Wicked Company is a delicious historical novel about to be reissued by the ever-percipient Sourcebooks, but I'll start by saying that the author, my pal Ciji Ware, is wickedly good company. We met at a conference and bonded over publishing horror stories and have been friends ever since.
Ciji comes from a long line of professional writers. A California girl, she left her mark on Harvard, and has done far too many other colorful things to begin to describe here. I'll summarize by saying that she has written gorgeous great romantic historicals that Sourcebooks is reissuing (along with a new novel), that her most recent non-fiction title, Rightsizing: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most was singled out for distinction by both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and that while staying in her guest room on Nob Hill in San Francisco some years ago, a shelf about the bed rather casually contained an Emmy that she'd won, slightly dented from a fall during an earthquake. <g>
So without further ado–heeeere's Ciji!
I come from a Scottish-American background. Spending all those years researching my first two historical novels, Island of the Swans and Wicked Company (the new edition of the latter debuts in October, 2010) deeply connected me to my Scottish roots.
Adding to our family’s “Scot-o-mania” is the fact that my husband of 34 years, Tony Cook, is also of Scottish-American derivation. We learned long after we were married that his family name had been MacCook and that we shared several other Scottish names on our family tree: Bell, Alexander, McAllister, Hunter and Forester. We have loved being part of this “community” and for a while we were even members of the MacLeod Scottish Country Dancers! I mean, talk about living your research….
You can imagine what a joyful day it was when Sourcebooks Landmark (the Illinois publisher reintroducing the Georgette Heyer historicals to a new generation of readers) asked permission to bring out new trade paperback editions of all my books, plus a new one, A Race to Splendor, being published on the 105th anniversary of the cataclysmic 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm. Splendor is a biographical historical about the first licensed female architect in California, Julia Morgan—and her fictional acolyte, Amelia Hunter Bradshaw–restoring the fabled Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill in the aftermath of the early 20th c. disaster that can only remind us of the latest temblor in Haiti.
Alas, poor orphan!
But to return to the subject of my second novel, Wicked Company…I’m not surprised when I’m told that many readers of my other works may never have heard of it! Like Island of the Swans, it’s also set in Scotland and England, but in this story, a group of “uppity” eighteenth century women playwrights battle to have their works produced—as women did in real life—at Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres…and to great success, may I add!
But alas, nearly every writer I know has had a book that’s been “orphaned” in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of “The New Publishing Paradigm”—i.e. the Digital Revolution. The true story of my orphaned historical is that I was changing publishers right at the time the first edition of Wicked Company was to be published back in 1992, and, as often happens, the book was given short shrift by the “old” publisher. It had a very small print run, virtually no publicity and disappeared with nary a ripple.
This pained (and irritated) me no end, as I am tremendously proud of this particular historical novel and believe it’s among my best work. Therefore, I cannot deny that I am enjoying a tremendous sense of rather smug satisfaction that my beloved orphan has found a beautiful new home and has been granted a second life, appearing in an honored place in this new Sourcebooks Landmark series—and with a spanking new cover and a complimentary quote from Britain’s Literary Review!
What I find so fascinating is the way books are truly categorized by their covers. Readers obviously take their cues from the images depicted on the front of a book. Romance readers know what they like and expect, and the same holds true for lovers of historical novels. If the covers don’t match the content, readers can, rightly, become highly incensed—and I don’t blame them.
Here are two radically different approaches to the same novel. The cover on the left incorporates the actual 18th c. portrait of the heroine, Jane Maxwell, 4th Duchess of Gordon by George Romney, hanging now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
2010 Cover-Sourcebooks Landmark
As with Island of the Swans and Wicked Company, my other novels always include a love story, but each one also centers on the question:
“What were the women doing in history?”
To answer that query, the books by necessity, must be extensively researched as to the role of a very small segment of the population–women who earned their own keep in a day far removed from our own. The idea that a few, talented and brave females longed for self-expression in various fields that were then the exclusive province of men is also central to the dual story historical/contemporary titles I’ve written: A Cottage by the Sea, Midnight on Julia Street, and A Light on the Veranda.
From the earliest days of my career, I’ve been fascinated by “professional women” in the 18th and 19th centuries and have chosen to tell the stories of female politicians, artists, writers, and musicians—all based on composites of women who really lived and plied their various crafts for money. Here is a black-and-white image of a “two-fer,” Eglantine, Lady Wallace (the Duchess of Gordon’s sister and a minor character in Island of the Swans) who played the harp as an avocation and wrote several plays, one of which was eventually produced professionally in London.
(Eglantine, Lady Wallace, above)
The problem was, the books I wrote in the 1980’s and 90’s as full-on historical novels about these “famous-but-forgotten” women of history were often saddled with some God-awful covers during the period when nearly every historical was thought to have a better chance in the marketplace if it emphasized the romance more than the history. Bless Sourcebooks/Landmark for creating a “look” this time around that matches the contents of my historicals, so that hardcore romance readers can steer clear of them if they so chose, and lovers of historical fiction might give them a try!
One of the great delights in researching my up-coming October release of Wicked Company was discovering that David Garrick, the fabled actor-manager of the eighteenth century London Theater Royal, Drury Lane, was what we surely would call in our own age, “a feminist.”
For the nearly thirty years of his sterling career, he championed women artists–not only actresses, but dancers, novelists and playwrights as well. Above, we see in a portrait by Hogarth, Garrick is shown at his desk, no doubt penning one of his own plays which competed with the immortal likes of She Stoops to Conquer.
Garrick was also known for another oddity of his age and ours: an absolute devotion to his wife, Eva-Maria, pictured behind him as a kind of bright yellow “happy muse.”
In the eighteenth century, with no television programs or motion pictures to steal his audiences–Garrick changed the playbill every few days or so. He also offered dancing, singing, and other divertissments in a bold attempt to keep his fickle patrons from heading over to his nearby arch rival, Theater Royal, Covent Garden.
(Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, above)
The constant revolving playbill kept his audiences asking one another, “What’s on tonight at Drury Lane ?” which, in turn, required a never-ending need for new material.
With great respect for the professional life his wife had enjoyed as a premier dancer of her day, Garrick was only too happy to hire talent, whatever its gender, to keep the public’s interest in the kinds of entertainment offered at Drury Lane. In fact, he encouraged women writers by offering them his services as mentor and editor as they toiled on their plays.
Garrick launched a number of women in well-paid careers as “petticoat playwrights,” among them the actress, comedienne Kitty Clive (1711-1785), left. I researched her and other such women in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where I held a Readership in 18th c. British-American History. There I also discovered that Garrick served as cheerleader to one of the playwriting “Hannahs”–Hannah More. (The other, Hannah Cowley. and Hannah More actually despised each other-–but you will have to read Wicked Company to learn about that…)
When I was first at the Huntington researching this novel, there was very little published about Garrick’s role in launching these women into professional writing careers. But soon I was bumping into theater scholars from Ohio, Delaware, and Yale universities and elsewhere, hard at work on such nonfiction efforts as Curtain Call: British and American Women and the Theater 1660-1820, and The Plays of Frances Sheridan (mother of Richard, of The School for Scandal and The Rivals fame).
David Garrick died in 1779, and much later, a social club was named in his honor. When I was in London to tour the rival theaters and to work at the theater museum in Covent Garden itself, I was taken to the club named after my hero as a guest on the only day a woman could enter those portals. That’s because, of course, The Garrick Club was founded by men, and as far as can be determined, remains for men only.
Ah, the ironies of history…and of writing historical novels as well!
Ciji Ware (seen on the left in duchess costume) is traveling to a high school reunion in Carmel, California today, but she hopes to be able to pop in for comments from her smart phone. She'll be giving away a copy of Wicked Company to a commenter on the blog between now and midnight Saturday
Ciji Ware enjoys hearing from readers at www.cijiware.com
Mary Jo, happy to have such a multi-talented guest.