Friday, August 28, 2009

The Making of A CHRISTMAS BALL

This sprig of holly is just a reminder that A CHRISTMAS BALL is coming soon. And today I thought I'd share a little with you about how this anthology came to be.


A CHRISTMAS BALL is the brainchild of my brilliant editor, Leah Hultenschmidt at Dorchester. (Leah is on the far right, next to Charles Paz, RT's 2009 Mr. Romance and Erin Galloway, marketing expert extraordinaire!) She conceived a holiday anthology where all the stories were linked by virtue of time and place--a grand Christmas Ball. She invited USA Today Bestseller Jennifer Ashley, Alissa Johnson and I to contribute novellas and we set to work. Other than the setting and the date of our stories (December 19, 1822) we were given free rein.

Because we did, however, have a few common elements, we had to agree on those. First of all, who are the hosts of the ball? Leah entertained suggestions (I hoped they could be Lord Robert and Lady Evelyn, because those are my parent's names. Turns out in 1822, Evelyn was a man's name, so Leah opted for Lord Robert and Lady Julia Hartwell as our hosts.) Lord Hartwell is a force to be reckoned with in the House of Lords and his wife is the consumate hostess. Their annual Christmas Ball makes staying in London over the holidays bearable for the politically well-connected members of the ton who normally would celebrate the holiday at their country homes.

Just where is the Christmas Ball being held? Since all our characters would be sharing the same space, we had to agree on the layout. So we did what all good writers do. We borrowed a little from a real London mansion and then altered matters to suit us. This majestic Georgian is Spencer House, the ancestral seat of Princess Di's family. Located in the heart of St. James, Spencer House was built by the first Earl Spencer between 1756-1766. History buffs will want to pop over to the Spencer House website for a more in depth peek into this fascinating place.

Of course, for the purposes of our stories, Hartwell House needed a few changes from the Spencer model. For one thing, we turned the Great Room on the First Floor (which would be the 2nd floor in the American system of reckoning) into our Ballroom. None of the servants' portions of the house is shown in the floorplan detailed on the Spencer website, so I used my imagination. Since my heroine is a scullery maid and my hero a head groom, they passed through the kitchen a time or two. And I discovered a system of secret passageways behind the walls in Hartwell House that are not easily discerned on the Spencer blueprints. But Spencer House gave us a wonderful point of commonality for our stories and a strong sense of place to get us started.

You'll be hearing more about A CHRISTMAS BALL in the coming weeks. It's due to hit the bookshelves on September 29th! If you'd like a taste, please visit my website! And while you're there, be sure to enter my CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST contest! The drawing is just days away.

And speaking of winners, I have a couple to announce from Gerri Russell's visit here this week! Debra Parmley has won a copy of TO TEMPT A KNIGHT and Katie O'Sullivan is the winner of a Scottish Templars T-shirt! Please contact me through my website with your mailing info and I'll get it to Gerri. Amanda McIntyre already announced her winner the day she was here, but I'll repeat the anouncement here--Etriv (aka Delilah) please contact me or Amanda to receive your prize! For those of you who didn't win when Amanda visited here, you have another chance today at The Chatelaines!

No prizes to give away here, but I still love to hear from you. We were talking about setting today. How important is the setting (the place, decorations, food, etc.) for celebrating a holiday to you?

17 comments:

Heather D said...

Good Morning Emily,

The setting, in my opinion, is extremely important. It sets the mood for everything within the story. I know that there is something else going on around our hero and heroine and I want to see what it is. Without setting you can't achieve some of the most memorable scenes. One that comes to mind... In Vexing the Viscount I really don't think that the meeting between Lucian and Daisy would be as memorable without the descriptions of all the risque items that Daisy was observing inside the museum. The museum plays a pertinent part in their meeting and the common ground that the couple shares.

I think some author's go over board in their descriptions of surroundings, which in turn detracts from the story. For example, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, while one of my all time favorites, can be long winded in her descriptions. I tend to get bored and end up skimming or skipping that part of the book. Other times I want more information.

EmilyBryan said...

I like a firm sense of place in my stories, but as Mark Twain always said, "The success of a book is not based on what's in it, but what's left out of it."

I was thinking of the Christmases of my childhood and the way my grandmother turned her big old two-storey house into a fairy land with a gigantic tree covered in angel hair, garland running up the banister and a collapsible cardboard fireplace lined with our stockings. (How Santa made it into the house through a cardboard fireplace was one of the great mysteries of my childhood, but since he was always good to me, I was prepared to take a few things on faith!)

Jerrica Knight-Catania said...

Emily, I can't wait for this anthology! It sounds so fun and there's nothing I love more than a Regency Christmas :)

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Jerrica! It was such fun to write! Hope you love A CHRISTMAS BALL.

booklover1335 said...

I can't wait for it either :)

As far as setting goes, for me it plays a major part in my festivities. The food, the decorations, all go into the mood of the event, especially in books. It makes the world that is written seem more real and transports you into the setting. Novels used to me a lot more descriptive in setting than they are now (thinking Bertice Small here) which is a good and bad thing. Sometimes I loved how detailed they could be, but if you go on a reading binge of the same author than sometimes I would find myself skipping over those parts because they seemed repetitive.

EmilyBryan said...

Booklover, I think the more exotic a setting the more an author needs to share. Historical romance readers are so saavy, they already bring a lot of shared context to the book. Especially if it's Regency/Georgian/Victorian set. An author doesn't have to explain every little thing. And shouldn't.

For my Diana Groe viking romances, I felt the need to explain more about the way of life because it was 9th century Scandinavia, for pity's sake. Until I studied the era, I certainly didn't know much about the Norse culture.

I always try to leave out the parts I'd skip! ;)

etirv said...

Emily! I realize there are folks who are not fond of anthologies but I love reading them. Thanks for sharing the making of ACB here. I guess it's obvious from my carrot cake pic that I am food oriented... so food in historical novels is an important aspect for me. I am amazed at what's served at the balls and gatherings in past eras. What's romance without food, right? Other aspects of the setting are important to me, too... but food is #1 -- can't help it!

By the way, digressing here... but come to think of it, this is sort of related to settings. I want to thank you and your DH for a great blog. So pleasant, easy on the eyes and fun to read and navigate. I'm not fond of blogs with a dark feel to them --- black pages with tiny white or some other color words, etc. which make me work too hard and not have fun. Your blog feels and looks light and welcoming. Also, when I read Vexing the Viscount last week, I think I enjoyed it much more because (thanks to your blog), your wackiness and effervecence comes through. I can't wait to read A Christmas Ball!

EmilyBryan said...

Etirv--Wackiness and effervescence! I love that. It's right up there with "ribald, yet classy" which was my previous favorite description of my work. Glad you enjoyed VEXING THE VISCOUNT!

About food--I've been researching Almack's (the premier Regency location to see and be seen) for STROKE OF GENIUS and the food served there was abysmal--on purpose! The patronesses wanted the focus to be on dancing and socializing, not eating.

Anonymous said...

Etirv--This is Emily's DH. Glad you enjoy the site! Thanks.

Sandy said...

Emily,

How interesting the way you develop the setting between three authors.

It sounds like a great story,

Teddyree said...

I enjoyed reading about how A Christmas Ball came about, and I'm so looking forward to it. Not only my first anthology but from favourite authors too. I'm off to Spencer house so I can get more of a 'feel' for the setting :-)

I love all the fuss that goes into christmas especially when my boys were younger, the decorations, stories, food, lights etc. We chewed up bits of carrot and spread it around outside with chocolate covered sultanas for reindeer poop so that the boys would know the reindeers had been waiting for santa to drop off a present.

Now that they are older it's more about just spending time together and the food, of course the food!

Patricia Barraclough said...

The setting, decorations and food are all important to make the holiday just right. Really enjoyed working on all that to make things just right. Our house has been a mess with renovations for the last few years (we've been playing musical rooms with the furniture and boxes). We seem to keep getting sidetracked. At any rate, I haven't been able to decorate or cook the way I used to. The holidays still come, we still celebrate and it is all good. It is the people you are with that count. All the decorations, food, etc. are part of the gift I give my family, friends, and myself. When the house is done, I look forward to doing all those things again.

EmilyBryan said...

Sandy--The setting was fun to put together. I ran into Jenn Ashley's critique partner this year and she said chasing around all the rooms and stairwells in our fictional Hartwell House was giving Jenn fits. She was so intent on making her story fit the space.

EmilyBryan said...

Teddy--Too funny about the reindeer poop. I always felt Junior Mints were the best candy to use for that!

I've also heard of using mini-marshmallows as snowman poop.

Christmas is a summer holiday for you in OZ. I'll bet there are lots of differences in how you decorate and celebrate.

EmilyBryan said...

Patricia--It's wonderful when we can make things just perfect for our families. But sometimes things go awry.

My DH's brother's family spent an unusual Christmas one year, stranded on the way to the extended family celebration. The roads closed ahead and behind them and a church in a little Midwest town opened its doors for them. They slept on the pews with other strandees and church members brought in breakfast for their unexpected guests.

But they were all together and that's what mattered.

Teddyree said...

I'd love to celebrate a white christmas, just once, it always looks so beautiful.
Christmas in the heat in Australia is definitely different, we usually centre our celebrations around the beach or the pool and lots of prawns and seafood.

We have aircon but I think I'd melt if I had to turn the oven on for a traditional roast in the middle of the day :-)

EmilyBryan said...

We don't always have white Christmases here in the States either, depending on where we live. In the 11 years we were in North Carolina, we maybe had 2 Christmases with snow. In Park City Utah (over 7000 ft in elevation), snow was a virtual certainty.

The problem with white Christmases is that it makes traveling to be with family difficult and sometimes hazardous.