Jane Austen


11.17.12TracyMelHappy mid-winter holiday season! I’m starting to relax into the holiday season despite the seemingly ever-increasing To Do list – this year complicated by a certain one-year-old birthday party and having a new release out.

As I’ve been taking time to promote His Spanish Bride, it occurs to me that the story of Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding combines two literary traditions – wedding stories and holiday stories. I have a fondness for both types of story, from wedding stories like The Philadelphia Story and Busman’s Honeymoon to holiday tales like Lauren Willig’s delightful The Mischief of the Mistletoe and Deanna Raybourn’s new novella Silent Night. I think what i like about both types of story is that they bring together friends and family with plentiful opportunity for conflicts, reunions, and revelry. Parents and children, sibling rivalry, ex-lovers home for the holidays or attending the same wedding–or perhaps one disrupting the wedding of another. Jane Austen recognized the benefit of such gatherings for bringing characters together. Emma opens with a wedding and includes a holiday party.

Both weddings and holidays involve certain traditions which give a frame to the story yet to which individual characters give their own unique spin. It’s fun seeing fictional characters, even historical ones, go through some of the same traditions we go through ourselves, and also fun to see the differences. Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding takes place at the British embassy and is wrapped up in the investigation of a missing letter that could drive a wedge between Britain and her Spanish allies in the war against the French.They slip away from their betrothal party for a bit of skullduggery, and Suzanne arrives at the solution to the mystery on their wedding night. Both their motives for entering into the marriage are complicated, and perhaps they are even deceiving themselves about the true reasons. The story ends at an embassy Christmas party at which, again typically for them, Malcolm and Suzanne are wrapping up the investigation.

What are some of your favorite holiday and wedding stories?

Speaking of the holidays, with this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve jumped to December 1815 with letter from Mel/Suzette to Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope everyone celebrating United States Thanksgiving is having a wonderful holiday and everyone else is having a great weekend. After a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with my family (and four dogs and four cats), I’ve been writing, reading (finished Lauren Willig’s The Mischief of the Mistletoe, a fabulous holiday treat), and doing some holiday decorating. Thinking about what one is thankful for, this seemed a good weekend to post about things I’m thankful for, from a literary perspective:

A mom who introduced me Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, and a host of other writers, as well as the magic of creating worlds and characters.

A dad who listened to my stories and encouraged my creativity

My editor, my agent, and all the people who get my book through production (particularly as I just received the gorgeous ARCs for Vienna Waltz).

All the people who read my books and especially the ones who write, email, and comment online. That interaction and feedback is so important for keeping a writer going in a solitary profession.

Greg and jim, without whom my website and my ability to have much of that interaction would not be possible.

Booksellers who take the time to hand sell books (yes, Cate, I am talking about you).

My writer friends who brainstorm, commiserate, and celebrate, both in person and online.

The History Hoydens, a fabulous group of historical novelists to hang out with online.

Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Tom Stoppard, Dorothy Dunnett, Len Deighton, the Baroness Orczy and a host of other writers that have and do inspire my own writing and are just plain brilliant to read.

Stephen Sondheim (also a brilliant musician, but in this case I’m thinking of his brilliance with words; who saw his birthday celebration on PBS Wednesday?).

What are you thankful for from a literary perspective? Have you had time to read this weekend?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Mélanie writing to Raoul about David’s suggestion that Charles leave the diplomatic corps and stand for Parliament.

This weekend I rewatched the movie that began my fascination with the Regency era – the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier as Elizabeth and Darcy and a wonderful screenplay by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, directed by Robert Z. Leonard. I’m aware of the irony that the movie that set me on the path to writing Regency-set books is set in the 1830s, but the movie sent me to the novel and then to other Austen novels and to Georgette Heyer and Bernard Cornwell and Regency and Napoleonic history books and ultimately to creating my own stories.

I love a number of adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but in many ways this one remains my favorite. I’ve sometimes wondered if it seems to true to the mood and tone of the book to me because I saw it (at the age of six) before I read the book. But I’m currently in the midst of rereading Pride and Prejudice and watching the movie this time I was struck by how well it captures the spare, dry irony of the book, the keen wit, and the understated emotion.

