What ever happened to that actress and the prince?

 

Wildlife scene
Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact (No, this isn’t the cover.)

You’ve heard the news. Here’s the Royal announcement:

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A prince is engaged to an actress! Why would an American like me have any interest in such news at all? Actually, I do have interest and an announcement of my own.

I have interest because there was another time –200 years ago– when an actress took up with a prince who was third in line for the throne. Her name was Dora Jordan. She was Great Britain’s most famous comic, and I’ve written a novel about her. I just signed a contract for it with Rouge Phoenix Press. The e-book will be published in September, 2018 with paper backs available a little later.

Here’s the synopsis:

In 1832,Grace Clare works at the Royal Institution under the direction of the well-known chemist Michael Faraday. But science isn’t all she has on her mind. She learns that her birth mother was famous comic actress Dora Jordan. Grace is dangerously drawn into the tale of Dora’s mysterious, unjust death after her twenty-year relationship with the prince who now occupies the throne–a man who betrayed his life partner and mother of his children. As the only child free to do so, Grace travels to Paris for work and to view her mother’s lonely grave. Awash with the injustice of the cruel betrayal, will Grace be doomed to a tragic life of seeking revenge for her mother or like her mother will she be laughing in the end?

 

This novel is different from my others in that it’s written in third person –an appropriate point of view for the British Empire. The protagonist is more emotional and more vulnerable than my others. And, in keeping with the times–1832–the book is less absurd. The science is 100% realistic–based in 1832.

It’s filled with historical name dropping. Have you heard of any of these people?

Charles Babbage

Evariste Galios

Samuel Finley Breeze Morse

William IV and Queen Adelaide

Ching Shih

They’re all in Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based On Fact.

My previous novels had two-word titles. How did I get this long title for my third one? Here’s the story: Dora Jordan and Prince William lived on an estate in Bushy Park, famous for its fine deer. There was no retiring or resting for this actress. She worked to support the prince’s lavish tastes. She spent lots of her hard-earned cash fixing up the dilapidated estate, only to be tossed to the wolves and the house given to the Queen who replaced her. Dora’s not the only one thrown to the wolves in this novel. My heart bled all over the pages as I read about the betrayals suffered by the lower classes during this era. There were lots of “deer” and fewer but more powerful “wolves”.

How much of this book is based on fact? I did plenty of research on Dora’s life and times. I read letters she wrote (the best I could, her handwriting was difficult to decipher). I read plays she was in. Some such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It are old favorites. Others such as She Would and She Would Not are still published with the long S, (This was used at the beginning and middle of words but rarely at the end and can be found in typography before 1803.) Try reading that.

I became an amateur expert on Dora Jordan. I even found a sketch of her that her biographer had never seen. I have a Pinterest Board dedicated to herI’ve written about her before. I purchased old newspaper clippings about Dora and even have one of her theater handbooks. I discovered that she was prone to telling tall tales. She was skilled at her own PR. Her lover, the Prince, acted as her agent and manager. It was difficult to tell truth from the fiction surrounding her. I put all of my data together and came up with the best story I could. Due to gaps and inconsistencies in history, I was compelled to fill in the blanks. I made up my own theories about her, logical and in keeping with how theater folk were expected to act at the time. As they said in the 1800s, it’s “a tale based on fact”, but it is, indeed, a tall tale of my own–a logical one created from the information gathered, but still, a tale. And it goes against the historical record, which I considered highly fabricated.

I also did research on Michael Faraday that included reading his biography and some of his letters. He took a trip to Paris and that helped me create the Paris of 1832. So did a British guide to Paris dated 1831.

For William IV, I read his biography and that of Queen Adelaide. The Diaries of Charles Greville provided some upper crust gossip–describing William as “something of a blackguard and something more of a buffoon.” And forgive me, mathematicians Babbage and Galios, I researched you too,  and I’ve painted you as eccentric.

Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an 85,000-word historical novel that re-examines history and provides a happy ending along with tongue-in-cheek fun, early 19th century-science, and mild social commentary. I hope you’ll love it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Frankenstein’s scientific roots

One of my favorite Halloween characters is Frankenstein’s monster, the guy created by the scientist Victor Frankenstein from assembled body parts and brought to life by a spark of lightning. The careless scientist was hoping to bring his dear mother back to life. You can’t bales a guy for trying but he violated a rule of science–he worked alone and the hapless creature was created in secret. Only alchemists work in secret. The rules of new science are:

Never work alone in lab.

