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25 August 2014

Family road trips - then and now



I'm at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week with my two-and-a-half-year-old Mélanie  (there we are above at the Member Lounge upon our arrival and below shopping on a trip  to Ashland last May). In the whirl of organizing things for the trip for myself, Mélanie, and our cats (who travel with us), I thought of what travel would be like for my characters Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch and their children in the Regency/Napoleonic era. I realized there were actually some surprising similarities.

We drive to Ashland (it's about a six hour drive with one stop). The Rannochs do a lot of their traveling in their carriage (though they take sea voyages, just as we sometimes take airplane trips). Mélanie has a DVD player to watch in the car (purchased for our trip in May and worth every penny). Malcolm and Suzanne's have a traveling coach, rather than a post chaise that only seats two, to accommodate themselves and their two children as well probably as Malcolm's valet Addison, Suzanne's maid Blanca, and Laura Dudley, the children's nanny/governess.  The coach includes traveling chess and backgammon sets (I recently wrote a couple of scenes in my WIP in which characters used both).

Our luggage fills the trunk of the car and usually the front passenger seat. The Rannochs would have their portmanteaux and bandboxes strapped to the back of the carriage, but I'm sure they would also have bags and hampers inside with toys and refreshments for the children. Some things are univeral in any era when traveling with children. 

The Rannochs stop at posting houses to change horses roughly every fifteen miles  (they would send their own horses home at the first stop and continue with hired teams).  They would have a private parlor at the posting house where they could refresh themselves with cakes or meat and cheese or even a full meal. The adults could have coffee, wine, or ale while there would be mugs of milk for the children, Colin and Jessica. As the eccentricities of the wealthy and well-connected would probably be tolerated, I imagine they'd be able to bring Berowne the cat in with them as well. 
Mélanie and I don't need to stop for gas on our drive to Ashland as we travel in a Toyota Echo with quite good mileage, but we do stop at a Starbucks for a latte for Mummy and milk for Mel and a scone or lemon bread. And while Suzanne would be able to nurse Jessica in the carriage, Mélanie and I need a nursing break :-). Our cats, unlike Berowne, stay in the car during the break.

Of course if Mélanie and I lived in Regency England, we'd probably travel by mail coach, if we were lucky, or else the common stage. Assuming we could afford to travel at all. Still, it's fun to think of the similarities and to imagine the Rannochs on their traveling adventures as we set off on own road trip.

Do you enjoy road trips? What are your favorite travel scenes in books?

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04 August 2014

Halloween in August

It feels a bit odd to be thinking about Halloween in August.  People are still sporting tank-tops and flip-flops.  There are no paper cut-outs of black cats and witches' hats in the drugstore.  And, most telling of all, the Starbucks sign is still dominated by frappuccino promotions, with not a hint of pumpkin spice in sight.

But I have Halloween on the radar because, tomorrow, my very first Halloween book, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, hits the shelves.

I call this my Halloween book because it's set in October, in that season of mist and shrinking daylight hours, of changing leaves and that sudden, sharp chill in the air.  And part of the book, the part that's set in Cambridge (the American one) in 2004, really does deal with Halloween.  My modern heroine, Eloise, is having her English boyfriend Colin to visit in her tiny studio apartment in Harvard Square, just in time for the annual grad student Halloween masquerade bash.  There's even a plastic pumpkin filled with those pot-bellied candy corn pumpkins and mini-Twix with bats on the wrappers.

But in England in 1806, where the bulk of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla takes place, there is no Halloween, or, at least, not Halloween as we know it.

I did a bit of scrounging around, to see what rituals and practices my characters might have been familiar with, and here's what I discovered:

The tradition of the evening of October 31st as a night on which ghosts walk goes back a very long time. One version has it that Halloween originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when the dead wandered among the living, and was later transformed by Pope Gregory IV into a Christian holiday, Hallowmas, in the 9th century.  The name “Halloween”, or “Hallowe’en”, comes from the festival of Hallowmas: All Hallows Eve, All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, and All Souls Day, in which the dead are remembered.

