Mélanie and Charles Fraser


photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

One of the things I love about doing book release interviews (aside from the sheer delight of the chance to babble on about my own books) is how the questions can cause me to think about my own books in a fresh light. In the very fun interview about The Paris Affair that I did with her recently on Word Wenches, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose asked some wonderful questions, in particular about the themes of loyalty and betrayal that run through my books and why I chose the Napoleonic Wars as a setting for those stories. Meditating on those questions turned into a post on History Hoydens that I thought was worth reworking here.

I first gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.

I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so Suzanne might argue. Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn’t a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. It’s a question that continues to haunt both of them in The Paris Affair and to fascinate me as a writer.

Which brings me to one of the discussion questions for The Paris Affair. Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together

On another note, you may have noticed that the site has a new For Teachers section with information for teachers and anyone interested in a structured read of the Malcolm & Suzanne books with additional materials. It repeats the Historical Notes and Reading Group Discussion Questions found on the detail pages for each book and also includes new Quizzes for each book. These were a lot of fun to put togehter and are a fun way to test your knowledge of all things Malcolm & Suzanne – though be ware, they definitley contain spoilers.

 

 

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

The Paris Affair has now been out for two weeks, so I thought I would start a place for discussion and comments. The Reading Group questions are below in case any of them stir thoughts and discussion, but feel free to post thoughts or questions on anything relating to the book. And since it’s difficult to discuss the book without mentioning plot points, don’t worry about spoilers (so if you haven’t read the book yet, proceed with caution).

I’ve been having a lot of fun blogging and talking about The Paris Affair, including a very fun interview with Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose on Word Wenches, and Mélanie and I had a great time at Book Passage for my author event (photo above). In case you missed it, RT Book Reviews ran a piece on “celebrity look alikes” on April covers, including a comparison of Suzanne on The Paris Affair cover to Bérénice Marlohe who played Sévérine in Skyfall (rather appropriate for Suzanne to look like a Bond girl :-).  Take a look and see if you think she’d make a good Suzanne. Also, The Paris Affair is one of RT’s nominees for April “cover of the month” (huge thanks again to the Kensington art department!).

On April 15, I have a special treat in store. I’ll be interviewing the fabulous Deanna Raybourn about her forthcoming, much-anticipated A Spear of Summer Grass, and Deanna will be giving away a copy of the book.

Finally, thank you so much to everyone who has bought The Paris Affair and/or has been posting about it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online. The support is hugely appreciated!

1. Compare and contrast the marriages of Suzanne and Malcolm, Cordelia and Harry, Rupert and Gabrielle, Paul and Juliette. How do secrets affect each marriage?

2.How does the solution to the mystery of Tatiana’s child parallel the issues in post-Waterloo France?

3. Discuss the different ways in which issues of inheritance drive various characters in the book.

4. Did you guess who was behind Antoine Rivère’s death? Why or why not?

5. How are Malcolm and Suzanne similar to a modern couple struggling to balance family and the demands of careers?

6. Which new characters in this book do you think might play roles later on in the series?

7. How do you think Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship will change if they move to Britain?

8. What did Suzanne gain in giving up her work as a French spy? What did she lose? Without that work, is she more or less herself?

9. How do you think Paul and Juliette and the Lacloses will resolve the question of Pierre’s inheritance?

10. What do you think lies ahead for Rupert, Bertrand, and Gabrielle?

11. How do the events of the book change Malcolm, Suzanne, Harry, Cordelia, Wilhelmine, and Dorothée? How do the relationships among them change?

12. What do you think Gui will do after the close of the story?

13. How has the outcome of the battle of Waterloo shaped the choices faced by the various characters?

14. Discuss how both Talleyrand and Raoul O’Roarke have influenced Malcolm in the absence of a strong relationship with his own father.

15.   Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together?

3.25.12MelParisAffairSo excited that The Paris Affair is out tomorrow! I realized I’ve been so busy doing interviews I’ve neglected my own blog a bit. In case you missed it, I was on Deanna Raybourn’s blog and Susanne Dunlap’s blog. And today, I’m talking with Heather Webb and Susan Spann. All these fabulous authors asked wonderful, diverse questions, so do check out the interviews.

Saturday, March 30, I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you’d like a signed copy of The Paris Affair but can’t make the reading, you can order one, and I will sign it and personalize it on the 30th, and they’ll send it to you.

