10.18.14TracyMelI woke up this morning thinking that I needed to wash Mélanie’s Halloween costume (which she’s already worn many times) so it’s ready for pre-Halloween events this weekend. I also needed to make sure I had a crown/headdress for her (she’s going to be Anna from Frozen; fortunately I tried on my own Elsa costume a week or so ago). I felt calmer after I had both those things done and realized I’d been stressing about getting everything sorted for Halloween for a while. And I’m already feeling the pressure of making sure I’m ready for the holidays.

Summer is a busy time for me with lots of Merola Opera Program performances and events. I was looking forward to things calming down the fall. But no sooner were we back from our post-Merola holiday, than I was worrying about making up for lost time on my WIP, new Merola projects, getting ready for Halloween, and before long starting to think about the holidays.

Today, feeling a little of the stress melt away as I ticked off a few “to do” items, I realized I should just accept that life never does slow down, not really. Not with a young child at any rate. Not with writing. I often think “once this book is done it will be easier”, but then there are revisions, copy edits, a new book to plot, perhaps a novella to fit in, and soon that new book needs to be finished and the oodles of time I thought i had has shrunk down to an ever narrowing window.

The best one can do is take a deep breath, do what has to be done, try to enjoy the moment, and not get overwhelmed. None of this is an earthshaking insight. I’ve heard it from other people and thought it myself  many times in the past. But it’s something I it helpful to remember, especially in the fun and chaos of autumn-into-holidays with a book to finish, a novella to write, a new book to plot–not to mention a little girl whose childhood i really want to savor.

Does your life seem to be a constant carousel of personal and professional deadlines? How do you maintain your balance?

Happy autumn!

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

I’m looking forward to a weekend filled with a picnic, a visit to the local pumpkin patch, and lots of wrtiing time on my WIP (the final chapters have finally sorted themselves out in my head). But an email from a reader has me thinking back to Imperial Scandal. In this email, the reader asked me about the three alternate versions I had posted of a key scene between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul after Waterloo in which she tells him she is going to stop spying. When I posted the different versions I said that initially I had seen Suzette/Mel going to Raoul, despairing over the defeat, and sleeping with him one last time before she tells him she is going to stop working for him. My editor thought that Mel/Suzette’s actions in the scene might destroy reader sympathy for her. On reflection I agreed, and I like the way the scene ended up in the revision process. But I’m glad I got to write it the original way to see how that played out. In the course of the revision process, I also wrote a third version I wrote in the revision process.

The reader who emailed me recently wanted to know if in my own mind the scene still played out with Suzanne sleeping with Raoul. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but I realized no, as I’ve gone on to write the subsequent books, to me the version in the public book is what happened. If they had slept together, they’d both be carrying added guilt that would have to be dealt with (that guilt would make for some interesting complications, but it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of complications as it is).

Revisiting this was particularly interesting for me as Raoul plays a major role in my WIP and there are some important developments in the Suzanne/Malcolm/Raoul dynamic in the course of the story. I thought it would be interesting to post the three versions again and get readers takes on them. Do you like the way the scene played out in the published book or do you prefer one of the alternate versions? If one of the alternate versions had taken place, how might things be different now for Suzanne, Malcolm, and Raoul?

This is the original scene:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
His lips slid to her cheek, the line of her jaw. She tugged at the folds of his cravat.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She dragged him back to her, fumbling with the buttons on his waistcoat.
She felt the breath shudder through him. Then he crushed her to him and his mouth was against her own again, urgent and desperate. She stumbled to the narrow bed and pulled him down beside her, keeping her mouth against his so he couldn’t utter any more foolish protests. She pushed his waistcoat from his shoulders, and then she had to pull back enough to tug his shirt over his head. By that time he’d found the strings on her gown. They fell back against the scratchy blanket in a tangle of half-removed clothes and urgent, clumsy fingers.
Coherent thought mercifully fled. She lost herself in the scrape of fabric, the brush of skin against skin, the pressure of his hands, the force of his lips.
When thought inevitably forced its way back, she was lying on his chest, her head pillowed on his collarbone, his fingers twining in her hair.
She stayed still for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the solidity of his arm round her. Then she pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “I’m through.”
He folded his arms behind his head. His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
“You couldn’t possibly–“
“What did what just passed between us mean if not goodbye?”
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat up and folded her arms across her chest. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over. But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She reached down and grabbed his shoulders. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrists in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip and grabbed her mantilla from the pile of clothing on the floor. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it.” She tugged the mantilla round her shoulders. Her nail snagged on the lace. “I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do is do the best one can in the moment.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes. You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her again, in a very different way from earlier. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
“Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from what had passed between them a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She reached down into the pile of clothes and found her drawers. “What will you do now?”
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He picked up her chemise and handed it to her. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. He pulled on his own clothes and helped her do up her laces and strings in silence. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to think back on the past hour and feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“For a cause. And there’s one way in which you managed to stay faithful.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I don’t believe in fidelity, remember?”
“You didn’t use to. I think you’ve changed.”
She stuck two more pins into her hair and draped her mantilla over her head. “I have so many sins on my conscience, I hardly think this one is going to rankle.”
“But it may.”
“What the devil makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll feel the same.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment.
He took a step away from the wall and moved toward her. “If it does, look on it as a moment’s madness.” His hands closed on her shoulders. “And for what’s worth and for my sins, it meant the world to me.”

