Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inspiration is Where You Find It

Much to my surprise, I find that I’m working on another Regency-set story. It’s made for a somewhat confusing existence—I’m still working on my WWI story as well, and working on two very different stories set in two very different eras means my writing room is even more ridiculously cluttered with piles of open reference books and scraps of paper scrawled with notes than usual. I also got attacked by a science fiction romance story idea earlier this summer, but we’re not even going to go there just now...

Part of the reason I think this new story grabbed me so hard—I’d actually been toying with it in a desultory fashion for a couple of years—is a couple of purchases I made on-line. Just for fun, I periodically do an eBay search on portrait miniatures—those exquisite little portraits so popular in the early nineteenth century before the invention of photography. Now, to be honest, a lot of the ones I’ve seen are just...well, homely—not to mention completely out of my price range.

But on that day, I found one that set me reeling, because I knew that face—it was the hero of my Regency story. Moreover, it was ridiculously affordable...so you’d better believe I snapped it up! The ruler is there for scale; isn’t it exquisite?

Well, that just whet my appetite. And literally just days later, when looking again, I found another one—also affordable, also exquisite...and there was my heroine, Annabel:

And after that, the floodgate opened. Annabel and Quin, now real people (you know what I mean!) would not leave me alone, and the vague wisps of story and character I had began to firm up into real characters and a real plot. I’m not very far—this is going to be a BIG story with a lot of characters and various goings-on. But having these likenesses of people who actually lived in the early 19th century...well, I’m hooked on writing it.

But trying to live in both 1810 AND 1917 is still a pain in the you-know-what.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Your Best Guides to London

I've been to London, but oh how I want to go back!  It's a city steeped in history, in drama.  I swear excitement lives in the very air.  Maybe it's because I’m walking down the streets my characters walked, seeing sights that existed before they were even born.  Despite all my critique partners admonitions not to look like a tourist for safety's sake, I gawk and cry out and point to things with giddy delight.  Nineteenth century lads and lasses were no different.

Touring London was a common practice in the early nineteenth century, even if you weren't a young miss on your first Season.  People from the country came up to the great metropolis to take in the culture, the politics.  And what better way to tour a city than to follow the advice of a reputable guide?

Samuel Leigh was a bookseller and publisher who specialized in travel guides.  He claimed to have written his New Picture of London because so many other travel guides were not updated regularly and ended up leading the tourist places that, at best, no longer existed  and at worst might be downright dangerous to visit.  The book  lays out the social and political history of the city and then goes on to list everything from public buildings to churches and colleges and even tea houses of merit.  One chapter offers a plan for visiting London in eight days.    

But Leigh wasn't the only one determined to educate London tourists.  An anonymous gentleman “who has made the police of the metropolis an object of enquiry twenty-two years” wrote The London Guide and Stranger's Safeguard against the Cheats, Swindlers, and Pickpockets.  The book enumerates the many ways criminals can accost you in London, from pickpockets on the streets to robbers at the inn and informers looking to make a buck off your supposed immoral acts. 

Armed with these two books, how could any tourist go wrong?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fashion Forecast: September 1917

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in September 1917?

According to the cover of this month’s The Delineator, “The New Factors in National Life have Produced New Fashions. The Dress of To-day is Simple. It is also Smart and more than ever Expresses the Spirit of Youth.” I think you’ll notice that this month’s styles are less fussy...but what an interesting note about “the Spirit of Youth.” Commercial obsession with youth is not a modern phenomenon!

In keeping with “the new factors in national life,” The Delineator includes an article on “War Ways of Making New Clothes From Old.” Among the suggestions: changing collars on old dresses, taking advantage of the narrower silhouettes of current style to re-shape old dresses, and using the current fashion for adding panels of different fabrics to dresses to smarten up last year’s frocks.

Always instructive to see are what goes on under the fashions. Undergarments were at a changing point, as both corsets (for the waist and hips) and brassieres (or “bust confiners”) were in use. And yes, in 1917, even articles on lingerie have a militaristic flavor: note the title, First Line Defense of the Figure!:

And now, the styles. The barrel silhouette is still in, but waists are dropping (foreshadowing of the waistless twenties). Prints seem to be out, and ornamentation limited to embroidery details and buttons:

Military-inspired styles of course are in...and at right is possibly one of the made-over colorblock styles mentioned above:

Also popular this month are blouses (known at this time as “shirt-waists” or just “waists”) and skirts, probably because it’s much easier for a busy mom working on her victory garden or sewing for the Red Cross to launder a waist than it is a dress:

More “at home” fashions:

And a look at clothes for teens:

Note the young lady at left knitting!:

A quick look at clothes for little girls...

And little boys:

And one last note: all of The Delineator’s covers were charming, and this one’s no exception...but one thing sets it apart. The artist was Maud Humphrey, whom you’ve probably never heard of but was a well-known commercial artist of her day. Perhaps you’re more familiar with her son, Humphrey Bogart? ☺

Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy Bloggy Birthday!

More cake all around!  You'll notice mine isn't nearly as symmetrical as Marissa's, but it will taste just as good, I promise!

As Marissa said, this week marks the beginning of our eighth year blogging.  Can’t believe it!  Blogs start out with little baby steps, and before you know it, they’re all grown up!

But, we hope, never old. 

And that’s why we need your suggestions.  I love what’s been mentioned so far.  Please chime in with more.  Are there other authors you wish we’d feature?  We haven’t had the delightful Cara King on in a while with a Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema.  Should we watch another flick together?  And I know Marissa and I are planning to attend a couple of writers conferences in the next few months.  Do you like when we cover what we learned?

As for me, I have some ideas of what I’ll be discussing in the next year.  Most of my books coming out in 2015 will be set in post-Civil War Seattle, so I have some interesting tidbits to share on my research.  I’d also like to do a series on resources online that help readers navigate stories set in the 19th century, things like maps, costume collections, and period guides to London.  Plus I thought you might find it interesting to know more about the various awards and bestseller lists out there--how a book earns a place on them and what that placement means.  And my wonderful critique partner says I have to share my book triage method--how to weed out those wonderful books that keep piling up all over your house.  I recently had to put it to use in getting ready to move.

So, what else do you want to know?  How else can we delight you?  This is your chance--make your voice count.

Thanks for playing with us through another year.  You are what keeps us going.  Happy birthday!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Blog Years, We’d be How Old?

Oh my goodness, it’s that time again!

Here at NineteenTeen Regina and I are celebrating our bloggy birthday this week and embarking on our eighth year of telling you about all the fun bits of history that don’t make it into textbooks (or even into our own books.) Yes, that's right, our eighth year--you've been reading us since 2007.

Eight years...if we were a boy in 19th century England, we'd be getting shipped off to Eton about now. 

Like, wow.

So first of all, thank you for subscribing to our feed, stopping by occasionally, or whatever you do as a NineteenTeen reader. Because...well, you're why we post every week.  It wouldn't be much fun if we didn't have someone to talk to.

We plan to bring you more of the same (well, not exactly the same, but you know what I mean.) I’ll be posting a few more Fashion Forecasts from 1917 over the next months in addition to other WWI-centric posts...as well as introducing a new Ackermann’s Repository series (quelle surprise...but I think you’ll like this one a lot.) I’m not sure what Regina has up her sleeve because we like to surprise each other sometimes, so I’ll let her tell you about that on Friday. In short, look for more of what you expect from us.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. As we always do at this time, we’re requesting feedback from our readers. Are there any topics you’d like to see us cover that we haven’t already? Any types of posts you’d like to see more of? Do you want to try a group reading again? More guest posts (and if so, whom would you like us to invite)? Please, let us know how we’re doing...and if you do, I hereby give you permission to eat cake at least once this week. Maybe more.

Because hey, it's our birthday, right?

Friday, September 5, 2014

On Being the Toast of London

You may have heard the phrases in stories set in the early nineteenth century--the toast of London, the belle of the ball, an Incomparable, a diamond of the first water.  What sort of young lady do those phrases describe?  Well, real-life examples vary, but here are some characteristics to consider:
  • She is invited to all major social events and may indeed be the first person on the hostess’s guest list.
  • Her drawing room is constantly filled with fawning gentlemen and giggling lady friends because how could they possibly pass the day without a moment of her company?
  • She receives the coveted vouchers for Almack’s, London’s famous ladies’ club, without any manipulation or begging on her part.
  • She garners more than one offer from an eligible bachelor for her hand in marriage within a short time frame.
  • Her very name is synonymous with good taste, elegance, and sophistication.
Rather tall order to fill, isn't it?  Yet Priscilla Tate, the best friend of Lady Emily Southwell in Art and Artifice (formerly La Petite Four) masters each of these traits within the first month of arriving in London. She has to. You see, Priscilla must go big or go home.  Her family is punting on tick, about to end up in debtor’s prison, if she doesn't marry well.

But the toast of London is about to get burned.

Priscilla is well on her way to wringing a proposal out of the Season’s most eligible bachelor, the Duke of Rottenford, when blackmail notes start arriving, threatening to expose a dark secret unless she ceases her pursuit. It’s up to Emily and her dear friends Ariadne and Daphne Courdebas to help her uncover the mastermind before disaster strikes. But more than one secret is waiting to be revealed, not the least of which is Priscilla’s growing attraction for a most unlikely ally, Nathan Kent, the duke’s personal secretary. But will Nathan, no, no, the duke, understand if her secret comes out?

Here’s an excerpt:

Nathan Kent set his top hat on his head and descended the steps of the town house with an unwelcome feeling of defeat. He glanced back with a frown. Lady Emily, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Emerson, seemed such a levelheaded young woman. He had been quite impressed by the way she’d regained her composure after the contretemps at her debut ball a week ago. Between her personality and her place in Society, Lady Emily would have made an exceptional liaison for His Grace the Duke of Rottenford. A shame her interests obviously lay elsewhere.

He allowed himself a sigh. He was running out of suitable matches, which meant Miss Priscilla Tate was going to be a problem. Oh, there was no doubt she had the presence to make an excellent duchess. And no man alive could complain of her looks.

He supposed if he searched in Belgium or Flanders he might find a woman whose hair was as golden or possessed of such luster and vitality that it begged to be touched. It was possible some Irish lass might have eyes a more vibrant shade of green and capable of exuding the warmth that beckoned a man like a fire on a cold winter night. The women who had modeled for the classic Greek sculptors could have had figures that rivaled the one Miss Tate showed to advantage in her stylish gowns.

But somehow he doubted any other woman in England combined those traits with such cunning and will as he had seen in her. She had thrown her considerable armament against the wall of His Grace’s bachelorhood, determined to capture the duke’s affections. Nathan could not allow her to succeed.
He turned to the front again, his duty stiffening his spine, and found the very woman he’d been contemplating standing in his way. Nathan blinked.

Miss Tate blinked.

For a moment, he almost thought he was mistaken in her identity. Stripped away were the polished airs, the coy smiles. The color in her cheeks came from high emotion or exertion, not rouge. The downturn of those rosy lips spoke of dismay.

He put his hand to her elbow before he thought better of it. “Miss Tate. Is everything all right?”

He watched as the woman withdrew behind the mask. Her gaze brightened, her lips lifted, her lashes fluttered.

“Why, Mr. Kent, how nice to see you.” She glanced pointedly around him as if he could have hidden his tall employer behind him. “Is His Grace with you?”

“Alas, no,” Nathan replied, trying to recapture her gaze even as he dropped his hold of her. “Uneasy lies the head that wears that coronet.”

Her smile was no more than polite. “Of course. I admire a man who takes his duty seriously.”

Did she? Somehow, he doubted she would admire him for doing his duty, especially when that duty meant keeping His Grace away from fortune hunters like her.

He tipped his hat. “Then you will not mind if I return to mine. Good-day, Miss Tate.”

She inclined her head. Had he been the duke, she would have dipped a curtsey with effortless grace and humility. As a mere personal secretary, he had not warrant such a response. Indeed, she turned from him so quickly it seemed he did not even warrant her attention. Given the tasks he needed to complete before returning to His Grace, Priscilla Tate did not warrant Nathan’s attention either.

But as he reached the street, he could not help glancing back one last time. She had reached the door to the town house and lifted her hand to the brass knocker. Her back was straight, her head high. The pink satin pelisse was a mastery designed to outline her curves. She was the epitome of a fine London lady.
Yet the hand that reached for the knocker was trembling.

What had happened to so discompose the redoubtable Miss Tate? And why, when he was certain she was a clever fraud, did he feel compelled to help her?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Such Language! 1917 Style

I used to have great fun with posts about early nineteenth century slang (and will probably have more of them). Imagine my delight, then, when in the course of research for my work-in-progress set in 1917, I ran across a list of words that first entered common usage (or at least were finally recorded in print) in this year. Entries are from the enormously fun and fascinating site Word Origins.

Ammo: It’s not surprising that a number of the words you’ll see here are related to the war, which the US had just entered in April...like this shortening of the word ‘ammunition.’

Blotto: Because another amusing term for being drunk is always useful.

Camouflage: a useful borrowing from our ally, the French.

Cootie: lice infestations being another by-product of trench warfare. Possibly arriving in English by borrowing from the Malaysian word for biting insect, kutu, by way of British soldiers serving in southeast Asia.

Bolshevik: The Russian Revolution in this year ushered a whole variety of words into English—not only this one, but also Leninist and Soviet as well.

Hokum: a borrowing from American theater slang, a blend of the words ‘hocus-pocus’ and ‘buncombe’ (or ‘bunkum’)

Spritz: to sprinkle or spray, borrowed from German.

Supersize: yes, really!