Spotlight Feature/Guest Post: MISTRESS FIREBRAND by Donna Thorland

02_Mistress Firebrand CoverI recently read this book and really liked it, be sure to check out my review here! I really want to read the others in her series!

Publication Date: March 3, 2015
NAL Trade
Formats: eBook, Paperback
416 Pages

Series: Renegades of the American Revolution (Book 3)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

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British Occupied Manhattan, 1777. American actress Jenny Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater with her witty comedies, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage.

When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success in the capitol, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage. But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere.

Severin’s mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort…and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can’t resist Jenny Leighton…

Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name “Cornelia,” ridiculing “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and his army—and undermining the crown’s campaign to take Albany. With Jenny’s name now on the hanging list, Severin is ordered to find her—and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward an uncertain future shaped by the revolution—and their passion for each other…

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About the Author03_Donna Thorland

A native of Bergenfield, New Jersey, Donna graduated from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History. For many years she managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and wrote and directed the Witch City’s most popular Halloween theater festival, Eerie Events. She later earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Donna has been a sorority house mother, a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow, a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and a writer on the ABC primetime drama, Cupid. Her screenwriting credits include episodes of the animated series, Tron: Uprising. Her short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Albedo One. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project, The Night Caller, aired on WNET Channel 13 and was featured on Ain’t It Cool News. Currently she is a writer on the WGN drama SALEM. She is married with one cat and divides her time between the real Salem and Los Angeles.

For more information visit Donna Thorland’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Guest Post

Theater During the American Revolution by Donna Thorland

The Fair Penitent,” he said, “is perhaps not the most politic choice in New York at the moment. Talk of tyrants tends to be divisive. Americans are ready to see one in any man who disagrees with them.”

“I might just have to use that line in one of my plays. Are you a regular theatergoer, Mr. Devere?”

“Yes,” he said. “It is one of the consolations of urban life. A beguiling contradiction: that a narrow wooden box can open on a myriad of wide vistas, tonight Arcadia, tomorrow Rome.”

“Denmark on Wednesdays, when Bobby is in the mood to soliloquize,” she replied. “Rome, alas, is contested territory. The Whigs cry ‘Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius,’ and the Sons of Liberty sign their letters to the Gazette ‘Brutus’ while the Tories ‘Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.’”

“And whose part do you take?”

“If the Rebels have their way, I will be forced to play Cleopatra, and turn to Rome to keep my throne. Congress has banned the theater here. There is no future for a playwright in America. I need a patron with influence in London.”

 

From MISTRESS FIREBRAND

 

Mistress Firebrand is set in the world of the New York stage in the 1770s. The theater is barely mentioned in most histories of the American Revolution, but when you look closely at the participants, so many of them, particularly on the British side, had one foot in the world of the playhouse. Burgoyne wrote for Drury Lane. After the war, British cavalry officer Banastre Tarleton would become the lover of London actress, novelist, and early feminist Mary Robinson. Robert Rogers, who is currently enjoying some notoriety on television as a villain in AMC’s TURN wrote a play about Pontiac’s Rebellion. People on both sides of the Atlantic from all walks of life frequented the playhouse. Trying to paint a picture of the Revolution without the theater is like trying to explain the 20th century without the cinema.

Most histories of the Revolution that mention the theater at all refer to Congress closing the playhouses. A few talk about British theatrical productions in New York and Philadelphia and Washington’s fondness for camp theatricals at Valley Forge. It was Congress’ ban that struck me as interesting, because no one bans something that isn’t happening…a lot. An outpouring of great scholarship in the last fifteen years made it possible for me to research just how much theatrical activity was taking place in colonial America—and how politicized that stage had become. During the Stamp Act riots in the 1760s, a mob actually tore down New York’s Chapel Street theater. It’s successor, the John Street, which appears in Mistress Firebrand, was fortunately a sturdier affair and survived to the end of the century.

In order to bring that playhouse to life in the book, I looked at primary sources, including drawings and descriptions of the theater, but these didn’t offer enough detail to paint a vivid picture. The exterior, though, is well described, and typical of provincial British playhouses of the era, so I looked to the best-preserved example, the Georgian Theater Royal in Richmond, for a model. This richly decorated interior gives you some sense of the glamour of the theater in this period, even in small regional houses, and a taste of the world in which the fictional Jenny and her historical counterparts moved.

http://www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk

Excerpt

Manhattan Island

December 1775

John Burgoyne was in New York.

Jenny overheard the wine merchant telling the tavern keeper in hushed tones. She knew better than to look up when she felt their eyes on her. Two years in a city buffeted by mob violence and political intrigue had honed her instinct for self-preservation. She kept her head down and studied her mother’s letter from home.

Seated beside one of the tall windows in the elegant taproom at the Fraunces Tavern, with its lofty ceilings and fine painted paneling, she nursed her single cup of chocolate and tried to concentrate on the words on the page, but her mind kept returning to Burgoyne. For the wine seller and the publican, Burgoyne’s presence meant a business opportunity, and one that must be kept secret from the Liberty Boys, who had abducted a loyalist judge, an Anglican clergyman, and a British physician from their homes only the week before. Politics, the two merchants agreed, were terrible for trade.

They were also murder on the Muses. Isaac Sears and his rabble had stormed the theater, broken all the benches in the pit, and would have beaten the players as well if the company had been performing. Congress had closed all the other theaters in the colonies. Only New York’s John Street remained open, performing without a license, and at the mercy of the Rebel mob, which saw it as a British institution and an instrument of tyranny.

There was no future for a playwright in North America.

Jenny’s mother tried to tell her as much in her weekly reports from New Brunswick. The newsy letters arrived every Tuesday like clockwork, carried by the dishearteningly efficient Rebel post, threaded with the subtle message that, in such trying times, Jenny would be wise to come home.

But even her mother could not claim that New Brunswick was untouched by the current troubles. It had taken eight men a whole day, she wrote, to raise the new church bell, which had been cast in Holland from six hundred pounds of silver donated by the first families of the parish, into the steeple. It had been rung only once before word reached the town that the British were abroad—hunting for caches of weapons and confiscating church bells along the way so that the Rebels could not raise the countryside with their alarms.

Whatever their individual political leanings, the faithful of New Brunswick had denuded their tables and donated their plate for the glory of God, not King George. The church consistory voted unanimously, her mother wrote with obvious satisfaction, to take the bell down and bury it in the orchard across the lane.

If Jenny did not do something about it, she would end up like the bell, buried in New Brunswick until the Rebels were routed. Teased and tormented by four loving brothers who had followed her father into the brick-making trade and could not understand why a pretty girl bothered herself with scribbling for players.

There was no future for a playwright . . . in North America. That was why Jenny wanted, needed to meet Burgoyne.

The general was said to be a personal friend of David Garrick. Burgoyne’s plays had been performed at Drury Lane in London.

“The Boyne will be a week at least refitting,” murmured Andries Van Dam, who was arranging to send a crate of his best Madeira aboard the ship. “The general also asks for six quarts of Spanish olives, twelve pounds of Jordan almonds”—the tavern keeper began writing it all down, eyes alight—“two dozen doilies, one box of citron, six jars of pickles, and one Parmesan cheese.”

Jenny waited until they disappeared into the storeroom—all furtive glances and quiet whispers—before dashing out of the tavern. Samuel Fraunces, publican—Black Sam, to his friends—was a notorious Rebel, but evidently not a man to let that get in the way of trade. Jenny had never cared for politics. She liked them even less now that the royal governor and the garrison had retreated to their gun ships in the harbor and left ordinary New Yorkers like herself to the pity of the rabble, who had none.

She wanted nothing better than to dash directly home to John Street and Aunt Frances with her news, but she still had errands to run for the theater’s manager: costumes to pick up from the mantua maker, canvas to fetch for repairing the scenery, playbills waiting at the printer. This, though, gave her the opportunity to make discreet inquiries about the Boyne with the sailmakers and victuallers. By the time Jenny reached the little blue house next door to the theater, wrapped in her plain wool cloak and laden with packages, she had acquired a box of oranges, and knew that the Boyne was anchored off the Battery undergoing repairs.

Aunt Frances was upstairs in the little parlor at her desk working on a manuscript. She looked effortlessly stylish—as always—in a simple blue silk gown with her hair teased and tinted to match. Her arrival in New Brunswick, after fleeing her London creditors, had changed Jenny’s life. Aunt Frances was old enough—just—to be her mother, but unlike the matrons of Jenny’s acquaintance she had not rushed headlong into the trappings of domesticity or middle age. She wore no frumpy caps or homely aprons. She neither baked nor sewed. She wrote a little, acted a great deal, and charmed the patrons in the greenroom, always.

Without raising her head, she said, “How is your mother and everyone in New Bumpkin?”

“New Brunswick,” Jenny corrected. “They are fine. And Burgoyne is in New York.”

 

Mistress Firebrand Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, April 6
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Excerpt & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, April 7
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, April 8
Interview at The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, April 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, April 10
Spotlight at Broken Teepee

Sunday, April 12
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Monday, April 13
Spotlight, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, April 16
Review at Caroline Wilson Writes

Friday, April 17
Spotlight at I’d So Rather Be Reading

Saturday, April 18
Excerpt & Giveaway at A Dream Within a Dream

Monday, April 20
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, April 21
Guest Post & Giveaway at Book Babe

Wednesday, April 22
Guest Post & Excerpt at The Lit Bitch

Thursday, April 23
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Friday, April 24
Review at Back Porchervations

Monday, April 27
Review at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, April 28
Review at Historical Readings & Views

Wednesday, April 29
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Guest Post at Boom Baby Reviews

Thursday, April 30
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, May 1
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Drey’s Library
Spotlight at Genre Queen

Sunday, May 3
Review at Forever Ashley

Monday, May 4
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at To Read, or Not to Read

Tuesday, May 5
Excerpt at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, May 6
Review at Unabridged Chick

Thursday, May 7
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Friday, May 8
Interview at Scandalous Woman

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1 Comment

  1. Now on my reading list

    Reply

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