Springing Into A New Genre

AP-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

The first day of spring is almost upon us, marking the start of a season that celebrates the world around us blossoming to life. Both the old and the burst forth with new buds as the sun stimulates growth. So it’s fitting that March has been month of new blooms for the Wenches. At the beginning of the month, Mary Jo announced her exciting entry in the Young Adult genre with Dark Mirror, a magical historical paranormal that sweeps readers from the Regency to World War II.

SweetRevengeCover-cropped And today I’m delighted to announce my debut into the world of historical mystery with Sweet Revenge, which takes place in London during the spring of 1813. The book hits the shelves on April 5, and along with a new genre, I have a new name—Andrea Penrose (Oh, don’t ask! Publishing is very complicated these days, and I apologize if it’s confusing. But be assured that I will continue to write romance as Cara Elliott—I’m simply putting another hat on my head . . . and hoping my brain can carry the load!)

Here’s a small taste of the story (chocolate plays a big role in the story, but more on that next month!):

Lady Arianna Hadley’s desire to discover her disgraced father’s murderer has brought her back to London from exile in the Caribbean. Masquerading as a male chef, she is working in one of London’s aristocratic households in order to get close to her main suspect. But when the Prince Regent is taken ill after consuming Arianna’s special chocolate dessert, she unexpectedly finds herself at the center of a dangerous scandal.

Chocolate-engraving-1 Because of his expertise in chocolate, the eccentric Earl of Saybrook, a former military intelligence officer, is asked by the top brass at Horse Guards to investigate the suspected poisoning. But during his first interrogation of Arianna, someone tries to assassinate both of them, and it quickly becomes clear that something very sinister is afoot within the highest circles of government. They each have very different reasons for wanting to uncover the truth, yet to have any chance of doing so they must become allies.

HG2 Trust. Treachery. Arianna must assume yet another identity as their search takes them from the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair to the slums of St. Giles. And their reluctant alliance is tested in more ways that one as it becomes clear that someone is looking to plunge England into chaos . . .

Like Mary Jo, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about moving into a new genre. One of the first things my friends asked was what’s the difference between writing a mystery and writing a romance. It’s something that I thought about a lot as I started on the project. Pamela Regis, author of the A Natural History of the Romance Novel, describes a romance as a story of courtship ending in betrothal. So, by its nature, the primary focus is the relationship between two people—traditionally the hero and the heroine—and the story revolves around how, and why, they come to fall in love. Their characters are developed and defined mainly by their interaction with each other. And these days, that interaction often includes explicit sexual scenes. (Please remember my earlier comment about publishing being complicated . . .)

Pistols A mystery, as the name implies, revolves more around the actual plot. A conundrum is presented to the reader, and the story is all about solving it. While romance tropes call for a HEA (Happily Ever After) mystery tropes revolve around the notion of justice—that in the end, the villain gets his just desserts. Put more simplistically, it’s about good stopping evil from running amuck—though sometimes the ending can be more ambiguous than it is in romance.

Lawrenceportrait So I explained to my friends that in a mystery, characters tend to grow and change through their interaction with the problem they are trying to solve, rather than solely through their dealings with each other. Tension and conflict often come from the moral choices that confront them. That said, there are often intense relationships between characters in a mystery, and they definitely help shape one another. It’s more a question of nuance and degree. Yes, things get very personal, but the problem—ie, the mystery—is always that third presence, however shadowy, in the scene. The characters cannot react to each other’s actions and thoughts without seeing them through the prism of the problem. As for sex, unless it is an integral part of the plot, the bedroom door tends to stay shut.

Lady's-face When I sat down to start work on < em>Sweet Revenge, I thought a lot about how I wanted to develop my hero and heroine within these new parameters. For me, the chance to explore the nuances of character and motivation is one of the core reasons why I write. I find it infinitely challenging to try to create textured, layered people who have the same conflicts and contradictions as real life individuals do, and then put them in situation where they have to conquer her own weaknesses and doubts to triumph.

Horse-Guard-B&R As a romance writer, I love drawing two disparate people together. But I’ve also tended to have mystery/adventure elements in my plots because I’ve always loved the the layers of tension and twists in a well-crafted plot. So I wondered if somehow I could strike a happy balance between the two. We'll see what the critics think! It’s always a little frightening—and at the same time exhilarating—to try sometime new. But as spring unfurls in all its glorious colors, the season reminds us that it’s good to spread new roots and lift fresh branches toward the sun. Growth keeps us vital!

What about you—do you enjoy reading across genres? Have you a favorite one? Have you tried any new categories lately? I make my first foray into steampunk recently and really enjoyed it. And while we’re on the subject of styles, what do you think about explicit sex in books? 

I'll be giving away a copy of Sweet Revenge to one reader who leaves a comment here between now and Sunday, so be sure to chime in!

Painting A Splendid Portrait of the Regency

AP-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

LawrenceSelfPortrait It’s not all that often that a notable Regency event takes place in America, so I’m really thrilled about the landmark retrospective show of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s paintings that just opened at the Yale Center for British Art last Thursday. Anyone who can make the trek to New Haven (which actually is quite a nice little city, with great restaurants and boutique hotels) should do so, for it’s the only place in North American that will be exhibiting the works. (Some of which have never been shown in public before. Pictured at right is a self-portrait)

Wellington Many of you are probably familiar with some of Lawrence’s greatest portraits, like the regal Duke of Wellington looking every inch the Iron Duke, (left) and the handsome (some may say too handsome) image of Prinny (right). But the full array of his people—from statesmen and soldiers to ladies and children—is mesmerizing n its power to bring the era breathtakingly alive.

