Pink Carnation Series


I have a special treat this week. The lovely and fabulously talented Lauren Willig will giveaway two copies of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and one audio copy of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily to commenters on this week’s post. If you haven’t yet discovered Lauren’s wonderful Pink Carnation Series, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. And if you’re already a devotee of the series, as I know many readers of this blog are, this is a great chance to have a copy autographed by Lauren.

Thinking about the inimitable Pink Carnation and Lauren’s other flower spies got me thinking about the Scarlet Pimpernel, an influence for Lauren (actually mentioned in the series) and for me and for countless other writers. My forthcoming The Paris Affair features a Scarlet Pimpernel type character coded named the Kestrel. I thought I would combine Lauren’s giveaway with my October teaser, an exchange between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul that introduces the Kestrel.

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She stared at him. She used to be quicker. She’d been too absorbed by her own concerns. Now she saw the strain in the set of his mouth and the worry at the back of his eyes. “Who?”
“Who what?” He took another swallow of wine.
“You’re worried about someone new. Someone who’s been proscribed? Or is about to be. I should have seen it.”
“Querida—”
She sat back against the bench, hit by the reality of how much things had changed. “You don’t trust me.” It was as though a well-worn cloak had been lifted from her shoulders on a cold day. “Can you honestly think I would betray one of our comrades—”
“I trust you with my life,” he said in a low, rough voice. “I’m trying to keep you from the intolerable burden of divided loyalties, my darling idiot.”
“It’s a bit late for that. You let me marry Malcolm. Not that I’m sorry you did.”
He kept his gaze on her face. “And I’m trying to avoid doing more damage to your marriage.”
“Since when have you been so driven by personal concerns?”
“Perhaps since personal concerns became all that are left to us. Or perhaps you had a somewhat exaggerated view of my ruthlessness.”
“You’ve quite neatly managed to change the subject.” She leaned forwards.”I won’t let you wrap me in cotton wool any more than I’ll let Malcolm do so.” That had become doubly important to her since she had left the work that had been the focus of her life for so long. “Who are you worried about now?”
Raoul released his breath in a harsh sigh. “Manon Caret.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. “But she’s—”
“No longer untouchable. She may still reign over Paris from the Comédie-Française, but that won’t hold much weight with Fouché.”
Suzanne swallowed. “Fouché knows Manon was a Bonapartist agent?”
“More to the point, others do and have denounced her. He’ll look soft if he doesn’t move against her. With the Ultra Royalists claiming he’s too moderate—God help us—he can’t afford any hint of softness. And I suspect he’s worried about what she knows.”
Suzanne shook her head at the idea of Manon Caret, the celebrated actress who had kept Raoul apprised of the doings of Royalists for years, facing arrest. “She’s on the proscribed list?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will be. Too many embarrassing questions. I doubt there’ll even be a trial. But Fouché’s planning to take her into custody. She’ll quietly disappear, probably never to be seen again.”
Suzanne nodded. Spies were rarely dealt with through official channels. “When?”
“According to my sources we have a week at most.”
Suzanne stared at the candlelight flickering in the depths of her wineglass. They had drunk Bordeaux the night she first met Manon Caret. Suzanne had been sixteen, raw from the dubious results of her first mission. Raoul had taken her along when he went to meet with Manon at the theatre late one evening. They’d watched the last act of The Marriage of Figaro, joined the throng of Manon’s admirers after the performance, then lingered on in her dressing room. Suzanne still recalled Manon going behind a gilt-edged dressing screen and emerging in a froth of sapphire silk and Valençiennes lace, despite the frivolous garment somehow transformed from charming, imperious actress to hardheaded agent. Hardheaded agent who had been remarkably kind to a sixteen-year-old girl still feeling her way in the espionage business, far more uncertain than she would admit to anyone, even herself.
