Monday, December 31, 2007

Days of Auld Lang Syne

Although more than one Scots poet wrote of the days of "auld lang syne" (roughly translated as "long, long ago" or the "olden days"), it is Robert Burns (1759-96) whose poem, set to music is the one we all sing at the chimes strike midnight, or the Times Square ball drops on New Year's Eve.

Robert Burns

2007 had its ups and downs for me. Professionally, I received my first nonfiction contract. Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy, which will be published by NAL in original trade paper on June 3, 2008, tested my ability to research, write, and deliver in record time (about 5 months) over 400 pages that covered more than 900 years of English history, in a breezy, accessible style.

It was a very exciting, albeit grueling, project, and as the bright January days of the new year dawn, I expect the copyedited manuscript to show up on my doorstep.

Nonetheless, 2007 will remain in my heart as one of those that might as well be enshrined within the schmaltzy lyrics of "It was a very good year." I got married on May 19, to a wonderful, kind man with a wry sense of humor, and after years of writing happily-ever-afters for my fictional characters, I've got one of those for myself.

Although I resolve every year not to make any new year's resolutions, I've made a few of them anyway. Along with those personal perennials like exercising more and losing weight, I'm resolving to reach out even more to my readers. If you belong to a book group, I'd love to set up interactive chats about my titles just for your group on one of my blogs. And if you're in the NY-Metropolitan area and are up for hosting an in-person author visit to your readers group, let's chat about how we can turn it into a fun special event.

Wishing each of you a healthy and prosperous new year! And happy reading!

Have you made any new year's resolutions for 2008 that you'd like to share here? Let's resolve to help each other stick to them!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

...GONE! Magna Carta sells for Magnum Moolah

The gavel has descended. Ross Perot's copy of the Magna Carta, signed in 1297 by King Edward I, and recently on temporary display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., has been sold. I wrote a recent post about the document going on the block, and promised to add a follow-up post after yesterday's auction.

Some of us, this author among them, consider the Magna Carta and everything it represents to be priceless. Lucky for Sotheby's and the Perot Foundation, which purchased this copy of the Magna Carta in 1994, someone thought it worth $21.3 million. When it announced the auction in September, Sotheby's said the document was valued at up to $30 million. The Perot Foundation, which was created by billionaire former presidential candidate Ross Perot to make philanthropic grants, will use the money for its charities.

The Magna Carta curbed the power of the king and established the rights of the English people. And the U.S. Constitution includes ideas and phrases taken almost directly from the charter, which rebellious barons forced their oppressive King John to sign in 1215.

Edward I

However, the Magna Carta was ratified and reissued with each monarch who succeeded John. It was enacted as law in 1297 by the British parliament when it was reissued by King Edward I, nicknamed by his subjects, "The lawgiver." The 1297 document is considered the most definitive (and therefore valuable) version because that was the text that made it into the English statute books.

The medieval vellum manuscript was bought at auction by the founder of a private equity firm, David Rubenstein. We applaud him, because he plans to keep it where it has been on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C.

David Rubenstein

Now that's what I call equity.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Napoleon: Symbols of Power; Symbols of Hypocrisy

In what was an absolute labor of love, my husband drove us up to Boston yesterday so that I could drink my fill of the Museum of Fine Arts's breathtaking temporary exhibit: "Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style 1800-1815."

At 11am, the galleries were empty, save for the occasional security guard. There were no signs forbidding photography, but I figured there would be too much of a glare coming off the vitrines, so I kept the camera in my purse. Unfortunately there were no postcards for sale in the gift shop (I am an utter museum gift shop junkie...almost as bad sometimes as "No, I missed that exhibit--but I visited the gift shop.")

Just kidding. No one who is not a museum/18th and early 19th c. history addict would rise at dawn with her husband to schlep up to Boston from NYC braving wall to wall traffic on every highway in both directions, just to buy a refrigerator magnet featuring Ingres's full-size portrait of a scowling Napoleon.

