Saturday, September 29, 2007

Character and Great Men

I went to a discussion this afternoon called "Freud and the Historical Imagination" and at one point the conversation turned to whether or not Freud and his sister-in-law Mina Bernays (mother of Edward Bernays, father of modern advertising), and what that might mean to psychoanalysis, if it indeed were true. It appears that recently a hotel register was found in Switzerland where Freud and Mina Bernays had registered as husband and wife.

Of course this doesn't mean that any hanky panky went on. It could be that Freud and Mina shared a room because he was too cheap to pay for two of them, and they slept platonically either in the bed, or perhaps Freud slept on the floor. Since there were no webcams back then or paparazzi staking out the hotel, it's all speculation. Freud was very fond of his wife's sister, that much is clear from letters that still exist.

The point of bringing this up is what does it mean to find out that a revered figure is human after all and is subject to the same temptations and desires as the rest of us? Does the fact that Freud might have succumbed to his desires instead of repressing them change the foundations of psychoanalysis? After all, Jung apparently couldn't keep it in his pants.

Is this strictly American Puritanism rearing it's ugly head again? In Europe, no one raises an eyebrow if the President or Prime Minister has a bit on the side. If he was a Nazi, that's another story, but a mistress, no big deal. Why are we the only country that has a problem with our leaders or great men having feet of clay? What is this need that we have to delve into their sexual lives. Recently there's all these books coming out claiming that Lincoln might have been gay or a repressed homosexual. So what? Does that change the Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg address? It might explain partly at least why he suffered from depression. Does this say more about us, than it does about them?

I was thinking about all the scholars and people who refuse to even coutenance the idea that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings had a relationship. They give all kinds of reasons, but mainly they boil down to the fact that she was a slave and black, as if somehow Jefferson, because he wrote the Declaration of Independance, was different from the other 90% of slave owners back then. They don't consider the fact Sally Hemmings was the slave half-sister of Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles Jefferson, who he loved dearly and that supposedly she looked like a duskier version of his wife. Hmm, doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why he would have slept with her.

Does the fact that TJ might have slept with Sally Hemmings and fathered seven little red-headed slaves bother me? Not really. Jefferson had other not very admirable qualities besides possibly sleeping with his slaves. Most people do, that's what makes us human. He wasn't a saint. Alexander Hamilton was still a brilliant man despite the scandals of his career. And Lord Nelson's reputation survived his relationship with Emma Hamilton.

Back to Freud, considering that his own disciples like Jung broke with him during his lifetime, and Freudian psychoanalysis survived, I think that it can survive the discovery of an affair. It might make people reevaluate his life a little differently.

Does learning about a historical figures little peccadilloes change the way that you think about him or her? Does it make their art or theories any less brilliant (think of Wagner and his rampant anti-semitism) because they weren't nice people?


Friday, September 28, 2007

Dye, Dye, My Darling

Yesterday I had a total hair disaster of epic proportions. I'm talking so bad that not even wearing a hat could stem the embarrassment. What did I do that left me looking like Carrot Top?

Well, I decide to highlight my hair to hide the gray instead of doing the whole head thing or just doing my roots. So I moseyed on over to Duane Reade after jury duty was over to pick up a box of Revlon Highlights. Got home, and decided to do it just before Grey's Anatomy came on.

I followed the instructions to the letter except for the part where I got so caught up in what was happening with Meredith and George, and her sister Lexie that I left it on a little too long. When I went into the bathroom to wash it off, I almost fainted. The highlights were totally orange. I'm talking Bozo the clown orange. So bad, that I couldn't hide them by changing the part in my hair.

So instead of going to work this morning, I had to run across the street to the hairdresser for damage control. So what if I'd been off work for two days on jury duty, and I should have totally gone it. Whatever, my hair is way more important. I kind of fibbed a bit and told my boss I had to see a doctor for my allergies, because I was too embarassed to tell him that I had a highlighting injury. Fortunately, my hair was saved, like the guy on Grey's Anatomy who was kind of decapitated but they managed to fix him, otherwise my only choices were going to be either shaving it off or wearing a wig!

The moral of this story? Don't dye and watch Grey's Anatomy!

Anyone else have any good hair emergencies or disasters that they want to share?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Trial by Jury

I'm on jury duty until Friday (unless I get chosen for a case) and I have limited access to the computers in the jury lounge. Yes, they have computers with internet access here in New York, to keep the natives from getting restless as we perform our civic duty.
We had to watch an instructional video about the jury process which was kind of sad because Ed Bradley is in it, and he died recently. So far, I've been through 3 jury pools and haven't been picked once. The first time, the judge informed us that the case would take 6-8 weeks to decide so I volunteered to not serve along with 3/4 of the jury pool.
There was no way that my boss was going to go for me having to be on a jury for that long. Serving two days is too long for him. And I managed to get excused from the other two trials as well.
Speaking of trials, is anyone surprised that O.J. has gotten arrested again? Seriously, I thought it was only a matter of time before Karma bitch slapped him one. Yes, it's a relatively minor offense, compared to oh, say murder! But at least he'll maybe have to pay for being an arrogant son of a bitch if nothing else.
And I just saw that the Phil Spector trial ended in a mis-trial. I can't wait to read what Dominick Dunne is going to have to say about that in Vanity Fair next month. The jury apparently couldn't reach a verdict. It came down to 10-2, 10 in favor of his guilt, 2 convinced of his innocence. So now the whole process has to start again, costing the citizens of LA countless millions, because you know that Spector's legal team is going to try to get this thing either dismissed or postponed ad nauseum.
I don't envy the jurors on this case, and I sure as heck would have been recused because I totally think he's guilty of killing Lana Clarkson, even if it was by accident.
I'm totally fascinated with true crime, particularly crimes of the wealthy and famous because frankly I believe things are different, if you're wealthy and you commit a crime. Look at Robert Durst who shot a guy, chopped his body into pieces and disposed of it. He was found innocent! Seriously, this guy claimed that the victim who was an elderly man mind you, was threatening him and he had no choice but to shoot him.
Okay, it's dicey but partially believable, but I'm sorry dismembering the body? That takes it to a whole other level. Particularly since this guy may have killed his wife and his best friend as well.
See what I mean?
Can anyone think of a trial of a someone wealthy where they didn' t get off? Apart from Michael Skakel and Leopold and Loeb?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I just play an extrovert on TV

Mary Jo Putney over at Word Wenches wrote a very interesting post about Introverts vs. Extroverts last week. She provided a link to take a personality test. So I moseyed on over to here:

And took the test. Here are the results.

Test Results
Your personality type is INFP.

Introverted (I) 82% Extraverted (E) 18%
Intuitive (N) 73% Sensing (S) 27%
Feeling (F) 75% Thinking (T) 25%
Perceiving (P) 55% Judging (J) 45%

I would say that this is pretty accurate. I'm mainly an introvert, although I can play an extrovert when I need to. One of the good things about being President of RWA NYC, is that it's brought me more out of my shell. It's hard to be an introvert when you're a leader. Now, I'm the one pulling people from behind potted plants at our GAA awards, hectoring them to talk to editors and agents, and introducing them to people. Greeting new people at our meetings, and having them introduce themselves. But I can tell you that I'm drained after an RWA meeting from dealing with everyone.

Frankly, I was really surprised when I was nominated to run for Vice-President, because I pretty didn't think anyone knew who I was. I used to come to meetings and sit in a corner, keeping my mouth shut most of the time. I interacted with a few people but by and large, I wasn't one of those people who walked into a room and dominated it with my personality.

My BFF on the other hand is a total extrovert. She's at 150% 24 hours a day. She feeds off people's energy, and loves being the center of attention, particularly if the attention is coming from men. Me, I prefer male attention when it's coming from males that I want to attract. Random males don't do it for me. I don't need that much affirmation that I'm attractive.

Me, I have a tendency to be incredibly empathetic, so I can get bombarded with people's emotions. Which is why I hate crowds. But I love going to RWA conferences, even though for 2 or 5 days, I'm going at 90 miles an hour, sparkling, twinkling, putting myself out there until I just want to take a long bath with some bubbles and a book.

I'm been an introvert since childhood. As a kid, I was very shy unless I was around people that I knew. I was much more of a Scorpio then, naturally suspicious of people, and I spent a lot of time hiding behind my mother's skirts. I hated new situations which is why it's probably a good thing that I went to the same school for twelve years. But things like going away to sleep-over camp were torture for me, not to mention I was going through puberty early which made it even harder.

I didn't really come out my shell until I went to London when I was sixteen. I was so comfortable there, that I was able to show my true personality. The same thing happened in college when I did my semester abroad in London. All of a sudden, people considered me to be fun.

