Keep Calm and Read This: The novels of historical romance author Erin Satie

Keep Calm and Read This: The novels of historical romance author Erin Satie

My guest this week is historical romance author Erin Satie. She’s deep in the throes of research on her next book and stops by to share some fascinating tidbits.

I thought I’d tell you a little about the research I’m doing for my next book, the first in a new series called Sweetness and Light. My hero, Orson Loel, is a baron but he’s lost access to the family coffers so he’s making ends meet by growing orchids.

This sounds a little more unlikely than it was. A mania for orchids swept through Britain during the mid-nineteenth century, when my book is set—sometimes called orchid mania and others, more picturesquely, orchidelirium. There are a few reasons for the sudden popularity of extraordinary tropical flowers so totally unsuited to the English climate. The sprawling British Empire allowed collectors to travel far and wide, in search of wondrous new specimens. Inventions like the Wardian case—effectively a luggage-sized greenhouse—made it easier to transport the plants home to England, once they’d been gathered. While in England itself, taxes on windows were abolished while technology improved, allowing for the construction of modern greenhouses, structures of glass and wrought iron.

All of this meant that nurseries were practical, profitable concerns. Common species of orchids could sell for as little as 30 pence and tracts were published in magazines explaining that orchids could be grown on limited means. But all the while, the rich competed to own the rarest blooms. Orchids were regularly sold at auction, sometimes for dizzying prices. A single flowering orchid of the species at the center of my novel, the Odontoglossum crispum Cooksoniae, sold for 650 guineas during the late Victorian era—a sum equivalent, in today’s money, to more than $450,000.

I find orchids interesting because the history of the British Empire is compressed into them. There’s the story of Britain’s rise, of course, the one I’ve just told: exploration, invention and prosperity combined in a single finicky flower.

Charles Darwin wrote a monograph on orchids—in fact, an orchid was named after him.

But there’s a dark side, too. Because rare orchids were so prized, orchid collectors could be very secretive about where they found a certain specimen. They often made up stories to exaggerate the dangers they faced while out searching for orchids—stories about primitive natives, pagan idols, and jungles crawling with disease. These stories were not benign; Empire has a dark side, even when the subject is flowers.

The orchid collectors were enhancing their reputations—and their bottom lines—by painting foreigners as villains. English hothouses became, like English museums, a resume of world conquest.

Perhaps most shocking of all, in order to corner the market on a particular species of orchid, collectors often made an effort to seize every single flower from a given area—leaving nothing behind for anyone who came after. There’s a particularly shocking story of a collector named Albert Millican, who hunted the Odontoglossum crispum in the northern Andes. Each time he visited the area he collected every flower he could find and each time he was surprised to discover, upon his return, that there were fewer and fewer to be had.

The Odontoglossum crispum grows fairly high up on the trunks of trees and in order to obtain it, Millican simply ordered his employees to cut down the trees. He cheerfully describes felling thousands—yes, thousands—of trees in a mature rain forest in order to collect the orchids he sought.

And most of the orchids wouldn’t have survived the return trip to England.

I hope this little excursion into the wild world of orchid mania has been of interest to you! My book, Bed of Flowers, won’t be out for some time. In the meanwhile, you might want to check out the series I recently completed, No Better Angels. It’s set in the early Victorian period and readers call it ‘darkly elegant’; the first in the series, The Secret Heart, is free everywhere.

I also wrote a novella for a collection that just came out called Sight Unseen. It’s a really exciting project featuring myself, Emma Barry, Meredith Duran, J.A. Rock and Sherry Thomas. Our names are on the cover, but nowhere inside—readers have to guess who wrote which story. We’re writing outside our usual genres, but I think fans of historical romance will really enjoy this guessing game. All will be revealed come September.

Note: Much of the information above comes from Orchid: A Cultural History by Jim Endersby. It’s the best of the research books I’ve read on the subject and I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erin Satie is the author of the dark and elegant No Better Angels series, historical romances set in the early Victorian period. She’s currently hard at work on her upcoming series, Sweetness & Light, which should be just as elegant but not quite so dark.

Erin is a California native who’s lived on the coasts and in the heartland, in tiny city apartments and on a working farm. She studied art history in both college and graduate school—research is always her favorite part of starting a new book.

Her favorite part of finishing a book, whether reading or writing, is the happily ever after.

Find Erin at her Website, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

We’re Beautiful.

Beautiful.  What does that word even mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines beautiful as “excelling in grace of form, charm of colouring, and other qualities which delight the eye, and call forth admiration.”  Yikes.

look great see no one

The most popular definition at Urban Dictionary says, “Beautiful is a woman who has a distinctive personality, one who can laugh at anything, including themselves, who is especially kind and caring to others.”  Now this definition, I love.

sweat pants cheerleader

Different cultures have different standards of beauty, and those standards have evolved over hundreds of years under the such diverse influences as economics, norms, fashion, and even religious beliefs.

Author, historian, researcher, and all-around Wonder Woman, Geri Walton, blogged this week about Ideas of Female Beauty in the 1700s and 1800s.  It’s a fascinatingly specific essay on what people – and especially men – considered beautiful two and three hundred years ago.  Some ideals seem a touch odd today, like round knees, white shoulders, an unaffected air, or a smooth, high forehead.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the characteristics called beautiful are still used as measures today: youth, smooth skin, straight teeth, and plenty of bosom.

If there’s one thing history can teach us about beauty, it’s that someone will always be around to judge who they think is or isn’t qualified to wear the adjective.  So it’s up to us to set our own standards, create our own definitions, and find what fits for us.

It’s just like Mr. Knightly said: “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us perfect for one another.”  (For the purists: I know it was 1996 movie Mr. Knightly, or rather screenwriter Douglas McGrath, and not Jane Austen who gave us these words . . . but I’ll take them.  And Jeremy Northam.)

Do the clicky thingy and head over to read Geri’s post at 2Romance, and check out the beauty standards of yesteryear.  You might be surprised to see that a  few of the things we search for in our mirrors were the same things searched for in a foggy pier glass in a Georgian town house.

beauty isnt perfect

Keep Calm and Read This! Allison Merritt ~ Wildwood Spring

Wildwood Spring cover

It’s my pleasure to feature author Allison Merritt today!  She’s dropping by to share with us her latest release, Wildwood Spring, and tell a bit about the creepy oddities and gothic eccentricities that so fascinated people in the Victorian era.  Welcome, Allison!

 

First of all, thanks so much for having me today, Renée! It’s always a pleasure to talk about one of my books!

I love the odd and unusual. I’ve always enjoyed ghost stories and things that go bump in the night. So when an idea for a gothic-style romance popped into my head, I knew it had to be filled with, well, the weird.

The Victorian people were just as entertained by oddities as we are today. Many people paid good money to see fortunetellers, mediums, and psychics, including Mary Todd Lincoln after the death of her son. Having seances was a popular form of amusement way back when, even though many performers eventually admitted they were frauds. Double negative photography made powerful evidence that spirits lurked everywhere. Lifespans tended to be much shorter in the 19th century than they are today, and people sometimes deal with grief in strange ways. They grappled with the unknown and found interesting ways to deal with death and what might lie beyond it.

Wildwood Spring is the tale of the son of a Union veteran who feared going outside the gates of their manor house. Turner Wildwood has put most of his father’s crazy taxidermied animals into storage, but a few of his father’s favorite oddities still litter the house. Like the mastodon skeleton in the ballroom, an orangutan named Orville holding a silver serving tray, and a mobile of bats in the parlor. Not to mention the Hall of Wonder, big room filled with any natural curiosity you could ever hope to see. Turner’s father might have been a recluse, but he made sure his son got a good education in all things natural.

Another thing that inspired some of the more frightening creatures in Wildwood Manor were the creepy mash-ups of animals on Etsy. Search with care if you’re squeamish and don’t look for it on Pinterest, because some of these things aren’t for the faint of heart. All you have to do it put “natural curiosities” or “unusual taxidermy” into either website’s search bar and you’ll get lots of shops or images that offer things that might be anywhere from funny to macabre. Many shops offer random parts of animals and plants that you can use to put together your own grotesque creatures. One of the things that causes a serious argument between Turner and the heroine of the story, Celia, is the human skeleton hidden in one of the rooms. Celia believes it might even be Mr. Wildwood’s deceased wife. Is it or it is another one of Mr. Wildwood’s mail-order purchases to satisfy his own curiosity?

