Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What People Think of Denford

One of the enjoyable things about writing a series is seeing characters develop over two or three books until they are ready for their own story.  Julian, Duke of Denford, has been a favorite of mine right from the start. My other heroes and heroines don't always share my enthusiasm! There are mixed feeling, to say the least.

Julian's book, The Duke of Dark Desires, will be released two weeks from today.  Meanwhile you can enter my Goodreads drawing for two printed copies.  And here's a reminder of how some of Julian's friends and non-friends saw him in previous books.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Tour of St James's

When I was in London last month, I met a college friend for breakfast at the Wolseley in Piccadilly (pricey but worth it) then I took a walk around the area known as St. James's, site of so many places beloved of Regency romance.  I'm a fairly rubbish photographer but I posted my iPhone snaps on Facebook over the next couple of weeks. Now I've gathered those brief posts in one place.
Almack's now
If you read Regency era romances, you almost certainly know about Almack's, the exclusive Marriage Mart, home of warm lemonade and haughty patronesses. The building in King Street, St. James's, London is long gone but the name lives on in a rather boring modern office building on the site. And here's a historical view of an Almack's assembly.
Almack's then

Paxton & Whitfield, cheesemonger, has been in Jermyn Street since 1797. The aroma is divine. (I like the -monger suffix. Why aren't there bookmongers?)
Floris, the perfumer, has always been one of my favorite shops. The lily of the valley soap is sublime and a man cannot smell better than Floris No. 89. (James Bond wore Floris products FYI). Mary Shelley & Byron are both on record as favoring Floris scents but the shop is even older, having been in Jermyn Street since 1730.

Berry Bros. & Rudd as been at No. 3 St. James's Street since 1698! One of the world's oldest wine merchants, it started out also selling groceries. The famous 18th century scale, used by Byron and other notables, originally measured tea and coffee (the latter presumably in quantities to feed even my habit!). Years ago, when I worked around the corner on King Street, I used to sometimes buy their house wine which is called Good Ordinary Claret 
Byron's bum rested on this sitting scale!
Berry Bros. beautiful premises in St. James's Street

Lock's Hatters
Lock's, at No. 6 St.James's St. is the oldest hat shop in the world, dating back to 1676. It is still a family owned business. The hatter's website has a detailed and fascinating history of a business that has supplied hats to many notables, including Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill.
Hatchard's Book Shop
Hatchard's. No Regency heroine would dream of missing a trip to the Piccadilly book shop (founded in 1797) to feed her secret bluestocking habit. And quite often she runs into an attractive rogue there. I cannot say that's ever happened to me in the multi-floored old building, packed with a marvelous selection of books of all kinds. During a visit earlier this month I found Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James in the historical fiction section. No Miranda Neville, but that's something to aspire to!

Truefitt & Hill
Truefitt & Hill is the oldest barbershop in the world, established in 1805 by William Francis Truefitt. Truefitt styled himself as hairdresser to the British Royal Court. Sorry about the picture - I had to shoot it across St. James's St. and cars & taxis kept getting in the way. How dare they? Wouldn't a nice carriage have improved the picture?

The bow window of White's
There's no sign outside White's, London's oldest and most exclusive club - if you're a member you know where it is. It's easily identified by the famous bow window, whence Brummell and other Regency dandies disdainfully watched the world go by. (St. James's Street pretty much was the world for these guys). I have no idea what it's like inside because I've never been in: no ladies allowed, ever.

Brooks's Club was founded in 1764 as Almack's Club (not to be confused with the assembly rooms) by a group of Whigs who had been kicked out of Tory White's. The moved to these new premises in St. James's St. in 1777 and was renamed Brooks's. The club was famous for politics and gambling. Here's a photo taken lately and a 19th century view of the "Gaming Room." I have been inside. The reception rooms are let out for functions, including weddings, so women are allowed in!
A Regency era view of the Gaming Room at Brooks's
Brooks's today
Finally, no trip to St. James's is complete without popping into Fortnum & Mason, one of the most famous groceries (if one can use such a mundane word to describe it) in the world. In early November Fortnum's was Christmased up and stocked to the gills with holidays goodies. I cruised the aisle, fingering my credit card (it's not cheap) and considering the size of my suitcase. 

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly front

Inside, Fortnum's was ready for the Christmas rush
When something caught my eye, I emailed my fellow authors of the Christmas in the Duke's Arms anthology and they said "buy it!!!!"  If you'd like to win a hamper full of Fortnum's goodies, courtesy of the four of us, hurry over to Carolyn Jewel's website before December 18th.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Coming Soon!