Now that I'm older, it gets easier and easier to be "out there" but it still takes a lot of energy, and sometimes I'm just not up to it.

Introvert or Extrovert: What are you?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Movie Review: Jane Austen Book Club

Saturday, I had planned on seeing the free concert of Hair in Central Park to mark the 40th anniversary of it's premiere at the Public Theater downtown. Unfortunately when I got to the Park to stand on line for tickets, I discovered that pretty much everyone else in the city had the same idea.

So I moseyed on downtown to the Public to try there, since the lines are usually shorter. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I had barely gotten on line before we were told that there were no more tickets. Apparently, a lot of people took the Public up on their offer of spending $100 and you get one free ticket to Hair, which I didn't do, because that sort of screws up the notion of free!

So I headed up to the Strand bookstore to look for some books for research purposes for my other blog Scandalous Women when it started to pour. It was pretty disgusting, so I took myself off to the movies instead. Choosing The Jane Austen Book Club was a no brainer. I had read the book when it first came out and I'd heard good things over at the Austen Blog. It seemed the perfect antidote to the weather.

I have to say that I flat out enjoyed this film. It's a really feed good movie about women's friendships, love, and most of all the joys of reading seen through the prism of reading Jane's books. The performances were spot on, particularly Emily Blunt who plays a character who is the complete anthithesis of her character in The Devil Wear's Prada. The only thing I missed with her character was why she was married to her husband, and a little more background with her mother, played by the divine Lynn Redgrave, who gives a memorable performance even with the few lines she's given.

The relationship with Jocelyn and Griggs was very interesting. I enjoyed the way, he slowly but surely wore her down. I'm in similar situation right now, so I could instantly relate to his frustration, sort of like Colonel Brandon's frustration at getting Marianne to see him as a viable suitor. Who would have thought a movie about characters discussing Jane Austen could be so interesting? It instantly made me want to go out and read all six books and watch the movies all over again!

And can I just say that Jimmy Smits is still amazingly gorgeous even going into his sixth decade. I may have to watch Cane just to see him. Maggie Grace, who I never watched on Lost, plays Sylvia's daughter, who is gay and seems to embody the Marianne character of being open to loving, but just as easily to discard when the relationship hits its first bump.

Yes, the movie is very fluffy, what on a rainy afternoon, it was exactly the movie I needed to lift my spirits, although the Brad Pitt Jessie James movie probably suited the weather more.

Definitely a B+ in my book.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lucrezia Borgia - Passionate Poisoner or Virtuous Victim?

Say the name Lucrezia Borgia, and you get an immediate reaction, even if they don't know the whole story, they know that Lucrezia Borgia was though to be scandalous in some way. Some will tell you that she poisoned her lovers with a special ring and her families political enemies, as the Borgia's clawed their way to the top in Renaissance Italy. Others consider the Borgias to be the first crime family, even deadlier than the Medicis in Florence, for their ability to eliminate anyone who got in their way. But was Lucrezia Borgia as bad as the histories have made her out to be? Or was she an innocent pawn used by her families to cement alliances and to raise money to wage war?

Many recent biographies have taken a revisionist tact with Lucrezia. While it's certain that her father Rodrigo also known as Pope Alexander IV and her brother Cesare were ambitious men, who were more than willing to murder their enemies, Lucrezia seems to have been a good woman who was subject to the whims and power mongering of her relatives.

The Borgia family weren't even Italian. They were of Spanish origin, originally from Valencia, the family used the Valencian language amongst themsevles for privacy. Rodrigo moved to Italy when his uncle Alfons de Borja became Pope Callixtus III in 1455. Rodrigo studied law at Bologna, and after his uncle's election as pope, was made a bishop, a cardinal and then finally vice-chancellor of the church.

All the while however, despite the fact that priests were supposed to be celibate, he kept a mistress Vanozza dei Cattani, the mother of Cesare, Giovanni, Gioffre, and finally Lucrezia who was born in 1480. She was twelve when her father was elected Pope Alexander VI after the death of Pope Innocent VIII. Her father, due to his great wealth, succeeded in buying the needed number of votes, in order to take the papal seat.

Lucrezia was apparently a good-humoured, good-natured girl with blonde hair, who enjoyed wearing fine clothes and good conversation. She bathed daily, an eccentricity in the 16th century when people were more apt to take a bath perhaps once a month if even that. Not much is known about her early childhood but she must have been well-educated because her father, during his absences from the Holy See, had no problems leaving her in charge.

Renaissance women were still subject to the whims of men. They were controlled first by their parents, and then passed over to the control of their husbands. They had no political power, and most of those who were heiresses found their estates given over to their husband's control. Women who did not marry were either forced to take vows in a nunnery, or were forced to live with male relatives on sufferance. Women were also discouraged from participating in the arts and sciences. For the most part, wives of powerful men were relegated to cooking, sewing and entertaining.

Lucrezia was married for the first time at the tender age of 13 to a member of the power Sforza family. Her father and brother had already made and broken two bethrothals as they strived to make the best match that would further their interests. Italy, during the Renaissance, was made up of feudal city states like Ancient Greece. Princes, Kings and Dukes jockeyed for position while other countries tried to take advantage of the constant state of chaos by invading.

By all accounts, Giovanni Sforza was a nervous, lackadaisical sort, he may even have been spying for Milan against the Borgias. After awhile the Borgias no longer needed the Sforzas in their quest for even more power. The Pope wanted new, more advantageous political alliances, so Giovanni had to go. There is a possibility that he may have ordered Sforza's execution. The story goes that when Lucrezia was informed of the imminent murder of her husband, she warned him and he then fled Rome.

Instead of execution, The Pope decided to just have Lucrezia's marriage anulled instead. Sforza refused. He accused Lucrezia of sleeping with both her father and her brother. While Cesare may have been a little too fond of his sister, there is no evidence that anything untoward was going on. More likely it was just sour grapes on Sforza's part since he was asked to lie and say that the marriage with Lucrezia had been unconsummated. Sforza refused even thought the Pope offered him all of Lucrezia's dowry to agree. The Sforza family put pressure on Giovanni to agree. With no choice, Sforza signed the confession of impotence and the annulment, and then proceeded to blacken his former wife's name.

While Lucrezia awaited the annulment of her marriage, she may have begun an affair with her father's messanger, Pedro Calderon known as Perotto. Pedro like Rodrigo Borgia was from Spain, and a favorite of the Pope. However he was later found murdered, his body floating in the River Tiber. Was he killed because he dared to not only love Lucrezia, but to father a child with her? All that is known is that the child was named Giovanni. Some suspected that the child was fathered by her brother, others by her father. Adding to the confusion in 1501, a papal bull was issued recognizing him as the Pope's son! The second bull was kept secret for a number of years and it was finally revealed, it stated that the child was Cesare's! Who was the mother of Giovanni, was it Lucrezia or someone else? No one knows for sure but the rumors had been started and would follow Lucrezia for the rest of her life.

Lucrezia's second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon, another political marriage, as her father sought to ally himself with the house of Naples. Like Lucrezia, he was the natural son of Alfonso II. Handsome and intelligent, he aroused the jealousy of her brother Cesare, who had been thwarted in his desire to marry the daughter of the current King of Naples. While married to Alfonso, she began to gather a court of intellectuals around her. By all accounts they were highly devoted to one another. But once again, her husband had outlived his usefulness. Now married to a French princess, Cesare had allied himself with the King of France, Louise XII, who claimed the duchy of Naples which was in the hands of Alfonso's family. This time, instead of another annulment, Alfonso was murdered on her brother's orders. Again, Lucrezia had fallen in love with her husband, and once again she was left broken-hearted.

No matter how much she may have loved him, Lucrezia's first loyalty was always to her family. Still by the age of 19, she had already two marriages behind her. At the age of 21, she was married to her final husband, Alfonso d'Este, son of the Duke of Ferrara. The d'Este family were the rulers of one of the most important duchies in Italy, with a lineage that far surpassed the Borgias. Alfonso initially was reluctant to marry Lucrezia given the rumors swirling around her. The Pope however persisted and offered the d'Este family a dowry of over 200,000 ducats and the a threat that if he were refused, war might ensue.

Within two years of her marriage to Alfonso, her father died, and Cesare was ruined. However, Lucrezia flourished in Ferrara. She gave birth to six children, and proved to be a respectable and accomplished duchess, the antithesis of her scandalous reputation. She was a generous and gracious patron of the arts, attracting visits by all of the greatest poets and arts of the time. After a time, she became known as "the good Duchess."

She was even left to administer the affairs of state with her brother-in-law whenever Alfonso was away, and given the duty of heading a court for citizens' petitions. The historians of Ferrara gave her the highest praise for her beauty, modesty, virtuousness, and understanding. If you to to the web-site for Ferrara, Towards the end of her life, she devoted herself to works of piety and charity. She died in 1519, after a difficult pregnancy with her last child, Isabella Maria. She was 39 years old.

The worst that can probably be said about Lucrezia is that she was a devoted to her family, despite their rather rampant ambition, cruelty, and selfishness. Still, the image of Lucrezia Borgia, with her poison ring, lives on.

Friday, September 21, 2007

More Golden Apple Awards

I thought I'd share some more photos from Tuesday night's GAA awards reception that my chapter RWA NYC threw at the Pen & Brush Club here in New York.

This is the photo I had hoped would run on Galley Cat, me with all the honorees!

This is me looking on as one of our honorees accept their award. God, I look really thin don't I? I love this photo!

Here's a photo of me after I finished presenting all the awards!
Here are our members, Barbara Einstein who writes as Barbara Gale, Irene Weissman and past president Sylvia Baumgarten who writes as Sylvia Halliday.

And finally here are the lovely Leanna Renee Heiber, Katrina Tipton who writes as Isabo Kelly and Stacey Agdern, our bookseller of the year from Posman Books (check her out if you're in Grand Central Station).

Thanks for reading,


Movie Review: Run, Fat Boy, Run

Last night I went to a screening for the Young Friends of the Lincoln Center Film Society of the new movie, Run, Fat Boy, Run, directed by David Schwimmer.

I knew absolutely nothing about this film before I went to see it other than it starred Simon Pegg who I have liked since his days playing Jools in Faith in the Future (also starring Julia Sawahla of Ab Fab fame), and Thandie Newton. All I can say is I haven't laughed so hard at a film in ages. This movie was even funnier and more poignant than Knocked Up, which I liked but didn't wholly buy into.

One tiny flaw in the film is that Simon Pegg isn't really fat, he's just a tad overweight. It was interesting that David Schwimmer said during the discussion afterwards that he had tried to set up the film in the States starring either Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the studios wouldn't go for it (This must have been before Hoffman won his Academy Award and Giamatti was nominated). Either would have been as Dennis, but probably not quite as funny as Simon Pegg.

The plot in a nutshell concerns Dennis Doyle, an amiable slacker who panics on his wedding day to his pregnant girlfriend Libby (played by Thandie Newton). Instead of walking down the aisle, he climbs out the window and runs away. Five years later, he's living in a grotty bedsit in Hackney, and working as a security guard for a women's clothing store. Meanwhile Libby (short for Elizabeth, why is it that no one has ever shortened by name to something cool like Libby or Beth? People automatically go for Liz. Blech! Although Libby Mahon doesn't really work.) owns a really cool bake shop that's going like gangbusters, and is dating a rich hedge fund manager played with appropriately smarmy charm by Hank Azaria (his pimped out pad in this movie is to day for). Dennis meanwhile hangs out with Libby's cousin Gordon (played by Dylan Moran from the BBC sitcom Black Books who steals the movie), who is even more of a slacker than he is, not even bothering to have a job, spending his days playing poker.

Dennis is such a slacker that he takes his son Jake to see the new Lord of the Rings musical without tickets, having relied on Gordon to get them. He ends up getting arrested for buying from a scalper in front of his son. Libby has had enough, and reems him out about his irresponsibility. Dennis of course still hankers after Libby, and decides the only way to win her back is by running a 26 mile charity marathon (perfect beau Whit is also a marathon runner as well).

I won't spoil the ending, but I can tell you that even though there is nothing really new in this movie (it's the classic boy meets girl, boy leaves girl at alter, boy must redeem himself and grow up to win back girl), the charm of the performances is what makes this movie work. Yeah, it might have been interesting to see the movie the way Michael Ian Black envisaged it set in New York but setting the film in London gives it a freshness that perks up what could have been a tired story.

In the discussion afterwards, Michael Ian Black admitted that he wrote the film because he thought, Fat Guy Running a Marathon would be hysterical. It's a great pitch which is why the script probably sold in the first place. And David Schwimmer did a great job directing a movie with a miniscule budget. Just the fact that he managed to film the marathon scenes in a day is a testament to his skill.

What a smart career move on his part to move into directing. Let's face it, it's going to take awhile for people to stop seeing him as Ross Geller from Friends. Focusing on independent film, and theater is as smart a move as Courtney Cox's decision to play a ball-busting tabloid editor. If only Jennifer Aniston were as choosy about what movies she picks instead of just doing everything that comes across her desk.

Can I just say that Thandie (pronounced Tandy as David Schwimmer pointed out) is probably one of the tiniest women I've ever seen? I mean she looks thin in pictures but up close she's all head on top of this tiny little body. Incredibly beautiful with gorgeous skin but tiny, and I don't think she's anorexic or anything, I just think she's naturally thin, but she also a little underweight to look good on camera. Her husband was with her, and he's terribly cute. Their kids must be absolutely gorgeous.

What was great about her role in the film was A) she had more of a character than she did in the Will Smith film, and B) she got to play a biracial woman which she is in real life.

So I give this movie an A-. The minus is for calling the movie, Run Fat Boy Run, when Simon Pegg is just slightly out of shape.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, September 20, 2007

GAA Makes Galley Cat!

I'm so psyched. Our Golden Apple Awards reception made media bistro's Galley Cat page.

"Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, president of the New York City chapter of the Romance Writers of America, sent me some pictures from Tuesday night's reception honoring the winners of the chapter's annual Golden Apple Awards. Here, from left to right, are Kensington Books editor-in-chief John Scognamiglio, Lifetime Achievement winner Wendy Corsi Staub, Dorchester Books publisher John Prebich, author of the year Caridad Pineiro, bookseller of the year Stacey Agdern from Posman Books, and librarian of the year Joanne Tropiano of Nutley, New Jersey."
I'm so excited, I'm not even bummed that they didn't use the picture with me in it!

The Curious Incident of Britney in the Night

You are Britney Spears. You've just been told by the judge that you will have random drug tests, and that you have to have weekly parenting classes. Your manager quits after you embarass yourself on MTV, and your lawyer quits on you too. Your ex-husband actually gets offered a TV job acting no less. What do you do? Do you lay low, staying in with your kids? Perhaps put your nose to the grindstone working on your album, rehearsing some dance moves, rededicating yourself to your career.

No, you go out drinking and partying until the wee hours of the morning.

Way to go Britney. Why don't you just hand over your kids to K-Fed right now.

Sigh! I really do like Britney. I admire the way she's made the most of the modest talent that she has, and if she didn't have 2 small kids, I'd probably cut her some more slack. But girlfriend really needs to get her sh*t together. I mean who would have thought that Kevin Federline would appear to be the more responsible parent? The minute that Britney decided to have not one, but two kids back to back, she needed to put the party all night girl behind her. Now is not the time to turn into drunky mcdrunk alot.

If the judge can order random drug testing, how about some pyschological testing as well? Before she ends up behind bars like Lindsay, Paris or Nicole (sorry, Nicole never actually went to jail did she? I mean apart from setting foot in the jail). Apparently Britney's dad (like La Lohan's father) also has suffered from alcoholism, so clearly its genetic. Maybe it's time for some outpatient therapy, and some AA meetings. Show the judge that she takes this whole situation seriously.

I promise this is my last post about Britney. It's just too sad.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Welcome Isabo Kelly!

This week The Lady Novelist talks with RWA NYC member Isabo Kelly about her newest releases from Cerridwen Press.

To heal a magical rift that could rupture the very essence of time, Arlana Von Fordin and Lord Commander Oric of Browan face a treacherous journey. Assassination attempts, warrior goblins, telepathic attacks, a cryptic dragon and the jealousy of a deadly blood sorcerer stand between them and finding the answer to a centuries old riddle that will force them both to face their destiny.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background and how long have you been writing before you were published.

Well, I’m one of those strange ducks who grew up in Las Vegas. I studied zoology in college and got my Ph.D. in animal behavior (studying deer mating J). There was about 3 ½ years between getting my bachelors degree and starting my Ph.D. during which I spent a lot of time writing. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, but I didn’t think I could actually be a writer until my first year in college. Even then I thought it would be a hobby and science would be my career. But before the first year of my Ph.D. was finished, I knew I wanted to be a writer more than a scientist. I still wanted the degree, so I finished the program. But science became my hobby and writing my main focus.

How long was I writing before I got published… Well since I’ve been making up stories all my life, it was a long time before I got published! If you count from the time I actually started submitting my work, it took me about 8-9 years to get my first anything published.