I think most of us can agree, we’d be a little frightened if we discovered the person we had feelings for suddenly whipped out some bizarre creatures. I know I’d be thinking about putting distance between myself and the other person ASAP. Fortunately, my husband is pretty good about putting up with my morbid desires to start a memento mori collection. He might take issue if I start dragging in animal carcasses and rearranging them just for fun though. I’d probably give myself nightmares if I started!

 

From the back cover:

When they face their fears, they’ll find the path to love.

No one goes to Wildwood Manor—a hulking stone house on a hill outside town. Legend has it crazy old man Wildwood owes his life to the magical water of the spring at the back of the property. Celia Landry needs that water to save her mother, and she’ll brave anything to get it.

Turner Wildwood, the son of the house’s eccentric builder, is growing as reclusive as his father. When Celia turns up at his door, he’s drawn by her beauty and bravery. Wary of strangers, he doesn’t reveal his identity, but agrees to her request. When she returns to Wildwood in wake of personal tragedy, he’s waiting there with a stunning change in his heart. He knows he should tell her the truth, but he doesn’t want to ruin their budding friendship.

Celia’s curiosity leads her to part of the frightening answers hidden behind Wildwood’s doors, but her own troubled past may lead Turner into danger neither of them suspected.

Let’s sneak a peek inside:

“Would you like to dance?” Mischief sparkled in his blue eyes. “This is one of my favorite songs. Despite my almost solitary upbringing, dance was part of my education.”

She felt heat scorch her cheeks. “Not part of mine, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll teach you.” He faced her, putting one hand on her waist and taking her hand in his. “Do the opposite of what I do. I’ll count.”

He counted in fours, moving in time with the music. Celia stumbled, but after a few moments, she caught on. Turner led her around the room as they spun in circles. She laughed, forgetting her worries. It wasn’t a ball and they were both in their nightclothes, but it was as elegant a dance as she could hope for.

Turner grinned as he pulled her a little closer. Their bodies came together, fitting perfectly. He dropped her hand, wrapping both arms around her waist. They stopped moving, standing in the shadow of the mastodon. Dark blond hair fell over his forehead, but it didn’t hide the desire on his face.

“Turner?”

“Yes, Celia.”

Her name was a delicate breath of air, and he clung to her as though afraid she was a dream. She was too wide awake to believe that. Her senses seemed sharper than ever. He smelled of the lemony soap Mrs. Southard used for washing the sheets and the coffee he’d had at supper. Even in the muted firelight, she saw him clearly, his golden hair bright as sunbeams, his blue eyes the color of the sky after a storm.

She’d never been a romantic, knowing all too well she’d either be a spinster or a housewife too busy with chores and children to consider stolen kisses. She’d never imagined a man would want to show her stars, or dance with her around the skeleton of an ancient beast. These were moments she could cherish forever, think of when her world came back into focus.

It all had to end.

He lifted his hand to her face, pushing a strand of hair over her ear. “You look upset.”

“I’m grateful.” She forced the words out. “It’s not every day I get escorted around a ballroom.”

“You mean it might never happen again.” He looked somber. “You’ll return to the kind of life you led before we met. One where you’re often hungry, alone, and overworked.”

She glanced away, hating the truth of his words. “It isn’t that bad.”

“Somehow I don’t believe you.”

He wouldn’t, not after the way she’d reacted to everything he’d shown her in his life. They were from different places and he could never understand how she’d lived before. She couldn’t explain it without risking his pity.

“You could always stay. I’ll find something for you to do in the manor. Official book reader. In the evenings you could recount all my favorites and the new ones I don’t have time for.”

His breath stirred the hair near her ear, tickling her skin.

“I think I prefer the title of cookie sampler. Who wouldn’t want to sit in Finny’s kitchen all day tasting the items he draws out of the oven.” She pressed her cheek against his velvet lapel and closed her eyes. “You should have taken me back to town when you found me at the spring.”

“I couldn’t do that.” There was the slightest hitch in his voice, as though the idea caused him pain.

“I’ll be ruined for life outside of Wildwood.”

“Good. Then you’ll have to come back.”

 

Can’t wait to get your copy?  Wildwood Spring may be purchased at:

Breathless Press

 

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