JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I have long suspected that writers of historical fiction must not-so-secretly long to live in other ages. Not really-real historical times -- who wants to be without modern dentistry, antibiotics and washing machines? But the past that lives in our imagination and in our senses. Folks go to Renaissance Faires, join the Society for Creative Anachronism, reenact Civil and Revolutionary wars, attend steampunk conventions. Most of all? Young or old, they celebrate Hallowe'en.What's the common thread?
That's right. They get to dress up. Wear costumes. Pretend to be someone else.
Nobody knows this better than Tasha Alexander, whose much-loved Lady Emily series gives us all the chance to live a far-flung, romantic, exciting and mystery-filled 19th century life (while still listening to music on our ipods while we read.) Here's the description of her latest, THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS:
After an odd encounter at a grand masquerade ball, Emily becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of one of the guests, a sometime actress trying to pass herself off as the mysterious heiress and world traveler Estella Lamar. Each small discovery, however, leads to more questions. Was the intended victim Miss Lamar or the imposter? And who would want either of them dead? As Emily and Colin try to make sense of all this, a larger puzzle begins to emerge: No one has actually seen Estella Lamar in years, as her only contact has been through letters and the occasional blurry news photograph. Is she even alive? Emily and Colin’s investigation of this double mystery takes them from London to Paris, where, along with their friends Cécile and Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge they must scour the darkest corners of the city in search of the truth.
How does Tasha feel about being an historical author? Well, for her, every day gets to be Hallowe'en!
Few holidays offer the guilt-free indulgences of Halloween. There’s nothing to cook, no presents to buy, no family drama to anticipate. Instead, we can choose to dress up in whatever costume strikes our fancy—silly, serious, sexy, scary—and give and get candy in all but unlimited amounts. What’s not to like, particularly when you consider the fact that no one is going to pressure you to involve yourself in Halloween if you’re not interested? It would not be so easy to forgo Thanksgiving.
For me, costumes have always been the most appealing part of Halloween, partly because I can take or leave candy. If Trick or Treating involved getting something spicy instead of something sweet, I might revise my position just a bit, but the real reason the costumes matter the most to me is because they remind me of reading. Sounds crazy, right?
From the time I was a little girl, I felt as if I had been born in the wrong century. I wanted to be a pioneer, setting off in a covered wagon, ready to find the perfect homestead in the west. Or Cleopatra, who never needed a translator when dealing with foreign emissaries because she was fluent in seven languages.
Or an ancient Athenian, listening to Socrates in the Agora (yes, that one only works so long as you willfully ignore the fact that girls in ancient Athens weren’t hanging out in the Agora; I have no trouble doing that). Or Scarlett O’Hara, deciding who could bring her dessert (but you know now that if I were Scarlett, she’s be looking for more barbeque and less dessert).
As it is all but impossible to do any of the above in real life, I lived out these fantasies through reading. Books let you enter another time and place, and let you to feel what it would have been like to be someone else. Is there anything better than the sensation that the world around you is disappearing and being replaced by another one, first with words and then with the vivid details your mind fills in as you read page after page after page?
Of course, you don’t ever actually get to BE the characters in books, which can be something of a drag. As I teenager, I would have gladly switched places with Elizabeth Bennett, but on the other hand, I never felt the urge to join Ishmael on the Pequod. Still, a holiday like Halloween gives us the opportunity to don the togs of our favorites. So tell me, what would be your ideal literary costume for October 31?
One lucky commentor will win a copy of THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS!