published for Americans in the nineteenth-century, and From the Ballroom to Hell brings many of them together for our reading pleasure. Here are a few of my favorite snippets:

"Whatever the fashions may be, never be induced by them to violate the strictest modesty. No woman can strip her arms to her shoulders and show her back and bosom without injuring her mind and losing some of her refinement; if such would consult their brothers, they would tell them how men regard it." –The Young Lady’s Friend, 1836

"A man who would marry a woman who wore a dirty stocking, or one with a hole in it, would be very likely to beat her in a month, and run away from her before a year was over. It is the mark of a lady to be always well shod. . ." –The Art of Good Behaviour, 1845

Wow. I had no idea.

"As heels are of more importance to men than heads . . .When you are perfected in the art, you cannot do better than spend the rest of your time dancing. Fail not to convince a lady that your real existence is in the ballroom, and that during all the intervening time your godlike faculties are simply taking their natural sleep. You must not dance as a mere pastime and as a occasional amusement, but you must devote yourself to it as a business and a religion. . ." –The Arts of Beauty, 1858
I just love that men were supposed to be just as simple and depthless as women, at least out in society. No talk of your industrial empire, please. Dance, you fool! Dance!

"[In waltzing]. . . When she raises her eyes, timidly at first, to that handsome but deceitful face, now so close to her own, the look that is in his eyes as they meet hers, seems to burn into her very soul. A strange, sweet thrill shakes her very being and leaves her weak and powerless. . . but the sensation is a pleasant one and grows to be the very essence of her life. . . She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. . . her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his. . . She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail, the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night." –From the Ballroom to Hell, 1892.
Well, I don’t know about you ladies, but I feel like going waltzing, that’s for damn sure.

Do any of you have any period etiquette manuals that just make your day? I know it’s been done before, but I’m sure I could base an entire romance on these rules. (And I apologize for the quicky nature of my last few posts. The next book is another historical, so I’ll be deep in the research again by my next topic!!!)

14 May 2007

A rose by any other name . . .

One of the things writers always seem to be discussing is names. Especially historical writers, but I think this applies equally across the board. You want your characters to have distinct and appropriate names, but when you’re writing an historical novel you don’t want to have Princess Brandi tramping about. I keep lists of names that I run across in historical documents, in non-fiction books about my period, etc.

Recently, prompted by a question on a discussion loop that I’m on I made a list of all the names in Who's Who in Late Hanoverian Britain and my 1779 edition of the Peerage. Mostly the same names show up over and over and over:







Then we have a few names, which while no where near as popular as those above, still show up quite a bit:









Then there are a smattering of names that still seem "normal", but show up only once or twice:














And then there are the fun ones, many of which seem like surnames used as first names to me:














Anne-Holles (!) yes, first name for a man




I’d guess that the vast majority of the writers I know are choosing names from this third set. As readers how do you feel about names? Do you care if half the heroes are named Henry or Thomas (as they probably would have been in real life), or do you like our penchant for the unusual?

Which of these two statements sums up your feeling:

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?

A rose by any other name would wither and die?

11 May 2007

Things That Went Bump in Charlemagne's Night

Things That Went Bump in Charlemagne’s Night

Every age has its bugaboos, and the Carolingian era is no different. But what frightened people in the 8th century weren's monsters from outer space or hard disk crashes or global warming or even tainted catfood. Eighth century fears were more basic. What scared Charlemagne (crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day in 800 A.D., in Rome) and his people were the products of Mother Nature–natural catastrophes: the Forest; Night; Winter; and Plagues.

The Forest. Ermold the Black, an 8th century chronicler, described the forest as “wooded haunts of savage beasts and swampy wastes.” Forests were dense, deep, dark places of mystery where otherworldly spirits dwelt and getting lost could cost you your life. Oaks, beeches, maples, birches, ash, chestnut etc. formed an impenetrable tree-webbed place full of imagined trolls, forest folk, dragons, enchanted springs, etc. as well as actual savage animals (bears, ferocious wild boar, ravenous wolves). So threatening were hungry wolves in the winter of 813 that Charlemagne dispatched hunters to track down cubs and poison them and hunt their full-grown parents using dogs, traps, and pits.

Winter’s Discontents. Winter’s freezing weather stopped most activities, including military campaigns (except for a few notable instances when soldiers or refugees crossed over a river that was frozen solid. Traveling during winter was rare. Enemies often attacked; the Normans, for instance, attacked Paris during the winter of 861. Floods washed away crops and houses and stone walls.

An unusually cold winter signaled a scanty harvest, and that meant starvation. Famine killed thousands in some years. In Burgundy in 868, not enough men were left in one area to bury the dead. In 874, one-third of the population of Gaul and Germania (roughly the areas of France and Germany) died of hunger. Starving people in Gaul ate earth mixed with flour shaped like loaves of bread; horses; and occasionally each other.

Night. Charlemagne feared little, but darkness terrified the Carolingians, their emperor included. Thieves and bandits roamed at night; malevolent forces were set free; spirits of the dead disturbed the living. Even people who were rich enough to have rushlights to dispel the darkness risked death from accidentally set fires. Night was when terrifying dreams were taken as omens, and witches brewed their magic potions.

Plagues. In the days before antibiotics, before bacteria and germs were “discovered,” when home or folk remedies could be more superstitious misinformation than effective symptom relievers, a plague which settled on an unsuspecting populace was thought of as a scourge of God. Its mysterious source went unidentified; people sickened and died by the thousands and churches filled with the prayerful survivors.

Smallpox, typhoid, cholera, to say nothing of bubonic plague and malaria were not the only killers; a warrior with an infected wound could die of septicemia (blood poisoning) or gangrene or a clumsy un-anaesthetized limb amputation with a crude, unsterilized saw. Infections, even small ones, could be life-threatening despite a “wise woman’s” application of clotted cobwebs or moss or bathing with nettle-leaf infusions or cauterization with a hot iron.

Add to this the natural process of childbirth, which (because of malnutrition, overwork, etc.) often went awry, and home-made birth control methods (banned by the Church) and herbal potions that were often fatal to both mother and fetus and you have a picture of 8th century life: dangerous; scary; unforgiving.

Charlemagne, however, lived a long and happy life with no illness; he died at age 72.
Primary source: Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riché (U. of Pennsylvania Press)

10 May 2007

Welcome, Gretchen Craig!

Gretchen Craig


Zebra—Available Now!

Gretchen Craig returns with another sweeping story that brings the Old South to life in all its glory – and a passionate heroine compelled to follow her heart.

On the eve of the Civil War, the daughter of Southern planters finds her loyalties tested in a magnificent saga of family pride and forbidden love.

EVER MY LOVE is set in the pre-Civil War South. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

Don’t all of us love the look of those huge skirts like Scarlet O’Hara wore? (Not that I’d want to get through the aisles at WalMart in one.) And the luxurious houses with expensive drapery puddled on the floor? (That someone else kept the dog from chewing on.) That’s the romantic aspect. The other appeal of this time to me is imagining what is was like for women with so few choices in life. What were the essentials for them? I’m also fascinated with what life was like before the industrial revolution was in full swing. They certainly had technical advancements in the early 1800s, but very few impacted daily life. What did they do for toothaches? How did they wash a dress with twenty yards of fabric in it? How did they find a soul mate when they were never alone with a gentleman?

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

Slavery is a touchy subject. Well, I’ll rephrase that because there is no controversy in maintaining that slavery was despicable. What is touchy is having a main character who owns slaves and yet is presented sympathetically. This was especially true in the first book, ALWAYS AND FOREVER. There was some flak for not having the heroine, Josie Tassine, striving to end the institution of slavery. But that was not my thesis at all. I wanted to get in the heads of people who did own slaves, but were otherwise very much like you and me. How is it possible to live with that immorality, owning other human beings, and still live an honorable life in other respects? Understanding people are capable of that is an important part of understanding humanity, whether Iraqi or Chinese or Texan.