Q: Tell us about when you got “the call”

My very first “call” was an email from a small but prestigious new e-book company called Dreams Unlimited. They were actually one of the first e-book publishers, and they published Sherrilyn Kenyon’s first paranormal romance under her own name as well as a novella by Diana Gabaldon. So it was pretty thrilling they wanted one of my books. I was still in Ireland in the middle of my Ph.D. and living with a house full of Irish (and one Scottish guy). I had to do a happy dance around my room, but no one was home from work yet to celebrate with me! That was back in 1999.

Q: What made you choose romance?

I always adored the love stories in books. And when I discovered romance, I realized what was missing from my fantasy and science fiction reads—sex and a focus on the relationship! So I decided to write what I wanted to read but couldn’t find at the time—a real mix of fantasy and romance.

Q: What you do love about writing romance?

Happy Endings!! I can guarantee a happy ending. I also love the focus on character and all the emotions that get churned up in a developing relationship. And I’ll admit it, I love writing sexual tension.

Q: You write for two different e-publishers. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s been like working with both Cerridwen Press and Samhain?

Actually, I’ve had a pretty good experience with both companies. I adore my Cerridwen Press/Ellora’s Cave editor. She’s really easy to work with, but she doesn’t let me get away with sloppy writing, logic errors or anything else I might be embarrassed by later. She’s a good champion for me in the company. There have been some hitches in the road when it comes to print runs and distribution of print books. It took about a year and a half for Marshall’s Guard to come out in print, and around the same amount of time for Thief’s Desire’s print release. But that seems to be getting ironed out. And to be honest, there’s always going to be issues no matter what house you work with. Overall, though, I’m happy enough to keep writing for EC/CP.

I’ve only just started working with Samhain, but so far, I’ve really been enjoying the author-friendly environment of Samhain. Chrissy (the owner) is a very savvy businesswoman, so I’m hopeful Samhain will have a good future as a publishing house—which can only mean good things for its authors. My former editor was a doll, so she gave me a good introduction to the company. I was really sorry to see her leave. I just got a new editor in the last month, and she’s been really good to work with so far. So I can see continuing to publish with Samhain as long as they keep taking books from me.

I’ve had about three small press publishers close on me since I started publishing, so I try not to take anything for granted. But I’m hopeful both these companies still have a long future ahead of them.

Q: Your book, Destiny’s Seduction is a Fantasy Romance, and it’s also a sequel to Thief’s Desire which has just been released in paperback by Cerridwen Press. What sparked the idea? Was it a character? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I was editing my first novel (a fantasy romance which is still in the drawer) and found myself totally head over heals in love with one of the secondary characters—Jacob Marin. I decided he needed a book of his own. Then I was reading something totally unrelated and suddenly, the perfect woman for Jacob introduced herself—she was playing cards in a smoky pub and cheating the other players out of a fortune. That was how Thief’s Desire started. Events in Thief prompted the direction I went with Destiny’s Seduction. For Destiny, I knew the heroine and the bad guy first, and had an idea of the opening scene (the very opening of Chapter 1). The hero came to me as I thought more about the heroine’s journey.

Q: You write fantasy and science fiction. How do you go about world-building when you write?

I’m supposed to say here that I spend a lot of time world-building before I start writing. And I do spend some time developing aspects of my worlds before I launch into the first sentence. But I don’t do a lot. I usually can’t wait that long! I start with a character or two—almost all my stories have started with characters first—build enough of their world to get started, then plunge into the story and learn more about the world as I write. This does mean I have to pause a lot during the writing to daydream and mull over my worlds. But as anyone who knows me will attest, I LOVE world-building. I love traveling through new places in real life and in my imagination. So the exploration factor of world-building really appeals to me.

Q. What/Who do you like to read?

I obviously love reading science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances J I enjoy non-romance science fiction and fantasy, too. Then there’s Regency historicals, romantic suspense and the occasional mystery. As for authors, the list is probably too long to do justice here but my auto buys in no particular order are Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, Julia Quinn, Rhonda Thompson, JC Wilder, Stacey Klemstein, JD Robb, Mary Janice Davidson, Janet Evanovich (the Plum books), Rachel Caine, Eileen Wilks, Eloise James, Terry Pratchett, Jennifer Crusie, Robin Owens, Michele Hauf… The list goes on and on, really. One of the great things about being a writer is I have a good excuse for my book habit—I can always call it work related research. Oh I also read a lot of popular science books, particularly stuff about cosmology and physics (there’s a reason I write science fiction).

Q. What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed over time? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

As you can tell by my world-building process, I’m a real “fly in the mist” kind of author. I actually prefer writing that way because I get real excited when things I didn’t expect to happen do. I start with some sort of opening scene, a couple of characters and a general idea of how the book will end and then I run with it. The problem with writing this way is that I usually have a lot of re-writing to do when I’m done. I don’t clean up much at all as I go. I have to give myself permission to write the shitty first draft. If I didn’t, I might not ever finish a book! I do have to figure out some plot details, usually about a third of the way through the book, but I find a lot of my plots develop out of what’s happening in the story on the way to the ending I’ve envisioned.

Recently, I have started writing synopses before writing the book. And I’ll admit, I do find this really helpful, particularly for short stories so I know I’ll have enough room to tell the story I have in mind. But even with synopses, I still give myself room for the story to surprise me and grow as it will. In my really rough synopses, I usually say things like “and something exciting will happen here” when I’m not sure what that something will be.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

First and foremost, be sure to finish the novel! If you’re getting bogged down in editing and trying to fix the book before it’s finished, stop editing immediately and just bang the remainder of the book out. You can always fix it later, but it’ll never be finished if you keep tweaking the earlier chapters. The other best advice I know is to just keep at it, persist, no matter what gets thrown your way. This can be a tough business, with a lot of frustrations, annoyances and heartbreaks. It can be easy to give up on submitting to avoid those disappointments (and even after publication, you can—and probably will—still get rejections). So you do have to be persistent.

Q. There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels," Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Empower—especially modern romances with heroines from every walk of life, experiencing all those things women go through and coming out strong and happy at the other end. Obviously, like every work of fiction, there’s a lot of fantasy involved in romance novels. You rarely have a heroine complaining about the hero’s socks being thrown on the floor. We don’t really want that much reality in these stories. But what we do get is stories of redemption, the power of love, and the way loving and trusting the right person actually makes us stronger, even if we’re strong to begin with. Romances let us explore how powerful we are as women. How could that be harmful?

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

Well Romances are written for pleasure and it’s a female dominated audience/business, so I think that traditionally garnered a lot of disparaging comments. Most genres have had to take their share of criticism from literati types at one point or another. If it entertains and sells well, obviously it can’t be good! LOL. Personally, I’d prefer to write something that entertained and sold well than something hard to finish that sold four copies!

Is the prejudice changing? That’s hard to say. Most of us who read romance novels don’t bother hiding the covers anymore. And romance or romantic elements are sweeping through all the other genres. Personally, I’m proud to tell people I read and write romance novels, but that could just be me.

In the end, though, I don’t think the prejudice of the literati matters that much. I certainly don’t care if they poo-poo romance. And obviously that huge market share of readers doesn’t care either. They just keep buying the books, getting great reads and setting books down with a happy sigh. Long live the most flexible and diverse genre on the market!

Q. What are you planning to work on next?

This could be a long answer. I have two science fiction romances submitted to Samhain at the moment, and if they decide to take the books, there’s a third in the series I’ll have to write. The science fiction romantica novel I just sold to Ellora’s Cave is intended to be the first of a series, so depending on scheduling, I have the second book in that series to write. I have two paranormal series I’m working on, and the sequel to my Samhain fantasy novel to write. And those are just the more pressing possibilities. LOL. What takes priority will depend on contracts and my publishers. But for the moment, in between edits, I’m working on the first book of one of my paranormal series because…well it’s fun and I don’t get to work on it as often as I’d like. (Btw, this is how I deal with the submission process—I keep writing while I’m waiting to hear back from publishers and agents, to keep my mind off the submission. But it means I end up with an awful lot of books going at once!).

Thanks very much for the excellent questions, Elizabeth! This was fun.

Thank you Isabo for stopping by the Lady Novelist!

Look for the following coming from Isabo Kelly in 2007:
BONFIRE NIGHT ~ Ellora's Cave, Oct 24 2007
LACHMUIRGHAN: HALI'S RESCUE ~ Samhain Publishing, Dec. 2007

And you can purchase THIEF's DESIRE, and it's sequel DESTINY'S SEDUCTION as well as MARSHALL'S GUARD now from Cerridwen Press.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Anton Chekhov and The Seagull

"Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress," Anton Chekhov.

