History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 November 2007

The Dilettani Society . . .

with Celia May Hart.
Here's one place ONE MORE TIME led me in research: The Dilettanti Society.

The Dilettanti or Dilettante Society was formed in the late eighteenth-century (1734) as members with an interest in classical art and sculpture. Their reputation rapidly descended into men interested more in the erotic aspects of the art, as opposed to a less sensual appreciation. What seemed important was the ability to describe what feelings the artwork invoked in one.

Horace Walpole said of it that "the nominal qualification for membership is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk." My hero comes up against more stringent membership requirements. I never spell it out, but you get the impression that the Hardy family would never be good enough for the Dilettanti Society.

My hero was in good company. Lord Elgin (he of the Elgin Marbles fame) couldn't get into the Dilettanti Society either. (He tried twice and was finally offered membership in 1831 but declined.) The problem being that Elgin collected antiquities to share with the public as a whole, for England, whereas he lacked the "connoisseur" quality of the other aristocratic, private collectors.

The Society was a place to show off one's collections from the Mediterranean area, and retell stories of one's Grand Tour. Members of the club became renowned for their collection, most of which ended up forming the beginning of the British Museum.

By the start of the nineteenth century, the club was wealthy enough to send people off to Italy and Greece on archaeological and artistic expeditions. Awareness of ancient works rose until England and France started vying to get the best of the antiquities as part of the Napoleonic wars.

So this is sounding very dry, but consider some of the members of the Dilettanti Society over the years: the Earl of Sandwich is reputed to have an enthusiasm for sex equal to his passion for antiquities.

Younger collectors preferred to collect pieces that were, frankly, phallic, and graphic depictions of the sex act.

Naked female sculptures were worshipped by the like of Sir Francis Dashwood, which interestingly, seems to be have been part of the sea-change of men's view of women during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the unclothed statues were so revered, that real flesh and blood women came to be seen as objects. (We know, because Hannah More complained about it.)

Yep, looks like we can blame the Dilettanti Society for that one!

It's even exemplified in the relationship of Sir William Hamiliton (a Dilettanti Society member) and Emma Hart, later Hamilton. The stories are commonly known of how Hamilton posed Emma in a variety of classic poses -- just like the statues he collected.

Richard Payne Knight privately published "An Account of the Worship of Priapus" in 1786. (It somehow found its way outside of Knight's immediate circle.) The cover page (which for the sake of modesty I'll not put up here) included an etching of.... well, there are certain parts of the male extremities more or less likely to fall off sooner, by the virtue of being so exposed.

My, wasn't that diplomatic. And so that's how the Society caught my eye, inspired a whole bunch of stuff that a Dilettanti Society member probably never even dreamed of doing....

(source: the book my editor suggested I read  (so of course I did): "The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century" by John Brewer.)

28 November 2007

Fawning over Flora

A Toast to the Immortal Memory of Emma, Lady Hamilton!

A few weeks ago, I had the incandescent pleasure of being present at the opening of an exhibit of Emma Hamilton memorabilia at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library on the autumn leaf-strewn campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I tried to convince people that I was just in Philadelphia for the cheese steaks, but they knew better.

Although I had only heard about the event a few days earlier, with the help of my terrific publicist at NAL (who I just found out is leaving there today--isn't that the way it always happens?), I let them know that I am the author of TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma Lady Hamilton, a current release and the only work of historical fiction written in decades on Emma-- and that I would be delighted to attend the exhibit. I promised the hoydens I would let everyone know about the experience.
Art collector Jean Kislak and novelist Amanda Elyot

On display, supplemented by items from the University of Pennsylvania's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, was the private collection of Jean Kislak, an art collector and Emma Hamilton aficionado. Lining two long walls were portraits of Emma (including a couple of Romneys, one of which I would have loved to have grabbed for my home office wall) as well as one of the famous portraits of her lover Charles Greville, numerous documents including letters and ledger books, correspondence to and from Emma, her husband Sir William Hamilton, and her lover, Lord Nelson. It was enough to make an Emma idolizer like me tremble and tear up.

The head of the library asked me to stand up, introduced me, and told everyone that if he'd known sooner about me and TOO GREAT A LADY, I would have been added to the program

But the real guests of honor were Ms. Kislak and the noted historical biographer Flora Fraser, whose biography of Emma Hamilton, BELOVED EMMA, first published in 1986, is, in my opinion, the definitive nonfiction account of Emma Hamilton's life. Ms. Fraser's book was a valuable research asset as I was writing TOO GREAT A LADY. Now, I would get the opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated her book, present her with a signed copy of my novel, and ask her to autograph the copy of her book that I had dog-eared and highlighted, hoping that I wouldn't appear like too much of a groupie.

But Ms. Fraser was graciousness itself. And it was a treat to have the chance to talk with her about a woman we both admired so much.

After wine and nibblies (no cheese steaks), Ms. Fraser and Ms. Kislak spoke to the dozens of people who had gathered to see the exhibit about Emma's life and how Ms. Kislak came to acquire her collection of rare "Emma-rabilia" (I just coined that this second on less than a full night's sleep, so please don't groan too loudly). Ms. Fraser gave a quick summary of Emma's biography, also referring to certain incidents in Emma's life, particularly during her youth, that may or may not actually have taken place.
Historical biographer Flora Fraser and novelist Amanda Elyot

After the talk, I briefly spoke with Ms. Fraser and brought up one of those did-it-happen-or-not incidents she had referred to: the fifteen-year-old Emma dancing naked on the tabletop of her lover, Sir Harry Fetherstonehaugh. I loved the possibility that this might have happened and it became one of my favorite scenes in TOO GREAT A LADY, relishing one of the joys of being a novelist--that we get to play with the "what-ifs." Secretly, I hoped that she would read my novel and not mentally "downgrade" me for doing just that--filling in the gaps and imagining what might have taken place within the framework of historical accuracy.

I wish I'd had more time that evening to view the exhibit because I could have spent hours examining the treasures enclosed within each case. There were people to meet and schmooze, a book to promote. Even though I've had something like a dozen books published, I still get surprised when someone wants to meet me.

Although there was a Romney portrait of Emma's head, wreathed as a Bacchante which I'd never seen before, I kept returning to the most touching item in Ms. Kislak's collection: Horatia Nelson's crib. In that large, fraying, mahogany and brown wicker basket slept the ultimate love child of the 19th century, the only offspring of the passionate affair between Emma and Nelson.

Horatia was born in London at 23 Piccadilly on or about January 29, 1801 while Nelson was away at sea. He was horribly anxious for Emma's pregnancy, which of course had to be kept as secret as possible. He invented an alter ego, a sailor named Thompson, who was the expectant father, so that without fear of censorship (his letters were often open and read by the Admiralty before they were sent on to their recipient) he could express his overflowing emotions to Emma, who he had chosen, in their epistolary fiction, to be the guardian of Thompson's child (being carried by a fictional pregnant London sweetheart) .

Nelson rarely had the opportunity to see Horatia because he spent her first few years mostly at sea, and of course was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. But he did cherish the rare days they had together, and the little idyll he enjoyed with Horatia and Emma at Merton in late August and early September of 1805. Nelson spoiled his little daughter rotten.

There's a wonderful story where she asked him for a dog and he wrote to Emma to tell her that there were no dogs at sea--but while he was busy trying to track down the French fleet and defeat Napoleon, he managed to find (or had made) a delicate gold pendant on a chain. Much of the delicate disk is cut away to reveal a shape inside the circle. You guessed it: it's a dog.

Horatia never learned that Emma was her biological mother. She had always been told that Emma was her guardian, and to spare her from being tarred by society with the same brush that had painted Emma Hamilton immoral, it was best just to leave the identity of the mother of the British naval hero's only offspring a mystery. Horatia resented Emma like mad and was horribly rude to her as an adolescent (this may be par for the course for mothers of adolescent girls, though). Emma bore the insults, but didn't crack. Although she scolded Horatia for not treating her with the respect due to a mother, she never told the girl that she was her real mother after all.

There's no photo of Horatia's crib in the glossy catalog from the exhibit. It's hard to tell from this one that the crib is raised off the ground (it's at waist to chest height) and was on display within a huge glass vitrine. I let my imagination wander to "dear Merton," the little estate in Surrey that Emma had fixed up for Nelson, to the room where Horatia lay in this crib, where Emma might have sung her to sleep and Nelson stroked her soft brown hair off her forehead. After Horatia outgrew it, the crib went to the family of Nelson's beloved younger sister "Katty" Matcham. Ms. Kislak eventually acquired it through their descendants.

After the discussion about the exhibit, my husband and I were among about 30 people invited upstairs to a dinner in the library's oak paneled dining room. I was seated next to the rare books curator, which is a bit like sending a six-year-old into FAO Schwarz. It was such a treat to have the chance to discuss all my "friends" -- Emma, and Nelson, and Sir William Hamilton, and the subject of my next historical novel, Mary Robinson, with a room full of freakishly erudite, fascinating people who shared the same enthusiasm for them. Among the guests was a Nelson biographer who bought a copy of my novel (I'd brought about a half dozen with me). I can't remember when I'd so enjoyed a meal, and it wasn't just the Beef Wellington.

Nearly every time I mentioned an historical figure, or a period I was interested in writing about, the rare books collection curator would turn to his right and say, "See that door?" Behind that oaken door lay this history hoyden's bibliophilic fantasies.

And when I mentioned the 18th century actress/royal mistress/poet/feminist Mary Robinson, because my February release from NAL, ALL FOR LOVE, is Mary's story, it felt like I'd hit another jackpot. Just a few feet away from me, seated on the other side of the table, was a young English professor who not only teaches Mary, he just submitted an academic paper on her.

The Emma Hamilton exhibit, titled " 'Surely no person was ever so happy as I am': Emma Hamilton's Path to Fame" will be on display at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center on the University of Pennsylvania's campus in Philadelphia until February 17, 2008, and admission is free of charge.

U. of P. library people would like me to come back and do an event while the exhibition is still up and running, speaking to a group about how a historical novelist goes about her research. That prospect is exciting in itself, but I'm still tingling over seeing so much original correspondence, caricatures, portraits and other papers pertaining to Emma Hamilton--and I remain most profoundly moved by seeing Horatia's crib.

Have you seen or handled primary source material pertaining to your characters? Touched what they did, or might have? Walked in their footsteps? How did it make you feel, and what impact did it have on your novel?

Also, have you ever met and conversed with an author whose book you relied on for your research? What was it like?

27 November 2007

Welcome, Celia May Hart (third time's a charm!).

Celia May Hart

One More Time

Available Now from Aphrodeisa!

Travel back to a world where lords and ladies ruled the ton by day and wild, wanton abandon ruled them at night...

Abby Deane has no problems piloting a small plane to her new job -- until she lands and realizes she has traveled back in time to Regency England. She's fascinated by everything around her, especially the seductive Myles Hardy. If she can't get back to her own time, she might as well enjoy the potent sensuality simmering beneath that rock hard body...

Myles Hardy can't take his eyes off the mysterious and alluring woman who's suddenly appeared in front of him. Miss Abby Deane talks of the future, but it is pleasuring her here and now that most intrigues him. And her bag of sensual delights holds the key to revealing her most secret desires and forbidden fantasies...

RT TOP PICK. 4.5 STARS!! "This scorching roller-coaster of a read is an erotic page-turner. It has romance, intrigue, licentious nobility, a Greek god come to life and an unexpected ending. Feisty Abby and sensual Myles are the perfect couple to surmount the obstacles in their way. This may have been the first book I've read by Hart, but it certainly won't be the last!" -- Bella March, Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine

One More Time is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

One More Time is very briefly set during the present-day England. Very briefly, because I prefer to get into the historical period as quickly as possible. So our heroine time-traveled and I was much more comfortable! I just love that it’s an elegant period, without being as rigid as the Victorian period. You could still have fun.

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

A girl still had to take care of her reputation. And here I have a modern heroine that had to adjust to a different set of social standards. I got around that by having them initially alone in a house (don’t have to worry about anyone else) and then when the house’s real owners showed up, well, they had a bit of a reputation themselves. Readers of my earlier book, SHOW ME, might recognize them -- it’s the Duke of Winterton and his family.

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

I came up with this super way-out idea. I thought, “My editor’s never going to go for this.” And she did. Hook, line and sinker. I was doing some reading for an earlier book, and my editor pointed out “The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century” and there it all was: a club that collected ancient artifacts, and er, if it were erotic or naked so much the better. Well, more of that later in the week :)

But how could you not write about that? And then it wasn’t just about the statues but well, a whole wild paranormal twist that made it “super way-oout”.

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

Beyond reading through “The Pleasures of the Imagination” and doing some research on modern sex toys, nope that was it!

What/Who do you like to read?

I have new must read authors. I probably mentioned Elizabeth Bear last time. She writes science fiction/fantasy. The latest “ooh” is Sarah Monette. She writes the most amazing fantasy novels. I’ve read the first two and just could not put down the second. I was snatching minutes to read it and channeling one of the protaganists. The only time that’s ever happened before is with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan.

The last romance I read was Pam Rosenthal’s “The Slightest Provocation” in which she truly touched my heart, so I have to find a place for that quote that got to me. I’m currently reading Janet Mullany’s “The Rules of Gentility”. I’ve just started it, but I expect to do a fair amount of giggling and maybe even an indelicate snigger or three.

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?

Once you sell, well, it stops being finishing a novel from beginning to end and writing proposals. I’m a mix of pantsing and plotting. (More of a plotter.) But even so, I find that I have an idea for the beginning and just pants the first three chapters. At that point I stop and plot how I think the rest of the book will go. I run it by my brainstorming gals, the Goofy Gals: Judy Laik, Jacquie Rogers and Sherrie Holmes, and they point out all the Mac Truck sized plot holes and so it goes.

I really miss writing a novel all the way through though.

26 November 2007

Moment in Time

Inspiration comes in so many ways. Not long ago we talked about the first books to interest us in history. My first was a volume on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. But the more I thought about it, the more I realize that it was a progression of books that caught my interest, drew me to writing about relationships and romance and, finally, prompted me to do something besides think about it. In my last post I wrote about books that were character based – that drew me to romance. My thanks to Tracy for starting th is discussion.

One of the obscure books that drew me to social history rather than political is Christopher Morley’s essay The History of an Autumn. Of course it is possible that Morley is as obscure as his work. He was one of the founders of the Saturday Review of Literature, a judge for the Book Of the Month Club, edited two editions of Roget Thesaurus and wrote both fiction and non-fiction including, Kitty Foyle, a novel that was turned into a much better known movie. (I wonder what kind of money an option was worth in those days?)

History of an Autumn is a picture of the world sliding towards war. Hitler had already begun his march to conquer was slowed by the signing of the Munich Agreement with Britian’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938. We now call it appeasement, but some actually hoped it would mean peace.

The opening quote of Morley’s book is what hooked me: a reporter for the NY Times asked people in Paris what they thought of The Crisis. A laborer responded, “I don’t know, I live in the suburbs.” What has stayed in my mind for such a long time is the idea that some people, whether they were leaders or laborers, did not realize or refused to accept that their world was about to be changed dramatically if not destroyed completely. Fifty million people died in World War II. Morley was surely not the only one to write of an uncertain future while living life as though they had been spared.

There are so many other times when man has tried to ignore the inevitable. The French Revolution comes to mind. Also, the attitude of some towards desegregation. Can you think of other examples? Or any books that, like Morely’s, address a moment of time that most historians ignore?

Let’s keep them all before 1950 so this is a historical discussion and not a political one.

Here is one of my favorite Morley quotes: "Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity."

22 November 2007

Of Crannogs and Léines

Some tidbits of Scottish history from Jean Gordon.

For many readers, Scotland brings visions of brawny heroes in kilts and great stone castles. Not so for a tenth century Highland hero.

Rather than a kilt, he would have dressed in a knee-length léine made of white or unbleached linen or, perhaps, linen dyed saffron yellow. His léine might have been decorated with gold or red embroidery at the neck and cuffs.

To keep out the Highland chill, he’d throw a brat around his body and fasten it at the shoulder with a brooch. Brats were of varying length, depending on the occasion and the rank of the wearer, and were variegated or many-colored, according to ancient accounts. The more colors, the higher our hero’s rank.

And our hero may have lived in a Crannog fortress instead of a stone castle. Crannogs are ancient loch-dwellings found throughout Scotland and Ireland. The remnants of one have also been discovered in Llangorse Lake in Wales. In Scotland, early Crannogs were typically round, timber structures built on a platform in a loch. They were supported by piles or stilts driven into the lochbed. Later, and in more barren environments, rock was piled into the lochbed to make an island on which to build the structure.

His island home would have been divided into several rooms with a hearth in one and a hole in the middle of the thatched roof to allow smoke to escape. It may have had a small jetty connecting it to the shore or a causeway zigzagging below the surface of the loch. Residents would know the pattern of the causeway went, but attackers would not. Crops would have been grown, and cattle grazed, on the shore.

The earliest Crannog in Scotland dates back some 5,000 years. But they were built, modified, and used up until the 17th century, more likely as hunting and fishing stations or holiday residences in the latter years. Today, Crannogs may appear as tree-covered islands in Highland lochs.


21 November 2007

Hooked on Classics Part III, or At Least Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Elgin Marbles

I seem to want to give my blog entries multiple titles these days. Probably because I recently sent my publisher a list of possible titles for my next novel (late 2008), after the publisher rejected the one I really, really wanted. (Oh well, my agent wisely comforted me, let's save that gorgeous title for some future gorgeous book -- what a canny psychologist, I thought, a good literary agent is, and thank heaven for that.)

While as for the second title of this blog entry (with due respect to Wallace Stevens), I thought of it because of Julia Justiss's recent post here, and her reference to the Elgin Marbles, about which she'll be posting more in the future.

And I realized I wanted to write about these art objects as well and wondered if I'd be stepping on toes. But I decided, (qua -- or beyond -- Stevens) that every historical romance writer who decides to write about the Elgin Marbles will write about them differently, and the more the merrier. And anyway, why should we be any different from the multitudes who came before us?

Because to look at these astonishing objects (what they were and what people thought they were) is to take up a a checquered, embroidered map of misreadings and contending agendas. To write about them is simply to extend the map a little into one's own territory.

One could begin (and many have) by disputing whether we ought to be calling them the Elgin Marbles at all. As with so many cultural, political issues, names matter. If you hear them called the Parthenon Marbles, chances are the speaker is of the party that believes they belong back in Athens. Lord Byron was only the loudest (and probably the most splenetic) in a controversy that went back to before the British Museum bought the objects in 1816, but there were plenty of folks who agreed with him.

Still are. You can go to the very spiffy and well-documented website of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and find out a great deal more about it. And even if you don't follow out the link, you might be interested to know that Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian McKellen, and Fiona Shaw are all supporters.

I think I am too. At the very least I'm convinced that there's a good case to be made that Lord Elgin didn't really get permission to hack away at the Parthenon as he did. And it also seems to me that countries of origin should have the rights to their treasures. Not to speak of how fantastic it would be to see all that's left of the Parthenon all in one place, displayed to best reveal them, in the museum that Greece is building.

But I have to say "I think." Because I sincerely am confused about how far it goes. Does every art treasure go back to its place of origin? I can only imagine the great sucking sound of a vacuum cleaner going through the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's wonderful classical wing (and other wings too) and how much the poorer I'd be for it. There's been a lot of controversy lately about these issues -- the Peabody Museum at Yale University recently concluded a historic deal with the government of Peru wherein it would return many of the treasures to the original site at Machu Picchu. And if ever I finish the book I'm writing, I'd like to read more about some recent sleazier art deals at the Getty Museum.

But there is still the book to finish, and novelist-concerns to be worked on, like the two complementary scenes where my hero and heroine encounter each other among the marbles (first meeting in April, with rain coming down upon the skylight and later, in July, with the gallery sunlit). The meetings bracket a London Season. And the skylight? Only a historical novelist could be so happy for the discovery of the skylight -- which you will not find in the room where the marbles are kept now, but only in the temporary one where they were kept until 1832, and which I have only now chased down the engravings.

And perhaps only a lifelong English major like me could be so happy to have discovered along the wayside, a possible answer to something that has gnawed at me since I first read Keats's "Ode to a Grecian Urn" in high school.

Though it wasn't until I took my current heroine to the British Museum (and had her peek into a case of vases in the company of her fellow silver fork author the young Benjamin Disraeli), that I realized that I've always been peeking at vases in museums, wondering which of them was, as my foppish young Disraeli puts it, "the pot the poet wrote about." And I've always been disappointed not to see some of the scenes.

But it's only as a part of my study of the marbles for this book that I found this one:
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

And it's not on a pot at all. In fact, according to Nigel Spivey's terrific overview of Greek Art, it's more likely this scene over to the right (poor, sweet heifer) from the Parthenon Marbles' frieze.

Which frieze, as a whole, might be portraying the yearly Panathenaic Procession (qua my hero and heroine's April meeting) or a mythical, sacrificial one (qua July)... but that's another controversy, and another way to look at the marbles... of which there are clearly a great deal more than thirteen.

Have you been fortunate enough to see the Elgin, or the Parthenon, Marbles in the British Museum?

And what do you think about these big, head-achy issues of art and repatriation?

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20 November 2007

Welcome, Jean C. Gordon!

My Lady Viking
byJean C. Gordon
Available Now!

They should be enemies — instead they become lovers.

Aedan Hakonson spent his childhood hating the Norse and his adult life fighting them. The son of a Norse warrior and a Caithness noblewoman, he's never forgiven his father for abandoning his mother and him. Battle weary and heavy-hearted, Aedan is wary of relying on anyone for anything.

Kara Thorddatter is a Viking warrior. For all intents and purposes, she's her father's second son and better suited for the world of a Viking warrior than her studious older brother. If only her father and stepmother would acknowledge that fact and let her lead the independent life she wants.

When Kara's brother disappears in a storm off the coast of Alba, she and Aedan are drawn together into a mutual quest for a hidden Viking hoard—a quest that reveals love is the real treasure.

My Lady Viking is set in Tenth Century Scotland. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I’ve felt a connection to Scotland since I was a child and read a book about Mary Queen of Scots, called The Four Marys. After that, I read everything I could find on Mary, and I’ve done minor research about Scotland for fun most of my adult life. I became interested in early Scots history when my daughter and her husband joined a reenactment group. They were part of a Tenth Century Scots-Viking mercenary band. She bought a couple of wonderful books on the British Isles and the Norse because they wanted to be authentic. I looked at the books and was hooked.

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

What I like least is also what I like best. Details about this period are difficult to pin down. So it’s hard to accurately describe everyday life. On the plus side, it’s less likely a reader will catch an inaccuracy.

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

My son-in-law and his friends in their battle garb practicing “battle” at our farm. My sil was a model for my hero Aedan.

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

I did a tremendous amount of research for My Lady Viking, probably more than I needed to. I was having so much fun researching that I had to make myself stop and start writing the book. I came across too many new and interesting things to list in just one blog. But ancient architecture is one thing I found fascinating, along with the rights women in the Norse and Celtic cultures had.

What/Who do you like to read?

I have eclectic tastes. I like historicals, heartwarming family-centered contemporaries and some chick-lit/comedies and YA. I loved Marilyn Pappano’s Bethlehem series and Judith Arnold’s The Marriage Bed. Some of my always read authors are Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Laura Kinsale, Anne Stuart, Maggie Shayne, Eloisa James. Brenda Joyce (her nonfantasy historicals), Beverly Lewis, Sara Donati, Kathleen Eagle, Deborah Smith, Beth Patillo, and Barbara Samuel. My all-time favorite category romance is Better Than Before by Judith Duncan.

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 plotter, but the way I write seems to be changing. I like to have my beginning and ending down pretty solid before I start. The middle develops as I’m writing, but I generally have a couple of the middle scenes firmly in mind, too. I always write my synopsis early, after the first couple of scenes or the first chapter or, sometimes, even before I write. It’s usually short — four or five pages. If I think of a scene as I’m writing, I make a note in my book file about the scene.

For my first four of books — including My Lady Viking — I wrote my day’s words (however many or few). The next day I read and revised those words and wrote my new day’s words. At the end of each chapter, I revised again and passed the chapter on to my critique group. Then, I made any changes from my critiquers that I thought needed to be made. We don’t always agree. Once the books were done, I gave my manuscripts another read and revise.,

The last two books, I’ve written the entire chapter before going back and revising and I’ve been writing chapters out of order. After writing My Lady Viking, I felt my endings were rushed and could be better. I strengthened the ending of My Lady Viking in the editing process after it sold. So, I’ve been going ahead and writing my last two or three chapters before I finish the middle when I’m fresher and not in the “I just want to get this book done” stage. This drives my critiquers crazy because they don’t want to read out of order and don’t want to wait for the next chapter of the story. I still make my critiquers’ changes as I get them and go over the complete manuscript one more time after it’s done.

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m almost finished with another short contemporary for Avalon Books. Then, I have an idea for a book with Kara’s (the heroine in My Lady Viking) brother, a warrior turned monk, and a Rus princess. I also have a longer contemporary about a motocross racer that I’ve had in the works for a while.

19 November 2007

Kalen’s Pyrate Diary—Part the Fyrst

My friend Jess and I are attending the 2008 Pyrate Con in New Orleans (April 18-20) where I’ll be giving a couple of costume workshops (not sure of the final topics just yet) that center around the clothing of the Golden Age of Piracy (1680-1730).

I’m really excited about it . . . and it means I finally have an excuse to make my own version of the pink watered silk stays in the Victoria and Albert collection (ok they’re c. 1670, but I don’t care, I mean just look at them)!

Of course this also means I have to get crackin’ on a full costume. Jess and I could put together enough Fantasy Pirate costumes for all the Hoydens and then some right out of our closets (I think we have something crazy like 60+ years of re-enactment between us, Ack!), but it never pays to be the costume authority who looks like they don't know what they're talking about, or whose costume is "perioid" (vs. period).

I’ve hit upon the fabric for my coat (a fab pinkish velvet with black accents, you can see it to the left; not 100% accurate as it's not a silk or wool velvet, but sometimes you have to make do *sigh*), and selected a pattern to use as a starting place. I went with one from Reconstructing History, because I know they have a passion for historical accuracy, and they're just good people. Their patterns are so good in fact, that they were used to create the clothing for National Geographic's Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah.

Sometimes a pattern makes it all go faster, and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m running backwards through a vat of molasses (I often use the pattern as a starting point for the correct shape of the pieces, but draft the garment from scratch by draping it). We'll see how this one works out . . .

From time to time over the next six months I'll be posting here about my progress, complete with pictures and horror stories (there are always horror stories, LOL!). Perhaps in my next post we'll talk about buttons, as I've completely lost my mind and decided to make my own in the period style. *grin* Or maybe by then I'll know a bit more about how the costume is taking shape . . .

But for now, let's bring it back around to the world of romance. I've never written a pirate romance, but I can sure feel the temptation coming on . . . anyone out there love a good pirate romance? If so, tell me which ones you love and why!

17 November 2007

Love on Horseback: Win a Signed Coverflat!

I'm heavily into revisions on my next book, SHADOW RIDER, and I struggle daily with procrastination. I surf the net. I'm addicted. I go online and join readers groups, and blabber away longer than I should.

Last week, I was considering writing in a love scene where the hero and heroine are amorous on horseback. Getting started on that scene has been a challenge . . . and I must say I think actually doing the deed on horseback would be technically impossible. But I posted on a readers group, and asked for help. I asked for titles of romance books that had such a scene so I could study up.
Before that, I knew of only one book, Johanna Lindsey's SAVAGE THUNDER (Fabio is on the cover of the original 1989 release) where such a scene occurs . . . but boy, did the readers came through!

I now have 17 books on my list where the hero and heroine are making love on horseback, and yes, most, but not all, are historical romances! A rodeo cowboy even wrote me and assured me all things are possible on a horse. Really. ;-)

I would like to add to my collection, so if anyone out there can send me a name of a book (it doesn't have to be romance; Savage Thunder excluded) where the hero and heroine are making love on horseback, I'll send you an autographed cover flat of DARK RIDER! While supplies last. Yes. Really! And even if you don't know a title, post a comment, offer your opion. Do you think this kind of scene works? Or would it jar you out of the story?

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16 November 2007

Gauchos & Gumption: An Argentine Honeymoon

My grandmother’s name was Leora Marie Boessen. She grew up in Langlois, Curry County, Oregon, and when she was 18, she received a telegram from an old classmate, Claude Banning. “I am three hundred miles south of Buenos Aires. There are no women. Will you come?”

It was 1910, and Claude had traveled to the South American pampas with his father, mother, and younger brother (Burrel, Lizzie and Ray Banning) to make a killing in cattle ranching. Or so they thought.

Leora (always called Marie) accepted. Claude returned and they were married in Langlois and immediately sailed for Panama. At Panama City they left the ship, hired mules and a guide, and hacked their way through the jungle to Colón, where they caught a ship for Buenos Aires.

A week before her marriage, Marie’s ankle had been crushed by a runaway horse, but, on her crutches, she managed to climb the mountain in Rio de Janeiro with a statue of Christ on top. Afterward, in a pique she threw the crutches overboard before they reached Buenos Aires. She limped badly all her life.

They took a train south from Buenos Aires for some 200 miles, then rode the rest of the way on horseback to Chilean Canyon and the cattle “ranch.” I have a set of crude photographs of the area, and of their activities, which my grandmother shot with a Brownie box camera.

Claude and Marie spent two years living out of a tent, chumming with their gaucho ranch-helpers on the desolate, lonely plains, baking in summer and freezing in winter. I am particularly fond of the photo of Marie, below) seated by a lone campfire in the middle of nowhere, “making tea.”

Another astonishing picture shows my grandmother and her mother-in-law, Lizzie Rice Banning, ironing their starched white aprons and petticoats! Marie took to wearing “gaucho” pants and floppy gaucho hats, but Lizzie never did. And Lizzie always carried a little pistol in her apron pocket.

In October, 1911, Marie became pregnant. They headed back to civilization, traveling in a wooden wagon pulled by a team of horses. The journey took them about 6 months, and in June 1912, when they reached Buenos Aires, the baby [my mother] was born in a Buenos Aires hospital. Her birth certificate is a page torn from the Bible, across which is scrawled her name in Spanish: “Americano, Mary Elizabeth Banning.”

The baby did not thrive. Finally in desperation Claude rode a hundred miles to a telephone and called a physician in New Orleans, who prescribed goat’s milk.

The baby improved, but when she was six months old, Claude and Marie decided to leave the family’s Argentine cattle operation and sail back to the United States.

This caused a family rift, even though later, with the outbreak of World War I, the rest of the family followed. (The photo at the left is of Claude and his younger brother, Ray). They settled in Oregon, on a ranch near Dixonville (east of Roseburg in Douglas County). Marie was ecstatic at being back in civilization, and two more children were later born.

But leaving the Argentine pampas broke Claude’s heart. All his life my grandfather kept his iron cattle brand and his two leather-holstered pistols and his clay maté cup hanging on the bedroom wall. And each day for the rest of his life he read the Buenos Aires newspaper, La Pravda (I think it was called), in Spanish.

I am fascinated by people’s lives, especially the lives of relatives. There’s a book in the making (mine) on Marie Banning and her honeymoon in the Argentine.

15 November 2007

Welcome Again, Tracy Ann Warren

My Fair Mistress
by Tracy Ann Warren
Available Now!

The Mistress Trilogy is set in Regency England, as was your debut Trap trilogy. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I have always loved the Georgian, Colonial and Regency periods, naturally seeming to gravitate in my study of history to the British Isles, the English kings, queens and nobility. As a teenager, I read my first Regency historical romance and fell in love with that era. There is something very special about this time period with its careful manners and elegant style, the glamour of the Ton and the gritty heroism of the Peninsular Wars. For me, the Regency has an almost modern sophistication while still retaining all the gentle grace and slower style of the old world. Plus, the clothes are wonderful, especially the men’s’. Who doesn’t love a guy in a tailcoat and breeches with a sexy chapeau bras tucked beneath his arm?

Are the three books connected?

Yes. The Mistress Trilogy is a connected series, the books focusing on three longtime friends—ruthless financier Rafe Pendragon; debonair rake Ethan Andarton, Marquis of Vessey; and dark, sexy confirmed bachelor, Tony Black, Duke of Wyvern. In each book, these men will meet their match when they encounter the women who will show them the power and joy of love.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around, especially as you’re dealing with the slightly scandalous world of the demimonde?

Although my heroines do become mistresses, none of them are from the demimonde. One is a virtuous aristocratic widow--at least until she makes a bargain she never counted on with seductive Rafe Pendragon. My other two heroines are virgins--one who masquerades as a widow and the other who goes from rags to riches when her uncle offers her a London Season.

Other than a lack of sanitation in some parts of London, there really isn’t anything I dislike about the Regency period. I did have to do a bit of a balancing act when it came to the relationship between Rafe Pendragon and Julianna Hawthorne in My Fair Mistress. Julianna is a titled lady of the Ton, while Rafe is in “trade” as a financier and not respectable by Ton standards. Working out matters so the two of them could end up together presented some interesting challenges, one’s for which you’ll have to read the book to find out the resolution.

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

I was thinking about books I’ve read and really loved and the commonalities between them. One element that appealed to me was the idea of the hero having power over the heroine so that she is put in a position of acting in ways she might not normally. As a result, My Fair Mistress was born.

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

I did research on the various neighborhoods in London in order to find a residential area for my hero—one that would be considered good without it being Mayfair. I settled on Bloomsbury. I also did research on financiers, gleaning a great deal of interesting and useful information about one of England’s (and Europe’s) wealthiest, most successful financiers--Nathan Rothschild. Until I began researching him, I did not realize how pivotal he was in financing the Peninsular Wars and Wellington’s army in particular.

What/Who do you like to read?

There are many authors whose books I enjoy. Some of my all-time favorite classic romances are historicals by Judith McNaught and LaVryle Spencer. Lately, I’ve taken to reading a lot of paranormal romance—J.R. Ward and Kresley Cole are two of my auto-buy authors. And although I came to the game late, I just finished all seven of the Harry Potter books and can see why they’re such a phenomenon. What wonderful reads.

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 tend to use both pantser and plotter techniques. I often write the first chapter or two before I put my synopsis together. Once done, I then do a loose outline that highlights all the major turning points and character arcs of the book from beginning to end. With that in hand, I start writing in earnest, letting the story and the characters guide me where I need to go. I rarely know what kind of scene I’m going to write before I begin it, having only the general sense of the direction the story should take. Sometime, my characters, however, have other ideas and I’ve learned to trust my gut when something doesn’t feel right. In general, I write one draft, cleaning up here and there as I go. That’s not to say I don’t do re-writes—I do plenty of them, but I’ve found it works best to write the story then work with my editor to revise what needs changing.

What are you planning to work on next? Are we getting another trilogy? I love them. There’s just something wonderful about being able to gorge yourself on an author you love.

I am currently in negotiations with my publisher about my next Regency-era novels, and am not sure yet whether I will be doing another trilogy or if it will be a new series. Once all the details are complete, I will let my readers know. Please visit my website at www.tracyannewarren.com for the latest news and updates!

Thank you, Kalen, for this opportunity to chat with you and all the readers here at History Hoydens. It’s been great fun!

13 November 2007

What's In a Name?

An interesting discussion on Cate's Journal and Book Reviews recently got me thinking about names and forms of address. I blogged about names on on my own website this week, and as I still had more to say after writing a longer than usual post :-), I thought I’d go into it further here, with some historical examples.

Choosing a name is often one of first major decisions an author makes about a character. A name that fits the character, a name that fits the era, a name the character’s parents might believably have chosen, a name that doesn’t conflict with other names in the book. After one settles on the right name (which for me is often a long process involving lists and lots of consultations with baby name books, "The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names," and period family trees), one has to decide how the other characters in the book address that character. A particularly fraught question for an historical novelist when there are often so many possible names a person might be called (given name, surname, title, honorifics) and an intricate code about which names were used when and by whom.

I once heard Dorothy Dunnett give a talk where she discussed how brilliantly Georgette Heyer used different forms of address to delineate relationships between characters. For instance, in “These Old Shades," Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is “Avon” to most of his peers, “Alastair” to his old friend Hugh Davenant and to his old friend and sometime enemy Anthony Merivale (though both call him “Justin” in serious moments), and “Justin” to his brother and sister, not to mention “Satanas” in whispers among the beau monde and “Monseigneur” to Léonie. Dunnett uses this technique beautifully herself with Francis Crawford of Lymond, who is “Lymond” to most, “Mr. Crawford” to some, and also a variety of foreign titles he acquires in the course of his adventures. For someone to call him “Francis”–or for him to sign his given name to a letter–is a sign of great emotional intimacy. When a particular character who has addressed him as "Mr. Crawford" calls him "Francis" in the last book in the series, it indicates a profound upheaval in their relationship.

In many historical eras (certainly in the Regency/Napoleonic era when my own books are set) even husbands and wives addressed each other quite formally. Elizabeth Bennett’s parents always address each other as “Mr. Bennett” and “Mrs. Bennett”. We never know their given names. Turning to a real-life historical example, Emily Cowper (a patroness of Almack’s, the daughter of Lady Melbourne and sister of William Lamb) refers to her husband as “Lord Cowper” in her letters, But such formal address between husbands and wives was not invariably the case. Emily writes to her second husband (and long=time lover), Lord Palmerston, as “my dear Harry." Emily’s sister-in-law, Lady Caroline Lamb, refers to her husband as “William” not “Mr. Lamb." (Caroline refers to her lover Lord Byron as "Byron" however, leading one to wonder if anyone called the poet "George.") Caroline’s cousin, Harriet Cavendish, refers to her husband, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, as “Granville” (his given name, which later becomes his title, when he’s created Viscount and eventually Earl Granville).

Siblings tend to refer to each other by given names. At the same time Emily is calling her husband “Lord Cowper”, she is referring to her brothers as “William”, “George," and “Fred." This can make the sibling bond seem more intimate and informal than the marital one, which perhaps it was in some cases, given the separate lives led by a number of aristocratic husbands and wives. Certainly sibling relationships would go back to the nurserv and the schoolroom, before the people in question entered society with its elaborate social codes. The exception to given names between siblings is eldest sons who had a courtesy title. The title holder is usually referred to by his title, but more informally, without the “Lord.” Harriet Cavendish and her sister Georgiana (whom Harriet writes to as "G.”), refer to their brother, the Marquess of Hartington, as “Hart," even after he assumes their father’s title and becomes the Duke of Devonshire.

The fact that a fairly narrow list of names was used over and over by aristocratic British families (Edward, George, Henry, Charles, William, Caroline, Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, Henrietta, etc…) can make it difficult for the historical novelist to find names that sound appropriate to the period without repeating (“Persuasion” has, I believe, three characters named Charles). It also meant that nicknames, pet names, and shortened forms of names were likely to be employed. William Lamb and his brother George both married Carolines. The family referred to them as “Caro William” and “Caro George”. Georgiana Cavendish, named after her mother Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was “G.” or “little G.” Harriet Cavendish was named for her mother’s sister Henrietta, Lady Bessborough (Caroline Lamb’s mother) who was called “Harriet.” To differentiate her from her namesake, Harriet was called “Harryo” within the family.

Valets, ladies' maids, and butlers were traditionally addressed by their surname, while housekeepers would be "Mrs. [Surname]" (Mrs. Fairfax in ":Jane Eyre"). Lower servants (footmen, housemaids, kitchen maids) were usually called by their given name or in some cases simpy by a generic given name used for everyone in that position ("Edward" for the first foorman, etc..). Governesses were usually "Miss {Surname.]" But here again there were variations. Harriet Cavendish calls her long-time governess, Selina Trimmer, "Selina" in letters.

All of which leaves the historical novelist with myriad options for how characters address each other. A different form of address can give a completely different view of the character being address, the character speaking, and the relationship between the two (imagine if someone showed up who called Lady Catherine de Bourg “Kitty”). A couple who address each other as “Lord” and “Lady” or “Mr.” and “Mrs.” convey a different impression about their relationship from a couple who habitually use each other’s given names or endearments such as "my love, "my dear," "dearest," or "darling." A shift to a more or less formal form of address can indicate an emotional shift (for a bit in my book "Secrets of a Lady," Charles is so angry with Mélanie that he can’t call her anything more intimate than “madam"),

As a writer, do you enjoy thinking through how your different characters address each other? As a reader, do you notice these distinctions? Can you think of examples from books where names are used to delineate relationships in ways that are particularly memorable?

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What Historical Setting is Overlooked in Romance?

I've been surfing the net lately, reading AMAZON reader's groups, and someone posted the question "What historical setting would you like to see more of in romance?"

I've seen this question a few times, but the answer that turns up repeatedly and continues to surprise me is ROMANCE IN ANCIENT ASIA. Of the 30 or so regular posters on one AMAZON reader's group, many responded they would like to see ancient Japan as a setting for a romance. China, too.

Traditionally, these are places and times that romance publishers have nixed or not encouraged writers to write about. We all know it only takes a good movie or blockbuster book to set the trend in historical fiction, romantic historicals included, but we haven't seen many mass market/ trade paperbacks set in Asia.

What do you think authors and readers? What period in history may soon experience a revival in the romance genre? What would you like to see more of?


09 November 2007

A Proud Taste for Historical Fiction

Hello, all! I can't begin to express how thrilled I am to be joining this talented band of happy hoydens. First of all, it's lovely to finally get to be a hoyden. Far too few people use that word nowadays. One can occasionally be a shrew (in the right company), but seldom a hoyden, and almost never a minx.

While my experience with hoydenage may be minimal, my love affair with history began many a long year ago. In 1983, to be precise. I was six years old, and my father made the mistake of giving me E.L. Koenigsburg's "A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver." Once the book was opened, there was no going back. Having encountered historical fiction, I wanted more, more, more. My Eleanor of Aquitaine obsession abated, only to be replaced by a full blown Queen Victoria fixation, brought on by Jean Plaidy's "Victoria Victorious." When all the other little girls were dressing up as Madonna for Halloween, I was the one who went as Caroline of Ansbach, Queen Consort of George II, humming Handel's "Water Music" all the way.

Over the years, I've flirted with a number of historical periods. In college, I studied the Renaissance; in grad school, I culled the archives for obscure documents about Charles I; and these days, I write novels about dashing spies wreaking havoc during the Napoleonic Wars. But I'll always have a special place in my heart for Eleanor of Aquitaine and "A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver". I like to think she would have approved. Especially of all the handsome men in tight breeches.

What book got you hooked on historical fiction?

08 November 2007

How A Lifetime of Research Makes It Difficult to Cross the Street

with Jenna Petersen/Jess Michaels

One of my strongest early memories is of asking my Dad that classic child question, “Why is the sky blue?” Instead of giving me the answer or distracting me with toys and candy, he said, “Let’s look it up.”

Thus, I embarked on a lifetime of research. I was one of those weird kids who actually liked writing papers for school and watching documentaries on PBS. My Mom and Dad had a full set of encyclopedias and we were in the library all the time. And then the internet became readily available and it was like a whole new world opened up.

So when I began to pursue a career as a writer, my love of ‘looking it up’ made historical romance a pleasure to write. I mean, here I am, always looking for new facts, always discovering little tidbits that can make a book really sing.

Unfortunately, I have discovered, over the years, that my engrained desire to ‘look it up’ also means that I cannot live a normal life. For example, while I’m writing this, I have “Elf” playing in the background. My husband no longer enjoys watching movies at home with me because I can’t watch something without ‘looking it up’ on IMDB (the Internet Movie Database). I especially love the trivia function. I tend to pause and read them out loud, though. Why not share the research?

I also sometimes get bogged down in details when it comes to travel. I often wonder how my mother and father, who planned lovely, exciting and often ‘research-related’ (through museum visits) vacations without the internet and other resources readily available to us now. When I am readying to go to any town, I not only download maps, but do restaurant searches, zoo and um… museum research and lots of other fun things.

My favorite television programs? Things like Mythbusters (which is really research right there in itself). I mean, they take myths and prove or disprove them through scientific research and testing. It’s like a research-junkies best day ever.

So obviously if you visit here regularly, you are a history junkie, too! Where do you find yourself ‘looking it up’ in your daily life? And do you find that other people think you’re strange for doing so?

07 November 2007


First a huuuuuuuuuge sigh of relief. Now I want to open the champagne!

I just turned in the manuscript for ROYAL AFFAIRS. It’s been about five months from soup to nuts—from being offered the opportunity to pen this delicious peek between the royal bedsheets to how to structure it, to all the research and writing—and then the cutting! My editor gave me page count parameters, and my first draft was about 150pp over the high end of that scale. My ruthless slashing to meet the page count left a couple of fascinating royal mistresses on the cutting room floor. Having a page count forced me to create a gold standard in order for a liaison to remain: since the subtitle of the book is A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy, I had to ask myself if the affair itself was really as scandalous as all that, when compared to others in the book.

Being a published writer sometimes means that you have to kill some of your darlings (for various reasons, space often being one of them) But one of many wonderful things about being a history hoyden is that I have a place to share some of the stuff that didn’t make the cut with a group of like-minded cyber friends. During my work on ROYAL AFFAIRS I fell in love with one absolutely compelling woman who I ended up having to excise, unless I have a few pages of wiggle room to sneak her back into the book. She was one of my favorite royal mistresses, but while she behaved rather scandalously, her love affair with Charles II didn’t raise too many eyebrows. The Brits had seen worse. A lot worse.

Hortense Mancini (1646-1699) was the favorite niece—and heiress—of the extremely powerful Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Cardinal, had been the lover of Anne of Austria, mother of the young Louis XIV; and on the death of Louis XIII, the Cardinal and Anne ruled France as co-regents until her son attained his majority.

Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661)
The teenage Hortense had enjoyed a passionate affair with the future Charles II when he was an exile in France, but at the time the Cardinal didn’t think the youth’s prospects were adequate enough, so he quashed Charles’s hopes of marriage to his vibrant niece. After the Restoration, however, Mazarin was quite willing to change his mind, offering to dower Hortense with twenty-eight million livres; but Charles’s advisors cautioned him against choosing a French queen, and the Cardinal’s offer was rejected.

Hortense was quite the catch. Her black hair tumbled to her waist; her sparkling eyes changed color with the light. She was tall and slender, an accomplished sportswoman, musician, and linguist. And of course her pedigree was impeccable. In short, other than being French, she would have made the perfect queen.

But her uncle had cruelly dashed her hopes. Instead, Hortense was married off at the age of fifteen to the clinically mad Armand de la Porte, Marquis de Meilleraye, whom the Cardinal made Duc de Mazarin so that his name would live on.

A religious fanatic and maniacal prude, Armand abused Hortense both mentally and psychologically. Any mention of something even remotely sexual drove him further off the deep end. It was the most dreadful match imaginable for the hedonistic Hortense, who realized that she had no alternative but to flee, which in 1666 she did—disguised as a man.

The cross-dressing, pistol and saber-wielding Hortense became an exotic adventuress, traveling to Savoy, where she became mistress to Charles Emmanuel II, the married Duke. She penned her memoirs—an exceptionally rare thing for a woman to do at the time—which justified her flight from her wacko spouse and expiated herself for her infidelities. When the Duke of Savoy died, his widow told Hortense in no uncertain terms that she was no longer a welcome houseguest. So the exotic adventuress hit the road once more, eventually arriving in London in 1675 at the age of thirty, with a train of twenty liveried nobles, a parrot, and little Moorish page boy named Mustapha. The French ambassador de Courtin had once described England as a haven for all women who had quarreled with their husbands, and Hortense was no exception.
Charles’s younger brother James and his new Duchess of York, Hortense’s relation, Mary of Modena, welcomed the colorful traveler into their social circle. Hortense briefly stayed at one of the Yorks’ houses in St. James’s, and was soon a fixture at court.

Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, later queen of England

According to the French ambassador, who was quite impressed with Hortense’s beauty and vivacity, he had never seen “anyone who so well defies the power of time and vice to disfigure.” In other words, Hortense’s debaucheries had not aged her nor dimmed her luster.

Charles’s old passion for her soon burned anew. “Mme. Mazarin is well satisfied with the conversation she had with the king of England,” reported the French envoy. One result of this “conversation” was a town house in Chelsea where the sovereign set her up in style. Gossips soon spread the word that Charles would spend hours beneath Hortense’s window, gazing up like a lovestruck spaniel, in the hopes of glimpsing the brunette beauty.

Though they referred to Hortense as “the Roman whore” because she was related to Mary of Modena, the monarch’s subjects blackened her reputation with the Gallic-tinted brush as well, disgusted that “the king should send of another French whore when one already [Louise de Kéroualle] had made him poor.”

But Hortense was never a serious candidate for maîtresse en titre. For one thing, her nature was too peripatetic to enjoy a gilded cage at Whitehall. For another, she reveled in her bohemian lifestyle. For a third, she was emphatically bisexual.

“Each sex provides its lovers for Hortense,” an English courtier observed. Her affairs included the visiting Prince of Monaco and the Countess of Sussex, Anne Palmer—Charles’s then-pregnant teenage daughter by former royal mistress Barbara Castlemaine. Anne occupied her mother’s old apartments directly above the king’s bedchamber, and it was said that each morning Charles would ascend the secret backstairs connecting the two apartments in the hopes of catching his daughter in bed with Hortense. Neither of Anne’s parents were terribly amused by her passion for Hortense; Barbara briefly shoved the rebellious teen into a Parisian covent, where Anne spent much of her time smothering Hortense’s portrait with kisses and the rest of it bribing the abbess to release her whenever she felt the urge to depart.

When one of Hortense’s lovers was killed in a duel, she briefly considered retiring to a convent—given Hortense’s predilections, not so dire a penance as one might assume. Charles was greatly amused by the notion.

Considering her incapability for fidelity, perhaps it was for old time’s sake that Hortense was permitted to remain in the sovereign’s seraglio. Flouting royal protocol, she never addressed him as “Your Majesty”—possibly because she’d slept with him before he was crowned—and she and Charles provided variety for each other. Hortense was not nearly as demanding as his other mistresses, content to maintain her Chelsea salon peopled with artists and intellectuals while collecting her £4,000 pension from the king.

Charles II

It was Louise who felt most threatened by Hortense’s existence. Hortense boasted birthright, breeding, and beauty. Her slender figure, thanks to horseback riding, swimming, and swordplay, looked great in anything she chose to wear, including the menswear ensembles that so excited king and court and scandalized the envious ladies. She was accomplished in many disciplines and well versed in languages and literature. In short, except for her rampant promiscuity, as far as Louise was concerned, Hortense had the whole package.

But Hortense herself didn’t consider herself a rival. She simply didn’t want the top dog honors as much as Nell Gwyn (Charles's feisty actress-mistress) or Louise craved them. Supremely self-aware, Hortense was too wild and craved variety too much to be domesticated as the perfect royal paramour. She couldn’t have cared less about affairs of state. Hortense was a sensualist, not a politician.

After Charles’s death in 1685, Hortense deteroriated rapidly. Alcoholism destroyed her looks and her health, and her penchant for high-stakes gambling had bankrupted her. She retired to a country home, but died there in 1699 at the age of fifty-three. The wealthiest heiress in Europe during her youth, she died so hopelessly in debt that the bailiffs wanted to enumerate her lifeless body among her goods and chattels.

It was Hortense’s insane estranged husband Armand who redeemed her, so to speak. She had successfully avoided him for thirty-three years, but now that she had expired, the Duc de Mazarin had come to claim her. Armand purchased her body from her creditors, carting it all over France so that he could keep an eye on her. He finally buried her in the family crypt.

ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy (written under the name of Leslie Carroll) will be released by NAL on June 3, 2008.

Writers--have you ever had to sacrifice a scene, element, or character you adored before publication? What was it, and how did it feel to kill your darlings? Or--have you ever insisted on including something your editor might have deemed tangential to the story, because you thought it was too delicious to delete?

06 November 2007

Welcome, Jess Michaels!

Everything Forbidden
by Jess Michaels (aka Jenna Petersen)

Available Now!

Country miss Miranda Albright has secretly watched her wicked neighbor, Ethan Hamon, the Earl of Rothschild, as he 'entertained' lovers on the grounds of his country estate for three summers. But after her father dies and the family falls into financial peril, Miranda is driven to strike a bargain with the Earl. He will play financial and social host for a Season for each of her three younger sisters... in exchange for three months of sin with her.

Miranda has always ached for the passion she’s spied upon, but she knows Ethan is the kind of man who could steal her heart, as well as claim her body. And falling in love with a man who admits she is nothing but a game to him could be the most dangerous and forbidden seduction of all.

Everything Forbidden is set in Regency England. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I think that when I started reading, most of my favorite books were set in the period, so it was a natural fit when I wrote my books. Pretty much everything I write, erotic or just straight historical is written in Regency (a few Victorian novellas early). Since I started, I’ve come to love the dichotomy of the period. There were such rigid Society rules and yet some of the young women didn’t wear undergarments of any kind to keep the lines of their dresses smooth. It’s just a fun time, socially, which is perfect for a romance.

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

People sort of accept erotic romance in the Victorian period, but they seem to be surprised when they find I’ve set an erotic romance in the Regency. But then they get excited, so I’m not sure it’s a constraint. LOL

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

Actually, my lovely agent, Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman literary agency and I were talking one day, brainstorming about a new erotic contract I was working on proposals for. She started talking about an idea about a young woman who seems innocent, but is really spying on her libertine neighbor as he ‘entertains’ his lovers. The spark went from there and Everything Forbidden was born (opening with that scene). I am all about character, though, so once I have a kernel of an idea, I always go straight to character.

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

Not so much for this book, beyond the basic Regency base I already have. The story takes place on a country estate with London Society not really coming into play until the end of the book, so I got a little more freedom that way. Generally when I research now, it’s for specific parts of a book. Like the book I’m starting right now has a boxer for a hero, so I’ve done quite a bit of research on underground pugilism and opium addiction. And in between books, I tend to read research books to spark ideas.

This is a new pseudonym for you, what made you decide to branch out with a new persona?

It’s sort of a new pseudonym. I’m more widely known for my Jenna Petersen historical romances, but I actually started out publishing erotic romance as Jess Michaels in 2004 (a year before my Jenna Petersen debut). I wrote erotic historical novellas for Red Sage for a couple of years before I helped launch Avon Red with my novella in Parlor Games, which came out in June 2006. So Jess has a small, but faithful group of readers who I hope will keep growing.

I have always liked very sexy romance (which is what I write as Jenna). So this shift to even HOTTER books was very natural. I love to play in both genres.

What/Who do you like to read?

I love romance, of course. Authors like Kathryn Smith, Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Suzanne Enoch. I also really like Neil Gaimen, Susan Carroll, the Philip Pullman Dark Materials series, Susanna Clarke, Carrie Bebris and LM Montgomery. I love books, in general. LOL

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?

Sure! I write at least 10 pages a day, five days a week as a base. Most days it’s more like 12-15, especially once I really get going on a book. I plot extensively and do a lot of character work before I write one word, so I pretty much always know where I’m going, though my stories invariably surprise me and pull me from my plan at least once each time. I have learned that I write better when I write ‘head down’, or just write without editing from beginning to end. Then I take a break from the book and come back to it for a full edit before I send it to my editor.

From beginning to end, it takes me about 6-8 weeks to write a first draft and 12-16 weeks total to write, revise and turn in a book. Although I have done all that much quicker when on deadline. But that’s at my comfortable rate.

What are you planning to work on next?

Well, next May (2008), I’ll have another Jess Michaels book out, Something Reckless. My heroine, Penelope Norman, is the sister of the heroine from Everything Forbidden so if you like that book, I hope you’ll pick Penelope’s story up next. Then in July 2008, my next Jenna Petersen book, Lessons From a Courtesan will hit shelves. I just finished revisions on this book and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a book to come out. I’m just jumping out of my skin. And this month I’m starting on my next historical romance, so I’m keeping busy.

One other thing you are known for, aside from your two author personas, is The Passionate Pen. What can you tell us about the site?

The Passionate Pen is my site for aspiring authors. I created it in 1999 (so we’re approaching a decade now, must plan celebration). It came from the fact that I was very frustrated after I finished my first manuscript but couldn’t find one clearinghouse of information about the publishing industry. I wasn’t a member of RWA, so I was just on my own, really.

I started compiling a list of romance publishers and as it grew, I realized that other people might want this information, as well. So I built The Passionate Pen. Over the years, it has changed and grown, but at its core is that list of romance publishers, alongside a list of literary agents who take romance. In 2001, I added a diary (I was blogging before blogging was cool) which followed my journey from unpublished to the Call and beyond. I also have articles about writing, links to writing sites, and much, much, much more. Oh, and the Buy A Historical page, which encourages readers to buy historicals and buy new, with an emphasis on debut writers. This is my way of trying to help keep the market strong.

The site is truly a labor of love (though if people want to pay it back, buy my books! LOL). And I really enjoy helping other authors. I’ve gotten literally tens of thousands of emails since I started and the site gets nearly 200,000 hits per month. So it’s grown a lot.

Thanks for having me here today! It was fun. And I’m happy to answer questions in the comments section!

05 November 2007

Reading for Pleasure and Research

Yesterday was my day to be guest blogger with the Risky Regencies crowd. Some interesting subjects came up none of which I am going to talk about. But the posts exchanged made me think of the books that have inspired me and why they had such an impact.

Is this research related? Maybe. Look at it this way. Characterization is the central focus of what I write. The inspiration for those characters comes from my own view of the world, a view strengthened, challenged and enlarged by the fiction I have read. More than ever I read with an eye to how the author draws her characters, which makes every novel I read a part of my education. So yes, this is research related.

The books below have been read more than once,. They are books I go back to again and again to remind myself how the author so thoroughly captivated me. From them I have learned and developed deep point of view, the need for action to balance all that depth, and an element of honor at the core of the characters that is the key for me as a reader. That element allows me to identify with a character and care about his/her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Here is my list. They are all fiction. They are not all brilliant, so I am not neceesarily recommending them but I am curious if any one else checking in has read them and especially what books have inspired your writer’s and reader’s world view.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. Starting with the obvious. It is brilliant. And there is no doubt that Atticus Finch has honor at his core. What I treasure the most is his quiet commitment to what is right, his love for his children and their love of him.

I, MARTHA ADAMS by Pauline Glen Winslow. This one is the other extreme. Has anyone but me read this book? Published in 1982 by St. Martins, the cover tells it all. It is the story of the surrender of the US to the Soviet Union’s nuclear blackmail. Martha Adams is one small but significant part of an underground group that fights to drive the Russians from America. The title comes from the last page of the book and is a radio announcement that begins with “I, Martha Adams demand ….” Martha's story appeals to that part of me that dreams of saving the world.

MESSAGE FROM ABSALOM by Anne Armstrong Thompson. Thompson plays a game with the reader and showed me that honor comes forward in so many different ways. It is one of the greatest romances I have every read and it does not have single kiss in it.

REST AND BE THANKFUL by Helen McInnes. Not your typical McInnes book. It is set post World War II on a ranch in Wyoming where we meet a group of people recovering from the horror of the war, finding love and honor and truth along the way. My favorite thing about this book is the title which is the name of the ranch. Really it feels as though McInnes needed this respite as much as her characters.

CROSSING TO SAFETY by Wallace Stegner. Shows me, every time I read it , that honor comes in all shapes and sizes and that love is not simple and is sometimes destructive. I have yet, and probably never will, write characters as complex as Sid and Charity or as committed and loving as Sally and Larry. The book had me early on with Larry’s words: “In a way it is beautiful to be young and hard up. With the right wife, and I had her, deprivation becomes a game.”

THE COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by Eva Ibbotson. My all time favorite heroine, an aristocratic émigré from the Bolshevik Revolution who goes to work as a maid in the home of an earl who is about to marry the wrong person. The hero never rises to her level but the character and eternal optimism of Anna Grazinsky is an inspiration personally and professionally. Marguerite, in my novel HIS LAST LOVER is my attempt to write a character with those two traits.

MEMORY by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is one of a series. All 10+ books are about one man and his family. In MEMORY Miles Vorkosigan lies and destroys his career with one false report. How he redeems himself and discovers his true self is an amazing piece of writing that inspires me every time I read it. This is a series that I do highly recommend. I included this cover so you can see that science fiction has as much trouble with covers as romance does.

Now it's your turn. What books that you read for fun, relaxation or entertainment have inspired and informed your writing.

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