History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 September 2007

A Very Different Look

I'm much more a verbal than a visual person. Before my first erotic novel, Carrie's Story, came out in the 90s, and someone asked me what kind of cover I was hoping for, I mumbled something like, "oh I dunno, a woodcut or something maybe?"

But pictures and cover pictures in particular are on my mind big time these days with Almost a Gentleman soon to be out (December 4) in mass market reissue.

My first published romance novel -- the story of a woman who masquerades as a Regency dandy and the guy who makes her drop the masquerade -- has gotten a steamy new look.

Gotta get the new cover up on my web site. The new edition is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

The good news is that it’ll cost half of what the old one cost. So I'm hoping to get some new readers - either because of the svelte new price or the sexy new cover with its pretty people and ultra violet lighting (hey, the book does have a sexy bathtub scene so maybe the tanning salon effect isn’t so far off).

Who knows, maybe the purple will signal the book’s hotness quotient to potential readers. Which I don’t mind, because the book was designated as “scorching” by its reviews when it came out. And I’m fine with the color, because although I do write hot, I don’t write purple.

So mostly my thoughts are on the excitement of having something new-looking and perhaps face-outable in bookstores. But the occasion has also set me to thinking about how what a fast-changing industry we're in.

Because check out Almost a Gentleman’s original cover, with its plumes and garlands, and tell me it doesn’t have the look of an entirely different era in romance publishing.

Fascinating what a very coherent statement those older Kensington Brava covers made. Their sometimes quite abstractly patterned covers in jewel-like colors were wildly successful in branding themselves as Brava, which for a while was publishing the most erotically explicit romance fiction around.

And yet not only wasn't there much skin on the Brava covers of that time - often as not there weren’t even people. In fact they sometimes weren’t even remotely narrative - which to my mind is particularly noteworthy in a genre whose readers invariably demand “a good story.” The word I’d use for at least my Brava covers of that time would be “thematic,” and sometimes accurately and wittily so: I’m still knocked out that they gave my French Revolution book, The Bookseller's Daughter, a cover design of quill pens and real rococo flourishes.

And here, below are a few others from that era that I particularly liked....

But I keep talking about “that era,” like it was sometime around the Peloponnesian War. When the truth is that the “old” edition of Almost A Gentleman came out practically yesterday, in 2003. It’s like with dog-years - a marketing year is about a decade in people-years, in terms of how hard it is to keep up with changing styles. Too fast for me, I sometimes think, this business.

But anyway…

…of course I’m interested what you think about Almost a Gentleman’s new cover and how it compares to the old one. (And if you’re interested in what’s inside the covers, you can read my post at my other home in the blogosphere, The Spiced Tea Party. Or on my web page, where you can enter my contest to win a free copy of the old edition).

But I’m also curious about your thoughts about romance covers and specific “moments” in the romance genre’s quick-moving development (those candy-colored chicklit covers is another thematic “moment” that sticks in my mind, and maybe so are today’s male torsos).

And which of these moments are more coherent or effective than others - or more indicative of real change in content or attitude.

The medium, the message, the moment, the market. What do you think?


27 September 2007

The wrong side of the royal blanket:

English Royal Bastards in the Middle Ages

Today, we think of illegitimate children as easy to identify. In the early Middle Ages, however, marriage itself was not well defined. Consent between two people could constitute a marriage recognized by the church. Unfortunately, such clandestine marriages could also easily be denied if they proved inconvenient. Thus, whether a child was “legitimate” or not often depended on the father’s desire to acknowledge the marriage and/or the child.

By the early thirteenth century, the church attempted to bring the act of marriage into the public arena, dictating a reading of the banns and a blessing in church. Eventually, the church became the arbiter when a true “marriage” had taken place. This was a gradual process, however, and in England, it wasn’t until 1843 that the presence of a church official became a requirement for a marriage to be legal.

Therefore, in the early centuries, there was not the same stigma attached to illegitimate birth as we know it, and a child’s success could depended on his or her talents as much as status at birth.

There was no doubt, of course, about the marriage of a king. Yet royal bastards were very much a part of life and history in medieval England. Some 40 illegitimate offspring of English kings have been identified between 1066 and 1485, with a nearly equal number possible or suggested. (Henry I is in a class by himself, responsible for half of the bonifides.) This number doesn’t include those fathered by princes or dukes, which surely would more than double the numbers.

If he chose to acknowledge an illegitimate offspring, the king could insure that child a life of privilege and power. Some of these lucky sons and daughters were treated as well as the legal issue. (Henry II’s wife Eleanor ostensibly raised one of his by-blows with her own children.)

This acceptance was driven by more than familial affection. An extra son was an extra ally. Many became military or church leaders. Though less prominent, the extra daughters were given in marriage to allies and foreign dignitaries in order to cement relationships. Thus, the bastard children of the king served the same function as legitimate children.

Yet this acceptance would only carry a bastard son so far. William the Conqueror might have been a bastard, but he was the first, and last, from 1066 to now to actually sit on the throne. (We are ignoring here that Queens Mary and Elizabeth were declared illegitimate by Parliament in Henry VIII’s multi-marriage quest for a male heir.) Even for non-royal children, by the twelfth century there was a clear legal distinction between bastards and legitimate heirs in the inheritance of property.

And for a royal bastard, of course, the prime “property” was the throne. After the death of the king, a bastard son could be a potential rival for the throne and a threat to his half-brother. Some managed to navigate the transition, but for many, the king’s death meant the end of a life of privilege and perhaps the end of life itself.

Such was the fate of Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of Henry II. Henry apparently thought his bastard son Geoffrey Plantagenet more talented than either of his legitimate heirs and used him as his first minister during his life. He prepared the way for Geoffrey to be a bishop of Lincoln, a role with as much secular as religious power in those days. (As a bastard, he had to receive dispensation from the Pope assume the office.)

But on his death, Henry had two legitimate sons alive and well: Richard the Lionhearted and John. Both eventually sat on the throne. Rocky relations with his half brothers forced Geoffrey into exile in Normandy.

By the fourteenth century, reported numbers of illegitimate children were down considerably, to one, two, or three per king. Some had no identified bastards at all.

History records nothing about children of the queens. By English common law, any child born to a wife was presumed to be the husband’s unless he was proven impotent or obviously not with his wife at the time of conception (e.g. at war abroad). As with so much history, most of what we know revolves about men’s stories.

Perhaps the most famous bastard family in medieval English history were the Beauforts. They were the children of John of Gaunt, a younger son of Edward III, and his mistress of many years, Katherine Swynford. (Their story is immortalized in Anya Seton’s Katherine, the book which sparked my lifelong interest both in this subject and in the fourteenth century.) When, at long last, he and Katherine wed, their four children were legitimized, but barred from being considered for the succession. Despite this prohibition, within four generations, the great, great grandson of this love match sat on the throne as Henry VII, founder of the Tudor line.

Blythe Gifford has turned a life long interest in English royal bastards into THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER, October 2007, Harlequin Historical. For more, see http://www.blythegifford.com/. Much of the information here comes from The Royal Bastards of Medieval England by Given-Wilson and Curteis.

26 September 2007

Taking the Cure in Bath

I consider myself something of a "spa slut," actually planning vacations around visiting them (as recently as last weekend in fact, when I went up to Saratogs Springs). If there's a thermal springs somewhere I have to try them. In the U.S. so far, I've taken the plunge in New York, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. And I can trace it to my lifelong passion for one of my favorite places on earth.

Nothing beats Bath for this Jane Austen fan.

