Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reading outside my rut

Reading is a wonderful escape to a familiar landscape for most of us. My reading “comfort food” includes historical romance, of course, as well as straight history. (Yes, I do read history for fun.) I also rely on some well-loved thriller writers as a “palate cleanser” and a motivational self-help book is always at my bedside.
Throw in the occasional contemporary romance by one of my go-to authors and you’ve summed up my reading habit.
Lately, I’ve been wondering whether my reading diet needs to be a little more adventurous. Yes, it’s familiar and comfortable. It’s also in a little bit of a rut. Maybe I should actively look for reading that will take me far away from the mists of the Scottish Borders, where I spend most of my writing and research time.
One option is to dip into one of the many downloads on my Kindle. When the price is right, I’ve impulsively clicked “buy” on any number of things: an inspirational suspense, a history of the underground press of the Sixties, a contemporary comic novel, and a collection of essays, for starters. Any one of those would take me far afield from my normal routine.
Or maybe I should make a plan. A list of genres I rarely read would include paranormal, inspirational, erotic, and mysteries. I could look for the best in each category, RITA nominated books, for instance, and systematically pick one from each.
On the other hand, I already have a teetering TBR pile full of novels from my author friends: a YA novel, a cozy mystery, women’s fiction…each very different. And each from a writer I KNOW tells a good story. If I start at the top and work down, I’d cover a lot of unfamiliar territory.
So how do I move beyond my reading comfort zone? Should I choose at random, create a plan, or just work from the top of the pile down?
Hmmm. While I ponder, I’ve a book calling to me. The biography about the sisters of Henry VIII is due back to the library soon…
Have you ever tried to expand beyond familiar reading habits? How did you do it?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michelle Styles: Blind Alleys and Research

When I was researching my latest book (accepted yesterday!), I had cause to wonder about the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s. Specifically I wanted to know who was a Lady Patroness during the 1811 season. The answer – you have to make an educated guess. The only list we have is for the 1814 Season. Using some detective work, I managed to eliminate Countess Lieven as her husband hadn’t become ambassador to the Court of St James. The same is true of Princess Esterhazy. It was unlikely that Lady Castlereagh had risen to the heights as her husband had not become Secretary in the Foreign Office. So I started looking at the others. Lady Shefton probably was and so was Sarah Child Villiers Lady Jersey. To my shock and amazement, I have been unable to find a good modern biography of Sarah Child Villiers. Here is a woman who not only play a significant role in English high society as a leading hostess but also was the senior partner at Childs and Co, one of London’s oldest bank. She maintained a desk there and according to the snippets I read online did not allow any of the men in her life to take an active part in the business. She served as the senior partner of the bank from 1806 – 1867. Childs still maintains her papers in their archives, mostly dealing with partnerships. She inherited the bank from her maternal grandfather who was annoyed about her mother’s elopement with the Earl of Westmoreland. Childs provided the bulk of the Jerseys’ considerable fortune. The fact that she was actively involved in the business surprised me. She is also rumoured to have had several affairs including one with Palmerston as far as I can determine. As a Lady Patroness she was responsible for bringing the quadrille to London and had a hand in the introduction of the waltz. According to Princess Lieven’s letters such was her power that she was known as ‘Queen Sarah.’ And in 1820 she held her salon supporting the Opposition rather than the government. Captain Gronow who did the biography of Brummell and who originally gave the list for the Lady Patronesses of 1814 is less effusive saying that she looked like tragedy queen and was ill-bred. (Perhaps Childs had refused him credit.) She was known to be talkative and was sometimes called Silence as a result.

It seems astonishing to me that no biography of Lady Jersey exists and that she tends to be overlooked in favour of her mother-in-law Frances who had an affair with the Prince Regent. If anyone knows of a biography, please tell me. Surely her life is ripe for re-examination.

Actually I would love to see a well-done biography of all the Lady Patronesses or even an examination of Almack’s and its role. There is apparently a 1924 book on Almack’s and Lady Dorothy Nevill’s Memoirs among others are useful at providing snippets but there is nothing solid.

One of the reasons I love writing historical is the opportunities for research. It can be annoying though when one wants to know more!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Regency Plots

Barbara's blog about historical "fairy tale" plots got me to thinking.
What Regency plots are readers tired of?

One of the things that strikes terror into my heart is the idea that the Regency genre might run out of plots. For example, one of the tried and true Regency plots is the lord and the governess plot. You know, the spunky governess comes to care for the lord's unruly children and winds up married to the lord. I love that plot. I have a whole book with such a plot in my head. Would today's reader be clamoring for such a plot?

Several of my plots have been "Marriage of Convenience" plots - The Mysterious Miss M, The Wagering Widow, Scandalizing the Ton. Obviously that is another plot I'm fond of. Are readers sick of that one?

When I first wrote The Mysterious Miss M editors other than the brilliant editors at Harlequin Mills and Boon, said that readers would never accept a prostitute heroine, but now it seems like there are lots of Regencies out there with prostitute or courtesan heroines. Did the readers change or were those editors simply mistaken? And was it my heroine who made that book popular or was it because I used that marriage of convenience plot?

I always wonder if Regencies are in danger of overusing of some of the popular plots - the marriage of convenience, governess and lord, unmarried duke and the ingenue in her first season, bookish spinster and debauched rakehell. What are some others?

Ironically, though, I started reading fewer Regencies when the plots widened into suspense, mystery, paranormal. Was that just me or were other readers saturated by the "traditional" plots?

As I now finish writing my next next book, "Leo's Story," the last of the books connected to The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor, I'll have to seriously think about these issues.

Writing Regency romance is my passion, though. I don't ever want to stop. How do we keep the Regency genre fresh? Is it by reinventing the tried and true plots or by expanding the genre into new directions? Will the Regency ever lose its position as a popular time period in romance? Gosh I hope not!

So, tell me... What Regency plots are you tired of? Which ones do you never get tired of? Do you like it when Regency spreads itself into other genres? And, last of all, do you think the Regency genre is here to stay?

(Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress is up for Best Historical cover, as are other Harlequin Historical covers, at the Cover Cafe contest. Vote for your favorite today)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goodreads Giveaway: To Marry A Matchmaker by Michelle Styles

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To Marry a Matchmaker by Michelle Styles

To Marry a Matchmaker

by Michelle Styles

Giveaway ends June 23, 2011.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Congrats to Harlequin Historicals in RomCon Royal Crown Finals

Congrats, Harlequin Historicals own half the finalists for the Royal Crown short historical category with stories that have unique, not-your-every-day plot lines and smart heroines while still being true to the time periods they're written in. I think that says something for all of us writing in the genre and what we attempt to do here on a regular basis.