The other difficulty with writing about slaves from the points of view of both owner and owned is to try to be accurate. Not every overseer was a Simon LeGree, but the slaves didn’t sing all those work songs in the fields because they were happy, either. I wanted to make my characters individuals experiencing life in that time so that we could feel we’d walked that mile in their shoes.

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

EVER MY LOVE is a stand alone novel, but it is also a sequel to ALWAYS AND FOREVER. The criticism of the first heroine being an unapologetic slave owner got me thinking. I thought then, and think now, that the critic missed the mark. We should be able to look into the minds and souls of slave owners without stereotyping them and without projecting our own values onto them. The fact is, many slave owners felt no conflict in going to church, in praying to God, in loving their own families, and yet – owning slaves. That’s worth thinking about – how a society shapes our thinking.

Okay, I’ll get to the point – the characters in the first book stayed with me night and day. Their stories continued to grow in my head until I realized their children were ready for their own story. Times changed between 1835 and 1860. The second generation’s ideas would be different from their parents’ ideas. And so we have Marianne Johnston, daughter of a slave owner, struggling to reconcile her conscience with her life as a plantation mistress.

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 research was fun. No battles to keep straight. I looked into all kinds of 1850s healing and used a lot of that. It struck me all over again what a leap it was later in the century to believe in tiny disease-causing creatures one could not see! Miasmas make more sense than bacteria. I read about the slave market at Vicksburg , Forks-in-the-Road, and then visited the site. Nothing there to suggest what that corner once was. I read about how the slaves were primed for presentation to buyers, given new clothes – very cheap ones, you can be sure – and even new hats in order to look good to the folks looking for hands.

A fact I hadn’t fully appreciated was how many freed blacks lived in the South, and that some of them owned slaves. That’s boggling, and addresses again how pervasive the institution of slavery was, how the culture was saturated with it.

The Civil War can be a really hard sell, or so I’ve heard. How did you manage to sell multiple books with such unusual settings? Any advice for those who wish to follow in your footsteps?

I’m sure editors have eras they’d rather avoid, just as I’ve heard they’re cutting back on Regencies (but I don’t know if that’s true). Maybe they think we’ve read all we want to about the Regency era and about the Civil War years. BUT – I believe that if you write an outstanding novel with compelling characters and a fresh take on the era, whatever the era, you’ll sell. Though I shied away from the Civil War itself, that was mostly out of laziness. All that reading about battles – ugh. But -- how can you ever tell all the stories there are to tell in such a nation-shattering time as that? As long as your story is new and exciting, the setting shouldn’t be a hindrance.

And how did I sell these settings? Hard work and some luck thrown in. Can’t discount luck in this business. I met an editor at the Frontiers in Writing Conference in Amarillo one summer, and she was intrigued with the premise of the first book: two young women, one the slave, the other her mistress, who struggle to remember their love for each other through the trials of prejudice, betrayal, and heartbreak. It was the characters who sold that book. That’s what I mean about setting: If you have intriguing characters, the setting can’t be an obstacle.

What/who do you like to read?

My favorite question! I’ll try not to drone on and on. In romance, I think Judith Ivory is tops (if you haven’t read BLACK SILK, you’re in for a treat). She does it all – plot moves along, wonderful historical details, but best of all, living breathing fascinating characters. I would willingly be her groupie. And then there’s Jennifer Cruise for contemporary romance. She is laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve read BET ME twice trying to figure out how she plots so seamlessly. (I think she cheats – she uses talent.) I’ve just discovered Jodi Picoult (THE PACT). I’m about to read Phillipa Gregory’s A RESPECTABLE TRADE. Oh, and then there was WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch. I’m sort of in and out of the Jefferson biography, AMERICAN SPHINX. I love Ann Tyler. And Jo Beverly. And . . . .

