photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Hope all moms (of humans and pets) and honorary moms had a great Mothers’ Day! Mélanie and I had a very fun brunch and dinner with friends. And following up on the blogs about her Regency-era American Girl doll clothes and parlor, we took a trip to the Stanford Mall on Saturday and got several more outfits and accessories for Caroline, the 1812 doll who is soon to be retired (some are put away for future birthday and Christmas, though Mel ended up opening more than I intended). We promptly had a picnic with Laura in her new clothes.


Just a few days until the release of The Mayfair Affair (and the paperback is already available for order). You can download teasers from the ebook version on various platforms. Yesterday I had the fun of doing a guest post on Lauren Willig’s site about governess books (in the course of which I realized that my own Laura shares her name with two other governess characters in favorite books). Today I’m talking about Frozen and The Mayfair Affair and giving away a book on Deanna Raybourn’s blog. And Thursday, JT Ellison will be interviewing me. So great to be hosted by so many writers I admire!



Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Excited – and a bit nervous – to hear what everyone thinks! Even after multiple books the excitement and butterfly nerves of a new release remain. Meanwhile, head over to Deanna Raybourn’s blog to read some thoughts on fashion and plotting and what went into The Berkeley Square Affair.

Friday update: you can also head over to Catherine Delors’s blog to read about the connections between England and France that permeate The Berkeley Square Affair.

Happy Reading

Raybourn MS-150 RETWe have a special treat today – the lovely and multi-talented Deanna Raybourn,  author the fabulous Lady Julia Grey series of Victorian mysteries, agreed to chat with me about her much-anticipated stand alone  novel A Spear of Summer Grass.  I recently had the chance for an advanced sneak peek read of this book, and I can report that it is just as rich and wonderful as one would expect of one of Deanna’s novels, filled with vibrant characters and wonderful details of Kenya in the 1920s. One lucky commenter on the interview will have the same opportunity, as Deanna has graciously agreed to give away an advanced copy of the book. The contest closes at 6:00 pm Pacific Time on Thursday, April 18. Let the questions begin!


TRACY: A Spear of Summer Grass is set in Kenya in the 1920s. After writing a number of books set in the Victorian era, what inspired you to explore this new setting and time period?

DEANNA: My publisher wanted to take a break from the Victorian series, so my editor’s brief to me was, “Pitch us anything, literally ANYTHING, you want to write about.” So I made a list of all the subjects I read about for fun between writing novels. And once I got to twenty or thirty, I circled five that seemed to fit together in an interesting way—Africa, flappers, 1920s, safaris, rose farms. I added in a snippet of an idea I’d had a few years before for a book—about a fairly hardboiled young woman who has a scandalous mother and whose life has been influenced by her mother’s absence—and tossed it all together. I eventually changed rose farm to pyrethrum because it was more appropriate for the time period, and because the floral industry in Kenya is very politically charged right now, and I didn’t want to draw into the story all of the hideous environmental impacts that the flower farms have had on Africa. So, pyrethrum and scandalous flappers it was!

TRACY: Your books have such a wonderful sense of time and place, from sweeping visual vistas to exquisite details of clothing. What were your favorite research sources for A Spear of Summer Grass?

DEANNA: For years I’ve read memoirs of people who lived in Kenya when it was British East Africa. You simply will not find a more colorful, interesting group of people in one place. There were farmers, hunters, debutantes, aristocrats, and criminals, and they all had the same goal—to somehow make a home in what must have felt like the most remote place on earth. And those people wrote memoirs and inspired biographies that make for delicious reading. I also had to amass a collection of history books on Kenya as well as books on the cultures, flora and fauna, etc. But the reading I enjoyed the most was about the people—both the native tribes and the settlers.

TRACY: You recently released a wonderful “prequel” novella, Far in the Wilds, featuring many of the characters in A Spear of Summer Grass. Did you always have the events of that novella in mind or did you later go back and flesh out the backstory?

