Mistress Firebrand Shoe Giveaway

Mistress Firebrand Shoe Giveaway

Mistress Firebrand is about an actress on the New York stage during the American Revolution. To celebrate the book, we’re giving away a pair of plain undecorated American Duchess “Georgiana” shoes to a lucky winner. You can decorate them to look like Jenny’s, or dream up your own. Visit the giveaway page and enter here.   What’s your favorite play, or your favorite role for an actress from a...
On Book Trailers, Updated

On Book Trailers, Updated

Three years ago I got together with my creative partner, Peter Podgursky, to make a book trailer for my debut novel. We had a blast and really liked the results–and readers did too. If you’re interest in making your own trailer, everything I wrote then is still relevant, but I’m updating this post to reflect what we’ve learned since then, namely that shorter is better. We’ve just recut the original Turncoat Book Trailer down to a shorter running time. It’s half the original length–and now it serves as a trailer for all three books in the series. You can check it out and compare it to the original here. Original Post: The first time I spoke with my editor at Penguin we talked about the difficulty of marketing a swashbuckler set during the American Revolution. My book is a spy thriller and I’d been pitching it in movie terms, as La Femme Nikita meets Dangerous Liaisons. We agreed it would appeal to readers who loved Pirates of the Caribbean and Last of the Mohicans, but wondered how to get that message to readers. During the conversation, she said, “You’re a filmmaker. Maybe you could make your own book trailer.” It sounded like a good idea to me—a way to show readers that the American Revolution could be as sexy as the Tudor court and as dangerous as the Spanish Main. I was thinking like a filmmaker, putting something together in my head that used the language of the cinema, and the highly specific idiom of the movie trailer. I had ideas for locations, casting, and costumes, and a good idea of when I wanted to...
H. P. Lovecraft’s Summer Home

H. P. Lovecraft’s Summer Home

I read Lovecraft at an impressionably young age, so when I first began working in Salem at the former Essex Institute, now the Peabody Essex Museum, where Charles Dexter Ward was, “very kindly received,” I recognized not just names and places from the fictional towns of Arkham, Innsmouth, and Kingsport (loosely based, in a mix and match fashion, on Salem, Newburyport, and Marblehead) but the entire crumbling coastal world he sought to evoke. The North Shore has seen significant revitalization since Lovecraft’s day, but here and there you can still spot a sagging gambrel roof that evokes The Color out of Space or a boarded up Federal mansion straight out of Shadow over Innsmouth. When I first started house hunting in Salem several years ago I saw more than a few homes that could easily have belonged to the Marsh family, but one house in particular was so utterly and perfectly Lovecraftian, so impossibly detailed in its devolution, that I asked if I could take pictures. The house has since been gentrified, but here’s the interior as it was, in all its eldritch glory. The ground floor is classic New England genteel decay. Nothing too worrying here.   There’s a cast iron bake oven to the left of the hearth. These date from the late 18th century. The door beside the fireplace goes to the basement. I wasn’t brave enough to go down there. Let your imagination fill in the details…   The stairs are where things start to go wrong…   The bedroom at the end of that hallway. This was the only one with actual beds in it…   This is probably...
Sons of Liberty, Historical Fiction, and Accuracy

Sons of Liberty, Historical Fiction, and Accuracy

There’s a lot of talk in the history community online this week about the History Channel miniseries SONS OF LIBERTY. The show is the kind of swashbuckling adventure I enjoy, and while it strays further from the historical record than I do in my books, that’s more of an artistic choice than a failure in scholarship. The History Channel has some good history behind the story material here and Tom Verenna does a nice job breaking down where fact and fiction part ways here. The show’s stated goal is to capture the spirit and personalities of the time, and Joseph Warren was known to shimmy up a drain pipe in his day. If there’s a shortage of nuance to the villains and a dearth of roles for women, that’s a failing shared by plenty of other contemporary entertainment, and certainly not unique to historical drama or SONS OF LIBERTY.   My first career was in public history and the institution where I worked, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, held the Witchcraft Trials documents on deposit from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. One of the first things you learn about Salem in 1692 is that Americans have been writing about it since the trials ended, and that every generation has interpreted them anew. I’m pretty sure that Hawthorne knew there weren’t real witches at work in Salem, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of “Young Goodman Brown” or The House of the Seven Gables and those works wouldn’t be better for hewing closer to the historical record. Nor would Arthur Miller’s Crucible be a better play if John Proctor was 60, as...
Status Kitchens of the 18th Century

Status Kitchens of the 18th Century

Above, an 18th century clock jack for sale. Copyright © 2011 OnlineGalleries. All Rights Reserved.       When I worked with the historic houses at the Peabody Essex Museum we used to ask visitors to guess what the gizmo with the gnarly gears over the fireplace was for. This is New England, so about a third of the time, someone shouted: clock jack! The clock jack is basically a wind up device for turning meat on a spit. I wish we’d had reproduction versions in the houses so we could wind them up and show them in action, but ours were the real deal, so strictly hands off. Fortunately now that I write fiction my characters can scratch that itch for me and wind up a clock jack, as they do in Mistress Firebrand. Clock jacks were pricey items in early America, usually imported from England, and they would have occupied much the same place in the colonial kitchen that a fancy standing mixer or stainless steel range would today: a terrific labor saving device, to be sure, but also a status symbol....
The Quotable Swashbuckler: 12 Telling Lines

The Quotable Swashbuckler: 12 Telling Lines

Reposted from the Barnes & Noble Book Blog: Few first lines in fiction herald as much sheer storytelling delight as: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” ―Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche Or promise as much adventure in so few syllables as: “Lymond is back.” –Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings  The swashbuckling hero is always extraordinarily gifted. “It was one of Diego Alatriste’s virtues that he could make friends in Hell.” ―Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Captain Alatriste He is also discerning. “Never trust a man who reads only one book.” ―Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Purity of Blood And accomplished. “She had them taught Latin, French, philosophy and rhetoric, hunting, hawking, riding and archery, and the art of killing neatly with the sword.” –Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings He is frequently a chameleon. “I’ve been a Danish prince, a Texas slave-dealer, an Arab sheik, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, and a Yankee navy lieutenant in my time, among other things, and none of ‘em was as hard to sustain as my lifetime’s impersonation of a British officer and gentleman.” ―George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman in the Great Game It is generally a poor idea to cross him: “How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.” –Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo He is frequently introduced in trying circumstances: “The Frenchman beside me had been dead since dawn. His scarred and shackled body swayed limply back and forth with every sweep of the great oar as we, his less fortunate bench-fellows, tugged and strained to keep time to the stroke.” ―Jeffery Farnol, Black Bartlemy’s Treasure And occasionally tries the...

Sarah Ward’s Batavia Tea Pot

I wrote a scene in The Rebel Pirate where Angela Ferrers pours Sarah Ward tea out of a brown glazed pot that once belonged to the Wards. I started my museum career as an intern in the departments of Early American Architecture and Asian Export Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, but it wasn’t until I began working directly with the institution’s historic houses that I encountered Batavia ware. Batavia ware is a Chinese export porcelain style that most likely got its name from the city where the Dutch, who loved the stuff, had their main trading post in the east, at Batavia (Jakarta). There used to be a set in what was interpreted as the Reverend Bentley’s parlor in the Crowninshield-Bentley House. As far as I’ve been able to tell, “Batavia ware” is a collector’s term and wasn’t in use in the 18th century. Sarah probably thought of it as her brown Chinese...
Sarah Ward’s House

Sarah Ward’s House

Sarah Ward’s house in The Rebel Pirate was modeled on several different Salem structures, but the exterior most resembles the  1727 Crowninshield Bentley House at the Peabody Essex Museum. It’s a typical modest Salem Georgian, with five bays of windows, a central pedimented door with transom lights, and a gambrel roof. When I managed architecture at the Peabody Essex I spent a lot of time in this house, and its story is like that of many Salem mariner’s homes, a tale of rising and falling fortunes, of expanding and contracting families. The house takes the second part of its name from the Reverend William Bentley, one of the most important New England diarists of the age, who rented rooms here from 1791 to 1819. The Reverend is a terrific source for all things Salem during the Revolution, but it was rarely the Reverend that visitors engaged with. Instead, they always wanted to know more about Hannah Crowninshield, whose husband Jacob died at sea leaving her a dower share of his estate. She ended up with half of the house and together with her daughter took in boarders to make ends meet, including the Reverend. The human story of how Hannah carried on with her son and daughter-in-law installed on the other, more modern side of the house is what always fascinated–and sometimes incensed–our visitors, because her daughter-in-law got the better...
Micah Wild, Gentleman

Micah Wild, Gentleman

Of the 2,200 British ships captured by American cruisers during the Revolution, 458 were taken by Salem vessels. My adopted home town accounted for more captured tonnage than any other American port. Salem launched 158 privateers over the course of the war, and 85 of those were outfitted by Elias Hasket Derby, America’s first millionaire. Derby himself never went to sea, but his counterpart in THE REBEL PIRATE, Micah Wild, is both savvy merchant king and sea rogue. And his name is entirely Salem. I was describing the character to my husband over the phone while he was walking home from the train, through the McIntire District where we live, and I said, “I’m struggling to find a name that does this character justice.” “Micah Wild, gentleman,” replied my husband. “Brilliant,” said I. “It’s on the house I’m passing.” And so it was. Historic Salem has a sign marker program. We’ve got one on our house too (with the wrong date–a tale for another time) and they identify most of the structures in the neighborhood, as well as many homes in other parts of town. The real Micah Wild, it turns out, did have a relationship to Derby. He made repairs to Derby Wharf sometime between 1799 and 1803, which suggests that he was in some maritime trade. How exactly he got the title “Micah Wild, Gentleman” remains...