History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 February 2014

Admission to the British Museum

Saw this on Twitter (courtesy of ) and had to share. It's a ticket for admission to the British Museum in 1790.

14 February 2014

A Valentine to Writers' Real Life Heroes

Late last summer I was invited by author Hope Tarr to participate in an exciting anthology she was preparing for a Valentine's Day 2014 release. Hope is one of the co-founders of the hugely successful Lady Jane's Salon in NYC, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, bringing romance authors and readers together one evening a month (in NYC it's the first monday), and which has spawned satellite salons across the country.

In the e-book Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them, edited by Hope, twenty-eight romance fiction writers reveal the real life stories of how they met, wed, and are loved and supported by their spouses and life partners. The book's title is taken from a complaint by Nathaniel Hawthorne to his publisher: "America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash--and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed."

Now we know what the man who wrote THE SCARLET LETTER thought of the author of LITTLE WOMEN.

All of the proceeds of the sales of SCRIBBLING WOMEN go to support the charitable organization Win (originally called Women in Need), founded 30 years ago to provide women and children in NYC "safe, clean shelter and access to critical services, including child care, substance-abuse counseling, domestic-violence services, money management, employment readiness, and life skills. Every family is treated differently, according to their needs."

Every day Win provides labors of love that are sorely needed in the lives of these women and their children, getting them back on track to happy endings of their own.

I had always wanted to tell my own story of happily ever after, especially as I've recounted the love stories of real life couples in my historical fiction and in my nonfiction books about royalty. Not to give the cow away -- but I'll provide a taste of the milk: I'd been in a long-distance relationship that was becoming more emotionally remote as the years progressed so I ended it and decided to enroll for 1 month with an online dating site. In my profile I'd wanted to meet a man within 5 miles of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Instead -- the man who found me -- my own prince charming, really was a knight in shining armor, fighting a war half a world away. His first letter to me, written several times over because the satellite signal kept failing, was sent three days after Valentine's Day in 2006. I just opened his Valentine card this morning. But in fact, for the first time in my life, I rejoice that, as corny as it sounds, I did find my hero and he makes every day Valentine's Day. I've never known someone so supportive and loving.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  How did you meet your hero/ine?

P.S. Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them
is on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents until midnight on 2/15/14 -- a Valentine's Day special price. All sales proceeds go to Win.

10 February 2014

Layering - the art of fashion and writing

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was hurrying to get ready (if there is a non-hurried way to get ready with a toddler I have yet to discover it). I had hair appointment to cover up the gray, errands to do, writing time to get in, and then my daughter Mélanie and I were meeting a friend for dinner. I  wanted to wear a new dress I'd just splurged on from a  post-holiday sale. But I wanted to be sure I didn't get hair dye on the dress, so i grabbed a black cardigan. I was surprised at how the black made the pattern of the knit dress pop and how the ruffles on the sweater softened the bolder lines of the dress. I was debating wearing heels, but because it was going to be a long day with a lot of walking, I put on a pair of tweed flats. I thought they might be too much, but the play of textures also put the dress into focus. I had liked the dress when I ordered it and tried it on, but I liked it even better with accessory details layered in.

Which, I realized later in the day writing in a café, was not unlike the moment in my WIP when I decided the young duchess who is the wife of the murder victim would also be the sister of the hero's best friend and the daughter of the hero's spymaster. Suddenly my plot had added layers of resonance and the complications for my hero packed an added emotional wallop. in both cases I started with a piece I liked--whether clothing or plot material--and then layered in details that made the piece pop and gave it extra dimension.

A change of shoes or earrings, the addition of subtraction of a scarf, can turn an outfit from office-appropriate to evening ready. Similarly, one can start with a basic plot premise--for instance a young woman compelled by circumstance to marry an older wealthy man--and depending on which "accessories" one layers into the plot, one can have anything from bedroom farce to family drama, from romance to mystery to coming of age story.

A good reminder, that it can be worth it to step back and consider the options for layering and where they can take one, whether in putting an outfit together or plotting a book.

Which brings me to the picture above. At a Merola Opera Program event this weekend ("Wagner Bowling") a crown and a Brunhilde hat gave my dress (the same one I had layered the weekend before) and Mélanie's party dress and coat a whole new sense of fun :-).

What are your favorite examples of layering, in fashion or in fiction?

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03 February 2014

Regency Refreshments: Marmalade

I love historical cookery, and recently I made my first (but certainly not my last!) batch of marmalade. A chef friend showed up to dinner lugging a box of small, ugly oranges which she handed to me with a smile of delight. “They’re Seville oranges! I saved you some.” I had no idea why this was cause for joy, but I trusted her enough to go spend $100 on canning supplies the next day.  

When I was researching recipes, I found myself reading snatches of history as well (as you do). Marmalade was originally quince butter (which I’ve had plenty of, as my friends in Italy make it every year) called Marmelos. Outside of English speaking countries, “marmalade” is still often just another synonym for jam and can apparently be made from any fruit. But as we Anglophiles know, in Britain, it’s a citrus based preserve, historically made with bitter, Seville oranges.  

There’s an apocryphal story about a storm and a hold full of oranges sold off cheaply, but recipes for  “Marmelet of Oranges” predate the 18th century tale by more than two hundred years (1677 is the oldest documented recipe). James Keiller did however create the first commercially available marmalade, so he and his brand are rightfully famous (you’ll often hear of Dundee marmalade because Dundee is the Scottish town where Keiller opened his factory in 1797). I grew up on “Dundee” preserves in their white jar, and I fully admit to wanting an antique crock for my kitchen.  

The recipe in my go-to 18th century cookery book, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy (1784 edition), is short and to the point (and once you’ve followed the far more complicated “idiot-proof” modern ones, make perfect sense).

The recipe I used was David Lebovitz’s, with one addition: After juicing the oranges, I boiled the half rinds for 20 minutes and scraped out the pith with a spoon and discarded it. I’ve made it two ways now: once with beautifully sliced rind and once with randomly chopped rind (hello, food processor!). Both were equally tasty and absolutely delightful on a real English muffin hot from the pan.

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