Archive for September, 2014

Ask the Author

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Hi, all! As part of the year long Pink-A-Thon on The Bubblebath Reader, I’ll be doing an Ask the Author over there tomorrow to wrap up the discussion of Pink I, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

The way it works: there’ll be an Ask the Author post up on the Bubblebath Reader site tomorrow. Post your questions in the comments section of that post. I’ll pop by throughout the day to post answers.

Stop by the Bubblebath Reader tomorrow to have all questions answered!

(Or, at least the ones about the Pink series. I make no representations about mysterious dark men, journeys over water, and all that sort of thing.)

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, September 26th, 2014

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump, but there have been some gems amid the grumpiness.

This week’s gems?

Carla Kelly’s Marrying the Royal Marine, set in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars, in which the ugly duckling sister finds herself on an unexpected adventure when she joins her sister in staffing a hospital in war-torn Portugal. It’s the third in a trilogy about three sisters, but you can read each independently without missing anything.

(Fun fact: it was the first book in this trilogy, Marrying The Captain, which I read in the spring of 2013, which, in a rather roundabout way, inspired my third stand alone novel, aka the 1927 Book, aka the Book That’s Coming Out Next. But more on that later.)

Next up, I’ve begun my annual re-read of E.F. Benson’s ghost stories. It is October next week, after all. Let the Halloween reading begin!

What have you been reading this week?

Teaser Tuesday: Friends of Peniche

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

It’s the little details that make a writer’s day.

I won’t be telling you too much if I let you know that a crucial piece of Pink XII is slotted to take place around the coastal city of Peniche, in Portugal. As I was doing my crash course on Portugal and Portuguese culture in 1807 and 1808, I came upon a local saying: “amigos de Peniche”.

The meaning? False friends.

Apparently, the origin of the phrase comes from the sixteenth century, when Sir Francis Drake (yes, that Sir Francis Drake!) led an expedition to Portugal to restore Don Antonio to the throne. A force under the command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, landed at Peniche, and the word went down the coast to Lisbon, “Our friends are coming from Peniche….”

Only, they didn’t. They camped out for a bit outside the gates of Lisbon, gave up, and went home. There may or may not have been some looting along the way.

Hence “friends of Peniche”: false friends.

I have a feeling this will come in handy for Pink XII….

Monday Give-Away: VIENNA WALTZ

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Okay, I’m cheating a bit. The give-away isn’t over here. It’s on the Bubblebath Reader, where Ashley has an interview with Tracy Grant and a give-away of her book, Vienna Waltz, which is one of my very favorites.

Here’s the official blurb:

viennawaltzcoverNothing is fair in love and war…

Europe’s elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna—princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar—all negotiating the fate of the Continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests…

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France’s Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain’s Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne’s special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one’s secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance…

To learn more and enter the contest, just head over to the Bubblebath Reader!

Pink I: What’s In A Genre?

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

I’ve always been fascinated by the question of genre. How do we define genres? How– and why– do they change over time? What are the inditia that signal to us that a book is meant to be one genre or another? Why does it matter? Does it matter?

This week, Ashley posted on the Pink Carnation Read Along about genre and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

The Pink series is generally described as cross-genre, meaning that it can’t quite be fit easily into one category. Over the years, it’s been labeled successively as one genre and then another. (And often multiple genres at the same time.)

Here’s a post I wrote for the website Smart Bitches Trashy Books a few years back, describing the strange path of Pink I. (You can find the original post here.)

When I wrote my first (publishable) book, the book that became The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I was pretty sure that I was writing a romance novel.

The working title was A Rogue of One’s Own, because everyone knows that every good Regency romance needs either a rake or a rogue. I went with the latter because I really didn’t want to spend years fielding inquiries about garden implements.

On my first phone call with my brand new agent, I burbled about the book being in the tradition of Julia Quinn and Amanda Quick, and could we please, pretty please, shop the manuscript to Avon? Visions of mass market paperbacks danced in my head.

“I’m not entirely sure you’ve written what you’ve think you’ve written,” came the voice of my new agent across the line. “Let me try something else first. . . ”

“Sure! Absolutely!” I said.

As a first time author, these were the words I used most frequently. Also, I had coffee dripping off the end of my nose, which tends to be a bit distracting.

(To explain: at the time of this phone call, I had just returned to Cambridge, the U.S. one, after a year abroad in England, and was engaged in trying to figure out the workings of the coffee maker that had been bequeathed to me by my German subletter. Since technology and I don’t get along, this had resulted in a rather dramatic caffeine explosion, just as the phone rang. I conducted my first conversation with my new agent with coffee matted in my hair, dripping down my arm, and liberally bespeckling the phone. Note to self: coffee should not be taken topically.)

In any event, one month later my agent called me back to tell me that a prestigious hardcover house was making an offer—but not as a romance. “You’ve invented a new genre!” he said. “Historical chick lit!”

To which I replied, “Huh?”