Friday night, I saw an almost perfect production of Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull, performed by The Royal Shakespeare Company. All the performances were almost spot on, apart from the Nina but that had more to do with her inexperience as a stage actress. Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Havana Nights) who played the role is tall, blonde and lovely, but she had this unfortunate tendency to hunch over whenever she talked to any of the actors who were slightly shorter than her. I just wanted to tell her to stay tall and own your height. She also did this thing with her hands that made them look like claws which was totally weird.

I have to say straight up, that I absolutely adore Chekhov. I think I love him even more than I love Shakespeare, and that's saying something since I've written 3 YA novels based on his plays. But there is something about Chekov that moves me in ways that Shakespeare's plays don't. Perhaps its the fact that in many ways Chekhov's plays are even closer to our own lives, than the lives of Shakespeare's plays filled with Princes, Nuns, Fairies, witches, and whores.

Even though the plays themselves are translated from the Russian, most modern translators now are able to capture the conversational attributes and are less formal, than the earlier English translations. Chekhov, like Jane Austen, writes about what he knows. Doctors, actresses, servants, teachers, the ordinariness of every day life.

Chekhov's plays are a microcosm of life seen at a precise moment. His characters live, and breathe, cry, love, get angry, sometimes within the same speech. You watch a Chekhov play and you can see yourself in anyone of the characters on stage, feel the emotions that they are feeling. His plays take you on a roller-coaster ride.

No where is that more apparent than in The Seagull. It centers on the romantic and artistic conflicts between four theatrical characters: the ingenue Nina, the fading leading lady Irina Arkadina, her son the experimental playwright Konstantin Treplyov, and the famous middlebrow story writer Trigorin.

But the play is also about the painfullness of unrequited love. Masha is love with Konstantin, Konstantin is in love with Nina, Arkadina loves Trigorin as much as she can love anyone, Masha's mother is in love with Dr. Dorn, Nina is love with Trigorin, and Trigorin pretty much loves only himself. Konstantin loves his mother and is constantly seeking her approval. Freud would say that he suffers from an Oedipus complex. Only in this instance, he wants to kill Trigorin, who has taken his mother away from him. Konstantin's mother, Arkadina loves him, but she loves her career and her life in Moscow more. It's clear that his birth was probably an inconvenience, and that she farmed him out as soon as possible into the country, where she probably only ever saw him in the summers when she returned from the city for her summer holidays.

Having him with her would have aged her in the eyes of theatrical managers, probably restricted the parts that she would have played. From several her lines, it's clear that in many ways she still sees herself as some kind of ingenue, even though she's in her early forties.

The play is also about art, and the artistic temperment and what it means to be an artist. Konstantin considers himself to be blowing away the stuffy old traditions with his play. He hates Trigorin because he's famous and because he considers him to be old-fashioned. And because Nina and his mother adore him. He's consumed with schadenfreude. He wants his fame, at the same time despising him for it.

Trigorin is Chekhov's portrait of the writer as a human parasite in a way. He's constantly walking around with a notebook, taking down bits of dialogue that people say and descriptions. He has a long speech to Nina where he talks about how even when he's trying to relax, he's constantly creating and writing in his head. What's even more telling is that he even tells adoring Nina what he's going to do with her, if she persists in her infatuation, which is basically use her as cannon fodder for his work, and then toss her aside. And she still gives her life over to him! And ends up paying the price when he dumps her after she's given birth to his child, who has died. Yet she still loves him.

What really got me about the play was Nina's speech about fame. Remember this play was written in 1894, but the way she talks about wanting to be famous, it could be any actress or reality TV whore talking today. She tells Trigorin that she would live in a garrett and starve, eating stale crusts of bread, as long as she knew that in the end she would be famous. This is after Trigorin has told her that being famous is not all it's cracked up to be.

Arkadina of course sees Trigorin for who he is, and is willing to let him have an affair with Nina when he tells her that he needs Nina to get over his rut in his writing. She knows that in the end, he'll come back to her because they are alike, and she's the only one who understands him. They're soulmates in a way.

As are Nina and Konstantin in their romantic idealism. At the end of the play, Konstantin is finally being published, but various characters in the play discuss the fact that his writing is flat, that he hasn't found his voice yet. How many of us have heard that phrase?

I won't give away the ending, just to say that it's exceedingly painful. The only real survivors in the play are Arkadina and Trigorin because they are pragmatists.

It's hard to believe that when the play was first produced, it was an abject failure. The actress playing Nina got nervous, and lost her voice, the audience booed, and Chekhov resolved to have nothing to do with the theater ever again. Even when told that the later performances were more successful, Chekhov refused to believe it, he thought his supporters were being kind. Fortunately, the artistic director of a new theater company, The Moscow Arts Theater thought the play might be suitable for his troupe. He convinced Stanislavski to direct the play in 1898 and the rest is history.

Perhaps Chekhov's greatness comes from his work as a doctor. Despite his success as a writer, Chekhov never stopped practising medicine. His work brought him into contact with people from all walks of life, and Chekhov was a dedicated observer. His tuberculosis kept him from any vigorous exercise, so most of his time was spent writing at his villa in the countryside.

Chekhov's fame doesn't rest solely with the four plays of his that are most produced, including The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya. He was also a prolific short story writer. Writing for him was initially a way for him to make money to support his family after his father went bankrupt, later it helped supplement his work as a doctor, for which he never made much money, treating the poor for free. He spent a great deal of money taking care of the local peasants near his estate 40 miles outside of Moscow, buidling three schools, a fire station and a clinic.

His short stories influenced many writers including Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, James Joyce, and Tennessee Williams. He used an early stream-of-consciousness technique, combined with a disavowal of the moral finality of traditional story structure. He made no apologies for this, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Welcome Barbara Gale!

Driving blind through a torrential thunderstorm, Maggie Tremont stumbles into a small New Hampshire village almost as lost as Shangri-La. But no paradise this! Primrose is a tiny hamlet the twentieth century seems to have forgotten, not even a dot on her waterlogged map. Only when its inhabitants grudgingly offer her shelter does she begin to uncover secrets the community would rather forget.

If they had their choice, Primrose would remain a simple farmland community, but they are wise enough to recognize that the future of their children is at stake. And it's looking rather drab. No one knows this better than Rafe Burnside, the grim-faced, unofficial mayor of Primrose. Nursing his own wounds, Rafe would prefer Maggie to leave town and take her new fangled ideas with her! The problem is, Maggie would take his heart when she left!

As a doctor, Maggie has been called upon to cure many things. But can she heal a town that isn't sure it wants her help?

The Lady Novelist is pleased to welcome romance author and RWA NYC member Barbara Gale. Barbara is the author of five Silhouette Special Editions, including The Ambassador's Vow, which one the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Silhouette Special Edition in 2002. Her latest novel, The Farmer Takes A Wife is out this month.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background and how long have you been writing before you were published.

I was a full time mother at the time of my first publication. I had just finished reading Georgette Heyer's Regency series and was bereft. I decided to try my own hand at writing and being young and ignorant, sent it off to the William Morris Agency. They sold it that month. Ignorance is bliss.

Q: What made you choose romance?

It was what I was reading at the time.

Q: What you do love about writing category romances?

Because it is contemporary, it flows more easily from my pen than Regency, which entails a great deal of research. It also allows me to give voice to present day issues in a way that is more natural. For instance, my novel, Down From the Mountain (2004), explored the subject of blindness. If I had to write about it from an historical point of view, it would have been a very different book because handicaps-historically-have been a subject of shame, hidden from view, more often than not.

Q: What do you like least about it?

I don't think I have a simple answer. Contemporaries are an easy write in the sense that I don't get sidetracked by unwonted research. The truth is, I could happily spend days researching quills pens. A contemporary forces you to focus on the plot line and character development almost at once. My books have very little description in them because…I guess because I feel that a few slashes of color ought to suffice the reader. But again, that's because my books are, for the most part, character driven. Very angst-y.

Q: What sparked The Farmer Takes A Wife? Was it a character? A scene that you just couldn't get out of your head?

The book was inspired by the northern Catskill mountains where I spend a great deal of time. My cabin overlooks a dairy farm, and the entire area is dairy country. Even the corn grown there is called cow corn (not for human consumption). The farmer down the road often spends whole days on his tractor and one has to wonder at the loneliness of it. I put that notion into a scene in the book.

Q: Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

I had to slow down the love story when I realized that the heroine, who is a doctor, could not relocate to a small town and embark on a love affair. A romance yes, but nothing erotic, because as a role model she had to preserve her reputation. Burnt once, the hero balks at the idea of a romance. Their resolution is the story.

Q: Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Living in the country three to four months a year, I know a little bit about dairy farming, so my research was minimal. I did have to look at a few maps, though, to make sure the heroine's travels were based on real highways and was based in real time.

Q: Your first Silhouette Special Edition, The Ambassador’s Vow featured an interracial couple which is unusual in category romance. Was it a hard sell?

A hard sell to whom? Silhouette bought it in four weeks, about as long as it took the editor to read it. It set the benchmark for my future sales so I guess the readers likes it also.

Q: What/Who do you like to read?

I have just discovered Daniel Silva, who writes terrific political thrillers, and I'm reading his entire oeuvre. Reading outside my genre keeps me fresh.

Q: What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed over time? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I write off the cuff, not a habit I encourage. It leads to much rewrite, particularly in terms of plot. But I am subject to the whims of my characters and could not write any other way. Writing a synopsis for an editor is divine torture for me.

Q: What are some of the changes in the romance genre since you’ve started writing?

The concept of the bodice ripper has all but disappeared, at least from the mind of the writer. Erotica has replaced it, and liberated quite a few women, I might add. As well, the explosion on the scene of the vampire genre over the last few years is startling. I don't think paranormals enjoyed such prominence five years ago. And young adult novels have blossomed, too. I guess you can see that I've been writing a lonnnng time to see so many changes.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?


Q: There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels," Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Romance novels have done nothing but serve women well. They have taught women much-about relationships, about integrity, about sex (to list their merits would take this whole page), that to dismiss them lightly would be a mistake.

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

My personal opinion is that the image of the bodice ripper cover had a negative impact on the entire industry. They clouded the fine writing between covers. But women loved them, and they sold books. They still do. All those handsome cowboys…vampires…FBI agents… I honestly don't know if prejudice against them is lessening, but I do know that romance novels garner the biggest share of the publishing market revenue.

Q: What are you planning to work on next?

I write contemporary series romance. Everything else is an adventure.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Scandalous Women: The Case of Madeleine Smith

"I would sooner have danced with her than dined with her," John Inglis, Dean of Faculty.

It was called the Trial of the Century. Imagine if you will, an attractive young woman from an upstanding and wealthy family stands accused of murdering her lover by poison. Passionate love letters are found giving the most intimate details of the lovers. Spectators line up daily outside the court room for a chance at the few available seats. The best legal minds in the country have been hired for her defense. The case captures the attention of not just the local media, but newspapers from as far away as London, Paris, New York. Media interest in the case is so great it bumps news of the Mutiny in Calcutta off the front page.

Sound familiar? Like something ripped from today’s headlines, or the lead story on Court TV? Well this case took place 150 years ago this year in Scotland, and the accused was named Madeleine Smith. The Case of Madeleine Smith reads almost like a film noir. It’s exactly the type of case you’d expect to read about in Dominick Dunne’s column in Vanity Fair, of a love affair gone sour and ending in death. It has all the earmarks of Passion, Power and Privilege.

On March 23, 1857, in Glasgow, Scotland, Emile L'Anglier, a clerk at a seed warehouse died suddenly after complaining of intense stomach pains. In his pocket, a letter was found signed only 'Mimi.' Amongst his belongings, his friends find various keys, several packages of letters, and a notebook the deceased was using as a journal. More letters are found at the seed warehouse where he worked going back two years, all signed with the signature of 'Mimi.'

It wasn't long before everyone in Glasgow learned that 'Mimi' was none other than Madeleine Hamilton Smith.
But who was Madeleine Smith? She was the daughter and granddaughter of well known architects in Glasgow. You can still examples of her grandfather, David Hamilton's work, in Glasgow today. She was the eldest of five children, she helped to raise her younger siblings due to her mother frequently taking to her bed with various ailments. Like many women of her class, she was sent to an expensive finishing school to learn how to be a proper Victorian lady. At Miss Gorton’s Academy for Young Ladies in London, she was taught proper manners and took the appropriate courses designed to make her decorative. She returned home four years later at the age of 18. Despite the polish she had acquired in London, Madeleine’s temperament meant that she would never be comfortable in the role she was required to play.

Emile L’Anglier, on the other hand, came from the small island of Jersey, part of the Channel Islands that lie directly in between England and France. Thirty-two when he met Madeleine for the first time, he’d already lived in Edinburgh and Paris before finally settling in Glasgow. Fluent in French and English, Emile worked as a clerk in nursery warehouse. If it hadn’t been for Emile sighting Madeleine by chance on the street, they would never have met, since they didn’t exactly travel in the same social circles. Class separation was a strictly enforced concept in Victorian Glasgow.

Emile, who seems to have had a dramatic temperament, having wooed and lost several ladies over the years, was smitten with Madeleine at first sight. Soon after they met, Madeleine wrote her first note to him while staying at her family’s country home. Even though a warehouse clerk was hardly an acceptable suitor for a young lady of Madeleine’s stature, she was attracted to him for precisely that reason. He must have seemed so different from the men she met at the social gatherings her parents took her to, where she met the crème de la crème of Glasgow society. The pressure must have always been there for her to make an appropriate match.

Letters continued back and forth between the couple, and they managed to meet several times accidentally on purpose on the street or at a nearby shop. Soon, however, Madeleine’s father learned of the relationship, possible from one of her sisters out of either jealously or wanting to protect her sister’s reputation, and demanded that she put a stop to it. Bowing to her father’s wishes, she wrote Emile a note breaking off their relationship and wished him the best in the future.

Emile was not to be put off. He wrote back, entreating her to meet with him. He persuaded a female friend, Miss Mary Perry, to allow them to meet covertly at her house. Madeleine relented, presumably swept up in the forbidden nature of it all. How exciting it must have been for her to have this secret!
For two years they exchanged many letters; meeting secretly in the country whenever her family journeyed there for their holiday. In Glasgow, they met secretly when her parents were out in the laundry room, or at the home of Emile’s friend Miss Perry. Although they wanted to marry, Madeleine’s father was adamant that he wouldn't even countenance meeting Emile. Sometime in 1856, the couple became intimate, in anticipation of their hoped for wedding vows. Although not legally married, they addressed each other as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in their letters.

Emile kept all of her letters to him, but he firmly instructed her to burn his, which she complied, ostensibly so that no one in the Smith house could accidentally come upon them, and their secret would be revealed. The few letters of his that survive (he kept a few copies) show him to be a demanding and bullying lover. He would constantly criticize her behavior, he decided what clothes she should wear, who she could or could not talk to, where she could go. He compared her unfavorably to his other female acquaintances. Her letters to him show a young woman who constantly sought his approval.

In the fall of 1856, Madeleine was introduced to William Minnoch, a wealthy merchant and neighbor of the Smiths. Like Emile, he was also in his thirties. Unlike Emile, he was thoroughly suitable husband for a young woman of her class. Madeleine eventually realized that there was no way that her father would ever be convinced to allow her and Emile to be married. Perhaps she also realized that she could hope for no dowry, if she eloped. And what life would like living on a clerk’s salary. Whatever her motives, Madeleine did nothing to discourage William Minnoch from courting her, and in January of 1857, he proposed and she accepted.

Her letters to Emile from this time show a slow cooling off in her ardor towards him, although she cautions him not to listen to gossip about her and Minnoch. Finally, she tried to break off with him, asking that he return her letters to him back to her. Emile, of course, decides not to take this lying down. He tries to blackmail Madeleine by threatening to show her father the letters. Those letters were the 19th Century version of making a sex tape. Her father would know from her letters that she was no longer a virgin. Her life would be ruined.

Madeleine, in a panic, asked him to meet with her again secretly. Events seemed to move rapidly over the next several weeks. On three separate occasions, Madeleine purchases arsenic from several chemists, claiming that she is using it for a beauty treatment (it was a commonly known but dangerous practice to use arsenic to whiten one's skin.) 19th Century law required that she sign a Poison Book recording her purchase. Around the same time, Emile suffered the first of several attacks of violent stomach pains. Three days after her second purchase of arsenic, Emile had tea with his friend Miss Perry. According to her testimony, he told her that he had felt unwell after drinking hot chocolate that Madeleine had passed to him through the bars at her window (her room was in the basement). Miss Perry also testified that Emile told her that “if she were to poison me, I would forgive her.” When Miss Perry declared that Madeleine would have no cause for such an action, Emile replied, “I don’t know that. Perhaps she might not be sorry to be rid of me.”

After the discovery of her letters in Emile’s lodgings and his office, Madeleine Smith was arrested. She gave a statement to the police, claiming that she hadn’t seen Emile in 3 weeks, she’d purchased the arsenic for a beauty treatment. She didn’t deny that the letters were hers, or that they’d seriously discussed marriage. Her statement to the police is the only record we have of what happened between Madeleine and Emile.

Because the sudden and popular interest in the case, the trial was moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Madeleine was interred in the county jail until the trial started in June. Her parents hired the 19th Century equivalent of the Dream Team, including John Inglis. Due to Victorian Scottish law, she couldn’t testify in her own defense. Opinion in the press was divided on whether or not she was guilty or innocent.

Just like in today’s court cases, her remarkable composure worked against her, while some admired her for it, others found it shocking. The trial lasted a scant nine days, incredible in these days of continuations, delays, and general stonewalling from the defense team. Most of her letters were admitted into evidence, but Emile’s journal was not because the prosecution argued that it could not be verified that it was indeed Emile L’Anglier’s handwriting.

The jury deliberated for only 9 days before reaching a verdict of ‘not proven’. What this meant was not that she was found innocent, but that the prosecution had not made a strong enough case to convict her.

No one will ever know for sure whether or not Madeleine Smith really did kill Emile L'Anglier. There have been various theories floated over the years that perhaps Emile poisoned himself in revenge for Madeleine’s spurning their relationship. The problem with this theory is that no arsenic was found amongst his possessions after his death, and his name wasn’t found in a single Poison Book in the Glasgow, Stirling or Bridge of Allan areas. Also, how would he have known that Madeleine herself would have been purchasing poison?

If she did kill Emile, why did she make her purchases of arsenic so blatant? She even brought an eyewitness with her for one of her purchases. And if she killed him, why did she not remove his letters from either his room or his office? Just like Lizzie Borden, the Case of Madeleine Smith has taken on a mystique over the years. Was she an innocent victim of an older man? Or a calculating witch getting rid of her lower class lover when she was bored of him? Or a desperate girl taking the only way out that she could think of?

After the trial was over, it was clear that Madeleine could no longer stay in Scotland. She moved to London with her younger brother James. Calling herself Lena, a childhood nickname, she met and married George Wardle, an artist who worked as the manager of Morris & Co. There she mingled with the pre-Raphaelites, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones and others. She may even have posed for Rossetti at one time. A popular hostess, she started a fashion for not using tablecloths at dinner, using placemats instead. A shocking convention at a time when even piano legs were covered.

After having two children Tom and Kitten, she and her husband separated after 28 years. He moved to Italy where he died. Lena Wardle moved to New York to live with her son’s family at the age of 70, where she eventually died at the age of 93.
But her name and her story still live on over a century later.

Welcome Wendy Corsi Staub

She may be able to see the future, but she needs to know what happened to her past. Calla thought that her boyfriend breaking up with her in a text message was the worst thing that could ever happen to her. But just two weeks later, her mother died in a freak accident, and life as she knew it was completely over. With her father heading to California for a new job, they decide that Calla should spend a few weeks with the grandmother she barely knows while he gets them set up on the west coast.To Calla’s shock, her mother’s hometown of Lily Dale is almost entirely populated by spiritualists who can communicate with the dead—and her grandmother is one of them. Suddenly, the fact that her mother never talked about her past takes on more mysterious overtones. The longer she stays in town, the stranger things become, as Calla starts to experience unusual and unsettling events that lead her to wonder whether she has inherited her grandmother’s unique gift. Is it this gift that is making her suspect that her mother’s death was more than an accident, or is it just an overactive imagination? Staying in Lily Dale is the only way to uncover the truth. But will Calla be able to deal with what she learns about her mother's past and her own future?

The Lady Novelist is very pleased to welcome our very own RWA NYC's Golden Apple Lifetime Achievement winner Wendy Corsi Staub to Got it Goin' On!

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background and how long have you been writing before you were published.

I grew up south of Buffalo in a big, close-knit Italian-Catholic family—aunts, uncles, cousins, and all four grandparents living within a few blocks of our house. I decided in third grade to become a writer and, with tremendous encouragement from my parents, wrote pretty much from that moment on. I sold my first book seventeen years later, in my mid-twenties. I have since published more than sixty books and attained multiple bestseller status. So in my book, there is no such thing as overnight success--it’s been a long time coming!

Q: What made you choose romance?

I had never read it until I became an editor at Silhouette Books back in 1990, and became familiar with the genre then. It seemed a natural thing to try when I started publishing novels of my own.

Q: What you do love about writing romance?

Who doesn’t love a happy ending?!

Q: You started out writing young adult and then moved into writing romance, chick-lit, women’s fiction, and mysteries/thrillers? Which is your favorite? And how do you balance writing in so many genres?

I could do the diplomatic thing and say that I love them all the same, or that I love whatever I’m writing at the time, but I have to say, mysteries/thrillers feel the most natural stylistically. I’m a Scorpio. Sometimes I have to fight an urge to go to the dark side when I’m writing other things. Like having a chick lit heroine kill off everyone in the shoe department with a gleaming stilletto!

Q: You’re recently returned to writing Young Adult with your new book, Lily Dale: Awakening. What sparked the Lily Dale series? Was it a character? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

It was, quite frankly, a place. The gated Victorian spiritualist community of Lily Dale really exists, in western New York State, just outside my hometown. I grew up around the mediums, and the Dale always struck me as an atmospheric place to set a suspense novel. My 2001 adult thriller IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE was set there, and sparked so much reader mail—much of it from teens—that I realized I had struck a chord and would have to revisit it.

Q: Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Again, Lily Dale is a real place, so I had to remain true to what it is—and not make it over into anything it isn’t. To that end, the setting in the story is authentic, but I’ve fictionalized certain elements—some streets, some businesses, and “Lily Dale High”—there is no such place, but I needed it to keep my storyline contained. I’ve kept the characters in my series realistic, inspired by but not based on the locals I have encountered. They are all completely fictional, though some of the locals slyly believe they recognize themselves.

Q: Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

Yes, major research, and it has been ongoing for many years now. I have been going to Lily Dale since my childhood and personally know quite a few of the mediums there, so I basically have had an “in” as something of a local. Way back when I wrote the first book, I would occasionally visit anonymously, but by now, everyone knew who I was and gave me unprecedented access, for which I am grateful. I was able to interview some amazing psychic mediums on how they do what they do, and I was even invited to sit in on a beginning mediumship class. I could write a nonfiction book about all the interesting things that have happened to me in Lily Dale. I’ll share just one anecdote about reaching out to the Other Side in the Dale. When I first began my research, my mom would go with me and help me take notes and photos. Then she got sick with breast cancer, and our visits to Lily Dale took on a bittersweet note. It was the last place we visited together beyond the four walls of her house in May 2005. She passed away two weeks later, just after her 63rd birthday. Not long after, I went for a reading at Lily Dale and she came through to me with an incredible validation, and has many times since.

Q: You’ve ghostwritten for authors as well as working with former New York City mayor Ed Koch. Can you tell us a little about that?

Well, when I moved to New York, 21 and penniless, he was the mayor and I was a dime-a-dozen small town girl with dreams of becoming a big time novelist. You can imagine what it was like for me to find myself sitting in his office, years later, collaborating on a novel with him, or chatting with him on the phone. Surreal! And he’s a great guy who is truly in love with New York City, as am I.

Q: Your book, If Only in My Dreams is a time-travel set in contemporary New York and just before the attack at Pearl Harbor. What inspired this story?

I’ve lost both my mom and my mother-in-law to breast cancer in the past few years, both in their sixties. A full decade of my married life was spent waiting for endless test results, always praying, always frightened, always thinking the worst, hoping for the best. In the cruelest imaginable twist of fate, my mother was diagnosed as terminal on the day my mother-in-law died. I literally went from my mom’s heartbreaking phone call to my mother-in-law’s deathbed. She passed away that night, and the next morning my mother began the endless, futile round of treatment that would go on for another five years. The exhausting double battle and the heartbreaking sad endings—not once, but twice, like a nightmarish de ja vu--had a huge impact on my life, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Of course I was moved to channel my grief into my fiction. I kept thinking about how modern medicine had bought my two moms extra time—years—to celebrate more wedding anniversaries, to see their children marry and their grandchildren born. It naturally led to a series of What-Ifs that sparked my plot. My modern-day heroine has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, then finds herself hurtled back to early December, 1941. There, she falls in love with a man who would later become famous as a doomed war hero. She knows that he won’t survive the war, and that if she stays in his time, she won’t survive her disease because there are no treatments. She faces an agonizing choice. I was told the book wouldn’t sell because a breast cancer heroine was too dark, and my publishers in fact rejected it. However, my agent sent it to a new publisher just before Christmas, and it sold overnight. That editor, Laura Cifelli at NAL Signet, is my Christmas Angel. I adore her. She gave the book a chance, and it did so well last year that NAL is reissuing it again already, next month, in time for another Christmas. It’s an uplifting story and got terrific all-around reviews and a lot of press. But it was, most of all, cathartic for me.

Q. You have a family and you’re under contract to five major publishers, publishing 13 books in a seventeen- month period. Wow! I get tired just thinking about it! How do you balance your time?

I won’t pretend there’s any magic formula or that I live the ideal, balanced life. Honestly, it’s incredibly exhausting and hectic, and I have had to give up just about everything I once enjoyed, other than my family and my writing. My boys and husband come first—I’m always there when they need me, no matter what. My deadlines are a constant pressure, and I do my best to meet them all. Thus, I no longer have a moment to myself, unless I’m sleeping—which I don’t do enough either, since I set the alarm for four-thirty most mornings to get up and write!

One trick: I try to combine business and pleasure wherever possible—for example, I combine book tours and research trips with family vacations. We are currently in the midst of an ongoing Fifty State Book Tour, which means my kids will see the entire country in the next few years. Crazy? You bet. But it works for us! I keep telling myself that the high stress level won’t last forever. I just want to enjoy every possible moment with my children, and I love my career, so I fight to maintain the best of both worlds, and forget anything in between. Someday the boys will be grown and my time won’t be in nearly as much demand, and I can go back to reading and needlepoint and watching my beloved Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Q: You’re won 2 RITA’s, and twice been nominated the Washington Irving Prize for Fiction. What does that mean to you? Are awards important?

Awards are a pleasure and an honor, of course. But I would have to say that the most rewarding—and important—recognition aspect of my career has been reader feedback. There is nothing better than fan mail, or having a reader wait on a long line just to meet you, or hearing that you touched a stranger’s life in some way. Without awards, I would still have a writing career. Without my loyal readers, I would not!

Q: What/Who do you like to read?

I love suspense fiction—Harlan Coben, Patricia MacDonald, and Joy Fielding are among my favorites. Because I don’t allow myself to read fiction when I’m writing it, though, I very rarely get to pick up a novel these days. Mostly, I read nonfiction—historical, paranormal, biographical, travel, unsolved crimes. Oh, and I always love a good almanac!

Q: What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed over time? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

Up front, in proposal stage, I write the first thirty or forty pages of a novel and as bare-bones an outline as my editor will allow. With suspense, I know who the villain is and I know their motive, but that’s about it. I do my best to stick to it when the time comes to write the book, but the plot always evolves dramatically as I go along. I write only one draft and clean up as I go, so that by the time I’m finished, I have a good, solid, very clean manuscript. My husband reads it, gives me feedback, and I do minor rewrites based on his feedback. Then it goes to my editor. I usually do another round of tweaking with his feedback.

Q: What are some of the changes in the romance genre since you’ve started writing?

Treat it as you would any other business venture: do your homework! Learn the business inside and out. Be prepared to work your butt off, and for years, for peanuts—if for any pay at all. And if at all possible, get a part time job in a bookstore or publishing house. (I did both) The experience you gain behind the scenes is more hands on and valuable than anything anyone can teach you in a workshop, critique group, or book.

Q: There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels?" Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Of course romance novels don’t harm women—I didn’t read the article, but that’s a ridiculous claim. Romance novels are purely about pleasure and escapism, which everyone needs in this world.

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

I hate to say it, but I generally don’t think the prejudice is changing much for the better, despite valiant efforts by the industry itself to change the public perception. I’ve encountered prejudice from both sides of the fence, as a romance editor and as an author, and it can be pretty vicious and disheartening. Though most of what I write is not technically romance fiction—my adult thrillers are in fact straightforward suspense novels, not romantic suspense—I have, in a sense, been “branded” outside the industry as a romance writer, for better and worse, with all that comes with that territory. I actually got a recent rave review from PW that called my thriller “surprisingly effective.” Grrrr. Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in New York City, not Texas or Georgia, where romance fiction is much more popular. I don’t think the prejudice is as widespread in the bible belt as it is here in the land of the literary elite. Bottom line: there’s nothing like a good old fashioned RWA National conference—or a big fat royalty check--to make us feel universally beloved!

Q. What are you planning to work on next?

I’ve just finished DYING BREATH, an adult paranormal suspense novel for Zebra, coming out in May, and my editor John just approved the proposal for the sequel, DYING LIGHT. I’m putting the finishing touches on THAT’S AMORE, my paranormal romantic comedy for Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner Forever) and also working on SLIGHTLY SUBURBAN, my next chick lit for Red Dress Ink. Both of those will be out next summer. And I’ve just gotten an offer this week to write two more titles in my YA Lily Dale Series, which has two books so far and has been optioned for television, so my fingers are crossed!

Wow! Thanks Wendy for stopping by the Lady Novelist! Lily Dale is in bookstores right now!


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Are you ready to Rumba?

Anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile knows how much I love "Dancing with the Stars." So much so that I finally got up off of my fat ass and started taking ballroom dance classes in January. Right now, I take Jive, Hustle, Salsa, and my favorite dance, the Rumba.

Why do I like this dance in particular so much? Besides getting to dance to really groovy music (including a very sexy version of California Dreamin by Jose Feliciano), the dance is just sexy. According to Wikipedia, the dance is the slowest and most erotic and sensual of all the ballroom dances. It tells the story of a man and a woman in love, or more aptly, lust. The man persues the woman, flirting with her, and she flirts back, but ultimately she rejects him and casts him away.
Sounds cool, no?

I decided to do a little research to learne the origins of the dance that we now know as Rumba. The word Rumba is a really a generic term, covering a variety of names (i.e., Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha, Naningo), for a type of West Indian music or dancing. The exact meaning varies from island to island.

There are two sources of the dances: one is Spanish and the other African. Although the main growth was in Cuba, there were similar dance developments which took place in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America generally.

Like a lot of other dances, the "rumba influence" arrived in the 16th century with the black slaves who were imported from Africa. Their native Rumba folk dance is essentially a sex pantomime danced extremely fast with exaggerated hip movements and with a sensually aggressive attitude on the part of the man and a defensive attitude on the part of the woman. Music is played with a staccato beat in rythm with the expressive movements of the dancers. Other instruments include the maracas, the claves, the marimbola, and the drums.

During the second world war, a dance called the "Son" was a popular dance in Cuba. It was a modified slower and more refined version of the Rumba. Still even slower is something called "Danzon", which was the dance of the very wealthy in Cuban society. Very small steps are taken in this dance, with the woman producing a very subtle tilting of her hips by alternately bending and straightening her knees.

Our American Rumba is a modified version of the "Son". The first attempt to introduce the rumba here in the United States was by Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer in 1913. Ten years later band leader Emil Coleman imported some rumba musicians and a pair of rumba dancers to New York. Then in 1925 Benito Collada opened the Club El Chico in Greenwich Village and found that New Yorkers did not know what the heck the Rumba was all about.

There was beginning to be a real interest in Latin music which began during the late 1920's. Xavier Cugat (former husband of Charo) formed an orchestra that specialized in Latin American music. He opened at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and appeared in early sound movies such as "In Gay Madrid". Later, Cugat played at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. By the end of the decade he was recognized as having the outstanding Latin orchestra of the day.

In 1935, the actor George Raft took a break from playing his usual gangster parts and played a role closer to who he really was in New York, the part of a suave dancer in the movie "Rumba", a musical in which the hero finally won the heiress (Carol Lombard) through the mutual love of dancing. I haven't seen it but the description makes it seem incredibly melodramatic with him dying at the end during their dance (apparently his character has a bad ticker!).

In Europe, Latin American dancing owed much to the enthusiasm and interpretive ability of a man by the name of Monsieur Pierre . During the 1930's with his partner, Doris Lavelle, he demonstrated and popularized Latin American dancing in London. They introduced the true "Cuban Rumba" which was finally established as the official recognized version in 1955.

Right now, I'm taking Bronze level classes. Which means that if I were to compete, this would be the medal level that I would be in. According to the International syllabus, here are some of things that I should be learning:

Bronze (thanks to Dance Sport UK for the steps)

Alemana (spot turn)
Basic movement
Closed hip twist
Cuban rocks
Cucarachas (learned, has nothing to do with cockroaches)
Fan (just learned)
Hand to hand
Hockey stick (have no idea)
Natural opening out movement
Natural top
New Yorker (learned)
Progressive walks
Shoulder to shoulder (just learned)
Side step
Spot turns (learned)

I'm not sure if I'll ever be good enough or up to competing, but I'm certainly having more fun learning than I've had in awhile. Of course, I leave each class feeling as if I'm in immediate danger of needing a hip replacement! I've also begun to watch the competition on "Dancing with the Stars" much more closely since I know most of the dances now.

I admire the celebrities who do this show even more now. Not only is it physically demanding, but most of them are performing steps that only competitors who are in the Silver and Gold class perform. And they have to learn most of these steps in a week. I'm still trying to learn fan after two classes!

Thanks for reading,