I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts on The Paris Affair. Meanwhile, to set the stage, here’s a bit about the historical context. I’ll post a new Fraser Correspondence letter later this week.

The battle of Waterloo may have ended the major fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, but it was far from bringing an end to the simmering tensions of the past quarter century. When Napoleon escaped from the field at Waterloo, Louis XVIII was still in exile in Ghent. Much of the negotiating for France in the immediate aftermath of the battle was done by two men whose careers had been closely intertwined with that of Napoleon Bonaparte and with the Revolution – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Joseph Fouché.

Prince Talleyrand, Napoleon’s former foreign minister (though he had left office well before Napoleon’s exile)  had survived in the first Bourbon restoration to represent France at the Congress of Vienna and had not rejoined Napoleon when Bonaparte escaped from Elba. Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police for much of his rule, had worked with the Allies against Napoleon in 1814 but then rejoined Napoleon after his escape from Elba and served as his minister of police during the Hundred Days. After Napoleon’s resignation was demanded by the Chamber of Deputies, Fouché became head of the provisional government and negotiated with the victorious Allies (whom Talleyrand had joined). Louis XVIII was a weak king and the Allies saw the need to keep both Talleyrand and Fouché to fill the power vacuum, at least temporarily. Talleyrand became Prime Minister and asked Fouché to stay on as Minister of Police.

Emboldened by Napoleon’s second defeat, the Ultra Royalists, led by Louis XVIII’s brother the Comte d’Artois, wanted vengeance on those who had gone over to Napoleon during the Hundred Days (and really for everything since the Revolution). Though the Ultra Royalists despised Fouché as a regicide who had voted for the execution of Louis XVI, it was Fouché who recieved denunciations against former Bonapartists. Fouché, expert at using terror to maintain control (and preserve his own position) played a key role in carrying out the White Terror against Bonapartists (and suspected Bonapartists) who were proscribed from the amnesty, though the Ultra Royalists went too far even for him. Talleyrand advocated a more temperate approach and made the best of a weak hand as he negotiated with the Allies. Ultra Royalist gangs attacked Bonapartists in the south. Allied soldiers – British, Prussian, Dutch-Belgian, Bavarian – thronged the boulevards and quais of Paris and were encamped in the Bois de Boulogne, leading to frequent tension with the French populace. Royalist émigrés, many of whom had fled France two decades ago, returned seeking to have their estates restored.

Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch step into this glittering, simmering cauldron in The Paris Affair. The mystery they investigate twists through the glamorous veneer of Restoration Paris and the smoldering tensions beneath. Both Talleyrand and Fouché are major characters. The book also gave me the chance to revisit old friends such as Talleyrand’s niece Dorothée and her sister Wilhelmine, the Duchess of Sagan. I loved writing about Waterloo in Imperial Scandal but I found its aftermath every bit as intriguing to research and write about.

Happy March! Hard to believe the publication of The Paris Affair is just over two weeks away. We’ve updated the sidebar with some interviews and events I’ll be doing to promote the book. On March 15 I’ll be doing an interview (and ARC giveaway) on Deanna Raybourn’s blog. On March 25 (they day before the book’s publication) I’ll be on Susan Spann’s blog. On March 30 at 4:00 pm I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you can’t make the event but would like a signed, personalized copy, you can order one through the link. And then on April 5, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose will be interviewing me on Word Wenches.

Do check out the interviews, as I have lots more to share about the book and the series. And if you can make it to Book Passage, I would love to see you or love to sign a book if can’t make it but would like to order one. Meanwhile, here’s a new teaser featuring Malcolm and Harry Davenport. More soon!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Harry stared after him as the door closed and his footsteps retreated down the stairs. “Wellington gave you no clue?”
“None.”
“Interesting man, our duke. Do you think Rivère approached him about the Laclos affair himself?”
“Then why Rivère’s dramatic approach to me last night?”
“Cover?”
“They wouldn’t need the cover for the Laclos affair, since Rivère brought it up to me. But if he approached Wellington about something else—”
Harry met Malcolm’s gaze for a moment. “Wellington can be ruthless.” It was a flat statement about the man they had both served for years and risked their lives for. “We considered in Brussels that he might be capable of murder.”
“But in the end he wasn’t behind Julia Ashton’s death.”
“Which doesn’t mean he isn’t behind Rivère’s death. Julia was an English lady. Rivère was a French double agent who was trying to blackmail the British.” Harry kept his gaze on Malcolm. Uncompromising, yet oddly compassionate. “War isn’t played by gentlemen’s rules. You know that.”
“Neither are politics or diplomacy.”
“Go carefully, Malcolm. Wellington can be dangerous.”
“At least I know him.”
“That’s precisely what makes him dangerous.” Harry cast a glance round the room. “You take the boxes on the left. I’ll take the right.”

2.14.13TracyMelHappy Valentine’s Day! Hope everyone is having a great day with special treats. Mel and I are wearing red – she has a new bear and I have a new scarf.

In honor of the holiday, post your favorite Malcolm & Suzanne/Charles & Mélanie moment or your favorite moment with another literary couple. I’ll give away an ARC of The Paris Affair to a poster. Contest closes at noon Pacific Time on Tuesday, February 19.

After an unexpectedly busy day yesterday, I just posted the winner of the ARC contest for The Paris Affair. Sorry for the delay and thanks so much to everyone who posted!

Over the past week on Facebook I highlighted the Lescaut Quaret, my four linked historical romantic suspense novels which are now available as e-books. I realized I don’t post about them much here and thought I would repeat my thoughts on the blog. Though the emphasis is more in the love story in these books than in the Malcolm & Suzanne/Charles & Mélanie books, they also contain a balance of adventure, suspense, and romance set against the Napoleonic Wars. In writing them I was experimenting with a number of themes, settings, and historical events which I later used in the Fraser/Rannoch books.

DarkAngelDark Angel, the first of the four, begins in Spain in 1813 in the midst of the Peninsular War. There is a social divide between the heroine Caroline and the hero Adam, which plays out in a different way between Malcolm and Suzanne. And the book introduces the French spy Robert Lescaut. In my mind, Suzanne/Mélanie is connected to the Lescaut family…

ShoresOfDesireCover Shores of Desire is my first attempt at writing about Waterloo and post-Waterloo Paris. Not to mention a hero and heroine on opposite sides in the Napoleonic Wars, though it’s the hero, Robert Lescaut, who’s the French agent while Emma Blair is Scottish.

ShadowsOftheHeartCover The French Revolution is so important to the back story of so many of my books, and Shadows of the Heart really gave me a chance to explore that dynamic. It’s also the book in which I wrote about pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for an infant long before I went through any of it myself (I was relieved on rereading it to find it rang pretty true). And the conflict between a radical journalist and a stylish aristocrat calls to mind scenes from this season of Downtown Abbey

RightfullyHisCover Rightfully His is a novel in which I explored political intrigue, the early days of railroads, and the complexities of a marriage of convenience. Charlotte and Francis are very different from Suzanne and Malcolm, but both couples are adjusting to a sudden marriage that is not all it seems from the outside. And this book features one my favorite villains I have ever created…

If you’ve read the Lescaut Quartet, do you see echoes of the Fraser/Rannoch books? If you haven’t read the quartet, what questions do you have about the books?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is from David to Charles. Writing it gave me some insights into David’s father, Lord Carfax, who figures prominently in my WIP…

THE PARIS AFFAIR SIDEBARThis week brought a lovely gift courtesy of UPS – ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of The Paris Affair. In honor of their arrival, I’m posting a teaser from the book and one commenter on the teaser will receive an ARC of The Paris Affair. This is a scene between Malcolm and one of the real historical characters in the series who is a major presence in his life – Prince Talleyrand. I love writing scenes with Talleryrand, and it was a delight to return to him in this book.

Let me know what you think! And be sure to also check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles/Malcolm to David in January 1816.

__________________________________________________________________________________

“Malcolm.” Prince Talleyrand extended his hand. He was, as usual, faultlessly arrayed, in a frock coat that would have been quite at home in the ancien régime, a frilled shirt, a starched satin cravat, and diamond-buckled shoes. “I saw you dancing with your exquisite wife. You make a charming couple.”

“I thought you had far more important things to observe in a diplomatic ballroom.”

Talleyrand turned his walking stick so the diamonds on the handle flashed in the candlelight. “I’d scarcely have survived as long as I have could I not observe more than one thing at once. I’m glad you dance more than you used to.”

“Even if it is with my own wife?”

Talleyrand’s thin mouth curved in a smile that also lit his pale blue eyes. “On the contrary Unfashionable, perhaps, but then you’ve never been one to care about the fashion. It’s good to find you circulating instead of spending the evening in the library.”

Malcolm had been four when he first met Talleyrand. It was both an advantage and a disadvantage in their relationship. It gave Malcolm inside knowledge of the prince, but it also gave Talleyrand inside knowledge of Malcolm, and Talleyrand was a master at using it. “I’m not quite such a recluse, sir,” Malcolm said. “Though as it happens I was hoping I could have a word with you in private.”

Talleyrand’s shrewd gaze slid over him, but the prince merely said, “Of course. I confess I frequently find society stifling myself these days.”

They moved along the edge of the dance floor, Talleyrand stopping several times to exchange greetings, and at last reached a white-and-gold antechamber, empty though the candles were lit. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Talleyrand asked.

“Do I need an excuse to talk to you?”

“These days none of us does anything without an excuse.” Talleyrand dropped into a gilded armchair. “Is it to do with Rivère’s death last night?”

“What do you know about Rivère?” Malcolm asked, settling into the chair across from the prince.

Talleyrand leaned back in his own chair, stirring a faint dusting of powder from his hair. “I’d hardly be doing my job if I wasn’t aware that Rivère was selling information to the British.”

“You didn’t tell anyone. Did you?”

“By the time I acquired the knowledge I was dealing with the British myself.”

Malcolm set his hands on the arms of his chair, his gaze steady on Talleyrand’s face. “Who killed him?”

“My dear boy. I’m not as omniscient as you think.” Talleyrand smoothed his frilled cuff over his fingers. “I assume Rivère wanted you to get him out of France?”

“Was he about to be arrested?”

Talleyrand pressed a crease in the frill. “You’d have to ask Fouché.”

“Rivère’s cousin had been pressuring to have him arrested.”

“Yes, I believe so.” Talleyrand crossed his clubfoot over his good leg. The diamond buckle on his shoe flashed in the light from the branch of candles. “What did he threaten if you didn’t help him?”

“Vague claims to wreak havoc on the British delegation. What did Rivère have to do with Bertrand Laclos?”

Talleyrand’s brows drew together. His hooded eyes were suddenly more hawk-like than usual. “What did Rivère tell you?”

“Nothing specific. But his threats of havoc centered on Laclos.”

Talleyrand stared at his signet ring. “Laclos was an embarrassment. We were so proud when he returned to the fold. We should have suspected he might be a British asset from the first. I should have. I pride myself on knowing how the British think.”

“But in the end he wasn’t.”

Talleyrand frowned. “As is often the case, you’re too quick for me, Malcolm.”

Malcolm swallowed. Unease coiled within him. “Laclos was a double. I intercepted the communication that betrayed his work for the French myself.”

Rare surprise shot through Talleyrand’s blue eyes. “My word. So his death—”

“He was deemed to know too much.”

Talleyrand settled back in his chair. “Either I am a lamentable fool—which is entirely possible—or you’ve been deceived.”

Unease gave way to sick certainty. “You didn’t know Laclos was a double?”

“No. Of course I scarcely know the name of every French agent, but I like to think I would have done with someone so high profile.”

Guilt tightened Malcolm’s throat. “When did you learn he’d been working for the British?”

“Not until after his death. I could hardly fail to investigate with so important an asset. I had someone go through his papers. There was evidence he’d been working for the British. Given the embarrassed ripples that sent through French intelligence, if he’d actually been one of ours someone would have spoken up.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet and strode to the unlit fireplace. “I was afraid of this.”

He could feel Talleryand’s gaze on him. “You blame yourself too much, Malcolm.”

Malcolm spun round and looked at the man he had known since boyhood, his grandfather’s and mother’s friend. “An innocent man may have been killed because of me.”

“And in your line of work, I highly doubt he was the first. Or the last. You reported the evidence, Malcolm. Evidence which must have been fabricated.”

“By whom?”

“A fascinating question.” Talleyrand tented his fingers together. “I must say this is interesting. I can certainly understand Rivère’s claims that he could shake the British delegation.”

“I’m glad our difficulties amuse you, sir.”

“You must allow me to take my amusements where I can, Malcolm. There are few enough of them these days.”

Malcolm crossed back to Talleyrand. “Laclos was friendly with your nephew.”

“So he was.”

“Did you arrange it?” Malcolm dropped back into his chair and leaned towards the prince.

“My dear Malcolm. I choose my agents with care, for their keen understanding and discretion. Which is why I’ve always regretted I couldn’t have you for an agent. And why I’d never want Edmond for one. I did suggest it might be a good idea for Edmond to show Laclos round Paris.”

“And you got reports on Laclos from him.”

“I found it useful to get Edmond’s rather unsophisticated view of Laclos. Later when I learned Laclos had been working for the British, I wondered if Laclos had encouraged the friendship because Edmond was my nephew. Perhaps he thought my avuncular affections went further than they do.”

“You got Edmond his wife,” Malcolm said, perhaps unwisely.

“So I did.” Talleyrand’s fingers tightened. He unclenched them and curved them round the arms of his chair. “Speaking of actions which haunt one.”

“Actually knowing Dorothée makes it clear she’s not a chess piece?”

“Regrets come with age. God knows what that means lies in store for you, considering the number you already appear to have at—what? Eight-and-twenty?”

“Come October.”

“When I was eight-and-twenty—” Memories drifted through Talleyrand’s eyes. “I thought I knew a great deal, but in many ways I think I was much younger than you. I certainly hadn’t yet learned the meaning of regret. Or of love.”

Malcolm watched the prince for a moment. “Sometimes the two go hand in hand.”

“Yes.” Talleyrand’s fingers tensed on the chair arms. “So they do.”

“Rivère said one thing more.” Malcolm drew a breath, his throat raw. “Sir, is it possible Tatiana had a child?”

Talleyrand went still. His eyes became even more hooded than usual. “Rivère knew how to wound.”

“Is it—”

Talleyrand folded his hands together. “It’s possible Tatiana did any number of things.”

Malcolm studied the man his grandfather had trusted with the secret of his unmarried mother’s pregnancy thirty-some years ago, the man his mother had trusted to keep an eye on her secret daughter in France. The man who had made Tatiana his agent. “Are you saying you knew—”

“My dear Malcolm. If I’d known your sister had a child I’d have told you.”

“Would you?”

“After Tatiana died.” Talleyrand’s gaze was now unusually open.

“You might have thought I was better off not knowing. You might have made a promise to Tania.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved in a rueful smile. “I’m not as protective as you think me. And I’ve learned to take a flexible attitude towards promises.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room in two strides, and leaned over the prince’s chair. “What do you know?”

Talleyrand looked up at him with the same open gaze. “A few stray comments, that might, in retrospect, mean something.”

“What comments?” Malcolm’s fingers bit into the fabric of the chair.

“An uncharacteristically wistful look in her eyes when she saw a small child once or twice. A comment, on hearing of a courtesan or actress who’d found herself in a delicate situation, that at least she herself had learned the value of precautions. And—”

“What?” Malcolm tightened his grip on the chair, holding Talleyrand’s gaze with his own.

“She asked me to help arrange time away from Paris for her. She needed a rest, she said. She needed not to be troubled by any of her various lovers. She was gone for about five months.”

“When was this?” Malcolm did calculations in his head.

“The spring of 1807.”

Malcolm straightened up and paced across the room. “More than three years after Tania left Russia. So the father couldn’t have been Tsar Alexander . Who could have fathered the child?”

“My dear boy. No offense meant to your sister—I hardly consider such behavior offensive—but keeping track of Tatiana’s conquests would have left me quite without time to tend to the business of France. I was still foreign minister at the time.”

“And Tatiana was your agent. Whom else did you have her collecting information from?”

“You can’t be so crude as to think the only way of collecting information—”

“Perhaps not the only but certainly one of the most likely with a beautiful woman like Tatiana.”

“She was establishing herself in Parisian society. She was indulging in flirtations with attachés from the Austrian and Prussian embassies. I don’t know if they went further. Even if they did, I see no reason for a child born of such a liaison to be kept secret.”

Malcolm locked his gaze on the prince’s own, trying to see behind that enigmatic stare. “Is there any chance Tania was involved with Napoleon Bonaparte that early?”

Talleyrand hesitated a fraction too long before he answered. “Not that I know of.”

“Not that you know of?”

Talleyrand smoothed his ruffled shirt cuff over his fingers. “I’d be lying if I said Bonaparte hadn’t noticed her. And it was like Tania to set her sights on men in the highest positions of power. It’s possible something had begun and she had reasons for keeping it from me. But even if it had, even if he was the father of her child, there’d have been no need then for such excessive secrecy. Bonaparte was generous with his bastards.”

Malcolm paced back to Talleyrand’s side and stood looking down at him. “What else?”

Talleyrand looked up at him, gaze bland as butter. “I don’t believe there is anything else.”

“Doing it much too brown, sir. You admit yourself you suspected Tania had had a child. And that she might have been Bonaparte’s mistress. You can’t expect me to believe you didn’t ask her about the child’s parentage.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved with appreciation. “I could deny it, but I suppose there’s no point now. Yes, as it happens I did ask her. Tatiana didn’t deny there was a child. But she went as serious as I’ve ever seen her. She begged me not to ask any questions about the baby’s parentage. Not for her sake, but for the child’s.” He shook his head. “I’ve never been the sort to take vows seriously.”

“She made you swear not to ask more about the child’s parentage?” Malcolm asked.

“She made me swear not to tell anyone there was a child.” Talleyrand met Malcolm’s gaze, his own deceptively clear and direct. “Especially you.”

12.25.12TracyMelHappy New Year! Much as I love the holiday season, I always find I relish quiet, cool January days, settling back into work with a steaming cup of tea and plentiful (or at least more plentiful than in December) time. My WIP, the next Malcolm & Suzanne book, now has a working title, The London Gambit, and I’ve started the new year off by going over my draft of the book so.

I always say I’m the sort of writer who plots in advance, but the truth is a bit more complicated. I do need to do quite a bit of advance thinking and note taking before I can start to draft scenes. I lay out plot ideas on the wonderful Scrivener corkboard and move them around and start to build the story. But at a certain point I need to start actually drafting some of the scenes. It’s as though I need to flesh out the scenes to see how they work, how the characters interact, how different plot strands twist together. Often the very process of writing the scenes gives me additional plot ideas . And in and around writing, I’m continuing to think about the plot and making notes.

I write many of these early scenes out of order – skipping parts of the story I’m not sure of and fleshing out the scenes I know I need. Often I’m not sure where a given scene will fall in the arc of the story when I first draft it. In the past couple of weeks I’ve begun to organize the scenes I have. I spent a couple of days last week not trying to write at all, just playing with index cards on the corkboard and seeing how the story can fit together. A clear structure for the first “act” of the book emerged pretty quickly – which required some additional scenes to connect what I’d already written and sent me back to drafting new material, while I also edited the scenes I’d already written. Now I’m mulling how the second act fits together, though the turning point into Act III is clearly marked.

So for me, plotting the book and drafting scenes are inextricably intertwined, which was never more clear to me than working on The London Gambit over the past few days. While I don’t think I could write without plotting in advance, I also don’t think I could comfortably plot an entire book without fleshing out some scenes along the way. And just as stepping back and thinking about the plot gives me ideas for scenes, sometimes writing a scene gives me plot ideas.

Writers, how do you approach plotting? Has your approach changed through the years? Readers, any questions about plotting?

And to welcome in the new year, I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Dorothée written in early January 1816.

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Holidays! Hope everyone celebrating any of the midwinter holidays is having a wonderful holiday season. For all the chaos, I love this time of year. Decorations, treats, time with friends and family.