PrinceRegent Thomas Lawrence himself is a fascinating figure. Born in 1769, he was a child prodigy, a self-taught savant whose formal schooling consisted of two years of attending classes between the ages of six and eight. His father ran an inn in Bristol, but took over the Black Bear Inn in Devizes, a popular stop on the London-to-Bath coaching route, when his own business failed. Travelers would often be asked if they wanted their portraits drawn by the precocious little boy. By age ten, “Tommy” was already being written about in the press.

Lawrence-full-length-woman When his father failed again at business, the family moved to Bath, and from then on, Lawrence supported them with his artistic talents. The charge for a pastel portrait was three guineas, and his sitters included, the Duchess of Devonshire, Sarah Siddons and Sir Elijah Impey. By all accounts, Lawrence was a handsome, charming, modest young man, and popular with his patrons.

Lawrence-2Women In 1787, when he was still seventeen, Lawrence moved to London and set up a studio at 41 Jermyn Street. He enrolled at the Royal Academy, but left  off his classes after only three months (no one really knows why.) He had several works in the Royal Academy exhibit of that year, and six the following year, including one oil painting—a medium he had quickly mastered, apparently on his own. By 1789, his works were garnering favorable acclaim, with one critic calling him "the Sir Joshua of futurity not far off."  (A reference to Sir Joshua Reynolds.) At age twenty he received his first Royal commission, and journeyed to Windsor Castle in order to paint the portraits of Queen Charlotte (who did not like the finished work) and Princess Amelia.

Lawrence-RedCoat Lady's-face

  Lawrence-Woman-RedDress Dover
On the death of Reynolds in 1792, Lawrence was appointed “painter-in-ordinary to his majesty” by George III, and in 1794, he was made a full member of the Royal Academy For the next 30 years, he would reign as the premier portrait painter of his day, and captured the likenesses of many of the leading luminaries of the Regency. His use of paint, sometimes rendered in thick layers,is quite striking, but perhaps the most innovative technique was his unique way of rendering eyes. He developed a double white highlight— a dot in the iris and a faint white edging on the lower lid that adds a liquid luminosity to his portraits. (If you go to see the exhibit, be sure to lean in and take a close look—it's absolutely wonderful, and is part of what makes the faces seem so alive!)

Lawrence-Lord-Stewart  Count-Platov Through his friend, Lord Charles Stewart (left), Lawrence became acquainted with the Prince Regent, who became one of his most important patrons. A major commission in 1814 involved doing portraits of some of the top Allied leaders, including Wellington, Von Blucher and Count Platov (right). Much pleased with the work, Prinny rewarded Lawrence with a knighthood in 1815.

Waterloo-Room The plan called for him to go abroad and do portraits of some of the leading foreign rulers, but Napoleon’s escape from Elba put that project on hold. However, in 1818, he headed off to Europe where he spent nearly two years traveling and painting the likenesses of such notables as Tsar Alexander, Emperor Francis I of Austria, and the King of Prussia. (These portraits became part of the Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle, shown at left.)

Lawrence-Boy-RedVelvet On his return to London in 1820, he was elected the President of the Royal Academy, a position he held until his death in 1830. His output remained prolific throughout the next decade and his depiction of children during this time is recognized as particularly insightful.

IsabellaWolff In contrast to the great success of his professional career, Lawrence’s personal life was fraught with disappointment. He was romantically entangled with the two daughters of Sarah Siddons, with his affections shifting from one to the other, and back again. The affairs ended unhappily, and both women died young. Later in his career, Lawrence was linked with Isabella Wolff (left), whom he had painted in 1803, but he never married. Contemporaries commented on how Lawrence seemed to fall in love with his female subjects—and vice-versa—which may illuminate his gift for embodying paint and canvas with such spirit.

Child's-group His finances were also a source of trouble. Though he earned a fortune in commissions, he was constantly in debt—though his biographers are puzzled as to where all his mony went. Lawrence himself claimed, “I have never been extravagant nor profligate in the use of money. Neither gaming, horses, curricles, expensive entertainments, nor secret sources of ruin from vulgar licentiousness have swept it from me.” And most people agree. It’s thought that his great generosity to his family, and his magnificent—but expensive—collection of Old Master drawings ate up most of his earnings.

Wellingtoncivvie I’ve been a casual admirer of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s work for some time, but this exhibition encouraged me to take a closer look at his work. And I’ve come away dazzled. His brilliance at capturing the nuanced details—the fashions, the ornaments,  the styles, the individuality of each person—conjures up the texture, the smell, the feel and the energy of the Regency in all its colorful glory. (At right is an older Wellington, in the same pose as eariler)

The great French painter Eugene Delacroix said this of Lawrence: "His picture is a kind of diamond which glitters all alone where it is and obscures everything around it." I couldn't agree more!

How about you? Do you find that paintings of a bygone era help you picture what it was like? Do you like Lawrence’s work? Or do you have a different favorite artist, or a favorite painting that has sparked your imagination? Please share!