I have a busy Fall coming up, in the publication department.

First of all, around October 15th, Christmas in the Duke's Arms, a Regency holiday anthology, will be available. I am incredibly excited to join up with Graces Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, and Shana Galen for this project. Here's the cover which is, I think, as charming and Christmasy as the stories.

I've joined up with my old posse, The Lady Authors, who brought you At the Duke's Wedding, for another anthology: At the Billionaire's Wedding. And guess what? It's set in 2014! That's right, Maya, Katharine, Caroline, and I have gone contemporary. Don't worry - none of us is abandoning historical romance. We thought it would be fun to do something different and it is!

Lastly, the Wild Quartet concludes with The Duke of Dark Desires, Julian, Duke of Denford's story. It's out December 30th, just in time for New Years. I've been excited about Julian's story every since he first appeared in The Importance of Being Wicked. And I believe I have found of heroine strong enough to tame him!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Designing Heroes

I've been reading the latest volume in Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series and enjoying the clothes. The three Noiret sisters run a high-class dressmaking establishment in 1830s London and the gowns play an active role in the stories – beyond being removed by the heroes. Readers of The TwoNerdyHistoryGirls blog know how devoted Chase and her cohort Isabella Bradford are to costume history.
It got me thinking about dress designers as heroes: As a Project Runway aficionado I know there’s a token straight guy in every season. A quick google of “straight fashion designers” brought up Roberto Cavalli, Tommy Hilfinger, Ralph Lauren, Oscar De La Renta, and Christian Lacroix, to name a few. To get historical (as you do), Charles Worth, the father of haute couture, was married with children. 
The point of this exercise is not to make a point about stereotyping in the fashion industry, but rather to wonder why designer isn’t a suitable job for a romance hero. I could remember only one––a book by Mary Burchell I had read decades ago. An appeal to Twitter gave me the name of the Burchell––Under the Stars of Paris––and one other title, thanks to Fiona Marsden––the aptly named Designing Man by Rachel Lindsay. A quick trip to Amazon and a week later I had both volumes in hand for an all-too-brief orgy of reading.
I’m glad I read Designing Man first because it’s the lesser book. Originally published by Mills & Boon in 1964, it was reissued as a Harlequin Presents in 1979. I think some updating had taken place––I’m fairly sure people weren’t drinking margaritas in London in the early 60s­––but the heroine’s situation is quite advanced. Alix Smith runs her own public relations business and makes it very clear she enjoys her work and doesn’t long to be married. She has a would-be boyfriend, who is a successful architect, and a male assistant of whom she is very much the boss.
The title could just as well be Designing Men because Alix is hired by the fashion house of Duval whose founder, Henri Duval, is at loggerheads with his son Paul. Henri, who has failed to move with the times, creates lavish mother-of-the-bride type outfits for an aging clientele; Paul’s garments are innovative and modern. Alix gets her actress friend Dina to wear Duval clothes in her new play but of course she picks Paul’s designs. The rivalry between father and son is exacerbated when both appear to be pursuing Dina. Someone steals the new Duval collection at the last minute and private information about the family is sold to a gossip column. Paul, who didn’t want his father to hire her, seems to blame Alix for the problems.
I appreciate that Paul is not a typical hero. Oddly, he is several times described as resembling a faun––I’m not altogether sure what this means. Here is his first appearance:
“Where Henri Duval was a powerful six-footer, his son was slight in build and only a few inches taller than herself; where the father was blond, with a florid complexion and firm voice, the son was pale and brown-haired, with a quiet voice and the faintest suggestion of a stammer.”
Paul is no pushover, however and I liked him a lot. I just wanted more of him. Things start to heat up when he makes Alix a gorgeous gown for a big party. (There’s a hint, girl! He likes you!) Then someone is killed and the story veers off into a whodunit.
Or faun?

I enjoyed the book for the characters, the setting, and quite a decent murder mystery, but the romance is a little thin. While I’m all for a bit of plot in my romances, I want to see the hero and heroine fall in love. They don’t spend enough time together for my taste, and once it is clear they are attracted to each other, the obstacles thrown in their way seem contrived.

In Mary Burchell’s enormously entertaining book, our heroine Anthea Marlowe, stranded in Paris with only 50 francs to her name, falls into a job at Florian’s couture house. Anthea is renamed Gabrielle for modeling purposes and she closes the show in the wedding dress, designed by Monsieur Florian for a girl of her type who broke her leg.
Anthea is suffering from pride: her father has remarried a woman called Millicent––“the type of good-looking, sophisticated, slightly malicious person who always amused him”––and her fiancé Michael has ditched her for another woman. She isn’t in danger of starvation but neither does she wish to go home to London looking pathetic. The job at Florian saves her and she finds she loves the work and the place: the excitement of showing the Collection, the vendeuses, the sewing women, the other models (except the bitchy Héloïse).
Dior gown, 1954, just because
And then there’s Florian, the creative genius behind the operation. Like Paul, he does not at first appear typical hero material: “a slight, fair-haired man with beautiful hands, thinning hair and the air of an exhausted and impatient schoolboy.” He is also 38 to Anthea’s 21, a fairly typical age difference in books of that era. Make no mistake, Florian is a raging alpha. He is dictatorial, ruthless, and not always very nice; the pages fairly crackle whenever he appears. He treats Anthea well, protecting her from some of the salon politics, but initially his kindness is almost whimsical. Anthea admires and respects her boss, but she’s still getting over Michael and she has a new admirer in British diplomat Roger (“solid, dependable, a darling––the stuff of which good husbands were made.” In other words, a romance dead end.)
Anthea is a wonderful heroine, a little bit naïve but never stupid or spineless. She prefers to think the best of people and accepts Florian’s careless generosity at face value, until he uses her in a malicious plot against his opera singer ex-mistress. This involves her wearing a white mink cloak to a performance of Tosca. (Can you tell how much I love this book?) When Anthea catches on to Florian’s attempt to upstage the diva, she ruins the plot and tears a strip off him for his poor behavior.
After that, of course, Florian is a goner. It takes Anthea a bit longer to realize her feelings: “In all the world there was no other dress house where Florian would come in––worn and impatient, smiling and indulgent, sardonic and amusing, arrogant and brilliant.”
But Florian, besides thinking he’s too old and cynical for her, believes her in love with Roger. We don’t get his point of view, but Burchell manages to convey the progress of his feelings to the reader while concealing them from the despairing heroine:
Odette had once declared that he could be a monster. She had also spoken of his occasional quick cruelty. But Anthea felt she could have forgiven all those theoretical faults, if only he had not been so coolly, monumentally indifferent.
Another 1954 Dior. Green!
The declaration is beautiful. Florian thinks she wants to go back to England with Roger; she thinks he wants her to go. Terribly hurt, she asks why he wants to get rid of her and forces him to admit his feelings. Finally, kisses.
I absolutely loved Under the Stars of Paris. Loved, loved, loved. Originally published by M&B in 1954 (Harlequin 1978), the fashions gave me delicious New Look vibes. I cannot tell you how much I want the “dress of stiffened lace in an indescribably beautiful shade of iridescent green” that plays a dramatic role in the plot. (Bitchy Héloïse misleads Anthea into borrowing the gown for a party. Florian sees her in the illicitly borrowed dress and someone spills red wine on it. Florian spirits her upstairs where he rips away the stained lace, removes a panel from the skirt, and drapes a new bodice on the gown in about five minutes. Now there’s a useful man.)
Burchell is a delightful writer with a nicely acerbic turn of phrase that keeps me smiling throughout. Her secondary character are well drawn and nuanced. Florian addresses Anthea as “petite” and “mon enfant” which I usually dislike but, given the age difference and the fact that she is his employee, I didn’t mind it here. I believe in their HEA and know that Anthea will be no doormat. In the last scene, when a senior employee disturbs the declared lovers, we get a sharp Burchell observation. “In her bright, knowing, already respectful glance, Anthea suddenly saw herself reflected, not as Gabrielle, but as Madame Florian.”

I am a definite convert to designing heroes. I am told that Rose Lerner's historical A Lily Among Thorns has a tailor hero; I look forward to the book's re-release in September.  If you know of any other titles, please let me know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Libraries & Librarians: An Appreciation

My editor asked me to write a post for Avon Loves Librarian’s Week because I used to be a librarian. Well, sort-of-not-really. I spent several years writing catalogs of rare books and manuscripts for major auction houses in London and New York. My love for the rare book business made its way into my historical romance series, The Burgundy Club, featuring a group of Regency era book collectors. Later I worked in Special Collections at the Dartmouth College Library in Hanover, NH, cataloguing a collection of plays, playbills and other items relating to the theater. I’ve used some of what I learned and saw in my books. (Writers are champions of mental recycling.)

The Radcliffe Camera,
My earliest library memory is of the mobile library van that toured our part of rural England. It stopped about half a mile from our house and my mother would walk us there to stock up on enough books to last two weeks. (I always ran out.) Since then, I’ve used all kinds of libraries, from the local library in my small Vermont town to the greatest of all, like the British Library, the New York Public Library, and Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale. No matter how large or small, there’s magic in entering a room full of books, a feeling of endless potential. You never know what treasure of knowledge or entertainment awaits you.

At Oxford University, the library I used most was the Radcliffe Camera, the great domed building that housed the history and English collections of the Bodleian Library. Later I used another famous circular library, the Reading Room of the British Museum, where luminaries like Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker worked. The British Library has now moved to new premises and I love it for it’s breathtaking efficiency. In the old reading room it could take hours, days even, to get a book and quite often the item you requested had been lost. But the staff were always wonderfully helpful. I remember once needing to look up one section of a work that came in dozens of volumes and I didn’t have the proper citation. Against the rules, a librarian snuck me into the stacks to find what I needed.
The old round Reading Room at the British Museum

The old British Museum stacks.
I've been there!
In New York, I got to know the legendary Lola Szladits, curator of the NY Public Library’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature. Her motto was “what Lola wants, Lola gets.” The tales of how she bribed and cajoled the archives of numerous writers into her hands were fascinating. Lola is an example of how a great librarian can make a collection.

Lola tried to persuade me to go to library school and become a librarian myself but I never wanted to be on that side of the library desk. I enjoyed the two years at Dartmouth but it was enough. Working as a library cataloguer did make me appreciate a side of librarians that most patrons don’t see: the painstaking and frequently tedious work of cataloging and shelving. Because if a book is wrongly described, or shelved in the wrong place, it is basically lost and useless, unless discovered by serendipity.

The main reading room at the New York Public Library
This weekend my local library holds its annual summer festival and fundraiser. It is with great pride that I see my name listed as sponsor and local writer. None of us, readers or writers, would be where we are without libraries and the dedicated people who run them.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Was Your First Romance?

What was the first romance you remember reading? Mine was Powder and Patch. I was about eleven or twelve and I'd pretty much exhausted Jean Plaidy's historical fiction. My mother and elder sister came back from shopping and handed me this paperback. "We think you'd like Georgette Heyer." They were right. I quickly went through all her books and I have continued to reread them ever since. Here's the Pan edition that my mother gave me, along with the Bantam one that currently resides on my nightstand. I love the cover of the first, because it shows a scene from the book and bears the subtitle "A gay romance of the 18th century."

Hanging out on Twitter last night, I asked the same question and got a lot of answers. I was interested to see how many romance readers and writers started with the older historicals. If you'd like to add your "first," I'd love to hear. You can tell me in the comments here, on Twitter (@Miranda_Neville) or on Facebook

 @julieinduvall - Susan Elizabeth Phillips' FANCY PANTS. ;-)
 @GrowlyCub - Heyer's Arabella
@AmandaMarie309 - Toss up: Candice Proctor's Night in Eden or Katherine Woodiwiss' The Wolf and the Dove.
@MaireClaremont - Its a toss up. Wild Swan by Celeste DeBlasis. She didn't call it romance but family Saga. Or Catherine Coulter's The Heir!
Nora Roberts's MacGregors. But Barbara Michaels was a gateway author for me.
@IsobelCarr - Fires of Winter by Lindsey. Turned me off the genre for a decade.
@dizzheart - If we're not counting Sayers, Austen or Eloise Jarvis McGraw, then it was one of those early Ace Heyer pbs
@evangelineh - Valentine Legacy by Catherine Coulter. It's still funny.
@PirateQueenKate - Amanda Quick's Mistress
@sunita_p - Heyer's April Lady. I may have read a Stewart and/or Holt before that but AL felt like a real romance.
@dougalgodfrey - The Wolf and the Dove. Then my mum gave me Seton's Katherine. Not strictly rom but still.
@badass_romance - Read both Jane Eyre and GWTW summer I turned 13 and became avid Holt/Heyer/Seton reader. Also dozens of Cartlands ensued.
@e_bookpushers - either The Bride by Julie Garwood or A Rose in Winter by Kathleen Woodiwiss
@LisaHendrix - The Wolf and the Dove.
@YasmineGalenorn - For me, I consider it Anna and the King of Siam. (I consider that a romance)
@karinacooper - Mine was Johanna Lindsay’s Defy Not the Heart. :D
@miss_batesreads I was assisting directing Wizard of Oz in gr. 6 & reading Woodiwiss Flame&Flower. (I was in gr. 6 too.)
@juliabroadbooks - Barbara Cartland. I don't remember which I read first but I promptly read about a hundred more. Am afraid to re-read.
@Laforesta1 - Nora's MacGregor Brides. And that was it-from then on, I was totally hooked. Loved the premise of the matchmaking grandpa!
@mharvey816 - Kathleen Woodiwiss "Ashes in the Wind" It was like Gone with the Wind with a HEA, but slightly more rapey. 
@balletbookworm - The Wedding by [a first name I don't remember] Beverly; Ok contemporary with a side character with a cat named Chaucer
@alisonkent - The Flame and the Flower
@FionaMMarsden - My first pure romance was either The Beads of Nemesis by Elizabeth Hunter or Crown of Willow Elizabeth Ashton
@Meljean - ONLY LOVER by Carole Mortimer, Harlequin Presents #502.
@JenniferRNN - I dont' remember my first. I do know that Diana Palmer was the first author I fell in love with
@writerlexiryan - Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux.  I was in middle school. :)
@MarniBates - Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann
@essayareayaitch - It was a Harlequin American Romance from the late 80s/early 90s … okay Google is my friend. Book was from 1983/84, Twice in a Lifetime. Apparently I knew the number, just not the title.
@VivianArend - Anne MacCaffrey Dragondrums. Side <3 and="" menolly="" omg="" p="" sebell.="" sexual="" story="" tension.="" the="" with="">
@lillie_80 - The Bride by Garwood
@BookishK - The Wolf and the Dove in the mid-70's when I was about 12 years old. I'd never read anything like it before.
@lizcook - Dark of the Moon, by Karen Robards, purchased in the Washington DC Hilton gift shop on a HS class trip… My friends & I hid in under the table and read it loud at a youth in govt awards banquet. And then Warren Berger spoke. 2/2
@KatiD - Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts (adult), Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (ya)
@jennellens - Whitney, My Love. Hooked me.  Read D Steele as teen but don't consider those true romances.
@runemima - Whitney's Spindrift
@Limecello - first HP I *remember* reading I was in elementary school - the Honey is Bitter by Violet Winspear. These Happy Golden Years
@chloeneill - Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey. :)
@TheresaRomain - This was one of the first R-rated romances I read. I sneaked it from my older sister's bookshelf.The Viking's Woman by Heather Graham
@dizzyandbookish - I don't think it was first per se. But it was one of them. It was "One Tough Cookie" by Carole Dean.
@VoireyLinger - I *think* title was Outlaw's Caress. Author was Mary Martin. I was in 8th grade & it was the filthiest thing I'd ever seen.
@AuthorEmmaBarry - Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels, about 3.5 years ago.
@natalincay - the Thorn Birds, given to me by 6th grade school librarian (what was she thinking?)
@EricaJMonroe - Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
@MuseofIre - Green Darkness by Anya Seton
@elisabethjlane - Mm. I first found Julie Garwood. I wouldn't read anything without a man in a kilt.
@Sara_Ramsey - BRAVE THE WILD WINDS by Johanna Lindsey. I was 12. They had sex on a horse. It was both magical and traumatizing.
@NobleRorick - tracked it down a year ago thanks to a HaBO.  Called Charity's Gambit.
@WW2HistoryGal - Cut my teeth on Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jude Deveraux.
@Cecilia_Grant - Does Phyllis Whitney count? If so, Hunter's Green. Don't remember a thing abt it except that the heroine had a green coat.
@emilyjanehubb - HERE COMES THE SUN by Emilie Loring.
@cass_oleary - Can't remember the titles but excerts from steamy romances in Cosmo sealed section, age about 15.
@BellRomance - The first one I remember was Desire by Amanda Quick, at 13. I promised my mom I'd skip the racey parts, but I didn't.
@ros_clarke - Heyer for me and many others, obvs.
@RoseLerner - I started with Regency trads: "A Lord for Miss Larkin" by Carola Dunn, when I was 12.
@susannafraser -  First I remember was Amanda from the Sunfire series. YA historical romance with gloriously 80's covers!
@ScribblingSandy -  The first romance I read as a romance was Stephanie Laurens's A Rake's Vow.
@CatsBooksRom -  I really remember 15 by Beverly Clearly. Still a great love story.