It’s hard to imagine what Bath must have looked like in 8000 BC. The steamy, swampy, sufurous hot springs bubbling up from the ground conjure images that are more primeval than Austenian. But fast-forwad to just before 863 BC, when, legend has it, Prince Bladud was cured of leprosy after bathing in the hot muddy waters. In gratitude, Bladud founded the City of Bath around the springs. As documented by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 12th century History of the Kings of Briton, Bladud became the 9th King of the Britons and was supposedly the father of King Lear.

Fast-forward again to 43 AD, when the Romans began to turn the city specifically into a spa, naming it Aquae Sulis, dedicating a temple dedicated to their goddess Sulis Minerva, a hybrid deity combining cultural elements of Roman and Ancient Briton. Over the next few decades, the Romans built a reservoir around the hot springs, and then a sophisticated series of baths. A temple to Aesculapius (god of healing), discovered near the Cross Bath indicates the probability of a Roman bath on this site dedicated to healing as well as to relaxation. The Romans also used the Cross and Healing springs; Bath has natural hot and cold springs that bubble up in more than one location. In 80 AD, Tacitus described the taking of the waters as “one of the those luxuries that stimulate to vice.” Somehow, I can’t think of the ancient Romans needing any further stimulant to vice. In any event, he was prescient, because the Georgian-era baths did just that.

As both a religious shrine and as a bathing complex, Aquae Sulis became a national tourist destination. During the Middle Ages, the baths enjoyed another renaissance, when Saxon baths were built to replace the Roman ones, although the Roman system of terra cotta pipes to carry the water below the floor level from one room to another was left intact. (In fact, when you visit the ancient baths today, you’ll be amazed at the engineering that is two millennia old!)

A text from 1138, the Gesta Stephani, describes how “Through hidden pipes, springs supply waters, heated not by human skill or art, from deep in the bowels of the earth to a reservoir in the midst of arched chambers, splendidly arranged, providing in the centre of the town baths which are pleasantly warm, healthy, and a pleasure to see . . . From all over England sick people come to wash away their infirmities in the healing waters, and the healthy gaze at the remarkable bubbling up of the hot springs.”

In 1562, William Turner published the first medical treatise on the use of the waters. Turner proposed segregated bathing (it didn’t last!), and a separate Lepers’ Bath (near the Hot Bath; before this, people with skin complaints had used the Cross Bath). However, there were still complaints about the absence of covering over the baths and the lack of changing rooms. Nonetheless, Bath was starting to attract visitors from mainland Europe. And with the tourists came the quack doctors who set up shop to bilk them. In 1707, Dr William Oliver’s “Practical Dissertation on Bath Water,” with its emphasis on drinking it as well as bathing, and a long list of diseases allegedly cured by these methods, helped to increase Bath’s attraction.

Royalty came to take the cure, including, at the end of the 17th century, the second wife of King James, II, Mary of Modena, who gave birth to their son James Stewart (“The Old Pretender”) nine months after bathing in the Cross Bath. And after Queen Anne visited Bath to take the waters, the frequency of her visits led to even greater aristocratic patronage, soon making Bath the premier playground for the glitterati and those who aspired to mingle in their sphere of fashion and frivolity. A vast rebuilding plan began, thanks in large part to John Wood the elder, and his son (John Wood the younger). Their architectural projects, such as The Circus and the Royal Crescent, contributed to Bath’s unique character.

The Cross Bath was the most fashionable bath, being the most private. Musicians serenaded the bathers, while chocolate was drunk by other bathers relaxing around the elaborate Melfort Cross, erected in 1688 to celebrate the birth of James II’s son.

The chronically or terminally diseased, and those with running sores took the cure in the same baths as others with far lesser complaints. The palsied, the gout-ridden—everyone bathed together. And the stench was said to be so great that studded pomanders were floated on the waters to mask the odors. While the beneficial and healing properties of the water have always been acknowledged, modesty and decency were not always been inherent in Bath’s “spa culture.” John Wood the Elder observed, “The Baths were like so many Bear Gardens, and Modesty was entirely shut out of them; people of both sexes bathing by day and night naked.” Later, the bathers were compelled to don coarse brown shifts, but the genders still mingled, and all sorts of licentious behavior took place, even in the baths themselves, this orgiastic atmosphere an unwitting throw-back to Ancient Rome.

From Rowlandson's 1798 caricature series, "The Comforts of Bath"

In 1777, the Hot Bath was rebuilt to the design of John Wood the Younger. And eleven years later, new Private Baths (now demolished) were built between the King’s Bath and Stall Street. In the 1790s, the Pump Room that we all know and love today was built to replace the 1706 Pump Room, which had become inadequate and obsolete. It was while excavating the foundations for the second Pump Room that many of the first finds relating to the Roman Temple were made.

In the 1870 and 80s the King’s Bath was excavated by Major Charles Davis, and during the turn of the century, Bath spa water, bottled and sold as Sulis Water, promised relief from rheumatism, gout, lumbago, sciatica and neuritis. After WWI, thousands of wounded soldiers were rehabilitated in spa towns such as Bath.

I love Bath for the whole experience of the city—the Pump Room, the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent, the Abbey, and all those wonderful side streets where you can just lose yourself. Seemingly untouched by modernity, you can inject yourself into Northanger Abbey or Persuasion with only the smallest leap of imagination. No matter how many times I visit Bath, I have to enjoy a proper afternoon tea in the Pump Room, sample the warm spa water (“when in Rome . . . ”, after all) and check out the most recent excavation down in the Roman Baths. I can’t help but imagine who walked there before me . . . Charles Dickens, the tall and portly Queen Anne, the short and portly Victoria, Lord Nelson, and of course, Jane Austen.

The latest incarnation of the public (for an entrance fee) baths is open. Now enclosed within a glassy high-rise, the Thermae Bath Spa is a little too ultramodern for my 18th century sensibilities; yet despite the Woody Allen-esque high-tech scented steam pods, the rooftop pool is rather an amazing experience as you swim in the natural springs and admire the graceful architecture of Bath Abbey and the verdant vistas of Somerset. The baths down the street in the Georgian-era Cross Bath building fill the bill nicely for the cure-seeking time traveler.

Would you “take the cure” with a bunch of other people at the same time? Does it fascinate you, or turn you off?

25 September 2007

Welcome, Blythe Gifford!

The Harlot's Daughter
by Blythe Gifford
Availbile October 1st!

Betrothed to a man she must betray.

She is the illegitimate daughter of a dead king and the most unmarriageable woman in England. In order to save her family from ruin, she must regain a position in a divided court. Focused on the needs of others and cynical of their motives, she does not even believe in the emotion of love

He is a man of the law, who believes in justice, not power. Honest to a fault, he speaks the truth without fear, even to the King. And he is determined to stop her from raiding the public purse for personal gain. Yet her eyes remind him of pain from long ago.

But when the King forces them into a betrothal for his own devious reasons, he finds himself wanting to believe her. And she must decide which is the lesser treason: to betray her husband or her king.

THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER is set in the fourteenth century. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

In junior high school, I read Katherine, by Anya Seton. It’s the story of a lifelong love affair between John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III, and Katherine Swynford. They had four children together and in a happily-ever-after moment, they finally married late in life. Their children were legitimized and in just a few generations, their descendents sat on the English throne. It sparked my interest in fourteenth century England and the royal family, particularly the behind-the-throne stories. I subsequently put together my own royal family tree, complete with all the mistresses and bastards I could find.

Beyond that, I like to write about turbulent times and the fourteenth century has it all: plagues, wars, political intrigue, religious and economic upheavals. My characters grapple with a changing world, just as we do. There’s always something coming to test their mettle.
What do you like least about this period?

One of the challenges of the medieval period is that my female characters have such limited options. Society was extremely stratified, both for men and women. As I grapple with the heroine’s journey, I ultimately have three options: marriage, the church, or prostitution. And only one of those constitutes a happy ending!

Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around in THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER?

There’s always a balance between realism and telling a good story. This particular book takes place against the background of a near palace-coup against Richard II. I had to stick to the real facts of history for all those events, though I streamlined the characters and simplified the legal machinations.

My heroine spends much of her time at court, so I had to be accurate in where the court traveled during that time. It’s a common misconception that everyone stayed home during the middle ages. In fact, the court was on the move almost constantly. Luckily, the real historical events I used took place over a year’s time, which lent a nice symmetry to the story.
What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

Edward III, who was a very popular monarch, took a mistress late in his life, Alice Perrers. She was universally loathed, partly because the Queen was so beloved, but also because she amassed power and wealth that would have supported an earl. She certainly rose far above her appropriate station in life. After his death, her life, and that of her children, took an abrupt turn for the worse. Parliament stripped her of her wealth and property and almost banished her. I was intrigued with the thought of their daughter, a reverse Cinderella. What would life be like if you had been raised as a princess and then cast out? THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER is my answer. It was interesting for me to realize how much the story of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine influenced my ongoing fascination with this period and the subject of this story. I was tempted to include her in a scene, but it would have been a distraction. Maybe that’s bonus material for the director’s cut!

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

Research is not a “have to.” It’s a “get to.” I try to save time by staying in the fourteenth century, but I had much to learn about Richard II and the politics surrounding this particular period. I was faced with major research on two subjects that were new to me: medieval law and medieval astrology.

Much that we think of as “modern” law began centuries ago. Treason was first defined by a law passed during Edward III’s reign and the first parliamentary impeachment happened during this same era. I also discovered that despite our conventional assumptions, divorce was possible in the middle ages.

As I studied medieval astrology, I discovered that the church, astronomy, and astrology were much closer in those days. Astrology was seen as part of the natural order, ordained by God, and it was studied for clues to the fate of kings and nations. Too much knowledge, however, could be dangerous, as my heroine discovers.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up? Anything you had to fudge or change?

I have a detailed author’s note at the end of the book outlining where I took liberties. King Edward and Alice Perrers had three children, as near as we can tell: two daughters and a son. I ignored the son for the sake of the story. The facts about the daughters are so scarce as to leave lots of leeway for a romance novelist. There is no evidence that my heroine ever returned to court. But, I like to think, no evidence that she didn’t.

What/Who do you like to read?

My to-be-read pile overfloweth. I read history for fun, but I also read broadly within my genre and outside it. Just keeping up with my friends’ books is a challenge. Among the books I’ve read and loved this year are Crossroads Café, by Deborah Smith, and Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert, What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris, and Gone by Lisa Gardner. Laura Kinsale, Penelope Williamson, Madeline Hunter and Megan Chance are on my keeper shelf. And every year, I tend to reread some of Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg novels and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series.

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

Not ten books, but ten years. I had always written, but I got serious when I was laid off. During a “transition,” the advice books recommend you assess your entire life. When I made a list of what I wanted to do before I died, “write a book” was still on the list. I decided now would be a good time. Then, I made the typical beginner’s mistake. I worked on one manuscript forever. I had to be laid off a second time to generate a second book. That one finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart and sold to Harlequin. It was published as THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’m a pantser with plotter-envy. Every book, I think this time I know how it’s going to work out, and every time, I discover the story only after I’ve written and re-written. Then I turn to plotter analysis to find my way home. Multiple drafts, cut and paste, revise and revise. Sigh. It’s a poor process, but mine own.

What are you planning to work on next?

I have another medieval completed and am working on yet another, but until we are set and titled, I’m superstitious about saying much more. Both are fourteenth century settings and, yes, revolve around royal bastards I’d love to set some books in the United States in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. I have several stories ready for that “someday.”

Many thanks for inviting me to join the History Hoydens for the week. It’s been a treat.

24 September 2007

Order of the Garter

The most prestigious of all of Great Britain’s select societies the Order of The Garter was created by King Edward III in 1348, as the “highest order of British knighthood.”

English subjects who are entitled to wear the blue sash have given meritorious public service (the Duke of Wellington), contributions to the nation (Sir Edmund Hilary) or as a reward for personal service to the monarch.

The origin of the Order is not clear. The most popular version is, of course, the most romantic one and the only one I had ever heard before I began my research. During the dancing at a Ball, the king’s alleged mistress the Countess of Salisbury lost her garter. When people began snickering at the minor mishap the king picked up the garter and annoucned “Evil to him who evil thinks.” He decided than that he would make the garter “so glorious that everyone would wish to wear it.”

As charming as that story is there is a more practical explanation for the Order’s invention. In the period after the Crusades there were any number of fraternities of men who shared common interest and experiences. Edward III may have developed the Order of the Garter as a group that would support him in his belief that he was a rightful claimant to the throne of France.

There are two bits of evidence that support this idea. There were no French knights at the inauguration of the Order and the colors of the garter – blue embroidered with gold – are the colors of the French Royal Arms.

In fact couldn’t both stories be true? Edward was looking for a way to organize a group to support him in his efforts to claim the French throne. When his mistress lost her garter and he called out “Shame on anyone who thinks ill of this.” Later someone who had missed the “trivial event” but heard his words, commented, ”Oh I thought you were talking about your claim to the throne of France” and – tada – the two ideas came together. BE ADVISED THAT I MADE THIS PART UP . It’s why I write fiction.

At about this time Edward declared St George as the patron saint of the country and, along with a blue garter worn just below the knee, a badge depicting St. George slaying the dragon became the official symbol of membership. In the 16th century a collar was added and in the 17th century the familiar blue sash and silver star badge featuring the red cross of St. George. Velvet blue robes complete the costume worn at the annual meeting and at coronations.

The list of members from 1348 to the present includes 998 names plus a long list of Ladies of the Garter which until 1901 were listed separately. Most of the family names and titles would be familiar to anyone who has read the history of Great Britain. One of many interesting bits of history on the list – when the current Queen was invested in 1947 it was as Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh. I wonder whey she was not the Princess of Wales?

Numerous foreign nobles have been named to the order over the years. The distinction of membership helped cement foreign treaties and alliances. Foreign monarchs are known as "Stranger Knights" and their numbers are in addition to the normal quota of 24 knights (plus royals) in the order.

Do you think that the Order of the Garter is an outdated symbol of royal perogative or an useful way to recognize support and contribution? Is there anything comparable in the United States?

22 September 2007

Welcome, Caroline Linden!

What A Rogue Desires
By Caroline Linden
Available Now!

Notorious rogue David Reece is determined to mend his wicked ways. Vivian Beecham is the very last sort of woman to help him do that, as an admitted thief—and a thief who robbed him, no less. But the last sort of woman David needs in his life might just be the only one he can't live without…

What a Rogue Desires is set in late Regency-era England. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I would like to blame it on Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, but the truth is I got hooked on the short, sweet Regency romances at the local library the year before I had my first child. I was pretty much on the verge of falling asleep all the time, so the books had to be short; they had to be engaging; and they had to end happily, because my husband banned any sad books that would make me cry (he seemed to think I cried a lot while pregnant). I must have read a hundred of them. I loved the manners of the Regency period, the social structure that both required strict codes of conduct and permitted myriad immoralities, and of course, the clothes. Oh, the clothes! I wouldn't mind wearing some of those dresses myself…

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

People lived more proscribed lives then; there were so many things they "couldn't" do and places they "wouldn't" go, that it can be limiting at times for an author. So naturally I tend to write characters who are already living outside society's lines; my first book had a fallen woman and a rake, for instance. In What A Rogue Desires, the hero and heroine are from vastly different social classes—pretty much the very top and the very bottom—so I did try to tread carefully over that issue, and make it believable that they would be able to be happy together because of who they were as people, not who they were socially.