DEANNA: I didn’t even know there was going to be a novella until after SPEAR was written. I was offered a contract to write a Julia Grey holiday novella, and before we’d even signed the contract, my publisher amended the offer to include three additional Julia novellas and two prequel novellas for my next two stand alone novels. At that point I was casting around for an idea and my editor suggested a novella focusing on Ryder. We happened to be at a conference last summer, and I sat in the hotel lobby scribbling notes for about ten minutes, pitched it to her as she waited for a taxi, and she said, “Write it.” The whole thing took less than a quarter of an hour to plan. Ryder had two really interesting incidents in his backstory that left him with some baggage, and once I hit on an idea of how to tie them together, the novella wrote itself. It was an incredibly smooth process, thank goodness!

TRACY: As a writer of a series, one of the things I enjoy is knowing how my characters talk. After writing a number of books about Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane and their friends and family what was it like to explore the voices of a whole new set of characters?

DEANNA: It really was like throwing open the windows and letting in fresh air! Julia and Nicholas inhabit a very specific time and place—late Victorian London. Their lives, unconventional as they are, are confined in certain ways. But Africa and the 1920s and Delilah and Ryder—that was just a wide open space to play in. Plus, I’ve written over half a million words in the Julia series, so creating new voices was just FUN, particularly because Delilah is pretty shameless. She says things aloud that Julia wouldn’t even think!

TRACY: Like your Lady Julia series and your previous standalone, The Dead Travel Fast, A Spear of Summer Grass is written in the first person. What is it you enjoy about writing in this form? How do you find it different from writing in the third person, as you do in Far in the Wilds?

DEANNA: I adore first person point of view, probably because so many of the authors who influenced me used it—Harper Lee, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, Elizabeth Peters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joanne Harris. It gets a bad rap which is absurd. It’s difficult to do well. As a reader and as a writer, I love it for the immediacy it provides. You are pulling someone instantly into that fictional world by offering up a testimony, a confessional, a travelogue, a memoir. It will always be my default because it’s the POV I enjoy reading the most. I did appreciate the challenge of writing the novella in third person, and I’m quite sure I will do it with another novella I’m writing later this year. I’m also plotting out a project which will probably demand third person because some books just cannot be written from a first person perspective.

TRACY: What’s your favorite place to write?

DEANNA: In my tiny pink study. Our house was built in 1940, and as near as we can figure, my study is what used to be the sewing room. It’s very small—eight feet by nine—with no closet and it faces south with excellent light. It has a tiny alcove my husband shelved in for me, and he put up shelves on two other walls. The walls are pink, the ceiling is turquoise, and I hung a small chandelier my great-aunt gave me. I have a copy of the queen’s coronation portrait as well as inspiration boards with rotating displays and a cross-stitched saying of mine that a friend made for me: Be pretty like you mean it. It’s a tiny, wildly feminine room and it’s my favorite spot.

TRACY: Your books have wonderfully intricate plots. Do you work them out in advance or discover things as you go along or a combination of both?

DEANNA: Always a combination. I write out a synopsis of three to five pages for my editor before I begin, and then I pretty much don’t look at it at all when I’m writing. I know I’m starting at point A, and I know I mean to end up at point Z, and I may know what points D, L, and R will be, but everything else is discovery. Because they are mysteries, the Julia books have to have a more linear structure than my stand alones, so I always proceed logically forward with them. The stand alones need a more organic process. I figure them out as I go along, which isn’t my favorite way to write because it’s very much working without a net.

TRACY: I love the Shakespeare references in your books. What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

DEANNA: No fair! It’s almost too difficult to narrow down because Shakespeare was so incredibly diverse. The solemnity of his histories, the actual human pain in his tragedies—those would be genius enough but then you look at his bawdy side with the truly filthy puns in his comedies and realize this was a man who really could relate to everyone, from the most elevated royal to the lowliest commoner. And he appreciated every kind of struggle—searching for identity, for love, for revenge, for peace. He explored it all! But I will say I have a soft spot for Much Ado About Nothing. There’s a beautiful bit from the play where Beatrice is in conversation with the prince and he says he thinks she was born in a merry hour. And her reply is to tell him no because her mother cried, but that “’there was a star danc’d, and under that was I born.’” I stitched that onto a pillow for my daughter’s crib when she was born because that summed up so beautifully how I felt about her. And that to me is the glory of Shakespeare—that this man who lived centuries ago, writing what was at the time popular entertainment not cultured, highbrow literature, could know and articulate something so beautiful in so few words.

