A Celebration of Jennifer McGowan’s MAID OF DECEPTION

MaidofDeceptionYesterday saw the release of our own Jennifer McGowan’s Maid of Deception, the second installment of her Maids of Honor series, and we’re as proud as can be. In typical Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks style, we’re grilling Jenn with questions about her newest book, her characters, her writing methods, and her own special skills that would make her a fantastic Elizabethan spy. Let the celebrations begin!

First, a little intro from Jennifer McGowan herself:

Thanks so much for hosting me today to celebrate the launch of Maid of Deception! Though it seems like forever since the first book, it still is surprising that the launch is finally here!

Everyone asked such great questions, so I’ll dive right in!

From Katherine Longshore:
You have obviously spent a great deal of time and energy creating a cast of unique and carefully-depicted characters, which promises powerful stories for each of your maids-in-waiting. Does this make it easier to write the companion novels because you know them all so well, or more difficult because former narrators try to take over? And which scene in Maid of Deception was the most difficult to write?

Katherine, GREAT question! Writing the subsequent Maids of Honor books after Maid of Secrets has been easier, in the sense that the setting remains the same and the primary cast of characters remains the same. However, what has been harder is to ensure each Maid’s voice remains distinct and authentic. With Maid of Deception, this was fairly easy to do, because Beatrice has such a clearly defined personality. However, as I began work on Maid of Wonder, Sophia’s story, it took awhile for me to find her voice—she’s used to being behind the scenes, after all! The scene in Maid of Deception that was the most difficult to write was when Beatrice believes that she is really alone in the world, unwanted and unloved. For such a proud, bold young woman, this is a humbling realization.

From J. Anderson Coats:
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft? At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

Jillian, researching these books seems to happen organically. There are some things that I learned a decade ago that I can finally put into a book, and other things I’m learning just because the current story requires it (like details of the Scottish rebellion!). I typically research as I write, though I spend about a month before drafting really pulling together the information I need. And then I research more during revisions. The post-draft research is generally highly specific, focusing on recorded events in history or any contemporary accounts that can help add life to the story.

MaidofSecrets_paperbackFrom Jessica Spotswood:
Each of the MAIDS books stars a different lady-in-waiting/spy. How was writing Beatrice different from writing Meg?

I love this question. 🙂 Meg was very much a fish-out-of-water, an independent young woman who was ready to take on any challenge with pluck, wit and a can-do attitude. Beatrice is more of a jaded insider, a grown-up Mean Girl who has seen and heard it all—the betrayals, the lies, the short-comings of everyone around her. So Beatrice has a more mature outlook, and a grimmer one, too. She’s naturally less-hopeful, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s why, when she falls in love, it was really very special for me. 🙂

From: Sharon Biggs Waller
How do you keep the overall story arc flowing through all the books? And as a follow up, how do you keep track of all those details? Index cards? Notebooks?

Sharon, I confess—there are things with this series that I didn’t know when I started writing Meg’s book, that really came into focus for me during Beatrice’s book. And now, having just drafted Sophia’s book, I can see how the full series arc will conclude, and it’s a little overwhelming (though in a very cool way!). And, sadly, I don’t keep notes or index cards. I hear of people creating a “series Bible” and I go all glassy-eyed… that would be so wonderful! But I seem to be writing the books so quickly that I just have to have the actual stories as a resource. Fortunately, with everything in digital format, “search” has become my favorite tool in Word!

From Susan Hill Long:
Can you tell us how you came up with the names of the Maids? Do they just appear on the page for you, or do you struggle to find a name that particularly suits each Maid and her background and special skill?

Sue! This is the first time I’ve been asked this. I would say Meg Fellowes’s name came to me first and rather easily, as she was the heroine of Maid of Secrets and I needed a good, sturdy, practical name. Then there was Jane Morgan the assassin. Jane Morgan was the name of my very first heroine of my very first historical romance manuscript—a young woman who dressed as a knight to avenge her brother. 🙂 So it was fitting for her to play the role of the assassin for the Maids of Honor. Beatrice came next—I wanted a sophisticated and vaguely haughty sounding name, and it fit the bill! Anna, the genius of the Maids, I love because my older sister is named Ann, and she’s a hydrogeologist and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. 🙂 And then there was lovely Sophia, the youngest and most ethereal of all the Maids, with her fledgling psychic abilities. Sophia just seemed right for her.

