Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lure of the Masquerade, a guest post by Tasha Alexander

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 C├ęcile 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!

You can find out more about Tasha, and read excerpts of her Lady Emily novels, at her website. You can also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter as @talexander.


  1. Oh, so many choices --- I think I'm going for Mary Poppins . . . .

  2. I honestly don't know. Since I'm reading Pride & Prejudice (yes, again) I'll go with Elizabeth Bennet, although I don't look good in those empire-waist dresses. =)

  3. What a wonderful question! (And hi, Tasha! xoxoo and etc..hope you and A will be at Bouchercon!)

    SO, I figure I'm already dressed as Jane Ryland, right?

    ANna Karenina would be glam, but too sad. Of, how about Colette's Gigi? ALso, kind of a weird story, though. How about--not that it's LITERARY :-) ) but Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada? That'd be fun.

    NOw I'm thinking about this... can't wait to hear the other answers!

  4. One of my favorite costumes ever was Snow White. Hardly any makeup needed, so it was easy to navigate the evening's activities. A very important costume consideration, in my opinion.

    Also: everyone gets it, immediately. Mary Poppins would work that way, too, Joan! Good idea.

  5. Mornin' Tasha!! I love Halloween too. and I'll happily take any of the candy that doesn't appeal to you.

    My ideal literary costume would be anything from Daisy Buchanan's closet.

  6. You guys have such fantastic costume ideas!

    Mary Poppins is brilliant, Joan, and allows for inclement weather, too, with that umbrella.

    Mary, I bet you would make a fantastic Elizabeth Bennett!

    Karen, I always went for Cinderella rather than Snow White, only because I felt like you couldn't be a blonde Snow White. Which, really, is silly! I could have got a wig! Still, I was desperate to have that blue Cinderella dress. Of course, living in Northern Indiana meant it was always covered up with a winter coat for Trick or Treating. Grrrr....

    Hank, yes! Dying to see you at Bcon! I think Anna would work as long as it was pre-train (ha), but yes, sad. Gigi is a great idea despite the weird storyline. Thank heaven for little girls and all that...Miranda Priestly is perfect! I mean, who wouldn't want her clothes???

    Kaye, Daisy Buchanan might be one of the best ideas I have ever heard. Love those gorgeous flapper fashions.....

  7. Ok, going COMPLETELY against my character but for fun (and shock value) I think I would go as Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Leather jacket, combat boots, (fake) tattoos and (fake) piercings. And the hair. A laptop is a good accessory.

  8. Ah yes, living history but with convenient adjustments. Sounds excellent to me!
    Books are a great way to travel through space and time.

  9. I love historical fiction, and even better is mystery with historical fiction, so I need to start reading your Lady Emily series. I'm not sure why I haven't yet, but I will correct that error. One type of book that I also enjoy for the historical aspects is time travel. It would be the greatest thrill to walk the streets of an earlier time with the knowledge of what happens there later.

    Literary costume? Joan, you picked a great one in Mary Poppins. Not only do you have the umbrella, but you could wear a coat, too, if it's cold. It's going to be the coldest Halloween here in 12 years.

    I think I'd go with Hester Prynne, with the scarlett A emblazoned upon my dress. I always enjoy a conversation piece, and being asked about my "A" could make for some lively chatter. There's the added benefit of being able to wear a cape in cold weather, too.

  10. PK, yes! Lisbeth would be an excellent choice, especially with fake tattoos...

    Libby, I'm all for convenient adjustments!

    Kathy, LOVE the idea of Hester Prynne. I bought a t-shirt with a Scarlet A on it last summer when we were at the House of the Seven Gables. Always get strange looks when I wear it!

  11. Oh, so interesting. My first thought was, "Do the literary characters have to be female?" I guess maybe that helps explain why I write multiple viewpoint books.

    On that note, how about Robinson Crusoe? (You'd be a bit chilly...) One of the Three Musketeers?

    But I must say I'm really enjoying the women's costumes on Death Comes to Pemberly, so maybe there is hope for me yet:-)

  12. As I am a huge fan of the Lady Emily series, I would love to dress in one of the exquisite Worth creations. Otherwise, Lady Guinevere or a romantic heroine of a Byron poem.

  13. I'm not sure what literary costume I would choose, but my red-headed Youngest is going to tomorrow night's Hallowe'en party as "Modern Day Anne of Green Gables!"

  14. I already went as Harriet Vane to a Crime Bake banquet. I'd love to go as Molly in Rhys' series, too.

  15. I'd go as Emma Bannon, forensic sorceress in the Lilith Saintcrow series...She had great clothes!

  16. It helps that Tsha is knock-down-dead gorgeous.

    As for me... the Red Queen? If only to be able to shout OFF WITH HER HEAD!

    I think I'm too old to be Carrie.

    The Giant Peach?

  17. Welcome Tasha! I adore that photo of you!

    Since my son in his younger days went as Harry Potter, Hubby has gone as Hagrid and I've been Professor McGonagall. Not exactly glam, but lots of fun.

  18. Two authors I respect have posted about this series I didn't know about, so time to find the Lady Emily books. It's so much fun to find a new author and series to read!

  19. I would go as Elizabeth Bennet too. Alternatively, Scarlett O'Hara. Or Eustacia Vye.


  20. Thanks JRs for introducing so many new to me authors. I'm not a big Halloween fan but I love costumes. I'd be Lady Mary or Lady Edith.

  21. Post-train Anna Karenina would fit right in with the current zombie trend, just saying.

  22. I always loved Princess Aurora, but Elinor Dashwood would be another. On a more modern note, Nancy Drew.