What Perfume Would She Wear?

But when were the scents developed? And can I use them in my books? What were people in the Regency period actually wearing.
Recently the Floris catalogue has been giving details about its scents and when they were developed.

When I was an all knowing little first grader we had to draw pictures of what we thought smelled good and what we thought smelled bad. My classmates all drew the normal stuff– piles of dog poo and cooked broccoli or whatever else a six-year-old might hate. I drew a bottle of lady’s perfume. I hated it. It was overpowering and stuffy and made my nose itch.

For most of my life I felt that way. I felt like I was being suffocated in a fuzzy, thick smog of scent whenever someone hugged me and I choked on the stuff. It wasn’t until I hit puberty that I wanted to give it a try, but even then I went for Gap’s scents of Grass or Heaven. Sweet, fresh smells that fit a teenager. Never the heavier stuff. And never the iconic scents. No Chanel No. 5 for me!

Not until I became an actual adult did I buy any true perfume. Like most of the cool, elegant things in my life this was inspired by my best friend, who was a year older and a generation wiser and cooler. She’s always had the best taste in things and when I first smelled her Jo Malone Orange Blossom cologne I wanted it in the worst way. But I wanted my own signature scent. So, I went to the department store and tried them out, at last landing on Wild Fig and Cassis, which is a unique, bright and fresh scent that years later still makes me happy. I also bought a darker, velvety scent, Black Vetyver Cafe, for date nights, that makes me think of slinky dresses and cleavage and smoky eyes.

While drafting my current story I wanted a scent for my character that fits the era and also her personality. Jasmine is too exotic for her. Roses too sweet. I didn’t know what else women in the Regency might wear, so I did some searching and came across Michelle Styles’ blog, which was full of both fact and also descriptions so I could imagine the scents for myself. Thank you Michelle! Great post!

Living in Regency England – Heating the House

When I’m researching for a new story I like to flesh out the world in which my characters live as much as possible. Sometimes that means imagining their homes, and sometimes it means imagining what they might have been reading or talking about. This blog post about chimneys hits both!
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical so much, because I can rabbit hole down. I don’t know why I started wondering about chimney design. It might never make it anywhere close to a story or plot line, but it helps me get into my characters’ worlds when I know more about how and why their homes and lives were constructed the way they were.

Every Woman Dreams...

From the Georgian Period forward, the majority of the London townhouses were heated by coal rather than wood. Thus, members of Society and visitors to the City “enjoyed” the ever-preent film of coal dust in the air. In the late 17th and early 18th Century, the fireplaces remained wood-burning elements within the households. These fireplaces were designed with wide chimneys and a brick hearth.

Fireback in the house of Jeanne d'Arc in Domrémy Fireback in the house of Jeanne d’Arc in Domrémy

When coal came into use, a free-standing iron or steel basket was placed in the fireplace. These baskets usually had an iron fireback behind it. After 1750, these iron baskets occurred regularly in both country, as well as city, households. Quite often, down drafts drove smoke from these coal baskets into the rooms, and the heat escaped up the chimneys (i.e., the constant “smog” in London).  A fireplace fireback is a heavy cast iron, sized in proportion…

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Unfinished Work and Fun Factors

I’ve been steadily working on my second historical novel over the summer, plugging away at it, a few hundred words at a time. It’s slow, but I know where the story is going and for the most part I like my characters. It’s hard to say, as it’s just the first draft, but I care about them right now, and despite that, I’ve sent them through some shit and have more to come.

But, as I was working my summer job (waiting tables at a nearby restaurant) I’ve been bombarded with two new ideas that have come rapidly and nearly fully formed. In the first, parts need fleshing out, but the beginning structure, the voice, the characters are all showing up and taking over, even if I’m not ready to tell their story.

In the second, I had to get home and start writing immediately, too impatient to care much about anything else, and it is this story that has been driving me to the keyboard obsessively over the past few days. I started it last Sunday and I’ve already written nearly 11,000 words, which is a rarity for me. I can write 1,000 easily, and have to stop before I’m truly finished so that the pump is well primed for the next session.

I feel some guilt about putting the first story, the historical, on hold, but it was losing its fun factor, and although I like it and want to finish it, I need to find the fun again. These other stories (only one of which is in the draft process) are fun, and a challenge in ways the other one doesn’t have right now. I try very hard not to set stuff aside, because this is how I end up not finishing things, but I also believe that taking a break and finding the magic again might be good for me when other things are quite stressed in my daily life.

What are your thoughts? Do you do this too?

Swimming Pool Days

When I was a kid we did swim team. I say we and mean my brother and two sisters and me, but also our entire circle of friends. We spent summer mornings in the pool and Saturday mornings at meets. I used to complain about waking up early and plunging into a cold pool that turned our lips blue, but I secretly loved it, once the circulation came back. I loved swimming breaststroke in a line of others and watching the sun kissed bubbles emerge from the swimmer’s kick in front of me (this is why I was not fast. I was too busy watching the pretty bubbles). I loved the feeling of my legs pushing me forward and the slice of my palm as it cut through that blue water. I loved the tingle of fear I had as I swam through the deep end, imagining against all possibility I’d see a shark lurking below. I loved cheering my team on, and the competitive anticipation that comes right before the starting buzzer sounds. I loved stretching my arms and legs like the Olympians, getting ready to dive and push through my pullout (the kicking and stroking you do underwater) and pop back up from that silence to the churning of the race. At my pool we didn’t have diving blocks so if you had to swim backstroke and wanted a better push off from the edge you borrowed a friend’s legs to cling to as she or he stood on the pool’s edge before the race. I loved that. I loved how the crowd’s roar would crescendo at the very end of the meet as the older guys swam their relays. You could tell the end of the meet from two blocks away by that sound. I still love a good relay.

After Saturday meets there was an unspoken agreement that everybody who was anybody would be meeting at the local McDonald’s/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut everyone called McTacoHut. All the other teams would be there, their hair still sticking to their faces, dripping from their ponytails, shirts still damp and bathing suits peeking from underneath. We’d eat fries with our friends and crowd around the older kids as the parents gathered and exchanged stats on races and scores. Our dads would discuss form and who got DQ’d and why, and our moms would brag about how much time we shaved, or explain why we didn’t do as well this week.

Later in the afternoon, or on Sunday, we would be back at the pool. When we gathered with our family friends we’d go to the Olympic sized pool, Lake Newport. We knew all the lifeguards back then. They were our teammates or friends’ older siblings. We didn’t need an ID card for years, because they all knew us. We’d grill out and swim until the hot dogs were ready.

My brother and his best friend shared a birthday, July 27th. Perhaps this is why I’m thinking about it today. I am not close to my brother anymore. His religious beliefs make it hard for my family to feel comfortable around him. My parents divorced and his faith cannot tolerate that so he does not associate with them except for rare moments. Even though he’s as much fun as ever, and still the solid, sweet man he was as a boy, his jokes can quickly turn to serious discussions of a god the rest of us no longer trust. But as his birthday draws nearer, I am reminded of those summers.

Once, in the late afternoon, when the sky has just adopted that hazy purple that mutes the sharp edges of the day, I stood on a diving board and my whole world spread out before me. I could see the bright aquamarine of the pool, the long legs of teenage girls stretched on the lounge chairs, and the green tops of trees beyond the pool’s fence. The sounds of children laughing, the lifeguard’s whistle and the lapping of the pool were muted and my thoughts loud in my head. Our mothers were making dinner, and in a moment I’d swim over and dry off, and eat salty, ridged chips with my siblings and our friends, giggling at inside jokes long forgotten. While standing on that board, the sandpaper grip under my toes, the world open before me, I suddenly realized I was standing in a precious, perfect bubble, and simultaneously observing it all. I must have been fifteen, just starting to explore the shadows in the suburban picture I’d always known, but on this day none existed. It was the late 90s, and I was a pretty teenager in a wealthy suburb, about to dive into a cool pool in the early twilight of a beautiful, carefree day. But even as I stood on that bouncing board I knew this perfect moment couldn’t last forever.

And then I dove.

Stuck in a Book

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I just finished listening to Joshilyn Jackson read her most recent novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, and I’m stuck in her voice. It has earwormed its way into my brain and will remain there, earnest and Southern and sweet. I want it to remain there. I want to keep hearing her voice reading her words and I want to just sink into them. But I am about to join my husband for a viewing of Outlander and the voice is about to be chased out of my head.

I sort of don’t want it to. I love the show, and I’m excited for the episode but I still want to live in this space for a while yet. Have you ever experienced this phenomena, where you are in a story and it fills up your eyes, and ears and nose with its world and then the story ends and you can’t quite figure out how to handle it? I feel as if some limb has been cut loose from me, or a past experience sliced out, or like I moved houses in the middle of the night and woke up in a new one. Even writing this I hear it read in Joshilyn’s voice. It is her cadence and inflections and I’m just repeating them.

I absolutely love her books, all of them. But this one spoke to me in new ways. I’d read it when it first came out.

ASIDE: My husband bought it for me for Christmas and I found it while innocently! putting away laundry. So, I started sneak-reading it. Just bits and pieces of it, when he wasn’t around and marking my place with a teeny-tiny fold so I could find it but he wouldn’t notice. I hadn’t finished it by the time he wrapped it so I didn’t feel too guilty, and was also really excited to finish it so it wasn’t like I was lying when I enthusiastically thanked him for the gift. I’m pretty bad at showing my excitement for gifts and didn’t want to fake it, as I already look like I’m faking it, even when I’m sincere.

Back to the present: This reading was different because I knew what to expect and could pay attention to the rest of it more closely, and god, was it sad. It does end in a positive, we can assume HEA, but man, it made me feel a lot of feels. And I’m sort of mourning for the characters’ pain as well as my own pain at having finished the book. This book is not a romance novel. Not in the sense you might imagine. But it is a whole lot about love, about all kinds of love, and about how to keep love. And about what happens when love is not always enough. God, it was good.

But now I have to go and try and pay attention to a really great show when part of my brain will be thinking about how much I adore William Ashe and his rational, odd and loving brain. And Shandi and Walcott too. Goodnight guys, I’ll miss you.

Pitches & Rejections

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. Spring Break has come and gone and we are almost done with the semester. I need to spend a little bit of time catching you all up.

Since my last post:

I pitched my novel during Carina Press’s Twitter pitch session and a very nice, very cool editor said she wanted to see it. AHHH! It was completely by surprise, as I just happened to go on Twitter after dinner and saw that there was about an hour left of the session. So, thinking WTH, why not? I wrote a quick tweet and took the dogs on a walk. Of course, I obsessively checked the updates while they checked the pee-mail other dogs had left them, and what do you know? An editor wanted to know more. I tried to remember how many words the thing had when I stopped writing and guessed around 90k (actually more like 115k!) And then she said she’d like to see it and would I please send it her way?

WOULD I? WOULD I? Of course I would. After I freaked out a little bit, I realized that although the novel was actually complete, I hadn’t done another revision since my beta readers got back to me. So, since I had 72 hours before it was due on Sunday at midnight, I spent the next 24 of those hours right here, at this computer and in this (quite hard, now that I think about it) chair, with an imaginary razor in hand and a vicious, take-no-prisoners mentality that allowed me to cut nearly 11K words. I also re-wrote a little bit. And then I sent it off, my heart in my mouth, biting back nausea and nerves. I went to bed and lay there, shocked at how hard I’d worked and what I’d actually done for the first time in my life.

Sadly, I just heard back a few days ago that although she liked the characters and the romance and the plot, there were some things she didn’t like and so she was going to pass. My first rejection. My first pitch and my first bite of interest, and now my first rejection.

I always thought I’d take rejection hard. That my poor skin would be flayed off and I’d want to disappear into a dark corner, pulling my shreds of dignity about me (I get a little dramatic sometimes). But this rejection hurt like peeling a Band-Aid off. There was an initial sting of disappointment and hurt, but then it was gone, and I could think clearly again. And I agreed with the editor. There are some very good things about my novel, but the flaw she pointed out should definitely be fixed. And it was couched in such nice things that the criticism was constructive and helpful. In addition, I learned so much about revising and improving my writing that this learning experience was priceless, no matter what happened. And, now I have great ideas for what I want to change in my next draft, as well as reinforcement that I’m not doing a terrible job.

I think it also helped that I had no real expectations of this. Sure, I was excited and pleased and wanted good things to come out of it. But it was all so spontaneous and quick that I hadn’t built up any true hopes or dreams that might come crashing down. It’s not like I’d researched agents and editors for weeks, carefully crafting a cover letter for days (of course, I did carefully craft it, but there was a deadline) and finally decided to try. It all happened in about thirty minutes, and then the manuscript was gone in three days. No time for anything. Besides, what kind of an asshole writer gets their first novel published after their very first pitch? I’m in it for the long haul!

So, what have I learned?

  • It never hurts to try
  • Revision is about re-learning
  • Rejection is about learning, too
  • Spontaneity can be helpful in keeping hopes in check
  • Having a supportive SO is so very lovely and appreciated.

Forcing Myself to Wake on My Own Schedule & My Wild Spring Break Habits

I’m on spring break! I want to shout it out like Lil’ Wayne “SPRIIIIIINNNNGGG BRAAAAAKKE!” Yes, I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but when I hear him in my head that is how it is spelled.

So, spring break and I should be relaxing. I am, sort of, but I always seem to use school break as my chance to do work I don’t have time for during the school year. Last year I finished art projects and organized my house. The year before I did that as well. Over Thanksgiving I spray painted a drop cloth to function as an outdoor rug. And I am super happy about it. I feel very Martha Stewart. Over Winter break I started sharpie mug gifts for family members.

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Early Morning Rising Helps Me Stay Motivated

And now I’m following that pattern again, but also trying to re-establish my formerly good habit of writing in the mornings. I’m slowly forcing myself to wake up earlier and earlier, in 15 minute stages so that eventually I will be waking at the same time of 6am every day. My younger self is appalled by the desire to wake at such an early hour every single morning but my older, wiser and more mature self thinks it’s great. My dogs, who ALWAYS wake me at 6 a.m. every morning also think it’s great. Usually our morning routine consists of Penny waking me at 5:45a.m., thinking I’ll feed her earlier. Then I fall back asleep, or get up and give in. I stumble through their breakfast and go back to bed until my alarm forces me up. The one thing I pride myself on is that I rarely hit the snooze (unlike the husband who uses it like an unconsciously lobbed torture device specially for me. Seriously, he can sleep straight through it and I can hear it in the next room if I’m up).

But besides being chipper for the dogs’ breakfast, why would I want to rise at this hour? Well, I’ve been listening to some interesting podcasts that have done a great job of motivating me and helping me establish what I want. And one podcaster, Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income, has explained that he switched to a morning routine because it’s become “me time” for him. Not rising because you have to get to work, but because you want to start your day the way you want it leaves you feeling more relaxed and in charge of your day. I’ve seen this happening already in my life, but I want to get better at streamlining my day so it flows better.

I already love my morning routine but I’d like to get more work done on my book, so I’m trying to add to my lovely, calming morning routine with at least half an hour to a whole hour set aside for both writing and a long, doggy walk. It feels so amazing to know that I’ve both gotten in 30-45 minutes of exercise and about 1,000 words before I do anything else. Then, I can focus on other things, or let the subconscious take over and think about tomorrow’s writing session. It doesn’t always happen right now, but when it does I feel unstoppable.

Overlapping Lines

Damnation!

That is a favorite swear word of Regency rakes and frustrated lords across the romance world. And now I’m muttering it myself as I swill my scotch.

Why?

Because while I was listening to another excellent episode of Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast Sarah Wendell mentions a Lisa Kleypas novel. I’ve been intending to read Lisa Kleypas for a while, having heard good things about her and knowing she’s grouped with some of my favorite authors. But I haven’t read her yet. This fact will become important in a second.

Sarah was mentioning a sub-genre of the historical romance novel, if you will. American heiresses in need of a title. And a series that Lisa Kleypas has written with an American heiress named Lillian Bowman who finds herself married to Marcus, a peer in England. Maybe now you’ve figured out why I’m muttering “Damnation!” over my scotch?

Because my novel, my first, dear little novel, the one I broke my teeth on, and my head, and my heart over? It features an American heiress named Lillian Blythe in search of an English lord who falls for a man named Morgan. There’s even a love scene in the library in both. And a scene where the heroine is a trifle drunk (although not the same scene).

So what do I do? My ingenious little idea, and even my heroine’s name taken already! Of course, the idea isn’t worth much. I’m sure our stories are still quite different, even though the premise is similar. That’s not the problem. In fact, it might even be a selling point. Loved Lisa Kleypas’ novel about an American heiress and her English lord? Try Evelyn Isaacks!

No, my frustrated moment is that fact that the names are so similar, and even some of the plot. How is that even statistically possible?!

I guess I need another name that is as excellent as Lillian. Damnation!

Getting Stuff Done

I feel like Calvin’s dad. Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 to take my husband to work. Then, when I came home I sat down and wrote 1,000 words. When I was done with that, I ate cottage cheese on English muffins with apples (one of my favorite breakfasts!) and took the dogs for a run in the drizzling rain. Granted, it was only in the 30s and I didn’t run nearly as far as Calvin’s dad, but I came home and felt just the same. The cold, red cheeks, the chipper sense of accomplishment at 7:45am. It was all the same. And then I went and taught my classes for the day.

Then, today I went for another run! What am I? An exercise machine? Well, actually, I am trying to be more fit. My dogs need more exercise, the lazy mutts. And I tried on a pair of underwear (lacy! cute!) and was certain I’d accidentally shrunk them. Can you even shrink underwear?

And I wrote some more. And taught a class for a colleague who’s home with a respiratory infection. It was a very nice experience. I’ve never subbed for someone before, and their class is very different than my bunch of students, which was a nice change. I had a great time and afterwards a student came up and complimented me on my approach to analysis, saying it was unlike most perspectives he’s seen before and was I a writer?

So, all in all, very accomplished and it’s only Tuesday! Now, I need to go to bed early so I can keep up this awesome streak.

I feel like Calvin’s dad today.

Music & Love & Guitars.

Music: The Milk Carton Kids, “The Ash & Clay” from The Ash & Clay

This song just came on my iTunes Americana playlist and I had to double check because for a moment I thought it was playing Simon & Garfunkel. This duo has very similar qualities– the picking guitar, the soft harmonies, the interesting lyrics. All of it. And they also reminded me of one of my other favorite duos, The Kings of Convenience. That link takes you to one of my favorite songs off their first album I ever got.

What is it about a guitar and a harmony that makes my heart quiver and my legs shake? Seriously, any guy playing guitar and singing (and doing both reasonably well) can pretty much count on my love and adoration. In fact, that was one of the things that made my husband sit up and take notice. That, and my outstanding vocabulary.

We met on Chemistry.com and my profile mentioned that I really like guys who can play guitar and he thought to himself, “I can play guitar!” And thus, a guitar playing man won my heart. Now if only I could get him to play more often…