From Cat Winters:
Your Maids have their own special skills to help with their job protecting the queen. In Beatrice’s case, persuasion is the tool she uses to try to thwart a Scottish rebellion. If you were personally hired to protect Queen Elizabeth I, what would your special skill be?

Cat, what a great question! If I were hired to help protect the Queen, I would probably be charged with ferreting out secrets of her court and the foreign delegations. I have the kind of face/demeanor that seems to get people to open up and tell me things, and if I wasn’t a tavern keeper in Elizabethan England, well, I certainly could bend my abilities to serve the Queen!

Thank you for answering our questions, Jenn. Huzzah for the release of Maid of Deception!

Buy the book online:

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Find Jennifer McGowan online:



Beating the Heat in Elizabethan England

English merchant (left), noble, and a lady-in-waiting for Elizabeth IThe title is a bit of a misdirection, but it seemed indelicate to call too much attention to a post about how much Elizabethans, well, stunk. But there’s nothing like a steamy summer in Ohio to turn my mind to how our heavily-dressed Tudor counterparts must have suffered through the long and occasionally hot and humid summers of the mid 16th century!

First, I have to clear the air, as it were: Elizabethans were not an unhygienic people. A wonderful book by Alison Sims, “The Tudor Housewife” sets this record straight. Given the limited technology of the period, Elizabethans did the best they could—washing their faces and hands, particularly before and after meals, and bathing as often as it was expedient to do so. Given that a proper bath (which involved dunking oneself in water) required a large wooden tub lined with linens, and water heated from the fire, this did not happen very frequently.

For many peasants, bathing was only possible a few times a year. In fact, one of the reasons why June was considered an excellent time for marriages, is that it happened to coincide with the time where many villagers regardless of station had recently bathed. In between baths, Elizabethans took care to keep their shifts (the long smock worn next to the body) as clean as possible, changing it as often as their circumstances allowed. To the shock of no one, living in the countryside allowed for cleaner living standards than in the heart of the city, but this was less due to an individual’s bathing preferences and more to do with the overwhelming problem of sewage. Without running water, Elizabethans had very little recourse other than to dump bodily and household refuse into the streets. Add to that the heat and humidity of a long summer, and thousands of people crammed together in poor housing conditions, and you can see how living in Elizabethan London might not be terribly enjoyable for the average man or woman.

However, the nobility and royal houses took bathing very seriously. They had endured several generations of dealing with the Plague, and had come to realize that squalid, dirty conditions seemed to contribute to the spread of sickness and disease. In addition to such luxuries as the permanent, plumbed-in bathrooms of Henry VIII at Hampton Court and Whitehall, fine ladies could expect to have at their disposal scented toilet soap and washing water, which included sage, marjoram, chamomile, rosemary and orange peel as potential ingredients. Elizabethans also were interested, at least to some extent, in dental hygiene. While toothpaste was still centuries away from being created, the proper Elizabethan used tools like herbal rubs of rosemary and sage, mouthwash made of vinegar, wine and alum, and minty sweets to clean teeth and freshen breath.

On the subject of scents, there is divided information. Elizabeth was a tremendous fan of pomanders and perfumes, and the assumption has always been that this is because such scents were needed to mask body odors. Sims disagrees, suggesting that perfumes were simply another luxury of the rich. I would counter that, based on my research.  Given the vast array of recipes that existed for various perfumes and scented washing waters, as well as the number and layers of clothes that Elizabethans wore—often without frequent washing of the material—AND the very real problem of a lack of sanitation (and all of its attendant smells), I believe that scents performed a very vital function in addition to their luxury. They helped everyone get through the day with a bit more cheer! In fact, the use of nosegays was quite popular during this time. Nosegays were small items that users held up to their noses while walking through a crowd—such as a tiny bouquet of flowers, a sachet containing dried flowers or herbs, an orange studded with cloves, a sprig of herbs, or the like.