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

I'm sorry to say that this book was an accident. I did not mean to write it. In my previous book (What A Gentleman Wants), I gave the hero a twin brother who was very, very bad. He was a liar, a gambler, a drunk, and a rogue; he was the complete opposite of my uptight, responsible, aloof hero, and I never intended to think about him again.

But my editor asked, hopefully, if I were planning to write that bad twin David's story, and so I started to think about the possibility. The trouble was, I had made him so awful in What A Gentleman Wants, I couldn't think what woman would actually want him, or understand him, or find him honestly compelling in a long-term way. The crucial element I worry over in my books is the suitability of the couple: are they genuinely meant for each other in a way no one else could be? And finally she started to come to me, a woman who wouldn't be horrified at what David was and had done, a woman who would upend his expectations of women and love, a woman who would not only surprise and entrance him but need him and want him, just as he was, for herself.

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

The heroine, Vivian, is a thief, and so I read a number of books about the nineteenth century criminal justice system—such as it was—social policy, political policy regarding law enforcement, and social history about the dens of iniquity that spawned the rather large criminal class. Probably the most interesting thing was that many crimes were only prosecutable by the victim; if someone robbed you, it was up to you to bring the charges, and often to apprehend the thief as well. There was no state prosecutor who would do it for you, no central police force that was responsible for investigating crimes and arresting criminals. And it was shocking how much your punishment depended on who you were and how much money you were willing to spend. I suppose that's still true today, but it was far more overt in the nineteenth century, with it being standard practice for prisoners to bribe the jailers merely in order to get humane treatment.

What/Who do you like to read?

Julia Quinn (The Duke and I was the book that brought me into the wider world of Regency historicals, and remains one of my favorites), Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Sabrina Jeffries…I suppose you can guess what I like to read. Those are the authors I've been reading and loving for years, but I also love reading new authors and think they're doing a great thing by creating new waves in historicals: Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Valdez, and Eve Silver are some of my new favorites.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I am a deranged combination of both plotter and pantser; my friends are frightened, actually, whenever we brainstorm together. The story starts purely organically: a scene, a character, a line. I write it down, letting more little bits and pieces come to me, kicking them around to see what they look like on paper, not bothering to see if they make sense. At a certain point, though, the logical person inside me takes over and I write a synopsis for the entire book, based on those bits and pieces. I usually stick fairly close to my synopses, at least for the first half of the book, but I also find characters doing surprising things on the fly that require deviations from the road map I created.

There is usually only one draft for me; I edit heavily as I go along, and I also don't write things until they 'come to me,' meaning I can justify huge blocks of time reading, watching TV, or surfing the net (for research purposes, of course) as time spent waiting for the story to 'come to me.' The main positive aspect of this method is that when a scene finally does come to me, that's usually the final version of that scene. It's the parts I force myself to crank out, word by painful word, that need lots of editing and rewriting, sigh.

What are you planning to work on next?

My next book, coming out in June 2008, is about the twin heroes' younger sister Celia, and is titled A Rake's Guide to Seduction. I've just finished the book so I'm a little tired of thinking about it, but I absolutely adored her hero. He was actually a character in one of my practice novels (the ones no one will ever see) and I liked him so much I dusted him off, gave him a new history, and a new heroine. He makes a brief appearance in the later chapters of What A Rogue Desires, for those curious to know more.

21 September 2007

The Orignal History Hoydens

My first book, DARK RIDER, was released this month, so I've had the chance to guest blog and peruse other blogs more often than I ever have! It's been a lot of fun. In my surfing, I came across a couple of posts where people were complaining about historical heroines acting "out of character for the time."

Like most of us, I've read a LOT of romance, historicals of course, and if the book engaged me and told a good story, never once did I stop to think "she wouldn't have done that in the 13th century, or the Regency, or the Victorian era etc." If I buy a historical romance, I know what I'm in for. I expect it!
But I think it's my job as a writer to create a believable character who drives the plot, no matter what, no matter the historical period that serves as my setting. So many women in history did "drive the plot"---not just the famous women we know about---the queens and nobility and such, but everyday women who were wives and mothers, sisters and businesswomen who had the sense and savvy to survive oppressive rules and social restrictions. Plenty of them were "acting out of character for the times." Read medieval court records---women sued and often won. They were out there fighting and holding their own. If you want to read about such women, check out the Uppity Women book series (or the Outrageous Women series). Wow, these books catalog women who were in the driver's seat long before automobiles were invented. ;-)

Some of these "original history hoydens" described in these books were queens and ladies of the manor, but many were not. I think the books accurately depict women in history, how they lived and responded to events that, more often than not, were NOT in their control.

What do you think about romance heroines "acting out of character for the time?" Does it bother you? Do you have a pet peeve offense?


20 September 2007

Romancing the Antiques Roadshow . . .

with Christine Wells.

While books and the internet are my principal tools for research, I’ve found The Antiques
Roadshow (the English one) a wonderfully fertile ground for firing the historical writer’s imagination. If you’ve never seen the Roadshow in action, let me explain. A number of expert valuers in all different fields—china, furniture, dolls, teddy bears and other memorabilia, jewelry, glass, paintings and so forth—travel to places all over England and set up camp in the grounds of a stately home or perhaps in the local community centre, depending on what’s available. People come from all over the region, bringing their precious goods for a free valuation from one of these experts.

Now, this all sounds rather mercenary, but usually the value is the least significant thing about each piece. First of all, there is the story of how the owner came to possess the teapot or diamond brooch. Then there’s the story the expert might be able to tell about how, why and where the item was made, what it was used for and perhaps a little personal anecdote about the artist or the jeweler—all of which brings an inanimate thing of beauty to glowing life. The experts speak with such appreciation, such enthusiasm, such reverence that I feel uplifted by what seems at first glance to be a mere exercise of greed.

And besides that, I confess to pure, unadulterated covetousness, especially when it comes to antiques from the Georgian and Regency periods. I’ve drooled over miniatures, dressing cases, sewing samplers, snuff boxes, writing desks and dueling pistols. People have the most remarkable pieces tucked away in their attics. One man owned Lawrence of Arabia’s flying watch and had no idea of its significance. All of this is grist for the writer’s mill.

Certainly, I can look at period furniture and such on the internet or in a book, but on the Roadshow, I see how the secret compartment of a lady’s writing desk is sprung; marvel at the sheer beauty of a velvet lined dressing case, with all its monogrammed, cut glass bottles as its owner lifts them out, one by one; hear the hiss of steel as an expert draws a sword from an innocuous-looking walking stick. I can almost feel the way the butt of an 1810 dueling pistol fits comfortably into a man’s hand.

One of my favourite Roadshow stories came from Prideaux Place in Cornwall , and was related by the present owner. His ancestor, Humphrey Prideaux, went on the Grand Tour in about 1740 and while in Italy , he sat to have his portrait taken by the pastellist Rosalba Carriera. What Humphrey didn’t know was that the artist fell in love with her subject and wrote him a passionate letter, which she concealed behind the canvas. Humphrey died in Bath in 1793 at the age of 74. He married twice and had four sons--and he never found that letter. In fact, it wasn’t discovered until the painting was taken for restoration in around 1900. Isn’t that the most heartbreaking story? And if you’re a writer, aren’t you immediately wondering how you could use it, twist it, and make it your own?

So what about you? What would you take to the Antiques Roadshow and what story would you tell?

18 September 2007

It's All Greek to Me

Hey all you Hoydens! I've been super busy for a couple of weeks. Not only am I working on the first quarter of a new book, my in-laws are coming today, which means cleaning. Serious cleaning. I try my best not to clean the house at all unless someone's coming over, so you can imagine how many hours I've put into dusting and vacuuming and filing and scrubbing to get this place into in-law shape. Ugh.