This is the first alternate version:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She tried to drag him back to her, but his hands tightened on his shoulders.
“You don’t want this, Suzanne.”
“Damn you, you can’t know—“
“I know exactly. You want to lose yourself. You want to forget. You want to find solace. But a few moments of oblivion won’t take away the pain. And afterwards you’ll hate yourself.”
She wrenched herself out of his hold. The pain and anger she’d holding at bay since last night roiled through, clawing at her mind and senses. “ I don’t believe in fidelity, remember.”
“But Charles does. And you believe in him. Even if his side defeated ours.”
She stared at him, the word defeat echoing in her brain. Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She pressed her hands to her face, but a sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
She stayed still in his arms for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the brush of his breath against her hair. Then drew back and looked into the eyes that knew her so well. “I’m through.”
“I thought as much.” His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness.
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat down on the edge of the cot and dripped its metal frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
Her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes again. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
A gentle hand stroked her hair. “You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” Raoul said. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She turned to look at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle. His voice drilling her on court protocol. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from their kiss a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question past actions to replay past moments, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul—“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. As I said I’ll manage. Somehow other one finds a way to go on.”
She crossed the room to him and put her hand against the side of his face. “Keep safe.”
He caught her hand in his own and kissed it. “Look after your family, querida.”

And this is the scene in the published book:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. For a moment, she wanted to run and hide in his arms. Instead, she leaned against the closed door and said the words that most needed to be said. “I’m through.”
Something flared in his eyes. Not surprise but a flash of acknowledgement that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
She took two quick, determined steps into the room. Her mantilla slithered to the floor. “This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She dropped down on the edge of the cot and gripped its wooden frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed his arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “Knowing you, not to mention Charles, I imagine you’ll be able to accomplish a great deal.”
“I mean it. I won’t dwindle into a wife.”
His mouth curved in a faint smile. “I don’t think you could if you tried.” He looked at her for a moment. She had the oddest sense he was memorizing her features. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I’m serious. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason, that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
Her chest ached from the lost purpose, wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She couldn’t seem to stop shaking. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest with raw desperation until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–“ He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle or showing her how to load a pistol. His voice drilling her on court protocol or correcting her accent. His arm secure round her as she drifted into sleep. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from the days when they’d been lovers.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Fresh tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to–“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall behind her. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question actions, to replay decisions, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She spun round to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the goal in front of him. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul–“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. It won’t be the first time I’ve pieced my life back together.”
She crossed the room to him, took his face between her hands, and kissed him on the lips for the first time since her marriage. For the last time. “Keep safe.”
He squeezed her shoulders for a moment, as though catching onto the past, then released her. “Look after your family, querida.”

 

9.27.14TracyMel

Those of you who follow this blog regularly may know that fashion is one of my escapes. When reading any fiction, even something completely different from my own work, makes me feel inadequate and second guess myself, I take refuge in fashion magazines. When I need a mood lift I plan a special outfit (or go shopping). When i came home form the hospital with Mélanie, dressing up and doing my hair and makeup was my way of holding on to who I was in addition to being Mélanie’s mummy.

I thought it would be fun to do a fashion-centric post as a change of pace (and a break from a thorny plot conundrum I’m trying to iron out). I have a weakness for some wonderful designers like Temperley London, Moschino Cheap & Chic, and Burberry that I can only afford at about 70% off (and even then I shop very selectively). This means I do a lot of my shopping on sites like theoutnet and yoox. I get some fabulous bargains, but it means my new clothes are often a few seasons, even a few years old. Fortunately, i tend to like styles that are fairly classic and I wear my clothes for years (in my recent post about my week of events, I wore dresses that ranged from brand new to six years old). Still I love the fall fashion issues of Vogue and In Style with lavish spreads that detail the new styles and trends of the season, and I manage to try out some of them.A few that intrigue me this season:

1. Animal prints. I love animal prints, particularly leopard. My mom loved them as well, as Mélanie is currently on her fourth pair of leopard print flats (the first were a baby gift from a stylish friend). I found the dress above on Saks Off Fifth and got it entirely with bonus points (guilt free shopping!). It’s from the winter resort collation but it’s in lovely autumnal tones. I’ve been wearing it a bunch and may wear it to Thanksgiving dinner.

