When will the next Sarah Tolerance book be out?
The Sleeping Partner, Sarah Tolerance #3, is available from Plus One Press, from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com, and booksellers everywhere. Meanwhile, I’m about half way through Sarah #4… stay tuned for further announcements when I have them.
Why an alternative London?
When I started writing the series I knew too much about the “real” English regency to feel that I could do what I wanted to do within its constraints. On the other hand, I did not want a wholly fantastic world. I wanted a world rooted in our own–with a few twitches to make it a more comfortable fit for Miss Tolerance’s stories.
How did you come up with the divergence point for the alternate history?
I wanted to make the era a little more friendly to women in positions of authority, and the first thing that occurred to me was to have Queen Charlotte be Regent rather than her son George. The Regency Bill was passed in 1811, far too late for my purposes (as I wanted Her Majesty to have been Regent for long enough to have made some subtle changes in public attitude). Which meant that George III would have to have been incapacitated by dementia far earlier. The simplest thing to do (for certain values of simple) was to imagine that George III never recovered from his initial bout of dementia in 1788; that the Prince of Wales’s secret marriage to the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert had barred him from succession; that the Duke of York had died; and that the Queen, for a variety of reasons, was a more appealing Regent than any of the remaining princes.
What does it mean, Fallen?
It’s a term that is gender specific. A Fallen woman is a woman with some social status who loses that status by being believed to have had sex outside the bounds of marriage. Men, of course, were not only permitted but, to an extent, encouraged, to gain sexual experience outside of, or before marriage. For women, however, chastity was a saleable commodity–a fortune might buy you a husband (or might not) but for most women virginity was part of the dowry. The term is also fairly class-specific: to be Fallen you have to have some status. Occasionally it worked the other way: Emma, Lady Hamilton, was regarded as a climber and a scandal, but she rose upward because of her liaisons with men of status, culminating in her marriage to Lord Hamilton. As soon as her most famous protector, Lord Nelson, died, though, she lost that status.
Why is she Miss Tolerance rather than Sarah?
I follow her lead: Sarah Tolerance lives in a more formal time and, despite the fact that she lives a highly irregular life, she is at heart a conventional soul. The etiquette of the time was that the eldest unmarried daughter carried the title “Miss [Lastname]”–thus Jane Bennett is “Miss Bennett” and Elizabeth is “Miss Elizabeth Bennett,” or “Miss Elizabeth.” Friends might not be permitted to call Miss Tolerance by her first name unless the friendship was close, although some–her aunt, her friend Marianne Touchwell–do so. It feels wrong (to me) to write about her as Sarah, which does not accord her the dignity she needs to do her work. The reader’s mileage may, of course, vary.
How does she handle her legal affairs with no male guardian?
As Miss Tolerance is over 25 and was repudiated by her father (who is now dead) she is legally a feme sol, or single woman under the law, and has complete control of her property. I am not sure she has a bank account, but being a canny soul, I think she invests her money–probably in the Navy Funds (or “Navy Fives,” called so because they promised a 5% return). She charges what was, for its time, a hefty per diem (3 guineas a day plus expenses, although I suspect she has a sliding scale for the economically disadvantaged!) and mentions more than once that she has to save against her retirement.
She plans to retire?
Even Sarah Tolerance cannot leap about whacking people with swords forever. Investigation is a young persons’ game (as is whoredom), and I’ve already established in the series that there are genteelly retired whores around London. On the other hand, I believe she knows that this is an inherently dangerous job. I wonder if she’s made her will yet…
So she’s not poor?
No. Certainly not by the standards of many of the people she meets. She isn’t rich either–and this is a far less lavish life than she was raised to. But she has lived poor, particularly when she lived in Europe with Charles Connell, and that has made her frugal. She has expenses–her membership and fees at Tarsio’s Club, for example, the rental of riding horses or hackney coaches, and bribes, bribes, bribes.
How does Miss Tolerance get dressed if she lives alone? Who laces her corset?
The easy answer: she has fantasy historical-romance clothes that lace themselves magically! More practically: for some clothes she almost certainly needs more confining undergarments, and likely calls for assistance from one of the maids at her aunt’s house. When she’s in men’s clothes, or just dressing for herself, she likely wears the less elaborate undergarments that poorer women, or women who did physical tasks, wore. And when wearing men’s clothes she binds her breasts herself (I mean, wouldn’t you?).
What’a Gunnard coat? I’ve looked all over to find one.
I made it up. In my head, it’s a dark green wool greatcoat with a single cape and a high collar, fashioned by the Belgian tailor Gunnard (who I also made up). It’s heavy and warm, not brilliant to fence in, but good for a rainy or chilly night.
What genre(s) do these book belong to?
There’s a vexed question! It is not romance, although it is sometimes shelved there. It is probably most comfortably shelved in mystery or historical mystery. But then there’s that pesky alternative history thing, which could make it fantasy… I do know that I handed my poor publisher a marketing headache.
What is next for Miss Tolerance?
As of this writing, Gypsies, bankers, and retired elderly filles de joie. Family drama. Possibly some romance? I do not think she’s ever going to have a happy ending in the conventional sense–and Miss Tolerance is, in certain ways, a very conventional person. I do think she will be happier than she believes she deserves.
Do you realize that the plot for Point of Honour resembles the plot for The Maltese Falcon?
I hope it does; I worked hard enough to make it so! When I first had the idea for my “hardboiled Regency” my model for what a noir or hardboiled detective story should be was Dashiell Hammett’s work–particularly Maltese Falcon. The idea of a realist in a hard world–someone who sees the worst of the world he or she moves through, but retains a sense of honor–appeals to me on many levels. There were other things I wanted to adapt to Miss Tolerance’s world: the friends who are close but not too close; the go-to sources for specific information.
Have you written anything non-Tolerance?
How nice of you to ask! I’m the author of five straight Regency romances; Daredevil: The Cutting Edge, featuring the Marvel Comics superhero; and the New York Times Notable Book The Stone War. You can find more information about my books here; you can find many of my short stories at on my bookshelf at BookViewCafe.com.