Mélanie and I had a great time at the Gilded Deceit Launch Party at Book Passage on Saturday! Thanks to everyone who came – for those who couldn’t make it, here’s a photo diary that captures some special moments from the day.


Mélanie and I started the day getting our hair done



Excited to find Mummy’s name!


Helping set up the reception


Note the beautiful flowers!


Mélanie helping me answer questions – she asked the first one!


With my high school English teacher and Bonnie (aka “Auntie Bonnie” to Mel) my friend since high school


With our wonderful friends Alex and Miriam


With our wonderful event host Johanna – she is fabulous and Book Passage is so great at welcoming authors!


Celebrating at dinner


Enjoying dinner with Mélanie


A late toast to close out a lovely day!

The Gilded Deceit Launch Party is almost here! This Saturday, June 3, at 4:00 pm, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA. I’ll be reading from and talking about Gilded Deceit, taking questions, and signing books. We’ll have wine, sparkling water, and light hors d’oeuvres. It should be a really fun afternoon. Do stop by if you’re in the area – you can read more details here. If you can’t make it but would like a signed copy, you can contact Book Passage and arrange it, and I’ll personalize the book on Saturday. Mélanie and I were thrilled to see Gilded Deceit on display when we stopped by the store last week. Book Passage is a great place, so supportive of writers!

Meanwhile, if you’ve read Gilded Deceit, do share your thoughts here or on the Google+ Group (and on other social media if you feel like it).

Now I need to figure out what to wear Saturday…




I had a wonderful time last  weekend celebrating London Gambit with a launch party, talk, and signing at the wonderful Book Passage. Book Passage is such a fabulous store for readers and writers. As always, their welcome was warm and wonderful to me and to Mélanie.

First Mélanie and I both got our hair done at Benvenuto Salon, where I’ve been going since my 8th grade graduation, though Mélanie slept through having her hair styled.



Mélanie was wonderful help setting up books when we got to Book Passage.



Our Book Passage host Johanna was fabulous and super organized, as she has been in the past.


Mélanie was fascinated by the stage and wanted to talk into the microphone.





I talked a bit about how current events can resonate even with historical fiction and about how I was writing the early scene between Malcolm and David about David and Simon’s  relationship when  the marriage equality decision came down. Then I read from where Malcolm brings Teddy home through that scene. Mélanie (and her new Ariel doll) sat through the whole thing!




Afterwards we sipped wine, nibbled on cheese and crackers and strawberries, and I signed books (including some readers had ordered from across the country, very cool!) and got to chat with old and new friends.

With the wonderful Eve Lynch, who copy-edited London Gambit (and The Mayfair Affair and the two recent novellas) and her husband Niall.


With my friend Marlene, a fellow Dorothy Dunnett reader.


With new friend Cathy who is a friend of a friend but had discovered my books on her own (always cool to hear!).


With Mélanie’s Auntie Bonnie, my friend from high school.



Mélanie loved helping sign books.



Afterwards we celebrated at a lovely dinner at Brick & Bottle, right next door to Book Passage and one of our favorites.






 London Gambit is out in the world now. Always exciting and a bit scary to launch a child :-). This Saturday, June 4, at 4:00 pm, I’ll be celebrating the books release with a launch party and reading at the wonderful Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. If you happen to be in the area and can stop by, it would be great to see friendly faces in the audience! If you can’t make it but would like a signed copy of London Gambit, you can order one, and I will personalize it at the signing.

I’m in the midst of writing the next novella, which begins immediately after the end of London Gambit and will be out next November. I’ve also started on the next full length novel, which begins a few weeks later and will be out next May. I’m taking a break right now to get ready for Saturday’s event – which means everything from writing a speech to choosing an excerpt to read to planning what to wear (probably the new dress I got for my recent 50th birthday, in the picture with Mélanie above).

We’re having some wonderful discussion of London Gambit on the Google+ Group – everything from the ending (which rather cries out for discussion!) to casting threads to themes and characters. Do stop by (if you aren’t a member already, it’s easy to join and I promise I’ll approve your membership quickly). Or share your thoughts on London Gambit here.



Last week I had the fun of going back to my favorite book store, Book Passage, this time for a summer reading event put on my the Larkspur Corte Madera Mothers Club, which I just joined. A great group which Mélanie and I are having a lot of fun with. I got to talk a bit about The Mayfair Affair and to listen to some wonderful summer reading suggestions for the moms and their children.

With the wonderful Elaine Petrocelli, founder and president of Book Passage

With the wonderful Elaine Petrocelli, founder and president of Book Passage


With Laura von Waldburg and Erica Applestein who organized the event

And to keep the Mayfair discussion going, I’d love to hear readers thoughts on one of my favorites of the discussion questions.

