Romancing the fun!

by Mary Jo

Romance is a positive emotion, and a positive genre.  We tend to be optimistic, glass-is-half-full people.  And we LOVE getting together with our own kind to talk about books and have fun!  

Eloisa James Barbara Vey2016One such reader and author get together is Barbara Vey's annual Reader Appreciation Weekend in Milwaukee.  A veteran of Publishers Weekly, Barbara is a long time journalist and blogger about romance, and she hosted her sixth author and reader get together the last weekend in April.  I attended, and thought you might like to see some pictures about the kind of fun we get up to. (The picture on the left is from 2016, with Eloisa James, who was the keynote speaker, and Barbara Vey.  In hats.)

There are numerous events, but the centerpiece is the Saturday luncheon. This year's keynote speaker was the remarkable Kristan Higgins , who brought the house down Kristan Higginswith her talk. 

At the luncheon, 60 authors host tables, and seven readers sign up to join favorite writers.  The author undertakes to decorate the table and provide gifts for the seven readers.  

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A Visit to the Regency Theatre with Shana Galen!

Color Shana Galen H-R-2118Nicola here. Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome back Honorary Word Wench Shana Galen! Shana is the bestselling author of fast-moving and fabulous Regency historical adventures including my personal favourite Lord and Lady Spy. When I heard that Shana had a novella out that was part of the Lord and Lady Spy Series I could not wait to snap her up for a blog piece about the fascinating theatrical background to the story. Over to Shana:

Thank
you so much, Word Wenches, for having me back again!

When
I was in middle and high school, I desperately wanted to perform on the stage.
The problem was my acting skills were pretty limited. But I could sing, and
once a year the theater department always put on a big musical. Finally, I had
the chance to get out of the prop room and step onto the stage. When I went to
college, I decided to combine theater and voice, and I majored in opera for a
semester. That’s about how long it took for me to realize I had no future as a
professional opera singer.


Spy wore blue-300I
didn’t have a future as a spy or a pirate or a courtesan, either, but I could
write stories about them! And that’s exactly what I did when I wrote The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy
Novella
. Blue is a renowned spy for my fictional Barbican group. Helena is
an opera singer performing at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. Blue and
Helena have a past, and they’re brought together again when Blue tracks an
assassin to Helena’s theater in Naples.

But
as much as I know about opera and set design (not much since the director was
always reluctant to allow me to use a saw or a nail gun), I knew virtually
nothing about theaters during the Regency. I knew I was constantly researching
the theaters I made mention of in my novels because it seemed whenever I wanted
to set a scene at a theater, it had burned down that year.

My
research for this novella revealed one of the reasons theaters so frequently
burned down. Without
Drury_lane_interior_1808 gas or electric lighting, theaters had to be lit using
torches, oil lamps, and candles. The auditorium stayed lit during the
performance and footlights highlighted the actors on stage. Jars of colored
water might be used to create colored effects. Mirrors might reflect colored
water to add an effect to a scene. Stage designers were creative, but they
couldn’t control the risks so much fire in one location posed.

In the image of Drury
Lane, right, note the footlights on the stage and the presence of lit
chandeliers throughout the auditorium.


Theater
architecture also figured into my novella. Two crucial scenes in the novella
relied heavily on theater construction. Unfortunately, theaters in the nineteenth
century weren’t built like modern-day theaters. I had to rewrite a catwalk
scene when I learned catwalks weren’t present in Regency-era theaters. Instead,
stage hands utilized fly systems to hang and move scenery. But I needed a
character to fall from above, so I started thinking about what would happen if
the fly system needed repairs or how the carpenters changed scenery for a new
show. I studied several blueprints and found that, just like present times,
Regency-era theaters had fly lofts, where materials were stored and the fly
system could be accessed.


Chariot-and-PoleDuring
the regency, scenery itself was composed mainly of flats, which were huge
painted pieces of scenery, which were placed on stage to
give the illusion of a building or another setting. For years these flats were
stationary or time-consuming to move, often requiring up to sixteen stage hands
to move the flats and change scenes. A set designer named Giacomo Torelli
solved this problem in Venice in the early 1640s. He designed a
chariot-and-pole system, whereby the flats were mounted on poles and attached
through the flooring to wagons, or chariots, under the stage. Many flats could
be so outfitted, and stage hands could use a pulley to move one flat off stage
as another replaced it, thereby quickly changing scenes. Not only did this
result in an increase of sets per opera, it provided me with the perfect
setting for the climax of my novella.

Do
you have a favorite play, musical, or opera? Mine has always been Mozart’s
Le Nozze de Figaro. Lord and Lady Spy - SelectedOne person who
comments between now and midnight Thursday EST will win a copy of Lord and Lady
Spy.

You can find out more about Shana and her books on her blog at http://www.shanagalen.com/

 

Shana Galen talks about Nineteenth Century Attitudes on Miscarriage and Infertility

Shana Galen
Today I am very pleased to welcome Shana Galen to the Word Wenches! Shana is the author of a number of wonderfully adventurous and romantic Regency Historicals. She was RITA-nominated for the book Blackthorne's Bride, described by Booklist as "an irresistible mix of sexy romance and sharp wit," and a book that I enjoyed enormously. I can't wait to get my hands on her latest release, Lord and Lady Spy, chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their Top 10 Romance Picks for Fall 2011. Every so often a book comes along and as a writer I think "I wish I had had had that idea!" Lord and Lady Spy is one of those books telling the tale of the rivalry between Regency England's pre-eminent spies Lord and Lady Smythe. Today Shana is talking about some of the historical inspiration behind Lord and Lady Spy:

"If you’re still reading after that title, I’m glad I haven’t scared you off! First of all, thank you, Word Wenches, for having me today. I’m having a serious fan girl moment just thinking about any of you reading a single word I’ve written. I’m not worthy!

My important-sounding title, I hope, mirrors an important topic. We historical romance authors write extensively about women’s experiences in history, but seldom do we touch on the common female experiences of miscarriage and infertility.

Many of us have been unfortunate enough to experience the pain of miscarriage. Before I became pregnant with my two-year-old daughter, I suffered a miscarriage at eleven weeks. I found the experience mildly physically painful and all but devastating emotionally. How I wanted that baby, and how I mourn—and still mourn—the loss of that child.

Thanks to modern medicine, I know the reason I miscarried. This knowledge gave me solace and hope that would not have been available to a woman living in the nineteenth century. What did women in the 1800s think and feel about miscarriage?

In my new novel, Lord and Lady Spy, which is definitely not a serious, scholarly novel—as the title no doubt indicates—the heroine deals with the poignant issue of repeated miscarriages. She does not know if she will ever carry a child to term. As the wife of a viscount, her sole purpose is to give her husband an heir, and the fact that she cannot fulfill her purpose plagues her.

Some of the inspiration for Sophia was based on what little I could glean about the repeated miscarriages suffered by the Duchess of Devonshire. Undoubtedly, these losses upset Georgiana, butDuchess of Devonshire  they are overshadowed by her celebrity, her notorious drinking and gambling, and her use of opiates. Obviously, these excesses might have contributed to her miscarriages, but might they not have been fueled by depression after failing to meet her chief purpose in producing an heir for the dukedom?

The difficulty in researching the topic of pregnancy loss in the nineteenth century is that many women and men writing about miscarriage describe it vaguely. Claire Crowninshield, family friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mary Longfellow, describes Mary’s miscarriage as “sickness” and “worse than an ague.” The term “miscarriage” did exist and was often interchangeable with “abortion” and “premature birth,” which further muddies the waters for the researcher.

Fortunately in Lord and Lady Spy I am not so concerned with the terms for miscarriage as with the attitudes of the period. Today miscarriage rates are between 15 and 30% of all pregnancies. That number was most likely higher in the nineteenth century, which made miscarriage a common event, especially in a society where women routinely gave birth to large (by today’s standards) numbers of children.

However, the primary concern for miscarriage in the nineteenth century was that of the danger it posed to the woman. Hemorrhaging and fevers resulting from miscarriages could and did, as in the case of Mary Longfellow, cost women their lives. Thus, women who miscarried need not only be concerned with the fact that they had failed to fulfill their purpose but also that the miscarriage itself might cost them their lives.

The medical establishment did little to comfort women who experienced miscarriage. For the most part, miscarriage was blamed on the woman. Exercise, worry, and maladjustment were given as reasons for miscarriage as recently as the 1950s. In the Regency era, women with a history of miscarriage were instructed to partake of bed rest and told that too much worry or a foul mood caused the miscarriage. Even today, these attitudes linger. When I became pregnant after my miscarriage, I was repeatedly told not to worry so much because it was “bad for the baby.”

More is known about infertility in the nineteenth century. It too was blamed on the woman. The childless woman was pitied and suspected of not doing her duty by her husband. Physicians attributed the problem of infertility to women’s education. It was assumed that energy applied to expanding one’s mind took away energy from the woman’s reproductive system. The idea seems ludicrous today, but it held sway into the twentieth century.

Lord and Lady Spy Cover Writing about a nineteenth century woman dealing with miscarriage and possible infertility and making this heroine relatable to modern readers was a challenge. But it was also therapeutic as I dealt with my own feelings of devastation and sorrow after the loss of my child. I won’t say whether Sophia has the happy ending I did—a beautiful child—but I do hope you’ll pick up a copy of Lord and Lady Spy and enjoy the poignancy along with the adventure and the repartee."

Are there any issues, like miscarriage, you would like to see addressed or addressed more in romance novels? Or do you prefer your books issue-free? Two people who comment will win copies of Lord and Lady Spy (sorry, U.S. and Canadian residents only).