Last Friday I saw an amazing Lohengrin at San Francisco Opera, including a truly fabulous vocal and dramatic performance by Brandon Jovanovich in the title role. With its story of a heroine who must swear never to ask her husband’s name and then begins to wonder who the man who married really is, the plot gave me a lot to think about in terms of the struggles I’m dramatizing for Suzanne and Malcolm. A key scene in the opera is Elsa and Lohengrin’s wedding night. Though it begins with the now iconic wedding march and includes some ravishing music, it is ultimately a confrontation that marks the end of a marriage rather than the consummation of one.

Watching it I thought about other memorable wedding night scenes. Peter and Harriet’s in Busman’s Honeymoon is probably my favorite for emotional resonance, but I was also thinking about stories in which the wedding night veers off from the expected and, as in Lohengrin, takes the couple in a different direction. One that immediately came to mind is Nicholas and Gelis’s wedding night in Scales of Gold in Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series. It contains what is known to Dunnett readers as The Wedding Night Surprise, a much analyzed and debated scene that changes the course of the marriage and the series. (As a side note, Saturday was Dorothy Dunnett Day, and I spent it at lunch with some wonderful Dunnett readers).

For my November teaser it seems appropriate to post a bit from Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding night from His Spanish Bride (which will be released on November 23). What are some of your favorite wedding night scenes?

I just got some gorgeous coverflats for The Paris Affair, so I’ll give away a signed one to one of this week’s commenters. And check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition from Cordelia to Violet.


Malcolm drew a breath and rapped at the bedchamber door.
“Yes.” His wife’s—his wife’s—voice came from behind the polished panels. “That is, come in.”
He turned the handle. Never had he felt such trepidation at stepping into his own bedchamber.
Suzanne sat on the dressing table bench, wrapped in a dressing gown of seafoam silk. Her dark hair spilled loose over her shoulders, the cropped bits still curled round her face. Her bare feet peeped out from beneath the silk and muslin of her dressing gown and nightdress. He had seen her in dresses that exposed more skin, but something about the déshabille was at once more seductive and more vulnerable than any glimpse he’d had of her before. His throat closed. His mind clamped down on every impulse of his body.
“Do you have everything you need?” His voice sounded thin to his own ears.
“Yes.” Her own voice was like frayed silk. “Addison arranged things perfectly. Though I’m afraid I’ve quite taken over your dressing table.”
Enamel boxes and glass jars clustered on the dressing table top. He wasn’t sure what had become of his shaving kit until he saw it on the chest of drawers. He saw something else beside the chest of drawers. A silver cooler with a bottle of champagne.
“Addison left that for us,” Suzanne said. “A touch of romance I wouldn’t have expected.” She bit her lip as though she wasn’t sure about the word “romance.”
Two crystal glasses stood on the escritoire, sparkling in the light from the brace of candles. Malcolm wasn’t sure whether to thank his valet or groan. He picked up the champagne bottle and opened it, which at least gave him something to do with his hands. He splashed champagne on the dressing table but managed to hand Suzanne a glass without breaking it or spattering champagne on her. He picked up his own glass and touched it to hers. To say “to us” seemed presumptuous when there scarcely was an “us.” Instead he said, “To the future.”
She smiled and took a sip of champagne. He did as well, a rather deeper sip than he intended. “Suzanne—” He retreated to lean against the chest of drawers. “We needn’t— There needn’t be anything between us until after the baby’s born. Or even after that. Not until—not unless you’re ready.”
He more than half-expected her to look away. Instead she met his gaze. Her eyes looked very open. He realized it was because she’d removed the blacking she used to line them and darken her lashes. “You already made that very obliging offer. But we’re married, and I think we should begin as we mean to go on, as it were. “
He took another sip of champagne. His mouth was dry. “What I’m trying to say is you can define how we mean to go on.”
“And what I’m trying to say is that I’d welcome new memories to make the old go away.”

Charles nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannons rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of Vienna Waltz, at a ball given by the British ambassador (where you met Cordelia Davenport in last week’s excerpt). But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of the book moves back and forth between the battlefield where Charles/Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington and Brussels where Mélanie/Suzanne and Cordelia are nursing the wounded.

I’m currently in the midst of revising the battle scenes, which are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written. On my first draft I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field was strewn with dead or dying men and horses.

