Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Welcome to Rachel Fordham and Yours Truly, Thomas!

We are delighted to welcome to Nineteen Teen the talented author Rachel Fordham! Regina had the delight of reading her sophomore novel, Yours Truly, Thomas. What a sweet, tender love story, and one very likely to end up on many a reader’s keeper shelf. Here’s a little about the book:

For three years, Penny Ercanbeck has been opening other people’s mail.

Dead ends are a reality for clerks at the dead letter office, and she dreams of something more--a bit of intrigue, perhaps a taste of romance. When she comes across a letter from a brokenhearted man to his one true love, it becomes her mission to place this lost letter into the hands of its intended recipient.

But when Penny's undertaking leads her to the intriguing man who touched her soul with his words, everything grows more complicated. She wants to find the rightful owner of the letter, and yet . . . she finds herself caring--perhaps too much--for the one who wrote it.

Please welcome Rachel and come back Friday to learn more about the intriguing setting of her novel.

Nineteen Teen: So happy to have you, Rachel! Your heroine, Penny, has an interesting vocation. How did you decide on that?

Rachel: I was touring an old post office in the Midwest, and the guide mentioned that the mail that wasn’t claimed or they couldn’t decipher was sent to the dead letter office. I immediately started googling the dead letter office and just knew I needed to write a story about it.

19T: If you could write a letter to anyone—past, present, or future—who would it be and why?

Rachel: This is a really hard question….hmmm….

As much as I’d like to write to my ancestors and ask them all sorts of things about the past, I think I’ll pick the future. I’d like to write my children and their children all the bits of wisdom I’m learning about life. We’ve gone through some deep waters as a family. For example, this picture was taken around the time our then four year old was diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy. We cried and struggled through that difficult time, but we also learned and grew. I’d love knowing that when they faced their own struggles they had my words to help them in addition to God’s help and grace.  

19T: What research did you want to put in the book, but couldn’t fit in?

Rachel: There were lots of funny items that came through the dead letter office and interesting facts about how much postal workers made. Since Penny works at the postal office only for the first part of the book it was really hard to fit in as much detail as I would have liked. I think a whole series could be written inspired by this important place.

19T: This is your readers’ second visit to Azure Springs. What’s special about the little town in Iowa?

Rachel: I’ve been able to read a lot of reviews for The Hope of Azure Springs and have gotten several emails from readers who have discussed the town. I think the general consensus is that Azure Springs is the type of town we’d all like to live in. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place for second chances, where the eccentric cast of characters is willing to rally around one another. Connecting with people is so important to life and happiness, and Azure Springs is a place you feel like you could walk into and make real friends. 

19T: You have your own special spot to live. How did that come about?

I am lucky enough to live on a small island in Washington State. We have a bridge, so we don’t have to boat everywhere we go (I’ve gotten that question before!). I grew up in Washington, so when we were  done with school and looking for places to settle we started our search by looking near my family. We ended up finding a job a couple hours away and couldn’t be happier. Our house was an easy pick! We have a big family, and there are very few big family homes where we live so when one came up it was a done deal. I’ve always thought that great houses need great names, so we named our house on the island Green Haven. Partly because it’s green and beautiful, but mostly because green can mean young and we want our home and land to be a haven for children!

19T: What’s next for your writing endeavors?

Rachel: My 2020 release is about a teacher in the Dakotas that left her big city life six years ago but no one knows for sure why. I actually wrote this story a couple years ago and have had a great time revisiting and editing it and even though it’s a year away I’m so anxious for readers to dive into this one!

19T: Popcorn Round!
Coffee or tea? I’m so boring! I’m a water girl through and through.

Salty or sweet snacks? Sweet! I keep trying to kick the habit, but I love sugar.

Bustle or hoop skirt? Hmmmm….I think if I was to get all dressed up and travel back in time I’d have fun wearing a hoop skirt.

Buggy or horseback? Horseback!

Cat, dog, chicken, or bunny? We have a couple outside cats and chickens.

19T: Where can readers connect with you?
Rachel: My website is usually up to date and has a link to sign up for my newsletter. I’m also on Facebook and on Instagram @rachel_fordham.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dead Letters and Live Authors

Back in February 2013, I wrote a post that included information about the Dead Letter Office. Little did I know that I was one day to read a fabulous book about a heroine who works in that office. Please come back next week to hear more about Rachel Thomas and her new book, Yours Truly, Thomas. In the meantime, here’s a little more about England’s Dead Letter Office.

During the Regency period, letters were paid for by the recipient, as we’ve mentioned, so sometimes a recipient simply refused to accept the letter. There are stories about plain girls refusing valentines that insulted them, women refusing letters from their sisters because they could tell by the writing on the outside that all was well. Then too, someone might refuse a letter if it was clearly not theirs.

Those letters ended up in the Dead Letter Office. Post Office employees would try to determine the rightful owner and see the letter on its way.

But in the early nineteenth century in England, Post Office employees were allowed to open and read your mail under other circumstances too:

  • Perhaps you were suspected of being a traitor to England (“Dear Napoleon—I love you! Please come visit soon. I'll leave the candle burning.”).
  • Perhaps you were rumored to be evading Customs (“Dear Aunt Charlotte, that case of French lace is safely stored in the cave under Peasbury Chapel. Do avoid the Excise men when going to fetch it, and give my thanks for the rector for allowing the use of the premises.”)
  • Perhaps you were involved in a robbery (“Dear Susan, I am delighted to relate that I was able to make away with that diamond ring you always wanted. Her ladyship only protested a little when I pulled it off her finger.”).
  • If you were in jail for bankruptcy, the Post Office even sent all your mail to the solicitor in charge of prosecuting the case!

I think if the Post Office was monitoring my mail today, the employees might get an inkling as to what I do for a living, what with author copies, contracts, and business cards coming in. And all those lovely reference books. 😊

Looking forward to visiting with Rachel Fordham next week! I hope you are too.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Retro Blast: Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress

I'm away from home (and my research books and prints) for another few days yet, in what might quaintly be called a "Bathing Place", a.k.a. Cape Cod, so this blast-from-the-past post seems appropriate for the occasion. I hope your summer plans will bring you to the Bathing Place of your choice...and that you'll have an equally delightful costume to wear while there!

Now, I ask you, dear NineteenTeen readers: is this print not perfectly wonderful?

I’m not absolutely certain of the date of this marvelous “Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress” print from La Belle AssemblĂ©e. One source lists it as being from January 1813...but would anyone really be interested in “bathing place” attire in winter? On the other hand, the placement of description of the dress at the top of the plate is in keeping with other La Belle AssemblĂ©e prints from 1809-1810, so I’m going to go with August or September of one of those years.

It shows a young woman strategically posed before a full-length mirror so that the viewer very conveniently gets a look at the back of this delightful dress. I can’t begin to guess the materials used, but the style gives more than a passing nod to drapery techniques—the ribbon drawing up the overskirt and the peplum-like decorations  in back make me think of custom window treatments. Note the tops of the sleeves—strips of the green fabric, woven in a lattice—and the frill of lace extending all around the neckline, and the little lion’s head belt buckle.

And her hat! It’s a delightful cross between a Nelson bicorne and a Carmen Miranda head-dress (do I spy a pineapple in there?) and utterly made of win. Notice too how her hair is arranged, with a braid across the forehead ending in a fetching little curl!

We’ve seen another “bathing place” costume recently—the evening dress that was actually a walking dress, also from La Belle AssemblĂ©e. I’ve yet to discern what it is that separates an everyday ball dress (if there is such a thing!) from a Bathing Place ball dress. Perhaps a touch more informality than one might expect in a London ball dress? Whatever the difference, I think it can be agreed that this is quite the outfit!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Camping with the Americans, the Pig War, Part 3

So, we’ve discussed the engagement between Britain and the U.S. that started with a pig, and we’ve talked about the highly civil camp the Brits built to the northwest on San Juan Island, so civil that they hosted the Americans for Queen Victoria’s birthday. This week I’m finishing the series with a little about American camp.

While the Brits were snuggled into a sheltered bay, American camp was on the southern end of the island, strategically overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But that location was also in line with the prevailing winds, which can sweep through at an alarming clip. And, while the Brits were surrounded by forests, the American were essentially camping in a field.

That didn’t stop them from building. Materials from an abandoned installation on the mainland (Fort Bellingham) were brought in for officers’ quarters, an enlisted barracks, cookhouse, bakehouse, carpenter’s shop, school, hospital, and guardhouse. Soon, neat, white-washed buildings dotted the headland, in places surrounded by a white picket fence. As many as 30 buildings were erected.

But the sweeping winds weren’t the only things to trouble the Americans. The Brits had only two commanders during their time on the island. The Americans changed commanders 15 times, and the infantry companies stationed there changed 8 times. Their leadership complained about bootleggers in the area selling the men rot-gut whiskey, the consumption of which made them unfit for duty. When the Civil War began, some officers like Pickett resigned to go serve the Confederacy. Those soldiers who remained may have wondered why they were stuck on a peaceful island while their colleagues were fighting and dying. Some no doubt were thankful to avoid the battles. Others fretted about loss of friends, loss of ideals, and loss of opportunities for advancement. A soldier doesn’t ride for glory while standing in a field running bayonet drills to pass the time.

Though no battle was ever fought on San Juan Island, American camp lost 16 soldiers during the 14 years of the encampment. Half died of injury or illness, but three died by suicide. Still, their presence served its purpose. And when Kaiser Wilhelm, the arbitrator in the disagreement between the two nations, decided the island belonged to the Americans, there must have been a celebration.

Like the valiant soldiers at American camp, Marissa and I will be celebrating Independence Day next week, but look for posts from us the week of July 8.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Universal Advertising Sheet, Part 3

Let’s see what interesting shreds of personal and social history we can read about, courtesy this week of the Monthly Compendium of Literary, Fashionable, and Domestic Advertisements from the March 1, 1807 edition of La Belle AssemblĂ©e...

First, another Jane Eyre moment:

The attention of Parents and Guardians is requested. A Lady is desirous of taking ONLY TWO young ladies, from three to eight years of age, to instruct with every comfort and advantage of paternal Education; she does not propose giving any Holidays –Letters (post paid) addressed to A. Z. Post Office, Laytonstone, Essex, will be duly answered.

Well. I said this sounded like a Jane Eyre moment...but from whose point of view? No holidays? That seems a tad harsh for students of pre-school and elementary age, I think; A.Z. was quite the taskmistress.

These advertising supplements are full of ads for hair products (in this issue, there’s one for Russia Oil, for the growth of hair...but here’s one for a stylist, which I found interesting. Cropped hair was still quite fashionable, and would be yet for another few years:

Ladies’ Head Dress Maker and Hair Cutter, No. 6, Tavistock-street, Covent-garden,
has the honour to acquaint the Nobility and Gentry, that he has completed an assortment of elegant Head-Dresses; that need only to be seen to be approved of.
The Royal Crop is a specimen of superior elegance.
Ladies that honour him with their commands, will please to say, if for young, middle aged, or elderly Ladies. The price from two to five Guineas.
Gentlemen’s Crops made to a perfection in fitness very rarely to be met with, at two Guineas and a half.
The Nobility and Gentry’s hair cut with every attention to style and the improvement of their hair.
Ladies and Gentlemen will please to give their servants very particular directions to his house, as Vickery’s name is placed very conspicuously at shops in the neighborhood, with which he has no connection.
Vickery’s establishment, formerly of Bond-street, Bishopsgate-street, and Cheapside, (but now of Tavistock-street only) upwards of thirty years standing.

I suppose that if one was using too much Russia Oil, Mr. Vickery’s services would be frequently required... ;)

Now, this one is the most interesting of the issue:

The delicate and restrained condition which custom imposes on females, subjects them to great dis-advantages, —Mrs. Morris offers to remove them. Ladies or Gentlemen who have formed predilections may be assisted in obtaining the objects of their affection; and those who are unengaged may be immediately introduced to suitable persons; but she cannot assist applicants in any marriage if their characters are not irreproachable, and their fortunes considerable and independent. She will not admit any others.
Apply or address (post paid) at the Bow-window, next door to Margaret Chapel, Margaret-street, Cavendish-square. Ladies who require it, may be waited upon at their own houses.

Oh, my writer’s mind is teeming! Was Mrs. Morris a marriage broker? Did she have the Regency equivalent of an overstuffed Rolodex because she was perhaps a lady of once-high social status now fallen on hard times? Was she in the business of match-making for noveaux riches cits looking to marry into a higher social class?  What do you think?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Camping with the Brits: the Pig War, Part 2

A couple weeks ago, I started telling you about the Pig War, an engagement between Britain and the U.S. in my own backyard, and asked you who you’d root for. I must admit I felt more affinity for English Camp than American Camp when I visited San Juan Island recently. Maybe it’s the anglophile in me.

But look at that vista.

English Camp is situated on a sheltered bay at the northwest corner of the island. The beach leads to a wide meadow that served as a parade ground. The British marines and soldiers cleared that ground and built neat white structures such as a commissary, hospital, and enlisted men’s barracks as well as a solid blockhouse that still stands on the very edge of the stony shore. They also built fancier houses for the officers, surgeon, and commander on a bluff overlooking the water.

At one time, the western edge of the meadow contained the enlisted men’s vegetable garden, where they grew potatoes, carrots, and greens. But Captain Delacombe, the second commanding officer, insisted that it be moved elsewhere and replaced it with a traditional English boxwood-hedged garden so his wife could view it from her lofty veranda. One story claims the garden appeased her homesickness for England. She had come with him to these far shores, bringing their three children.

One of the things the Brits found when they first arrived was a huge mound of shells left by the Coast Salish people, who had lived on the space for generations before. The military men ground up the shells and used them to line the paths between buildings, further giving the space a neat, clean appearance. When the Marines proved fractious from the inactivity, their captain set them to work mining limestone and building kilns to burn it into lime, which was shipped back to England for use in making cement, mortar, and fertilizer.

The two sides were remarkably civil to each other. The Brits invited the American soldiers to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. The American’s reciprocated with a grand celebration on Independence Day. They’d host athletic contests and treat the community to a dance.

During the 13 years at the site, no men were lost that I have been able to find. But the story was different at American Camp. Come back next week to learn why.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Unexpected

Sometimes, life throws unexpected curve balls at you. Even if they’re not completely unexpected, those curveballs can mess you up...which can interfere with things like, say, writing blog posts.

Since I’m trying to juggle a curve ball or two right now (how d’ya like that for a mixed metaphor?) this won’t be much of a post; I hope life will be calmer next week. In the meanwhile, I offer this very unexpected print of fancy dress costumes (examples of which we've seen before) from an unknown French journal, probably ca. 1830 to judge by the sleeves and hairstyle of the lady wearing the “Danish” costume at left...

...but it’s the Indian costume at right that surprises and delights me. How about you?

Enjoy! And I hope next week will meet your usual expectations.