Monthly Archives: September 2013

Preparing for Publication

Exciting news, at least for me. I just entered a new stage of getting The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte ready for publication.

Stage One occurred earlier this summer when my editor completed his first review of the manuscript. I spent a couple months this summer working on a revision, and then I sent it back to  the publisher on August 31.

In the meantime, the book designer and I have been emailing back and forth about the typeface, chapter openings, scene breaks, and cover design. All of those pieces are coming along well. I guess we could call that Stage Two, even though it overlapped  with Stage One.

Today, we begin Stage Three. The editor just sent me his copy edits for the first 100 pages of manuscript. He promises a steady stream of chapters throughout the coming week. I have to go through and review each of his suggested edits and make the final decisions.

Once I finish that, the manuscript will be out of my hands for a while as the layout / production work is done. Last, the designer and I will have two sets of proofs to review.

But that’s enough looking ahead. For now, I have plenty to do responding to the copy edits.

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Writing Historical Fiction: Researching Historic Ships

These are just a few photographs of the USS Constellation, which I took when I was on my research trip to Baltimore two years ago. It was built after the time period of my novel, but I still found the tour of the ship helpful. Clicking on each image will make it larger.

constellation

rigging

ship's wheel

cable tier

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Betsy Bonaparte: Her Venomous Tongue

According to people who knew her, Betsy Bonaparte had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. One of the amusing aspects of portraying her in the novel was allowing her to rebuke her foes with stinging insults that I would never dream of using myself.

One acquaintance who wrote about her was James Gallatin, son of Albert Gallatin — who was the Secretary of the Treasury and later the Minister to France. When Betsy was in Paris, she dined with the Gallatins often. In his memoirs, James Gallatin recorded the following story. I wasn’t able to use it in the novel, so I will quote it here:

[Madame de Staël] had given a dinner at her house in Geneva, to which Madame Bonaparte was invited. Arriving very late, she delayed serving the dinner for over half an hour. On one side of her was a Mr. Dundas, a great gourmand, who was much put out at having to wait. After the soup had been served he turned to Madame Bonaparte and asked her if she had read the book of Captain Basil Hall on America. She replied in the affirmative. “Well, madame, did you notice that Hall said all Americans are vulgarians?”

“Quite true,” calmly answered Madame Bonaparte, “I am not in the least surprised. If the Americans had been the descendants of the Indians or the Esquimaux there might have been some reason to be astonished, but as they are the direct descendants of the English it is perfectly natural that they should be vulgarians.” After this Mr. Dundas did not open his mouth again and left at the first opportunity.

The Diary of James Gallatin

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Betsy Bonaparte: More than a Pretty Face

Betsy&Dorcas

Dorcas Spear Patterson and her daughter Elizabeth by Robert Edge Pine, c. 1786, Maryland Historical Society, Photograph by Ruth Hull Chatlien, 2011

As a young girl, Betsy Patterson loved to read, and she enjoyed showing off her quick mind. One book she savored was the Maxims of the Duke de La Rochefoucauld—a collection of more than 500 sayings. La Rochefoucauld was a French aristocrat who had lived during the 1600s. His maxims were insightful, cynical, pragmatic, and sometimes scornful. It seems an odd choice of literature for a young girl, yet something in it spoke to Betsy. By the time she was ten, she had diligently memorized each saying. As I was writing the novel, I had fun having her recall maxims that were appropriate to what was happening in her life during various periods. To give you a sample of La Rochefoucauld’s outlook, some of the maxims I didn’t quote in the book are listed below:

We are never so happy or so unhappy as we suppose.

Great names degrade instead of elevating those who know not how to sustain them.

We always like those who admire us, we do not always like those whom we admire.

We may bestow advice, but we cannot inspire the conduct.

In a time when many children memorized psalms, this was the view of the world that shaped young Betsy’s consciousness. One of the many things that made this woman distinctive.

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Betsy’s Circle: Joshua Barney

Joshua-barney-circa-1800
Sketch of Joshua Barney, c. 1800, Wikimedia Commons

As I mentioned yesterday, the man Jerome visited in Baltimore was Joshua Barney, a naval officer. Barney was born in Baltimore in 1759, and he served in the U.S. navy during the American Revolution. During that war, he was taken prisoner several times and then exchanged for British officers. In 1779, he was captured again and imprisoned in England. He escaped in 1781, and the next year, as commander of the ship Hyder Ally, he captured the much more heavily armed HMS General Monk.

After the American Revolution, he served in the French navy for a while, which is probably how he met the Bonapartes. Barney returned to the United States in 1800. During the War of 1812, he served first as a privateer and then rejoined the U.S. navy as a captain.

In June 1814, Barney’s flotilla encountered a British fleet in Chesapeake Bay. The British pursued the U.S. vessels, which retreated up the Patuxent River and then up St. Leonard’s Creek, which was too shallow for the British frigates. The British blockaded the mouth of the creek so the Americans could not escape. Rather than allow the British to capture his flotilla, Barney scuttled the ships.

Two months later, he took part in the defense of Washington and was severely wounded, taking a ball in his thigh—which could never be removed and which troubled him the rest of his life. He died in 1818 of complications from that old wound. He was only 59.

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Writing Historical Fiction: Back Story

Jérôme Bonaparte - Sophie Lienard
Jerome Bonaparte by Sophie Lienard, on Wikimedia Commons

What brought Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Jerome to Baltimore of all places? Well, for one thing, Baltimore was the third largest U.S. city in the early 1800s, behind New York and Philadelphia. It was one of the country’s most important ports.

Second, a year or so earlier, Napoleon had decided that his baby brother was going to become the naval expert of the family. Accordingly, Jerome was made a lieutenant (even though he was technically too young) and sent to the West Indies. While there, he made a colossal error of judgment that might have had serious international repercussions, so his commanding officer ordered him to return home to report to his brother, who at the time was First Consul of the French Republic.

Britain and France were technically at peace during 1803, but relations between the two countries remained uneasy. French officials were understandably nervous about exposing a member of Napoleon’s family to possible danger should war break out again while he was en route. They decided Jerome should go to a U.S. port and sail on a neutral ship—and thus, hopefully, escape the notice of the British navy.

So Jerome went to Baltimore, where his friend Joshua Barney lived. Being a young man who loved amusement and pretty girls, Jerome decided to enjoy himself while he was there. He soon began to hear about a beautiful young woman named Betsy Patterson, known as the Belle of Baltimore, and grew eager to meet her. From all accounts, Jerome had a way with young women, but he never took any of his amours seriously. I’m guessing he thought he could have a fling and then be on his way with little consequence to himself. However, Betsy proved to be more than a match for the charming young Corsican. When they met, he was instantly smitten. As the saying goes, the thunderbolt struck, and any interest Jerome had in returning home disappeared.

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Book Review: Dialogues of a Crime

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I cracked open the cover of Dialogues of a Crime by John K. Manos. I knew it was a crime story, but it didn’t seem like the typical murder mystery / detective novel. It’s not. It’s an interesting confection blended of almost equal parts Godfather, police procedural, and film noir with a Chicago twist.

The book opens with a snapshot of a brutal crime in progress. Then the narrative switches to the story of college student Michael Pollitz being caught up in a drug sweep in 1972. Michael, who comes from a blue-collar family, quickly learns that the justice system is radically different for those who have money than it is for him. He tries to do the right thing, but what happens to him is anything but fair.

Fast forward to 1994. A lifelong criminal facing serious time tries to buy leniency by saying he has information about a couple of cold cases—killings that occurred 21 and 22 years earlier. Detective Larry Klinger doesn’t exactly trust the guy, but the information is intriguing enough to make him open an investigation that leads him straight to Michael Pollitz. Is the former student now turned advertising executive cool enough to hide the fact that he’s a murderer? Or is he covering up for an old friend—mob boss Dom Calabria, who’s the father of his grade school buddy?

The story is a page turner; I read it straight through in two days. Yet it touches on interesting issues of justice, guilt, and loyalty. Given the current controversies over the privatization of prisons and the consequences of strict guidelines for sentencing drug-related crimes, this novel has contemporary relevance. Anyone who likes mysteries and crime novels will enjoy reading Dialogues of a Crime.

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