Because this is a family time of year, December’s teaser from The Paris Affair show Suzanne/Mel and Colin with his honorary uncle, Simon, visiting a family of new characters in Paris’s Left Bank.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisele about the Fraser/Ramnoch Christmas in Paris in 1815.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Suzanne said to Simon, as their fiacre clattered through the cramped, twisting maze of the Left Bank. Colin bounced on her lap, face pressed to the grimy window.
Simon grinned. “I’m always pleased when you and Malcolm let civilians assist you.” He leaned back in his corner of the cracked leather seat and studied her across the fiacre. “How are you?” he asked softly.
Suzanne steadied Colin as he squirmed on her lap. “You mean besides investigating another mysterious death?”
“I haven’t asked you in a while. You look a bit less haggard than you did in Brussels.”
“Aren’t we all?” Her mind went back to their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, the black-and-white marble floor tiles lined with pallets on which wounded soldiers lay, the smells of laudanum and Waterloo had touched all of them, but in addition the investigation into Julia Ashton’s murder had been a strain, not just on Suzanne and Malcolm and Cordelia and Harry, but on Simon and David as well. The secrets uncovered had scarred all of them.
“Quite,” Simon said. “But I don’t think you’re finding Paris entirely easy, either.”
Simon understood her confoundedly well. Which meant he saw far too much. She often thought it was because like her he was an outsider in the beau monde, so the usual assumptions didn’t apply. “You have to admit the atmosphere in Paris is rather fraught.”
“And the politics not what one could call convivial.”
Simon was a Radical. He hadn’t supported war when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The politics in Paris now weren’t convivial to him or to Malcolm or to David. It didn’t mean he had any special knowledge about her and her past. She had to remember that. “Scarcely.”
Simon tilted his head back. “Just remember that I’m here to listen if ever needed.”
Colin bounced in her lap. “Dragons,” he said, his face pressed to the glass.
Three British dragoons had stopped before a bakery to flirt with a couple of Parisian girls. Colin had become good at spotting different types of soldiers in Brussels. Simon gave an ironic smile. “Even on the Left Bank.” He glanced out the window. “I grew up only a few streets over. One saw more tricolor in those days. And then Republican soldiers.”
They pulled up in a narrow winding street before a blue-shuttered house with a riot of violets spilling from the window boxes. Emile Sevigny himself opened the door to greet them, a wiry man in his early thirties with a bony face and a shock of disordered dark hair. His neckcloth was carelessly tied and a spot of blue paint showed on the shirt cuff peeping out from beneath his rumpled blue coat. “Simon, we got your note this morning. Splendid to see you.”
When Simon introduced Suzanne and Colin, Sevigny said, “Forgive the informality. Simon and I’ve known each other since we were boys. His father was my mentor.”
Emile Sevigny took them through a hall with walls hung with bright watercolors, charcoal sketches, and vivid oil portraits, and floorboards strewn with blocks and tops and a toy wagon, and out into the back garden. Louise Sevigny came towards them. She’d been fashionably dressed when Suzanne met her at the exhibition at the Louvre . Now she wore a simple muslin gown and her red-brown ringlets slipped from their pins beneath a gypsy straw hat. “Simon. It’s been too long since you’ve come to see us.” She lifted her face for his kiss and then held out her hand when he introduced Suzanne and Colin. “Of course. Madame Rannoch. Your husband is the dashing man who does all sorts of secret things for Wellington.”
“My husband would say not to listen to gross exaggerations. Colin, make a bow to Madame Sevigny. You saw some of her husband’s pictures when we went to the Louvre.”
Colin bowed and shook Madame Sevigny’s hand. Louise Sevigny called over her own children, two boys of about eight and two, and suggested they might like to show Colin their fort. The three boys at once darted across the garden to the fort, a paint-spattered tablecloth draped over two bushes. Louise and Emile Sevigny smiled. It was a good thing, Suzanne thought, that most spymasters didn’t realize how wonderful children were at creating diversions and putting suspects at their ease.
Louise Sevigny waved the adults towards a wrought-iron table set in the shade of a lilac tree. A maid emerged from the house with a tray of chilled white wine and almond cakes.
Emile cast a glance at the children as he poured the wine. “Simon and I were like that once at his parents’ house.”
“Save that Emile always dragged me off to the studio.” Simon accepted a glass of wine. “He found the sight of my father at work much more entrancing than I did.”
“It meant a lot, having someone take my youthful paint smears seriously.” Emile returned the wine bottle to its cooler. “I’ve started a new painting. The conspirators in the capitol after the assassination of Julius Caesar.”
Simon stared at him. “Good God, you madman.”
Emile gave a grin that turned him into a mischievous schoolboy. “It’s a classical subject. Something of a tribute to your father’s style.”
“My father could be a madman, too, when it came to running risks with the authorities.”
“And you’re a model of sober caution? I read the reviews of your plays, Simon. You’ve had the government censor close you down more than once.”
“There’s a big difference between risking a theatre being closed and risking—”
Emile shot a glance at Louise. She was watching him with a steady concern that reminded Suzanne of the moments she watched Malcolm go into danger. Knowing that to give way to any impulse to stop him would be to deny who he was. Not to mention who she was. Emile settled back in his chair. “People can take from the painting what they will. The assassination of a general who aspired to be an emperor could easily be a commentary on Bonaparte. A way of atoning for having painted the Bonaparte family.”
“My father would be proud of you,” Simon said.
“I hope so.”
“The truth is Emile has to do something other than society portraits or he’d go mad,” Louise said.
Simon took a sip of wine. “You both seem more at ease than the last time we met.”
Emile exchanged a look with his wife again. “We’ve just learned to laugh in the face of adversity. Forgive me, Madame Rannoch,” he added quickly. “These aren’t easy times for someone who painted the Bonaparte family.”
“I quite understand, Monsieur Sevigny. My husband deplores what’s been happening in Paris. As do I.”
Emile inclined his head. “It’s worse for others. Men like St. Gilles, who were more outspoken.”
“Including against Bonaparte.” Simon glanced at Suzanne. “Paul St. Gilles is a committed Republican.”
“So he was equally disgusted with Bonaparte and Louis?” Suzanne recalled a striking seascape by Paul St. Gilles she’d seen at the Louvre.
“He thought Bonaparte was the lesser of two evils,” Emile said. “Which is enough to render him anathema to the Ultra Royalists.”
Louise shivered. “I keep thinking about Paul and Juliette and the children. Dreadful.” She cast a glance at her own children, whose shiny black shoes and white-stockinged ankles peeped out from beneath the tablecloth fort.
“But I’m far less important than St. Gilles,” Emile said.
Louise turned her gaze to him, frowning.
Emile touched her hand. “My wife has an inflated sense of my importance.” He leaned back in his chair. “It hasn’t stopped the commissions, thankfully.”
Simon brushed crumbs of almond cake from his fingers. “I’d like to see what you’re working on. Particularly this Julius Caesar piece.”
“Of course.” Emile turned to the ladies.
“I’d best stay out here.” Suzanne glanced at the tablecloth fort from whence high-pitched chatter now emitted. “You wouldn’t think it, but ever since Waterloo Colin gets a bit nervous when I’m out of sight.”
“It will give us a chance to talk,” Louise said with an easy smile.
Emile refilled the ladies’ wineglasses before he and Simon went into the house, already deep in a conversation about capturing the quality of light.
“Simon’s a dear friend,” Louise said, looking after them.
“One of the first of my husband’s friends I felt at ease with,” Suzanne said. “I often think it’s because he knows what it is to be an outsider.”
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Louise gave her a quick smile. “And that makes him at home anywhere.”
“It’s quite a knack.” Suzanne settled back in her chair in the sort of pose that invited confidences. “I can’t say being an outsider has quite done that for me. I certainly didn’t feel at home when Malcolm took me to Britain last year.”
“I know precisely what you mean. Marriage is supposed to make one belong, but sometimes it just makes one feel hopelessly lost and lonely.” Louise glanced round the garden. “Though it doesn’t seem to have done that for me.” She took a sip of wine. “I was married before Emile.”
“To the Comte de Carnot.”
“Yes.” Louise stared into the pale gold wine, as though looking into a troubled past. She must be in her midtwenties, but her wide blue eyes and soft-featured face made her appear younger than her years. “A very different life. I’d say it seems like a dream now, save that it’s more like a nightmare.”
Sometimes honesty was the best way to discover information. Which was rather a relief. Suzanne took a fortifying sip of wine and set down her glass. “Madame Sevigny. I confess I’ve been hoping for a word with you.”

