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…
“A story of discovery, entitlement and love.” – Northern Virginia Magazine
“Remarkable in its similarities to the work of Edith Wharton. The reader feels drawn into a world of glamour, glitz, and supreme hypocrisy. Everything is permissible as long as one does not get caught. It is a drama of manners and the stakes are high—one misstep could mean social oblivion…[Decorum] will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those who enjoy period novels such as Age of Innocence and The Portrait of a Lady.” – The Historical Novel Society
“Beautiful heiress Francesca Lund must figure out how to assert her ideas within the confines of 1890’s New York high society.” – Library Journal
“Reminiscent of Washington Square but with a more modern heroine, Decorum illuminates the dark world beneath New York society. Christopherson incorporates a clever mystery and populates the novel with a large cast of characters.” – RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
By Kaaren Christopherson, author of Decorum
One of the joys and challenges of writing Decorum, a novel of deception, love, bigamy, and murder in Gilded Age New York, is attempting to capture the way the language sounded as spoken by the story’s characters over a lavish dinner party or afternoon tea. Often we make assumptions about the language of an era—its formality, the use of complex or unfamiliar words—without delving into resources that can help the dialogue and narrative to sound more genuinely of the era being portrayed. Here are some of the resources I have used in writing Decorum to make both description and dialogue more rooted in Victorian-period America.
A major resource for capturing the language of the Gilded Age was to read fiction written by authors who lived during this period. My favorite Gilded Age author is Edith Wharton. Her novels The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth and short stories such as The Mission of Jane show Wharton’s command of the language to express passion, despair, humor, and human folly. Another inspiration was John Galsworthy, whose Forsyte Saga weaves the tale of a family’s trials through several generations. Without reading novels such as these, an author is apt to assume that the language of the period is an inaccessible jangle of long words and stilted phrases. On the contrary, I learned that the longest word isn’t necessarily the best word, and that the clever turn of a simple phrase can be most effective in capturing a passionate look or an embarrassing or ironic moment.
Often the challenge is in finding the right word. For example, in Decorum heiress Francesca Lund decides to redecorate her family home as a symbol that she is moving on with her life after her family’s deaths in a boating accident. In a first draft, I wrote that she updated the kitchen. I read this scene over and over, unable to figure out what didn’t sound quite right. Finally I realized that the word “update” sounded wrong to my ear, like something I would do to a resume, not to an 1890s kitchen. The literature of the period also helped me avoid overuse of certain words. Take for example the word “hansom” to describe a cab. I learned through my general research that a hansom is a particular type of cab—a two-wheeled vehicle drawn by one horse where the cabby sits high up at the back of the cab; two doors fold over the passenger’s legs. What’s more, a hansom was not the only kind of vehicle that was used as a cab; many types of carts and carriages could be hired for different occasions, which required particular vocabulary. I learned that if Wharton and Galsworthy said “hansom,” they probably meant hansom for a reason. If it didn’t matter, they generally called a cab a cab. If their characters could call it a cab, Decorum’s characters could call it a cab, too.
Two other simple but important resources can help to get the words right—the dictionary and the thesaurus or synonym finder. Many dictionaries today will give a date when it is believed that a word first entered the language, thereby helping to spot words that don’t match the historical period. Using the “update” example, I discovered after a little research in the dictionary that update was first used in 1941 at the dawn of the computer age. I had to find another word to describe what Francesca did and how she felt about getting a new kitchen. For this, the thesaurus was invaluable. I knew that 1890, when Decorum begins, was on the threshold of a new age in technology—horses were sharing the road with the first motor cars, street lamps were being converted from gas to electricity, homes were beginning to have telephones. The thesaurus reminded me of the word “modern”—a simple, very old word (year 1585) that anyone in 1890 might have used to describe the change from old to new. So, Francesca modernized the kitchen.
A combination of the literature of the historical period and simple, sometimes overlooked word tools like the dictionary and thesaurus or synonym finder can help authors of historical fiction accurately capture language that will help transport readers to a bygone era.
Kaaren Christopherson is the author of Decorum—a novel about Gilded Age New York—that began taking form in 1999 during a course on writing historical fiction. From that moment, Connor O’Casey (who had been rattling around in her brain for months) finally appeared one night and said, “All right, woman. Here I am. What are you going to do about my story?” So she began to put his words on paper, and he hasn’t kept quiet since. Soon Francesca, Blanche, Tracey, Vinnie, and the rest of the characters began arguing, gossiping, loving, and forming themselves into Kaaren’s first novel.
Kaaren has had a professional career writing and editing for over 30 years and is a senior editor for an international development nonprofit organization in Washington, DC.
She has written fiction since her school days, story poems, children’s books, historical fiction, and time travel, and continues to be active in writer’s groups and writing workshops. In addition to her career as a writer, Kaaren was the owner of a decorative painting business. She loves to travel and prowl through historical sites, galleries, and museums. She is active in several churches in DC and in her local Northern Virginia community, where she shares her home with feline brothers, Archie and Sammy.
A Michigan native, Kaaren received her BA in history and art and her MA in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, January 11
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, January 12
Guest Post at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Wednesday, January 13
Interview at Back Porchervations
Friday, January 15
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog
Monday, January 18
Interview at The Absurd Book Nerd
Tuesday, January 19
Guest Post at Brooke Blogs
Wednesday, January 20
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, January 21
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Friday, January 22
Guest Post at The Reading Queen
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