Tracy Grant has been writing Regencies for over twenty years, first with her mother (as Anthea Malcolm) and then on her own. She lives in northern California, where she is on the board of the Merola Opera Program, a training program for professional opera singers, coaches, and stage directors, and is managing director of h e l p : human elemental laboratory of performance. Her latest book, Secrets Of A Lady, is out July 31. All pertinent comments on her interview will be entered to win a copy of her brand new book! The winner will be announced Monday evening.
Secrets Of A Lady, your latest book, is actually a reissue; can you give us the book’s history?
Secrets Of A Lady was originally published as Daughter Of The Game in hardcover in 2002 and then in mass market the next year. I’m thrilled that Morrow/Avon is now bringing it out in trade. For the reissue they decided to give the book a new title and a new cover (which I love!). I was very fond of Daughter Of The Game as a title, but I also quite like Secrets Of A Lady (which we settled on after endless lists of titles went back and forth). Secrets Of A Lady definitely sums up Mélanie Fraser’s story, and it has echoes of the nineteenth-century novels which so influenced me in writing the book. For the reissue I wrote a new epilogue (a letter from Charles to Mélanie). Secrets Of A Lady also includes about fifteen pages of what Avon calls A+–a really fun section that’s sort of like DVD extras. Different authors do different things with the A+ section. I did mine as a series of letters between Charles and Mélanie and other characters that flesh out the back story. They were a lot of fun to write (and hopefully to read :-).
What made you think of this story?
I first got the idea for Secrets Of A Lady almost twenty years ago, when I was still in college. I was co-writing Regency romances with my mom. Our second book, which was never published, had a secondary romance between two characters named Charles and Mélanie. The Charles and Mélanie in that book almost ended up getting married. At one point, I thought, “you know if these two people actually did get married, it would be very interesting to see what happened to them in seven years or so, when some of the secrets behind their marriage came out.” I knew it was a story that would never work as a traditional romance, so I filed the idea away at the back of my mind. My mom and I went on to write a total of seven Regencies (as Anthea Malcolm) and then one Regency-set historical romance (as Anna Grant). After my mom died in 1995, I wrote three Regency-set historical romances as Tracy Grant. But I kept putting more and more history and intrigue in my books. I finally realized that what I really wanted to write was an historical suspense novel. When I started mulling over plots, I went back to the Charles and Mélanie characters from the unpublished Regency and I realized this was the perfect way to tell that story. I changed the characters and the back story quite a bit, but I did keep their names.
And so Charles and Mélanie Fraser were born. Charles, a duke’s grandson connected to half the British peerage, has been a diplomat and an intelligence agent during the Peninsular War. Now he’s a reform-minded politician, resigned to often being one of a few voices arguing against the suspension of habeas corpus or in favor of the reform of debt laws. Mélanie is a half-Spanish, half-French refugee who Charles met and married during the war. She’s now known as one of the beau monde’s most charming political hostesses, equally at home writing a pamphlet on women’s education, taking her children to Gunter’s for ices, or entertaining the Duke of Wellington at dinner. They have two young children, a beautiful house in Berkeley Square, and a remarkably happy marriage. But Mélanie is not what she seems on the surface. Nor, in many ways, is Charles. It’s the unraveling of the secrets at the heart of their marriage that drives the story.
Do you have plans to continue the series?
I’ve already written the third book in the series, The Mask Of Night, and I have a fairly detailed outline for the fourth and lots of ideas for future books. If Secrets Of A Lady does well, hopefully the subsequent books in the series will be published. Avon Trade is reissuing Beneath A Silent Moon (the prequel to Secrets Of A Lady) next summer. Charles and Mélanie are complicated characters with a complicated marriage and a penchant for landing in the midst of intrigue and adventure. I have lots of stories to tell about them and their friends and family and world.
Can you talk a little bit about your background, and how it helps or doesn’t in your writing?
I was a history major in college, which is a huge help in writing historical fiction. I focused on late fifteenth-century England (largely because at the time I was writing a series set in an alternate history late-fifteenth century Britain that I never sold), but what I learned about research, about evaluating data, about sifting through primary sources is invaluable. I also studied theatre and did a fair amount of acting through college (I was an apprentice at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival–now the California Shakespeare Theater–one summer), which is probably why Mélanie and Charles quote Shakespeare all the time. I love using the theatre in my books–I have theatre sequences in both Secrets Of A Lady and Beneath A Silent Moon. There’s an ongoing character in the series, Simon Tanner, a friend of Charles and Mélanie’s, who’s a playwright. I also love opera–a lot of my non-writing time is spent working on the Board of the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, coaches, and stage directors (in fact, I just finished working on a nonfiction book about the first fifty years of the Merola Opera Program). It’s great for working in musical references, and I find both both plays and operas a wonderful inspiration. On my most recent research trip to England, I saw Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” at Covent Garden and learned that the English premiere of the opera was in January, 1820, when The Mask of Night is set. I wanted to have a sequence at the theatre in the book, so I was able to work in the “La Cenerentola” premiere. The Covent Garden program even lists the original cast.
Which of your books is your favorite?
That’s like having favorite children :-). But Charles and Mélanie, and my books about them, are particularly close to my heart.
Was Secrets Of A Lady an easy or difficult book to write?
I don’t think I’ve ever written a book I would call “easy to write ” :-). Secrets Of A Lady was a particular challenge because I was trying something a bit different. It has a more complicated plot than any of my prior books (though in general, I have a weakness for complicated plots) and Mélanie and Charles both have quite complex character arcs. And because the majority of the book is essentially a chase round London, I had to have very detailed information about a lot of different locations as well as doing a lot of research about the Peninsular War for the backstory and the extended flashback sequence set in Spain. So it was a challenge–but I like challenges, and I had a lot of fun writing it.
How do you do your research?
After years of writing Regency-set books, I have a fairly extensive library, but I always need new information for each book. I spend hours scouring the stacks at the Stanford and U.C. Berkeley libraries. Sometimes my writer friend Monica McCarty goes with me–we each disappear into the stacks for our respective time periods (she writes about early seventeenth-century Scotland), then compare notes over lunch. I love reading primary sources, such as diaries and journals of the period. U.C. Berkeley has the “Morning Chronicle” on microfilm, which is great resource–you can learn which play was performed at a given theatre on a given night, read about Parliamentary debates, news from abroad, fashion notes. Speaking of fashion, another writer friend, Candice Hern, has been incredibly generous sharing her wonderful collection of Regency fashion magazines and prints. And more and more is available online these days as well. For my last couple of books, I’ve been able to take trips to Britain. My friend and fellow writer Penny Williamson and I traced most of the path of Secrets Of A Lady through London and picked out a house in Berkeley Square that’s the model for Charles and Mélanie’s house (pictures in the Gallery section on my website (http://tracygrant.wordpress.com/gallery/)
What are you working on now?
The fourth Charles and Mélanie book and an historical novel set in the French empire in 1811.
In your writing, do you feel as if you are taking risks? How?
I think anyone who writes a book (not to mention sending that book out into the world) takes risks. But as I said above, I like challenges, so I think perhaps taking risks particularly appeals to me as a writer. I’m happiest and most excited about my writing when I feel I’m pushing myself. A friend who saw the early pages of Secrets Of A Lady said she didn’t see how the story could have a happy ending. I liked that challenge–creating a happy ending out a seemingly impossible conflict (how well I succeeded is something readers will have to judge for themselves :-). I think Mélanie is perhaps a particularly risky heroine in that she makes choices that are decidedly morally ambiguous (as do a number of characters in the book). One of the reasons I love writing about Mélanie is that I’m never quite sure what she’ll do in a given situation or how far she’ll go. It’s fascinating for me to explore as a writer.
I think also the books I write now take risks in that they combine elements of different types of fiction–historical fiction, mystery/suspense, adventure, romance. Balancing the different elements can be a challenge, but it also lets me explore all my favorite elements in a book.
Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?
A lot of Secrets Of A Lady takes place in the darker, underworld side of Regency London. So I wrote scenes in settings I’d never used before–the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison, a brothel, a gaming hell. I learned about aspects of Regency society I hadn’t touched on in my earlier books, which revolved more around the world of Mayfair. For instance, I learned about posturers or posture molls, women who would perform erotic poses, either scantily dressed or completely naked. Charles and Mélanie encounter a posture moll at the Gilded Lily, a coffeehouse that doubles as a brothel. Charles is more shocked than Mélanie.
Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?I
I wasn’t trying to be non-controversial:-), and my editor (Lucia Macro) and agent (Nancy Yost) and my critique partner (my friend Penny) were all very supportive of the story as I wanted to tell it (in fact, one of the darkest scenes in the book is there because Penny told me I had to include it). I did cut some things in the revision stage, but that was a question of pacing (the book was even longer and Lucia felt–rightly–that some of the Charles and Mélanie scenes should be expanded). In the original version, Helen Trevennen had a daughter who she’d fostered out at birth who was working as a seamstress at a dressmaker’s. It showed another aspect of Regency society (and another fate that could befall young women), but Charles and Mélanie didn’t really learn anything vital in their scene with her. There was also a chase through Covent Garden Market which I loved (and which I spent ages researching and choreographing). But Lucia very sensibly pointed out that it didn’t actually move the story forward. So I cut it. But then I built the chase (with some slight modifications) into Beneath A Silent Moon where I managed to make it much more integral to the story :-).
Is there anything else you’ d like the Risky Regencies readers to know about you?
I find the Regency era endlessly fascinating and I love books that take risks, so naturally I adore this site! Thank you for being such a fabulous place for readers and writers to discuss books and the Regency!
Thank you, Tracy!