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. . .
Author Q&A for Kensington
1. What made you want to be a writer?
Ever since I was in school I’ve had a knack for turning a phrase. I was a pretty decent student, but I always knew that if I was required to write a paper, I’d probably ace the class, or close to it. That knack for turning a phrase turned into spinning stories, which has followed me all of my life. After years of dabbling in storytelling, I think September 11, 2001, finally made me get serious about it. I had begun Decorum by then, but started working in earnest, while working full time.
2. What was your initial inspiration for the novel Decorum?
In 1999 I took a wonderful course in writing historical fiction that helped me get over an apprehension I had felt about tackling stories set against a particular historical backdrop. The focus of the course was on getting the story out—keep writing and writing until you hit a snag, which usually means you need to do some research. That gave me the courage to begin to write about a couple characters who had been occupying my thoughts for quite some time. I had no idea who they were or what they were about, except that they existed in Gilded Age New York. The first scene I wrote became part of Chapter 31. The next scene became part of Chapter 20. I kept writing pieces until I knew enough about the characters and had enough pieces to begin to pull together a coherent story.
3. What was the most surprising thing you found in your great-grandmother’s etiquette book?
Most surprising was how the etiquette book covers every facet of a person’s life—not simply what manners to observe at a dinner party or how to make visits and receive callers or how to leave a calling card or how a courtship should be conducted, but also advice on grooming, what colors “harmonize” for clothing, and the language of flowers.
4. Give us some examples of the “Rules of Decorum.”
Here are a couple of quotations from the etiquette book:
“If you are walking with a woman in the country—ascending a mountain or strolling by a bank of a river—and your companion being fatigued, should choose to sit upon the ground, on no account allow yourself to do the same, but remain rigorously standing. To do otherwise would be flagrantly indecorous and she would probably resent it as the greatest insult.”
I love this one—ouch!
“If you are a gentleman, never lower the intellectual standard of your conversation in addressing ladies. Pay them the compliment of seeming to consider them capable of an equal understanding with gentlemen. You will, no doubt, be somewhat surprised to find in how many cases the supposition will be grounded on fact, and in the few instances where it is not the ladies will be pleased rather than offended at the delicate compliment you pay them. When you ‘come down’ to commonplace or small-talk with an intelligent lady, one of the two things is the consequence, she either recognizes the condescension and despises you, or else she accepts it as the highest intellectual effort of which you are capable, and rates you accordingly.”
5. Do you have any specific writing rituals?
I’ve been a morning person all my life. The earlier in the morning I can begin writing, the better. Though it’s not exactly a “writing” ritual, I do mimic Charles Dickens in being an avid walker; long walks clear the brain and settle body for long bouts in front of the computer.
6. What kind of research did you do to make the novel so authentic?
I started by reading a few general overview or survey books about the Victorian period, particularly in America, that covered home life, transportation, commerce, society, politics, current events, entertainment, and so on to give myself enough of an idea of the world in which the characters would move. Then I relied heavily on any visual resources from the period—engravings from period magazines and newspapers, photos of interiors of houses and institutions, artwork from the late 19th century, anything that would help me describe what it looked like and felt like to be in a particular place in the Gilded Age. I visited museums and galleries and Victorian homes and walked around Manhattan. I also read novels from the Gilded Age to help me get the cadence of the language.
7. What’s your favorite thing about Francesca and Connor?
My favorite thing about Francesca is that she is able to take the moral high ground, which actually could set her at variance with decorum. Francesca is willing to cross the line and treat a person like a human being—whether a poor immigrant at the settlement house or someone with a shady past who is trying to get on in the world—even if society’s decorum would dictate that the person should be shunned and kept on the fringe. Connor has similar qualities. Though I wouldn’t describe him as always taking the moral high ground, I appreciate that because he has built his fortune from nothing and has wide experience with all kinds of people, he’s less judgmental and more willing to put up with people’s foibles. Though they express it in different ways, this is one area where their values overlap.
8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write what you feel moved to write about. Writers can find lots of advice about first novels that say write short, autobiographical books that only have a handful of characters. Decorum violates all these “rules” for a first novel. A workshop leader once said to me, Good writing trumps all. I truly believe we can only write well what is in our hearts to write.
9. Finally, where can readers connect with you?
Currently, the best way to reach me is to use the message function on Facebook. Readers can find me at facebook.com/kaarenchristopherson