Hi Kaaren and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, Decorum!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
DECORUM is a tale about an heiress, a tycoon, a mistress, and a gigolo, set against a backdrop of New York and the Canadian Rockies in the Gilded Age. Sparks fly over lavish opera parties, Central Park encounters, and mountain landscapes while hotel plans are laid and deals are made. Choices that challenge the decorum of the times change the fortunes of the characters along the way.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
In the time it had taken Francesca to raise the field glasses to her eyes, the yacht was gone. In its place a spike of fire had shot skyward, followed by a blast of flaming debris and a spreading mantle of black smoke. An eternity had passed before an explosion tore the silence and the shock wave had jetted across the lake and left her flat upon the dock.
Please share a few Random facts about this book…
- DECORUM began many years ago when I took a course in writing historical fiction that put research and writing in perspective and gave me the courage to start. As it happened, I started with a scene that became part of chapter 31; the second scene I wrote became part of chapter 20. I had no idea who these people were or how they related to each other, but I kept on writing and filling in the details.
- A great resource for DECORUM was my great-grandmother’s etiquette book, which you can see on my website at kaarenchristopherson.com. One day I was using it as reference and suddenly realized it could not only help me organize the story, but gave me a great title for the novel.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
All the characters surprised me constantly, which is what made writing DECORUM such a joy. As the characters took over the story, their choices and discoveries—some good, some bad, some reckless, some calculated—fascinated me. For example, when Blanche visits a travel agency, I thought she was going to one place, but as the dialogue with the agent progressed, she “decided” to go someplace else. In another scene, two detectives open a grave; I thought I knew for sure whose remains would be there, but they “discovered” someone else. In yet another scene, up until Sándor and the English gentleman reach across the billiard table to shake hands on a wager, I had no idea what that wager would entail. Working with the characters, putting them in a situation and letting them decide how it will go, made writing DECORUM delicious. The characters are frequently wiser than I am.
At kaarenchristopherson.com, you can find The O’Casey Chronicle—an 1890s “tabloid” of backstories and bios of the characters.
What, in your mind, distinguishes this book from other books out there in the same genre?
In DECORUM, I tried to stay true to the Victorian period in the language—not just describe corsets and hansom cabs and manners and tea parties, but create an atmosphere by having the language sound like it might have come from the period. The references to an actual etiquette book from the period also help keep it grounded in how people of the period should behave—then most of the time they don’t behave that way at all.
Do you think there’s a common trait or a je ne sais quoi that your heroes must have?
Strangely (or not?), I think readers relate to people who have flaws, who have challenges to overcome. That makes the characters believable and more like us. And it isn’t the “bad” people who make bad choices. Often “good” characters make bad choices, sometimes for noble reasons or because their choices are limited at the time. We face those challenges, too, so we like to see how heroes and heroines solve problems and make choices while trying to be true to who they are
Did any scene have you crying or laughing (or blushing) while writing it?
At the risk of giving anything away, toward the end of the book, when Blanche is finally set on a path that will lead her off into the future with greater promise than she’s ever known before, I was so happy for her. So many bad choices had haunted Blanche. The turn of events came as a complete surprise to her—and to me. Here are a couple lines, with Francesca speaking first:
“You will no doubt learn that a great many things suit you that you never would have realized without this opportunity.”
“Yes, I am aware of that,” said Blanche with some hesitation, “for better or worse.”
“You think it won’t better?” asked Francesca. “To be given the chance to learn it is a great thing. I’m confident it can be nothing less.”
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters?
There are so many opportunities for banter between characters, it’s hard to narrow it down, but here is one possibility. In chapter 11, the wealthy heiress Francesca and her fiancé Edmund have an argument over a marriage contract, Edmund speaking first:
“My expectations, as you call them, were that we would be following the modern—and legal—custom of my taking over the management of, how did you put it? Our collective wealth.”… “Of course, I have no objection to your keeping a portion for yourself, as I expect you will have your own expenses and, as you say, you will have a household to run.”
“Do you expect me to have an allowance of my own money?” …
“I believe that it is the custom in many households.”…
“Let me get this clear. Am I to understand that your expectation is that I turn all my money over to you and let you then parcel it out to me?”…
“My dear duchess, there wouldn’t be any ‘letting’ about it. I would have the management.”
Another good possibility is in chapter 27, where heiress Francesca and tycoon Connor meet by accident in Central Park. Connor tries to get under her skin and she gives back as good as she gets. Francesca speaks first:
“Do you always swear and try your best to offend people?”
“No wonder you’re not married,” she said.
He chuckled at this and drew on the cigar and blew out the smoke.
“I suppose so,” he said. “You’re not a reformer, by any chance, are you, Miss Lund?”
She laughed. “So that’s what you’re afraid of? A vigorous overhaul for the good of your soul?”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
I hope readers will not only luxuriate in the Gilded Age, but will also appreciate that it was a complex time of change for everyone, particularly for women. Rules—and decorum—were changing, and change is always challenging.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2015?
I have so many ideas! Currently I’m exploring several time periods, from more Gilded Age to the 1920s to pre-revolutionary America to the medieval period. I’m fleshing these out to determine what looks most promising and interesting.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: A trade print copy of DECORUM
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: DECORUM includes more than a dozen discussion questions for reading groups. The first question is one of my favorites: Every generation redefines what it means to “have it all.” What do you think having it all meant to someone in the 1890s? What do you think it means to Francesca Lund? Connor O’Casey? Blanche Alvarado? Edmund Tracey? How do you think their servants would define it? How would these definitions be similar to or different from the way you would define it today?
Excerpt from Decorum:
Awkwardness and Effrontery
The most appropriate and becoming dress is that which so harmonizes with the figure as to make the apparel unobserved. When any particular portion of it excites the attention, there is a defect, for details should not present themselves first but the result of perfect dressing should be an elegant woman….A modest countenance and pleasing figure, habited in an inexpensive attire, would win more attention from men, than awkwardness and effrontery, clad in the richest satins and costliest gems.
Decorum, page 264
Connor daubed his lips with the linen napkin as the waiter brought two brandies. The light from the globed chandeliers cast a warm glow over the fluted columns and ornate plaster work of the Fifth Avenue Hotel’s dining room. Chatter floated upward to the coved ceiling and merged into a general din before descending over several hundred patrons.
Blanche was in high spirits, and truth be told, his own spirits were no less high. Connor had just had the pleasure of sharing an excellent meal with a stylish woman in the dining room of her hotel and the night still held the promise of pleasures to come. The day had been a good one. A small, private celebration was in order.
Connor raised his glass to his lips and fixed Blanche in his gaze—the plain black watered silk dress, the whiteness of her shoulders and her slender arms, the bisque-white complexion framed by sleek black hair swept high at the back of her head.
“Are those pearls quite right for you, do you think?” he asked, regarding the necklace he had just presented her. She fingered the three long strands and gave him a questioning look. “Maybe I should have chosen something brighter, something with more sparkle.” He loved to taunt her, if just a little. Her happiness was evident in her eyes and this gave him pleasure. Though he knew his generosity would be rewarded, he was conscious of his own happiness in pleasing someone else. The anticipation had grown even as he stood in Tiffany’s and peered into the glass case earlier that morning.
“Oh, no,” Blanche exclaimed. “I love them. They’re the finest pearls I’ve ever seen. To be understated is to be elegant, you know. Don’t underestimate your taste, darling.”
“All the same, maybe we can find some little sparkler to hang from them. Spruce ‘em up a bit. What do you say?” She acquiesced with a gracious nod.
“Now, what’s this all about?” she teased. “I’ve told you all about my little triumphs. You can’t have been opening accounts with dressmakers and boot-makers and milliners as I have done today. I’m sure you haven’t the least interest in my battle with Mrs. Van So-and-So over a dress-length of sapphire silk, or that I was two steps ahead of Mrs. Humbug in obtaining the last of the green shoe leather.” Connor chuckled at this. “What have you been doing that you should look so satisfied with yourself?”
“Today, my dear Blanche, I have officially become a major investor in the forthcoming Hotel Excelsior, the finest apartment hotel in the City of New York.” He leaned back in his chair and took a large swallow from the brandy glass.
“Oh, darling! How simply marvelous. We shouldn’t sitting here quietly talking about dressmakers. We should be out dancing somewhere.”
“In due course, Blanche,” he said in hushed tones. “It’s a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you say? We can’t go larking about and spoiling the effects, now, can we? You’re the one who’s always telling me that triumph needn’t be showy to be triumph, aren’t you? You and your understated pearls?”
“You’re right, of course, darling.” She laughed. “Plenty of time to celebrate when they’ve seen what a superb partner you are. What is your first move?” She swirled the brandy in its glass and brought the rim to her lips.
“They—or we—are still looking for premises. I’m to scout about a bit, make some inquiries, look for a sizable plot of land at a good price—and the best location, naturally.” “Perhaps I can help,” she said eagerly. “I might hear of something to your advantage. You never know whose wives I might run into in my travels about the city and to whom they might be connected.”
“Yes,” he said. He often wondered what sorts of “connections” Blanche might make in New York, if left to herself. He was glad that she was striking out on her own in a mild way. She was like an exotic flower, after all, and needed sun and air. When he had pressed her about her prior associations with New York—her family, her friends, her favorite haunts—she left him with the feeling she had not left the city the last time on favorable terms. Whether on account of her family or herself or her connections, he wasn’t sure. Society’s rites and rituals were circumscribed and unyielding. Her association with him was enough to put society on its guard and for this he blamed himself. Society as a whole could not welcome Blanche until she received calls from women who mattered, or who mattered by extension from their husbands. Even so, Connor was not yet familiar enough with society to know how far back its memory stretched and whether society had learned to forgive—or how much. They finished their brandies.
“Shall I order another bottle of champagne to be brought up?” he asked.
“I’m light-headed already,” said Blanche smiling, “though whether from the champagne or the pearls, I couldn’t say. More champagne and I shall be good for nothing.” Which, as Connor knew well, meant that she would be good for anything.
As they crossed the lobby to the elevator, Connor gave a nod to the concierge. A regular dollar or two had ensured that any inconveniences decorum might dictate as to how a man and woman spend their time alone would be avoided. The concierge telegraphed a look to the desk clerk who looked the other way.
As Blanche preceded him into her suite, Connor handed the maid an envelope and whispered out of Blanche’s hearing, “on the pillow.”
The evening breeze billowed the window curtains and the room was fragrant with Blanche’s scent. She began to hum a waltz and sway her body in time to her own music until she sang in full voice. Gathering up a handful of skirt, she made pirouettes around the sitting room chairs. She floated up to him as he stood at the fireplace, his elbow resting on the mantel shelf as he pulled his cigar case from his breast pocket. In three-quarter time, she stepped before him and caressed his cheek, gave his ear a playful tug, and ran her fingers through his beard. Her hand slipped to his shoulder, then his arm, until her hand rested in his. Blanche’s touch electrified his frame, her soaring spirits an irresistible force as she waltzed him to the bed chamber door.
She stopped short. On the bed, freshly turned down, an envelope lay on the snowy, lace-edged pillow. Blanche snatched up the envelope and tore it open. In it were two tickets for the Halloween Charity Masquerade Ball given by the Ladies Auxiliary for the Benefit of the New St. John’s Hospital, a much-talked-of affair among Connor’s business associates. A public ball, with hundreds of guests, and masked to boot—the perfect venue for society’s first glimpse of his hot-house flower and his first opportunity to see how Blanche might fare. No pressure of invitations or visits. A public ball was no less important to their future, he must remind her. They must show themselves as players in this game. Public is still public.
“So, you’ll get your dancing after all, Blanche, won’t you?”
“Oh, Connor, darling! A ball! How simply wonderful! I shall ado-o-ore it.” Her being seemed to explode in joy. She sang herself around the room, folds of skirt in one hand, the tickets in the other hand like a flag. As she approached him, she untethered the watch chain from his waistcoat. He shed his jacket and Blanche sang and sang and pulled the knot of his tie free and pushed her body into his. Her singing was only arrested by his kiss. He grabbed her around the waist and lifted her—lighter than usual, he wondered?—and swayed her toward the bed to the humming that buzzed in his ears. She laughed as he tasted the soft flesh of her neck. He was beyond thought, beyond care, beyond worry. At that moment, the only thing that mattered was Blanche.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Kaaren Christopherson’s brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world’s most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras—as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine. . .
In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city’s settlement movement. But a young woman of means can’t shun society for long, and Francesca’s long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn’t blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do. . .
Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O’Casey—an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel—and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.
Rules Of Decorum
A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter.
If you wish to avoid the company of any one that has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that your reasons are correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able either to blame or mistake you.
The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told. . .. Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions. . .
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Meet the Author:
Kaaren Christopherson has been writing and editing professionally for over 25 years and is a senior editor for a large Washington, DC, international development nonprofit. Kaaren received her BA in history and art and her MA in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She loves to travel and prowl through historical sites, galleries, markets, and museums. She’s active in several churches in DC and in her local community of Alexandria, VA, where she shares her home with feline brothers, Archie and Sammy.
Currently, the best way to reach me is to use the message function on Facebook. Readers can find me at facebook.com/kaarenchristopherson
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