I'm one of those people who gets chills and goes all weak at the knees when I see things that were used and worn by the very people who lent their name to a historical era. I was wowed by the decorative aspects of the furniture and other applied arts

(such as the numerous examples of the Sèvres porcelain services, "kettles" to keep water warm, and the Empress Josephine's nef--which, if you've never seen a nef, is a highly embellished ship-shaped carryall for the ruler's salt and pepper and spice containers, placed in front of him or her at the table)

Sèvres ice cream cooler. Everyone should have one!

I could have taken Josephine's letter box (a graceful burled wood chest crafted in the shape of an Amazon's shield) home with me. Ditto for a couple of the flowing, and elaborately embroidered, gowns of whitest cotton.
And if I had a spare $2500 around I could have commissioned a museum copy of a uniquely shaped drinking goblet made of gilded bronze and vermeil around 1810, and said to have been modeled from the breast of Napoleon's flamboyant sister, Paulina Borghese--nipple included. You could never get too drunk from one draught--I'd say she was somewhere between an A and a B cup. The handle was a delicate butterfly, yet another symbol of the Empire, representing the goddess Psyche (Psyche is not only the Greek word for "soul," it's the word for "butterfly"), the most beautiful mortal in the world, who became the obsession of Venus's son, Cupid, and who was sent to perform a number of difficult labors before her future mother-in-law would permit her to marry Cupid. The iconic image of the butterfly captures a fleeting instant frozen in time and the fragile nature of femininity.

You'll have to visit the exhibit's website for a photo of the cup. I truly wish I could post images of more of these gloriously wrought artifacts; even the details had details. And every one of them (though no press release was issued at the time explaining the metaphors) was emblematic of a previous imperial insignia. Thanks to Roman Imperial design, the laurel wreath denoted victory, oak leaves represented Jupiter's strength, as did the eagle. The bee, which prominently figures on all things Napoleonic, was intended to invoke one of the earliest Frankish kings, Childéric, who adopted that symbol as his own. The pictorial language was meant to inform the French that their new Emperor was a descendant (at least in his own mind) from the great Roman Emperors and the earliest of the Holy Roman Emperors--a logical progression from the Caesars to the Franks to the Little Corporal.

Carpet from the Throne Room (detail). Manufacture de la Savonnerie,designed by François Debret and Jacques Barraband1807–09WoolMusée National des Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Rueil-Malmaison

I couldn't help remarking to my DH that the laurel wreath and the eagle clutching a brace of arrows in his claws seemed somewhat familiar. Of course the French Revolution and ours did take place within the same window of time, and perhaps there are only so many available iconographic representations of military (nay, godlike) superiority over one's enemies floating around.
What has always chilled my blood about the French Revolution and the resulting Directoire, Consulate, and Empire, is that everything that was sold to the citoyens de France--Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité--was a très grande crock of merde. The architects of the French Revolution were more brutal, and became more dictatorial than the Ancien Régime of the French nobility ever was. Robespierre was a despot, and his inner circle responsible for the Terror, or Reign of Terror, were known as "terroristes". Sound familiar? The revolutionary leaders--and most obviously Napoleon--became everything they sought to destroy. For that, the streets of Paris had to run with blood and so many families were decimated?

By the time Napoleon had Frenchified half of western Europe, and proclaimed himself Emperor, his luxe life rivaled, and eventually surpassed that of his royal predecessors. I found myself looking at the teacups lined with gold, the royal (yes) purple cape encrusted with gold and silver embroidery that dozens of little novitiates must have bled their fingers and ruined their eyesight to create (okay, perhaps I exaggerate and the official garments were created by the forerunners of Worth and St. Laurent), and shook my head in disbelief and dismay.
Turning to my husband, I posed a question about the "trickle down" effect. Maybe Napoleon thought that's what he was doing by employing every silk mill, cabinet maker, and embroiderer in France to generate the opulence that marked his imperial residences and personage, that touched his lips and graced his dinner tables.

I admit a serious bias against Napoleon, as overwhelmed and impressed as I was by seeing the stunning creations he literally lived with. Having written a novel from Lady Hamilton's perspective, I am firmly in the Lord Nelson camp. I took one look at the magnificent set of firearms Napoleon had purportedly given to the second in command of the combined French and Spanish fleet in 1805 (the first in command was Nelson's nemesis, Admiral Villeneuve) and thought "You killed him, you SOBs."

So, what's your take on Napoleon? Hero--or hypocrite?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Magna Carta ... Going once... going twice...

It's not a royal affair per se, but it is a royal shame: the mother-document of English Common Law is going up for auction.

The only privately-owned copy of the Magna Carta in the United States is on the block. My husband and I had the privilege of seeing it last June on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. -- which is where it belongs -- just steps away from the original manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. Who knew the Magna Carta only had a temporary visa?

Billionaire pie-chart magnate Ross Perot, who owns it, has decided he doesn't have enough money already and the law is for sale. Come to think of it, many people think that's business as usual in the U.S. Capital. So, on behalf of the Ross Perot Foundation, which bought it in 1983 for $1.5 million, Sotheby's is holding an auction on December 18, 2007.

The Magna Carta was the birth of the concept that nobody - including the king - was above the law, and that a fair trial was a right of all. The document was first written in 1215. King John (the wicked king of Robin Hood legend) was on the throne, and yes, he was quite the bully. His barons didn't appreciate such autocracy, however, and at the risk of losing his throne in a civil uprising, King John signed the document in a convocation held at Runnymeade in 1215.

King John (b. 1166. Ruled England 1199-1216)

Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements among Pope Innocent III, King John and the English barons about the rights of the King. Magna Carta required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the king's subjects, whether free or fettered — most notably the right of Habeas Corpus, meaning that they had rights against unlawful imprisonment.

The document was revised throughout the 13th century. It wasn't confirmed as English law until 1297, when it was signed by King Edward I (the wicked king of William Wallace ["Braveheart"] legend). Of 17 copies of the Magna Carta that still exist, all but this one are publicly owned. The only other copy outside England is on show in Australia's Parliament.

Edward I (b. 1239. Ruled England 1272-1307)

With only two small holes in the animal skin it was written on, what is now being referred to as "Sotheby's Magna Carta" is considered in great condition. The Perot/Sotheby's copy, 2500 Latin words long, was written in 1297. This copy is signed by Edward I, known as "Edward the Lawgiver," the reigning king at the time.

Sotheby's expects the Perot Magna Carta to fetch at least $30 million. So you CAN put a price on the law!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Welcome to Leslie Carroll's new blog address!

Well, it's been a wild ride this fall! I've been juggling so many projects and deadlines that I feel like one of those circus performers who keeps a dozen plates spinning in the air. But would I trade it all to end up back in day-job hell? Hell, no!

So, what have I been doing with myself? Putting the finishing touches on my January 2008 release from Avon "A" -- CHOOSING SOPHIE, a contemporary story about Olivia ("Venus") deMarley, a former burlesque dancer who stands to inherit her late father's scrappy (and colorful) minor league baseball team, the Bronx Cheers, if she and Sophie, the twenty-year-old daughter she gave up for adoption right after her birth, can reunite .
Doffing my baseball cap to don another hat, this time a tricorn, I've also spent this fall getting my next work of historical fiction ready for publication in February, 2008.

ALL FOR LOVE: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson is my fourth title under the pen name Amanda Elyot. Amanda writes historical fiction. Leslie writes the contemporary stories. They're both me. It's an open secret.

Mary Robinson was a fascinating woman who kept company with some of the greatest luminaries of the Georgian era: the actor David Garrick, the playwright and theatre manager Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the firebrand politician Charles James Fox, and the glittering Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the crusading feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and the opium-addicted romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. As a teenager, Mary was London's most celebrated actress. In 1780, she caught the eye of the Prince of Wales and became his first lover. I won't give away too much of the plot, but as the years went on, she became a poetess, novelist, and feminist herself and carried on a passionate 15-year affair with the dashing war hero Banastre Tarleton.
I've also been scrambling to meet the revision deadline for my first work of historical nonfiction. ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Affairs that Shocked the British Monarchy will be released by NAL next June, just in time for your summer vacation. Sexy and sizzling and full of real-life dangerous liaisons, it's the perfect beach read, or the perfect companion to pass the time with during the airline flight to your destination of choice. Just don't leave it in the seat pocket in front of you!