Bubbling through Bath

Cara/Andrea here, battling through power outages here in Connecticut, so sorry for the delay!

Bath41 In keeping with our recent travel theme, I’m talking today about the city of Bath—which for many of us is a foreign destination, albeit not quite so exotic as Delphi or the Acropolis. It has, however, a rich and fascinating history, with ties to the ancient Romans as well as the native Celtic tribes. So when it came to choosing a setting for Alessandra, my current heroine in To Surrender To A Rogue who is an expert in classical antiquities, I immediately thought of Bath. What more perfect place for a Regency story involving art, romance and a dash of mystery! So let’s take a quick dive into history . . .

According to legend, Bath was founded by Prince Bladud, father of King Lear, who suffered from leprosy. Banished from his realm, he was forced to herd pigs, who also suffered from a skin ailment. However when the animals bathed in the thermal mud and waters they were supposedly cured—as was a grateful Bladud, who established a city on the site.

Roman-baths-and-pump-room-bath-btrombth Its reputation as a powerful healing spot also attracted the invading Romans, who created a magnificent temple and thermal baths in 50 AD dedicated to Sul, a Celtic river goddess and Minerva, the Roman Goddess of healing. They named the city Aqua Sulis (the waters of Sul), and today these Roman constructions are still very much in evidence, serving as a popular tourist attraction. In case you are wondering, the temperature of the water when it comes up from the ground is 116 degrees Farenheit and contains 43 different minerals. The main spring produces approximately 240,000 gallons per day, and astonishingly enough, it still circulates through the original Roman plumbing.

The first monarch of Britain, King Edgar, was crowned in Bath over 1,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, Bath became a center for making woolen cloth. (Regency readers may recognize the term Bath superfine) The industry declined in later centuries, but the healthful hot springs remained very popular. (In the early 1600s, Anne of Demark, wife of James I came seeking a cure for dropsy.) By the mid-1660s, its mineral water was being bottled and sold around England.

Bath-bridge For Georgian and Regency readers, Bath really took shape during the 18th century, when a group of rare talents combined to change the architectural and social landscape of Bath, transforming it into a fashionable watering hole for the rich and famous. Architect John Wood the Elder laid the foundation with his creation of Queen Square and The Circus in the early 1700s. His son, John Wood the Younger then designed the famous Royal Crescent and the original Assembly Rooms. Robert Adam followed with the glorious Pulteney Bridge, named after the first Earl of Bath, in 1774.

Royal.crescent.aerial.bath.arp According to Matthew Hargraves, in his book Great British Watercolors, Bath has been described as “probably the only holiday resort city designed in good taste.” With its rich, golden limestone, elegantly proportioned buildings and lovely gardens, it exuded style and sophistication. Indeed, the author Tobias Smollett had one of his characters call it “an earthly paradise.”

Beau-Nash A big part of its social allure was due to the efforts of the legendary Richard “Beau” Nash. From 1704 through his death in 1762, he served as “Master of Ceremonies” for city, overseeing the Assemblies and establishing the rules of propriety for most all leisure activities. He was, in effect, the arbiter of style, and set the “ton” for proper behavior. (One of his decrees was that all balls should end at 11 pm so that people could get their proper rest.) Under his guidance, Bath flourished.

Bath-rout Like the spas towns of today, Bath during the Regency era attracted a well-heeled crowd looking for both relaxation and entertainment. The Pump Room, where people came to take a glass of the mineral water known as “Bath champagne” was de rigeur for a daily promenade. People came to exchange gossip and to see and be seen. In the evening there were balls, assemblies, card parties, and other activities, such as evening picnics in Sydney Gardens. Though the etiquette was a bit more informal than that of London, there were still plenty of rules governing every little detail of daily life. One of my favorite fashion decrees reads: “That no gentleman in boots or half-boots be admitted into the Ball-Rooms on ball-nights, except Officers of the Navy, or of the Army on duty, in uniform; and then without their swords. Trowsers or coloured pantaloons not to be permitted on any account.”

Bathscene Countless Regency romances are, of course, set in Bath, beginning with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Austen, who lived there from 1801-1806, was not a great fan of the city—she thought it “ a place of vapor, shadow, smoke and confusion.” However, her heroine, Catherine Morland, sees it a little differently: "Here are a variety of amusements, a variety of things to be seen and done all day long, which I can know nothing of there…I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath–I do like it so very much… Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath." Persuasion, one of my personal favorites, is another Austen book that comes to its conclusion amidst the dancing and promenading of the beau monde in Bath. Georgette Heyer was also fond of Bath as a setting for her stories. Regency Buck and Bath Tangle give a delightful glimpse of life in the city.