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?

All of the above! The writing process: must check email before opening current work in progress. Must answer email. Must check if more email has come in while I answered the first ones. It’s exhausting. The mean word would be obsessive.

I would dearly like to be a plotter. I do plot to the extent I’m able to see ahead. But that isn’t very far. I know where I want to end up, maybe a couple of key scenes in the middle, and then I have to grope my way along. Makes me feel very insecure, but “it’s what I do.” (Any Jack O’Neil Star Gate fans out there?) Yes, I'm familiar with several how-to-plot methods, but they just make me tense. I clean up a lot as I go, rereading the pages from the day before as I begin a new morning. And I also do multiple drafts. I keep seeing the gap between what is and what ought to be, and I keep rewriting, keep tinkering, and eventually I reach the point I would rather eat sawdust than go back into that manuscript. That’s called “Finished.”

What are you working on now?

I’m doing an insane thing: working on two manuscripts at once. One is another historical. The Acadians first arrived in Louisiana around 1765 after the British expelled them from what we call Nova Scotia . Lots of Cadian dancing, gator hunting, smuggling, and falling in love.

The other novel is a contemporary about two evil women. I’m interested in how ordinary evil can be. We’re not talking about the Holocaust. The banality of evil – that’s what I’m trying to uncover and reveal. The hero is a vet of the Iraq war (this one) and now a beat cop who gets involved in the, at first, petty deeds of the evil women. I’m fascinated by them, and hope you all will be too.

I’ve loved answering these questions. If you’d like to read the first chapter of ALWAYS AND FOREVER or EVER MY LOVE, drop by my website at www.gretchencraig.com. And drop me a note, please. (There is no such thing as too much email!)

09 May 2007

Riversdale "House Party" Follow-up

I promised to follow-up on my "Regency Ladies' Weekend" at Riversdale House, so here goes! First off, I had a wonderful time--even while forced to suffer the indignity of sleeping on the floor. In addition to fellow romance authors Sally MacKenzie and Janet Mullany (that's Janet, Sally, and me in the photo below), the other ladies in attendance included aspiring authors, period reenactors, costumers, and food 'interpreters'.

The food we ate all weekend was, for the most part, period food prepared over an open hearth. And it was delicious! Particularly delightful was a sweet potato pie with a particularly unusual taste, which turned out to be rosewater! Accompaniments often included pickled vegetables, olives, almonds, and cheese. Also delicious was a brandy/champagne punch served during our night of dancing/entertainments.

One activity I especially enjoyed was period games. We learned some card games--Sept (or "Seven") and Faro--and the dice games Newmarket and Hazard (an early version of modern-day Craps). Both Faro and Hazard are betting games, and the instructor passed around several period ladies' gaming pieces--what ladies would have used for 'betting chips.' Every lady would come to a party with her own, and some were very elaborate--discs of ivory or mother-of-pearl, some intricately carved with either a design or perhaps the lady's monogram.

But what struck me the most about the weekend--thanks to wearing period clothing and underclothes--was how "restrictive" it was to be a lady. For starters, it was impossible to dress or undress without assistance. Even with my stays loosely laced, the wooden busk up the front enforced good posture at all times, even while eating. At one point during the weekend, I donned my chemise, stays, stockings, and gown before putting on my slippers. BIG mistake! It was nearly impossible to put on my shoes once I was dressed. If I were to drop something to the floor, the only way to retrieve it was to bend at the knees rather than at the waist. Also, during one activity, I was asked to read aloud from a period novel (Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY). Between my stays and the very long passages, I nearly found myself gasping for air between sentences. By the end of one afternoon, I found myself feeling claustrophic in my stays--even though they were fairly loose--and had to have a friend quickly unlace me. It was definitely something that would take some getting used to wearing.

Still, it was a wonderful experience, and one I hope to revisit next year.

07 May 2007

Beauty and the Bard

I'm so delighted to be a history hoyden!

I'm Amanda Elyot and I write historical fiction. (this is a photo of me in the Pump Room in Bath, during the Jane Austen festival there, where I went last year to do a reading & signing). Three of the four novels I've had published are first-person accounts of the life story of a famous woman. The first was Helen of Troy, my most recent release, TOO GREAT A LADY, is Emma Hamilton's (Nelson's mistress) story, and the manuscript I just turned in to my publisher, ALL FOR LOVE, is the story of Mary Robinson, 18th-century actress, royal mistress, courtesan, novelist, poetess, and feminist. Not all of my novels are set in the same era, but what they share in common is the story of a feisty woman (and usually a redhead) who beat the odds, and for a time, not only survived, but thrived, in a society that was dead set against her succeeding.

Outsiders interest me. I think a story is more compelling when the have-nots overcome adversity than when the privileged get what's coming to them anyway. I love the rich and mighty -- don't get me wrong -- but I want to throw an outsider into their midst and watch their reactions. And when most of it really happened, historically, it's gold to me.

Emma Hamilton (b. 1765), the lady in the seductive pose pictured above (from a portrait of her by Elisabeth Vigee-leBrun) was one such woman whose life is an almost perfect parabola (I remember those from eighth grade geometry class because I liked to draw, but I sucked at math). She starts with nothing, and gradually ascends until, at her zenith, she is married to His Majesty's ambassador to the court of Naples, involved in a passionate affair with the biggest hero of the day, and is influential in international diplomacy. Pretty good for a woman who was more or less illiterate until she was seventeen years old! From there, though, as people grow increasingly disgusted by all the PDAs she and Nelson have been sharing, things start descending fairly rapidly for Emma, until by the end of her life, at age 49, she had less than what she began with.

Mary Robinson, on the other hand (b. 1757), was a merchant's daughter and had a more or less middle class education, rare for girls of the era. Whereas Emma was street-smart, Mary was book-smart, a bluestocking; but being a brainiac didn't help much when it came to falling in love. Smart women, foolish choices. Speaking for myself, I've been there, too. Maybe that's one reason why I felt for Mary so much.

Mary Robinson

Recently I've become fascinated by the "what if" factor in historical fiction. What If -- two famous people who lived during the same era, crossed paths? What did they do when they met and how did they affect each other later in life? I'm not referring to fantasy fiction where, e.g. Attila the Hun and Jane Austen share a beer at Agincourt -- I'm talking about something that might actually have happened.

Here's an example. In doing research for a book proposal, I discovered that William Shakespeare and the famous Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco were "lost" at the same time during the 1580s, meaning that history can't account for their whereabouts for some of that time. So maybe they met ... I got to thinking. How else would Shakespeare have learned enough about Venice to write OTHELLO and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. We know he was a plot thief.
Veronica Franco

So, what do readers, and other historical writers, think about the "what if"? Would it bother you to see, e.g., Franco and Shakespeare in a novel together, as long as it's something that might have actually occurred? When it comes to the genre of historical fiction, in the balance, do you prefer your history to be strictly by the book, or are you okay with putting a bit more weight in the fiction side of the scale?

P.S. I made a few mental notes on last night's BBC-America Beau Brummel production with James Purefoy. For some reason, fascinated as I was by the first scene of BB publicly dressing, it didn't seem accurate that a man who was famous for his sartorial fastidiousness would not wear anything (no linen of any kind) under his trousers. After all, there were no drycleaners then!

What I am relatively sure of is that the waltzes depicted were incorrect. The actors were doing the choreography of the classic Viennese waltz, which was introduced considerably later. They should have been dancing the early form of the waltz (which was just as scandalous, and which would have been period-accurate), where the dancers would have been hip to hip, rather than face to face, and their right hands would have been interlocking (holding hands) overhead, while their left arms encircled each other's waists. I performed this older version of the waltz in a play I did about a decade ago, and that's why the two waltz forms stick in my mind.

