Insatiable cover reveal and blurb

Things are moving along on the WIP, and it’s all on schedule for release in late April. By now you have all figured out that it has to do with Marie Antoinette, but let me assure you that you have never seen her portrayed like this! I had planned to fully disclose my twist, but on second thought, I think I’ll prolong the suspense a little bit longer. I want to make it abundantly clear that, although for the most part the book is historically accurate, it is NOT straight historical fiction but a work of ALTERNATE HISTORY with a macabre twist. It is book two of a trilogy set in France in which I attribute some of the major documented events of the era to an unlikely cause.

I have been dying to unveil my gorgeous cover designed by the unbelievably talented, beautiful, and supportive Arleigh Johnson of Historical-Fiction.com. Yes, folks, not only is she an intelligent and dedicated book reviewer and blogger, among her many other talents, she is a graphics genius! And now for the product of that genius, I give you the cover of Insatiable: A Macabre History of France, Volume II–L’Amour: Marie Antoinette … oh yeah, and the blurb. As ever, any questions, comments, or suggestions are welcome.

Insatiable 400In 1770, the fourteen-year-old Austrian archduchess, Maria Antonia, left her homeland to marry the most sought after prince in Europe. Upon stepping into France she became Dauphine Marie Antoinette and assumed a fairytale life would follow.

But being the Queen of France is not all masked balls, beautiful dresses, and extravagant living. There are horrifying and unnatural forces at work behind the scenes, a mysterious plague causing a sinister transformation in the residents of Paris. When Marie Antoinette learns the details, she is stunned to find out that France has kept the secret for over two hundred years, and now she will be burdened with one of her own.

Determined to be the obedient daughter of the iron-willed Holy Roman Empress, she agrees to fulfill her commitment to the French Crown, until she unexpectedly falls for the handsome Swedish count, Axel von Fersen. Torn between her husband and her true love, her duty and her desire, Marie Antoinette longs for the day when she can be free to choose her path and follow her heart.

Axel Fersen’s abetting of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s escape from Paris

Anyone who knows anything about Marie Antoinette knows about her favorite, Axel Fersen. Although even experts in the field cannot definitively say whether they were physical lovers or not, there is no doubting that there was a strong bond between them. They shared a lifelong relationship that can at least be classified as a very deep and lasting friendship that began in their late teens and endured until Marie Antoinette’s death in 1793. The first recorded evidence of their association pertains to an opera ball, a masked event on January 30, 1774, when Marie Antoinette was only eighteen years old and not yet Queen of France. Fersen, who was only a few months older, notated the event in his journal as follows:

“The Dauphine talked to me for a long time without me knowing who she was; at last when she was recognized, everybody pressed round her and she retired into a box at three o’clock: I left the ball.”

Marie Antoinette’s husband Louis Auguste, then Dauphin, was in attendance along with his brothers and their wives, and the small circle of young royals seemed to approve of Fersen. A couple of weeks later the Swedish count was invited to a few of the famous bals à la Dauphine, little informal dances given by Marie Antoinette in her personal apartments. Although this may seem like coquetry associated with the beginnings of a love affair, there was actually little opportunity for misbehavior, nor was Marie Antoinette inclined to it. Despite the salacious rumors that were commonly attached to her later in her husband’s reign, Marie Antoinette was by all accounts chaste and a bit of a prude. Although known to be flirtatious, she had a reputation among those who knew her for putting a swift end to men’s advances if they crossed the line of propriety.

Fersen left Versailles to continue his Grand Tour of Europe. He would not return to France for over four years. Marie Antoinette, by then Queen of France, immediately recognized Fersen when he stopped in to pay court, even if the rest of the royals did not. His journal entry from August 26, 1778 states:

“Last Tuesday I went to Versailles to be presented to the royal family. The queen, who is charming, said when she saw me, ‘Ah! Here is an old acquaintance.’ The rest of the family did not say a word to me.”

Fersen became part of Marie Antoinette’s intimate circle, in fact, one of her favorites.  Whenever he was in France, he spent much time at Le Petit Trianon playing cards, lounging about, and engaging in meaningful discussions with the rest of the privileged few, whatever the queen’s whim demanded in the moment.

For the rest of their association Marie Antoinette’s contact with Fersen was sporadic, a series of absences and reunions depending on his schedule of ambassadorial duties, which kept him perpetually traveling. But there was one event fully documented by historians during which Fersen risked his physical well-being, indeed his life, to aid her. This was the royal family’s ill-fated flight from Paris and subsequent capture in Varennes.

In October of 1789, Versailles was stormed by a volatile mob. The royal family was taken and held at the Tuileries Palace under strict guard. Until then, Louis XVI had regarded himself as a benevolent father to the people of France, and the reality—which contrasted starkly with this delusion—caused him to fall into a deep depression, rendering him incapable of any action toward self preservation. It was at this point that Marie Antoinette took charge, understanding that the longer they hesitated, the more they risked losing their lives. She had chosen to stand by her husband and share his fate, but she was not about to simply give up. In addition, she still believed in preserving the monarchy for their son, Dauphin Louis-Charles. She began writing copious letters in a secret cipher to her most steadfast friend, Axel Fersen, and they began planning an escape. By June of 1791, the groundwork was laid.

With his military background and firsthand experience of covert operations, Fersen was ultimately qualified to plot the escape. He arranged the whole thing down to the smallest detail. At this point, he could have just played it safe and sent someone less recognizable to enact the plan, which might have been the wiser decision on his part. But due to his deep affection for Marie Antoinette, and in lesser part her husband, he refused to rely upon anyone else. A letter dated a few months before, gives us an insight into his personal investment:

“I am attached to the King and the Queen and I owe it to them for the kindness they showed me when they were able, and I should be vile and ungrateful if I deserted them now that they can do nothing for me …”

The royal family captured at Varennes

Fersen showed up at the indicated hour, but due to a series of errors the venture was delayed. Finally, getting off to a late start, they set off on the road to freedom. After the first leg of the journey, Fersen unwillingly ceded control of the coach at Louis XVI’s insistence. Even after his maltreatment, the king did not want his people to believe he was attempting to leave France, especially aided by a foreign personage. With its new driver the coach continued on in lumbering fashion. The king was recognized when the party sought to change horses in Varennes, a mere forty miles from their destination, the royalist stronghold at Montmédy. The royal family was taken back to Paris, the escapade accomplishing nothing beyond adding to the case for treason against the king and queen, the one thing Louis had fervently hoped to avoid. In February 1792, Fersen made his final visit to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at the Tuileries palace. He again urged them to escape, which Louis absolutely refused to do.

Fersen was haunted by the bungled escape for the rest of his life. Some speculate that this was because of his love for Marie Antoinette, others that he missed out on the acclaim of his success. Regardless, his actions went far beyond the call of duty, especially since he was not French but Swedish and was beholden to the king and queen for no other reason than his personal obligation. It is apparent that there was some extraordinary force at work behind the scenes that any way one looks at it can be accurately termed love. Risking his life to get Marie Antoinette to safety is the true testament to the devotion her bore her.

Because the verity of their relationship will never be proven, it will always hold the allure of the unsolved mystery. In my current work in progress—Insatiable: A Macabre History of France Volume II~L’Amour: Marie Antoinette—due April 2014, I exploit the premise that Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen were indeed lovers. I even take their relationship one step further by adopting the assertions of the gossip of the time attributing the paternity of her second son, Louis-Charles—who eventually became Dauphin of France—to Fersen. As my upcoming novel is a work of alternate history, the love affair between Marie Antoinette and Fersen is the least of the liberties I take with the story. But in my defense, I am not the first to do so nor will I be the last.

 

Grace Elliot ~ Of Cat Orchestras and Learned Pigs

1517665_10151995617674457_1081396239_nI’m pleased to welcome multi-faceted author, Grace Elliot, as part of her blog tour to announce the release of The Ringmaster’s Daughter. Here’s a short bio to give you an idea of her homelife and her philosophy about her writing.

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and Author_photoa bearded dragon.

Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances.

And now on to her very interesting post!

Of Cat Orchestras and Learned Pigs

Hello, my name is Grace and I write historical romance. My latest release, The Ringmaster’s Daughter, is a Georgian romance set in the Foxhall Pleasure Gardens. The heroine, Henrietta Hart, has worked with animals all her life and is the daughter of the circus’ ringmaster. Since horses play a large role in the story, this led me to research the lives of the actual animal performers who were the stars of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Indeed, in Georgian times there was a craze for performing animals from counting horse to a retrieving tortoise (!), from musical cats to one of the most popular of all: The Learned Pig.

So convincing was The Learned Pig’s performance that some religious people claimed he was possessed and ‘corresponding with the devil’. Others saw it as proof that the soul could migrate suspecting that: ‘The spirit of the grunting Philosopher might once have animated a man.’ During the Learned Pigs career newspapers reported that he earnt more money, ‘than any actor or actress within the same compass of time.

The act caused amazed and astonished the audience; being able to identify married couples in the audience and spelling names out with cardboard letters. His owner was not backward when it came to publicity and claimed:

“…solves questions in the four rules of arithmetic, tells by looking at a …watch, what is the hour and minute and is the admiration of all who have seen him.”

“…the tongue of the most florid orator…can sufficiently describe the wonderful performance of that sagacious animal.”

Next on our list of performing animals is the ‘Amazing Cat Orchestra’. This was the creation of a Mr Bissett, who must have been gifted with animals indeed, if he could get cats to do his will! He must have succeeded because Bisset’s Amazing Cat Orchestra was the talk of Georgian London. The cats apparently strummed dulcimers and sang in high pitched meouws. The early performances were held at his house and the ‘Eccentric magazine’ recorded:

 ‘In such a city as London, these feats could not fail of making some noise, his house was every day crowded.’

In 1758, another showman called Pinchbeck, suggested Bisset expand and hire an exhibition room in the Haymarket. ‘The Cats’ Opera’ opened with such entertainments as cats strumming dulcimers and mewing, a monkey dancing with a dog and a hare that walked on his back legs whilst beating a drum. This show was also a success and earnt Mr Bisset over a thousand pounds – testament to the eccentricity of the English.

A little of fifty years later, in 1817, Munito, the ‘Learned Dog’ was all the rage. As well as playing dominos he excelled at picking out playing cards and performing arithmetic. It would appear that his performances were unforgettable.  In All Year Round, 1867,  Charles Dickens recalls seeing Munito perform : “About 45 years ago, a learned dog was exhibited in Piccadilly -  Munito … He performed many curious feats, answering questions, telling the hour of the day … picking out any cards called for from a pack on the ground.”

Dickens used his observational skills and noticed how Munito walked around the cards sniffing them. The writer came up with an explanation as to how Munito did the trick.

“We watched more narrowly … noticed that between each feat the master gave the dog some small bits … of food, and that there was a faint smell of aniseed from that corner of the room.” 

Indeed, Dickens noted a smell of aniseed coming from Castelli’s waistcoat and concluded that he marked the relevant card with a small amount of aniseed on his thumb. However, another novelist, Jules Verne, who had also seen Munito (and alluded to him in ‘A Captain at Fifteen’) came up with a different explanation. He thought that Munito’s master snapped a toothpick in his pocket when the dog sniffed the right card.

If this has whetted your appetite for animal performers then meet Sultan, the performing horse in The Ringmaster’s Daughter. Sultan has lost his nerve and falls into Henrietta’s care as the result of a cruel joke by Lord Fordyce. To find out what becomes of Sultan…and Henrietta… well, you know what to do!

 

TRD_667x1000The Ringmaster’s Daughter – synopsis

1770’s London

The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts’ only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

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In celebration of Black History Month …

maybeMy books have all gone back up to their regular prices except for my most recent release, BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD. As this book is about the people affected by the struggle for equality and two of the central characters are African-American, in celebration of Black History Month I will continue to offer the Kindle and Nook versions for the price of $2.99. To further pique your interest (I hope!) and help you decide whether you might like the book, here is the blurb and an excerpt for a short preview of what to expect.

BLURB:

Set during the American Civil War, BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD combines a sweet old-fashioned love story with a compassionate look at the people affected by the struggle for equality.

Hannah Carter never expected to find love, especially during a time of war. By the spring of 1864, the conflict between North and South has raged on for years and still shows no sign of resolution. On her small farm in West Virginia, the young widow and her household have managed to remain untouched until a mysterious green-eyed soldier shows up, wounded and in desperate need of medical attention. Never able to turn away someone in need, Hannah risks everything to take in the stranger and tend to his injuries.

Beau develops tender feelings toward Hannah, and she is equally smitten, but circumstances conspire to hinder their happiness. Beau is a Confederate soldier wanted for the murder of one of his own, and Hannah’s farm is a rest stop for fugitive slaves en route to freedom in the North.

Will justice catch up with Beau and force him to pay for his crimes? Will he discover Hannah’s secret humanitarian efforts and betray her to the authorities? Or will they find a way to overcome their differences—to make peace, to live, and to love?

Excerpt from BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD:

One morning after breakfast, the men made their way to the barn to start the day’s chores while Hannah and Tippy headed across the yard en route to their mysterious daily ritual.

“Where does she go every morning?” Beau asked absently, his green eyes following Hannah’s trim form as she made her way down the riverside trail with her little white dog in tow.

“That’s Hannah’s personal business and a question you’ll have to put directly to her. It’ll be her decision whether to tell you or not,” Jeb answered succinctly, his refusal to impart further information evident in his tone.

Beau was taken aback by the big black man’s response. There had been little to no friction between them in the past weeks, but here was a firm reminder that Beau was not indeed a member of the family, as he had begun to feel. Under Jeb’s judgemental gaze, Beau felt compelled to explain.

“I know you’re very protective about her, and I would be, too. I wasn’t really prying, and I didn’t mean any harm. I was just curious is all.” He looked up at the big man and shot him an easy grin. “Regardless of what you think, Jeb, I’m not the enemy.”

Jeb’s mood was not mitigated in the least by Beau’s attempt at levity. In fact, the soldier’s off-hand remark stated so casually had quite the opposite effect. It provoked the normally genial man to an unexpected and somewhat heated response.

“Well, it seems to me that the uniform we cut off your bleeding body tells a different story. It was sure enough a Confederate one, and that would indicate that you and I are on opposite sides of at least one argument. Or do you have rationalization for that, too?”

“We both know it’s much more complicated than that,” Beau replied defensively. “It is a situation filled with gray areas and convincing arguments on both sides. Attempts at a peaceful resolution have gone on for decades without reaching a satisfactory conclusion, and you and I won’t change a thing by dredging it all up today.”

“Hmm,” the big man rumbled, nodding his head skeptically. “That’s what I thought.”

“Now Jeb,” Beau began carefully, putting his hands out in a pacifying gesture, “I don’t have anything against your people, but that’s just my personal stance. Politics are always far more entailed than one’s individual opinion, especially where I come from. My family has a certain position to uphold, and as my father’s heir, it’s my duty to secure it. Our worlds are so different. You couldn’t possibly understand it.”

“Enlighten me,” Jeb said then stood with his powerful brown arms crossed resolutely over his muscular chest, intent upon remaining unconvinced.

“I don’t want to quarrel with you,” Beau assured him. “I’m grateful for what you’ve done for me. You saved my life, and I am indebted to you for that. In fact, I would gladly lay down mine to repay you, although I have no idea how a slave arrived to be one of the finest surgeons I have ever encountered, black or white.”

“I’m not a slave,” the big black man countered, a challenge in his eyes.

“Oh come now, Jeb,” Beau said with a tired sigh. “Slave, former slave. Now you’re just arguing semantics.”

“And you’re being glib. Don’t just brush off my statement like it’s irrelevant, like you’re simply weary of dealing with an unruly child. That’s demeaning. Besides, it’s not semantics. It’s your stereotypical and close-minded attitude drawing conclusions before investigating the facts. I find it ignorant and condescending. I am not, nor was I ever, a slave. I was born free, as you were. The only difference is that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and will always have to deal with the prejudice incurred by my distinctive pigmentation.”

“What makes you think I had a privileged upbringing?” Beau asked self-consciously.

“Oh please,” Jeb scoffed. “Your hands are as smooth and lily white as a baby’s bottom. I know you can handle a horse, but I’m fairly certain you must have been brought up to wear gloves while doing it—a wealthy white man’s affectation. Heaven forbid you should develop calluses resulting from any sort of good honest labor.” Beau opened his mouth to object but snapped it shut when Jeb’s assessment hit too close to home. And the big man had not yet finished with his astute appraisal.

“To you this is just some sort of exercise in rhetoric devised to idle away the day, an intellectual pastime or some equally frivolous diversion for people of your ilk to demonstrate their erudition. Your playing at mock-congress is a form of recreation or a harmless little game of ‘what if’ with no real significance placed upon the outcome. But while you spend the afternoon engaged in an expository theoretical examination of human liberties—discussing your civic duties over lunch then heading back to your big houses and soft beds for the night—an entire people are still being deprived of their own free will, something you white people take as your due, your God-given right.

“Most blacks cannot make their homes where they choose, marry or reproduce for fear of being robbed of their loved ones or their very existence. They don’t even have the right to be compensated fairly for their labors unless they scrimp and save in order to purchase their way out of bondage. Even then, they can only do so if their owners consent to the sale. These are the hypothetical concepts that you and the people in your circles bandy about at your oh so polite social engagements, but for Ginny and me and others like us, this is the reality! This little debate determines the course of our future. Our lives hang in the balance. Can you understand that?

Beau had spent the past few years sitting in on court proceedings, listening to some of the finest lawyers the South had to offer argue their cases, but never had he heard such an eloquent and incisive extemporaneous speech in his life. Jeb glowered down at him from his impressive full height, a barely contained fire smoldering in his dark brown eyes, waiting for the Southern man to offer some sort of clever rebuttal.

But Beau merely stood there with the hot flush of shame staining his cheeks and his mouth gaping open, unable to find the words to express his level of astonishment or penitence. And so, he said the only thing he could, the only thing that came to mind.

“I’m sorry,” he offered, his arms spreading wide and then dropping to his sides in an expression of genuine contrition.

Jeb was equally at a loss. By the time he had finished his tirade, he had forgotten what he’d wanted, or even expected, to hear from this man, whose life had progressed so differently from his own due to a simple fluke of nature. But he was certain that this plainspoken apology—this tacit acknowledgement of the grievous wrongs perpetrated against an entire race based on their disparate appearance—was not it. But it was enough.

“Good. Then we understand each other,” he said, nodding his head in tentative approval. “And that is a very good place to start.”

He took a deep breath to calm his emotions and let it out in a long sigh. To Beau’s relief, Jeb reached out his big brown hand and gently squeezed his shoulder in a gesture of restored amity. Then with a smile he added, “Well then, let’s get these chores done before it gets too hot to work anymore.”

*   *   *   *   *

To learn more about my motivation behind writing this book, there is currently an author interview and giveaway running at Unusual Historicals. Leave a comment at the end of the Q&A for a chance to win a free ecopy. (Kindle or Nook)

Guest post: Maria Grace

GGP_4d_copy

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming the talented and lovely Maria Grace. She will be talking about some of the extensive research that goes into her work, more specifically her new release TWELFTH NIGHT AT LONGBOURN. Let’s hear from her about her fascinating process.

I am probably the odd one out. I actually love the research process. It is probably one of my favorite things about writing historical fiction.  As a kid, I loved to read reproductions of old cookbooks—and honestly I still do. Those vintage cookbooks often offer insight into those mundane household activities from eras long past. Knowing how people cooked and ate, cleaned their homes, their clothes and themselves, the medicines they prepared and the maladies they prepared them for all paint such a vivid picture for me of what life was like, I feel a little transported to that era myself as I imagine what it would have been like to prepare dinner, go shopping or manage laundry without the modern conveniences I have come to rely upon.

All that research is the crux of world-building, a skill every writer must have whether they are creating their own fantasy world, or recreating an historical one. So, I indulge my researching-itch with period references whenever I can. Digitized period books have made my efforts so much easier.  I now have hundreds of such references on my hard drive, with access on my phone if I really want. It is a bit of a head trip, referencing a 1794 cookbook for instructions on cleaning fruit juice stains from silk using the WiFi connection on my cellphone! I have gotten some interesting looks standing in the grocery line reading those. The things writers do for their craft!

741px-thumbnail_zps1168ce9dI frequently find myself researching out little details that I could otherwise gloss over, since, really, they aren’t THAT important to the story. Things like specific items served at meals or teas, what did they taste and smell like. Were they just placed on the table, or was there some particular ceremony used when they were presented? Were there special serving vessels used or just everyday dishes and did those dishes communicate anything about the host or hostess.  These are little things which don’t necessarily carry the plot, but they can transport the reader into the story world and that is important to me.

One place the characters in my most recent book visit is a Regency-era chocolate house something like a Starbucks of today, but with some significant differences. Preparing drinking chocolate was a time consuming, labor intensive process, beyond the means of many. So, coffee and chocolate houses sprung up to meet the demand.

Preparing drinking chocolate took at least 30 minutes and a number of specialized tools. Learning more about them made me really appreciate the luxury of instant hot chocolate mix. A specialty chocolate grater would be used to shave a solid tablet of chocolate already mixed with spices like cardamom, aniseed, cloves, and bergamot. The powdered spicy chocolate would be added to a large 800px-Molinillos_zps008e08adpan containing water, milk or possibly a mixture of water and wine or water and brandy and placed over heat and brought to a boil, while constantly stirring to prevent scorching. The cook would then remove it from the heat and use a special tool, known in England as a chocolate mill (in France a molinet, in Spain a molinilla) to beat it, adding eggs, flour, corn starch or even bread to thicken the mixture.

After beating, the pot was returned to the heat where cream might be added. The chocolate mill would be employed again to raise a head of froth that chocolate drinkers expected. When finally ready to serve, the finished drinking chocolate would be transferred to a special chocolate pot.

A proper china service would contain at least three pots and three sets of cups, one for tea, one for coffee and one for chocolate. A chocolate pot was taller and straighter than a tea pot, with a shorter spout than a coffee pot, placed high on the pot. It also sported a hinged finial on the lid to allow a chocolate mill to be used while the lid was down to prevent splashing.366px-BLW_Chocolate_Pot_zpsd6334662

Chocolate was served in cups were taller and narrower than coffee or tea cups. Their unique shape made them more likely to spill, so special saucers known as coffee stands developed to steady the unstable cups.

Chocolate was usually served at breakfast, but if taken during the day, dainty confections might accompany it. For example short cakes and lemon creams, both of which represented a fair amount of kitchen labor themselves. These are recipes taken from period books handwritten by cooks and housewives of the era, including the original abbreviations and spelling errors.

Short Cakes

Rub in with the hand one pound of butter into two pounds of sifted flour. Put one pound of currants, one pound of moist sugar and one egg. Mix all together with half a pint of milk, roll it out thin and cut into round cakes. Lay them on a clean baking plate and put them in a middling hot oven for about five minutes.

I’d love to try this recipe, though I’m not sure what moist sugar is. I do live fairly near the coast though and given we’ve got better than 70% humidity now, I’m going to guess that my sugar might count as moist. Also not sure what middling hot is for an oven, but I’ll either try it at 350F like I bake everything else, or check a modern book for baking temperatures for short bread.

Lemmon Cream

To four large lemmons squees’d put 3 qrs of a pd of ye finest loaf sugar, 8 or 9 spoonfuls of water & a piece of ye peel. Set it over ye fire until ye sugar is melted. Put in ye whites of 4 eggs & strain it through a napkin doubled. Set it on ye fire again & stir it all ye while. When it grows thick, take it off. Put in two spoonfuls of orange flower water. Lay some shreds of boyled lemmon pele at ye bottom of yr glasses. 

This one sounds good too, but I find it a touch more intimidating. I have no idea what size spoonful of water makes sense here or what a large lemon looked like in the late 1700’s. Something tells me that might not be the same as what I’d consider large today. What do you think?

Recipes from: http://lostcookbook.wordpress.com

Learning all these details is wonderful, but the challenge comes in using them in an authentic way, weaving in the details to build the world, not make the reader feel like they are in the midst of a history lesson. Here’s an excerpt from my book Twelfth Night at Longbourn where I try to do just that.

 ~~~~~

GGP_4d_copyKitty shifted the basket on her arm. The streets of Meryton bustled with foot traffic, but no one stopped to speak to her. Several mothers, their daughters in tow, crossed the street or ducked into shops, no doubt to avoid contact with her. None looked at her or smiled in her direction. She might as well have been invisible.

She stared at her feet. Her hand-me-down nankeen half-boots, mud spattered and layered with road dust, needed a good cleaning. Since no one accepted her calls, and no one called on her, she would have plenty of time to attend to that task later this afternoon.

Her throat tightened hard around the lump she could not swallow back. She must not cry. How could Lydia have done this to her?

It was all so unfair! Lizzy and Jane and Mary, all married and immune to the effects of Lydia’s folly, left her alone to bear it. She dragged her sleeve across burning eyes

Wait. Was that—yes, Charlotte and Maria Lucas, there, near the milliner’s. Surely they would not cut her.

Kitty hurried across the street. “Charlotte, Maria! How good to see you!”

They curtsied.

“Had we known you were coming to town today, we might have walked together.” Charlotte smiled as though Lydia’s transgression never happened.

No wonder Lizzy considered her such a dear friend.

“Excuse me. I must nip in here for a moment.” Maria pulled the shop door open and disappeared inside.

Not Maria, too! Kitty gulped hard and sniffled.

Charlotte took Kitty’s elbow. “The coffee house is serving lemon creams. You cannot imagine how delicious they are with chocolate.”

Kitty mumbled and nodded as she followed Charlotte down the street. She stooped to hide within her poke bonnet’s generous brim. That is what they were for, was it not, to hide a young woman from the censure of society?

The dark walls, covered with too many decorations, invited them to find a place in the crowded coffee house. Conversations hummed around her. How could so many be smiling when misery enveloped her like a red riding cloak?

Charlotte left her at an out of the way table and procured a tasting plate. “I am sorry Maria did not join us. She does so enjoy sweets. I hope you did not think—”

Kitty flicked her hand and shook her head. “She is just doing as everyone else.”

Charlotte pushed a plate heaped with cheery glasses of lemon cream, dainty slices of pound cake, savoy biscuits and shortcakes at her. “You simply must try the pound cake. I have never tasted the equal of it.”

Kitty picked up a piece, examined it, and put it down again. She sighed. At least Charlotte would permit her the luxury of a little dissatisfaction.

Charlotte touched her hand. “You are still upset over Lydia?”

She blinked hard and turned her face aside.

“I understand,” Charlotte whispered. “Maria’s behavior has earned me no little censure.”

Kitty gasped.

“It is true. The same families that cut you and your sisters this spring cut me as well.” She stared at Kitty. “You did not know?”

“No.”

“Before Lydia’s…ahh…” Charlotte rubbed her palms together. “The Smiths, Longs and Bonds stopped keeping company with both our families.”

“Indeed?”

“Lizzy and I discussed it.”

“I was so busy sewing I never realized.” Kitty worried the edge of the tablecloth between her fingers. “What did Maria do?”

“Maria is a thoughtless, foolish girl even as you saw just a few moments ago.”

Kitty picked up the crystal glass of lemonade and sipped the slightly too sour mixture. She stared into the cloudy liquid. A few lemon pips swam along the surface. How like Charlotte to be so concerned for her feelings—not that it helped, but it was very sweet.

“I hope she will come to her senses soon.”

“Even if she does not, I doubt she will ever rival Lydia.” Kitty smoothed the tablecloth under her glass.

“Perhaps not.”

Kitty crossed her arms over her chest. “I will never forgive her.”

“I know you feel that way now—”

“I will always feel this way.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.” Charlotte shrugged. “Have you spent much time with the Bonds? After Olivia—”

“No.” Kitty snapped a biscuit in half. Pale crumbs littered the blue table linen. “The Bonds still blame Lydia for Olivia’s elopement. You might think Margery Bond would be sympathetic. She has received as much censure as I. She said I am only getting what I deserve for being related to such a wicked girl.” Kitty covered her face with her hands.

“What a horrible thing to say. Mrs. Bond certainly did not agree—”

“I do not know as I avoid her whenever possible. I cannot—”

“Perhaps you are taking this too hard.”

“You do not understand.”

Charlotte turned her face to the ceiling and shook her head. “It may be worth little, but you are always welcome at Lucas Lodge.”

“Thank you. It is some comfort.” Not that she actually felt any ease, but it was the right and proper thing to say. Kitty dabbed her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. How could she have forgotten a handkerchief?

“If you are so unhappy here, what about your aunt and uncle in London? Perhaps you might visit them for a month or two?”

“That is a good idea.” Kitty nibbled the edge of her broken biscuit. “With four young children, my aunt would surely appreciate help. She does not employ a governess. I could make myself quite useful to her.”

“I thought you did not like children.” Charlotte’s eyebrows climbed under the edges of her droopy bonnet.

Kitty huffed and crossed her arms. “Well, I shall learn to like them. At the very least, they will speak to me whilst no one here will.”

Charlotte chuckled. “I am sure you will find your cousins delightful.”

“I shall ask Papa for permission to write them. London is just a few hours away and the horses are not needed on the farm right now.” She chewed her lip. “Do you think he might allow me to go?”

“I would not have suggested it if I thought it impossible or even unlikely.”

Was it possible? Might she escape to a place where her disgrace was unknown? Surely the Gardiners would be willing, and Papa could not object if they did not. She blinked hard, her lips turning up just a mite.

The pound cake did look appealing. She took a hearty bite. “You are right. This is delicious.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

If you would like to read more you can find Twelfth Night at Longbourn at:

Amazon kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H9YDXTU

Amazon Paperback available soon:

NOOK: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twefth-night-at-longbourn-maria- grace/1117684737

KOBO http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/Twelfth-Night-at-Longbourn/yoolLDy_TU2RcfbmWP2OQQ

Gumroads (pdf) https://gum.co/SbVX

Blurb: 

Twelfth Night—a night for wondrous things to happen.

At least for other people.

In the months after her sisters’ weddings, nothing has gone well for Kitty Bennet. Since Lydia’s infamous elopement, her friends have abandoned her, and Longbourn is more prison than home. Not even Elizabeth’s new status as Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley can repair the damage to Kitty’s reputation. More than anything else, she wishes to leave the plain ordinary Kitty behind and become Catherine Bennet, a proper young lady.

Her only ray of hope is an invitation to Pemberley for the holidays. Perhaps there she might escape the effects of her sister’s shame.

Getting to Pemberley is not as simple as it sounds. First she must navigate the perils of London society, the moods of Georgiana Darcy, and the chance encounter with the man who once broke her heart. Perhaps though, as Catherine,  she might prove herself worthy of that gentleman’s regard.

But, in an instant all her hopes are dashed, and her dreams of becoming Catherine evaporate. Will Kitty Bennet’s inner strength be enough to bring her heart’s desire?

On an ordinary night perhaps not, but on Twelfth Night, it just might be enough.

author_2_13_webAuthor bio

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:

email: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com.

Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace

On Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/mariagrace

Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (RandomBitsofFascination.com)

On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace

 

 

A Day in the Life of Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France

Marie Antoinette is one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in French history. She was alternately revered and reviled, though most of the groundwork for the blame placed upon her elegant shoulders—and her subsequent downfall—was laid long before she set foot on French soil at only fourteen years of age.

She spent her early years as an Archduchess of Austria, a member of the ruling house of the Holy Roman Empire. Her entire family regularly attended state functions required of their exalted status, but despite this and the fact that their royal residence at the Hofburg Palace was situated in close proximity to the Austrian people, her home life was lived in a very private manner. None of it could have prepared her for the strange and uber-public rituals instituted at Versailles by Louis XIV nearly 100 years before her arrival. Let’s take a look at a typical day in Marie Antoinette’s life as described in a letter to her mother in July of 1770, two months after becoming Dauphine of France.

Between 9 and 10 every morning, Marie Antoinette would rise and take a bath. The French saw her habitual washing as an affectation, as some of them went many days, sometimes even weeks, without fully submerging themselves in water. (This is an especially revolting idea considering that the elaborate poufs of the era required much pomade and false hairpieces that would often be worn for long stretches at a time, attracting fleas and lice and who knows what else.)

After Marie Antoinette’s bath she was dressed informally for her morning activities according to the solemn ritual of lever, literally translated as ‘to get up’. This was a crucial part of the system of etiquette at Versailles along with the coucher—to go to bed—at the end of the day. Everything had to be presented to the esteemed personage during these ceremonies. She could reach for nothing herself. These processes served the dual functions of reinforcing the image of the semi-divine status of the royal family while putting their courtiers in their places. They also had another unforeseen effect of creating rivalries and establishing a pecking order among the nobles in attendance. On one noted occasion Marie Antoinette—shivering in her state of undress—was kept waiting for her clothing while a series of consecutively higher ranking ladies entered the room, vying for the honor of handing the Dauphine her underwear.

After she was suitably attired, Marie Antoinette typically attended her morning prayers then ate breakfast. She was known to be a light eater, so her meal usually consisted of a cup of hot chocolate and a breakfast roll. During these informal times she could receive her husband’s younger sisters, Mesdames Clothilde and Elisabeth, who were nine and six respectively thus unbound by the rules of etiquette. Although not much is written about her relationship with Clothilde, who was married off five years later eventually to become the Queen of Sardinia, Marie Antoinette formed a lasting bond with Elisabeth who lived with her up until her final confinement in the Conciergerie in August of 1793.

Mid-morning Marie Antoinette paid a brief visit to Mesdames Tantes—her husband’s unwed aunts Adélaïde, Victoire, and Sophie—in their apartments. Sometimes the king would join them if he happened to be in residence.

Afterward she would return to her rooms to have her hair styled before Chambre was called at noon, the procedure during which she donned her official court dress for the day. In the letter to her mother Marie Antoinette writes, “At eleven o’clock I have my hair done. At noon, all the world can enter—I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world. Then the gentlemen leave and the ladies remain, and I am dressed in front of them.” When she was properly attired, she attended Mass, and then the spectacle would begin anew at the royal family’s afternoon meal, grand couvert.

These everyday functions usually performed behind closed doors became public exhibition. Anybody inclined to come gape at the royals could do so as long as they were suitably dressed. If not, the required items could be rented at the gate. As a result, the palace was thronged with spectators on a regular basis hoping to catch a glimpse of how the other half lived. For Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis Auguste, who had been born at Versailles and knew nothing else, the circus was unremarkable, but to her, these procedures were so distressing that she ate very little, if anything at all.

After dining, she and her husband would visit for an hour or so before she returned to the apartments of the spinster aunts. Then she would make her confession to the Abbé de Vermond, who would release her to go to her music lessons, a passion of hers since childhood. One final visit to Mesdames Tantes, and the remainder of her evening would be spent in quiet activities of her choice, walking in the manicured gardens, playing cards, or perhaps embroidering handkerchiefs or some special item for the king or her husband.

To end her day, she and her husband would go through the process of coucher before being put to bed together around 11 o’clock, the Dauphin’s usual bedtime. Of course, in the beginning the whole of France waited with bated breath for the consummation of their marriage, but after a few months things relaxed, and Louis Auguste would return to his own bed to sleep, which was typical for the French court. The actual deed would not be accomplished for seven years.

Later in her tenure Marie Antoinette would be known for her rebellious streak—sneaking out to attend masked balls, hosting all-night gambling parties, and flouting the stuffy etiquette of the decaying regime at Versailles—but in her early years, she was docile and eager to please, knowing that any misstep would be reported to her mother, the Holy Roman Empress, the person she wished to please above all others. Living her life under such constant scrutiny was a heavy burden to Marie Antoinette, and when her husband was crowned Louis XVI in 1775 and gifted her Le Petit Trianon, it became her private sanctuary, an escape from the public madness. But as Dauphine, she was expected to gracefully bear it all.

The Evolution of Jacks

maybeDuring the writing of my new release, But for the Grace of God: A Novel of Compassion in a Time of War (Wow! That is a mouthful!) I had to come up with an era appropriate game that a 13-year-old girl would play. I sat down and thought about which games were all the rage when I was that age and which one would have feasibly been popular in 1858 for little girls of a privileged upbringing. Okay, so that ruled out tetherball, but when I was in middle school, there happened to be a jacks craze going on. I looked it up and found some very interesting information.

Jacks evolved from an ancient game called knucklebones, which is closely related to dice and apparently very, VERY old. The original version was played using the actual bones from a sheep or goat’s hock, thus the practical name. Although the genesis is unclear—likely candidates for the country of origin are Egypt  and Lydia—the Greeks soon adopted the game as their own, even crediting Palamedes, a prince and general in the Trojan War, with its invention. He was said to have taught his countrymen the nuances during the quiet times between fighting to avenge Menelaus’ honor over the loss of his beautiful wife, Helen.

The most common and simplest way to go about it (obviously before little rubber balls were invented) was the version played by children. All the pieces, typically five of them, were tossed simultaneously into the air with the intent to catch as many as possible on the back of one hand. In another variation of the child’s play, the participants threw the pieces into the mouth of a small vessel or a hole in the ground. The women’s version had a slightly more mystical connotation associated with Aphrodite. Although, I could not learn the actual specifics or purpose, it must have been closely related to that age old pastime of the conjuring of one’s future husband, who most likely would engage in a more masculine form of the game. This forerunner of dicing required multiple throws adding up the numerical value of each side for a grand total to determine a winner. This must have been the manly version for which Palamedes took credit.

It seems that even the gods were not immune to the draw of the popular pastime. A painting of five Greek goddesses excavated from Pompeii shows two of them sitting down to a rousing game of knucklebones. In another story, after abducting Ganymede from Mount Ida near Troy, Zeus takes pity upon the lonely boy and sends Eros as a playmate along with some golden dibs (another name for the game pieces.) The account also states that the supreme ruler of Olympus even joined in from time to time. Well, who wouldn’t?

Eventually, the process morphed into rolling out the knucklebones, keeping one back—the jack—then tossing the jack up while proceeding to collect the bones on the table. Later versions of the game pieces were made from glass, ivory, marble, wood, metal, or even gemstones. From jackstones the name was shortened to jacks and, with the addition of the little rubber ball I mentioned earlier, became the game we know today. There are several variations of the manner in which the player collects the jacks with such colorful names as pigs in the pen, over the fence, eggs in the basket (or cherries in the basket) and flying Dutchman. I guess my playmates and I were rather unimaginative, only calling our levels onesies through tensies, double bouncies, and around the world. And never did we stop to think that we were engaging in an ancient tradition (possibly with divine origins) invented millennia ago, only passing the time between lunch and gym class in an amenable fashion.

Thank you for your time and interest. On a sidenote, the reviews for But for the Grace of God are slowly starting to trickle in, and most are good. There are currently four 5-star ratings at Amazon (and one 3-star) and I have had several equally favorable comments from other readers. My sale is still in full force ($2.99 for all eBooks–Kindle and Nook) so it might be worth your while to take a look and see if you find something to interest you.

Reviews: Robert K. Swisher Jr. and Java Davis–Completely worth the read!

HOW FAR THE MOUNTAIN by Robert K. Swisher Jr.

Simple yet profound …

A magical yarn spun by a real-life cowboy, How Far the Mountain is a love story pervaded with spirituality and quiet mysticism. Homey and hypnotic, Swisher’s voice is clear throughout as he weaves many separate tales into one engrossing narrative with his protagonist—the mountain—bearing witness to the folly of human machinations. The romance between the author and his subject is a connection on the most basic and visceral level, and Swisher’s love of the mountain shines clearly through.

The most beautiful parts of the book are not those related but the ideas that remain unvoiced, the moments in which the reader’s thoughts switch off and allow her to simply feel as opposed to contemplating how the story makes her feel. To me, this is the mark of a consummate storyteller, and I recommend this book to anyone needing an escape from the ho-hum of the daily grind.

 

TRIPTYCH by Java Davis
Unexpected and delightful …

Only Java Davis could write this unexpectedly refreshing tale with its unusual characters and make it seem plausible. With a protagonist who is smart and tough, vulnerable and feminine all rolled into one, and her two suitors—one a menacing looking biker with a heart of gold, the other a handsome, hard-drinking ladies’ man with irresistible charm—it would seem an impossible task to put it together without sounding trite, but Davis is equal to the feat and manages it with ease. Woven into the comedy of errors are many heartwarming scenes and enough surprises to keep the reader’s interest throughout. I am now a full-fledged Java Davis fan and eagerly await her next effort.

Ginger’s Top 10 … er 11+

maybeOkay, kids! But for the Grace of God is up and running. I finally got some feedback from a few readers and a new 5-star review at Amazon! My sale is in full force (all Ginger Myrick eBooks–Kindle and Nook–$2.99 for the remainder of 2013) and I need a break! How about something fun?

The latest tagging thread on Facebook asks you to:

“list 10 books that have stayed with you some way. Don’t take more than a couple of minutes & don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be ‘great’ books, just the ones that touched you.”

I was actually too busy with the new release to tackle it in a timely fashion, but I thought it would make a great blog post. It may also explain a LOT about who I am and why I write the way I do. I am going to go ahead and exclude the Bible and all titles by Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt (as this would only muck up the works!) and I have expanded my list to accomodate those books that I could not decide between. After all, it is my website, and I can do what I want. Right?

1. The Tale of Peter Rabbit-Beatrix Potter

Ginger already an avid reader at 18 months

Ginger already an avid reader at 18 months

This and other tales by Beatrix Potter are what lit my fire for reading. My mother says that I could actually read when I was 18 months old, and I do remember sitting and reading those little sturdy cardboard books at those impossibly tiny round tables at the library. Of course, when I had my own child, my first purchase was her complete works all in one volume, and I am still obsessed nearly half a century later!

2. We the Living (or any other novel)-Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand is/was a controversial figure. If you see any of her interviews, you can tell she was also a little off her rocker, but she was brilliant! Although I agree with only some tenets of her Objectivism, her novels are superb, and this from a woman who could speak very little English when she began writing. We the Living was more a true telling of love and sacrifice than an expository exercise of her philosophy–as were her better known works, Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead–but all of her novels are thought-provoking and memorable.

3. Katherine/Green Darkness-Anya Seton

Anya Seton (and Jean Plaidy) sparked my passion for historical fiction. Most of the books on this list were found in a ratty box in my grandmother’s closet (I was lucky enough to have a grandma with excellent taste!) and these were no exception. In fact, Katherine very much influenced my first novel El Rey, as did the following two by the Brontë Sisters.

4. Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights-Charlotte and Emily Brontë

Yes, I know that these are two separate books by two separate sisters, but again I had trouble choosing between them, and it IS my website! I cannot think of one without the other quickly ensuing. I love the dark brooding feel of them, which must be a by-product of the striking landscapes of the Brontës’ childhood environment

5. Anna Karenina-Leo Tolstoy

I also loved War and Peace, but Anna Karenina is a more focused story. Poor doomed woman!

6. Tess of the D’ Urbervilles-Thomas Hardy

I LOVE Hardy’s use of language. Another tragic tale that ends so picturesquely and unforgettably at Stonehenge.

7. Age of Innocence/Ethan Frome-Edith Wharton

The first was basically a study guide for the setting of Work of Art. The second is just a heartrendingly beautiful story. Are you beginning to get the feeling that I have a thing for tragedy?

8. Of Mice and Men-John Steinbeck

And now you KNOW I have a thing for tragedy. I love all of Steinbeck’s work, but this is a short poignant story that shows all of his strengths in a neat little package.

9. Night Shift-Stephen King

Say what you will, but the man is a MASTER storyteller. I love MOST of Mr. King’s works (He, like most people has had a few missteps along the way!) but this was the first for me, and I never looked back!

10. Prince of Tides-Pat Conroy

This book makes my heart sing! Pure literary pleasure! This was one of the first books that captivated me by virtue of its beautiful imagery and lyrical prose:

“We children sat transfixed before that moon our mother had called forth from the waters. When the moon had reached its deepest silver, my sister, Savannah, though only three, cried aloud to our mother, to Luke and me, to the river and the moon, “Oh, Mama, do it again!” And I had my earliest memory.”

11. The Prince of Annwyn-Evangeline Walton

I read this book when I was about 13. My recollection of the mythology therein played a big part in The Welsh Healer.

More of my favorite books are The Count of Monte Cristo, Dandelion Wine, Dune, Gone with the Wind, Lorna Doone, Lord of the Rings, A Passgae to India, Slaughterhouse-Five, To Kill a Mockingbird, and on and on in a similar eclectic theme. I am also a serial reader, and among my most-read authors are Isabel Allende, Jane Austen, Maeve Binchy, Mary Higgins Clark, James Clavell, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, Colleen McCullough, James Michener, Amy Tan … okay, I’ll stop! You get the picture.

So, how about you? I would love to hear about your favorite book/authors. Leave a comment, and let’s talk books!

 

But for the Grace of God: Cover–Round 2!

maybeOkay, kids! After many suggestions and much contemplation, I have decided to go with a cover more evocative of the story. It needs a bit of cleaning up, but you get the general idea. The blurb is still under construction but should be ready in the next couple of days. The book file has been uploaded to Amazon, but DON’T BUY IT, YET! I plan to offer it for an introductory price for the remainder of 2013 starting on Friday, 12/6. Although this will not be the official blurb, allow me to tell you a bit about the book.

I’m sure by now that some people regard me as a writer of historical love stories with supernatural elements. Not so this time around. BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD is a return to a sweet old-fashioned love story set in the midst of great conflict. In fact, this time it straddles the line of Christian historical fiction and is definitely inspirational. In the final year of the war between North and South, young widow Hannah Carter and her housemates are doing what they can to effect a small measure of God’s justice by providing refuge to fugitive slaves en route to freedom in the North. Her humble farm in northern West Virginia has managed to escape the ravages of war until a wounded Confederate soldier shows up in need of medical attention. Find out what happens when they risk their lives and humanitarian operations to take him into their household then challenge everything he thinks he knows about himself.

Thank you for your interest. Again, I welcome any and all comments.