May 9 2011 12:00pm

The Bits in Between: How Julia Quinn Began the Interstitial Craze

The Duke and I by Julia QuinnInterstitial material is a fancy term for that stuff between chapters—diary excerpts, newspaper columns, fairy tales, quotes, etc. How do you feel about it? Is there too much of it? Not enough? Which authors do a good job with it and who should refrain?

I come down on the “generally too much” side of things and believe I can date the current overuse of this conceit to Julia Quinn and her Lady Whistledown character. She first appeared in The Duke and I and was a Regency newspaper columnist who dished on the ton, using her acerbic wit.

London is awash these days with Ambitious Mamas. At Lady Worth's ball last week, This Author saw no fewer than eleven Determined Bachelors, cowering in corners and eventually fleeing the premises with those Ambitious Mamas hot on their heels.

The anonymous Lady Whistledown cuts everyone down to size while commenting upon the action of the previous chapter, or setting the stage for the following one. She was a great character, and though she is now retired, I still miss her biting commentary.

There are some authors who use this device very well. I like Elizabeth Hoyt's use of fairy tales in her novels. She tells a single story, a paragraph or two at a time, at the beginning of each chapter. Usually, these fairy tales have at least a tangential relation to the romance, though sometimes, it is very tenuous indeed. But the stories are always charming. I have been known to stop reading the romance and just skip to the chapter headings in order to finish up the fairy tale before going back and finishing the romance. Probably not Ms. Hoyt's intention, but there it is.

I'm also extremely fond of Liz Carlyle's chapter subheadings. They have a way of piquing my interest about what is to come. For example, “In which our Hero is beset by yet Another plague” or “In which Delacourt leaps out of the Frying Pan.” Don't you want to know what Horrors are about to befall our Hero? I sure do. I'm sure it's something Dastardly and I'm sure he Deserves it.

One kind of interstitial material that rarely works for me is those that are full of advice for our Heroine. They are usually etiquette and deportment book excerpts, deadly dull things that purport to project the perfect way to become the perfect lady and win the perfect man. I remember one book even used a military handbook as a guide to getting married. It was full of advice like, “Use bait to draw him to secure ground.”

But the worst, and what I am heartily sick of, are courtesan diaries. They are everywhere, these salacious memoirs of dead working girls. They are usually poorly written and full of flowery, euphemistic, faux-period language. No, the whole concept has been Done to Death and I really can go the rest of my romance reading life without reading another budding Harriette Wilson-wannabe, or the hijinks that ensue when Innocent Misses try to follow their dubious advice.

What kinds of interstitial material works for you? What kinds are you over? 


Cheryl Sneed reviews for

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
Cheryl, I have to confess to loving interstitial stuff, but only if it's pertinent to the story and/or witty (and I used interstitial stuff myself in my own book, back in the day). But it can definitely be overused, and if it's not clever, it just seems...lame.
Louise Partain
2. Louise321
I loved the use of it in "Tom Jones" and Lady Whistledown is a wonderful creation, but if it's not properly used, I agree with MFrampton, at best it's lame.
Donna Cummings
3. Donna Cummings
One of my favorites is Toni McGee Causey's When A Man Loves A Weapon, Book 3 in the Bobbi Faye series. Each chapter has a quote about Bobbi Faye (who seems to get herself in a lot of trouble while dealing with bad guys), and the quotes are very funny. I can't seem to find my copy of the book at the moment, but I remember there even being quotes from authors, as if they knew Bobbi Faye personally. Fun stuff.
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