TRACY: I can’t resist asking a variant of a question you asked me. What ten literary characters would you invite to a cocktail party?

DEANNA: Hoist with my own petard! Sir Percy Blakeney, Flora Poste, Elizabeth Bennet, Flavia de Luce, Atticus Finch, Julian Kestrel, Precious Ramotswe, Miss Marple, Vianne Rocher, and Dr. John Watson. I realize we’re at odd numbers there, so I hope the gentlemen won’t mind. And I should point out that if you asked me tomorrow, I’d give you an entirely different set! I’ve also left off some compelling characters who I think would be completely tiresome at the dinner table—Heathcliff, Rochester, Amber St. Clare, Scarlett O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes. I chose Atticus instead of Scout because I already had a young person in Flavia, and I selected Dr. Watson because Holmes always gets all the love but Watson would be a much more congenial guest. I am afraid that Miss Marple might hunker down in a corner over the sherry, but I’m quite sure Precious Ramotswe and Vianne Rocher could draw her out–certainly Julia Kestrel would show her every courtesy! And Percy would be sitting at my right hand for my own personal entertainment. In fact, if I had only Percy, I’m not entirely certain I would miss the other nine…

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

The Paris Affair has now been out for two weeks, so I thought I would start a place for discussion and comments. The Reading Group questions are below in case any of them stir thoughts and discussion, but feel free to post thoughts or questions on anything relating to the book. And since it’s difficult to discuss the book without mentioning plot points, don’t worry about spoilers (so if you haven’t read the book yet, proceed with caution).

I’ve been having a lot of fun blogging and talking about The Paris Affair, including a very fun interview with Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose on Word Wenches, and Mélanie and I had a great time at Book Passage for my author event (photo above). In case you missed it, RT Book Reviews ran a piece on “celebrity look alikes” on April covers, including a comparison of Suzanne on The Paris Affair cover to Bérénice Marlohe who played Sévérine in Skyfall (rather appropriate for Suzanne to look like a Bond girl :-).  Take a look and see if you think she’d make a good Suzanne. Also, The Paris Affair is one of RT’s nominees for April “cover of the month” (huge thanks again to the Kensington art department!).

On April 15, I have a special treat in store. I’ll be interviewing the fabulous Deanna Raybourn about her forthcoming, much-anticipated A Spear of Summer Grass, and Deanna will be giving away a copy of the book.

Finally, thank you so much to everyone who has bought The Paris Affair and/or has been posting about it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online. The support is hugely appreciated!

1. Compare and contrast the marriages of Suzanne and Malcolm, Cordelia and Harry, Rupert and Gabrielle, Paul and Juliette. How do secrets affect each marriage?

2.How does the solution to the mystery of Tatiana’s child parallel the issues in post-Waterloo France?

3. Discuss the different ways in which issues of inheritance drive various characters in the book.

4. Did you guess who was behind Antoine Rivère’s death? Why or why not?

5. How are Malcolm and Suzanne similar to a modern couple struggling to balance family and the demands of careers?

6. Which new characters in this book do you think might play roles later on in the series?

7. How do you think Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship will change if they move to Britain?

8. What did Suzanne gain in giving up her work as a French spy? What did she lose? Without that work, is she more or less herself?

9. How do you think Paul and Juliette and the Lacloses will resolve the question of Pierre’s inheritance?

10. What do you think lies ahead for Rupert, Bertrand, and Gabrielle?

11. How do the events of the book change Malcolm, Suzanne, Harry, Cordelia, Wilhelmine, and Dorothée? How do the relationships among them change?

12. What do you think Gui will do after the close of the story?

13. How has the outcome of the battle of Waterloo shaped the choices faced by the various characters?

14. Discuss how both Talleyrand and Raoul O’Roarke have influenced Malcolm in the absence of a strong relationship with his own father.

15.   Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together?

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.