Keep a carefully detailed lab notebook.

Share your results with others.

Thus, to work in secret is to bring about all sorts of trouble. In 1818 when the novel Frankenstein was published, scientists were just beginning to move away from alchemy and to understand electricity. Batteries made from two metals and an electrolyte were a new thing. Imagine the world-changing perspective of a localized source of energy!

Franklin had established that lightning was a huge static charge and that it was attracted to tall pointy objects. No more would people see a lightning strike as being the hand of an angry God. It was Mother Nature.

Scientists got a charge from electric eels. They began to assume that there is an electrical life current flowing through us. (There is, the oxidation reduction reactions in cells but this is far more complicated than those in 1818 could imagine.) The hope was that all it might take to bring a loved one back alive was a jolt. Creepy experiments were done on executed prisoners and severed heads of the dead were made to twitch with a spark from a battery and they grimaced and fluttered their eyelids.

As for the character of Frankenstein’s creature, he turned out to be intelligent and sensitive, only resorting to menacing his creator once he had been firmly rejected and had no companion to turn to. Like all great writing, Frankenstein says something about the human condition. The novel makes a statement on nature and nurture and the cruelty of judging and rejecting someone based on their appearance.

My favorite version of Frankenstein? It has to be Young Frankenstein.

Happy Halloween Frankenstein! Glad you are still with us!img_2757

“Machines made of words”

“Take a moment to streamline your prose,” I told my Short Story Writing students.

To do this

  • Use simple tenses. They dined rather than they were dining.
  • Avoid stock gestures. No shrugging or shaking heads or raising eyebrows.
  • Use simple dialogue tags. “I love beer,” she laughed. No. Not that way. “I love beer,” she said.
  • Toss out these junk and filler words–Just, Then, Very. Noticed. Wondered. Few, But. Really.
  • Another thing,  keep “stage directions” to a minimum. Don’t do this for example,  “She noticed the bottle of beer. She wondered who owned it. She really wanted it. Then she went over and opened it.” No. Not that way. Your reader will appreciate something simpler. Try this: “She opened the Peace Tree Red Rambler.” You know she noticed it, wanted it, and went over to it, right? So why belabor the point?
image taken from the book Shifting Gears
No lazy slackers now that we know about thermodynamics. Work, work, work!

I grew up learning that Hemingway was a great writer. His prose was so simple and unadorned–just like a punch in the gut. There were characters barely described and given names like “the woman.” He was in a word, efficient. Believe it or not, this whole notion came from science and technology.

In the 1900s the idea of efficiency, a near worship of it, pervaded society. This idea came from studies of brewing and of machines. An efficient process lost less heat and did more work. This idea began in England with James Joule, the son of a wealthy brewer, who studied thermodynamics but it really lurched to life in the juggernaut that was American culture. Everyone had to work and be useful. The idle rich were a problem. Inefficiency in buildings was a problem. And inefficient prose was a problem as well. Take a look at some of these photos and advertisements.

idle rich
One Grecian urn, two Grecian urns, three Grecian urns and a fountain. The inefficient lives of the idle rich, women in particular, were held in contempt. All that hot air!
arches
Architecture could have excess too. Note the arch and its lack of usable space
house
This looks like my house–clean cut and no waste.

Hemingway came about his efficient prose in an honest way. He was a war journalist and telegraphed his stories back to the U.S.. The telegraph coded letters as dots and dashes and each one cost money. And with the advent of photography, people didn’t need or want the long descriptions of scenery that punctuated older fiction. They only needed enough to set the mood and ground the fiction.

Today, the century old efficiency movement is still with us. We are told to want stories that are sleek, like an Apple product.Some publishers even remove the Oxford comma. Professor Cecili Tichi called this new prose “machines made of words.”

I like machines. Nobody likes rambling or babbling. But sometimes, I want something more delicious. I want the rush of pleasure from abundant words and the keen insights of  metaphors and turns of phrase, the dappled light of a brilliant day as was today.

phone
Forget long letter. With the invention of the telegraph and telephone, words counted and communication was instantaneous. Time was money.

