Sneak Preview of Her Scottish Groom

The cover and 2 excerpts from HER SCOTTISH GROOM are up today at Authors by Moonlight! Check it out & leave a comment there — my fellow Moonlighters & I love to hear from you!

Birthdays and Books

I turned another year older in September.  Although I think attaining another year is always worth celebrating, especially when you notice that they’re starting mount up, ahem, this one was pretty quiet.  A number of family members have been hospitalized for various ailments this month, so there wasn’t a lot of motivation to hold a big party.  Besides, last year I pulled out all the stops & spent the day with a girlfriend who treated me to a day in a gorgeous spa.

I did feel guilty about such indulgence, but only a bit.  After spending four years either at or driving home from a figure skating competition with my oldest on my birthday, I felt entitled to some pampering!

My friend and I had a blast.  We got mudwraps, which sounds disgusting but which felt like being brushed with a thick layer of warm chocolate.  We got facials.  We got manicures.  It was just marvelous!  Much as I’d like to, I won’t be celebrating other birthdays in such sybaritic luxury in the foreseeable future, but I will always treasure the memories of this particular one.

In honor of my birthday month, September, and the arrival of the cover for Her Scottish Groom, I’ll give away up to 5 copies of my current release, TO BE SEDUCED, this Friday!  I’ll draw names from among commentators to this post, so tell me how you feel about birthdays and which ones were your most memorable.

And don’t forget to check out Authors by Moonlight tomorrow, when I’m unveiling the cover of HSG!

An Evening’s Entertainment

Nellie Melba as Ophelie in Thomas' Hamlet

I love dance and theater history, and it’s hard for me to resist references to plays, operas and ballets when I write.  The British public embraced theatrical entertainment well before Shakespeare blazed his way into history during the Elizabethan Era.  After the Restoration, London society, high and low, attended plays and concerts.  Even uber-sourpuss Oliver Cromwell enjoyed music and singing so much that he permitted opera performances during the otherwise theatrically-barren Protectorate.

My first book, To be Seduced, is placed just at the beginning of Charles II‘s reign, when English theater was about to burst into flame again, in no small part because of the introduction of a major innovation from France: the actress.  Women had been on the boards in Paris for decades, but the idea of female performers did not catch on in England until Charles II claimed his father’s throne.

While actresses or ‘opera dancers’ were regarded as fair game for a wealthy man in search of a night’s erotic amusement, attending performances was a respectable past time for their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.  In the nineteenth century, even Queen Victoria attended the theater regularly.

In To be Seduced, Richard and Bethany attend a performance that begins in the afternoon, allowing patrons to return home during the relatively safe daytime hours (no streetlamps in 1661 London!) and permitting the use of natural light coming in through windows in the theater to help illuminate the performance.  By the time Kieran and Diantha in Her Scottish Groom attend a performance at the Opera Gautier in Paris over 200 years later, the streets and stages alike used gas lighting, enabling evening performances.

Afternoon or evening, audience members dressed to attend the theater.  It was, after all, an opportunity to display yourself to the world, especially when seated in a box above the main floor!  Even when Restoration playwrights had to to convert tennis courts into theaters, individual audience members knew their place: backless benches on the floor for the lowest classes, open gallery seating for the middle classes and private boxes for the aristocracy.  By the Gilded Age , the most luxurious theaters attached sitting rooms to their most expensive boxes.

The sumptuous appointments reserved for the wealthiest patrons contrasted sharply with backstage conditions for actors, dancers and singers.  Especially in their early careers, chorus girls and beginning actresses had a hard time making ends meet.  (Hence their rececptivity to the above-mentioned propositions.)  Rehearsal attendance was required, but not paid for.  Neither were costumes, wigs or accessories.  Many used the stage as a stepping-stone to a life of upscale prostitution for a few years, but many other women dedicated themselves to becoming skilled artists.  In the theater in particular, many women married fellow actors for their own Happy Ever Afters.

The Shameless Escapist

photo by Anna Cervova

My daughter brought home a four-inch-thick volume of fairy tales (Spells of Enchantment, 1991, Penguin Viking, ISBN 067083053) from her high school library yesterday.  She picked it because fairy tales and folk tales convey so much of the culture they originate in.  That’s an excellent reason to read fairy tales, but I leafed through it because my two favorite genres, romance and fantasy, have the fairy tale a few branches up their literary family trees.  I skimmed a telling of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ that had more folk elements than the usual myth and read a French version of Rapunzel written by a contemporary of Charles Perrault (he of Cinderella fame).

Only then did I read the introduction.  The editor, Jack Zipes, provides an overview of fairy tales from the second century to the twentieth.  One of his phrases especially reminded me of why I like writing (and reading) romance: “…fairy tales are written and told to provide hope in a world seemingly on the verge of catastrophe…”  I’m enough of an optimist to believe that the world may not be on the verge of catastrophe, but one of the reasons I enjoy romance novels is that the best ones give the reader hope as well as entertainment.

I’ve always seen romance as an escapist genre, even for those of us who are happy in our relationships.  I am okay with this.  Sometimes you have an awful day at work and your child got an F for not turning in homework and the cat just produced a hairball the size of Massachusetts on the good rug.  I’ve been there.  (Some days I still am, at least for the hairball part.)  If I can write books where somebody can lose herself in another era with a hero and heroine that she can really care about, my work here is done!

What books and authors do you turn to when you’re stressed and need an escape?  How do they help you?  Georgette Heyer‘s civilized tone and her humor soothe me, and I love Mary Jo Putney’s tortured heroes.  Or I’ll turn to J.R.R. Tolkien for the sheer beauty of his language and the fabulous heroes he writes (in the non-romantic sense, lol).