Monday, September 22, 2008

ROYAL AFFAIRS promotion events

Last Thursday evening I was delighted to visit the venerable Book Revue in Huntington, Long Island, the kind of independent bookstore that makes you want to get lost in the stacks for days.

What a lively, intelligent crowd! After I read from ROYAL AFFAIRS, we had a terrific Q&A about some of the royals themselves, about my writing process, and whether I prefer writing nonfiction or fiction. For the record, I love both; each presents its own set of challenges and rewards.

This coming Monday I'll be speaking with one of Dianne DeFonce's book clubs at the Borders in Fairfield, CT. I'll make another appearance at her Borders location in November, as part of a panel on historical fiction, wearing my nom de plume'd hat as Amanda Elyot.

And in October, I'll make the happy journey to Camden, NJ to speak with a book club hosted at a local library.

I absolutely love visiting book clubs and speaking with readers, whether in person or online. If you belong to a book club, I'd be delighted to hear from you. If it is located in the NY Metro area, it would be lots of fun for me to chat with your group in person. Feel free to get in touch with me here, and we'll take it from there.

In the meantime . . . happy reading . . . and remember to support your local libraries, if not with your pocketbook then with your vote. Nothing could be more patrotic than echoing our nation's founders by keeping the First Amendment a cherished right.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Apocryphal Events: Fact or Fiction?

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

I kicked off this blog with a post titled "Just the Facts, Ma'am" about my experience researching and writing ROYAL AFFAIRS. I joked that because I came to nonfiction as a multipublished novelist, it was a challenge not to be able to make things up.

One thing I can assure my readers is that, apart from the way I structured ROYAL AFFAIRS, nothing in the survey of these scandalous liaisons "that rocked the British monarchy" for more than nine centuries, came from my oh-so-fertile imagination. I read numerous historical biographies and articles by respected historians and academics. And, while I tried at all costs to avoid doing so, it's certainly possible that I may have inadvertently included what I like to call "bad history" here and there.

"Bad history" (I did make up the phrase) is how I term stories that have been handed down through the ages, repeated from biographer to biographer over the centuries as though they are factual. However, oftentimes a biographer will refer to a shopworn legend, such as Marie Antoinette saying "Let them eat cake" (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche) and then immediately disclaim it, pointing out who really said it and in what context.

On other occasions I've seen biographers discuss an event or anecdotal bit of information about an historical personage, followed by the statement that its accuracy has never sufficiently been proven, or is in doubt. Whether Eleanor of Aquitaine rode to the Crusades barebreasted (or not) like an Amazon warrior queen, is a fine example. It turns out it's partly true (no, not the barebreasted part), based on an eyewitness account of Eleanor astride her horse, and quickly became elaborated by those seeking to discredit a queen who they wished to paint as a brazen, adulterous slut.

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Those are important distinctions; and when I've discovered during my research that something we all have been taught as schoolchildren probably never happened I make the decision for my own nonfiction--to omit any reference to the event, or to bring it up and include the disclaimer.

For example, for centuries it was popularly believed that King Edward II of England, a notorious "sodomite," was killed by the insertion of a hot poker into his anus, during his imprisonment. Or smothered by a table so he couldn't wriggle about, followed by the hot poker. Various versions of this gruesome death were recorded and repeated throughout the ages, from Sir Thomas More to the 20th century academic, A.L. Rowse. In the ROYAL AFFAIRS entry on Edward, I refer to the legendary story of the king's death as well as all doubts, discrepancies, and disclaimers regarding its veracity.

Edward II of England (1284-1327[?])

So I can promise my readers that I didn't invent anything I refer to in ROYAL AFFAIRS. All of the information I include was gleaned from the dozens of sources I read in the course of my research. If an historical biographer didn't refer to (or know) whether an event was in fact merely apocryphal, or fictional (or introduced a refutation of it), it was not possible for me to know otherwise.

Now I am neck-deep in research for a companion book to ROYAL AFFAIRS. The working title is WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? Notorious Royal Marriages from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Camilla Parker Bowles. I face the same challenges, sifting through centuries of history, scanning for the personal opinions and political agendas of the monks, lovers, bosom companions, staffers, journalists, politicians, academics, and historians -- and sometimes the royals themselves -- who have written or spoken about the sovereigns I plan to include in Notorious Royal Marriages. With one hand raised and the other firmly placed on an encyclopedia (not Wikipedia), I can assure my readers that to the best knowledge that extensive research can yield, the book will contain ... Just the Facts, Ma'am.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I had to copy this tidbit from the "Page Six" gossip column of the New York Post (August 11, 2008):

PRINCESS Pushy, a k a Princess Michael of Kent, has gone to war against New York Social Diary blogger David Patrick Columbia for reporting this week that her husband is having an affair.

Prince Michael, 66, who was 16th in line to the British throne before he married the Catholic divorcée in 1978, was photographed at the ballet last month with attractive, Danish-born Marianne Krex, 36.

Columbia reported, "The prince has a new girlfriend. With the emphasis on the 'new,' meaning this isn't the first."

The princess, 63, claimed to Britain's Mail on Sunday that Krex was just a family friend.
"At the last moment, the princess couldn't accompany him that evening, and so, says the princess, she suggested her husband take Marianne in her place," columnist Richard Kay reported.
But Columbia says the lovebirds don't only go to the ballet but also "rendezvous at a bar called Julie's in Notting Hill." He also links the prince to ballerina Bryony Brind and American artist Lucy Weber.

Columbia quotes from a diary Weber kept about the prince, whom she saw for eight years: "He loves sex pure, unadulterated. He thinks about it quite a bit during his working hours - loves white suspenders [garters], beige or tan. His sexual senses are keen."

Princess Michael has "extramarital interests" as well, Columbia writes, and was photographed with Russian billionaire Mikhail Kravchenko last year in Venice, where they had adjoining $4,000-a-night hotel suites.

The royal couple is known as the Rent-a-Kents because they get paid by wealthy social climbers to be their guests.

Princess Michael also earns money by giving lectures. But demand for her speeches plunged in May 2004, when The Post reported that she told a table of high-spirited black diners at Da Silvano in Manhattan to "go back to the colonies."

Princess Michael ought to know a lot about royal affairs. She is the author of Cupid and the King: Five Royal Paramours, a compilation of historical biography of five royal mistresses, including two ladies whose scandalous liaisons are profiled in ROYAL AFFAIRS--the actresses Nell Gwyn and Lillie Langtry.
By the way, Da Silvano is one of the best Italian restaurants in NYC, and is always mobbed. Silvano himself is a charming host. He doesn't need her custom.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Royal Mistresses: Defining Their Own Destinies

Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine

A couple of months ago I wrote an article for a web site that focuses on women's empowerment issues. The site's creator, Barrie-Louise Switzen, was interested to know how royal mistresses' lives tied in with her theme. I maintain that in many cases royal mistresses had more options open to them than the queens whose connubial prerogatives they usurped . . .

One thing that struck me as I researched the lives of the royal mistresses who are profiled in ROYAL AFFAIRS was that for the most part, these women were not “victims” who were thrust into compromising relationships with men they didn’t love. On the contrary, they were clever women who, given the legal and social constraints on females during their day, had the rare opportunity to shape their own destiny—and grabbed it with both hands.

Now, I can’t say that many of the mistresses I “met” during my research were “nice girls.” Many of them were greedy and grasping, with their hands in the treasury, the privy purse, and the pockets of those who sought to gain patronage from their royal lovers. King George I had two German mistresses who exemplify this type. Lady Castlemaine, one of Charles II’s favorite mistresses and the mother of several of his children was renowned for her relentless greed. But that’s not to say that these women didn’t passionately—and occasionally too passionately—adore their men. And, no matter whether you’d want to have lunch with them, these women—all of them—were significantly more empowered in their day than just about any other women of their era, including the queen-consorts, their “rivals” for the monarch’s affection. In general, a queen-consort was little more than a well-dressed womb whose job was to produce the requisite “heir and a spare” and remain otherwise chaste, maintaining a stainless reputation in order to avoid all suspicion that her children might not have been spawned by her husband, the sovereign.

Nell Gwyn

Some of the women profiled in ROYAL AFFAIRS had careers of their own before they met their royal lovers. Nell Gwyn, Mary Robinson, and Dorothy Jordan were the most celebrated actresses of their day. However, they lived during a time when being an “actress” (even if you performed the works of Shakespeare and other “serious” dramatists) was tantamount to being a prostitute. Actresses displayed their bodies on the public stage—for money! They were notoriously considered loose-moraled, supplementing their salaries on the gifts (monetary and otherwise) that came from their various “admirers.” But my research into royal affairs led me to a great hypocrisy, which should not have surprised me, I suppose, yet as an actress myself, it made me shiver with anger.

The double-standard I discovered was that acting was considered a disgraceful profession for the reasons I cited above, yet the royals thought nothing of (even if they were married—or if the actress was married), consummating a passionate and frequently adulterous affair with them. However, if they wished to become the prince’s or king’s mistress—before such extra-connubial canoodling could take place, the actresses were requested by their royal lovers to put aside their “disgraceful” and “shameful” profession—the career that had gained these women recognition and renown (as well as an independent income—a rare thing for a woman before the 20th century).

Mary Robinson

My Forward to ROYAL AFFAIRS includes a paragraph about royal mistresses and how many of them they were able to parlay their unusual opportunity into a life-changing event:
And what of the mistresses? During the earlier, and more brutal, eras of British history, a woman didn’t have much (if any) choice if the king exercised his droit de seigneur and decided to take her to bed. Often, girls were little more than adolescents when their ambitious parents shoved them under the monarch’s nose. However, most of the mistresses in Royal Affairs were not innocent victims of a parent’s political agenda or a monarch’s rampaging lust. They were clever, accomplished, often ambitious women, not always in the first bloom of youth and not always baseborn, who cannily parlayed the only thing they had—their bodies—into extravagant wealth and notoriety, if not outright fame. In many cases, their royal bastards were ennobled by the king, making excellent marriages and living far better than their mothers could have otherwise provided. Eventually taking their place in the House of Lords, the mistresses’ illegitimate sons went on to become the decision makers who shaped an empire and spawned the richest and most powerful families in Britain.

Having talked about other women’s stories, I’d like to share my own with you. I spent many years in “pink collar” jobs making other people money before becoming a full-time writer and my own boss. I worked in several fields, including journalism, marketing, and law. When I toiled for lawyers, I was usually employed by solo practitioners. More often than not I was their legal secretary, legal assistant, receptionist, bookkeeper, and office manager. I ate lunch over my keyboard. I took home barely enough money to make ends meet. Scratch that—I dipped deep into my savings to support myself, even as a single woman in NYC living in a rent-stabilized apartment. I got my assignments done as quickly, thoroughly, and efficiently as possible, so I could leave myself time in the workday to write. Thank God for Windows programs where one can quickly switch screens! My employers never had cause to complain about my work ethic or my output—though of course when I left the jobs they would cite my writing during business hours as an issue! Naturally, I challenged them on this point: if they knew what I was doing and had a problem with it, why, during the entire course of my employment, had they never raised the subject?

In June, 2003, I was downsized from a secretarial position I’d held for half a year, By that date I had had two novels published and another one in the editorial pipeline. In fact book #3, TEMPORARY INSANITY, was about my experiences in day-job hell. But rather than jump back into the survival-job pool and seek a new position working for yet another boss who undervalued my skills or company that had made me feel miserable, and had systematically sapped my soul, I chose to become the mistress of my own destiny. I decided that come hell or high water, from then on I would make my living as a writer. I would enrich myself, literally and spiritually for the first time in my life. Serendipity had offered me the chance to choose to follow my bliss.

And I did. This year, 2008, my 10th and 11th novels were published. I have written 7 works of contemporary women’s fiction under my own name, and 4 works of historical fiction under the pen name Amanda Elyot—all of which have been published since 2002. ROYAL AFFAIRS marks my nonfiction debut and I have just entered an agreement with my publisher for another nonfiction book, currently titled NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES. This volume will spotlight many of Europe’s most famous royal couples (including Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Napoleon and Josephine—up through the centuries all the way to the marriage of Charles and Camilla—seen through the prism of the wife’s point of view).

I’m my own boss now. I make my own hours, and you have no idea how fabulous it feels to be finally enjoying a fulfilling career (instead of a frustrating job). And sometimes I like to joke that instead of all my hard work making some jerky boss rich, now I’m the “jerk” who gets to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

I can’t emphasize enough that any woman at any stage in her life can take charge of her destiny and pursue her passion, no matter how long she has neglected it, or her own needs. Impractical? Imprudent? Unrealistic? Unattainable? Somehow, once a woman sets her mind and focuses her energies on empowering and enriching herself, the economics seem to take care of themselves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ROYAL AFFAIRS released today!

Writing a book is like giving birth. Jane Austen, who never married or had kids, was known to have said "my books are my children."

In the grand scheme of things, it's been a relatively short gestation period, but the labor was the most difficult I've ever experienced in my writing career thus far. For one thing, ROYAL AFFAIRS is nonfiction. And I'm accustomed to making stuff up for a living. Actually, I did encounter a few things in historical biographies written by some rather well respected scholars that were inaccurate, and what I call "bad history" that was regurgitated over the years from bio to bio, or is repeated as fact on the Internet. And it was a difficult task to extract the real "truth" from some of what's been reported as such through the ages.

But all that said--ROYAL AFFAIRS became a joy to write. I'm a history geek and I love to learn new things. My research process became a crash-course in over 900 years of British history.

A side effect of all this new knowledge and perspective was that I became quite spoiled. It's impossible for me to watch a film or TV version of the royals' lives (unless it's a documentary) without going nuts about all the things they "got wrong"--from the historical facts themselves to the costumes or weapons. And in some cases, the casting. Don't get me started about The Tudors!

On the other hand -- please do get me started on The Tudors. Millions of people find this series to be wildly entertaining. In ROYAL AFFAIRS I unveil their true sex scandals -- for your delectation and amusement.

Let's dish about The Tudors!

Do you care that Henry VIII was actually big and brawny and redheaded? He was a real hunk until he reached his 30s, by the way. He wasn't dark and small and churlish-looking.

Do you care that his younger sister was actually named Mary and not Margaret, and that at age 18 she married the elderly (he was 52!) king of France--not the king of Portugal? Do you care that the real Mary Rose Tudor was a beautiful, willowy redheaded teen and not a raving bitch -- and that she did not smother the king to death? And that the love of her life, Charles Brandon, was actually about a dozen years her senior, which meant that being older and wiser, he should have known better than to flout the king's expressed wishes?

Do you care that Anne Boleyn waited until Henry made an honest woman of her, rather than shtupping (or "tupping" as the Tudors and Elizabethans would have put it) the king in a forest glade. I watched this scene slack-jawed -- with disbelief - at the travesty of history in the name of good old family entertainment. Well, maybe not the entire family. While I was thinking "nice boots" as I gazed at Anne's black leather footwear, most of the men in the audience were probably gaping at something a bit further north and thinking "nice boobs."

I encourage you to read ROYAL AFFAIRS, where sex and politics, plotting and betrayal, make for titillating bedfellows, not only for the real Tudors, but for their predecessors and their descendants as well.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl's Story: The Real One

My literary agent and I made a girls’ afternoon out of watching “The Other Boleyn Girl” on opening day. After all the research I did for ROYAL AFFAIRS, my nonfiction debut this June, I found myself wincing in pain. We were watching what I couldn't help referring to as "Betty and Veronica in Tudorland." But this post isn’t intended to debate the artistic merits (or lack thereof) of the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel, which is in itself alternative history—the other Boleyn history, if you will.

Want to hear about the real Mary Boleyn (1499-1543), her affair with Henry VIII (1491-1547) and her relationship with her relatives?

Mary Boleyn (1499-1543)

The French monarch François I called her his “hackney,” explaining that he loved to ride her. An Italian visitor to François’s court thought her “una grandissima ribald et infame sopre tutte” (a great prostitute and more infamous than all of them). She is probably best remembered as the older sister of Anne Boleyn. What seems clear is that this daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard knew how to have fun in bed.

Mary Boleyn possessed the blond, blue-eyed, curvy beauty that was the era’s belle idéale. In 1514, she was a member of the French court in the household of the queen, Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Tudor. But after Mary’s husband, King Louis XII, died on New Year’s Day in 1515, Mary Boleyn remained at the French court, where she became a lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Claude, the wife of François d'Angoulême. Claude was the older daughter of Louis XII, but France was under Salic law, which prohibited a female from inheriting the throne. So on Louis's death, his son-in-law became king.

Francois I (1494-1547)

Evidently, Mary Boleyn also became the paramour of the new king, François I. But after François tired of Mary, she consoled herself in the arms of enough of his courtiers to create a scandal. In 1519, at the age of twenty, Mary was ignominiously dismissed from Queen Claude’s service and packed back to England, much to the embarrassment and disgrace of her family.

But the Boleyns were a powerful family, so Mary quickly secured a place as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine, the unofficial but de facto usual incubator for a royal mistress. Sure enough, soon after Bessie Blount delivered Henry’s son in 1519, the regal eye began to rove, alighting before long on the new flavor in his wife’s retinue.

His affair with Mary Boleyn was reputedly short but intense. And in a situation similar to Bessie Blount’s, Henry saw to it that Mary made a financially brilliant marriage. So, on February 4, 1520, at the Chapel Royal in Greenwich, Mary Boleyn wed William Carey, one of Henry’s favorite Gentlemen of the Bedchamber. His Majesty himself attended the wedding, bestowing an offering of six shillings, eightpence in the chapel. However, some believe that Mary was still Henry’s mistress at the time she was wed to William Carey.

(Henry VIII 1491-1547)

In any case, Henry was so immensely grateful for the gift of Mary’s favors, he enriched her father as well as her new husband. Sir Thomas Boleyn was made Viscount Rochford, and William Carey’s coffers were vastly enlarged.

In 1525, Mary gave birth to a son, who she named Henry. The king never claimed paternity, and Mary never pressed the point, so the boy was likely her husband’s. But Mary’s motherhood had the effect of dampening Henry’s lust, just as it had more or less killed his ardor for Bessie Blount soon after she gave birth.

Yet there was another reason Mary was supplanted: Henry had fallen madly in lust with her younger sister, Anne.

Mary wasn’t too upset about it. She devoted herself to her husband and their two children. But in 1528, after the thirty-two-year-old William Carey died during the outbreak of the sweating sickness, Mary found herself buried under a mound of debts. Petitions to her family were fruitless. Requests to Henry fell on deaf ears as well. Only Anne, who at the time of William’s death was the king’s inamorata, managed to procure something for her sister—an annual pension of £100 (nearly $72,000 today), and an elaborately wrought golden cup.

Anne Boleyn (1500 (?) - 1536)
In 1534, Mary secretly married William Stafford, a commoner without rank of any kind. She bore him two children. For wedding a man so far beneath her station, the Boleyns disowned her for good, but Mary emphatically averred, “For well I might a’ had a greater man of birth, but I assure you I could never a’ had one that loved me so well. I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen in Christendom,” a rather pointed swipe at her sister, as well as a triumphant declaration of True Love. But the jibe struck too close to Anne’s bones, and Anne, now queen, declared that Mary and her husband would never again be received at court.

Her ostracism was probably a blessing; Mary was well rid of the vipers’ nest of the Tudor court. She rusticated with her small family at Rochford in Essex while Anne and their brother George tasted the full measure of Henry’s rough justice. Mary did not visit her siblings as they waited in the Tower for the executioner’s blade to end their lives. Perhaps she was cannier than she’d been credited; she deliberately remained as far from the madness as possible, the better to avoid getting swept into the bloody dustbin of her family’s history.

Mary died at home on July 19, 1543.

Her son, Henry Carey, was eventually made a Knight of the Garter by Elizabeth I. Mary’s daughter Catherine became a maid of honor to both Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard. One of Catherine Carey’s daughters, Lettice Knollys, was Queen Elizabeth’s bosom companion, lady-in-waiting—and later, her rival and enemy, after she married Robert Dudley, the great love of Elizabeth’s life.

Mary Boleyn’s twentieth-century descendants include Winston Churchill; Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the mother of Elizabeth II); Diana, Princess of Wales; and Sarah Ferguson.
Stranger than fiction? Better than fiction? What other historical personages can you think of who had more more fascinating (even juicy) lives than their fictional avatars?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I'm so excited to finally be able to post the finalized cover for ROYAL AFFAIRS.

Insatiable kings. Lecherous queens. Kissing Cousins.Wanton consorts.

Welcome to nearly 1,000 years of Naughty Behavior.

Royal unions have always been the stuff of scintillating gossip, from the passionate Plantagenets to Henry VIII’s alarming head count of wives and mistresses, to the Sapphic crushes of Mary and Anne Stuart right on up through the scandal-blighted coupling of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Shoved into loveless arranged marriages for political and economic gain, many royals were driven to indulge their pleasures outside the marital bed, engaging in delicious flirtations, lurid love letters, and rampant sex with voluptuous and willing lovers.

This nearly pathological lust made for some of the most titillating scandals in Great Britain’s history. Hardly harmless, these affairs disrupted dynastic alliances, endangered lives, and most of all, have fed the salacious curiosity of the public for centuries.

Peek between the covers…

The title will be released from NAL Trade on June 3, 2008. If your book club chooses this title, I'd be delighted to arrange a special "tryst" just for your club where, on a mutally agreeable date, I'll answer any questions individual readers may have and we'll have an interactive chat about the book, my research and the affairs themselves. We can even chat about the ones I might have omitted and why. I look forward to hearing from my readers!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Much Ado about Di and Dodi

More than eleven years after her death as the result of a high-speed car chase in Paris, the inquest into Princess Diana's demise continues.

Now it's newsworthy that, according to the princess's former butler and confidant, Paul Burrell, Diana had no intentions of marrying Dodi at the time. Burrell told the inquest that his former employer was enjoying "a 30-day affair" with the notorious playboy, and had confided to Burrell that "I want another marriage like I want a bad rash." According to Burrell, Diana was on the rebound from a two-year relationship, a passionate clandestine affair with heart surgeon heartthrob Hasnat Khan, and was not emotionally ready to commit herself to another man--certainly not one she had known for barely more than a month.

Paul Burrell
Burrell said, "The princess had just finished a long-term relationship with someone she cared deeply about. I know that, because I was there. I saw it." He characterized Dodi Fayed as "someone who was very kind and attentive and generous."

Under pressure from the coroner, Lord Justice Scott Baker, Burrell reluctantly disclosed information regarding a rather harsh conversation between Diana and her mother, the late Frances Shand-Kydd, who would win few mum-of-the year awards, and who was none too crazy about either of the two beaux, and had some harsh words for Diana about her somewhat catholic (in the original sense of the noun) taste in men. Burrell said Diana invited him to listen in on the call, and he heard Frances say Diana was "a whore" who was messing around with Muslim men." She said some very nasty things," Burrell told the coroner.

Dodi Fayed, under the Brooklyn Bridge

Care to chime in? We know almost as much as everyone else does--which is next to nothing--but it doesn't prevent anyone from airing their opinions. Do you think Di and Dodi were close to marriage at the time of their deaths?