I've also been caught up in the process of negotiating a new contract. I'll have two sexy romantic comedies out with HQN in 2009! No worries, though. I'll definitely continue writing historicals too. In fact, that's what I'm working on right now.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry for my recent abbreviated posts. I'm hoping to make it down to the university library next week to check out some materials on debt among peers and inheritence issues and even sexual abuse in the nineteenth century. But for now you get another installment of: Books Victoria Has Found During Cleaning!!! Woo-hoo!

My most recent find is From Achilles' Heel to Zeus's Shield by Dale Corey Dibbley. (That's quite a name!) This book is about words and phrases that are born of ancient mythology. There are lots of examples in this book that most of us are already familiar with. Achilles' heel and Pandora's box, for instance. But some I've never thought about or would never have considered. I hope some of you Hoydens like etymology as much as I do! Ready?

ammonia - based on the egyptian god Ammon. Egyptians distilled ammonium chloride for trade by heating camel dung or a mixture of salt and urine. The Greeks called it Ammoniakos ("of Ammon") when they saw it being made near Ammon's temple. The English word ammonia was adopted around 1799.

catamite - a young boy used by a pederast. Catamite comes from the Latin name Catmitus which is a translation of the Greek name Ganymedes. Ganymedes was the most beautiful boy in the world and caught the attention of Zeus. Zeus brought the lovely boy up to Olympus to be his lover, hence the name became a synonum for a young boy used sexually by an older male.

irridescent - root word is Iris, the swift messenger goddess who personified the rainbow in Greek mythology.

panic - Here's an interesting one. Straight from the book, because I love this description... "Imagine how you would feel if you were walking alone at night, in a dark wood, and you suddenly heard shouts and shrieks coming through the darkness. You'd probably panic, just as the ancient Greeks did when they heard the nocturnal revelry of Pan and his followers."

phaeton - Now maybe some of you knew this, but I had no idea! Phaethon was the son of the sun god, Helios. Phaethon begged to drive the sun chariot across the sky for one day. His father knew he couldn't handle the task, but he'd promised his son he could have any one wish and Phaethon held him to it. Disaster ensued, in the form of the sun crashing to earth and setting the world ablaze. Luckily, Zeus intervened, but Phaethon didn't survive. Not sure I would've named a vehicle after him, but nobody asked me.

sub rosa - "under the rose" meaning "in strictest confidence" This is new to me also, but may be of particular interest to you medieval writers! At banquets in ancient Rome, if secrets were to be discussed, a rose was hung over the table to remind the guests that whatever was said was not to be revealed outside the room. But the tradition was actually descended from a mistake. Greeks mistakenly thought the Egyptian god Horus was the god of silence. The Romans adopted this same belief, working it into a story in which Cupid gives Horus a rose in exchange for his silence in one of Venus's indiscretions. A rose continued to be hung over tables to indicate secrecy in medieval times. During the Renaissance, roses began to be sculted into the decor of dining rooms and this continued through Victorian times, though the motif seemed to have lost its meaning by then.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of Books Victoria Has Found During Cleaning! I'm off to scrub the kitchen floor!

Welcome, Christine Wells!

Scandal's Daughter
by Christine Wells
Berkley Sensation—Available Now!

An earl of debaucherySebastian Laidley, the sixth Earl of Carleton, is solely committed to his hedonistic lifestyle, until he makes a promise to his dying godfather. He must find his childhood friend Gemma a husband in three months – or marry her himself.

A lady of dubious virtueThe daughter of a notorious seductress, Gemma Maitland has the body of a siren but a mind for more practical matters. Snubbed by Society, she has just one ambition: to run her grandfather's estate.

A passion that begs to be unleashed...To find Gemma a husband, Sebastian lures her to his estate under the guise of helping with his sister's wedding. During the festivities, there is no shortage of men vying for Gemma's hand, much to Sebastian's dismay. Gemma has always been in his heart, but when she turns her wiles on him, she burns her way into his soul...

Don’t forget to answer Christine’s question at the end of the interview, as one lucky poster will win a copy of Scandal’s Daughter!

Scandal’s Daughter is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

My first introduction to Regency England was seeing the play of Pride and Prejudice with my mother when I was about ten years old. I loved the sparkling wit, the way Lizzie was such a strong character and the sheer romance of the period costume and manners. I suppose all of those things still appeal to me as a writer--the subtle subtext beneath the dialogue, that dry English sense of humour and the stiff upper lip that often conceals turbulent emotion.

That’s not to say that other eras don’t display these characteristics, but almost everything about the Regency period appeals to me – the architecture, furniture, clothing, poetry, literature, the dramatic culmination of the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent civil upheaval, the personalities of the day, the way subtle wit was lauded, almost turned into an art-form, the larger-than-life personalities of the Prince Regent and his set.

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

All kinds of things sparked different aspects of Scandal’s Daughter, but essentially, it’s a very character-driven book. I had an irresponsible rake who cares about nothing and a heroine who cares too much. Gemma was influenced by Scarlett O’Hara and the strong, fatally flawed heroine in Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre. The land is everything to them and they will sacrifice everything to keep it. I understand the deep connection some people have to a place, but what if they are clinging to that link as a way of avoiding getting hurt by people? And what if the careless persona a man has built to protect himself has now become his prison? So in this book I explore appearance and reality, how your view of yourself can be affected by the way others see you, and what it takes sometimes to break out of the mould.

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

Scandal’s Daughter is set in rural Sussex and shifts to Cornwall . It was interesting researching the farming practices and customs of the time, though very little of that went into the book. In Cornwall , they still hold a centuries-old ceremony called The Crying of the Neck at the end of a harvest, and a shortened version of that is in the book. I also researched Japanese porcelain, medieval stained glass, and a host of other details. Jane Digby, the intrepid Regency lady who divorced her aristocratic husband and ended up marrying a Bedouin prince inspired my heroine’s mother. She led a fascinating life.

Any historical mea culpas to fess up? Anything you had to fudge or change?

Gosh, I hope not! You know, it’s very difficult to get everything right. We can only do our best. I try to research as much as I can in the time available to me, but ultimately, the story always comes first.

What/Who do you like to read?

I try to stay away from historicals while I’m writing the first draft of anything, but I can’t stay away from them for long. I read too many wonderful historical authors to name, but Georgette Heyer will always have a special place in my heart. I also enjoy reading biographies of famous historical figures like Beau Brummell, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Hester Stanhope as well as crime fiction and a bit of literary fiction here and there.

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

It took me about five years from the time I started writing seriously until receiving that magical ‘call’. I wrote two traditional Regencies before I researched the market and discovered these wonderful novels the Americans call Regency historicals. It opened up a whole new world to an Australian who’d only read English Regencies by the likes of Austen and Heyer. The next manuscript I wrote was Scandal’s Daughter, and it was also the first I submitted to New York .

Contest finals brought me a few manuscript requests from judging editors. One of these editors contacted me wanting to buy Scandal’s Daughter. I quickly signed with an agent, who sent the manuscript to all the big houses. The following week, I had a contract with Leis Pederson at Berkley , who wasn’t the first editor to make an offer. I was pregnant with my second son at the time and I remember just before I sold I’d decided to put submitting on hold for a year or so. The publishing gods always send the good stuff when you least expect it.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’m a pantser, though I generally have an idea of the storyline and perhaps have in mind a few key scenes along the way. I never do character sketches and things like that because I don’t know my characters until they walk onto the page. I tend to write very few drafts, except for my first effort, which went through about 236 of them, simply because I didn’t want to let those characters go! Still, I learned a lot during that process.

