History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 May 2008

The Black Prince: What's in a Name?

Years ago, I bought a Euro-rail pass and spent a summer wandering around England. One afternoon, I visited Canterbury Cathedral and was so entranced by the surrounding history I stayed until they closed the doors. I missed my train home and ended up paying what was then a fortune for a cab back to my hotel---but the expense was so worth it. I will never forget the hours I spent in the caverness cathedral just taking it all in. I was alone and for some reason, there were few other tourists there that day. The ambiance was incredible. Surrounded by centuries of relics, I felt like I had walked back in time.

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, (June 15, 1330 – June 8, 1376), popularly known as the Black Prince, is interred in the cathedral. His tomb consists of a bronze effigy with his heraldic achievments hung above. He was the eldest son of King Edward the III and father to King Richard the III. Edward, an exceptional military leader and popular during his life, died one year before his father. He never ruled as king (becoming the first English Prince of Wales to suffer that fate).

Amazingly, although Edward is almost always now called the Black Prince, there is no record of this name being used during his lifetime. He was instead known as Edward of Woodstock, after his place of birth. The Black Prince sobriquet is first found in writing in Grafton's "Chronicle of England" (1568). Its origin is uncertain; according to tradition, it derived from an ornate black cuirass presented to the young prince by Edward III at the Battle of Crecy.

It is possible that the name was first coined by French chroniclers in reference to the ruinous military defeats he had inflicted on France or his cruelty in these. Also possible is the idea that Edward garnered the nickname from his explosive Angevin temper; the legendary Angevin temper was associated with his family's line since Geoffrey d'Anjou.

As I sat that day in a cathedral pew close to Edward’s tomb, I listened to a docent tell some schoolgirls the real reason Edward became known as the Black Prince--because his bronze effigy had tarnished and turned black in the years after his death. Eventually, it was forgotten that the effigy was once bronze. Edward was named the Black Prince by the city locals and cathedral attenders.

Sometime during the 1800’s a cathedral janitor was cleaning the effigy and noticed that the black tarnish was exactly that—the more he rubbed, the more came off. The bronze beneath was rediscovered. The tarnish was removed but the Black Prince will keep his nickname, probably forever.

And so the story goes.

We may never know how the Black Prince really got his name, but I think the janitor’s discovery could be closer to the truth. It just seems so plausible. No matter, I love the name the Black Prince and I think it fits the life and time of Edward.

Do you have a historical “myth buster” you’d like to share? Quotes attributed to someone who never said the words? Credit given to a historical figure for something they didn’t do? Please share!


29 May 2008

Life in a Medieval City

The words “medieval romance” conjure up notions of courts and castles, knights and horses. The truth is, by the late Middle Ages, there were thriving urban areas full of people who never lived in a castle nor galloped into battle.

My June release, INNOCENCE UNVEILED, takes place in such a city, Ghent, then in the duchy of Flanders, now located in Belgium. Although the city surrounded the Count’s castle, it had urban problems we recognize: crime, overcrowding, and dirty streets among them.

In the 14th century, Flanders was the cloth-making powerhouse of the continent. Responsible for the second of the basic necessities (food, clothing, and shelter), the city imported the wool grown on the backs of English sheep by the ton. The export of this wool was so important to England (and the tax on it so important to the government) that the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sat on a “Woolsack,” actually a sort of ottoman stuffed with wool, until just two years ago.

When they got this wondrous wool, the cloth makers of Ghent went to work spinning it into gold for their coffers. There was a guild for each part of the process: weaving, dying, and so on. The spinners (or spinsters) were the most poorly paid of the workers. (Need I add they were all women?)

The drapers were the hub of this activity. Like the “piecework” of the early days of the textile trade in this country, they sold and bought each segment of the process. For example, the draper would sell wool to the spinsters and buy back the yarn they spun at a higher price.

The work rules of the guilds were as strict as our present day unions, designed to preserve quality of the goods as well as working conditions. Cloth with a particular “trade mark” (the origin of our modern word) developed a reputation for quality that kept the price high.

Technology continued to advance during this time. The spinning wheel was invented at the end of the century before my story. Though it was faster and more efficient (it cut the number of spinners needed to supply a weaver by half), it also created complaints about weak, lumpy thread, initially, too.

Because of the close economic ties between England and the Flemish cloth makers, the burghers, or the middle class, in Flanders found their economic and political interests tied to England’s, while the Count of Flanders was tied to the Court of Paris and the French king. Even language divided them, with the burghers speaking Flemish and the nobles speaking French.

But the economic power of the guilds had been turned into political power as well, and they had rights unheard of in other duchies. In fact, so important were the weavers, that the Encyclopedia Britannica states: “By the 14th century, however, the democratic craft gilds, notably that of the weavers, had asserted themselves; the citizens were divided for civic and military purposes into three classes; the rich (i.e. those living on capital), the weavers and the members of the 52 other gilds.”

It is this powerful faction the hero of my book must woo to support King Edward’s claim to the throne of France. And what happened as a result of this tug of war changed not only the history of England, but the history of France and Flanders as well.

28 May 2008

The Ethics of Historical Fiction

I recently guest blogged on Writers at Play about focus shifts between historical romance and historical fiction. As often happens, the follow-up discussion was as interesting as the blog itself. Janice asked a great question about the ethics of writing about real historical people:

Tracy, I have a question that has to do with writing fiction based around real historical events. I’ve seen books that use real people as characters in their fiction books, are there rules regarding how a real person can be used in a book? I’ve always been intrigued by how an author intertwines the real with the fiction, but was curious about liability issues and rights–particularly if a book became tremendously successful.

This is something I've been struggling with more and more of late, as I've been incorporating more real historical figures into my own books. As I said in response to Janet:

The people in my books are so far in the past that there aren’t any liability questions. But I do feel a lot of responsibility writing about real people. Obviously integrating them into a fictional plot, you’ll have them doing and saying things they didn’t really do. But I try to stick to things that they *could* plausibly have done. For instance, Josephine Bonaparte was known for her love affairs in the years before she married Napoleon and in the early years of their marriage. Part of the plot the third book in the Charles & Mélanie series involves a fictional character who was Josephine’s lover. Because she was known to have had a number of lovers, I felt okay adding a fictional one. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable inventing a fictional liaison for a real person who was never known to have had an affair.

Sticking to what a real person plausibly could have done becomes particularly difficult with mystery and espionage plots. I can imagine writing a book in which the Duke of Wellington was suspected of murder. I can't imagine writing a book in which Wellington actually committed murder. Or sold secrets to the French. Or any number of other things there is no historical knowledge of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, ever doing.

This weekend I brainstormed the fourth book in my Charles & Mélanie series with a friend who was visiting. We were dipping into history books and throwing out ideas about the Elsinore League, a secret society of powerful men I've invented for the series. One thing we discussed was which historical figures might believably be part of the Elsinore League. I wouldn't shy away from having a real historical figure as part of the Elsinore League, but it would have to be someone I felt might actually have been a member--had the League existed :-). I won't go into too many possible spoilers--and nothing's decided yet--but we decided Castlereagh and Metterich were probably "nos," and Talleyrand was a "possible."

And then even when you decide what it's fair to have a real historical figure do in your book, there's the whole conundrum of getting inside his or her head. I know my fictional characters inside out. I created them. I know or can invent every nuance of their past. It's very different to try to write from the perspective of a person I can only know across the years, through letters and journals and other people's accounts. I tend to try to write scenes involving real people from the pov of a fictional character. But sometimes, often after trying a draft of the scene, I realize it would be stronger from the historical character's pov (and ideally in an historical novel, the historical and fictional characters blend seamlessly together, so one doesn't realize where fact stops and fiction begins without doing researc). In my third, as yet unpublished, Charles & Mélanie book, I write from the pov of Hortense Bonaparte (who is an important character in the novel). Getting into her head wasn't as daunting as I feared. But I'm still in awe of writers like my fellow Hoyden Amanda who so believably get into the skin of real historical characters and tell an entire book from their perspective.

I'd love to get other people's takes on this. Writers, how do you feel about incorporating real historical characters in your books? Do you have a "code of conduct" for what you will or won't have a real person do in your fictional story? How do you find writing from the pov of a real person different from writing a fictional character? Amanda, and others who've written books focused on real people, what are the particular challenges and rewards? When your book is driven by real events, how free do you feel to add fictional scenes or episodes? Readers, do you like to see real historical characters in novels? Does it send you to history books for follow-up research? Does it bother you when a novel has a real person doing something that doesn't seem in character? Do you have favorite examples of fictional stories that incorporate real people and events?

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27 May 2008

Welcome back, Blythe Gifford


By Blythe Gifford

Available now

A man of secrets…

He shares a king’s blood, but his mother’s shame means he’ll never claim his birthright. Now, disguised as a smuggler, he is a spy in a city of enemies.

And a woman of lies…

She hides her hair under the veil of a married woman to protect her father’s weaving business. Desperate for the banned wool, she opens her home to the alluring smuggler.

Sleeping under the same roof.

They fight temptation at every turn. In a town where no one feels safe, she makes him yearn for things long forbidden, but can he trust her when the truth may mean betrayal---and death?

What sparked INNOCENCE UNVEILED? A character? An historical event?

This book was sparked by a very specific incident in 1337, reported by the chroniclers. As King Edward III was trying to gain support for his claim to the throne of France, he sent an “embassy,” or diplomatic mission, to the Continent to recruit allies. Along with the diplomats traveled a number of “bachelor” knights, each wearing an eye patch and swearing not to speak until he had performed some deed of arms in France.

My hero is one of those knights, but instead of staying with the group, I saw him ride off alone. Of course, I had to follow him.

This is your third book set in the 14th century. What similarities, and differences, does it have to THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN and THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER?

As in my previous books, one of my main characters is illegitimate; in this case, it’s my hero, the secret son of an English princess. The biggest difference is that this one is set in the Low Countries, specifically, in the city of Ghent, Flanders. It’s a beautiful city of canals and waterways and still has lovely medieval buildings.

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

This is a book I’ve been working on for a long time. Over the years, I’ve done major, major research on Ghent, weaving, and the political and military history of the time. It’s a somewhat obscure little corner of history. Fortunately, several academics have made reputations writing about Ghent and the Low Countries during this period, so there were solid sources.

Many things surprised me, among them the power that the guilds had in Flanders. Unlike our visions of medieval despots, the Count of Flanders had to keep his burghers happy. They had the power to overrule his decisions and, during the course of my book, they finally did. I’ll be writing more about that in my history post on Thursday.

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

This book presented a series of plotting challenges. First was making my heroine a weaver and staying true to the guild regulations of the time. Like unions, the guilds were very strict about what could and couldn’t be done – and by whom. I think the situation I created would have been plausible, as women were allowed to take over the business when the man of the family died.

The other constraint was that the events and the shifting alliances during this period were complex. Flanders was only one of the duchies that Edward was cultivating. I tried to convey the flavor of the time without going into too much detail.

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

I’ve become gentler on myself as I’ve written more books. I’m now convinced that it’s more important for me to be authentic than to be accurate. After all, this is a work of fiction, and not history. While I try not to commit flagrant violations (and I really am a nut about tracking down accurate details), I no longer worry about streamlining events and characters for the sake of a story, as long as I feel I am being true to the period. I hope a few of my readers will be inspired to do further reading of their own.

But to come clean, my hero is a figment of my imagination. We have no evidence that the Duchess of Brabant (an English princess) had any illegitimate children. Her husband was famous for his bastards, however, and I hope the lady will forgive my literary license. (Of course, if she HAD any illegitimate children, she would never have let us know, would she?)

Narratively, I condensed the events of two years into one and chose some locations that better suited my story. (I’ve confessed all in my author’s afterward.) The biggest whopper was that I put Edward III in Flanders in disguise! But I feel justified because we know that he DID visit France disguised as a merchant during this same time period so he COULD have visited Flanders the same way, right? That’s the authentic versus accurate part. I only dared because there was historical precedent.

We’ve talked a lot about history. What can you tell us about your characters?

Renard is a real wounded hero. He has spent his life hiding his parentage because of his mother’s shame. While the son of a prince could be openly acknowledged, as the son of a princess, he can never be honest about his royal blood. The identity of his father is a mystery to him. Now, he is in Flanders working as an undercover spy for his king. Literally everything he is must remain hidden. His life depends on it.

That sounds serious! How about something fun about him, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.

It’s funny you should ask. There’s a little childish secret about him that I knew, but didn’t put into the book. My hero was born in one of the Duchies of the Low Countries, Brabant. The flag (see picture) is of a lion, rampant, and I could imagine my hero as a child, seeing that flag and calling the lion “Baba,” a four year old’s attempt to say “Brabant.”

What about your heroine?

This heroine is as close to the working woman of today as a 14th century woman can get. (I identified strongly with her and I hope readers do, too.) She runs a weaving business and is passionate about her work. This was not an acceptable occupation for a noblewoman at that time, so she has secrets of her own.

Any “Easter Eggs” hidden in this book your readers might enjoy?

Hoydens who read my interview here last fall know that Anya Seton’s Katherine introduced me to the 14th Century. Katherine fans among the Hoydens (I know you’re out there) will enjoy knowing that I portray the birth of Katherine’s John of Gaunt in this book. “Gaunt” was really Ghent, where he was born, and where this story takes place. And I named my heroine in honor of Katherine Swynford.

What are you working on now?

I’m hard at work on my next “royal bastard” book. This time, it is the story of Jane, the sister in The Harlot’s Daughter.

Many thanks for having me back! I always enjoy a visit with the Hoydens. And check back on Thursday, when I’ll be talking a little more about medieval Flanders.

23 May 2008

Fine and Private Places ... Not!

As a writer I was shocked to read in my research that in those glorious, romantic medieval stone castles there was a dearth of privacy. Castle occupants ate with the other inhabitants, had little time to themselves, and very rarely occupied a bed alone. Knights, squires, clergymen, men at arms, ladies, visitors, serving pages, and children all thronged into the great hall for meals. The noise level alone would deter private conversations.