  1. What do you think Raoul is really saying with his last question to Laura and why is he relieved she understands?

At the gate, he turned back, his hand on the latch. “Laura—”

She saw him hesitate, searching for the words. All at once she understood. She smiled. “I’ll look after them for you.”

Relief at her understanding broke across his face. “Thank you.”

Happy weekend!



Last Saturday, May 30, I had the fun of being back at my favorite bookstore, Book Passage, for a launch event for The Mayfair Affair. Always a treat for a writer to be able to talk about her books :-). Mélanie made the day for me. When we pulled into the parking lot, I said “We’re here because Mummy’s going to talk about her books.” Mélanie said, “I think you should talk about my books.” I said, “What books do you want me to talk about?” She replied, “Pride and Prejudice is my favorite.” (She has a couple of children’s versions of Pride and Prejudice).

For those who missed the event, here’s a photo diary, from arrival at the store through  a lovely dinner with friends afterwards.

And to keep the Mayfair discussion going, I’d love to hear what readers think of the state of Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship in this book, three months on from the revelations of The Berkeley Square Affair.

Happy weekend!


5.30.15TracyMeldisplay BonnieMelTracy

Melchair Tracytalking2 MelBooksTracytalking Tracysigning TracyMelsigning3 TracyMelsigning2 MelTracydistanceMelTracysnuggle BPsigning2 BPsigning TracyMelBob 5.30.15dinner

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Last Monday I was back at Book Passage, but this time to talk about the two operas the Merola Opera Program is presenting this summer. I had a lot of fun working on my talk, so I thought it would be fun to post it here. Unfortunately, I can’t post the musical excerpts, but you can seek them out online.

It’s great to be back at Book Passage. I’ve been here before as a novelist, most recently last March. I was going to say  I’m here today for the other important part  of my life, but actually it’s the third of three important parts. There’s being a novelist, being a mom to my two-and-a-half-year-old Mélanie who is here today, and then my work with the Merola Opera Program. I was a Merola Board member for 13 years, and I’m now Director of Foundation, Corporate, and Government Relations.

The Merola Opera Program was founded in 1957 by Kurt Herbert Adler, the second General Director of San Francisco Opera, in honor of the first General Director, Gaietano Merola, who was a great champion of young singers. Merola is a summer training program for young opera artists at the start of their careers. Nearly all have already finished college and many have completed graduate school. We typically get applications from over 800 young artists from around the world. Our artistic staff auditions 600 to 650 of these in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, and New York. Twenty-three singers, five pianist coaches, and one stage director are chosen to come to San Francisco for eleven weeks. All their expenses are paid, including travel, housing, and a weekly stipend. They have intensive training in vocal technique, acting, languages, stage combat, professional development, and a host of other subjects that will help hone their talents and forge their careers. A vital component of training is performance, so they put their skills into practice in two operas as well as our Schwabacher Summer Concert of opera scenes and our Merola Grand Finale concert at the end of the program.

I’m here today to talk about the two operas Merola will present this summer, A Streetcar Named Desire by André Previn and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Both operas are based on literary works. Don Giovanni, with a libretto by Mozart’s frequent collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte, is based on the early 17th century Spanish play El Buriador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina. Streetcar, obviously, is based on the Tennessee Williams play, which the libretto by Philip Littell closely follows. When I heard these were the two operas for this summer, I was very intrigued because though they are very different stories, from different eras, set to different music, there are some strong thematic parallels.  When I wrote about the two operas for our recent newsletter, I called the article “A Season of Desire.” Not only do the characters in both operas grapple with their desires, for Don Giovanni and Stanley Kowalski, sex is definitely  a way of expressing power. For the women in both operas, desire is a more complicated thing, largely due to the double-standard that existed both in the 18th century and the 1940s – and has not entirely vanished today. I thought I would frame my look at these two operas by playing excerpts from each that have thematic connections, My friend Merola Board member Patrick Wilken who has just about every opera recording ever made kindly made me a CD of the excerpts I chose.

We begin with Don Giovanni in his element – bent on seduction. He is flirting with the peasant girl Zerlina. Don Giovanni and Zerlina just met at Zerlina’s wedding to her true love Masetto, but that merely makes things more interesting for Don Giovanni He begins in elegant 18th century fashion by asking her to give him her hand. In this recording Merola alumnus Thomas Hampson plays Don Giovanni and Barbara Bonney plays Zerlina.

