photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Happy weekend! Last Saturday Mélanie and I had the fun of enjoying another outdoor movie. This time It was Frozen, Mel’s favorite movie and one I love as well. (I’m planning a blog about why for the future). There was a visit from Queen Elsa before the movie started, so Mélanie was in transports. A lot of the kids sang along to “Let It Go” and I confess I was hard pressed not to do so myself. Afterwards we had a fun pizza dinner (pic above). I love sharing movies with her, and she’s getting old enough that we’re starting to be able to enjoy live performances as well.

I’m deep in a second (or third, depending on how one counts) of my WIP, but I’ve been out and about online quite a bit recently as well. I wrote a blog for the Merola Opera Program about the historical facts behind Donizetti’s Anna Bolena that allowed me to combine my love of opera and history. I later reworked the blog for History Hoydens, and I blogged on History Hoydens about what travel would be like for Malcolm and Suzanne and family as opposed to Mélanie and me. And I had the great fun of being interviewed on  The Bubblebath Reader, as part of a celebration of Lauren Willig’s fabulous Pink Carnation books.

Due to length, Ashley had to cut a couple of questions (she asked great questions, and I have a way of talking on :-). So I thought it would be fun to post the outtakes here. Be sure to head over to The Bubblebath Reader and  read the whole interview.

Ashley: Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
Tracy: I did a lot of acting in high school and college and was an apprentice at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. I love opera and was a Board member of the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, coach/pianists, and stage directors, for many years. I now work for Merola part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate, and Government Relations.

Ashley: You’ve created a really fascinating cast of supporting characters for Malcolm and Suzanne.  Do you have a favorite of these characters to write?  If you could give any of these characters their own novel, which one would it be?

Tracy: One of the things I love about writing a series is being able to create a large cast of characters and follow their stories from book to book. It’s hard to pick favorites, but I particularly enjoy writing Harry and Cordelia Davenport. They both came to life very easily from their first appearance in “Imperial Scandal.” David and Simon are also favorites and there’s a lot to their story I haven’t told yet. And Raoul O’Roarke is also wonderfully fun to write. His voice came to me very easily from the first, whereas it takes longer to get the voice for other characters. Raoul feels so central to Malcolm and Suzanne’s story that I didn’t really think of him as a secondary character at first. I also love writing some of the real historical characters, particularly Wilhelmine of Sagan, Dorothée Talleyrand, and Prince Talleyrand himself. It’s difficult to think of any of these characters without Malcolm and Suzanne, but if I wrote a book that focused on another character, it would probably be Harry and Cordy or Raoul or David and Simon. Raoul plays a major role in my WIP and David and Simon will figure prominently in one of the future books, though in both cases Malcolm and Suzanne are still central.

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. I’m looking forward to the Merola Opera Program’s performances of Don Giovanni this week which have inspired a couple of recent posts. I’m also blogging on History Hoydens about nannies and the challenges of childcare and trust involved, today and historically. Do check it out, especially if you like me “writing mom” posts.

I’ve also been mulling over an email  I got from a reader. She was excited to have found Malcolm & Suzanne after having started with Charles & Mélanie and said some lovely things about The Berkeley Square Affair. She also said “Is it my imagination or does the story as told for Malcolm and Suzanne seem less dark than when it was Charles and Melanie’s? Malcolm seems more hopeful and less pessimistic than Charles, while Suzanne seems more pessimistic and less pragmatic than Melanie.”

This intrigued me. To me they are the same people, but I think inevitably characters develop and change a bit over the course of a series (so they’d probably have morphed a bit even if they were still called Charles and Mel). I definitely think Malcolm is more aware of being a spy and the compromises he himself has made than Charles was – that was actually starting to be the case for the Beneath a Silent Moon and The Mask of Night Charles. Charles is Daughter/Secrets didn’t even like to use the word spy. So Malcolm was going to have a more pragmatic reaction to Suzanne’s revelations and be more aware of his own deceptions and compromises. But I don’t know that I’d call him more hopeful. I don’t think of Suzanne as more pessimistic but perhaps since you’re seeing her in the midst of her deceptions she dwells on them and her guilt more? In any case, I’m always intrigued by how my characters appear to others, and I’d love to hear what readers of this blog think.

7.19.14TracyMelIt’s a busy opera month for us! Above are Mélanie and me at Merola’s outdoor Schwabacher Summer Concert this weekend. This month’s teaser combines my WIP with my work for the Merola Opera Program. The talk I recently gave at Book Passage about Merola’s 2014 productions stirred some thoughts about Don Giovanni that made it into a scene I just wrote. It seemed a good time to post it. But please note, this is a first draft!

