Readers’ Guide


Celebrating Vienna Waltz with Audrey and Nancy

The picture above is my wonderful editor, Audrey LaFehr, my wonderful agent, Nancy Yost, and me celebrating Vienna Waltz on my trip to New York last month. Vienna Waltz has been out for almost two weeks now. It’s so fun that people are finally getting to read it. So I thought I’d devote this week’s post to a Vienna Waltz discussion. Here are the discussion questions I did for the book (which are also posted in their own page on this site). I thought they might be good for getting the conversation going, but feel free to post any questions, comments, or speculation relating to the book (or to ask questions about the book if you haven’t read it ). And if you’ve read The Mask of Night,or have questions about it feel free to bring it into the conversation as well.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline Dacre-Hammond to Charles/Malcolm’s sister Gisèle in which she speculated about Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne’s marriage.

1. Before Malcolm told Suzanne the truth about his relationship with Tatiana, what did you think had transpired in the past between Tatiana and Malcolm?

2. How does being in Vienna at the Congress constrain the characters’ actions and/or free them to act in ways that might not be possible were they at home in London, St. Petersburg, Paris, or wherever their homes may be?

3. Both Malcolm and Suzanne keep secrets from each other. How might their marriage have been different if they had told each other the truth from the start? Or would they have married at all in that case?

4. Tatiana sets in motion an elaborate plot to regain what she sees as her rightful heritage. What are the parallels between the game she is playing and the more overtly political games being played at the Congress?

5. Do you think Malcolm would ever have told Suzanne the truth about Tatiana if Suzanne hadn’t found the locket?

6. Do Castlereagh, Metternich, and Talleyrand remind you of any present-day politicians? If so, in what ways?

7. Suzanne and Malcolm both frequently are playing a part, whether they are in disguise (as at the Empress Rose), or playing their roles as a diplomatic couple, or at times even (or perhaps especially) when they are alone together. At what points in the novel do you think each of them is the most wholly her- or himself without masks or deception?

8. How are Suzanne’s, Dorothée’s, Wilhelmine’s, Elisabeth’s, and Tatiana’s attitudes toward marriage and love shaped by their experiences in childhood and adolescence?

9. Compare and contrast Suzanne and Malcolm’s marriage with Fitz and Eithne’s, from their reasons for marrying, to their secrets and betrayals.

10. Several of the characters in Vienna Waltz fear the revelation of secrets about their personal lives. Do you think they have more or less to fear from their secrets being revealed than present-day public figures?

11. Did you suspect Fitz of killing Tatiana before the end of the book? Why or why not?

12. Malcolm says to Fitz that Castlereagh and Metternich are doing everything they can to put the French Revolution “back in the box. Quite ignoring the fact that the box broke twenty years ago.” How does this idea parallel some of the characters’ efforts to erase the past on a more personal level?

13. Suzanne and Malcolm struggle to balance their roles as agents and their duties in the diplomatic corps with being parents and husband and wife. How are the difficulties they face juggling all this similar to or different from those of a present-day couple?

14. Many of the characters claim not to believe in love or not to believe love lasts, yet a number of them do things that are motivated by love. Which actions, by which characters, do you think most strongly convey love for another character?

My wonderful web designer friends Greg and jim are working on an update of the site for the May release of Beneath a Silent Moon. It should go live in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, there are now Reading Group Guides for both Secrets of a Lady and Beneath a Silent Moon on the detail pages for both books. I spent a lot of time on the Beneath a Silent Moon questions this week, so I thought I would make them this week’s blog topic.

1. The book opens with the line “The night air was like a lover’s touch. Cloaked in mystery, beckoning with promise, sweet at times but quickly cloying. And underneath rotten to the core.” How does this line set up the themes of the book?

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Earlier this week, on the Fog City Divas blog, Allison Brennan had a great post on that question so often asked of writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Thinking about my own answer, I realized my ideas often involve playing “what if…?” The question might be sparked by research (part of the idea for The Mask of Night came from saying “what if Hortense Bonaparte had secretly come to England in 1820 to see her former lover, now married to an Englishwoman?”). It might be sparked by the plot of a play, movie, opera (operas are a great source of gut-wrenching conflict), tv show, or another novel (though I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back I know that part of the idea for Secrets of a Lady came from watching the Jane Seymour/Anthony Andrew version of The Scarlet Pimpernel and saying “what if Marguerite really were a spy?”). Sometimes the question is sparked by my own characters (part of the idea for Beneath a Silent Moon came from saying “what if there was a girl back in England everyone had expected Charles to marry and thought would make him the perfect wife?”).

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