Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Girls and World War I, Part 2: Knit Your Bit

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, the government put out the call. Uncle Sam wanted young men to enlist...and he wanted everyone else to knit. The armed forces needed sweaters, vests, mittens, wristlets, caps, helmets, scarves, and above all, socks.

Much of the war was fought from trenches, where conditions were muddy and wet and in winter, muddy and icy. Army boots were made of thick cowhide which was supposed to be water repellent; unfortunately, their uppers had a tendency to come unstitched from the soles. Furthermore, their iron heels and rows of hobnails to provide traction in all that mud conducted cold directly to the feet. To protect their feet, soldiers wore boots two sizes too large and two pairs of thick woolen socks, and changed their socks as frequently as possible in order to avoid "trench foot", a highly unpleasant fungal infection. Take into consideration that the goal was to send at least million Americans across to fight, and you get an idea of the numbers of socks needed.

In the summer of 1917, the government asked America’s knitters for one and a half million pairs of socks for "our boys", as well as an equal number of sweaters, mufflers, and wristlets (rather like mittens that left the fingers free; it's hard to pull a trigger with covered fingers.) America’s knitters heeded the call. The American Red Cross undertook organizing the distribution of yarn and patterns to volunteers and the collection and shipping to Europe of finished items. Women's magazines also published Red Cross-approved patterns, like this helmet from the August 1917 edition of Women's World.

Women (and men) who didn’t know how to knit were taught. It became socially acceptable to knit everywhere: at work, at school, on the bus, at social events, in theatres, and even in church. As college campuses emptied of young men, the young women left behind knit for them; professors were exhorted to allow knitting during lectures. The Junior Red Cross set up knitting programs across America to teach schoolchildren to knit, and those who didn't learn were encouraged to "Do mother's work so she can knit" and "Be careful of  my clothes so that mother will not have to patch, but can knit." Those who, for whatever reason, didn’t take up knitting, were encouraged to buy yarn for those who could but could not afford materials.

That yarn was, of course, gray or khaki colored; it became socially unacceptable to be seen knitting anything in any other color. As an article in the University of Washington Daily stated, “When news comes that American soldiers have died merely from exposure in walking the icy decks on their watches, every stitch on a pink sweater will seem selfish.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

And the Winner Is ... Me and You!

It’s that time of year again.  Hollywood has its Oscars and Golden Globes.  Genre fiction authors have similar events.  For Marissa and me, one of the biggest honors is the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards. 

The reviewers for RT Book Reviews read hundreds of books a year.  Having them choose your book as a finalist is a huge honor, and winning is, well, marvelous.  Of the many categories, one is for best Love Inspired Historical novel of the approximately 50 books published in that line for the year.  The nominees were

His Mountain Miss by Karen Kirst
The Outlaw’s Redemption by Renee Ryan
Return of the Cowboy Doctor by Lacy Williams
The Courting Campaign by Regina Scott (I've heard she's good)
The Heiress’s Homecoming by Regina Scott

And I am tickled pink to announce that the winner for best Love Inspired Historical novel for 2013 has been selected and it is The Heiress’s Homecoming

Really!  I’m pinching myself. 

But the good news doesn't stop there.  Around Easter I usually hand out a bonus.  This year, I've written a short online story telling how Peter Quimby, that charming valet from The Wife Campaign, met his match.  It’s set just after the close of The Husband Campaign.  I hope you like it.  You can read it free here.   

You might just call it a win-win situation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Girls and World War I, Part 1: Doing Their Bit

Writing a story set in 1917 has been a fascinating experience for me. It’s not a time I knew a great deal about, so there’s definitely been a learning curve...but I’ve been having tons of fun with it (as you might have noticed!)

One thing that has struck me as I do my research to write this story is how much World War I was truly the first BIG media-covered war (though the Spanish-American War in 1898 was in many ways a rehearsal for it). By 1917 the cinema had become an important part of people’s everyday lives; in the newsreels shown in theatres, moving picture footage of actual battlegrounds and armies could be seen. Also, photography was now more easily reproducible in newspapers and magazine, and both of these served to bring the war “home” in ways that just hadn’t been possible before. And let’s face it, war is big news. It sells a lot of newspapers and magazines, so there was plenty of coverage of it in popular media.