The medieval house was a public, not a private place. The hall was the center of activity: cooking, eating, entertaining guests, transacting business, as well as sleeping. At night male guests slept on pallets or benches in the hall; women slept with a sister or two, or a female guest, and maids occupied pallets at the foot of the bed. Very rarely did a man or a woman have a chamber to oneself, and most of their intimate moments were observed by the servants.

In early medieval times even the lord’s bed stood in the hall, perhaps curtained off at the far end, but visible to (and audible by!) all. Later, a chamber known as a solar was created on an upper floor where the family could retire in relative privacy. Of course, servants, squires, children and their nurses, and visitors often visited the solar as well.

It was noisy, dirty, drafty, and smelly but it was as close as knights and ladies of that the early medieval era came to the luxury of real privacy or actual quiet.

For a writer of historical fiction, that sure shoots down a lot of intimate scenes. In fiction, we give our hero and heroine their own private chambers and get rid of the maids at the foot of the bed. Solars are where family conferences occur, and children never appear unless summoned. Gardens are handy settings for seduction, and long passageways are deserted by bustling servants long enough to steal a kiss. In fiction.

The poor were without water or sanitation, had few possessions and little furniture. In towns their houses were tiny one-room hovels that offered shelter for sleeping and a hearth for cooking. There was room only for infants; older children were sent to work. And everyone slept together in one big bed. Sex education must have been absorbed by observation.

In summary, the concept of “privacy” or “intimacy” was foreign to the medieval mind. It was not until the 17th century that domestic life changed significantly, and it’s an interesting question whether architecture inspired the change, or vice versa. Houses of the wealthy in town were larger, often built of brick or stone; had glass windows, a plethora of fireplaces, and even glazed earthenware stoves (developed in Germany). Candles and oil lamps provided light; not until the early 1800s was gaslight adopted.

Within the home, personal privacy was still unimportant, even though later medieval houses were designed with separate rooms instead of one great hall. The visitor was greeted in a waiting room. Each room was connected directly to the next, and there were no corridors. But privacy? All traffic, servants, family members, and guests, passed through each room to get to the next. Most rooms did double duty (the entry or waiting room, for example, served as both reception room and servants’ sleeping quarters). Over time houses began to be constructed that met an unrealized need for privacy; the private sitting room, for example. Separate bedchambers...and the library.

Possibly these innovations would have occurred sooner had there been women architects designing the homes.

Source: Home, by Witold Rybczynski.

21 May 2008

Welcome, Tasha Alexander!

When Tasha Alexander's first book, And Only to Deceive, hit the shelves in 2005, critics raved about her brilliant reconstruction of late Victorian England, proclaiming the book "a fascinating look at the repressive social mores and painstaking rules of etiquette in Victorian high society". Her heroine, Lady Emily Ashton, navigates a world of bustles and gaslights with an aplomb reminiscent of Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody, decoding classical clues, confronting villainy in Paris, London, and Vienna, and generally delighting the reader with her wry commentary and observations. What's not to love about a heroine who insists on sampling her deceased husband's port?

Although the third Lady Emily book, A Fatal Waltz, debuted just this week (to uniformly rave reviews), Tasha very generously took the time to pay a call on the History Hoydens here in our electronic lair to discuss a subject dear to so many of our hearts: Mr. Darcy.

Without further ado... Tasha Alexander!

How Do I Love Darcy? Let Me Count the Ways......

I admit freely to having a deep and undying love for Mr. Darcy. It started when I was about ten and read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for the first time. I can still remember when Elizabeth rejected his proposal. My pre-adolescent brain was filled at once with horror and admiration. After all, boys were mysterious creatures (though still largely icky), and I wasn’t convinced I’d ever find one I really liked. And all things considered, ten-year-old me wasn’t sure Darcy was all bad. Sure, a little rude and presumptuous, but at the time I thought our heroine could do worse.

Like Mr. Collins.

So I made paper dolls of all the characters (yes, I was an absolute geek and don’t apologize for it in the least) and sometimes even let Mr. Darcy kiss Elizabeth.

As I got older and the Ick fell away with an incandescent grace from (at least some of) the boys I knew, Darcy went from not all bad to, well, dreamy in that way someone can be dreamy only to a fourteen year old. And then I grew up, and didn’t think about it again for a long, long time. I re-read the book at regular intervals--it's always been a favorite--but it was only when Colin Firth popped onto my TV screen that I once again gave serious consideration to Darcy and his (cough) many fine characteristics.

Why do so many of us love Darcy? I don’t subscribe to the theory that it’s because he’s a challenge--that we want to be the one who breaks through his aloof exterior and finds every delicious thing inside. I’ve never been a fan of games or drama, so if anything, that’s a strike against dear Fitzwilliam (although he himself claims “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence”). For me, it’s another thing entirely--what Austen has given us in Darcy is a man who, although he fights it at first, figures out what he wants and reaches for it with both hands.

Now. He’s far from perfect. He’s (not to put too fine a point on it) a complete jerk when he’s trying (in vain; fool) not to love Elizabeth. And when he finally acknowledges the scheme is a futile endeavor, his proposal falls short of inspiring. Who among us longs to be told she is loved against someone’s better judgment? Darcy’s concerns, though insulting, are real. A man in his position would get grief for marrying “beneath” him. Silly though that may seem to us today, we can nonetheless understand the difficulties posed by choosing a marriage to which your family objects.

So Darcy manned up. In extremely inelegant fashion, but he did it. It’s when he puts himself again in front of Elizabeth the second time, now having not only decided to go against family pressure, but having rejected it to the point that he no longer is carrying it with him that we really start to love him. This is when we see the man in all his glory: strong, decisive, unapologetic. What’s not to love?

And it doesn’t hurt that he strides with confidence in such perfectly dashing fashion...

20 May 2008

Welcome, Leslie Dicken!

A Tarnished Heart
by Leslie Dicken
Available Now!

After the death of his wife and father, the Earl of Markham has spent the last five years fiercely guarding his emotions from involvement, including getting too close to his son. Then a blackmail threat shatters his impassive world. To ensure his son's inheritance, Markham must woo and marry a headstrong commoner with a heart as wild and free as the English countryside she loves. Though wrong for him in every way, he discovers seducing her awakens more than just his colorless world. Soon, the battle to protect his son's future becomes a fight for his own heart.

After a tragedy destroyed Lizzie Parker's dreams, she wants no part of venturing far from home. She is content with her life of her garden, her village, and possibly, her father's curate. Sent from her ideal world to London and the glittering Season, Lizzie does whatever possible to vex the man who once broke her heart. But she never expects his kisses to tame her resistance. And each time his touch arouses her senses, she is less and less sure of just where she belongs.

A TARNISHED HEART is set in England, 1851. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

I chose this year to coincide with The Great Exhibition taking place in London. I liked the idea of change and future opportunities that the Exhibition represented and I wanted my characters to visit it. I also planned a major turning point in the story for that visiting, using its vastness and wonders as a backdrop.

How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

Regency and early Victorian were what I read when I first started picking up romances. I've just always loved history and this time seemed to appeal to me most - the huge differences in class, homes, education, etc.

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

Pre-marital sex is very taboo. That helps with the sexual conflict and tension, but can make it difficult when the characters are "in the mood" and want to fool around. ;-)

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

Not sure I "flat-out altered" anything but some readers/reviewers have found my two characters being together a bit of a stretch. While it was technically possible for an earl and a rector's daughter to meet and interact (she is eligible for the London Season), it was probably doubtful they would end up together and in love.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

I haven't reread it since it's been in print, but I'm sure there are some typos, etc. Hopefully there aren't any plotlines or details I've dropped.

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

I actually got this idea waaaay back in 2000, when I was at a workshop presented by Jo Beverly. She mentioned that a bastard son of the aristocracy could not inherit his father's title. That got my brain turning with several "what ifs" and the story was born!

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

I'm not really sure what to call myself. I do not do outlines, boards, worksheets or charts. However, I need *some* sort of a roadmap or sketchy plotpoints before I can go further than the first chapter. After many start-then stops on stories, I've tried to get as much information thought through before I go very far into the book.

I tend to clean up as I go, or go back and reread a chapter from the last writing session and fine-tune then.

What are you planning to work on next?
I have a gothic-historical which finaled in the 2006 Golden Heart. I'm currently considering my options for it. I've just begun a paranormal contemporary with a demon hero and a nerdy, but feisty heroine.

19 May 2008

My Grail of Research Books

It’s embarrassing for a Hoyden to admit, but I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of history that so many of my sister Hoydens display. My memory is worse than it’s ever been, and I find myself turning to research books more and more to verify the most common facts of the Regency.

At least once a month for the past half a year, I’ve walked down to San Francisco’s lovely new Main Library, taken the elevator to the third floor, circled the central stairs to the Paging Desk, and held my breath while the helpful staff went to retrieve the city library system’s sole copy of The Regency Companion, a wonderful scholarly research book by Sharon Laudermilk.

I waited on pins and needles for the librarian to come back from the locked shelves housing the books marked “For In-Library Use Only.” What if this was the week that someone had stolen the book? This rare scholarly book is worth over $200 on the open market. It’s a common target for theft, and often libraries have the “loss price” set at the $35.00 cover price from when the book was published in 1989.

I was lucky last month, as always. But eventually I got tired of the nervous tension. I decided to buy (gasp) a copy of my very own. Hey, it’s less than the price of an Hermes scarf, and tax deductible (which fashion accessories are not).

Looking for a copy for sale on the Internet wasn’t daunting. As I scanned the lists of copies for sale, I became troubled by how many sellers noted “Library markings,” “Library pocket on cover page,” or similar comments. Was anyone selling a legitimate copy of this book?

I understand the temptation to boost a reference book. They’re expensive, they appear to be infrequently used, and … well, there’s really no justification. In fact, there must be a special place in hell for people who steal library books. No one has a right to steal the property of another, particularly when the book is serving the needs of the whole community.

I did eventually find a seller who assured me that the book was stamped “Discarded from the Podunk County Library”, and offered me a discounted price. So I went ahead and bought it. The book is in wonderful condition. It looks fantastic in my china cabinet (Yes, I keep books in it instead of china…but this particular book will probably live in my Safe Deposit box when I’m out of town). I’m fortunate to have a copy of my own, and I can sleep comfortably knowing that a library system in Pennsyltuckey wasn’t ripped off.

Even better, I’ll never have to feel the trepidation of walking up to the Paging Desk and waiting to hear, “Oh, that book’s missing.”

16 May 2008

Historical Movies on My Mind: Are They Real, or Are They Miramax?

To write your very own movie trailer, fill in the blanks and pick one of the options listed:

In a (world/time/era)
when _____________,
(ONE man/ONE woman/ONE-name-of-your-own-choosing) __________________.

Or you can click here to hear how they managed it for the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice.

But even if you didn't click, you're doubtless entirely familiar with that throaty male voice coaxing us to distant worlds and trumpeting his admiration for that ONE defier of convention. If I had a nickel for every time that voice has stroked a movie-goer's sensibilities, I'd quit checking my sales figures, buy a modest river-view chateau in Burgundy, and retire to it.

When did movie trailers all start using that in-a-world formula, anyway?

How did they come up with that particular version of gauzy-chintzy-Miramax-arthouse-speak?

And what does it mean as a way of seeing history?

"The Miramax version," as we call it at our house, makes a distant and unfamiliar past apprehensible by spreading yummy detail on the screen as though frosting a birthday cake. After which it funnels its conflicts through a sort of pastry tube -- the lines, gestures, and especially the facial expressions of a rebellious lead character who's pretty much who we would have been if we'd lived in his or her world/world/time/era and had a century or two of historical experience and hindsight.

And why not, I ask myself. After all, everyone loves rebels and free-thinkers. What better, safer, more delicious, entertaining, and escapist way of dreaming successful rebellion than via a kind of implicit time travel, a Mira-mishmash of the elegance of the past and the freer ideas of the present?

And yet... it bothers me. I don't like thinking that my own historical authorial voice is another version of Mr. Trailerman's.

But I do think it's possible to learn how to get beyond the worst excesses of that kind of culinary approach to historical fiction -- in a small way by comparing aspects of the 2005 and 1995 P&P's.

Or anyway (as so often happens), I got nudged in that direction recently while I was watching the Knightley/Macfadyen P&P on DVD, when my husband Michael wandered into the living room to get something, stared for some minutes at Kiera Knightley on the TV screen, muttered that "no one made that facial expression during the Regency," and wandered out again.

Wild exaggeration, of course, but there's also a ring of truth to it.

After all, are any of us really the "lords and owners of [our] faces," as the Shakespeare sonnet has it? Because while it's physically possible to make any facial expression at any time, in truth even our smiles and frowns have a certain historical component to them as well.

For don't we all learn to find our best faces, postures, and ways to look in our clothing from the popular images and tastes of our time? In a sense, we all create ourselves in accordance with the rules and also the proscriptions of our eras.

And so, for example, Jennifer Ehle's small, contained, yet slightly ingratiating 1995 Lizzy Bennet smile has a lot in common with this early 19th century image by Sir Thomas Lawrence (yes, it's the painting NAL took the cover of The Slightest Provocation from). Its sweetness isn't exactly of our times, I think, and I feel it as a bit foreign, even the slightest bit mysterious.

Whereas the bold, dreamy, pouty expression Keira Knightley was no doubt directed to make seems to me to be purely of the fan and fashion photography of our own times. Which might be more immediately recognizable for the movie-goer. But for me the loss of mystery far outweighs the gain in familiarity. Because a really good story always has its elements of mystery, an ongoing buzz of wonderment about how its characters came to be who they are and what this means for what they'll do next.

I found myself wondering about Ehle's smile even as I found myself trying to puzzle out what it would be like to walk three miles to Netherfield in what Martin Amis called her "egg-cozy" dresses with the evident corseting beneath them -- while I found no mystery whatever in those sweet, summery, drifty, easy-fitting things Knightley flitted around in. (Well, easy-fitting if you're Keira Knightley, anyway.)

Watching the 1995 (Ehle/Firth) Pride and Prejudice, I found a part of me wanting to reach out to feel the physical stresses and strains as well as the emotional adjustments it would have taken to spend twenty years growing up to be Lizzy Bennet. Much as, when I'm writing, I want to find ways to show how clothes and manners, furniture and vocabulary and all the rest of it shape the characters I'm trying to create. I want my writing, as well as my movie-going, to reach out over a gap of time. And though of course I get it wrong a lot of the time, I guess I think the risks are worth it, and I know I'll always opt for strangeness, for the past that's a foreign country, where "they do things differently".

Some of these are new thoughts for me, and somewhat half-cooked as yet.

But I'd like to write more about period movies and the ways they're like and unlike historical fiction.

Please share your thoughts on the ones you've loved, the ones you've hated, and how you want a film-maker (or a historical romance writer or historical novelist) to negotiate these intriguing questions of familiarity and distance.

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15 May 2008


In TO TASTE TEMPTATION the hero, Samuel Hartley has traveled from Boston to London for two reasons. The first is that he is looking for the traitor who caused the massacre of an entire regiment six years before in the American Colonies. The second reason is business. Sam is a wealthy importer of goods to Boston and he has heard that Josiah Wedgwood the potter has devised a new type of tableware that Sam hopes to see and buy to import. What is the tableware?


Prior to the mid-eighteenth century, commoners ate off of pewter plates or wooden trenchers. Very rich people had pottery plates either made in Europe or imported from China. But the European pottery was very much inferior to the Chinese-made porcelain. The Chinese in effect kept the making of their fine porcelain a trade secret. The European pottery was thicker, the glazing not as fine. For years Europeans tried to devise a way of making pottery as fine as that imported from China.

Josiah Wedgwood came from a family of potters from Burslem, Staffordshire. He was born in 1730 and as a boy he contracted smallpox. He survived, but his knee was injured and he walked with a cane. More importantly, he was unable to work a potter’s wheel with his bad knee. Instead of making pottery, he turned to designing it. By the early 1760’s Wedgwood was perfecting a fine creamware pottery with classical lines and a light cream-colored glaze. In a brilliant act of marketing, Wedgwood presented his new product to Queen Charlotte and got the first celebrity endorsement, enabling him to name his pottery Queensware and call himself Potter to Her Majesty.

Queensware was beautiful, of very good quality, affordable to the middle class both in England and in the American Colonies, and hey, the Queen herself used it. Queensware took off like a rocket. Archaeologists excavating Colonial Williamsburg have said that it’s one of the most widely found types of pottery prior to and just after the Revolutionary War.

When you read TO TASTE TEMPTATION, watch for the appearance of Mr. Thomas Bentley. He’s a real person and Wedgwood’s business partner. Sam met with Mr. Bentley because Wedgwood himself was up in Staffordshire at the time of the book!

Elizabeth Hoyt


14 May 2008

Shocking! Dr. Graham’s Electrical Cures

I’ve been undergoing physical therapy for a wonky problem with my hip and as I lay in a tiny dark room hooked up in six places to an electrical stimulus machine, or “stim,” I thought (for some reason I was thinking in French) plus ça change, plus, c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I had written about the famous quack (or not) doctor, James Graham in my novel of Emma Hamilton, TOO GREAT A LADY. In 1780, the teenage Emily Lyon (Emma’s nom de guerre at the time) went from being something of an apprentice at one of London's more respectable bawdy houses (there is no historical indication that she ever actually whored herself there) to working for the wildly popular Dr. James Graham at his Temple of Health, or Temple of Aesculapius in a number of capacities.

I began to notice the numerous handbills advertising the educational lectures and beneficial cures offered by Dr. James Graham, at the Temple of Aesculapius—also known as the Temple of Health—located at the Adelphi on the Royal Terrace in Bond Street. I even puzzled my way—for I read so poorly at the time—through Dr. Graham’s pamphlet on “The Wondrous Effects of the Celestial Bed in the Curing of Impotency and the Sustaining of Life.” A night’s enjoyment of the healthful pleasures of the famed Celestial Bed could be had for a mere fifty pounds. What must such a contraption look like? I wondered. Fifty pounds was a king’s ransom! Although his methods had become all the rage among London’s wealthiest and most glamorous citizens, thanks to the patronage of the vibrant and popular Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, it was a matter of opinion about town whether the doctor was a quack or a genius.

(Emma as a Bachante; painted y Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1790-91)

Having resolved to attend a lecture, I encountered no difficulty in securing an escort from among Mrs. Kelly’s patrons; yet I had not realized, until I witnessed it with my own eyes, that the real entertainment took place after the five-shilling scholarly presentation, a lengthy program of a decidedly more sensual (and dearer) nature. Beautiful young women, scantily attired in shifts of the sheerest muslin, struck classical attitudes while—with a liberal employ of sexual innuendo—Dr. Graham, clad like a clergyman in a black frock coat, demonstrated the healthful benefits appertaining to the espousal of mud baths and his radical new electrical treatments.

This excerpt from TOO GREAT A LADY is taken from fact. Graham was indeed a huge hit among the young cognoscenti: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, attended Graham’s wildly popular lectures on the healthful benefits of electrical cures and mud baths, followed by pseudo-erotic demonstrations of the same. Watching her skimpily-clad colleagues strike poses, Emma may have gotten the idea for her famous Attitudes, which she would perform to great acclaim years later. Not all of Graham’s assistants were “mute.” Some of the young ladies sang angelically, providing background music for Graham’s demonstrations. Emma, renowned for her voice, got her start in this capacity, and was later promoted to sitting in a mud bath, sunk up to her shoulders. Audiences saw only her charming face and an enormous, elaborately dressed powdered wig.

Dr. James Graham, lecturing in Edinburgh

Born in 1745 in Scotland, James Graham was the son of a saddler. Although he never completed his medical studies in Edinburgh, he called himself a doctor nonetheless. He moved to America when he was in his twenties, offering himself as an “eye specialist.” In Philadelphia, he met Benjamin Franklin and after familiarizing himself with Franklin’s experiments with electricity, grew convinced that it was the cure for all ills.

In 1775, Graham returned to London. There, he set up a practice and his “electrical medicine” began attracting a posh clientele. Patients were delivered electrical jolts while sitting on a purpose-built chair (which he called a magnetic throne) or wearing special crowns or caps. Graham’s lectures and treatments were so popular that in 1779 he moved his practice to an elegant townhouse calling it the Temple of Health. The wealthy paid a small fortune to attend his lectures, and the risqué post-discussion demonstrations, but to Graham’s credit, he used their coin to fund a free clinic for the poor, whom he treated at the Temple of Health during the daylight hours.

Electrical cures in action, from a 1766 engraving

The Temple of Health had several ornately decorated rooms, the famous of which was the Tinsel Chamber of Apollo which housed the notorious Celestial Bed.

