EEEE!

Very exciting news! My editor e-mailed me my cover yesterday!! Look:

(There’s a larger version here if you’d like to see more detail on the painting, which is beautiful.)

Also note the incredibly flattering cover quote by Lauren Willig. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

I am so, so happy with this cover. I have heard a lot of horror stories about covers so I was a bit nervous about what mine would look like, but clearly the Dorchester art department is ACE. While in one small respect the cover doesn’t fit the book (the book takes place in the middle of summer), I think it captures the mood of the book perfectly. I LOVE the way the warm sunset colors contrast with the snow. Plus red and gold has been my favorite color combination since I was about ten years old.

The cover also fits the book in another way that I think must be a coincidence (although I don’t know for certain) but that means a lot to me personally. There’s a scene early in the book where my impoverished hero is having dinner with Penelope and her nouveau riche parents, trying to win them over so they’ll give their consent to the marriage.

It was as though he had the Midas touch. He went straight to her mother’s wall of sentimental engravings and old book illustrations in gilt frames, and pointed to a garishly-colored old engraving of Venice that her mother loved. “It’s the Bridge of Sighs! Have you been to Venice, Miss Brown?”

“No,” Penelope said. “I have never been out of England.”

Mrs. Brown smiled. “Oh, those old pictures are all mine. Penny is much too elegant for such trifles! I hope very much to go to Venice with Mr. Brown someday.”

Penelope, poor girl, is very concerned with appearing to have “elegant taste” at all times, since her parents sent her to boarding school with a lot of gently-bred girls and they all made fun of her for being a vulgar parvenue. I’m not entirely sure what type of wall-hangings she would prefer, but I’m guessing distantly-spaced original works in sober colors and plain frames, maybe contemporary landscapes or portraits. Gilt would NOT be involved. (Don’t worry, she mostly gets over herself by the end of the book!)

I, on the other hand, think Mrs. Brown’s wall sounds pretty, and it’s an exaggerated version of something from my own life. On the wall by my parents’ bed, there was a few feet between the window and the dresser where my mom had hung six or seven small romantic prints–a Hudson River School painting of the Amazon, a Bouguereau mother and child she got as a gift when I was born, a commemorative print my grandmother bought at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a sheet music cover my father bought her as a gift, and so on.

My mom died a few months after I wrote that scene (and long before I finished the book), but she was the audience I imagined while I was writing anyway. She read Pride and Prejudice aloud to me when I was nine, introduced me to Regency romances when I was twelve, and read my first manuscript when I was seventeen and told me it was good (in retrospect, it might have been more accurate to say it had potential).

The framed picture on the cover of In for a Penny would have fit right in on her wall, and that makes me very happy.

And I'll be in Scotland afore ye!

Great news–plans are finalized and at the end of this month a friend and I are going to the UK for two weeks!

We’ll be visiting friends in Newcastle and Orkney, and then spending a few days in Edinburgh.

I’ve been to the UK twice before. My mom took me to London, Bath, and Brighton as a college graduation present (so five years ago–yes, I’m young), and the year before that I studied abroad in Paris and spent some time in the summer travelling around Europe. In England, I visited the same three cities plus Canterbury and Oxford.

It was wonderful and I loved all those cities (especially Bath–sorry, Jane Austen, I know you weren’t a fan!), but I’m excited to see a bit further north. Less and less of my book ideas seem to want to be set in London these days, so I want to collect other interesting settings. Newcastle is one of the northern industrial cities that come up so often when researching Regency politics and labor/class relations, and Orkney is…

Okay, my main association with Orkney is still Lot and Morgause from the Arthurian legends. But it’s at the very northernmost part of Scotland, and my friend and I are taking a six-hour ferry ride there from Aberdeen. I LOVE ferries. It is going to be beautiful! (And there is a BAR on the ferry. I’ve never been on a ferry with a bar before.) Also, my friend lives in a cottage. She doesn’t even have a street address, just “— Cottage.”

I promise I will post loads of pictures!

Does anyone have any tips to share for international travel (I haven’t been out of the country in years), or suggestions for things we really ought to see? Regency-era stuff especially welcome…

Plus ça change…

I’ve been doing research for my next book, and stumbled across something that reminded me of an important point about writing historical fiction.

