Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Did a Regency Heroine Stay in Shape?

In the majority of romance novels, our heroines have trim bodies. Some are thinner than others, some are lithe. But how, without the use of a gym, Zumba classes and running shoes would a heroine stay in shape?

Here is what I'm thinking...

  • She walks daily. Even if its just from room to room in her house or in her own gardens. A lot of ladies would also walk the parks, walk while shopping.
  • She dances at least once or twice a week (if not much more!). There are dancing lessons as well as balls.
  • She rides a horse several times a week--a good workout for the hips, buttocks, thighs, and her arms.
  • She takes the stairs. She would walk up and down the stairs several times a day.
  • There was no access to sodas, candy bars and extremely refined products. Most sweets were made using more "whole" products (but even these would give a girl a few more unwanted pounds if eaten in the extreme). And speaking of whole foods--she wouldn't eat the processed foods we consume today.
  • She was taught from an early age to eat smaller amount so food--it was more lady like.
  • The portion sizes were smaller.
  • She drank tea, which has been linked with a faster metabolism.
  • She got plenty of sleep. Not sleeping enough has been linked with a thicker middle.
  • She was able to relax more during the day. Stress has been linked to weight gain.

In conclusion, even without a pilates video and a stability ball, she could keep herself in relatively good shape.

Any other ideas?

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Debuts

A writer’s life has some crazy peaks and valleys. There’s the peak of learning a publisher wants to buy your manuscript—and then there’s the valley of having the publisher cut its editorial staff two months after it buys your book, ultimately landing in such financial hot water that it releases no books whatsoever in the month you were expecting to be published. That’s what happened to me when troubled Dorchester Publishing postponed the release of my debut regency, A Tryst With Trouble, to January 3, 2012, only to decide in December that it needed to go through “a reorganization and reassessment of [its] product lines.”

From The Every-Day Book; or, The Guide to the Year, by William Hone, 1825.

Dorchester gave the book a new release date of April 1, 2012—April Fool's Day. I don’t know when or if the book will be released, but it’s not on the list of upcoming titles at Dorchester’s website. I recently requested my rights back, so contractually the publisher has twelve months to publish the book or the rights should revert to me. There’s also the possibility that another publisher will buy the rights and publish the book, which would certainly be better than having it tied up indefinitely in bankruptcy proceedings. For now, A Tryst With Trouble is available on Netgalley for reviewers, where it’s receiving four- and five-star reviews.

Which brings me to my new debut release, Ruined by Rumor, to be published by the wonderful Carina Press. It’s a marriage-of-convenience story. I received the cover art for the book late last month:

I covet the hero's library.

Isn’t it gorgeous? That’s the heroine, Roxana Langley, about to be kissed by her responsible, tongue-tied neighbor, Lord Ayersley.

Working with Carina has been a dream—great communication, great cover art, great enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to being published at last. Ruined by Rumor should be available on Netgalley for reviewers in mid-April, with its official release to follow on May 21.

I hope you’ll give it a look.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Manners, Culture and Dress: Educating Emma

When a book is over a century old, you have to wonder how many times was it read and by whom. Through whose hands has it passed?  I purchased an old book several years ago called Manners, Culture and Dress, published in 1890, via an online bookstore so I had not seen it prior to the book arriving on my doorstep.

For me, one of the delights of this old book was the presentation page. The book was presented to Emma C. Savage on Feb 3rd, 1981 by her father and mother. I assume this was a birthday gift. A five-hundred page text to teach Emma about manners, culture and dress. I picture Emma as being middle to upper class young girl who was on the verge of becoming a young lady. 

What did Emma learn from this book?  Just about everything a well-mannered person in 1890 would need to know about how to act, how to speak, how to write, how to dress and even toilette recipes. 
She would have learned such things as how to protect against moths by putting a piece of linen moistened with turpentine in the wardrobe for a single day three times a year.  Here are a few more tidbits:  A lady should never allow a servant to keep people waiting on the door-step. That invitations to a funeral should be delivered by private messenger. Unmarried ladies should not accept presents from a gentleman to whom they are not related and not married. A lady does not cross a ballroom unattended. White kid gloves should be worn at a ball and only taken off at dinner. A lady must always decide on the the pace when riding. While traveling in steamers, do not make a rush for the supper table or make a glutton of yourself when you get there. Never be late to church. It is a decided mark of ill-breeding.

I wonder if Emma took all this advice to heart and became a young lady with impeccable manners?  Due to the good condition of the book, I don't think Emma re-read it. What does that say for Emma? I'm hoping she was an independent young lady. One who didn't always go by the rules.
Patricia Preston

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beware the Ides of March

And the ides of just about any other month. The ancient Romans were a superstitious lot, with more bad days than you could shake a rabbit’s foot at.  Augers constantly read the signs and sent emperors running for safety by interpreting everything from thunderstorms to bull entrails.  However, the Romans also knew how to party and they loved a good holiday. They enjoyed them so much, they were constantly declaring new ones to celebrate a military victory or appease angry foreign gods. In any given year, there were more holidays than workdays and with so many days off, it’s a wonder there were enough people around to keep the empire running.

