Friday, June 29, 2012

Egyptomania by Guest Blogger
Susan Gee Heino

What did Jane Austen know about Egypt? She probably didn't know much about ancient Egypt as we know it today, but she would most certainly have been touched in some way by Egyptomania. This was the term coined to describe the growing interest in artifacts and styles imported from ancient Egypt.

When a young French general named Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, it sparked a renewed interest in that country and the beautiful antiquities found there. The styles had already been willing adopted by Europeans since the mid-18th century, but now the French were dealing wholesale. Artifacts and antiquities were carted out and eagerly shipped to anyone who could pay for them. The English happily joined in the mania.

Grand homes throughout the British Isles were adorned with Egyptian stylings, with architecture, fabrics and prints based on designs found in ancient tombs and with artifacts of all kinds. Thanks to designers such as Thomas Hope, luxurious Egypt-themed furnishings were becoming commonplace. Of course demand was high, too, for the real stuff. Once the French were defeated in 1801 and the English took over their Egyptian interests, the plunder persisted. English homes continued to benefit from the beauties of all things Egyptian.

The pasha of Egypt at the time, Muhammad Ali, found he could win favor and political advance by helping keep the English well supplied with mummies, carvings, jewelry and all manner of things dug up from the sand. The impression today is that most Egyptians of that time were all too happy to profit from the legal--and illegal--trade in these artifacts. The various sects and cultural groups within the Egyptian population often used the trade in antiquities for their own political purposes and personal gain. Sadly, it was not until many years later when the people of Egypt began to recognize the historical importance of these treasures left behind by their forbearers.

During Jane Austen's lifetime she would no doubt have seen many of these Egyptian stylings and influences. She likely noticed ladies dressed in Egyptian silk trimmed with elaborate Arabesque designs. She could have visited the initial collection of Egyptian artifacts established within the British Museum. These were primarily spoils of war taken from the French and included the still un-translated Rosetta Stone. She might have paid little mind to them all, though, as she writes to her sister that she visited the museum, but "my preference for men and women always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight..."
Susan Gee Heino writes Regency-set historicals for Berkley Sensation. Her latest release, PASSION AND PRETENSE, features an Egypt-obsessed heroine, a very special scarab necklace, and an even more special gentleman-rogue who is determined to steal it from her.

Visit Ms. Heino's website at

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Eternal Question of Underclothes

Pantaloons were not for gentlemen alone. According to several websites, ladies wore them also., without citing a source, declares:
Women took to wearing dress pantaloons in Napoleonic France. Knee-length and ankle-length versions were worn as undergarments under the light muslin Empire-waisted gowns.
Pauline Weston Thomas, in an excellent article at, states:
Women's pantaloons were made of light stockinet in a flesh-toned nude colour and reached to just below the knee, or even all the way to the ankles.
And she offers a sketch of her notion of period pantaloons:

copyright Pauline Weston Thomas

Despite these opinions, and speculations, we have very little documentary evidence of pantaloons as underclothes. It could be that pantaloons became popular first for children, particularly girls, and spread gradually throughout adult society. However, I did come across an interesting item in the June 1806 Fashion notes of La Belle Assemblee. Under 'General Observations on the Fashions for June', LBA says:

Walking dress pantaloons of corded cambric, trimmed round the bottom with lace or fine muslin; a smooth frock dress of the same material is much admired; the novelty of this dress (though several made their appearance in the Gardens last Sunday) was not so conspicuous, as trains of thin muslin were worn over to disguise, in some measure, the singularity of its effect.

These would seem to be more along the lines of the later 'bloomers' of Amelia Bloomer (who was born in 1818); a garment that was part of a costume, and meant to be displayed.
This bathing or seaside costume of 1810 seems to show something similar.

But an article, also in La Belle Assemblee, this time from 1807, mentions pantaloons again. It comes up in a recounting of the rivalry between Madame Tallien and Madame de Beauharnois, both leaders of fashion during the French Revolution. Madame Tallien had apparently lovely arms and Madame de Beauharnois fine legs, with the following result:
Having better shaped thighs than well-formed arms, she[de Beauharnois], under a clear muslin gown, put on flesh-coloured satin pantaloons, leaving off all petticoats...
The article goes on to say that "epigrams [were written] on the motives of the wearers of pantaloons."

It leaves us wondering--were pantaloons underwear or were they fashion statements?

The word 'pantaloons' comes from the Italian, specifically a character in the commedia dell'arte who first wore the garment. The word 'pantalettes'--a diminutive form of the word pantaloons--seems to have developed some twenty years after 'pantaloons' was in common usage. Pants are, in North America, trousers, but in Britain pants are still underwear.

And so we are left, as always, with more questions than answers.

'Til next time,

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pictorial View of Every New Story

I don't like first drafts. I can see a story all played out in my head, but to get it from my head onto the paper/computer is an effort. I have to pry it out, bit by bit, as if using those nut picks used to pry nut meats from a shell. Pictures help.

I think I have mentioned before that I am a very visual person. That is why my website is graphics-heavy--I love the look of the Regency. So when I'm writing a book I use visual aids. As I begin that dreaded first draft, I start a collage on a large sheet of bristol board. On it, I put pictures of everything that evokes the story I have in my mind: people who remind me of characters, places that match my location, details like china and furniture, paintings that evoke the setting, and perhaps a map of the town or county.

When I began The Earl's Peculiar Burden, I started my collage with the Red Tower.
This tower is in Estonia, but I could see an ancestor of the earl bringing back the idea of the conical, red-tiled roof, perhaps from Spain. The tower on the cover for my book doesn't reflect the tower I had in mind, but the cover is so atmospheric that I've left the reader to construct their own vision.

Then on my collage I included the look of Ysmay's 1237 castle and her small world.
The drawing above from David Macauley's book Castles shows how I imagined Kenning Castle with its village, on the left, at the foot of the rise. And below is an illustration that helped me visualize how the castle yard looked in 1813.
In my imagination the Red Tower is on the left, the Great Hall of my story is in the centre, and in the empty space in front of that would be the new building, called Kenning Old Manor.

When I started looking for character pictures, I found this lady with her harp. Ysmay plays the harp. This picture went on my collage.

Then I found a picture of Ysmay's harp--the one below is dated about 1400 and resides in the Museum of Wartburg Castle in Germany. I did a typical fiction author thing, and hoped that such a harp might be found in 1237.

When Ysmay rushes into the tower she is of course in medieval dress; I needed to see that.
 My hero seemed to be epitomized by the gentleman in the blue coat in the Brock illustration below.
So all these images ended up in my collage. Every time I started to work on today's release, The Earl's Peculiar Burden, I would set the collage on my desk and examine it for several minutes, willing myself into Ysmay and Garret's world.

Thank you all for your visits, your comments, and your retweets for the contest draw. The winner of the PDF of The Earl's Peculiar Burden and a package of Regency treats is Mel K.! I'll be in touch...

'Til next time,


Friday, June 8, 2012

Preparing for a New Release--the work of promotion!

A new release is a great deal of work. Unless you are writing for a major publisher, much of the generation of promotion ideas and materials comes from the author. It can seem like as much work as writing the book, and there is a sigh of relief, as well as one of pleasure, when the book is finally launched.

One of the first requirements for promotion materials is for a tagline--a very short sentence or two describing the book, in this case my June 15 release, The Earl's Peculiar Burden.
Ysmay of Scarsfield is determined her unlikely arrival from the past will not add to the Earl of Therneforde's burdens, and she will not allow a growing attachment to alter her plans.
Then the author must provide a blurb, a longer version of the tagline--something suitable for a back cover.
Garret Kenning, the Earl of Therneforde, strives daily to conceal the strange secret that had plagued his family for generations. His home, Kenning Old Manor, is dominated by the last remnant of Kenning Castle--the Red Tower. Ysmay of Scarsfield's medieval world changes with a single step across the threshold of the Red Tower. It takes her to a new life, a new family and a new future in a world that is eerily familiar yet distressingly alien. Reconciling the past and the present and confronting the future present huge challenges to both Ysmay and Garret. But when the opportunity arises to undo the changes wrought by the Tower's strange power, there is no clear path to happiness.
For a press release or a review or interview request, something longer yet again is required. (And yes, it helps if the author requests reviews as well as the publisher. But sometimes nothing can get a review from overburdened reviewers.)
Garret Kenning, the Earl of Therneforde, strives daily to conceal the strange secret that had plagued his family for generations. His home, Kenning Old Manor, is dominated by the last remnant of Kenning Castle--the Red Tower. The Tower has the strange capacity to transport people across time, and the constant possibility of peculiar arrivals encroaches on his freedom and his choices. Despite this worry, his life is ordered in comfortable lines with his aunt Lady Margery Kenning as his housekeeper, and his good friend and steward John Debray to support him.

As Therneforde begins to plan his future around marriage to a suitable spinster of his village, the arrival of a traveller from a distant past upsets all his arrangements. He is required, in the following weeks, to reexamine all his beliefs from his opinions of women to his life's most important choices.

Ysmay of Scarsfield's medieval world has changed with a single step. That one stride across the threshold of the Red Tower takes her to a new life, a new family and a new future in a world that is eerily familiar yet distressingly alien. New freedoms beckon, and she is reprieved from a difficult destiny. However, the challenges of adjustment may be too great and her hard-won peace is threatened by a suspicious newcomer to the village.

Reconciling the past and the present and confronting the future present huge obstacles to both Ysmay and Garret. As their world, and the people around them change, they will both require courage and tolerance, and their strength may lie in unity. But when the opportunity arises to undo the changes wrought by the Tower's strange power, there is no clear path to happiness.
The all powerful first sentence is always in the author's mind as she prepares promotion material. Is it strong enough? Does it grab the reader? Will it encourage them to purchase?
Ysmay burst through the west door of the Red Tower, and darted a last glance over her left shoulder into the glowering evening.
And finally the author has to choose an excerpt--something that perfectly illustrates the tone and tension of the book, displays the characters in their best light, something that attracts the reader and will convince them to buy the book. The excerpt for The Earl's Peculiar Burden is here.

The release date for The Earl's Peculiar Burden is one week from today, June 15, and I'd like to offer you a contest. If you would care to leave a comment on this blog, I will select a winner at 10:00 pm CST next Friday. The winner will receive a PDF copy of my new release and, by snail mail, a little package of Regency treasures including a fan, a silhouette, and other surprises.

'Til next time,


Friday, June 1, 2012

The Ever-Expanding Regency

The world of Regency romantic historical fiction has undergone quite a change in the last few years. While the traditional regency, which I consider that I write, continues to occupy (mainly in e-book form) a corner of the market, the large, sexy, duke-ridden romances have taken over the print market.

But there is a branching out in another direction altogether--the fantasy market. Jane Austen herself has been overtaken by rewrites incorporating zombies, vampires and all manner of fantastical creatures.

Time-travel, too, has become notable with visitors traveling to and from the Regency era and our current day. Laurie Viera Rigler's two books Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict are, in my opinion, among the best. Susanne Marie Knight is another author that delights in Regency time-travel romance--Lord Darver's Match comes to mind. Lost in Austen, a film mini-series, takes a different twist; time-travel to a fictional world that seems very, very real.

My own new book to be released on June 15, The Earl's Peculiar Burden, is a Regency time-travel romance. But in my book, there is no contemporary aspect to the time-travel. Rather, a young woman from the high middle ages, 1237 AD, is transported to 1813, a vastly modern and, to her mind, an astonishingly advanced world. You could say that I have succumbed to the trend for alternative-Regency.

If I have, I am in good company. One of the most entertaining books I have read in a long time is Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey. I should note that I have not been a fan of magic in fiction, or even of the fantasy genre, but Kowal's book delighted me. Her treatment of magic I found inventive and delightful, and her Regency voice is excellent. I'm looking forward to finding her second book, Glamour in Glass.

Another charming read in fantasy/Regency is Sorcery & Cecelia, now something of a classic in the genre, written in 1988 by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Magic is incorporated into ordinary Regency life with great skill and interesting results. The Grand Tour published in 2004 and The Mislaid Magician (2006) continue the story of Kate and Cecy.

Susannah Clarke's hugely popular Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004) offers an alternative history of the Regency, with magic. This book was the first exposure of many readers to the Regency era. One hopes they sought out other stories about our favourite period in British history.

Naomi Novik's Temeraire series likewise offers an alternative history--this one naval--of Regency events. Nelson and Hornblower become Captain William Laurence, and there are dragons!

The final turn to the tale of Regency romance encompasses the 'fantasy of manners' or as it is sometimes known, 'mannerpunk'. It involves little or none of the history of the Regency period, but includes much of its 'comedy of manners' aspect, its social mores, class structure, and romantic adventure. Within fictional worlds come echoes of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and the Brontes. Some of the books I've mentioned above fit within this subgenre of fantasy; other authors include Teresa Edgerton, Barbara Hambly and Paula Volsky.

So if you are looking for something a little different, try some of the authors I've listed. There's a whole other world out there, but it's still Regency. Forever Regency....

'Til next time,