Deanna Raybourn's Blog

March 19, 2013

Alright, chickens, hang onto your hats because we are full UP with good news today.

First, I just found out--we're talking an hour ago--that the large print rights to A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS have been sold at auction! That means that for the first time, one of my titles is being released in the large print format in the US and Canada. This is literally ALL I know. No details on release date yet, but I am thrilled to bits. I know how much it means to folks who need large print editions to be able to find them, and I couldn't be more delighted.

And speaking of good news related to A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, I found out yesterday that it has a starred review in the April 1 issue of LIBRARY JOURNAL! Y'all know how much I love librarians, so I am doubly pleased to have a great review from a publication that caters to them.

I am also very happy to let y'all know that I have been invited to Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland, again to sign with Nora Roberts! I LOVE these events, and I hope to see y'all there on July 13.

And finally, the lovely folks at my publishing company--specifically the delightful and talented Jayne Hoogenberk--have put together a book trailer for A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS. Enjoy!


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Published on March 19, 2013 11:53 • 854 views

March 14, 2013

Today I'm DELIGHTED to be interviewing historical novelist and galpal, Tracy Grant! Her newest release is THE PARIS AFFAIR, and yes, that's my blurb on the cover because I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy in advance. Tracy is an absolute delight--talented, articulate, and always gracious. So gracious, in fact, that she's giving away an ARC to a lucky reader! Just pop by Facebook and leave a comment on the post of this interview on my author page for your chance to win. Huge thanks to Tracy for stopping by and letting me ask her all sorts of nosy questions! You can find her at Tracy Grant and you can get all the info you are dying to know about THE PARIS AFFAIR here. There's an excerpt there as well!


1.What is your favorite part of writing historical fiction?

Weaving together real and fictional characters and events. Finding ways historical events and issues parallel issues and events in the present day. Oh, and the clothes :-).

2 .How much balance do you strive for between historical fact and artistic license?

I think about this a lot, weaving real historical characters into stories with my fictional central characters and often combining real and fictional events. Especially as the fictional events tend to be steeped in intrigue. Obviously the real historical characters I write about end up in situations that aren't part of the historical record. But I try to be true to what the real historical characters might have done. If someone was known for his or her numerous love affairs, I would feel justified in involving her or him in a fictional love affair. On the other hand, if the person in question was known to be famously faithful wife or husband, I wouldn't feel I could go there. Both Talleyrand and Fouché were nothing if not schemers, so I felt I had license to involve them in fictional schemes. I struggled a lot, in both Vienna Waltz and The Paris Affair, with how far I could have Talleyrand go in his machinations. I feel as though I ended up fairly true to the complex man he was. I sometimes adjust the historical timeline slightly for the sake of my plot, usually compressing events. I always try to spell out in my historical notes where I've departed from the historical record. I love it when my books drive readers to learn more about the actual history. Historical novels sparked my interest in history as a child and led me to study history in college and then come full circle as an historical novelist.

3.What historical period do you love but haven't yet written?

My university honors work was on the late 15th century (I was working on a never-published alternate reality historical series set then). And I've always been intrigued by the 1930s as well. But mostly I love the Regency/Napoleonic era and am always discovering new areas to explore in it.

4.Name 5 characters your characters would love to invite to tea.

Since Malcolm and Suzanne are a couple, how about five couples? Harriet Vane & Peter Wimsey. Percy & Marguerite Blakeney. Julia & Brisbane (I have thought about them time traveling to meet Malcolm & Suzanne for years, way before you interviewed me!). Emily & Colin Hargreaves.  Mary & Lord Vaughn from Lauren Willig's The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (hard to pick just  one Pink Carnation couple, but Mary and Vaughn seem a good fit for the party ,for the Shakespeare quotes alone). I would so love to hear the conversion round that tea table (which I fear would be far over my head :-).

5.What book makes you want to be a better writer?

Not novels, but anything by Tom Stoppard

6.How do you replenish yourself as a creative person?

Going to the theatre or the opera. Watching movies and television. Reading. Going to museums. And flipping through fashion magazines :-).