Roguecover Have you been to Bath? And have you a favorite novel set in the city? I sheepishly confess that I’ve not yet had a chance to visit, so all my descriptions are based on photographs and eyewitness accounts. I can just imagine how beautiful the honey-colored afternoon light must look drizzling over the limestone. Sigh. It’s on my list for the next visit to England.

And to celebrate the June release of To Surrender To A Rogue, a winner will be chosen at random from those who leave a comment here between now and Wednesday morning to receive a signed copy of the book.

In the Pink with Lauren Willig

Lauren Cara/Andrea here. Today my good friend Lauren Willig has kindly consented to stop by and chat about books and history with us. Lauren is a real Renaissance Woman (and I don’t say that lightly, as you will soon see!) She’s a bestselling author, a historical scholar, a litigation lawyer, and—starting today!—a Instructor at Yale University, where she and I will be teaching a seminar on Historical Romance.

She has a new release coming out tomorrow, the sixth book in her NYT bestselling “Pink Carnation” series, a wonderful, witty set of novels revolving around a group of dashing Napoleonic-era spies (and the delightfully quirky modern grad student who is determined to make history by solving the mystery of their true identities.) So without further ado . . .


Bloodlily CE: Your new book, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, takes us from your usual settings of England and France to India. What made you decide to set the story there?

LW: Six years ago, two unsuspecting professors hired me as a teaching fellow for a class on the Second British Empire.  At the time, I was working on the first book in the Pink series, which was set in 1803.  I was very struck by the fact that the Battle of Assaye took place that same year.  Hmm, I thought, that would make a good basis for a sequel (because, clearly, history arranged itself that way just for my convenience).  I made a note of it and then promptly forgot about it until two years ago, as I was trying to figure out what was going to happen to my wild child heroine, Penelope Deveraux, constantly in disgrace, constantly pushing the boundaries.  Why not have her push some geographic boundaries as well?  (To be honest, I was getting a little bored with Almack’s Assembly Rooms.  It’s not that I don’t like ratafia, but, well, you know….)

Jasmine In the previous book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, Penelope got caught canoodling one time too many and found herself packed off to India to give the scandal of her marriage time to die down.  The Betrayal of the Blood Lily opens with Penelope’s arrival in Calcutta with her ne’er do well husband, Freddy Staines, who has been appointed Special Envoy to the Court of Hyderabad.  Between the Maratha war raging in the north, political complications at the court of Hyderabad, a spy known only as the Marigold, and the fascinating and infuriating presence of one Captain Alex Reid, Penelope has no idea what she’s gotten into….

India-map CE: Were there any special challenges in researching such a different world?

 LW: This is the first time I’ve researched a book where I don’t speak the key languages and where I haven’t been able to personally visit the site of the story.  For all my previous books, I’ve done on the ground primary source research.  Due to the timing of monsoon season and my own linguistic limitations, that was barred to me.  On the other hand, this wound up working rather well.  The story I was telling is seen through the eyes of an Englishwoman recently arrived in India.  Since I can’t speak Farsi, Urdu, or Hindi, the documents that were available to me were the journals, memoirs and travel narratives of those Englishmen and woman who lived there during the period, who would have had experiences similar to those of my heroine.  For Penelope’s viewpoint, what I needed to find wasn’t the reality of Indian culture at the time, but Indian culture as an English visitor would have perceived it.  I relied heavily on journals, such as that of Maria Graham, who traveled through India in 1809.  Her reactions provided an excellent guide for Penelope’s.  Likewise, my other viewpoint character, my hero, is an Englishman raised in India, sent off to be educated in England, and then returned to England to work in East India Company’s arm and then diplomatic corps.  For him, I had the memoirs of James Skinner and the correspondence of men like James Kirkpatrick, Resident of Hyderabad, who were similarly situated between two worlds.  I was also fortunate in having very detailed secondary works about the interactions between British and Indian culture at my disposal, most notably William Dalrymple’s White Moghuls and Maya Jasanoff’s Edge of Empire.

Shivaji_and_Marathas CE: Were there any historical discoveries that surprised you?

LW: I was also amazed to discover that there was, in fact, an active French presence in India at the time.  French generals throughout India planted liberty trees, led troops into battle under the tricolore, and cooked up elaborate schemes to unite the French forces in India against the British so that the French influence might reign supreme in the East.  In 1802, General Perron, in the nominal employ of the Maratha chieftan, Scindia, went so far as to write Bonaparte for French troops to deploy against the British.  He got them, too, a whole boatload of them, although they were sent packing before they reached their destination.  Lord Wellesley, the Governor-General (Arthur Wellesley’s older brother) used the French threat as part of his rationale for incursions against local rulers, radically expanding the scope of British oversight in India, which, until then, had been largely limited to the three Presidency towns: Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay.  Although I did know that the Duke of Wellington had begun his career soldiering in Ind
ia, I had never realized before that the Napoleonic Wars had been instrumental in the creation of the Raj.

Sikandar_Jah_Nizam_III CE: Did you meet any new (or not so new) historical figures who tickled your fancy?

LW: Oh, goodness, where to begin?  This book bristles with characters who would be impossible to believe if they weren’t true.  Among others, there’s the Begum Sumroo, a former dancing girl who rose to be ruler of her own principality.  She led her own troops into battle and continued to exert her fascination over men well into her declining years.  At the court of Hyderabad, where the bulk of the story takes place, we meet the mad young ruler, Sikunder Jah, who entertained himself by strangling his concubines with silk handkerchiefs; the courtesan, Mah Laqa Bai, who was considered one of the foremost poets of her day, and so renowned for her wisdom that she was awarded a seat on the ruler’s council of advisors; Mir Alam, a Machiavellian prime minister, once buddy buddy with Wellesley, but now slowly rotting away with leprosy and intent on revenge; and an English resident (basically ambassador), James Kirkpatrick, who had “gone native”, secretly contracting a marriage with a Hyderabadi noblewoman, a fact that pleased neither the Hyderabadi court nor Lord Wellesley, who launched an extremely detailed investigation into the love affair.  All of them play large roles in the book.  You just can’t make this stuff up. 


Charles_II_of_England CE: Speaking of research, you have an amazingly impressive academic background. Tell us a little about what attracted you to study history?

LW: My father is a lapsed historian, so I grew up on bedtime stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Sunday afternoons watching old Errol Flynn swashbucklers—with the appropriate scholarly interpolations, of course.  I quickly graduated to historical romance novels and the fat, historical epics so popular in the mid-80’s.  I longed to sweep through the corridors of Whitehall with Elizabeth I, to indulge in conspiracies to save King Charles from the scaffold, to whap importunate gentlemen on the wrist with my fan at the court of George II.  In short, I wanted to live in any century but the one I inhabited.  Leg warmers were just so… unromantic.  I wanted to bring these worlds that I loved so much to life—and what better way to do that than to write historical fiction? 

As an undergraduate at Yale, I majored in Renaissance Studies, on the theory that immersion in the history, art history, literature and political philosophy of a culture was the best training for writing about it.  But I still didn’t feel quite steeped in history enough, so off I toddled to the Harvard history department to pursue a PhD in English history, on the theory that graduate school would truly prepare me to write Absolutely Accurate historical fiction.  It didn’t work out quite that way (I made the disillusioning discovery in grad school that, if historians agree on anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as Absolutely Accurate anything), but it was certainly an interesting journey….  

Caroline_of_Anspach CE: You write wonderfully entertaining books set in the Regency era. However your expertise is in other periods as well. Give us an idea of what other eras appeal to you.

LW: If I had to pick a century to live in, it wouldn’t be the Regency, much as I love it (sorry, folks).  My scholarly work was in the seventeenth century, my books are set in the early nineteenth, but, at heart, I’m an eighteenth century kind of girl.  I particularly love the early eighteenth century, amid all the intrigue directly before and immediately following the Hanoverian succession, as politicians conduct vigorous debates in the new coffeehouses, dissolute rakes form Hellfire Clubs, Alexander Pope writes his Rape of the Lock, Jacobite pretenders hatch conspiracies, fortunes rise and plummet in stock market bubbles, and clever women swish about court in wide-skirted gowns, directing policy behind the leaves of their fans.  It’s a rich, tumultuous, bawdy period, with so much going on in politics, in literature, in philosophy.  Not to mention that I’ve always wanted to be best buddies with Caroline of Ansbach, wife of George II, who is one of my absolute favorite historical characters.  You know you’re a history nerd when….

CE: Any plans to write in those time periods?

LW: My undergrad work was primarily on mid-sixteenth century Scotland (I wrote my senior thesis on the Queen-Regent, Marie de Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots), and that’s an area I’ve always planned to revisit.  I still find Marie de Guise a fascinating and canny character, and, having spent some time living in Edinburgh, I’d love to go back.  My doctoral work is on the English Civil Wars, which is another period I’d like to write about some day.  Talk about swashbuckling and deeds of daring-do!  Um, and, yes, I do have rather a crush on Charles II, so the Restoration is also on the agenda for a book one of these days.  Part of the problem, though, is that I’m still too close to all of those periods academically, so it’s hard for me to get away from the footnotes and let the characters take over. 

CE: Is that doctoral dissertation on your list of future writing projects. What is it about?

LW: My dissertation, grandly titled, “Give Caesar his Due: Royalist Conspiracies during the English Civil Wars, 1646-1649” tracked the machinations of the displaced partisans of King Charles following his imprisonment in 1646 up through his decapitation in January of 1649.  I do seem to have a thing about Royalist spies, whether they’re wearing knee breeches or plumed hats.  There’s just something about men in cloaks and spurs clustered in the back room of a tavern, raising their tankards in a clandestine toast, “For the King!” 


Writing CE: In addition to your Masters degree and dissertation work, you also have a law degree from Harvard—any similarities between law and creative writing? (she asks with an evil smile.)

LW: My first week at the firm, the partner for whom I was working (I was in the litigation department) sat me down and said, “We write stories; you write stories; now you will write stories for us.”  I’m not sure I’d quite agree with that—there was a lot less dialogue in my briefs than in my books—but there are some surprising overlaps between practicing law and writing historical fiction.  A lot of what goes into writing a brief is historical reconstruction, going through piles of documents, taking limited pieces of evidence, and trying to spin them into a convincing and persuasive story.  That’s just what we do when we write historical fiction.  We’re reconstructing a narrative from limited sources.  It’s also all about persuasion, about pulling the reader in and drawing her along with you.  In both cases, if you strike a false note and lose the reader’s trust, it’s all over.  The nice thing about writing fiction?  No more Westlaw! 

CE: I think all of us who write face the difficult task of balancing all our different roles in life and figuring out how to manage our time. Obviously, you’ve been tremendously successful in that department. Any hints you can give us?

LW: Time management is one of those things I still wrestle with, but I think what it comes down to in the end is being aware of your own work patterns.  When I started at the law firm, people gave me all sorts of earnest and well-meaning advice about waking up early every morning and writing for two hours a day.  Two problems: (1) my brain refuses to kick in until sometime after noon, and (2) I am incapable of writing in two hour chunks.  I made myself miserable for about a month, wrote the worst prose I’ve ever produced (and, yes, that includes the imitation Barbara Taylor Bradford novel I tried to write in eleventh grade) and then came to the blinding realization that, hey, I’m a fits-and-starts writer; I’ve always been a fits-and-starts writer.  Therefore, I was better off giving up on the two hour a day plan and locking myself up at home on weekends when I could write for forty-eight hours straight.  Learning how you work most productively and finding creative ways to implement that around your other obligations—without beating yourself up about what you could, would, should be doing—is about fifty per cent of the battle.

Hyderabad_india_ CE: At the RWA Conference last summer, you gave a great talk about making historical stories come to life. One of the things you mentioned was how an author can take advantage of all the specialized knowledge out there without becoming a doctoral candidate. We have a lot of readers who are just embarking on writing careers, so it would be great if you would offer some of you “inside tips.”

LW: Thank you!  There are a wealth of resources out there for writers of historical fiction, all the more so now because of the advent of the internet.  My favorite way of getting into a time period is to start with biographies.  That way, you get an individual eye’s view of life at the time—and you can shamelessly follow up on that biographer’s footnotes to work your way back to secondary sources about the period as well as contemporary diaries, journals, and letters, many of which (depending on the time period in which you’re working) are available in print form and can be accessed on-line, purchased through a used bookseller, or ordered through inter-library loan.  While we’re still on books, it’s also useful to have a shelf of quick references next to the computer (or, if you prefer websites, bookmarked on your browser).  My go-to guides vary for each book, but my standard next-to-the-desk texts for quick reference are The Oxford Dictionary of British History, The Companion to 18th Century Britain, The Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, and several books of historical maps, uniforms, and costume.

Museums, historic houses, and antique shops are a wonderful way of getting a sense of what your world would have looked like.  If you can visit in person, so much the better, but if you can’t make it there, many have photos from their collections on-line, or glossy catalogues that often seem to turn up nicely discounted at used bookstores.  There are also, I’ve discovered, societies for just about anything.  When I needed information of seventeenth century freemasons for my dissertation, I contacted a group that specializes in research on the freemasons.  They sent me back a five page long essay on the topic.  Not everyone will be quite so generous with their time, but I’ve found professors, specialist societies, other authors, and museum curators are extremely kind in sharing their expertise if emailed and asked nicely.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  All that being said, it’s also important to remember that we write fiction.  At some point, tempting as it is to track down just that one last detail, you have to press the “off” button on the research, sit down with that empty Word file, and just write.

CE: Your heroine Eloise has some very funny encounters in archives. Are there any humorous (or embarrassing, heh, heh, heh) real-life research incidents that have happened to you . .  . er, ones that you will share, that is.

LW: You mean other than spending forty-five minutes trying to figure out how to use the water cooler in the cafeteria of the Public Records Office?  Oh, embarrassment.  I did have some great moments, including getting hopelessly lost on the campus of the University of Nottingham, where I had been locked in the library all day with a seventeenth century journal.  Blundering around in the dark, looking for the bus stop (which was, of course, entirely in the opposite direction) I cleverly managed to lose my footing and roll down a hill.  The fact that I was wearing three inch heels and had somehow contrived to wander off the path onto a steep incline covered with wet and slippery leaves might have had something to do with it.  Fortunately, no one saw.  Or, if they did, I’ve blotted it out of my memory. 

Thanks so much, Word Wenches, for having me over!  It’s been a great pleasure to chat with you.

Note: Lauren has kindly consented to give away a copy of her new book to one lucky person who leaves a comment here between now and Wednesday.

Welcome Carla Kelly

1valchloesmall  Anne here. Today I am delighted to present Carla Kelly, a beloved, award-winning and bestselling author of fine historical romance, as well as non-fiction and journalism. Carla has won the Romantic Times Career Achievement award, has twice won Romance Writers of America RITA award, and her readers regularly vote her books into top position in readers polls of favorite or beloved books. She's published nineteen (?) Regency novels, and many novellas. She has also published a collection of short stories set in the American Frontier, and has worked on historical non-fiction as well as working as a journalist. Carla, welcome to WordWenches.Carla_Kelly  

Carla: Gee, when you mentioned 19 novels, I had to look me up on Wikipedia (who put this entry in, I have no idea. My sisters deny any culpability, and I trust them). Here’s the butcher’s bill: 
    18 novels, plus two coming out in 2010: the third sister’s story in my Channel Fleet trilogy, out June 2010; a 4th novel just finished. 
      One anthology – Here’s to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army – which is a collection of my Indian Wars short stories.  TCU Press. This remains my personal favorite work. 
Totheladies       11 Regency short stories, most of them Christmas stories.
      1 edited fur trade 1851 journal: On the Upper Missouri, by Oklahoma Press
       Several history monographs.
     Too many to count: news articles, feature articles and columns for the Valley City Times Record, written between 2005-2009.
      H’mm. This list wears me out. I think I’ll go lie down.

Anne: It's an impressive list. After many years at Signet, with the demise of the traditional regency, many people mourned what they thought would be the end of Carla Kelly books. I was delighted to see you'd moved to Harlequin Historicals, which then went through a turbulent period itself, though it settled down.  Did this change the way you approach your writing at all?

Carla: It’s made me more cynical about writing fiction. I just went through a real kerfluffle over an editor, which I think ended well for me. I’m now with the London office. Time will tell. On the other hand, I write the way I always do. Once I’m writing, I’m happy as if I had good sense.

Anne: Your novellas are much loved, especially your Christmas stories. You have one in the anthology, A Regency Christmas that's out now. Could you tell us about your story?

518lc1EtHuL._SL500_AA240_  Carla: Oh, it’s the classic dilemma of a Navy man who has been at war almost since he received a commission: What do you do when – horrors – peace breaks out? Our hero has some lives to check in on, which he was given to watch over  by a dying shipmate. Since it is a Christmas story and I gave it the perfect, most apropos title, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.” My former editor vetoed the title, so we went with  “Christmas Promise.” (Also, A Christmas Promise owes a tip of the hat to Cyrano de Bergerac)

Anne: It sounds fascinating – the Cyrano reference is intriguing. I have my copy on order; it's presumably somewhere over the ocean. I'm often overruled on the matter of titles, also.
Carla, one of the unique features of your books is that you often don't write about the aristocracy, but about relatively ordinary men and women existing in a period of great change. What appeals to you about this period and type of character?

Carla: As Abraham Lincoln so wisely pointed out, “The Lord must have loved the poor, because he made so many of them.” I’m an ordinary person, and I understand ordinary people. That’s why I write about them. Besides, am I the only author who thinks it’s a tad ridiculous to find dukes, earls, viscounts, and baronets under every bush? I mean, really. Also, I’m forever getting titles mixed up. Eliminating them from the mix makes my life easier.

     Writing about times of great change works for me. Was it Confucius who said, “May you be cursed to live in interesting times.”? This is greatly simplified, I realize, but to me, the best stories are those where someone has been handed a mess, and that person has to get out of the mess he/she is in. (Well, you can tell from that illustration that I was not an English major.) But isn’t it true? From Hamlet to The Time Traveler’s Wife, we’re handed a mess, and the story is how we deal with it.

Anne:  I like tossing my characters into a mess, too. One of the compelling features of your stories is the way your characters grow and change along the way. Which of your characters had the hardest row to hoe, do you think? Which was the most satisfying to write?

Carla: Characters grow and change because real people do (or should). I think Dr. Pierce in “Casually at Post” (the Indian Wars anthology) grew and changed. He was also enormously fun to write. So was Admiral Bright, in the novel I just completed. He had to change or lose his dear wife. Probably the woman with the hardest row to hoe was the heroine in “One Good Turn.” She had a tough life, but it was true to the period. My favorite man was Surgeon Philemon Brittle in The Surgeon’s Lady: a brilliant surgeon, low class, and wit
h arrogance that gets him in trouble, now and then. We get to see a good, talented man struggle, because no matter how brilliant, he's the grandson of a pig farmer.Surgeon's lady  

What appeals to me about characters is how people can take a mess that is handed to them, and work through it with diligence and grace. I see it done all the time in real life, and that’s why I write about it. Art should mirror life, or we don’t learn much, as readers.

Anne: You have a master’s degree in military history and your characters are often in the military.  What draws you to military matters?

Carla: My dad was a naval officer (naval avionics, three wars), and I grew up on or around Navy bases in the U.S. and overseas. My first job as a seasonal park ranger was at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which started me on a lifelong study of the Indian Wars. I like military matters because the best officers and enlisted men are frank, efficient, reliable and do not engage in overmuch bullshit. I like people like that, men and women.

Anne: I believe you are a historical free-lance guide in North Dakota. What do you enjoy about bringing history to life for modern audiences? Any disasters?

Wellington, UT  Carla: Historical freelance guide; I'm not familiar with that term. I’ve been a park ranger twice with the National Park Service, if that’s what you mean.  I love sharing history with people who are truly interested. Hopefully, even some of my students on the university level caught some of that passion, too, when I taught them.

     Disasters? Oh yes. I remember slogging in rain and sleet with the chief ranger to locate some Indians in one of the tipis just north of Fort Union Trading Post NHS. We were co-chairing a fur trade symposium, and we had to make sure the guys were there. The weather was simple awful. We found them, and all was well in the tipi. I was wet and muddy.

     My personal favorite high-larious moment was when one visitor tried to convince a fellow ranger, Loren Yellow Bird (Arikara), that the Arikara were extinct. What made this such a side-splitter was that Loren and Marla were expecting triplets, and had two older boys. They’ve since added an adopted daughter to the mix. Gee, I love that super family.  I think that tourist went away convinced that he was right, and that the Arikara are extinct. Tourists. You gotta love them. Their taxes help keep the lights on in America's historic treasures.Carla modeling Grand Canyon  

     My favorite moment at Fort Union was when I asked a little boy which of the animal furs he had stroked in the visitor center was his favorite (We had a hands-on display of many types of fur and pelts.) “I liked the gorilla,” he told me. His dad just cracked up. I told the little guy that I think he meant the bison robe…

    I could go on. Lots of favorite experiences. At Fort Laramie, it was telling an African American family about the stellar record of the Buffalo Soldiers, most of them former slaves, who served splendidly in the 19th century frontier army. Also at Fort Laramie, it was helping a blind woman “feel” my 19th century kitchen.

Anne: It sounds wonderful. Are there periods and settings you would love to write, but don't because of editorial preferences? Is there a book of the heart waiting to be written?

Carla: I currently have an Indian Wars novel, and a novel set in Spanish Florida – plus the usual regency – in front of my editors. Wish me luck. I’m right now finishing a novel for a Mormon audience which is set in SE Wyoming in 1911. Anyone would like the book, but it does have an LDS (Latter Day Saints) theme. I’m also tinkering with a fun idea for a mystery series about a juez de campo  in South Texas in 1700s.  

Anne: What books are coming up in the future?

Carla: See above. That's a proposed Regency set in England and Scotland during the darkest days of the War of 1812. I’m also planning a biography of an Indian Wars officer, Capt. Guy Henry, of the Third Cavalry. And that juez de campo (a gov’t employee who investigates cattle rustling, theft and burglary) keeps popping up. There never seems to be a drought of ideas.

You probably get this, too, Anne. People are forever asking, “How do you think up characters and ideas?” I’m always at a loss to explain it. I just, well, do it. So do you. Do any of you have any responses that might satisfy the interrogator?

Anne: Since I was a child I've had characters and stories happening in my head. All kinds of things can make a story sprout. I usually tell people I pick up story ideas like black clothes pick up fluff. Thanks so much, Carla, for joining us. It's been lovely.

Carla: Thanks. This was fun.

Let's chat — you're invited to share your thoughts on any aspect of this interview. So, have you ever been to a historical park? Tell us about it. Or do you have a favorite Carla Kelly book? 
One commenter will receive a Carla Kelly book.  

What is the soundtrack to your favorite book?

Vinyl_Records Nicola here, dipping into the list of questions sent in to the Wenches. A little while ago, Kay Spears wrote in asking:

"I started wondering if the Wenches had songs that influenced their writing or got that little light bulb blinking.  And do they listen to music while writing or are they like me and find music distracting when trying to write?”

Well, for me the answer to the second question is no. I’m with you, Kay. I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I’m writing because it does distract me. It’s one of those rare occasions when I can’t multi-task; to listen and to write simultaneously is beyond me. Sometimes I can have classical or instrumental music playing as a backdrop to my writing. A bit of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky can be pretty romantic and inspiring at appropriate moments. But generally not, and I'd be interested to hear which of the other wenches can write with the music playing.

So back to the first question, to which the answer is yes! For years JoustingI have found inspiration for plot, setting and characters in the lyrics of certain songs and I know I’m not alone. I remember another historical author commenting once on why rock music inspired her when she was writing medieval romance. Her band of choice was Bon Jovi. She drew my attention to the parallels between the driving beat of the music and the way in which the story pushed forward. Her plots were full of the pulsating masculine energy you see in programmes like The Tudors and hear in songs like You Give Love a Bad Name.

I think that sharing the musical inspiration behind books can be quite revealing of an author (not least in admitting to a taste in music other might not share!) but I’m willing to risk it here amongst friends. So here are a few examples of where songs have inspired my own writing, and then I would love people to share their own favorites with me.

Earls prize - US For me it all started a few years ago when I wrote a book for Harlequin Historicals called The Earl’s Prize. The theme of the book was gambling and the theme tune of the hero and his clique of gambling cronies was Ace of Spades by Motorhead. Sometimes I think a few lines of lyrics can completely encapsulate a theme or a character:

“If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man, You win some, lose some, it's all the same to me. The pleasure is to play…”

This seemed to me perfectly to sum up the gambling addiciton of such historical figures as Lord Foley, Lord Alvanley and Richard Barry, 7th Earl of Barrymore.

My second book for HQN was called Lord of Scandal and was about a hero, Ben Hawksmoor, who had created a “celebrity” persona for himself out of the ashes of Lord of scandal - US a disastrous, poverty-stricken childhood. Despite his glittering lifestyle he was essentially a solitary figure and the lyrics of Robbie Williams’ song “Feel” were particularly appropriate for him, especially in his attitude towards women:

"Before I fall in love, I'm preparing to leave her. I scare myself to death. That's why I keep on running…"

There is a very melancholy tone in the song as well, which I felt was perfect for Ben's "real" life as opposed to the artificial one he had created.

Nowadays I'm so taken with the idea of a soundtrack for a book that with my Brides of Fortune series this summer I created an entire playlist, with themes tunes for the heroes and heroines including Sunday Girl by Blondie for Alice, the heroine of The Scandals of an Innocent (“cold as ice cream but still as sweet”) and Real Wild Child by Iggy Pop for Lizzie in The Undoing of a Lady (self-explanatory) plus an overall theme, which was A Little Less Conversation by Elvis Presley: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.” That wasn't so much a complaint by either the heroes or the heroines on their love life, but more a reflection on my procrastination when it comes to sitting down and appying myself to writing!

Northern Lights But if song lyrics can sum up a character or an idea in a few words I think they are also very evocative for background and setting. My next book, Whisper of Scandal, is set in the Arctic and there are quite a few songs that capture the mood perfectly: Through the Dark, by KT Tunstall, Starlight by Muse, even Bones by The Killers. Then there is Northern Lights by Renaissance: "The Northern Lights are in my mind, they guide me back to you…" 

So now I’d like to ask: If you are a writer, what are the songs that inspire you? And if you are a reader do you ever read a book that suggests a particular song or piece of music to you? I’m looking forward to hearing your choices and I’m giving away a backlist book to one commenter today in celebration of the music!

Historical Honesty

0003 Funny how things bubble up in the news that reflect something we're already thinking about. I saw an article that touches on what's on my mind again lately, writing-wise … the question of historical accuracy vs. historical honesty in fiction.

Mel Gibson made a new comment on William Wallace, all these years after the film "Braveheart" (1995 – woh, has it been that long??) … he was quoted in the UK news saying that in reality Wallace was not the hero depicted in the film–but a "monster" and a berserker, and that the film was not historically accurate.

Not accurate?! Not too surprising for those interested in medieval history, or for those who've seen the film — the writer and filmmakers made stuff up about Wallace, basically. It's a necessity in creating historical fiction — enhancing the historical record, speculating, extrapolating, obscuring fact or inserting fabrication. And it's a constant dilemma for writers of historical fiction (books or films) — to tweak, or not to tweak?

Braveheart is beautifully done, with enough basic facts in place to powerfully evoke character, emotion, a pulse-pounding story with heroics, complexity, a deeply romantic side and a solid sense of authenticity. It masterfully evokes a historical era and a powerful cause in history.

Wallace sword But Gibson's comment, and the kerfuffle over whether or not the film accurately depicted Wallace's life and times, raises an interesting question. Should we expect total accuracy in a book or a film about a historical subject? Sometimes we do want the facts — and some historical novels provide all the grit and the nasty stuff, the ugly truths, major and minor, the long gaps in the actual timeline, the complexities of history intricately interwoven with the elements of story. These are rich novels and big reads, for the most part. The pitfall in a book like this tends to be pacing, and the risk of information overload.

Sometimes, though, we want a galloping, rollicking good story that informs and entertains –  even if it is history streamlined, dynamic, distilled to its most essential facts and qualities. Historical fiction does not always have to account for every truth in the scope of the subject and the story — it is uniquely capable of evoking and conjuring the past, even if that means taking shortcuts and bending truths here and there.

Lady Macbeth paperback cover I'm a stickler for accuracy in my own historical writing and I will go a far way to make sure the details of what I'm describing are right. But I am not always a stickler for historical truth in every aspect of the book. Story and character come first: I am a novelist before I am a historian. 

Does it matter if the movie was accurate to the real Wallace? We know only a few intriguing facts about Wallace. True, he was probably never the hero in his own day that he's become now. With or without the film, Wallace is half legend in Scottish history.

Braveheart Yet he committed some heinous acts (he flayed the skin from the English treasurer killed at Stirling and made a purse of him; OK, so he had a sense of humor…). It's accurate, but did it belong in the movie? Wallace had his bad moments, but he wasn't a monster – he had good moments, too. As a rebel and a freedom fighter, he initiated an effort that eventually helped liberate the Scots from English oppression at the time. The situation was far more complex than could have been presented in a two-hour film.

There have always been quibbles about "Braveheart" — the kilts aren't right (the kilt we know wasn't worn then, but they were using plaids as cloaks and wraps) and Wallace was more Lowlander than Highlander, so he would have worn chain mail armor as a minor knight rather than a Highlander. Princess Isabella was a child; Wallace was possibly 6'7" (Edward I was 6'6", so of course the Scots claimed Wallace was bigger, yet there is some evidence to support it); the battle of Stirling was fought at a bridge, not on a field; what about that blue face paint…and so on.

My guess is that historical accuracy was never the point of the film in the first place.Christine de pisan There's accuracy. and there's authenticity. A writer often must decide between what will improve the story and what will detract from it. Story must be folded in with facts, but ultimately the result is fiction.

Here's my favorite Mel Gibson/Wallace story… Several years ago in Scotland, I met a historian who had met Mel Gibson during the filming of the movie. This older gentleman did not know who Mel Gibson was as he answered questions about Wallace, Bruce and the Scottish war of independence. He learned that Gibson was making a movie about Wallace, and directing the movie. Then he asked who was playing Wallace, and Gibson answered, "I am."

Wallace_statue The historian paused, looked him up and down, lowered his glasses to the end of his nose, and said tactfully…"Did ye know Wallace was a big man?" 

Ah, but there are camera angles. And there is the skill of evoking. There is authenticity over accuracy. And sometimes we learn more, and find more substance, through characters, plot and emotion than we do with just the facts.

How important is accuracy in historical fiction to you? Is less more in a good historical read — or do you find a detailed read more successful?


P.S. Book giveaway! I'll send an autographed copy of my historically accurate yet judiciously fictionalized novel, LADY MACBETH, to one of the readers of this blog — post a comment and add to the discussion of historical fiction before midnight on Sunday, Nov. 8, and you'll be entered in the drawing!