Dr. Graham boldly claimed that anyone who rented the twelve by nine foot bed for the night would be "blessed with progeny." Sterility or impotence would be cured.

The bed could be tilted so that it lay at various angles, the incline being considered more conducive to contraception. According to the entry in the Museum of Hoaxes, the mattress was filled with “sweet new wheat or oat straw, mingled with balm, rose leaves, and lavender flowers,” as well as hair from the tails of fine English stallions. Above the bed, an inscription in Latin read: It is a sad thing if a rich man has no heir to his property.

Graham's famed Celestial Bed

The pair of would-be parents would be serenaded with soft music (sometimes played and sung by the young Emily Lyon) as they cavorted in the spectacular bed. They could watch themselves in the large mirror suspended above them on the ceiling, while behind them, electricity crackled across the headboard, ostensibly filling the air with what Graham referred to as a magnetic fluid that was “calculated to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves.”

Graham also espoused radical dietary beliefs, insisting that people should 'abstain totally from flesh and blood, from all liquors but cold water and fresh milk, and from excessive sexual indulgence., He also believed that many human ailments were due to wearing woolen clothing.

Although the Temple of Health was wildly successful for a number of years, by 1783 or 84 (depending on which source you believe), Graham was deeply in debt. He moved back to Edinburgh, where he began to tout the efficacy of a new cure-all—mud baths. Graham trumpeted these treatments as the secret to immortality, insisting that people could absorb all the nutrients necessary to sustain life simply by bathing in mud. Naturally, like every good quack, he assured his customers that he himself had availed himself of the cure with astounding success, claiming that he had survived two weeks immersed in mud with no outside nourishment except for a few drops of water.
Not too many years later, Graham either got religion or went mad, depending on how you look at it. He founded the New Jerusalem Church (in which he was the only member) and began signing all his letters “Servant of the Lord, O.W.L.” (Oh, Wonderful Love). In 1792, he fasted for fifteen days and covered his naked body in grass turf. Charitable even in dementia, he was seen walking the streets stripping off all his clothes, to give them to the poor. The authorities were not amused, however. In 1794, Graham was arrested for lewdness; he died soon after.

So, was Dr. Graham crackers? Ever had a mud bath? Been slathered with seaweed at a spa? Went “swimming” in the Dead Sea? Ever been hooked up to a modern-day “stim” machine? Have you ever subjected yourself to a new-age treatment or “cure” that turns out to be pretty old-fashioned? Maybe James Graham wasn’t such a charlatan after all!

13 May 2008

Welcome Back, Elizabeth Hoyt

To Taste Temptation

by Elizabeth Hoyt

TO TASTE TEMPTATION is set in the Georgian era. What about the book made it vital to set it during this time period?

TO TASTE TEMPTATION is part of a four book series set around four veterans of the French and Indian War in the American Colonies. It actually takes place in 1764, six years after the (fictional) massacre of the 28th Regiment of Foot, which my heroes all survived. I wanted to use the French and Indian War as the backdrop because first of all it took place in America, so I could introduce an American hero ;-) and secondly because I wanted a war in which the motives were a little fuzzy. Obviously the British were fighting the French for control of the New World, but that’s not quite the same as fighting to defend one’s country, which they would later do during the Napoleonic wars.

Tell us a little about your hero.

Samuel Hartley is an American Colonist. He grew up in the backwoods of Pennsylvania and hunted with his father for the family food. When his parents died he went from a cabin in the woods to living in a boys’ boarding school in New England. Later, he takes over his uncle’s importing business in Boston and builds the company. At the beginning of TO TASTE TEMPTATION, he’s a very wealthy businessman.

Along the way, though, Sam was in the Colonial army where he was a ranger. Rangers were elite companies trained in tracking, shooting, trapping, and spying. They were known for their lightning ambushes and their ability to move in the woods of North America. Army Rangers today are the descendents of these rangers.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldnt get out of your head?

I wanted to write about men returning from war and the difficulties they sometimes have entering civilian life again. I suppose in a way what sparked my interest was the current war in Iraq, but I’ve always been interested in men who’ve been to war. We now have names for things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but naming the problem is actually fairly recent. It was known in the American Civil War and came to be called shell shock in WWI, but before that there wasn’t a name for the problem that many veterans of war had.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didnt already know?

Lots and lots of research, lol! I actually didn’t know all that much about the French and Indian War before I started, so I had some basic history to learn, such as whose side various tribes of American Indians were on. I researched British regiments, what they wore, what they ate (apparently a lot of ground up dried peas among other things!) army tactics, and various types of soldiers. For instance, a pioneer was a guy who went ahead of the marching regiment and cleared the trail. At one point in the book, Sam is cleaning his gun, so I had to figure out what kind gun he’d have (a Kentucky rifle—which led to a short digression into what, exactly, rifling is) and then how he’d clean it (boiling water, lint, and oil.) Sam wears American Indian leggings and moccasins for most of the book, and I had to find out what they would look like and more importantly, how one would take them off!

What/Who do you like to read?

Just about everything. At the moment I’m in a paranormal phase—I can’t wait for JR Ward’s latest! Right now I’m reading Jim Butcher’s PROVEN GUILTY.

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 revision queen. I do a detailed plot outline and character sketches, but I have a tendency to go off my outline fairly often. My first draft is VERY rough. Then I revise, send it to my agent, revise again, send it to my editor, and revise a third or fourth time. It’s all in the rewrite. ;-)

What are you planning to work on next?

Well, TO TASTE TEMPTATION is the first of a four part series called The Legend of the Four Soldiers. Next up is November’s TO SEDUCE A SINNER. Here’s the back cover copy:


For years, Melisande Fleming has loved Lord Vale from afar . . . watching him seduce a succession of lovers, and once, catching a glimpse of heartbreaking depths beneath his roguish veneer. When he’s jilted on his wedding day, she boldly offers to be his.


Vale gladly weds Melisande, if only to produce an heir. But he’s pleasantly surprised: A shy and proper Lady by day, she’s a wanton at night, giving him her body—though not her heart.


Determined to learn her secrets, this sinner starts to woo his seductive new wife—while hiding the nightmares from his soldiering days in the Colonies that still haunt him. Yet when a deadly betrayal from the past threatens to tear them apart, Lord Vale must bare his soul to the woman he married . . . or risk losing her forever.

12 May 2008

The Little Ice Age

Most of us who write Regency set history are familiar with 1816 the “Year Without a Summer” but how many of us know that this was just one year in a period commonly referred to as The Little Ice Age?

The book, by Brian Fagan, was my introduction to the story. According to Fagan, who studied archaeology and anthropology at Pembroke College in Cambridge, this period of abnormal global chill lasted from 1300-1850.

There is debate on the length of the LIA and the extent of this atypical cooling pattern. There are various causes presented in research, among them "decreased solar activity and increased volcanic activity” (Wikipedia).

It has been argued that the change was felt more in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern, due to changes in the warmth introduced by ocean patterns. One theory is that the large infusion of water from melting glaciers of the Medieval Warming Period interfered with the flow of the Gulf Stream. Several sources I Googled maintained that the Southern Hemisphere did experience a similar, if less dramatic, period of lower temperatures.

Pictured below is a graph that shows the change in temperature for the last two thousand years. The patterns are reconstructed from different studies but all show a pattern that signifies a cooling period from the late Medieval Period through the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Others maintain that the Black Death was a contributing element to the global cooling. Following the decimation of the populous of Northern Europe caused by the plague, less land was cultivated, and the spontaneous growth of forests took more carbon from the atmosphere, resulting in a period of prolonged cold weather.

This is about as much science as I can handle but if you are interested there is an enthusiastic and sometimes contentious discussion of the theories in the comments section of the Wikipedia entry.

Whether a global event or a more regionalized one, Fagan is committed to his theory that the Little Ice Age changed history.

As you begin to consider the premise, evidence pops up in social as well as in the political development of the time. Paintings by the artists of Northern Europe emphasize winter theme like this 1565 painting by Bruegel the Elder.

To focus on only one element of historical change precipitated by the Little Ice Age: the lack of adequate grain supply caused by the protractged poor growing conditions led to food shortages. Fagan maintains that the French Revolution is the result of this failing food supply. Certainly, food riots and the resulting threat of insurrection are a frequent threat during this period, up to an including post Waterloo England (my area of interest).

As much as I believe in the concept that one person can make a difference I am equally fascinated by this larger view of how nature can change our world – one more element in the truth that man and nature are so inextricably bound. Your thoughts?

10 May 2008

Why Blue or Green Eyes?

It has been said that eyes are the window into the soul---for a writer that means eye color is part of your heroine’s (or heroe's) character. Human eye color is determined by a number of factors, including the amount of melanin in the iris, as well as the thickness of iris, which causes light to be absorbed differently. But most of us have noticed the predominance of blue-eyed and green-eyed heroines in historical romance? Green eyes are particularly popular in medieval heroines, and blue eyes are common in the fair-skinned, light haired historical heroine of European descent. Since most historicals are set in Europe, there's a reason. A few interesting facts about green eyes and blue eyes:

Green Eyes
Extremely beautiful and very rare, truly green eyes are a recessive trait that exist in only 1-2% of the world population. Part of their rarity is because blue eyes are dominant over green eyes. Hazel eyes, a more common color, are a combination of medium blue eyes and a dark brown. Hazel eyes appear to change color depending on the light. So yes, this is possible (a feature I’ve seen in many heroines and heroes). In short, we see a lot of green eyes (more correctly, hazel eyes) in European heroines because blue eyes are common in people of European decent.

Blue Eyes
Though blue eyes are a recessive trait, they are a highly desirable characteristic in female historical heroines. One study shows that blue eyed men seek out blue-eyed women from an evolutionary standpoint in order to verify paternity.

Almost 90% of Icelanders have blue or green eyes. Outside of Iceland, blue eyes are most common in Northern European countries, and especially in Ireland and the UK. Not surprisingly, a 2002 study found the prevalence of blue eye color among Whites in the United States to be 33.8% for those born between 1936 and 1951 compared to 57.4% for those born between 1899 and 1905 (reflecting our European roots---pun intended!).

Today, only 17% of Americans have blue eyes, reflecting our ever-changing multicultural heritage. Interestingly, all presidents since Richard Nixon have had blue eyes. Kensut speculates voters subconsciously register a preference for someone with “deeper roots” in America. In any case, the number of blue-eyed people in the US continues to decline.

I’ve seen all colors of eyes in historical romance. I took some heat for giving my hero steel-gray eyes (a real eye color) in DARK RIDER, and I even looked up amber eyes---surprised to learn that’s a real color, too. I remember a paranormal romance with a heroine whose eyes changed color with the weather---which I thought was very cool.

What striking eye-color of a character made an impression on you? I can't remember the color of Mr. Darcy's eyes--can anyone recall? Was it even mentioned?

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08 May 2008

Welcome, Claudia Dain!

The Courtesan's Secret
by Claudia Dain
Available Now!

Lady Louisa fell in love with Lord Dutton exactly three years ago and never fell out. It was past time for him to fall in love with her. Long past time. What was wrong with Dutton? Couldn't he see that she was the very ideal sort of wife for him? The picture of ginger haired beauty and sparkling wit? And her bosom was quite nice, too.

After watching the speed with which Caroline, Sophia's daughter, managed to snag a husband, Louisa has come to the logical conclusion that if she could only have Sophia help her then Louisa and Dutton would find themselves quickly married. With Dutton as her goal, Louisa swallows her pride and asks Sophia for help in acquiring the man of her dreams.

Sophia is more than happy to help a woman get the man of her dreams, but is Dutton that man? Lord Henry Blakesley seems a much better match for the fiery Louisa. And Sophia, an ex-courtesan, has no qualms at all in arranging things so that Louisa sees Blakesley in a new light. But it's a secret...no one can know that Louisa sought help in snaring a man from a former courtesan.

But in London, secrets are as rare as hen's teeth.

THE COURTESAN'S SECRET is set in 1802 LONDON. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I love the Regency period, along with the rest of the world. Anyone who's seen or read Pride and Prejudice and loved it falls equally in love with the Regency, don't they? It's a fascinating time, poised between bawdy Georgian England and buttoned-up Victorian England, the end of the Revolutionary conflict in America and the beginning of the French Revolution and Napoleon on the continent. Tension up, down, and sideways!

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

I turned my gaze to the American continent instead of the European one. My anchor character, Sophia Dalby, is half Iroquois and half British nobility. She straddles both worlds culturally and emotionally so I had to find sources that would give me insight into the wars, politics, treaties, cultural values, etc, for both continents, both cultures, over a 70 year period, from about 1750 to 1820. I'm still researching, still finding bits of essential information, so I step carefully until I'm sure I have exactly what I need. As this is a multi-book series, I'm going to be researching and stepping carefully for a long time to come!

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

In planning The Courtesan's Secret, I decided not to focus on certain elements of detail that other authors can spend a good amount of time on; there aren't a lot of descriptions of interiors or clothes, no lengthy and proper introductions, no scene of the maid stoking the fire with the appropriate tool. It was definitely a decision on my part to "use up" my allotted word count on external and internal dialog. Did I fudge the physical details? Probably, but I was more concerned with getting the culture right, that internal compass that we all learn from living in a society.

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

Well, after banging my head against British titles for three years, pounding every correct form into my head, I've found that no one else much cares. Reviewers have yet to get the titles of the characters right, and even the blurb copy tends to be wrong. What can you do?

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.

Oh, this is such an interesting question because it points out how we go about writing, the different ways we each have of finding the story and the characters. My hero: he doesn't have a pet during the course of the action in The Courtesan's Secret...so he doesn't have a pet. My mind never went there, never went back to his childhood. He is as we find him, a full grown man at a party one night in April. My hero is very observant, sarcastic, and a closet romantic. He was extremely fun to write because he zinged the heroine nearly every time he opened his mouth, all to hide his romantic nature from her.

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

It's the character of Sophia Dalby, without question. She's the driving force behind all the books, the fulcrum on which all the Courtesan books rest. I'm definitely a character driven writer and not a plot driven one, and Sophia is the character of all characters! I can't get her out of my head, and don't want to. She's endlessly entertaining.

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! And that's always so much fun. I had no idea that the Indian nations of America were so vital to European politics. While European power struggles were being fought on American soil, the various Indian tribes aligned with the European powers. All the alliances shifted with each treaty, each battle, each gift. Because France and England specifically sought to have as many Indians as possible on their side, they loaded the Indians with gifts. Not the string of cheap beads we often hear about, but the best of the best. While the colonists were struggling to buy a cheap gun or making do with a flaky pot, the Indians were given the most technologically advanced firearms of the period and cooking on the best iron skillets. Mirrors, for example, were very expensive, a true luxury item in America. The Indians were dripping in mirrors! This fascinated me. Plus, whoever had the most Indian allies in any specific battle were the usual winners. The French and English spent the lion's share of their financial resources and time trying to make sure the Indians stayed or strayed over to their side.

What/Who do you like to read?

I love reading Regencies, obviously, but the problem is that I can't read one while I'm writing one! When I'm between books, I read Liz Carlyle, Sabrina Jeffries, Deb Marlowe, Karen Hawkins, Suzanne Enoch, Julia London, Mary Balogh. When I'm writing, I read Harlan Coben, Karen Rose, Tess Gerritsen: suspense! I need to take a breath in a completely different world when I'm writing.

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, almost completely. I do quite a bit of research before I even have an idea for a book; everything in my writing process springs from the research. Once I have an idea, and that usually means a character, I just jump in and start writing. I write one draft on the computer. I don't read back as I go forward, I just keep writing and writing. Once I finish, I read it through on the computer, cleaning it up. Then I print it off and my DH reads it. He's my cold reader. He fixes all the typos I missed, makes notations where he was confused and where he was delighted, I go back and clean it up again, then off it goes to my editor. No critique partners. No input at all while I'm writing. Even my poor editor has to play by my rules. Any other voices in my head while I'm writing and I can't hear the voice of the story.

What are you planning to work on next?

I've just turned in the third book in the Courtesan series, The Courtesan's Wager, and am about to begin the fourth book. I know who the heroine is in this book (as yet untitled), and I *think* I know the hero, but as to what will happen? I have no idea! I'm a bit gun shy because in The Courtesan's Wager, a new hero sprang up one-third of the way into the book. He was *not* supposed to be the hero! It's humiliating and a bit scary, having a book run roughshod over me that way. I only hope this next book is better behaved. I can dream, can't I?

07 May 2008

An Epistolary Introduction to the World of Charles & Mélanie Fraser

I've always loved letters in novels. Darcy's letter to Elizabeth. Captain Wentworth's incredible love letter to Anne Elliot. The wonderfully witty and insightful collection of letters from various characters that sets the stage for Dorothy Sayers's BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON. Novels told entirely in letters, from Choderlos de Laclos's LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES to Steven Brust and Emma Bull's FREEDOM AND NECESSITY. I love reading the letters of real historical people for research. In particular, I find myself often returning to the witty and insightful comments of Emily Cowper and Harriet Granville.

When I decided to write an epilogue for DAUGHTER OF THE GAME'S reissue as SECRETS OF A LADY, I knew from the first that I wanted to do it in the form of a letter from Charles to Mélanie. When my editor, Lucia Macro, asked me to write something for the A+ extras section and said it was sort of like DVD extras and I could do anything I wanted, I knew at once that I wanted to write a series of additional letters between the characters. I did the same thing for the reissue of BENEATH A SILENT MOON, writing a letter from Charles to Mélanie for the epilogue (I at first thought I'd make this one from Mélanie to Charles, but it seemed to fit the book better for Charles to write the letter) and writing more letters for the A+ section.

Beneath a Silent Moon CoverI write a new letter from one of my characters every week for the Fraser Correspondence section of my website. I thought it would be fun to post one of those letters, which serves as a good introduction to Charles and Mélanie and BENEATH A SILENT MOON. This letter is an entirely fictional letter written by the very real historical figure Emily Cowper (daughter of Lady Melbourne, sister of William Lamb, sister-in-law of Lady Caroline Lamb) to her the equally very real Harriet Granville (daughter of the Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, cousin of Lady Caroline Lamb). I wove letters between Emily and Harriet into the A+ section of BENEATH A SILENT MOON.

George Street
23 March 1817


Dearest Harriet,

I saw them last night. Charles Fraser and his wife. Lady Frances gave a ball to welcome them to London. I must say Mélanie Fraser dresses superbly—that was plain when they were here two and a half years ago, and now one can tell she’s had all her gowns made in Paris. They certainly don’t hang about each other unbecomingly. Charles danced the first dance with her, then spent a good portion of the evening in the library with David Mallinson and Oliver Lydgate and Gideon Carne and some others. Harry went in at one point and told me they were discussing Habeas Corpus. Mélanie Fraser danced a number of dances in her husband’s absence and didn’t seem in the least concerned. Nor did Charles look the least bit jealous when he returned to the ballroom late in the evening to find his wife surrounded by a throng of admirers. So the whole idea that she someone how seduced and bewitched him and addled his reason is nonsensical. Not that I ever gave much credence to it. The whole idea of Charles Fraser being bewitched by anyone is patently absurd. If there’s one thing that man is not it’s a besotted fool. She’s certainly done very well for herself to have escaped Spain (which cannot be at all a comfortable place to live just now( and married a man so comfortably situated, but who can blame her. A girl with no family and fortune must look out for herself. She has a very elegant manner—a touch informal but doesn’t put herself forward disagreeably. And she does seem genuinely fond her children. I’ve seen her in the park with them several times.

Gisèle Fraser, by the way, danced two waltzes with Val Talbot (rather closer than I would care to see Minny dancing with anyone when she’s of an age to dance). I think they would have danced a third time had Evie not gone up and pulled her cousin away. Such a sensible girl, Evie Mortimer. Honoria didn’t look best pleased either. Of course, I suspect she found the whole occasion of the ball uncomfortable, but to her credit she behaved beautifully. She went to talk to Charles and his wife as soon as she arrived. She didn’t linger overly long, but she appeared to say everything that is proper, just as she always does. I wonder if she’s more likely to marry now that Charles is definitely taken. She’d make an excellent match for Fred—just the sort of wife a diplomat needs.

Quen put in an appearance late. For Charles’s sake, I suspect, Quen’s always been fond of him. He danced once with Evie and once with Mélanie Fraser. Kenneth Fraser also did not stay long, though he did dance with his daughter-in-law. Lord Cowper says he heard Mr. Fraser murmur that he’d never expected his son to do so well for himself. Every time I sigh over my own family, I remind myself that I could have been born a Fraser. Or a Talbot.

Yours most affectionately,

Do you like letters in novels? What do you think of letters written entirely in novels? Any favorite examples to suggest?

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