Other than that, I found the show quite entertaining. I enjoyed the exterior shots of what appeared to be Bath, but was amused that there never seemed to be anyone on the street who wasn't in the scene; I guess background extras weren't in the production budget!

04 May 2007

A Darker Shade of Regency

There's recently been a flurry of discussion among Regency romance writers about beginnings and endings -- not of our books, but of our era.

Because strictly speaking, the English Regency only extended from 1811 through 1820, the period when Prinny was actually Regent. (That's him over to the left, of course, looking very stuffy.)

And yet the majority of Regency romances are set either earlier or later than that narrow time-slice, when social life was articulated by recognizeable Regency or Empire style, and political life by the war with France and its aftermath.

Elena Greene wrote an excellent post about this at Risky Regencies a week or so ago. And at least according to the discussion there, most Regency readers and writers prefer a broader definition, sometimes beginning as early as the 1790s or going as late as the 1830s, though by then the clothes get pretty awful.

And everyone agrees that the clothes are important. And that you can't beat the women's clothes of the first decade of the 19th century for sheer adorableness -- or even just for the sheerness of the muslin.

But somehow I've thus far always found reasons to set my books later -- post-Waterloo or even into the 1820s, which necessitates apologizing for the women's clothes, or at least finessing my way around them. (The cross-dressing heroine of Almost a Gentleman avoids the lower waistlines of the 1820s by wearing gowns that are several years old, the contrivance being that she doesn't dress as a woman very often, and then only in the country, where fewer people keep up on fashion.... You can't imagine how much agonizing went into setting all that up; I hope that readers didn't catch all the authorial huffing and puffing, but I'll be there were some sympathetic romance authors out there who knew exactly what I was doing.)

The time-frame of Almost a Gentleman mostly had to do with when the waltz was introduced at Almack's. But lately I've been realizing that there are other, more far-reaching, reasons why I'm attracted to the closing years of the period. Call it a kind of fascination with the later period's anxiety about change and the widespread social identity crisis. If ever there was a time, I find myself thinking, when people needed to fall in love...

I've already written about the "silver fork" novels of the 1820s, that pretended to educate the newly-rich mercantile and manufacturing classes in the ways of the ton -- even as the rules for admission and behavior at Almacks became tougher and fussier, to keep the "mushrooms" and bourgeois arrivistes excluded. Silver fork novelist Benjamin Disraeli (the same Disraeli who'd become Victoria's Tory PM) satirized the situation in his 1827 The Voyage of Captain Popanilla:

so that when the delighted students had eaten some fifty or sixty imaginary dinners in my Lord’s dining-room, and whirled some fifty or sixty imaginary waltzes in my lady’s dancing-rooom, there was scarcely a brute left among the whole Millionaires...

This is Becky Sharp's Regency, Thackeray's rather than Georgette Heyer's: a mirrored glasshouse surrounded by gathering clouds of Victorian doubt, and populated by women in dreadful dresses with "imbecile sleeves," (yes, that's what they called them, and, as you can see, quite rightly so).

For my part, I'd say the Regency sputters out by the time of the first Reform Bill in 1832. But you could also make a case for its coming to its unattractively bloated close when George IV dies in 1830, at least as reported in the journal of a Mrs. Arbuthnot (a confidant of Wellington, and I gather a trustworthy chronicler of events):

I went yesterday to Windsor to the funeral of the late King...to see the Lying in State. It was in one of the old State Rooms in the Castle. The coffin was very fine and a most enormous size. They were very near having a frightful accident for, when the body was in the leaden coffin, the lead was observed to have bulged very considerably & in fact was in great danger of bursting. They were obliged to puncture the lead to let out the air & then to fresh cover it with lead. Rather an unpleasant operation, I should think, but the embalming must have been very ill done.
Though I suppose you wouldn't want to put any of that into a romance novel.

