Thursday, March 29, 2012

Teresa Grant's Imperial Scandal

HALLIE EPHRON: Today we're delighted to welcome author Teresa Grant. Her newest novel, "Imperial Scandal," is a thrilling, romantic tale set in Brussels in the wake of Napoleon’s escape from Elba.

In today's interview, she talks about the era she loves to write about, where she finds the details for her stories, and how she juggles a writing career with being a new mom.

Tracy, why do you think historicals--not just books but Downton Abbey, etc., are so popular right now?

It's an interesting question. So many people I know love Downton Abbey - my editor and agent and I were just talking about it over lunch last week. I think on the one hand historicals provide an escape from the stresses of the modern world (another friend and I were debating whether Downtown Abbey stirs nostalgia or makes the untenable nature of the class system clear).

But I also think history offers a lot more than escape - as a history major, I often think of it as the ultimate social science. History has so much to say about everything from human interactions to politics and economics. I think historical fiction always says something about the era in which it's created as well as the era in which it is written. I think we're in the midst of a period of change now and both the Edwardian era/the Twenties and the Regency are times of change as well, so I don't think it's a coincidence that stories set in both those eras resonate now.

HALLIE: Why did you choose your particular period?

TRACY: It's an era on the cusp between the 18th century and the industrial era, between the classical and romantic eras, between the Les Liaisons Dangereuses generation and Victorian repression. Echoes of the French Revolution linger. The railroad is in its infancy. There's so much to explore from the Napoleonic Wars to social unrest to Beethoven, Turner, and the romantic poets.

HALLIE: Did you feel any qualms about taking on the Battle of Waterloo? And the real historical characters in the book?

TRACY: I was both excited and terrified to take on Waterloo. It's such an iconic historical event from the Duchess of Richmond's ball at which the British got the news that Napoleon had marched through the battle itself and its aftermath. I wrote about Waterloo in Shores of Desire, one of my historical romances, where the battle was a smaller part of the book than in Imperial Scandal. I'd wanted to explore it in more detail ever since.

But so many wonderful writers have dramatized the battle from Thackeray to Georgette Heyer to Bernard Cornwell that it was hard not to be intimidated. I had to remember that I was telling my version of the battle and the surrounding events, through the lens of this story and these characters.

I love weaving real historical characters into my books. I had particular fun with Lady Caroline Lamb, who actually wasn't in Brussels until after the battle in point of fact but who was such a wonderful foil for Cordelia Davenport, one of my fictional characters, that I couldn't resist including her. The Duke of Wellington, who you'd think might be intimidating, I actually find quite easy to write about - his dialogues comes quite easily to me.

One of the challenges of this book is that there are a number of historical characters, such as Wellington's aides-de-camp, about whom there isn't a large historical record. I tried to build fully realized characters on the information I had to work with.

HALLIE: The details of place and time are so evocative in your book. For example, you open a battle scene:
"Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them."
Wow. How did you find those incredible sensory details?

TRACY: Thank you so much! I worked really hard to bring the battle scenes to life, so your comment means a lot to me.

I read a lot of letters and diaries and memoirs from people who were involved in the battle. I made notes of details mentioned and then tried to imagine what my characters would see, smell, hear, touch in the midst of the scene.

It's the same for a scene on a battlefield as in a ballroom, though with the battle scenes there was the added challenge of giving the reader a sense of the overall progress of the battle while at the same time writing from the POV of the characters who would mostly be experiencing chaos.The Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal are some of the most challenging I've ever written and also some of my favorites.

HALLIE: I know this is a weird question, but I've always been fascinated by the clothing of past eras, and the undergarments women had to wear to get into them. Did questions like this figure in your research for this book??

TRACY: Definitely. As I said above, the clothes are one of the things I love about this era. Malcolm and Suzanne, my investigative couple, do a lot of their talking about the mystery while getting ready to go out for the evening or undressing at night. Which means I have to know things like how dresses unfastens and corsets unlace.

I'm fortunate to have two writer friends who are wonderful fonts of information about early 19th century clothing, Candice Hern and Isobel Carr. Isobel helped me figure out the best kind of corset Suzanne could wear to allow her maximum freedom of motion in action scenes.

HALLIE: Your Facebook page features you with the most adorable baby. We all want to know, how do you juggle your time?

TRACY: I've become quite adept at writing with a baby on my lap :-). I'm lucky that my daughter Mélanie is very adaptable (I just took her to New York and she was a great traveler). I was actually able to get back to writing sooner than I expected after she was born.

She likes the stimulation of going out, so we spend a lot of time in cafés where she can look out the window, and I can write with a latte. I'm definitely better now at grabbing work time when i can. I've always liked to write late at night, and that still works well as she sleeps a lot then. And I've found nursing time is great for catching up on reading.

I think Malcolm and Suzanne will have their second child in the book I'm going to write next so I can put my hands-on baby research to use!

HALLIE: Thanks, Tracy! Tracy will be checking in today so please, share your thoughts and questions. What do you think makes us such suckers for period drama?


  1. Such an interesting post Teresa--thanks for visiting. I am not a big historical fiction person, but this sounds very tempting. Love the description of what the sleuths are doing while they discuss the case--mine are usually eating:).

  2. THeresa,

    Welcome to Jungle Red!

    I am a historical fiction person, and I think your book sounds fabulous! In fact, one of my favorite book ever is Killer Angels which is entirely on the battlefield. I'm writing about the later 19th century America and Pacific islands. ALthough I've found a lot of websites about women's fashion of the time, I find the men more difficult to research. would love ot talk to you some time about your methods..

  3. Hi Tracy/Teresa! Thanks so much for being here. Love all the fascinating details about the research. I'd forgotten Heyer wrote about Waterloo. Which book?

    But as much as I love the historical background and your sense of pacing , for me the best thing about your books are the characters, especially Malcom and Suzanne. I can't wait to see what adventures will befall them next!

  4. I'm in awe of anyone who can write historical. And about war, to boot. Brava!

    Rhys does it all the time. Julia has. The most historical I get is with some back story from the 1920s in my work in progress, and I have to say I did enjoy the research.

  5. Thanks, Lucy! In addition to undressing at the end of the day, Malcolm and Suzanne are often drinking whisky while they discuss the case :-).

  6. I haven't read Killer Angels, Jan, but I've heard great things about it. Late 19th century America and the Pacific Islands sound fascinating. Men's clothes can be more difficult to research than womens, and I particularly worked hard in Imperial Scandal to get the uniforms right. Would love to talk costume research methods!

  7. Hi Deb! Thanks so much - it's great to be here! Heyer's An Infamous Army is set in Brussels before, during, and after Waterloo. It's one of my favorite Heyers (in addition to the history, it has a great love story. The last third or so of the book is the battle itself. Her description is so detailed it was used in teaching at Sandhurst.

    So glad you like Malcolm and Suzanne.I love writing about them. I'm currently finishing up a book that has them in Paris after Waterloo during the White Terror. And next I think they'll be going back to Britain...

  8. Researching and writing about Waterloo was challenging, Hallie, but the weird thing is that in general I find writing about an historical setting less intimidating than writing a contemporary. Contemporary writers have readers who live in the cities they're writing about (right now), who have the careers they're writing about, etc... And contemporary life is so detailed. In lot of ways it seems like more research! Not to mention all the details of crime investigation and police procedure which are so much more complicated than in the 19th century. And Deb has to know about England...

    Love the idea of a 1920s backstory in your WIP!

  9. Such an interesting point, Tracy - I remember putting a sub-plot about SARS (remember SARS?) and my editor pointed out that although it was front page news while I was writing it, there was no way to know if anyone would remember it a year later when the book came out. Current events are tricky to put into a novel because you don't yet know how they're going to turn out.

  10. So true, Hallie - in addition to the research pitfalls of contemporary life (researching SARS sounds very complicated!) life changes so fast these days that current events can be "over" by the time a book hits the shelves. At least with historicals one knows going in if one's writing about an event or issue that well-known or obscure.

  11. Welcome, Tracy! It was fun to read this post and get behind the scenes a little. I'm a big Malcolm and Suzanne fan and so excited at the thought of this book! And I too love all the fascinating details of your research.

  12. Yup--my editor made me take out Jane Pauley (!) which i thought was SO strange..then it turned out to be wise.

    SO funny to think about your brain living half in the past and half in the present..or is that about the split? And now you'll be able to do a lot of research into how that era cared for babies.

  13. I love the mix in of real history... But do you remember the 'old' encyclopedias having 'yearbooks' a synopis of that year's events.. It's an interesting way to remember a particular year... and then think about what was 'important' to you at the same time... rarely a match up in your younger, more self-centered years...

  14. Thanks, Linda! So glad you enjoy Malcolm and Suzanne. I hope you like the book. I love talking about research - it's one of the joys of writing for me.

  15. That is funny about Jane Pauley, Hank! Yes, I'd say my brain lives about half in the past - probably more like 60% when I'm in the midst of research :-). I've actually done some baby research for past books - I learned things like that they had breast pumps in the early 19th century - called "breast exahausters." It will be fun to do more while I'm taking care of my own baby.

  16. My grammar school had a set of old encyclopedias - I used to love browsing through them (I've always loved history). It is funny to compare what's considered "important" in a given year with one's own memories. A good reminder that what's important to one's characters in an historical novel may not necessarily be what are now considered major historical events (though if they're living through the Battle of Waterloo, it's a good guess it will be a key event for them).

  17. Tracy: a new book from you is always something to anticipate eagerly. I've always enjoyed the way you blend telling historical details with a vivid sense of place and time, and on top of that characters who practically walk off the page into the room with you. Long may you write.

  18. Hi Tracy, I love historic novels set in France and New France, and I'm wondering if you've written, or considered writing, about Larochelle during the time of French Calvinist persecution or the exploration and settlements of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés? I think the stories of the filles du roi, both the earlier nobility and the later not-nobility (those used to hard work), who travelled to Québec to become wives of settlers. I think the French Calvinist/Catholic story of Québec would be great to explore in fiction.

    I meet the most interesting people here. Looking forward to reading your books!

  19. Thanks so much, Miranda - that comment totally makes my day! I'm really excited to have Imperial Scandal out in the world!

  20. Thanks for commenting, Reine! So far all my books have been set in the Regency/Napoleonic era - I keep discovering new things to explore there. But I completely agree a series about the Filles du Roi would be fascinating!

  21. Oh... so sorry about that huge run-on sentence that was yet unfinished! I was just saying it would be fascinating to read fiction set in a time when many of the nobility of France joined lives in settling New France and religious persecution seems to have had something to do with it.

  22. Thanks, Tracy, for your response. Filles du rois were such a a fascinating group. Camilla Parker Bowles, I think, may have descended from one. Many descendants returned to France.

  23. Tracy Grant is a terrific writer! So happy to see she is still turning out great books ;-)

  24. I agree it would be fascinating, Reine. I haven't read much fiction set in New France, and it's a fascinating setting with a rich history to explore.

  25. Hi Jo! Thanks for posting - hope you enjoy Imperial Scandal!

  26. Hi Tracy !!!

    Good luck with your new book and your daughter is so cute !

    happy writing and Happy "Mommying"


  27. Thanks, Mar! I think Mélanie is adorable, but then I'm totally biased :-). I'm so pleased to find writing and mommying quite compatible!