“Researching The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter and The Greatest Love On Earth, or why I use the library to double-check the Internet!”
My name is Mary Ellen Dennis and I’m addicted to writing books. Reading them, too. Writing and reading and true love and chocolate—life doesn’t get much better than that. Well, maybe watching The Princess Bride while munching crème donuts.
Along with crème donuts (and watching well-scripted movies) I consume research material. I’m always looking for the bits and pieces of knowledge that’ll make my readers shout, “Holy historical romance, Batman! I didn’t know that!”
And I want true facts, not “My readers will never know the difference” facts. They will know the difference, mainly because my readers not only love historical romance, but they are intelligent—and knowledgeable.
For example, when I wrote The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter it was important for my heroine Elizabeth (Bess) to be a successful authoress and write Gothic Romances, or else the whole tapestry of my story would unravel. A friend who looks like Lucy in Peanuts said that heroines who populated novels set in the 1790s would never write Gothic Romances.
Fearing other readers might question Bess’s success as a Gothic Romance novelist, I called my trusty research librarian and learned that Gothic fiction began in England with The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, and that prominent features of Gothic fiction included ghosts, castles, darkness, death, madness (especially mad women), secrets and persecuted maidens.
The term "Gothic" was applied because the genre found its most natural settings in the buildings of this style—castles, mansions and monasteries, often remote, crumbling and ruined. However, it was Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823) who created the Gothic Romance novel in its now standard form. Unlike Walpole’s novels, Radcliffe’s were best-sellers and virtually everyone in English society was reading them.
Here’s a brief excerpt that best describes Bess and her books:
Elizabeth’s fingers felt like chips of ice as she fumbled with her accessories. She knew she shouldn’t snap at Grace. Her servant wasn’t responsible for her inability to finish Castles of Doom, and Grace certainly wasn’t responsible for Elizabeth’s related problem, or more precisely, her obsession.
She squeezed her eyes shut, but it didn’t help. Behind her closed eyelids, she conjured up the raven-haired knight whom she hated and feared and loved—the raven-haired knight who existed only in her imagination. His face remained elusive, but the more she wrote, the more frequently she caught flashes of him—the width of his back beneath his surcoat, his thick hair curling over his ears and brushing his nape, the way he held his lithe body so straight and tall. She had fled the Yorkshire Dales in a panic. That way she wouldn’t have to confront her knight’s forthcoming death. Yet he had followed her here to London, invading her publisher’s palatial townhouse. She now knew he would follow her everywhere.
In each of her nine novels she had included the raven-haired knight under various names and guises. In her first work, he had hovered on the fringes as one of the Norman lords who arrived with William the Bastard. Then, with every subsequent book, he had insinuated himself closer to the core. By Richard of the Lion’s Heart, he had been the King’s most trusted advisor, and, in her last work, one of the barons at Runnymede. Now, as Ralf Darkstarre in Castles of Doom, he threatened to take over the entire narrative. Darkstarre had never existed, of course, but he was the book’s villain, as well as a rebel, and he must die.
How could she kill him?
While researching my 1875 circus historical, The Greatest Love on Earth, I discovered that one circus’s animal act included both lions and tigers. I built a whole scene around that. My hero, Brian, is injured rescuing horses from a train wreck and my heroine, Calliope, is determined to “pirate his act” and perform his role as cat tamer.
Calliope tucked her shirt more securely into her breeches and her pant legs into her boots. She had bound her breasts and her hair had been stuffed into one of Brian’s caps. Her best idea was to invade Clown Alley and fashion a handlebar mustache beneath her nose. Maybe it wasn’t her best idea. She kept stifling the urge to sneeze.
“I don’t anticipate trouble,” she said. “I’ve known these cats since they were cubs. I’ve fed and watered them.” She wrinkled her nose and adjusted her mustache again. “I’ve even cleaned their cages.”
“It’s different inside the ring,” Brian said.
“I’ve watched you hundreds of times and memorized your every move. I’m not scared.”
“Tigers are the most cunning. Lions give warning, since they have a slow way of turning before they strike.
The black panther is a killer.”
“We don’t have a panther. You only mention the word ‘killer’ to frighten me.”
“Will you not agree to either lions or tigers? It’s far less dangerous.”
“No. The posters announced both together.”
Calliope strutted into the ring-sized cage and slammed the door behind her. The chute’s wooden entrance panel opened. The first tawny lion appeared, followed by another. Leo and Duchess. Six tigers entered the cage. Although Calliope had played with them all, even petted their smooth coats, she felt her stomach tighten. The knuckles of the fingers that held her whipstock and hickory club stretched white. She snapped her whip and the beasts settled.
So far, so good.
Not so good. One of the tigers was slinking toward her, his ears flattened, his tail swishing softly. Plato.
Sweet, lovable Plato, whose lips were now curled in a nasty snarl.
She snapped her whip.
Plato’s ears twitched forward. His muzzle seemed to expand in a tiger smile as he mounted his pedestal. Calliope could almost hear him purr. Triumphantly, she tossed her head. The cap flew free and her hair tumbled down. At the same time, she sneezed, losing her mustache.
“It’s a girl!” screamed a woman.
Calliope slanted a glance toward the seats. Movement surged like a tidal wave as some women pitched forward in faints while others stood, trying to get a better view. Swooning women outnumbered the avidly curious ones. Clowns climbed the guardrail, carrying vinegar and salts. Damn and blast!
She returned her gaze to the cats. Plato chased his tail, exciting the lions. Calliope could sense the old lion-tiger jungle hatred flare. Sure enough, Leo sprang from his high pedestal, landing within inches of Plato. They both locked together, struggling fiercely for tooth-and-claw advantage.
Calliope brandished her club at the flailing cats then gave Leo a generous clout on the top of his head. The lion let go the tiger’s neck, and Plato scampered through the chute.
Eyes smoldering, Leo turned, glared, and growled.
Thank you so much for having me as a guest here today!
~About Mary-Ellen Dennis~Former singer/actress and perennial rule-breaker Mary Ellen Dennis is the author of several award-winning historical romance novels and culinary mysteries and is growing her audience for both. She is married to novelist Gordon Aalborg (aka Victoria Gordon), whom she met online through a writer's group; they live on Vancouver Island. She has two books in stores this month, released by Sourcebooks Casablanca: The Greatest Love on Earth—set in the exotic world of a 19th century circus and sweeps readers into death-defying feats, dangerous rivalries, and a love that has all the thrills and romance of the greatest show on earth., and a reissue of The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter: A fast-paced and passionate retelling of the story of two timeless lovers who would die for each other. If only they didn’t have to. This gorgeous romance gives the poem a whole new depth and a happy ending. For more information, please visit www.maryellendennis.com.
Today I am celebrating the the August 2011 historical romance release of "THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH" by romance author Mary-Ellen Dennis from Sourcebook Casablanca. Over the Edge along with Sourcebooks Casablanca will be giving two lucky readers their very own copy. To enter here are a few simple rules.
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THE LANDLORD'S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER
THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH
THE LANDLORD'S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER
THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH
The giveaway is open to ALL readers and will be running until September 4, 2011. I'll be picking and contacting the winners directly on september 5, 2011. One entry per reader. Please make sure to include your email with your comment.