That coverage extended to media intended for a female audience. World War I was probably the first war that called strongly on all American citizens, male and female, to help in whatever way possible. For men, it was enlisting, obviously. But women, too, were encouraged—heck, exhorted, as in the editorial above from the June 1917 issue of Ladies' Home Journal—to “do their bit.” The countries at war with the Kaiser not only needed soldiers, but support personnel, war materiél, and food to feed their civilian populations. Belgium in particular was experiencing famine conditions as no one could grow food when large swathes of the country formed the battlegrounds of the war, and cross-Atlantic trade had been severely hampered by German u-boat activity.

So in a very real sense, women did have to “do their bit” for the war effort. Since they were the homemakers, they were the ones in charge of purchasing and preparing food...and they were the ones who could cut down on the use of wheat, beef, and other food that could be shipped overseas to feed troops and hungry European civilians, and learn to make do with other food sources.

But food wasn’t the only place women helped. Since so many young men were being shipped overseas to fight, young women began to replace them on farms and in factories. And let’s not forget medical personnel and other support people, from clerks and secretaries in Washington to ambulance drivers on the western front. Over the next few weeks I’ll talk a little more about how young women “went to war” in World War I.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Another Writer Field Trip: Georgetown

Sorry this blog is later in the day than usual, but at least I come bearing pictures!  I have been in the Washington, D.C., area for almost a week, visiting my wonderful critique partner and helping some old friends with a writing assignment.  Of course, along the way, I had to sneak in some history.

In my neck of the woods, finding anything that dates before the 1850s can be challenging.  Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed wandering around Georgetown.  Founded in 1751 and incorporated in 1789, Georgetown was joined to Washington, D.C., through a succession of Acts of Congress.  Many of the homes in the area date from the nineteenth century, and a few go back to pre-Revolutionary War time.  Here are some examples of early houses, or reproductions, we saw on our walk.

Which is your favorite?  I must admit to finding the tall, skinny houses utterly charming, but oh, those stairs!

One example of a Federal era house (roughly the same time as the Regency period in which I usually write), is Dumbarton House.  My delightful critique partner and I were fortunate to tour it with a very knowledgeable guide.  Built in 1799 and sold to the Nourse family in 1804, the property achieved some measure of fame when First Lady Dolley Madison, fleeing the British during the War of 1812, stopped to rest in the house.

Alas, no flash photography is allowed so as to protect the materials, and my digital camera is new enough that I wasn’t confident I could turn off the flash, so I have only an exterior shot.  But you can find more information on the house at its website.  

In touring the house and later Carlyle House in Alexandria, I discovered a couple things that require additional research (lovely, lovely research!).  One was that the entry halls were used to host dancing, something I have never heard mentioned in England.  Another was the use of painted sailcloth as a floor covering, again, not something I have ever encountered in a British house.  I will look into both and report more soon. 

Anyone out there visited Dumbarton House?  Or know more about entry hall dancing or painted sailcloth coverings?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fashion Forecast: 1831

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1831?

By this year, the era of “big” is firmly established: big hats, big sleeves, big skirts, and in some cases, big hair, as in this print from February’s La Belle Assemblée. The lady on the left in the green Dinner Dress has a coiffure fearfully and wonderfully made (and probably involving a hair piece added to her own braided locks):

The heavy ornamentation of skirts seen in the 1820s has diminidhed but lingers on into the early 1830s, as we can see in the Evening Dress and Opera Dress from March’s La Belle Assemblée. Long fur tippets, or boas, will remain in fashion throughout the decade, a foretaste of the 1890s:

The sheer size of sleeves in this decade (until 1836) must have made tasks such as putting on earrings (as the young lady at right in the Dinner Dress is doing) less than easy. Sleeves achieved their size through stuffing with horsehair pads or through frameworks made of wire or wickerwork (June, La Belle Assemblée):

The Dinner Dress at left here is a bit of a throwback to the 1820s, with its gauze oversleeves and lack of crazy shoulder width...and the Ball Dress at right is just charming, with lace-frilled sleeves and an overskirt heavily decorated with flowers and more lace (July, La Belle Assemblée):

The big event of 1831 was the coronation of King William IV, who’d succeeded his brother George IV (a.k.a. the Prince Regent), and his wife Queen Adelaide, on September 8. In this print of the event from October’s La Belle Assemblée, it is curious to note that the female spectators seated in the balconies do not sport the excessive sleeves and headdresses currently in fashion (it's hard to see in this image because of the size, but trust me on this). I would not be at all surprised if that weren’t the result of official decree...or it could just be prudent ladies not wanting to have their sleeves crushed at such a crowded event!

The Carriage Dress on the left features a sort of capelet called a pelerine, in addition to a pleated linen double collar. Both it and the Dinner Dress at right have gigot sleeves...and there’s another fur tippet (La Belle Assemblée, November):

In this print from November’s La Belle Assemblée the lady at far right is wearing a mantle over her Opera Dress, a sort of combination of cloak and coat and the standard outerwear for women for the next several years. Her hat is very stylish, I must say—I love the jaunty angle at which it perches on her head, though I would not want to be sitting behind her in the theatre. The Morning Dress at left features Medici sleeves and overskirt and pelerine edged with a rounded dagged trim:

From December's La Belle Assemblée we have another mantle (or it could be a pelerine cape—it’s not always easy to tell the difference) over a fur-trimmed Carriage Dress—perfect for the time of year! The Dinner Dress at left features an embroidered and lace-bedecked muslin canezou-pelerine set over puffed sleeves with gauze oversleeves—a somewhat fussy look. Good thing the rest of the dress is very plain!

What do you think of 1831’s fashions?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Taking a Writer Back in Time: Pioneer Farm Museum

For a historical writer, first-hand accounts of the time period and well-researched history books are wonderful resources, but sometimes the answer to a pesky question can only be found by going back in time.  I would have loved to hitch a ride with the Doctor or hop into Mr. Verne's time machine, but for my current work in progress, set in Washington Territory in 1866, I opted for something a little more easily obtained:  a trip to Pioneer Farm Museum near Eatonville, Washington.

Pioneer Farm is one of those wonderful museums geared toward children, so everything is very hands on.  That’s an incredible bonus to a writer.  In a more traditional museum, many things are behind glass, so you can describe what your eyes see but only guess at the other senses.  At a museum like Pioneer Farm, you get to touch and smell and taste and hear what life was like in the late nineteenth century on the frontier.  I gleefully followed our tour guides around from the general store to the school house to the three cabins, barn, and blacksmith’s shop, peppering them with questions and poking my nose into everything.

So, what did I learn on my visit?

Planked wooden floors creak.  With every step. 

 Forges fired with coal really stink.

Oil lamps aren't really bright enough to read by, but they do warm up a curling iron nicely.

It takes a lot of time and work to grate enough cinnamon for one pie.

A lady could lay in the bottom of a wagon bed and not be noticeable from the street (key plot point, there!).

Pioneer Farm Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing living history, environmental, and cultural education through hands-on activities.  If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend a visit. 

I know some of you have been to great museums in your area.  Any recommendations to share?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From my Collection...

I’m still collecting dance cards and aides memoire—you can see a few from my collection here—and have a couple of new pieces that I thought might interest you.

First, isn’t this wee aide memoire adorable? It’s the smallest in my collection, a dainty 1 7/8 inches long and under an inch wide, and with four leaves. I also like the ambiguity of the inscription, “Forget me not”...was it a gift from an admirer, a souvenir of a friendship, or just a reminder that this was the place to jot down things one didn’t want to forget?

This one was clearly meant to be used as a dance card: note the ring, so that it could be worn while dancing if one did not have a pocket or reticule at hand. I have a special fondness for these fan-shaped ones. This one has five leaves for writing on, two loops at the left to hold a minute pencil, and a sturdy clasp:

This last aide memoire is highly unusual; I’ve never seen one with a cover made of stone! The jasper (or agate) cover is very handsome and is translucent when held up to the light. Unusually, it has leaves for every day of the week, Sunday included...and the matching pencil is just plain awesome:

And in another type of collection, I was delighted last Saturday to make a new face-to-face acquaintance...long-time NineteenTeen reader and commenter QnPoohBear stopped by a teen book event in Rhode Island where I was a guest to say hello and bring me some printouts of WWI era articles and recipes from her collection. It was a pleasure to see you outside of cyberspace, QNPoohBear!!

Any other collectors out there? What sparks your acquisitive streak?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Quiz: The Search for the Ideal Husband

The Master Matchmakers series focuses on servants who think they know the perfect match for their masters.  What about you?  Given your personality, which of the gentlemen featured in the series would your servants have considered a good match for you?  Take the quiz to find out, but beware!  I've added a fourth gentleman to the list, and he just might steal your heart!  (See the first comment for his identity and how to score your answers.)

1.  When traveling from one location to another, your ideal husband would prefer to
a.  Ride on a powerful horse
b.  Stroll along chatting with friends
c.  Walk as quickly and efficiently as possible
d.  Convince the duke with the largest carriage to give him a ride

2.  Your ideal husband’s leisure time reading would include
a.  A good treatise on the birthing of foals
b.  Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler
c.  The Transactions of the Philosophical Society
d.  Wordsworth’s poetry

3.  Your husband’s preferred outfit would consist of
a.  A coat, breeches, and riding boots
b.  A waistcoat, linen shirt with good range of movement for his arms, and water-proofed boots
c.  Whatever was closest to hand, regardless of whether it was clean or matched
d.  Perfectly matched, refined coat and trousers tailored to his person and indicative of his style

4.  Your husband would tie his cravat in this style
a.  Simply knotted
b.  The Corinthian, a fold currently popular among sporting gentlemen
c.  The Mathematical (but only when his valet was involved)
d.  An elegant fold that others struggle to copy

5.  Your husband would prefer to spend his time with you
a.  Riding across verdant fields, then a quiet picnic under the trees
b.  Holding you in his arms while he teaches you the fine art of fishing
c.  Listening to your stories in ardent appreciation
d.  Taking you on an adventure, whether sailing on the Thames or venturing into the deepest cavern in search of gold

6.  If your husband wrote his own wedding vows, he might say the following:
a.  “I will never be worthy of your love, but if you allow me, I will treasure you all the days of your life.”
b.  “I promise you will always come first in my life, no matter the requirements of my station or interests.”
c.  “You are my equal in all ways, and I will never be whole without you are at my side.”
d.  “Come with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove.”

Leave us a comment to let us know who the servants would have campaigned for you to marry, and what you think about the matter.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No April Fool’s Here--How to Win Your Husband’s Heart

April 1 seems a strange day for launching my new release, The Husband Campaign.  I keep expecting my publisher to shout, “April Fool’s!”

But it’s no joke.  The Husband Campaign hits bookstore shelves and online retailers everywhere today.  This is the finale of my Master Matchmakers series, where servants play a key role in helping their masters find that perfect mate.  In this case, brassy maid Dorcus Turner is on loan from Rotherford Grange to help Lady Amelia become accustomed to her new role as mistress of Hollyoak Farm.  You see, Amelia caused a quiet scandal when she spent the night in Lord Hascot’s abandoned stable, and her parents insisted that she had no recourse but to marry the stern horse breeder.  Yet Amelia cannot help noticing there is more to John than his rough exterior implies.  How can she break through his hardened shell to the tender heart she is certain lurks inside?
Here’s some of Turner’s advice on how to win your husband:

“If you ask me,” she said as she helped Amelia into her nightgown, “a gentleman shouldn’t spend two nights in a stable, especially after being wed less than a fortnight.”

“Lord Hascot has a sick horse,” Amelia explained.

“He has a sick wife, too,” Turner replied, “sick of being alone, I warrant.”

“That will do, Turner,” Amelia said.

The maid’s lips compressed. She said nothing more until she had Amelia settled in bed. Then she stepped back.

“You ought to show him what’s what, your ladyship,” she insisted. “Just like you did with the butler and cook today.”

“Turner,” Amelia warned.

The maid drew herself up. “I warned you I can’t hold my tongue, your ladyship. Not when I see something amiss, and there’s plenty amiss with this house. You can send me back to the Grange tomorrow for saying so, but that man needs you. Everyone in the dale knows he’s lonely.”

Amelia frowned as she leaned back against the pillow. “Lonely?”

Turner took a step closer. “Yes, ma’am. How couldn’t he be, no one but horses and horse-mad folk to talk to?”

She made it sound as if John’s servants and buyers were somehow crazy. Or he was. “He seems content to me. I think he simply doesn’t like change.”

“He’s stuck in his ways, you mean.” Turner snapped a nod of agreement. “You could help him, your ladyship. Draw him out, make him smile.” She grinned. “I warrant he could be a handsome fellow if he smiled.”

Amelia had thought the same thing when she’d seen one of his rare smiles. “Thank you for your advice, Turner,” she said, unable to still a grin of her own. “That will be all this evening.”

With a curtsey, the maid left her.

But Turner’s words lingered. Was John as lonely as Amelia? Would he accept her companionship? Or would he even care? How was she to make a marriage when the other half of that marriage had no time or interest?

How indeed.  You can discover how Amelia won the day in The Husband Campaign at fine retailers near you or your keyboard: