History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 August 2011

Guest Hoyden-- Katharine Ashe!

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Katharine Ashe, who manages to juggle teaching history to undergrads with writing critically acclaimed historical romances. Her latest is In the Arms of a Marquess, hailed as "a unique adventure romance" by Romantic Times. In the Arms of a Marquess is part of Avon's new KISS and Teal campaign. For every copy sold, Avon will donate 25 cents to raise awareness and $50,000 for Ovarian Cancer research.

Even better, Katharine is here today to talk to us about one of my favorite topics: India.

Without further ado, Katharine Ashe!

A Taste for the Exotic

I have a confession to make. My first beloved romance novel was not written by Jane Austen. Or by Georgette Heyer. Or Kathleen Woodiwiss. Or any other of the great ladies of English and American romance. The novel that made me a devotee of romance fiction doesn’t even take place on the shores of the Atlantic.

I fell in love with romance when at the tender, impressionable age of fourteen, I read THE FAR PAVILIONS by M. M. Kaye. That book engendered in me a taste for the exotic, for an epic realm of adventure that embraced romance, passion, pain, tragedy, violence, joy, and especially the triumphant power of love.

But perhaps my devotion to British India did not form so late in my youth. For — while I enjoyed Pooh and Tigger, Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables, the Velveteen Rabbit and Peter Rabbit, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Twelve Dancing Princesses — it was a clever, courageous mongoose who stole my young heart. Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was my childhood hero. In facing a pair of cobras, Rikki battled darkness. He was not afraid to do violence for right, and in the end he saved the family he loved because he believed it to be his duty.

That defined heroism to me then. It still does. My notions of epic adventure, of romance and passion and truth were formed intimately in the fantastical tales of an exotic nineteenth-century east. It is entirely possible that my pen name came to be Ashe because my romance-loving spirit was forged with the reading Ms. Kaye’s story, whose hero’s English name is Ash. Likewise, it recently struck me that I nicknamed Octavia Pierce, the heroine of IN THE ARMS OF A MARQUESS, “Tavy”. (The subconscious is an awesome thing.)

But not all my interest in the Indian subcontinent under British rule got subsumed in the depths of my psyche. As a girl I took to the study of Indian history like a young monkey takes to trees. This passionate preoccupation followed me into college and then graduate school. Eventually I learned, of course, that tales like Kaye’s are fraught with romanticisms that misrepresent the reality of British imperial rule. I learned about the subaltern and theories that built upon Subaltern Studies in order to understand the diverse peoples of India even more profoundly. But despite this intellectual dashing of my girlish fantasies, the magic never disappeared.

Then one day while I was supposedly working very hard on my dissertation research amongst the dusty fourteenth-century Papal Registers of the Vatican Archives, a story idea came to me. I’d written a Regency romance in which the heroine’s younger sister was a girl on the verge of sixteen. A hoyden of a young miss with coltishly long legs and freckles across her nose, Octavia didn’t give a fig about what she looked like as long as she could read about the East Indies and dream of someday traveling there.

And then there was Ben — Lord Ben Doreé — a half-Indian, half-Anglo son of a disastrous second marriage, barely twenty, tall, dark and gorgeous, and looking over my shoulder as I wrote. And he said that Octavia would be his. He told me this in no uncertain terms.

Well we had some words (strong words; she was fifteen for heaven’s sake!). He said (with contained impatience), yes, he understood this, but perhaps we could come to an agreement. Finally I relented, but I told him he would have to wait a few years for her to become a lady, then after that he would lose her… for a time. He glowered at that last bit. I cowered a little (he’s the dangerous and mysterious type), but I stood fast.

Then I ran for my books. And for my friends. Scholars of India, they cheerfully answered my questions and pointed me toward more resources, never knowing that the rich, tormented history of British India was to be the bed onto which I laid down a pair of lovers — a young gentleman and lady destined to love, to lose, and to love again quite scandalously, and quite happily ever after.

What tales of foreign lands ignited your young imagination?

You can learn more about Katharine and her books on her website: www.katharineashe.com.

Thanks for joining us, Katharine!

26 August 2011

Celebrate the Civil War Historians

Ever wondered what was happening on this day in history? Ever wanted to be living someplace other than here, maybe someplace where issues could be openly fought against?

A few months ago, I wandered into my neighborhood Starbucks, desperate for an escape from the usual economic and political news. Much to my surprise, the Washington Post offered a new feature on its front page: “A House Divided” is a daily blog offering news and views about the American Civil War. Interviews with re-enactors soldiering through Fort Sumter’s fall despite the Federal government’s near-shutdown on the same day, thoughtful essays and funny videos, legal decisions by tribal courts – this blog brings an era’s passions and their impact to life.

It’s also a wonderful refuge from today's storms. I promptly hunted for more places like it.

The New York Times offers a similar blog, Disunion. “One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.” In addition to the newspaper page and website, it has a Facebook page.

Not surprisingly, the History Channel has put together a fantastic website on the Civil War. There’s an overview, plus links to related articles including study guides. Short videos are offered, as well as more in-depth videos. It also has a “On this day in history…” feature, which truly brings the hurry-and-wait nature of that war, like all wars, to life.

The History Channel translated their expertise into a Civil War iPad app. It includes maps, excerpts from the major diaries – and a game! Me, the major non-gamer in the house, finds myself checking in daily, just so I can get the latest news and grab a few more points. It’s insane: you’d think I actually lived back then, the way I’m desperate to learn what happened to each diarist.

The National Park Service also gathered together a fabulous store of Civil War information, comparing then and now for each day. Plus they sponsor a fictional Civil War reporter on Twitter, whose tweets offer both gossip and facts.

Many – most, all? – of the states which participated in the war have also put together their own commemorative sites. All of them focus on their own land and ancestors’ involvement, of course. Virginia and Ohio, for example, have strengthened their Civil War remembrance sites for the sesquicentennial. Virginia’s coverage includes a calendar of events, a "then and now" feature, and the Encyclopedia Virginiana (which emphasizes Virginia during the Civil War). Ohio’s site offers articles, forums, and teaching pages, plus a timeline.

It’s an absolute den of delights out there. It promises to improve too, as the store of Victorian and wartime details builds.

Dare I imagine what other bonbons will appear in three years when the bicentennial – and reenactment – of Waterloo arrives? Or the centennial of World War One begins in Europe?

My deepest thanks to all the historians who created these websites and gave us so many hours of pleasure!

What websites or research books have made you totally forget today’s world? What event do you wish somebody would thoroughly explore?

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24 August 2011

Twirling it About at The Tuileries: Oh, no he didnt!

This will have to be one of my briefest posts ever because I'm scrambling to meet a deadline for my next nonfiction book -- to be titled ROYAL ROMANCES: TITILLATING TALES OF PASSION AND POWER IN THE PALACES OF EUROPE. This volume will have about 17 chapters, and at present (though anything can change), the table of contents takes us from Edward III and Alice Perrers all the way to William and Kate, with a bonus chapter about my experiences in London for their royal wedding earlier this year.

Portrait of Louis XIV from 1670

At the moment I am researching the fascinating liaison between the Sun King, Louis XIV and Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, better known as the glittering, and wickedly witty marquise de Montespan. Nicknamed "The real queen of France," she bore the king seven illegitimate children, 3 of whom died before the age of 11; the rest he legitimized and they went on to found some of the great aristocratic houses of France.

Athénaïs utterly fascinates me. Although nothing was ever concretely proven, she was implicated in a plot to poison the king, which effectively put the kibosh on her tenure as his maîtresse en titre or official mistress (leave it to the French to create that position at court!)

But that's not even the subject of this post. It's this: this stop-you-in-your-tracks sentence that I came across during my research. Historian Lisa Hilton wrote the definitive biography of this alluring royal mistress, [The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress Athénaïs, The Real Queen of France] which was published in 2002. Her writing sparkles as much as her subject does. This is narrative nonfiction at its best.

And referring to Louis Quatorze's court, here's the sentence that I could build an entire book (alas, not the one I'm currently writing) around:

Even among the upper classes, male behavior was often shockingly uncivilized. In an etiquette manual of 1671, Antoine de Courtins found it necessary to advise aspiring courtiers not only against belching, farting, spitting and scratching, but against exposing of the penis in company."

Have you ever come across a tidbit of information that was so juicy, or suprising, that it changed, informed, or re-informed your perception of the world you were researching, writing, or reading about? What was it? Please share!

23 August 2011

Meet RIPE FOR SCANDAL's dog: Gulliver

To celebrate the release of RIPE FOR SCANDAL today, I'm returning to a post from last year about Newfoundlands. I feature one in SCANDAL, the stray, shipwrecked Gulliver. Like Pen in PLEASURE, he's a hero in his own right, but he's not quite as ready to be the family pet as she was. I based his personality on my godmother's wonderful Newfie, Ashley (she came with the name) who we often called Mrs. Pedecaris (as in "you are a great deal of trouble"), with a little of the beloved Newfie of my childhood, Hanuman, thrown in (he liked to "answer the door" by jumping up on it and opening his mouth over the small window so the new arrival was greeted by gullet and teeth), and with the "must save all swimmers" instincts of another Newf (my godmother's mother's dog) Gladstone.


All the wonderful who-ha that has been generated for cats in the past week has me thinking about dogs getting short shrift. I’ve posted about Mastiffs previously, but today I’m going to talk about another giant breed that’s close to my heart, the Newfoundland. I grew up with Newfies. My family and a lot of friends had them, and they still hold a VERY special place in my heart. They are also among the breeds that my characters might have owned (hmmm, no dog has walked into my WIP so far . . . maybe we need a Newf to balance out the Mastiff in book one?).

The oldest picture in England can be found on the Landseer website (portrait of Sir Humphrey Style by Robert Walker, 1625). The breed was named by George Cartwright, who appropriately applied the name of the dog's native island to his dog in 1775. During the Georgian era, they tended to be lighter boned than those of today, though the one depicted with the Duchess of York in 1807 appears quite large and sturdy (top pic on the right, Princess Frederica Charlotte, Duchess of York, 1807, by Peter Edward). Like the one in that painting, all the images I’ve ever seen from the era show the black and white variety that came to be called “Landseer” in the late Victorian age (after the painter who popularized the breed; first image on the left, Lion by Edwin Landseer, 1824). You can find more images and more on the topic of coloration here.

The AKC site gives their history thusly (on the right is Newfoundland dog by George Stubbs, 1803)."

"There is much uncertainty about the origin of the Newfoundland. Some say that his ancestors are the white Great Pyrenees, dogs brought to the coast of Newfoundland by the Basque fishermen; others that he descended from a "French hound" (probably the Boarhound); but all agree that he originated in Newfoundland and that his ancestors were undoubtedly brought there by fishermen from the European continent. Many old prints of Newfoundlands show apparent evidence of a Husky ancestor, while other traits can be traced to other breeds. At any rate, a dog evolved which was particularly suited to the island of his origin."

Whatever their ancestry, they were indispensible to fisherman as helpmeets (they pulled in then nets0 and were famous then as now for their natural instinct to rescue humans from the water (my godmother’s Newf, Gladstone, had to be locked in a room with no widows when we wanted to swim, or he’d “rescue” us from the pool). They were also used as carting dogs (as most large breeds were) and as sled dogs (as in Call of the Wild).

One of the most famous Newfs in England was Lord Byron’s Boatswain (image next to the poem, Boatswain by Clifton Tomson, 1808). When he died, the poet had a monument built to him and wrote this inscription for it:

Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains
Of one
Who possessed Beauty
Without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man
Without his Vices.

The Price, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over Human Ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
“Boatswain,” a Dog
Who was born at Newfoundland,
May, 1803,
And died in Newstead Abbey,
Nov. 18, 1808.

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown by glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And stories urns record that rests below.
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennoble but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one – and here he lies.

Another very famous Newf was Lewis’s Newfoundland Seaman (on the left). Seaman accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the Pacific. He is first mentioned in Lewis’s journals on September 11, 1803: “I made my dog take as many [squirrels] each day as I had occasion for. They were fat and I thought them when fried a pleasant food. They swim very light on the water and make pretty good speed. My dog was of the Newfoundland breed, very active, strong and docile. He would take the squirrels in the water, kill them, and swimming bring them in his mouth to the boat.”

In literature we have Pilot, Rochester’s dog in Jane Eyre, and of course Nana in Peter Pan (curse you Disney for misrepresenting her as a St. Bernard!). Nan was inspired by Barrie’s own Newfoundland, Porthos.

So, any other breeds you’re dying to know about? Any particular dogs you’ve loved in books?

22 August 2011

Busting Marie Antoinette Myths

Juliet Grey is over on The Huffington Post today busing myths about things the French queen never did or said. Check it out (I'm so proud!).

19 August 2011

Duelling Women

I’ve been researching how women through history have settled quarrels, and interestingly, more than one source reports that women rarely dueled. But it doesn’t take much to surfing on the net to check that claim---and apparently, there are certainly plenty of historical records reporting dueling women. Woman fought, like their male counterparts, over lovers, insults (perceived and real), gossip, and ultimately, for their honor. They fought with all kinds of pistols and a variety of swords and knives. There is a long, long list of dueling women in history.
Check this out: http://www.fscclub.com/history/armed4-e.shtml

Here are a couple of the more notable duels between women:

Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone >(1792)A certain Mrs. Elphinstone expected no more than a cup of tea when she paid a social call to Lady Almeria Braddock’s London home in 1792. But the visit veered off into decidedly unladylike territory when the hostess, evidently enraged by a casual comment Mrs. Elphinstone made about her age, challenged her guest to a duel in Hyde Park. According to reports, Mrs. Elphinstone fired her pistol first, knocking Lady Braddock’s hat to the ground. The women then took up swords, and Lady Braddock got her revenge by wounding her opponent in the arm. The “Petticoat Duel,” as it came to be known, ended without further incident when Mrs. Elphinstone agreed to write a letter of apology.

Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella (1552)Fabio de Zeresola may have been the most sought-after bachelor in 16th-century Naples. At a time when many duels were fought between men for a disputed lady’s favor, two young women—Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pettinella—competed for Zeresola’s affection in a public swordfight. Although the outcome is unknown, the sensational event kept gossips’ tongues wagging for decades to come. In 1636, the Spanish artist Jose de Riberta immortalized the story in his famous painting “Duelo de Mujeres” (“Duel of Women”).

And lastly, as I read on another blog, there is the account from The Illustrated Police News an 1886 Victorian tabloid which covered duels of all kinds: between men, animals, boys--- but they particularly liked fighting women. The illustrations depicted most of their lady duellists as fashion plate stunners. In this engraving Madame Astie de Valsayre is duelling with an American, Miss Shelby. They disagreed about the relative merits of French and American doctors. The American girl called the Frenchwomen an idiot. As if to give European doctors (at least) a chance to prove their merit, they agreed to meet and fight it out. The site of the duel was significant: on the field of Waterloo. At first glance, one duellist looks to have been run through, but in actuality Miss Shelby was wounded in the arm. At this point, Madame Valsayre accepted her apology, and then subsequently "warmly eulogised the conduct of the fair American", "and holds her up to the admiration and emulation of her sex".”

That said, I can’t think of a single historical romance where the heroine has dueled with a woman. But there must be some out there.

Has anybody read a historical romance that featured a duelling heroine (who fought another woman)?


17 August 2011

Ghost Light & Bringing History to Life

I just got back from a lovely few days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Among the highlights were a superb Measure for Measure, a very fun, exuberant Pirates of Penzance, and a brilliant new play called Ghost Light. Ghost Light was conceived and developed by Jonathan Moscone (Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Theater) and Tony Taccone (Artistic Director of Berkeley Rep), written by Taccone and directed by Moscone. It explores the 1978 assassinations of Moscone’s father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk by Supervisor Dan White. But rather than being a docudrama that recreates historical events, Ghost Light focuses on Jonathan Moscone’s response to the loss of his father, both as a fourteen-year-old boy and as an adult man, struggling to direct a production of Hamlet.

The story that emerges is rooted in historical events (events that I remember vividly, as a twelve-year-old at the time of the assassinations) yet at its heart it is an intimate look at coming to terms with the loss of a parent. As such it is both specific to the characters involved and wonderfully universal. We all struggle to understand our parents as individuals. Loss of a parent is a wrenching fear, and losing a parent is never easy, at any age.

Ghost Light is a haunting play, beautifully acted and directed. It was the first play we saw on the trip, and I thought about it and talked about it a great deal afterward. Among other things, I found myself mulling over what it is to write historical fiction. Real events form the framework in my books (particularly my recent books), but within those events, the arc of the book focuses on the personal journey of the characters. Both the fictional characters and also the real historical characters, such as Wilhelmine of Sagan and Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord in Vienna Waltz and Hortense Bonaparte in The Mask of Night. Hopefully there’s something universal in those character arcs, at the same time the story is rooted in a specific time and place. It’s a tricky balancing act, that I struggle with constantly when I’m writing. Often in the first draft I’m focused on just having the historical narrative in place, and a lot of my work in subsequent drafts involves adding layers to the character arcs. My own struggles made me appreciate the brilliant writing in Ghost Light all the more.

What appeals to you most in historical fiction? The historical narrative or the personal stories of the characters? Both? Writers, if you write historical fiction how do you balance historical context and character development?

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15 August 2011

Racism, Stereotypes, & Minority Characters

A recent discussion on Twitter about the depiction of the Jewish moneylender in Heyer’s THE GRAND SOPHY intersected with an authors’ loop discussion about minority villains in Romantic Suspense novels. In both cases the author was called racist, and I find it very troubling for multiple reasons to label an author racist merely because they have a non-white villain/antagonist in their book. However, as many pointed out on Twitter, if you only have one minority character and the depiction is stereotypical and offensive, then yes, you have opened yourself up to just such a charge. It’s a fine line thing and I think it’s worth discussing (hopefully without offending anyone too greatly).

In Heyer’s case, the charge itself may well be true (her biography certainly points to her having held anti-Semitic views), but the depiction of a nasty Jewish moneylender in the Regency period doesn’t strike me as any more “racist” than the modern depiction of a nasty, Italian mob boss on THE SOPRANOS (which, yes, many Italians protested and found offensive, regardless of truth or accuracy). It’s stereotypical for moneylenders to be Jewish during the Regency just as it’s stereotypical now for mobsters in New Jersey to be Italian. It’s a well-documented fact that moneylending was an industry dominated by Jews in the Regnecy (mostly because they were historically excluded from many other professions). Moneylenders, like modern loan sharks, tend to be not very nice people (if they were nice, who’d bother repaying them?). So Heyer’s use of such a character is, for me, allowable, because it’s historically accurate and works for the book (even if the character’s nastiness was informed by Heyer’s own anti-Semitism). Where Heyer runs into problems in my opinion is in her actual on-the-page stereotypical depiction of Goldhanger as a greedy, oily, and ultimately cowardly, Jew. Had he been an elegant, cool, hard-nosed businessman, I wouldnt have had the same negative reaction.

Heyer is not alone in the late 19th/early 20th century when it comes to unsavory representations of Jews, just look at Twain, Orczy, Dickens, and Sayers (all of whom I love reading). And it’s worth noting that other minorities fare no better in literature from that era.

In the case of the Romantic Suspense author, she’d been accused of racism for having a black villain. One reader had stated that they felt she should have included another GOOD black character specifically to counterbalance the black villain (more on this below). Another author piped up to say she’d also been called racist for having black gang members in her book. Many authors wondered if their only choice was to whitewash the universe and only have white characters (and undesirable, unrealistic choice, and a very limiting one) or if only whites could be used as villains/antagonists/or even generally unsavory secondary characters? Is it racist to depict the very real street war between the Crips and the Bloods? What about the one between the Norteños and Sureños, or between the Tong and the Triads? Should we only show white supremacists, Italian mobsters, and Irish IRA terrorists (all stereotypes by the way, and ones that the relevant ethnic groups tend to dislike)?

Sometimes the key IS going to be counterbalance, as the reader suggested (note that most police procedural shows on television have multi-ethinc casts both in and out of the squad room). But sometimes, esp in historicals, I don’t think the counterbalance can be woven in without it looking like a major Mary Sue Maneuver (the heroine whose maid is her BFF, or who secretly works for the underground railroad even though her family owns slaves, etc.). So the key there is going to be making sure that your depiction of the minority character doesn’t tip over into being stereotypically offensive (as Heyer’s did).

I hope I’m making sense, rather than simply digging myself into a giant hole. *sigh* I feel like I’m touching the third rail here, but I think it’s an important discussion to have and that it’s an issue that authors really DO need to be aware of and think about.

10 August 2011

Recent History

Recently, I exhumed an old file from my archives, a satire I wrote during my 3L year of law school in the winter of 2005/6. The novel, which I called Two L, was based on the plot of Measure for Measure, transposed to current day Harvard Law.

As I was readying the files for publication, I realized that there was just one problem. (Okay, two problems if you count the fact that reformatting the old files was completely kicking the tenderer parts of my anatomy.) The problem was that current day was no longer current day.

As I read through the novel, I was struck by just how much had changed since 2006, both at the law school and in the world. My main character, the eponymous 2L, makes a comment about her grades, a royal flush of A’s and A-‘s. HLS no longer has grades. They’re on a pass/high pass system now. There’s a great big new student center that wasn’t there when I was there five years ago. And I’m sure there have been other changes, if only I knew where to look for them.

Since I wrote Two L, the world has undergone dramatic financial upheavals. One of my favorite bits, while writing the book, was a scene in which the characters are engaged in the 2L job hunt, a minutely choreographed mating ritual between the second year law students and the top tier of America’s law firms. In 2006, the legal market was booming; law firms were courting students, wooing them into practice. Anyone reading this and making choking noises? Yep, that’s a world that’s been turned on its head.

Then there are all those little mundane life details. Yes, my characters have cell phones, but there’s a comment, at one point, about the bill of a boy’s baseball cap brushing against the silver-tinted plastic of his phone. Remember those phones? The plastic ones designed to look like metal? When my heroine slides her laptop into her tote bag, it clunks against her palm pilot. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone use one of those.

I have the same problems in writing the modern segments of my Pink Carnation series, in which my heroine has very slowly moved from autumn of 2003 to summer of 2004. Someone recently asked me whether Eloise and Colin, the hero and heroine of those modern segments, had announced their relationship on Facebook yet. They don’t have Facebook. And if Eloise were to go back to the States and leave Colin in England, they wouldn’t have Skype. Was this blog around in 2004? I can’t remember. But I’m willing to bet not.

It fascinates me how quickly a novel written as a contemporary can become a historical artifact, a snapshot of a lost world. In 1814, did Jane Austen look back at Northanger Abbey, written in the late 1790s, and marvel how dated it felt? Or is it just that our world moves faster now?

08 August 2011

Book Cover Pins: A How To

For RWA and RomCon I made small bookcover pins for friends and people I was on panels with. Lots of people asked me how I did it, and I promised to share directions. I figured sooner was better than later, so here we go!

Print your cover onto heavy stock matte paper. I like to make the covers 1.5” tall and surrounded them with a border.

Cut them out.

Lay out on a sheet of hard, slick plastic (I like to use page protectors).

With a small paint bush, put one coat of Elmer’s White glue on the back and two on the front, allowing each coat to dry separately. This seals the paper. Once dry, trim off any excess glue. Don’t worry about it being too thick, the glue will dry clear.

Press them flat for a few hours or overnight, as the glue sometimes makes them curl a bit.

For the next step, the future pins need to be suspended in such a way that the liquid 2-part epoxy resin can be poured over them and drip off without the pin becoming one with the surface it’s resting on. I made a support out of a small sheet of Styrofoam and toothpicks (see pic).

Balance the covers on the support you’ve built so that they don’t touch.

Mix up the epoxy resin according to the directions on the package (you can get this at any good craft store). Drizzle it carefully over the images (I just use the wooden coffee stir stick I mixed the epoxy resin with), making sure to coat all of the surface. Do not worry about air bubbles, they will work their way out as it dries.

Let them dry for at LEAST 3 days. A week is better.

Edges can be sanded with an emery board if necessary.

Superglue a pin back to them and you’re done.

NOTE: You can make your pins and shape or size, and you can decorate the paper with glitter, jewels, etc. before coating in epoxy resin. Have fun with it!

05 August 2011

Going Back in Time - with A Pen

Writing a historical novel is like time travel. The lucky reader gets to vicariously live in another era, through the story told in the book’s pages.

But after the author has done all the research, how can he make the reader believe the story actually lives in that period? All of the words on the page must somehow sound right, whether they’re dialogue, exposition, or quotations. The reader must believe she’s living the characters’ story with them – even though it takes place worlds away from her.

But how on earth can an author pull it off? The vocabulary from that era may be so different that it’s hard to express what happened. Blackmail and homosexuality, for example, are fairly recent terms. To make life even more fun, sentences may no longer be put together quite the same way. Modern grammar discourages adverbs and encourages informality, habits that could mark social status centuries ago.

Even harder is making the reader believe he’s listening to dialogue spoken centuries ago. Even if the author can pull off the words and rhythm, she still has to inform it with the thought process of times gone by.

Here’s Robert Louis Stevenson providing some backstory in Treasure Island:

But he broke in cursing the doctor, in a feeble voice but heartily. “Doctors is all swabs,” he said; “and that doctor there, why, what do he know about seafaring men? I been in places hot as pitch, and mates dropping round with Yellow Jack, and the blessed land a-heaving like the sea with earthquakes – what do the doctor know of lands like that? – and I lived on rum, I tell you. It’s been meat and drink, and man and wife, to me; and if I’m not to have my rum now I’m a poor old hulk on a lee shore, my blood’ll be on you, Jim, and that doctor swab.”

I particularly admire Georgette Heyer’s ability to suck me into any time period, strictly through dialogue. Here’s her description of the heroine’s family home, from The Grand Sophy.

‘Everything seems to be in shocking disorder!’ she observed. ‘I must tell Sir Horace that it will not do! He should not neglect the house in this way. There is work here for an army of gardeners! He never liked the place, you know. I have sometimes wondered if it was because my mother died here.’ Lord Charlbury made a sympathetic sound in his throat, but Sophy continued cheerfully: ‘But I daresay it is only because he is shockingly indolent! Ring the bell again, Charlbury!’

After a prolonged interval, they heard the sound of footsteps within the house, to be followed immediately by the scrape of bolts being drawn back, and the clank of a chain removed from the door.

‘I am reconciled, Sophy!’ announced Charlbury. ‘Never did I hope to find myself existing within the covers of a library novel! Will there be cobweb, and a skeleton under the stairs?’

‘I fear not, but only think how delightful if there should be!’ she retorted.

Or this bit of fighting from Beauvallet, set more than a century earlier:

The footsteps came nearer; the door was opened a few inches, and Luis, the valet, looked out. ‘Who knocks? What do you want?’

Joshua’s arm slid lovingly around his neck; the point of his dagger pricked the man’s throat. ‘Nay then, my cosset, no sound out of you, or you are sped,’ he said softly.

The man’s eyes stared at him, his lips moved soundlessly.

‘Truss him up,’ said Sir Nicholas, and passed into the lodge.

How does an author research the words to use? I’m personally very fond of letters and business reports, whenever I can find them. I love reading military action reports, since those aren’t written for literary effect yet they can still convey powerful emotion. (Ever read an account of a great victory? Or a defeat told by one of the few survivors? Wow, just wow. There’s an alpha male who’s hurting.)

Okay, and I also read poetry from the era, because it tells me what rhythm that era’s people found pleasurable.

Of course, then I personally start worrying whether today’s readers will understand – or enjoy – an accurate rendition of words from another age. Should I want my story to sound just like a sister of Jane Austen or Lord Byron told it? Or should it be a first cousin to Stephen King and Nora Roberts? (There are some weird hybrids floating around there…)

At the end of the day, the words are the path through time when a reader dives into a historical novel. But they also keep both the characters – and the reader – alive and well.

Readers, what authors do you think use words uncommonly well to pull you into past worlds? Authors, what do you research to help find the right language for a historical novel?

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03 August 2011

Announcing the Release of BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE!

The actual release date for this first novel in the Marie Antoinette trilogy isn't until next week on August 9, but since this is my week to post, I thought I answer some of the FAQs I seem to be getting from the blogosphere.

This has been a dream job; writing a trilogy is affording me the scope and the space to fully address many aspects of Marie Antoinette's life that would otherwise have to be skimmed or crammed in, had I been allotted only 400 pages or so to tell the entire story of her life. I had always envisioned telling Marie Antoinette's story as a trilogy -- Sandra Gulland's brilliant Josephine B. trilogy was my touchstone -- and I was fortunate enough to find an editor whose vision matched my own from the outset. Another dream came true when Ms. Gulland blurbed the book, joining some of my all-time favorite historical fiction authors -- Michelle Moran, Diane Haeger, and the Hoydens' own inimitable Lauren Willig -- and I am extremely grateful to those authors for taking the time from their own busy writing schedules to read a 450-page novel.

[Briefly hopping onto a soapbox, as an aside to all authors, I think we can never appreciate enough the time our colleagues take to blurb our books. I've known writers who will graciously drop everything to blurb a book because their own editor, or their editor's colleague passed it to them, so they feel it's good karma -- and then no one even bothers to thank them for their time, or to send them a copy of the published novel with their blurb on it. ]

A Conversation with Juliet Grey,
Author of
Becoming Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette is such a well known historical figure; and people either love her or hate her. What made you want to tell her story and what is different about BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE from other fictional depictions of her life?

Many people’s perceptions of Marie Antoinette are based on cinematic characterizations in which she is portrayed as going from heedless to headless, a clueless, insensitive, idiotic spendthrift. When I tell people I have written a novel about Marie Antoinette, they immediately invoke the infamous “Let them eat cake” line and I have to inform them that she never said it. In fact Marie Antoinette was extremely generous to the impoverished and starving people of France, but her good deeds got in the way of the propagandists’ agendas. The Marie Antoinette that people think they know is largely a creature of myth. She said “Let them eat cake” as much as Empress Catherine the Great died having sex with a horse.

I fell in love with Marie Antoinette (and Louis) while I was researching their marriage for a work of nonfiction; and the more I read about them, the more it became apparent that they have truly been misrepresented and misinterpreted by historians. They say history is written by the winners, and Marie Antoinette and Louis were the two greatest victims of the French Revolution.

What sparked BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE specifically is how little has been told about her childhood years and the incredible makeover she had to endure at the hands of a small army of experts before she was judged acceptable marriage material, while the clock was ticking and a vitally strategic international alliance hung in the balance. The preadolescent Marie Antoinette was worked over by a hairdresser who reconfigured her hairline so that her forehead would not appear to prominent; a dentist who realigned her teeth with orthodontia, a pair of actors who became her dialect coaches for her pronunciation of French; a notable dancing master who taught her the “Versailles Glide,” the walk that was unique to the women of the Bourbon court; and a gentle cleric who came to tutor her in academics. My novel also shows just how much the young Austrian archduchess Maria Antonia was a political pawn, moved about the European chessboard by her mother, the formidable Hapsburg empress Maria Theresa, and King Louis XV of France.

How accurate are the events you depict in the novel?

Not only is the book extensively researched, but I went so far as to find the names and backgrounds of the actual figures who aided in Marie Antoinette’s physical metamorphosis. Nearly every scene in the book has its roots in fact, and in some cases, the dialogue (and in particular the correspondence) reflects the actual words that were spoken or written. We are fortunate in that the Eighteenth Century was an age of great letter writers and memoirists. Nearly everyone kept a journal back then.

So where does the fiction come in?
Although we know that certain things happened historically, as a novelist I have the freedom to imagine what was really going on in the room at the time and in the characters’ heads. We don’t always know how a given thing occurred, just that it did. I have a golden rule of historical fiction writing, which is: that if an incident could have happened, then it’s fair game to include it in a novel. For my own taste, I prefer not to wildly re-imagine historical events in my books. For one thing, fans of historical fiction (and I’m one as well) tend to be versed in the history of their favorite time period and they get pulled out of the narrative when an author includes a scene that strains credulity or plays too fast and loose with the historical record.

How did you do your research for BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE?
I read well over a dozen biographies of Marie Antoinette, plus numerous other books related to her, about other figures in the novel or about the era as a whole, including books on her residences such as Schönbrunn and Versailles. I also read countless articles on the specifics of her life from the minutiae of the kind of orthodontia she was compelled to wear as an adolescent to the interior décor of her rooms and the clothing of the era. Looking at actual portraits of the characters also informed me about their appearance (although the painters might have flattered their subjects at the time). I am also fortunate to have colleagues with unique expertise in certain areas and I was able to pick their brains on such things as elements of costume and certain details related to the scenes where the characters’ practice of their Catholicism is important, like the correct habit a novitiate would have worn at the Carmelite of St. Denis. So I didn’t have to make it up or wing it; and it was exciting to be able to incorporate that level of historical accuracy into my novel.

In the opening line of BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE, young Maria Antonia, who is narrating, states “My mother liked to boast that her numerous daughters were ‘sacrifices to politics.’ ” Can you expound on that a bit?

Marie Antoinette was the youngest daughter of the sixteen children born to Empress Maria Theresa and Francis of Lorraine. All royal marriages in those days were political; in essence, they were peace treaties. The concept of Love, or marrying for love, didn’t enter into the equation. In fact, for all classes of society marriage was viewed as an economic arrangement and it was exceedingly rare for the spouses to be in love with each other (ironically, Marie Antoinette’s parents’ union was more of a love match than a dynastic one). In most instances, the entire point of a royal alliance was to cement relations between two regions; and usually the bride and groom (first married by proxy in the bride’s native land with someone from the nobility standing in for the groom) had never even met until (or just before) their wedding day in the groom’s kingdom.

Maria Theresa’s chief ambition for her daughters was the same as any other monarch’s: to make brilliant marriages for her girls, alliances with various other royal houses that would ensure the peace and stability of the realm. Princesses and archduchesses had no say in who they would marry; they were raised to understand that their destiny was to become the wife of a foreign prince or king and that it was a near certainty that they would never see their homelands again after they departed to wed. So it’s hard to envy these young women, more or less bred in captivity to be the brood mares of men they didn’t know and might possibly not even grow to like, let alone love.

You have a lot of sympathy for Marie Antoinette in your novel, though you also don’t sugarcoat her less charming qualities. And your depiction of the dauphin, Louis Auguste, is also not what we usually see from other literary or cinematic portrayals. What informed your view of young Louis?

Louis has also gotten a bum rap from history. He is often depicted as an uneducated, lazy somnolent oaf, none of which is true. He read widely in several languages, and was an avid student of history (ironically, he knew everything there was to know about the reign and fall of England’s Charles I, and was keen, long before the seeds of revolution began to take root, not to end up like him). He was also a large youth, and myopic; and his nearsightedness caused people to think he was clumsy and shambling. The more I read about him the more I began to think of him as the “fat kid” in class who always gets picked on because of his size, when the bullies barely know anything about what he’s really like as a person. Louis suffered from low self esteem, a problem when you’re going to become the king. His older brother Louis Joseph, the proverbial “fair-haired boy” of the family died at the age of nine, and the title of dauphin passed to Louis Auguste. In BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE, describing her husband’s passionate interest in masonry, cabinetry and locksmithing, Marie Antoinette says he “dreamt of becoming a tradesman the way a tradesman might dream of becoming king.” Louis did indeed lack the ambition to rule, but he had no choice. It was his destiny.

Louis is a complex figure. He was sexually inexperienced, yet grew to love Marie Antoinette, even as he was incapable of consummating their marriage for more than seven years (if readers don’t know why already, they’ll have to wait for the second book in the trilogy to find out!). He was humble, yet believed firmly in the divine right of kings. And he could be maddeningly indecisive, yet had a firm grasp of what was truly good for France. Unfortunately, some of his ministers, as well as the aristocratic and ecclesiastical strata of society, thwarted him at every turn because his reforms would deprive them of some of the perquisites they had long been accustomed to enjoying—like being exempt from paying taxes. But the revolutionary firebrands had no idea what was going on behind the scenes and blamed Louis (and Marie Antoinette, whom, they were—incorrectly—convinced, was the primary influence at court) for all the nation’s ills.

How do you feel about the various film adaptations of Marie Antoinette’s life?

Like I need a few aspirin and a stiff drink. The ones I have seen are excruciatingly painful to me because I’m one of those filmgoers who enjoys historical accuracy with her entertainment. I love a good costume drama (and sometimes the movies get the costuming fairly right), but the combination of rampant miscasting and the stereotypical (and wildly incorrect) one-note portrayals of Marie Antoinette as an insensitive, selfish, bubbleheaded fashionista, drive me crazy.

The best I can say about the movie adaptations is: please don’t consider them history in terms of assuming that the scenes in the movie accurately depict the truth or reality of the events; just accept the films as entertainment; and if they spur a viewer to learn more about the real Marie Antoinette and her marriage, her friends, and the events of her life, that’s all to the good.

What’s next for Juliet Grey?

BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE is the first novel in a trilogy, so I am working on the next two novels, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW (which spans the years 1774-1789; from the time Marie Antoinette becomes queen of France to aftermath of the fall of the Bastille in July 1789. The final book in the series, (title TBA), picks up where book 2 leaves off and carries the reader through to Marie Antoinette’s execution on October 16, 1793. After that—well, Madame du Barry kept threatening to steal the show in BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE, and I have read so much about her life (there’s quite a lot that people don’t know, beyond the fact that she was considered a rapacious royal mistress), that I am aching to tell her story. I think it would be great fun to show some of the same incidents I depict in BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE, from the other woman’s perspective!

Which novels have been your "dream job" -- or, as actors say, when asked about their favorite role, is it "the one I'm working on"?

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