Guest Barbara Monajem

Edith here, and I’m happy to welcome Barbara Monajem, my fellow Guppy, and her new mystery! Here’s the blurb:

London, 1811. Lady Rosamund’s mortifying compulsion remains a secret until she discovers the body of a footman at dead of night. Now an anonymous caricaturist mocks her in scandalous prints, and poison pen letters show someone knows too much about her. Suddenly, her sanity—and her life—are at stake.

Take it away, Barbara!

Years ago, I bought a copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Once I had foolishly purchased this massive tome, I had to at least try to read it. Very early in the book (that’s as far as I got), there’s a scene from the point of view of a girl who has been taught to see herself as valueless—not intelligent, not lovable, not worthy, not this, that, or the other. She’s an illegitimate child, which explains it somewhat, as at the time of the story, children born out of wedlock had no legal status. But there was also a class system in England, in which some people were perceived as being inherently “better” than others simply by virtue of their social class at birth—which was absurd and unjust, but people accepted it for centuries.

It may seem a stretch from deploring injustice to writing a mystery from the first-person point of view of one of the so-called betters, but I’ve published a number of Regency romances and am familiar with the society of the time. It was fascinating to put myself into the mind of a well-bred lady from two hundred years ago, who makes assumptions and harbors prejudices that seem awful today. Lady Rosamund Phipps is the daughter of an earl—wealthy, privileged, and taught to believe in her innate superiority. She means well but has no idea how the other ninety-nine percent live, much less how they view themselves and their social superiors. As she finds herself pulled into situations a lady should never encounter, she blunders, sometimes unforgivably.

“Being” her—writing from such an intimate point of view—was sometimes a bit scary, as it led to close examination of my own prejudices. Which attitudes from my childhood led to certain patterns of thought, and how have they changed? Did I really used to think like this or that? (I remember believing as a child that people who couldn’t spell were a bit stupid. Now I know better, but why did I think that way back then?) Why was it sometimes so easy to understand and predict Lady Rosamund’s thoughts and reactions, and sometimes so difficult?

Even within Lady Rosamund’s exalted sphere, “better” doesn’t mean safer or happier. She marries a man who agrees to leave her be and stick to his mistress, because she finds the idea of sexual intimacy so distasteful. Her anxieties lead to compulsive behavior (I even chose my own personal compulsion, which is to check things over and over, because I felt I could write it realistically) and a fear of being confined as a madwoman by her scandal-averse family. So when a caricaturist—the equivalent of a modern-day paparazzo—mocks her in scandalous prints, and she receives anonymous letters hinting that the world will learn of her compulsion, she has to DO something about the situation. And of course, she does.

I’m pleased to send one of you a copy of Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen.

Readers: Did you have prejudices as a child that you find incomprehensible now? Do you have any compulsions that annoy the heck out of you? Is political correctness a solution to prejudice, or merely a sort of bandage, a way of covering up attitudes that still fester underneath? Do you enjoy reading novels written in first person? If not, why not?

USA Today Bestselling Author Barbara Monajem has published over twenty historical novels. She has two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding (too weird to resist) and succeed at knitting socks. She managed the first (it was ghastly) but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta with relatives, friends, and feline strays.




Buy links:

Amazon US, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple

29 Thoughts

  1. Your book sounds great, Barbara! I wouldn’t say I’m compulsive about it, but I too have a habit of checking certain things multiple times. I guess I figure it’s better to make sure the stove is really off than to have something catch on fire!

    1. Hi, Maria. Yes — and the older I get, the more I realize what a good habit it is to check the stove! 😉

  2. I enjoy novels written in first person, and I despise the term political correctness because the use of it has been watered down to shame diversity and inclusiveness by those who do not value those ideals.

    1. Hi, Gloria. I’m with you re political correctness. I think it served as a reminder at first, but as you say, it has been watered down. Good manners should be genuine, not a way of disguising ugly feelings.

  3. Thanks so much for joining us, Barbara! I love reading historical mysteries and look forward to this one.
    In my southern California home, my parents always made a point of saying that we were not prejudiced. My town had lots of Mexican-Americans and Asians, but no African-Americans. It never occurred to me to ask why not.

    1. Edith, I grew up in Vancouver, B.C. In my childhood, the population was overwhelmingly white. There were some Asians and Native Americans, but the only Africans I recall meeting were my father’s graduate students from Uganda. Now Vancouver is a delightful mix of people from all parts of the world. 🙂

  4. Like so many things in language, I think the term “political correctness” has morphed over time from something well-meaning to something…slightly derogatory, I guess. But I think this goes to show that forcing surface behavior (e.g., using one word instead of another) only has a surface effect. Until you change people’s hearts, something that is much harder than merely changing vocabulary, true transformation isn’t possible.

    Oh, and I like first person POV. It really lets me know the main character.

    1. Exactly, Liz — the change has to be in people’s hearts. Re first person — I found it let me understand the main character I was writing much better, too.