What are you planning to work on next?

My second novel (as yet untitled) is about a duke who accidentally steals a lady's erotic diary. It's set against a background of political upheaval, when the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency and people were being locked up without trial for sedition. My heroine's brother is a country vicar thrown in jail for aiding suspected arsonists. She threatens to expose government secrets by publishing her diary if the authorities don't release him. My hero, the duke, steals what he thinks is that diary, only it turns out to contain the heroine's secret erotic fantasies. I had a lot of fun with it, and I hope that comes out in the writing.

Thank you for having me on History Hoydens today! I’d like to ask your readers what their favourite historical period is and why. One reader will win a signed copy of Scandal’s Daughter.

17 September 2007

Lord Scandal Cover!

Sometimes the fun news overwhelms the research. I recently got the cover for my second book, Lord Scandal, and I love love love it!

This is the story of Gabriel, the best friend of the heroine in Lord Sin. His has been the number one requested story by fans who took the time to email me, so I guess it was a lucky stroke that his was always the story I'd planned to be next in line.

Speaking of fan mail, I found it fascinating to see what characters really captured the readers imaginations. I'd assumed (correctly) that readers would be eager for the stories of George's two friends (Gabriel "Brimstone" Angelstone and Marcus Thane, the viscount St. Audley), what I hadn't counted on was that I'd get an almost equal amount of fan mail for Bennett, the mutual friend of the hero and heroine, who readers first meet with the hero in the opening chapter.

Not one to disappoint, or to ignore clear reader interest, I've already begun to kick around ideas for Bennett . . .

So, as a reader do you sometimes find your interest irresistibly perked by a secondary character (I sure do!)? As a writer, do you listen to this kind of fan mail, or do you follow your muse wherever it leads you?

14 September 2007

To the ends of the earth...

I love exotic settings--the more different from 21st century California the better. This isn’t because I don’t like California–I do! But I read all kinds of books set in unusual places because so many countries on earth predate our 1776 inception by hundreds, if not thousands of years. I read for historical information, and for perspective. For connection. For humility.

Currently I am swept away by Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, a New York Times nonfiction bestseller for many weeks and a real eye-opener for a history major who thought she knew all about the ancient world.

The Places in Between is the journal Rory Stewart kept during his walk across Afghanistan, alone but for a dog who adopted him. In the winter (!). At a time (2002) when trudging cross-country to Kabul was considered crazy-dangerous. How this man snaked his way through disbelief and red tape and did just that is worth knowing! How better to learn what Afghan children eat for breakfast? And the bites of history...ancient ties with India, the Turks, battles with Alexander the Great, language, culture, music (not allowed by the Taliban), art... wonderful stuff.

Stewart walked from village to village in varying states of post-Taliban decimation and degrees of friendliness (often not much). He slept on concrete floors surrounded by snoring male family members and their Kalishnikovs, ate meals cooked by the silent, heavily veiled women of the household, and again and again was warned not to continue on to Kabul.

But he did. His experiences were hair-raising on the adventure level and uplifting on the spiritual plane. The land he walked over is at high altitude, bitter cold in winter, and mostly barren except at lower elevations. Stewart found a good number of Afghans who were kind and went out of their way to be helpful; he encountered others who were brusque and suspicious.

Most Afghan villages are poor, proud, and largely illiterate. And perhaps you wonder why I am interested? I’m not planning a novel set in Afghanistan (great idea, though). As a writer of historical romance, I do not see a novelistic “use” for the long, long history of these people... at least not at present. To me, it’s fascinating (and maybe important) to realize that such a country is thousands of years old, with customs and language dating back into the dim, pre-historical past.

Walking across this land with Rory Stewart informed my mind and touched my spirit. I hope it will make me a better, more respectful writer.

Next time: Climber/author/Director of Central Asia Institute Greg Mortenson in Pakistan.

12 September 2007

History, Then and Now...

As a New Yorker, I'm acutely aware of the signifcance of yesterday's date, and to be honest, it leaves me in a funk for several days before and after. I'm also very aware of the fact that, in U.S. history, but particularly in New York City history, the 'world' was drastically changed on that date, and that, in the future, history will be divided into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. I look back on those days before 9/11 and think how simple everything seemed then, how I was unafraid to fly, how I loved to visit NYC 'landmarks' and how the restaurant Windows on the World was my 'special' place for celebrations (such as my first wedding anniversary, where my husband asked the pianist to play "Moon River"--the song we did our 'first dance' to at our wedding; my 30th birthday, when I was pregnant with my first daughter and my husband took me and several of my best friends out for a spectacular dinner).

Now, on this side of 9/11, I hate flying--the fears, the added security inconveniences. I'm wary of visiting places like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. My favorite restaurant for special celebrations is gone. I know, these seem like such minor annoyances compared to the way some people's lives were changed that day, and I'm very grateful for that. Still, my city has been irrevocably changed, as have my feelings in it and toward it. And I'm very, very sad that my two daughters won't remember the World Trade Center, the twin towers dominating lower Manhattan's skyline, and even sadder that they will grow up in post-9-11 New York City, where pedestrians glance up nervously at low-flying planes and check the security level before visiting Liberty Island, where the undercarriage of our car gets checked by guards with mirrors before we park at Lincoln Center or beneath Grand Central Station.

This made me wonder about other days in history that left time so delineated into "before and after." The day that Archduke Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo, setting the first Great War into motion? The day the U.S. declared war on Japan? The Battle of Culloden? Did any of these have the immediate affects that 9-11 did? Or did they take days/weeks/years for the impact to be felt in the day-to-day lives of most people?

What do you think? Can you think of any other examples?

10 September 2007

Information Highway Roman Style

Who knew the Romans could lay claim to the development of the first Information Highway? In their effort to conquer the world, they built roads -- 53,00 miles, all by hand. As master builders of roads and ships, they made troop movement easier. Did they fully realize that roads go two ways?

Those same roads and ships drew the world closer together. For the first time in history men and women were able to leave their villages and travel on those same roads and ships, to see and speak with people who spoke different languages, ate different foods, worshiped different gods, but were, at heart, like them.

A lecture on the travels and letters of Paul is the source for this information. Because of those enduring roads and reliable ships, Paul was able to travel throughout the Roman Empire, converting anyone open to his preaching. Isn’t it fascinating that the same roads that led to the Emperor’s ability to control the world also enabled his conversion and eventually the fall of Rome?

There is a similar burst of change with the construction of railroads in Britain. Did trains make the Industrial Revolution possible or was it a product of it? Both, I would say. The towns and villages were not as far apart after rail lines were built. Those parallel tracks made the transport of people, goods and services more efficient. But the blast of the train’s whistle also spelled the beginning of the end of a world where ownership of land was the key to wealth. The decline of the aristocracy came next.

What was the next big change on the information highway? Automobiles, electricity, telephones? How did it impact the world?

There can be no doubt that we are in the midst of another major shift in the exchange of information, goods and people. (Surely not the last.) Should we pay more attention to the impact of Roman roads and British trains on the power class that enabled them? Could it already be too late?

07 September 2007

Roads to Rome... and speculations along the way

Note: there are spoilers in this post, about the HBO series "Rome."

I like to say that the book I'm working on these days has three themes -- eros, esthetics, and empire. Set in Regency England, it's the story of a love affair between a classicist/archeologist (one of those guys who traveled around the Mediterranean in the early 19th century in search of ancient cultures and artifacts) and a lady writer of silver fork novels.

If you follow the links above they'll take you to some earlier blog posts about the fun places my researches have taken me -- perhaps farther afield than in any of my books so far. And so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the classicist/archeologist investigations should have led me to Rome.

