Okay I don't really like most of Marion Chesney's books. Then again I'm one of those freakish people who aren't very fond of Georgette Heyer either! But when I heard that M.C. Beaton (otherwise known as Marion Chesney) was speaking in NYC for the first time in nearly a decade I decided that driving three hours, braving the traffic, and paying FAR too much money to park was well worth the effort…luckily I wasn't proven wrong!
I am sure you have run across at least one of Marion's books. I mean with over 100 published how could you not? Marion Chesney was one of the pioneers of the Regency genre. She strove for historical accuracy, intriguing plots, and insisted on good writing. Her books are often on the "hard to find list," and I know women who have spent years tracking down her romances. Although I am not a huge fan, I do have 7 on my keeper shelf, and I have always enjoyed how she melds history with romance.
Having had difficulty finding parking we walked into the B&N only a few minutes before she was scheduled to speak. As Nils and I took our seats she was announced, and a woman wearing the most wonderful smile breezed into the room. As soon as she reached the podium she took charge of the crowd by sating that she wasn't going to do something as boring as read from her book, but that she wanted to tell everyone a bit about how she got into writing, and then take questions.
Marion, being an obviously smart, articulate, and outgoing woman spent about 30 minutes regaling us with stories about the time she spent trying to become a writer in NY. How she learned to lie on her resume to get her first few jobs. And how living on a sheep farm in the wilds of Scotland had given her the idea to write mystery novels. When she was done speaking, and most of the audience was worn out from laughing so hard at some of her anecdotes she started taking questions.
Question: How did you end up on a sheep farm writing romance novels?
Marion Chesney: My husband studied agriculture. So he had this brilliant idea to get away from the city. (she pauses and then looks at the audience very seriously) You understand that love isn't real? Not the kind of love [we] read in books? You spend two weeks thinking that you have met a man that has everything in common with you, and you love all his quirks. But then you discover that you haven't that much in common at all, hate that his feet smell, and the next thing you know you're raising sheep in Scotland. It was hard because I'm a city girl. I have pavement for bones, but there I was in a small rural town. My husband quickly learned that I would work inside, but the outside labor was all his own doing!
Q: So why did you write romance novels?
MC: Well mainly because I wished that love existed, and it also allowed me the luxury of being with my children.
Q: Why did you stop?
MC: The novels I wrote had so much research, and in the end only had a shelf life of maybe 6 months. I was also tired of seeing inaccurate books, and after more than 100 novels I hadn't much left to say. There is nothing worse than re-writing the same story over and over again. Q: So are you happy with writing mystery? Was it hard to move from Romance?
MC: Mystery and romance are nearly the same. At least I go about it the same way! The only real difference is that my books target a wider audience, and stay on the shelves. I loved writing romance. I love writing mystery. I love writing.
Q: In your mystery books one of your characters is getting old and hates it –
MC: (cutting in) Don't we all! Bullocks on women getting old gracefully! If I had a choice I wouldn't. To put my face on in the morning I need a magnifying mirror, my eyes have gotten bad, but I can still see all the lines and wrinkles that I have to cover up! So either my eyes aren't as bad as I think, or the wrinkles are worse than I would like!
Q: What was it like living in Scotland?
MC: Strange. I loved a lot of it, hated a good deal of it, but I did according to my Pilates instructor find Serenity. I don't know if she was joking or not, but I was in my Pilates class…it's kind of yoga and tai chi, I needed it to help keep my gracefully aging joints from getting too tight! …Well she sat us down in class and told us that she was going to tell us the secret to serenity. We all listened very attentively because we all wanted to know the secret. "Big knickers," she said. We all kind of stared. "If you wear big Knickers you will be happy and free. Look at women who have those small, string up the butt, tight little legged knickers. They are always uptight and unhappy." Look at my face. Do I seem serene???
Happy in the knowledge that I was wearing big knickers I let the rest of the Q&A roll over me as Marion discussed characters from her mystery series. Suddenly I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned to the woman next to me. She had a pile of hardcover M.C. Beaton books in her lap.
"You read her romance novels?" she asked in a little hushed voice.
"Yes," and I held up the two I had in my lap.
"She's magnificent. Do you think I would like her romance novels?" People were beginning to get in line for Marion to sign books, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to convert a reader to romance…especially Regency romance! So I wrote down information on Marion Chesney on one of my business cards, and hoped that I had found a convert.
I stood in line like a good little girl, a little scared to bring up my two romance novels when no one else seemed to be a romance reader, but Marion was wonderful! She thanked me for supporting her other novels, and congratulated me on being brave enough to bring the books in. She posed with me for a picture, and then shook my hand.
As I got back into my car I looked at the inscription and had to smile, "To Sybil and her Rakehell endeavors." I turned to Nils, "She spelled my name wrong, but she's heard of Rakehell…" Nils smiled back and we drove home in silence.