She had drunk in the talk of the seasoned spies that night, as they sat round a branch of candles and a bottle of wine, surrounded by costumes and feathered masks and the smell of powder and greasepaint. She had met Manon a handful of times in the next two years, though Suzanne’s work had been on the Peninsula. And then, in 1811, Suzanne had been called upon to assist Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s brother’s wife, who found herself with child by her lover. Suzanne had thought they were safe when Hortense delivered the baby safely in Switzerland and gave it into the care of her lover’s mother. But returned to Paris, Suzanne had learned that evidence about the child had fallen into the hands of Fouché, who wouldn’t hesitate to use it against Hortense or her mother. Suzanne had stolen the papers from the ministry of police before Fouché could make use of them. But she had had difficulty slipping out of the ministry. With a knife wound in her side and one of Fouché’s agents on her trail, she had sought refuge at the Comédie-Française with Manon. If she’d been caught with the stolen papers in her possession, she’d have faced prison and very likely execution as a spy, no matter that she was working for the French. Manon had dressed her wound between scenes, bundled her into a costume, and hidden her in plain sight onstage as one of Phèdre’s ladies-in-waiting. All at considerable risk to herself.
Suzanne snatched up her glass and took a sip of wine. “Manon probably saved my life. I’ve never forgot it.”
“Nor have I.” Raoul’s mouth turned grim.
One would almost think he blamed himself for her predicament that night, save that that was so very unlike Raoul. Suzanne pushed aside the thought. “What are you planning?”
“Suzanne—”
“You must have a plan.”
He hesitated a moment. “I’ve made contact with the Kestrel.”
“The who? One of your former agents?” It wasn’t like Raoul to go in for fanciful code names.
He shook his head. “Not one of mine. Or anyone’s. He works for himself. For some years he wreaked havoc by rescuing Royalists from our prisons or from certain arrest.”
“And now he’s rescuing Bonapartists?”
“He claims to deplore wanton killing.”
“And you believe him?”
“I don’t have many other options. He was behind the rescue of Combre and Lefèvre’s escape.”
She leaned forwards. “I can help you.”
“No.” His voice cut across the table with quiet force.
“Since when have you been one to refuse aid? I assure you, I haven’t let myself grow rusty.”
Raoul’s gaze darkened. “For God’s sake, Suzanne. You have a husband, a son, a life. To be protected, for all the reasons you so cogently explained when you told me you were stopping your work.”
“This is different. Stopping my work doesn’t mean turning my back on my comrades.”
“The risk is still there.”
She gave a laugh, rough in her throat. “We live with risk.”
“You don’t have to anymore.”
She stared at him across the geraniums. “This isn’t like you.”
“Perhaps Waterloo changed me. Or perhaps I’ve always been less Machiavellian than you were inclined to believe.”
She pulled her wineglass closer. She’d loved Raoul, but she’d always known she couldn’t trust herself to him. Had her judgment of him been a form of defense, a way of protecting herself from disappointment? “I need to help. I need to do this.”
“Querida—” His gaze turned soft, in that way that always disconcerted her. “You don’t owe anyone anything. Least of all me. And Manon would tell you she knew the risks.”
Suzanne drew a harsh breath. For a moment, the table and the wineglass, the bottle and the vase of geraniums swam before her eyes. She saw Manon’s daughters, asleep on the sofa in the room that adjoined her dressing room. Then she saw Colin, eating a boiled egg with concentration when she had breakfast with him before she left the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré this morning. “I have to help, Raoul. Or I’ll go mad.”
“Why—”
“Because I’m safe. Or safer than most of us. Because I live in luxury, with the man I love and my child. Because I dine and dance with the victors and even count some of them as friends. Because for hours together I forget who I am and what I fought for. I forget that we lost.”
“All the more reason—”
“I wanted to stop betraying my husband. I didn’t want to lose myself.”
“You’d never—”
“You told me when you first recruited me that it was my decision, my choice what risks to run.” She saw them in the cramped, gaudy room in the brothel in Léon where he’d found her, surrounded by gilt and crimson draperies. “You always let me make up my own mind.” She swallowed, holding his gaze with her own. “It was one of the reasons I loved you.”
He returned her gaze for a long moment, his own steady and unreadable, then sat against the bench. “The Kestrel has a plan to get Manon out of Paris. Getting her out of France will be more difficult.”
Suzanne released her breath. “You’ll need travel documents. If I get you Castlereagh’s seal can you forge the rest?”
Querida—”
“It’s far less dangerous than half the things I did in Lisbon or Vienna. Castlereagh’s fond of me. I help smooth the waters with Malcolm.”
He took a drink of wine, as though still deciding. Then he gave a crisp nod, transformed back into the enigmatic spymaster. “I’ll be at the ball at the British embassy tonight.”
She nodded. “If you bring me the papers, I can add the seal, then return them to you. It will be simple—”
A faint smile crossed his face. “Don’t say it, querida. It’s like wishing an actor good luck.”

