Friday, November 22, 2013

Being Thankful for Custard (And Fish Fingers)

Marissa and I are thankful for much in our lives.  Our families will be close during the holidays, and we'll be taking next week off blogging to spend time with them.  We each are writing and publishing books we love, and we have lots of ideas still simmering at the backs of our minds.  And so many of you have dropped by to comment on this blog the last few months.  Thank you for the encouragement!

I personally am also thankful that tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of a British classic, Dr. Who!  So, in honor of the Doctor and Thanksgiving, here's an early nineteenth-century recipe from famed cook Mrs. Beeton for Baked Apple Custard (like traveling with the Doctor, I advise you to try at your own risk!).

1 pint of milk (heavy cream can be substituted for half the milk)
1/4 cup of sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 dozen large apples
1 small teacupful of cold water
Sugar to taste
Grated rind from one lemon
Dash of nutmeg

Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the quarter cup of sugar and the vanilla. 
Stir gently and heat on low until the flavors are blended. 
Bring the mixture to the point of boiling, then pour it into the top of a double boiler and let it cool. 
While it is cooling, whisk the eggs well and peel, cut, and core the apples. 
Put the apples in another saucepan with the cold water on medium heat and bruise them to a pulp as they heat.
Sweeten them with a little sugar to taste and add the grated lemon rind.
When the milk has cooled, stir in the eggs and heat the mixture in the double boiler. 
Keep stirring the custard one way until it thickens but do not let it boil.
Allow the apples to cool and put them into a pie dish.
Pour the custard over the apples and sprinkle a little nutmeg over the top.
Bake the dish at 350 degrees F from 25 to 35 minutes.
Serve while warm.

And yes, if you are a true Whovian, you will need to find some fish fingers (fish sticks) to dip in this.  Of course, a true Whovian will probably sneer at the apple part, but allow me some creativity.

And speaking of creativity, do come back after Thanksgiving, when we will be launching the second book in the Master Matchmakers series, The Wife Campaign!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: PERSUASION (1995)

Welcome to "Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema" at NineteenTeen! Today we're discussing the 1995 Jane Austen adaptation Persuasion, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds!

(As an aside, can I mention how magical the mid-1990s was for Jane Austen fans? We had one fabulous adaptation after another...delightful!)

Ah yes, Persuasion! Lost love, pride and class, vanity, and lots of dashing naval men.

So, whether you watched this movie recently or long ago, please tell us what you thought of it!

Did you like the cast? Did you root for Root, or sigh for Wentworth?

Did you like how the director gave us the silences and low-indoors-lighting of the period, to really put us in that world? Or were you frustrated by that, finding the movie slow, or low-energy, or even at times hard to follow?

If you've read Austen's novel, what did you think of this interpretation of it? Did you think it captured the soul of the original? Did you mind any changes?

And if you have any other comments or insights, please share!!! We bluestockings love to discuss things while sipping our tea (and perhaps enjoying some caraway cakes and ratafia biscuits...)

And to aid the discussion, here are the major actors and creators:


Director: Roger Michell

Screenwriter: Nick Dear


Anne Elliot: Amanda Root

Wentworth: Ciaran Hinds

Lady Russell: Susan Fleetwood

Sir Walter Elliot: Corin Redgrave

Elizabeth Elliot: Phoebe Nicholls

Mrs. Clay: Felicity Dean

Mary Musgrove: Sophie Thompson

(Interesting fact: Sophie Thompson had a role in another Jane Austen movie--she played Miss Bates in the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma! She is also the sister of Emma Thompson, who played Elinor (and wrote the screenplay) for the 1995 Sense and Sensibility. Austen royalty!)

Charles Musgrove: Simon Russell Beale

Louisa Musgrove: Emma Roberts

Henrietta Musgrove: Victoria Hamilton

Captain Benwick: Richard McCabe

Admiral Croft: John Woodvine

Mrs. Croft: Fiona Shaw

Mr. Elliot: Samuel West

So....what did you think? All opinions welcome!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Stories That Won't Let Us Go

It seems an odd thing to say, but some stories simply won't let go of an author, even after those books have been published.  Authors are some of the only people who are generally not deemed mad for listening to the voices in their heads.  Books haunt us, calling, beckoning, until we give in and dive in.  It's the same for passionate readers.  And then we're never sure how the book, and our very selves, will turn out in the end.

Such was the case for my 2008 young adult novel, La Petite Four.  I know some of you were first introduced to my writing through that book, and I've received a number of lovely e-mails from readers about it.  But the thing was, I was never entirely satisfied with it.  No, that's not quite true.  I was glad to see it published.  Lady Emily wasn't entirely satisfied with it.

Lady Emily, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Emerson and the heroine of La Petite Four, remains the loudest character I have ever written, even after finishing more than 25 manuscripts for publication.  It isn't that she runs about shouting.  She tends to have a great deal more class than that.  But she speaks in my mind so clearly that I could swear she was standing right next to me.

Here's the first thing she ever said to me:  "I despise pink.  It neither makes the bold statement of red nor whispers the purity of white, yet I am convinced that I would make my father the happiest of all men should I dress in nothing but that color.  Pink, he thinks, is singularly feminine.  It is simply not me."

Opinionated much?

She wasn't content to recite narrative or dialogue.  During the process of completing La Petite Four, she argued quite strenuously with me over certain parts of the story my editors felt were very important.  For instance, the editors wanted a more exciting first chapter.  Sounds reasonable enough; good advice, actually.  I was on my third revision, struggling, fighting with Lady Emily every step of the way, when she said, purely out of spite, I might add, "I want to run away."  So, in the version of La Petite Four that saw publication, I had Lady Emily run away from her boarding school to reach her father before her betrothed so she can change the duke's mind about her having to marry.

Lady Emily was not amused.

When the rights to the story were returned to me, I decided to revise the story to her liking and reissue it along with its prequel, the former A Dangerous Dalliance and now Secrets and Sensibilities, where Lady Emily first learns her sleuthing skills.  Here was her chance, her opportunity to tell her story, her way.  Did she cooperate?

"I am tired of being rewritten," she complained, pointed nose in the air.

I promised her this was the last time.  And so, in hopes of finally doing Lady Emily's story justice, this week I published the ebook, Art and Artifice, a retelling of La Petite Four that I am happy to say Lady Emily endorses heartily.  Perhaps that's because this time I let Bow Street Runner Jamie Cropper say a few words as well.  He's a gentleman, for all he's been raised in poverty.  He wasn't nearly so strident about how he was portrayed, but then, he likes to have a little fun.

Have I finally silenced Lady Emily?  No.  Now she won't let me be until I finish the sequel, Ballrooms and Bribery.  That will have to wait until next spring. 

This time I get to listen to my own voice for a change.   


Barnes and Noble


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It’s Name that Book Time again...

Aaaaand it’s time to play everyone’s favorite game, help Marissa come up with a possible title for her new book because she’s reeallly bad at titles.

This one is forthcoming from Entangled Publishing some time in the first half of 2014 (the first round of edits is in, and I hope to have a release date for you soon!) There are some slightly different rules in play this time, though. For one thing, this isn’t a young adult story or set in 19th century England—it’s an adult contemporary fantasy set in Boston with some slightly spicy content. Here’s a blurb...

It’s been two thousand years since the fires burned out on the altars in the temples of Greece. So what’s a god to do?

Teach, of course.

Theodora Fairchild has had it with teaching Latin to apathetic middle school students and enrolls in the Classics program at prestigious John Winthrop University to get her Ph.D. and pursue a serious academic career. Falling in love with brilliant but mysterious visiting fellow Grant Proctor isn’t what she expected to find on the syllabus—at least she thinks they’re in love...nor is her flirtatious relationship with the charming head of the department, Julian d’Amboise.

Soon Theo finds she's been assigned a new major—divinity! She’ll need to learn how to be a goddess fast in order to rescue herself and Grant from Julian’s clutches. After all, Julian’s track record with his women was spectacularly bad—they generally ended up turning into cows or burning to a crisp...and Grant’s last meeting with the department chairman left him chained to a mountaintop for thirty thousand years having his liver pecked out by an eagle. Drugged Riesling, power shopping with Aphrodite, and an eerie labyrinth all make an appearance as Theo struggles to win her eventually happily-ever-after fate—with a twist.


So what do you think, dear readers? The tone of the story isn't terribly comedic though it does have its light, tongue-in-cheek moments...but nor is it dark and gritty because I just don't do dark and gritty. I’m trying to avoid titles with the word “god” in them or other overtly religion-associated words since we don’t want the algorithms at on-line booksellers to assume this book should be listed under Christian Romance and possibly offend innocent readers. But mythological or classical references are definitely a possibility.

Anyway, have fun suggestion is a bad one, because it might inspire the perfect title. And most of all, thank you!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Get Cozy by the . . . Coal?

November always marks a change in the seasons where I live.  Summer lingers well into September, October sees a glorious burst of color, and November is gray, gray, gray.  Seems like a perfect time to bring in the firewood, strike up a blaze, and get cozy.  It's easy to think of the young ladies and gentlemen of nineteenth century England sipping tea and reading books, perhaps in that lovely library Marissa sketched out for us this week.  But I have to keep reminding myself that the fire I enjoy is not necessarily the one they enjoyed.

For one thing, fireplaces back then could be a great deal larger than the one in my home, although the London townhouses certain boasted smaller, more compact models, often courtesy of the Adams brothers.  My fireplace happens to be made of red brick with a slate hearth, but theirs was more likely to have been made from stone, perhaps framed in wood.  If you were wealthy, that stone might be marble in shades from pristine white, midnight black, or serpentine green or perhaps granite. 

If you were poorer, it was more likely to be of a lesser stone, or even those gathered from the land around you.  The older and larger the house, the more likely the fireplace might be large enough to roast an ox inside.  Townhouses might have inserts of cast iron with decorative tiles at the back.  They might also have bricks inserted in the flue to help guide the smoke upward, a design perfected by Count Rumford.

The fuel might also be different from today.  I tend to burn wood scavenged from downed or pruned trees, but my fire is mostly ornamental, not for heating or lighting my house or cooking my food.  The amount of wood needed by a large household for heating and cooking purposes would be prohibitively difficult to procure and store.  So, many households in England burned coal brought around by industrious individuals or peat cut from nearby bogs.  The glow might be similar, but the crackle of burning wood is very different from the pop of coals or the hiss of peat.  And coal fires were at least partly responsible for the choking fogs that enveloped London later in the century.

Makes me want to curl up by my fire with a good book.

(Lead picture by P.G. Champion)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Fantasy Library

Some people fantasize about dream vacations. Others fantasize about jewelry or cars or sports teams. Me? I fantasize about the library I would love to have. It would look something like this—a room I was privileged to visit daily while in college— and I think I’d furnish it with the help of our friend Rupert Ackermann.

First, I’ll need many of these Gothic Bookcases (Ackermann’s Repository, 1827) lining the room to hold my books. The glass doors will help keep dust at bay...but I’ll cheat and put UV-filtering glass in to further protect my treasures (which will, of course, include a complete collection of first editions of all of Georgette Heyer’s books):

To reach the top shelves, a few Metamorphic Library Chairs might be handy: the seat and top hinge over forward, creating a handy ladder to scurry up while searching for the right book (July 1811):

Then again, I could also store some of my books (I think there will have to be a complete set of Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books as well) in this delightful Circular Moveable Bookcase (March 1810):

I’ll definitely need a comfy place to sit and maybe in this Gothic Sofa (December 1825):

Or one of these Gothic Chairs, looking very throne-like but probably not very comfortable (November 1825):

Reading isn’t the only thing I’ll do in my fantasy library...I’ll be writing, of course! Maybe at one of these Cabinet Globe Writing Tables--how much fun are these?! (February 1810):

Or at this slightly more conventional writing table (January 1810):

Though this Secretaire Bookcase (September 1822) is also pretty awesome, as well as having room to store more books:

How about you? Do you have a room of your own you like to dream about? What would you furnish it with?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Beware the Wrecker!

I hope you had a lovely time last night on Halloween!  I thought today might be a good day for a scary story from nineteenth century England, and few things are scarier than a wrecker.

Wait, a wrecker?

Yes, a wrecker.  Many of you are likely familiar with lighthouses or lighted buoys placed along waterways to guide sailors to safe harbor.  The concept wasn't lost on some dastardly criminals either.  They would post lights along England's shore in hopes of luring ships in to some nasty rocks or shoals.  When a ship floundered, the wreckers would swam aboard and take everything.  And if anyone survived the shipwreck, well, that was a shame.  Can't leave witnesses, can we now?

Do you have the chills yet?

Then let me tell you a story about Chambercombe Manor in Devon, which was once the home to a particularly dangerous wrecker named Alexander Otway.  His son William learned the trade from his father and actually married a beautiful girl he rescued from a ship his father had wrecked.  He apparently foreswore to follow in his father's footsteps at that point, and he and his wife were blessed with a lovely daughter whom they named Kate.  When Kate grew up, she fell in love with an Irish sea captain and moved to Dublin.

William and his wife fell on hard times, and the temptation to return to wrecking proved too great.  Soon he was turning a tidy profit from the misfortunes of others.  One night, a ship was wrecked on his shore in a terrible storm, and he went aboard and took what he could, including a woman so badly battered that he could not make out her face.  He carried her home, where she died, and stole her jewelry, saying nothing to anyone about finding her.  But this time, William hadn't finished his grisly work.  A few of the sailors from the ship had escaped its sinking and reported a passenger missing--a young lady named Kate who was traveling to the area to visit her father.  William Otway had engineered his own daughter's death.

Now there's a tale to chill the blood on All Hallows.