History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 May 2010

Welcome, Donna Grant

Donna Grant

Forbidden Highlander


Fallon MacLeod has gifts any warrior would covet - fierce strength, unmatched skill, even immortality. But those gifts come at a price that puts everyone he loves at risk. Only when his brother, Quinn, is taken captive does Fallon leave the seclusion of his Highland home to seek the king's aid. And though every women at court would gladly be his for the asking, one alone causes desire to roar to life within him: beautiful, mysterious Larena Monroe.


Rumors swirl around the castle about "The McLeod" but Larena knows the truth. Like Fallon, Larena is searching for a way to vanquish the evil Druid who wants to wreak havoc on earth. Drawn to Fallon in spite of her fear, she surrenders to a passion that shocks them both with its raw intensity. But Larena dares not hope for more - not when she holds a secret that could turn her fiery Highland love against her forever…

FORBIDDEN HIGHLANDER is set in Medieval Scotland. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

I've always loved the medieval era as well as anything to do with Scotland. So it's natural for me to set my books in that time period.

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

I don't remember exactly why I became interested in it. I love

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

I never cared for how little women meant, but that happened a lot throughout history. With my heroes being immortal Highlanders with primeval gods inside them, I needed heroines who could hold their own with the heroes. I wanted strong heroines, which isn't easy to do with my setting.

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

I twisted the reasons why Rome left Britain in order to keep to the legend I created about how the Celts asked the Druids for help in getting rid of the Romans.

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*

None that I know of, but I'm sure I didn't catch everything. :)

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

My hero is the middle of three brothers. Their father was laird of their clan. He and his brothers share a primeval god that has been unbound within them, making them immortal. Their entire clan was destroyed and their lands taken by others. He is the one who holds his brothers together. He was the brother that could charm anyone, especially the women. :)

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

It was the brothers. I was just going to write a trilogy and base it partly on the legend of why Rome left Britain. Then all these other Warriors kept popping up, and I realized I could take this out for several books.

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

Most of my books are set in the medieval period, so I didn't have to do as much research as I used to. Every time I look through any of my research books I find some little interesting tidbit. :)

What/Who do you like to read?

I read only romance. For the longest time I read only historicals, but now I also include anything paranormal, including contemporary paranormals. There are so many great authors that I love to read. Lara Adrian, Shana Abe', Christina Dodd, JR Ward, and the list could go on and on. :)

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?

Oh, I'm a complete pantster! I write Monday - Friday while the kiddos are in school. I tend to just write my first draft, making notes along the way if I realize I need to include/change/delete something earlier in the book. I don't go back an edit as I write. I don't do that until the first draft is finished. Then, I read through it and go more in-depth with characterization and sexual tension as well as fixing everything that needs it. I put it aside for a week, then give it another read before I send it off to my editor.

What are you planning to work on next?

I'm in the middle of the sixth Dark Sword book now, then I need to finish a short story for the Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance due out next January. After that, its back to writing more Dark Sword books! :)

27 May 2010

Welcome, Debra Mullins!

Tempting A Proper Lady
by Debra Mullins


Two years ago, dashing Captain Samuel Breedlove disappeared without a word. But he's resurfaced in London a wealthy man, only to discover his fiancée planning to wed another. Now Samuel needs to restore his good name and expose a villain--and tempting, temptable Cilla seems an ideal accomplice.

Priscilla Burke knows the marriage of her charge, Annabelle Bailey, to the Earl of Raventhorpe must be perfect. It would be madness for her to even consider doing anything that would mar this beautiful day and destroy her fledgling career as a wedding planner. Why then is she so drawn to this irresistible stranger who insists she help him sabotage the impending affair?

But a proper lady’s desire is nothing to toy with. And a man whose character has been questioned cannot allow himself to dream of happily ever after. This not-so-innocent seduction may have unforeseen consequences…

TEMPTING A PROPER LADY is set in Victorian England. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

I needed Americans in the book, and it was one of the periods where England and America were not at war!

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

I’ve written mostly Regency set historicals and wanted to do something a little different. The Victorian era appealed to me because of what was going on in America at the time with the Golden Age of railroad and coal barons. I’ve always been fascinated with that period in history right before the turn of the century.

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

Believe it or not, I had to plot around all the technology! The mail service was up and running, people took trains for long distances, the transatlantic telegraph was operational. I was used to writing Regencies and had become accustomed to plotting in that timeframe with much slower ways of doing things. I had to make adjustments!

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

Not so much altered as ‘translated.’ In this era, there was no such thing as a wedding planner. That concept did not come around until much later. But I needed the equivalent of a contemporary wedding planner to make the plot work, so while Cilla Burke’s job is technically assistant to Mrs. Bailey, she happens to specialize in organizing weddings. Just sort of fell into it. However, on some of the promo, you will see the publisher referring to her as a wedding planner for the sake of quick understanding for the reader.

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*

Hopefully I caught any errors before we went to press! I did have someone running off to Gretna Green, only to discover that law ended about 20 years before my book takes place. But people could still run off to Scotland to get married without parental consent, as long as one of them had resided in Scotland for at least three weeks. So I got around that by giving the groom an estate in Scotland.

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

Samuel Breedlove used to sing to his sweetheart Annabelle at night as they sat on her parents’ porch.

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

The idea for this book came from a casual conversation with my editor at a conference. She was about to be in a wedding and I had just planned my own wedding, so we were chatting about how crazy people get when they have to be in a wedding. Later that day, I found myself scribbling down the first inklings of the idea that became the Brides of Nevarton Chase series. This is book one.

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

The Victorian era was new for me, and a lot was happening in England at the time. The world in general was exploding with new technology. One thing I did learn was that most of our current traditions around weddings started with Queen Victoria, including the bride wearing white on her wedding day. Before that a girl would just wear her best dress.

What/Who do you like to read?

I love the classics like Julie Garwood, Loretta Chase and Amanda Quick. Nora Roberts is my favorite writer, especially her J.D. Robb series. I also love Jayne Ann Krentz in all her incarnations, Marjorie M. Liu and Robin D. Owens. Mercedes Lackey is another favorite.

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

I am a pantser for the most part. I write a synopsis of the whole story and then I start writing the story. If I know where I am going, I can write very quickly, and the characters come to life on their own. Most of the time I read over what I wrote the day before, make some edits, then move forward.

What are you planning to work on next?

I just finished TOO WICKED TO LOVE, book 2 in the Brides of Nevarton Chase series, which is about John Ready and Genny Wallington-Willis. It’s due out from Avon in June 2011. I am currently planning book 3 about Annabelle and Black Bill, and I am also working on a paranormal contemporary series for Tor Paranormal Romance.