[recording 1- La ci darem la mano]

Don Giovanni’s approach to Zerlina is that of a courtly 18th century aristocrat. Not that he cavils at cruder methods as he shows earlier in the opera with Donna Anna and later with Zerlina. But he is very much in the mold of the Vicomte de Valmont is Dangerous Liaisons. The conquest is all. There’s no evidence in DaPonte’s libretto that he has an emotional connection to any of his conquests.

Our next excerpt is an iconic scene from Streetcar. The setting and circumstances are very different, but at the center we again have a baritone whose objective is to get a soprano into bed. The scene is a poker game at which Stanley loses his temper and hits his pregnant wife Stella. Stella and her sister Blanche flee upstairs to the apartment of their neighbor Eunice. Stanley then pleads with Stella to come back to him.This recording features the cast who premiered the opera at San Francisco Opera – Renée Fleming as Blanche, Elizabeth Futral as Stella, Rodney Gilfrey as Stanley, Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch, Judith Forst as Eunice, and Matthew Lord as Steve.

[recording 2 – poker scene/Stella]

Sex is at the heart of both these scenes, but unlike Don Giovanni, Stanley has an emotional connection to Stella, which Previn brings out in the lush underscoring that is both passionate and unexpectedly lyrical. Both Don Giovanni and Stanley equate sex with conquest, but while for  Giovanni the goal is to add more names to his catalogue for Stanley it’s more complicated. A lot of Stanley’s hostility to Blanche comes from the fact that he sees Blanche as trying to take Stella away from him (as Blanche literally does in this scene when she urges Stella to leave the apartment). There’s also a social class dynamic in both scenes. Stanley is very aware that Stella and Blanche came from a different world, symbolized by the lost plantation Belle Reve. He talks in another scene about pulling Stella down off those columns. Giovanni on the other hand is an aristocrat, which gives him power over Zerlina and also adds to his glamour in her eyes. Again, a house becomes a symbol of power and position in the world, as Giovanni talks about spiriting Zerlina off to his castle.

Both Giovanni and Stanley are baritones. In both operas, a tenor character offers a foil to each of these men. The next excerpt features Don Ottavio, singing of his love for his betrothed Donna Anna. At the beginning of the opera Don Giovanni breaks into Anna’s bedchamber. Exactly how far things go is unclear. In some productions, it is even implied that Anna perhaps was willing, at least at the start. What is clear, because we see it on stage, is that Giovanni then fights and kills Anna’s father. Anna makes Ottavio swear vengeance on the man who killed her father. Ottavio is reluctant to act until he knows for a certainty who the attacker was. In this aria, he explains that his peace of mind depends on that of his beloved. Hans Peter Blochwitz as Don Ottavio.

[recording 3 – Dalla sua pace]

For all Ottavio’s pretty words, Anna is reluctant to go ahead with their marriage. Her hesitation could stem from guilt over her father’s death, trauma from the assault. or potentially even because she has feelings for Don Giovanni herself.

In Streetcar, Mitch offers a gentler alternative to Stanley. And if Anna holds Ottavio at arms’ length, Blanche is eager, desperate even, to latch on to the security Mitch offers. Here, Mitch tells Blanche his mother wants to meet her, a prelude it seems to a proposal. Like Ottavio’s, his music is lyrical and fluid expressing a softer approach that speaks of love and yearning more than passion. Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch.

[recording 4 – Mitch aria, “I’m not getting any younger”]

Desire also motivates the women in both these operas, but they find it more difficult to express. When Anna tells Ottavio about the masked man who broke into her room she says at first she thought it was him. The implication is that she would not have been unhappy if it was, despite the fact that a tryst with a man who was not yet her husband would be seen as scandalous behavior for a gently bred 18th century lady. Donna Elvira, the third of Don Giovanni’s conquests in the opera, apparently has had a longer term relationship with him. In fact, she sees herself as his wife. He abandons her before the start of the opera, but throughout the story she is torn between a desire for vengeance and a desire for Don Giovanni himself. In this aria, she sees his downfall coming and yet confesses that she feels pity for him and that while her heart speaks of vengeance, her heart also still beats for him. The music pulses with emotions stronger than pity. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Donna Elvira.

[recording 5 – Mi tradi]

If Elvira is torn between her desire for vengeance and her desire for Don Giovanni, Blanche is torn between her desire to cast a romantic glow over stark reality and her personal experience of the harsh nature of life and the raw power of desire. In this scene Mitch has learned that Blanche is older than he believed and that she is not the prim woman she appeared to be. In the town she came from, she had a reputation for sleeping with the soldiers from the nearby camp, and she lost her teaching position for an affair with a student. As Blanche describes how the soldiers would stand on the lawn and call to her to come down to them – much as Stanley called to Stella in the earlier scene – a woman passes by selling flowers for the dead. Renée Fleming as Blanche, Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch, and Josepha Gayer as the flower seller.

