History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 August 2008

Hooked on Classics Redux: Eros, Esthetics, Empire

I've posted about this topic before.

Three times, in fact, in March, June, and November of 2007, from stops along the journey of writing The Edge of Impropriety -- which is finally, thrillingly, due out this November 4.

Not surprisingly, discoveries along the way -- of the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome -- have given rise to an enduring passion that not only informs my novel but calls me back to a set of cherished, longtime, ongoing wonderings of my own, about what we're doing when we're writing erotically.

It began, I think, when a bold, provocative (and yes, erotic) statement, by J.M. Coetzee, in his novel Elizabeth Costello, stopped me in my reading tracks:

Love and death. The gods, the immortals, were the inventors of death and corruption; yet with one or two notable exceptions they have lacked the courage to try their invention out on themselves. That is why they are so curious about us, so endlessly inquisitive. We call Psyche a silly, prying girl, but what was a god doing in her bed in the first place? In marking us down for death, the gods gave us an edge
over them. Of the two, gods and mortals, it is we who live more urgently, feel the more intensely.

Wow. I'd never thought about it in quite that way before, but I knew I wanted to continue thinking about it like that.

And so I created a hero and heroine motivated by erotic urgency. The Edge of Impropriety is a historical romance novel about a pair of flawed, desiring people who are no longer young or innocent, and who are all too conscious of the passing of mortal time, of death and danger, and of human error and frailty.

Jasper and Marina first encounter each other across a room of blank white stares and breathtakingly beautiful bodies -- the gods and heroes of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. They first speak to each -- of art and empire, mythical gods and human mortality -- amid the equally blank but far less beautiful stares of dinner guests stuffed full of salmon cooked according to a recipe of the great chef Antonin Carême (whom Mary blogged about in this hoyden post).

The mutual seduction of this first conversation is visible only to them and the reader: I'll be posting it on my web page next Tuesday; right now you can get another sneak peek at The Edge here.

But though the novel is happily finished for its author and happily ended for its lovers, certain underlying ideas -- the confusions and quandaries of sex and story, art and eroticism -- continue to fascinate me.

Because when I began thinking of the Elgin Marbles and of the Regency response to classical art in general, I hadn't realized then how central the history of art collecting (art plunder, some might say) -- the appropriation of the ancient art of Greece and Rome by the ascendant empires of nineteenth century Western Europe -- is to questions I've been pondering for the decade and a half since I wrote my first erotic novel, Carrie's Story, by Molly Weatherfield.

But as is often the case, when I take down an unread book that's been taunting me for years from the shelf and finally open it, I find a wealth of stuff I've been knocking myself out trying to think through by myself.

This time it's Walter Kendrick's The Secret Museum, a study of the roots of our modern thinking that labels certain works "pornographic" and demands that they be forbidden to certain parts of the population ( and yes, you can guess who they -- or we -- are without my telling you).

Turns out that the problem became a serious one for the gentlemen of western Europe only after the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, starting in the early eighteenth century when an Italian peasant tried to dug a well near Naples. Giovanni Battista Nocerino dug up fragments of marble and then Roman artifacts, and the Austrian rulers of Naples shipped a marble Hercules was shipped to Vienna, before the excavations hit solid rock.

When Naples passed back into the hands of the Spanish some decades later, the digging continued -- moving southward to softer gound (ash and small stones), the site of what was ascertained to be Pompeii. How thrilling it would have been there when the first intact fresco was dug up -- not to speak of the skeleton, "still clutching coins stamped with images of Nero and Vespasian."

Of course, as Kendrick continues (and as I've learned for myself in my researches about the literary culture of the late Regency), staged media events are hardly a discovery of our era. "On many occasions, when a notable find was made, it was buried again in order to be refound before the eyes of some visiting noble personage."

Pompeii became a primo visiting site along the Grand Tour, whereby the rich and educated of the prevailing European powers got to see their noble antecedents in the great empires of the past.

Except suppose their antecedents were not so noble? Suppose (as the excavations went on), certain rather more recherche objects were discovered -- "lascivious" frescos, Priapic statues, or what Kendrick describes as "a small marble statue, high naturalistic in style, representing a satyr in sexual congress with an apparently undaunted goat."

The artifacts could be (and were) locked up in a separate, secret collection, whereby "a gentleman with appropriate demeanor (and ready cash for the custodian) would be admitted... [while] women, children, and the poor of both sexes and all ages were excluded."

When catalogs of the digs were published (and catalogs did want to be complete, for reasons of scholarly integrity) the offending objects might be at least partly camouflaged by a fig-leafy forest of erudition. Or as Kendrick quotes a late 19th century cataloguer:

...if we were treating another subject, we might be criticized for this extravaganza of erudition; here, however, we will no doubt be commended, just as sculptors are forgiven the overgrowth of foliage that sometimes screens the nudity of their figures...

And as women and the poor weren't usually educated in Greek and Latin, the cataloguers could feel safer about what they showed. Which makes it interesting, I think, how many smart, feisty heroines of romance fiction -- including my own Phoebe from Almost a Gentleman and Mary from The Slightest Provocation-- are Latinists.

In any event, at least in the case of classical art objects, viewing could be limited to the class of gentlemen. But what was the gentleman himself to think about the objects? Or about himself and his civilization?

Which is where Kendrick's history really gets interesting, subtle, frustrating, contradictory. And where, as it happens, a new word must be introduced to the discussion -- that of "pornography," only making its debut in English in the 1850s, though it pretends to be of far older provenance, by referring back to a very old, rare Greek usage, from a second century essay about certain painters of prostitutes.

And where, I see, by the length of this post, and the fact that I'm due to post it (oh, at least an hour ago), I'm going to have to leave off here. To return next time, with more history about this set of vexing questions and also with a host of questions about the erotic romance fiction we write today. About how we feel about it -- about whether we still find ways to separate and exclude (even if we're now the "gentlemen").

And also with this last quote from Kendrick, which so challenges and turns around the conventional wisdom of erotic romance (you know, "the sex furthers the story" thing we say so often) that I'm not even going to comment. Until next time anyway. But don't let that stop you.

Anyway, the quote is:

Perhaps there is something whorish about the very act of representing, since its product -- a book or picture -- is promiscuously available to all eyes.

What do you think?

And how does it relate to how you read erotic romance fiction like mine or other authors'?

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27 August 2008

Can You Top This? Marie Antoinette's Hairstyles

"The Ladies' Head-Dress"

Give Chloe a bushel of horsehair and wool
Of paste and pomatum a pound
Ten yards of gay ribbon to deck her sweet scull
And gauze to encompass it round.
Let her gown be tucked up to the hip on each side
Shoes too high for to walk or to jump
And to deck sweet charmer complete for a bride
Let the cork cutter make her a rump
Thus finished in taste while on Chloe you gaze
you may take the dear charmer for life
but never undress her, for out of her stays
You’ll find you have lost half your wife.

---The Lady's Magazine, 1777

This post falls into the category of "research outtakes" -- marvelous information that I have come across while researching another subject -- in this case, the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.

But I admit to a passion for fashion myself, so I just couldn't skim over the parts of Marie Antoinette's biographies that refer to the popular Parisian hairdresser Monsieur Léonard Alexis Autier (1751?-1820) being summoned by the Queen of France to race over to Versailles and dress the royal coiffeure.

Before Marie Antoinette, the youngest archduchess of Austria, arrived in 1770 to wed the Dauphin, Frenchwomen had already begun to style their hair into tall poufs by coating it with pomade and tugging and teasing it over wire cages and woolen pads. The term "hairdresser" was born in the mid 18th century, known as such because they dressed the hair with ornamentation. By 1767 there were 1200 hairdressers working in Paris; a few years earlier there had been none.

French ladies of the 1770s

The new Dauphine was expected to embrace the styles of her adopted country (in fact, before she was handed over to the French delegation in April, 1770, she was compelled to undress fully and divest herself of every shred of Austrian clothing and change into garments constructed in France of French textiles made in French factories, mills, and workshops.) Marie Antoinette was also expected to set fashion trends and to spend lavishly as she did so, because it was good for business.

Marie Antoinette, who reportely shampooed her hair with a mixture of eggs, white wine vinegar and rum, took the the pouf coiffeures to new heights until they reached absurd extremes of more than three feet. These towering creations were adorned with a profusion of ornaments and objects on it that showcased current events, turning a noble woman's hairdo almost into a bulletin board. One of the most famous of these current events coiffeures was the "inoculation" pouf that the queen wore to publicize her success in persuading the King to be vaccinated against smallpox.

Marie Antoinette's august mother, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, chastized her for her frivolity and extravagance, specifically targeting the queen's outlandish hairstyles:

I cannot help but touch upon a point that many of the papers repeat to me too often: it is the hairstyle that you wear. They say that from the roots it measures 36 pouces high and with all the feathers and ribbons that hold all of that up! You know that I have always been of the opinion that one should follow fashion moderately, but never carry it to excess. A pretty young queen full of charms has no need of all these follies. Quite the contrary. A simple hairstyle suits her better and is more appropriate for a queen. She must set the tone, and everyone will hurry to follow even your smallest errors . . .

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, Sony Pictures, 2006

Léonard would start by interweaving Marie Antoinette's real hair with fake tresses and arrange it on a wire form placed on her head and padded with wool, straw, or cotton. Then he would stiffen the hair with a scented pomade (made of beef lard or bear grease) and cover it with powder. Huge capes were draped about the client, who was already in court dress, and then the powder was blown on to the coiffeure. In 1770, no one -- male or female -- could come to court with unpowdered hair. People who visited Versailles in the 1770s recalled that scent of pomatum pervaded the entire court.

Mme. Henriette Campan, Marie Antoinette's First Lady of the Bedchamber, observed that Immediately everyone wanted the same hairstyle as the queen, to wear feathers and garlands . .. The expenses of young ladies were greatly increased, mothers and husbands complained, some fools ran up debts, there were upsetting domestic quarrels, many marriages went cold or split apart, and the general rumor was that the queen would ruin all French ladies.

And according to Jane Austen's cousin Eliza Hancock, later Eliza de Feuillide, people looked as if they had been "dipped in a meal-tub."

After the foundation was ready, it was time to get creative: the hair would be accessorized, stylized, cut into defining scenes, modeled into shapes, fruits, things, from recent gossip to nativities to husband's infidelities, to French naval vessels like the "Belle Poule", to the pouf "aux insurgents," complete with ships and smoke, in honor of the American Revolution. Some of these insanely elaborate hairdos featured live birds in cages, waterfalls, cupids, and naval battles. In an eccentric display of mourning, one widow had her husband's tombstone erected in her hair.

Because these hairdos were tremendously costly, women would keep them for a week or two. Naturally, since it was coated with animal fat and a powder mixed from flour, the hair would become rancid and would often attract vermin -- ostensibly the origin of the term "her hair is a 'rats nest'. " And how would they mask the stench of the rotting pomades? French perfumes, naturellement!

It's axiomatic of of any era that women who are slaves to high fashion will endure physical pain and make all sorts of physical sacrifices to sport the latest style. [I admit that my definition of a "sensible shoe" is that the heel height is a mere 3" ]

In Marie Antoinette's day, women developed backaches from the weight of their coiffeures. Carriage interiors were not high enough to accommodate these overwrought constructions, and women might travel for miles crunched over and crumpling their full skirted silk gowns because their hair would not travel upright.

Like the look? I saw this wig online for a mere $90. If you were to decorate it yourself with an eye toward illustrating our own current events, what would you use to adorn it?

25 August 2008

Voyage of Distraction

Parliament, the actual building was my self-directed subject for today. It is fascinating but the distractions of life, the Internet and the pursuit of a deadline kept me from enough research to sound informed on even the most basic discussion of its architecture, much less how the space was used, destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Like all aspects of the way people live, it fascinates me and someday I will write that post.

Then I decided that I would write about research itself and how much I enjoyed it and what a distraction it can be. How often has it happened to you: you become fascinated with what your characters were reading, wearing, eating and the story slipped away as you read more and more about the origins of the use of, say, cinnamon?

My post began:

Research has been one of my favorite pastimes ever since I discovered the nonfiction section at the library. In college when I was looking for a subject for a peper I would wander the stacks in the appropriate area and find a book or two or four that would catch my attention, spark curiosity.

That’s how I found WJ Cash and his book, MIND OF THE SOUTH. To this day I have no idea if this book has any merit but it helped explain segregation to me. Not
that it was acceptable, but why it existed at all.

Then I was distracted (Do you see a theme here?) and thought, I have constant access to the Internet. I can find out if Cash’s books was valuable or just a bunch of myth and babble.

Amazon gave me exactly what I wanted. Could it be any easier? MIND OF THE SOUTH, first published in 1941, is not only a classic on the post(Civil War) South but it is still in print. Wow, good pick, Mary, I thought. It made me feel better about a book that has so shaped my thoughts.

Distracted again, I read the Amazon reviews. M. Bromberg wrote the best summary of comments: “The fact that Cash's work has been vilified and re-evaluated over many years, even by the reviews here, is an indication that the concepts and issues he described more than sixty years ago are still debated today -- a true picture of the mind of the South in the 21st century.”

Art Chance’s review struck me as the closest to my experience and well written: “I can feel Cash in my very bones; a dose of Tom Watson populism, a dose of Mencken's cynicism, and a whole bunch of the self-loathing that a defeated and impoverished people wore like tattered old clothes every day. Some neo-Southerners call Cash a South-hater, but they miss the point; Cash wanted desperately to love The South, but could find little to love except myth.”

As I finished that review I looked again at the name of the reviewer and noticed that he was from Juneau, Alaska. Hey, I lived in Juneau. It’s not a big place. Maybe I met him. Distracted again, I clicked on his profile and then used the almighty Google and found out he works for the Alaska State Government and has written Amazon reviews for everything from a book on modern hydronic heating (huh?) to how to prepare a case for labor arbitration. I KNOW he is an Alaskan at heart, his interests have that amazing Renaissance quality that made me feel so at home there.

I found his phone number too and want to call and ask if his son is back from Afghanistan yet and how is latest wood-working project is going (info found in two other reviews). Of course I’m not calling him, this is a sufficient invasion of his privacy (but it was all on Amazon). I think my next step is to email some Juneau pals and see if they know him. Maybe I did meet him. In any case, at this point, I feel like I know him.

In the end it was a person named Art Chance who caught my attention and where I spent most of “research” time this morning. Could that be why I write stories that are character driven and that, as much as I like research, it’s the story that will capture me?

Finally I Googled WJ Cash himself. His story is so like a novel that I am going to save it for another post. Or you can check out Wikipedia yourself. In case you need a push -- he moved to Mexico in 1941 and one night told his wife he was being followed by Nazi spies.

What has distracted you lately? The Olympics? A good book? The Veep Sweepstakes? The last weeks of summer? Please tell us so that I know am not alone.

22 August 2008

Brideshead Revisited, Again

Having experienced the “wonder years of PBS”— those fabulous Sunday nights waiting for the latest installment of Poldark, I Claudius, Up the Downstairs Staircase . . . I jumped in line to see the just-released movie Brideshead Revisited.

I was hoping for a great “Merchant Ivory-like” film set in pre-WW II England and some Waugh magic, but I think my expectations were too high. I am not going to write a full blown movie review here—there are plenty of those elsewhere. What I will say is I found myself looking at my watch during the show. Often.

The acting was passable (but not gripping) and the period costumes were fine, but the movie just failed to draw me in. Here’s why: the setting in this story is paramount to the GMC of the protagonist and from the looks of it, the producers did not invest or focus on the setting enough—Brideshead Castle, in real life known as the FABULOUS Castle Howard in Camden England.

Castle Howard (circa 1750) was used for the filming of PBS’s 1980s version of Brideshead Revisited (all 11 installments) and sad to say, in the 2008 movie, in contrast to the PBS version, there is relatively little of the interior castle in any scene. We get snippets of the chapel, the mantel paintings and a few other spots. Show me the sweeping entrance hallway with its grand marble staircase, or the whole crimson dining room (not just the end of the table where the family sits), or the turquoise drawing room. Show me the bedrooms and the expanse of the library and the ballroom. Where were the panoramic views of the gardens and the grounds? I wanted to see this place so coveted by the ambitious commoner named Charles Ryder.

I wanted to want what he wanted.

Did the producers only get the rights to use portions certain rooms--the antique passageway and the fountain, a peacock? What happened here? I never got the sense of grandeur that I know is Castle Howard.

Setting is character. I might have been semi-satisfied with the movie if it had at least delivered some element of what it was supposed to be—a sweeping, historical family saga set against a magnificent estate from a bygone era.

Castle Howard wasn’t the only setting that got the short shift in this movie--check out the depiction of a street carnival in Venice. There were maybe 100 badly-costumed extras hired for this scene, but one of the main characters is supposed to be swept away this “crowd” and scared, all this building to the sexual tension between her and the protagonist (and a pivotal scene in the plot)—but sorry, I just didn’t buy it. Venice is bigger than that. And so is the castle.

If you would like to see what Castle Howard really looks like, check out:


Worth coveting, eh? Even better photos can be found by just googling "Images Castle Howard."

Did anyone else see this movie and feel like the house didn’t get enough air time?

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19 August 2008

Charting the world of a series

As I've mentioned before, I love series, both as a reader and a writer. I love going back to a familiar world, catching up with old friends, seeing how their lives have developed, meeting new people in that world. I love returning to worlds created by my favorite authors or returning to the world of my own characters and exploring their further adventures. In many ways, I find it easier to write about my continuing characters than new ones. It always takes me several chapters to get the voice of new characters, while I can pick up with Charles and Mélanie and Raoul and David and Simon and others and know precisely how they talk. But writing a series also presents challenges, particularly for the historical writer. You have to keep track of complex chronologies, details in the lives of your characters intermixed with historical events. Then there are physical descriptions, layouts of houses that appear in more than one book, whether they went to Eton or Harrow, Oxford or Cambridge, if the family's secondary estate is in Leicestershire or Hertfordshire, the name's someone's married sisters who never actually appeared in the book (and which one of them was pregnant during said book), and a host of other details. Last month when Joanna Bourne visited us, I asked her about keeping track of details in a series. Joanna's recently released My Lord and Spymaster is connected to The Spymaster's Lady, set a few years later, while her third book is set earlier than both.

Joanna replied, Ummm ... I have a table. Doesn't everyone?

Well, no, I confess I don't. It actually never occurred to me to use spreadsheets that way (which perhaps has something to do with the fact thatI have yet to become truly proficient with Excel :-). As Joanna explained it, The left hand column, year by year, is how old my characters are and what they're doing and whether they ever meet.

Right hand column, year by year. is what's happening in the world.

Kalen Hughes also uses spreadsheets for the wonderfully interconnected world of her historicals. I keep track of how old my characters are, how old “real” people were, and all kinds of events, everything from what books were being published to what horses won races to what scandals were in the news. Makes it much easier to just grab a bit of history when I need it and keep writing.

A lot of other writers I've talked to use Excel or that if they were starting a new series they'd keep a workbook with a tab for each book and include the relevant details that are so easy to confuse like physical descriptions, eye color, etc...

Candice Hern, who creates vivid, interwoven worlds, keeps a notebook for each book, in which I have all sorts of info. In a series, I will often need to go back to a previous book's notes to see where the previous hero lived, or something liked that. The first two pages are ALWAYS physical descriptions of the hero and heroine. If I need to trot out a previous heroine and can't remember her eye color, for example, I just go to the first page of her notebook and there it is. I find it quicker and easier than hunting down a description in a manuscript or printed book. Eminently sensible, as I've at times found myself doing a search/find to track down physical descriptions in a prior book, and I know other writer who've done the same.

Part of the problem, is that one doesn't always know in the beginning precisely where a series is going. Lauren Willig says of her wonderful Pink Carnation books, In retrospect, if I had known that the series was going to become as long and convoluted as it has, I would have kept better notes from the beginning. I hadn't really thought I would need to keep track, because everything just was as it was-- when I began the series, I had a very clear idea of who everyone was, who their relations were, what their homes looked like, and so on. It was like chatting about friends. You know exactly who they are and what they look like and what they did last week. Fast-forward seven years... and suddenly I couldn't remember things like characters' exact ages or the floorplans of their homes, even though I knew, just knew, I had written it down somewhere. Also not unlike chatting about friends, only this time it was less like recapping last week, and more like telling stories of my college days: having to go back and consult my diaries to make sure I hadn't muddled it in my memory with the passage of time. My organizational method (such as it is!) for each book is to label a manilla folder with Pink I, or Pink II, or whichever, and then, as I work, to store any notes and scribblings I produce while writing that book into that folder. So when I went back to my original Pink I folder, I found a number of family trees, floorplans, clothing descriptions, and so on, which were fairly useful-- except for the bits I had changed during Book II. Or III. Fortunately, I found very few outright contradictions, but I did find a number of cases where the later versions differed from my original plans, having developed as the demands of the storyline required. In some ways, I'm glad I didn't codify the family trees earlier on, because leaving it fluid helped the series to grow by leaving me the room to add extra siblings or characters (or delete ones who I originally intended to produce, but never got a mention in any of the books). If I had been more organized earlier on, my books would have been very different stories and probably much worse for it. But somewhere around Book III or IV, I hit the point where the need for fluid development cedes way to the necessity of consistency.

As for me, I keep character profile sheets for my major characters. The year they were born, parents, siblings, physical description. Here's one for Charles's aunt, Lady Frances:

Lady Frances Traquair Dacre-Hammond

Parents—Malcolm Traquair, 7th Duke of Rannoch and Louise de Lisle.

Siblings—Elizabeth, b. 1765, Marjorie, b. 1774.

Married George Dacre-Hammond, 1787.

Children—Cedric, b. 1788, Aline, b.1795, Christopher, b. 1797, Judith, b. 1799, Chloe, b. 1808.
[Cedric married Maria. Two children as of 1819, Algernon, b. 1815, Ronald, b. 1817). Aline married Geoffrey Blackwell in 1814, see separate entry; Judith married in 1817].

Appearance—striking, sharp boned face, not classically beautiful but unforgettable, bright gold (brighter through the years) hair, pale skin, deep blue eyes that turn purple with the right clothes. Wears shades of purple. Penciled brows. Wears spectacles.

After those details, I write a history/character analysis, with key events and other pertinent details. Characters who don't have their own profile (such as Lady Frances's children who haven't appeared in a book yet) at least have details noted on her sheet.

I also keep a timeline, with key events in my characters' lives interwoven with historical events (there's a simplified one on my Avon microsite). And I have a lot of scraps of paper (hopefully in a folder or binder but not always) with floorplans, family trees, and assorted jottings. I don't consider a detail set in stone until it actually appears in a book, though. Like Lauren, I try to keep things fluid enough to allow me to explore as I write the series. I don't consider details set in stone until they've appeared in a published book. And even with the family trees that are in Beneath a Silent Moon, I'd feel okay adding a sibling who doesn't appear there (for instance, Lady Frances's sister Marjorie isn't there for space reasons, though she's been part of Charles and Mélanie's world in my head for some time). One of the things that was great about the recent re-release of Beneath a Silent Moon was being able to add William, 7th Earl Carfax to the family tree, which explains why John (who was on the original family tree) is the 8th Earl, though his father was the 6th. Not a major issue in Beneath, but key to The Mask of Night (the next book in the series).

I have xeroxed maps of Regency London, with fictional locations written in. And I keep a leaded glass box on my desk with photos of locations I've used in my books (at the top of the post that's me in front of Drum Castle, which was one of the models for Dunmykel). Using real locations as the basis for settings in my books helps, but of course I constantly have to remember what details of the real setting I changed for my fictional one. And perhaps my most invaluable aid is copies of my books beside my computer. I'm constantly looking things up from previous books :-).I'd love to hear from other authors about how they keep chart their fictional worlds. Readers, do you go back to prior books in a series to check details? Do inconsistencies bother you? What series worlds do you find particularly memorable?

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18 August 2008

Secret San Francisco: The Sutro Baths

From Wikipedia:

"The Sutro Baths were opened to the public as the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment. The Baths were built on the sleepy western side of San Francisco by wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco (1894-1896), Adolph Sutro. The vast glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete structure was mostly hidden, and filled a small beach inlet below the Cliff House which was also owned by Adolph Sutro at the time. Both the Cliff House and the former Baths site are now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and operated by the United States National Park Service.

A visitor to the Baths not only had a choice of 7 different swimming pools—one fresh water and six salt water baths ranging in temperatures—but could visit a museum displaying Sutro's large and varied personal collection of artifacts from his travels, a concert hall, seating for 8,000, and, at one time, an ice skating rink. During high tides, water would flow directly into the pools from the nearby ocean, recycling the 2 million gallons of water in about an hour.

The baths struggled for years, mostly due to the very high operating and maintenance costs, and eventually closed . . . All that remains of the site are some cement walls, blocked off stairs and passageways, and a tunnel with a deep crevice in the middle. The Sutro Bath ruins are open to the public, but a warning sign advises strict caution, as visitors have been swept off by large waves and drowned at the site."

This is a favorite place of mine in San Francisco. It's sort of an unknown gem, a bit off the beaten track. When I was in grad school I used to ride the bus out to the shore and spend all day there, reading, studying, just enjoying being outside in such a beautiful setting (which, unlike Golden Gate Park, isn't overrun with homeless people).

If I ever wrote a Victorian-era novel, I'd certainly set it here in the Barabry Coast, and my characters would have to visit the baths!

15 August 2008

Medieval Dentistry

Last week I had some dental surgery work (don’t read this part if you’re squeamish); basically, it involved cutting out a small portion of roof-of-the-mouth tissue and suturing it onto the gum holding my lower front teeth in place. Sound awful?

While reclining in the dentist’s chair I started thinking about dental procedures in much earlier eras like Egypt and the Middle Ages. What did they know about filling cavities, or pulling teeth, or lancing abscesses, or ... ?

Turns out they knew quite a lot. Recovered jawbones show carie fillings, evidence of extractions, even wired-together bridgework among ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and the old Etruscans (500-700 B.C.) who preceded the founding of Rome. In one case, two incisor teeth were replaced by a single tooth from a calf, grooved to make it seem like two separate teeth.

In Roman times, gold caps were made of two plates of gold riveted together and then riveted to metal bands to hold the cap in place. One source holds that the reason one lady’s teeth are white and another’s dark is that White Teeth bought hers, and Dark Teeth still had her own! Fillings of wax, resin, and lead were used. Giovanni of Arcoli (Johannes Arculanus), a professor of medicine and surgery at Bologna and Padua (died 1484) mentions using gold as a filling material.

Much ancient knowledge was lost in the Middle Ages, though it never disappeared completely; Aetius, an early Christian writer on medicine and surgery, discusses extraction. Paul of Aegina and later Arabian physicians continued the tradition. Sophisticated dental instruments were used to fill teeth or extract them, even correct mouth deformities.

The 12th and 13th centuries experienced a great revival in surgery along with renewed interest in dentistry. One Guy de Chauliac, in his “Le Grande Chirurgie,” reveals that while his understanding of anatomy might be flawed, his discussion of the causes of dental decay is accurate: Don’t eat sweet, sticky foods; clean the teeth often but not too roughly; and avoid breaking hard things with the teeth.

Dental care included use of toothpicks (preferably made of cypress twigs), mouth washes (including rinsing with wine or a concoction of wild mint and pepper), ointments, and tooth powder made of ground cuttle bone, small white shells, pumice, burnt stag’s horn, nitre, alum, rock salt, iris root, and reeds.

Various instruments were used for cauterization, fillings, bridgework and extractions: scrapers, rasps, curved and straight spatulas, toothed forceps, probes, canulas (tubes to probe a cavity or tumor to release fluid), trephines (small circular saws with a center pin mounted on a metal shaft used to remove circular disks of bone or tooth), and files. Treatment of polyps involved making an incision at the root, drawing the polyp out with toothed forceps, and [gasp] daubing the stump with a hot iron or a cotton plug dipped in aqua fortis (nitric acid).

But, alas, no novocaine. Instead, copious amounts of wine and/or opium were used to dull the discomfort. Our ancestors must have been a hardy bunch!

[In contrast, my experience was not awful. I was in the chair at 10 a.m. and out at 11, and I didn’t feel a thing (aside from the initial poke of the novocaine needle). Oh, bliss. I was numb for about 3 hours and only then did it hurt. But I had ibuprofen and Tylenol and straws to drink smoothies through–all in all, I am a happy dental camper.]

11 August 2008

A Slice of Recent History

I know we usually post about pre-1900 history here on the History Hoydens blog, but with last week's Romance Writers of America conference being held here in my beloved home town of San Francisco, I thought I'd share a little local history today.

I'm lucky enough to have a private office in San Francisco, which doubles as a writing space and my primary work location for Loose Id (some of you may not know that I'm one of the founders and the CFO). The Flood Building todayTomorrow my office is moving to an historic building here in San Francisco with the somewhat ominous sounding name "The Flood Building". (Actually, it's named in honor of the builder's father, James Clair Flood, who passed away shortly before the building was completed in 1904). Those of you who were at the RWA conference last week could see the building right across Market street, on the triangular block bounded by Market Street, Powell Street, and Ellis Street. It's such a major landmark that mail addressed simply to "The Flood Building" will reach its recipient.

The site that the Flood Building rests on was once the home of the historic Baldwin Hotel & Theater, built by notorious womanizer and colorful gold rush multi-millionaire Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin. Once the West Coast's grandest hotel, the Baldwin building was destroyed by fire in 1898.

In 1902, James L. Flood purchased the plot of land where the rubble of the Baldwin Hotel lay and hired renowned architect Albert Pissis to build an enormous office building in honor of his late father, James Clair Flood. When the modern steel-frame building was completed in 1904, it was the largest building in San Francisco -- twelve stories high and 293,837 square feet. The cost of raising the building was $1,500,000.

Union Square after the 1906 FireWithin two years, the tragic event native San Franciscans refer to as "The Fire" occurred. Very few structures survived the disaster; today the Flood Building is in an elite category of "Splendid Survivors" -- buildings that stood through the 1906 earthquake and the devastating fire that followed. The photo at left shows the damage in Union Square; dozens of other steel frame structures were obliterated, leaving the skeletons of their steel frames. It's comforting to know that my office is in a Splendid Survivor. Those steel frames and brick curtain walls, covered by California Colusa sandstone and slabs of marble from the Stanislaw river, withstood a 7.9 magnitude quake and a fire that destroyed over 500 blocks of the city. I'm pretty confident, should the worst happen -- again -- I'll make it down from the twelfth floor in one piece.

There's an interesting literary legacy to the Flood Building as well. Dashiell Hammett fans believe the Flood Building was the site of Hammett's Continental Detective Agency. Hammett lived nearby, and his descriptions of the Continental Detective Agency appear to be a thinly veiled representation of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which had its offices in number 314 of the Flood Building.

John's GrillHammett often ducked out the Ellis Street entrance of the Flood Building to grab a bite at John's Grill, a restaurant right next door. In the Maltese Falcon, John's Grill is where Sam Spade asks the waiter to "hurry his order of chops, baked potato and sliced tomatoes" (because he's in a rush to go rescue Brigid O'Shaughnessy). The restaurant appears in Hammett's books with such regularity that Friends of Libraries, USA has designated the restaurant a national literary landmark. And they still have Sam Spade's pork chops on the menu, complete with baked potato and sliced tomatoes.

The stairs outside my new officeThe interior of the Flood Building is gorgeous, with an old world elegance and a wholly urban feel. It's been used in the filming of several major motion pictures, including 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the original filming of The Maltese Falcon. They even have a Maltese Falcon in the lobby, behind glass (there's one in John's Grill, too, in an upstairs dining room.

Thanks for letting me take this time to chat about a slice of San Francisco history that's near and dear to me. If you have any local bits of history you'd like to share from your home town, or any musings on other literary landmarks, I'd love to hear them.


07 August 2008

In Search of History: A Short Letter from Berlin

I never thought I'd go to Germany -- I or any of my family.

I'm Jewish, after all, and namewise rather visibly so. (That was a conscious decision, btw, and I knew I'd made it correctly when Almost a Gentleman came out in 2003, some commenter on All About Romance commented how admirable it was that I'd written it under my own name. An odd business, isn't it, those expectations, perhaps changing these days, about romance authorship).

Anyway, when I was a kid, the scars of the holocaust were too raw.

But things change. The world changes, and how we see it changes too. It's with some surprise that I remind myself that this process is called history.

A few years ago my nephew Dmitri married a lovely young German woman named Julia and moved to Berlin with her. And soon after I began hearing about what a cool, fun city Berlin was -- filled with vibrant, creative people. Dmitri took German lessons -- at the Jewish Community Center in Berlin. "It's like San Francisco," my friend rebel-techie Mitch Altman told me, "only if everybody you liked could afford to live there." Even Travel and Leisure magazine agrees that it's "easily Europe's coolest metropolis." And novelist Gary Shteyngart announces that that the "short, non-Teutonic folks are coming."

History. Still happening. Cities change -- and in the case of San Francisco and its burgeoning rents, not so nicely some ways, either.

So here I am, with my husband and laptop, at the breakfast table with Dmitri and Julia -- and four-year-old Maxine and year-old Cornelius -- in the lovely loft apartment they've just moved into. It's pretty far east, in a converted leather factory, so it's got nice brick walls and high ceilings. Not much around it. Yet. But happening neighborhoods keep springing up further and further east, where "the people you like can afford to live." I took a picture of graffiti proclaiming that this is "NewWeirdBerlin" -- I'll post it on my own webpage when I figure out how to download it. And while we were riding the streetcar to Kreuzberg (my generation's happening neighborhood, with a sizable Turkish now population as well) I should have thought of photographing the old socialist-looking building under renovation, with its banners proclaiming that what's "aus" -- out -- is now in.

Of course there's more to history than "in" and "out," style and graffiti -- and in this city that's seen so much horror and suffering, that's been bombed and leveled, rebuilt, divided and sutured back together again, there's much to muse about.

But today we've got to get to the new train station, to take a trip to Potsdam, where Frederick the Great built Sans Souci, his Versailles, or perhaps his happening neighborhood.

Come to my own web site soon for more... history... and musings about how to chase after it.

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The Lady is a Fraud . . .

The heroine of my new book, A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure, is a fraud. Emma Jensen needs a new identity in order to gamble her meager inheritance into a self-sustaining annuity. And by gamble, I mean literally. Emma has a gift for risk and numbers, and she means to mine the pockets of London’s gentleman for her funds. She can’t frequent gambling parties as an unmarried gentlewoman, so she concocts an alias: the Dowager Lady Denmore.

Now, the ton is a relatively small group of people, so how to let her pull this off realistically? Everybody knew everybody, or at least knew of everyone.

First, I tried to use as much common sense as possible. Emma’s own father had been the ninth Baron Denmore. When he died, the title reverted to her great-uncle, and Emma reverted to him as well. After living with him for years, she knows him well enough to tell stories of his youth that even his old friends wouldn’t question. And her uncle was garden-mad in his old age. He no longer traveled or socialized, and no longer even wrote letters to anyone other than fellow rose breeders. So when Emma appears in London, claiming to be his young widow, it seems perfectly logical to those who once knew him. When he inherited the title, of course he would’ve felt obligated to marry and try for an heir.

But she needs to be sure not to run into anyone from her area of Cheshire. And she can’t risk running into the new Lord Denmore, who’d recognize her story as a lie right away. So Emma travels to London in October, when most of the ton have retired to their country estates. She finds lodging, introduces herself to one of her uncle’s old friends, and begins to make the rounds. The few gentlemen left in London are bored and restless... and perfectly amenable to a few games of chance with a lovely young widow.

Despite all my careful planning, I still felt a bit uneasy. Could this really be done? If so, it must have been done before. I headed to the University of Utah to look for books about charlatans.

I found a few books, but most of them seemed to be about Americans. Funny, huh? Even the hoaxes involving fake lords and ladies starred resourceful Brits who arrived in the US and declared themselves noble. Who could resist such a perfect opportunity?

But keep in mind that a truly successful hoax would never have been discovered, so it does make research a bit sketchy. Still, I was starting to get desperate, so I checked out a couple of encyclopedic collections of hoax stories and skimmed each and every story individually. Finally, I got a few hits with HOAXES AND SCAMS by Carl Sifakis (1993).

Charlatan #1: Byron’s Illegitimate Son
A man arrived in London in the 1840’s, claiming to be the illegitimate son of Lord Byron. George Gordon De Luna Byron claimed to have been a major with the East India Company. This is a pretty brazen lie, as you’d expect him to run into SOMEONE who would know he’d never been with the Company. Despite being ignored by Byron’s family, George remained in London for years, trying to get himself recognized as legitimate. One must assume that at least some people believed his claims, as he sold alleged letters from his father to support himself. (These were later proved forged.) At the very least, he moved about freely and didn’t get himself arrested. He did not decamp until 1852... sailing for America, of course.

Funny enough, an online search revealed this tidbit from the Daily Southern Cross, June 16, 1862 edition: The author mentions “A queer one, calling himself Captain George Gordon de Luna Byron, who is said and believed by many of his acquaintances — though he does not claim it himself — to be the son of the noble English poet.” Never give up. Never surrender.

Charlatan #2: Lord Gordon-Gordon
This guy’s got a long, colorful story, the majority of which takes place after he arrives in - you guessed it - America in 1868. But he needed a little con to get him started on his journey. He started in good old England by establishing himself as “Lord Glencairn” and ingratiating himself with the local clergy who were excited to tout their relationship with a grand lord. He built this identity for months before conning a London society jeweler out of 25,000 pounds. I gather from further research that the jeweler was suspicious at the time of the deal, but hesitant to push too far and insult a man who MIGHT be a Scottish lord. Gordon-Gordon went on to swindle money from all sorts of Americans and nearly started a war between Minnesota and Canada. (Ha!) The London jeweler later recognized him from descriptions in the international press, and Lord Gordon-Gordon was finally caught in his own web and shot himself in the head.

Charlatan #3: John Hadfield (1770’s to 1803)
This is my favorite story, because this guy just couldn’t leave well enough alone. John Hadfield did make it to America at first (there’s clearly something in the water here.), where he married the niece of the marquis of Granby. But he deserted her - the first in a long line of deserted wives - and sailed back to England to live as a bachelor. He ran up huge debts using the names of people related to his wife, knowing they wouldn’t have him thrown in jail. Then he got another relative - a duke! - to pay off all those debts to salvage his wife’s honor.

It was a bad move on the duke’s part. Hadfield kept up his impersonations and had to be bailed out at least one more time. The third time, Hadfield was thrown in jail. Still, he landed on his feet and gained the sympathies of a rich widow whom he married after getting out of prison. Two years later, he moved back to London as a bachelor, though he was engaged to yet a third woman at the time.

In London, he posed as a wealthy (and real) colonel and married a renowned debutante in a huge society wedding. He was exposed as a fraud three days later (duh!) and left his third wife behind. He was caught and hung in 1803. Unfortunately, his latest bride was pregnant at the time.

Whew! That guy was insanely bold. Not only did he sometimes impersonate ACTUAL people who had ACTUAL friends, but he himself was known among society by his real in-laws. No wonder he got caught.

I think what I discovered in my research is that the key to pulling off a hoax in England was to make it short and sweet. Emma Jensen wasn’t trying to swindle her way into a marriage. She wasn’t setting herself up for a lifetime of lies. She just needed to make a little money before disappearing for good, so I think her deception would have been more than possible. I’m not sure her ruse would have ever been noticed if not for an unwise affiliation with a notorious duke. Those torrid affairs do tend to draw attention...

You’ll have to read the book to learn what happens. *wink*

Thank you so much to all the Hoydens for inviting me to visit. It feels good to be back! Do any of you have good stories of period imposters?

06 August 2008

Royal Mistresses: Defining Their Own Destinies

Actress Dorothy Jordan, mistress to the Duke of Clarence for two decades

A couple of months ago I wrote an article for a web site that focuses on women's empowerment issues. The site's creator, Barrie-Louise Switzen, was interested to know how royal mistresses' lives tied in with her theme. I maintain that in many cases royal mistresses had more options open to them than the queens whose connubial prerogatives they usurped.

One thing that struck me as I researched the lives of the royal mistresses who are profiled in my nonfiction debut ROYAL AFFAIRS was that for the most part, these women were not “victims” who were thrust into compromising relationships with men they didn’t love. On the contrary, they were clever women who, given the legal and social constraints on females during their day, had the rare opportunity to shape their own destiny—and grabbed it with both hands.

Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine; 1st Duchess of Cleveland; mistress to Charles II

Now, I can’t say that many of the mistresses I “met” during my research were “nice girls.” Many of them were greedy and grasping, with their hands in the treasury, the privy purse, and the pockets of those who sought to gain patronage from their royal lovers. King George I had two German mistresses who exemplify this type. Lady Castlemaine, one of Charles II’s favorite mistresses and the mother of several of his children was renowned for her relentless greed. But that’s not to say that these women didn’t passionately—and occasionally too passionately—adore their men. And, no matter whether you’d want to have lunch with them, these women—all of them—were significantly more empowered in their day than just about any other women of their era, including the queen-consorts, their “rivals” for the monarch’s affection. In general, a queen-consort was little more than a well-dressed womb whose job was to produce the requisite “heir and a spare” and remain otherwise chaste, maintaining a stainless reputation in order to avoid all suspicion that her children might not have been spawned by her husband, the sovereign.

"Pretty, witty Nell Gwyn"; mistress to Charles II

Some of the women profiled in ROYAL AFFAIRS had careers of their own before they met their royal lovers. Nell Gwyn, Mary Robinson, and Dorothy Jordan were the most celebrated actresses of their day; although some people probably didn't consider it much of a journey to go from actress to mistress. To be an “actress” (even if you performed the works of Shakespeare and other “serious” dramatists) was already tantamount to being a prostitute. Actresses displayed their bodies on the public stage—for money! They were notoriously considered loose-moraled, supplementing their salaries on the gifts (monetary and otherwise) that came from their various “admirers.” But my research into royal affairs led me to a great hypocrisy, which should not have surprised me, I suppose, yet as an actress myself, it made me shiver with anger.

The double-standard I discovered was that acting was considered a disgraceful profession for the reasons I cited above, yet the royals thought nothing of (even if they were married—or if the actress was married), consummating a passionate and frequently adulterous affair with them. However, if they wished to become the prince’s or king’s mistress—before such extra-connubial canoodling could take place, the actresses were requested by their royal lovers to put aside their “disgraceful” and “shameful” profession—the career that had gained these women recognition and renown (as well as an independent income—a rare thing for a woman before the 20th century).

Mary Robinson, mistress to the future George IV

My Forward to ROYAL AFFAIRS includes a paragraph about royal mistresses and how many of them they were able to parlay their unusual opportunity into a life-changing event:

And what of the mistresses? During the earlier, and more brutal, eras of British history, a woman didn’t have much (if any) choice if the king exercised his droit de seigneur and decided to take her to bed. Often, girls were little more than adolescents when their ambitious parents shoved them under the monarch’s nose. However, most of the mistresses in Royal Affairs were not innocent victims of a parent’s political agenda or a monarch’s rampaging lust. They were clever, accomplished, often ambitious women, not always in the first bloom of youth and not always baseborn, who cannily parlayed the only thing they had—their bodies—into extravagant wealth and notoriety, if not outright fame. In many cases, their royal bastards were ennobled by the king, making excellent marriages and living far better than their mothers could have otherwise provided. Eventually taking their place in the House of Lords, the mistresses’ illegitimate sons went on to become the decision makers who shaped an empire and spawned the richest and most powerful families in Britain.

Who are your favorite royal mistresses--and why?

05 August 2008

Welcome (back), Victoria Dahl!!!

Raised by a titled, yet degenerate, father, Emma Jensen never imagined the gambling lessons she learned as a child would one day serve her well. When she finds herself in dire need of money, she concocts the alias of Dowager Lady Denmore and sets off to bewitch London’s noblemen by engaging them in games of chance. The fact that respectable ladies do not gamble does not intimidate her in the least. But the darkly handsome Duke of Somerhart does—for he’s awakened a deep, sensual hunger in her…

The dashing Duke of Somerhart has the notorious reputation of being one of London’s most incurable rogues. When he meets the alluring Lady Denmore, he is immediately intrigued. Her recklessness and innocence intertwined titillates him as no other woman ever has. But what secret is the lovely Lady Denmore hiding? He’s determined to find out. But first he must seduce her until she surrenders completely to his most wicked desires...

“Dahl brings a highly sensual, emotional and moving story to the pages with aplomb… The depth of emotions will keep you enthralled.”- Romantic Times BOOKreviews

What sparked the story idea for A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure? A non-fiction book? A scene that haunted you? A specific character?

The opening of Rake’s Guide features a race down a staircase on silver platters. I totally stole that from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But my ideas never begin with the opening scene. Instead, I start with one random scene that peaks my interest.

This time was a bit different in that I already knew Somerhart from To Tempt a Scotsman. I’d been living with him for years. He’s cool and perfect and impervious and arrogant. And I could not WAIT to push him into a certain night with a certain heroine, because I wanted to see him the next morning... When he bolts upright in bed, feeling very dirty and wondering how in the hell a country widow persuaded him to debase himself for her entertainment. *snicker* It still makes me smile every time.

If you want to find out what, exactly, happened that night, you’ll have to read the book.

A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure is set in 1845. How did you become interested in this setting?

I settled on the early Victorian because I find it fascinating to write about a transitional time period. Victoria was the queen in 1845, but she was still settling into her reign. She was a young woman, not yet beset by mourning, so her influence was lighter. Society was changing, becoming a bit more rigid and strict in its ideas, but the people of the 1840’s were still emerging from the (extended) Regency.

Because it’s an ambiguous period, I have a bit more leniency. For example, my heroine arrives on the London scene about six months after her husband’s death. (Or this is her story, anyway.) I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in the late Victorian. But in 1845, mourning hadn’t changed all that much from the Regency, and Regency mores were more flexible. While it might have raised a few eyebrows, most people would not have expected a twenty-year-old woman to spend a year in deep mourning after the death of her seventy-year-old husband. It was a marriage of convenience and they would’ve expected a convenient mourning as well.

But I do expect to get a few letters explaining that she couldn’t possibly have shown her face at gambling parties only six months after his death. Fair enough. But you’re totally wrong. *g*

Is there anything about this period that constrained your story? What do you like least about it?

I like almost everything about it. Change makes for a fascinating era. But change is coming so rapidly that it can make research truly difficult. Books that speak in any sort of generalities are useless to me. Practices that were “common” during the Victorian era were likely not yet common in the 1840’s, but I can never be sure if people were still doing things the way they had during the Regency. Urgh! And there aren’t really many books specific to the time. People are fascinated by the Regency and people are fascinated by the Victorian, but not so much the in between.

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

There were two major areas of research for this book. First, my heroine is a gambler, so I had to look into the kinds of gambling that would have gone on in private homes. Then I had to separate the games. My heroine would never rely on pure luck. She has skill and intelligence and a serious need to make money. I really, really wanted her to play something like poker, so I introduced the game of brag (aka “bragg”) which is a precursor to poker. It wasn’t that widely played in this era, but it hadn’t disappeared yet.

I did fudge in one area. For dramatic effect, my heroine is always playing for cash, never on credit.

The other specific subject I researched was historical imposters. Lady Denmore is not really Lady Denmore at all. Emma is masquerading as her great-uncle’s widow, when in actuality she was his niece. She comes to London in the middle of the winter to carefully place herself among the few bored families still in town, and I had to set this up very carefully, because the ton is such a small population. I’ll be blogging a little about this on Thursday.

Oh, and here’s something interesting. In the process of trying to find out about the hierarchy of the Church of England, I stumbled upon some great info. There was a movement during this time period to try to steer the Church back toward its Roman Catholic roots. An internal struggle a little like the struggle in the Catholic church between traditionalists and modernists. (Forgive the terms if they’re not correct.) This little tidbit gave me great and unexpected insight into the villain of the book, a young man obsessed with trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with his lust for the heroine.

Do you have any fun tidbits you’d like to relate about the hero of the book, the Duke of Somerhart?

Mmmm... Hart. Otherwise known as Winterhart. Or Hartless. Such a cool character. But he has a very, very hot past that he basically commands other people to forget. The deep dark truth is that Somerhart was a very happy sensualist when he was a young man. He loved women. All kinds of women. Inappropriate women, especially. He would have been much happier as a second son, free to slink from escapade to escapade for the rest of his life. But duty was pummeled into him, and he suppresses his sensual nature. Poor baby.

What do you have planned for your next book?

The next book will be Lancaster’s story. We meet Viscount Lancaster in A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure, and his story is excerpted at the end of the book. Lancaster is adorable. Very charming and genuinely nice. In fact, when I first envisioned him, he was probably too nice. I had to darken him up a bit. And, boy, did I. You’ll have to let me know if it works for you when the book comes out in 2010!

In addition to a very dark back story, I’ve saddled Lancaster with an unfaithful fiancée he simply can’t leave. Oh, and there’s a ghost in his house, haunting his bedroom, and making him feel very guilty for not helping her when she was alive. The poor Viscount is not having a good year.

And my first contemporary romance, Talk Me Down, comes out in January, so check it out!

04 August 2008

San Francisco Departing

What a fabulous city. How could you not have a great conference in a city that is so welcoming? *I* thought the weather was perfect -- cool and mostly sunny. I arrived on Monday and had a day to recover (ie shop). Flowers everywhere, stores for all ages and wallets and at the heart of it all Union Square.

The work portion of the adventure started off on the highest note -- with the Beau Monde and Hearts Through History joint pre-conference conference. So much information I must admit that I was overwhelmed and wished that some of the workshops had been presented again during the RWA conference. Maybe next year.

Bountiful and endless congratulations to our own Kalen Hughes who was the power behind the organization and several of the presentations. She has an amazing group of friends who all seemed delighted to participate and there were several familiar faces presenting workshops as well. I so appreciate Candace Hearn's willingness to share her collections.

One of the highlights was a chance to meet the History Hoydens face-to-face, even if it was the fifth meal I had at the hotel restaurant (good thing I really like those quesadillas.) Doreen was wearing one of her wonderful scarves, Kathrynn talked about her next book. Kalen seemed relieved and relaxed (if one can apply that word to Kalen). I was too far from Lynna Banning for anything more than hello, Tracy sat across from me and we all talked history and new blog ideas and professional bits and pieces (aka gossip.)Pam was there too and suggested dinner for anyone free and ready to talk more. I was not able to make that dinner but trust that conversation flowed without stop.

The best part of the conference for me is the chance to see friends that live far far away plus a few that are right next door. Lots of time in the bar and in the dining room which means more food and drink than is natural. It also means lots of exercise when I get home.

The only RITA or Golden Heart winners I knew were Madeline Hunter and her excellent editor, Shaunna Summers, (who also happens to be my editor)Congratulations to them both.

All in all it was an A+ conference for me.

This post is only about history to the extent that the conference is in the past. And it is more personal than we usually are. My apologies if that offends but I am still in San Francisco. I leave today and while I will not leave my heart behind, I would come back in a minute.

What did the rest of you think?

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