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

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Last night was the Merola Grand Finale, a concert at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco that marks the end of this summer’s Merola training program. A bittersweet night, as it is exciting to see the Merola participants showcase their bountiful talents and the wonderful way they’ve stretched their artistic wings over the summer and sad to be saying goodbye to them. It is also the day of the year I spend the longest time away from Mélanie (eight plus hours). I am inestimably grateful to my wonderful friend Bonnie who watched her. And the evening made me think back to a post I put up recently on History Hoydens and thought I would repeat here. I tend to think of my posts as about my books, about my life as a writer, or about my life as a mom. Often they touch on two of the three, but this one definitely touches on all three.

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices “designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner.” But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet’s nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we’ve done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a “dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower’s proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can’t believe they didn’t feel some of the same concerns I’ve experienced myself. I’ve been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet—

“I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer,” Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?

A few weeks ago, thanks to my work at the Merola Opera Program, I had six days in a row of events. This meant a lot of childcare juggling and the fun and challenge of putting together six outfits for events involved a lot of the same people. In days after, catching up on sleep, email, and housework, i thought about characters like Suzanne and Cordelia, whose adventures occur amid a social whirl, whether in London, Vienna, or Paris. I don’t think I’d properly considered how exhausting those events are, quite without the added intrigue and adventures their encounter. Going out every night, choosing gowns and jewelry, and constantly needing to be “on”. Do you ever think about that when reading about characters existing in the whirl of the London (or other city) season?

Here, in pictures, is a look at my week. I managed not to repeat the same dress!

With Mélanie at my talk at Book Passage about the Merola season

With Mélanie at my talk at Book Passage about the Merola season

snuggles after Mummy talked

snuggles after Mummy talked

With Merola participant Casey Candebat at a Merola Signature Event

With Merola participant Casey Candebat at a Merola Signature Event

With Merola alum Quinn Kelsey and my friend Amii at another event

With Merola alum Quinn Kelsey and my friend Amii at another event

Opening night of Merola's production of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Opening night of Merola’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”

With Merola alumna Maria Valdes at another event

With Merola alumna Maria Valdes at another event

Mélanie needing some mummy time before the Saturday "Streetcar" matinee

Mélanie needing some mummy time before the Saturday “Streetcar” matinee

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. I’m looking forward to the Merola Opera Program’s performances of Don Giovanni this week which have inspired a couple of recent posts. I’m also blogging on History Hoydens about nannies and the challenges of childcare and trust involved, today and historically. Do check it out, especially if you like me “writing mom” posts.

I’ve also been mulling over an email  I got from a reader. She was excited to have found Malcolm & Suzanne after having started with Charles & Mélanie and said some lovely things about The Berkeley Square Affair. She also said “Is it my imagination or does the story as told for Malcolm and Suzanne seem less dark than when it was Charles and Melanie’s? Malcolm seems more hopeful and less pessimistic than Charles, while Suzanne seems more pessimistic and less pragmatic than Melanie.”

This intrigued me. To me they are the same people, but I think inevitably characters develop and change a bit over the course of a series (so they’d probably have morphed a bit even if they were still called Charles and Mel). I definitely think Malcolm is more aware of being a spy and the compromises he himself has made than Charles was – that was actually starting to be the case for the Beneath a Silent Moon and The Mask of Night Charles. Charles is Daughter/Secrets didn’t even like to use the word spy. So Malcolm was going to have a more pragmatic reaction to Suzanne’s revelations and be more aware of his own deceptions and compromises. But I don’t know that I’d call him more hopeful. I don’t think of Suzanne as more pessimistic but perhaps since you’re seeing her in the midst of her deceptions she dwells on them and her guilt more? In any case, I’m always intrigued by how my characters appear to others, and I’d love to hear what readers of this blog think.

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