2. Burgundy, Always one of my favorite colors. Burgundy bags have been all over fashion magazines and websites this fall. I looked for one but couldn’t find one I liked that also fit my requirements of being 1) roomy enough to accommodate a laptop, papers, and baby gear, 2) Mélanie proof (inside able to stand up to mushed up banana, melted chocolates, and sunscreen spills), and 3) mostly non-leather (as a vegetarian, I feel hypocritical carrying a purse that has more than the odd bit of leather trim). In the end i got an updated version of my bilberry Longhamp, the new le Pliage Neo which i trade off with my older Planetes to make both last longer.purse

3. Midi skirts. I have a bunch of different skirt and dress lengths in my closet, butI love the new longer skirts and dresses that are in right now – great for bending down on the playground. I’d like to get one of the full, below the knee skirts that seem to be everywhere this season. It’s a look that feels very fresh now, but that’s classic and that i’d wear for years. I haven’t got one yet, but I like this one from J. Crew and this one from Reiss, though in both cases I’ll probably wait for sales.

4. Sweater dressing. I love sweaters and knit skirts and dresses (one of the many things I love about autumn). I got this dress on sale over the summer (another 2014 resort piece) with the idea that it would be great for fall (and now we’re having a heat wave or I’d be wearing it this weekend – its says something about Bay Area weather that I wore it several times over the summer).7.17.14TracySSC

Then of course there are wish list pieces like this dress and this skirt that I won’t even let myself think about until sale time. Fortunately it’s a pretty timeless loo.

Do autumn leaves make you think about new clothes? If so, what do you think of the season’s trends/ If not, what else do you look forward to as the days shorten and the light turns rose gold?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Happy weekend! Last Saturday Mélanie and I had the fun of enjoying another outdoor movie. This time It was Frozen, Mel’s favorite movie and one I love as well. (I’m planning a blog about why for the future). There was a visit from Queen Elsa before the movie started, so Mélanie was in transports. A lot of the kids sang along to “Let It Go” and I confess I was hard pressed not to do so myself. Afterwards we had a fun pizza dinner (pic above). I love sharing movies with her, and she’s getting old enough that we’re starting to be able to enjoy live performances as well.

I’m deep in a second (or third, depending on how one counts) of my WIP, but I’ve been out and about online quite a bit recently as well. I wrote a blog for the Merola Opera Program about the historical facts behind Donizetti’s Anna Bolena that allowed me to combine my love of opera and history. I later reworked the blog for History Hoydens, and I blogged on History Hoydens about what travel would be like for Malcolm and Suzanne and family as opposed to Mélanie and me. And I had the great fun of being interviewed on  The Bubblebath Reader, as part of a celebration of Lauren Willig’s fabulous Pink Carnation books.

Due to length, Ashley had to cut a couple of questions (she asked great questions, and I have a way of talking on :-). So I thought it would be fun to post the outtakes here. Be sure to head over to The Bubblebath Reader and  read the whole interview.

Ashley: Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
Tracy: I did a lot of acting in high school and college and was an apprentice at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I love opera and was a Board member of the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, coach/pianists, and stage directors, for many years. I now work for Merola part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate, and Government Relations.

Ashley: You’ve created a really fascinating cast of supporting characters for Malcolm and Suzanne.  Do you have a favorite of these characters to write?  If you could give any of these characters their own novel, which one would it be?

Tracy: One of the things I love about writing a series is being able to create a large cast of characters and follow their stories from book to book. It’s hard to pick favorites, but I particularly enjoy writing Harry and Cordelia Davenport. They both came to life very easily from their first appearance in “Imperial Scandal.” David and Simon are also favorites and there’s a lot to their story I haven’t told yet. And Raoul O’Roarke is also wonderfully fun to write. His voice came to me very easily from the first, whereas it takes longer to get the voice for other characters. Raoul feels so central to Malcolm and Suzanne’s story that I didn’t really think of him as a secondary character at first. I also love writing some of the real historical characters, particularly Wilhelmine of Sagan, Dorothée Talleyrand, and Prince Talleyrand himself. It’s difficult to think of any of these characters without Malcolm and Suzanne, but if I wrote a book that focused on another character, it would probably be Harry and Cordy or Raoul or David and Simon. Raoul plays a major role in my WIP and David and Simon will figure prominently in one of the future books, though in both cases Malcolm and Suzanne are still central.

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Hope everyone is having a great week! Last Saturday was Mélanie’s two and nine month birthday – hard to believe she is only three months from turning three. We celebrated by seeing an outdoor screening of Hook (which was also a lovely memorial to Robin Williams) at The Village Mall where we spend so much of our time and then having a late dinner (pic above). It was her most “grown up” movie yet, and she did great. Also a movie I have fond memories of seeing with my own parents, so it was lovely to see it with her.

I’m considering doing another novella before the release of my WIP (which will be late March/early April). I posted on Facebook asking for ideas for a novella and have had some great suggestions, including Colin’s birth,  something with the Courland sisters, and something from that stirs Malcolm and Suzanne’s memories of their own parnets. i thought I would post here as well, as both my prior novellas have been inspired by suggestions on this blog. What episode from Malcolm and Suzanne’s past (or that or other characters in the series) would you like to see dramatized?

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Mélanie and I had a very fun weekend with a trip to Children’s Fairyland with friends (pic above) and a reunion of alums and teachers from my high school, Marin Academy.  It was great to see what everyone is up to and to introduce Mel to old friends. Yesterday we had a mid-week treat with a wonderful writer lunch yesterday at Catherine Coulter’s fabulous house. (For pics from all these events see my Facebook page). Now I’m back at work on revisions to my  WIP, and I thought this would be a good time to post a teaser. Here’s a scene I’ve just been going over that shows Malcolm and Suzanne/Charles and Mélanie navigation the uncertain waters of their first investigation since Malcolm learned the truth. Any spoilers are for very early in the book.

 

Malcolm tucked Suzanne’s hand  more securely through his arm as they turned in the opposite direction. “What haven’t you told me?” she asked.
“Am I that transparent?”
“No, it took me years to learn to read you.”
Malcolm saw the realization of what she had just said flash in his wife’s eyes in almost the same instant it dawned on him. So much between them was unchanged and so much would never be the same. She swallowed but didn’t look away. Suzanne was tougher than that. “If you prefer not to tell me, I quite understand.”
“Good of you. Though of course that never stopped you from uncovering things in the past.”
“Darling—“
“Sorry.” He squeezed her arm with his free hand. “No sense in dwelling. In truth I could use your opinion. David revealed rather a lot about Trenchard.” He recounted David’s story about his belief that Trenchard had struck Mary.
Suzanne’s eyes darkened. “Men who strike their wives rarely do so only once.”
He pulled her arm closer against his side, aware of the warm of her skin through the layers of coat and pelisse. “Quite. David knew he was giving a motive for himself and for his father. I don’t think he realized the same about Mary. Perhaps because it’s beyond his comprehension that she could have committed murder.”
“It is beyond his comprehension about his father?”
“No, David made a token protest, but I’d say he’s all too aware of what his father’s capable of. As am I. And as a father myself, I can well understand Carfax feeling the impulse to murder. It’s damnably difficult for a woman to get out of a bad marriage. Money and family help, but even with a legal separation, she’d be likely to lose custody of her children. I find the thought intolerable in general. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were Jessica and our grandchildren in the equation.”
“Your conscience would stop you. Carfax isn’t given to moral quibbles.”
“No. The chief factor in Carfax’s defense is that he asked me to investigate. It was actually  David who pointed out Carfax might have known I’d investigate anyway, and he wanted me in the open as well as to keep a check on Roth. And that he then brought David in to keep a check on me. David knows his father well.”
He could feel Suzanne considering this as they covered the damp cobblestones between the yellow glow of two street lamps. “It’s possible.”
“I was holding my breath lest Carfax say that Trenchard was a French spy.” He looked sideways at her familiar profile. “He wasn’t, was he?”
“Not that I know of.” She looked up at him, her eyes as hard and fragile as crystal. “I would tell you, Charles. Do you believe me?”
He gave the question honest consideration. “I think so.”
“Impressive.” Suzanne was silent as they turned into xyz Street. “Darling— We haven’t talked about this part of it, but these are your friends.”
“It’s hardly the first time we’ve been involved in an investigation involving friends.”
‘But these are the people you grew up with. In a way they’re family.”
Family. Always a tangled word for him. “Difficult to think of Carfax that way. What concerns me, is that I don’t want him anywhere near you.”
Suzanne’s fingers tightened round his arm. “I don’t think that’s an option, dearest. Unless we go to a remote desert island.”
“Don’t imagine I haven’t  thought of it.”
“I’ve told you before it isn’t wise to try to protect me, Malcolm. The recent revelations don’t change that.”
Malcolm looked down into her bright eyes. There had always been a hardness beneath the glow. He was just more aware of it now. “I’m not just protecting my wife. I’m protecting the mother of my children.”
“Darling—“
“You’ve always run risks with your safety, Suzette. I understand now just how far you’ve gone. But it’s different now. Colin and Jessica make it different. There’s no room for extravagant gestures. Whether they come from indulging a craving for adventure or trying to expiate guilt.”
Her chin jerked up. “I’ll own to a taste for adventure, but I’m not in the least given over to guilt. In fact one could say I’ve been all too able to commit all sorts of betrayals without showing any proper guilt at all.”
“My dear girl. Don’t show off. I may have been criminally blind to a number of things where you were concerned, but in other ways I can read you rather well. I know you. I know what you’ve been doing to yourself. And it’s folly—it won’t improve matters for any of the four of us.”
She glanced away. “Damn you, Malcolm—“
“Because I think we agreed. Before anything else, we’re parents.”
“I never forget that.” Her voice was low and rough.
“I know. But sometimes you’re so busy looking after everyone else, your forget to look after yourself.”
“All right. I won’t give in to any extravagant guilt-driven impulse—not that I admitting to having them in the first place—if you won’t give in to any extravagant protective impulses.”
“Fair enough. If—”
From the sudden tension that ran through her, he felt her sense what he had in the same instant. Nothing as defined as footfalls or movement in the shadows or a rustle of clothing, but someone was following them.
“Diversion,” she murmured.
The uncomfortable moment was gone. They were a team again. Of one accord, they moved into the doorway of a shuttered shop.

Arrived in Ashland, tickets collected, a stop at the Member Lounge

Arrived in Ashland, tickets collected, a stop at the Member Lounge

Mélanie and I spent last week in Ashland, Oregon, visiting friends, eating some great meals, and (for Mummy) seeing some great theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival while Mel played with some wonderful babysitters. The theatre highlight of the trip was Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, a sequel to All the Way, the play about Lyndon Johnson’s first year as president and the passing of the Civil Rights Act which OSF commissioned and premiered two years ago and which recently took Broadway by storm and won the Tony for best new play. Great Society picks up the story after LBJ’s re-election and chronicles his nights to pass Medicare and other social program legislation, the increasing quagmire of the Vietnam War, and his ultimate decision not to run for a second term. Like All the Way, it is written in the style of a Shakespeare history play, with the protagonist addressing the audience at times, a large cast of characters (including Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover) from different groups, large scale scenes set on the public stage contrasting with domestic moments of key characters with their families. As an historical novelist, I’m in awe of the way these two plays bring history to life.

8.25.14TracyMel

A visit to our friends’ house on the Applegate River – a glorious day with lunch outside and time for Mel to chase butterflies and pick a peach

 

It was a brilliant production and particularly exciting to follow it up with an also brilliant Richard III.  Schenkkan’s LBJ is far more sympathetic than Shakespeare’s Richard III, a flawed ambitious man who is also trying to do genuine good, but there are some wonderful parallel moments in the two plays – LBJ and Richard’s opening monologues to the audience, scenes in which both of them try tactics that have worked in the past to manipulate, respectively, Robert Kennedy and Elizabeth Woodville, this time unsuccessfully, and closing speeches by the “new king” – Richard Nixon and Henry VII. Both casts were fabulous with amazing performances by Jack Willis as LBJ and Dan Donohue as Richard III. In the curtain call, both looked like completely different men, a sign of how much they had transformed themselves in the performance.

Dinner outdoors at Peerless before Richard III

Dinner outdoors at Peerless before Richard III

Another standout of the trip was a magical production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods which did full justice to the complex music while also bringing out the dramatic nuances of the story. A mix of fairytales (among them Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel) at it’s heart it’s a story about parents and children poignant, starkly sad at times, ultimately hopeful. I cried through the last fifteen minutes.

Sharing time at the hotel with our cats, all excellent travelers

Sharing time at the hotel with our cats, all excellent travelers

All the plays were wonderfully inspiring for me as a writer. Political intrigue and family drama go to the heart of what my books are about. I came home excited to get back to writing. I can’t wait until Mélanie is old enough to take to some of the plays. Meanwhile, it’s fun telling her about the plays. And on the drive home, we listened to the CD of Into the Woods, to which she announced “I like the music.”

Savoring time on the deck at the Member Lounge before we headed home

Savoring time on the deck at the Member Lounge before we headed home

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