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What do you think is responsible for the enduring appeal of the Scarlet Pimpernel? What are some of your favorite books and movies inspired by it?

I’ll post the winners of the contest nest Tuesday, 16 October.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Jane Chase to Mel/Suzette.

Lattes and Napoleonic spies

One of the highlights of Mélanie and my trip to New York last week was the chance to see the wonderful Lauren Willig. While Mélanie napped, Lauren and I spent two plus hours catching up over lattes at Pan Quotidien. We talked about research and revisions, current and future projects. With Lauren’s inspiration and suggestions, the next Malcolm/Charles and Suzanne/Mélanie book began to take shape in my imagination.

Lauren was also nice enough to agree to giveaway a copy of her wonderful new book, The Garden Intrigue, on my blog. I found The Garden Intrigue very hard to put down – despite the fact that I read it in the midst of trying to finish writing The Princess’s Secret. I kept wanting to sneak away from Malcolm/Charles and Mélanie/Suzanne in 1815 Paris to visit Lauren’s characters also in Paris about a decade earlier. Garden Intrigue’s heroine is the delightful Emma Delagardie, American ex-patriate and girlhood friend of Hortense Bonaparte. The hero is Augustus Whittlesby, who provides comic relief in earlier volumes of the series with his atrocious poetry but who proves to a brilliant agent living behind a persona much as Percy Blakeney does in The Scarlet Pimpernel. You can read an excerpt from The Garden Intrigue here and one commenter of this post will win a copy.

What’s your favorite Scarlet Pimpernel-type hero or heroine in disguise?

 

Lauren Willig has a very fun contest going on over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. You can vote on a sexy cover for the inimitable Turnip Fitzhugh, and if there’s sufficient acclaim, Lauren will write a love scene between Turnip Fitzhugh and Arabella which did not appear in the wonderful Mischief of the Mistletoe.

It’s a great idea, born about because two different reviewers regretted the lack of a love scene between Turnip and Arabella. It got me to think about “missing scenes” – scenes which don’t take place between the pages of a book which I’ve always wanted to read. For instance:

Darcy and Elizabeth’s engagement conversation. Some authors fade to black for love scenes. Jane Austen does it for the final romantic resolution between her heroes and heroines. In many ways it’s a wonderful literary technique, leaving so much tantalizingly to the imagination. And yet I would so like to know what they actually said and did…

Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane after “Placetne, magistra? / Placet.” and the final embrace at Oxford in Gaudy Night. Busman’s Honeymoon reveals that they spent the rest of the night in a punt madly kissing, but I would so have liked to see that scene dramatized.

Percy and Marguerite’s meeting and their wedding (not to mention their wedding night, I can never be certain if they ever actually made love or not), not to mention Percy learning of Marguerite’s denunciation of St. Cyr. Basically all the complicated back story of The Scarlet Pimpernel. (If you’re a Pimpernel fan be sure to check out the great discussion of the 1982 film and other adaptations at Dear Author).

Lymond seeing Kuzum again at the end of the Lymond Chronicles, how he dealt with him, what kind of relationship they had.

Sophy and Charles on the carriage ride back to London at the end of The Grand Sophy, not to mention the scene with Sir Horace and Lady Ombersley when they reached Berkeley Square.

Are there any “missing scenes” from the Charles & Mélanie/Malcolm & Suzanne books you wish I’d dramatize? From other favorite books?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisèle about Charles/Malcolm’s arrest.

After some typical Bay Area summer days of bone chilling fog, it’s lovely and sunny today. A slight breeze, not too hot. The sort of day that cries out for lolling in a hammock or sitting by the pool with a good book. Of course I’ve spent the day in a whirl of Saturday errands (which included the fun of finding a great summer bag on sale at Nordstrom’s). Now I’m updating my website and I need to write at least 700 more words on my new book and a get a workout in somewhere. Between finishing Vienna Waltz revisions, working on my Waterloo book, Porchlight Theatre’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses production, and the start of the Merola Opera Program (we had our Meet the Merolini event last night, where we met the 2010 Merola artists), my summer so far has been a bit chaotic if fun.

But I’m at least dreaming of lazy summer reading time, and this seemed a good time to post a summer reading list. Most of my suggestions this year are series, perhaps not surprising as I write series myself :-):

The Lady Emily books by Tasha Alexander. Vivid characters, both real historical people and fictional ones. Exotic locales, exciting mysteries, a wonderful ongoing romance, and Lady Emily’s fascinating character development over the series, as she struggles to be independent amid the strictures of Victorian society.

The Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series by Deborah Crombie. I had the fun of catching up on recently on several books I’d missed in this series. I used them as bribes–write 100 words, and I got to read a section. The page-turning plots kept me up far into the night, while the rich character development made me feel I was visiting old friends. I don’t cry over books often, but these stories brought tears to my eyes (sometimes happy tears) more than once. And though Deb is American, you absolutely feel you’re in contemporary London.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Compelling, surprising, tragic, and ultimately surprisingly hopeful. This historical novel set in 1907 Wisconsin drew me in from the first page, and I found it almost impossible to put down.

The Sebastian St. Cyr books by C.S. Harris. Wonderful series set in Regency London. Each book is its own intricate mystery, but there’s also a fascinating mystery about the hero’s life (and his relationships with his family and romantic interests) that runs through the series and makes one eagerly await the next installment.

The Julia Grey books by Deanna Raybourn. Another series I discovered this year and eagerly devoured. Wonderful Victorian atmosphere, a fascinating ongoing romance, and an intriguing deftly drawn ongoing group of supporting characters in Julia’s vivid, eccentric family.

The Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig. Napoleonic spies. Adventure. Mystery. Romance. One of the best parts of my New York trip last fall was talking books with Lauren and getting a sneak peek of what’s to come in the series. If you haven’t already discovered Lauren’s books, go find them–now!

What’s on your summer reading list?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Mélanie to Raoul in the Fraser Correspondence. I’m having a lot of fun telling the days after Napoleon’s escape from Elba through my characters’ eyes.

Last week I did a post-Valentine’s blog on History Hoydens that I thought I’d repeat here for those who missed it. I like to do a romantic moments blog around Valentine’s Day. This year I thought I’d focus on moments where a happy ending for the couple in question seems an impossibility. Sometimes they are the ending to a story. Sometimes they are the bleak moment before a triumphant ending. Either way, they can be intensely romantic, despite or perhaps because of the edge of sorrow.

My examples are mostly historical and come from novels, films, and a Broadway musical.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer. Damerel sending Venetia away for her own good. I feel a heart tug every time I read about him throwing her up into the saddle for the last time. Much as I want to shake Damerel, there’s something that always gets me about a guy trying to be noble.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. Cecilia running after Robbie and embracing him before the police take him away. The fact that she stands by him against the seeming evidence, against her family, against the pressures of class prejudice stunned me the first time I read the book and stunned me the film version as well.

The Silicon Mage by Barbara Hambly. Antryg saying farewell to Joanna before sending her off to her own world, both of them fully expecting him to die. There’s a lovely restraint to the scene which makes the words all the more powerful.

The Empire Strikes Back by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas. Princess Leia saying farewell to Han Solo before he’s frozen in carbonite (“I love you.”/”I know.”). I was talking about this scene to a friend over dinner on Valentine’s Day. The moment my thirteen-year-old self fell in love with Han Solo/Harrison Ford. I still remember sitting with my parents in a restaurant afterwards and saying “It’s so unfair we have to wait so long to find out what happens next.”

“Send in the Clowns”, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler. Desirée’s song captures the poignancy of the moment when love seems lost, wry irony with a wealth of pain underneath.

Casablanca by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Rick putting Ilsa on the plane. I can’t think of another scene that is at once so poignant and so satisfyingly right.

Shakespeare in Love by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. Will and Viola saying goodbye. I find this scene much more painful than the end of Casablanca. And yet there’s the power of the fact that you can already see Will beginning to think about writing again and you see Viola’s will to go on.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig. Robert sending Charlotte away for her own good. Like the scene in Venetia, this one brings a lump to my throat. But unlike Damerel, who simply thinks he’s too tainted to make Venetia happy, Robert is caught in a dangerous web he really can’t tell Charlotte about. Fortunately for both of them, the intrepid Charlotte unravels things on her own.

Any examples of your own to add? What makes this type of scene work or not work for you? Writers, do you find these scenes harder or easier to write than happy love scenes?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is David’s reply to Simon’s letter of a couple of weeks ago about his visit to his family in the north of England.

