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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Regency Fabrics, Part 10

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today we have three fabrics from March 1810; their overall condition appears to be excellent.


Nos. 1 and 2 are a bronze green and azure blue tapestry print; a novel style of coloring on calico for furniture, designed and manufactured by Mr. Allen, of Pall-Mall. Mr. Allen has also brought forward a considerable variety of articles in this fashionable and unique style of colouring and design. We particularize a scarlet and ruby, in permanent colours, never before produced in this country; which article is well adapted for libraries and eating-rooms: also a tea-coloured chintz, of the most elegant design, for the decoration of drawing-rooms. Mr. Allen has very judiciously taken under his own direction, the making up and decoration of his furniture; by which means the nobility and gentry are enabled to order their furniture en suite, in the first style of elegance, without any further trouble.


My comments: This is very much what we think of in terms of weight and appearance as a classic glazed chintz for drapery or slip-cover use; the glazing is heavy, but not as glossy as a modern fabric might be (perhaps a by-product of the sample's age?) The printing is crisp and clear.

No. 3 is a delicate article, in oblique ribbed cambric muslin, particularly well adapted for the morning robe or frocks. Lace or needlework may be introduced in dresses formed of this article; but it possesses much neatness of effect if made up plain. It is sold by Messrs. Smith and Co. No. 43, Tavistock-street, Covent-garden.

My comments: This is indeed a delicate article, being very light in weight, but the tight weave makes it a little less sheer than expected (though lining in both bodice and skirt would definitely be required!). A lovely smooth hand, and yes, a very neat and attractive appearance.

No. 4, a double-sided, figured, amber-shot sarsnet, calculated for robes, tunics, and vests. The laced bodice (now frequently worn with the white dress) is particularly pretty when composed of this material, and faced with silver, or trimmed with white beads. It is sold by Mr. Joseph Ord, silk-mercer, St. Paul’s church-yard.

My comments: The scan is giving this a somewhat more acid-yellow appearance than it has in real life, which is more just a clear, true yellow--though definitely intense, the white weft softens it. It's not what we would call "amber" today, so it has either faded, or the definition has changed since 1810. The weight is fairly light, though it probably has enough heft to drape nicely, and the texture and sheen are suitably smooth and luminous for a silk sarsnet.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blast from the Past: What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Visit the Homes of the Rich and Famous

[Five years ago around this time, I was with Marissa on my way to visit Newport and Cape Cod. Today? I'm on vacation, having stopped to tour Plymouth with Marissa! More on that soon. But for now, enjoy this blast from the past.]

Anyone ever bought a map to the homes of the stars in Hollywood? Or driven by the biggest house in town just to dream? In the same way that Marissa and I ogled the Newport Mansions of America’s Gilded Age, so young nineteenth century lads and lasses traveled during the summer to visit Great Houses of the wealthy and titled. You may recall that in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet travels with her aunt and uncle to visit the north of England and ends up touring Pemberley, the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Some think the inspiration for Pemberley was Chatsworth, home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In the nineteenth century, the house was open for people to tour, and once a month the staff even served dinner to all who were there.

Chatsworth is a stunning home, remodeled and contoured over several centuries even by the nineteenth century. It boasted a conservatory made from wood, iron, and glass that covered nearly an acre and was filled with exotic specimens from as far away as the Americas and the Orient, contoured gardens designed by the famous landscape architect Capability Brown and improved upon by Joseph Paxton, and a statue gallery with works from Greece and Rome. It was also filled with priceless artwork, pottery, and other collections. So, allow me to give you your own mini-tour:

The sculpture gallery


A dining room


The formal gardens



However, one of the other attractions for a good part of the nineteenth century was Chatsworth’s owner. William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was called the Bachelor Duke. He rose to his title at the tender age of 21 and was handsome, charming, and generous. I can’t help but wonder how many young ladies wandered through his home hoping for more than a glimpse of the eligible gentleman. Their hopes were dashed for two reasons: the duke owned seven other stately homes and a thriving political career, so wasn't often in residence, and he never married. Some say he was in love with Caro Lamb, Lord Byron's infamous mistress. On his death, his estate passed to a cousin.

Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Brief Visit to the Seventeenth Century


I love “living history” museums—those amazing places where an attempt is made to re-create how life was lived in a specific time or place. In the US, Colonial Williamsburg is the grand-daddy of them all...but I’m lucky enough to live close to several others, and was even luckier last week to visit one of them with my dear friend and partner in blogging crime, Regina!

Living as we do on opposite sides of the country, any time spent together is precious— but getting to geek out at history together is even more awesome. And geek out we did, at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where reenactors strive to show how life was lived in the colony founded by the Pilgrims in 1620. (Check out their very informative website at www.plimoth.org)

When I say reenactors, I mean reenactors—the people dressed in early seventeenth century garb that you see in the houses cooking or repairing roofs or tending their gardens are in the personae of actual Plimoth inhabitants. They learn their person’s actual history down to the accent they probably spoke with, and then “become” that person...and don’t ever break character. It’s pretty cool to chat with them (though of course some people try to bait them out of their roles--but what fun is that?)

I’ve been to Plimoth Plantation several times before, and the neat thing is that every time I go, I learn something new. So what did I learn this time? 


  • That the bundles of reeds that make up the thatching on thatched roofs are actually sewn to the rafters with big stitches—how cool is that? You just see how the thatch is sewn on in courses at my photo above.
  • That not only jugs and bowls and plates were made from earthenware, but things like braziers to hold a small quantity of coals to cook over were as well—and worked quite well.
  • That bayberry candles—candles made from the small, waxy berries of the bayberry shrub that grows copiously in coastal New England—were a later invention; the inhabitants of Plymouth made their candles from tallow and beeswax (bees were brought over not long after the first settlement.)
But the best thing I was reminded of? That true friendship cannot be dimmed by distance and absence.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Book By Any Other Cover

Ever bought a book by one of your favorite authors only to discover you’d already read it? Sometimes covers and even titles change over the years. Why?

Covers definitely go in cycles, and what readers find enthralling one year appears terribly dated a few years later. For example, here’s the lifecycle of the cover for The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, my first book.

It was originally published in 1998, when clinch covers were all the rage, even if the hero and heroine in this are ba
ring less skin than on some other covers.

Here’s the cover when it first came out as an ebook in 2007. Very traditional, using a period drawing as the basis.

Here’s the cover in 2012, when I hoped to have something that today’s reader could more easily relate to. Point of interest--the background is from Bath and is my own picture from the last time I visited.


And now I’m in the process of commissioning a cover artist to design something new, something fresh. Stay tuned!

Then again, covers and titles might change as the format changes. In publishing, having your book come out in hardcover is considered quite the honor. That’s one of the reasons I’m delighted to report that Instant Frontier Family is now available in hardcover, with a new cover. The other reasons I’m so pleased is that 1) it is a large print version which should be a benefit to some readers, and 2) it’s a special binding that makes it perfect for libraries. Feel free to mention it to yours. J

And do keep covered this summer. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Having a Regency Summer House Party, You?

Ah, the summer house party, where ladies and gentlemen flirt to their heart’s content over games on the lawn and walks in the garden. Where the moonlight inspires sweet kisses. Where alliances are announced and matches are made. Where a young lady’s mistaken cry can banish a handsome rake to Jamaica.

Wait, what?

Welcome to Summer House Party, a new anthology of traditional Regency romance novellas by bestselling authors well known in the genre. I’m delighted to be part of this set from Mirror Press, which also features stories by the incomparable Donna Hatch and the beloved Sarah M. Eden. Here’s what you’ll find.

“The Paupers’ House Party” by Sarah M. Eden--It’s a rare event that Edward Downy and his brother are invited to a house party by a member of the ton. But when they arrive, Edward quickly realizes this house party is different than any other. All invited guests are quite destitute, fallen members of Society barely hanging onto their homes. The hosts of the house party, the Warricks, then make a stunning announcement—they intend to gift all their properties to one fortunate guest. As the guests race to impress the Warricks, Edward finds a fast friend in Agatha Holmwood, who shares his same aversion to the horrible expectations. But their growing fondness for each other only makes the game more painful.

“A Perfect Match” by Donna Hatch--Genevieve attends a summer house party hosted by her best friend who can't wait to introduce her to a gentleman she wants to marry, Christian Amesbury. After meeting him, Genevieve determines Christian is perfect . . . for her. Torn between loyalty to her best friend and the yearnings of her heart, Genevieve must first escape the attention of a powerful lord who's obsessed with her and who tries to rob her of any hope for a happily ever after.

“An Engagement of Convenience” by Regina Scott--Kitty Chapworth is nearly a spinster, and an orphan living on the charity of her uncle, with nothing to recommend her for the marriage mart. Her primary purpose is relegated to acting chaperone for her cousins until she can see them successfully married. Kitty remains focused on her duty even though she knows her future is bleak. When Quentin Adair returns from a long ten years working in Jamaica and proposes a wild charade to Kitty, she agrees, although the plan might reawaken her old feelings for Quentin. Can a reformed rake convince the perfect chaperone to overlook propriety for love?

Kitty is a bit of a spitfire. Here’s a taste of her with her cousin Lucy after Quentin proposes his “engagement of convenience.”

Lucy was welcoming the latest arrivals, an older couple with two giggling debutantes who immediately eyed Quentin as he passed. Kitty wanted to shout “Engaged!”

Which was only slightly better than “Mine!”

The book launches today on Amazon

Friday, June 3, 2016

1816: The Year Without a Summer

Whatever side you land on the climate change debate, there’s no question recent summers have been different, with higher than normal heat one place and greater than usual rainfall another. But two hundred years ago, people had reason to question the weather as well.

1816 was known as the year without a summer. Temperatures around the globe were much cooler than usual. Each day dawned dark and stormy. Buffalo, New York, saw frost through July. New England saw snowfall in early June. It rained so long in Ireland, the potato crop failed. Drought spread. More crops died. People across Europe rioted. The New Hampshire Patriot reported that things were so bad the poor were eating nettles, wild turnips, and hedgehogs!

People everywhere scratched their heads. How had this happened? Some newspapers blamed “sunspots”—vapors from Earth that had been transported to the sun and blocked part of its rays for a time. One joked that the War of 1812 had made Canada so mad it was blowing cold wind south.


Scientists today point the finger at Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. The eruption in April 1815 was one of the largest ever recorded. More than 10,000 people died immediately; 80,000 more died of starvation afterward. The eruption threw dust and ash 25,000 feet into the atmosphere, where it spread around globe.

But the dreadful weather had unexpected consequences beyond the crop failure and drop. One expert suggested that the bicycle was invented in part because horses had become too expensive to feed. Another pointed to the fact that New England farmers began moving West in droves. Congress was voted out of office because the members had raised their own salaries in times of distress rather than somehow “fixing” the problem. And on a dreary sojourn in Switzerland, Mary Shelley entertained herself by writing Frankenstein and Lord Byron penned the poem “Darkness.”

At least the world received something from all that wretchedness!