Earlier this week I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

It’s a grim world to live in as a writer. A couple of days ago I saw a fabulous final dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung, the last opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera, which with its destruction and tragedy and wasted lives seemed very apropos of the scenes I’ve been writing. I drafted this post outdoors in the café at the California Shakespeare theater waiting for their production of Titus Andronicus to begin. A play rooted in war and definitely about violence, which also seems apropos. And having now seen, the production, which was brilliant and disturbing, these lines seems particularly to resonate with the scenes I’ve been writing, which moves back and forth between the Allies and the French:

But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Melanie to Raoul, where, among other things, she talks about Frederick Radley. Which brings up another question. What did you think of the revelations about Mel/Suzette’s relationship with Radley in Vienna Waltz, and did you think she was telling the full truth to Charles/Malcolm?

with my editor Audrey LaFehr and my agent Nancy Yost

Happy New Year! Hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year’s weekend. I’m very happy to report that I am seeing the 2010 in with a new two-book contract with Kensington Books. That’s my wonderful new editor Audrey LaFehr in the picture above, with me and my fabulous agent Nancy Yost on my November trip to New York at a Merola Opera Program party.

I’m in the midst of writing the first book on the contract, which has the working title The Dark Waltz. Those of you who follow my status updates on Twitter and Facebook have been seeing updates about the progress of this book for some time. The Dark Waltz is set at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. I’ve been writing background for the book in the Fraser Correspondence as well. In essence it’s the story of Charles and Mélanie’s adventures at the Congress. You may recall mentions of their time at the Congress of Vienna in both Secrets of a Lady and Beneath a Silent Moon (including references to a murder Charles investigated in Vienna). In The Dark Waltz, they are called Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch, rather than Mélanie and Charles Fraser. However readers familiar with the series will easily be able to recognize parallels between them and several of the other characters. I’ll also be writing under a slightly different name, Teresa Grant rather than Tracy (but since Tracy is a nickname for Teresa, I can still be Tracy in my online persona).

I’ve wanted to set a book at the Congress of Vienna for ages. It offers such rich scope for a novelist. After Napoleon was exiled to Elba, representatives of countries across Europe gathered in Vienna to redraw the Continental map. There was a great deal of intriguing, both political and romantic. The Congress was a very glamorous event with masquerade balls, balloon ascensions, sleigh rides, a recreation of a medieval tournament, and scores of illicit love affairs. The Austrians tried to slip agents into the foreign delegations as scullery maids and bootboys and everyone was combing through diplomatic wastebaskets looking for coded papers.

The Dark Waltz
centers on the murder of a scandalous Russian princess. The hero (a British diplomatic attaché) and the heroine (his wife), are drawn into investigating. Among the suspects are a number of real historical people, including the unhappy Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia; the idealistic Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski who is her former lover; the wily French Foreign Minister Prince Talleyrand and his beautiful young niece-by-marriage Dorothée with whom he may be falling in love; the handsome, arrogant Tsar Alexander; the brilliant Austrian Foreign Minister Prince Metternich; the Duchess of Sagan and Princess Catherine Bagration, both of whom are romantically involved with both the Tsar and Metternich, as the (fictional) murder victim also was.

I’m having a wonderful time writing the book, weaving together real people and events with fictional ones, and exploring the early days of the marriage of my two favorite characters. I’ve learned some new things about them in the process, which I think will intrigue readers. As to The Mask of Night, it may be the second book on my two-book contract, which would be wonderful, but that isn’t decided yet.

Here’s a new video clip where I talk a bit more about The Dark Waltz:

I’d love to answer any questions about The Dark Waltz. Watch for more video clips and excerpts in the future. And be sure to check out David’s 1813 New Year letter to Charles in the Fraser Correspondence.

Lauren Willig has been posting wonderful playlists on her blog for her Pink Carnation books. I always listen to music as I write. I pick one or two composers for each book. But there are also specific songs and other pieces of music, by those composers and others, that resonate with certain scenes and characters. So in the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I thought I would follow Lauren’s example.

Here, to begin with, is the playlist for Secrets of a Lady:

Wotan’s Fire Music, Die Walküre, Richard Wagner

Wagner was one of the two composers I focused on for Secrets. Obviously the whole Ring has a lot of parallels to the books–a ring associated with power, tangled family relationships. But Wotan’s Fire Music seems particularly appropriate to Raoul’s role as a manipulator with ambiguous motives.

Beethoven’s 9th

Beethoven was the other composer I focused on in writing Secrets. The 9th was written too late for me to reference it in Secrets, but to me it sums up the belief in humanity, which in different ways is shared by Charles, Mel, and Raoul.

The Riddle, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Frank Wildhorn & Nan Knighton

I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway with my friend Penny Williamson while I was writing the book that became Secrets of a Lady. After this trio by Marguerite, Chauvelin, and Percy that closes the first act, Penny turned to me and said “well, that’s definitely your characters.” Not quite the same situation, of course, but this song does make me think of Mel, Raoul, and Charles.

Dove Sono, The Marriage of Figaro, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Lorenzo da Ponte

One of the edits I made between Daughter of the Game and Secrets of a Lady was to change the piece of music of which Charles’s thinks he knew “the precise chord that always brought tears to her [Mel’s] eyes” from a the Moonlight Sonata to Dove Sono. I had struggled to find the right piece of music when I was writing the book. I love the Moonlight Sonata and I still associate it with Mel (she plays it in Beneath a Silent Moon, though I now know it wasn’t referred to as the Moonlight Sonata until later). But after Daughter was published I realized Dove Sono, the Countess’s aria asking what happened to the happy days of her marriage, was the perfect piece of music to bring tears to Mel’s eyes.

Let’s Say Goodbye, The Noel Coward Songbook, Ian Bostridge vocal), Jeffrey Tate (piano)

This wistful song about taking a love affair and its end lightly, with lot of unstated emotion that belies the sangfroid of the words, always makes me think of Mélanie and Raoul.

What songs or pieces of music would you add to the Secrets playlist? Writers, do you come up with playlists for your own books? Readers, do you associate certain pieces of music with books you read?

The Fraser Correspondence continues in December 1812, with Mel writing to Raoul just a few days after her marriage to Charles.

Saturday night I saw Rhinegold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera. This is a sort of sneak preview a new production of the Ring, co-commissioned by Washington Opera and San Francisco Opera, an “American Ring” with imagery taken from America’s history and culture. Rhinegold used imagery from the Gold Rush and the twenties. As I understand it, the rest of the operas will go forward in time. We’ll get the full Ring cycle in the summer of 2011.

At the first notes of music Saturday night, I remembered Angel’s comment when he came back in a late episode of Buffy and watched Buffy fight: “oh, I’ve missed this.” :-). I’ve loved the Ring operas ever since I first saw Die Walküre at fifteen. The emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games. Before the opera, my friend jim and I were talking about Battlestar Galactica, which he loves, and I’ve recently started watching. It turned out four different people around us also are big fans of the show, and we ended up in an enthusiastic discussion until the lights dimmed. It was actually quite apropos to the opera–“emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games” could describe Battlestar Galactica as much as the Ring.

Imagery from the Ring (sometimes based on the Ring itself, sometimes based on common cultural sources) is all over literature and popular culture. As we we’re leaving, jim said when we saw the operas before, he’d never thought about the parallels to the Fellowship of the Ring. The Star Wars movies abound in parallels, with the twins separated at birth, the naive young man who learns to become a hero, the mysterious, unknown father who sells his soul for power. Watching Rhinegold on Saturday, I kept thinking of Cigarette Smoking man as Wotan, with Mulder and Scully as Siegmunde and Sieglinde. Of course, The X-Files abound in mythic references, Orpheus and Eurydice and the Oresteia among others.

I first saw the complete Ring cycle on stage at San Francisco Opera with my mom when we were writing A Touch of Scandal, one of our Anthea Malcolm Regencies. Over dinner before one of the operas, I said, “actually this has a lot in common with our book. The Melchett family are like the gods, their estate Sundon is Valhalla, and Fiona is like Siegfried, a child raised in secrecy who comes back to reclaim her birthright and bring down the family. The Marchioness of Parminter is Wotan. Gideon is like Brunhilde, once connected to the Melchetts (the way Brunhilde was to the gods), but now Fiona’s lover and ally.” I was being half tongue in cheek, but as I talked I realized how very many parallels there were.

And there are the Charles & Mélanie books. It’s not entirely coincidence that Secrets of a Lady also involves the search for with supposedly mythical powers. Charles and Mélanie aren’t brother and sister, but their past history is more tangled than either of them realizes. I can definitely see Raoul O’Roarke as a Wotan type–a puppet master who makes morally ambiguous choices and plays dice with those close to him, though he genuinely does care about them. I could also see Mélanie as a Brunhilde–a warrior who struggles over losing her powers when she falls in love and marries and yet who maintains her ability to think and act for herself.

Have you ever seen the Ring? Do you like looking for mythological parallels in literature and popular culture? Writers, do you consciously use mythological reference in your books or sometimes realize they’re there later on?

With this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve continued with letters written from Dunmykel during the events of Beneath a Silent Moon, this time David writing to his sister Isobel, trying to puzzle out the relationship between Honoria and Kenneth Fraser.