Friday, December 9, 2016

My True Love Gave to Me One More Time

I’ve known I wanted to be an author since I was in the third grade. Growing up, I dabbled with everything from horror (my first novel was called Mummies by the Lake—don’t ask) to fantasy and historical romance. In college, when I stumbled upon my first Regency romance, I decided that was where I’d focus my passions. In late 1996, the Regency special interest chapter of Romance Writers of America reported that Kensington had a hole in its publication schedule and was rather desperate for Regency romance manuscripts. I sent in The Unflappable Miss Fairchild and was offered a two-book deal, with the stipulation that the second book be set at Christmas.

“You can write a Christmas book, right?” my new editor asked.

Of course I could. Couldn’t I?

I didn’t have an idea. I wasn’t even sure how Christmas was celebrated during the Regency. I remember a squirming feeling in the pit of my stomach. I ignored it. I was going to be published, and I had been given the chance to write Kensington’s Christmas Regency. I could do this.

And I did.

After considerable research, I submitted the manuscript for My True Love Gave to Me eleven months before the intended publication date of December 1998. My husband proclaimed it the best book I’d ever had published (since it was only my second, I’ll take that with a grain of salt). To this day, he still laments it was never made into a movie. But the Sales Department at Kensington thought my title wasn’t romantic enough. They retitled it The Twelve Days of Christmas. It entered the world and quietly sank like a stone tossed into a snow-shrouded pond.

You see, I didn’t know much about promoting in those days. I was an unknown author. The cover was anachronistic and didn’t even have the right hair color for the characters. No review magazines deigned to review it.

But to this day, it is one of the books my readers love most.

I’m delighted to report that I’ve buffed it up (I have learned something in 35 books); returned it to its original title; given it a new, more accurate cover; and reissued it for Christmas this year. I hope those who love it will remember why, and those who haven’t had a chance to read it will enjoy it.

And who knows? Maybe it will be made into a movie someday.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In Which Marissa Waxes Philosophical about History

This post has nothing to do with the nineteenth century—very much not. But it's still about history, albeit in slightly different way from what we usually do around here.

I’ve been in my town for almost thirty years now (gulp!) And practically every day of those thirty years—at least, the days when I’m not wearing tatty sweats and hunkered down in front of my computer writing books—I drive by a large Raytheon plant located on one of the main roads through town. Raytheon is a high-tech and defense contractor headquartered in Massachusetts, so yeah, it’s no big deal, it being there—it has been since the 1950s. I know people who’ve worked there, and kind of wished my engineer husband had decided to work for them because then he’d have a 7-minute commute and not the 55-minute one he’s had for years.

Until a couple of years ago.

In 2014, Raytheon announced it would be closing this plant and merging operations with another Raytheon plant just down the road in the next town. It makes perfect sense, of course—why operate two separate plants within 5 miles of each other? And my town is working with developers to use the 50-acre plot of land on which the plant is located to build affordable housing units and apartments for the elderly as well as a vibrant new shopping center. It’s an excellent use of the property and will be a wonderful addition to the town.

So, some of you might know I’m a closet space nut. It started back when I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon a few days after my birthday as a small child...and after that, I watched for news of every Apollo launch and paid attention, at least as much as an elementary school kid does. Even now, I haven't lost my fascination for space exploration.

Bear with me, now. There is a point to all this meandering.

I drove by the old plant this morning on my way to my gym as usual and saw that they’re really moving along with the tear-down. And as much as I applaud this new use for the property, it made me sad. Because that Raytheon plant was where the guidance computers for the Apollo spacecraft were made, in conjunction with engineers and scientists from MIT. Right here, in this town. And while something new and wonderful is being built, we’re also losing a place where a little bit of history was made—at least to me, a grand and exciting bit of history.

And the point of all this? Don’t forget that history is something we live, before it ever becomes history. I’m sure the scientists and engineers still around from those heady days in the 1960’s at Raytheon are thinking that about now. I know I am.

Okay, I'll go back to the nineteenth century (well, early twentieth, for now) and stop philosophizing. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List, 2016 Edition

Are you shopping yet? I know, I know, it’s barely December, but here in the states we’ve just passed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and Christmas can be seen, heard, and smelled around every corner. So, as I have for the last few years, I thought I’d look into what nineteenth century-inspired things might be out there for your gifting pleasure. You might even find a few to put on your own Christmas wish list.

I will admit to having developed quite a fondness for Etsy. My, but people are creative! Primrose Prints, for instance, features framed antique prints, including a fascinating one of chemical equipment from 1820 for those of a scientific or engineering bent. I can see Sir Nicholas Rotherford of The Courting Campaign putting this on his Christmas list. 

Gift For Book Lover - Book Earrings - Chapter One The End - Secret Santa - Literary Jewelry - Gift For Writers - Christmas Gift For Reader
Then there’s the Old Junkyard Boutique, with steampunk and Victorian jewelry. But the one that really has me drooling is Jezebel Charms—literary-inspired gifts for book lovers. I did inquire about these darling earrings. Alas, they only come in pierced. (And I wear only clips.)   

Of course, you can often find interesting items at novelty sites. Though they are apparently out of stock as of this writing, I did find Jane Austen bandages, supposedly as soothing to your wounds as her words are to your heart.

Wedgwood® Palladian Countryside Accent PlateYou can even find nineteenth century-inspired items at more conventional stores. I love the muted coloring of this Palladian display plate at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. And I am already hinting to my husband about a Wedgwood ornament set, particularly the nativity.

And no Christmas wish list on this site would be complete without a few books on it. Miss Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to Wear) from the Great Jane Austen Herself by Rebecca Smith caught my eye. I’m certain Jane has words for every dilemma. I’m also quite intrigued with a new book on the history of Brooks, one of the main gentlemen’s clubs in the Regency, taken from period sources.

So, there you are, a smattering of delightful nineteenth century items, just ready for someone’s Christmas present. Care to share what you’ve seen this season that piqued your interest?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Accessories, Part 6: More Fans

We’re back for another installment in our fashion series on NineteenTeen focusing not on dresses and gowns (gorgeous as they are) but on the little things that complete a fashionable ensemble—hats, shoes, gloves, purses, and other accessories

Back in October we looked at fans from the first two decades of the 19th century, and they were...well, kind of on the dull side, even if a vital thing for ball-going ladies to carry. Fortunately for us, fashionistas of the 1820s and beyond woke up to the fact that fans could be a lot more fun.

Look for lots of images rather than commentary, though I’ll try to supply original text if I have it—the point is to be able to examine multiple examples of each item. Images are drawn from my collection of prints from British publications including Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle AssemblĂ©e, and others. However, Ackermann’s had the most detailed plates, so the majority of images you’ll see will be from that publication.  These date from 1822-1828.

Happy accessorizing!

Ball Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, June 1823

Full Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, December 1823--peacock feathers!

Ball Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, August 1824. Carved wood or ivory, perhaps?

Ball Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, March 1825. This looks like a Chinese paper fan, does it not?

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, September 1825-- a "rainbow-shaded gauze fan."

Dinner Dress, Ackermann's Repository, March 1826--another Chinese folding fan, perhaps?

 Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, July 1826. Fan of red lacquer, perhaps? It would have been striking against this white and blue dress.

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, February 1827. This is a mourning costume, so of course the fan would be black (note the black gloves as well.)

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, March 1827. Another red lacquer fan--these appear in several plates over the next year.

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, May 1827. Dyed feathers?

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, June 1827. This isn't a mourning costume, so the choice of a black fan is interesting--again, a strong contrast ti the white and yellow dress.

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, September 1827

Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, August 1828

 Evening Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, October 1828

Which fan would you like to carry at your next ball?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cook Thankfully This Thanksgiving

My Regency characters would never have celebrated Thanksgiving—it is an American holiday, after all. My characters in pioneer Seattle would have known of the national day, though Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed it only three years before the time their stories are set. By the era of the cowboys of Little Horn, Thanksgiving was a cherished tradition. So, Marissa and I are off next week in celebration. As a thank you for your readership, we leave you with a nineteenth century recipe, updated for today. I have cooked it. It was a little bland for my taste (and I like less spicy things), but very filling!

Macaroni and Tomatoes

Ingredients for 2-quart casserole
10 oz elbow macaroni, boiled and drained
8 oz cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz bread cubes (stuffing)
1 14.5-oz can of stewed tomatoes, excess liquid drained
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2 Tbsp butter, plus some for buttering the casserole
¼ cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter the casserole and line the bottom with some of the bread cubes.
Add a layer of macaroni and sprinkled some of the grated cheese over the top.
Add a layer of stewed tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add another layer of bread cubes, more macaroni and so on until the dish is nearly filled.
Crunch up the remaining bread cubes and sprinkle them over the top.
Dot with butter.
Pour milk over it all.
Bake until nicely browned, about 35 minutes.

I will also leave you with one other piece of news. Utterly Devoted, which is recommended in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List, has been reissued as The Unwilling Miss Watkin, book 4 in the Uncommon Courtships series. It is one of my most highly acclaimed books, featuring one of my personal favorite heroes. I am very thankful to have it available for readers once more.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So That’s What One Looks Like

I’m going to post a word, and I want you to tell me what mental image you get when you read it. Ready?


So what picture did you get in your mind? Maybe an object with short blades that fold up out of a protective cover? Or a Swiss Army knife with seventeen other bits and bobs on it beside a blade or two?

Well, had you been a nineteenth century miss, this is what you would have thought of:

Not much like today’s penknives, is it?  That’s because it wasn’t. In the 19th century, a penknife was exactly that—a knife used to make or trim pens.

