History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 May 2011

Anti-heroes, Anti-heroines, and the Sympathy Factor

Isobel had a great post a few weeks ago about anti-heroes. The fascinating follow-up discussion on Isobel’s post took me back to a question I've pondered in the past. What exactly makes an anti-hero or anti-heroine? Is it the behavior or the motives?

I’ve heard the term anti-hero used to encompass a range of characters. There’s the Talented Mr. Ripley, who commits murder for his own advancement. There’s Don Draper, who has principles of a sort and is remarkably loyal to some of the people in his life, but seems to have no concept of romantic fidelity–(or at least no ability to be faithful. (One of the things I love about Mad Men is how all the characters are flawed and yet all of them have sympathetic moments.) Francis Crawford of Lymond does all sorts of seemingly horrible things, and yet he inevitably proves to have done so for the noblest of motives. Is he an anti-hero? Or is an anti-hero someone who acts out of selfish motives and doesn’t have a core of principles? Both Han Solo and Rick Blaine claim to only be out for themselves fairly early in their respective stories. And yet neither of them does anything remotely approaching Lymond’s actions (burning his mother’s castle, being responsible for the death of his son).

Isobel described Lady Barbara Childe in Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army as “a benchmark anti-heroine.” Lady Barbara’s behavior is certainly destructive and causes pain to a number of people. On the other hand, I don’t think she does anything as morally questionable as my character Mélanie Fraser (entering a marriage on false pretenses, lying to her spouse for years, being responsible for deaths because of information she passed along). But Mélanie is acting out of loyalty to a cause and comrades, whereas Barbara’s behavior is driven by being discontented and unhappy. Does that make one more an anti-heroine than the other?

And, as Isobel asked, what makes an anti-hero/ine redeemable or not? I've also been pondering the question of what makes a character sympathetic (and blogged about it recently one my own website). My book The Mask of Night has a secondary couple who's marriage is in crisis. I had a number of comments from readers who were very sympathetic to Isobel, the wife, and disliked Oliver, the husband. Which surprised me, because while I was quite sympathetic to Isobel as I planned the book, when I actually wrote it, I had a hard time with her. I’m not sure what it was precisely. But though I felt sorry for her, it was though her coolness held me at a distance as wel. I often found myself sympathizing more with Oliver. Perhaps because he’s an outsider? Mostly, though, I felt sorry for both Bel and Oliver and the way their marriage eroded. In any case, I was intrigued and quite relieved by the reaction of these readers to Bel, because it means that even if I had trouble sympathizing with her myself, she didn’t come across as unsympathetic the way I wrote her.

Princess Tatiana in Vienna Waltz (who would certainly be an anti-heroine if she was the protagonist of a book) was something of the opposite case. I didn’t particularly sympathize with her when I plotted the book, yet I found myself sympathizing with her more and more as I wrote it and saw sides of her beyond the schemer. I also found myself quite sympathetic to Talleyrand, despite the fact that he was a schemer par excellence, with questionable motives both in the novel and in the historical record..

I recently got revision notes from my editor on my Waterloo book, Imperial Scandal. There’s one action of the heroine's my editor suggested I take out, because she’s afraid it goes too far and could destroy reader sympathy for her. I confess I was worried myself that that scene pushed the envelope too far. I’m glad I got to write it the way I did (and that’s the way it happens in my mind), but I don’t mind changing it in the revisions. It might be a scene that tilts the heroine into anti-heroine territory. Though it's difficult for me to judge, as I still can't define what that territory is :-).

What makes a character sympathetic to you? What makes a character lose your sympathy? Are their anti-heroes or anti-heroines for whom you've felt more sympathy than more conventional heroes and heroines? How do you define anti-heroes and anti-heroines? Is it their actions or their motivation or both? What are some of your favorite examples? What does it take for you for such a character to be redeemed?

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23 May 2011

Research & Documentation: A Primer

I grew up in the world or re-enactors, so I have very definite ideas about what research is and what it takes to document the minutia of everyday historical life. In the re-enactment community, we talk about things being “documented” and “undocumentatable” all the time. We harp on it constantly, and argue over what is and what isn’t. We disagree about interpretations and conclusions. It’s a constantly evolving hobby, and this is part of the fun (really . . . no, really). And since we’re attempting “living history” we have to know not just the dates of battles and the names of major historical figures, but the little things like what food stuffs were available and, more importantly, common for the class and location of our persona.

I believe that writers of historical fiction need this same type of knowledge base. I’ve occasionally been vilified/attacked for pointing out that some cherished facet of Romancelandia is, in fact, erroneous (men wearing wedding rings), anachronistic (scones in Regency settings), or just plain wrong (engagement announcements during the Georgian era). I’m open to being shown that I’m wrong, but doing so requires documentation (which does not consist of point out that Heyer did it in her books).

There are three kinds (or levels) of sources/documentation: Primary, secondary and tertiary (and then there’s art). Most history majors in college studied primarily tertiary sources (such as Simon Schama’s brilliant three-part overview of British history). If they went on to grad school, where they had to produce a thesis, they would have then moved up to primary sources (secondary sources exist in a kind of limbo, being too nitty-gritty for most undergraduate programs and not suitable for a grad student who needs to produce his/her OWN secondary/tertiary work to obtain their degree). I think this is why I get a lot of push-back from writers who have a B.A. in history. They were never taught the levels and they think I’m attacking them when I ask for their sources, or when I state mine. I’m not, I just come to the study of history from a direction they may not have ever experienced. I’m not always sure why people take discussions of this sort personally, but they clearly do (here, on Yahoo Groups, and even on Twitter). I’m passionate about history, but that only makes me all the happier when someone has something new to add to my knowledge base. Nancy Mayer does it all the time!

Primary sources are actual items from the period (what historians call “extant”). A hat. A shoe. A saddle. Also in the primary grouping are period documents like letters, journals, newspapers, household inventories, and period books (cookbooks are invaluable). Though you have to be careful with some of these, because they function almost like secondary sources, since they are one person’s viewpoint and they often require context in order to obtain full understanding.

Secondary sources are frequently underused in the writing community (with the exception of the Oxford English Dictionary), but re-enactors live for them! If you really want to know how the clothing fastened, what it looked like, what fabrics were used, what the layers were, Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction, c. 1660-1860 (where she deconstructs and details historical garments) is far more useful than an overview like 20,000 Years of Fashion by François Boucher. Overviews, of course, have their own purposes, and Boucher’s book is on the list of “must haves” for every writer in my opinion.

The next level down is tertiary. These are the sources that most writers and students are using: All the biographies and history books that we snap up in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. You have to be careful with tertiary sources. In the re-enactment community, these are not considered documentation in and of themselves. Only primary and secondary count for that (hence some of the arguments). Only tertiary works which are extensively documented should ever be relied upon (look for authors who are respected experts in their field and for books with lots of citations). Often, something that looks great on the surface will be found to be less than useful when you dig in. An example of this is something like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. The book skims the surface of many topics and fails to date them specifically within the 19th century, resulting in a mash-up of the late-Georgian, Regency, Romantic and Victorian eras. It’s a fun book, but it’s not all that helpful for an author trying to find out what her character might have served at tea (especially as afternoon tea only became an established “thing” in the Victorian era). Another is An Elegant Madness, which seems like a great book, but upon closer inspection is riddled with errors that leave my in doubt of pretty much everything the author says (such as the author’s inability to keep Frances Villiers, wife of the 4th Earl of Jersey and her daughter-in-law Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, wife of the 5th Earl of Jersey straight; some major blunders about who was having an affair with whom).

Lastly, we come to art. This area can be tricky. The problem is that unlike having the physical item in your hand (for example, the actual dress), you’re looking at an artist’s interpretation of that item (so these act a lot like secondary and tertiary sources). Add into the mix that much of the art we look at is highly stylized, allegorical, political, and/or farcical (so the see-through dress over the shift with a “display” hole cut out over the bum can’t be taken as a literal example of the clothing being worn in France c. 1800) and it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re really looking at. And then there is the problem of reproduction. A lot gets lost when the paintings are photographed and reproduced. Fine details can entirely disappear. And often you have to have a strong background in the period already to know what you’re looking at, which makes art useful for the knowledgeable historian, but problematic for the novice (and it tends to be the go-to source for many novices, since it appears to be the most accessible form of documentation).

The one thing that should NEVER be cited as documentation is a work of fiction. Not my books. Not Diana Gabaldon’s books. Not Bernard Cornwell’s books. Not Georgette Heyer’s book. If you see something in a book that intrigues or inspires you, make a note of it and then double check it. Authors are fallible. We make mistakes. We fudge things. We cling to our own preconceived notions or to “facts” we were taught (which often have built-in cultural, religious, or socioeconomic biases of their own).

Some things are open to interpretation, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. For example, I like writing about strong, fast, wild, unusual women. Because these kind of women interest me, I read a lot of biographies and histories about the ones that really existed. Books like Jo Manning’s My Lady Scandalous (about courtesan Grace Elliot, aka Dally the Tall), Hallie Rubenhold’s The Lady in Red (about Lady Worsley’s disastrous marriage and divorce), the illustrated version of Amanda Forman’s Georgiana (about the Duchess of Devonshire), and Janet Gleeson’s Privilege and Scandal (about Lady Bessborough). I also read things like Harriette Wilson’s memoir, Sex in Georgian England by A.D. Harvey, and Broken Lives by Lawrence Stone. All of this feeds in to my version of Georgian England, which is very different from the one created by Georgette Heyer or one created by one of my current peers who prefers to write about sweet young things finding their HEA. Either one of us being asked to justify our preference is ridiculous, but this is utterly different than someone asking if it was really possible for Jo Beverley’s heroine Elfled Malloren to have a pair of lace stockings (and yes, it was; there’s an extant [primary source] example in a museum in Germany that belonged to Madame de Pompadour).

18 May 2011

Bridging History

How did we get from togas to tights? I remember, a very long time ago, sitting in Middle School history class, absolutely puzzled as to how we had gone from Ancient Rome to Medieval Europe. One minute, there were men in togas, saying “Ave!” and stabbing Caesar and the next thing I knew it was yokels in jerkins lifting a flagon at the local alehouse while Evil Prince John (I knew all about Prince John from “Robin Hood”) was being bullied by his barons and signing major charters.

