Why do I Write About the Gilded Age?

Elizabeth Camden All about Me! Leave a Comment

May I confess to a completely ridiculous reason I prefer to set my novels around in the late 1890’s?

Why do I write books set during the Gilded Age?

It’s the clothes.

It’s not the only reason….but it’s a biggie. I simply adore the splendid, flattering styles of this era. Witness the cast picture from the BBC miniseries Selfridge. The miniseries was “meh,” but it is a continual feast for the eyes. But the movies of Jane Austen book? Spectacular stories, but the women’s clothes look like nightgowns to me.

More seriously, the late 19th century also appeals to me because it was an era when women were beginning to get a better foothold in the social and economic world. I’ve been able to write heroines who worked as journalists, translators, and coming soon, a watchmaker and a mathematician. Such professions weren’t realistic set earlier in the century…but I can get away with it by the 1880’s.

Then again, it could all be about the clothes!

Poldark Rides Again!

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 9 Comments

Does anyone remember the fabulous BBC series from the 1970’s called Poldark? It was Downton Abbey before there was Downton Abbey. Stormy, turbulent, high drama, and heart-pounding romance, all set in 18th century Cornwall.

It’s coming back! The BBC just announced they will be filming a new version of the classic series.

I have mixed feelings about this. Most of the success of Poldark rested on the shoulders of Robin Ellis, the smoking-hot lead actor who carried the show. He simply WAS Ross Poldark, and it will be hard for anyone to follow in his footsteps. When they tried to film a continuation of the series in 1996, the producers refused to recast Robin Ellis (even though his autobiography reports he was very eager to do so.) An entirely new set of actors were cast, and it was a disaster. Loyal fans of the original series (appropriately dressed in 18th century costumes) picketed the company headquarters. Television ratings tanked, and the project was abandoned after the pilot episode.

Now that the original cast is too old to reprise their classic roles, perhaps people will be more open to a new cast. Also, almost forty years have passed, so there is an entirely new generations of viewers who will be able to watch the series with fresh eyes…although I secretly hope they offer Robin Ellis a cameo.

My Favorite Historical Novels linked to Actual Historic Events

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading 1 Comment

I love historical novels of all sorts, be they romance, adventure, or suspense (I’ve written in all three subgenres!) One category I especially like is the historical novel tightly linked to a major historical event…. and these are surprisingly rare in the field.

Such novels provide fantastic drama as they plunge fictional characters into a dramatic facet of history. Here are my favorite such books (Bonus points if a good romance included):

Race to Splendor, by Ciji Ware. This one features the drama of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. First the buildings crumbled, and then they burned in the devastating fire that raged for days following the quake. The heroine is an architect who is given the rare opportunity to help re-build a hotel. There is a terrific romance as she falls in love with the ne’er do-well hotel owner.

A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer. This one features the race to develop penicillin. What a fantastic topic for a novel! It’s hard to underestimate how our lives have been improved by the miracle of penicillin and other antibiotics. The crucial years of development coincided with World War II when the American government was desperate to get these drugs developed, mass-produced, and distributed to the troops who were dying on the front. The hero is a doctor and the heroine is a photographer for Life magazine, so there is plenty of dramatic plot twists taking place all over the world. The romance in this book was not terrific, but it was an unusual take on a fascinating topic.

The Bronze Horseman, by Paulina Simmons. Another World War II novel, this one features the siege of Leningrad. The heroine is a Russian girl, stranded and starving behind the Nazi blockade of the city. The hero is the dashing soldier who repeatedly risks his life smuggle food into the city. Sound grim? It is! The Bronze Horseman has achieved cult status as one of the best romance books of all time. It is a novel of staggering beauty and heart-breaking despair. (Warning: the romance doesn’t end so happily in this one….but thank goodness for the sequel that tied up that loose end!)

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. An obvious choice, but I had to add it!

Into the Whirlwind, by yours truly. Is it too early to begin promoting my next book? This is my first historical novel that is tightly linked to an actual historical event, in this case, the Chicago fire of 1871. It is a turbulent love story set amidst the rubble of Chicago as Mollie endures the challenge of survival and the triumph of rebuilding the city. There is a smashingly dramatic romance with lots of storm and stress, but I aimed for a wildly optimistic and uplifting story. Look for it August 1st!

Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of 18th Century America

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading 2 Comments

I don’t usually review nonfiction books, but this one was simply too marvelous to ignore. Alan Crawford writes a terrifically engaging book about Nancy Randolph (1774-1837), a woman who was reviled in her own time, but managed to comport herself with a quiet dignity despite the traumas of her life. I suppose the review below contains spoilers, but much of this information is given in the blurb of the book. The real fascination of the book is not “what happens next” so much as the fabulous character study written by historian Alan Crawford.

Nancy was born into the famous Randolph family, one of the first families of Virginia. When she was seventeen years old, Nancy made the mistake that would haunt her for the rest of her life. It appears that she became pregnant by her brother-in-law, Richard, and tried to conceal the pregnancy. She became listless, ill, withdrawn, and some noted that she appeared to be gaining weight. One night in particular she was taken violently ill, and she allowed only Richard into her room to tend her. Several days later, the body of a newborn baby boy was found on the property.

Nancy and Richard were both put on trial for murder. They hired the best lawyer in the country, Patrick Henry, who mounted a successful defense and the pair were found “not guilty.” Despite the court’s verdict, both Nancy and Richard were ostracized by society, as the pair were widely assumed to be guilty. In all likelihood, the child was indeed Nancy’s baby, and whether he was born dead or died from exposure will never be known. Richard Randolph died of natural causes a few years later, but rumor once again lashed out to strike Nancy, who was accused of poisoning her brother-in-law and partner in crime.

The next decades were fraught with more tragedy, as Nancy’s list of relatives who were willing to take her in dwindled and then she disappears from the historical record. Rumors abounded, including life as a thief and prostitute.

Nancy returns to the historical record when she became a housekeeper for Gouverneur Morris, a man who helped draft the Constitution of the United States and was also one of the wealthiest men in America. She eventually married Morris, and finally found physical safety, although she remained secluded on his estate rather than face a society which still scorned her.

The book is an interesting read, with all the makings of a modern day soap opera, but it is a thought-provoking morality tale. Would Gouverneur Morris, a member of congress and a founding father of the young nation, stoop to marrying a woman of no honor? What does Nancy’s life tell us about the role of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation?

There are no real answers to those questions in the book, but it makes for thought-provoking reading. I truly admire Alan Crawford’s ability to breathe life into history.

The Rose of Winslow Street nominated for Best Cover

Elizabeth Camden The Rose of Winslow Street 3 Comments

Every year I look forward to the Cover Café’s poll for best romance novel covers. I am thrilled to see that The Rose of Winslow Street is in contention for best cover in the Historical category. (woo-hoo!) I am really blessed to have Jennifer Parker as my fantastic cover designer.

Those of you who were reading romance back in the 1980’s probably remember the terrible covers we had to endure. This was before online book shopping spared us the embarrassment of teenaged clerks sneering at us as they rang up books graced with Fabio in all his mighty glory. The content of these books were so much better than the cheesy covers. In my opinion, such covers did massive disservice to the industry and the readers who enjoyed the books. There are still some over-the-top covers today, but for the most part, book covers have gotten much classier.

The winner of each category is selected by popular vote, so feel free to make your voice heard.

There are losts of categories to browse and vote! The 2012 Annual Cover Contest.