Which I got to both by the high road -- I'm reading the Aeneid to keep up with my hero's precocious, classically-educated 12-year-old niece...

...and the low road -- I totally wrecked myself for writing earlier this week when I stayed up much too late watching disks IV and V of "Rome" the TV series.

Of course only in the service of my book. The other fun stuff (Clothes! Interiors! Architecture! What looks like animal sacrifice but probably isn't! Gorgeous naked people! Having what looks like sex but most assuredly isn't) -- watching all that stuff was a tough job but somebody had to do it.

And if you believe that, there's a famous bridge across San Francisco Bay that maybe I could sell you...

The TV series is big, sexy, splashy fun with wonderful plummy Brit elocution and lots of scenery chewing. Polly Walker provides the guilty pleasures as heartless sexy Roman uberbitch matron Atia. And James Purefoy manages to be both hunky and touching as the always hot and not always quite smart enough Marc Antony.

My favorite cast member, though, was a young Irish actress I'd never heard of. Kerry Condon as a very down-to-earth Octavia -- sister of Augustus Caesar, who gets the short end of just about every situation -- has a striking non-glam look that sets her aside from the rest of the cast. And she provides tons of presence against the fun, flashier Walker.

But what really surprised me about the TV series was how tied up it was with another theme I'm using in the book I'm currently working on. It's one that comes up so often in romance fiction that I'd taken it much too much for granted until I saw how much the plot line of "Rome" depended up it.

Fatherhood -- legitimate and not.

"One of the oldest stories," my classicist hero muses, thinking of Oedipus -- and of his own situation (as a father unknown by his own biological son).

And now that I think of it it seems to me that possibly one of the most perennial and least remarked-upon themes in romance fiction is the character in search of his or her real father.

Of course, when property was transmitted through primogeniture and primogeniture depended upon legitimate male descent, an entire society was built upon the notion of fatherhood. And since love doesn't necessarily follow marriage, and since for most of human history it was impossible to know for sure... well, fatherhood was always suspect, and voila you have any number of romance plots that link personal and public life at any number of points along the way.

It also seems to me that since the romance genre is always an effort either to understand men or create versions of them we especially like, the hero-and-his-father issue is awfully useful. I was surprised to read the same line in pretty much the same place in my friend Nita Abrams' novel The Exiles as I once used in The Bookseller's Daughter. "You're not your father, you know," the heroine tells the hero. Neither Nita nor I read each other's book before writing our own. And whereas I don't know about her, I do know that I had cause actually to say that line once in real life.

So it's always an available plot motif, and the writers of "Rome" use it like duct tape and baling wire to pull their series together. Lucius Vorenus's wife commits suicide rather than deal with the consequences of admitting one of her children isn't her husband's. Titus Pullo is the real father (or so the made-up story has it) of Cleopatra's son Caesarean.

Which works fine, in a potboilerish fashion that keeps the spectacle moving along. But there's also a place where I thought they did better than fine with it. In a tiny scene that's almost a throwaway, Octavia, who's been forced into a political marriage to Marc Antony, tells her former lover, Agrippa, that she's pregnant. Agrippa, who's left her to pursue his own political career, asks whose child it is. Octavia says she doesn't know, and asks what it matters when both possible fathers are so inadequate.

Leading me to look again at romance, and to consider whether in our genre the story behind the love story isn't often also one of successful or unsuccessful parenting and particularly the presence or absence of fathers...

Just thinking...

And wondering what you think as well about fatherhood as a theme in historical romance fiction.

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06 September 2007

Historical Novel Video Trailers

Video teasers for romance novels are everywhere. A year ago, I decided I would make one---correction, I decided I would write the script, pick the music and the photos, and then turn the project over to someone else. So I contacted my website guy, Justin Knupp(http://www.stonecreekmedia.com/) and asked what we could do on a very limited budget. Turns out, even a year ago video trailers weren’t cheap, ranging anywhere from ~$350 for slide show types like mine, to $600 or $700 and up for trailers that use flash animation. Live action actors can run the cost into the thousands. Check out Circle of Seven (COS) (http://www.cosproductions.com/) a production company that makes a lot of romance novel video teasers, many with live action. They offer a great but expensive distribution service.

But I was not deterred. I thought it would be a simple, fun, creative but quick process. I was right--- to a point.

What I did not anticipate was the difficulty in creating a trailer for a historical romance, particularly a medieval historical. Now there are thousands of copyright-free stock images you can purchase from various suppliers (like iStock Photo ,http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php) but finding a knight dressed in true-looking 13th costuming or chain mail is not so easy. Search the keyword “knights” on iStock and you will turn up a lot of images of chess pieces---and some decent photos, but it takes a ton of time to sort through them to find the usable jewels.

Real 13th century castles aren’t easy to come up with either (partly because so many are now rubble) and heroines in the right medieval costumes are even harder. Throw in period-looking destriers and you are looking at hours and hours of searching. My quest wasn’t fruitless, just more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

My impression is it’s a little easier to do a novel teaser of the slide show type for a Victorian or Regency romance, but not by much. Video novel teasers seem to lend themselves to almost every other category of romance---romantic suspense, contemporaries, paranormals, erotica, and inspirational better than medieval.

As for the music, that was not a huge problem, but again the copyright-free, purchase-for-single-use selection is rather limited if you want affordable. ShockWave (http://www.shockwave-sound.com/) sound is a main supplier and if you are picky (like me) the pickins are slim. Getting contemporary/pop music is out of the reach of most of us. Rights for popular music sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, even more.

But the real question here is do video teasers help authors sell books? I’ve heard presenters at writers workshops answer that question with the question “Do you think movie trailers work?”

Well…yes and no…

SMART BITCHS http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/P8/recently (August 27th) blogged on this topic, as did PUBLISHERS WEEKLY(http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/880000288/post/1720013772.html . Based on the comments (mostly from readers), I will make the sweeping generalization that most people stated novel video teasers generally do not entice them to buy a book, but my impression is authors really like to make them and watch them. A few booksellers posted they liked them in the stores. Many people commented that a bad, or cheesy trailer, or one that moves too slowly would actually deter them from buying the book.

If you want to view my first attempt at a novel teaser, check out my trailer for DARK RIDER. As a new author, here is what I’ve learned: make short teasers (the 30 second kind, not 60 sec) and make the text flow as you read. If you have to pause and wait, it’s too long. Try to capture the general feel and theme, not a synopsis, of the story. In my trailer, I think I succeeded in some aspects, and admit there is room for improvement on others. I like the sound (warning, horses whinny) and I like most of the images.

Now back to the question “Do you think novel trailers work?” For DARK RIDER, it’s too soon to tell. But of my website pages the “view trailer” page is at the bottom of the “most often visited” list. Visitors tend go right to the “books” page and the “read an excerpt” page. This seems to echo what the commentors on other blogs posted---they look at the author’s books page and read the excerpts.

Anyone else have an opinion on historical video teasers? Care to post the URLS of your favorites (of any kind)? I know some Hoydens have them. Do you think they attract new young readers who have grown up with “visual media”?

05 September 2007

Minority Report

The very merry monarch, Charles II

Some of you know that this spring I was tapped to write my first nonfiction book. Titled ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy it will come out next August.

It’s been a wild ride, since they only gave me until November 1 to deliver the manuscript and I got the green light in mid-May, just a few days before my wedding. My husband has been extraordinarily understanding about the amount of time I’ve had to spend researching over 900 years of British history.

My “brief” from the publisher is to delve into the juicy sex scandals of various and sundry royals, while also providing a thumbnail sketch of each monarch’s reign, where applicable, which means, of course, that I’ve got to read entire biographies start-to-finish (distilling the info my editor wants me to glean into a page or two) and not skip to the parts about the lovers and mistresses.

