History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 October 2007

Happy Halloween! Interview with a 13th Century Horsewitch

“Kathrynn Dennis' debut romance, "Dark Rider," will dazzle readers with its beautifully crafted characters, vividly detailed medieval setting and captivating plot rife with passion and intrigue.”
---John Charles, Chicago Tribune

A wonderful reader recently sent me the above review of my book, DARK RIDER, which she found in the theme park section of the Chicago Tribune!

The review was listed in the romance section under the title: It takes all kinds: Witches, assassins, servants and even wolves need love.

So, in the spirit of the day, I’ve posted an “interview” with the heroine in DARK RIDER, a 13th century horsewitch:

First, why do they call you horsewitch?

I am a horse healer, who on occasion (if I am involved in highly emotional or intense situations), can speak to the beasts with my thoughts and make them do what I want.

Could be a useful talent if you were engaged, say, in a 13th war. You could probably take out the enemy’s horses and turn the tide of any battle.

I would never harm a horse if I didn’t have to. But I had to once to save my people and the man I loved. I use my gift with extreme caution. It isn’t always easy to judge who is right and who is wrong. Innocent horses might suffer unnecessarily.

Where did you learn your healing/telepathic talents?

From my mentor, a Saracen named Safia. Her people know more about horses and healing than we English ever will.

Didn’t she kill a lot of horses once?

In self defense. She sickened horses belonging to English crusaders. The men rode in to destroy her village. What else could she do?

What’s the worst thing about being known as a horsewitch?

That everyone assumes I’m evil, that I can’t be trusted. Or they don’t believe in my gift at all and they mock me. Both make me furious. For the longest time I denied what I could do. No more.

How would you cure, say a horse with colic? Or one with a bad cough? Any favorite treatments?

Is this a test, good sir? For colic, try a drench with beer and wrapping the horse’s belly with hot, wet burlap sacks. For a bad cough, try mare’s milk and honey. I’ve no treatment for death, if you should ask. I cannot resurrect a horse who’s passed on.

Are there others out there like you?

I assume we are few in number. I’ve never met another horsewitch other than my teacher. ‘Tis a God given gift. Most women keep their talent a secret for fear of persecution.

I have to ask, are there horse wizards? Men who have the same gift as you?

Yes but only one walks the earth at a time. One is born every hundred years. A horse wizard is pure evil and a mortal enemy of a horsewitch. There’s one on earth now. I don’t know where he is. Pray that I never meet him.

Can a horsewitch fall in love?

The question should be can a man fall in love with a horsewitch? It takes a special kind of man, a master horseman perhaps, or one who understands who and what we are. I was lucky. I found such a rare man. But I have high hopes for my daughter.

Uh oh, I smell a sequel…;-) Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Rogue's Lady by Julia Justiss!

Rogue's Lady
by Julia Justiss

Handsome rogue Will Tavener never thought to marry--until his cousin and childhood friend Lady Domcaster urges him to consider charming a ton heiress whose rich dowry would allow him to restore his impoverished estate. Skeptically, Will agrees to escort his cousin to ton events. But to his dismay, the one Society maiden who stirs his ardor and excites his mind is musician's daughter Allegra Antinori.

With her aristocratic mother shunned for her runaway marriage to a musician, Allegra knows that only wedding a ton gentleman can secure her future--particularly if that gentleman is dashing war hero Rob Lynton, the family acquaintance she's adored since childhood. So why does the entirely unsuitable Lord Tavener keep beguiling her senses...and bedeviling her heart?

"With characters you care about, clever banter, a roguish hero and a captivating heroine, Justiss has written a charming and sensual love story." (Joan Hammond, Romantic Times)

Rogue's Lady is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in the Regency?

Another avid reader who lived on my dorm floor in college introduced me to Georgette Heyer. Need I say more?

What about the Regency period inspires you? Have you ever felt that the period constrains your writing?

I think the Regency embodies the "Cinderella story" for most readers, a time period that seems filled with titled lords, glamorous events, elegant and sophisticated society, witty repartee-and the chance for heroes and heroines to overcome personal trauma and troubling circumstances to find their perfect love. I find the manners and especially the language of the period fascinating rather than constraining. Yes, a Regency woman had many fewer rights and opportunities than a modern woman. That just means our heroines have to be more resourceful while still remaining true to period.

Do you ever write stories set in other periods? If not, can you imagine doing so?

I haven't published anything outside the Regency but have a World War II novel set in Paris that I'd love to sell to an editor. I'm also interested in contemps and in straight historical fiction, the latter probably set Regency/Napoleonic era since my research has been concentrated in those times.

So what sparked the idea for Rogue's Lady? A character? An historical event? A specific scene?

Rogue's Lady-originally entitled The Musician's Daughter-is a story idea that I've had for a very long time, so long that I don't remember what triggered it originally. It's not based on any actual person or event. But the idea of cherishing a childhood love, hoping and believing that it will be the key to your happiness and security, and having to fight with yourself to let go of that illusion in order to embrace a better but riskier choice is an idea that I'd long wanted to explore.

I see that music plays a big part in your story. Did this mean lots of research for you?

Music has always been a great love of mine, so having a heroine who shared that love was an easy transition. I've sung in various choirs since third grade, played clarinet and oboe in band until time constraints in college made it impossible for a non-music-major to continue, and been an avid collector of music. The story itself does not provide a depth of information about the daily life of a Regency musician, so I didn't need to do a lot of extra research. The heroine mainly has to deal with the social stigma involved for anyone of aristocratic blood who performed in a professional rather an amateur capacity.

Care to tell us about a few of your favorite research or reference books?

How can I cut the list down to a FEW?? The ones I keep on my desk are Dee Hendrickson's Regency Reference Book and Ian Fletcher's Wellington's Regiments. Other great general references for the period are The London Encyclopedia, Christopher Hibbert editor, J.B. Priestly's The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency; Arthur Bryant's The Age of Elegance; and J.R. White's Life in Regency England. Thomas Shepherd's London in the Nineteenth Century offers great drawings and descriptions of some of the major London buildings. Last, these three general histories of Jane Austen: Susan Watkins's Jane Austen: In Style; Marghanita Laski's Jane Austen and Maggie Lane's Jane Austen's World.

Wow! Were there any research tidbits you had to leave out of the book that you'd like to share with us now?

Trying to get to know the unusual heroine Allegra better, hero Will invites her to view the Elgin Marbles. Only a bit of the history of those remarkable sculptures is revealed in the scene. I chose that venue for their outing in order to have them discover the connection between the master sculptor of the acropolis works and their own situations. Phadias, drawn into the political storm surrounding his master and employer Pericles, was discredited and exiled from Athens. Like Will and Allegra, he was cast out of the world he knew and forced to look for a new place to belong where his talents would be respected and appreciated. Phadias ended well; settling in Elis in northwest Pellepponesus, he was employed by the elders of Olympia to create a statue of Zeus which became known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I'll post more on the Elgin Marbles on the research blog on Thursday.

Tell us about your next book!

I'm racing to finish the deadline on my next book, due out next summer, called at the moment simply "Hal's Story." This story features the strong, tall, monosyllabic Hal Waterman, best friend of hero Nicholas Stanhope from my first book The Wedding Gamble, who at the wedding of Nicky to Wedding Gamble heroine Sarah Wellingford fell in love at first sight with Sarah's beautiful younger sister Elizabeth. Terrified of his immediate attraction to this lady whose stunning looks remind him all too vividly of his exquisitely lovely, exacting, impossible-to-please mother, Hal made it his business to avoid Elizabeth. Until now, 8 years later, when a promise made to Nicky compels him to offer his assistance to the newly-widowed, and even lovelier, Elizabeth.