“I wonder if Don Giovanni would be so infernally attractive if Mozart hadn’t given him such ravishing melodies to sing.” Cordelia rested a gloved hand on the gilded paneling against which Gui Laclos was lounging. “The man doesn’t show a scrap of affection or concern for any of his conquests. Of course I used to pride myself on not taking my love affairs seriously.”
“There’s a difference between being light-hearted and callous, Cordy.” Gui gave a twisted smile. “You couldn’t be callous if you tried.”
It was good to see him smile, but his eyes were still shadowed and his face gaunt. “You may be seeing me through rose-colored glasses, my sweet.”
“No. You I think I’ve always seen clearly, Cordy.” For a moment, she thought he was going to confide in her, but instead he said, “Poor bastard, Don Ottavio. He tells Donna Anna his peace depends on her own and she doesn’t seem particularly interested.”
“And really, what more could a woman want than a man who put one’s happiness first. Unless of course he didn’t seem to understand one’s happiness.” Cordelia unfurled her fan and ran her fingers over the ebony and lace. “Donna Anna says when Don Giovanni broke into her room at first she thought it was Ottavio. I’ve always wondered if things progressed a bit before she realized it wasn’t. And if a part of her doesn’t wish Ottavio were a bit more like Giovanni. And so of course she’s wracked by guilt.”
“That makes  Ottavio’s situation even worse. How the devil is one supposed to know what a woman wants?”
It wasn’t like the usually cheerful Gui to take a love affair so seriously or bitterly. Cordelia turned against the paneling so she was facing him. “Is that the problem, Gui? A woman?”
He gave a bitter laugh. “You’re becoming as much of an investigator as your husband, Cordy.”
“I just hate to see you unhappy.”
“The devilish compassion of those who’ve found happiness who can’t understand why others can’t be as happy as they are. Not everyone can find perfection, Cordy.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia glimpsed her husband, face set in the sardonic lines that were his habitual company expression. Her heart warmed, in that ridiculous way it did when she looked at him the most seemingly trivial moments. ‘I wouldn’t call it perfection. But I know I’ve been far more fortunate than I have any righ to be. I thought perhaps something had happened with your family.”:
“No, Gabby and Rupert couldn’t be kinder. Unlike—“ He drew a breath, one of those moments that teeter between defense and confidence. “See here, Cordy. You’re a woman.”
“I was always under the impression that you thought so.”
Gui gave an abashed grin. “Sorry. I just need a woman’s perspective. I’m trying to understand— why would a woman suddenly lose interest in a fellow after months of seeming quite the opposite?”
Cordelia considered and as quickly abandoned numerous flippant responses that sprang to her lips. There had always been something endearing about Gui, something quite apart from the brief, diverting, light-hearted passion between them. Something that had endured beyond the end of that passion. “My dear— I’m sorry. But sometimes one does—grow past these things as it were.”
“But this wasn’t a casual fling like the one we had. It—“ Gui broke off and stared at her, eyes suddenly wide and oddly like those a schoolboy. “Oh, damn it,  I’m sorry, Cordy. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“It’s all right, dearest.” She touched his hand. “I think we were always admirably clear about what we meant to each other and what we didn’t mean. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to stay friends, which  I wouldn’t give up for anything.” She wondered sometimes why she hadn’t let it become anything deeper. Was it because she’d been afraid of the dangers of falling in love again? Or because a part of her had still been in love with Harry, though at the time she wouldn’t have admitted she’d ever loved her husband?
Gui squeezed her hand. “Nor would I. You’re the best, Cordy. I think I always knew you couldn’t be more than a friend.”
“Because of Harry? At the time I wouldn’t have admitted he’d ever been more than a husband of convenience.”
Gui’s dark gaze grew surprisingly shrewd in that way it sometimes did. “Perhaps I saw some things you missed. In any case, this was different. Not just a fortnight at a house party.” He swallowed, the torment back in his gaze. “But it wasn’t just the time it lasted. It started out casually enough. Some lighthearted flirtation while waltzing, stolen moments in the garden after a bit too much champagne. Sorry, don’t mean to give you too many details. But it soon became clear that it meant more.”
“To you?”
“To me certainly. I’ve always rather made a point of treating love affairs lightly.” He flushed, looked away, looked back at her. “Given that my entire identity was a house of cards, I couldn’t afford to treat them as much else. I don’t know when I realized this was different. When I couldn’t stop thinking about her. When the smallest brush of fingertips was enough to feed me for days. When the thought of life without her was a gnawing void I couldn’t contemplate. When I realized I’d rather hold her hand in the rain than lie on silken sheets with any other woman.” He shook his head. “I sound like a bad novel.”
“You sound like a man in love. Rather more articulate about it than many.”
He turned his head and met her gaze, his own vulnerable as glass. “The thing is I’d swear her feelings were engaged as strongly. We talked round it. She was guarded, protecting her reputation, protecting herself. But I could see it in her eyes. That is, I would have sworn I could see it. Until a fortnight ago. When she told me it was over.”
“In those words?”
“She said it had been very agreeable, but that we’d both always known it had to end, that we’d let it go on too long as it was, and best to cry off as friends before we grew bored. The sort of thing I’ve said a dozen times myself. The sort of thing—“
“That we said to each other. Only we didn’t even really need to say it. We both knew.”
“Quite. But can you imagine Davenport talking to you that way?”
“Not now. Not ever. Harry would be far more caustic.”
“It was as though she’d transformed into another person.”
“Gui—I take it she’s married?”
He hesitated, looked way, drummed his fingers on the paneling behind him, looked back at her.
“It’s not a great leap,” Cordelia said. “I don’t think you’d trifle with an unmarried girl. So unless she’s a widow—“
“She’s married.”
“Could her husband suspect?”
“That’s what I feared. Not that he had any right to judge, given his own behavior. But if she’s in trouble, why won’t she talk to me?”
“My dear—“ Cordelia touched his arm. “It is possible her feelings weren’t as deeply engaged as your own. Or that her feelings have changed.”
“I know. Damnation—“
“But it also sounds as though she called it off very quickly. That makes me think it’s more likely she’s trying to protect you.”
Gui stared at her.
“My darling idiot, one doesn’t like the idea of exposing the man one loves to the wrath of a jealous husband.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Gui straightened his shoulders, as though about to charge off to defend his lady’s honor. “I could protect myself in a duel.”
“I daresay you could, but she’d be pardoned for not wanting to see you try.”
Gui scraped a hand through his hair. “All right, that makes a bit of sense. But— her husband’s rather out of the picture now. And she still won’t even see me when all I want to do is comfort her–”
Cordelia stared at him, mind racing. “Who—“
“No questions, Cordy, please.”
“Gui—“ Cordelia twisted her bracelet round her wrist, wondering how far she could venture. Her own past hung before her as she stared at the harlequin diamond links. A gift from Harry before their life had fallen apart. “There’s one danger a woman engaged in a love affair particularly fears. Is is possible she could be with child?”
Gui’s eyes went wide. “No. That is— we were careful—“
“One can’t be completely careful.”
He pushed himself away from the wall. “My God. I’m an idiot. How could I have left her alone in this? How could she not have told me? She must have known I’d protect her—“ He broke off. “I sound like an idiot. There’s little I could do.”
“If she’s pregnant could it be her husband’s?”
“No. Not the way she tells it. Not based on everything I know. Christ, I shouldn’t be glad about that. It makes her situation worse. But— I have to see her.”
“Gui, you can’t be sure any of this is true.”
“Putting together the clues and arriving at a theory. Isn’t that precisely what Charles and Mélanie do?”
“They’re careful before they voice the theory.”
“I need to know, Cordy.”

I spent the weekend before last immersed in my Merola Opera Program life at our annual Spring Benefit Gala. This year’s theme was “A Night in New Orleans”, very festive and fun. It was a long day, beginning with setting up the silent auction and ending with packing up after the after party and getting to our hotel room just before two am. But though it was definitely not a writing day, this sort of event always makes me think about Suzanne/Mélanie and Malcolm/Charles’s world. From the, in Regency parlance, crush in the auction room to the formal dinner, the concert (a musicale) to the dancing after (all in a gown that grazed the floor) it was certainly more similar to their world than my typical Saturday night of a quiet dinner with friends.

Here, in pictures, is a summary of the day.

 

Upon arrival, Mel was very at home at our room at the Stanford Court.

Mélanie gave me a good excuse for a break while setting at the silent auction at the Fairmont Hotel.

Ready for the event to start

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

At the after party.

Back at the hotel

Back at the hotel

TracyMelHotelClose

A relaxing brunch the next day.

TracyMel3.29.14Things are a little crazy right now, as we are getting ready for the Merola Opera Program’s annual benefit gala tomorrow night. Working out seating arrangements and alphabetizing place cards this week I felt quite like Suzanne/Mélanie in the tamer aspects of her life. I’ll post pictures after the event. Meanwhile, here’s a link to a mini interview with Stephanie Moore Hpokins about The Berkeley Square Affair and here you can see my talking about literary connection to Hamlet on History Hoydens.

