Black Tulip Q&A

Q. Not that I’m not grateful for everything you’ve done—I mean, the dissertation has never gone better—but can you give me just a hint about Colin? Have I made a complete idiot of myself for nothing?
–Eloise Kelly

A. Silly Eloise! It’s only in books that the heroine gets to peek at the blurb on the back and figure out how it’s all going to turn out. Oh, wait. You are in a book. Never mind that. As the first person viewpoint character, you’re going to have to labor under the same disadvantages shared by the real-world dating population—you can’t know for sure just how it’s going to turn out until it does. In the meantime, you’re just stuck overanalyzing Colin’s behavior—and probably getting it wrong—just like the rest of us.

Even so, I would say there is a good chance that Colin is interested. Not madly in love, not tormented with desire, but definitely interested. Just hang in there!


Q. Hi, it’s me again! Eloise, I mean. I just wanted to ask, why does the name Donwell Abbey sound so familiar? Thanks.
–Eloise Kelly

A. It sounds familiar because it is. I think it of it as the Curse of the Liberal Arts Education (a phrase with an appropriately Gothic ring to it, in this instance). My brain is crammed full of free-floating facts and phrases that surge to the fore with no particular rhyme or reason. As I was fishing about for a name for the haunted abbey next door to Selwick Hall, the name Donwell popped up, like one of those little cards in a magic eight ball. Donwell just sounded right with Abbey. The two names went together like purple and gentian. Of course, they did. Four days later, I remembered why. Donwell Abbey was the name of Knightly’s home in Jane Austen’s Emma. By that time, the neighboring estate was firmly fixed in my imagination as Donwell Abbey, so I decided to leave it in the hope that those who recognized the reference would appreciate it as a form of inside joke.

The Phantom Monk emerged from a different Austen novel. There isn’t—at least, not that I recall—any actual Phantom Monk in Northanger Abbey, but I was inspired by the general Gothic overtones. Northanger Abbey was a great deal on my mind as I wrote the modern portions of Black Tulip, largely since, like someone else I know, Catherine Morland is a master at jumping to incorrect conclusions. Sorry, Eloise, but it is true.


Q. A girl named Brooke, who claims to be your close relation, keeps telling me that I am really she. We do look rather alike, but given her odd speech and dress, I really don’t see how this can be. Is it true?
--Lady Henrietta Selwick, in considerable perturbation.
P.S. What are “low rise jeans”?

A. I was afraid you were going to ask that sooner or later. I certainly didn’t set out to create an exact replica of my little sister. In fact, I don’t think I could produce a proper reproduction of a living character if I tried. No matter how well we think we know someone, we can never map all the hidden recesses of their soul well enough to faithfully preserve them in ink. It’s far more interesting (and less conducive to libel charges) to take little bits and pieces and meld them into entirely new entities.

All that being said, while I was working on Richard and Amy’s story, it became a running joke that any little sister character naturally had to be based on Brooke. Egged on by Brooke and various others, I began including the more obvious sorts of Brooke characteristics, such as her hair color, her glorious singing voice, and her dilapidated stuffed animal, Doggie-the-doggy. (Fearing embarrassing publicity, Doggie asked to be granted an alias for the purposes of the book, appearing under his screen name of Bunny-the-bunny). But don’t fret, Lady Henrietta—Brooke already informed me that Miles isn’t her type, so you don’t have to worry about the competition.

As for the jeans, you don’t want to know. Trust me. Just stick with your sprig muslin.


Q. Why does Richard always get to be the dashing one?
--the Hon. Miles Charles Edward Arthur Dorrington

A. Oh, Miles. Not everyone can be relentlessly suave. Don’t worry, it’s all part of your charm.
In fact, the driving idea behind Black Tulip (aside from, “Hey! Miles and Henrietta are clearly meant for each other!”) was the following: what happens when you take a pair of fundamentally ordinary people and place them in an extraordinary situation? What I had in mind, to a large extent, was Racine’s Andromache. In a long ago French lit class at Yale, we had an extensive conversation about the psychology of the “second generation,” those characters who have grown up and have lived their lives in the shadow of heroism, but are not themselves heroic—in that case, Hector’s widow and Achilles’ son; in this case, the Purple Gentian’s little sister and best friend. Of course, the one is tragic and the other is decidedly not, nor are there any Greeks running around firing Trojan cities in Black Tulip, so there any comparison necessarily ends. But that was the conceit behind it all.