In a word, huh? Sure, there might have been some under the table note-passing going on, but I didn’t think I’d missed that much. And while we were at it, how had we gotten from Egypt to Greece to Rome? Each of the eras we studied existed as an island in a sea of historical uncertainty. We hopped from one to the other without ever touching down in the middle.

Maybe that’s part of why historical transition fascinates me so much. How did we get from Georgian panniers to Empire bodices? From Prinny’s excesses to Victoria’s pruderies? From Edwardians to flappers?

The question this raises for me is: what happens to the people who are caught in the middle, who don’t yet know that they’re meant to be one or the other? Most of these names, of course, are labels applied retroactively, by historians, once the dust has settled: Georgian, Regency, Victorian. Even once that dust has settled, it remains unclear where the patterns lie. When I was in grad school, it was a running joke that everything was “long”. You had the Long Eighteenth Century, 1688-1815, which bumped up against the Long Nineteenth Century, which was reputed to run from 1789-1914.

So what was it? Did 1789 through 1815 belong to the eighteenth century or the nineteenth? Or ought that period to be considered something else entirely?
Most of my books have been set smack in the middle of that transitional period, the pinching place between the Long Eighteenth Century and the Long Nineteenth. (To be very specific, I’ve spent most of my time in 1803 and 1804.) I’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain to people that despite the similarity in the dress code, 1803 is not the Regency; different rules and mores apply.

Nothing, however, brought home to me the long, slow shuffle from Georgian to Regency like reading Jane Austen’s letters. Relatively few of them remain (thanks to her sister Cassandra’s industrious epistolary destruction, we have only one hundred and sixty extant). They begin in the 1790s and go on through her illness in 1817. I read them one after the other as I was researching The Mischief of the Mistletoe, and was struck by the distinct change in tone from beginning to end. Some changes, of course, may be accounted for by the authoress’ own aging process. She’s a sprightly twenty-something in her earlier letters; ill and cranky in the later ones. But there is also the whiff of a changing zeitgeist, from a world in which a young Jane can write about being too hungover to hold her pen steadily to a far more restrained set of social norms. There’s a big gulf between 1796 and 1817.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve been reading up recently on the Great War. I’d never really stopped to consider how Downton Abbey became the House of Elliot, how Edwardians gave way to the Bright Young Things. As opposed to the slow cultural shift I saw in Jane’s letters, this one does seem to have happened quite that rapidly. Certainly, there were precedents before World War I for the hard partying that gained traction after 1919—but the move to a new set of social mores is far more abrupt, caught beautifully by Juliet Nicolson in her book The Great Silence, which moves month by month through 1919 and 1920, showing a society in rapid transition.

Which historical shifts have caught your interest?

17 May 2011

The History Book that Found Me

The History Book that Found Me

Ever had a history book fall into your hands when you least expected it? Track you down in an out of the way place and say, Read me?

My family decided to escape an extra cold winter a few years ago. On the spur of the moment, we grabbed up tickets for a Caribbean cruise and left for tropical waters without a backward glance. (Boy, can you find discounts if you book a cabin at the last minute.) We boarded the ship in Miami and found some very promising scenery in the form of palm trees and white sand. Our vacation was looking good.

Until we reached the beautiful, deep blue sea – only to find Old Man Winter had arrived first with a bang. Temperatures were 30-40 degrees below normal and strong winds whipped up high waves. Ports closed their doors to the ship, rather than allowing small boats to ferry tourists ashore.

Passengers ignored the beautiful pool and headed for anyplace warm indoors. The bars and theaters were crowded and the library became a central attraction. I quickly ran through every book I’d brought onboard and started to wonder where I could find anything to read beyond the newsstand’s international fashion magazines.

Then the captain announced they’d arranged an unexpected visit to Key West. Yes! Surely in the Land of Hemingway, I could while away enough hours that I wouldn’t need to buy another book.

Wrong, so, so, wrong. It was even colder in Key West than it had been cruising the Caribbean. And a T-shirt and hoodie is definitely not the right attire for an open tram, speeding through the streets. By the time we reached downtown Key West, all I wanted was someplace warm until I could catch the next tram back to the ship. But where to go?

Unlike a typical Key West afternoon, street vendors were nowhere to be found. Many of my fellow passengers jumped off the tram and disappeared into the bars, to explore the local drinks. Others vanished into the tiny shops. It only took me a couple of minutes to realize that it would take longer to walk between the stores – and freeze – than it would to explore each shopkeeper’s wares. Where was a warm place to spend some time? Buying something to read was clearly too much to hope for.

A sign caught my eye: The Pirate Soul Museum. Yes! If it’s a museum, there was something in it for me, regardless of the topic. And it had to be cozy, if only to keep the exhibits happy.

The Pirate Soul Museum is a state of the art museum, complete with a genuine pirate chest and a Jolly Roger. It has dark booths that whisper in visitors’ ears and blow spooky air up hems. Maps show where pirates caused trouble and genuine equipment show how they lived their lives, down to knives and forks. I’d go back in a moment, especially since it’s now moved to St. Augustine right next to a 17th century fort. The website is a total delight, with all sorts of extra information. (The Rum Bible? Video tours?)

Best of all, it had a bookstore, the way every first-rate museum should. But the tram was about to leave so I simply grabbed what was closest to the cash register and ran.

Back at the ship, I found a warm corner in a bar to examine my prize. Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly arose from the Pirates: Fact and Fiction exhibit. “Crew Approved” by the Pirate Soul Museum, it contrasts the fictional image of pirates with what actually happened. It’s superbly written and beautifully conveys the author’s enjoyment of the subject. His sheer depth of knowledge and sly digs of humor bring constant delights.

The first chapter analyzes Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island – and finds it remarkably factual. Remarkable amounts of pirate and seafaring lore had woven themselves into Stevenson’s heritage. For example, somehow a pirate ship sailed to Scotland during the Golden Age of Piracy, pillaged and raped the locals – only to fall victim to Highland justice. All of this only a few miles from where Stevenson would later be born and raised!

I found this so amazing that I started reading snippets aloud to my family. Friends overheard and soon all of us were talking about and passing around the fascinating book. By the time I disembarked, my copy was scuffed, dog-eared – and definitely well-loved.

The history book that had found me had also been greatly enjoyed by others.

Have you ever had a history book fall into your hands out of the blue? What’s the most surprising way you’ve ever found a history book?

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13 May 2011

At Home in the World

The worst part of being a historical writer has got to be the anachronisms that creep into your fiction, the ones that bite you about the ankles because you never even thought to check them -- because at the time you wrote them it seemed so entirely obvious that this or that phrase or product simply had to have been around back then.

The product currently at issue being boot polish, tins of which I blithely envisioned neatly stacked on the shelf of every Regency gentleman's dressing room, in readiness for his valet to put a sexy shine on all those hot high Hessians. Boot polish plays a minor but rather important role in my first published romance, Almost a Gentleman, in the form of a made-up commodity of inferior quality called Drumblestone's Bargain Blacking.

I probably cooked up the name in half-conscious reference to David Copperfield and Oliver Twist's tormentors, and once the stuff had a little Dickensian spit (or spite) affixed to it, I never thought to question it.

Which is rather too bad, as I learned some number of years later -- or in fact was just a day or two ago, when I read that boot polish actually wasn't commercially sold until the 1890s.

Authors, don't you hate that when it happens?

Still, I'd hate it a lot more if I wasn't otherwise taking enormous pleasure in having my ignorance revealed, so enthralled (and appalled) have I been to learn that besides all their other drudgeries, eighteenth and nineteenth century English servants were charged with by distilling, brewing, or otherwise concocting "inks, weedkillers, soap, toothpaste, candles, waxes, vinegars and pickles, cold creams and cosmetics, rat poisons, flea powders, shampoos...." (And if I weren't already charmed by the substance and variety of these artifacts, I'd have kept on reading for the vivacity with which the words tumble onto the page.)

Which is to say (as I'm sure some of you have already guessed), that I've been spending the last few days reading Bill Bryson -- more specifically, his recent book called At Home: A Short History of Private Life, a wonderfully entertaining, inquisitive and informed account of the house he and his family live in, "a former Church of England rectory in a village of tranquil anonymity in Norfolk, in the easternmost part of England."

The original concept for the book, Bryson says, was "to wander from room to room and consider how each has figured in the evolution of private life." Writing about what's "neatly bounded and cozily finite," this was to be "a book I could do in carpet slippers." But as you'd expect from the author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, there's very little that remains obediently on its proper side of the invisible circle separating home and whatever happens outside of home.

"Houses aren't refuges from history," is how Bryson puts it. "They are where history ends up."

As does historical romance, at least in the novels I've tried to write, which almost always end up with a hero and heroine finding their home -- and in my most recent, The Edge of Impropriety, (just out, I'm just saying, in mass-market paperback), also finding their family. For me it's one of the great pleasures of historical romance when the period setting becomes something more than costume and furniture, or housework done by the invisible elfin hands of unnamed servants. At best, I love historical fiction, especially about men and women finding each other and finding home, as the venue wherein (again, in Bryson's words), "whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over -- eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house."

Or in this case, his house, as he takes us through the hall, kitchen, scullery and larder, to the fuse box (with a fine, concise history of the lighting of houses and cities from candlelight through whale oil, kerosene, gas, and electricity), the drawing room (architects, architecture, Chippendale and a lovely bit about the best wood that was ever used for furniture). I'm in the dining room now, learning about the long struggle to discover and invent the vitamin.

Bryson wears his astonishing erudition as lightly, comfortably, and modestly... as, well, a pair of carpet slippers. He tells you stuff you didn't suspect; stuff that makes stuff you sort of knew but never understood finally make sense; and stuff you never thought to ask but should have. And he seems to know how much is enough to make you feel comfortably full and not enough to sate your sense of wonderment. Though if you want more that this 450pages of richness, there are always the 114 pages of source notes that didn't make it between the covers of his book but can be found online at http://www.booksattransworld.co.uk/billbryson/downloads/athome_source_notes.pdf.

But according to the table of contents I've still got the cellar, the passage, the study, the garden, the plum room (??!!), the stairs, the bedroom, the bathroom, the dressing room, the nursery, and the attic, deliciously to go, in this book that I can't imagine how I've done without up until now, and that I overwhelmingly recommend to history hoydens everywhere.

The plum room? I'll be sure to let you know.

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Win a flitch of bacon!

Back in the Middle Ages, between the time of King John, when knights were going on crusade, and the Reformation, a curious custom arose in the flats of Essex. At the priory of Dunmow, devoted monks conducted an exercise aimed at showing the comic side of human nature and perhaps thumbing their holy noses at the idea of matrimonial bliss.

To prove that harmony between married people for any length of time was impossible, they proclaimed that if any couple could come forward after a year of marriage and make an oath at Dunmow that they had (1) never had a quarrel, (2) never regretted their marriage, and (3) would make exactly the same choice again, then that couple would be rewarded with a flitch (side of cured pork) of bacon.

In 1455, Richard Wright, a laborer from Bradbury, made a claim with his wife in the presence of the convent and a number of neighbors, and he won his flitch. In 1467, Stephen Samuel, a husbandman in Essex, also made the proper oath and won his bacon. And a third couple, Thomas le Fuller of Essex and his spouse made good his claim and also carried off the bacon.

Dunmow was one of the religious houses suppressed by Henry VIII, as Defender of the Faith; one wonders if Henry suppressed the house because none of his marriages could qualify for the prize.

Later, in 1701, one William Parsley, a butcher, and his wife Jane presented a claim for their “quiet, peaceable, tender, and loving cohabitation” and swore to the court they were entitled to the bacon. Parsley and Jane had been married 3 years. Another couple won the flitch in 1763, after which the custom was discountenanced by the lord of the manor and the swearing stones removed from the churchyard.

The next couple, John Gilder and his wife, came in 1772 to claim the bacon but found the priory gates locked and they went away empty-handed.

One wonders how many 21st century couples would qualify.

Source: The English Year, by Roy Strong and Julia Trevelyan Oman, 1982.

11 May 2011

Eyewitness Views of William and Catherine's Royal Wedding

I had the tremendous pleasure to be in London during the week of William and Kate's wedding, soaking up the atmosphere and completing my research for my wip for NAL, ROYAL ROMANCES: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe, which features a chapter on the young royal couple. As I am currently in deadline Hades for three projects, this will be a largely pictorial post, but suffice it to say that the capital was in a holiday mood that week.

The first one to reserve a spot outside Westminster Abbey, this middle-aged man with a teddy bear and a working-class accdent, wore a homemade tee-shirt that read "Diana Would Be Proud"

Native pride was in full force, with Britons camping out days ahead of the April 29 wedding day in order to secure a premium vantage point of the procession, creating tent cities along the Mall and opposite Westminster Abbey. And of course visitors from across the globe joined them, gleefully displaying their nation's flags or sporting clever hats (a Wisconsinite wore her "cheesehead" chapeau) to denote their place of origin.

My husband and I rented an apartment back in November as soon as William and Kate announced their engagement. Who could have known then how felicitous our location would be. Of course we knew we were about a quarter mile from Buckingham Palace, but we were right around the corner from Beeston Place, the address of the Goring Hotel, which had been rented for the week by the Middletons for the bride's family and their guests. As the days went by, we saw floral displays as well as numerous hatboxes and garment bags go into the hotel, and security go from our being able to walk right by the hotel on Wednesday morning to a barricaded lockdown of the street by Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday, we strolled by the palace, marveling at the media city that had been erected around the perimeter of the Victoria Momument. Sporting one of the hats I'd brought, I was stopped by an Italian television journalist and interviewed about the wedding.

She was surprised to have found an expert in royal history, since she'd chosen me because I was dressed up. When I gave her my card so that she'd have my name spelled correctly, she recognized it because I've had a lot of Italian translations of my books.

On Thursday we walked down to Westminster Abbey to take a gander at the budding tent cities. High above them was another media aerie, while journalists trolled the gawking crowds for stories. An entertainment journalist interviewed me on her cellphone. Afterwards I realized I probaby should have removed my sunglasses.

Friday morning we hit the streets at 6am, securing a spot on the Mall at 6:15 diagonally opposite Clarence House, the home of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (as well as Princes William and Harry). On Thursday evening, Harry had looked out the window at all the crowds, and moved by all the people so eager to be there for his brother's nuptials, suggested to William that they go outside and thank them. So William and Harry milled among the crowd. I guess the folks we'd seen stationed outside Clarence House wearing silly sunflower headdresses weren't so daffy after all; they captured the attention of the princes.

The mood on the street throughout the week, and particularly on the wedding day was simply magical. In my experience (standing on the Mall, with four people in front of me and several behind me), there was no rowdiness or drunkeness or rudeness despite long hours of waiting with nowhere to sit, unless you wanted to risk losing your place by seeking respite in St. James's Park. I described the mood later in interviews (I spoke to USAToday, the Wall Street Journal, and cbcradio [the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]) as the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade meets a Renaissance Festival -- on steroids. Inside the park, wooden vending stalls sold Champagne and Gin & Tonics, tapas, pizza, Belgian waffles, and crepes. And news reports had announced that 1200 Porta-potties had been imported from Wales.

Finally, about 4 hours after we arrived, the procession began. Even though we didn't see as much in person as people did watching on television from the comfort of their homes, the experience of being on the street amid half a million revelers was worth it because it was a sensation that cannot be captured or duplicated on TV. We heard the wedding ceremony on loudspeakers and sang along with the hymns, holding our souvenir programmes (proceeds from the sale of the programmes went to one of William's charities). "Jerusalem" choked me up, as it always does, and I have a hard time singing "God Save the Queen" without getting teary. My paternal grandmother's family was English, so not only am I rabid Anglophile, but a part of me feels like she's "my" queen, too.

After the vows were spoken, people all around us broke out bottles of Champagne and freely shared it, as long as there were paper cups or plastic goblets to be had. I made a new friend (an adorable Scotswoman named Cavell) and traded a signed copy of NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES for great photos of the daffodil-yellow clad queen in her Bentley from a young woman who had a better view than I did (I'm still waiting for the pix).

Look closely and you can see the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the carriage

It took us nearly an hour to get from our position on the Mall to anywhere near the palace, yet people were surprisingly patient. We caught an oblique view of The Kiss, and were surprised that the military jets in the flyover swooped so low. Then it was back to the apartment to watch the wedding ceremony on television!

Did you wake up at dawn to watch the royal wedding? Did you catch up with the coverage later? Or was it all a big yawn to you?

06 May 2011

Welcome Margaret Mallory & The Guardian!

The Guardian
by Margaret Mallory
Available Now!

"TOP PICK! 4 1/2 stars! Mallory imbues history with a life of its own, creating a deeply moving story. Her characters are vibrantly alive and full of emotional depth, each with their own realistic flaws. Her sensuous and highly passionate tale grabs the reader and doesn't let go." (RT Book Reviews )

Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can't prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.

After years of fighting abroad, Ian MacDonald comes home to find his clan in peril. To save his kin, he must right the wrongs from his past . . . and claim the bride he's long resisted.

As a young lass, Sìleas depended on Ian to play her knight in shining armor. But when his rescue attempt compromised her virtue, Ian was forced to marry against his wishes. Five years later, Sìleas has grown from an awkward girl into an independent beauty who knows she deserves better than the reluctant husband who preferred war to his wife. Now this devilishly handsome Highlander is finally falling in love. He wants a second chance with Sìleas - and he won't take no for an answer.

THE GUARDIAN (THE RETURN OF THE HIGHLANDERS) is set in Scotland in the 1513. Is there a particular reason you chose that year?

I like a lot of adventure with my romance, so I looked for a period of conflict and great change. I found that in the wake of Scotland’ devastating defeat to Henry VIII’s forces at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Thousands of Scots were killed in the battle, including many nobles and clan chieftains. James IV, a strong and competent king, died as well and left a babe on the throne. After Flodden, the crown was weak, court factions vied for control, clans rose in rebellion, and alliances shifted constantly.

The four heroes of my series are fighting in France when news of the terrible Scottish defeat reaches them. When they return home to the Isle of Skye, they find their chieftain dead, their clan in peril, and rebellion brewing.

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

I prefer to have my heroes clanking swords, and there’s something wonderful about the strength and earthiness of these wild Highland warriors of the early 16th century. They fit the kind of adventurous romances I like to write.
There are so many colorful historical figures in this period that I had to be careful not to overcrowd my stories with them. Luckily, it’s a four-book series!

One of the intriguing historical characters readers will meet in THE GUARDIAN is Shaggy Maclean, a Highland chieftain who holds my heroes in his dungeon for a time. My heroine has an encounter with a dangerous pair of more famous characters: Margaret Tudor, the widowed queen of Scotland and sister to Henry VIII, and her lover, the handsome and ambitious chieftain of the Douglas clan.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or was difficult to research?

Researching clan histories was a huge challenge. Little was written down at the time. Although the clans have rich oral histories, legend and fact are blurred together and different clans have differing accounts of the same events. The constantly shifting clan alliances and the multiple marriages of some of the chieftains add to the confusion.

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

I was very disappointed to learn that Highland men did not wear kilts in 1513. I didn’t want to disappoint my readers as well, so I didn’t mention it. Another surprise was that clans had not adopted specific tartans at this time. I didn’t ignore these facts, but I glossed over them as much as I could.

I fudged travel times and made some adjustment to the dates of actual events, but I owned up to this in my Historical

Note at the back of the book.

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’m aware of yet!

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

The clan’s ancient, one-eyed seer predicted Ian MacDonald would wed twice: once in anger and once in love. He was a lad of ten at the time and hoping she would foretell his many battle victories as a great warrior.

What sparked this book? Was it a character?

The hero and heroine came to me together. Although I didn’t know what setting I would put them in, I’ve had the idea for them and their relationship in my head for a long time. This is both an ugly duckling and a second chances story about two people who had a close bond as children.
From the time she could walk, Sìleas loved Ian MacDonald, a black-haired, blue-eyed boy who is five years older than she is. For his part, Ian ignored the teasing from other lads about “his wee shadow” and let her tag along. Since no one else looked out for Sìleas, Ian was always having to rescue his little friend from trouble.

A few years later, Ian is a handsome young warrior, and Sileas is thirteen and in her absolutely least attractive phase. After Sìleas prevails upon him to come to her aid yet again, Ian is forced to say wedding vows to her with a dirk at his back. Ian is furious and blames Sìleas. Of course, Ian doesn’t consummate the marriage—that would be disgusting—and he leaves for five years.

The story really begins when Ian returns.

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

I was amazed to learn that Highland chieftains of this period ran through wives in a way that rivaled Henry VIII. But while King Henry fought with the church over it, the Highland chieftains followed the old Celtic customs without being overly troubled by the church’s rules. Rome was a long way away, and they chose to ask for forgiveness rather than seek permission. Women “put aside” husbands, too.

I found that the first chieftain of the MacDonalds of Sleat had six sons by six different women and that the animosity between these six half-brothers led to two generations of violence and murder. Naturally, this is the clan I chose for my four heroes. ;)

I was very fortunate to be able to make a research trip to Scotland last summer. Here are a few pictures from my trip of places that are in THE GUARDIAN.

What’s next for you?

THE SINNER, book 2 of THE RETURN OF THE HIGHLANDERS, will be out in November. After that, readers can watch for book 3, THE WARRIOR, and the final book in the series, THE CHIEFTAIN. Readers can find more information about me and my books on my website: http://www.margaretmallory.com/.

Thanks so much for letting me visit! I’d love to respond to comments or questions. I’m giving away a signed copy of THE GUARDIAN to one of the commenters.

04 May 2011

The Princesses of Courland

I’ve been doing research for my third Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch book, which is set in Paris after Waterloo (the second book takes place before and during the battle). The setting offers me the chance to revisit many of the real historical characters I wrote about in Vienna Waltz (there I am to the left celebrating Vienna Waltz's release with my editor Audrey LaFehr and my agent Nancy Yost). The characters I'm revisiting in the new book include the fascinating Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, and her younger sister Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord. Both sisters were in Paris in that tumultuous summer, and both were involved in tangled love affairs. Wilhelmine, after a brief affair with Caroline Lamb’s brother Frederick, had become involved with Lord Stewart, the hot-tempered half-brother of British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, while Alfred von Windischgrätz (her lover in Vienna Waltz) was still pursuing her. And of course, Prince Metternich was in Paris as well and far from over Wilhelmine (I don’t know that Metternich ever entirely got over her). Meanwhile, Dorothée was continuing the affair with Count Karl Clam-Martinitz (which begins in Vienna Waltz). Her husband, despite his own numerous affairs, was far from complacent, and fought a duel with Clam-Martinitz. Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée’s uncle by marriage, had his own complicated feelings for Dorothée, which Dorothée perhaps reciprocated more than she would even admit to herself. The life of a Courland princess was never simple.

Courland, located in what is now Latvia, had been a semi-autonomous duchy nominally paying fealty to Poland. In 1795, Peter von Biron, Duke of Courland, Wihelmine and Dorothée’s father (who plays a key role in the backstory of Vienna Waltz), ceded the duchy to Russia. However, Duke Peter had purchased substantial estates that stretched to Sagan in Silesia, only a day’s journey from Berlin. He left Sagan to Wilhelmine, the eldest of his four daughters.

The four Courland princesses, Wilhelmine, Pauline, Jeanne, and Dorothée, grew up almost in their own court, with lavish house parties, a resident troupe of actors, a private orchestra. When Jeanne was sixteen she fell in love with Arnoldi, a violinist from the orchestra who had been hired to teach the music to the Courland sisters. Jeanne became pregnant, and she and Arnoldi ran off together. A Prussian officer discovered her and packed her home. Duke Peter disinherited her in a fit of temper shortly before he died. She had to give the baby up for adoption. Meanwhile, Count Wratislaw, Chief of the Bohemian Police, who became the girls’ guardian on their father’s death, lured Arnoldi back to Bohemia, probably with a forged letter from Jeanne, and had him imprisoned and executed.

Jeanne was married off to the Neapolitan Duke of Acerenza. By the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1814, both she and her sister Pauline (married to Friedrich Hermann Otto, Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen) were separated from their husbands and sharing a house in Vienna. Jeanne had a long time liaison with a Monsieur Borel, and the two of them were apparently like an old married couple.

Duke Peter’s marriage to his much younger wife, Anna Dorothea, had been a dynastic union. Dorthothée (who was ten years younger than Jeanne, the sister nearest to her in age) was almost certainly the daughter of her mother’s lover Count Alexander Batowski. Not long after Duke Peter died, the duchess ended her affair with Batowski and began a liaison with the Baron Gustav Armfelt. Armfelt took a keen interest in the education of clever young Dorothée. Unfortunately the interest he took in Wilhelmine, then eighteen, was less fatherly. They began an affair. One night the duchess noticed someone had taken a candle and went to see who was abroad at such an hour only to find her daughter in the arms of her lover. She slapped Wilhelmine. Her sapphire ring drew blood.

By that time Wilhelmine was pregnant. Armfelt, being an aristocrat, was not executed like Arnoldi, but Wilhelmine, like Jeanne, was compelled to give up her child, a loss that haunted her through the years and that drove many of her actions at the time of the Congress of Vienna (and in the plot of Vienna Waltz). She was hastily married off to the well-born but penniless Louis de Rohan, but her affair with Armfelt continued, with the three of the them traveling together and living off Wilhelmine’s extensive dowry. Eventually Wilhelmine shed both men, first breaking off with Armfelt, then divorcing de Rohan. She later married the Russian Prince Troubetskoi, but by 1814 she had divorced him as well. In 1813, though in the midst of a love affair with the dashing cavalry officer Alfred von Windischgrätz (to whom readers of Vienna Waltz will know she would later return), she began an affair with Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich. An affair which was still intense when the Congress of Vienna opened. Metternich swore to use his influence to help Wilhelmine recover her daughter (then fourteen). The child was in Finland with Armfelt's relatives. Finland was then under Russian control. Metternich said he would intercede with Tsar Alexander and told Wilhelmine he would make the safety of Russia depend on it. However, at the Congress, Metternich and Tsar Alexander were increasingly acrimonious rivals everywhere from the council chamber to the boudoir. Eventually Wilhelmine appealed to the tsar directly. She also broke with Metternich, possibly at the tsar's insistence. But even with the tsar's support, she never recovered her daughter.

Dorothée meanwhile, much younger than her sisters, had fallen into adolescent love with Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski (the longtime lover of Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander). Czartoryski, though still in love with Elisabeth, was open to the marriage, but through the connivance of Dorothée’s mother and Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée instead end up married to Talleyrand’s nephew Edmond. It was not a happy match. Dorothée, as Suzanne thinks in Vienna Waltz, loved books. Edmond, a cavalry officer, was more likely to be found with his horses or at the gaming tables. Or with his mistresses.

In 1814, Dorothée’s mother once again found herself losing a lover to a daughter. Duchess Anna Dorothea was Talleyrand’s mistress before the Congress of Vienna (he wrote very eloquent letters to her when Paris was falling to the Allies). But it was Dorothée Talleyrand took with him to Vienna as his hostess. In Vienna, he began to see her as more than his nephew’s wife, a story that begins to be dramatized in Vienna Waltz and that I’ll continue to explore in the book I’m now beginning.

What are some of your favorite real historical characters in fiction? Has a novel ever driven you to seek out nonfiction history and biographies to learn more about a particular person? Writers, which historical characters you've written about have particularly captured your imagination?

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02 May 2011

The Redemption of Antiheros

RIPE FOR PLEASURE (book one; The League of Second Sons)

by Isobel Carr
Available Now!

I’m going to be popping around the blogosphere all month with RIPE FOR PLEASURE. I did an interview on Risky Regencies last week that had some wonderful questions, and I’ve written blogs about dogs and food and clothing, topics that I don’t want to repeat here.

What I’d love to do today is talk about antiheroes. Specifically, I’m going to talk about the possibility of antiheroes as romantic heroes. I happen to love a good antihero (I’m totally team Solo!). I love their complexity. I love their depth. I love watching them grind and twist as their gut responses and their morals collide. I love discovering what motivates them, and where they draw the line. I love watching them grow.

When I was thinking about who my younger sons are, what drives them, what motivates them, I was also watching a lot of television that centers around antiheroes: Seth Bullock/Al Swearengen, Dexter Morgan, Raylan Givens/Boyd Crowder, Lucius Vorenus/Titus Pullo, Malcolm Reynolds/Jayne Cobb, Michael Westen/Sam Axe. These kind of characters abound at the moment and people love them. I find myself most strongly drawn to the ones that are just barely on the hero side of the line, but there’s a twinkle about Jayne Cobb and a secret depth to Al Swearengen that I can’t dismiss (for example, I was undone in season two of Deadwood when you discover just how attached to Jewel Al really is).

These men are complex, conflicted, driven, and often—let’s admit it—fucked up. Some are more salvageable than others. Some of them have the potential to step up and become actual heroes. And the romance writer in me can’t help but think the right girl might be a big part of that . . .

Clearly my predilection for this kind of entertainment leaked over into my series. Lord Leonidas Vaughn, younger son of a duke and hero of RIPE FOR PLEASURE certainly starts out in this vein. If the Thicky Prince and Bertie Wooster are “of the linage of Turnip”, then Leo (and many of the other League members) are “of the linage of Bullock” (funny how the farm references just seem to be ruling the day). Leo’s after a lost treasure. He knows where it might be, he knows that the person sitting on top of it is unaware of its existence, and he’s has no intention of sharing it. He’s not a bad man. He won’t hurt people to get what he wants. But he has no problem using them, lying to them, charming them, deceiving them (in other words, doing all the things younger siblings often do to get their way, at least in my experience as the eldest who was always on the receiving end of my siblings’ machinations).

Where it gets sticky is the redemption of all this bad boy behavior. How much groveling does he have to do? What lengths does he have to go to in order to make it right? It’s tricky. Will all readers buy into the redemption of an antihero? I don’t know. But two things make me believe they will. First, there has always been a willingness in large parts of the romance community to forgive a hero almost anything (even up to and including forced seduction/rape), and second, I bet that at least one of the boys on my list of antiheroes is the kind of scoundrel you’d forgive almost anything.

So what do you all think? Can such a thing as an antihero-hero exist?

Future Blogs:
May 4th: Romantic Times Blog (Mastiffs: history and talking about mine)
May 18th: Borders Blog (Hands-on Research: Lemon Cheesecakes)
May 26th: Unusual Historicals (Interview)

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