Old & Interesting

I just discovered this website, Old & Interesting, and boy did they nail that title! I could get lost in the articles about washerwomen, tinderboxes and cleaning for a duke in the 17c. to name a few! Everything is so informative, and uses pictures as well as excerpts from diaries and letters to explain or illustrate the article. I can’t decide if it’s a new research tool, or rabbit trail tool, either one, I’ll learn a lot!

Fascinating Person of the Week: Alice Paul

Alice Paul toasts the passage of the 19th Amendment (with grape juice)

As you might have seen on Google’s home page today, it’s Alice Paul’s birthday! Who is Alice Paul you may ask?

According to the Alice Paul Institute, she was a feminist and suffragist who worked for the passage of the 19th Amendment. But she didn’t stop there!

After the amendment was passed on August 26, 1920, she continued her work by focusing on the Equal Rights Amendment. This was finally passed in 1972 after decades of being introduced every session in Congress. In the 1940s it was dubbed the “Alice Paul Amendment”. She died on July 9, 1977 after years of working to ensure women had the vote and the rights they deserved in this country, and world wide.

Here’s the thing: so often in our history classes, we hear about one or two important women over and over that we miss all the others that were also working hard and speaking out about the need for equal rights for women. Until yesterday I’d never heard of Alice Paul, and that’s sad. I call myself a feminist and a history fan and yet, there is so much I don’t know about women’s history. Unless we collectively work to share this knowledge with our daughters, friends and students we will lose them. And that is a tragedy because these women are powerful examples of what can be done and changed when we speak up. They spoke up for what they believed in and they even starved for it. They went to prison and they fought against a system that at every turn refused them a voice. If they can do it then, just imagine what we can do now. But we need to know what came before us before we can imagine what we can accomplish. And that’s why this week’s fascinating person is this strong-willed, fierce advocate for women’s rights, Alice Paul.

Linen Condoms?!

One of my favorite things about the research and discovery phase of writing is the fact that you learn such odd tidbits from history. For instance, while researching the Irish linen industry, which is going to be a component of my WIP, I learned that Casanova occasionally used linen condoms. Yes. Think about that for a moment. Linen… in your lady bits. Linen is a lovely fabric, and can be quite soft and finely made. But… ouch!

Helping Preserve Women’s Rights History

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In 1848 the first women’s convention on equal rights was held in Seneca Falls, NY. There, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Coffin Wright and Lucretia Mott led the gathered women in the creation of a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which held that men and women were created equal.

Their Declaration of Sentiments, as the document was called, was then signed by the women and the 30 men who attended (including Frederick Douglass). This kicked off the women’s rights movement in our country and paved the way for women’s suffrage, and other vitally important changes to ensure women’s rights. But, in addition to actual improvements, it also called for things like equal pay, which is still an issue we struggle with 167 years later. Their last sentiment especially hit home. It is as follows:

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Women still face these issues. The fight is not over. And the need for recognizing women who began this movement is not over. The White House, and the Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, have been working with the National Archives to find the original Declaration of Sentiments. After Frederick Douglass took the document to Rochester, NY to publish it in his newspaper, The Northern Star, the document has gone missing. They are hoping to find the original Declaration, or any evidence that can explain what has happened to it. In addition to this important piece of history, they are seeking other artifacts important to the women’s rights movement in this country. You can read more about it on the White House’s blog. And you can help spread the word! Get the message out so that we can find and preserve a part of history that is often ignored or unknown. Use #FindtheSentiments to spread the word!

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!

Beta Readers and Research in First Drafts

Word Count: 505 

Music: Wilco, “Forget the Flowers” from Being There

I’ve gotten feedback from two of my beta readers and mostly they were positive. Hurrah! I cannot adequately express how much of a relief this was. I’d been having momentary bouts of panic a few times a day, questioning whether or not I was being foolish and am secretly a terrible writer. It’s strange. I don’t suffer from that fear while I’m actually writing. No. Then, it’s all “Wow! I am SOO good at this! I’m the best writer ever! Bow before my genius!” But as soon as I let myself become vulnerable by having others read it? I’m a quivering mess.

They’ll learn my secret, that this is just a pile of bones I call a romance novel. They’ll see that I know nothing about love and my own marriage is clearly a fluke, since I know nothing. They’ll see my sex scenes and giggle at the ridiculous notions of sex I have. They will not like the characters at all, and think they are boring. 

That is what I start thinking. But luckily, or just because I have very nice friends, they were mostly positive. Of course, I have things to fix, but overall they weren’t terrible. I can breath again.

And now I’m starting a new draft of a new novel. It’s another historical, only this time I’m jumping back two hundred years from my last one, and shifting the focus to French Canada. I don’t want to say too much, but I will say this: RESEARCH can be your best friend. I had some ideas for the conflict but nothing concrete and after researching a little more I’m starting to feel my way through the mire and actually figure out what these characters are deal thing with. Some people hate research. Some say that research bogs down their story telling. For me, research is what pads out my story, like the padding on a dressmaker’s form. The structure of a romance novel is what holds it up, but the research is what creates the final form. At least, that’s my metaphor for it this week.

Art Inspirations

Once upon a time, I was an art student. I took Foundations of Design classes, Art History classes, Art and Psychology classes, Painting I & II, Photography I & II, and Figure Painting (with oils!)  I sat through slide after slide after slide of art from the Venus of Willendorf to Cubism and Futurism. And somehow I didn’t lose my love of art.

I might have changed my major from Art to English, but I saw them as extensions of the same desire– to express myself creatively and be inspired by others.

On Saturday, a good friend of mine went with me to the Blanton Museum in Austin. And I got to indulge in one of my favorite rare activities, staring at art and letting it mesmerize and amaze me.

I like to go slowly through a museum, unhurried by the pace of a tour or another person. I like to read the notes and let the technique and the effect soak into my skin. It leaves me feeling as though I emerged from a hot bath full of color and inspiration.

Saint Cecilia by Simon Vouet

It is an excellent thing, I think, to find inspiration outside of the field in which you are working. Visiting a museum can be an excellent way to get ideas. For instance, the image above is so beautiful, the colors, details and expression so captivating, that it forces you to think of descriptors in a new way.

Also, it makes you see what your characters might have seen if they had been living in a time, or place to see work like this. Lillian, my female lead, is an aspiring artist who is staying at a manor house in England. I now have the inspiration to create a scene where she can admire and study works like this so that the reader can see her desire to paint, and learn about her craft. And I can’t wait to have Morgan, my male lead, get involved in the discussion too.

And based on some other images, I’ve got some hilarious details to add to the characterization of one of my most Austenian humorous side characters. Let’s just say she wants to be painted like Mary Magdalene being carried up to heaven by a throng of putto, but even a throng of strong men might not be able to lift her…

Research!

One of the things I love most about historical fiction is the chance to dive into great big piles of articles about a topic and emerge with a little nugget of inspiration. Tonight I was preparing for my British Literature class by doing some research on Sir Thomas More and his literary and religious adversary, William Tyndale.

Here’s the few nuggets I collected that I might just polish into gold as part of my story:

  • Thomas More was engaged in spying on Protestant heretics.
  • He was given a special license to “read and keep certain books of Luther” which were banned at this time, so that he could use him in his response to Luther’s revolutionary ideas about the Church.
  • When King Henry VIII became the “Supreme head on earth of the Church of England” (how is that for a title?) his followers were able to rely on the common people’s ideas of obedience to one’s ruler as a Christian duty to get them to follow Henry’s changes in religion (somewhat). But, when his daughter, Mary, came to the throne and reverted England back to Catholicism this little idea created quite the dilemma! Do you all of a sudden backtrack and encourage the common people to follow a “papal queen” down the road to “certain hell”? (emphasis mine, but they’d probably say it too!)
  • During the years 1534-1547 there was a massive overhaul of the physical expression of the Catholic Church. It started with the Dissolution of Monasteries under King Henry, when he gave away land to the gentry in order to get their support for his new church (and kept a lot of the money found in the monasteries for himself) and it continued under his son, Edward. Stained glass, shrines, statues, crucifixes, and bells were all taken down and destroyed. Clergy were no longer expected to be celibate and the saying of mass for the dead was ended.
  • Many feast days were banished, which unsurprisingly upset the common people, who rather enjoyed the feasting and celebrating that went on in the villages on these days. Mobs also tried to prevent the dissolving of the monasteries, and other changes to their faith.

Why did I find all of these archaic details fascinating? Because they are the basis for storytelling and plot! Just think of the human tragedies that went on under the dissolving of the monasteries and abbeys, and destroying of common objects of faith. Think of the political machinations that occurred as part of Henry’s efforts to gain support, or his daughter’s accession to the throne. Imagine the anxiety of the messenger who had to carry Luther’s books to Sir Thomas More, special license or not! All of this is fodder for the story. All of this carries with it the passions of people who, no matter what we think now, felt deeply about these issues and were willing to die for them. That is what makes telling these stories and helping them come to life so exciting and vital. And a little romance to ease the pain doesn’t hurt.