Today, we're delighted to have New York Times bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn as our guest. Like our own Debs, Deanna is Texan - a 6th-generation native! She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio, the only university in the world to have an annual Golf Cart Parade. Deanna's novels, which have been nominated for five RITAs, two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, and three du Mauriers, are set in Victorian England and the European colonial world between wars. A long way from the Lone Star State? Yes, but as Deanna shares with us here, she's had inspiration along the way...
In all the books I’ve written—five series novels, three stand-alones, four novellas—I’ve never based a character on someone I know. Until now. In CITY OF JASMINE, I created the rather gloriously over-the-top Aunt Dove, a larger-than-life woman who wears enormous costume jewels and totes a parrot named Arthur Wellesley on a biplane tour around the world. Elderly in the 1920s setting of CITY OF JASMINE, Aunt Dove was once a famous Victorian explorer, an adventuress who made her way by her wits and her people skills. She has drunk Russian grand dukes under the table and may have started a minor land war in South America. She has had more lovers than she can count, and no one quite knows what happened during a few months when she went missing in 1878 after discovering absinthe…
Aunt Dove is loosely based on my own great-aunt, a woman who charmed my family so much that when she divorced my great-uncle—the first in her string of husbands--we kept her. She was a flamboyant dresser, preferring gold lamé slippers with curled-up toes and embellished caftans. If it was brightly colored and bejeweled, she liked it, and everywhere she went, she trailed a cloud of Youth Dew, spicy and strong and unforgettable, just like her. She had the decorating instincts of a magpie; the shinier, the better. She once gave me a small crystal chandelier that hangs over the desk in my study. Every day when I write, I do it with the warm, glittering glow of that light and the memory of a woman who made Auntie Mame look like an amateur.
And every day I try to think about the life lessons I learned from her. Now, without a string of husbands to my credit—I’m still doing delightfully well with the one I acquired in college—I haven’t known quite the same ups and downs that she experienced. But I have learned resiliency, the ability to look today in the face and spit in its eye and say, “Was that the best you’ve got? Because I’m going to kick you into tomorrow.” At least I hope I have! And I know that when you’re kicking today’s tail between its legs, you need to do it with a good pedicure. (I never knew my great aunt not to wear coral polish on her toes. I always keep mine spiffy, but I prefer a nice blood red—venous, not arterial.)
I also know that it’s important not to save things for special occasions. Every day was a special occasion in my great aunt’s book. So she stocked her house with fresh flowers and wore the good perfume, put on dance music and poured a cocktail. She lived the whole of her life that way, never saving her enthusiasm for the big things. To her, everything was big, and everything deserved her excitement. Even in her 70s she was exuberant, with a childlike enthusiasm for anything that thrilled her. A great conversation, a lovely meal, time with people she adored, she bubbled over with joy for all these things.
And yet. I never knew anybody quite as perfectly pragmatic when circumstances demanded it. Her fortunes—like those of all good adventuresses—rose and fell. When they were high, she kicked up her heels and painted the town red—jungle red! And when they were low, she rolled up her sleeves, loaded on the rhinestones, and got to work rebuilding, one brick at a time. All in all, she was a dame—in the very best sense of the word. I’m not sure we even have dames any more, but if we do, I aim to be one when I’m old and sassy and still painting my toenails red.
So, really, was there any way I could NOT base a character on a woman like that? Because she already was a character—with more stories than I could ever tell.
Meet Aunt Dove for the first time in WHISPER OF JASMINE, the free digital prequel novella to CITY OF JASMINE.
You can learn more about Deanna's books, and read excerpts, at her website. You can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @deannaraybourn, and join her at her blog.