Beneath a Silent Moon

My current WIP, the book after The Paris Affair, is set in London in October 1817. This is the point where the Malcolm & Suzanne chronology takes a parallel track to the Charles & Mélanie chronology, with Malcolm and Suzanne experiencing a lot of the same revelations and events as Charles and Mel, though under different circumstances. By the end of this book, Malcolm and Suzette won’t quite be where Charles and Mel are after The Mask of Night (they’ll be rather more raw), but I should be able to write the book I planned to write after The Mask of Night.

The book I’m writing now is a book I’ve been both excited and nervous to write. It’s challenging to revisit key moments in Malcolm/Charles and Suzette/Mel’s relationship and try to make them fresh. But I’m also finding it fun and fascinating to explore those revelations from different angles. The book is set in 1817 and parallels some events from both Beneath a Silent Moon and Secrets of a Lady. The plot that surrounds those revelations is very different – Colin isn’t kidnapped, Kenneth has already died, Malcolm and Suzanne are investigating a very different mystery from either of the other books (centered around Simon’s theatre and a mysterious manuscript that may be by Shakespeare), and Malcolm learns about Suzanne’s past in a very different way. Today I decided that the revelations would unfold in a different order, with Malcolm learning about his parentage before his learns Suzanne’s secret, which shifts the emotional response and reaction for both him and Suzette.

But part of the change is the characters themselves. I know them better now. I’ve explored more of their history. Malcolm is more aware of his own role as a spy, the compromises he’s made and the moral dilemmas he’s faced. I’m still working out what this will mean for his reaction, but it means it will be more complex than Charles’s torrent of anger and hurt. I know the texture of Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship and just how strong a partnership they had, which, I think, will also shift Suzanne’s reaction as well and how they work through their problems.

I jumped ahead and wrote the first draft of their big confrontation yesterday (with Scrivener, I find I write more out of chronological order). I have a lot more thinking and exploring to do, but I hope the result will be satisfying and illuminating both to readers who’ve taken this journey with Charles and Mélanie and readers who are experiencing it for the first time with Malcolm and Suzanne.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline to Gisèle again, this one written after Waterloo.

There’s a fascinating discussion going on at All About Romance just now about prostitute and courtesan heroines. It sent me back to a post I wrote here a couple of years ago and then reworked for History Hoydens. I thought this would be a good time to repost the reworked History Hoydens version. It’s especially timely as it hits on some issues I’ve been dealing with in Imperial Scandal (I’m finishing up the revisions over the weekend) where Suzanne/Mélanie’s past comes into play more.

[Spoiler warning: if you’ve only read Vienna Waltz and/or Beneath a Silent Moon, this post contains some spoilers].

There’s been a lot of discussion on e-lists I’m on and blogs and message boards lately about Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase. I love Loretta Chase’s writing. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it (update note: I’ve since read it and loved it; great characters, both with complicated, compromised pasts, and a compelling love story). Going back to a couple of recent posts on my own website posts about Deal-Breakers (things that keep one from even trying a book or make one put it down unfinished) and Deal-Makers (things that make one seek a book out), it combines two of my deal-makers–spies and and an experienced heroine. Francesca, the heroine of Your Scandalous Ways, is a divorced woman who’s become a courtesan (the book is set in Venice in the 1820s).

And that’s been the source of much of the discussion about the book. Some readers find the idea of a courtesan as a heroine wonderfully refreshing. Others are disturbed by the idea of a heroine who had sex for money. Some have suggested the a courtesan heroine glamorizes prostitution. Others have pointed out that there’s a world of difference between a prostitute walking the streets or working in a brothel and a courtesan. Both may have sex for their livelihood, but a courtesan had far more control over her life and her person. She might have sex for money, but she could choose who she slept with. In fact it could be argued that she had more control over who she went to bed with than a married woman did in the early nineteenth century. In Beneath a Silent Moon, Mélanie/Suzanne says to Charles/Malcolm:

“Legally you can take whatever you want from me.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“That’s marriage.”

“Not our marriage.”

No, it isn’t their marriage, but that’s thanks to the man Charles is. Legally Mélanie had more control over whom she slept with when she was a spy using her favors for information than she does as a married woman.

The courtesan heroine is almost an operatic staple, from Traviata to La Bohème (Mimi and Musetta both have wealthy protectors at various points in the story) to La Rondine.

Violetta celebrates the freedom of her life as a courtesan in “Sempre Libere”. Magda’s “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” in La Rondine plays on another paradox of the courtesan heroine. A courtesan is a sophisticated woman of the world who has had a number of lovers, yet though she has had the freedom to choose her lovers, there’s an economic element to all of them. She may never have actually been in love. In a sense, she’s the literary female counterpart to the rakish hero whose heart has remained untouched. Of course, rakish heroes get happy endings far more often than courtesan heroines. I was going to say that none of the love affairs end happily in La Traviata, La Rondine, and La Bohème, but in fact, Musetta and Marcello are back together at the end of La Bohème. One can argue, given their history, over how long it will last, but the romantic in me likes to think they’ve learned something and it will.

Back to my own books, Mélanie/Suzanne was never a courtesan precisely. She was a prostitute, an experience she revisits in Imperial Scandal in light of another character who’s both a prostitute and a spy, and also when she and Charles/Malcolm go to a brothel seeking information in Secrets of a Lady. It’s clear, I think, that her time in the brothel was fairly horrific. As she thinks in Secrets, In the past ten years she had known anger and fear and self-hatred. But since Raoul O’Roarke had taken her out of the door of the brothel in Léon, she had rarely felt powerless. It was one of the reasons she would be forever grateful to him. Later, though she didn’t sleep with men for money, she did so for information. I think it’s fair to say her feelings about this part of her life and about sex in general are more complicated. As she says to Charles in The Mask of Night:

“It can’t always be sublime communion, Charles. Not for me. It’s been too many other things. A tool. A weapon. A defense. An escape.” She pulled her dressing gown tight about her. “I told you once that my acting abilities deserted me in the bedchamber. That was true when I was in the brothel. I was too young to put on more than a crude show. But later– Sometimes it was sordid. Sometimes it was mechanical. But sometimes—slipping into a fictional skin, making love to someone for the night, knowing it’s just that night. There’s no freedom quite like it.”

Mélanie/Suzanne, however, is not an experienced woman who’s romantically untouched until she meets Charles/Malcolm. She was in love with Raoul up to when she met Charles and overlapping with her falling in love (against her better judgment) with her husband (those feelings are still present, if transmuted, in Imperial Scandal). That was a plot element I had in place very early in my planning of the book, before I had all the elements of the Charles/Melanie/Raoul triangle worked out. I hadn’t thought of it until I wrote this post, but I wonder now if I was subconsciously reacted against the archetype of the experienced heroine whose heart remains untouched until she meets the hero.

What do you think of courtesan heroines? Deal-maker, deal-breaker or neither? Any interesting examples to recommend? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve had sexual experiences but not for financial reasons? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve been prostitutes or who’ve been spies and slept with men for information? Does it make a difference to you if the heroine has or hasn’t been in love before she meets the hero?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is from Isobel Lydgate to her brother David about the rumors in England about Charles/Malcolm and Princess Tatiana.

Congratulations to Susan, who won the copy of Veronica Wolff’s Devil’s Own and to Sharon who won the ARC of Vienna Waltz. Susan and Sharon, watch for emails from me so I can get your mailing addresses.

As you may know from my posts on Facebook or Twitter, I just got back from a fabulous few day in New York. More on that next week or the week after. Meanwhile, since I’m still catching up, I thought I would revisit a post I did on History Hoydens a few weeks ago on love scenes. As I will through the month, I’ll give a copy of Vienna Waltz away to one of this week’s posters.

As I’ve blogged about before my attitude toward writing love scenes has evolved in the twenty some years I’ve been writing. In fact, I was talking about this last week in New York over a fabulous dinner with Lauren Willig and Cara Elliott. When I first began co-writing Regency romances with my mom, under the name Anthea Malcolm, my friends teased me that our books started very chaste and slowly got more explicit. In our first book, The Widow’s Gambit, the characters barely embraced. In the second, The Courting of Philippa, there were more detailed kisses. In the third, Frivolous Pretence, which focused on an estranged married couple, there was an actual sex scene, though it faded to black. Our fifth book, A Touch of Scandal, had ex-lovers who resumed an illicit affair. Sex scenes were part of the story. I told my mom she had to write them. Our sixth book, An Improper Proposal, was a marriage of convenience story. My mom said, “You have to write one of the sex scenes this time.” I wrote my first draft of the scene on a day when my mom was out shopping. And (this is true, thought it sounds so funny now), I turned down the screen on my computer, so I couldn’t look at the words as I typed them. When my mom got home that night, I said, “Okay, I wrote the scene. Go look at it and tell me what you think. But I don’t want to be there when you read it.”

Oddly enough, after that first scene I stopped being embarrassed about writing sex scenes. I got to find them quite a fun challenge, especially trying to make each one true to those particular characters and that stage in their relationship. But when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, it was quite obvious to me that after the opening interrupted sex scene, Charles and Mélanie were too focused on finding the Carevalo Ring and getting their son back to be stop to have sex. On top of the fact that their relationship is so strained that Charles finds it difficult even to look Mel in the face let alone make love to her. In fact one of the reasons I had Mélanie be attacked fairly early in the story is to break through some of the distance between them so that Charles at least touches her. Their physical contact slowly increases through their desperate adventures in search of the ring and Colin, though they don’t actually even kiss on the lips again.

In Beneath a Silent Moon, (which thematically is in many ways all about sex), Charles and Mélanie do make love fairly early in the story. When I wrote the scene, I automatically faded to black without thinking about it. I did the same with a later love scene in the book. When I posted one of those scenes as an excerpt, I called it an “almost love scene”. Some commenters responded that it actually was a love scene. Which I guess depends upon one’s definition of a love scene and how explicit it needs to be.

Vienna Waltz is also a book very much about sex with all the romantic intrigue going on at the Congress of Vienna. There are several pairs of real life ex-lovers in the book such as Tsarina Elisabeth and Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski and Prince Metternich and Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan. On a revision, I realized I needed to make their love affairs more vivid, so I added moments where the characters remember moments and images from their love affairs. I wanted to use tangible, sensual imagery to bring those past love affairs to life. But the actual love scenes in Vienna Waltz between Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne still fade to black.

Then in my current WIP, a sequel to Vienna Waltz set around the battle of Waterloo, I got to a love scene where without even thinking about it I didn’t fade to black. It still isn’t a very detailed scene, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was important to show how the scene progressed. I surprised myself, because I thought I was done writing love scenes with any detail. When I paused to think about it, I realized that in that scene the dynamic between the two characters was changing and shifting so much through out the scene and the very fact that they made love was so momentous that it was important to see how the scene played out.

How do you feel about sex scenes in the books you read? What makes them work or not? How detailed do you like them to be? Do you think some scenes require more detail than others because of plot and character dynamics? Writers, how do you approach writing sex scenes? Do you enjoy writing them or find them a chore? How much detail do you go into? Does the amount of detail very with the situation of the characters and plot? Has your approach to them changed through the years or with the type of books you write?

Also, be sure to check out another Fraser Correspondence letter from Lady Elizabeth, this time to the young Charles at Harrow.

Veronica, Tracy, and Adam

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post. I’m happy to report that the winner of the Vienna Waltz ARC giveaway is Christine. Christine, watch for an email from me so I can get your contact info and send the ARC on its way.

This week, I have a special guest giveaway from my friend, the wonderful writer Veronica Wolff. Veronica and I often share fun and productive brainstorming sessions and writing dates (a good portion of Vienna Waltz was written during those writing dates). Here’s a bit about the book. That’s Veronica and me and her wonderful husband Adam at my holiday party in the photo above.

Thanks for Veronica’s generosity, I’m giving away copy of her new Scottish historical romance Devil’s Own.

Fifteen years after he was kidnapped and sold into slavery, Aidan returns to Scotland to find the home he knew long gone. His mother, a proper education, a chance at love—gone. All he has now are dreams of vengeance…

Only one woman could restore his tormented heart.

Aidan MacAlpin appreciates the hospitality of his brothers and sisters, but after surviving hell on earth, they feel more like strangers than kin. They could never understand his one ambition: To exact bloody revenge on the bastard who enslaved him all those years ago…

Elspeth Farquharson had already resigned herself to the life of a spinster when she’s hired to tutor dark, brooding Aidan—a real-life hero more enticing than any from her adventure books. If only she could convince this tragic rogue that she’s not the nervous, stuttering bookworm she appears to be. But when Aidan shows her a clue to his tortured past, she’ll be thrust into a dangerous game of passion and deception that will awaken the sexy heroine within—if it doesn’t kill her first…

Thinking about how vividly Veronica brings the Highland Scotland to life prompted me to think about the allure of Scotland as a setting. I’ve always been fascinated by Scotland. Though I have a very polyglot ancestry, my name is Grant, and I do have Scottish ancestors. I fell in love with Scotland when I first visited with my parents at not-quite seven. Later I had the fun of spending two weeks there researching Beneath a Silent Moon. Even in my books that aren’t actually set in Scotland, Charles’s love of Scotland his home Dunmykel is a recurring thread. I love Scottish-set books, from Dorothy Dunnett to Veronica’s and my friend Monica McCarty.

So for this week’s contest, what are your favorite books set in Scotland and why? One commenter will receive a copy of Devil’s Own, another will receive a Vienna Waltz ARC.

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Raoul (exiled from Scotland as well as England and Ireland) to a young Charles at Harrow. I got a surprising lump in m throat writing it. It brought home what it would be like to have a child one couldn’t claim as one’s own and then to be separated from that child.

Which brings me to my last bit of news. Charles and Raoul’s relationship is an important thread in The Mask of Night. I’m happy to announce that my agent and I are going to release The Mask of Night as a Kindle e-book in late March (hopefully eventually we’ll have it available on other e-book platforms as well). Watch my site for more details, including the cover, which is currently in process. I’m excited reader will finally be able to read Mask, at the same time as Vienna Waltz.

I’m in the midst of my second read through of the Vienna Waltz galleys. Reading the final chapters yesterday in which the villains are unmasked, I was reminded of a conundrum I face writing historical suspense. What to do with the villains after try are caught. In many of my stories the villains prove to be closely connected to the central characters, which means ending with an arrest and the prospect of a trial leaves a great many dangling ends that I don’t necessary want to be the focus of my next book. In Secrets of a Lady, Edgar and Jack both die in the dénouement, leaving Meg to go to prison (I’d still like to deal with Meg more in a subsequent book). In Beneath a Silent Moon, Evie also dies, killed by Tommy won escapes (definitely to be dealt with a in a future book). I’m not quite sure what the other characters would have done with Evie if she hadn’t died in the dénouement. It’s rather interesting to contemplate.

But the murderer can’t always conveniently die just as he or she is unmasked. In an as yet unpublished book, I have the murderer get away with the crime. In Vienna Waltz, because the events of the book are very much intertwined with real historical events and people, it was particular difficult to find a solution that worked with the historical record. Reading over the galleys, I’m pretty happy with the solution I found. You’ll have to let me ow what you think hone you read the book.

How do you feel about how plot lines are resolved for villains? What are some of your favorite resolutions? What do you think would have happened to Evie and Edgar if they hadn’t died at the end of their respective books? Writers, do you struggle over what to do with your villains?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is David’s reply to Charles’s letter from last week about the moral ambiguities of his work a a diplomatic attaché.

As you’ll know if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I just got back from an idyllic weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I soaked up crisp air and brilliant autumn leaves, caught up with friends, ate some great meals, did some productive writing and plotting. And–the point of my trip–I had the chance to revisit two of my favorite productions from the 2010 OSF season. An enchanting, delightful She Loves Me, directed by Rebecca Taichman, and a riveting, electric Hamlet directed by Bill Rauch, with Dan Donohue in the title role. Two truly phenomenal productions with amazing casts that left me with the feeling of exhilaration and wonder I get from really spectacular theater.

The night I arrived in Ashland, I picked up my tickets, then ducked out of the rain into the Member Lounge where I had a chance to read the fascinating Hamlet production notes by Judith Rosen. I’ve always seen Hamlet has a Renaissance man caught up in the warrior’s world of the older generation (the conflict between the older generation of warlords and the Renaissance courtier is one I wrote about in my honors thesis). I always thought the moment when Hamlet says “O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” is a key turning point in the play. But I never quite made the leap Ms. Rosen made in her notes to Hamlet’s adoption of a more warrior-like approach (his father’s approach) in the latter part of the play being a negative transformation. Yet once I read it, it made so much sense.

The philosopher prince becomes the man who coolly arranges the deaths of his former friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and shows no qualms (to the evident discomfort of Horatio, who in many ways is Hamlet’s conscience). Watching the play with this in mind, so much fell into place for me, including the bitter irony of Fortinbras’s lines about “Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the platform” and the fact that the play ends with the line “Go, bid the soldiers shoot.”

Hamlet has always fascinated me. Every time I see the play I discover new things in it. Lauren Willig and I saw a great production in New York last fall, directed by Michael Grandage with Jude Law in the title role. I see echoes of Hamlet in all sorts of books and other stories, from the Lymond Chronicles to The X-Files. The last time OSF did the play (another wonderful production directed by Libby Appel with Marco Barricelli as Hamlet), I was plotting Beneath a Silent Moon. I tend to pick one or two Shakespeare plays which influence each of my books, and Beneath was definitely a Hamlet play. In fact, my working title for the book was Time Out of Joint (I even have an early draft of the UK cover with that title). Charles’s struggle with his father (and ultimately the legacy of his father’s death), his questions about his parents’ generation, his suicide attempt as a young man, were all inspired by Hamlet to one degree or another. Thinking about the Hamlet production I just saw at OSF, I’m particularly struck by the fact that Charles is a man with a very different world view from his father.

Do you have a favorite production of Hamlet, whether on stage or film? What books can you think of that Hamlet seems to have influenced? Writers, do Shakespeare plays (or other plays) influence you when you write?

Speaking of fathers and sons, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from David to Charles, about his conflict with his father in the days before Waterloo.

I had a fascinating exchange this week on Facebook with a new reader who read Beneath a Silent Moon and now is reading Secrets of a Lady. I’m always intrigued by hearing from readers who read the books in the order in which they’re set chronologically rather than the order in which they were written. I’m often asked which order to read the books in, and I answer that I deliberately wrote them so they could be read in either order, but I think there are differences in how the story unfolds depending on the order in which one reads them.

I’ve always written connected books, and I’ve always tended to move back and forth chronologically, in the Anthea Malcolm books I wrote with my mom, in my historical romances, and in the Charles & Mélanie books. Now with Vienna Waltz I’ve gone back still further in Charles and Mel’s history. Answering reader questions about Secrets and Beneath this weekend, I realized that I’ve also tended to read series out of order. My first Dorothy Sayers book was Have His Carcase, well into the series and the second of the Peter & Harriet books. I then read Busman’s Honeymoon (the fourth Peter & Harriet book, because it was the next I could find, my wonderful father drove me to a bookstore on Sunday, and it was the only one they had), then Strong Poison (the first Peter & Harriet book), and finally Gaudy Night (the third book). I didn’t mind reading the series out of order. In fact, I rather enjoyed getting to know Peter and Harriet, seeing them married, going back in time to when they met, then reading the book where they get engaged. I found Lauren Willig’s series with The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Deanna Raybourn’s with Silent on the Moor, Laurie King’s Mary Russell books with The Moor. I think I actually enjoy starting a series at a point where the characters and their relationships have progressed and then going back to see how it all started.

My friend Penny Williamson started Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles with The Ringed Castle, the fifth book in the series. She says she was very confused but also fascinated. She went on to read the other four books that had been published at that point completely out of order, before reading Checkmate, the final book in the series, when it was published.

How do you feel about the order in which you read a series? Do you tend to start with the first book or in the middle? Do you think you view the story and characters differently depending on the order in which you read the books? Writers, do you like moving back and forth in time or do you prefer to write in chronological order?

Speaking of chronological order, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition continues in the build up to Waterloo with a letter from Isobel to Mélanie.

My fellow History Hoyden Pam Rosenthal had a wonderful post last week inspired by the lyrics of the brilliant Frank Loesser. It was the 100th anniversary of Loesser’s birth on 29 June, and Terry Gross had a wonderful interview with Michael Feinstein on Fresh Air about the composer.

The interview and Pam’s post got me thinking about the wonderful texture and imagery in the lyrics to musicals and how so many of those songs inspire me as a writer. I love the way musical lyrics can distill emotion (reinforced when the words are put with the music). As I’ve blogged about, I get a lot of inspiration from classical music, but I also have moments in my books that are inspired by musical theater. When I saw the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, I realized how “No Place Like London” echoes the mood and tone of the opening of Beneath a Silent Moon:

There’s a whole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren’t worth what a pin can spit
and it goes by the name of London.
At the top of the hole sit the privileged few
Making mock of the vermin in the lonely zoo
turning beauty to filth and greed…
I too have sailed the world and seen its wonders,
for the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru
but there’s no place like London!

That imagery must have lingered in my subconscious from seeing the musical years before. On the other hand, the last between Charles and Mélanie in Beneath was consciously inspired by Sondheim’s Sondheim’s “Being Alive” (from Company). Sung by a contemporary character at contemporary birthday party, but

Somebody crowd me with love.
Somebody force me to care.
Somebody let me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive,
Being alive

pretty much sums up Charles in that scene.

So many songs from musicals capture the emotional essence of a moment, particularly romantic moments, which can be so hard to write in ways that are fresh and emotionally truthful. Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” from Guys and Dolls (which Feinstein sung at the close of the Terry Gross interview) which somehow manages to be searingly romantic and worldly wise at the same time:

I thought my heart as safe
I thought I knew the score
But this is wine
That’s all too strange and strong
I’m full of foolish song
And out my song must pour

Love lost but enduring despite the bitter after taste in “So in Love” from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate:

In love with the night mysterious
The night when you first were there.
In love with my joy delirious
When I knew that you could care.
So taunt me and hurt me,
Deceive me, desert me,
I’m yours ’til I die,
So in love,
So in love,
So in love with you, my love, am I.

The ability of love to change one’s perceptions and experience of life in “Til There was You” from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man:

There were bells on the hill
But I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all
Till there was you…

…There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
Till there was you!

The rueful, bittersweet acknowledgment of a love affair coming to an end in Noel Coward’s “Let’s Say Goodbye”, a song that always makes me think of Mélanie and Raoul:

Now we’ve embarked on this love affair
Don’t let’s destroy it with tears
Once we begin to let sentiment in
Happiness disappears…

…Let’s look on love as a play thing
All these sweet moments we’ve known
Mustn’t be degraded when the thrill of them has faded
Let’s say goodbye and leave it alone

I could go on and on. Do you like musicals? Are there particular songs that make you think of moments in books? Writers, are there songs that inspired scenes in your books, consciously or unconsciously?

I just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from David to Charles about Napoleon’s escape from Elba and the reaction in London.

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Lady Frances to Mélanie as she sends her daughter Aline off to stay with Mel and Charles in Vienna. Aline plays an important role in Vienna Waltz. She was first mentioned in Secrets of a Lady
. She actually appeared in my first draft of Beneath a Silent Moon but wound up on the cutting room floor in revisions. This seemed a good time to post a video clip where I talk about characters from other books who appear in Vienna Waltz.

Are there any particular characters from my prior books you’d like to see in future books? Who would you particularly like to see what happens to in the future and what questions do you have about them? Whose back story would you like to see explored more in prequels? Any particular incidents that have been eluded to that you’d like to see dramatized?

photo: Julianne Havel
photo credit: Julianne Havel

Author photos can be challenging. Not only does one have to find a photo of oneself that one likes, it has to somehow convey one’s “writer personality.” There are myriad decisions. Settling on photographer, here to take the picture (indoor, outdoor, setting that reflects one’s books?), what to wear, how to do one’s hair, jewelry, makeup, pose, etc… And then, after one does all the work to get the perfect picture, the photo needs to be updated every few years. When my mom and I were first published, we used a picture of us taken for an interview by the Stanford Dailey as our author photo. Later we had professional photos taken. A particular challenge to settle on a picture in which we both liked the way we looked, but we found one. We got solo shots of each of us at the same time, and I used one of those when I first wrote on my own. When Daughter of the Game (later Secrets of a Lady) was first published I had new author photos taken.

Several years later, a friend saw a framed snap shot of me with my dog Gemma and my cat Lescaut at my house (those who’ve been to my house know I have photos all over the place, framed on the coffee table, pinned to the cork board, decorating the kitchen door). She asked if it was my author photo. Which made me realize that the picture (taken by my friend Elaine Hamlin) would make a great author photo. It’s the photo on my website and in Secrets of a Lady and the trade re-issue of Beneath a Silent Moon.. But it’s now five years old, so with Vienna Waltz coming out, I realized it was time for a new photo. I don’t know that it would have occurred to me to put my pets in the picture in the general run of things, but since Gemma and Lescaut are in my current photo, I wanted them and my new cat Mélanie in the new photo.

Fortunately, my cousin, Julianne Havel, is a photographer and wonderfully agreed to do the photos. Gemma, Lescaut, and Mélanie are used to her house and are quite good sports about putting up with family pictures. But this was going to take a lot longer than a couple of snap shots. Julianne did some practice shots of me without the animals. Then we did a series of pictures, reviewed them (the wonders of digital photography), corrected for the light and the pose, took some more, reviewed those, took a third set. Gemma, Lescaut, and Mélanie were incredibly patient about being told to sit and held while a light flashed in front of them.

The third time was the charm. The problem wasn’t finding a picture I liked, it was choosing between six or so pictures I loved. Finally, after consulting with friends and family (I’ve been emailing pictures and carrying printouts around in my purse), I settled on the picture above.

What do you like to see in author photos? Do they give clues about the author’s personality? What are some author photos you particularly like and why? If you’ve had author photos (or other professional or personal portraits) taken, how did you decide what sort of look you wanted? Was it fun or stressful or a bit of both?

Be sure to check out the Fraser Correspondence. I just posted a new letter from Mélanie to Raoul.

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