Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Dance For A Dead Princess’

ride_heart_Goodreads

This week I heard from a reader. I do not often hear directly from readers, but the ones who have written up until now have sent good news: they enjoyed Dance for A Dead Princess or Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. Until this week, the ones who didn’t like my books, either left words to that effect in Amazon reviews, or remained silent. No one took me to task in a long, personal email.

But this week, a reader not only left a negative review on Amazon, she wrote me a long email outlining everything she thought was wrong with Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. And I could immediately tell that she didn’t “get” the story. She had received a free copy as part of a Read and Review program, and I’m sure she was under the impression that Ride was a formula romance novel. And, reading between the lines, she was upset, outraged might be a better word, because there were no explicit sex scenes in Ride and because Ride is an honest look at how difficult love can be and how we sometimes find lost pieces of ourselves in the people we believe we love and hang on at all costs. Ride is a complex book. It does not say hot sex equals undying love. I know that is theme of formula romance. But I was not writing formula romance in Ride, to the chagrin of Unhappy Reader.

I have come to feel that, as a female writer, all of my work has to overcome the presumption that because a woman wrote it, it is formula romance. When I set up promotions on the various ebook promotions sites, I often have the Hobson’s choice between “Romance” and “Contemporary Fiction.” I consider both of my books to be “Women’s Fiction” although even that label does not immediately remove my novels from the formula romance presumption. While Dance for a Dead Princess does have some elements in common with formula romance, as Diane Donovan of the Midwest Review observed, it goes far beyond formula fiction.   In my day job, as an attorney, I deal with the presumption of innocence, which, frankly, is more akin to a presumption of guilt. And I have come to feel, in my night job, as a fiction writer, that any book for a female audience carries the formula romance presumption.  And when it doesn’t live up to that presumption, some readers, like Unhappy are, to put it frankly, outraged.  Hence her personal email critique.

What is formula romance, you are asking at this point. Good question. The roots of formula romance have impeccable literary credentials. The unforgettable Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the equally charming Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin are the ancestors of the modern romance novel. In both books, a heroine of little fortune marries a man of means for love and not for pure social advantage.  In archetypal terms, the Cinderella trope.   The plots of both books center around the barriers between the hero and the heroine and how these are ultimately resolved. Jane Eyre attempts to resolve a moral issue, a married man in love with a young women of little means but great love and virtue. Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, poking subtle fun at the mating conventions of the day. The hero overcomes his pride of position to marry the young woman of great love and virtue but little fortune. From these outstanding beginnings, modern-day formula romance has evolved (or devolved) into predictable plot lines, which are resolved in fifty-thousand words or less. (Unhappy complained that Ride, at 100,000 words was just too long, and she was sooooo bored. My advice: if a book bores you, stop reading it.  It’s like  hitting yourself in the head:  it feels so good when you stop.)

In the modern formula romance, Hero, with six-pack abs, which he miraculously unveils within five pages of the opening, (and which are always on the cover), has sex with Heroine in Chapter One. Notably, they are both strangers. By Chapter Two, the glow of orgasm has faded, and they realize they have made a huge mistake. Like two mature adults, they immediately fight and vow never to see each other again. Then, for twenty-something more chapters, the two vacillate between their determination not see each other and their determination to have more sex, which is described in excruciating detail in alternating chapters. Fight a chapter, F– a chapter. (You get what I mean.)

On this solid and mature foundation for a marriage, Heroine winds up with a very large diamond on her finger, since Hero not only has that six-pack, but he is also great hubby material because he is good in bed and, more importantly, he has revealed he is not a simple ranch hand but the owner of most of Texas (or is a prince of a European state determined to restore its monarchy). Formula romances  close with a wedding or an epilogue showing a happily pregnant Heroine.

These books sell well to readers like Unhappy, so Clever Author multiplies this storyline like rabbits, varying the setting and the characters’ names, but never the plot. And if Author is even More Clever (or Diabolical, you decide) the original book will have a Heroine or Hero with ten brothers and sisters, each of whom will star in a subsequent formula romance. These books are easy to spot on the ebook promo sites because, in addition to male six-packs on the cover, they all have titles that include the word “Series” or “Chronicles.” “Book One of The Thornton Family Chronicles” Or “Book Three of the McLaren Brothers’ Brides Trilogy.” Or “Book Twenty-five of the Sisters of Seven Corners Series.” You’ve seen them. You know what I mean.

Not to be rude, but I run from these cookie-cutter books like the plague. They remind me of those clear plastic sleeves of chocolates that you can buy at Costco at Christmas. Year after year, the blue ones are milk chocolate with Kahlua centers, the pink ones are dark chocolate with an unidentified green cream inside, and the gold ones contain an unknown liqueur that might be brandy. Might. Many of these literary formula offerings have no ending, so that if a reader wants to know what happened to Hero and Heroine (does tragedy strike? does he lose that six-pack and therefore the girl? does he become King Travis the 25th of MoldyDisheveia), she has to buy “Books Two through Thirty of the Hot Brothers of MoldyDishevia Series.” And Extremely Clever Author laughs all the way to the bank. And gets featured as an Amazon Bestselling Extremely Clever Author in the Amazon Newsletter. (Read their newsletter if you don’t believe me.) Oh, and the piece de resistance, Author gets a lifetime guarantee of ads on the obnoxious Book Bub, which mainly features trashy formula romance with those hot-sex covers. But that is another blog post.

At any rate, I have come across a beautiful video that explains visually what Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is all about. I will explain in my next post and show you the video to see what you think. Is there room in the world for a woman writer to write a book that is not formula romance?   In the meantime,  my deepest thanks to my readers who did “get” it, and my undying gratitude to those who left reviews explaining exactly what they “got.”  I am forever in your debt and humbled by being allowed to entertain you in 100,000, I promise, well-chosen words.

And now, one last word to Unhappy. Despite your email statement to me making light of the loss of a child, losing a child is one of the most tragic events of anyone’s life. It is a tragedy that no one completely recovers from. The only thing offensive about you email, was your statement that “losing a child is no big deal.” Wrong, Unhappy. Very, very wrong, on that one. Formula romance books are fungible. Children are not.

Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is not a book for every reader. It is a book for anyone who wants to laugh and cry,  for anyone who is willing to be frustrated by characters that life has broken and healed and broken again,  and for anyone who is willing to look inside and love your own, beautiful and utterly unique soul. Ride is a challenge that not everyone will want to meet. But that’s just fine by me.

Read Full Post »

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of using Princess Diana as a minor, but important, character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Some readers have understood that I wanted to preserve my own view of Diana in the book. She was a beautiful, naive, young woman, looking for love with an older man after an emotionally barren childhood. But instead of creating a family to nurture, as she wanted to do, she was badly used by her husband, who was chronically and openly unfaithful, and she was abused by the institution of monarchy which her marriage was designed to serve. For the trouble she took to produce two princes and two royal heirs, she was later unfairly labeled unfit and unstable by Charles and his supporters in divorce proceedings.

Some readers are put off by Diana’s presence in Dance For A Dead Princess. In their opinion, even mentioning her is somehow exploiting her memory. But that view is very short sighted because if we don’t mention her, we forget her. And forgetting her is exactly what institutional monarchy wants us to do. Charles, who never made a place for Diana in his life, has filled the place that should have been hers with the woman who destroyed Diana’s marriage. And now the party line is to forget about Diana altogether and to criticize anyone who mentions her favorably as exploitive.

I came across this type of criticism recently when I discovered the work of Peter Settelen, a British actor and voice coach. In 1992 and 1993, Diana hired Settelen to help her improve her public speaking. Tapes of her early speeches demonstrate she had little skill as a speaker at the beginning of her career in public life. But after working with Settelen, she improved dramatically.

When Settelen began to work with Diana, he told her she would have to find her own authentic voice if she wanted to excel at public speaking. To that end, he recorded a series of sessions with her in which she described the events of her life. They are charming and candid, and well worth watching. And they reveal the side of Diana that my fictional character, Nicholas Carey, knew and loved and desperately missed as the novel opens.

Settelen has been criticized, of course, for making the tapes public. He had to go to court and fight to get them back after they were found in Paul Burell’s attic. Earlier, Settelen had been told the tapes had been destroyed.

Settelen candidly admits they were meant to be private teaching tools. But, as he also says, Diana did not know she was going to die; and the opportunity to hear the story of her life in her own words is a powerful way preserve her memory. The tapes Diana made with Settelen are well worth a listen. And listening to them explains why my fictional character Nicholas was driven to preserve Diana’s memory at all costs out of loyalty to his greatest friend.

Here is the YouTube link, the Diana Tapes with Peter Settelen.   What do you think of the tapes?  Did Settelen do the right thing to publish them?

xin_3611013010353612517511 - Copy

Read Full Post »

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

Last week, I explained why I was drawn to use Diana, Princess of Wales as a fictional character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Although I am ten years older than Diana, my life paralleled hers in certain ways in the early and mid-eighties. I had three children, just a little younger than Diana’s boys; and like Diana, I was enduring the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage and acrimonious public divorce during those years. As Diana had to learn to tread lightly through the legal thicket that surrounded her in order to keep her children, so I, too, had to learn how to thread the narrow path through the court proceedings that would allow me to raise my beloved children. For me, and I am sure for her, those were terrifying and desperate times.

Like Diana, I longed for a comforting male presence in my life, someone to take the sting out of being reviled in public by the father of my children. But that proved as impossible in my life as it did in Diana’s. The men who came into the princess’ life eventually departed, tired of the glare of the media and ever-present lens of the paparazzi. In my own case, no man was willing to risk more than ten years of constantly being threatened with character assassination in a courtroom at the blink of an ex-husband’s disgruntled eye. I could understand, of course. I wouldn’t have chosen to live that way, either. If I’d had a choice.

In Nicholas Carey I created for Diana the kind of male friend I had longed for. Attractive, intelligent, witty, and always on her side. Although Taylor Collins initially sees Nicholas as an arrogant womanizer, on the morning that Taylor has been dumped yet again by her former fiancé, Chris Hunter, she suddenly sees the Nicholas Carey that was Diana’s steadfast friend in every heartbreak. My favorite scene in Dance is the morning after Taylor has spent the night crying over Chris’ engagement. Nicholas shows up early and uninvited at her hotel to comfort her.

From Chapter Ten of Dance For A Dead Princess:

She awoke at nine thirty the next morning to a hangover and someone knocking on the door of her suite. Painfully she got out of bed, tied on her robe, and headed through her sitting room. When she opened it, Nicholas Carey was standing in the hall in his power overcoat with two cups of coffee in paper cups with lids and a brown bag.

“I thought you might need these.”

Without a word she stepped aside, and he entered. He walked over and put the food and drinks on the coffee table. Then he took off his overcoat and laid it over the ottoman. He was dressed for the office in a gray suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.

“Come sit down and have some coffee. I guessed you were a nonfat latte fan. And the muffins are blueberry. Everyone likes those. I know it was a rough night, and you look like it.”

“My head is pounding.”

“Coffee, then. Drink up.”

Taylor felt as detached as if she were still dreaming. Something horrible had happened yesterday. Oh, yes. Chris. And Allison. A New Year’s Eve wedding. Her eyes suddenly teared up.

Nicholas held out a white handkerchief bearing the ducal arms. “Thought you might need this, too.”

Get a grip, she told herself, as she wiped her eyes. No more crying. Especially not in front of Nicholas Carey. She took the paper cup he offered and sat down on the sofa. The coffee was rich and strong. He was right. She needed it.

