Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Winter Solstice!


On the last day of our trip to Ireland in 2004, on the summer solstice, we stayed at a B & B in the Boyne valley, north of Dublin. It just so happened that you could see the Newgrange passage tomb, one of the oldest man-made structures in the world (There's a temple in Malta and a farmstead in Scotland that might be older, but only by a couple of hundred years.) from the window of the B & B. The Newgrange passage grave was built in approximately 3200 b.c., and one of its most striking features (besides its size and complex construction) is that at dawn of the winter solstice, and a couple days before and after, a narrow beam of light penetrates the tomb and extends into the interior chamber until the whole room gradually becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9 a.m.

We were leaving Ireland the next day and didn't have time to tour the tomb, but I'd love to see it someday. Visiting on the winter solstice would be especially cool, although I doubt I could get my family to travel there so close to Christmas.

It's amazing to think of people marking this day over 5000 years ago. I'm sure they went to all this effort to build this huge structure and position is so accurately because the solstice was special to them. In the darkest time of the year, they celebrated the sun's return and took comfort from the awareness that from that point on, the days would get longer. As someone who has always struggled with low energy and a gloomy mood this time of year (I can't tell you how many times in my life I've been sick in December.) I find the solstice an especially meaningful and magical time. From this day on in the wheel of seasons, the light will rise and everything will get better!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Answer to The Romance Reviews Splash Party Question

The correct answer to the question about Saint Sin for The Romance Reviews Splash Party is that when Michael found Ariella in his bedchamber she was looking for:  A diamond.

Hope you win!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Leopards, Bears and Ravens... Oh, my!

Most people are familiar with the Tower of London as a prison, where people who were alleged to have committed some crime against the king or queen were detained. But when the first structure was built on the site by William the Conqueror in late 1066, its main purpose was as a fortress. Having just taken over England, William wanted to be sure he could defend London from the Saxons, who were seeking to oust him from their country.

It was originally a motte and bailey castle, which is a defensive tower or keep built on a large earthen mound, the motte, and surrounded by a bailey, a flat raised area where buildings to maintain the troops were constructed. The whole complex was surrounded by defensive walls and a ditch. The first keep William built on the site was of wood. He later replaced it with a stone keep in 1078, which was called the White Tower, which ultimately gave the entire castle its name.

I mention William’s plans for the fortress in my book The Conqueror, when my hero and heroine visit London. The hero, Jobert de Brevrienne, is a knight in William’s army, while my heroine, Edeva, is the daughter of the Saxon eorle whose lands have been given to Jobert by William. The struggle between the Norman French invaders and Saxon natives forms the background for the book.

Over the years, William’s royal descendants continued to make improvements to the Tower of London. Some of the most elaborate additions were made by Henry III in the early 13th century. From 1216 to 1227 he spent nearly £10,000 on the Tower. Henry’s goal was to make the Tower a luxurious residence for the royal family. But his expensive construction plans angered the English nobility and led to a revolt of the barons. They eventually forced Henry to formally confirm most of the articles of the Magna Carta, which limited the monarchy’s power and became the basis of English government.

When I was researching the era of Henry III for my book The Leopard, I discovered that the Tower had another use that is seldom mentioned in history. Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, gave Henry three leopards, in honor of the three beasts displayed on the royal banner, and these animals were kept at the Tower.  Henry later added a white bear, presumably a polar bear, which was occasionally allowed to fish in the Thames (What a sight that must have been!) and an elephant, for which a separate building was constructed.

The menagerie did not end with Henry’s reign. Animals were housed at the Tower for the next 600 years. Some of the species included in the menagerie were monkeys, ostriches, lions, tigers, wolves, a boa constrictor, grizzly bear, zebras and baboons.

In many cases, the caretakers of these animals had no idea what to feed them or how to maintain them and many of the poor creatures did not survive very long. The conditions they lived in would appall us today, and they undoubtedly distressed compassionate individuals even back then. Indeed, in The Leopard, my hero, acclaimed knight Richard Reivers (known as the Black Leopard), takes the heroine, Astra, to visit the menagerie, and tender-hearted Astra is very distressed by the cramped, unpleasant living conditions the leopards must endure. Her reaction to the animals’ distress makes Richard realize how different she is from all the other women he has known, and he begins to fall in love with tender-hearted, idealistic Astra.
Starting in the late middle ages until the 1800’s, the Tower housed some of the most famous prisoners in English history, including Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Elizabeth I, who was held in the Tower for eight weeks by her sister Mary during Mary’s brief reign. (She died before she could execute Elizabeth, or English history might be very different.) Today the Tower is a popular tourist site, and the Crown Jewels are still on display there, as they have been since 1669. In another note on the Tower’s connection to animals, even today six ravens are kept at the Tower at all times, due to the legend that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall.

Postscript:  This post originally appeared on the History Undressed blog: which offers interesting and fun insights into history and romance. Someone commented on my post that they hadn't thought about the animals being mistreated, and I realized I'd left out some of the more distressing information I discovered in my research. They found proof that the lions kept in the tower were baited with dogs as they discovered both lion and dog skulls in the same level of debris excavated. Also, at one time, the entrance fee to the menagerie was that you had to bring a dog or cat to feed the animals! People clearly didn't have the same sense of animals as sentient creatures back then as we do now. Another reason that for all I enjoy being immersed in the past in books, I'm glad to return to our (mostly) more civilized era.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Redheads and Inspiration for Heroes

As a writer, one of the most common questions I get asked, is:  Where do you get your ideas? For me, it begins with the characters. They usually come to me even before the plot idea does. Sometimes they show up in my mind. Other times I encounter them in real life.

I’ve worked a public library for over twenty years and one of the perks of my job is people-watching. I see people from all walks of life, all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. In the old days, before we got self-check machines, I also checked out all their materials while they stood at the check-out counter. During that process I got to observe people fairly closely and every once in a while, I’d wait on someone who gave me an idea for a hero or heroine.

One of the most vivid experiences was with a young man (late teens or early 20’s) who came in with his mother or father and often younger siblings. They were kind of a “white trash” family. Not well-dressed and pretty sloppy. None of them were attractive except this young guy, who had dark red hair, striking green eyes and strong masculine features. He also had this swagger and edge to him, possibly because he was irritated with having to go to the library with his family!

This was a good fifteen years ago, so the young man might resemble his parents by now, who were overweight, weathered and had bad teeth. But in that snapshot of time, he struck me as a great hero, and he became Jobert de Brevrienne, the Norman French knight in The Conqueror.

I know. Red hair. It’s great for a heroine, but not so popular for heroes. I’m married to a “ginger”, so I obviously have a fondness for them. And I think they can be as hot as any dark-haired or fair-haired man. They just have to have strong, masculine features, an athletic build and their red hair needs to be fairly long. (I love long hair on men. That’s why I write historicals. Alas, my husband hasn’t worn his long in years.)

But when I was searching for cover images for Jobert, I discovered that there are very few red-haired models featured in stock art. I was either going to have to settle for someone not so hot, or change my requirements. I finally found an image of a man with dark blond hair that had a bit of a reddish tint. The model has great shoulders and is shown wielding a sword, so while his hair isn’t as red as Jobert’s, he did fit the image of a conquering knight. I had my fabulous cover artist build a cover around his image and I’m pretty happy with it.

I’m not the only romance writer with a red-haired hero. One of the main draws of Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander series is the hero, Jamie Frazer, who has reddish hair. There’s a TV series being made from the books and while they had to dye the actor’s (Sam Heughan’s) hair, he certainly fits the part of a hot hero in other respects!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Regency Slang or a Dashed Plummy Way of Speaking

I originally wrote this post for my publisher's blog: But I thought I'd share it here as well.
The creative use of slang in a book can instantly transport you to another place and time and make the characters seem real. The richness of the slang of the Regency era is one of the reasons I decided to write romances in this time period, like my latest book, Saint Sin.  Not only do you have the slang of the upper classes, but also a completely different informal language spoken by the lower classes, especially those individuals on the fringes of society.

The slang used by lords and ladies was often euphemistic and sought to make things sound better than they were. Instead of drunk, they would say foxed, disguised or lurched. A loose woman was a fashionable impure or a Cyprian, who might work in a house of Venus. Gossip was the rattle, the hum, the on-dit or tittle-tattle.

But there was plenty of color in the terms used by the swells (as the lower classes called the upper classes). People didn’t get depressed, they got blue-deviled. If they did something foolish, they made of cake of themselves, or they might be called henwitted, addle-pated or baconbrained.  

The gentlemen’s pastimes of gambling and driving especially seemed to inspire vivid expressions. A good driver was known as a tulip of the goers, a crack whip or a dab hand with the ribbons.  A poor one was called cowhanded. A good team of horses might be described as a bang-up pair, fast trotters, sweet-goers or prime cattle.  

The era’s passion for gambling resulted in many colorful gaming terms. To cheat was to gull or gammon.  If you had plenty of money, called the ready or blunt, people would say you had deep pockets or were a high flyer.  When you owed too many gambling vows, you were done up, dished up or deep in dun territory.  Those most likely to lose to the sharps were green boys who lacked town bronze, like my heroine’s brother in Saint Sin.

Women of this era didn’t have much power or independence. All their status was derived from the males in their lives. As a result, many of the terms for females were condescending.  A young woman might be referred to as a chit, an article, a bit of muslin or even baggage (as in, she’s a cunning baggage). If she was tall, she was a long meg or, serious and well-educated, a bluestocking. A false woman was a jade or jilt. A stupid one, a milk and water miss or wet goose.  If no one offered for a young woman after a Season or two, she was said to be on the shelf.  If she was boisterous or wild, she was called a hoyden or a hell cat.

The upper classes used a lot of slang, but it was nothing compared to the lower classes, who spoke in cant, a complex vernacular that was virtually indecipherable to those unfamiliar with it. If someone told you to dub your mummer, they meant you should shut your mouth. A jigger was a door. A mauley, a hand. A man was a cove or moulder, and a woman, a mort, molisher or a titter. A coach was a rattler or a rumble tumble. If something was good, it was prime twig, plummy or bang up to the mark. To go out to the nines was to be well-dressed.

Since it was very much a street language, a lot of cant related to criminal activity. To tout was to keep watch for the traps, rollers, pigs or quinters (police runners). A cracksman was a housebreaker. A knuckler, a pickpocket. High toby was highway robbery on horseback. A bob was a shilling; a bull, a crown.

In some cases, the terms used by the upper and lower classes were the same, but mostly, the only thing they had in common was a delightfully expressive style of speaking. To make my stories accessible to readers, I had to be sparing with my use of slang, and only sprinkle a few words in here and there. My main characters in Saint Sin speak mostly like we do, with only a bit of Regency slang thrown in. But the delightfully descriptive way people of this era spoke greatly enhanced my pleasure in writing about this world.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Today is the ebook launch day for Saint Sin, a sexy Regency romance I started writing over ten years ago. I finally finished it and sold it to Soul Mate Publishing last winter.

It’s the third Regency romance I’ve written and features some of the aspects I like best about this time period. There is a huge emphasis on propriety and manners, but the reality of how people truly behaved is much different. There is also a striking divide between the lavish lifestyle of the upper classes, and the sordid backstreets where the poor struggle to survive. This disparity created a complex web of crime and duplicity that play a part in the story.

My heroine’s brother gets caught up in this criminal underworld and ends up owing an enormous gambling debt. If he fails to pay it, he will at best be ruined. At worst, imprisoned or even killed. To save her brother, Ariella Lyndgate is willing to do nearly anything…even become a thief. When she is offered an opportunity to cancel out the debt by retrieving a valuable diamond from a man she’s told it doesn’t really belong to, she agrees. The diamond is in the possession of Michael St. Cyr, a wealthy earl known as “Saint Sin” because of his outrageous and decadent parties. Ariella arranges to attend one of these events and immediately begins her hunt for the diamond. She’s searching her host’s bedchamber when St. Cyr walks in.

Michael assumes Ariella is a “fashionable impure” sent by one of his friends to entertain him. Desperate to find the diamond, Ariella goes along with his assumption. Thus begins a complex and erotic deception, one that becomes even more complicated when Ariella finds herself falling in love with the man she intends to rob.

Michael St. Cyr has long ago giving up caring about much of anything. But somehow he finds himself enthralled with this young woman, who despite her duplicitous behavior, somehow seems sweet and innocent. Can Ariella heal the pain left by his terrible loss all those years ago?  Or will she betray him and break his heart?

Set in the vivid Regency world of glittering ballrooms, sinister gambling hells and squalid back alleyways, Saint Sin explores the sizzling temptation and wrenching choices faced by two desperate people who must risk everything for love.