The modern holiday of Halloween, with its costumes, jack-o’lanterns, and trick or treating, is generally held to be a mid-nineteenth century Irish export to America.  “Mumming and guising” were popular in the Celtic fringe (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), but they don’t seem to have taken much of a hold in England.  

There was a form of trick or treating: going door to door collecting “soul cakes” to pray for those in purgatory.  Bonfires were lit, to guide the souls to heaven or to scare them away from the living, depending upon whom you ask.

The Reformation appears to have put paid to many of these practices in England.  In the seventeenth century, the introduction of Guy Fawkes Day—a commemoration of the 1605 plot to blow up King and Parliament—meant that the bonfires moved over a few days, to November 5th.  Elements of the older holiday remained in rural communities in England, with bonfires, carved turnip lanterns, bobbing for apples and other traditions which varied by locale, but the gentry did not observe these rituals.  

The bottom line?  Halloween, as we understand it, would have been unknown to Miss Sally Fitzhugh or the Duke of Belliston, although they might have been aware of the superstitions attached to the night as practiced by the tenants on their estates.  

I wasn't able to use Halloween in the historical part of my narrative, but I did have October itself as an asset-- that season of leaves fallings, light dying, mists rising.  My historical characters might not have Halloween, but they had the atmosphere of Halloween.

Minus the candy pumpkins, of course.

What's your favorite season?

30 July 2014

TEMPTED BY HIS TOUCH



A very talented group of my friends have put out a massive historical romance box set (10 full-length novels). It's only available for a limited time, and it's extremely well-priced. So if you haven't tried these ladies, I highly recommend checking out TEMPTED BY HIS TOUCH!






Q&A with Erica Monroe

What’s your favorite historical romance? I definitely have a few. Books that have really changed how I approach writing are Bound by His Touch by Meredith Duran, A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant, and Forever and a Day by our own Delilah Marvelle (yes, I'm a fan girl!).

What is the first romance novel you ever read? The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. To this day, I have a huge weak spot for spy romances.

Would you want to live in the time you write about? What would you love? Hate?
Honestly, I don't think I'd like to live in the rookeries, LOL. I love writing about them because it astounds me how these people can deal with these harsh circumstances, this back-breaking poverty, and still have hope. That's what I really wanted to show when writing the Rookery Rogues series--love comes even in our darkest hours. But given that I'm pretty outspoken, I don't think I'd fit well into the traditional roles offered to women. I would definitely hate being pigeon-holed. I'd probably have to be like the heroine in A Dangerous Invitation, who sets herself up as a fence for stolen goods and learns how to shoot a flintlock better than the men around her. I think I'd enjoy that!

If given the choice between a duke, a rogue, or an alpha hero, which would you choose? In literature, always a rogue. I like the unconventional views, and the dangerous side. In reality, I gravitate toward beta heroes normally.

What tempts you? (Chocolate, caviar, long walks on the beach…) Gluten free pastries, gluten free cider, extra dirty vodka martinis, television, and a great deal on clothes!

Rapid fire round:
Designer purses or Target special? Target, always! I am a thrift shop queen.
Heels or flip flops? Ridiculously high stiletto heels, though I spend most days in ballet flats.
Rich or famous? Rich. I don't think the paparazzi and I would have a grand love affair.
American hottie or sexy Brit? Sexy Brit, though I married an American hottie who claims he'll learn to do a British accent (11 years later, I have yet to hear it).
Where’s your happy place? Being at home with my husband, surrounded by our two dogs and our cat.



Excerpt from A DANGEROUS INVITATION:

Daniel took one look at the bannister, then at her, and tugged her closer to him. His hold was strong, but not unrelenting. She was flush against him, so close she could feel the beating of his heart. Warmth replaced brisk wind, and his presence blotted out loneliness until she was part of something greater, something powerful beyond herself. 

Kate feared that heady sensation. Passion didn’t stick to predetermined routes and checklists.
When he spoke, his breath tickled her skin. His voice rumbled in her ear. “I don’t want to lose you again.”
A tremble tore through her. In those few months after he left, she’d woken with those words on her lips, whispers from dreams wherein he’d fulfilled his promise to return for her. He was here, and she forgot the reasons why she should loathe him.

Everything but the smell of bergamot and cloves disappeared.



About the Book:

A boxed set with ten sizzling historical romances from ten bestselling historical romance authors. Fall in love with fabulous tales of intrigue, suspense, wit, and passion featuring dukes, rogues, alpha heroes…and the women who can’t resist them. JUST 99 CENTS from July 27 - Sept. 21---then it disappears FOREVER!

Scoundrel Ever After by Darcy Burke - Once upon a time there was a very bad boy who met a very nice girl....

Lady of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle - Educating a man in the art of love takes time. Lots of it.

Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson - Passion and secrets simmer against the glittering backdrop of 19th century musical celebrity.

To Dare the Duke of Dangerfield by Bronwen Evans - What's a lady to do when a notorious rake wins her estate in a game of cards?

Undone by Lila DiPasqua – One steamy, emotionally charged retelling of Rapunzel…Rescuing this beauty from the ‘tower’ is only the beginning…

The Problem with Seduction by Emma Locke - Elizabeth Spencer needs a man. She doesn't need to like him—because while she needs a man, she doesn't particularly want one.

A Dangerous Invitation by Erica Monroe - Daniel O'Reilly returns to win back Kate Morgan’s heart and prove he's innocent of murder.

Once Upon a Duke by Eva Devon - A widow looking to get seduced. A duke more than willing to oblige.

Great & Unfortunate Desires by Gina Danna - A marquis with a guilty past takes a bride in a world where love is fatal.

Dark Surrender By Erica Ridley - Trapped in darkness…. Their passion burns bright!
 

27 July 2014

The Nanny Conundrum

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices "designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner." But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet's nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we've done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a "dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower's proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can't believe they didn't feel some of the same concerns I've experienced myself. I've been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet---

 “I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer," Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?

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21 July 2014

Laid Low ...

I really did mean to have a blog post for you all today, but my head feels like I'm the one having a drill applied to it. Off to sit in a dark room ...

07 July 2014

Worn on the Fourth of July

We hoydens often discuss the use of the way costumes/clothes/garments/accessories in our novels denote character.

Of course, clothes do more than keep us covered, or strategically reveal certain parts of our bodies, which in itself makes a statement. Fashion has always been an expression of personal and often social standing. In some cultures during certain eras, governments enacted sumptuary laws restricting the textiles that could be worn by various social strata. And in some centuries velvet or silk, or certain colors, were purely the purview of royalty.  

The colorful tabards worn by medieval knights represented their family heraldry; moreover, one knew who was who, friend or enemy, on the battlefield. Surely this is the genesis of the concept behind sports team jerseys as well. Supporters of the French Revolution sported the tricolor cockade in their hats. Marie Antoinette was literally a fashion victim, condemned by her subjects as much for what she wore as for what she didn't. Her lavish garments, accoutrements and hairstyles of the 1770s were criticized as wretched excess as the queen became the scapegoat for centuries of France's social and economic issues that were none of her making. Yet during the early 1780s when she foreswore her furbelows for flimsy linen and muslin gowns, she was not only derided for looking more like a dairy maid than Queen of France, but for putting the French silk merchants out of work, in favor of the Flemish flax growers--citizens of her elder brother Joseph's Hapsburg Empire.

And while Nazis wore swastikas on their armbands, they compelled German Jews to stitch a yellow Star of David on their clothes and gays to sew a pink triangle to their garments as an identifying badge.




On the morning of July 4, while I was taking a walk in Washington DC, where I now live, I saw so many people dressed in red, white, and blue in honor of our nation’s 238th birthday, and especially dressed in clothes with replicas of our flag on them. In NYC, where I’m from, people only wear flags on their clothes with a sense of irony; yet here in our nation’s capital, no matter the age or gender or color of their skin, people really seemed to have awakened that morning and deliberately chosen to cover their own birthday suits with one that would honor America’s birthday—without irony, but with patriotism. At least that was the reason I was given, cheerfully and honestly, by the senior citizen I encountered by the Georgetown waterfront who lamented DC’s dearth of a good bagel store/deli (true that) to my cashier at Trader Joe’s, a young man who was as fascinated by the idea of this blog, as he was proud to be an American—wearing it on his face for all the world to see.
Did you wear red, white, and blue on the 4th of July? Do you tend to suit your outfit to the holidays (red or pink clothes for Valentine’s Day, donning Halloween costumes, wearing green [or orange, or both] on St. Patrick’s Day, red and green to Christmas parties, etc.)?

30 June 2014

6 Degrees of Harriet Granville

A few months ago when I guest blogged on Catherine Delors' site about connections between England and France during the Napoleonic Wars, my agent commented that the way certain historical figures, such as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, kept popping up in my post was a sort of Regency six degrees of separation. I started thinking about the six degrees of separation idea in relation to a real historical figure who has appeared or been mentioned in a number of my books - the Devonishires' younger daughter Harriet.

Lady Harriet Cavendish was born in 1785, the daughter of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and the former Lady Georgiana Spencer, who became a celebrated society beauty and political hostess as Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana was a strong supporter of the Whigs and their charismatic leader Charles James  Fox. She had a love affair with Earl Grey, a young Whig politician who eventually became prime minister in 1830. Georgiana bore Grey a daughter, Eliza, in secret, a half-sister of Harriet's who was raised by Grey's parents.

Lady Caroline Ponsonby was Harriet's first cousin, the daughter of Georgiana's sister, Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough. Caroline married William Lamb, son  of the famous Whig hostess Lady Melourne. Though it began as a love match, the marriage was not happy. Caroline is probably best known to history for her love affair with Lord Byron. She dramatized the love affair in Glenarvon, a roman à clef which scandalized the ton and had them madly speculating on which character was based on which real person. After Caroline's death, William, by then Lord Melbourne became young Queen Victoria's prime minister and political mentor.

William's sister Emily, Countess Cowper, was a patroness of Almack's. After her husband's death she married her longtime lover (though the love affair wasn't precisely exclusive on either side), Lord Palmerston, who later became prime minister himself. (A visiting dignitary once stumbled into an embarrassing situation by remarking on how much Palmerston's son resembled him. The young man in question was in fact officially Palmerston's stepson and the son the late Earl Cowper, though Palmerston almost certainly fathered him.). As Lady Palmerston, Emily was also a celebrated political hostess.

Harriet's childhood at Devonshire House included another Caroline, Caroline St. Jules, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who lived for many years in a menage-à-trois with the duchess. Caroline St. Jules married William Lamb's brother George (and was referred to by the family as "Caro George" to differentiate her from "Caro William"). Her marriage was not entirely tranquil either. At one point she left her husband and ran off to the Continent with Henry Brougham, a radical Whig politician who later defended Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent's estranged wife, when he attempted to divorce her after he became George IV. Emily Cowper went abroad and helped persuade her sister-in-law to return to her husband.

Harriet's aunt, Lady Bessborugh, had a love affair the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but the love of her life was Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, a politician and diplomat and younger son of the Marquess of Stafford. She bore him two children in secret who were placed in foster homes. In 1809, Granville's affair with Lady Bessborough had ended. Granville needed to marry  and produce legitimate children. Harriet was four-and-twenty and unhappy at home. Her mother had died and her father had married his longtime mistress Elizabeth Foster. That Granville proposed to Harriet, niece of his longtime mistress, and that Harriet accepted (with her aunt's blessing) is not entirely surprising given their circumstances. That the marriage proved remarkably happy is more startling ("Granville, adored Granville, who would make a barren desert smile," Harriet wrote). They had five children and also raised the two illegitimate children he had had with Harriet's aunt. Granville became Viscount and then Earl Granville. For many years he and Harried presided over the British embassy in Paris while Granville served as ambassador.

Harriet had an intriguing and seemingly quite happy life which put her within six degrees or less of a number of prominent people of the day. Do connections between real historical figures intrigue you? Writers, are have you ever found an unexpected connection between two real historical figures while researching? Do certain real historical figures keep finding their way into the pages of your books? 


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