[recording 6 – Blanche/Mitch]

What drives Don Giovanni to his conquests is never spelled out in the opera. For Blanche on the other hand, desire is an escape from the death and destruction around her as she saw her parents die and her home lost. “Death the opposite is desire,” she tells Mitch. Interestingly the woman selling flowers for the dead mentions flames and fire at the end of the excerpt, foreshadowing Blanche’s destruction. Flame also signals Giovanni’s destruction, when the statue of Anna’s father comes to life and drags the unrepentant Giovanni down to hell. Though Stanley and Giovanni both equate desire with conquest, it is Blanche and Giovanni who are destroyed. And yet when Stanley uses sexual violence to win his struggle with Blanche, he may sew the seeds that will unravel his relationship with Stella.

There’s so much more to explore in both these operas. I hope you’ll consider coming to see them. And I’d love to answer questions about one or both operas or about Merola. My colleague Dan Meagher has information about the operas and tickets. Thank you.

3.25.12MelParisAffairSo excited that The Paris Affair is out tomorrow! I realized I’ve been so busy doing interviews I’ve neglected my own blog a bit. In case you missed it, I was on Deanna Raybourn’s blog and Susanne Dunlap’s blog. And today, I’m talking with Heather Webb and Susan Spann. All these fabulous authors asked wonderful, diverse questions, so do check out the interviews.

Saturday, March 30, I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you’d like a signed copy of The Paris Affair but can’t make the reading, you can order one, and I will sign it and personalize it on the 30th, and they’ll send it to you.

I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts on The Paris Affair. Meanwhile, to set the stage, here’s a bit about the historical context. I’ll post a new Fraser Correspondence letter later this week.

The battle of Waterloo may have ended the major fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, but it was far from bringing an end to the simmering tensions of the past quarter century. When Napoleon escaped from the field at Waterloo, Louis XVIII was still in exile in Ghent. Much of the negotiating for France in the immediate aftermath of the battle was done by two men whose careers had been closely intertwined with that of Napoleon Bonaparte and with the Revolution – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Joseph Fouché.

Prince Talleyrand, Napoleon’s former foreign minister (though he had left office well before Napoleon’s exile)  had survived in the first Bourbon restoration to represent France at the Congress of Vienna and had not rejoined Napoleon when Bonaparte escaped from Elba. Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police for much of his rule, had worked with the Allies against Napoleon in 1814 but then rejoined Napoleon after his escape from Elba and served as his minister of police during the Hundred Days. After Napoleon’s resignation was demanded by the Chamber of Deputies, Fouché became head of the provisional government and negotiated with the victorious Allies (whom Talleyrand had joined). Louis XVIII was a weak king and the Allies saw the need to keep both Talleyrand and Fouché to fill the power vacuum, at least temporarily. Talleyrand became Prime Minister and asked Fouché to stay on as Minister of Police.

Emboldened by Napoleon’s second defeat, the Ultra Royalists, led by Louis XVIII’s brother the Comte d’Artois, wanted vengeance on those who had gone over to Napoleon during the Hundred Days (and really for everything since the Revolution). Though the Ultra Royalists despised Fouché as a regicide who had voted for the execution of Louis XVI, it was Fouché who recieved denunciations against former Bonapartists. Fouché, expert at using terror to maintain control (and preserve his own position) played a key role in carrying out the White Terror against Bonapartists (and suspected Bonapartists) who were proscribed from the amnesty, though the Ultra Royalists went too far even for him. Talleyrand advocated a more temperate approach and made the best of a weak hand as he negotiated with the Allies. Ultra Royalist gangs attacked Bonapartists in the south. Allied soldiers – British, Prussian, Dutch-Belgian, Bavarian – thronged the boulevards and quais of Paris and were encamped in the Bois de Boulogne, leading to frequent tension with the French populace. Royalist émigrés, many of whom had fled France two decades ago, returned seeking to have their estates restored.

Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch step into this glittering, simmering cauldron in The Paris Affair. The mystery they investigate twists through the glamorous veneer of Restoration Paris and the smoldering tensions beneath. Both Talleyrand and Fouché are major characters. The book also gave me the chance to revisit old friends such as Talleyrand’s niece Dorothée and her sister Wilhelmine, the Duchess of Sagan. I loved writing about Waterloo in Imperial Scandal but I found its aftermath every bit as intriguing to research and write about.