Emperor Augustus was said to be one of the most superstitious of all Roman leaders. He barely got up in the morning without having his auger check to see which way the birds were flying or if lightning planned to strike. I don’t blame him for being cautious. Julius Caesar had lots of warning from oracles before he headed off to the senate on that fateful March day, but did he listen? No, and look how things turned out for him.

Many ancient Roman superstitious customs are still with us today. Blessing someone after they sneeze is a holdover from ancient Rome. So is the belief that a black cat crossing your path will bring bad luck.  Wearing a veil was a must for ancient Roman brides since it was thought to protect her from evil spirits. June, named after the goddess of marriage Juno, is still considered one of the luckiest times to wed. Thankfully, the Roman custom of checking pig entrails to decide the best day to hold the wedding has fallen out of favor.

So, as you prepare for March 15, do you part to avoid bad luck. Party a little to appease a few deities, check your horoscope, step over the threshold with your left foot, and if you accidentally stumble on the way out the door, call in sick. You don’t want to risk having a Julius Caesar kind of day.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Science as Spectator Sport

Alice Gaines

As a social scientist by training, I’ve always been a great admirer of Charles Darwin and his elegant theory of evolution, which now serves as the bedrock of modern biology. I’ve even made reference to Darwin in some of my books set in the Victorian period. I had one heroine who wanted to follow the great naturalist’s itinerary around South America, and I had another who’d actually met Darwin. (I even included two super-computers named Darwin and Huxley in an unpublished contemporary romance.)
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life appeared on November 24, 1859. It’s entire first print run sold out in a day, and it was republished in January of 1860. It went through six editions in Darwin’s lifetime, ending with the shorter title, The Origin of the Species. It has been continually in print ever since.

Rather different from the way we view science today, the discipline wasn’t considered the exclusive province of people with years of university education and lots of letters after their names but was accessible to the educated public. The Origin itself was aimed at a general audience, much in the same vein as popular works by Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould. Non-academics, like Darwin himself, did field work and became experts in the natural sciences. Clergy made a serious study of nature under the commonly held assumption of the day that the best way to understand the Creator was to learn about His creations.

Whereas science and religion usually collaborated, the most controversial assertion of Darwin’s theory -- that humans had evolved in the same way other animals had and that we shared a common ancestor with the great apes -- offended people who felt “man” had been created in the image of God, in other words, just about everyone except for hardcore Darwinists. The issue came to a head at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in June of 1860. A vigorous debate broke out after the presentation of a paper “On the intellectual development of Europe” by an American MD named Draper. Among the many comments and barbs exchanged, the most famous occurred between Thomas Huxley, self-described as “Darwin’s bulldog,” and The Bishop of Oxford Samuel (Soapy Sam) Wilberforce. It would become legendary in the history of science as the day Darwinian theory triumphed over theology.

The most dramatic account appeared in an article by Mrs. Isabella Sidgwick in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1898 titled “A Grandmother’s Tales.” Grandmother included the following in her description of what went on that day:

Then the Bishop rose, and,…turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? On this Mr Huxley slowly and deliberately arose…and spoke those tremendous words - words which no one seems sure of now, nor I think, could remember just after they were spoken, for their meaning took away our breath, though it left us in no doubt as to what it was. He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor; but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth.  No one doubted his meaning and the effect was tremendous.  One lady fainted and had to (sic) carried out:  I, for one, jumped out of my seat; and when in the evening we met at Dr Caubeney's, every one was eager to congratulate the hero of the day.

Not exactly the way scientific papers are normally presented today.

It turns out that there are many different accounts of what happened during that exchange, none of the others quite that dramatic. In fact, this description was published almost thirty years after the event. One author suggest that Huxley actually said that he’d rather be descended from an ape than a bishop. Another claims that Huxley put the hypothetical question of his parentage to himself to make his point. There were 700 people in the room and no microphones, and things may well have gotten rather rowdy.

Even if the incident has grown in drama over the years, these days an exciting new theory wouldn’t be discussed by a “bulldog” without advanced degrees and a bishop. I don’t mean that as a slap against religion. Wilberforce had written a insightful 19,000 word critical review of The Origin for The Quarterly Review in which he’d argued that, if the data supported the theory, he’d be forced to accept the conclusions. He found the data unconvincing, mostly because of the paucity of intermediate forms in the fossil record.

We might all be a better educated society with more Carl Sagans and Stephen Jay Goulds and more debates like the one between Huxley and Wilberforce.

Alice's Website

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ads of yesteryear

As part of my research on the Hundred Days and Waterloo for my next Carina book, An Infamous Marriage, I've been poring over March and April 1815 editions of the Times of London to find out how the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba and resumption of the French throne spread through England--i.e., what would my hero and heroine know, and when would they know it?

Having access to the Times archive dating all the way back to 1788 is one of the nicer perks of my day job. I'm a grant analyst at the University of Washington, and my staff ID and login give me full access to the university's library resources. I love to just walk the upper floors of the Suzzallo-Allen Library, drinking in the old book smell. If anyone ever made that a perfume, I'd wear it.

But since the Times archives are online, I can view them from home, with my manuscript open in another window. So convenient...if I didn't keep getting distracted by everything else in the paper. The papers of 200 years ago look nothing like the ones we read now (or were reading until we started getting all our news from the internet instead!). There are no big headlines screaming out Bonaparte's deeds, and the front page is occupied by something our papers bury deep within: classified ads. (Whether or not that's the period-appropriate British term, I don't know, but that's exactly what they look like.)

I never thought I'd spend hours of fascination reading classified ads, but when they're almost 200 years old, they're a window into a bygone world. Here are a few that particularly caught my eye:

INSANITY -- WANTS a SITUATION, a middle-aged Woman, who has for many years been accustomed to attend the most respectable persons labouring under a state of MENTAL DERANGEMENT, and can have the most satisfactory recommendation. Address, post paid, to Mr Grinly, apothecary, 42 Marsham-street, Westminster.

WANTS a SITUATION, with a single gentleman (if with a foreigner, no objection), a Man who perfectly understands the capacity of travelling as VALET, &c, having had long practice in various parts of the Continent, France, &c; can speak French, English, &c; and prefers travelling on the French territories if convenient. Reference for character can be strongly obtained from an established family he is about to leave, which he has served for several years. Address, post paid, to Z.A.D., 20 Old Cavendish-street, Cavendish-square. No office letter can be admitted.

WANT of EDUCATION in Adults or young Persons SPEEDILY REMOVED; Greek, Latin, English, &c. are taught upon an easy method known to the ancients. Ista facile discuntur si habeas qui docere fideliter possit. Address by letter only, post paid, A.X. Eaton, stationer, 31, Strand.

N.B. Due to my own WANT of EDUCATION, I'm not sure I transcribed the Latin in the ad above precisely. The PDF scans are a little blurry in spots, which in English I can fill in from context clues. In Latin, NSM.

IF the PERSON who LEFT his FAMILY on Wednesday, the 7th instant, in the forenoon, will forward his BOOKS and PAPERS, together with such explanations as the nature of the unpleasant business may require, to the Jerusalem Tavern, St John's-square, Clerkenwell, properly packed up and secured, it will have a very material tendency to remove the present very great difficulty under which the different parties labour. J.D., of Berners-street, pledges his honour that if, in addition to the foregoing, the above person will appoint a time and place for an interview with J.D. only, nothing unpleasant shall result therefrom.

Meet Marcus

DOG LOST - TWO GUINEAS REWARD. LOST, about three weeks since, a POODLE; his hind quarters are sheared, both ears, and the top of his back, and the end of his tail, are of a dark brown; answers to the name of Hussar; had on when lost a collar, bearing the name of his master, --Rue St Dominque, Paris. Any person who will give such information as shall lead to recovery, shall receive a reward, at 5 Arlington-street, Piccadilly.

I swear any one of those could be the springboard of a plot. If I ever run short of ideas, I know where to go.


Susanna Fraser writes Regency romance with a focus on the Napoleonic Wars. The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience are available now from Carina Press.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Perfect Impostor

The Perfect Impostor, my third Regency romance with Carina Press, will be released on April 2nd. I’m delighted with the cover. Carina artists do awesome work on their covers and I haven’t had one yet that doesn’t beautifully encapsulate the mood of the entire book. If readers do actually judge a book by its cover then I have high hopes for my impostor. 

What do you think?

Katrina Sinclair, recently widowed, is struggling to make a name for herself as a modiste. Her childhood friend, now a marchioness, could well make that happen when she asked Katrina to design her wardrobe for an upcoming society house party. One small snag, though, Julia wants Katrina to swap places with her for the duration of that party. They did it often enough as children. No one could tell them apart then and can’t now.

Against her better judgement, Katrina agrees. What harm can come of it? Only problem is, Julia’s husband, equerry to the prince regent, puts in a surprise appearance, expecting to spend the night with his wife. Katrina will do much to protect Julia, but sleeping with her husband is several steps above and beyond the call of friendship. How will she get out of that one?

Worse, Lord Leo Kincade puts in an appearance too, supposedly on his way home from France. In actual fact, he’s been assigned to look into jewel thefts that are occurring at society gatherings such as the one Katrina’s attending. The proceeds from those thefts are making their way into Napoleon’s coffers. The lady behind the scheme is a traitor to her country and Julia is a prime suspect.

Leo was once engaged to Julia but knows almost at once that the woman he meets at Lady Marshall’s isn’t Julia Dupont. But who is she? Why is she pretending to be Julia? Why is he drawn to her in a way that he never was to Julia? And what does she have to do with the thefts?

It doesn’t look too good for Katrina!

The Perfect Impostor by Wendy Soliman available from Carina Press and all good ebook stores from April 2nd 2012.