I’m buried in my Vienna Waltz which is due at the end of the month (surrounded my timelines, character notes, and reference books to double-check information). This is the time when it’s particularly wonderful to have video clips to post. Here’s one where I talk a bit more about the Congress of Vienna:

Any questions about the Congress or how it plays into Vienna Waltz or the process I’ve undertaken working on the book?

On a different note, my wonderful friend Lauren Willig (with whom I stayed on my New York trip in the fall) has the latest of her fabulous Pink Carnation books out this month. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is set in India during the Napoleonic Wars, a fabulous blood of adventure, romance, history, and intrigue (the role India played in the Napoleonic Wars is fascinating). I’m rewarding myself with reading breaks as I work on Vienna Waltz. And I’m having to remind myself I have a book due, so I don’t simply curl up and read the entire novel.

I’ve also just posted Mélanie’s reply to Raoul’s letter of last week in the Fraser Correspondence.

My friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson and I spent a wonderful afternoon today at a party of Dorothy Dunnett readers. Dunnett readers, as I’ve blogged about before, tend to be a fun, well-read, and extraordinarily nice group of people. Over tea and wine and a delicious array of food we talked about books by Dunnett and others as well as favorite television series.

There’s something about Dunnett’s books that particularly lends them to discussion and analysis. They’re so complex and multi-layered. The books aren’t mysteries, but there are mysteries running through both the Lymond Chronicle and the House of Niccoló which provide endless food for debate and speculation. Even now both series are finished, plenty of unresolved questions remain. Add to that vivid historical context, rich literary allusions, and a fascinating cast of characters, and it’s hard to read Dunnett and not want to talk about the books. As we discussed at the party today, in the dark ages before the internet, we all had long lists of questions we wanted to discuss with other Dunnett readers. For a long time, the only other Dunnett reader I knew was my mom. We would discuss and debate the books all the time. Penny and I first became friends because we both loved Dunnett books. We’d spend long lunches talking over the Lymond Chronicle and debating what might happen next in the House of Niccoló.

Through my Dunnett friends, I’m also involved in a discussion group of Dunnett readers who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (you’d be amazed at the parallels :-)). This evening, I’ve been pondering what it is about certain stories that seem to particularly lend themselves to discussion. Ongoing story arcs are a big part of it, so book and television series both lend themselves to reader and viewer discussions, online and in person. Dunnetts’ series and BVTS both have complicated, ongoing stories, with plenty of questions about who’s real agenda is what, who will end up with whom, how characters may have been related to other characters in the past, and a host of other mysteries. Not to mention books, episodes, and seasons that end with nerve-wracking cliff hangers.

Another important element is characters one comes to care about and root for. Sometimes, particularly when there are romantic triangles, the rival merits of the characters become a topic of discussion. I recall a number of debates over Gelis verus Kathi in the House of Niccoló or Angel versus Spike on BVTS.

The X-Files and Alias also lend themselves to discussion, as does Lost (I’m watching last week’s episode as I write this and will probably have to rewatch it to make sure I didn’t miss a vital clue). I think the more a series, television or book, has an going mytharc (to use an X-Files term), with story and character development that extends from episode to episode or book to book, the more it lends itself to discussion. The mystery series I talk about the most with fellow readers may wrap up the central mystery within a book but the continuing characters have plenty of ongoing issues that stretch from book to book. Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers series, Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, and C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series all come to mind. When I finish one of the books, I inevitably want to talk about it (particularly the in the case of the recent George and Harris books which left lots of unresolved questions). They aren’t mysteries, but the same is true of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. There are always questions, whether it’s about the identity of villains, Colin and Eloise, or the Pink Carnation herself.

Another thing all these series have in common is vivid, richly-detailed world-building, whether it’s Dunnett’s 15th and the 16th century Europe and beyond, suburban Sunnydale, Mulder & Scully’s conspiracy-rife FBI, Sydney Bristow’s CIA and the Alliance, an island that moves back and forth in time (and goodness knows what else), Lynley & Havers’s Scotland Yard, Holmes & Russell’s 20s Britain and beyond filled with puzzles and adventures, Sebastian St. Cyr’s dark Regency London, or the Pink Carnation’s adventure-filled Napoleonic Europe. They’re all worlds I enjoy visiting, filled with characters I enjoy spending time with.

Do you have favorite series, whether literary or on television, that lend themselves particularly to discussion? Do you seek out friends to talk them over with? What elements in series do you find particularly good topics for analysis?

Be sure to check out this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence, a letter from Quen to Charles.

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