 

What about you? Who do you read? What’s your style? Sleek? Efficient? Or old school?

Women in Science: crafting an honest character

 

Not sharing information: a big scientific no-no.
Not sharing information: a big scientific no-no.

If you ask readers what they require from a fictional scientist they’ll say she should first of all be a problem solver, bursting with intelligence and curiosity. Beyond this, there aren’t many expectations. Of course, one-dimensional characters are no fun and when an author builds a whole new world, it’s nice if the people who live in it are believable. What does it take to craft a multidimensional, realistic female scientist?

I surveyed female scientists about their defining traits and two rose to the top: passion and curiosity. And the scientists had other suggestions. I’ve combined their responses into the following twelve tips to help authors create an authentic female scientist:

 

  1. Passion runs more deeply than just for science. Because of the high correlation between a scientific personality and curiosity and openness, it’s unlikely for a scientist to be buttoned up and cautious when it comes to romance, no matter what the stereotypes might be. Some readers may expect the scientist to not be sexy but it’s just not true! (Although she’ll be skeptical and won’t jeopardize her safety.)
  2. She’ll be multidimensional. The scientist will most likely be passionate about life in general so give her a side interest. Many scientists like the arts, enjoy working with their hands, and find similarities between the lab and the studio. Others enjoy sports and fitness. She likes to defy expectations.
  3. Readers these days are so over Frankenstein and Dr. Evil. They don’t anticipate their scientists to be driven into madness by their creations, nor do they relate to evil intentions. Scientists combine passion and compassion. They see science as being a not just fascinating but a benefit to society.  
  4. Balancing career and family is an important aspect of a female scientist’s life. Scientists would love to see more fictional characters who have kidsand to an extent, so would readers. Don’t be afraid to make her life way more complicated by adding family to the mix. Studies have shown that motherhood enhances problem solving ability.
  5. Readers are correct–problem solving is essential to scientists, but keep in mind that a scientist today will be highly specialized. She won’t know everything. She’s more likely to work as part of a team, too. The idea of one lonely genius working in solitude is outdated. In fact, working alone in lab is a violation of lab safety rules.
  6. She’s overcome a lot to get where she is. Prejudice, harassment, exclusion— these women are tenacious and they do overcome, often by cultivating a healthy sense of humor.
  7. Yes, she was a good student. Intelligence is a common trait among scientists. But it takes more than smarts to be a scientist. She probably had something driving her–the need to please a parent, to prove herself, or to overcome poverty or prejudice. Like many high achievers, reaching a goal brings pleasure, so much so that she could let relationships fall into disrepair if not careful.
  8. She might have her favorite jargon and readers expect it. Scientists have their words. It’s part of being in the club. But there’s an even better reason for science speak—it’s precise. Why say carbohydrate when you can say maltodextrin?
  9. MacGyver anyone? Yes, it’s true. Scientists fix things with duct tape and paper clips or a twist of copper wire. Scientists don’t mind improvising. And they like their scientific equipment.
  10. Power suit? It’s a lab coat. Studies have shown that those white coats make people perform better and make fewer errors.
  11. Under scrutiny. Peer review means that her work is critiqued by other scientists—a humbling experience and one that will keep her honest.
  12. Yes, she will be curious and find wonder in the natural world. Isaac Newton said that being a scientist is like picking up pebbles and shells on a beach beside the “vast ocean of truth.” Your scientist should be always questioning, always curious, with one foot in the future, her eyes on the stars or peeking through a microscope, and her passionate heart here on earth.

 

Yes, for the most part, reader expectations meet reality. However, realistic details can strengthen your story and gain female scientists as readers.

 

 

Catherine Haustein is the author of Natural Attraction, a Victorian Scifi Romance and Mixed In, a futuristic dystopia.

A poll about the 70s

I wanted to set Natural Attraction in 1871 because it was a time of great social change. Not only was slavery just abolished, evolution was shaking up world views. The discovery of sperm and egg cells was ushering in sexual equality. If I set a novel in the 1960s or 70s, what science comes to your mind? 

Future Sex

Natural Attraction is a “sweet” novel (not much sex) and the one I’m working on next (with a scientist protagonist, of course) is a bit sexier. How much sexier should the next novel be?