Mélanie and Charles Fraser

Mélanie seeing me off to the Merola Grand Finale last weekend. A fabulous end to a great summer program!

Mélanie seeing me off to the Merola Grand Finale last weekend. A fabulous end to a great summer program!

Last week’s survey post yielded some fascinating discussion on the series and characters. One point that particularly intrigue me was the idea of how the various characters might be happy and if it’s even desirable for every major character in the series to have a “happy and settled life.” Of course, in a series, as in real life, there’s no such thing as a “happy ending.” As Cordelia says “there’s always an after.” Even characters with the most seemingly settled lives could find their lives upended, which I think is part of what makes a series interesting, both to read and to write. That, and the fact that characters can arrive at happy lives and loves (at least “happily for now”) over multiple books.

But posters also raised the question of if we even want every character in a series to have a happy and settled life. Is that too easy? Should it be more like real life, with some characters remaining alone, some relationships falling apart, some perhaps proving less ideal than they seemed at the start? How do you feel about this, both in this series and in other series you read?

And even if one ultimately wants the major characters to arrive at a happy and settled life, what does that look like? Right now in the series, Rupert and Bertrand are happier and have a more settled life than they ever expected. They’re together, they’ve worked out an amicable relationship with Rupert’s wife Gabrielle (who has her own lover) and sharing the care of Rupert and Gabrielle’s son. Rupert’s father is essentially out of the picture. But their relationship still has to remain secret from all but their closest friends. It’s still, in fact, a hanging offense. Rupert isn’t on speaking terms with his father. We haven’t really dealt with Bertrand’s parents, but they probably at best only acknowledge the relationship by deliberately turning a blind eye to it. Are Rupert and Bertrand settled and happy?

What about Simon and David? Their relationship in some ways is more stable than that that of most of the married couples in the series. They’ve been together for a decade. But David is under increasing pressure to marry and produce an heir, from his family and from his own sense of responsibility. And there are ongoing political tensions between David, the liberal Whig who is still an aristocrat, and Simon, the Radical reformer.

Laura and Raoul seemed to be tentatively beginning a relationship of sorts at the end of Mayfair Affair. But Raoul was leaving for Spain, where rebellion against the restored monarchy is brewing, and warned Laura that he couldn’t promise he’d survive. He also pointed out that he had very little to offer her, including marriage. He has an estranged wife in Ireland. If Laura and Raoul’s emotional bonds grow but he’s away much of the time and their love affair has to remain more or less secret (like Rupert and Bertrand and Simon and David in a sense) are they settled and happy? If they were somehow able to marry but Raoul still disappeared for long stretches of time running crazy risks would that be settled and happy?

Though it hasn’t been discussed in the Rannoch universe, Bow Street Runner Jeremy Roth also has an estranged wife, who ran off years ago leaving him and their two sons, whom his sister is helping him raise. A number of readers have mentioned they’d like Roth to fall in love, but at present he’s in no position to marry. He too could have a secret relationship. Or, not being part of society, he might more easily be able to live with a lover without being married to her. Would that be settled and happy?

Of course even the couples who are married and more or less settled have tensions. Harry, I think, still wonders about Cordelia’s past, and Harry’s own past in the time they were apart may become an issue in the next book. Malcolm and Suzanne live with the threat of her past being exposed. Not to mention that they are still adjusting to the impact of Malcolm learning about her past (Suzanne says in Mayfair that she has more than she ever thought to have but it will never be the same), and their loyalties are almost bound to conflict at some point.

What do you think? Do you ultimately want settled and happy lives for the major characters? Do you at least want to feel they are moving towards them? Or do you prefer real world messiness? And if the former, how do you define settled and happy?

Have a great weekend!


photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Friday! Last  weekend was sweltering in the Bay Area. We sought refuge with friends at an indoor lunch at Marin Brewing Company (picture above) followed by an air-conditioned matinee (Fantastic Four, which was quite good). This weekend is starting delightfully cooler. We are back at Marin Brewing Company, a favorite haunt, outside listening to jazz. A favorite Friday night activity.

The survey of a few weeks ago and some follow emailing with readers have stirred some more questions. Here is Part II of the survey. As before, feel free to answer as few or many questions as you like or just to use this as a jumping off place for discussing other things.

1. Most interesting real historical character.

2. Historical character and/or event not yet in the series you’d like to see Malcolm and Suzanne interact with.

3. Favorite three characters in the series other than Malcolm and Suzanne.

4. Couple in the series you think has the most stable relationship.

5. Couple in the series you think is most likely to separate (don’t panic, this doesn’t mean any couple actually will or, if they did, that it would be permanent).

6. Couple you’d most like to see have a child in the next book or so.

7. What you’d most like to see happen in an upcoming book.

Have a great weekend! I’m excited to hear the 2016 Merola artists at tomorrow’s Merola Grand Finale!




Happy Friday! The Merola summer is winding down. This week we had  our last public Master Class of the summer (the picture above if Mélanie and me when I got back) afterwards) with Antony Walker, who will conduct our Merola Grand Finale concert next weekend on August 22 (the culmination of the program and a wonderful chance to hear all the Merola vocalists sing on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House for anyone in the Bay Area).

I’ve taken a mini-break from my WIP to get started on novella that will be out this fall. I wanted to have a good start on the novel before I focused on the novella. Once I had the plot idea for  the novella it’s been falling into place with surprising ease (at least so far :-). It takes place during a ball Suzanne and Malcolm are giving in Berkeley Square. I realized I’ve never written a scene of them entertaining in a big way. Lots of great possibilities and fun to do the novella all on one night, with all the pressure of hosting a large event..It takes place about a month and a half after the end of The Mayfair Affair.

Here’s a teaser excerpt that takes place while Malcolm and Suzanne waltz. Early draft, so my apologies in advance for errors.

Have a great weekend!


Suzanne stepped into her husband’s arms and smiled up at him. “How bad is it?” she asked as the first strains sounded.
He swept her in front of him, their hands interlaced. “Nothing we can’t handle. Child’s play compared to six weeks ago or three months before that or—“
Suzanne spun beneath his arm  “It must be serious indeed if it’s driven you to seek refuge on the dance floor.”
“On the contrary. I’m well aware the dance floor provides good cover.” He pulled her back to him, chest to chest. At a distance Emily Cowper and the other patronesses of Almack’s would not approve, but there were advantages in being a married couple. “Bertrand de Lisles and O’Roarke are in the study. With a young woman they smuggled out of France. Not sure if she’s an agent or just a Bonapartist, but they had a run in with excisemen who were after the smuggler who got them into Britain.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. The movement of the dance had her spun out to the side so she couldn’t look into Malcolm’s eyes. “Is anyone injured?”
“The young Frenchwoman. It’s not dire, but you should take a look at her. Bertrand’s all right. So’s O’Roarke, and it doesn’t look as though he’s met with anything serious in Spain.”
Suzanne spun back towards her husband and saw a relief in his gaze that mirrored her own. Last winter she’d never have believed they could get to this point.  Where Charles knew the truth about her and about Raoul, and Raoul was a frequent guest in their house. But perhaps oddest of all was that these days their feelings about Raoul seemed remarkably similar. Largely involving worry about what he might be getting into in Spain. She gave her husband a bright smile, part distraction for anyone watching them, part defiance in the face of challenge. “Life never gets dull, does it?”
“Not for long.”
“Darling, you’re enjoying this.”
He twirled her again. “Of course not.”
“Really, Malcolm, I know you better than that. The distraction of a mission and an excuse to escape into the study during a ball. It’s the answer to your prayers.”
He gave an bashed grin and pulled her back into his arms. “Put that like that— I’m not glad anyone’s injured. But I can’t deny it’s livened up the evening.”
“And you accuse me of living dangerously.” She looked into her husband’s gray eyes, so familiar, but often so unreadable. There was a time, not so very long ago, when she’d never thought to again see trust or tenderness in them again. She was beyond fortunate to have both back, even if the shadows of the past still hung between them. Now that he had communicated the most urgent facts, it occurred to her that her husband, a former British agent (assuming one could ever be a former agent) was hiding a French agent in his study. She drew a breath. “Darling—”
“Remarkable how far we’ve come, isn’t it?” He smiled. A sweet smile intended to reassure but also to deflect further probing into whatever he was thinking. There were some things Malcolm still wasn’t prepared to share with her. “I’ll cover so you can go in and tend to the woman. And we should send some food in. The Frenchwoman’s name is  Lisette d’Armagnac. At least that’s what they told me. Do you know her?”
He paused slightly before that last question, and Suzanne realized he wasn’t entirely certain she’d tell him the truth. “No,” she said. “Truly. At least not by that name. Did she say she knows me?”
“Not precisely. But she says she has a message for you.”
A chill shot through Suzanne. Along with the dangerous thrill that a return to game could still bring. “About what?”
“I didn’t ask.” Malcolm spun her under his arm and pulled her against him, her back to his chest. “Once you’ve found out what it is you can decide whether you want to tell me.”
She couldn’t see into his eyes, but she could feel the trust in the steadiness of his voice and the strength of his arm round her. Trust was such a precious thing and a fragile burden. That could upend a marriage if it tipped the wrong way. “Darling—“
He spun her to the side, their arms crisscrossed overhead, then forwards to face him. “All things considered, it’s probably best I know the truth. Makes evenings like these much easier to navigate.”
How often in the past four and a half months had humor saved them? It was, as Malcolm said, sometimes the only possible response. And yet Suzanne suspected that for her husband it was also a defensive shield. A shield over feelings still too raw to share with her. Over feelings he perhaps feared to let himself express. A shield she had no right to breech, even assuming she could do so.
“Of course I’ll—“
Malcolm’s fingers tightened on her own. “Best not to make promises.”
She nodded. “Carfax—“
“I know.” His mouth tightened. “No reason to think he has a whiff of what’s going on, but we’d best tread warily. I’ll keep an eye on him.” He turned round, holding her against him. “As you say, life certainly stays interesting.”


Happy Friday! Mélanie and I are looking forward to  a quiet weekend after a busy week with some fabulous Merola events, including a great master class last night with the amazing coach and collaborative pianist Martin Katz (there we are are above when I was about to go off to the class).

The fabulous discussion last week about the direction of the series gave me an idea for a post that revisits moments past. Here’s an informal survey about some favorite moments and characters from the series thus far. Feel free to answer all or just one or just use this as a jumping off place to post other thoughts on the series.

Have a great weekend!

1. Favorite Malcolm & Suzanne scene

2. Favorite action sequence

3. Favorite denouement

4. Favorite ongoing couple in the series other than Malcolm and Suzanne (couples whose story plays out over multiple books such as Simon & David, Geoffrey & Aline, Blanca & Addison, Harry & Cordelia, Rupert & Bertrand, Raoul & Laura, etc…)

5. Favorite single-book couple (couple who’s story primarily happens in one book though they may appear in more than one such as Elisabeth & Adam Czartoryski, Violet Chase & John Ashton, Manon & Crispin, Hetty & James, Mary & Gui, etc…)

6. Favorite villain

7. Favorite secondary character


A wonderful friend and reader of the series sent Mélanie and me a fabulous gift –  hamper from Fortnum & Mason. I love Fortnum’s and have had some wonderful teas there, but have never had one of their hampers. Fortnum’s hampers go back to the 1730s. The hamper Raoul brings to Laura in Newgate in The Mayfair Affair would look not unlike the lovely one that arrived at our house yesterday. What a fabulous treat (the Earl Grey tea and biscuits it contained are proving particularly wonderful writing inspiration) and research rolled into one.

Speaking of inspiration, I am hard at work on the next book in the series (working title The London Gambit) and working on it is causing me to do some thinking about the over all direction of the series for the next few books. That made me realize I would love to hear from readers. What do you expect to have happen in the next few books? What would you like to see happen? Answers won’t necessarily change my plans but I would love to add ideas to the mix as I work things out.

Have a great weekend!


Concert with friends

Concert with friends

Happy Friday! In the midst of a busy Merola Opera Program Summer Festival and work on my WIP, Mélanie and I are managing to squeeze in some summer fun, like a picnic and outdoor concert last night with friends and their kids.

I have some exciting news – all the Malcolm & Suzanne books and novellas are now available as ebooks in the UK. You can kind them on Kindle here and they should be available on all platforms by next week. They have gorgeous new covers – here is His Spanish Bride. I’ll have all of them posted on the site soon.

His Spanish Bride3

Though I edit my manuscripts a lot, I don’t often cut whole scenes. But writing in the wonderful program Scrivener, I find it easy to write scenes without always knowing precisely where they will fit in the finished book. Usually they fall nicely into place but I wrote a quarrel between Malcolm and Suzanne for The Mayfair Affair that, though it seemed to fit with where their relationship was, never found a place in the finished book. I thought I would share it here.

Have a great weekend!


“Malcolm, I think we should talk about this.”
“No.” His voice had the force of a sword cut. “I think that would prove fatal. Once words are spoken they can’t be taken back.”
“You’re afraid of what you’ll say to me?”
He turned to the drinks trolley, but tension was in the set of shoulders. “I don’t like myself very much just now, Suzette. There’s not much point in inflicting that on you.”
“I hate that I’ve done this to you.”
“Not everything is due to you, Suzette..”
She moved toward him and put her arms round him. “There are other things we could do than talk.”
He spun round and caught her wrists. “No.”
He was so close she could feel the warmth of his breath. “You don’t want—“
“To be manipulated.”
“You’ve been manipulating me since we met, Suzette. Perhaps in bed more than anywhere.”
“You can’t think I was pretending—“
“No.” He hesitated a moment. “Perhaps I’m a fool not to consider it, but no. But how many times have you got me into bed to end a difficult conversation? Or because you wanted me asleep so you could slip out of the house or ransack my dispatch box?”
The memories couldn’t but rush into her mind.
Malcolmreleased her wrists. “Precisely.”
“I know what we have, sweetheart. But even when we couldn’t talk of love, it was the one place I thought we had honesty.”

Mummy back from Merola's Schwabacher Summer Concert

Mummy back from Merola’s Schwabacher Summer Concert

Happy Friday! If you’re like me, you now spend the weekend anticipating the new version of Poldark on PBS Sunday nights. I still have vivid memories of being glued to the original series with my parents in late night reruns in the 80s. Watching Ross Poldark torn between Elizabeth and Demelza (and frequently thinking “won’t you wake up to what’s in front of you?”) I’ve been thinking about triangles. Last night at Merola’s wonderful Schwabacher Summer Concert a fabulous except from Verdi’s Don Carlo also made me think about the fascination of triangles (for those in the Bay Area, the concert is repeated Saturday at 2:00 for free outdoors at Yerba Buena Gardens).

The Mayfair Affair takes the Suzanne/Malcolm/Raoul triangle in some interesting new directions. This seemed a good time to ask what readers think of the current state of that triangle (is it even still a triangle?) and of literary triangles in general, and also to repost a post I originally put up in 2011 on Squaring the Triangle.

Have a great weekend!


“Squaring the triangle” is a term the playwright hero of S.N. Behrman’s No Time for Comedy flippantly uses to describe what he does writing romantic comedies. I was thinking about this last week watching one of my favorite television shows, The Good Wife. The heroine is back together, at least on the surface, with the husband who betrayed her. Peter Florek is a deeply flawed character, yet I find him likable in many ways, and in last week’s episode I genuinely believed him when he said he’d fallen back in love with his life. I almost found myself wanting their marriage to work out. And that’s despite the fact that I really like Alicia’s colleague and old love, Will, and most of the time I desperately want the two of them to get together.

That’s the key to writing a really fascinating triangle, I think. Having all the characters interesting and sympathetic enough that one is somewhat torn about who ends up with whom. Which of course can create problems with also having a satisfying happily ever after, if such an ending is the goal of the story. As I’ve mentioned before, I think one of my favorite plays/movies, The Philadelphia Story, does this brilliantly in that both Mike and Dexter are sympathetic and possible options for Tracy (both much better than her stuffy fiancé George). I think often the viewer isn’t quite sure who will end up with whom. And yet the ending feels very right (at least to me).

Both Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night have several triangles. I don’t really want Mélanie/Suzanne to go back to Raoul, at least not in that way (or mostly not in that way, to paraphrase both Charles and Mel in Mask). But I’m very fond of Raoul and I can definitely see that tug between them. As Jeanne adeptly pointed out in last week’s comments, he represents a world in which Mel can practice her talents to the fullest and be herself, whereas in Charles’s world she has to work more behind-the-scenes (though she manages rather a lot of adventure in any case). Raoul ended up much more sympathetic than I had at first envisioned when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, and I think that makes the dynamic among the three of them much more interesting. Not to mention that in addition to the residual romantic tension, there’s a spy dynamic, ideological issues, and a father-son story between Raoul and Charles that takes on more prominence in Mask.

The plot of Vienna Waltz is more or less built on triangles–the triangle of Tatiana, Tsar Alexander, and Metternich which forms the set-up of the murder discovery and investigation; Suzanne/Mel, Malcolm/Charles, and Tatiana (which, whatever else it is or is not, is certainly an emotional tug-of-war); and real life triangles such as both Metternich, the tsar and Wihelmine of Sagan, and Metternich, the tsar, and Princess Catherine Bagration (Metternich and Tsar Alexander definitely carried their rivalry into the boudoir). And then there’s the triangle which is still very much an open question at the end of the book of Dorothée, Count Clam-Martinitz, and Prince Talleyrand. Dorothée isn’t sure at the end of the novel which man she’ll end up with, and that’s certainly a real life triangle in which I can sympathize with all three participants.

What do you think of triangles in books? What are some of your favorite literary triangles? Are there times when you’ve been dissatisfied with the resolution of a triangle?

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers