Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tracy Grant's Magnificent Historical Mysteries


DEBS: Today Jungle Red chats with one of my favorite novelists, Tracy Grant.

Fans may be familiar with Tracy's wonderful Regency suspense (is that a category?) novels featuring Charles and Melanie Fraser, but now, writing as Teresa Grant, she brings us Vienna Waltz. Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna - princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar - all negotiating the fate of the Continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered. Young diplomatic wife Suzanne Rannoch discovers her husband, Malcolm, who is rumored to be among Tatiana's conquests, kneeling over the princess's body. An intricate dance in the search for the truth ensues. No one's secrets are safe and the future of Europe may hang in the balance.

I just had to repeat the first line of the glowing review of Vienna Waltz from Publishers Weekly: "A murdered Russian princess creates a diplomatic imbroglio in this magnificent mystery set in the midst of the glittering palaces and ballrooms of the Congress of Vienna."

How often have you seen PW use the word "magnificent?" High praise, indeed, and very well deserved. Of course, you might guess that I loved the book, since my quote was featured on the cover. I feel very privileged!

And the cover! It is, I think, one of the most beautiful book covers I've ever seen. Did you have input into the design?

TRACY: Thanks, Deb! I love the cover. My editor asked me for my cover ideas early on, and I sent suggestions and images. I suggested a woman (I described Suzanne and actually the cover model looks quite a bit like her), which seems to be the classic look for historical fiction these days. I said I thought it was important to make sure her dress looked elegant and regal, to suggest the sumptuousness of the Congress of Vienna and the world of Continental royalty, instead of looking too Jane Austen-y and British. The cover design by Kristine Mills-Noble and the illustration by Judy York are beyond anything I imagined. The cover is so beautiful and the dress has a lavish, over-the-top elegance, which perfectly captures the mood of the Congress of Vienna.

DEBS: You're a fellow Anglophile. What led you to your interest in England, and to the Regency era in particular?

TRACY: My mom loved British history and literature. When I was six, my parents took me to the Laurence Olivier-Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice. I loved it and immediately wanted to read the book (or rather have it read to me). My mom said I'm not sure you I'll like it, but we can try. I thought it was wonderful. To me, at that age, it was a story about girls (older than me but young enough that I could identify with them) dealing with their sisters and parents, growing up, falling in love. Every time I reread Pride & Prejudice I get different things from it, but I was totally hooked at the age of six.

A family trip to England and Scotland the next year helped cement my love of British history. We'd been watching the Elizabeth R series on PBS, and we went to a lot of the locations, as well as to country and London houses right out of a Jane Austen novel. My mom and I went on to read all of Jane Austen and then my mom discovered Georgette Heyer's Regency-set novels and introduced me to them.

Even when I was reading on my own, we still tended to read the same books and talk about them, including Anthony Trollope's Palliser series and British golden age mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. I was always particularly drawn to the Regency/Napoleonic era, I think because of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. My mom and I began to plot a Regency romance together when I was thirteen. We worked on it off on and on for several years.

I went on to college at Stanford where I majored in history (specializing in the late fifteenth century for a never-published historical fantasy series I was working on, though I learned a huge amount about historical research that's been invaluable in researching the Regency era). The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, my mom and I went back to our Regency romance in a very focused way. We sold it (to our own amazement) the next winter. That book, The Widow's Gambit, was published in May 1988, just before I graduated. Though my books are now ore mystery focused, I continue to be fascinated by the
Regency/Napoleonic era and to find new stories to tell in it. I'm having a lot of fun writing Continental set stories now, but I still write about British characters, and I look forward to getting back to writing books set in Britain eventually.

DEBS: You've not only changed your name, writing as Teresa Grant in Vienna Waltz, but you've changed the names of characters you've written about in previous books! Charles and Melanie Fraser became Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch. How hard was that for you, and why the metamorphosis?

TRACY: It hasn't been as hard as I would have thought. My new publisher, Kensington, wanted me to have a more historical sounding name. I chose Teresa, because Tracy can be a nickname for it, so I can still be Tracy when I interact with readers. Vienna Waltz, as you say, is the story of Charles and Melanie Fraser's adventures at the Congress of Vienna.

Their time at the Congress is referred to in Secrets of a Lady, and in Beneath a Silent Moon there's mention of a murder Charles investigated in Vienna. But my new publisher also wanted them to have new names when they launched my books, so they are called Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch (Malcolm and Suzanne are Charles and Melanie's middle names).

They're still the same people, just as I'm still the same person. I wrote the book using their real names so I could keep the characters and chronology consistent. Readers who first met the characters as Charles and Melanie have told me they mentally substitute the original names when they read about Malcolm and Suzanne. But I've heard from readers who met the characters through Vienna Waltz who say they find it hard to imagine them being called anything but Malcolm and Suzanne and mentally substitute those names when they read about Charles and Melanie in the earlier books. I like to think that Charles and Mel lead such adventurous lives it's no wonder some of their adventures are chronicled under aliases :-)


DEBS: And, oh, the clothes! What fun you must have had researching the women's gorgeous gowns and costumes. Even the men's clothes were so much sexier than today's.

Tracy: So true! There are so many things I love about the Regency/Napoleonic era--the fact that it's an era on the cusp of change, the political turmoil, the dawn of the romantic era--but the clothes are definitely part of it. I did indeed have so much fun researching the clothes for Vienna Waltz. The gowns, the jewels, the shawls and reticules, the men's coats and waistcoats and breeches, the uniforms. There are several scenes where Malcolm and Suzanne discuss the mystery while dressing for a ball or the theater or undressing after an evening engagement.

My friend and fellow writer Isobel Carr was a big help with getting all the layers of underclothing right for an early scene where Malcolm helps Suzanne undress (and yes, they're discussing suspects rather than doing anything more amorous). I got to make up lavish gowns for Suzanne and the other female characters (I even changed the description of one of
Suzanne's dress to sound like the gown on the cover), and I also worked in references to real gowns some of the historical characters are known to have worn.

And then there's the Carrousel, a re-creation of a medieval pageant that's a major event in the book. There's quite a bit of documentation about the costumes worn by the knights (of whom Malcolm is one) and the gowns of the belles d'amour (of whom Suzanne is one). I even worked in an exchange where Malcolm, who read history at Balliol, points out to Suzanne that real knights dressed in these clothes would have been cut to ribbons at Agincourt.

DEBS: What's next for Suzanne and Malcolm?

TRACY: I'm currently finishing up revisions on their next adventure, Imperial Scandal, which will be out in April 2012. It begins in Brussels a few days before the battle of Waterloo.

Malcolm slips away from an embassy ball for a secret meeting and finds himself in an ambush the leaves two people dead, including a decorous army wife who seemingly had no business being there. Malcolm and Suzanne are drawn into an investigation that involves a spy ring, double agents, and secret love affairs that could shatter the fragile relationship between Britain and her Dutch-Belgian allies. Once again the murder mystery is intertwined with real historical events. The investigation takes an unexpected turn at the Duchess of Richmond's ball where the waltzing is interrupted by news that the army is about to march against the French, and the story goes through the battle of Waterloo itself. Malcolm unearths clues on the battlefield where he's pressed into delivering messages for Wellington, while Suzanne continues the investigation in Brussels, where she's nursing the wounded.

I'm just starting the following book in the series, set in Paris after Waterloo during the White Terror, when restored Ultra Royalists turned on Bonapartists. It opens with a tavern brawl and the death of a former British agent who knows all too many secrets. I'm really looking forward to writing about Paris and also returning to several of the historical characters from Vienna Waltz.


DEBS: I can't wait! And I must say that I, too, loved Georgette Heyer, but your characters are ever so much sexier:-) Danger, intrigue, complex characters with dark secrets in their pasts, and an evocation of the period that seems so real you can almost believe you're there.

Jewels, indeed.

Oh, and if you ever get around to writing the fantasy series, I'd like that, too!

17 comments:

Rhys Bowen said...

Welcome Tracy. I too loved Georgette Heyer as a teen and would have loved to live in an era of lovely ballgowns and royal intrigues. Good luck with the new series. It sounds fabulous

Roberta Isleib said...

What a wonderful interview ladies! Tracy, I'm so envious of your writing a book with your mother and her careful nurturing of your interest in writing and history! If you had answered our recent queries about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I'm guessing you are what you hoped for!

I will put this right into my TBR pile!

Deborah Crombie said...

Tracy, we read almost all the same books, except while you were reading Palliser, I was reading Galsworthy. All nine volumes. Anyone remember the Forsyth Saga?

Julia Spencer-Fleming said...

Deb, I loved the Forsythe Saga! (How come no one writes sagas anymore? That multiple-historicals-following a single family genre has disappeared along with 80s sex-and-shopping novels.)

Tracy, I love Regencies and early-19th-century mysteries, and I'm so excited to discover your books! I'm delighted you're stepping outside the "ton in London during the season" setting that seems to prevail in so much of the genre. There was so much drama and so many dangerous and fascinating events going on throughout Europe, I've often thought it was a shame the focus of the genre has been so limited.

I look forward to reading VIENNA WALTZ, and I agree with Deb - that cover is ravishing. I want to blow it up and hang it on my wall.

Jan Brogan said...

Tracy,
The book sounds fabulous. I love the part where you like the era because the world is about to change -- those are always my favorite time periods for historicals.

Congrats on the terrific review!

Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Rhys! Great to talk to someone else who grew up on Heyer.

Tracy Grant said...

It was a fabulous experience writing with my mom, Roberta (the weird thing is I can't imagine writing with anyone else; I think we had really similar voices because we developed together as novelists). I did want to be a writer when I was growing up. I also wanted to be an actress. So I ended up going half of it :-).

Tracy Grant said...

Deb, I loved the Forsyte saga on tv, but I confess I've never read the books. Must seek them out!

Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Julia, I hope you enjoy it! Continental Europe is indeed fascinating in the Regency/Napoleonic era. I've wanted to write about the Congress of Vienna for ages--ever since first discovering it through a mention in a Georgette Heyer book and later studying it in college. And I had a wonderful time writing about Brussels around the battle of Waterloo and now I'm researching Paris. Even my London books delve a lot into the underworld and some more hidden parts of the Regency.

Tracy Grant said...

Aren't eras on the cusp of change fascinating, Jan? I feel the same way about the late 15th century on which I did my undergrad honors work--poised between the medieval and Renaissance eras.

Deborah Crombie said...

Can't believe I misspelled Forsyte. One of those days . . .

The cover of Vienna Waltz needs to be seen in the flesh, so to speak. The train of the dress wraps around the spine. Gorgeous!

Tracy Grant said...

I mis-spelled and mis-pronounced Forsyte for years, Deb. Thanks for the nice weds about the cover - it is really cool in Erwin, both the wrap around and the texture.

happybkwrm said...

Which version of Forsyte did you see, Tracy?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What a wonderful brilliant interview! This is not my milieu at all...but I must say--this is pretty darned irresistible.

Must have. The DRESS. The cover is beyond wonderful.

Thank you so much! You have completely won me over.

Tracy Grant said...

Oops, the perils of posting from an iPad with it's auto complete. "Erwin" was supposed to be "person"--not sure how that happened!

Tracy Grant said...

I saw the more recent Forsyte saga adaptation, JMM. I haven't see the old one, though I've heard great things about it. I've also seen an even older movie called "That Forsyte Woman" with Greer Garson that was quite good. Which versions have you seen?

Tracy Grant said...

Thanks so much, Hank! The dress is amazing. And like I said it so captures the Congress of Vienna where everything seems to have been done to luxurious excess. A concert with 100 pianos, masquerade balls for thousands, recreating a medieval tournament...