What I’ve learned about some of these sovereigns has astounded me in certain respects. It’s really wonderful material, but unfortunately it has no place in ROYAL AFFAIRS. Even if I slip it in there, I can just hear my editor asking what it has to do with, well, the royal affair and she'll make me cut it. And yet I'm so excited about sharing some of the fascinating non-love-affair-related stuff that I've found. I won't be able to do that in this book, but as least I can blog about it.

A lot of these “wow!” moments have come from reading about a monarch’s view on certain issues involving minorities: people of other colors and religions (particularly the Jews) and on women.

The British tussle between Protestants and Catholics is more generally known by history buffs, and the reasons behind it, ridiculous as they may seem to many of us now, were always clearly stated.

Then there were kings who tried to buck the system but failed. Charles II (1630-1685; Ruled 1660-1685) was very much against the government’s Exclusionist policy that would deny any Catholic the throne. Although Charles was a Protestant, his younger brother, James, the Duke of York, was a closet Catholic (and later an outspoken one). Charles did not want to see the proper order of succession dispensed with by anti-Catholic prejudice. Things got so tense that the king sent his brother away for a while until tempers cooled. On Charles's death in 1685, James did accede the throne.

George I

George I (1660-1727; Ruled: 1714-1727) tried to ease the position of Jews in Britain, but met with substantial opposition. He could only achieve minimal concessions, which were that henceforth, individual Jews were allowed to apply for naturalization by submitting a private act to Parliament, a lengthy as well as costly process, which denied the freedom to a vast majority. How many of you knew that Jews at the time were not considered subjects? I didn’t!

Although Queen Victoria (1819-1901; Ruled: 1837-1901 [Great Britain and Ireland]; Empress of India: 1876-1901) was probably the most powerful woman in the world in her day, she saw no reason to support the idea of women’s suffrage. And yet she was rather advanced in her thinking in other ways. She felt very strongly that the English class system was a highly unnatural artifice that should be done away with and the lines of distinction ought to become blurred—although—within her own household, there was a very rigid hierarchy that could not be violated. Victoria also bristled at the brutality visited upon the Indian population by Englishmen because of the color of their skin.

Her son, when he became Edward VII (1841-1910; Ruled 1901-1910; King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and The British Dominions beyond the seas; Emperor of India), was of the same opinion as his mother on women’s suffrage, although he adored the company of intelligent and outspoken women.

Edward went even further than Victoria in the open deploring of the anti-Indian prejudice. He had a habit of treating all men equally regardless of their social standing or their color, and endeavored to have the N-word officially banned. “Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute.” From an early age, Edward “discovered a special affinity with Jews” and numbered several financiers and speculators (such as Nathaniel Rothschild and Sir Ernest Cassel) as well as men of lesser social standing among his intimate circle of friends. And rather than follow centuries of royal tradition by ostracizing artists as moral degenerates, “Bertie” (no paragon of respectability himself when it came to a few of the commandments), welcomed them into his homes and was the first English monarch to officially recognize contributions to the arts with an Order of Merit.

Edward VII

Have you ever learned something about an English monarch that surprised you because it seemed out of character or out of step with their times—whether by being retrogressive or radically progressive?

04 September 2007

Welcome, Kathrynn Dennis!

DARK RIDER hit the shelves this week! Kathrynn will be giving away signed cover flats to three commentors today. Names drawn at random.

DARK RIDER wins a K.I.S.S (Knight in Shining Silver) Award from Romantic Times Book Reviews!

“You'll need the cool winds of autumn to lower your temperature after meeting these heroes. Take a journey with Sir Robert Breton, the Dark Rider created by Kathrynn Dennis, and you'll never want to come home..." ---RT Book Reviews

"An extraordinary debut! Dark Rider is a spellbinding tale of sensuality, adventure, betrayal, and romance that I couldn't put down. Kathrynn Dennis is a shining new talent." -----Lorraine Heath, New York Times bestseller/USA Today bestseller

Dark Rider is set in medieval England. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I grew up in Germany and I could see castles from my bedroom window. As kids, we played knights and ladies, and pointed to the distance to claim the castles as “ours.” We took field trips to ruins and museums…I remember seeing a castle beer barrel so big it was used as dance floor. The docent told a story about the court jester who only drank wine. One night when someone slipped him a glass of water, he died on the spot of water poisoning...and I can’t forget those big footprints in the stone slab beneath the Lady of Castle’s bedroom window. Seems a knight was caught by her kingly husband, so he had to jump out of the window. Sir Knight was dressed in full armor and he was so heavy when he hit the ground, his feet left impressions. It took me several years to figure out how those footprints really got there. The stories, the places---they all made an impression on me. I love the pageantry, the largeness of the heroes, and the mysticism associated with medieval legends.

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

There was nothing to like about being born into the non-noble class in medieval Europe. Even the nobility had it tough. Poor hygiene, scare food at times, harsh weather, and primitive medicine. Add superstition and a lack of general education among the populace and things were not so good most of the time. To paraphrase that well known comment: Life was dirty, harsh and short. It was also hard to write a heroine who acted appropriately for the time and still make her strong. The good thing is, medieval women had more freedom in some ways than their Victorian or Regency counterparts (they could retain some of their property in many cases, even after they were married).

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

You know those old adages “write what you love to read” and “write what you know? Well, I do that. I love historical romance and horses. I’m a horse veterinarian and enjoy old veterinary textbooks and the history of the discipline. I've spent hours reading about how common aliments would have been treated by the medieval smithy or horse marshall (men who assumed the job of veterinarian). Then I took a heroine and made her half-horse whisperer (a telepath who can commune with horses) and half–horse healer and put her in medieval England. She’s educated of course, and she is an intuitive clinician. But at that time, her gifts would have been suspect. Doesn’t help that she challenges the common knowledge (and the men) around her. That gets her into all kinds of trouble.

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

Oh yeah, I learned some interesting ways to treat colic. For example, wrap the horse's belly in hot wet burlap and then drench him with good beer (now there's a real reason for him to bloat!). The general etiological diagnosis for many horse aliments in the 13th century was “he’s been elf-shot.” Lameness, colic, or a bloody nose…it didn’t matter. Elves with arrows were evidently a big problem for livestock in medieval England.

What/Who do you like to read?

Like most of us, I read it all. Sci-fi, mystery, historical fiction, literary fiction, and romance. I am reading historical romance author Lorraine Heath’s luscious “Just Wicked Enough” and I know why it’s one of RT’s TOP PICKS this month. I also just finished Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner.” Managed not to cry until the last page.

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 wing the first 15 pages or so, then plot. I hammer out the book in about a month and spend the next 10 months or so revising. Invariably, I get distracted with another story. I have to work hard to stay focused on revising the work-in-progress until I get it polished enough to be presentable. Starting the next book is my “reward.”

What are you planning to work on next?

Next up is SHADOW RIDER (Kensington, Oct 2008). It was so much fun to write. The opening scene starts with the heroine, a 13th century theriogenologist (a fancy name for livestock obstetrician) who delivers a foal affected by a real-life medical problem that makes him bark, sit like a dog, and stare at the stars. Needless to say this would have created quite a stir in medieval England. Accusations fly---he’s possessed, she’s a witch---and things look grim for both of them. Enter the SHADOW RIDER, a brooding knight with a past who comes to their rescue. But he has plans for the mystical little horse and the heroine and you can be she’s not gonna like it!

Working on book three now, a dark, "paranormal horsetorical"---with a dangerous hero, a determined heroine, and their destriers!

Check back this Thursday for more. I’ll be blogging about the trials and tribulations of making a historical novel video teaser. Oh, have I got a lot to say on that one! ;-)


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