Leslie Carroll


Earlier this week week, I turned in revisions on Imperial Scandal, my Waterloo-set book (which will be out in April 2012). My greatest challenge during the revision process was how to handle a scene involving Mélanie/Suzanne that my editor wanted me to change. I discussed this scene in the comments on my post on sympathetic characters a few weeks ago and found everyone’s comments very helpful. This week I blogged on History Hoydens about how I ultimately handled the scene and again touched on what makes characters sympathetic–or not. I thought I’d repeat the blog here. Warning:this post contains spoilers for the series, particularly for Secrets of a Lady and Imperial Scandal.

I love the revision process, a chance to hone and shape and refine the story and characters (though I get very nervous letting the book go, afraid I’ve missed something). Thinking back through the revisions, I didn’t actually make that many major changes (though it certainly felt as though I was working on them long enough!). But I did make one significant change at my editor’s suggestion. It involved reworking a scene which originally involved infidelity on the part of the one of the major characters.

This was a scene I’d had in my own mind for a long time before I wrote Imperial Scandal, and I was sure that this was how this would play out for these two characters (two people who are devastated and cast adrift in the wake of the battle of Waterloo). But my editor was afraid it would destroy reader sympathy for the character committing infidelity and on reflection I could totally see her point (I had actually known I was pushing the envelope with this scene). When I broached the topic on my website with some readers who were familiar with both characters, reactions were mixed, but in general convinced me my editor was right to worry about the sympathy issue.

Oddly enough, going back to Leslie Carroll’s and Pam Rosenthal’s recent excellent posts on writing sex scenes, this was the one sex scene I’d written recently where it actually seemed important to show some detail of how the scene played out. I’d actually had some qualms myself about whether or not one of the characters (not the one committing infidelity as it happens) would actually go through with it. I ended up writing two new versions of the scene, one in which the characters almost make love and break it off, one in which is a tearful farewell without lovemaking (though it does still include a farewell kiss). I ended up using the later, and I’m quite happy with it and how it fits into the arc of the book. But when I was describing the revision over the weekend to a writer friend who had read the original manuscript, she said she’d liked the way the scene originally played out (even though it surprised her) and that it actually made her more sympathetic to the characters.

Which prompted me to think about what makes me lose sympathy for a character. It’s an elusive thing. In general, once I’m engaged with a character, I will stick with her or him through a lot. And an action that might make me lose sympathy for one character in one set of circumstances might not bother me so much with another character in other circumstances. Heathcliff lost my sympathy when he let his sickly son die (not calling a doctor). Francis Crawford of Lymond held on to my sympathy when he was more directly responsible for the death of his son, the difference for me I think being that Heathcliff acts out of anger and hurt whereas Lymond is trying to save others. And that Lymond is wracked with guilt afterward. I confess I lost sympathy for Fanny Price when she objected to amateur theatricals. Whereas Emma’s Woodhouse’s treatment of Miss Bates saddened me but didn’t destroy my sympathy for Emma. Of course Emma too feels guilt afterward.

I’m still pondering other characters and what engages or disengages my sympathy. Meanwhile, while I like the revised scene in Imperial Scandal, I’m also glad I had the chance to write it the way I originally envisioned it. After Imperial Scandal is published, I’ll post all three versions on my website. I’ll very interested in reader reactions.

Writers, what’s the biggest change you’ve made in the revision process? Have you ever changed something because you were worried about reader reactions? Readers, has a character you liked (particularly in an ongoing series) ever lost your sympathy? Why? And what do you think of the decision I ultimately made about the scene in question?

Perhaps appropriately for this blog, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Raoul.

Lauren Willig recently referenced a post I wrote for Valentine’s Day a few years ago, which prompted me to go back to the post, one of my favorites. In honor of last week’s holiday, this seemed a good time to re-post it.

I’ve wanted to do this blog for a while and Valentine’s Day seemed the perfect time to write it. Favorite romantic scenes–first declarations of love, resolutions of seemingly insurmountable conflicts, and other heart stopping moments. Here are a few of my favorites, scenes that bring an ache to my throat and put a smile on my face, many of them scenes I’ve reread so many times I know them by heart.

In no particular order:

1. “Oh, Damerel, must you be foxed just as this moment? How odious you are , my dear friend!”

The extended sequence at the end of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia in which Venetia and Damerel work out their differences has it all–conflict, humor, passion, and poignancy. Damerel is a world-weary rake and Venetia is a sheltered, unmarried woman, yet they’re so uniquely themselves that they pop off the page, and so obviously soul mates that you can’t but feel a catch in your throat as they battle through to their happy ending.

2. “I’ve just won a wager with myself.”

The scene in Freedom & Necessity by Steven Brust & Emma Bull in which Susan and James confess their feelings (and do rather more than confess them) may be my favorite literary love scene. It’s character-driven, emotionally fraught, erotically frank, and yet still filled with mystery. The final scene between the couple in the book is also lovely, and then there’s that fabulous last letter James writes to Susan, not to mention all the moments in between.

3. “Monseigneur, I would so much rather be the last woman than the first.”

These Old Shades is a comfort read for me, but it isn’t my favorite Georgette Heyer. It isn’t even in my top three. And yet I’ve reread the last scene between Avon and Léonie countless times. It’s beautifully written and structured, with a wonderful economy of gesture and emotion that speaks volumes. There’s very little inner monologue, and yet the emotional shifts are crystal clear.

4. “Now forget your responsibility to everyone else for once in your life and give me a straight answer. Do you want me to stay?”

The final scene in The Armies of Daylight, the third book in Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy, may be the most satisfying lovers-getting-together-against-the-odds scene I’ve ever read, largely because the odds seem so very high and the happy ending so very much not guaranteed. There’s also something about this scene that to me is very much parallel to the Léonie/Avon scene, though the words are very different as are the characters. Yet both stories involve heroes who are considerably older than the heroines and who men capable of shaping the world round them (Ingold is a wizard, Avon a wealthy, powerful duke). Both men are convinced they’ll only bring unhappiness to the woman they love and are trying to do the noble thing and give her up (as is Damerel in scene 1. Doing the right thing can be very sexy). The heroines, Léonie and Gil, are very different women. Yet both are trying to convince the man they love that they know what they want and would much rather face the future with him, hand in hand. Like the scene from These Old Shades, this one has beautifully delineated emotional shifts and wonderful tension between desire and perceived duty and the competing objectives of the two characters.

5. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?”

I got to do the church scene between Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in acting class in high school. My fellow sophomore Benedick and I barely scratched the surface of what the scene has to offer. But we had a lot of fun, and I still know most of the lines by heart. And every time I see the play, I find new things in this incredibly rich scene, which is funny, touching, romantic, and fraught with dark emotion. In the History Hoydens discussion, Pam Rosenthal said, It stops my heart now, as completely as it did when I first read it in my late teens. And Leslie Carroll, who is also an actress, said, That admission always takes my breath away. And it did when I played the role, every time we got to that moment. It’s a moment that is so well crafted; it manages to be totally earned and yet steals up on the lovers unawares.

6. “Placetne, magistra?”
“Placet.”

I think I studied Latin college partly so I could understand the dialogue between Peter and Harriet in the final scene of Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night (thanks to which I now know that Peter phrases the question in a neutral way, rather than a way that expects a yes or no answer). That this scene manages not to be trite or anticlimactic or trite after three books of angst and adventure, countless marriage proposals, and several brushes with death is no small feat. You can really believe in the balance these two characters have fought their way to, yet there’s still enough tension to keep the reading anxiously turning the pages. Harriet’s done a great deal of thinking in the pages before, but here, as in some of the other scenes I’ve mentioned, there’s very little inner monologue. And yet every word and detail is weighted with subtext, down to the traffic lights blinking Yes; No; Wait. And as Janet Mullany said in the History Hoydens discussion, it’s a book that has a breathtaking amount of sexual tension in it.

7. Too late, too late, too late. It had happened.

My mom and I used to call this the “Gigi” moment–where the hero suddenly realizes, with the force of a thunderclap, that he’s madly in love with the heroine who’s been right there under his nose for years and years or pages and pages. The moment when Francis Crawford of Lymond comes to this realization, in The Ringed Castle, book five of the Lymond Chronicles is all the more powerful for the world “love” never being used.

8. “I prefer you as you are–tainted and tarnished.”

The scene where Mary casts caution and calculation aside and crawls into bed with the wounded Lord Vaughn in Lauren Willig’s The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is just lovely. A truly romantic confession of feeling on both sides, made all the stronger by the fact that you know just what it costs these two people to let their guard down and make themselves vulnerable. Both maintain their wonderfully acerbic sides, which makes their confession of their feelings (couched or allude to in character-appropriate terms) all the more powerful.

9. “A bath and some inoculations are called for, Holmes.”

I think the “dock scene” from Laurie King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women may be my favorite proposal scene. Intensely romantic in large part because so much about it is is quite the opposite. Holmes and Russell are filthy and soaking wet and in the midst of an argument about his having gone after the villain without her. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of acerbic dialogue and passionate breaking free of restraint. As with Gaudy Night and the Darwath Chronicles, and the Lymond Chronicles, it has extra power from being the culmination of
more than one book of longing. It sends chills up my spine every time I read it (play on words intended, to those familiar with the scene).

10. “Well,” he said, with a transitory gleam of himself, “you’re my corner and I’ve come to hide.”

Peter and Harriet are the only couple to appear twice on this list. Much as I love the last scene of Gaudy Night, I think I may be even more fond of the final scene between them in Busman’s Honeymoon. It grapples with a question I’m fond of addressing in my own writing, “what happens after happily ever after?” And it balances the scales by letting Peter need Harriet. As Lauren Willig said in the History Hoydens Discussion, I think it’s the first book I read that really took the time to deal with what happened after that initial, hard won resolution. She then made a nice comparison to Charles and Mélanie and watching the struggle of two people struggling to find a way to fit together on an ongoing basis, achieving small victories and dealing with the occasional reversal. Which prompted me to mention that The last scene in Busman’s Honeymoon was my inspiration for the last scene in Beneath a Silent Moon, which was my starting place for the book. I knew I wanted to get Charles and Mélanie to that scene, and I worked backwards 🙂 .

Ten very different scenes. And yet, as I revisited them to write this post, I realized that the very differences in scenes and characters are something the scenes have in common. Each is unique to the characters involved, in the setting and circumstances in which the scene occurs (a sitting room in the French countryside, a rocky hollow in an alternate universe the London docks, an Oxford street) to the circumstances to the words and gestures the characters find to express their feelings. There’s also a wonderful tension to all of them, a sense of the fragility of emotions and the bonds between two people and the risk of letting down one’s guard. None of them seem quite certain in advance and yet once the characters find their way to each other, you absolutely believe in the possibility of their happiness.

Have you read any of the books above? Did any of these scenes resonate with you? What are some favorite literary heart stopping moments of yours? What is it that makes them particularly effective?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Raoul’s reply to Lady Elizabeth’s letter from last week.

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.

A very late update this week, because I just turned the Vienna Waltz revisions into my editor yesterday. This seemed a good time to post a video clip about one of the real historical people who plays an important role in Vienna Waltz, Prince Talleyrand:

Be sure to also check out Leslie Carroll’s great post on History Hoydens today which deals with Talleyrand’s wife, Catherine Worley Grand.

What real historical figures have you particularly loved in fiction? What historical figures would you like to see Charles and Mel meet in a future book?

I’ve just posted a letter from Raoul to Mélanie in the Fraser Correspondence.

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.

A quick update this week, as I’m in the midst of packing for a trip to New York, where I will be seeing good friends and fellow History Hoydens Lauren Willig and Leslie Carroll, catching up with my editor and agent, seeing Lise Lindstrom (the daughter of good friends) in her Met debut as Turandot, and doing Merola Opera Program activities. I haven’t been to New York in a few years, and I’m very excited (while at the moment I’m trying to get through the long to do list I always seem to have before leaving on any trip, however brief).

The beautiful fall scenery on my mini-break to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland last week, got me to thinking about autumn as a setting for books. The book I’m working on now is set in November, as is Secrets of a Lady. I realized autumn may be my favorite season to write about. There are such rich descriptive possibilities–the colorful leaves, the rose gold autumn sunlight, harvest moonlight, skies turning gray with oncoming winter. There’s an array of weather to play with, from sunny days to rainstorms to early snow flurries. Autumn sees the start of regular fires in fireplaces (great descriptive possibilities). There’s the thematic bittersweetness of gilded autumn days with the promise of winter creeping into the air. And at the same time, the holiday season and a new year round the corner. I think the shorter days and chillier weather and oncoming winter making autumn a particularly good setting for suspense stories.

Do you have favorite seasons to read or write about? Do you find the season a book is set in influences the story?

I just posted an October addition to the Fraser Correspondence, a reply from Raoul to Mélanie.