Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Return of the Epic American-set Historical Romance by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Welcome back to History Undressed our regular first Tuesday of the month guest blogger, Kathleen Bittner Roth!

Today she's written a fascinating article for us on the resurgence of American-set romance historicals. And be sure to check out her books--she's got a new release at the end of this month!

The Return of the Epic American-set 

Historical Romance

by Kathleen Bittner Roth

We’ve all had this happen at one time or another—an urging or longing for a certain something or other that sneaks up on us and lingers until it settles in our bones. Before long, another person mentions the very thing we’ve been deliberating. Soon, we begin seeing or hearing about that certain something everywhere until a groundswell of popularity emerges. That’s what seems to be happening with the American-set historical romance. Remember those lush, sweeping, sagas full of romance, drama, sexual tension, excitement, family struggles, and plenty of twists and turns that spans time and geographic locations? Stories that kept us turning pages well into the night? 

Having grown somewhat weary of reading restrictive English-set ballroom scenes filled with rigid rules, where one dance too many often meant scandal or even a marriage proposal, I purposely set my first novel, The Seduction of Sarah Marks, in the English countryside, far from London. Immediately, I found I had greater latitude to create a viscount with a large and quirky but close-knit family whose members thought nothing of doing exactly as each pleased—rules be damned. To stir up the mix, I gave them a heroine who’d also been raised in the countryside, but with no memory to speak of, and opposite from this fun loving, raucous clan.

It wasn’t that I wanted Regency era romance to disappear. What I wanted was something with a broader range of settings and situations. So with my second book, I ventured even farther from London…India, to be exact. In A Duke’s Wicked Kiss, I wrote about a scandal that involved the illegitimate daughter of a duke and Indian royal mixing it up with a proper duke and master spy smack in the middle of a dangerous war. Once I’d finished writing the story and the contract signed, I found myself longing once again for those American sagas of old. When had the likes of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers disappeared.
With my yearning running bone-deep, I contracted with Kensington Books for my American-set When Hearts Dare series which chronicles the enigmatic Andrews family, wealthy owners of a worldwide shipping empire.

 Celine, book one in the series spans time, cultures and locations, from lush New Orleans, across the plains and mountains of the wild west, to primitive but thriving San Francisco. Celine is a young widow who, in the wake of tragedy, seeks a new life on her own. While the turbulent love affair she enters into may heal her heart it’s certain to drive her into danger. 

Alanna, book two, begins in San Francisco and moves eastward and across two oceans when a high-spirited young woman intent on shedding a fiancĂ© handpicked by her social climbing parents embarks on a blazing love affair with a mysterious lone wolf. His quest to find his mother's murderer threatens their love—and their lives.
Josette, book three in the series which releases September 29th returns full circle, from San Francisco to the intriguing setting of bustling New Orleans during its peak of success. Josette is a steamy love story filled with a touch of mystery, bayous, and voodoo. A reviewer wrote that she hadn’t expected to like an American set historical romance, but ended up falling in love with both the story and the setting…“this is one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a while.”

My timing for writing American set historical romance couldn’t have been better and I am happy to report that three more books in the series will be upcoming. Alicia Condon, Editorial Director at Kensington Books (and my wonderful editor), firmly believes the American-set historical romance that explores a rich and lush history is set for an exciting comeback. According to Alicia, the book buyers are enthusiastic about this “fresh” kind of historical. 
A fresh kind of historical? For more than a century and half, the American-set historical romance had been the best seller, the favorite read of all time, beginning with Nathanial Hawthorne (1804-1864. His fiction works are considered part of the Romantic Movement). What new shape is the American Historical taking?
Romance evolves in response to changing circumstances of American life—political, social, and intellectual. In my opinion, what’s fresh and new about the resurgence of the American Historical is that there are conditional changes that have taken place in today’s society that will ultimately be reflected in the stories. The hero is allowed to be more vulnerable and sensitive, the woman more of a free-thinker and independent. I find this particularly exciting in the context of American-set historical romances that can range from WWII back to Colonial times.
Why a renewed interest in an American historical setting? We live in a global world filled with so much stress and chaos that the reader wants to slip back in time and into a bold story that spans our beloved country when it was relatively young; when it was a brave new world filled with hope, with people taking risks and building empires. Readers want stories filled with close-knit families rooted in heart-warming commitment and conviction. American historical settings are rich in the development of dreams and goals, and of creating legacies, which provides the author with a broad stroke of the artist’s brush when creating a world filled with love, loss and the depths and heights of human emotion.
There’s a new generation of romance readers who have never read historical romance set in America and are itching to do so. Look for the American-set historical romance with its amazing texture, its more original and less formula-driven plots to appear on bookshelves and in e-readers around the world. 


Once Kathleen Bittner Roth realized making a living was not the same as making a life, she blazed her own trail by founding a successful well-being center, walking on fire, marrying in a castle in Scotland, scuba diving in dangerous waters, and learning to ride her Arabian horse English style. She has somehow managed to live in six U.S. states and several foreign countries. Currently residing in Budapest, Hungary, she still keeps one boot in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota. Kathleen is a PAN member of Romance Writers of America®. She has been a guest numerous times on radio, television, and on various writing blogs. She has won or been a finalist in numerous writing contests, including the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart®.

You can find Kathleen on: 
Twitter: @K_BittnerRoth
Or by visiting her website at: www.kathleenbittnerroth.com.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This Week in History: 8/24 - 8/29

Time for your weekly history lesson! 

What happened this week in history? Do you know?

8/24/1456: The Gutenberg Bible printing is completed.

8/25/1814:  The Library of Congress is destroyed by the British (which contained 3000 books)

8/26/1549: John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, defeats rebels and ends "John Kett's Rebellion" near Norwich, in what is now known as the Battle of Dussingdale.

8/27/1784: The first fire balloon ascent in Britain was made by James Tytler, in Edinburgh. 

8/28/1892: Fire breaks out at the NYC Metropolitan Opera House. 

8/29/1640: A peace treaty is signed between the English King Charles I and Scotland. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Capturing the Visual Appeal of the Gilded Age by Kaaren Christopherson

Welcome to History Undressed, Kaaren Christopherson, author of Decorum! 

Capturing the Visual Appeal of the Gilded Age
By Kaaren Christopherson

For many readers the visual element—the description of a place or person—is the most intriguing feature of historical fiction. I was lucky that when Connor O’Casey and Francesca Lund first appeared in my imagination as I embarked on writing Decorum, they came firmly planted in the Gilded Age with its enormous visual appeal and abundant resources—and I drew on many.

The late 19th century was a time of rapid change, with old and new living side by side—motor cars sharing streets with horse-drawn carriages, electric lights in one street and gas lamps in the next. American and European Impressionists were capturing everyday life in oils on canvas. Soon photographs would replace engravings to illustrate newspapers and magazines. The Gilded Age offers all of these media—engravings, photographs, and paintings—covering the same period, and often the same events, from different viewpoints.

Engravings from Harper’s Weekly were a gold mine of inspiration for many of the activities in which Connor, Blanche, Francesca, and Edmund took part, such as visiting art galleries, attending charity masquerade balls, and walking (and arguing?) in snowy Central Park. A collection of turn-of-the-century photographs of New York interiors from the Museum of the City of New York brought a more “modern” view of famous restaurants like the CafĂ© Savarin where the Jeromes entertained Aunt Esther and Francesca, and a tea room that was the inspiration for Blanche’s Blue Iris. Visits to Gilded Age homes such as Heurich House in Washington, DC, and the Theodore Roosevelt birthplace in New York helped me step back in time, as if I had just arrived to pay a call on the Worths or Nell Ryder.

Viewing Mary Cassatt paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and tapping into the wonderful historical information on the Metropolitan Opera’s website inspired Decorum’s scenes at the opera. Cassatt’s At the Francais (a Sketch) shows a lady with opera glasses seated in her box intent on viewing the stage while a gentleman several boxes over is intent on studying her, much like Connor watching Francesca at the opera. Fashion engravings from Harper’s Bazaar offered hundreds of pictures of ball gowns, reception gowns, visiting dresses, walking suits, traveling clothes, shoes, lingerie, bonnets, bustles, and bodices.

One resource that helped give life and “order” to this mountain of information in my writer’s imagination was my great-grandmother’s etiquette book, from which my novel Decorum derives its name. The wisdom and advice the etiquette book offers put these otherwise static pictures in motion—ladies and gentlemen being introduced, traveling by train, sending invitations, leaving visiting cards, attending dinner parties, and choosing colors for new gown. Desirable behavior is laid out in detail for the novel’s upwardly mobile characters follow (or not).

Finally, in my quest for the visual in the Gilded Age, I collected cabinet photographs from antique shops and flea markets to put faces to the names of the characters who populate Decorum’s world. Here are real people, Decorum’s people, as they might have looked when the story begins in 1890. No matter how we might cast the characters or choose film locations in our heads, the real Gilded Age offers the author resources with a wealth of visual drama that can inspire vivid description for historical fiction.

Decorum: A Novel by Kaaren Christopherson

02_DecorumPublication Date: March 31, 2015
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Foramts: eBook, Paperback, Audio
Pages: 425 Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

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Kaaren Christopherson's brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world's most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras--as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine...

 In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city's settlement movement. But a young woman of means can't shun society for long, and Francesca's long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn't blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do...

 Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O'Casey--an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel--and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.

Rules Of Decorum

 A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter.

If you wish to avoid the company of any one that has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that your reasons are correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able either to blame or mistake you.

The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told... Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions...


“Reminiscent of Washington Square but with a more modern heroine, Decorum illuminates the dark world beneath New York society. …” – RT Book Review, 4 stars

“…the novel is remarkable in its similarities to the work of Edith Wharton. The reader feels drawn into a world of glamour, glitz, and supreme hypocrisy. Everything is permissible as long as one does not get caught. It is a drama of manners and the stakes are high—one misstep could mean social oblivion. … This novel will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those who enjoy period novels such as Age of Innocence and The Portrait of a Lady.” – The Historical Novel Society

“New York, 1890, and the glitz and glamor of the time and setting, are the backdrop for this novel about a young heiress who suddenly finds herself alone in the world. I loved how each chapter began with a rule of etiquette based upon the societal norms of the time. The story gave me a glimpse of what it would have been like to live among the wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Of course, all is not perfect, for the heroine must maneuver her way through treachery, greed, and scandal to find which of the two men in her life is her true love. I thoroughly enjoyed how the characters interacted, and how authentic they felt to me. Lots of wonderfully rich descriptions of places and gowns really brought the era to life. … I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys New York in the Gilded Age. A good historical read!” – Mirella Patzer, Historical Novel Review


03_Kaaren Christopherson
Kaaren Christopherson is the author of Decorum—a novel about Gilded Age New York—that began taking form in 1999 during a course on writing historical fiction. From that moment, Connor O’Casey (who had been rattling around in her brain for months) finally appeared one night and said, “All right, woman. Here I am. What are you going to do about my story?” So she began to put his words on paper, and he hasn’t kept quiet since. Soon Francesca, Blanche, Tracey, Vinnie, and the rest of the characters began arguing, gossiping, loving, and forming themselves into Kaaren’s first novel.

Kaaren has had a professional career writing and editing for over 30 years and is a senior editor for an international development nonprofit organization in Washington, DC.

She has written fiction since her school days, story poems, children’s books, historical fiction, and time travel, and continues to be active in writer’s groups and writing workshops. In addition to her career as a writer, Kaaren was the owner of a decorative painting business. She loves to travel and prowl through historical sites, galleries, and museums. She is active in several churches in DC and in her local Northern Virginia community, where she shares her home with feline brothers, Archie and Sammy.

A Michigan native, Kaaren received her BA in history and art and her MA in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

For more information visit Kaaren Christopherson's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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