Debut author, Courtney Milan is a woman of many talents. An attorney who has also worked as a computer programmer and a dog trainer, Courtney is now writing historical romances for Harlequin. Her novella, "This Wicked Gift," in the anthology, The Heart of Christmas left readers wanting more of her fresh and compelling new voice but it's her January release, Proof by Seduction that will secure her position as a rising star of historical romance. Please give Courtney a warm welcome to The Romance Dish!
Writing a historical scientist as a hero for the 21st century
When I set out to write Proof by Seduction, I wanted my hero, Gareth Carhart, to be a scientist. But the more research I did, the more I realized that showing readers my hero was a scientist--instead of merely telling them he was one--was going to be very difficult for one simple reason: Science in 1838 looks nothing like what we think of as science today.
The problem starts with the word, "scientist." Its first use in print, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1834. And in 1834, it shows up when someone notes that there is no word to describe "students of the knowledge of the material world collectively.... Some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheistbut this was not generally palatable." By 1840, however, that unfortunate term had gained some grudging acceptance, and so in 1838, I allow my characters to use the word. There is no period substitute.
But this lack only presages the difficulty of trying to show a modern audience science in 1838.
In modern parlance, Gareth is a biologist. In 1838, virtually every aspect of the field we think of as biology, every last thing that today's readers were taught in junior high, had not yet been discovered. Darwin hadn’t yet unveiled the theory of evolution. Mendel, the father of genetics, was barely 16 years old. Nobody knew about DNA or ecosystems. Heck, the theory of cells wasn’t developed until 1839. Science was a gentleman's pasttime, a hobby with few, if any, dividends, and no research or development budgets.
If you peruse the Royal Academy’s archives of the time period, you’ll find that science during 1838 looked like this: “Hey, everyone, I found something new, so I killed it to see if it looked like something old inside.” It was a science of description, not a science that tried to explain. Only a tiny minority looked at the animal kingdom and thought: Physics had rules that explained things. Biology should too. There was a not-so-silent argument running between the people who killed things and cut them open, and the people who believed there ought to be rules and explanations.
My hero was part of that minority who struggled to find rules. You won’t see much discussion of Lamarck and inheritance and rules in the book--it’s a romance novel, after all, not a history of science--but Gareth’s belief that physics had rules, and so everything else should too, colors the world he lives in.
Naturally, Proof by Seduction starts when Gareth meets a woman--a fortune-teller, no less--who will take all the rules he knows and turn them inside out….
She is his last chance for a future of happiness . . .
Jenny Keeble has never let her humble upbringing stop her. She’s made her way in the world as a fortune teller, one who convinces her clients her predictions are correct by telling them what they most want to hear. Business is good… until she meets her match in the form of Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a scientist and sworn bachelor.
He just doesn’t know it yet.
Broodingly handsome, Gareth is appalled to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of "Madame Esmerelda," and he vows to prove her a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress defies logic. Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth's calculated plan— until he can’t decide whether to ruin her or claim her for his own. Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know . . . and the boundless possibilities of love.
Courtney has graciously offered to give a copy of Proof by Seduction to a randomly selected commenter from today's post.