Up until the mass production of the steel-nib dip pen in the early 1820s (though metal pens had been around since the early 18th century), the chief type of pens in use were made from quills, usually the primary flight feathers of large birds like geese, hawks, eagles, or turkeys. They actually make good pens; the hollow shaft of a quill serves as an ink reservoir, and a properly prepared quill can last a long time (though not as long on today's wood-pulp based paper which can quickly wear down tips; they do best with parchment and vellum.)

Unlike what you might see in movies, a quill prepared for writing usually has most of the fluffy bits—the barbs—removed, so that they don’t chafe the writer’s hand. The shafts are heat-treated, which makes them stiffer (different methods can be used, from placing the quills in hot water or heated sand or ashes from the fire.) Then, one gets out one’s penknife and prepare the tip. There’s a great explanation of how to trim a quill here, for the truly curious...and it explains the fine, thin shape of a penknife’s blade since the blade was inserted into the quill at one point. Note on the photo of my penknife the shape of the handle—curved to fit comfortably against the fingers when shaving off bits of quill.

So that’s what a penknife is. And though I’m very happy with my laptop for writing, I can’t help sighing a little for the pretty desk accoutrements of the nineteenth century.  Maybe I could find someone to make me a pretty mother-of-pearl cover for my mouse?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Nineteenth Century Heroines: A Beacon to All

It’s been a while since we talked about a real-life heroine of the nineteenth century, but I hope you agree that Flora Augusta Pearson Engle fits the bill. Flora was one of the Mercer Belles, those ladies who traveled west with Asa Mercer to help civilize Washington Territory. Her sisters and father came on Mercer’s first trip in 1864. Flora, her mother, and her brother came on the second trip that brought my heroines Allegra Howard (The Bride Ship), Catherine Stanway (Would-Be Wilderness Wife), Rina Fosgrave (Frontier Engagement), Maddie O’Rourke (Instant Frontier Family), and Nora Underhill (this month’s A Convenient Christmas Wedding). Flora was only 16 at the time. I wish I had a picture I could post, but you can see one at Find-A-Grave.

Born in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, Flora was the daughter of Daniel Pearson and Susan Brown Pearson. Daniel worked as a supervisor in the local cotton mill until the Civil War interrupted. By 1864, he was unemployed and in poor health, so travelling west must have looked good. The plan was for him and Flora’s sisters Georgie and Josie to move out first, and then to send for Flora, her brother Daniel, and her mother once they were settled.

Right away fate intervened. Georgie and Josie were immediately assigned to teach school on Whidbey Island, in the town of Coupeville, but Josie died suddenly walking home from class one day. Daniel, who had been working across the Sound, moved to Coupeville to be near Georgie. He was appointed keeper of the Red Bluff Lighthouse, what is now known as Admiralty Head. Georgie, then 17, became his assistant lighthouse keeper, the first woman to do so in Washington Territory.

By the time Flora arrived, however, Georgie had a serious suitor. They were married in the lighthouse parlor less than a year later, and Flora stepped into her sister’s shoes as assistant to her father. She earned approximately $625 a year for the post.

For the next ten years, Flora kept the lighthouse log, recording incidents both important and trivial, and sending a report to Washington, D.C., every month. It wasn’t hard for her. She had kept a diary for years, including chronicling the voyage that had brought the Mercer Belles to Washington. She was a society reporter for the local newspaper and later wrote many articles about local history. Legend has it she spelled the town of Coupeville without the middle e, and it took the government to change the name back years later.

According to Lighthouse Friends, Flora occasionally joked in the log, as in this notation from 1875, right before she was married: “By order of Lt. Commander Louis Keurpoff (inspector): Be it hereby known, to whom it may or may not concern: All light keepers, either principal or assistant, in this domain of our beloved Uncle Samuel, are expressly forbidden to depart from the Territory of Single Blessedness and take up their abode in the populous State of Matrimony unless said departure be permitted and sanctioned by the Lighthouse Inspector.”

Sounds to me like Flora had a few suitors herself.

I'm not sure what Flora was looking for in a husband. At that time, she could have taken her pick. In 1876, when she was 26 years old, however, she married a local farmer, William Engle, nearly 20 years her senior. They had a lovely honeymoon in San Francisco. But even the birth of her son, Carl Terry Engle, a year later didn’t stop her from reporting to work. He was born at the lighthouse, and she noted it in the log. She continued working at the lighthouse until her father’s retirement in 1878, staying on one more month to help the new lighthouse keeper get oriented.

Flora and William moved to his farm, but that wasn’t the end of her contributions to the community. She championed the building for the first board sidewalks in Coupeville and led efforts to restore the Davis Blockhouse, a fortified cabin built around 1855. She appears to have been a member of the Ladies of the Round Table, a local club I’m eager to learn more about (future book, perhaps?). When her mother died in 1890, she took in her father until he died seven years later.

Flora lived until she was 85. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren remembered her as a woman of indefatigable energy. She may have made a name for herself as a lighthouse keeper, but I think it was her light that shined the brightest.