  5. Being an old Army brat and raised with and around everything, I don’t think I was prejudice as a child. As our military men went overseas, fell in love and married, I was around about every nationality. We also lived for 9 years in California and don’t know if it was the military or the state, but there were every imaginable interracial couples you can imagine so it was a normal for me. Imagine my surprise and fear when my Dad retired when I was entering my high school years to the south where prejudice ran wild. It was during the time of integration as well.
    As an adult, I try to be just as opened minded. I think my only prejudice would have to be those that feel the world owes them everything with no effort on their part.
    Guess my one great compulsion would be to check, recheck and to write down to verify important facts. Even as a child, with time limited between classes, I was fearful of forgetting my locker combination and not being able to get to what I needed for the next class. I finally learned that it was the fear that was making me jittery. Calming down made everything go smoother. Through the years and even now, I find myself starting to panic if it’s something really important about forgetting numbers, passwords, dates, etc. I try to curb this by keeping a secret ledger with just important facts listed. Now knowing that it just exists, calms me down and very rarely have I had to check with it.
    Politics and policies might wake a person up to what is right, but the actually change has to be inside the person. Otherwise it’s just a show with the hatred still brewing underneath.
    Love reading books in the first person. It’s fun to get inside a person’s head at times.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  6. Hi, Kay. Your realization that the fear was making you jittery reminds me of a problem I had in 6th grade. We had to read a passage in a very short time and answer a bunch of comprehension questions — and then we had to read our score out loud! This made me totally panicky, so much so that I couldn’t remember enough of what I had read, so my scores went way down. Later, I didn’t have to read my score out, so I was no longer nervous and did fine. Thanks for the comments!

  7. Does it count as a prejudice if you simply didn’t know any better and just went along with what you learned from the kids you hung around with (and then got punished by parents when they found out you were a jackass). I think it is more of simple ignorance than actual prejudice. You know how it is with peer pressure, you go along because god forbid you are perceived as different, they’ll turn on YOU! So you made the jokes or laughed at the jokes or you picked on the odd one out. Is this inconceivable now? Yes, you might say so. It’s called growing up. I don’t give a flying rat’s buttocks about other people’s opinion of me anymore and make up my own mind about pretty much everything in my life. Stupid is as stupid does when you are a kid, if you hold firm to that when you grow up, well then you are just an idiot.

    I don’t know that I have any specific compulsions in life beyond the stubbornness that seems to be an inborn trait. I won’t do anything I don’t want to do.

    The term “political correctness” has been used as both a bandage and a cudgel by people on both sides of the argument. Because of this, the term has been shredded and has no real place in the world anymore. It seems that it is a blanket way to censor language and any writer worth their salt should be against that. It does allow things to fester. Out of sight is out of mind and that’s not good in this day and age. I want to know exactly where the jerks and fools are so I can do my best to avoid them.

    First person stories? Yes I like them. But it is like any other thing, it all depends on the story. If you tell a good story, then I’m on board. The viewpoint doesn’t matter if you weave a great tale.

    1. Hi, Jay. Yes, sigh, I remember doing a few mean things in high school, which I still regret. If I ever write a story where the odd one out is the main character, I will dedicate it to those people I was unkind to so long ago.

  8. Please give Bleak House another chance. I think Dickens nailed strong women characters. Too often he prefers women of the more sinned against than sinning model. Regards, Mary Jo

    1. Hi, Mary Jo. You’re right, I should give it another chance — it’s just so LONG and therefore daunting. I have to look it as a long-term project, like The Woman in White or The Mysteries of Udolpho. I took my time reading those, and it proved to be worthwhile. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Sherry! I’m honored to be here and SO happy about this particular book.

  9. Hi, Barbara! I am so excited about your new book. You are an awesome writer. I do like writing in first pov and in fact, do write in first pov. I like the intimacy. Many congratulations! vb

    1. Thank you, Vicki, my friend. I hope we meet again someday soon. 🙂

  10. I grew up in a very prejudiced family, but somehow inside of me I knew it was wrong. It wasn’t something I could discuss at home, but I learned to accept everyone as they are. Yes, I do still find I have unexpected (to me) prejudices occasionally and am very upset by that. Mostly, it is ignorance (as is all prejudice). I do not suffer fools gladly, but I work hard to understand why someone is acting foolish. Usually, it is their ignorance. I can understand without accepting when I feel someone or something is just plain wrong.

    Like Jay, I don’t care what people think of me. I’m old enough to know it doesn’t make any difference. In fact, most people don’t think of me at all. I’m not that important to them. I try to be a good person and want my family and friends to like me, but beyond that….

    What POV a book is written from doesn’t make any difference to me if the book is well written.

    1. Hi, Ginny. Age does make a difference, doesn’t it? I do my best, but am happy about my insignificance in the great scheme of things. 🙂

  11. Welcome, Barbara. I had prejudices as a child that I later understood to be just that, and as a young adult, a parent, an employee, and I probably had some as an old person yesterday. Humans are constantly learning new things that cause them to re-examine themselves and the world.

    1. Hi, Barbara. I believe the ability to learn and change is one of the most important characteristics of humans. We *should* reexamine ourselves and the world — otherwise we are wasting one of our greatest attributes.

    1. Hi, Mark. It’s a useful sort of pain. Like childbirth, it brings forth a good result. 😉

  12. Sounds interesting the checking things I have heard about some check a certain amount of times. I would like to read your book. Thank you for the chance

    1. Hi, Donamae. Yes, I’ve heard about people checking a certain number of times. It’s fascinating how the human mind works.

  13. Barbara, this sounds like such a delightful book and, yes, challenging to write. I can’t wait to read it. Wishing you all the best with this new direction. Oh, and Bleak House! We had to read that in Lit class. Not one of my fav Dickens’ books 🙂

    1. Hi, Barb. I usually have a hard time with Dickens, but if I think of him as research material, it’s easier. I remember learning a lot from just one scene in A Tale of Two Cities. (Did I finish that book? No, alas. It seemed a bit too sad…but maybe I missed something great. My TBR research pile contains WAY too many tomes.)

Comments are closed.