Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Romance Writer's Season

So here we are at the Romance Writers of America conference. It’s a little like the Season, when all young ladies of good family went to London or another large town and were formally presented to the rest of Society. Marissa and I have been making polite conversation with editors, agents, our writing colleagues, and other industry professionals just like nineteenth century ladies made calls. We were invited to tea with some of the luminaries of our circle (God bless you, John). As you saw in Marissa’s post, we attended a lovely Soiree on Wednesday. And last night, Marissa termed the Harlequin Party a sad crush (which is nineteenth-century speak for a very popular event). Alas, there were no dukes or princes present, but that didn’t stop us from dancing. Or posing.

Tonight is the grand finale, the big night for romance. The Rita Awards, the equivalent of the Academy Awards for the romance community, will be given out. We’ll dress up in our finest gowns and wait breathlessly for the names of friends and favorite authors to be announced. It’s a little like waiting to be presented to the queen.

But we don’t have to wait to hear about our own personal winner. You see, the Rita isn’t the only award given at conference. The mystery and romantic suspense authors present the Daphne Du Maurier for best romantic suspense novels. The Greater Detroit Romance Writers give away their Bookseller’s Best Award for novels in various categories judged best by booksellers. The Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal group gives awards for the best in that area. The Oklahoma Chapter runs a competition for best book as judged by readers around the nation.

I am honored to announce that our own Marissa Doyle was awarded the National Reader’s Choice Award. Betraying Season won for best young adult novel for 2009. I was so proud, I carried her rock all the way back to our hotel room. Well, okay, I carried it part of the way before she relieved me of it. I think she saw the possessive gleam in my eyes.

Can we all brag that we know her?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blogging From National, Day 1

I’m sitting in a large ballroom at the Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.. There’s a pair of musicians, guitar and flute, playing gentle, melodic music that I know I’ve heard before (I have, as it turns out--it’s used in the Pride and Prejudice miniseries). Rows of ladies who just happen to be writers of Regency romance in real life are arrayed in rows, listening to the directions of a period dance instructor as she talks them through the steps of a dance that was popular back in the 1820s.

And did I mention that most of them are wearing wonderful costumes like this (doesn't Regina look lovely?):
And this?
And this? (That's Regency author Shirley Marks and her charming daughter Kimberly):
You guessed it--it’s the annual meeting of The Beau Monde, the Regency special interest chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Regina and I have been busy since eight this morning, attending workshops and giving our own (on current markets for “sweet” Regencies…of course I waxed long-winded on writing young adult!), drinking tea, and now, dancing and enjoying the fun.

What else have we done today? I signed Bewitching Season and Betraying Season at the enormous Readers for Life book signing and got to meet some other on-line YA-writing acquaintances face to face. And speaking of meeting on-line friends face-to-face, Regina and I were delighted to meet frequent Nineteenteen commenter Gillian Layne, who by the way is up for an RWA Golden Heart award in the Regency Historical Romance category...stay tuned for more reports from Orlando.

And ohmigosh, we get to see the fireworks from our room. How cool is that?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogging at National, 2010

Regina and I will be posting on a slightly irregular schedule this week as we'll be having our annual girls' week out at the Romance Writers of America National Conference, held this year in Orlando, Florida. Stay tuned for reports from The Beau Monde's (RWA's Regency special interest chapter) Annual Conference and more!

Every year the Conference includes a huge booksigning event, with proceeds benefitting literacy programs in the host city; if you're in the Orlando/Disney area on July 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, please stop by! I'll be signing my books along with five hundred other authors at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort...for details, check out the RWA website.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More on Bright Star

Excellent posts, all! Please weigh in if you haven’t already.

I mentioned that I loved the clothes. I thought the costume director did an outstanding job of using clothing to fit the characters. Fanny’s costumes were gorgeous, of course. Did you notice in the scene near the beginning, where she first goes to call on the family living near the poets, that she’s gowned in very bright white? White was a statement of privilege in the nineteenth century—as Marissa has noted, at the very least you need money to keep it clean! Then again the odious Mr. Brown wears plaid trousers and frumpy coats—small wonder Fanny held him in such distain!

I loved the little touches as well, such as when Keats climbs the tree and lays in the branches after describing such a dream to Fanny, and where Keats and Fanny are walking back with Toots just ahead and they keep freezing every time she looks back at them. The way Samuel and Toots played “chaperone” was perfection.

Keats’ situation made me said, though. “He has no living and no money,” one of the adult women warns Fanny. That was the plight of gentlemen with no inheritance. “No living” meant no one had bequeathed him a position such as at a church or given him a small estate. “No money” meant his family hadn’t seen fit to offer him his own fortune. Gentlemen weren’t supposed to work—as in any kind of labor with their hands. So what do you do? Become a personal assistant to a wealthier relative, paint a picture, become a poet.

Aren’t we all glad he chose the last?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Young Bluestockings Go to the Cinema: Bright Star

Well, what did you all think?

I suppose that I should warn you that I’m not a film buff and don’t really have the know-how to discuss film as art with any degree of critical know-how. But I am a history geek and a writer of fiction, so I’m going to talk about history and story. If any of you are more versed in film critique, I would LOVE to hear from you!

So…starting from the beginning, I really enjoyed this film, even though, of course, I knew there wouldn’t be a Happily Ever After kind of ending. I like the fact that the actors looked like real people rather than, well, actors—not that they weren’t attractive people, but they also weren’t Hollywoodish, if that makes sense. It made it much easier for me to think about the characters they played instead of them. Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw brought Fanny and John to luminous life, but I admired the supporting cast hugely, especially Fanny's little sister Toots and the painfully jealous Brown.

Jane Campion (both writer and director) based the story of the relationship between John Keats and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, on a biography by Andrew Motion. Fanny had long gotten short shrift from earlier biographers, who saw her as a destructive force and a weight dragging Keats back from his art; Motion restored her as a human being and as a source of inspiration for the poet.

In fact, beyond the catharsis of a romance of doomed love and the glorious poetry (and how it's used so very, very well in this movie), what I think draws me most about Bright Star is that it is about Fanny rather than about Keats.

Fanny loves to sew. And the act of sewing as well as clothing is used in beautiful and meaningful ways throughout the movie: Fanny first touches Keats by stitching a pillow slip for his dead brother, she flirts through discussion of her wardrobe early on; she tells Keats that a coat of blue velvet is what a poet should wear. And oh, her wardrobe! That pink pelisse she wears when calling to bring dainties to Keats’ brother, and the double-breasted striped linen dress in the picnic scene, and the melancholy blue pelisse she wears when seeing him off to Italy…exquisite! Earlier Keats biographers saw Fanny's love of sewing and beautiful clothes as a sign of her shallowness...I see it as the creative outlet of a person who also loved beauty.

The sets were also wonderful…the house lovely (and wasn't the bluebell wood amazing?) and furnishings appropriate. I must say that I felt more drawn into this world than the world of Young Victoria (despite all its gorgeousness) because it felt so much more real.

To let you know what happened later, Fanny mourned Keats’ death for years, avoiding society (though she and Keats’ younger sister, also called Fanny, became close friends after his death) and wearing mourning. Her brother and mother both died in the late 1820s, and she and her younger sister Margaret (Toots) moved to France to live with family. It was here that Fanny met Louis Lindon, whom she married in 1833 (the picture of her above is from about that time). She had three children, to whom she left her carefully preserved letters from Keats on her death in 1865.

Okay, Young Bluestockings, the floor is open. What did you like or dislike about this film? Did you get teary at the end, even though you knew how it would end? (Yes, I did. So there.) Are you inspired to read Keats now, or to pick up a needle? Discuss!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Losing Their Marbles

Traveling, book deadlines, blog posts, Vacation Bible School: sometimes I think I'm losing my mind! But marble, as in the magnificient stone, wouldn't be that easy to lose, you'd think. That's not what I found in this post from November 2007. Looking forward to chatting with you all next week about Bright Star!

Like anyone on summer vacation, the young ladies and gentlemen let loose in nineteenth century London during the Season wanted to see the sights. Thrill seekers might visit the Tower Zoo, cringe through the feeding of the tigers at the Royal Menagerie in the Exeter ‘Change, or watch a balloon ascend over Hyde Park. For those of more historical or artistic pretensions, a visit to the Elgin Marbles was a must.

Before the marble sculptures even arrived in England, they were the center of controversy. Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin, actually made off with them while serving as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Greece. He claimed these sculptures, which once decorated the Parthenon in Athens, could be better protected in England. Seems some people (not Greeks) were breaking off the noses of statues as souvenirs.

Unfortunately, Elgin didn’t do a very good job of protecting the sculptures. One of the pieces removed from the Parthenon fell and was crushed into dust. The first shipment sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean and had to be salvaged. Then Elgin and his family were kidnapped on the way home from Greece and held as political hostages for three years!

Meanwhile, the arrival of the marble sculptures in England between 1803 and 1812 helped ignite the passion for Greek designs. Woman piled up their hair like the hairstyles in Greek pottery. Dresses turned to classic lines and draperies. Columns and friezes decorated buildings. Artists from all over England and as far away as Italy and America came to ogle the pieces and weep that their own work was so pitiful in comparison.

Not everyone was so thrilled. Several members of Parliament expressed concerns about how the sculptures had come to be in Elgin’s possession. In his Childe Harold, one of the bestsellers of the period, Lord Byron attacked Elgin for plundering history.

Elgin had hoped the British Museum would purchase the collection, but the museum offered less than what he asked. When he had to move from his Park Lane home, he stashed the sculptures in the rear yard of palatial Burlington House, where they were stacked in and around the coal shed. They remained there until 1816, when the British Museum increased their offer. It was still lower than Elgin wanted, but he was getting desperate and Burlington House had been sold, so he accepted the offer.

Today, the Elgin Marbles are still the center of controversy. They remain on display at the British Museum, but Greek patriots and English supporters continue to lobby for their return to their homeland.

And Elgin? His nose rotted off. No lie.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

There's Tea, and Then There's Tea

Boy, has it been hot! We love unsweetened ice tea with mint in my house, and brew our own from loose tea because it tastes better (especially with mint from the garden)...and have been consuming nearly two gallons every day among us! So I thought a little background on tea, both the beverage and the meal, might be fun. This post first ran in April 2009.

Don't forget that next week the Young Bluestockings will be visiting the cinema (preferably air-conditioned!) and
discussing the movie Bright Star. Have you had a chance to watch it yet?


Ah, tea…that most English of meals...but which meal is it?

Well, that kind of depends.

Tea was introduced in England as early as 1635, but didn’t become fashionable until the 1660s, when King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Tea drinking was already established in Portugal, and Catherine brought tea and her beautiful porcelain tea services to enjoy in her new home…and soon, drinking tea was the height of fashion. It remained an extremely expensive luxury item for several decades, but by 1725 a quarter of a million pounds was being imported annually, and tea shops had begun to make their appearance. Tea also began to replace beer and ale as the usual drink of the poor; the abolition of import duties helped this, so that by the beginning of the 19th century, tea was well on its way to becoming the national beverage.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries among the upper classes, tea was often drunk in the evening after dinner, around 9 pm, and served with light refreshments like cakes and sandwiches. When you were eating your dinner at 4 pm, this made some sense…but as hours changed for meals and dinner moved later and later, this habit made a switch…and at some point around the 1830s or so, it started to become fashionable to have tea and light refreshments in the afternoon instead, to sustain one between luncheon at one or two and dinner at 8:30 or 9. At first it was simply something one did as a quick, informal pick-me-up, but gradually sociable ladies figured out that drinking tea and nibbling delicate cakes with friends in the late afternoon was the perfect opportunity for reviewing the gossip of the day and preparing for the gossip of whatever party or ball would be taking place that night. And thus was born the afternoon tea.

That’s one kind of tea…but there is another—namely, high tea. Most Americans hear this term and assume it means an especially fancy, formal kind of afternoon tea, perhaps with extra-elaborate munchies, but in fact it means the exact opposite. High tea was and is more or less a supper-ish kind of meal consumed by working class families. Tea was certainly drunk, but the food was of a hearty, filling nature like toasted bread and cheese, or kippered herrings, or bacon and eggs, or sausages, all served with copious amounts of bread and butter—no tiny delicate pastries here!

So if you were a young lady in London for the season, your tea would probably be drunk at a friend's house some time around four, while you nibbled seed cake and planned the evening's fun...and if you were an apprentice seamstress, you'd have your tea when you got home from work at around six, while you rested your tired feet and enjoying something warm and nourishing.

And that's tea!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Fashion

It’s two and a half weeks until the big event of the year for many romance authors: the Romance Writers of America annual conference. We’ll be in Orlando, this year. Already I’m combing my wardrobe for the right outfits to wear to meet my editor for the first time, to attend a literary tea, to dance at the nineteenth century soiree hosted by the Beau Monde Chapter (for those who write in the Regency period). Everything seems too tight, too loose, too warm, too cold, or wrong color, and nothing matches. Arg! An entire closet full of clothes and nothing to wear!

So, like many ladies in nineteenth century England, I turned to that trusted source, La Belle Assembl√©e, for advice. I mean, it’s going to be warm and probably humid in Orlando, but the hotel will probably be freezing in comparison. What’s a lady to do?
“The continued warmth of the weather renders yet the muslin pelisses and spensers to be almost universally adopted: some of the latter are of clear book muslin, trimmed with very full trimmings of muslin, richly embroidered at the edge. Scarf-shawls, mantles, and sarsnet wraps are only seen on evenings, when returning from the rooms or from crowded parties.”

Okay, so I need to find a wrap to wear in air conditioned hotel rooms or returning from my publisher’s party at the Waldorf. What about when I need to go outside into the Florida sun?
“Never were caps so universal; and in this the English ladies do wisely; an ardent sun, particularly when accompanied by breezes from the sea, has often a sudden effect in changing the color of the hair. Among the new cornettes is the fan cornette √†-la-Contesse, so called from the front being spread out like a fan; youth and loveliness are certainly requisite to render this head-dress becoming. The breakfast cornette, of fine thread net and Brussels lace, simply finished by rouleaux of lilac satin, is a very becoming dishabille to every face.”

So wear a hat when venturing out of doors. Gotcha. I probably need to choose my neutral color to build the wardrobe around. I only have so much space in my suitcase, and I’d rather fill it with books coming home. What’s in this year?
“The favorite colors are Clarence blue, rose color, and lilac.”

Really? I think I look better in basic black.

Any advice on how a nineteenth century writer can look professional, yet fashionable and comfortable, in Florida in the summer?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

No Slang like Old Slang...Unless It's New

As I'm noodling with a story idea set in (gasp!) early 20th century America, I'm realizing it will take a major re-set of my 19th century British-obsessed brain to maintain historical accuracy. Which is why I thought it would be fun to revisit this post, which originally aired in November 2008. Answers will once again appear in the comments section, if you want to keep score.


Regina and I have enjoyed presenting you with odd words and phrases used at different times in the 19th century. They’re fun to know and, for us, fun to use (sparingly!) in writing our books to help give them that early 19th century “flavor”.

But we’ve discovered that an important part of using authentic slang is sounding authentic. As I’ve researched the words and terms I’ve discussed here in Nineteenteen, I’ve found some that sound very 19th century but aren’t, and others that sound quite modern but are indeed, old—sometimes far older than the 19th century. So I’ve put together a bit of a quiz for you: below is a list of words or phrases and how they’re used. Can you tell if they’re genuinely 19th century (or before), or more recent inventions? Answers will be in the comment section so you can test yourself without peeking. Good luck, and have fun!

1. Nuts or nutty: To be infatuated. (“Sir Steven is quite nutty over Caroline, despite her appalling taste in millinery and that regrettable moustache.”)

2. Lily-livered: Cowardly. (“We thought Cecil was going to offer for Amelia, but the lily-livered lad hid in the library reading Cicero all evening instead.”)

3. Nitwit: A fool or simpleton. (“Did you hear that Freddy Hamilton ordered six mauve waistcoats with orange stripes from his tailor? He’ll look quite the biggest nitwit in all of Mayfair!”)

4. Kick the bucket: To die. (“That scoundrel John lives in daily anticipation of his uncle’s kicking the bucket so that he’ll inherit his fortune, but the old man looks quite healthy to me.”)

5. Pig: A derogatory term for a police officer. (“As he marched around Hyde Park carrying his “Give Peace a Chance: Wellington Out of Spain Now!” sign, George worried that he and his fellow anti-war protesters would be arrested by the pigs.”)

6. Fussbudget: A complaining person. (“Aunt Gladys is such a fussbudget that I’ve sworn that I shan’t take her out in my high-perch phaeton ever again!”)

7. Put the kibosh on: To stop an action. (“Mama put the kibosh on Annabel’s dancing with Lord Speen a third time by calling for the carriage.”)

8. Smashing: Splendid, wonderful. (“The refreshments at Lady Herman’s Christmas ball were simply smashing! Where did she find strawberries like that in December?”)

Don't forget, answers are in the comments section. So how did you do?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where the Fashionable Bluestocking Shops

I'm behind on my book that's due September 1, which means no fun reading for me. Pooh! But that doesn't mean you have to forego the pleasure this summer. Here's a post from August 20, 2008, on how nineteenth century young ladies in London went searching for a good read.


“Summer reading, had me a blast
Summer reading, went by so fast . . .”

Sorry, wrong period! And forgive my liberty with the lyrics. I was thinking about my favorite summer pastime, which, oddly enough, doesn’t necessarily involve beaches or boys.


Reading was a popular pastime for the nineteenth century young lady as well, although she might not want to admit it for fear of being labeled a bluestocking, one of those ladies with more brains than social skills. Marissa’s previous posts mentioned some of the authors and stories. I, of course, am just as interested in the shopping aspects.

In the early nineteenth century, London had twelve good circulating libraries, where you could pay a subscription to borrow books; four French booksellers; one German bookseller; three children’s booksellers; and twenty dealers of rare books. If you were very fortunate, your family had a private library, or you knew someone with a private library. Marissa’s characters borrow books (with rather disastrous consequences) from the private library of a noted sorcerer in her Bewitching Season. Sir Joseph Banks, the noted botanist and president of the Royal Society, and Earl Spencer, the forefather of Princess Diana, were said to have the best private libraries. Spencer House is just off St. James’s, so quite easy to access on your way to the sensational shopping on Bond Street.

And just around the corner is Hatchard’s, one of the premier bookstores in London. It opened in 1797 at No. 173 Piccadilly. In 1801, it moved to No. 190. Later it was moved to No. 187, where you can still find it today. Hatchard’s was the social meeting place for those who loved literature. Being right across the street from the Albany, where the poet Lord Byron lived, it attracted any number of literary luminaries. Even Queen Charlotte shopped there. You could always find the daily newspapers set out on a table by the glowing fire, and your servants could wait on benches outside the door while you took your time perusing the many fine offerings.

Such as the handsome baronet thumbing through Shakespeare.

So, what are you reading this summer?