So what do you think are the Regency's time boundaries? Do you know of similar problems in defining other historical eras? And do you agree with me that there can be something interesting, compelling, or even romantic about a fraught and in some ways not so pretty period?

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02 May 2007

Oh, Marc Antony!

Look what I just found!!! James Purefoy as Beau Brummell!!!

Beau Brummell: This Charming Man will air on BBC America this weekend! Look for it on Sunday, May 6th.

I love him on Rome, though I don't find his character very sexy. Too immature, but lovely to look at in his Roman gear. Mmm. I wonder if I'll like Beau? Seems unlikely, but I am still very hopeful. *Victoria waggles her eyebrows*

Oh, I wish we could all meet for drinks and dandy-watching! Wouldn't that be fun? Cheers, ladies!

01 May 2007

Lord Sin is Out!

Lord Sin
by Kalen Hughes
Zebra Debut--available now!

K.I.S.S. Award!

What do May flowers bring? Heroes like Kalen Hughes' Lord Sin, Ivo Dauntry, who learns that revenge is a double-edged sword.

4 STARS!, Romantic Times

Hughes debuts with a novel that's part erotic romace and party country houseparty romp--a unique combination that will keep readers intrigued. Part of the appeal is Hughes' ability to create likable characters as well as spicy love scenes tinged with rough sex and tenderness. She's definitely on her way to enticing readers who adore Lisa Kleypas, Pamela Britton and Katherine O'Neal.


Georgianna Exley's passionate nature has always been her undoing-and for this reason the beautiful young widow allows her lovers only a single night in her bed. But Ivo Dauntry has come home to England, and for him she'll break her most sacred rule: granting him six nights of sensual bliss, one for every year he's given up for her . . .


As a gentleman born, Ivo risked his reputation and his life in a duel to defend Georgianna's honor. Now, returned from exile, Ivo discovers that she has proved to be less than a lady . . . and soon, his daring seduction becomes a sensual contest of wills. But the long-ago duel that bound them forever has fueled the hatred of a madman determined to make Georgianna pay for her misdeeds with her life, and once again, Ivo must risk everything to save the woman he loves . . .

I thought I’d do something a little different to announce the arrival of Lord Sin in bookstores. I’ve already done one interview with Risky Regencies, and I’ve even started getting fan mail (nothing is as cool as fan mail!). Today, I’m being interviewed by my friends over at Dishing with the Divas (and giving away a copy of Lord Sin), and I hope you’ll join me there. But here on History Hoydens we’re going to take a look behind the scenes of Lord Sin:

Lord Sin started out as role reversal book. The heroine was an extreme tomboy (a period term and concept!), raised in an almost exclusively masculine world. A world which she never left, even upon her marriage, because she married one of the boys she grew up with . . . and then he died. I was interested in just how such a woman would move on, how she would get past the loss, and how (if!) her male friends (who’d also been her husband’s friends) would react to her opening herself up to love again.

One of the things I was certain about was that she would be the kind of woman who showed up in the scandal sheets and the tabloids, the Angelina Jolie of her age. It wasn’t until I read Jo Manning’s wonderful book My Lady Scandalous that I got the idea for using this as a facet of the book. In the book she mentions the Tête-à-Tête column in the Morning Post. This was a salacious gossip column, which featured at the very top of the page a vignette of a man and a woman (people easily recognizable to the reading public). The poses of the couple in question were a comment upon the state of the relationship: Gazing at one another implied something entirely different from one looking towards the “beloved” while the other looked away, or turned their back.

Each chapter of the book begins with a made-up quote from the column. This is a feature I’ll be repeating in the upcoming sequels. Some of the quotes give you an insight into the story, some provide misleading information, and others directly affect the plot (a facet of this that I love).

As a reader, do you enjoy touches like this, or do you skip over them and just read the main story?

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