11.17.12TracyMelHappy mid-winter holiday season! I’m starting to relax into the holiday season despite the seemingly ever-increasing To Do list – this year complicated by a certain one-year-old birthday party and having a new release out.

As I’ve been taking time to promote His Spanish Bride, it occurs to me that the story of Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding combines two literary traditions – wedding stories and holiday stories. I have a fondness for both types of story, from wedding stories like The Philadelphia Story and Busman’s Honeymoon to holiday tales like Lauren Willig’s delightful The Mischief of the Mistletoe and Deanna Raybourn’s new novella Silent Night. I think what i like about both types of story is that they bring together friends and family with plentiful opportunity for conflicts, reunions, and revelry. Parents and children, sibling rivalry, ex-lovers home for the holidays or attending the same wedding–or perhaps one disrupting the wedding of another. Jane Austen recognized the benefit of such gatherings for bringing characters together. Emma opens with a wedding and includes a holiday party.

Both weddings and holidays involve certain traditions which give a frame to the story yet to which individual characters give their own unique spin. It’s fun seeing fictional characters, even historical ones, go through some of the same traditions we go through ourselves, and also fun to see the differences. Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding takes place at the British embassy and is wrapped up in the investigation of a missing letter that could drive a wedge between Britain and her Spanish allies in the war against the French.They slip away from their betrothal party for a bit of skullduggery, and Suzanne arrives at the solution to the mystery on their wedding night. Both their motives for entering into the marriage are complicated, and perhaps they are even deceiving themselves about the true reasons. The story ends at an embassy Christmas party at which, again typically for them, Malcolm and Suzanne are wrapping up the investigation.

What are some of your favorite holiday and wedding stories?

Speaking of the holidays, with this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve jumped to December 1815 with letter from Mel/Suzette to Simon.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers