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Posts Tagged ‘Alyssa Alexander’

Alyssa Alexander – Land Steward

Wikipedia, Licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution: Motacilla

Wikipedia, Licensed under Creative Commons – Attribution: Motacilla

In any number of romance novels you’ll find a titled hero meeting with his steward to ‘go over the accounts’ or some other task related to land management. In some books you’ll find the steward may be the love interest—Simply Love by Mary Balogh and The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt come to mind.  And I do love an unexpected hero!





But what is a steward? What does he actually do? I only had a vague idea until I started researching for my current work in progress. And that is when I discovered The Modern Land Steward by John Lawrence. The version I read was the second edition and published in 1806. Mr. Lawrence was not the first gentleman to publish a book on stewardship, as he was quick to point out in his introduction. Apparently there were at least two others who had published books on the subject, and many more who put out essays on various aspects such as timber and cattle and agriculture.



What both fascinated and repelled me, however, was that Mr. Lawrence took quite some time in the introduction to share how to slaughter oxen and kill eels. For this city girl, I was vaguely uneasy about getting into the rest of the book. I mean, ew.


Wikipedia, Licensed under Creative Commons – Attribution: Jamain

But then we got to the goods. “A category of the duties, general and particular, of the steward.” There we go. That’s what I was after. What does a steward actually do?

(Apparently, a steward cross-breeds turnips, according to page 470.)

It turns out there are actually three different types of stewards: first, a house-steward “(manciple, caterer, purveyor, etc.)”, and the second is an agent who accepts rents and works with the tenants. There may be multiple of these stewards/agents if the titled gentleman has multiple estates, with each steward working in a different geographic area. However, all of these lower stewards would report to the chief or principal agent, who may be steward to the family’s main seat. The chief agent looks over the accounts of the lower stewards and puts together a summary for his lordship.

It seems that depending on the size of the overall fortune, the number and duties of the stewards will vary. In my feverish, author-ly imagination, I’m already using that as a plot point. I can imagine a responsible hero wanting all of the stewards to report directly to him, while a tragically wounded hero hiding from his past and his title might rely on the chief steward to oversee all the stewards—it’s all about motivation, isn’t it?

Well, moving on and leaving out my imagination for the moment, here’s a list of topics stewards ought to know about: agriculture, livestock and husbandry, horses, “physic and the healing art, as applicable to beasts; and of the just and natural method of shoeing,” architecture, mechanics, bookkeeping, and law related to landlords/tenants, highways and forests.

Jack of all trades, no?

And then comes my favorite part:

land stewared

Our author Mr. Lawrence then proceeds to write 529 pages of duties for a steward. Everything from the turnips above, to brick-making, to planting trees—and then felling them—controlled burning, grafting plants, a study of the different types of soils, dry rot in timber and running mills for grinding corn and wheat.

Honestly. If the steward keeps track of all of these parts of country manor life for his lordship, what, exactly, does his lordship do? Ah. I know. Woos duchesses with his roguish ways. Well, there goes my imagination again! Thank you to the land steward for freeing up our rogues! *wink*



Alyssa Alexander is the debut author of THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, which features a smuggler and a spy, but not a land steward. However, stewards do crop up in her future books. She knows nothing about dry rot or husbandry (is that the same thing has training a husband??) and leaves all agricultural aspects to Mr. Alexander, so as not to kill the plants with her black thumb. Watch for IN BED WITH A SPY, the second book in her A Spy In The Ton series  later this year!

The Gloves Come Off! Welcome Duchess Alyssa Alexander With Her Debut Novel, The Smuggler Wore Silk

It’s Duchess Jennifer McQuiston here, and I am wiggling in my seat (I know, Duchess’s aren’t supposed to do that, but I am very excited!) You see, tomorrow is fellow Duchess Alyssa Alexander’s debut for her very first book, The Smuggler Wore Silk, and she has graciously agreed to let me interview her for the Dashing Duchesses.

Alyssa-Alexander-214x300This is a gutsy decision, because Alyssa and I are close friends. This means that she knows from past history (and umpteen examples) that sometimes my interview questions can make even the staunchest of heroines blush. I’ve promised her I will be gentle (I lied, of course).

I’m also removing my gloves, one finger at a time, and am now briskly warming them in her hero’s lap in anticipation of such a delicious opportunity.

But first, here’s a bit about Alyssa.

Dibs on my hero’s lap, Jennifer!! I didn’t write Julian for you. I wrote him for me. Er…wait. No, I wrote him for all woman-kind. Sigh….

But, if one can even focus on a Duchess when there is a wounded gentleman hero spy around, here’s a little about me: I live in Michigan, but should have been born someplace hot and sunny where drinks are served with paper umbrellas. I work a full time job outside the home, am a full time mother and wife, and am a debut romance writer. My life is a whirlwind every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, as long as I get to take those occasional breaks someplace warm and sunny.

Alyssa’s debut, the Smuggler Wore Silk, is already generating much well-deserved buzz in the historical romance world and has garnered the highest possible rating (4.5 stars and a “Top Pick”) from RT Book Reviews, which said: “Alexander makes her debut with a thrilling, wild ride of a spy thriller that sizzles with passion. Readers will follow her three-dimensional characters through a maze of plot twists and turns. Like an intricate puzzle, Alexander has all the pieces of the ideal romance and arranges them in the perfect picture. She is a rising star you won’t want to miss.”

9780425269527_medium_The_Smuggler_Wore_Silk1Isn’t that the most amazing review? I couldn’t be more grateful! And, for a little insight into a debut author’s world, I was so terrified I couldn’t open the email to read it at first. I had to let it sit in my inbox for about 10 minutes before I worked up the nerve check it! And when it was wonderful, I was thrilled. Here is a little blurb about the book:

After he is betrayed by one of his own, British spy Julian Travers, Earl of Langford, refuses to retire without a fight, vowing to find the traitor. But when the trail leads to his childhood home, Julian is forced to return to a place he swore he’d never see again, and meet a woman who may be his quarry—in more ways than one.

Though she may appear a poor young woman dependent on charity, Grace Hannah’s private life is far more interesting. By night, she finds friendship and freedom as a member of a smuggling ring. But when the handsome Julian arrives, she finds her façade slipping, and she is soon compromised, as well as intrigued.

As she and Julian continue the hunt, Grace finds herself falling in love with the man behind the spy. Yet Julian’s past holds a dark secret. And when he must make a choice between love and espionage, that secret may tear them apart.

I’ll start with a low-ball question first, because I don’t want to frighten our blushing debut author. Every author worth her salt owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the authors who inspire them to dig deeper and reach higher in their own writing. Who would you like to send a shout-out of thanks to in the writing world for being so darn amazing? (*cough-Joanna Bourne-cough*)

Ah, you know me too well. Yes, I love the incomparable Joanna Bourne, and also the brilliant Cecelia Grant, for their skill with characterization. Mary Balogh for her internal dialogue. And Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt for instilling a love of the mysterious side of romance in my youth.

The Smuggler Wore Silk is a lush, suspenseful Regency-set historical, and is the first book in your “A Spy in the Ton” series. Why did you choose to write Regency-set historicals, Ms. Alexander, instead of, say, dino-erotic-steampunk? And more importantly, why spies?

Hm. Dino-erotic-steampunk. Most interesting…Perhaps I should reconsider my genre? But no, I’m too in love with the Regency! I never thought about writing anything but historical, primarily because I have a fantasy involving a handsome lord in black evening wear and a crisp white cravat whirling me across a ball room gilded with candlelight. I’d be wearing a lavish satin gown with my hair curled and piled high. And as candlelight is flattering to everyone, I’d be stunningly beautiful. But alas, it truly is a fantasy. I could never be a proper Regency miss. I’m terrified of horses, would likely trip over the hem of a Regency gown, prefer running water and toilets to a hip bath and chamber pot, and wouldn’t remember how to address the second son of a marquess without a cheat sheet tucked into my reticule. But a modern girl can always dream…As for why espionage, I love adventure, action, and characters with secrets. Given the war with France during the Regency, espionage is a natural fit. Plus, putting characters in harm’s way brings emotion to the surface. When everything a person loves is in danger they will go to extraordinary lengths to protect it.

Your cover is gorgeous, and very unique. (She’s got a gun behind her back, people, and a curious little smirk on her face!) I am not aware of any other historical covers that feature a pistol-wielding heroine. How did you conceive of the idea? And does it accurately portray the character of your heroine, Grace Hannah?

smoking gunsWell on this one, I have to give the shout out to YOU, Ms. McQuiston! For which I am entirely grateful! As I recall, it was your idea. Women with weapons are a common cover concept in contemporary romantic suspense, and you suggested using that concept for historical. Once the idea was planted in my brain, I couldn’t get it out. Since Grace uses a pistol to great effect in THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, and in the next book, IN BED WITH THE SPY, the heroine Lilias uses a cavalry sabre, it naturally flowed that each heroine would have a different weapon. As to the smile, that was the wonderful cover artist!

And, yes, the cover is perfect for Grace! Not only does she carry a pocket pistol on her smuggling travels, but, she’s a gently bred lady living in her uncle’s home. She appears to be every inch a lady. But at night, she meets with smugglers in pubs and travels across the countryside. So the idea of her hiding the pistol behind her back fits the smuggler hiding behind the lady.

OK, fine, you’ve called me out. I wanted some credit for that gorgeous cover! Although, I didn’t imagine anything half so beautiful. Now, please tell us a bit about your hero, Julian Travers. He’s a gentleman, he’s a spy, he’s a hell of a complicated new husband for our heroine to try to sort out. Why did a gentleman like Julian turn to spying in the first place? And why does he marry a woman he has begun to suspect of treason?

Ah, Julian. *sigh* My favorite type of hero. He’s strong, intelligent, charming and little bit wounded. As for why he turned to spying, that would be a spoiler! So, in my best Duchess-y manner, I shall simply say ‘atonement, my dears!’ Which is also why he offers to marry Grace. He is, at his very core, honorable, so when he compromises Grace, he has no choice but to propose. Yes, he believes she may be a traitor, but in the moment they’re discovered he follows his gentlemanly instincts. The espionage bit he works out later.

roostersThere was a very interesting article in the Washington Post in December 2013 (see it here). The article discussed the increasing use of the word “co$k” (think: barnyard fowl) in historical romances. Given that the Washington Post has left this particular barn door wide open for romance authors and readers everywhere, I’m officially pulling out the “hard”-ball question I warned you about:

Does Julian call his a “barnyard fowl” or something more civilized?
He does not, in fact, use anything related to “barnyard fowl” in the book.  As near as I can tell, he never really calls it anything, oddly enough (though I offer a disclaimer here: this was a quick perusal of those parts of the book, so I may have missed a mention or two.)

Wow. That’s almost TOO civilized! What does GRACE call it?
Arousal. But here’s a question, if I ever get to do a rewrite, what do YOU think Grace should call it?

Erm… aren’t I supposed to be asking the hard questions here?? Luckily, I know a place to send you as reference. In my first book, What Happens in Scotland, my shocked heroine wakes up in bed with a naked stranger and calls it an “erection.” On page 1, no less. So if you aren’t going to play hardball with me, maybe you could just indulge our readers by letting them know the first page where the idea of Julian’s “co$k” shows up… you know. In case we want to flip straight there.
Well… it could have been used around pages 143, 169, and 196. Just in case you want to evaluate whether the scenes are lacking without said word usage. In a purely intellectual sense, of course.

Please give me a second to peek at these pages, and then join me in cheering Alyssa on in her fabulous debut!

Thank you for interviewing me, Jennifer, during the week of all weeks! There’s nothing quite like the first release day of your first novel, I’m told, and I’m thrilled to share it with the Duchesses!

To celebrate Alyssa’s release, she has graciously agreed to give away a copy of The Smuggler Wore Silk . Just tell us your favorite… er… barnyard animal to enter! Winner chosen from all commenters on Friday, January 10th.

Jennifer and Alyssa first met when a meteor descended upon them and cracked them upside the head (that meteor was actually  author Kimberly Kincaid, who introduced them and got them started as critique partners, along with the fabulous Tracy Brogan). Together, they make up the Three Cheekas. (Yes, they know there are four of them. Use some imagination, folks!)

 Alyssa Alexander writes Love with a Little Danger from the decidedly NOT warm and sunny upper Midwest. When she’s not torturing her critique partners with hard-ball questions,  Jennifer McQuiston writes Different. Historical. Romance. She thinks Alyssa’s new book is pretty amazing, and gave her a cover blurb to prove it!

The Waterloo Medal

marble030313_55The internet, I have decided, is a time warp. I sit down to research one quick item. Something simple. It will only take a moment. For example, I use my Google-fu skills and search for “opera gown 1816” and I end up looking at a lovely hand-colored fashion plate by Ackerman. Then I become curious about the gloves, so I search the history of opera gloves. Which got me using my ninja Googling abilities to search out menswear, formal and daytime. This led me to military uniforms, specifically during the Battle of Waterloo.

Notice I said time warp? A half an hour has slipped through my fingers, and I have yet to write a single word on my manuscript.

So where do I end up? Researching the Waterloo Medal. I had no idea such a thing existed! I found the Wikipedia page easily enough (apparently the medal is not obscure, I was simply living under a rock).


Waterloo Medal Front. Wikipedia Commons: Released into public domain by author, Jack1956.

The Waterloo Medal was awarded not just for the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, but also to those who fought in the Battle of Ligny on June 16, 1815, and the Battle of Quatre Bras on June 17, 1815.

It was awarded to all ranks that fought in the battles, not just officers. This was unprecedented at the time. Interestingly, it was issued to non-commissioned officers at the urging of Wellington himself. He wrote in one of his dispatches, “…… I would beg leave to suggest to your Royal Highness the expediency of giving the non-commissioned officers and soldiers engaged in the Battle of Waterloo, a Medal…” See here.

File:Waterloomedaille 1816 Verenigd Koninkrijk keerzijde.jpg

Waterloo Medal Back. Wikipedia Commons: Released into public domain by author, Jack1956.

 It was approved by Parliament on March 10, 1816. In War Medals and Their History, by W. Augustus Steward (1915), the author notes that in October, a notice appeared in the London Gazette stating “a medal shall be conferred upon every officer, non-commissioned officer, and soldier present on that memorable occasion” and that “the ribbon issued with the medal never be worn but with the medal suspended from it.” Mr. Steward describes the medal as being made of silver, with the Prince Regent’s head on one side and the figure of Victory on the other. It hung from a crimson and blue ribbon, which apparently often broke and required fixing by a jeweler. Each medal was imprinted with the recipient’s name and regiment on the edge of the medal.

Unfortunately, though I found an account written by the actual minter (sp? Mintner? Person who mints medals?), when I began writing this post, I couldn’t find the account again. Lesson for all Duchesses and Duchess followers: If you find an interesting link on the internet, write it down before you move on. You will never find it again.

File:Battle of Waterloo.JPG

Historical Reenactment. Wikipedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, by author Pixar.

I did locate a firsthand account of receipt
of the medal. I have a book called Private Wheeler: The Letters of a Soldier of the 51st Light Infantry during the Peninsular War & at Waterloo by William Wheeler. (Thank you to my sister, who gave it to me for my birthday). The book was first published around 1837  and contains Private Wheeler’s letters dating from 1808 to 1828. I was so excited to find this reference to it…but then realized it was quite anti-climatic. From his letter dated June 23, 1816 (p. 185):


“The men received their Waterloo Medals at Brighton. Colonel Mitchel died when the regiment lay at Chatham in 1817 and Lieutenant Colonel Rice succeeded to the command of the corp. In former letters the writer has often expressed his opinion strongly against soldiers marrying, however it appears he has been caught, having at Plymouth led to the Altar of Hymen a buxom lass some four years younger than himself.


Well. You can tell how excited about the medal Private Wheeler was. Upstaged by a buxom lass! (Note, I thought there was some kind of euphemism there, but with a little searching I did determine it was an actual altar in a church. No fooling. Also, the letter is dated 1816, but he’s referencing 1817. Either Private Wheeler added this bit years later, or there is a mistake. This just goes to show that history is never what it seems.)

The neatest part, at least to this history geek, is that a list of all the Waterloo Medal recipients is maintained at the Royal Mint Museum, including a list of those who lost their medals and had to ask for a second one or simply claimed their medal late. You must, really must click on the link for the roll and zoom in on the picture of the handwritten entries. It’s an amazing piece of history! And it effectively gives you a list of every man in Wellington’s army at Waterloo.

If you can’t make a trip to the UK, however, you can buy the entire list of recipients in book form here. Or, if you belong to the Ancestry.com website and have fun with genealogy, you can search for your relatives by name. How cool is that? Imagine finding a long lost great-great-great grandfather that fought at Waterloo!

Alyssa Alexander likes good food, good books, sleep and yoga. And bacon. She lives in Michigan with her two heroes (one adult male, one small boy) and writes historical romantic suspense. Her debut, THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK, releases on January 7, 2014 from Berkley. Come find her on Twitter and Facebook!

Fun Historical Weapons

Alyssa AlexanderI love writing romance with an added bit of swashbuckling and adventure. Give this girl a pirate, a smuggler, or a spy any day. After all, who doesn’t love a bad boy? And I always gift my bad boys with equally feisty heroines. This means I end up arming my feisty heroines…which leads me to the fun research: historical weaponry!

DISCLAIMER: I am not a weapons expert. I’m not even halfway knowledgeable.  I have never touched or fired a present-day gun, let alone anything historical. Nor have I handled any kind of knife beyond a butter knife. But I have researched weapons for my heroines, which I’m going to share with you today. Mostly because I thought they were so neat I couldn’t help myself. Still, in the scheme of things, this is only a very basic primer on a few interesting weapons. If you want more information, there are many, many experts and enthusiasts that would gladly share their knowledge.

So. Without further do,  the weapons. It is quite difficult to conceal a weapon if you are an 18th or 19th century society lady. A lady doesn’t run around London with a huge pistol in her reticule such as this 9 inch pistol circa 1800. It wouldn’t fit. And a 9 inch pistol does not accessorize well.

What does a girl do? Invest in a pocket pistol, so called because it could fit in a great-coat pocket (which is not useful for my heroine unless she intends to rely on the hero–which of course, she does not). It will also fit inside a ladies’ muff (which is quite useful for my heroines, assuming it’s winter when the book takes place).  The size of a pocket pistol varies. Here are a set of pistols circa 1800 that are about 7.5 inches long.

Here is a French pocket pistol that is 5.75  inches long. The handle is a carved bird, which is both interesting and disturbing. Look at the wonderful details in these pictures!


Flintlock pocket pistols, by Nicolas Noel Boutet, Versailles, c. 1805, ebony grips, engraved steel barrels – Royal Ontario Museum
Wikipedia Commons – Photograph by Daderot

My favorite, the pistol set to the left is only 4.5 inches long–very easy to conceal!

Of course, in the late Regency, my heroine would most likely carry a flintlock pistol, though percussion pistols were beginning to be available around 1820.  Thus, many of the caveats of flintlock pistols apply. They don’t fire in rain or damp weather as the powder will be too wet. Also, they frequently misfire. This is bad. One wouldn’t want to accidentally shoot an eligible bachelor while dancing!

But what about knives? Less chance of misfire and still concealable, so perhaps this would be an ideal weapon for my heroines. Knives can be made to any length and any size, and their shapes change based upon their purpose. The stiletto, for example, which is long and slim with a sharp point is meant for thrusting. At the risk of being too blood-thirsty, a stiletto is meant to pierce deeply, not to have sharp edges for cutting. (Ick.) It dates back to the late 1400’s in Italy.


Stiletto – Wikipedia Commons
Released by photographer Jerryk50 into public domain


And last but not least, a bodice is another place to hide a knife. Though I imagine it would be a bit uncomfortable (and sharp!) if you move just wrong. Still, there were such things as bodice daggers in the Medieval times, when both men and women regularly carried daggers for eating and self-defense.

And now we are coming to my very favorite knife. The salvavirago. A Spanish knife which is also called a “chastity knife.” Guess who gets to use this knife? Yep. Feisty heroines. I couldn’t find a lot of information on this knife beyond that Andalusian women carried it in their garters or bodice. It was smaller form of the navaja, which was a larger Spanish folding knife. Here is a picture of a navaja knife fight, and here is a picture of a salvavirago.

I don’t think hiding a knife in a bodice would work quite as well in the Regency as in earlier times, however, when the bodices were so short! But I’m betting an ingenious female spy might figure out a way to make that work!

Alyssa Alexander writes historical romantic suspense about spies and smugglers and nefarious villains. She avoids even the dullest of kitchen knives. Watch for her debut release The Smuggler Wore Silk coming from Berkley in early 2014.



Keeping Up With The Duchesses


There’s always cause to drink champagne with the Duchesses.

Duchess Debuts, Bestsellers, dreams made and kisses sealed forever. Today, we celebrate five new authors, eleven delicious books, a parcel of good news, and the brisk smoothing of skirts that got us here.

Please join us in raising our glasses, and our teacups, to the indomitable duchess spirit within us all.


We love good news. Divulge yours in the comments and share the bubbly.


Read the rest of this entry »

What Does One Do At A Country House Party?

Longleat House
Wiki Commons

Now that our Dashing Country House is filled with such illustrious guests, other questions must be asked. How long does one stay? And what does one do a country house party?

According to The Habits of Good Society (1863), “a week is the limit for a country visit, except at the house of a near relation or very old friend.” Though typically, the time is provided by the hostess. “It will, however, save trouble to yourself, if, soon after your arrival, you state that you are come “for a few days,” and, if your host wishes you to make a longer visit, he will at once press you to do so.”

Of course, all of our dashing guests must stay for as long as they would like. Read the rest of this entry »

Watch The Wall, My Darling

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

  – A Smuggler’s Song by Rudyard Kipling

 I was perhaps 13 when I was first introduced to English smuggling in Watch The Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge, which takes its name from Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Smuggler’s Song. I was fascinated by the smuggling aspect of the book–or perhaps I should say the smuggling hero! Of course, the book was dramatic and romantic and just the thing to pique a fledgling romance
writer’s imagination.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Now, I’m well aware smuggling is illegal, and smugglers aren’t glamorous or romantic in the least. But technically, neither are pirates. And look at Captain Jack Sparrow! (OK, I just had to throw that picture in because, well, yum.)

Read the rest of this entry »