26 May 2010

The Hoydens welcome Cara Elliott

It’s my great pleasure to welcome Cara Elliott back to the History Hoydens! Some of you may already know Cara Elliott as Andrea Pickens. Under either name, she’s earned a reputation for fast-paced, meticulously researched Regency-set romance, from her Pickens “Spy” trilogy to the current Circle of Sin series under the Elliott nom de plume. Her latest in the Circle of Sin series, To Surrender to a Rogue, has already been hailed as a “dazzling book with fiery characters and a mystery to keep you guessing”.

Thanks so much, Cara, for taking the time to be with us today!

Q. You’ve written numerous books now, under multiple names, but always in this time period. What is it that draws you to the Regency? As a related question, do you think you might ever dip into another time period?

The quick answer is Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer! I was captivated early on by the world they created—it seemed a magical blend of romance and reality. I mean, what girl can resist elegant ballgowns, high- perch phaetons and suave heroes tempered by smart, strong-willed heroines.

Then the more I learned about the actual history of the era, the more I became utterly fascinated by the Regency. It was a world aswirl in silks, seduction and the intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars. Radical new ideas were clashing with the conventional thinking of the past—many historians consider it the birth of the “modern” era, as people were questioning the fundamentals of society, and fomenting changes in every aspect of life. For example, you had Beethoven composing emotional symphonies, Byron composing wildly romantic poetry about individual angst, J.M.W. Turner dabbling in impressionistic watercolors and Mary Wollstonecraft writing the first feminist manifestos.

I find the parallel to our own times incredibly intriguing. And as a writer, I feel that allows me to create core conflicts in my fictional characters that can really resonate with today’s readers . . . while still drooling over men in tight leather breeches and boots!

Now, funny you should ask about other time periods! I’ve recently been reading a lot about the late Victorian/Edwardian era and find that an amazingly interesting era as well. (I’m a huge fan of Tasha Alexander and Deanna Raybourn’s books) I’ve got a synopsis and sample chapters that I’m working on . . . so we’ll see where that takes me.

Q. All of your Circle of Sin books involve women with a passionate interest in a
particular scholarly field, first science, now antiquities. What was your inspiration for these heroines and their (scholarly) passions?

The inspiration for the series came a few years ago when I saw a couple of exhibits on extraordinary women of the Romantic era. They showcased a wonderful array of real-life females, from scientists and writers to artists and explorers. Their stories and accomplishments were truly amazing, and it brought home to me how much courage and conviction these women had to dare to defy the conventions of their time in order to pursue their passions.

For example, you had Mary Shelly, who eloped to Europe at age sixteen with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—and then went on to become a famous writer of her own. (We owe the legendary Frankenstein to her pen.) And then there was Augusta Ada Byron King, the daughter of Lord Byron, who was a mathematical genius. She survived an abusive childhood and went on to work with Charles Babbage, helping to develop the precursor to the modern computer.

So I knew right then that I wanted to write a series that celebrated the spirit of these smart, brave women.

Q. What was the most surprising thing you came across in your research for this book?

Alas, I didn’t discover anything half so fun as your mad young ruler, Sikunder Jah, who liked to strangle his concubines with a silk handkerchief. However, I did find myself a little surprised at just how sophisticated a presence the ancient Romans had established in Britain. Of course, I knew of Hadrian’s Wall and had a vague concept of the occupying legions. But the scope and complexity of the Roman temple/baths in Bath, and the vast fortress at Caerleon, which is also rumored to be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot, was something new to me.

Q. In your other, non-Regency life, you have a degree in graphic design. Do you find that your design background influences or informs your writing?

Absolutely. Graphic design is all about communicating a message and evoking a response. For example, a book jacket design should convey some feeling of what the book is about, and be striking enough to catch the eye and make a reader intrigued enough to pick it up. So, some of essential elements of good design are clarity and creativity. How you strike a balance between the two is a constant challenge—in some ways you have to think inside the box and outside the box. You have to deliver a core message, but you want to let your imagination have free rein in doing so. For me, good design requires discipline and analytical thinking, while at the same times it also demands flights of fancy. I think that perspective has actually been wonderful training for writing.

Also, in design, we are usually combining words and visual images—colors, textures and hues are very important. Again I feel that shapes my storytelling. Since I’ve been trained to “see” and “sense” in a medium other than words I feel strongly about trying to create a vivid feel for my settings—the smell of the smoke in the air, the color of candlelight on a face, the look of filigree gold and garnets against silk.

Q. We had a splendid time teaching a class on the Regency romance at Yale this spring. What would you say was the biggest take-away from the class for you?

You mean other than giving thanks to the heavens that I didn’t have to compete against our students when I was applying for admission?

In all seriousness, aside from how smart and thoughtful the kids were, what struck me the most was how strongly romance resonates with this generation of readers. I loved watching their faces as they discussed the different books we read for class, and talked about their feelings on what makes a great hero and heroine. No matter what the specific plot or point of view was, they all reacted so passionately to the basic conflicts and characters. And they took such joy in celebrating the redemptive power of love.

As we created this course, you and I talked a lot about how romance in all its glorious guises has been at the core of human storytelling since the first cuniform letters were pressed into clay tablets and the first raconteurs passed on ancient myths or epic poems from generation to generation. For me, it’s really heartening to see that despite all the high tech developments of the digital age, this elemental connection is as strong as ever.

Q. I’ve heard that you’re writing historical mysteries right now as well as the Circle of Sin books. Can you tell us a bit about them? Does writing in the mystery genre feel very different?

The new books are going to be a Regency-set series featuring a very unconventional lady and lord of the ton who join forces to serve as “unofficial” government sleuths. I’m really excited about branching into a new genre, but in a way, it’s a natural progression for me, as many of my romance books feature a mystery element. The main difference will be a matter of nuance. The development of character and relationships is still incredibly important to me, however, I’m looking forward to weaving in more of the history and culture of the times into the plots, using elements like international trade, politics or the arts as the basis for the mystery. I plan to have my hero and heroine traveling to the Continent and beyond, so it will also be fun to introduce readers to some exotic locales.

Q. Right now, you’re juggling an amazing number of projects. Do you have any advice for the rest of us struggling authors on time management?

I think most people have a lot of the balls in the air these days. I’m a slow writer who needs large chunks of uninterrupted time to get into a story. (I am in awe of people who announce that they’ve written five pages while sitting in the car waiting for a child to finish soccer practice.) So I need to very disciplined about structuring my day. I make up a little sticky note at the start of each morning with a list of the things I want to accomplish. (The residue of my Swiss mother, who had a high regard for order and precision.) As the day progresses, glancing at what isn’t crossed off is a very tangible reminder that I need to get cracking!

I think the biggest thing for any writer to remember is you can’t wait for the Muse to be in a good mood. Sometimes she has to be dragged kicking and screaming to her seat at the keyboard. (Whips and chains are permissible under extreme circumstances, like approaching deadlines.) It also helps to keep a big stash of chocolate in the desk drawer. Sugar and butterfat content can sometimes work miracles.

Q. Your books are all meticulously researched. Do you have any research tips to share?

Actually, I got my best ones from you! That said, I do think that special interest groups, be they historical societies or people who have a passion for something, like fencing or Elizabethan fashion, are wonderful resources. Many of them have good websites that offer a wealth of detail about a specific topic. And there is usually a contact e-mail for questions. My experience is that people are very generous in sharing their knowledge.

Another good source of information is are small specialty museums and traveling exhibitions. The write-ups for the displays are usually very informative, and one can learns all sorts of fascinating facts. I recently spent hours in the Guards Museum in London where I learned, among other things, how to tell what regiment a Guardsman is in by the arrangement of the buttons on his tunic, and why a knitted “ski” cap has a pom-pom on top. (During the Crimean War, British soldiers wore hats to keep warm and the pom-pom provided a cushion for their steel helmets.) I’m a hopeless history geek because I love collecting arcane facts like that.

Q. Can you give us a hint as to what Book 3 in the Circle of Sin series is going to be about?

Kate, the heroine of To Tempt A Rake, is the most unorthodox member of the Circle. She’s spent most of her life sailing around the world, acquiring an expertise in botany . . . along with a number of less ladylike skills. Life in London Society doesn’t hold much appeal for her. And neither does the arrogant Conte of Como. But when all hell break out at her grandfather’s country house party, she has no choice but to team up with The Rake in order to solve a diabolical mystery. Their travels take them to the Congress of Vienna, which was a really fun part of the story to write. Talk about pomp, pageantry and profligate parties! The royals of Europe certainly knew how to have a good time. I hope readers enjoy journeying to a colorful locale outside of England.

Q. And because I have Austen on the brain right now…. Which is your favorite Austen work and why?

Oh, tough question! P&P is really near and dear to my heart, but Persuasion is a close second. Lizzie Bennett and Anne Elliot are by far my favorite Austen heroines. Both are beautifully realized characters who are very real to me—smart, strong, and a little stubborn, yet loyal, vulnerable and capable of admitting they have made mistakes. The nuanced depiction of family and friendships is also wonderfully rendered. I’ve re-read them countless times and still delight in the wit and insight contained within their pages.

25 May 2010

To a Sheik's Home with Richard Burton

Nineteenth century English adventurer, linguist, and explorer Richard Burton lived and traveled in the Middle East at a time when British “blue eyes” were unwelcome. Disguised as an Afghan physician, Burton spent time in Egypt tutored by a once-rich druggist to perfect his Arabic pronunciation and then set off to see for himself the city of Medina (Al-Madinah). He joined a caravan and thus began to see and experience life as an Arabian traveler. He learned, for example, that the larger the turban worn, the greater the owner’s claims of religious knowledge and respectability,

He experienced a great deal more. During Ramazan, for example, when the faithful [including a disguised Burton] are expected to fast for 16 hours each day (not even swallowing their spit!), his traveling companions grew increasingly bad-tempered; the daily heat took its toll so they traveled at night; and they were harassed almost daily by Bedouin tribesmen intent on raiding.

After many armed skirmishes, the caravan arrived safely but tattered and were hosted by one of their party who was a rich, middle class sheik (Shaykh Hamid). The travelers then blossomed from rags (when they wished to be unknown) to fine linen suits of clothes (to establish their prosperity). “The dirty, torn shirt, with the bits of rope round the loins, had been exchanged for a Jubbah or outer cloak of light pink merinos, a long-sleeved Caftan of rich flowered stuff, a fine shirt of Halaili, silk and cotton, and a sash of plaid pattern, elaborately fringed at both ends... His pantaloons were also of Halaili, with tasteful edgings about the ankles like a ‘pantilette’s’,[sic] while his bare and sun-burnt feet had undergone a thorough purification before being encased in new Mizz (inner slippers), and Papush (outer slippers), of bright lemon-coloured leather of the newest and most fashionable Constantinopolitan cut.

“Hugs and tears among family members and equals were typical Arab greetings. It is customary for all relations and friends to call upon the traveller the very day he returns... the pipes therefore stood ready filled, the Diwans were duly spread, and the coffee was being boiled...” Burton observed all and noted it in his journal. [The following quotations are from Burton’s journal.]

The Sheik’s House and Furnishings. “Hamid’s abode is a small corner building ... the ground floor shows only a kind of vestibule, in which coarse articles, like old Shugdufs, mats and bits of sacking are lying about; the rest are devoted to purposes of sewerage. Ascending dark winding steps of ragged stone covered with hard black earth, you come to the first floor, where the men live. It consists of two rooms to the front of the house.

“One room has dwarf windows, or rather apertures in the northern and eastern walls, with rude wooden shutters and reed blinds; the embrasures being garnished with cushions, where you sit, morning and evening, to enjoy the cool air. The ceiling is of date-sticks laid across palm-rafters, stained red, and the walls are of rough scoriae, burnt bricks, and wood-work cemented with lime. The only signs of furniture in the sitting-room are a Diwan [see below] round the sides and a carpet in the centre.

“Behind the rooms is a dark passage, into which the doors open; and the back part of the first story is a long windowless room, containing a Hanafiyah, or large copper water-pot, and other conveniences for purification. A huge wooden box, like a seaman’s chest, occupies one of the corners. In the southern wall there is a Suffah, or little shelf of common stone, sunk under a single arch; upon this are placed articles in hourly use, perfume-bottles, coffee-cups, a stray book or two, and sometimes a turban... Two hooks on the western wall, hung jealously high up, hold a pair of pistols with handsome crimson cords and tassels, and half a dozen cherry-stick pipes.

“The center of the room is never without one or more Shishas (water pipes), and in the corner is a large copper brazier containing fire, with all the utensils for making coffee either disposed upon its broad brim or lying about the floor. The passage, like the stairs, is spread over with hard black earth, and is regularly watered twice a day during the hot weather.

“On the second floor is the kitchen... as usual occupied by the ‘Harim.’... ”

Shishas (water pipes). “The Madinah Shisha is a large cocoa-nut, with a tall wooden stem, both garnished with brass ornaments; some trifling differences in the latter distinguish it from the Meccah pipe. Both are inconveniently mounted upon small brass tripods, and are easily overturned, scattering the fire and water over the carpets.... Some grandees at Al-Madinah have glass Turkish Shishas... of admiral elegance, compared with the clumsy and unsightly Arab inventions.”

The Diwan. “The Diwan is a line of flat cushions ranged round the room, either placed upon the ground, or on wooden benches, or on a step of masonry; varying in height according to the fashion of the day.... Cotton-stuffed pillows, covered with chintz for summer and silk for winter, are placed against the wall, and can be moved to make a luxurious heap; their covers are generally all of the same colour, except those at the end. The seat of honor is denoted by a small square cotton-stuffed silk coverlet, placed in one of the corners, which the position of the windows determines, the place of distinction being on the left of the hose.

The Sheik’s Household. “The household consisted of Hamid’s mother, wife, some nephew and nieces, small children who ran about in a half-wild and more than half-nude state, and two African slave girls.”

Children. Of particular interest is the behavior of children: “... they (children) rushed in en masse, treading upon our toes, making the noise of a nursery of madlings, pulling to pieces everything they could lay hands upon.... One urchin, scarcely three years old, told me, because I objected to his perching upon my wounded foot, that his father had a sword at home with which he would cut my throat from ear to ear. By a few taunts, I made the little wretch furious with rage; he shook his infant fist at me, and then opening his enormous round black eyes to their utmost stretch, he looked at me, and licked his knee with portentous meaning.”

Seclusion of Women. “Our life in Shaykh Hamid’s house was quiet, but not disagreeable. I never once set eyes upon the face of woman, unless the African slave girls be allowed the title. Even these at first attempted to draw their ragged veils over their sable charms, and would not answer the simplest question...

“I never saw, nor even heard, the youthful mistress of the household, who stayed all day in the upper rooms. The old lady, Hamid’s mother, would stand upon the stairs, and converse aloud with her son, and, when few people were about the house, with me.... I often saw parties of women mount the stairs to the Gynaeconitis [women’s quarters], and sometimes an individual would stand to shake a muffled hand [After touching the skin of a strange woman, it is not lawful in Al-Islam to pray without ablution. For this reason, when a fair dame shakes hands with you, she wraps up her fingers in a kerchief, or in the end of her veil.]”

Daily life. “At dawn we arose, washed, prayed, and broke our fast upon a crust of stale bread, before smoking a pipe, and drinking a cup of coffee. Then it was time to dress, to mount, and to visit ... one of the Holy Places outside the city. Returning before the sun became intolerable, we sat together, and with conversation, Shishas and Chibuks [Syrian tobacco), coffee, and cold water [the interior of water jugs are] perfumed with mastich-smoke], we whiled away the time till our dinner, which appeared at the primitive hour of 11 a.m.

Dinner. “The meal, here called Al-Ghada, was served...on a large copper tray, sent from the upper apartments. Ejaculating ‘Bismillah’ - the Moslem ‘grace’ - we all sat round it, and dipped equal hands in the dishes set before us. We had usually unleavened bread, different kinds of meat and vegetable stews; and, at the end of the first course, plain boiled rice eaten with spoons; then came the fruits, fresh dates, grapes, and pomegranates.”

Source: Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah, by Sir Richard F. Burton.

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The Devil She Knows

Hurrah! THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS is published today!

It's my last book with Kate Duffy, too, God bless her soul. I hope she's up there smiling.

I tried to come up with something clever to talk about for today's post. But all I can think about is Kate thinking long and hard when I told her I wanted my heroine to swear she'd committed adultery, during a high-profile divorce trial in the Old Bailey. (So very not the thing to do, according to all the romance tropes!)

Then she looked me in the eye and said, "We can handle that. Go for it."

Thank you, Kate! This one's for you.

Even a devil deserves the good love of a woman...

After avenging the murders of his family, Gareth Lowell headed west to put his demons to rest. Though several years have passed, he still carries the weight of his sins and doesn't believe he deserves to be loved - even by the beautiful Portia Townsend. He's known Portia since she was a young girl, and though she's blossomed into a voluptuous woman, he resists the deep longing she stirs in him.

When Portia realizes Gareth will never see her as anything more than the feisty, silly girl she once was, she decides to move on. Trouble is, Portia has once again gotten herself into a dangerous situation, and the only way out is to marry Gareth - if only temporarily. Turns out getting hitched was the easy part, while giving up a scorching passion is the last thing either are willing to admit...

Have you ever come up against a "rule" in romance or fiction that you wished somebody would take on?

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21 May 2010

Is a Cigar Ever Just a Cigar? (A Brief, Personal, and Uncompleted History of Sex in Romance Fiction)

The significant birthday I'm going to be celebrating soon has its good and its bad aspects. But when I'm feeling down about it I comfort myself that I can blog at this site about anything that interests me because I, after all, am history.

For certainly the romance genre changed since I've been writing in it -- as one of the Smart Bitches might say, let me count the ways, yo. At least from the erotic side of things, which is where I, uh... sit... I'd begin counting thusly:

-- Beginning with those readers who were shocked, shocked, when I suggested, in Almost a Gentleman, that a man might ever be attracted to a man (except for when he was part of that acceptable romance device of bad first husband who didn't make the heroine feel sexually desirable).

-- Or when writing about certain sexual positions was enough, as romance reviewer Mrs. Giggles once said of my novella "A House East of Regent Street," to "send genteel readers into seizures."

-- Not to speak of when it was as though I lived and wrote in two entirely separate worlds -- of the hard-core kink of the erotic novels I wrote as Molly Weatherfield and according to the it's-all-about-the-relationship diktat of the erotic romance I wrote as Pam Rosenthal (and when I was urged to keep my dual identity quiet).

None of which distinctions -- to my great fascination -- seem to hold anymore.

The first set of walls that toppled for me was the necessity of keeping my dual identity under wraps. Even in 2003, just after Pam's Almost a Gentleman was first published and Molly's Carrie's Story was reissued, I organized a joint book party for both my authorial identities, at which "we" read from "our" books and talked about the themes "we" shared, and nobody (including my romance editor) seemed to get too exercised about it. Probably because erotic romance was getting so steamy that the borders between it and erotica were simply melting away (more about this later).

While as for the other two changes I've seen, though -- the almost deadpan readerly casualness nowadays about less conventional physical sex and the growing market for romances between two men: You can see examples of both of these in a recent discussion at DearAuthor.com, titled "Do you Skim/Skip Sex Scenes?" And as someone who tends to give a lot of thought to authorial choices in writing about explicit sexuality, I was fairly well blown away by all the "ho-hum, another anal scene" comments, not to speak of a fair number of "oh well, I just read the m/m stuff..." responses.

Though I shouldn't have been surprised by those "ho hum, another..." responses. Actually, I suppose I should have been able to predict them a few years ago when, at a Romance Writers of America National Conference, I found myself talking at a party to an editor from a romance house just about to launch its erotica line.

The editor (who's no longer in the business) was proud as punch and I was curious to find out more.

"So," I asked, "what authorial take will you be looking for, when writing about sex?"

"Oh," she said, "there'll be a lot more sex."

"Yes," I said. "I imagine so. But you know, erotic writing is... well, it takes a certain sense of... of self... and..." I'm not sure what I was going to say, because the business of writing explicit sex, where craft meets self-exposure and pleasure meets I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-doing-this-but-just-try-and-stop-me continues to astonish, delight, and mortally confuse me.

But I didn't get a chance to say it, because the editor in question didn't seem to find anything confusing about it. "A LOT more sex," she repeated. "TWICE as much as in Almost a Gentleman."

More. Right. I got it. As though MORE was all you knew on earth and all you need to know. Which is why, I think, you get all those ho-hum responses now.

While as for the m/m stuff -- well, here I'm curious and fascinated and working overtime to read and understand the historical journey from Jane Austen, who never wrote a scene between men that didn't have a woman present (because she herself could never have physically witnessed such a conversation) to the increasingly common sexually explicit male/male romance written for women by women.

In fact, I was curious (and sometimes entertained) enough by the m/m romance phenomenon enough to put myself on the line recently and propose a presentation for this summer's IASPR conference (International Association for the Study of Popular Romance) conference in Brussels, Belgium, with the title of "The Queer Theory of Eve Sedgwick at the Edges of the Popular Romance Imagination." Partly because I figured it was the only way I'd ever get myself to read the brilliant late academic Sedgwick with anything like the attention and discipline her work demands. (Sedgwick was one of the originators of what's called "queer theory" -- and no, it doesn't mean that every story or relationship can be "deconstructed" to find a homosexual one beneath... it means something a great deal more complex and interesting, that I hope to write about after I manage my own reading of it to my satisfaction.)

Which is why you're likely to find me in the library most afternoons these days taking apart Sedgwick's dense, magisterial sentences and feeling as I do that I'm splitting atoms of heavy metal and releasing energy that seems to shimmer and shed new light -- on the questions I've been stuttering about for years, in the strange matter of close-up-and-personal erotic and romantic writing.

And yes, I do have some provisional answers. But not now or here. Except for two hints:

-- yeah, it's at least partly about power. Always has been, which is no surprise to me because for the space of my adult life at least, romance and feminism have been leap-frogging each other to make more sense of these issues in the erotic arena.

-- and in Sedgwick's words from her book Epistemology of the Closet (and with a nod to the guy with the cigar):
"...where would the whole, astonishing and metamorphic Western romance tradition (I include psychoanalysis) be if people's sexual desire, of all things, were even momentarily assumed to be transparent to themselves?"
Not to speak (this is me, Pam, now) of how many romance (and romance-inflected) novels we'd have lost along the way. (And I absolutely love that she uses the same word I so often do, "astonishing.")

OK. Readers and writers in the romance (and other) genres: What other changes have you noted, and why do you think that is?

And are any of you going to Brussels this August?

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19 May 2010

Metropolitan Musings: What Inspires You?

I spent nearly the entire day yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, catching up on all the exhibits I’ve been dying to see. The Met is one of the NYC places I tend to frequent whenever I need a creative pick-me-up, because I always see something that inspires me in one direction or another, whether it’s revisiting an old “friend” (a work of art I studied in high school or college, or just love to look at every time I head to the museum), or something new and equally compelling.

I began yesterday with the Picasso blockbuster exhibit, which is an everything-but-the-kitchen sink show that covers the entire gamut of the painter’s exceptionally lengthy career. Think you’ll have to stop creating when you’re 87? Think again. Picasso did a suite of intaglio prints between March and October 1968 titled the “347 Suite” for the number of drawings he just happened to dash off at the time – nowhere near his dotage. Of this suite, Picasso mused, "I spend hour after hour while I draw, observing my creatures and thinking about the mad things they're up to; basically, it's my way of writing fiction."


The exhibit showcases the Met’s collection of Picassos, a collection that began with a gift from writer Gertrude Stein of the artist’s 1905/06 portrait of her. That painting is one of my old friends: (my fellow art history students and I nicknamed it “Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein”) so I had to laugh when I read on the placard what Stein herself had to say about the portrait: “For me, it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me.”

The Picasso exhibit ends up being a retrospective of the artist’s life, from the miniature caricatures that recall Daumier’s popular drawings through the Blue and Rose periods, naturalism (for him), Cubism and on and on through various media from oils to bronze to several types of printmaking, including linoleum blocks and deliberate homages to Rembrandt, Goya, Manet, Cezanne, and Matisse. The" 347 Suite" in itself revisits several of the artist's favorite themes: circus figures, eroticism/nudes, prostitutes, cavaliers, horses, Greek mythology, harlequins, and majas.

Inspiration to Leslie the author: never stop creating; never stop experimenting with different genres.

Then it was on to "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity," the current costume collection exhibit, which celebrates the American Woman (although many of the garments on display came from the houses of Worth, Lanvin, Molyneux, Madame Grès, and other Europeans). The stunning exhibit welcomes the Brooklyn Museum’s stellar costume collection to the Met, which will be its new home. (no photos allowed, so I had to purchase the companion book HIGH STYLE, and I’m sure I’ll blog about this exhibit at a future date). I have seen nearly every costume exhibition at the Met since it was reopened in the 1970s, and this is certainly the best since the “Dangerous Liaisons” exhibit a few years ago. The rooms take you through several American feminine icons: the heiress (think Edith Wharton); the Gibson Girl; the Bohemian; the Suffragist; the Flapper, and the Screen Siren. All I can say is I wanted to wear half the garments.

Inspiration to Leslie the author: well – you know me and costumes, and for a certain fellow hoyden, I have a feeling this exhibit would have been an equally orgasmic experience. My only regret was that there weren’t a few strategically placed mirrors so that I could view the front of some of the garments, which looked so spectacular from the rear.


Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry. I studied this early 15th century Book of Hours on both art history and medieval studies courses and it’s a must-see for anyone with a medieval bent. What makes this Book of Hours (a liturgical book meant for the lay person to enjoy, rich with illuminated manuscripts and astonishing miniature detail) so special is that it includes not only the Mary cycle, which is de rigeur for a Book of Hours, but it includes cycles of several saints. What makes the exhibition (on through June 13 only) so remarkable is that until now the duc de Berry’s Book of Hours has never been viewed in its entirety by anyone other than a close personal friend of the duke’s. The Hours were bound, of course, and were on display at The Cloisters, the Met’s uptown medieval sister museum. But the book would be opened to a different page from time to time and that’s all viewers saw. The book was carefully taken apart for painstaking repairs and the curators decided to display every leaf for a few months before stitching it all back together in 3 volumes.

You need a magnifying glass to see the images properly and to really get a sense of the magnitude of the work and the talent of the 3 teenage (!!) Limbourg brothers, native Flamands who were feted at the duc de Berry’s court while they worked on the Book of Hours. I got a bit of a religious education, but burned out pretty quickly on it, as the exhibit is vast and the viewing of so many miniatures is intense. But I came away with a greater appreciation of the social detail in the paintings. The depictions of early 15th c. garb for royalty, peasants, women, soldiers, etc., is an education in itself and well worth the trip for the medieval-era author.

Inspiration to Leslie the author: no detail is too small. Not only that, whimsy and humor can lurk where you least expect it.

And, finally (and I need to revisit this one), the exhibit of silver that the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa lavished on her favorite daughter, Maria Christina, on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Albert Casimir of Saxony, Duke of Teschen. Maria Christina (Marie Antoinette’s second oldest sister, was the only one of the empress’s children whom she permitted to marry for love, as she herself had done. The elaborate silver, much of it designed by the Viennese silversmith Würth, rivaled the craftsmanship of the French silversmiths of the 18th century. I came away wondering what Marie Antoinette might have thought of the prodigious gift her mother had made to one sister, when in most other ways she withheld both worldly riches and affection from her children.

So … what inspires you? Is there a special place you go to recharge your creative batteries?

12 May 2010

Rivals & Brothers

San Francisco Opera’s season last fall opened with a fabulous production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. I was lucky enough to see it three times (the final dress rehearsal, a simulcast at ATT ballpark, and the closing performance). The production updated the setting from medieval Spain to the Peninsular War, which of course I loved. The Goya-inspired setting fit well with a story of war, divided families, and one atrocity leading to another.

At the heart of Trovatore’s tangled, over-the-top plot are two brothers, separated at birth, now unknown to each other fighting for opposite sides and rivals for the love of the same woman. Watching the opera, I found myself thinking about brothers in literature. A topic which was also on my mind watching tonight's episode of Lost. Sibling relationships are fascinating, but in historically set stories, inheritance can make the the rivalry between brothers particularly intense. Perhaps especially so in British-set historical stories because of the laws of inheritance. Among the aristocracy the eldest son inherits the title and estates, while younger sons may at best receive a secondary property of their mother’s and in many cases have to make their own way in the world as soldiers, ministers, or barristers. In As You Like It, Orlando is living as a servant on the dubious charity of his elder brother Oliver who has inherited all the family lands and fortune.

Questions of legitimacy can further complicate this rivalry. In King Lear, the Duke of Gloucester’s illegitimate son Edmund sets out to destroy his legitimate brother Edgar, driven by the pent up jealousy of watching his brother be heir to their father’s lands and title due to the fact that Edgar’s mother was married to the duke while Edmund was born on the wrong side of the blanket.

The issues grow even more tangled when an acknowledged son and heir may actually be illegitimate. The rivalry between Lymond and Richard runs through Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles (including one of the best literary sword fights I’ve ever read in The Game of Kings). At the heart of that rivalry is competition for parental affection and the family estates, and the question of who is who’s son, who deserves what, who is loved best. What makes rivalry between brothers particularly interesting is that it tends to be mixed, as in Lymond and Richard’s case, with strong love that goes back to the cradle.

I think I had Lymond and Richard in mind when I created Charles and Edgar in Secrets of Lady. I know I was thinking of Edmund and Edgar, because I deliberately named my Edgar after the legitimate brother from Lear. I decided quite early on in the plotting process, over lattes with my friend Penny, that Charles was illegitimate, that Edgar knew this and Charles didn’t, and that part of Edgar’s motivation stemmed from feeling that everything Charles had inherited should rightfully be his. I also knew I wanted the bond between the brothers to be strong, so that Edgar’s betrayal would be a particularly intense blow to Charles (poor Charles gets betrayed a great deal).

Beneath a Silent Moon features another pair of brothers in Quen and Val. There’s a rivalry between them that their father has encouraged. Charles tells Mel about the boys trying to scale the Old Tower at Dunmykel when they were children. But I found as I wrote the book that, despite the fact that much of Val’s behavior is appalling, the relationship between the two brothers was more complex and had more affection in it than I had at first envisioned. Quen and Val’s relationship is also clouded by questions of legitimacy as the story progresses. I think that one of the reasons I write about legitimacy and illegitimacy in so many books is that so much of the social order among British aristocrats was build on birth. So that questions about legitimacy can strike at the very foundations of that world (foundations which Edgar, in particular, takes very seriously).

In Beneath a Silent Moon, the reader doesn’t see Val react to the revelations about Quen’s birth, but in the letters I wrote for the trade edition, Quen writes to Aspasia that Val said their father “wouldn’t do violence to himself–Talbots have too strong a sense of self-preservation, as we both should know. I pointed out that I’m apparently not a Talbot, as I had explained to him before we left Scotland. Val shot me one of his looks and said I’d been raised as one, I couldn’t escape the legacy.” Val handles the revelation of his elder brother’s illegitimacy better than Edgar. But then, for all his faults, I think Val has more ambiguity tolerance than Edgar.

Do you like stories about brothers? What are some favorites? Writers, do you enjoy writing about brothers as rivals?

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10 May 2010

No such thing as a good looking bum

Over on Smart Bitches they're discussing a couple of covers that show what I think are supposed to be Regency-era men in breeches. Lots of people seem to think the breeches are too loose and don't fit. Well, they're right about the "don't fit" part . . .

I once had a discussion with my editor about a book where the heroine spends and inordinate amount of time looking at the hero's bum and pontificating about how fine it is. There are multiple problems with this scenario. Firstly, if the man is in a coat (and he was) the tails would obscure his bottom. Secondly, we're glad they do, cause the hinny in this period is not a pretty sight . . .

Because breeches and panataloons were high-waisted and held up by braces, the seat has to be quite full so that he can sit down. And if you're thinking trousers would be a better option, think again. They're even baggier.

Sadly, you heroine will have to wait for a chance to see your hero naked in order to sigh over his fine hind end.


Upper right, Breeches, early 19th century
You can see that these are baggy in the rear.

Middle left, Brummell 1805
You can see that his pantaloons are not skin tight.

Lower right, Breeches, early 19th century
You can see the sagging bottom in this side shot

07 May 2010

Sir Richard Burton: The Ugly Englishman?

Sir Richard Burton was many things - explorer, linguist, cultural anthropologist, and person of interest in the mid-19th century. He also reveals himself in his “Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah” as arrogant, racist, a social snob, and master of disguises.

Burton traveled for the Royal Geographic Society (after browbeating them into submission), and his explorations as delineated in the “Personal Narrative” were to investigate Moslem life in a Moslem country. One wonders why: was it for scientific edification? Or was it to make a name for himself doing the unthinkable: enter Meccah as an Englishman?

Burton first disguised himself as a Persian wanderer, but soon discovered that a Persian is not considered an Arab by either Persians or Arabs. Nevertheless, he sailed to Alexandria and garbed himself in robes and sandals, ostensibly to investigate markets for horses between Central Arabia and India, in actuality to make geographic assessments of watersheds, etc. for the Royal Geographic Society, and to “assess the racial makeup of the ‘Arab family.’”

Naturally, he kept a journal. His studies in Oriental manners came first, and they were surprisingly specific. He received instruction on, for example, how to drink a glass of water:

“With us [English] the operation is simple enough, but his [the Moslem’s) performance includes no fewer than five novelties. In the first place he clutches his tumbler as though it were the throat of a foe; secondly, he ejaculates, ‘In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful!’ before wetting his lips; thirdly, he imbibes the contents, swallowing them, not sipping them as he ought to do, and ending with a satisfied grunt; fourthly, before setting down the cup, he sighs forth, ‘Praise be to Allah!’ ... and fifthly he replies “May Allah make it pleasant to thee!’ in answer to his friend’s polite ‘Pleasurably and health!’ He also avoids the irreligious action of drinking the pure element in a standing position.”

Further instructions included (1) using the right hand exclusively; (2) shaving one’s head and growing a beard; (3) speaking Arabic; (4) reviewing religious practices and the art of prostration; (5) reading the Koran; (6) practicing how to behave in coffee houses, baths, and bazaars, and (7) behaving with good manners in the mosque.

Burton quickly learned that passing himself off as an Arab doctor gained him better acceptance, and this he did with many embarrassingly arrogant revelations about his prejudice about his patients: “Moreover, the practice of physics is comparatively easy amongst dwellers in warm latitudes, uncivilized peoples, where there is not that complication of maladies which troubles more polished nations.”

Thus buoyed by his success, Burton set off on his journey, traveling in disguise. His packing list is astounding: a softwood toothstick; soap; wooden (not horn) comb; 2 changes of clothing; a goatskin waterbag; coarse Persian rug for sleeping and sitting; pillow, blanket, and sheet (which can be used as a tent or a mosquito curtain); sewing items (thread, needles, buttons, cobbler’s wax);
a huge yellow cotton umbrella; dagger; brass inkstand and pen holder; prayer beads; money carried in a cotton purse secured in the breast pocket or in a leather money belt, along with important papers; a pair of saddlebags; medicine chest, with drugs (purchased in Egypt) in tin or wooden boxes, not glass bottles which labels them as “Frankish.”

Methods of securing money varied: gold links covered with leather can be worn as a belt; an even more extreme method is to make a shallow slit in one’s shoulder and hide jewels under the skin!

Thus Burton sets off, as he describes it, “...mounted in a ‘trap’ - a cross between a wheelbarrow and a dogcart, drawn by a kicking, jibbing, biting mule” to his next destination, Cairo.

Burton was not a happy camper. He refers to his trip and stay as “The Comedy of Cairo” and complains in his journal about everything: “The Nile... you see nothing but muddy waters, dusty banks, a sand mist, a milky sky, and a glaring sun; you feel nought but a breeze like the blast from a potter’s furnace.”

The scenery: “...Birds peeped out from among bright green patches of palm-tree, tamarisk, and mimosa, of maize, tobacco, and sugar-cane. Beyond the narrow tongue of land on the river banks lay the glaring, yellow Desert, with its low hills and sand slopes... the chocolate-skinned, blue-robed peasantry; the women carrying progeny on their hips, with the eternal waterpot on the heads; and the men sleeping in the shade or following the plough... The lower animals, like the higher, were the same: gaunt, mange-stained camels, muddy buffaloes, scurvied donkeys, sneaking jackals and fox-like dogs.”

One has to admit his descriptions are wonderfully visual!

Burton then took the name Hakim Abdullah, an Indian name for an Afghan male, and continued his adventures as a doctor in a land where poisoning was common.

Further episodes to come in later blogs.

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05 May 2010


The book which I just oh-so-gladly handed off to my editor involves the run-up to the infamous Enghien affair, in which Napoleon kidnapped a member of the French royal family (not personally—can you imagine Napoleon trying to toss the Duc d’Enghien over his shoulder?), had him hauled across the Rhine onto French soil, tried him on rather wobbly charges, and summarily executed him. It was not the First Consul’s most shining moment.

Of this affair, it was said, “C'est plus qu'un crime, c'est une faute”, or, en anglais, “It is worse than a crime; it is a blunder.”

But who said it?

Although the famous words were, in fact, voiced by Joseph Fouche, Napoleon’s infamous Minister of Police, many people attribute them instead to another flamboyant member of the Consular regime, Napoleon’s Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord. The misattribution has its own unintentional humor to it; Fouche and Talleyrand, aside from both being savvy political operators, both employed by Bonaparte, were about as unlike as any two men could be. One imagines that neither would be pleased to be linked for eternity by a shared phrase.

And what about the line, “I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”? Just the other day, I found myself arguing rather vehemently that the line was Oscar Wilde’s. Of course it was Wilde! I protested hotly. Mocking club life… well, it just sounded like him.

It turns out I was wrong. Not all the best lines belong to Wilde. This one was properly the property of Groucho Marx.


A quick google search of “misattributed quotations” revealed that I was far from the only one stealing thunder from Peter to gift it to Paul. Shakespeare and Mark Twain appear to be the biggest beneficiaries/victims of the misquotation craze, getting credit for others’ lines at the same times as theirs get snatched, but it isn’t just them. Some of the more amusingly incongruous misattributions that popped up included bits of Aesop being credited to the Bible, Henry Thoreau providing words for the mouth of Jefferson, and (my personal favorite) the twentieth century Russian dictator, Lenin, taking the credit for a phrase penned by the seventeenth century Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift: “Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken.” Somehow, one just can’t imagine Lenin and Swift sharing a cozy cup of tea, even if they could get past the whole milk or lemon/ monarchy or proletarian paradise question.

Have you come across any interesting misquotes?

04 May 2010

Orient Express – Portal to Adventure

Orient Express… Just saying that train’s name conjures up images of royalty and spies, arms dealers and aristocrats traveling across Europe in unimaginable luxury. Crystal goblets and embroidered tablecloths set with the finest wines and most complex liqueurs, while peasants peeked through the windows at the gilded furniture and frescoed ceiling. Liveried stewards managed to know every passenger’s language – and keep all their secrets.

No wonder authors flocked to set their stories aboard it – Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, D. H. Lawrence, Eric Ambler, and even Ian Fleming. The amazing thing to me is that the reality was, in many ways, even better than the legends.

It all started with the maiden voyage in 1883, for which a ticket cost the equivalent of a year’s rent on a high-class London townhouse. If passengers had any qualms about the stewards’ ability to offer suitable service, they could provide their own servant at the price of approximately one year’s wages. Obviously, this was designed for the wealthiest of the wealthy – even if the route had been cobbled together. (King Leopold II of Belgium, the railroad’s original sponsor, pressured his relatives to allow the train passage, despite their suspicions that this was an attack on local railroads’ monopolies.)

The train had two wagon-lit sleeping cars accommodating twenty passengers each, a restaurant car, a car for baggage and the very high quality food, wines, liqueurs, and other required luxuries. The sleeping cars were as exquisite as music boxes. Even better, they were heavily carpeted, well heated, insulated against noise – and so well cushioned that a gentleman that a gentleman could shave without cutting himself. (Try duplicating that feat on a twentieth century train!)

The locomotive was equally carefully selected, since a breakdown in the Balkans during this war-torn period would have been disastrous.

The liveried waiters were not allowed to wear glasses but were required to wear powdered wigs. The Burgundian chef had a beard and was attended by six assistants.

Only men boarded the first train in Paris; two women would join them later, in Vienna. (Perhaps other ladies were offended that the dining salons were segregated by gender and hence declined to join? On the other hand, that was the era’s custom – and it must have made for fabulous gossip sessions, dahling.) The company included journalists: Edmond About later wrote De Pontoise à Stamboul, the official account, and Henri Opper de Blowitz, the Paris correspondent for The Times of London, made sure that millions could read about every mile of the trip in his syndicated columns.

The first Orient Express left Paris for Constantinople on October 4, 1883 so smoothly that few passengers realized they’d departed. A ten-course dinner was served at 8 P.M., which provided sustenance for the journey to Strasbourg. They crossed the Rhine at dawn (a sight most passengers slept through) and reached Vienna by late evening, where the Emperor’s Court Chamberlain led a grand reception committee. (Now I ask you: Would this happen to a modern airplane passenger? Hardly!)

Endless speeches were spiced by national anthems for all the passengers, performed by the Imperial Guard’s band. The exhausted guests probably enjoyed “The Blue Danube” more, since that marked a shift to the station restaurant for supper, champagne, and imperial Tokay. (Yes, more fine wine!)

After that, most of the passengers staggered back to their compartments to catch some shuteye. But a few brave souls boarded state carriages to see the newly lit – by that modern wonder, electricity – Ringstrasse, the floodlit Opera House, the Hofburg, and the House of Parliament. (This special tour may have been linked to the presence of Herr Porges, the European head of the American Edison Company, who could always find an opportunity to showcase his company’s products.)

The Orient Express left Vienna during the night and reached Budapest early in the morning. At the station, a military band played traditional airs, goulash was served from steaming kettles – and the passengers were not allowed to leave the building.

Any disappointment vanished when they reached Szegedin, an ancient Hungarian city. Here, a gypsy band dressed in traditional silks and gold jewelry sang and played for two hours in the dining car. The gypsy king danced with the Viennese ladies and they played “La Marseillaise” for the Burgundian chef. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as they rolled toward the Transylvanian Alps.

Once past the Danube’s spectacular Iron Gates, the passengers dined with the King and Queen of Romania at their private resort. The king wore his parade uniform, the queen wore Romanian national costume, the courtiers wore tails or uniforms, while the poor passengers were by this time becoming slightly bedraggled. Entertainment was provided by a famous Romanian soprano, badly accompanied by the queen – who undoubtedly received much praise for her portion of the performance.

Afterward, the party walked down the hill in a rainstorm to reboard the Orient Express and reached Bucharest well before midnight. There they enjoyed an excellent midnight supper. Romanian women were famous for their beauty and sexual inventiveness. Unfortunately, the journalists’ accounts stop abruptly short at this point.

Long after midnight, the train departed for the small frontier port and the ferry across the Danube to Bulgaria. There, the passengers sadly had to say goodbye to their beautiful accommodations and board a much more primitive train. Bandits were so prevalent here that the men rode with their pistols out, in preparation for an attack. (One came in 1891, which took over a million dollars in today’s currency.)

Finally, the intrepid adventurers reached the Black Sea port and the ferry for Constantinople. Dawn broke as the Espero entered the Bosporus and headed toward Constantinople. The sun sparkled on the blue Mediterranean waters and dozens of boats danced around the boat with its passengers. Ottoman palaces dotted the shores like white flowers arising from green gardens. Great domes and minarets climbed over the hills – Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and more. The Belgian ambassador, the sultan’s chamberlain, and other Turkish officials greeted them on the pier. They were probably happiest to see the finest European hotel in the city.

Their visit included a private tour of Topkapi Palace, oldest and greatest of Ottoman palaces, and a lengthy shopping excursion in the Grand Bazaar, which was old before the Byzantine Empire fell.

The Orient Express returned to Paris exactly on schedule, eleven days after it had departed – and ready to give birth to legends.

Only a few years later, along came “Sir” Basil Zaharoff, an ethnic Greek originally from Constantinople but traveling with a British passport. Known in his own time as “The Merchant of Death,” he’s said to have earned at least a pound sterling in gold for every casualty in World War I, thanks to the armaments he’d sold to both sides. His mastery of bribery, corruption and “dirty tricks” can only be described as amazing.

But he met the love of his life aboard the Orient Express. María del Pilar de Muguiro y Beruete stumbled into Zaharoff’s compartment after her insane husband Don Francisco, Principe de Borbon y Borbon, tried to kill her on their wedding night. Zaharoff refused to give her up, even though her husband was a cousin of the King of Spain and the scandal imperiled highly profitable business ventures just before the Spanish-American War. Zaharoff and his lady were married almost four decades later, after the madman died, but only enjoyed eighteen months together before she passed away.

Zaharoff always used compartment No. 7 after that when he took the Orient Express – the same compartment where she’d found him. When he died, he gave orders that his ashes were to be scattered from the window of compartment No. 7 at exactly the same place and time of day where he’d first met his lady.

Sometimes true life offers the greatest romance and adventure, even if Zaharoff must have been one of the world’s most spectacular rogues.

Is there a place in history that you’d love to be whisked off to? What author told you about it first? What adventures would you hope to enjoy there?

I admit my own longing to visit Constantinople was a major inspiration for THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS and my book trailer for it.

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