He opened the bag and offered her a gigantic muffin on a paper napkin. “You need some food, too.”

But she waived it away. “Can’t.”

“Just a few bites. My guess is you didn’t eat much for supper last night.”
“How did you know?”

He sat down next to her and sipped from the other cup. “I’ve had a lot of practice with The Morning After. The women in my life, particularly Diana, had a knack for getting their hearts broken. I’m the steady shoulder to cry on. Come on. You aren’t going to feel better unless you eat a little something.”

Taylor broke off a piece of muffin and nibbled at it as she sipped coffee. “Thank you. For the call last night and for coming this morning.”

“As I said, recognizing a woman about to be hurt is my speciality.”

“But aren’t you guilty of that, too?”

“I’d like to think I’m not. But I do have a substantial string of ex’s. I can honestly say they all saw the breakups coming because they were always over the same thing.”

“And that was?”

“Marriage. A woman gets restless after a couple of years if she doesn’t get an engagement ring. And I’ve no intention of ever getting married again. I gather whatever happened last night took you by surprise?”

The coffee was beginning to bring Taylor into focus. “It did.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed. “No. But I guess talking about it makes it go away sooner. And I want this to go away.”

* * *

In Chapter Ten, I gave Nicholas  the opportunity to demonstrate he’s the perfect friend with lots of experience in comforting beautiful women with broken hearts. And he is disarmingly honest about his own breakups. For Taylor, as devastated as she is over losing Chris, her Morning After with Nicholas is the turning point in their relationship.

Read Full Post »

mario_testino_7

Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah and about the impossibility of being in love?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

Read Full Post »

LOVE SONG

CHAPTER TWELVE

November 1994

Through her tears, she watched him vanish up the path toward the parking lot.  Go after him. Fight for him, her heart said. Show him you won’t desert him. Show him it’s safe to love you.

He had already left when she reached her car. She drove the few blocks to his loft at Fourth and G. By some miracle, there was an empty meter in front. She got out and hurried up the steps to ring the bell.

Answer. Please, answer, she prayed. Her breath came in short, harsh sobs as she stood waiting for a reply from upstairs.

None came.

Karen rang the bell, more insistently this time. She counted ten seconds and rang the bell again.

Then suddenly the iron security door swung open, and Stan was there. Without a word, he pulled her inside and into his arms.

* * *

December 2007

As the American Airlines jet began to taxi toward take off in the late December twilight, two days before Christmas, Judge Karen Morgan sat back in her first class seat and closed her eyes. One week since she had seen Stan at the Christmas party. Seven miserable days of coming home to the blank answering machine. No call. No message. So why did she expect one? She had told him the truth: Carrie Moon was dead. Why then did she think he would come after her and insist she wasn’t? Because she so desperately wanted him to? Because she had once fought for his love in an effort to rescue him from a life of numbness and emptiness, and now she wanted him to do the same for her? But the odds were against it. She ordered a scotch straight up and closed her eyes.

The jet sped east through the darkness, but Karen was back in the lift in Stan’s building as it creaked upward toward his loft. Her nostrils were full of the cool salty breeze, sweeping over her hot arms and face, damp with perspiration and desire. And she could smell the familiar dark, masculine scent of Stan, the mixture of sweat and sex that surrounded him after hours of performing.

Sometimes, Karen reflected, as she listened to the big jet engines labor, life brings you to a split second when you suddenly understand everything is about to change forever. In the twinkling of an eye, as you stand poised on the edge of the inevitable, you pause to burn into your memory what life is like at that moment – the moment before change engulfs you. That sliver of time before the future arrives to transform your life forever is as tiny as an atom, yet as wide and deep as a black hole in space. You stand poised for less than a breath upon the rim of this vast knowledge that all the events of your life have happened for only one purpose: to bring you to this moment of irrevocable change.

* * *

November 1994

Stan said nothing as he held her tightly against him as the elevator lumbered upward. When it stopped, he pushed aside the iron bars to allow them to exit.

He led her down the hall to his loft. As they stepped inside, he pulled her into his arms and brought his mouth down on hers in a crushing kiss.

* * *

Karen Morgan shivered at the memory of that night and downed a huge gulp of scotch. Where was Stan at that moment? It was Friday night, so he was probably playing another gig. The old stab of jealousy bit through her heart as she remembered him flirting with the blonde singers last week. Did he ever remember how they had made love over and over again that first night, each time more intensely than the last?

No, Karen answered herself. She was certain Stan didn’t remember. He had more than likely made love to so many women in the last twelve years that the details of his first night with Carrie Moon had long ago disappeared completely from his psyche.

But then, why had he called? If women were nothing more for him than interchangeable Lego pieces, why had he picked up the phone after twelve years? Curiosity, most likely. Certainly not to apologize. Stan would never apologize for what he had done to them both.

* * *

November 1994

On that first night, Carrie finally dozed just as the first tentative light filtered through the long loft windows. She tried to fight the impulse to sleep, knowing she had to be at her desk by seven a.m. to make up for not going back to the office at midnight. But the combination of exhaustion, satiety, and the joy of being surrounded by Stan and his warmth overcame her.

She woke to bright sunshine and Stan’s kiss.

“Wake up, sleepy head.” He pulled her close and made love to her yet again. But afterward, as she lay cradling Stan in her arms, she felt a rising tide of panic. What time was it? Would Alan have missed her?

Unlike last night when she had remained as close to Stan as possible after they had finished making love, she slid away from him and sat up.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

The hands of the clock on the beside table were irrevocably placed at ten a.m. Carrie caught her breath. She had never arrived that late for work in nine years and two law firms.

He watched her eyes travel to the clock. “Late for work? Then I guess you don’t have time for one of my famous breakfasts?”
She shook her head and began to get dressed.

* * *

At ten thirty, Karen walked into her office, uncomfortably aware she was wearing yesterday’s clothes, had not showered, and smelled like Stan and sex. Alan sat behind her desk, going over the documents from the overnight secretarial pool. The knot in the pit of her stomach tightened.

He looked up and surveyed her from head to toe. Karen wanted the floor to open and swallow her.

“I see you didn’t make it home last night.”

“I – ” For the first time in her association with Alan Warrick, she didn’t know what to say.

“We were concerned when you weren’t at work by eight.” Every word was a nail hammered into her professional coffin. “We called your apartment and got no answer. I decided I’d better start going over these documents to keep the deal on time.”

A flash of anger surged through Karen. “My being late this morning isn’t going to delay the IPO. We still have two weeks before the sales date.”

“And Burnett keeps changing its numbers on its assets. I hope you are paying attention to the changes.”

Her anger deepened. She wanted to take Alan by the throat and scream that she was entitled to a life away from Warrick, Thompson and that sleeping with the man she loved didn’t mean her brains had become mush. Instead, she summoned her cool, professional tone.

“I’m quite aware of the changes, Alan. That’s why these documents were in overnight secretarial. I appreciate your pinch-hitting for me, but I’m here now and ready to look these over.”

Even though Alan was one of the name partners, that tone from Karen always made him back down. It reminded him she possessed the true securities expertise. He was merely a litigator who knew enough to get him through whatever trial happened to be the case du jour in his life. Even if she showed up late in last night’s clothes, she knew the securities code inside and out. She would be hard to replace. He didn’t want her to know that, of course, but he did.
Beaten by her commanding tone, Alan yielded her chair and headed for the door. He turned back, however, before he left.

She kept her eyes on the documents, hoping he’d take the hint and go. But his gaze remained on her until she looked up.

“I gather last night wasn’t about scouting properties for Waterfront Development?”

“Last night was not about anything to do with you, Alan. Or the firm.”

He frowned. Obviously he wanted the whole story, and obviously he wasn’t entitled to a word of it. Beaten again, he sent a parting shot across her bow as he turned to leave. “Remember what’s at stake this year, Karen. Don’t screw up.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

seaport-village-dusk.1170.430.s

Read Full Post »

Earlier this week, Scotland Yard announced it was investigating new information about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. A former member of the British Special Air Services the (SAS) boasted to his former wife that the SAS had brought about her death. His former parents-in-law reported the claim to the military police who passed it on to Scotland Yard.

The original announcement was appropriately neutral. Scotland Yard informed the public of the information and indicated the police would assess it for credibility. But Scotland Yard also said it would not reinvestigate Diana’s death at this time, a wise conclusion since no one yet knows if the new information can be believed.

The press, however, have transformed this simple bit of factual reporting into a speculative circus. Some commentators insist all possible “conspiracy” theories have been debunked and only crazy people believe them while others see a plot lurking in every corner. Rather than the wait-and-see position of Scotland Yard, most press reports require the reader to take a position: believe or disbelieve. The press’s approach to the new information illustrates the rule that human beings like to organize data and reach conclusions just as they prefer to return to the tonic tone in melody. In other words, we don’t like unanswered questions.

But it isn’t likely that the “truth” of the princess’ death will ever be resolved. Or, if it is, the answer will be revealed a lifetime or so later. Think about it. If powerful governmental and multinational forces brought about her assassination, they have every tool on the planet available to perpetuate their cover up. They aren’t going to make any dramatic confessions based upon the ex-parents-in-law’s letter. And, if Diana’s death was a tragic accident, people who love a conspiracy are going to continue to spin their own yarns.

This whole controversy reminds me of speculation about the fate of Tsar Nicholas of Russia’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. When I was growing up, a German woman named Anna Anderson made out a case that convinced many people she was the grand duchess and had miraculously survived the cellar execution in Ekaterinburg. Anna Anderson appeared to have information only the real Anastasia would have known. Some who had known the grand duchess believed Anna, but many others dubbed her an impostor. She wound up married to an eccentric professor of history in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she died in 1984. In 1956, Ingrid Bergman stared in a movie loosely based on Anna Anderson’s life and claims. Litigation to determine whether Anna was the real Anastasia never reached a conclusion.

In 1977, two investigative journalists, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, wrote a book called The File on The Tsar, claiming that not all of the royal family died at Ekaterinburg and the survivors became pawns in an international power game. They claimed Lenin, the Kaiser, the British royal family, and British intelligence were all involved. I read it at the time, and found it interesting and persuasive.

But The File on the Tsar illustrates how facts can be manipulated to fit the end the writer wants to believe. In 1991, the bodies of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters were found in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg. DNA testing confirmed their identities. Then, in 2007, Alexi and the remaining daughter were found, and DNA testing confirmed that all seven Romanovs had died in the cellar that day. By that time, Anna Anderson had been established as an impostor because in 1984, when she died, DNA testing showed she was not related to the Romanovs.

The deaths of famous people hold our attention, especially when they happen under odd or mysterious circumstances. In fact, our fascination with these stories lies in our inability to know exactly what took place. If the facts were known and settled, we would go looking for another more interesting tale whose facts were not resolved.

Scotland Yard had it right in its neutral announcement; and the press, insisting on belief or un, had it wrong. No one can really decide what happened in Paris on August 31, 1997, based upon this new little bit of information. More than likely whether Diana’s death was deliberate or an accident will never be resolved. Or if it is, the truth will come out after a much longer time, as with the Anastasia mystery. In the meantime, the circumstances surrounding Diana’s death create material for fiction writers like me. I wanted to write about a beautiful woman whom I admired because she grew up in difficult circumstances on the world stage. She transformed herself from a naive girl into a charismatic woman who spoke for compassion and love, and she was willing to share her struggles with the rest of us who are struggling. Dance For A Dead Princess is not an argument for or against what “really happened.” It is intended to be a highly entertaining story about interesting and lovable people.

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

Read Full Post »

I wrote a romance novel. Or so I thought. When I published Dance For a Dead Princess on the last day of March of this year, I began to look for websites frequented by romance readers to tell them about my book. It did not take me long to find one and to sign up for an ad.

The morning my ad began to run, I hurried to the website eager to see it. Yep, there it was as promised. But I didn’t realize that my cover, which features the hero and the heroine symbolically separated by a tiara similar to Princess Diana’s and by Burnham Abbey, the fictional ancestral home of the hero’s family, would look out of place in a row of covers picturing men tearing women’s clothes off. But it did.

From a literary perspective, the romance novel is an interesting genre. One of the earliest ones was Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela or Virtue Rewarded,” which was published in 1740. It is the less than thrilling tale of an eighteenth century maid whose nobleman master has the hots for her. However, rather than grant his every wish (which I think a contemporary maid in a contemporary historical romance would probably do), Miss Pamela holds out (and far too long because this is a big, boring novel) until the Titled One marries her. (Whew! So glad they got that settled.)

In 1748, Richardson followed Pamela’s dry tale of Steadfast Female Virtue with an even drier tale of unending woe, “Clarissa, the Story of a Young Lady.” Whereas Pamela had the good sense to obey the rules of the eighteenth century road and force her suitor to put a ring on it, Clarissa witlessly runs off with a “rake” and is “ruined.” (Although she doesn’t go willingly into “ruindom.” She has to be drugged.) Clothes tearing might have kept me awake during this literary ordeal. I was forced to read both of Richardson’s mind numbing works in my undergraduate Eighteenth Century British Novel class, and I can say without doubt, duller literature was never created. The romance novel could have died right there and then; but fortunately, the nineteenth century brought better news.

In 1813, Jane Austin published “Pride and Prejudice,” which I love along with all the rest of her novels. Rather than the heavy handed commentary on contemporary morality Richardson used to drug his readers into coma-like states of boredom, Jane Austin used wit and irony to create characters and stories no one wants to forget.

Next up are the Bronte sisters. I appreciate Charlotte’s achievement in “Wuthering Heights,” but my own favorite is Emily’s “Jane Eyre,” which was published in 1847. “Jane” was my first experience of a mystery intertwined with a love story. I was riveted by Mr. Rochester’s attraction to “plain” Jane Eyre while fascinated with the sinister question of who or what periodically escaped from the locked room at Thornfield. Who was trying to kill Jane? And why?

Another similar brooding love story about the mystery of the ex-wife is Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” published in 1938. The narrator, who is in her twenties and is always called “the second Mrs. DeWinter,” marries forty-year-old Maxim after a two-week courtship. He takes her back to Manderley, his estate in the English West Country, where she is tormented by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who believes no one can take the place of Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter. As with Jane Eyre, I was hooked on the atmosphere of English country house and the dark, seemingly impenetrable mystery of what happened to Wife One.

Then I discovered Mary Stewart who created the modern romantic suspense novel in the 1950’s and 1960’s before she moved on to become famous for her “Merlin” trilogy. My all-time favorite is her 1958 publication, “Nine Coaches Waiting,” another novel set in a stately house, this time a French chateaux, filled with secrets. Linda Martin, the half-French, half-English governess, is faced with the challenge of keeping her nine-year-old pupil, Philippe de Valmy alive while wondering if the man she loves, dashing Raoul de Valmy is trying to kill him and possibly herself as well.

The definition of romance novel is quite broad, and certainly the books on the site where I first attempted to advertise Dance for a Dead Princess can be called romance novels. But I think of them more as erotica because their emphasis is not as much on plot and circumstances that unite the heroine (think Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice) but upon lust and sex which draw them together. (Think Richardson’s Pamela.) In fact, it really is too bad Richardson wasn’t an erotica novelist because if he had been, Eighteenth Century British Novel would be a far more popular course.

Pamela - Just Looks Boring

Pamela – Just Looks Boring

My Favorite

My Favorite

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: