Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte: Their First Dance

Over the next two weeks, between now and my publication date, I’m going to publish a few excerpts from The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. In the following scene, Betsy Patterson and Jerome Bonaparte—who previously met at a dinner party—have their first dance together.

   As they entered the ballroom, Betsy was pleased to see that many people broke off their conversations to watch them. The first dance of the evening was to be a contradanse, which would have the advantage of pairing them for at least ten minutes and of having periods when they could converse because they were not required to take part in the moves. The first time they were an inactive couple, Betsy said, “Lieutenant Bonaparte, I have never seen a uniform like yours. Is it a naval dress uniform?”
     Jerome laughed. “No, it is a hussar’s uniform.”
     “But, hussars are cavalry. I thought you were in the navy.”
     “I am.” He shrugged. “But I like the way this one looks. It is debonair, is it not?”
     Before Betsy could answer, it was their turn to take part in the next movement, and by the time they could speak again, she decided not to pursue the subject. She suspected that it was a tremendous breach of protocol for a military officer to wear the uniform of a different branch of service. Clearly, being Napoleon’s brother came with unusual privileges, liberties that the youngest Bonaparte did not hesitate to enjoy.
     As she pondered these things, Jerome complimented her on her elegant gown. “It is—très à la mode,” he said after a moment of searching for an equivalent English phrase.
     “Merci, monsieur,” Betsy answered, gratified that he considered her stylish.
     “Ah, parlez-vous français?” he exclaimed, sounding like a boy in his excitement that she spoke his language.
     Betsy nodded, and he gave her gloved hand a quick squeeze of approval. Then returning to the previous subject, he said, “Your taste in clothing reminds me of ma belle-soeur Josephine. She truly knows how to set Paris on its ear.”
     “Oh, please tell me about her.”
     He chuckled and said in French, “A while back, she started a new fashion of wearing sheer gowns such as yours but with nothing underneath.”
     Betsy’s cheeks burned as Jerome continued, “Napoleon considered the style too immodest. One day, finding Josephine and her ladies sitting in the drawing room in such flimsy attire, he gave orders for the servants to pile wood on the fire. When Josephine complained that she was roasting alive, he said, ‘My dear, I was afraid you might catch cold sitting here naked.’”
     In spite of her discomfort with the indiscreet topic, Betsy found herself joining in Jerome’s laughter. Then, after her first wave of self-consciousness passed, she felt a delicious sense of freedom in being able to talk so openly of things forbidden in Baltimore society.
     The last move of the dance required Jerome to grasp her hands and swing her through several revolutions. After the last twirl, he flirtatiously pulled her closer to his body than was proper before releasing her. As they pulled apart, Betsy found herself halted. Her gold chain had caught on one of his buttons.
     She dared not look up at him. With the rapidity of lightning, she felt as embarrassed as if she had found herself publicly wearing one of Josephine’s revealing gowns.
     “Permit me.” Jerome used his index finger to unhook her necklace. Instead of releasing the chain, however, he kept it on the crook of his finger and whispered, “Do you see, chére mademoiselle? Fate has brought us together, and we are destined never to part.”
     Betsy caught her breath at the romantic perfection of the moment, but then her natural skepticism reasserted itself. She perceived that this man to whom she was temporarily joined—handsome, warm-hearted, and fun loving though he might be—lacked the steely resolve of his famous older brother. He seemed content to glide through life feasting on whatever privileges fell to him in Napoleon’s wake.
     “Fate seems to have forgotten that I promised my next dance to someone else.”
     Jerome released her gold chain. “If that is your wish.”
     “My wish, sir, is for a partner who understands that I am a kingdom that must be won rather than claimed as a birthright.”
     For a moment, he seemed perplexed and she feared the sentiment was too complex for him to understand it in English, but then laughter returned to his eyes. “Truly, Mademoiselle, that is a challenge worthy of a Bonaparte.” He bowed and watched her walk away.

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Happy (Belated) Birthday, Jerome Bonaparte

Jérôme Bonaparte - Sophie Lienard

Jerome Bonaparte by Sophie Lienard, via Wikimedia Commons

So, there’s a problem with the title of this post that I’m guessing a lot of people don’t even know about because it’s usage that has become quite common. Allow me to digress from Jerome for a moment. When I was a young child, I received a lot of praise for my ability to draw recognizable faces. So in third grade, when we were given the art assignment of creating a drawing to represent February, I proudly drew two side-by-side ovals and then put Washington’s portrait in one and Lincoln’s portrait in the other. I put in a lot of effort to make the faces look as much like the presidents as I could. I wrote “Happy Birthday George Washington and Abraham Lincoln” across the top like a banner. (This was in the days when we honored each of their birthdays separately instead of lumping them into President’s Day.)

My teacher refused to hang the picture because they were dead, and it’s not proper to wish happy birthday to a dead person. I was crushed that she would be so picky about a technicality of usage instead of noticing how hard I’d worked on the art.

Here we are, decades years later, and I still remember that rule, but as you can see, I decided to break it. Yesterday was the 229th anniversary of Jerome Bonaparte’s birth, and I’m saying happy birthday to him. Take that, Mrs. Brown.

I can’t give you the usual biography here, because that would give away way too much of the plot of my novel. So instead, I’ll share one humorous story about Jerome that I included in The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte.

[Betsy] sat up in bed, wrapped her arms around her knees, and smiled at the memory of a story he told during their last dance. When Jerome was fifteen, Napoleon had taken him to live in the Tuileries in the hope of imparting discipline to the baby of the Bonaparte clan. Napoleon, however, was often away on government business, and during his absences, Jerome discovered the delights of shopping in Paris. After one such trip, the First Consul found that his youngest brother had purchased an elaborate shaving set whose articles were made of gold, silver, mother of pearl, and ivory—and ordered that the bill of 10,000 francs be sent to the palace. “This is ridiculous! You do not even have a beard!”

The boy looked longingly at the objects his brother had confiscated. “I know. But I just love beautiful things.”

Happy birthday, Jerome. I hope wherever you are, you’re surrounded by beautiful things.


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The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte: cover reveal!

I am proud and pleased to reveal the cover for my novel:


Here is the synopsis:

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.

Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.

Our publication date is December 2. The book can be preordered here.


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Writing Historical Fiction: Mimicking Old Books

As I was waiting for the copy edit review of my novel, one of the people at my publishing house had an unusual suggestion for my book. She e-mailed me and said that she had been thinking about my story and wondering if I’d want to consider doing one of those old-fashioned, annotated TOCs (tables of contents) that used to be so popular in the 1800s. Her reasoning was that she thought all the chapters are so meaty (an evaluation I loved hearing!) that it might be fun to give the readers teasers about what’s coming.

My first thought was, What are you, psychic? You see, two of the 19th-century biographies of Betsy Bonaparte that I used for sources had just that kind of TOC.

My second thought was, No way. I don’t want to give away too much of the story.

But I reconsidered and decided to see if I could do it without including spoilers. It became like a word puzzle, . . . and I love word puzzles.

After I finished a version that I was happy with, I sent it to my editor to see what he thought. He agreed that it worked, so we decided to use it.

Here are the first few chapters:


Visiting a dying son — The seductive whirlpool of memory

Chapter I

Refugees from a revolution — An early loss — Snowball fights and arithmetic tests — Teasing Uncle Smith — Madame Lacomb’s school — Intriguing prophecy

Chapter II

The Belle of Baltimore — Dreaming of a brilliant match — Rumors about Napoleon — A Bonaparte in Baltimore — Their first encounter

Chapter III

A consummate flatterer — Quick wit and a sharp tongue — Aunt Nancy’s advice — The coquette and the guest of honor — “Destined never to part”

Chapter IV

A shocking discovery — The wedding of friends — Passion awakes — Seeking a brother’s advice — A father’s worry and a daughter’s plea


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Book Review: America’s Fool


I recently read America’s Fool: Las Vegas & the End of the World by Jay Amberg, which was a fun read. The book is a thriller set during the Obama administration, probably in the first year or two after the Great Recession.

Andy Wright is a TV reporter who is more of a pretty-boy personality than a hard-core journalist. While in Las Vegas to film a series of stories about how the recession hit the city, he goes hiking in Red Rock Canyon. When a hailstorm kicks up, he takes refuge in a cave and falls down a rock chimney, landing in a chamber with a hidden cache of mysterious canisters. As he inspects them, something stings him from behind, and he passes out. The next thing he knows, Wright wakes up by the side of a road on the other side of the ridge where he had taken refuge—to discover that a beautiful, female Iranian doctor has found him and is attending to his bruises. If that’s not strange enough, when Wright gets to his feet, he notices there are no tracks—none at all—to hint at how he got to where he is.

The series of mysteries nags at Wright, who has grown more than a little disillusioned about how glib his career has become. He and his producer, Maggie McNamara, start looking for answers, and at first, discover more questions. Who is Dr. Fereshteh Raisani, and how did she happen to come along a little-used road just when Wright needed her? And who is Nick Larson, the solitary desert wanderer that Wright meets when he goes back to find the motorcycle that got left in the desert when he had his accident?

