Lauren Willig

Happy summer (or almost summer)! The Westminster Intrigue has been out for a couple of weeks. So exciting to have it out in the world and to be able to talk about it with readers. On that note, my daughter Mélanie and I are excited to invite you to a virtual book party to celebrate its launch on Thursday, June 24, at 5:00 pm Pacific Time/8:00 pm Eastern. We are thrilled that the lovely and multi-talented Lauren Willig, one of my best friends and favorites writers and an honorary aunt to Mélanie, will be our special guest.

Lauren and I have been friends for years, and though she now writes amazing stand alone novels, we have had many conversations about the fun and challenges of writing about Napoleonic spies as she wrote her fabulous Pink Carnation series. We also share the fun and challenges of writing a parents of young children (I have a wonderful memory of talking writing in her New York apartment with our then-toddler daughters playing on the carpet and then falling asleep in our laps. Also of a very fun visit to the Children’s Museum at the New York Historical Society – good to start hands-on research early!

The Westminster Intrigue Book Party is free and open to all, but it will be on Zoom, so you need to register in advance so I can send you the link. You can sign up here or email me (

Lauren and I will be chatting about books and writing and taking questions from the audience. You can also submit your questions in the comments below or by emailing me at Feel free to ask questions about The Westminster Intrigue or either of our books or writing in general.

Since the book party coincides with happy hour on the West Coast and after-dinner drinks on the East Coast, I’ve come up with a Westminster Intrigue cocktail for the occasion:

  • 1 part gin
  • 2 parts rosé sparkling wine
  • 1/2 part Aperol
  • 1/2 part Bruto Americano

Pour over ice in a wine glass. Watch for hidden codes in the bubbles.

For a nonalcoholic version, my daughter Mélanie suggests blood orange Italian soda with a dash of grenadine.

Mélanie wants readers of Talea’s Mysteries to know she will be posting more soon, now we are getting through the flurry of the Westminster Intrigue release.

Mélanie and I also both recently got to do our first joint interview on the #MomsWritersClub YouTube channel. It was so much fun! Do check out all their videos – they are great, full of fascinating insights into writing – and parenting!

Hope to see you on June 24th!

xx Tracy & Mélanie


This week I’m raising a virtual glass of champagne to one of my best friends and a writer I hugely admire, Lauren Willig, on the publication of The Lure of the Moonflower, the last book in her Pink Carnation series. If you haven’t already discovered this series, it’s a wonderfully clever blend of intrigue, adventure, and romance set during the Napoleonic Wars. With the latest book, the Pink Carnation, a Scarlet Pimpernel-type figure who has orchestrated key events through out the series and run her own spy ring, finally gets her own book. I can’t wait to read Jane’s story.


Lauren and I have always shared a special bond writing about Napoleonic spies. We’ve discussed the finer points of early 19th century espionage over dinner and drinks in Manhattan in the days when we were both single and pre-children. On  Lauren’s sofa with our babies asleep in our laps. And most  recently while our toddlers cooked pretend meals and discovered a mutual love of The Pirates of Penzance. It’s been a treat watching Lauren take the journey of writing this series, which she began while she was in law school. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic that it’s done, but I can’t wait to delve into the book and to see what she writes next (I also urge readers to try her recent wonderful 1920s stand alone, The Other Daughter).

Lauren & Tracy talks Napoleonic spies

What are some of your favorite series? What do you enjoy about series?

Happy Weekend!


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: Raphael Coffey

Happy summer! Summer may not officially start for another ten days, but it already feels in a full swing. The Merola Opera Program, where I spend much of my life when I’m not writing, welcomed a new group of young artists last week. (There I am above with Mélanie when I got back from our Meet the Merolini event last Friday).

In around Merola events, I’m revising Malcolm and Suzanne’s next adventure. I haven’t blogged here in far too long, but i have been on History Hoydens talking about my trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and echoes of war in historical fiction.


I’ve also found a bit of time to start summer reading. Last week, even though I really didn’t have time for it, I raced through my wonderful friend Lauren Willig’s wonderful new novel That Summer. Moving back and forth in time between 2009 and 1849, with pre-Raphelite painters and wonderful old English house full of secrets, it’s a fabulous treat for lovers of historical fiction and historical mysteries.

Hope everyone’s summer is off to a wonderful start and includes time for reading. What’s on your summer reading list?






BerkeleyAshfordI was out and about yesterday checking for The Berkeley Square Affair in books stores and signing copies. It’s sometimes hard for a writer to believe her book is actually out in places she doesn’t see it :-). The wonderful Lauren Willig (whose marvelous The Ashford Affair I was excited to find next to Berkeley Square at Books Inc. in the Opera Plaza in San Francisco yesterday) encourages readers to post post pictures of her books “in the wild” on Facebook. In the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I encourage readers to do the same with Berkeley Square, here or on Facebook. If you happen to see it and have a camera, snap a pic and post it. If not, just leave a comment about where you saw it.

Love the comments so far about the book. Feel free to leave more in this thread as well.



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.

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

I’ve been fortunate not to have to work at a “day job” for most of my writing career. But pretty much from the start I’ve juggled writing with other responsibilities. I was still in college at Stanford when my mom and I wrote our first book and started on our second. I’ve worked on various freelance projects while writing, I’ve worked on two books at once, and I spend a lot of time doing volunteer work, mostly for the Merola Opera Program. All of which turned out to be excellent training for writing as a new mom.

One of the wonderful things about writing is that you can do it on your own schedule, at whatever time of day or day of the week works best. But the very fact that it is so flexible means that unless you have no outside commitments to family,school, other work, volunteer support, etc…, you tend at least to some degree to end up fitting your writing schedule around your less flexible obligations. While Mélanie in many ways is wonderful about adapting to my schedule, of course I also adapt to hers. We’ve settled into a good routine of going to a favorite Peet’s Coffee & Tea most afternoons, where I get as much written as I can while Mélanie takes in the crowd (she loves being around people) and has a snack. When she starts to get restless, we go to the nearby playpark for some activity and interaction with other kids. After that, she usually nurses and settles in for a nap, and I have another latte and another writing session.

Of course that sometimes means I often break off my writing not when I’m at a good stopping point necessarily, but when Mel is ready for a break or wakes up from a nap. But I find the break from writing can be useful. Lauren Willig had a great post recently about Writing in Fits and Starts. She cogently points out the advantages of time away from a story, including very much for me “Gaps between writing time give your subconscious the chance to gnaw away at plot problems.”

I’ve always found that I do my best work mulling over and resolving plot problems when I get away from the computer – driving, exercising, vacuuming. Or now, watching a small person crawl or steadying her as she pulls herself up at the playpark. Whether I consciously think about the book or let my subconscious mull, I tend to return to the book reinvigorated. There’s also nothing like knowing one only has so long until your child gets bored, finishes her snack, wakes up from her nap to really focus one’s attention and get words down on paper (or rather computer screen). Although speaking of paper, I used to hand write in my daytimer when I had unexpected breaks on a day of meetings and appointments and didn’t have my laptop with me. Now I tend to use my iPad at those times (even on occasion at the playpark).

What tricks do you use to find time for writing or other activities while juggling other aspects of your life?

In this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, Mélanie/Suzanne writes to Raoul about balancing her life in post-Waterloo Paris while not being a spy.

I have a special treat this week. The lovely and fabulously talented Lauren Willig will giveaway two copies of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and one audio copy of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily to commenters on this week’s post. If you haven’t yet discovered Lauren’s wonderful Pink Carnation Series, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. And if you’re already a devotee of the series, as I know many readers of this blog are, this is a great chance to have a copy autographed by Lauren.

Thinking about the inimitable Pink Carnation and Lauren’s other flower spies got me thinking about the Scarlet Pimpernel, an influence for Lauren (actually mentioned in the series) and for me and for countless other writers. My forthcoming The Paris Affair features a Scarlet Pimpernel type character coded named the Kestrel. I thought I would combine Lauren’s giveaway with my October teaser, an exchange between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul that introduces the Kestrel.


She stared at him. She used to be quicker. She’d been too absorbed by her own concerns. Now she saw the strain in the set of his mouth and the worry at the back of his eyes. “Who?”
“Who what?” He took another swallow of wine.
“You’re worried about someone new. Someone who’s been proscribed? Or is about to be. I should have seen it.”
She sat back against the bench, hit by the reality of how much things had changed. “You don’t trust me.” It was as though a well-worn cloak had been lifted from her shoulders on a cold day. “Can you honestly think I would betray one of our comrades—”
“I trust you with my life,” he said in a low, rough voice. “I’m trying to keep you from the intolerable burden of divided loyalties, my darling idiot.”
“It’s a bit late for that. You let me marry Malcolm. Not that I’m sorry you did.”
He kept his gaze on her face. “And I’m trying to avoid doing more damage to your marriage.”
“Since when have you been so driven by personal concerns?”
“Perhaps since personal concerns became all that are left to us. Or perhaps you had a somewhat exaggerated view of my ruthlessness.”
“You’ve quite neatly managed to change the subject.” She leaned forwards.”I won’t let you wrap me in cotton wool any more than I’ll let Malcolm do so.” That had become doubly important to her since she had left the work that had been the focus of her life for so long. “Who are you worried about now?”
Raoul released his breath in a harsh sigh. “Manon Caret.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. “But she’s—”
“No longer untouchable. She may still reign over Paris from the Comédie-Française, but that won’t hold much weight with Fouché.”
Suzanne swallowed. “Fouché knows Manon was a Bonapartist agent?”
“More to the point, others do and have denounced her. He’ll look soft if he doesn’t move against her. With the Ultra Royalists claiming he’s too moderate—God help us—he can’t afford any hint of softness. And I suspect he’s worried about what she knows.”
Suzanne shook her head at the idea of Manon Caret, the celebrated actress who had kept Raoul apprised of the doings of Royalists for years, facing arrest. “She’s on the proscribed list?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will be. Too many embarrassing questions. I doubt there’ll even be a trial. But Fouché’s planning to take her into custody. She’ll quietly disappear, probably never to be seen again.”
Suzanne nodded. Spies were rarely dealt with through official channels. “When?”
“According to my sources we have a week at most.”
Suzanne stared at the candlelight flickering in the depths of her wineglass. They had drunk Bordeaux the night she first met Manon Caret. Suzanne had been sixteen, raw from the dubious results of her first mission. Raoul had taken her along when he went to meet with Manon at the theatre late one evening. They’d watched the last act of The Marriage of Figaro, joined the throng of Manon’s admirers after the performance, then lingered on in her dressing room. Suzanne still recalled Manon going behind a gilt-edged dressing screen and emerging in a froth of sapphire silk and Valençiennes lace, despite the frivolous garment somehow transformed from charming, imperious actress to hardheaded agent. Hardheaded agent who had been remarkably kind to a sixteen-year-old girl still feeling her way in the espionage business, far more uncertain than she would admit to anyone, even herself.
She had drunk in the talk of the seasoned spies that night, as they sat round a branch of candles and a bottle of wine, surrounded by costumes and feathered masks and the smell of powder and greasepaint. She had met Manon a handful of times in the next two years, though Suzanne’s work had been on the Peninsula. And then, in 1811, Suzanne had been called upon to assist Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s brother’s wife, who found herself with child by her lover. Suzanne had thought they were safe when Hortense delivered the baby safely in Switzerland and gave it into the care of her lover’s mother. But returned to Paris, Suzanne had learned that evidence about the child had fallen into the hands of Fouché, who wouldn’t hesitate to use it against Hortense or her mother. Suzanne had stolen the papers from the ministry of police before Fouché could make use of them. But she had had difficulty slipping out of the ministry. With a knife wound in her side and one of Fouché’s agents on her trail, she had sought refuge at the Comédie-Française with Manon. If she’d been caught with the stolen papers in her possession, she’d have faced prison and very likely execution as a spy, no matter that she was working for the French. Manon had dressed her wound between scenes, bundled her into a costume, and hidden her in plain sight onstage as one of Phèdre’s ladies-in-waiting. All at considerable risk to herself.
Suzanne snatched up her glass and took a sip of wine. “Manon probably saved my life. I’ve never forgot it.”
“Nor have I.” Raoul’s mouth turned grim.
One would almost think he blamed himself for her predicament that night, save that that was so very unlike Raoul. Suzanne pushed aside the thought. “What are you planning?”
“You must have a plan.”
He hesitated a moment. “I’ve made contact with the Kestrel.”
“The who? One of your former agents?” It wasn’t like Raoul to go in for fanciful code names.
He shook his head. “Not one of mine. Or anyone’s. He works for himself. For some years he wreaked havoc by rescuing Royalists from our prisons or from certain arrest.”
“And now he’s rescuing Bonapartists?”
“He claims to deplore wanton killing.”
“And you believe him?”
“I don’t have many other options. He was behind the rescue of Combre and Lefèvre’s escape.”
She leaned forwards. “I can help you.”
“No.” His voice cut across the table with quiet force.
“Since when have you been one to refuse aid? I assure you, I haven’t let myself grow rusty.”
Raoul’s gaze darkened. “For God’s sake, Suzanne. You have a husband, a son, a life. To be protected, for all the reasons you so cogently explained when you told me you were stopping your work.”
“This is different. Stopping my work doesn’t mean turning my back on my comrades.”
“The risk is still there.”
She gave a laugh, rough in her throat. “We live with risk.”
“You don’t have to anymore.”
She stared at him across the geraniums. “This isn’t like you.”
“Perhaps Waterloo changed me. Or perhaps I’ve always been less Machiavellian than you were inclined to believe.”
She pulled her wineglass closer. She’d loved Raoul, but she’d always known she couldn’t trust herself to him. Had her judgment of him been a form of defense, a way of protecting herself from disappointment? “I need to help. I need to do this.”
“Querida—” His gaze turned soft, in that way that always disconcerted her. “You don’t owe anyone anything. Least of all me. And Manon would tell you she knew the risks.”
Suzanne drew a harsh breath. For a moment, the table and the wineglass, the bottle and the vase of geraniums swam before her eyes. She saw Manon’s daughters, asleep on the sofa in the room that adjoined her dressing room. Then she saw Colin, eating a boiled egg with concentration when she had breakfast with him before she left the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré this morning. “I have to help, Raoul. Or I’ll go mad.”
“Because I’m safe. Or safer than most of us. Because I live in luxury, with the man I love and my child. Because I dine and dance with the victors and even count some of them as friends. Because for hours together I forget who I am and what I fought for. I forget that we lost.”
“All the more reason—”
“I wanted to stop betraying my husband. I didn’t want to lose myself.”
“You’d never—”
“You told me when you first recruited me that it was my decision, my choice what risks to run.” She saw them in the cramped, gaudy room in the brothel in Léon where he’d found her, surrounded by gilt and crimson draperies. “You always let me make up my own mind.” She swallowed, holding his gaze with her own. “It was one of the reasons I loved you.”
He returned her gaze for a long moment, his own steady and unreadable, then sat against the bench. “The Kestrel has a plan to get Manon out of Paris. Getting her out of France will be more difficult.”
Suzanne released her breath. “You’ll need travel documents. If I get you Castlereagh’s seal can you forge the rest?”
“It’s far less dangerous than half the things I did in Lisbon or Vienna. Castlereagh’s fond of me. I help smooth the waters with Malcolm.”
He took a drink of wine, as though still deciding. Then he gave a crisp nod, transformed back into the enigmatic spymaster. “I’ll be at the ball at the British embassy tonight.”
She nodded. “If you bring me the papers, I can add the seal, then return them to you. It will be simple—”
A faint smile crossed his face. “Don’t say it, querida. It’s like wishing an actor good luck.”


What do you think is responsible for the enduring appeal of the Scarlet Pimpernel? What are some of your favorite books and movies inspired by it?

I’ll post the winners of the contest nest Tuesday, 16 October.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Jane Chase to Mel/Suzette.

Lattes and Napoleonic spies

One of the highlights of Mélanie and my trip to New York last week was the chance to see the wonderful Lauren Willig. While Mélanie napped, Lauren and I spent two plus hours catching up over lattes at Pan Quotidien. We talked about research and revisions, current and future projects. With Lauren’s inspiration and suggestions, the next Malcolm/Charles and Suzanne/Mélanie book began to take shape in my imagination.

Lauren was also nice enough to agree to giveaway a copy of her wonderful new book, The Garden Intrigue, on my blog. I found The Garden Intrigue very hard to put down – despite the fact that I read it in the midst of trying to finish writing The Princess’s Secret. I kept wanting to sneak away from Malcolm/Charles and Mélanie/Suzanne in 1815 Paris to visit Lauren’s characters also in Paris about a decade earlier. Garden Intrigue’s heroine is the delightful Emma Delagardie, American ex-patriate and girlhood friend of Hortense Bonaparte. The hero is Augustus Whittlesby, who provides comic relief in earlier volumes of the series with his atrocious poetry but who proves to a brilliant agent living behind a persona much as Percy Blakeney does in The Scarlet Pimpernel. You can read an excerpt from The Garden Intrigue here and one commenter of this post will win a copy.

What’s your favorite Scarlet Pimpernel-type hero or heroine in disguise?


The air’s turned cooler, even in the San Francisco Bay Area where some of our warmest weather is in the early autumn. The days are shorter, and though I live in a sea of evergreen redwoods, some trees are turning color. It’s autumn, a favorite season of mine. Lauren Willig had a great blog recently about the joy of small things, a lot of which were autumnal. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I’d do something similar, with a specific autumn theme.

Here are some of my favorite every day autumn delights:

Pumpkin spice lattes

The rose gold quality of the light

The fall opera/theatre/symphony seasons starting

The way my cats like to snuggle in the colder weather

Cashmere sweaters and cuddly knit dresses

Crisp days that are perfect for reading or writing with a cup of tea

The start of the tv season

Sitting by the window with my laptop and looking up from writing to watch leaves drift into the stream

What are your favorite autumn delights?

Be sure to stop by the Fraser Correspondence where I’ve just posted a new letter from Gisèle to Aline.

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