Then again. . . some Elizabethan practices regarding scents were just unfortunate. In one entry, I read where it was common practice for an Elizabethan maiden to peel an apple, place a slice in her armpit to absorb the smell and then present it to a potential suitor as a memento. Which . . . seems unappealing, as it were—at least to my modern sensibilities!

Nevertheless, the next time you hit the showers, apply deodorant, or throw your clothes into the washing machine (or, heck, flush a toilet!), send up a cheer for all of the ways we have today to keep fresh and clean! Elizabethans had a far more difficult time beating the heat.



Love in Elizabethan Times: It’s Not for Sissies

shakes.img_assist_custom-275x275With the arrival of Valentine’s Day, it’s absolutely natural to think fondly on the romantic days of yore, when Elizabethan couples looked soulfully into each others’ eyes and danced into the sunset. Girl meets boy, couple falls in love, marriage and babies follow.

Or, perhaps not.

The Elizabethans were very practical lot. You didn’t marry for love, you married for social standing and to legitimize your children. While it was legal for boys to marry at age 14 and girls to marry at age 12, Elizabethans “reached the age of consent” at age 21, and many did in fact wait until then to marry. Only among the nobility would you typically find marriages between much younger parties.

Elizabeth certainly was in no hurry to marry...

Elizabeth certainly was in no hurry to marry…

Particularly amongthe nobility, but even down through the middle and lower classes, marriages were arranged between families for mutual enrichment, to stabilize a family line, or by common acceptance that “of course these two families’ children will marry.” It was a situation that proved particularly challenging for women, as women were considered just slightly more important than cattle during this era (a mild exaggeration, but still). As a woman, you had absolutely no say in your future husband, and were expected to accept whatever wise decision your parents (father) made for you. If you came from a noble family, you could expect some of your family’s assets to be pledged in the marriage as well, a custom known as a dowry.

While you didn’t, technically, have to get married if you were a woman… there were these exciting bonuses to the wedded state:

  • You were locked in for life: Once the marriage was consummated, and unless you were the King (or Queen), you were not likely to be able to obtain a divorce … since it required an Act of Parliament. On the up-side, men were persecuted by the community for abusing their wives.
  • You were your husband’s property. However, this was generally considered preferable to being a drain on your birth family’s finances.
  • You could run your own own home.
  • No one would accuse you of being a witch (a distressingly common accusation leveled at single women of time, particularly older single women).

With this in mind, the act of getting betrothed weighed heavily on the hearts of Elizabethan women, and several of their customs live on today. For example, the act of a betrothal was typically sealed with a kiss. A betrothal ring was not always exchanged, but the custom did gain popularity in Elizabethan times. The bride-to-be would wear the ring on her right hand until the wedding, when it moved to her left.

A betrothal was binding but, unlike a wedding, it could be broken without terrible fuss for one of several reasons–including disfigurement of either party, infidelity of either party, or either the man or woman committing treason or heresy. Of course, if it was discovered that either party was already married, that also would be cause for calling off the new wedding.

marriageThe customs of the actual wedding are worth a blog on its own (perhaps in June!) but courtship and weddings are very much on the minds of the Maids of Honor. In Meg’s book, MAID OF SECRETS,  Meg is absolutely determined not to marry. This is a rare attitude for young Elizabethan girls, but she has led a life of relative freedom and personal accountability, and she finds the prospect of being “owned” by a man somewhat less than desirable. In book 2, MAID OF DECEPTION, Beatrice understands marriage for the power play that it is, and readers will discover that the politics of wedded bliss can be difficult… and deadly.

Here’s wishing you a Valentine’s Day filled with wonderful traditions of your own! Who knows–maybe they’ll be practiced five hundred years from now as well.

If you would like to share any betrothal/wedding customs you particularly like, I would love to hear them!


MaidofSecretsJennifer McGowan’s Maid of Secrets debuts May 7, 2013, from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She is currently at work on book 2 in the series, Maid of Deception.

You can visit her online at http://www.jennifermcgowan.com, on facebook, or via Twitter at @Jenn_McGowan