Little by little, Wright and his producer uncover a terrifying plot. Joseph Wengelt, the fanatical leader of a religious cult that lives on a compound in the Mojave Desert, has decided to summon forth the “Day of the Lord” upon sinful, apostate America by unleashing the most virulent poison ever invented. He is aided in his plan by an ignorant white supremacist and a cold-blooded security officer who dreams of establishing his version of constitutional government. Wright and McNamara remain hampered by what they don’t know. When is the attack supposed to take place? What are the targets of the conspiracy? Do they know for certain where all the canisters of poison are—and if not, will their investigation trigger a pre-emptive strike?

America’s Fool has well-drawn characters and vividly described settings. It was a fast-paced read that kept me enthralled during a long afternoon of sitting in a hospital waiting for tests—despite the noise of the ubiquitous television and the chatter of patients and medical personnel at the nearby reception desk. I think that’s a pretty strong recommendation.


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“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

This is the second of two poems I always associate with Veterans Day. These verses are the reason poppies are used to honor veterans.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


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‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen

This has long been the poem I most associate with Veteran’s Day, so I was delighted to find it on the excellent blog A Poem for Every Day. Emily’s analysis of it is great too.

A poem for every day

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes…

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Neil Diamond and the Search for a New Identity

Neil Diamond 2

Neil Diamond by Iris gerh, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night, I dreamed that Neil Diamond took my husband and me to a concert. Why Neil Diamond? Who knows. He was popular during my childhood and adolescence but was never one of my faves.

For whatever reason, that’s who my subconscious picked last night. We arrived at the venue for the concert, and it was like no place a concert has ever been held before: a maze of wholly unsuitable rooms. There were rooms like cavernous church basements filled with folding chairs. There were rooms like diners with narrow booths and tables in the open spaces. There was a storage room filled with boxes.  And all these rooms were laid out in this twisting, turning floor plan like the palace in the Poe story “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Concertgoers were everywhere. The place was absolutely packed, and shortly after we went inside and began to snake our way through the crowd to find our seats, we lost Neil Diamond. He scooted on ahead, able to walk more quickly because we were carrying coolers and stuff, and he wasn’t. And he was the only one of us who knew where we were supposed to sit.

I wanted to wait at the place where we’d lost him to see if he’d come back for us, but my husband was certain we could catch up, so we set out to find him. We walked through a room where people had been pushed back from the center and were seated behind ropes as if waiting for a parade. We saw a local musician we know sitting there, and I wanted to stop and ask if he and his wife had seen Neil Diamond go by, but my husband was hurrying on. We passed through one room with a whole mass of uninstalled toilets lined up in rows. Then we went through one of the diner-like rooms, and I had to crawl over people sitting in a booth to keep up.

We never did find Neil Diamond or our seats. But just as I woke up, I realized it didn’t matter. We were already inside the concert venue. We had arrived. Maybe we didn’t know our place yet, but we would find it.

And that, my friends, is what I think the dream was telling me. You see, Monday I sent the PDF proofs of my novel back to the publisher, and yesterday, I received an email telling me that the next and final set of proofs is already on its way back to me. My book is going to be for sale soon, probably in less than a month. Instead of feeling excited and happy, I’ve been nervous. What if no one hears of it? What if no one buys it? What if those who buy it hate it?

In other words, I have my ticket and I’ve been admitted into the arena of published novelists. I have arrived, but I still don’t know what my place will be. But maybe that doesn’t matter. At least I can always say (metaphorically) that I went to a concert with Neil Diamond.


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Writing Historical Fiction, Part 1 by Meredith Allard

Today, I refer you to a great post by Meredith Allard in which she talks about how to pick the right setting for historical fiction:

Writing Historical Fiction Part 1.

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Betsy’s Circle: Her Son Bo

Betsy and Jerome had one child, a son, whom Betsy  named Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte. Among his mother’s family, however, he was known as Bo.

I haven’t said much about him before because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. However, I ran across this letter the other day when I was checking something else, and I found it amusing. As it doesn’t relate to any of the events I cover in the novel, I decided to share it here. Betsy wrote it from Europe to her father and describes events that took place when her son was merely sixteen:

Bo was very much attended to by all hands in Europe, and admired by every  one. Some ladies in Rome ran after him so much that I feared his being spoiled, although he seemed quite unconscious of it, supposing probably that women old enough to be his grandmother could not be foolish enough to fall in love with him. It is certain that his beauty attracted great attention; a German princess told me that she had followed him once in Geneva, at a ball, from room to room, to look at him, and that he was the handsomest creature she ever saw. He certainly is the handsomest boy I ever saw  of his  age, and in all respects the finest creature possible. His modesty and good sense alone prevent his being spoiled, for I assure you he received attentions sufficient to have turned much older heads.

By most accounts, Betsy was a vain woman, so I think there may be a bit of mother’s exaggerated pride here. But it still tickles me to think of middle-aged princesses trailing after her son because he was so “beautiful.”

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