A few years ago I came across the following quote by William Hazlitt (from a series of lectures he gave in 1818): “I am a great admirer of the female writers of the present day; they appear to me like so many modern Muses.”

What a patronizing jerk! I thought. Those women aren’t there to inspire YOU, they’re artists who do their own creating!

Then, while reading the essay “Representing Culture: ‘The Nine Living Muses'” by Elizabeth Eger in Women, Writing, and the Public Sphere, 1700-1830, which discusses this 1779 painting by Richard Samuel, I came across this passage:

“As Marina Warner has argued in her study of the allegory of female form, [the muses’] symbolic power is so universal that it seems that we are not meant to associate them with real women, let alone women artists. She is correct to make this point in a contemporary sense–we have for the large part lost a sense of the individual characters and functions of the muses, let alone the possibility that they might refer to real women. The muses form an allegory of ideas, in which the personification of abstract aesthetic categories is the primary device[…]Samuel, however, has painted his peers–living women who practiced the arts they represent[…]

Images of the muses or muse in the twentieth century have tended to be voiceless sources of male creativity rather than vivid practitioners of the arts. […C]ertain male poets, such as Robert Graves, have been responsible for perpetrating the myth of the muse as an eternally feminine and passive figure of inspiration. The Romantic and modernist concentration on the individual act of literary creation has tended to focus on the poet’s communication with the muse as an intimate and often highly sexualised relationship, obscuring the classical tradition of representing the muses as a group of independent, active, wilful and manipulative practitioners of the arts.”

There are things I know are different about the Regency gentry: they talked differently and dressed differently, duels were a reasonable way to resolve an argument, a woman who had sex before marriage was “ruined,” and not paying a gambling debt was worse than stiffing your grocer. I know those things because they’re big things and I can’t get away with not knowing them. (Although I still remember how shocked I was the first time I realized that “democracy” was a dirty word in mainstream society during the Regency! If I’d thought about it, I would have figured it out–but because positive associations with democracy are such a basic thing to me, I didn’t think about it.)

But it’s not just the big things that shift over time. Little things were different too, even things that seem “instinctive” or “obvious” to me. The muses represent X to me, so they must have represented X to a Regency person, because that is just what the muses are! But no, the human mind is a wonderful and fascinating thing, and many ways of thinking about things that seem self-evident are really just a product of culture.

Culture changes, even the little things. And if I want to write historical romance that really pulls the reader into another time and another world, if I want to really do justice to my time period, then I need to be as aware of that as possible.

(Of course, in searching for the quote for this post, I discovered that William Hazlitt goes on to say, “I could be in love with Mrs. Inchbald, romantic with Mrs. Radcliffe, and sarcastic with Madame D’Arblay”…so, I guess the women writers are just there to inspire him. He then mocks a series of women poets with such zingers as:

“Miss Baillie[‘s] tragedies and comedies, one of each to illustrate each of the passions, separately from the rest, are heresies in the dramatic art. She is a Unitarian in poetry. With her the passions are, like the French republic, one and indivisible: they are not so in nature, or in Shakespeare.”

Oh, snap! I’m now picturing his lecture as a stand-up comedy routine that bombed horribly. Probably that’s another anachronism, but hey, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? Clearly I should have trusted my instincts about Hazlitt.)

The letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly

I was looking through my notebooks and came across a great quote about writing from Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel about St. Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis. (I can’t vouch for the translation in the linked edition–I read a much earlier one–but as far as I can tell it’s the only one in print.) The book is narrated by Francis’s best friend and follower, Brother Leo, who says (and I apologize in advance for the association of blackness with the devil):

“Yes, may God forgive me, but the letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly. They are sly, shameless demons–and dangerous! You open the inkwell, release them; they run off and how will you ever get control of them again? They come to life, join, separate, ignore your commands, arrange themselves as they like on the paper–black, with tails and horns. You scream at them and ignore them in vain: they do as they please. Prancing, pairing up shamelessly before you, they deceitfully expose what you did not wish to reveal, and they refuse to give voice to what is struggling, deep within your bowels, to come forth and speak to mankind.”

He’s got it right on the nose, doesn’t he?

Here is another bit from the book that I love:

“When an almond tree because covered with blossoms in the heart of winter, all the trees around it began to jeer. ‘What vanity,’ they screamed, ‘what insolence! Just think, it believes it can bring spring in this way!’ The flowers of the almond tree blushed for shame. ‘Forgive me, my sisters,’ said the tree. ‘I swear I did not want to blossom, but suddenly I felt a warm springtime breeze in my heart.'”

"Is it true, the dreadful story about you and Currer Bell?"

I recently talked about Thackeray’s dislike of Regency clothing. One of my favorite historical anecdotes about unfortunate coincidences and social awkwardness is about him and Charlotte Brontë.

I’m not actually sure how many times I’ve read Jane Eyre. The scene where Mr. Rochester talks about how there’s a thread from his chest to hers, and if they were separated he might take to bleeding internally—I swoon every time. A few years ago, I got a copy that reprinted the preface to the second edition. I laughed and laughed. Here’s the relevant bit in its entirety, because you don’t really get the scale of the fullsome earnestness otherwise:

“There is a man in our own days whose words are not framed to tickle delicate ears: who, to my thinking, comes before the great ones of society, much as the son of Imlah came before the throned Kings of Judah and Israel; and who speaks truth as deep, with a power as prophet-like and as vital—a mien as dauntless and daring. Is the satirist of Vanity Fair admired in high places? I cannot tell; but I think if some of those amongst whom he hurls the Greek fire of his sarcasm, and over whom he flashes the levin-brand of his denunciation, were to take his warnings in time—they or their seed might yet escape a fatal Ramoth-Gilead.

Why have I alluded to this man? I have alluded to him, Reader, because I think I see in him an intellect profounder and more unique than his contemporaries have yet recognised; because I regard him as the first social regenerator of the day—as the very master of that working corps who would restore to rectitude the warped system of things; because I think no commentator on his writings has yet found the comparison that suits him, the terms which rightly characterize his talent. They say he is like Fielding: they talk of his wit, humor, comic powers. He resembles Fielding as an eagle does a vulture: Fielding could stoop on carrion, but Thackeray never does. His wit is bright, his humor attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius, that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer-cloud, does to the electric death-spark hid in his womb. Finally, I have alluded to Mr. Thackeray, because to him—if he will accept the tribute of a total stranger—I have dedicated this second edition of Jane Eyre.

Currer Bell.
Dec. 21st, 1847.”

Now, Thackeray is a very Victorian, moral writer, and he does have social/political/moral points to make with his books. But he’s also a snarky guy who doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. And Charlotte Brontë is a genius, and Thackeray loved Jane Eyre, but…her sense of humor isn’t really her strong point, is it? I can’t imagine Thackeray reading this incredibly sincere, dramatic, serious dedication without laughing yet also being sort of vicariously embarrassed. I don’t think his intention was ever to save anyone from a fatal Ramoth-Gilead*, you know?

So I laughed, and I thought no more about it. But THEN I was reading a biography of Thackeray that my dad had lying around the house and discovered there was more to the story!**

Thackeray’s wife, like the first Mrs. Rochester, was mentally ill. Which Charlotte Brontë would have had no way of knowing. But there was ALREADY a rumor going around that “Currer Bell” was Thackeray’s children’s governess, getting back at him for his unflattering portrayal of her as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (which came out in serial form the same year). So when this dedication was printed a lot of people saw it as proof.

Yes! They were convinced that Jane was a Mary Sue for Charlotte Brontë and that Jane Eyre was about her and Thackeray’s forbidden love!

This rumor was so popular it was still going around THIRTEEN YEARS LATER. In 1860 Thackeray was at a dinner party, and an American lady asked, “Is it true, the dreadful story about you and Currer Bell?”

Thackeray said, “Alas, madam, it is all too true. And the fruits of that unhallowed intimacy were six children. I slew them all with my own hand.”

I love Thackeray a lot.

Now I’m wondering if Georgette Heyer was inspired by this misunderstanding when she wrote Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle.

*I looked up Ramoth-Gilead, in case any of you were wondering. Apparently the reference is to 1 Kings 22: all the prophets except Micaiah tell King Ahab he’ll win if he fights to take back Ramoth-Gilead from the Syrians. Micaiah says, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.” Ahab gets really mad and throws Micaiah in prison and goes into battle anyway. Of course he loses and gets killed.

…It doesn’t say whether they let Micaiah out of prison after that.

**For this post, I confirmed the details in Love’s Madness by Helen Small.

Five Titles In Search Of A Novel

I’ve been writing historical romance since I was 17, and since then I’ve never wanted to write any other kind of novel. I don’t get plot bunnies for them, either.

What I do get are titles.

Seriously, I have a whole list of titles for never-to-be-written novels in such genres as:

The Great American Novel: Meet Me in Sumner J. Calish Square.
The Great American Expatriate Novel: The Bushes in Paris Have Thorns.
The Great Jewish-American Novel: Envious Kishke (and its sequel, Kaddish Cheese).
The Great American Novel with a Southern Setting: A Jar Big Enough to Hold the Sky.

I have no desire to actually WRITE any of these books. I don’t know anything about their plots or characters, and anyway my talent is for writing an entirely different kind of book. But what I love about them is that you can tell from the title exactly what KIND of book they would be.

Obviously romance titles are often instantly recognizable too, and a lot of the time you can even guess subgenre: historical, paranormal, romantic suspense, comedy, &c. Which is something I love. I think it’s amazing how genres and subgenres develop their own style and culture and conventions that a community of writers and readers can play with and follow and subvert and love and laugh at and share and make their own.

I love fake books and book titles within novels, too, so long as it’s done with affection–for example, The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels.

I also love when real period titles get a mention. In In for a Penny, my hero reads Chronicles of an Illustrious House; or the Peer, the Lawyer, and the Hunchback. That’s an actual book published by the Minerva Press in 1816, and it’s much funnier than anything I could have come up with on my own!

Of course, it’s not foolproof. For example, when I first saw the movie poster for “Immortal Beloved,” I was CONVINCED it was going to be a vampire movie. You’ve got the intense 19th century guy in a red cravat, the beautiful women with chokers, and of course, the name–“Immortal Beloved.” (Obviously, I knew nothing about the life of Beethoven.) I was completely stunned at being wrong. All the signs were there!

Does anyone else make up titles for books you’ll never write? And if so, what are your titles?

And was there ever a time you were fooled by a title?

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous

One of my favorite artists is Kate Beaton. She draws whimsical, energetic, hilarious webcomics–and a lot of them have historical subjects! One of my favorite Regency-themed ones is this one about Prinny.

Anyway, when I was visiting New York a few months ago and went to meet my editor Leah, I wore my Napoleon-eating-cookies t-shirt. Alissa, an assistant editor at Dorchester, asked me about it, so I sent along a couple of comics with my contract. (Okay I need to take a moment. Typing “my contract” is still very exciting for me.)

So Leah went to the Museum of Comics and Comic Arts festival and MET her! I am so, so jealous. Kate even drew her a cute sketch of Jane Austen being long-suffering about the hot men in her head and their unreasonable demands. Check it out here in Leah’s blog!

One of the things I love about Kate Beaton is the way she draws historical clothing. She captures so much personality and period detail with a few simple lines. And this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I love historical clothing. I’ll admit to a soft spot for Georgian fashion (powder and patch!), but I really, really adore Regency-era stuff too.

Guess who hated Regency fashion? Thackeray. His novel Vanity Fair takes place over about ten or fifteen years (not sure exactly) surrounding the Battle of Waterloo. The recent movie with Reese Witherspoon had FABULOUS costumes–Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ haircut in that movie is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not even a big fan of his. But when Thackeray drew his illustrations, he used contemporary (late 1840s) clothing. Here’s his explanation:

“It was the author’s intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century. But when I remember the appearance of people in those days, and that an officer and lady were actually habited like this–

I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion.”

I have always found this absolutely hilarious, because to me, 1840s clothes are SO much less attractive.

But remember how, until a couple of years ago, everyone was so hideously embarrassed by the eighties? It was impossible to look at eighties fashion and find it even remotely attractive. And now you see sort of modernized, sexy depictions of eighties fashion around sometimes, and the nineties are starting to seem a little embarrasing (oh dear God, the shoulderpads! the HAIR! Watch an episode of “Lois and Clark” sometime and you’ll see what I mean).

When I was in elementary school (early 90s) there was NOTHING more horrifying than bellbottoms. I remember watching some kind of educational film made in the seventies when I was about ten, and every time a pair of bellbottoms came on screen the entire class would start laughing. And then flared jeans and peasant blouses came back in style, and “That 70s Show” took 70s fashion and made it look pretty adorable, and pictures of the 70s don’t seem quite so appalling anymore. (They’re still a LITTLE appalling.)

Is there a ten-to-twenty-year rotation on this stuff? Was Regency fashion Thackeray’s equivalent of the eighties?

And how can the same outfit seem so great at the time, so awful a few years later, and kind of cute and nostalgic after a couple of decades?

Rhinestones are a girl's best friend

I recently had a publicity photo taken. I am very pleased with the result:

It’s so very authorly, and the flash didn’t go off when Christine (from Jersey Girl Photography, and she was very nice and reasonably priced, so if you are in Seattle and looking for a photographer, check her site out!) took it so it’s very high-contrast. It looks kind of like it’s on the faded cover of a ’70s paperback, and I LOVE it even though I feel a little silly and like I’m about to introduce Masterpiece Theater or something. (That leather chair I’m sitting in, which lives in our living room, is actually really ratty, and when I sit in it, it tries to slide me off onto the floor.)

I love author photos. I love seeing how people choose to represent themselves publicly, and how an author’s appearance meshes with their work. I think my favorite author photo ever is this one of Barbara Cartland:

Look how fabulous she is! Yeah, it’s flashy, and overwhelmingly pink, but I sincerely love it, and I hope that someday I’m confident enough to have a photo that over-the-top taken of myself. Maybe in red brocade. Are any of those diamonds, do you think? I know she could have afforded it, but at the same time I am programmed to think “rhinestones” when I see something like that.

That photo appears on the back of a book by her I purchased at the Library Book Sale a couple of years ago, called The Romance of Food. It’s one of the best book sale purchases I have ever made. The inside front cover describes it as “a collection of recipes which will revive even the most jaded lover and put a song in the heart of the most enraptured[…]Also, to show just how irresistible to the eye as well as to the palate are dishes such a Flower of the Heart, Summer Splendor and Fleur de Lis d’Amour, they and many others have been photographed at her own home, one of the most romantic settings in England.”

On page 12, we learn:

“Some of the youngest-looking men on the screen and stage declare they owe their youthful appearance to a large consumption of liver and kidneys. Pope Pius V, famous for his aphrodisiacal dishes, originated a pie in which layers of sliced bull’s testicles alternated with ground lamb kidneys.”

Here are some of the best photos:

The caption for that one reads: “An exotic creature from the deep, the color of two red lips, which can invite, provoke, and surrender.”

And this one is just for Susanna Fraser, my critique partner and favorite Wellington fangirl:

“Beef Wellington: England’s greatest General who defeated Napoleon and a plate worthy of his name in the Battle of Love.”

Some other great captions:

“Noisette of Lamb with Baby Vegetables: What woman does not long to be carried like a lamb in the arms of the man she loves.”

“Gypsy Magic and Imperial Splendor: The gypsies wandering romantically through the Countryside make watercress soup but the Russians with fire and passion prefer Borsch.”

“Duck with Orange and Grand Marnier Sauce: A plate of Chinese magic in whose life the duck has always had a very special place.”

“Normandy Pheasant: The leaves of Autumn fall from the trees but the beautiful exotic pheasant, who comes from China, delights the sportsman and surprisingly the sportswoman.”

“Mocha Chocolate Cake, Black Currant Gateau and Meringues: An English tea; how many men have been beguiled and captivated by a soft voice offering them a meringue?”