In the end, what I hoped my main characters would realize (hint, hint, Miles) was that while they might not be the world’s most adept stalkers of French spies, they didn’t have to be the Purple Gentian in order to be lovable, loved, and happy. After all, the world would be a far less interesting place if all heroes and heroines were cut from the same mold. There is, in its own way, a great charm to the ordinary—or else why would we have all those movies about girls next door? If Henrietta is the girl next door, Miles is the consummate boy next door, a guy’s guy to his very fingertips, and all the more lovable for it.

Isn’t that much better than being able to swing flawlessly through a window on a rope?


Q. First you mock me and zen you scorn me by removing zee one chapitre in wheech I appear en Black Tuleep. Eeet eez a slight against France. Why do you ‘ate zee French? And why do you make me to speak in zees accent ridiculeuse?
--Gaston Delaroche, Former Assistant to the Minister of Police and Eleventh Most Feared Man in France.

A. I love many things French. Brie. Champagne. Voltaire. Oh, yes, and Mom. Mom left France when she was quite young, but her former nationality worked in my favor in a number of ways as I was growing up, the two primary ones being Mom’s belief that wine was an essential ingredient in almost any culinary endeavor (whether in the recipe or in the glass), and the fact that, as soon as I trotted out “ma mere est nee en Paris,” my elementary school French teachers automatically added an extra five points onto my grade, whether I deserved it or not. But in every swashbuckler, there must be good guys and bad guys. Clearly, the guys with the guillotine are the bad guys. If they wanted to be the good guys, they should have thought about that before they started lopping off heads and marching across large chunks of Europe.

As to the ridiculous accent, I greatly fear, M. Delaroche, that you fell victim to a long-running family joke. Growing up, we were all addicted to a British comedy (yes, it would be British), set in occupied France during World War II, which worked on the happy premise that any time the characters spoke in an exaggerated French accent, they were “speaking French,” and could not be understood by stranded British airmen and the like, leading to lots of linguistic confusion and much amusement for the rest of us, especially with the addition of an undercover English agent who “spoke French” very badly. When together, my little sister and I quite frequently lapse into “French” under the guise of our alter egos, Gigi and Fifi (for those who care, I am Gigi, she is Fifi, and occasionally both of us are Dominique de Villepin, which takes far too much explaining to go into in a parenthesis).


Q. I say, thanks awfully for including me in this papery-thingy, and all that. But must a chap be a turnip? Carnations are much more the thing, y’know.
— Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh.

A. Sorry, Turnip, old bean, but you really couldn’t be anything else. Just as sheep are to the animal kingdom, turnips are inherently amusing vegetables, especially after years of watching Blackadder. And I’m afraid the name Carnation was already reserved for someone else.


Q. Having taken the trouble to review the manuscript, I was appalled to find that I was nowhere within it. The feelings of discerning readers everywhere cannot help but revolt at this singular want of judgment on the part of the author. This I take to be a sign of shoddy construction, and trust it will be remedied in the next chronicle.
–Miss Gwendolyn Meadows

A. Well, you should have thought of that before you went back to France at the end of Pink Carnation. Since the action of Black Tulip was largely in London, it would have been very distracting to keep popping the story back over to France.

I have taken your complaint into consideration, however, and can assure you that The Deception of the Emerald Ring offers considerable scope for your unique talents.

Don’t forget to bring your parasol.


Q. I find myself in a slightly embarrassing quandary. Could you perhaps aid me in finding a suitable word to rhyme with delight? Any assistance would be much appreciated—as would the loan of a gag for use on a certain Mr. Miles Dorrington.
–Geoffrey, Viscount Pinchingdale.

A. My dear Lord Pinchingdale, I would be more than happy to be of assistance (I’ve written a few lovelorn sonnet sequences in my time), but I am afraid you are not going to need that poem in the next book. In fact, you might want to divest yourself of any poetry, correspondence, or portrait miniatures having to do with Mary Alsworthy since you’re about to be married to someone else. Mary’s sister, Letty, in fact. It’s all right there in The Deception of the Emerald Ring.

Before you get annoyed with me, I would like to point out that if you hadn’t tried to elope with Mary (really, Lord Pinchindgale, what were you thinking?), Letty wouldn’t have been carried off by accident, and you would never have been forced to marry her.

I’ll just fetch that gag for Miles for you, shall I? I think you’re going to need it….


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