7.How far do you expect to take your series?

I have lots of ideas for stories about Malcolm & Suzanne and other characters in their world such as David & Simon and Harry & Cordelia and Raoul O'Roarke, so I don't really foresee an endpoint, though I can imagine writing books that focus on some of the series' secondary characters. I even have an idea for a book about the Rannoch's son Colin at the University of Paris in 1832, but that's far in the future…

8.If you had carte blanche and could write absolutely anything you wanted, what would it be?

The books I'm writing now. Your questions makes me realize I'm very fortunate to be able to write the books I want to write!

9.What is something readers don't know about you but that you are proud of?

I did a lot of acting in high school and college and spent a summer as an apprentice actress at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (now the California Shakespeare Theater).
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Published on March 14, 2013 06:02 • 231 views

March 12, 2013

So last week was frustrating in the extreme, chickens. I had a couple of issues that just seemed STUCK. The most bothersome was a difficulty getting resolution for a refund for a service. I was entitled to the refund, but the provider wanted to make absolutely certain of this--which I completely understood. The trouble was, I couldn't get answers no matter how hard I tried. I was trying hard to be respectful because this is a place I LOVE otherwise and I didn't want to damage the professional relationship. But the error was on the other side, and I got more and more troubled as time went on and I couldn't get information. I lost sleep over it, wasn't eating right--all the usual things we do when we're vexed and can't just seem to get things rolling.

Now, that's a hugely unproductive way of dealing with things, no? Of course it is. All my impatience and frustration did was make me unhappy because I was trying very hard not to vent it on the people I needed to do business with. (Things did end up getting resolved when I pushed harder than I wanted to which never makes you feel good, but at that point I was just happy to be DONE with it.) But the question is, what do you do in the meantime? If you can't UNSTICK a situation, can you at least shake up the energy a little and get things moving on your end, if only to make yourself feel better?

Of course you can. After yet another round of phone calls that went unreturned, I sat down and combed my emails looking for communication where people were waiting on ME. I figured if I wanted clear communication from other folks, I needed to give it. I went through the pending emails and answered every single query that needed to be handled. I looked for every way I could possibly improve communication with the people I already had to deal with--generating a sort of "communication karma". I took proactive steps to make sure that the other irons I had in the fire were good and hot. I sent messages of appreciation to people who WERE getting information to me when I needed it. I created a timetable for getting all rest of the pending items off my desk and out of my inbox so the universe would know I didn't expect communication to be a one-way street.

Now, did that contribute to getting the primary situation settled? I have no idea. I do know that it kept me busy and got things done, and productivity is better than sitting and kvetching. But I do suspect that when you step up and try to do what you want others to do for you, you stand a much better chance of getting it.

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Published on March 12, 2013 09:04 • 142 views

March 7, 2013

So I've been thinking a lot about customer service this week--mostly because I've been on the receiving end of both extremes recently. I will admit, I have high standards for customer service, but then again, I'm a nice customer. I will make eye contact; I won't talk on my phone. I will have my ID, cash, credit card, or order ready to go instead of acting surprised that these things are actually expected of me.

But in return I expect more than incompetence, laziness, surliness, or a general unwillingness to do a job. I used to work in customer service jobs and they can be absolutely foul. (The fact that I got written up at every single one of them for insubordination should only reflect the fact that I don't deal well with authority. I never actually had a single customer complaint. Go me!) The general public is certainly made up of a good number of absolute ass-hats. But until a customer proves they're one, shouldn't you give them the benefit of the doubt?

Going gluten free has been interesting in this respect. I know it's a pain for the waiter. BELIEVE ME. I am deeply aware of the fact that they have to talk to the kitchen, discuss the menu with me, yada yada. But I've seen two very different responses. At Primland--the gorgeous resort the husband and I checked into last month--the chef very kindly and without being asked made me a special amuse bouche and after-dinner treat because what he was serving everyone else had flour in it. When I sent back special thanks, the waitress waved it off and said they were happy to do it and their job was to accommodate.

Similarly, this afternoon I had lunch at a locally owned restaurant that caters to the college crowd. I ordered a salad and asked the waitress to double-check that it was fine for me. She was quick and cheerful, and the whole thing took about thirty seconds. Later, when my lunch pal and I got our checks, we noticed we hadn't been charged for our drinks. We told the waitress she'd left them off, but the girl just smiled and said, "It was busy and I didn't get to check in on you as often as I wanted, so I like to take off the drinks when that happens." Now, these were soft drinks--she probably saved me about $2. But her thoughtfulness was MUCH more significant.

In direct contrast to that was the waiter I had a few weeks back at the most expensive restaurant in town. We told him that two of us were gluten free when we sat down, but the salads came loaded with bleu cheese with multigrain crackers perched on top. When it was pointed out to him, his response was, "Yeah, that shouldn't have happened." And that was it. So I--and believe me when I tell you I was TRYING to be nice--said, "Would you please make sure the kitchen knows that our orders are supposed to be gluten free?" And I GOT AN EYEROLL. In a restaurant where the steaks are $50.

Needless to say, his tip got slashed for that--something I only ever do as a last resort with poor service. But more than that, I started talking about the experience to other folks in town and realized lots of people have had sniffy, unbearable waiters there. And that's simply wrong. You're not doing me a favor by bringing my food. I'm not doing you a favor by deigning to dine with you. I chose to give you my business; you should choose to give me a good experience.

And in return I won't tell everyone who reads my blog that Opus 9 Steakhouse in Williamsburg is not gluten friendly and has one of the rudest waiters I've ever encountered.

Oh, and if you ARE in Williamsburg looking for a place to eat, I recommend The Crust. It's right by the college and has a young but very nice waitstaff. Try the Sonoma Salad.

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Published on March 07, 2013 14:41 • 136 views

March 5, 2013

So it occurred to me that, in a different time and place, the job of courtesan might have been a rather good career choice for me. Well, aside from the inherent unpleasantness of sex with people one might not find attractive, of course, but then all the best courtesans choose their protectors quite selectively, so let’s assume I would have been terribly successful and therefore prudently choosy. Courtesans hoarded their wealth in the form of jewels and information, holding onto pearls and love letters with equal fervor. Sometimes, as in the case of Harriette Wilson, those letters provided a genteel means of blackmail. (While Wilson, the scandal of Regency London, certainly offered to sell letters back to some of her gentlemen friends in exchange for her discretion when writing her memoirs, historians seem to think that the Duke of Wellington’s alleged reply—“Publish and be damned”—is likely fiction rather than fact. Pity. It does sound like something the Iron Duke would have said, doesn’t it?) But courtesans definitely had their eye on the bottom line, no indelicacy intended. They were often shrewd businesswomen, although some were woefully sentimental and ended badly. One or two, like Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s last official mistress, ended very badly indeed—her pretty head fell to the guillotine.

But if a courtesan had a generous protector and was discreet and loyal, she might carve out a very secure position for herself. The notoriously undersexed Madame de Pompadour, another paramour of Louis XV, kept a firm and dainty grasp on the king’s affections long after their physical relationship ceased. And, since wedded wives had the primary function of securing the family name into the next generation, the courtesan enjoyed the delicious freedom of knowing she would never face the pressure of providing an heir and a spare. By placing herself firmly outside the bounds of respectability, the courtesan also liberated herself from its noose. She gave up a good name, but in exchange she had far more freedom in arranging her own affairs—provided she was clever in her choice of protectors and managed them well. It might have been a precarious life, but it would never have been a dull one. Whether a devoted royal mistress whose charms were reserved solely for the king or one of the bright lights of the Gilded Age who flitted from bed to bed, the courtesan—perhaps even more than the queen—makes for the most fascinating reading in history.

So, what did it take to make a courtesan? One would expect tremendous beauty, but in fact, it was vitality and sensuality that mattered far more than a woman’s looks. Wives were often untutored in the ways of marital arts; enthusiasm was appreciated even more than symmetrical features. As standards of beauty have changed throughout history, the relative attractiveness of famous courtesans has altered as well. (Although I would defy anyone to look on du Barry’s wax likeness—“Sleeping Beauty”—in Madame Tussaud’s museum and not find her exquisite.) James II was said to favor one spectacularly ugly woman simply because she had stunningly beautiful legs. Mata Hari’s breasts were so diminutive she reputedly never took off the heavily jeweled vests she had created to cover them. And in the Gilded Age, the fashion was for women so plush and plump we would label them morbidly obese.

So, if perfect physical beauty wasn’t necessary, what was? It helped if a girl could lay claim to the following:

*A middle class upbringing. While a good number of royal mistresses hailed from the aristocracy, many were elevated from less exalted stock. When an aristocratic bride was expected to lie back and think of England while breeding up his babies, no doubt a nobleman would appreciate the more athletic charms of a woman of earthier stock. But although some doubtless enjoyed carousing with the lowest sort of prostitutes, few of them would have looked to the stews for a long-term prospect. A solidly middle-class upbringing would give a woman a merchant’s practicality for managing her business, a healthy appreciation for what her lovers could do for her, as well as the most necessary of the fundamental female accomplishments that a peasant girl simply wouldn’t have the time or opportunity to cultivate.

*Decent but not alarmingly good education. Bluestockings seldom made good courtesans. For starters, they were far too often inclined to get a healthy sense of their own worth and demand equality. A true courtesan combined a wide knowledge base with a good dose of common sense on how to succeed in a man’s world. She looked to her feminist sisters and saw how miserable their lives could be as they bruised their toes trying to kick in the door of male privilege. In the meanwhile, the courtesan simply powdered her face and slipped in the back door, collecting admiration and material wealth along the way.

*Lightness. The best mistresses had a deft touch, able to cajole a lover out of a bad mood or a bout of rage. She could burnish his clumsy quips to wit, broker a peace, and make her protector laugh all without stirring from her deliciously scented boudoir. If she was smart, she made friends and didn’t hold grudges. Her position alone would ensure she had enemies, but her behavior could blunt their arrows. A clever courtesan befriended everyone who could help her—on the way up and the way down.

*Sybaritic tendencies. A good courtesan was the best sort of hedonist, adhering to Epicurean principles of seeking pleasure in all forms and inflicting pain in none. She set a good table, offering the most delicious foods and wines to pamper her lovers’ palates. She gathered scintillating company to entertain and divert one another, often arranging for artists and musicians and poets to share their skills—and occasionally rewarding them with very special favors in recognition of their genius. She patronized the best establishments, dressmakers, jewelers, the makers of shoes and gloves and carriages, selcting what was best and most beautiful of their arts. She drove perfumers and coiffeurs to new heights, always eager to show herself to best advantage. And the most legendary of courtesans, developed a style all her own and stuck to it. Diane de Poitiers, long-time mistress of Henry II of France, dressed only in black or white, decorated her rooms in the same colors, and wore her crescent moon badge in diamonds in her hair. So smitten was he, the king even had this same crescent moon engraved in his armor and chiseled into the stone of his palaces, along with their entwined initials.

And something else that didn’t hurt—family precedent. Harriette Wilson was not the only courtesan in her family, and once Louis XV discovered the delectable Nesle family, he made his way through four sisters in a row. His predecessor, Louis XIV, was sometimes entertained by the sister of his mistress, Madame de Montespan, when she was enduring one of her many pregnancies, and everyone knows the gossip that Henry VIII enjoyed the favors of Mary Boleyn before moving on to her sister, Anne.

In ferreting through my own family tree, I’ve discovered a long line of royal mistresses and concubines. From the mistress of Geoffrey Plantagenet to Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, from Poppa of Bayeux, the concubine of Rollo of Normandy, to Isabel de Beaumont, mistress of Henry I, there are at least a couple dozen pretty skeletons lurking in our family cupboard. And while I appreciate the many, MANY loyal wives and stalwart helpmeets populating the family tree, I have the greatest affection for the scandalous ladies who seized their fates in their own manicured hands and made things happen.

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Published on March 05, 2013 01:05 • 146 views

March 1, 2013

Oh, darlings—it’s a sign of my addle-brained state that I completely forgot yesterday was blog day! I’m tied up with all sorts of things (almost entirely good!) but they are each determined to get my attention. The website is still in progress but coming along beautifully. We won’t talk about the fact that I completely threw my web designer for a loop this week when I decided we needed to go a different way with the landing page. (Her delightfully tactful response after working so hard on a concept we chucked? “I am nonplussed.”)

I also still have four projects on my radar—and that’s not counting the launches in April and May of FAR IN THE WILDS and A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS! I have a novella I’m developing, a manuscript that new editor and I will have to chat about, and two novel proposals in development. One of the novels is a Julia Grey and one is a historical stand alone. Now, here’s the skinny, chickens—I don’t yet know which one I’m writing next. It’s not my call. That’s a decision that is made by several folks who take loads of factors into consideration. I suspect I won’t know until June which concept we will go with. That means I need to be ready to go with EITHER—not a bad thing because the historical stand alone is a pet project I’m super excited about and plan to write even if it’s the book immediately following a Julia Grey. Since it’s an entirely different historical period, I’m doing scads of reading to orient myself and fill in the gaps.

I’ve also created a new Facebook profile because FB, in its infinite quest to make me crazeballs, made it necessary. Last fall I went to solely an author page because not to do so would be to violate FB’s TOS. When I did that it became impossible to join groups, like pages, or even to SEE anything anyone else said or did unless it was posted directly to my page. Ick. So, I have an actual profile in my own name and readers are welcome to friend me over there—at least until I hit 5,000 friends! The content will be very similar to my author page, but you’ll be able to see groups I belong to and things I like if that interests you.

I also—finally!—claimed my profile on Goodreads. I will pootle over there and do a little of whatever folks do at Goodreads, so if you’re active there, be sure to say hey.

And I will admit to being distracted by the goings-on in the Vatican. I’ve always been fascinated by the dark deeds of past popes and all the politics and power struggles of centuries past. Of course, the most interesting factor is that it seems those struggles aren’t in the past at all. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the conclave when it starts. Having actually visited the Vatican since the last conclave, I’m even more intrigued. The art and architecture are magnificent, but I was keenly aware of how unspiritual much of the Vatican is. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have a dog in the fight. I suppose I’m intrigued for the same reason I am fascinated by the British monarchy—they’re both power structures based on privilege and centered on one person with deeply historical traditions. There’s a whiff of bread and circuses about both, along with a healthy dose of secrecy which always piques the imagination. I shall be very interested to see which direction the church chooses to go with this papacy. Will they push towards reform, perhaps with a non-European candidate? Or, after a Pole and a German, will they return to common ground and elect an Italian? I’ll be watching for the white smoke to find out…

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Published on March 01, 2013 08:09 • 128 views

February 26, 2013

So this past Sunday was the first without our weekly dose of “Downton” and the withdrawals are sad, no? Based on my Twitter feed, the show generated a LOT of discussion this season, and that’s always a good thing. It’s when people stop talking about the show that you’re in trouble.

In any event, “Downton Abbey” is good for living vicariously, and if there’s one thing I envy the Crawley ladies, it’s their maids. Not O’Brien, let’s be clear about that. Her expression could curdle milk at twenty paces, let alone put you off your morning tea. But it must have been extremely nice to roll over in bed and have an early morning tea tray appear at your elbow. (Plus never having to baste a hem or sew on a button or do your own hair…bliss! Of course, you’d want to be careful around the bath if you have an O’Brien on the loose.)

But without a lady’s maid—or upstairs maid or chambermaid, depending on how your establishment is organized—you can still enjoy the indolence of a Crawley with a little forethought. Last week I decided I needed a Downton sort of morning. I prepped the tea tray ahead of time, putting out a teapot, sugar, strainer, etc. All I had to do was totter out of bed and plug in the kettle and drop some bread in the toaster. It took about three minutes to assemble everything and nip back to the bedroom with it. I always have fresh flowers in the bedroom, so I took a second to light a candle—something that smelled expensive but actually wasn’t—and turn the TV onto a classical music channel. I had research books to read and I piled up in bed to wallow in a bit of luxury.

Of course, I should point out that this was in response to the fact that the dog had eaten the sash of my pink satin kimono and retrieving it was a harrowing experience for both of us involving table salt down his throat and a wait of fifteen minutes for it to kick in. But once everything was cleaned up—and the sash firmly disposed of for good—a dose of self-indulgence felt absolutely deserved. It was a lovely start to the morning and all the more decadent because it was a weekday.

Now, I realize not everyone has the opportunity to be quite so frivolous during the work week, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t pamper yourself come the weekend. In fact, I’m sure I’ve read articles that insist you are a much more productive and happier person if you take care of your own needs and then attend to everybody else’s. Half an hour’s pure pleasure is surely something we can all afford. Come to think of it, I don’t think we can afford not to. So, how will you spend your Downton morning, my dears? As ever, feel free to pop a comment in the FB post or tweet at me!

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Published on February 26, 2013 07:07 • 158 views

February 21, 2013

Okay, so I’ve read the Hilary Mantel piece a couple of days ago and a few things occurred to me. (If you haven't I suggest popping over to the London Review of Books site to read it in its entirety. While I don't agree with HOW she said it, her remarks were taken grossly out of context and ought to be considered in their entirety.) First, the cherry-picking of quotes to create a strawman that wasn’t of Mantel’s own making is unconscionable on the part of responsible journalism. (They still teach ethics in J-school, right? I guess it’s that no one actually GOES anymore.) And second, attacking Mantel on the basis of her own physical appearance is vile.

Having said all that, I do strenuously object to her speech—not because she was wrong but because of the presentation. Surely someone as successful and media-savvy as a two-time Booker winner has to know you can’t go around offering up such tasty morsels of criticism of the most famously inoffensive young woman in the world without being cordially eviscerated for it. Her points—that royal women are regarded quite unfairly as a mere succession of body parts and that royal brides are expected to be so bland as to have no discernible personality—was lost in the outrage. But these are good points and ought to be discussed.

Of course, what also occurred to me is that this phenomenon isn’t limited to women. Yes, the royal bride has historically been a walking womb, selected for breeding purposes as deliberately as any well-blooded mare. But haven’t royal males also been reduced to a collection of body parts? In the days when a king was expected to lead his own army and sire a son, what more was expected of him than a strong sword arm and a healthy pair of testicles? The inspection of a bridal sheet for signs of copulation didn’t just reflect on the bride’s broken maidenhead; it spoke to his ability to breach it. The genitalia of a royal male became a commodity the moment he emerged from his mother’s womb and the succession was secured solely on the basis of his penis.

And for centuries, the ability to procreate was almost as essential to the male royal as the female. Princes who were dilatory about performing were often introduced to willing maidservants or experienced ladies of the court to make certain everything was in order. (Rumor has it this is how Henry II’s decades-long affair with Diane de Poitiers began this way.) Henry VIII, wrestling with the question “Her fault or mine?” didn’t decide to make a change of queens to secure an heir until after he’d successfully fathered a male child out of wedlock. But his abilities were questioned again when the subject of his impotence was raised at Anne Boleyn’s trial. And Louis XVI, unable to consummate his marriage to Marie Antoinette for seven years, was lampooned regularly in illicit pamphlets—one of which even showed him riding an enormous phallus, presumably to make up for the one he hadn’t yet mastered in the royal bed.

Of course, none of this matters quite so much as it used to. With a better understanding of the mechanics of pregnancy—namely that it’s the father’s role to determine the child’s gender—there is far less pressure on a royal bride to deliver up a male heir. The shift from male-oriented primogeniture has contributed as well. Who cares if there’s a male so long as the firstborn inherits everything anyway?

But beyond this is the fact that without an absolute monarchy, there’s a mandate for royals to be apolitical. We all think we know how royals would vote—socially conservative, maintaining inherited privilege and a status quo that has probably served them well—we might be surprised. Younger royals or those with an eye to climate change or marriage equality—like Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria--might be tempted to pull a lever to the left. The point is that we can’t know for sure. In order to provide a rallying point for the whole nation, they have to be seen as representing everyone. Queen Elizabeth II is famously not even allowed to vote; she must appear impartial—an excellent way of setting the royals above the fray and making them a focal point of national affection for people of every political stripe. The surviving monarchies in the world, most of them constitutional, hereditary, and effectively powerless, have endured because they have adapted. No longer calling the shots, they are leading the cheers instead, supporting trade and the arts and standing as patrons to innumerable charities. They are goodwill ambassadors, representing their countries as effectively and inoffensively as possible in an age when their every expression and gesture is captured by camera phone. They can’t afford to show their personalities, and honestly, why would they want to? When they show their true selves—taking a top off to sunbathe on a private estate, partying with friends, shopping—they are hounded and harassed. Any opinion expressed is subject not only to judgment but to the very worst kind of humorless scrutiny.

And no decision they make is ever good enough. More than two centuries ago, Marie Antoinette was first lambasted for extravagance then castigated for trying to ruin the silk weavers of Lyon when she began to wear muslin. She was in an impossible situation—one that still exists for royals today. Anything they try to keep private is viewed as impinging on the public’s right to know. Anything they share is opening themselves up to more criticism and judgment. There simply is no way to win if you’re royal.

Does that mean we ought to feel sorry for them? Not especially. The bars of the prison are gold ones, after all, and the compensations are legendary. The perks of first class travel, historic jewels, art collections, castles, and patronage of one’s pet causes are not trifles. Surely they count for something against the endless round of dull banquets and tedious events one must carry out daily for decades. But it seems as if the trade-off ought to be enough; the limitations of a royal life ought to balance out the compensations. Why do we still demand more? Why do we still, in an age where it absolutely doesn’t matter if a princess bears an heir—there’s always somebody waiting in the wings to take over—why do we obsess about it, sitting on bump watch the moment they’ve had their balcony kisses and ridden off into the sunset amid a flurry of confetti and newly-bestowed dukedoms?

Perhaps it’s because that’s all we have left. I think, as a species, we hunger for beauty and for glamour—glamour of the old variety, the sort that used to mean a gentle sorcery. I think we want to be pulled out of our humdrum lives and royalty, for better or worse, can still do that. Of all the powers we’ve stripped away, that one they’ve retained. Kings used to be able to cure illness with a touch of an anointed finger, so the stories tell us. Now their greatest power is to sell tabloids. But perhaps it’s that frisson of ancient magic that makes us come back, again and again. Anticipating a royal birth is a participatory event. In centuries past, that birth could mean security for a divided realm, a child whose bloodlines would unite warring factions and bring peace after years of painful war. We don’t have those same ideals today; no royal infant is going to wave a scepter and make it all better. The most we can hope for now is a prince or princess who is likable and photogenic and not entirely stupid. Like beauty queens, they have to be vague in their opinions and fond of world peace.

So, while Mantel was entirely correct—that in our world royalty doesn’t coexist with privacy and personalities aren’t encouraged—I don’t think it’s solely a function of misogyny through the ages. I think it’s the deepest and most fundamental drawback of monarchy itself. Figureheads are not expected to have substance, after all.

And one final note: I find it rather odd that so many people are insisting that Mantel must be a jealous cow or that the Duchess of Cambridge is a calculating gold-digger. Isn’t it possible that Mantel is comfortable provoking controversy on a subject she feels strongly about and that the duchess is simply a girl who married for love and took the job because it came with the guy?

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Published on February 21, 2013 11:55 • 188 views

February 19, 2013

Heavens, where DID the weekend go?? And you thought I forgot you today. Never, chickens!

So, here's the wrap-up: Primland is divine. Beyond wonderful with the most impeccable service I've ever had. The fact that it is MILES up a very tiny, very windy road, on top of an actual mountain may have diminished my enjoyment ever so slightly. I'm not good with altitude, darlings. I'm a sea level kind of girl. But I'm in a mixed marriage with moutain boy, so a little compromise here was in order. We've done beachy trips, but never anything to the mountains. It was his turn.

Now, the cigars were delightful--no, REALLY. Turns out I like them if they're stupid-expensive and I can smoke outside by a fire pit with a glass of Prosecco in hand. And since cigar smoking is so bad for you, it's quite convenient that I only like the ones I can afford to smoke once in a blue moon, no?

As to shooting clays, as I tweeted, if I ever come at you with a shotgun, just keep moving because you'll be FINE. Turns out I'm a terrible shot at a moving target. I will admit I thoroughly enjoyed the nice bang, but even a small shotgun left me with a nicely sore shoulder after fifty rounds. I can't IMAGINE what it would have been like if he'd given me anything bigger to shoot!

On the book front, I've been reading like mad on the stand alone project I want to write. Whether I write it next or a Julia Grey next is up to my editor, and here's the interesting bit: I have a new editor! My much loved Valerie--editor of ALL my previous titles--is retiring next month. She will be sorely missed, and I've learned masses from her. But her torch as executive editor is being passed, and it's time for me to forge a new relationship. And quickly! The new editor actually has to edit CITY OF JASMINE, the book I turned in just last week. So we'll be hitting the ground running and we've got loads to chat about with the projects that are coming up. I have two proposals due soon, and I'll be sure to holler when I know what I'm doing. Until then, all I can do is prepare for any eventuality. That means prepping and plotting a stand-alone, polishing a Julia Grey proposal, brainstorming my Julia Grey novella proposal, and pondering a CITY OF JASMINE novella proposal. Oh, and did I mention I have a few releases coming soon? Yeah, it's getting ready to get VERY busy around here! But I'm very excited about all of these projects, and I can't ask more than that, can I?

Also, changes are coming along quickly for the website update! When last I heard, the redesign will mean a shift in blogging platform as well, so things will be a little different here when we go live with the new goodies. (Y'all will be VERY happy to note that there will be no more colored text on black background!) The preliminary designs I've seen have all been fab, so I can't wait to share the final product!

And finally, as ever, I'm happy to blog about reader questions. If there's something you'd like to know, feel free to ask via Twitter or Facebook, or drop me an email at deanna(at)deannaraybourn(dot)com.

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Published on February 19, 2013 13:16 • 118 views

February 14, 2013

For work, of course. Actually, at the moment, I am en route back to my home after what I hope has been a thoroughly relaxing time in the mountains at a resort with an observatory, wine cellar, and cigar bar, feeling totally blissed out and raging to get back to work.

Speaking of which, on Monday, almost the very minute I turned in CITY OF JASMINE, for no good reason whatsoever, I got an idea for a book. A GOOD IDEA, and I was able to immediately tie it to a book idea I've had floating around for a few years but didn't know what to do with. I LIVE for moments like that. Anyway, I jotted down the bones of the plot and compiled a MASSIVE, EPIC, TALLER THAN ME reading list because it's a period I haven't written before. Doesn't that pique your curiosity? It will be up to my publisher what I write next--and it will most likely be a Julia Grey novel--but if it isn't, at least I know what I want to write the next time I venture afield. And, because this is so far away from the periods I've written before, I have loads of delicious reading that will keep me busy during my free time even if I am working on Julia next. BLISS, people. Absolute bliss. When people ask me the dreaded question about where my ideas come from, the truth is, they are always generated by subjects I read for pleasure. I read scads of nonfiction, and believe me when I tell you that history is FULL of things I could never put into a book because they are simply too deliciously far-fetched.

Now, there are some changes afoot. The website is getting a full, major, complete, down to the bare-bones-and-back-up-again redesign. I cannot WAIT! It's been in the works for months, but it's almost time. Things should continue as usual, but if you happen to pop by the site and there are any issues at all, do not fear. I expect everything will go swimmingly, but occasionally there are things to iron out, so if that's the case, I'll be sure to post updates on Twitter and FB.

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Published on February 14, 2013 02:04 • 154 views