Once I’d adjusted my jaw, I took the sage advice of Ghostbusters: when a publishing house tells you you’ve invented a genre, you say yes. Even if you have no idea what they’re talking about.

Pink I ARCThis was, after all, 2003, when chick lit reigned and new subgenres of chick lit were being discovered on a more or less daily basis: lad lit, mommy lit, second cousin once removed lit. Just add “lit” and stir.

Plans proceeded apace for the publication of the book, now re-named The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, because A Rogue of One’s Own was too romance-y. (There was a brief, awful phase where it was almost named Eloise Kelly and the Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but, fortunately, that didn’t fit on the cover, so it got nixed.) It was going to be published in hardcover, as Fiction & Literature, with a chick lit cover featuring a modern woman in a Burberry jacket with a very cute bag. I had nightmares about readers opening it, finding themselves in the Regency, and demanding their money back.

“Whatever you do, don’t call it romance!” I was told. “It’s historical chick lit.”

Pink 1 coverThen, overnight, chick lit died. RIP. Within two days, my publisher had come up with a new, historical cover (and I breathed a very deep sigh of relief). Just about to go on my first ever book publicity junket, I was warned, “Whatever you do, don’t call it chick lit! It’s historical fiction. Got that? Historical fiction.”

I’d gone through three different genres without re-writing a word.

Meanwhile, the book hit the shelves, followed by sequels, and the genre confusion continued. I was adopted by the mystery community, who informed me that what I was really writing were historical mysteries, and why wasn’t I being shelved in mystery, where I belonged? Friendly Borders reps told me that my covers were all wrong and I needed something that correctly represented the spirit of the books. What would that be? I asked. They didn’t know either. In the absence of consensus, the books went into that great catch-all category on the shelves: Fiction & Literature.

I just went on playing genre stew, writing what I was writing, going to everyone’s conferences, and hoping that someone would eventually figure out where on earth to shelve me.

Pink I Mass MarketThis went on until 2009, when the market tanked, e-books took off, and suddenly romance was outselling other genres. After years of being told, “Stop calling your books romance!”, the world had come full circle. I got another one of those phone calls: the first Pink book was going to be reprinted in mass market—huzzah!—with a romance cover. And, by the way, did I realize I’d been writing romance?

There was just one slight hitch. None of the major retailers would shelve it in the romance section.

Ironic, isn’t it? Apparently, once a book has been shelved in a certain section, it’s against store policy to move it to another. Ditto any books in the same series. The book that I had initially written as a romance was finally being printed as a romance—but it couldn’t go in the romance section. The mass market copy found itself incongruously wedged on the Fiction & Literature shelf next to its hardcover and trade paperback siblings.

That’s publishing for you.

As to what my books really are. . . I have no idea. I’ll leave it to you to decide. (Although I’m fairly certain that they’re not Sci Fi. At least, not yet.)

I keep telling myself that one of these days I’m going to write a book that’s incontrovertibly in one genre or another: a contemporary romance or a whodunit. One of these days.

I have many theories about genre and genre boundaries and the way genres and sub-genres interact with each other– all of them highly subjective and anecdotal.

When I was young, books came in two forms: mass market or hardcover. Many of the books that we would now classify as “historical fiction” were marketed and sold as “historical romance”. Look at the classic cover of Gone With the Wind. It positively screams romance, as did the covers of my M.M. Kaye and Victoria Holt novels.

One of my many theories is that the advent of trade paperback led to a stronger divide between historical romance and historical fiction. Suddenly, we had historical fiction in trade paper and historical romance in mass market, which meant that romance became romancier and historical fiction took itself more seriously. The covers diverged. My M.M. Kayes and Jean Plaidys had new, more dignified covers, marking them as Not Romance. The trade paperbacks cost more, adding an interesting value element to the divergence between historical romance and historical fiction.

daughter of the gameThe border lines are murky in other genres as well. Think of mystery. What makes a book a historical mystery versus a historical novel with mystery elements? secrets of a lady. Tracy Grant’s Charles and Melanie series is a great example of that dilemma. The books were originally marketed, in mass market, as mysteries, under the title Daughter of the Game before being repackaged as historical fiction under the title Secrets of a Lady.

(Which do you think suits her books better? And which would jump out at you more in a bookstore?)

Often, genre classification is dictated by which part of the market is currently deemed in the ascendant. If historical fiction is outselling mystery, then there’s an incentive to package a book as historical fiction, even if it has a strong mystery element. Conversely, if historical fiction is dead (it dies every decade or so, and then bounces back), then there’s a push to highlight the mystery aspect.

Some books are written directly to their respective markets. Some mysteries and just mysteries, some romances are just romances, and some historical fiction is just historical fiction. But for those books on the margins, the boundaries become very permeable.

Does genre matter to you? Are there elements that mark a book to you as belonging to one genre or another?

A Bit of This and That

Monday, September 15th, 2014

You can find me today over on the Timeless Quills blog, chatting about this and that, including a rather Eloise-esque grad school misadventure involving the Britney Spears movie, Bertucci’s, and an Intellectual History professor. (All names have been withheld from this story to protect the professorial.)

Thanks so much to the lovely Jerrica Knight-Catania for having me over to her blog!

In other news, I realize that I’ve been neglecting my website updates recently. What would you rather see here on the News page on Mondays? Some If You Likes or more Monday give aways?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, September 12th, 2014

I had a big treat this week: an early copy of Simone St. James’s upcoming book, The Other Side of Midnight!

In this one, a reluctant medium finds herself drawn into a former friend’s murder inquiry, pulling her back into a world that she’s been avoiding since their big falling out years before. As always, St. James’s depiction of life in the 1920s is pitch-perfect, and her heroine the sort of person you’d like to visit with over a large pot of tea.

For those An Inquiry Into Love and Death fans out there, happy news: it’s Inspector Merriken who’s on the case.

The bad news? The Other Side of Midnight isn’t out until April. But I can promise that it is worth the wait.

Other than that, it’s been Portugal, Portugal and more Portugal. And a side of Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

What have you been reading this week?

Pink I: Inspirations

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This week on the Pink Carnation Read Along, Ashley blogged about inspirations for the Pink series, specifically The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Since I’m blogging along with the Read Along, I’d considered writing about some of the antecedents of the Pimpernel. There have been plenty of people over the year who have debated just where Baroness Orczy came up with the idea for the Pimpernel. Some point to Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, who certainly had plenty of swash and buckle, and was in and out of France (including a stint incarcerated in the Temple Prison)– but who, otherwise, wasn’t a terribly laudable sort of person. If you go to the historical record, you find records of actual flower named spies, including a Le Mouron (the Pimpernel). The drawback? They were French royalists, not English aristocrats. Baroness Orczy always said that Sir Percy came to her, as was, and refused to be drawn further on the question.

You can read a much more detailed post on the subject that I wrote a few years ago over at History Hoydens.

So, instead of discussing the origins of Sir Percy, I wanted to talk about my own peculiar wrinkle on the topic: female spies.

When I sat down to write Pink Carnation, I didn’t realize that this would be a controversial choice. I had no idea that I would, a few years later, be bombarded with emails starting with “a young lady would never….”

What I did know? Was that women were and had been spies, as long as there had been anyone on whom to spy.

My dissertation, on which I was working while writing Pink I, involved royalist conspiracies during the latter half of the English Civil Wars. One of the chapters was on women and espionage. It will come as no surprise to know that women were instrumental in smuggling messages, monies, and, occasionally, members of the royal family. One of my favorite characters is Lady Anne Halkett (I will write her story one of these days), who smuggled the Duke of York out of Parliamentarian captivity dressed up in one of her gowns.

So you could say that I had female spies on the brain.

Female spies seemed particularly appropriate during the Napoleonic era, partly because Napoleon himself took such a low view of women. They had the ability to fly under the radar (to borrow a modern analogy) in the way men did not.

During my pre-Pink researches, I came upon references to female spies in operation during the Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, including one called La Prime-Rose (a pun on primrose). My favorite? The forty year old woman who went undercover on a French frigate, disguised as a cabin boy.

Put all that together… and you get the Pink Carnation and her league.

Teaser Tuesday: Interconnections

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Sometimes, the eighteenth (and early nineteenth) century can feel like a very small place.

Right now, I’m doing a crash course of research for Pink XII, aka The Lure of the Moonflower. In 1807, the Portuguese royal family flees Lisbon for their colony of Brazil, just steps ahead of General Junot’s rag-tag army, the mad queen, Maria I, shouting all the way from her carriage that they should stay and put up a fight rather than running away.

But what if… just what if… that wasn’t really Queen Maria in the carriage? What if she had been spirited away by a loyalist group? And the Pink Carnation needs to find her before the French do….

So, of course, I was researching Queen Maria and her madness, and guess what I discovered? When she went around the bend in 1792, the same doctor who treated George III, Francis Willis, was also called in to treat her.

Because sometimes the eighteenth century only has about ten people in it.

I found this particularly thrilling because, as you know, Pink V, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, revolved around King George and his madness, so having Francis Willis pop up was like rediscovering an old acquaintance.

My other favorite research overlap? When I was researching Jane Austen and her family for The Mischief of the Mistletoe, right after writing my India book, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, I discovered that Jane’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, was commonly believed to be the love child of none other than Warren Hastings, the notorious Governor-General of Bengal.

Who would’ve thunk? One doesn’t generally associate Austen and Hastings. But there it was.

We’ll see what pops up next!


Sunday, September 7th, 2014

It’s Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor!

You can find me signing books at the Aunt Agatha’s booth at 12:30.

At 1:15, over in the Main Tent, Tasha Alexander, Susan Elia MacNeal, Anna Lee Huber and I will be talking about the Art of Historical Romantic Suspense.

Hope to see you there!