Friday, July 22, 2016

Live, from RWA National: Well, Not Quite

I’m back from the Romance Writers of AmericaTM National Conference. Normally Marissa and I blog “live” from there, but this year, I collected all the interesting tidbits and brought them back with me. And I wasn’t even over weight on my luggage!

The day before Conference starts, I usually attend the Beau Monde mini-conference. The day-long affair brings together writers of Regency romance to share their knowledge and love of the period. This year was no exception, with fascinating talks on ciphers, madness, the medical profession, and sailing ships, to name a few. Speakers included Cheryl Bolen, Patricia Coleman, Louisa Cornell, Laurie Alice Eakes, Georgie Lee, and Ella Quinn, with a keynote by the tremendously talented and often hilarious Jade Lee.

That evening brought the Beau Monde soiree, where ladies (and gentlemen) danced and played period card games, and learned who won the Royal Ascot (the chapter’s contest for unpublished manuscripts). The winner this year, Elizabeth King, hails from New Zealand. She also won RWA’s most prestigious contest for unpublished manuscripts, the Golden Heart, in the historical category. This lady will be one to watch!

I didn’t actually go to the soiree myself. I let my “cousin” Sir Reginald attend in my place. Here he is partnering Jes Lyons, an assistant at Prospect Agency. I hear she was an excellent dancer!

I must admit that the hotel was amazing, with lots of overstuffed chairs along the marbled walks for sitting and catching up with old friends and making new ones. And the pool! So beautiful, by day and by night.

I took in a number of workshops at the Conference, but I slipped away one evening to see the sailing ships in the harbor. You see, the San Diego Maritime Museum was only a mile or so walk from the hotel along the boardwalk, with the ships right up against the walkway. I didn’t reach the museum in time to go inside, but I certainly took my time ogling the ships. The Star of India, built in 1863, is the oldest iron-hull merchant ship still sailing. The HMS Surprise is a replica of a 20-gun frigate built in 1757 and was used in the film Master and Commander with Russel Crowe. Le sigh.

All in all, it was a productive, insightful, delightful trip, though I found myself wishing that a certain dear author had been at my side. Here’s hoping for next year!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Have You Upped a Swan Today?

Well, have you? This is the official week for it, after all. Get out there and up those swans!

All right, I’ll settle down now. Swan Upping is the traditional census-taking of Mute Swans on the River Thames, wherein swans are rounded up, checked for bands or banded, and released. The king or queen of England, by ancient law and custom dating back to the middle ages, owns all unmarked swans in England. And since the twelfth century or so, the swans who live on the Thames have been counted and marked by the Royal Swan Upper to enforce that ownership (though two ancient groups, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the equally Worshipful Company of Dyers also have some swan related rights and participate as well.) Swans were once reckoned something of a delicacy, after all, and having one on your banquet table was something of a status symbol that the Crown thought ought to mostly belong to it.

Of course, no one today, even the Queen, eats swans. Even so, the annual Swan Upping is still carried out, though today it’s more a matter of monitoring the mute swan population’s health than making sure the peasants aren’t eating above themselves. While there’s still some ceremonial involved in the form of natty uniforms and rowing skiffs, the actual handling of the swans is managed by the Royal Swan Warden, a professor of ornithology from Oxford University. And yes, it's not completely an odd holdover from the past: Swan Uppings in the 1980s revealed a drop in population that was found to be caused by swans swallowing lead fishing weights. The weights were banned in the Thames, and the population happily rebounded.

So...happy Swan Upping week!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Blast from the Past: Hermits Weren’t the Only Ones in the Woods

I’ll be playing, er I mean learning and networking at the Romance Writers of America annual conference this week, but I promise to come back with lots of good insights to share. In the meantime, enjoy this post, updated slightly from when it was originally published in August 2011.

Contrived rustic landscapes were only one way nineteenth century young ladies and gentlemen discovered nature. The period saw a rise in the appreciation of natural beauty for beauty’s sake. Where once the pockets of wilderness around England had been seen by the fashionable as backward hamlets in their otherwise civilized isle, now they saw the lofty peaks, verdant valleys, and thundering freshets worthy to visit, to view, and to capture in word and drawing. And one of the most popular areas to appreciate nature, then and now, was the Lake District.

The Lake District boasts a collection of rocky mountains, deep clear lakes, and crystal streams found nowhere else in England. It had already achieved some popularity with the more outdoorsy types who enjoyed walking along the paths and shores. However, when the romantic poet William Wordsworth authored a Guide through the District of the Lakes (anonymously in 1810 and under his own name in 1820), even those usually content with indoor pursuits took notice.

Wordsworth had been born and went to school in the Lake District, and his time away from it only made him appreciate it further. He wrote some of his most famous poems while at Dove Cottage in Grasmere with his sister Dorothy and spent much of his married life in a house in Rydal. His love of the area glowed in his guide. Take this from early in the piece:

“When the sun is setting in summer far to the north-west, it is seen by the spectator on the shores or breast of Winandermere, resting among the summits of the loftiest mountains, some of which may be half or wholly hidden by clouds, or by the blaze of light which the orb diffuses around it; and the surface of the lake will reflect correspondent colors through every variety of beauty, and through all degrees of splendor.”

Kind of makes you want to go there, doesn’t it? His words certainly had that affect on the gentry and aristocracy of nineteenth century England, many of whom built summer homes along the lakes and streams.

Growing up as I did near the mountains and seas of the Pacific Northwest, and having returned to live there now, I feel a particular affinity for the Lake District. I have set several of my Regency romances there, including portions of The Marquis’s Kiss, An Honorable Gentleman, and the Everard Legacy series. 

Now you know another entry on my ever-growing bucket list of places to visit in England!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bits and Bobs

Any Pokemon fans out there?

Anyone who is even slightly acquainted with Pokemon will know about the one called Eevee, a cute little fox/cat-like critter who is genetically extroverted and can evolve into a multitude of equally cute little fox/cat-like forms, all of which have names ending in –eon. There’s Vaporeon and Jolteon and Flareon and Umbreon get the idea.

Well, my daughter presented me with the latest Eevee evolution, and this kid knows me well.  Meet...NAPOLEON!!!

Two hundred and one years ago today, Napoleon was on his final journey on French soil, which he would depart forever on July 15. This little guy, though, won’t be leaving my writing room.

I’m going to ask her if she’ll design me a Wellingteon next. ☺

Holding your Horses

Fans of Georgette Heyer and Regency-set books in general frequently feature heroes (and sometimes heroines) who are adept at “handling the ribbons”, or driving a vehicle, be it a handsome barouche, a dashing curricle, or a semi-suicidal high perch phaeton “to an inch.” I can’t be the only one in this mostly horseless era to wonder what that was like...and here’s a video that can give us a flavor. Just wonderful!


The word on the street (or more accurately, the blogosphere) is that a movie version of one of Georgette Heyer’s funniest and best-loved novels, The Grand Sophy, is in the works.

Yes, you heard me correctly—a Georgette Heyer movie.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this—some books are just so wonderfully crafted that being chopped, pushed, and prodded into movie form until they’re unrecognizable is positively criminal (*coughcoughWinter’sTalecough*), and I would hate to see The Grand Sophy butchered to fit some director’s “vision.”  On the other hand, if it’s done right—IF!—it could be awesome.  If you’re interested in following this story, try here and here...I know I’ll be keeping an eye on it!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Those Crafty Coopers

Most of my earlier stories are set in Regency England, but, the last few years, I have enjoyed writing about other portions of the 19th century, both in location and time. When I first read Renee Ryan’s Stand-In Rancher Daddy, the first in the Lone Star Cowboy League: The Founding Series set of stories (out now), I was intrigued to see her place two businesses along Main Street that I wouldn’t have thought to include in my book, A Rancher of Convenience, which finishes the set in September. What were these businesses?


I’d heard the term, but I had to do research (yes, any excuse to do research J) on what they actually did and why they would be so sorely needed in a Wild West town.

Coopers make barrels, casks, tubs, hogsheads, and other things that carry liquids and dry goods safely over great distances or store them for long time periods. They can also make wooden pails and tubs for daily use in households. They cut, dress, and curl staves of the correct size for whatever application, arrange them in a circle, then drive wooden (perhaps hazel or ash) or iron rings over the ends to form the correct shape, including adding a bottom and top as needed. They can also drill holes to add a spigot or to hook in a metal handle.

The cooper’s barrels, in particular, were highly important crossing the ocean. According to the Book of English Trades, barrels full of coarse wool or hats were sent from England to the West Indies and returned full of rum or sugar. The records at Fort Nisqually in Washington Territory indicate that barrels of molasses were used to cushion panes of glass sent from England to the Pacific Coast for windows. The worker charged with cleaning the glass when it arrived got a bonus—he could keep the molasses he scraped off!

I could see why coopers would be needed in Little Horn, Texas, in 1896. Ranchers would need barrels to hold supplies being taken on cattle drives. Farmers would need barrels to store goods or transport them to market farther East. Then there are the pails and tubs needed to hold water for various purposes on the frontier.

Today the cooper’s work is in high demand in the wine industry. As wine is now a key export of Washington State, there might end up being two such businesses in some of our towns as well.

Who knew?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Announcing a New NineteenTeen Series: the Children of George III

Some years back I did a series of biographical posts on the nine children of Queen Victoria. I enjoyed writing it and NineteenTeen readers seemed to enjoy reading it; I mean, imagine growing up with the most influential woman on earth as your mom. Not all of her children were as influential on world events, of course, but it was interesting to learn about them.

So I thought you might find a series on the children of another British monarch interesting as well—and more of those offspring were important on a world level. I’m talking about the fifteen children of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. Unlike Victoria’s brood, not all lived to adulthood (in the 18th century, even the King’s children could escape the era’s higher infant mortality rate.) Not all married and had children (unlike all of Victoria’s children, even the sickly Leopold.) But I find them on the whole a more sympathetic and vital group of individuals, with more interesting lives, and I hope you will too.

Before we dive into the life of George’s second child, Frederick, (the eldest of course being our old friend Prinny, perhaps better know as King George IV, has already been a topic of discussion here and here and here) I thought a little background information might be in order.

George III came to the throne in 1760 at age 22—an earnest, somewhat plodding but basically good-hearted young man—and one of his first concerns was finding a wife in order to beget an heir and secure the succession. He’d been briefly enamored with Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond (and one of the Lennox sisters in author Stella Tilyard’s excellent book Aristocrats) but both his mother and his mentor Lord Bute, who held a great deal of influence over George, felt that an English bride would not be advisable. And so, not quite a year later, he married a foreign bride, one his mother felt she could comfortably bully—a Princess Sophia Charlotte of the tiny German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Charlotte was just 18, and had never left her country before (nor would she see it again.) Though her education had been mediocre she was a bright young woman, fond of reading and eager to expand her intellectual horizons. She spoke no English on her arrival...and in fact, within six hours of arriving in London (after a difficult and stormy passage across the North Sea), she met her husband-to-be for the first time, was hastily dressed in her wedding finery, and married to him.

George and Charlotte seemed to have become genuinely fond of each other; they shared an interest in learning and music, and while George made it clear that he expected his wife to keep strictly to home and hearth (so to speak--we're talking 18th century court life here!) and not meddle in government, she was a quiet influence on him. She also admirably fulfilled her duty to her husband and presented him with a son just eleven months later...and fourteen more children over the next twenty-one years. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

What a Historical Romance Author Does On Her Summer Vacation

Delve more deeply into history, of course!

I love researching, especially when I can do it in person. So when an opportunity arose to visit some very cool East Coast historical sites for two weeks, I couldn’t resist. And getting to go to one with Marissa was the icing on the cake!

First up, Plimouth Colony. Marissa has already shared her thoughts here. I was utterly charmed by this 17th century village and its inhabitants. The reenactors simply went about their everyday tasks. One fellow and his grown son were rethatching a cottage roof. I interrupted a lady cooking her mid-day meal. One charming fellow with a delightful English accent recounted stories of how the Irish were descended from young boys escaping the sacking of Troy! Wonderful day!

Though this is what can happen to authors who forget to write their pages before journeying out to play.

Next, Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia (the tower of Independence Hall is at the top of this post). I found it surprisingly stirring to hear about how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution came to be hammered out and signed. It gave me a little thrill to see the ranger show the crest that had originally sat above the judge in the adjacent courthouse and recognize it as belonging to George III, father of our beloved Prinny. We in the U.S. think of ourselves as Americans now, but then most were struggling to stop thinking of themselves as British!

Then Valley Forge. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this historic site where George Washington camped with the Continental Army in the winter of 1777/1778. As a child growing up, I remember hearing that it was the cold weather that had caused so many deaths while encamped. Turns out it was more of supply problem, with food and clothing not arriving when expected (or at all!), that nearly did the army in. If not for the stalwart determination of our forefathers and mothers, we might yet be English citizens.

On to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to visit family. We wandered downtown one day, where plaques and statues proclaim the town’s origins. What I found interesting was that Benjamin Chambers, who had received a land grant from William Penn to start the town, was too old to fight in the American Revolution, but his son James distinguished himself on the battlefield. So too did his grandson, who left to fight when he was only 11 and returned a battle-hardened young man of 17. What a sacrifice!

Finally, Gettysburg. I have toured the battlefield many times over the years, as it lies within an easy drive of my maternal aunt and uncle’s house. But again I was struck by how many sacrificed, on both sides, what a cause they passionately believed in. I’ve seen stories recently that many did not want to enlist, but the bits of diaries I read on display showed men determined to right wrongs and redress issues that were splitting their country in two. And then there’s Rose Greenhow, who was such a successful spy during the war that she was commended by Jefferson Davis.

Oh, but the ideas are spinning in my head! So. Many. Stories. So little time!

And if you have time, do stop by next Tuesday for Marissa’s post. We will be off Friday, July 1, and Tuesday, July 5, for Independence Day holiday, for which I have a whole new appreciation after my travels! Look for a new post from me on July 8.