Today's guest writer is Kaaren Christopherson. She is the author of Decorum, a novel about Gilded Age New York. In this essay, Ms. Christopherson discusses the various types of women characters that appear in her book and the challenges she encountered while writing them. I hope this guest post gives you some insight into her novel, Decorum. Thank you, Ms. Christopherson.
Strong Women: Good Girls, Bad Girls, and Girls in Search of Themselves
By Kaaren Christopherson, author of Decorum
One of the joys of writing Decorum—a novel about deception, love, bigamy, and murder in Gilded Age New York—was the great variety of women who presented themselves as characters, all jockeying for positions of advantage in their particular plot situations. Good girls, bad girls, you name it, Decorum has them. As an author, each type of woman presented her own writing challenges.
The Good Girls
Let’s start with the most challenging women to write about—the good girls. Surprised? Good girls challenging primarily because they are good. We readers are usually pretty realistic about our humanity and flaws, so when a character is so good that we can’t relate to her, we often write her off as someone we don’t understand. Maybe more important, we fear she wouldn’t understand us, even if she would. The challenge is to allow the good girl to be sympathetic to others, to take the moral high ground at times, and yet let the flaws we relate to show—a quick temper, bad decision making, gullibility, too great a desire to please. Being good doesn’t mean she’s perfect or that she’s right all the time.
When we meet heiress Francesca Lund, Decorum’s ultimate good girl, in the opening chapter, she is witnessing the greatest tragedy of her life: the obliteration of her family in an accident. Just as she is about to pull herself together to get herself and others through it, the Jeromes’ opinions and actions, based on the decorum of the time, cut this process short. Their interference sends Francesca into a tailspin of uncertainty, illness, and dependence on laudanum. It’s largely the action of good girl Vinnie Lawrence that sets Francesca on a path to healing (with some feistiness thrown in) that unfolds throughout Decorum’s pages.
Vinnie Lawrence is the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Oh, no, we think, a preacher’s kid—and a girl, and in 1890! In spite of 1890s decorum and expectations for women, Vinnie has spunk. She loves gossip (when she really shouldn’t), goes to a music hall (when she really shouldn’t), and has opinions contrary to the norm (again, when she really shouldn’t). Vinnie’s golden qualities are her loyalty and friendship. On the other hand, she’s a keen observer of when others mess up—and enjoys it. She nudges the boundary of decorum without actually tearing a hole in it.
The Bad Girls
If you’re fascinated by a controlling, grasping woman, void of sentiment and with no moral compass, then Decorum’s Nell Ryder is the girl for you. Bad girls are perhaps the easiest to write about. We authors allow them to make choices that we and our readers would never make in a million years—and the results of these choices captivate us.
It may seem that an author can do no wrong in creating a bad girl, but in truth bad girls present their own challenges. “How bad is bad?” is a question worth asking. The answer lies in the role the bad girl plays in relation to the other characters and whether her “redeem-ability” (or otherwise) has any part in the plot. Is she the perpetrator of the plot’s evil who will get her comeuppance in the end? Is it her evil over which the “good” characters triumph? Or is her change along the spectrum of evil to goodness an important driver of the plot?
The Girls in Search of Themselves
The most fascinating characters for me are the girls in search of themselves. Often they don’t even realize this is happening to them. We watch them eagerly and sometimes even revel in their mistakes, but in the end we cheer them on and are happy for each victory. They come to the finish line having surmounted seemingly impossible problems and in doing so make us believe that we can overcome problems, too.
Chief among Decorum’s girls in search of themselves is Blanche Wilson de Alvarado, a woman who has had many of life’s advantages, but to whom life has been anything but kind. Blanche’s life has been full of making the best of bad choices and doing what she must to survive. In the Gilded Age, when a woman’s choices can have disastrous consequences for her reputation, even women who at their core are essentially good (or at least not bad) find the road to respectability and success very bumpy indeed.
Esther Gray and Ida West—and society matriarchs Maggie Jerome and Isabel Worth—have come to middle age having achieved a hard-won wisdom (or in Maggie’s case, immovable opinions). They have already traveled a long road of experience, and I believe most of them are wise enough to realize that even though their respective learning curves have begun to plateau a bit, the curve hasn’t flattened out completely—they are still learning. The challenge for the author is to allow them to share their wisdom without beating the characters, or the readers, over the head with it. They’ve earned a non-nonsense kind of tranquility that many of us long for.
Strong women of all types—good girls, bad girls, or girls in search of themselves—offer endless possibilities for the author. Their journeys can fascinate and enrich the reader. You can view backstories and biosketches of all Decorum’s strong women in The O’Casey Chronicles: http://www.kaarenchristopherson.com/the-ocasey-chronicle.
Decorum: A Novel by Kaaren Christopherson
Publication Date: March 31, 2015 Kensington Publishing Corp.
Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio Pages: 425
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Synopsis: 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
About the Author
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.
For more information visit Kaaren Christopherson's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, 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
Thursday, January 14
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Guest Post at History From a Woman's Perspective
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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