Ooo, that sounds compelling! Thanks for visiting with us, Julia!

Please visit www.JuliaJustiss.com to view the trailer for Rogue's Lady!

29 October 2007

The Rise of Love

One the things that fascinates me, historically, is the evolution of love. It's not that people haven't always felt the emotion, we can clearly see from history (mostly tragic history) that love has been a universal human emotion as long as the species has existed (or at least as long as we've had a concept of history and storytelling).

What I'm talking about is the rise of love to the place of prominence it now commands. As modern women, we've been taught that certain things are to be expected (or even taken for granted): We'll marry for love; Who we love will be our business, and our business only; Marriage without love, for purposes such as security or alliance is wrong, even degrading; Sex without love is akin to prostitution (this one some of us are a little less adamant about, but I know LOTS of women who are horrified and offended by the idea that "sometimes you just wana get laid"). These are all ideals that began back in the 18th century and came to full fruition by the end of the Victorian era. The cult of the individual was in vogue, and with it came love.

The transformation of the English family--and indeed of the world they lived in--between the Elizabethan era and the Georgian one that gave rise to this change is all encompassing. Everything changed, and it had to for love to become the end-all-be-all goal of the human species. The feudalistic system in which extended kin relationships dominated the struggle of the aristocratic classes faded away. The "family" one was seeking to protect and to promote was now the extended nuclear family, leaving more time for the head of the family to focus on what would be best for individual members, rather than what those individuals could do to help the family.

There was also a change in the way children were viewed. More and more they were being raised at home, nursed by their mothers (rather than handed over to a wet nurse living some distance away), and viewed as valuable individuals. The mortality rate among infants and young children being what it was, it is easy to understand why parents might not have wanted to grow too attached to these fragile, almost ephemeral, little beings, but the fact is that when they began to be raised at home, and nursed by their mothers, the results were a much lower mortality rate.

The world had evolved to a state where marriages, even among the children of peers, was no longer being used to cement alliances that could mean life or death for an entire family. At the same time, the ideal of love, the idea that marriage was not simply for procreation, but for companionship, was a profound change.

All the wheels had been set in motion for love to be triumphant by the 17th century, and in the 18th we see the ideal of love and marriage being joined in the minds of the populace. By the early 19th century love's place was secure, and to date nothing profound has occurred to unseat it.

For those who wish to dig deeper into this topic, I highly recommend The Rise of the Egalitarian Family and (the more easily obtainable) The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800.

26 October 2007

Beware the Looney Bird, My Friends

Beware the Looney Bird, My Friends. Even if he claims to be an eye-witness chronicler!

Gerald of Wales (Giraldus de Cambrensis) lived in the 12th century and traveled to Ireland in 1184 with Henry II and in 1185 with Henry's son Lord John (later King John of Magna Carta fame). Gerald visited Ireland again in 1199 and in 1204, at which time he stayed for two years. He died in 1223.

Before his death, Gerald wrote a book about Ireland for King Henry (The History and Topography of Ireland), translated copies of which are available in paperback from Penguin. Oh, boy! Eye-witness information about Ireland during the Norman encroachment.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Among the gems Gerald passed off as eye-witness truth:

1. The cure for snakebite. “The [boot] thongs of that country, those really made from the hides of animals bred in the country, are wont to be an effective remedy, when cut up in little pieces and drunk with water, against the bites of serpents and toads.”

2. The misogynist island. “There is a lake in the north of Munster which contains two islands, one rather large and the other rather small. The larger has a church venerated from the earliest times. The smaller has a chapel cared for most devotedly by a few celibates called ‘heaven-worshippers’ or ‘god-worshippers'.

No woman or animal of the female sex could ever enter the larger island without dying immediately. This has been proved many times by instances of dogs and cats and other animals of the female sex. When brought there often to make a trial, they immediately died.”

3. An island that defies death. “There is an island in the sea west of Connacht which is said to have been consecrated by Saint Brendan. In this island human corpses are not buried and do not putrefy, but are placed in the open and remain without corruption. Here men see with some wonder and recognize their grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers and a long line of ancestors.”

4. Washing in the grey. “There is a well in Munster and if anyone washes in its waters, he immediately turns grey. I saw a man who had washed there one part of his beard. It had turned grey, while the other part retained its natural dark color.”

5. Fish with 18 carat teeth. “Two years before the coming of the English to the island, there was found at Carlingford in Ulster a fish of unusual size and quality. Among other wonderful things about it was that it had three teeth of gold of about fifty ounces’ weight in all. It seemed to prefigure the imminent conquest of the country.”
6. Only truth-speakers. “Iceland, the largest of the islands of the north, lies at a distance of three days’ sailing to the north of Ireland. Its people say little but they always tell the truth. They speak but seldom and briefly and never use an oath. They do not know how to lie.”

7. A wonderful wolf. “About three years before the coming of Lord John into Ireland, it happened that a priest, journeying from Ulster towards Meath, spent the night in a wood on the borders of Meath. He was staying up beside a fire which he had prepared for himself under the leafy branches of a tree, and had for company only a little boy, when a wolf came up to them and immediately broke into these words: ‘Do not be afraid! Do not fear! Do not worry! There is nothing to fear!’

They were completely astounded and in great consternation. The wolf then said some things about God that seemed reasonable.”

8. A wild woman. “Duvenaldus, the king of Limerick, had a woman that had a beard down to her waist. She had also a crest from her neck down along her spine, like a one-year-old foal. It was covered with hair. This woman in spite of these two enormities was, nevertheless, not hermaphrodite, and was in other respects sufficiently feminine. She followed the court wherever it went, provoking laughs as well as wonder.”

9. Lion in love. “I saw in Paris a lion which a cardinal had given when it was a whelp to Philip the son of Louis, then a boy. This lion used to make beastly love to a foolish woman called Johanna. Sometimes when he escaped from his cage and was in such fierce anger that no one would dare to go near him, they would send for Johanna who would calm his anger and great rage immediately. Soothing him with a woman’s tricks, she led him wherever she wanted and changed all his fury immediately into love.”

10. No fleas m’lady. “There is in Connacht a village celebrated for a church of Saint Nannan. In olden times there was such a multitude of fleas there that the place was almost abandoned because of the pestilence, and was left without inhabitants, until, through the intercession of Saint Nannan, the fleas were brought to a certain neighbouring meadow. The divine intervention because of the merits of the saint so cleansed the place that not a single flea could ever afterwards be found here. But the number of them in the meadow is so great that it ever remains inaccessible not only to men, but also to beasts.”

Gosh, ain’t history great?

25 October 2007

Britons never will be slaves …?

More from Jane Lockwood . . .

And don't forget that Jane is giving away a copy of her new book!

After writing Forbidden Shores I went on to read more about the abolitionist movement and about the black population in England. It’s a fascinating subject. As I mentioned in my post about my book, there was never a large slave population in England, but by the end of the eighteenth century as many as fifteen thousand black people lived in London. Most of them were male, working as pages, footmen, and butlers--the sort of servants who ostentatiously displayed their employers’ wealth.

Were they free or not? Good question. The status of a slave brought to the country from abroad had been debated for at least a century. The English took very seriously the concept of Magna Carta and as the patriotic song Rule Britannia (set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740) said: Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never will be slaves. So you couldn’t have slaves in England… could you? The matter was decided once and for all when Chief Lord Justice Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that a slave was not regarded as such in England, and--most important--could not be coerced into returning to the land where he or she was enslaved.

Mansfield had a personal interest in the matter. His own stepdaughter, Dido Elizabeth Lindsay (1761-1804), was the daughter of a sea captain and an enslaved woman rescued from a Spanish ship. Dido was brought up in Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath near London and served as companion to her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, who was also adopted by Lord and Lady Mansfield. Johann Zoffany, fashionable painter to the court and aristocracy, painted this portrait of the two women in 1779. They’re beautifully dressed, and both looking at the artist/viewer, which suggests some degree of equality. According to Wikipedia she had the status of an upper servant, and probably served as Lady Murray’s companion; for instance, she did not dine with the family but joined them after dinner for coffee. Was it the stigma of race or illegitimacy?

One of the most astonishing aspects of the abolitionist movement was that support crossed barriers of gender and class. Ordinary housewives boycotted sugar. The London mob was notorious for helping slaves escape and ordinary people accepted members of the black population into their lives and families.

Thanks again for having me visit, History Hoydens!

23 October 2007

Welcome, Jane Lockwood!

Forbidden Shores
by Jane Lockwood
Available Now!

At the dawn of the nineteenth century two strangers set sail for a Caribbean island where sugar is king and human life is cheap. Clarissa Onslowe, ruined and exiled from her family, with nothing more to lose, seeks a rich protector. Disillusioned lawyer Allen Pendale entertains himself on the long voyage teaching the enthusiastic Miss Onslowe the arts of seduction.

He doesn't expect to fall in love with her.

And Clarissa falls for the man who can meet her price but can't return her affections because he loves someone else--Allen.

The three of them are bound together by love, desire, and jealousy, a fragile triangle that shatters when Allen uncovers a secret from the past.

Jane is going to give away a copy to one lucky poster, so make sure to check back in Thursday night to see if you're the winner!

Forbidden Shores is set in 1800. How did you become interested in this time period/location? What do you love about it?

I really like the period directly before the "official" start of the Regency--the clothes were particularly lovely at the time, there was still fallout from the French revolution, and the Romantics and the radicals; and of course the abolitionist movement was the burning issue of the day--or rather, one of the burning issues. It was a time of great change and passionate causes. And I really fell in love with the story of the abolitionist movement (see below); Hochschild's book gave me a new perspective on Georgian England, really quite a surprising one--that it was seen as a democratic country, despite the fact that only about in one ten men could vote; it had a great infrastructure, a benign monarchy, and a high level of literacy.

What do you like least about this period?

The truly appalling conditions most people lived in, and the general exploitation of the have nots by the haves. And the fact that there was a war that dragged on and on and it was again the poor who suffered. Just think what it would be like if your husband or brother was press ganged into the navy and you didn't know where he was or if he'd ever come home again.

Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

In Forbidden Shores I write about slavery, and that was very difficult; just the concept of an erotic romance dealing with slavery (the real kind, not kinky role-playing) sounds like an invitation to true tastelessness. I originally wanted to set the book among abolitionists in London, but my editor wanted me to move it to the Caribbean--for some reason she thought naughty frolicking on dazzling white sands beneath azure skies etc etc was sexier than Quakers in the rain collecting signatures for petitions. I think she was right--it greatly increased the personal stakes for the characters.

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

I read Bury The Chains by Adam Hochschild, a writer I love, and for the past two years I've been boring everyone to death with how they absolutely must, must read this book. (Read this book!) I blogged about the original opening scene, which came to me very strongly, at Risky Regencies, it's the first meeting of the hero and heroine, and although the setting changed--they meet aboard a ship--I kept the detail of her stocking sliding down and their appearances didn't change.

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, tons. My first true confession is that I invented the sugar island. It's a conglomeration of all sorts of bits and pieces of various places. It doesn't have a name; everyone refers to it as "the island," rather like people referring to London as "town." I went to England and visited the Bristol Industrial Museum which has an exhibit on slavery, including decorative dog collars slaves wore (in England itself slaves were usually decorative fashion accessories; there was a huge labor force of servants and no labor intensive cash crop like tobacco or sugar). I wish I could have gone there for the celebrations earlier this year of the 200th anniversary of the Act of Parliament banning the slave trade (which is what the movie Amazing Grace was about. I still haven't seen it). All the details of slavery were true; in fact if anything I toned them down. I read one of the most famous accounts of slavery, Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative and I used his anumission when I needed to quote one. One fact that possibly I made up but seems absolutely right is that the footmen (who are slaves) have elaborate wigs and livery but are barefooted. I don't know whether that's true or not, but it worked.

There’s lots of buzz on the net about the m/m angle of this story (and how it seems to be have been glossed over in the back blurb). Anything you want to let potential readers know?

I actually think it's quite mild m/m but it is there; if even the thought makes you go ewwwww then don't read it. The story is about three people, Clarissa, Allen, and March, who fall in love with the one of the three who can't love them back. So the threesome scenes have a lot of conflicting emotions--requited lust, unrequited love; no one is getting what they really want. But don't let the retro bodice-ripper cover or the classification as a historical romance fool you--it is a very dirty book!

What/Who do you like to read?

Lots of different stuff, but not a lot of romance. Certain writers—JR Ward and Anne Stuart--are guilty pleasures for me; their concepts make me laugh but I get caught up in them. I'm reading Terry Pratchett's latest novel Making Money at the moment and I'm also re-reading Emma by Jane Austen for no particular reason.

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?

Opening scenes always come to me very strongly; I usually start writing and let the characters evolve. I am really, really bad at plotting. I love the idea of plotting by spreadsheet or diagrams, but I can't do it.

What are you planning to work on next?

I have a partial out which has been rejected by at least one publisher as not erotic enough: I like to reveal the erotic in ordinary people and everyday situations. And I'm planning another partial after that which has a first erotic scene with no physical contact at all (a pianist accompanying a singer--I'm dying to write that scene but I think it's only so I can procrastinate on something else I should be writing!).

Thanks for having me, Hoydens!

22 October 2007

Tracy Grant: Stepping into the Past

Welcome Tracy Grant, our new Hoyden! Tracy will be stepping in for Victorica Dahl, who is officially retiring but who promises to visit us often. Today is Tracy's first post, please stop by and say hello!
I can’t remember the first historical novel I read. I can’t remember not being fascinated by stories set in the past. Whether it was fantasy inspired by Welsh mythology in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, children’s novels about the childhoods of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots that we bought on a family trip to Britain when I was not quite seven, Joan Aiken’s alternate-history adventures (“The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”, “Black Hearts in Batterseas”, etc…), adventurous stories tinged with romance with fictional protagonists like Sallie Watson’s books (“Hornet’s Nest”, “Jade,” “Lark”, etc…) or Elizabeth Marie Pope’s (“The Sherwood Ring”, “Perilous Guard”), or actual classics written in the time period (I was six when my mom read “Pride and Prejudice” to me). I loved them all and didn’t differentiate—to me, they were “old fashioned books”. I went on to read Dumas, Heyer, Dickens, Sabatini, Orczy, Trollope, Robert Graves, Dorothy Dunnett, Sharon Kay Penman. I tended to prefer stories with fictional protagonists who interacted with real people and events (I’d figured out those books were more likely to have happy endings) and I liked the books to have romances though I wasn’t particular about how much focus the romance got.

When I discovered the historical romance section in bookstores as a teenager, I was thrilled because here were rows and rows of books with historical settings. I don’t think I quite understood that there was a romance genre at this point—after all, most of the books I read had love stories in them. I tended to look less for genre and more for favorite time periods—the Wars of the Roses, the Regency/Napleonic era. I think the first genre I comprehended was the traditional Regency romance. The rules of both the Regency ton and the Regency romance were fairly easy to grasp hold of. That was the genre I was first published in, when I was still in college, co-writing with my mom (as Anthea Malcolm).

Suddenly, magically, I was a published author and I had to pay attention to how books were marketed. Though it was still hard to figure out distinctions such as the difference between a traditional Regency and a Regency-set historical romance (especially as our Regencies were longer and the later ones included sex scenes). I still tended to choose the books I read more by the era in which they were set than by the genre. I loved the Regency era (the more I learn about it, the more it fascinates me) so I read Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, “Silver Fork” novels actually written in the Regency era. I was thrilled when I found John Dickson Carr had written a couple of mysteries set in the Regency.

The fact that the era fascinated me more than the type of novel was perhaps a sign that, much as I loved to read historical romances, I was not a genre romance writer at heart. My mom and I moved from writing Regency romances to historical romances with a Regency setting, and I went writing them on my own after she died. I love writing love stories (I can’t imagine writing a book without a love story in it) but I kept pulling focus from the story by spending too much time on the historical background, the setting, the political intrigue.

I now write historical fiction (historical suspense fiction to be specific) which seems to fit best with the way my mind works as a writer. I can recognize the difference from the books I used to write—sort of J. A couple of months ago, my good friend Monica McCarty interviewed me for the Fog City Divas blog and asked me about the differences between writing historical romance versus historical fiction.

I was brought up a bit short and had to think my answer through carefully (thank goodness it was an email interview and not live or I’d have sounded hopelessly inarticulate). In the end, I said I thought one of the biggest differences was that even though the books I write have love stories in them, I don’t worry about keeping the love story front and center or about sustaining the sexual or romantic tension or what point the relationship has progressed to at a given point in the story. And I make a conscious effort to paint on a wide and detailed historical canvas, showing different levels of society, weaving in political context and real historical events and characters. I might have used many of the same elements in an historical romance, but I would have sketched with a much lighter hand so as not to pull focus from the love story.

As a reader, I still read across genres and tend to choose books by era and also by subject matter. I love stories about spies, so I read John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Andrea Pickens’ “The Spy Wore Silk” (eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series), Laurie King’s Mary Russell book which are often steeped in international intrigue, Jo Beverley’s Company of Rogues (Nicholas Delaney remains one of my favorite romance heroes). I love stories about married couples whether it’s Mary Jo Putney’s “The Spiral Path”, ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel”, “Busman’s Honeymoon”, or Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil” which I’m currently reading. (Not to mention plays which center on the same subject—“Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing”.)

Do you remember the fist historical-set book you read? Do you seek out books based on a favorite time period or subject matter or genre? Do you find genre distinctions as difficult to tease out as I do?

20 October 2007

Welcome, Donna MacMeans!

Welcome, Donna! I knew from the first time you told me about your book, it was destined for print. Congratulations on the release!

Thank you, Kathrynn, for allowing me to become a hoyden for the day. It’s always been a secret desire (wink, wink).

LOL! (Donna is referring to my telling her how I would have loved to have finaled in the Golden Heart, like she did. She went on to win!

Your debut historical, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, is set in the late Victorian period. How did you become interested in this time period?

Well, that’s tied up with what sparked the book. So my answer may seem long, but it all comes together in the end. Mrs. Brimley was my third complete manuscript. The previous two were both contemporary romantic suspense. Although I’d always read historicals, I think I was intimidated by the research to try one on my own. A couple of years ago, Lori Foster sponsored a writing contest that required three pages illustrating sensual tension. A contemporary and an historical weekly winner would be chosen and sent to an editor who had a reputation of purchasing novellas from some of the winners. I came up with an idea, basically a reluctant striptease, and realized it would work better in a period when the women wore a lot of clothes. What better time than Victorian? Once I started working on the story, I realized it would make a dynamite book and never bothered to enter that contest.

Obviously then, you had to do some major research for this book. Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Yes. I definitely did mega-research, and as I knew nothing – everything was a revelation . Due to the nature of the story, I really had to understand women’s period clothing, particularly underclothing. I had to know how it all fastened, and more importantly, unfastened. Needless to say, I now own a rather complete library on this subject. I also traveled to a number of historical clothing exhibits so I could get up close and personal with the clothing.

I also needed to study the sexual mores of the period. This was very interesting as the Victorians were careful to tiptoe around anything written that suggested sexuality – yet one look at the small-waist corseted dresses, with a bustle in the back to emphasize one’s rump, and you know it’s all advertising. Anyway, I found a study that suggested many Victorians believed that a woman could only become pregnant if she experienced the big “O”. This certainly wasn’t the only belief of the period, but it was one that could provide the necessary motivation for my book.

And that motivation would be…?

Finishing schools were prevalent during Victorian times to give girls that special polish needed to attract a suitable match. One important duty of a wife was to bear the mandatory heir and spare. My fictional finishing school realizes its graduates would be better equipped to perform this role (given the aforementioned study) if they knew something about bedroom etiquette. As my heroine is pretending to be a widow, they believe she will make a perfect instructor. However, my heroine is a virgin and in hiding from her lecherous uncle. In order to stay in hiding, she needs information and fast.

And she finds that information….?

From a disreputable rake/artist who just happens to be my hero. After some mishaps, they barter an agreement whereby he will answer one question about intimacy for every item of clothing that she removes as his model.

Sounds fun.

Oh, it was – and very, very sensual. I would have won that darn contest had I entered way back when.

But you’ve picked up other MAJOR contest wins along the way – wink, wink.

Yes. Among other awards, Mrs. Brimley won the 2006 Golden Heart award for Best Long Historical. Recently, my hero, Lord Nicholas Chambers, picked up an accolade of his own – the Knight in Shining Silver Award from RT. They said (as a bad boy) he was so bad he was good. You’re familiar with the K.I.S.S award, as your Sir Robert Breton of Dark Rider received similar kudos.

Thanks for the plug, Donna! So what’s next?

About the time Berkley offered a contract for Mrs. Brimley, I was partway through another story set in the same Victorian time period but with other characters – most notably an invisible heroine. The first chapter of that book, The Trouble with Moonlight, is included in the back of Mrs. Brimley. It’s another fun, sexy read. That one has a June 2008 release date.

Otherwise I’m currently working on a sequel to Mrs. Brimley – William’s story.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ve had such a great time chatting about Mrs. Brimley, I’d like to hear from your readers. I didn’t exactly paint William as hero material in Mrs. Brimley so I’m going to have to have a good heroine reform him. Readers, tell me what you look for in a hero.
I’m going to offer an autographed copy of the book to one person posting a comment. If you’ve already read Mrs. Brimley, comment anyway and we’ll negotiate something else from my treasure trove. Also, you can generally find me most Tuesdays on the Pink Ladies Blog http://www.pinkladiesblogspot.com/ or hanging out with the Romance Bandits on http://romancebandits.blogspot.com/. Otherwise, check out my website at http://www.donnamacmeans.com/. Thanks so much for having me Kathrynn.

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19 October 2007

The Joy of (Primary) Sources

It was my first time, and it was thrilling. In order to research The Slightest Provocation, my husband Michael and I went to the British National Archives at Kew, where we read the microfiched copies of correspondence between Lord Sidmouth, the British Home secretary, and the agents provocateurs he sent out to foment mischief among the parliamentary reform movements in 1817.

Michael had learned which boxes of microfiche to ask for, in the indexes of books like The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson, and England's Last Revolution: Pentrich 1817, by John Stevens.

We got to the National Archives early (there was quite a crowd of us walking over from the tube station; I gather many people go there to do genealogical research), It wasn't hard to find the boxes of microfiche we needed; the staff were really helpful. We spooled up the rolls into the fiche readers, took deep breaths... and stared at each other in mortal terror.

Because since the night before our visit, each of us were thinking the same thing and had been afraid to admit to each other: that we were going to have to read this correspondence in the original handwriting and suppose we couldn't?

As it turned out, we could. Not every word, but it got easier as the day got on. Sadly, it was our last day in London, which was too bad; I know it would have gotten much easier with practice. (Here's a photograph, btw, from the National Archives' web site, of a Home Office communication about the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 -- but lots of the letters aren't this legible).

But what a treasure trove it was, even if we couldn't read every word. Michael's first box contained a letter from the provocateur we'd been reading about, the famous "Oliver the Spy." And it had a note scrawled in the margin from the Home Secretary himself, telling his other agents, "hands off, this guy works for me" (well, in Regency English). "A smoking gun," Michael whispered.

And pretty soon I found a long, wordy, wonderfully entertaining report of a midnight Luddite machine-breaking raid. According to the agent, they shot the guard in the leg, but he took it very well, agreeing that it was for the sake of "the trade," as he put it, meaning weaving, and bidding them do their work fast so he could get to a doctor soon. (They could have worked fast, by the way -- machine-breaking didn't always have to mean wrecking a whole shop; sometimes it just meant making off with a crucial part of the machine.)

Of course, there's no way to know how much (if any) of this spy's account was true. If you hire informers (and pay them by the word) you have to expect this: The Slightest Provocation talks about the confusion that can ensue in such a situation. And moreover, the agents Sidmouth hired for domestic spying were amateurs (though Oliver was a very gifted one). So it wasn't at all clear to them what was valuable information and what wasn't, and for my purposes, they produced wonderfully evocative jumbles.

In fact, my favorite part of the report on the machine-breaking episode was an extensive , meandering preamble, about meeting up in an inn to have dinner before the raid. The informer seemed absolutely delighted to natter on about who had chops and who had ale, who had to borrow money in order to eat, and who sold a pair of stockings to pay for his dinner.

The detail about the stockings makes sense, though, because Luddites were often stocking-makers. One of their most serious gripes was a new sort of frame for weaving stockings - the machine made inferior ones and workers who used it got paid less - which is why it seemed plausible to me that the guard could have said it was for the sake of the trade. Wasn’t it interesting, too, that the agent wasn't afraid to put that radical sentiment in his report to the Home Secretary?

Part of what made this so much fun, as you can see, was that we understood a lot of what we were looking for. Of course, this wasn't primary research. Rather, it was a search for the feel, the smell, if you will, of the period and of the incidents. We'd already read about Luddites, parliamentary reformers, and the provocateurs who dogged their heels, but seeing the papers made all the difference. I was able to get a feel for the size and scope of the operation -- really quite small (since then, I've read that the Home Office had a staff of maybe a dozen people), but sinister, nonetheless, to be watch the Home Office setting spies and provocateurs throughout the countryside. And fascinating and chilling, to see the marks of the living hands on this correspondence.

It was an amazing experience for a couple of amateurs like us -- I can barely imagine what it must be like in the big leagues, when a professional historian unearths a trove of papers and has to figure out to make sense of it. Which I'll be writing about on a future post -- about the book that made me decide to try to write a romance novel in the first place, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France.

The Archives closed at 5. We were sad to leave but also exhilarated, and wandered around the spectacularly beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens a few blocks away in a beautiful twilight mist and shimmer of reflected history until that august British institution closed at 8. And then we got a lovely French dinner in the nice little main street near the tube stop in Kew.

Sometimes there's nothing better than research.

Writers, have you had similar research experiences? Or contrasting ones, perhaps?
And readers (of historical romance or not), do you think this sort of research "shows" in the reading experience?

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18 October 2007

Travel through Time with Amy and the Earl!

Amy Stevens and the Earl’s brother, Simon West, are two naturally curious people brought together by their interest in a coin that is more than a piece of metal.

Amy appears on page in "Poppy’s Coin," my first novella which appeared in the Bump In the Night anthology. She heard the story from a docent at a small museum in London. On page for just a few reading moments, no one knew her name (including me). She came into being as a way to give some background of the Regency in an anthology where all the other stories were contemporaries.

In the opening of Amy and the Earl, Amy owns Poppy’s Coin, quite legitimately, but under odd circumstances. Simon has been fascinated by it for years. It is the dominant presence in a portrait of the third Earl Weston painted in 1805. The coin is clearly dated 1808. They both want to know more about it and are willing to travel through time to satisfy their curiosity.

To be honest, time travel is the aspect of the story I researched the least. Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan concede that time travel may be possible and is good enough for me. Amy is even more easily convinced.

"According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity there is nothing in the laws of physics to prevent time travel." [Amy said]
"Is that what you’ve been studying here? Physics?"
"Good grief, no. I barely made it through required science in college. I’m not sure where I heard that. Maybe I read it."
"Did your college course included Einstein’s general theories?" Simon could tell she was considering a lie, by the vaguely guilty look on her face. Then she shrugged and her expression cleared.
"Okay, I hate to admit this but I just remembered where I saw it. To be completely honest I was quoting a TV character on the show Stargate Atlantis." She waited.
He was about to say something scathing when he realized that she was being honest. Who but the scrupulously honest would admit that their scientific data came from a TV show?

Is that really how I researched the concept? Through a TV series? Not exactly. I recalled the quote but had no recollection of where I had heard it. I googled and searched online and was more than annoyed that I could find no attribution for it. Then my dear TV expert sister told me where it was from and even sent me a tape of the episode. Lo and behold the geek character, a scientist and all around know-it-all, expounds on the concept of time travel. Lucky, lucky me. As far as I was concerned my research was done.

So is this an anti-research blog? By no means. It is my way of saying that research comes in many forms. The concept of time travel was essential to my story but not essential to me. I do not have a scientific bone in my body. In this case all I felt I needed was someone with "authority" acknowledging the possibility. My online hunt gave me that in the person of Einstein and Sagan (though Steven Hawking does not believe time travel is possible for the simple reason that we see no time travelers among us). The Stargate Atlantis reference added an element to Simon’s understanding of Amy, making Simon wonder if he was wrong in seeing her as a grifter.
I did put my own stamp on the concept. In my time travel world the balance of energy is fundamental. So that if Amy and Simon travel they must switch with someone from the period they are traveling to. I’m not sure what the Earl and Miss Kemp made of their time in London in 2006 (another novella?) but Amy was much less impressed with the Regency than I thought she would be. In the end she seriously disliked it for all the reasons that we discuss: class consciousness, the status of women and the basic modern pesrson’s dislike of living in a world that exists on the whim of one man, the Earl.

Here is one final thing about this story that fascinates me, ego driven as I am. It is something my husband observed when he was proofreading it. For the first time in my writing career of twenty years and fifteen books, I wrote a story more plot driven than character driven. I wonder what biographers will make of that when they research my life?

As a reader or writer what do you think of time travel? What aspects of research capture you and what are you willing to let others "research" for you?

17 October 2007

“I’m Henry VIII, I am, I am”—or not! The Book of Tudor-onomy

I’m one of those people who tends to go a bit nuts when Hollywood plays fast and loose with history in the name of entertainment. If those producers and screenwriters actually read the real history of the characters they are portraying, they’d probably discover that the truth is at least as fascinating as the fiction.

As a hoyden, I know I’m sort of preaching to the choir, but I’ve recently discovered that my research for the ROYAL AFFAIRS nonfiction book on 900 years of Britain’s most scandalous liaisons has “spoiled me” even more than I already thought I was. So many movie versions, particularly of those usual suspects, Henry VIII and his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, are (I find) cringe-worthy for their lack of respect for historical accuracy.

We’ve covered this territory before; there will always be those who feel that one should never let the truth interfere with telling a good story. I’m just one of those people who emphatically believes that the truth already IS a good story.

My crazy deadline has so far prevented me from seeing Cate Blanchett’s redux as the Virgin Queen, but one premise of her new film, Elizabeth: the Golden Age, seems to be a torrid romance with Sir Walter Raleigh.

How can I put this nicely: I know I wasn’t there, but—it didn’t happen. Not the way Hollywood is currently depicting it, if the commercials are any indication of the heat to come off Clive Owen’s open shirts. Elizabeth openly flirted with Raleigh, as a way of getting back at her “bonny sweet Robin,” Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who had moved on after decades of rejection. Yes, that much has been documented. But here’s why they didn’t sleep together, or were intimate enough for Raleigh to have anything to hold over the queen:

Her personal aversion to the institution aside, marriage presented a minefield of obstacles. Most foreign princes were Catholic and Elizabeth staunchly refused to renounce her own religion and would have preferred it if a Catholic husband were to embrace her own. That was never going to happen. In an age where a woman was legally her husband’s property and subject to his every whim, how could a regnant queen permit the tables to turn on her and be ruled by a husband, who would by law end up the decision-maker while she was relegated to the role of consort, shut out of Parliamentary and Privy Council meetings? It was unthinkable.

If she married a foreign prince, England would end up a vassal to his crown, subsumed into the Hapsburg or Holy Roman Empire, or become a satellite of Spain or France. Her duty was to England and such a marriage would sacrifice her country and her people. Not only that, she did not want the sort of domestically unnatural marriage her sister Mary had endured, with her husband spending the better part of time in his native Spain ruling his own kingdom. How was Elizabeth to find a man who was noble and powerful enough to be the husband of a ruling queen, and who was willing to reside in her kingdom and adopt her religion, even as political and dynastic concerns dictated that she should broker a diplomatic match that would unite countries and religions, thereby avoiding military conflicts at home and abroad?

Elizabeth witnessed the anger of the British subjects at Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain; it was sleeping with the enemy. She could not afford to make a similar mistake.

And if she were to look closer to home and marry an Englishman, there were few who were wellborn enough to be an appropriate match and any union would create factions and infighting among her nobles, tearing apart the fabric of her realm.

Elizabeth and her various flirtations (Leicester, Essex, Raleigh) were “lovers” in the old-fashioned, high-flown style of courtly love. What physical intimacy passed between them—and Elizabeth, though ostensibly a virgin, always had an amorous and flirtatious disposition—was only of the most innocuous variety. No matter how head over heels she seemed, Elizabeth was a canny politician. She would never allow any man the power over her that would come with having her sexually. This is the key. She was adamant that no man master her, particularly after experiencing the way her own father treated his queens, and particularly her mother. Aside from carnal possession of the body, imagine the gossip, the bribes, the backstairs deals that could be made, from destroying her reputation. A man might cat around then, but a woman NEVER could do so without loss of reputation (which was everything then). And most certainly the unmarried queen of the realm could never allow herself to be in the vulnerable position where a lover might reveal (under any number of situations) the extent of their relationship.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; Elizabeth I's favorite

The other night, Turner Classic Movies broadcasted the 1953 Young Bess, starring a very petite and kittenish-looking Jean Simmons (who doesn’t resemble Elizabeth in the slightest), Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and Charles Laughton. Although this film gets points from me for nailing a lot of little historical details (such as Henry VIII’s question to Cranmer, his Archbishop of Canterbury, "How’s your wife?”), its main premise—a passionate romance between young Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour—didn’t exactly happen the way Hollywood projected it.

Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour was the brother of the Protector of the realm, Edward Seymour, the regent for little Edward VI. Thomas married Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, after she became widowed. He had always loved her and had hoped to wed her, when the king’s eye lighted on her and he had to gracefully step aside.

Thomas Seymour

By the way, at least in the beginning of Young Bess, Catherine Parr's character (Deborah Kerr) is given the brain she actually had, and the screenwriter got his facts down pretty well. The author of at least one devotional work, Catherine’s intellectual accomplishments were rare for her day; she was one of only seven early-Tudor-era females to be a published author. Her first book, printed in November, 1545, went through nineteen editions during the sixteenth century.

But her spirited sparring with Henry over the hot-button political issues of the day nearly cost her her head. Literally hours from being arrested on charges of treason for her political and religious opinions, Catherine discovered the warrant when it accidentally fell from the pocket of a councilor’s robe. Her hysterics brought the ailing Henry’s doctor to her chamber; he persuaded the queen to muster every shred of dignity and immediately appeal to the king, begging his forgiveness.

Catherine saved herself only by putting a quick and clever spin on her words, playing the weak-and-feeble-brained-female who needed schooling by her worldly husband—explaining that she took an opposite view to Henry’s in order to reinvigorate the ailing king’s mind, giving him the chance to exercise his mental faculties by rebutting her.

“Is that so, sweetheart?” Henry asked her. No doubt, Catherine’s head nodded vigorously.

"Then we are perfect friends again,” he added.

Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife

Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour housed the real young Bess after Henry’s death in 1547. Elizabeth was only fourteen at the time. Seymour behaved very inappropriately with her, coming into her room when she was in her nightgown and tickling her, and it caused a rift with Catherine, who at first joined Thomas, thinking it was all good clean fun, but then realized that her husband had more sexual thoughts about their young charge. In real life, Seymour was thinking about matrimony (or something slightly less noble), but Elizabeth was not, even though she might have harbored a crush on the older man -- or -- was thoroughly disgusted by his advances and his opportunism, coupled with a lack of sensitivity to his supposedly beloved Catherine.

But in the Technicolor Young Bess, our little spitfire princess (who looks quite the grown young lady -- most definitely not a coltish adolescent) is the aggressor.

In Young Bess, Charles Laughton reprised the role he played more than twenty years earlier, as the title character in the 1932 classic, The Private Life of Henry VIII. I remembered loving that movie through a haze of nostalgia, but when I watched it again last week, I found myself laughing all the way through it—starting with one of the title cards that tells the viewers that the Catherine of Aragon story isn’t interesting, so they’re going to skip it (!!) to the wives’ and waiting women’s very "period" (if the period is the early-1930s) marcelled hair. And Catherine Parr is depicted as a dour and humorless, nagging nanny -- another (mistaken) image that has been handed down to us by Hollywood. For starters, Catherine was only thirty-two years old when she married Henry (which was not considered particularly "old" in Tudor times).

In both The Private Life of Henry VIII and Young Bess, we get the impeccable Laughton chewing the scenery with as much gusto as the turkey legs he tosses over his shoulder. This image of greasy-fingered gourmandizing has been handed down to us by Hollywood, not by history.

Guess what? Didn’t happen.

A hallmark of Henry’s court was its cleanliness and its emphasis on chivalric behavior, fine manners, and the precepts of courtly love—the last of which often served as an excuse for adultery rather than platonic, poetic pining for the unattainable female. A stickler for hygiene, Henry would never have permitted a courtier to toss a half-devoured turkey leg over his shoulder, nor would the king have ever done so himself. Foul stenches were chased away as quickly as possible. There were even restrictions on house pets because of the mess they made. And Henry was notoriously fastidious about the cleanliness of his own person and that of his wives and lovers. In fact, he was so repulsed by his fourth wife Anne of Cleves’s rank body odor and filthy undergarments that he could not even get an erection.

I’ll leave everyone with that thought—which almost makes it into The Private Life of Henry VIII.

How do you feel when you watch a movie where the treatment of key plot points or the characters bear little resemblance to the actual facts and personages? Do you give yourself over entirely to the premise of the film and the characterizations, or does the history hoyden in you make you want to hurl your popcorn at the screen?

16 October 2007

Welcome Our Own Mary Blayney!

The only connection between the stories in Dead of Night is the umbrella title. How did the four of you come together?

Through Nora Roberts ( in this case writing as JD Robb). She had done a series of anthologies before and her editor asked her if she wanted to try it again under the JD Robb name. I was one of the writers invited to take part. It wasn’t hard to say "YES!" and not only because of the chance to appear on a cover with the best selling JD Robb. The only qualification was that each story have a paranormal element which left me free to write historicals or contemporaries or fantasy or time travel. Hard to resist that kind of open ended invitation. By the way, the other authors in Dead of Night are Mary Kay McComas and Ruth Ryan Langan.

This is the second anthology, right?

Yes, the first was Bump in the Night which came out in the spring of 2006. My story, "Poppy’s Coin" has a role to play in Amy and the Earl. "Poppy’s Coin" received some criticism for how thin the paranormal element was – a magic coin that changed people’s live when they made what the coin decided was the right wish. I knew the second novella would have to have a stronger element but I wanted to use Poppy’s Coin again so I decided on a time travel that would tell readers how Poppy’s Coin, a coin minted in 1810 wound up in the regency in 1808.

So you combined contemporary elements with historical? How hard was that?

Much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. I am so grounded in the Regency that I had to really work at making Amy and Simon sound at least 20th century. Once I mastered that it was downright fun to take them to 1808. I am not sure how many others have had two characters time travel at the same time, but it did provide a great way for the characters to express their reactions to the period. Amy knows a lot about the Regency era and Simon is visiting his family’s ancestral home. Each has something to offer in their efforts to avoid the more obvious pitfalls. And because they are in this together and not sure how they will get back, they grow very close very fast.

Does Poppy’s Coin exist in our reality?

Absolutely, Poppy’s Coin is not its true name, only what I call it. It is explained in the opening of Amy and the Earl. In fact it was a freshly minted coin, lost at sea with thousands of others. Lost right off the coast of England and discovered in the late 20th century. A friend gave me one of the "Admiral Gardner Shipwreck Coins" coins and when I read its history the original story began to take shape.

Has it granted you any wishes?

My writing life has been pretty magical since Lavinia gave me the coin. I have to admit that I never really thought about that since, really, its magical properties are a creation of my imagination. At least I think they are. Four of us have a coin. I’ll have to ask the others if they made wishes.

How long have you been writing Regency set historicals?

For about seven years. I had the opening for my first written way before that but had initial success with contemporaries and kept beating that locked door until a friend suggested I try writing a Regency. In one of those serendipitous moments a publicist I knew introduced me to an editor who bought traditional regencies: Amy Garvey who was an editor then and now writes. Kensington gave me a start, for which I will always be grateful. When they ended the traditional line my agent was able to find me a home at Bantam. At about the same time the opportunity to do the anthologies came along. It does sound a little like magic, doesn’t it?

What appeals to you about the Regency?

In my opinion it is the first historical period we can relate to and consequently much easier to write about than any historic period before. The early nineteenth century was the doorway from the Georgian period to the Industrial Revolution (once Europe took care of Napoleon). Thanks to eighteenth century philosophical thought and the printing press, the idea that the individual was important than the group began to take hold. If that is too intellectual then I will also note that the clothes look more comfortable than what men and women wore in the Georgian period and earlier.

What kind of major research did you have to do for this novella?

Art, architecture, music and the soccer season in Britain. Art and architecture are my favorite research distractions anyway so it is never hard to settle down with a stack of books and sort through what will work. I learned more than I needed about Italian artists of the 18th century especially Guardi. I needed to find a house in London that was private but backed on a more public road. Google Earth was great for that. I found exactly the spot in Mayfair that worked. What may be useful to readers is the places I go for research online: Google Earth, National Gallery of Art (Washington DC) and of course the font of all Regency knowledge the RWA’s online chapter Beau Monde.

What’s next?

My first single title for Bantam, Traitor’s Kiss, comes out in January 2008. There is a third novella in the works. The umbrella title is Suite 606. I know my Suite 606 has a ghost in residence and the magic coin does make an appearance. My second book for Bantam with a tentative title Her Wildest Fantasy is scheduled for October, 2008. Her Wildest Fantasy will be the second in the Pennistan family series.

Anything else you would like to add?

Thanks to the Hoydens for letting me hog the spotlight this week. This is a fabulous group of writers and I am delighted to share the page with them.

Thank you, Mary!

15 October 2007

Graphic Novels

Let’s start right off by clarifying the term. Graphic novels are also known as comic books. They are not inherently erotic (though sometimes the content may be). In fact, they cover the spectrum from heavy historical memoir (MAUS by Art Speigleman and BAREFOOT GEN by Keiji Nakazawa) to the super hero comics we all know but so few of us have read lately.

Thanks to the irrepressible and creative Robin Truslow (public relations relations coordinator at our fabulous library) I have been participating in a series on graphic novels given by Dr. Phillip Troutman from The George Washington University where he is assistant professor of writing. The class reminds me of a college seminar, a small group intent on sharing ideas and listening. One of my favorite things.

As are graphic novels. The genre came to my attention when a graphic novel was a finalist in the Young People’s category of the National Book Award. It took me weeks to find a copy of AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang. I read it in one long day and was hooked.

The graphic novel combines words and drawings, enabling the creator to tell his story in an entirely different way from the written word or from a purely pictorial format. The combination of writing and drawing inform each other, giving the story a depth which will surprise the novice reader.

Don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. While you are at it, find a copy of Scott McCloud's, UNDERSTANDING COMICS. This amazing book will take you into the hitherto unexplored and (in my case) unimagined depths of graphic novels. It is not a quick read. It is not an easy read. But it is worth the effort. Here is an example: McCloud spends pages explaining the cartoon as the idea of form. At the end of the discussion he asks if there is any more iconic form of a human face than the smiley face we all know [too] well? Just as I am shaking my head and thinking impossible, McCloud, with an interactive panel, demonstrates to me that “words are the ultimate abstraction.” (Pam I think you would love this book – when’s your birthday?)

What does this have to do with research? The origins of the graphic novel are lost in history. Here are a few examples: The Bayeux Tapestry -- that's a small sample of it at the right, William Hogarth's series of paintings, A HARLOTS PROGRESS (1731) though short in the number of "panels" has all the elements of a graphic novel, some of Rowlandson's work in the early nineteenth century especially the Dr. Syntax series. I would suggest that Diana Sperling’s MRS. HURST DANCING (1812-1823) would qualify as well.

I so wish that someone would do a graphic novel of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Are you familiar with graphic novels? Do you have any you can add to my "must read" list? Are you willing to give it a try?

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13 October 2007

Digging for Gold in Texas . . .

with Tracy Garrett.

“A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top." – Mark Twain

When I began doing research for Touch of Texas, I was searching for a special type of location. It needed to be isolated, with a means of support for those who settled in the town. I didn’t want the town to be too prosperous – that eliminates some of the available conflict for a story. Also, the area had to be right for the nefarious to operate – cattle rustling, horse stealing, etc. – and have numerous places for them to hide.

I already knew my hero was a Texas Ranger, the tall, dark and dangerous type, who preferred the assignments that sent him out alone, far from civilization. My mental picture of the heroine was his total opposite, a fragile-looking woman with golden hair.

Golden? Aha! A gold mining town. But was gold ever mined in Texas in the 1800’s? The answer, it turned out, was yes. Not much, and never profitably, but there were gold mines in Texas in the 1800’s.

Most gold mining took place in the far southwest part of the state, in the area called Big Bend. There was some mining in the Davis Mountains, and also in Presidio County. The Mexicans and Spanish are said to have left behind ristras, granite bedrock milling stones, on the banks of creeks after abandoning their mining attempts. There are persistent legends of large veins scattered through the land, enough to keep panhandlers searching. Even today, panning turns up small amounts of gold around the ruins of Fort Davis.

The part of Texas I chose is a high desert area, remote, difficult to get to by wagon, but with sufficient water and wood for a town to be built. [For pictures of the area, visit photographer Diane Lacey’s site] Fort Davis, established by the United States army in 1854, was a day’s ride away, close enough to give the inhabitants of my town supplies and contact with others, but not so close that the bad guys would avoid the area. While researching the history of Fort Davis, I found mention of a wave of gold seekers coming through on their way to California from San Antonio. Their need of protection helped drive the placement of the fort. Fort Davis was manned from 1854-1891. Touch of Texas takes place in 1890.

I now had enough of a factual foundation on which to build my fictitious town. I placed the town of Lucinda, named for the founder’s persnickety wife, out in the middle of that deserted area.

From all I’ve read no one, person or mining company got wealthy digging gold in west Texas, but dig they did. And for a fiction writer, that’s all we need to create our own little piece of the past. Maybe Mark Twain had it right – although I’d rather consider myself a weaver of a tall tale rather than a liar.


Panning for Texas Gold – Ira Kennedy

Handbook of Texas Online

Texas Gold Locations (user submitted listing)

Lost Gold Mines of Texas (NYTimes article)

Davis Mountains State Park (Texas Parks & Wildlife Division)

Welcome, Tracy Garrett!

Tracy Garrett

Touch of Texas

Available Now!


A blizzard blows Texas Ranger Jake McCain to Rachel Hudson’s cabin and trouble is right behind him. He’s badly wounded. Taking care of him is the right thing to do, but she knows the local gossips won’t see it that way. Suddenly, everything Rachel’s fought for is at stake—and the past she’d hoped to escape looms over her future. Still, when Jake turns his dark gaze on her, all she wants is his strong, seductive touch…


Jake McCain has never stayed in one place. A home and a family aren’t for the likes of a man accustomed to the rough life of the trail. But when he sees the trouble she’s in, he can’t leave her behind. Not when her innocent kisses burn straight into his soul, and the sight of her smile is the only bounty he cares to collect…

Touch of Texas is set in the Wild West. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I grew up on stories of this time period. My grandmother was the youngest daughter on a wheat farm on the edges of society in North Dakota. Oh, the stories she tells! She instilled the love of history in my mother, who passed it on to me. I’ve always loved cowboys: Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Tex Ritter, Clint Eastwood... I love the “pioneer spirit” the sense of adventure - or at least of possibilities - that led people to explore and settle places on this continent they’d never heard of, let alone seen. Can you imagine loading only your most precious possessions into a wagon, tying a length of canvas over the top of it, and joining a dozen other wagons to walk from Virginia to Texas?!

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

All that unsavory personal hygiene – I chose to leave out the details since most of us have studied enough of the period to have an idea… No need to belabor the point. I tried to keep in mind that written accounts of the period are probably like our own time. Most of what is recorded in today’s media is slanted to press home a viewpoint. Chances are, the same thing happened in the 1800s. Anything is possible with smart, driven, ambitious humans. So I ‘bent the corner of the envelope,’ so to speak, and let my characters be people, not historical figures.

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

The hero, Jake McCain, knocked on my creative door one morning with a story to tell and wouldn’t go away. The heroine, Rachel Hudson, came from a History Channel segment on the brothels in El Paso, Texas, in the 1800’s. I began to wonder how a young woman could escape that life, and Rachel was ‘born.’

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 there was gold mining in Texas until I began my research for Touch of Texas. It was never a large operation, and never profitable, but mining did go on.

What/Who do you like to read?

Anything with words on a page! I love to read. I always have. I remember once, in high school, I was helping ready a house in my home town for a refugee family, and found a stash of books in the attic. They had to come looking for me – I got lost in the pages of some old book. I read almost anything in the romance genre. Currently at the top of my TBR pile: Lorraine Heath’s Just Wicked Enough, Christina Dodd’s Scent of Darkness, and Linda Lael Miller’s A Wanted Man.

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. I write mostly linearly, although sometimes a scene pops into my head fully formed and I write it out, even though it won’t come into the story until much later. I usually clean up as I go, although that bogs down the creative process and gives my muse a headache.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m writing the follow-up story to Touch of Texas. The hero is Wolf Richards, a broken-hearted loner whom you meet in Touch of Texas. His beautiful, perfect wife had been murdered and his children stolen. Now he’s trying to build a new life with his son, but intends to do it alone, because he’s not willing to risk being responsible for another woman. Enter Lizzie Sutton. The heroine is as opposite his late wife as you can get. She’s a rough-talking female with a soft center and a deadly aim with a gun. Think “The Outlaw Josie Wales” meets Calamity Jane! I’m having such fun bringing these two together.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for having me! I love talking history and books. My second book, currently titled Texas Rose, will be released by Kensington next year, so watch for it. Visit my website, www.tracygarrett.com, to keep up on the latest happenings and releases. And if you’re anywhere near any of my book signings, stop in and say hello. I’d love to meet you!

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