I also think the film does a brilliant job of taking the book and telling it in cinematic terms. There’s the opening sequence in which Mrs. Bennet and her daughters and Lady Lucas and Charlotte learn about Bingley’s and Darcy’s arrival in Meryton, and the two women have their coachmen race each other home, so their husbands can be the first to call on Mr. Bingley. A wonderful way of demonstrating cinematically that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”

There’s the archery contest between Darcy and Elizabeth that captures, also in cinematic terms, the tensions in their relationship and their growing attraction. There’s the lovely, heart-melting scene (which my fellow History Hoyden Leslie Carroll and I have discussed) in which Darcy tells Elizabeth the story of Wickham and Georgiana, a scene that is essentially Darcy’s letter, turned into a dialogue between two people.

Another of my fellow Hoydens, Isobel Carr, brought up the fact that the movie softens Lady Catherine. “In the Olivier/Garson P&P I was always very bothered by the transformation of Lady Catherine into a benevolent do-gooder who’s promoting the match between Lizzie and Darcy. It changes the story too much for me. It removes one of Darcy’s major moments of character growth.” This always bothered my mom (who loved the movie) as well. The changes to Lady Catherine bother me, too. I actually like the scene between Darcy and Lady Catherine after Lady Catherine speaks with Elizabeth (Darcy is so wonderfully exuberant), but I agree the arc of the story is better with Lady Catherine not changing. But it’s not enough to ruin (or even damage) the movie for me.

Then there are the performances, a series of finely etched portraits. Very much including Olivier as Darcy. He’s so wonderfully aristocratic (with so much emotion smoldering beneath). And yet if you watch the way he moves, his arms are always held close to his sides, as though he’s hemmed in by his role. He and Greer Garson have great chemistry. Edmund Gwenn captures Mr. Bennet’s dry wit, Mary Boland has Mrs. Bennet’s giddiness and determination, Melville Cooper is an hysterical Mr. Collins, Maureen O’Sullivan is a sweet but not cloying Jane…

Just writing this makes me want to watch the movie again. What are some of your favorite novel-to-film adaptations? If you like the Regency/Napoleonic era, what book or movie or other source introduced you to it?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is another update on pre-Waterloo Brussels from Mélanie to Raoul.

I spent this afternoon at a fabulous matinee of Werther at San Francisco Opera. The production, directed by Francisco Negrin and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, brought out the layers and ambiguities in the story and made me like the opera more than I had on previous viewings (though I still think the opera lacks the irony in the novel). Watching the opera, I was reminded that the Goethe novel it’s based on (The Sorrows of Young Werther) was wildly popular among young people in the late 18th century. A lot of young readers apparently took its tale of star-crossed love seriously, though the book can be read as commenting on the dangers of wallowing in romanticism. It’s a book most of my characters probably would have read as teens. I haven’t referenced it in my books, but I think I will in the future. It’s interesting to contemplate who would have been caught up in the romance of the story and who would have seen the ironies (Charles, I’m sure, would have seen the ironies; Gisèle might have been caught up in the romance).

I recently saw another opera that I have referenced in my books, The Marriage of Figaro. A sequence in Vienna Waltz takes place at a performance of the opera. And Mélanie’s middle name (and the name of her Vienna Waltz alter ego) is Suzanne after the Beaumarchais play upon which the opera is based (Susanna in the opera). The Beaumarchais trilogy, with its sharp critique of class structure, was a favorite of both Mélanie’s father and of Raoul. Colin’s stuffed bear is named Figaro, presumably because his parents have told him the story. When I originally wrote Daughter of the Game, I struggled to find the piece of music with a precise chord that Charles knows always brings tears to Mélanie’s eyes. After the book was published, the Merola Opera Program performed The Marriage of Figaro, and I realized that of course the piece of music that would have that affect on Mel should be the Countess’s aria “Dove Sono”, in which she asks where the happy moments of her marriage have gone. I was able to make the change in the text when the book was reissued as Secrets of a Lady.

I’ve also, as I’ve mentioned, been rereading Pride and Prejudice on my ipad. I’ve written Fraser Correspondence letters in which Mel, Charles, and Simon talk about Pride and Prejudice (with Mel and Simon comparing both Charles and David to Darcy). It’s fun to reread it thinking about how my characters would react to the story.

Does reading historical fiction drive you to seek out novels or plays written in the same era? What’s it like going from an historical novel to a novel or play actually written in the era? Writers, do you read novels and plays written in the era about which you’re writing?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Mel’s reply to Simon’s letter from last week.

Lauren & Tracy

In last week’s blog about my trip to New York, I mentioned the wonderful Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library. I got chills looking at Austen’s letters, trying to decipher the words, noting that her handwriting was neater in the manuscript pages of Lady Susan than in the letters to her family, seeing first-hand the the crossed lines (turning the letter and writing crosswise to get the maximum use out of expensive paper) one reads about in Austen and other 19th centuries writers.

The exhibit contained research gems such as a board game from 1809 called Journey Round the Metropolis: An Amusing and Instructive Game with pictures of London sights and an 1811 book called Ellen or the Naughty Girl Reclaimed with instructional stories for children illustrated by cut out figures. I think a rather prosy relative will present the book to Jessica in one of my future novels. Jessica will enjoy playing with the cut outs but wrinkle her nose at the text.

The exhibit also included a print of a portrait Austen said was Jane Bennet Bingley. I’ve always loved the letter of Austen’s in which she talks about attending an exhibition and finding a portrait of Mrs. Bingley. She adds that she looked for a portrait of Mrs. Darcy but didn’t find one, which she puts that down to Mr. Darcy not wanting to let go of any portraits of her. What I love about this letter, as I told Lauren Willig, is that it shows Austen imagined her characters having a life outside the pages of her novels.

Which is just what Lauren and I were doing throughout my visit (including at a wonderful brunch at the Atlantic Grill in the picture above). Talking about our characters, their pasts, their interconnections, events we envisioned for them in the future. Questioning each other about spoilers for future books (fortunately neither of us minds knowing spoilers) and how various characters’ paths might cross. Of course we both write series, which lend themselves to this sort of speculation, but I’ve always loved continuing the stories of books I read in my head after I turn the last page. I think it’s one reason that the books I write have always been interconnected.

I love the idea of Austen looking for her characters among the paintings at an exhibition. Much as today we look for our characters while watching a movie or turning the pages of a magazine. Such as when I watched the recent adaptation of Little Dorrit and thought Matthew MacFadyen would make a wonderful Charles. Or thinking how like Mélanie Eva Green was in Casino Royale.

Do you find yourself discovering characters (your own or other writers) in movies or paintings or photographs? Writers, do you think about your characters ongoing lives after the story ends or between books in a series? Readers, do you do the same with books you read?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Lord Carfax (David’s father and Charles’s spymaster) to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh.

Tracy, Leslie, and Lauren

Tracy, Leslie, and Lauren at Bookmarks

As those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know, I recently got back from a few days in New York. Among the highlights of the trip was seeing Lise Lindstrom (whose father, John Lindstrom, is on the Merola Opera Program board with me) make her Metropolitan Opera debut in the title role of Turandot. She gave a fabulous performance, vocally and dramatically (I had tears in my eyes at the end). It was fabulous to be part of the celebration of such an amazing achievement. I also got to spend time with my agent and editor, see a wonderful Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library, go shopping (great new purse and bargain lbd), and meet fellow opera enthusiasts at a Merola outreach event.

Most important, I got to stay with and hang out with my fellow author and wonderful friend Lauren Willig. For those of you who haven’t yet discovered Lauren’s books (and I know a lot of people who visit this site already have), she writes the fabulous Pink Carnation series which combines Napoleonic spies with romance and intrigue and some wonderful nods to the Scarlet Pimpernel. I’m fortunate to have a lot of great friends, but there are some things that only fellow writers understand, particularly fellow writers who write in a similar area. Lauren and I both write books about espionage during the Napoleonic Wars. We both write books that combine elements of historical fiction, mystery, and romance. We work in story arcs that span more than one book over the course of a series.

A few minutes after I walked through Lauren’s door, we were sitting on her sofa sipping wine and discussing the finer points of obscure Napoleonic intrigues, the challenges of writing books that cross genres, the delights and frustrations of primary source research, “what’s next” in both our series. We went on talking the whole trip, over brunches and dinners and cups of tea. We saw a riveting production of Hamlet with Jude Law and a great cast and talked about the Shakespearean references in both our books. We talked about Jane Austen, who plays a role in one of Lauren’s upcoming books, in light of the Morgan Library exhibit. We spent a wonderful evening of writer talk with our fellow writer and History Hoyden Leslie Carroll over drinks at the appropriately named Bookmarks in the Library Hotel (that’s the three of us in the picture above).

I came home energized and excited to get back to work (though my first evening home included a lot of playing-with-pets time). Writers, do you find it inspiring to spend time with writer friends, particular those who write books with similar subject matter or settings? Readers, does it interest you to know which writers you read happen to be friends?

Be sure to stop by the Fraser Correspondence, where I’ve just posted a letter from Simon to Mélanie.

As you may know, I began my writing career collaborating with my mother, Joan Grant. We wrote eight books and four novellas together, seven Regencies romances (and four novellas) as Anthea Malcolm, and one historical romance, Dark Angel, as Anna Grant (which is the first of of a quartet that continues with the three historical romances I

As I mention in the long version of my bio, my mother, a social psychologist (as was my father), loved books and read out loud to me a great deal. She introduced me to Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Orczy and the Scarlet Pimpernel world, Sabatini, Mary Stewart, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. I in turn introduced her to Dorothy Dunnett (we used to discuss the Lymond Chronicles and the House of Niccolò endlessly) and Elizabeth George. I think my mom would have loved Laurie King’s Russell & Holmes books. I think the fact that we loved the same books and shared the same literary influences made it easier for us to plot and write together.

In honor of Mother’s Day (a holiday my mom deplored as too commercial :-)), I thought I’d post a video clip where I talk my mom’s influence on me as writer. I still feel her influence when I write. In fact, Charles and Mélanie were inspired by two secondary characters from an unpublished book my mom and I wrote together.

Has anyone read the Anthea Malcolm/Anna Grant books? Do you see an evolution from them to the books I write now? What similarities and differences do you note? Are there other writers you read who are writing partnerships? Writers, have you ever written with a partner? What are the rewards and challenges you’ve found?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mélanie to Cecily Summer, Simon Tanner’s actress friend who appears in Beneath a Silent Moon. Cecily Summers is the only character so far to have appeared in both the Anthea Malcolm books and the Charles & Mélanie books. Cecily appears in my mom’s and my Anthea Malcolm Regency, An Improper Proposal. Readers of both sets of books may have noticed that Simon’s theatre, the Tavistock, is also Rachel Ford’s theatre in An Improper Proposal. It hasn’t been dealt with in the books thus far, but Simon is partners with Rachel and Guy Melchett and Rachel’s uncle by marriage.

In her letter to Cecily, Mélanie writes about the challenges of juggling motherhood and her other work and responsibilities. What do you think of Mélanie as a mother? Where do you think motherhood fits in her complicated life as a priority? How well do you think she manages to juggle the many, complicated (and often contradictory) aspects of her life?

12 May update: I’m guest blogging today on Jaunty Quills about Damaged Characters. Do stop by and comment.

As I think anyone who reads my blog will know, music is very important to me. I’ve wanted to a writer since I was about seven, but even before that I used to say I wanted to be an opera singer. That was before I faced the fact that I can barely carry a tune :-). Perhaps there’s a bit of wishful fulfillment in the fact that both Charles and Mélanie have excellent singing voices.

One of the fun things in writing Beneath a Silent Moon was that with more of the story taking place in the social world than in Secrets of a Lady, there were more opportunities to work in the music of the day. In the days before recorded music and television, played and sung music was a common part of an evening’s entertainment (and perhaps the only way those in the country would hear the music of the day). Think of Lizzy Bennet fascinating Darcy at the pianoforte, Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon bonding over music, Emma competing with Jane Fairfax (and Jane’s mysterious new pianoforte).

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the use of music in Beneath a Silent Moon was one of the topics in the video interviews I did last summer:

Do you like to hear about music in the books you read? Any favorite examples to share? Do you seek out music you’ve read about in favorite novels? Writers, do you like to incorporate music in your books?

Be sure to check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. I’m continuing the Mélanie – Raoul exchange, which I’m finding particularly interesting. I’m learning new things about my own characters.

A slightly later post this weekend, because I spent most of yesterday getting ready for and then attending the Merola Opera Program’s Spring Benefit (you can see a cell phone snapshot of me and my friend Michelle, Merola’s Director of Membership and Marketing, here). In the midst of a long, fun day of setting up auction items, scrambling into my evening dress, greeting friends and bidding on auction items, and then listening to a wonderful concert and dancing into the morning, I found myself thinking about parties and balls in novels. A number of memorable ones spring to mind, beginning with the assembly ball in Pride and Prejudice. In fact, Pride and Prejudice has a number of ball and party scenes, including the memorable the Netherfield ball. When the A&E adaptation first aired, my friend Penny commented on how often the characters went to parties. She said she could imagine Jane Austen as a writer thinking “how am I going to get these characters together? I have to have another party scene.”

In an era when characters can’t make cell phone calls or send texts and emails or tweets and where it’s difficult for unmarried men and women to interact unchaperoned, balls, receptions, and other social occasions provide rich opportunities for the characters to interact. There’s the chance for private conversation during a dance (Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield ball) and the opportunity for one character to observe another (Darcy makes a disastrous impression on Lizzy at the assembly ball and the Netherfield ball confirms Darcy’s negatives of the entire Bennet family). The chance to advance multiple story lines in one scene (both the Darcy/Elizabeth and Jane/Bingley relationships move forward in these various party scenes). A ball can be the occasion of an unexpected meeting (Marianne encountering Willoughby and his wife in Sense and Sensibility). It can be spun-sugar covering for scenes of intrigue and drama (the Grenville ball in The Scarlet Pimpernel).

One of the more dramatic real historical entertainments is the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels at which Wellington learned that Napoleon had stolen a march on him. Soldiers left the dance floor to join their regiments. The duchess’s ball has been brought to vivid life in a number of novels–by Thackery in Vanity Fair, by Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, by Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I had the fun of writing about it myself in Shores of Desire (what could be a better setting for drama? all the characters together as they receive news that will change all their lives in myriad ways). I’d love to use the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in a Charles & Mélanie book some day, either in flashback or in another prequel.

Balls and parties an also be a way for a writer to introduce the reader to an array of characters and to their world. Edith Wharton does this brilliantly in the opening The Age of Innocence. You get a sense of the world of the Archers and Wellands in a way you wouldn’t in small scenes and the ripples in that world caused by Ellen’s return from the Continent come through vividly.

Secrets of a Lady opens with Charles and Mel returning from a ball, but after that has no scenes set at social gathering. I deliberately wanted to pull Charles and Mélanie out of the jewel box world represented by the Esterhazy ball they’ve attended before the book opens. Beneath a Silent Moon, on the other hand, opens with the Glenister House ball. Inspired by a number of memorable book openings (notably the one from The Age of Innocence) I wanted to set up the various characters and the world of the Glenister House set. And I wanted to show the difficulties both Charles and Mel are having adjusting to London society and the strain that that’s putting on their marriage.

Do you have some favorite scenes from balls or other parties in books? Writers, do you like writing scenes set at parties? What are some of the challenging of writing scenes in which one has to juggle a number of characters and plotlines?

In keeping with the theme, in this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, Mélanie gives Gisèle (newly married and in Scotland) an account of a ball Lady Frances has given.

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