Have a wonderful weekend and if you’re reading Berkeley Square let me know your thoughts!

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

5.21.13TracyMelHappy end of summer and holiday weekend to those in the states! I’m emerging from a whirl of turning in The Berkeley Square Affair, writing The Paris Plot (the novella about Jessica’s birth), revising The Berkeley Square Affair, and doing copy edits on The Paris Plot, not to mention the general fun and chaos of raising a toddler and some summer fun (there are Mélanie and I above in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) to try to get back to more regular blogging.

Here is the cover art for The Berkeley Square Affair, which I really love, and a brief teaser in the form of the Prologue. Several of you have asked about the Fraser Correspondence, and I will try to post a new letter soon and also get back on a regular posting schedule.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think of the cover and the teaser and feel free to ask any questions about the book or the series.

Cheers,

Tracy

the berkeley square affair

Prologue

London

December 1817

The lamplight shone against the cobblestones, washing over the grime, adding a glow of warmth. Creating an illusion of beauty on a street that in the merciless light of day would show the scars and stains of countless carriage wheels, horse hooves, shoes, pattens, and boots. Much as stage lights could transform bare boards and canvas flats into a garden in Illyria or a castle in Denmark.

Simon Tanner turned up the collar of his greatcoat as a gust of wind, sharp with the bite of December, cut down the street, followed by a hail of raindrops. His hand went to his chest. Beneath his greatcoat, beneath the coat he wore under it, he could feel the solidity of the package he carried, carefully wrapped in oilskin. Were it not for that tangible reminder, it would be difficult to believe it was real.

He’d hardly had a settled life. He’d grown up in Paris during the fervor of the French Revolution and the madness of the Reign of Terror. Here in England, his plays had more than once been closed by the Government Censor. He’d flirted with arrest for Radical activities. He and his lover risked arrest or worse by the very nature of their relationship. But Simon had never thought to touch something of this calibre.

He held little sacred. But the package he carried brought out something in him as close to reverence as was possible for one who prided himself on his acerbic approach to life.

The scattered raindrops had turned into a steady downpour, slapping the cobblestones in front of him, dripping off the brim of his beaver hat and the wool of his greatcoat. He quickened his footsteps. For a number of reasons, he would feel better when he had reached Malcolm and Suzanne’s house in Berkeley Square. When he[TG3]  wasn’t alone with this discovery and the attendant questions it raised.

He started at a sound, then smiled ruefully as the creak was followed by the slosh of a chamber pot being dumped on the cobblestones–mercifully a dozen feet behind him. He was acting like a character in one of his plays. He might be on his way to see Malcolm Rannoch, retired (or not so retired) Intelligence Agent, but this was hardly an affair of espionage. In fact, the package Simon valued so highly would probably not be considered so important by others.

He turned down Little Ormond Street. He was on the outskirts of Mayfair now. Even in the rain-washed lamplight the cobblestones were cleaner, the pavements wider and neatly swept free of leaves and debris. The clean, bright glow of wax tapers glinted behind the curtains instead of the murky yellow light of tallow candles. Someone in the next street over called good night to a departing dinner guest. Carriage wheels rattled. Simon turned down the mews to cut over to South Audley Street and then Berkeley Square. Another creak made him pause, then smile at his own fancifulness. David would laugh at him when he returned home and shared his illusions of adventure.

He walked through the shadows of the mews, past whickering horses and the smells of dung and saddle soap and oiled leather. The rain-soaked cobblestones were slick beneath his shoes. A dog barked. A carriage clattered down South Audley Street at the end of the mews. It was probably just the need to share his discovery that made him so eager to reach Malcolm and Suzanne. If–

The shadows broke in front of him. Three men blocked the way, wavering blurs through the curtain of rain.

“Hand it over,” a rough voice said. “Quiet like, and this can be easy.”

Lessons from stage combat and boyhood fencing danced through Simon’s head. He pulled his purse from his greatcoat pocket and threw it on the cobblestones. He doubted that would end things, but it was worth a try.

One man started forwards. The man who had spoken gave a sharp shake of his head. “That isn’t what we want and you know it.”

Acting could be a great source of defense. Simon fell back on the role of the amiable fool. “Dear me,” he said, “I can’t imagine what else I have that you could want.”

The man groaned. “Going to make this hard, are you?”

Simon rushed them. He had no particular illusions that it would work. But he thought he had a shot.

Until he felt the knife cut through his greatcoat.


In their work as spies, Malcolm and Suzanne often make quick changes to their appearance to suit a new role. I’m used to writing such scenes for them. I’m less used to thinking about it in terms of myself. Until yesterday. It was the opening night of the Merola Opera Program’s wonderful production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. After spending the afternoon stuffing inserts into programs, I had a quick dinner with Mélanie and a couple of colleagues and then hurried back to the theatre to meet one of Mel’s wonderful babysitters. While quickly going over details with the babysitter, I pulled a hair of feels from the toy bag and exchanged them for the flats I was wearing, took off the cardigan I’d been wearing all day over my black cocktail dress, unwound the long linen scarf I had wrapped around my neck and thew it over my shoulders as a shawl.

It was only when I was hurrying  up the street to a pre-performance reception (combing my hair as I walked)  that I realized I had just made the sort of quick change Suzanne often makes (such as in Imperial Scandal when she transforms herself into a shopgirl to go into Le Paon d’Or). It was also just the sort of scene I might put in a book to dramatize a working mom balancing her multiple roles.

As  a multi-tasker, I’ve always been grateful for multi-tasking clothes. As a working mom, I’m more grateful for them than ever. Day-into-evening dresses (nothing like black to stand up to the dust of a theatre and the smears left by toddler hands), earrings one can sleep in, sweaters that can be easily stowed in a diaper bag, a bag that works as purse, diaper bag, and computer bag, scarves that double as shawls, a light weight trenchcoat the works over everything. I have a pair of black satin heels that basically live in the car or the toy bag.

Do clothes help you balance different parts of your life? Which pieces are particularly good multitaskers?  Writers, do you think about clothes to define different roles your characters play?

 

 

 

 

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

In a blog interview I did around the release of  The Paris Affair, Heather Webb asked a question that got me to thinking about forensics in historical mysteries. So much of present day mysteries, in books, on television, in movies, involves analyzing forensic evidence. My Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch have no CSIs, medical examiners, or forensic anthropologists to assist them in gathering and analyzing data. On the other hand, even without 21st century technology sleuths can still forensic evidence. C.S. Harris has a doctor character whose analysis of corpses is often of key help to Sebastian St. Cyr. The Victorian Sherlock Holmes was, as my father liked to say, a classic empiricist, his solutions built from the data he gathers. Both John Watson and Mary Russell frequently record him bemoaning the lack of data.

Like other literary investigators  in the 19th century and earlier, Malcolm and Suzanne look at footprints, find stands of hair or threads of fabric caught on cobblestones of table legs or left behind on sheets. Of course they can’t do DNA or chemical analysis, but they can do is compare the color of the hair or fabric or look at where the mud left behind by a shoe might have come from. If they’re really lucky someone drops a distinctive earring. They can use lividity and rigor to roughly arrive at time of death They can sometimes determine from a wound whether the killer is left or right handed.

Of course as a writer there are times the lack of sophisticated forensic analysis presents challenges in how one’s detectives will solve the mystery. On the other hand, sometimes it can complicate matters in a good way. A killer in a crime of impulse, who probably would not be wearing gloves, would most likely to caught much more easily today than in the days before fingerprinting, let alone DNA analysis.

Writers, how do you deal with the lack of modern day technology in your books? Readers, what are some of your favorite examples of forensic analysis in an historical setting?

One of the interesting questions Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose asked when she interviewed me on Word Wenches about The Paris Affair concerned how I developed Malcolm’s & Suzanne’s pasts and how I developed them. In addition to the fascination of researching history, I love creating my characters’ history. I knew from the start that Malcolm & Suzanne’s allegiances would be divided, Malcolm a British diplomat and spy, Suzanne a French agent. Then I began to think about what kind of people would end up their situations. The divide between them seemed to be to strongest if Malcolm came from the heart of the British aristocracy – he doesn’t have a title himself, but his mother’s father is a duke, he’s connected by family or friendship to a good portion of the beau monde, he went to Harrow and Oxford.

Whereas with Suzanne, I had to figure out a background that would have made someone an agent in her teens. It made sense that she had been orphaned and left to fend for herself in the tumult of the Peninsular War. She also needed to have considerable acting ability, so I made her parents traveling actors. I think the fact that she had a nurturing childhood for her first fifteen years and then had her world violently wrenched apart says a lot about her. In some ways she has a very hard edge, but though she might deny it, she’s better than Malcolm at believing in happy endings. Whereas Malcolm grew up in luxury but with parents who were a lot more emotionally distant. The irony is that Malcolm’s and Suzanne’s political ideals are remarkably similar. They’re both reformers, Radical reformers for their day, with a keen belief in human rights. They just have different very different approaches to how to bring about social and political change.

Authors, how do you go about creating backstories for your characters? Readers, what are some of your favorite examples of characters shaped by their personal histories?