Friday, July 31, 2015

The Oldest (and Coolest) House in Chatham

This week I had the pleasure of staying with Marissa and her charming family out on Cape Cod. Coming from a place where written history starts largely in the mid-1800s, it’s always a treat to find places that have recorded history more than 200 years earlier. And I always love learning new things about history. So I was delighted when Marissa suggested a visit to the Chatham Historical Society museum.

The Historical Society was originally chartered in 1923 by the Chatham Ladies Reading Club (see, reading + history is a good thing). The ladies of the club were quite concerned that their heritage was going to antique dealers or decay. They soon raised money to purchase the oldest surviving house in Chatham, the former home of a sea captain named Joseph Atwood, which was built in 1752. The house was largely intact (as can be seen above in an earlier photo) and has been lovingly cared for by the Society ever since.

Alas, photographs are not allowed in the house, but I stumbled upon a set online that were taken before the full restoration. Here’s a few things I learned.

This is the kitchen of the house, with stairs leading up to the master bedchamber and sleeping loft for the children. Can you see the little panel in the second riser up? It could slide to the left to reveal a little hole that led down into the space below the house. The family used it to allow the cat to get out and do its duty during cold winter months. Yes, it's an 18th century pet door!

Here is the parlor, where guests would have been received. The door farthest to the left leads to a small entryway. You can just see on the one next to it that the door is divided in half. Behind it lies a closet with a glass front. It seems that once a year the tax collector came to look over your house and estimated what you owed based on what you owned. However, he was not allowed to open any doors. So, the clever family would safely tuck away its most precious belongings behind the closed wooden door, then open the door to display their worldly goods on other occasions.

This rocking bench (picture copyright the Chatham Historical Society) currently graces a wall of the kitchen. You can see the little ladder that would have held a baby in place, while mother worked with her hands and rocked with her feet. When baby was asleep or grown, the ladder could be pulled up to allow more than one adult to sit on the rocker. Ingenious!

So now, armed with more knowledge and appreciation of what once was, I am hard at work on new projects. Come back next week to learn more about one such project, when we launch Frontier Engagement on Nineteenteen.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Live from RWA National 2015, Part 2

Oh, yes? My turn to blog, you say? But I'm having so much fun!

Thursday saw the start of the workshops for the conference, and Marissa and I eagerly soaked up information on the industry, from better ways to blog (I'm obviously still working on that) to understanding market trends. But a highlight of the day was a very refined tea with a marvelous group of librarians, publicists, and authors (thank you so much, John! You are my hero!). We talked about literature, our lives, the influence our teachers had on us, and the way odd things can point us to our true calling.

That evening, Marissa invited me to attend a networking party for published authors. I walked into the room, and there was a spunky little lady, talking with great charm and animation. That should have been enough to win me over, but I took one look at her nametag and nearly swooned.

Deeanne Gist is one of the shining lights of historical romance. The self-styled "bad girl" of the inspirational subgenre, she pushes the boundaries and expands the market for all who dare to follow behind. She spent the evening with me and Marissa (and a host of other folks who were drawn to her warm laugh and clever wit), and we talked about favorite books, our families, and the messages we send our readers (obviously still working on that one too!).

Many publishers host their own signings at the conference, giving away thousands of copies of free books to attendees. I was one of the Love Inspired authors signing this year on Friday morning, along with award-winning author Renee Ryan, who somehow writes great Westerns, serves on the Romance Writers of America board, and still looks like a movie star every time I see her.

Ever since I started writing for Love Inspired, I look forward to Friday nights at conference, because that's when my publisher throws a party for all its authors. This year the Black and White Ball was held at the Waldorf-Astoria and featured black-and-white decore and even food! I joined nearly 200 of my sister authors on the dance floor, celebrating another year in the greatest profession on earth.

But you know what? I wouldn't have met Marissa, come to New York, or had a wonderful career so far without you reading my books. So, thank you. It's been a blast, and I know the best is yet to come.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Live from RWA National 2015, Part 1

Dateline: Times Square, New York

At the risk of deeply offending some of our readers, I must confess that Times Square is not my favorite place on the map. Too much light, too much noise, too much too much. But you know what? I’m pretty happy nonetheless, because I get to hang out here with one of the nicest people I know.

Regina and I made it into our hotel for the RWA National Conference on Tuesday, with poor Regina enduring a slightly more hectic journey than mine. It’s amazing and wonderful and a cause for great happiness that though we hadn’t seen each other in person for almost two years, nothing had changed—we hugged and were right there, as if we’d just seen each other last week. I hope all of you reading this are fortunate enough to have at least one such friend in your life. After a pleasant dinner at a charming (and deliciously authentic) Italian restaurant a short walk away (and after a lot of talking!!) we turned in, because Wednesday would be a busy day.

The Beau Monde Conference First up was the annual one-day conference held by the Regency chapter of RWA, The Beau Monde. The workshops were all uniformly excellent, presenters including Jackie Horne, who has blogged with us before, presenting on the material culture (a.k.a. “Stuff”) of 18th and 19th century childhood. And there was clotted cream and scones in the breakfast buffet—perfect for a room full of Anglophiles!

In the afternoon, Regina and I both participated in the big booksigning held every year at the National Conference, the proceeds of which are donated to literacy projects in the host city. Picture a room full of over 450 romance writers autographing books for romance readers...yes, I felt like I needed a nap afterward, too!

But no nap was forthcoming, because we had the Beau Monde Soiree to attend. I was most delighted that Regina’s slightly disreputable cousin, Sir Reginald, was in attendance this year, flirting outrageously and on the lookout for heiresses with more hair than wit...not that he found one (author Susan Gee Heino definitely doesn't meet that definition!)! There was early 19th century dancing, and a Silent Auction (Marissa happily bidding on more research materials!) and a very pleasant time had by all.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Frontier Learning: Rules for the Teacher

My mother was a teacher. I dabbled with the idea of becoming one, until I realized the incredible dedication and discipline involved. I have nothing but respect for the men and women who instruct and guide the next generations. But when I was researching for my August book, Frontier Engagement, I was surprised to find that expectations for teachers have changed dramatically since the late 1800s. Then as now, schoolboards wanted the best for the community’s children. But what they considered “best” was rather interesting.

Teachers were expected to fill the lamps, make the fire in time for the children to be warm when they arrived, bring in water, scrub the floors, clean the blackboard, and wash the windows. After finishing their grueling days (as long as 10 hours), the teacher might return to quarters that could amount to no more than a single room. Rules generally frowned upon going out in the evenings, particularly to pool halls and ice cream parlors. Teachers could not smoke, dress in bright colors, or dye their hair.

Rules for men and women teachers also varied. While the Fort Worth pioneer school rules dating from the 1880s allow a man to take one evening a week for courting (two evenings if he attends church regularly), rules posted at the Pioneer Farm Museum’s school state that a female teacher is not allowed to spend time with men. Period. And if you married during the school term, you were summarily dismissed. On the other hand, Fort Worth warned a male teacher against getting shaved in a barber shop or he would “give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.” They also advised that every teacher should save up from the miserly salary paid so that the teacher would not become a burden on society when retired.

Rather unconducive to a pleasant learning experience.

And speaking of learning, I can hardly wait to learn new things myself in the next couple weeks. Marissa and I will be heading to New York for the annual Romance Writers of America® conference. We’ll talk with editors and agents, catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and generally celebrate this crazy career we call writing. Look for posts from us when we can sneak away from all the fun er I mean business. And I’ll be sure to catch you up on July 31, when I return from spending a few days with Marissa and her family post-conference.

If you happen to be in New York City on July 22, stop by the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, where nearly 500 romance writers will be signing books. The event is open to the public, and all proceeds go to support literacy. Marissa and I will both be signing—come and say hi!

You might learn something.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Green and Pleasant Land, Part 3: Bath

I think the city of Bath is a place that really must be experienced; photographs and descriptions simply won’t do justice to the elegance of the 18th century architecture, the cool, classical perfection of which is enlivened by the soft golden warmth of the Bath limestone out of which it is made. It’s a beautiful little place, a gem of a city, and wonderfully walkable despite its hilliness.

And walk we did—from our B&B at the foot of the hill upon which the famous Royal Crescent stands—an arc of very elegant row housing built in the 1760s-1770s—up to the Crescent itself. Lovely!

At the end of the Crescent (at right in the picture above) is a delightful historic house museum, No. 1 Royal Crescent, which has been restored to its 18th century origins as the home of Mr. Henry Sandford, who lived there from 1776 to 1796. In addition to the house itself, a small special exhibit of 18th and early 19th century doll houses was on display—an interesting follow-up to our visit to Windsor. Among the exhibits was a replica of a patent medical electrical machine, one of which Sandford is known to have owned and which became something of a fad in the early 19th century, but for entertainment purposes, not healing:

Our next stop was the Bath Assembly Rooms...

I had a little sigh viewing the lovely ballroom, wishing Almack's Assembly Rooms were still around...but this gave me a good feel for the space:

In the same building as the Assembly Rooms is the Fashion Museum of Bath, which boasts an enormous collection of clothing items dating all the way back to the 1580s. The emphasis of the current exhibit (which changes frequently as clothes can't be left on display for long--gravity does a job on them!) was 18th century, which was lovely (and a little stupefying--OMG those crazy court hoopskirts!) but alas not as interesting to me as a larger selection of, say, clothes from 1810 might have been. However, one of Queen Victoria's dresses ca. 1897 (black, of course) was on display,, no disrespect intended, but yes, she was more or less as wide as she was tall!

After lunch, it was on to the Roman baths museum, which I visited on my last trip to England 25 years ago...and they're still pretty awesome in their extent and complexity:

Just for fun, here's an awesome picture my husband took of an unlit hypocaust alcove (the under-floor heating system the Romans used)--his flash revealed pencil-thin stalactites formed by the incredibly mineral rich water dripping down from somewhere: 

And yes, Daughter #1 and I were brave enough to sample the water at the Pump Room, where the infirm gathered for supposedly healing draughts of Bath's water....on the principle, I suppose, that anything that tastes so nasty must be good for you!

However, a very pleasant tea soon chased away the flavor:

A brief tour of Bath Abbey finished our visit to Bath...along with very sore feet.  But oh, what a day!

Next stop, Dartmoor: stones, sheep, and prehistory galore!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Retro Blast: Up, Up and Away

Ah, the warm days of summer roll on, and my eyes are drifting to the skies, where I'll soon be flying off to our writers conference, otherwise known as Regina and Marissa's annual sleepover. In the meantime, I couldn't help revisiting another mode of flight--ballooning. Enjoy!

The nineteenth century saw the birth of many inventions we take for granted today, but few were viewed with greater awe and anticipation than the hot air balloon. Crowds gathered every time the basket and uninflated balloon arrived on a wagon and watched as the bag was filled and the balloon rose into the sky. Ascensions, as they were called, were plentiful around London, from the various parks and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Young ladies swooned over the prospect of being lifted aloft, and young men dreamed of being aeronauts. One of the most practiced in the art was Charles Green.

Green was the son of a fruit merchant. But he grew interested in ballooning in school and went on to build his own balloons and fly them. He also had a theory that coal-gas would be a more convenient and safer fuel than hydrogen gas, which was widely used at the time. At the request of the government, Green ascended from one of the London parks on George IV’s coronation day (July 19, 1821) in the first balloon filled with coal-gas. The crowds went wild.

But Green wasn’t finished with stunts. In August 1828, he took a pony aboard with him, ascended from the Eagle Tavern in London, and came down thirty minutes later in Kent. The proprietors from Vauxhall were so impressed they commissioned him to build them a balloon for the delight of their customers. He liked it so much he bought it back from them but continued to ascend from Vauxhall, taking groups of people around England.

In 1836, Robert Hollond, a member of Parliament representing Hastings, funded Green to fly the balloon from Vauxhall to Germany. Hollond and his friend Thomas Monck Mason had both dreamed of being aeronauts but had settled for more prosaic occupations. The two joined Green at Vauxhall for a grand send off, crossed the channel to Dover, and reached the countryside on the outskirts of Weilburg in Germany. They had traveled a total of 500 miles over land and sea in 18 hours. The record would not be broken until 1907. Green’s fame was assured.

But however much the crowds idolized the aeronauts and dreamed of flying themselves, ballooning was not for the faint of heart. Green set the record for a time for height, reaching more than 27,000 feet, with temperatures well below freezing. He fought his way through thunderstorms and rode the winds aloft at times nearly 100 miles an hour. He piloted a balloon where one of the first parachutes was tested (at the loss of life of the man testing it!). Once someone severed the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon, and he and his passenger had to climb onto the mesh of the balloon to survive. Still, by the time he retired, he had ascended more than 500 times!

The British Balloon and Airship Club still awards the Charles Green Salver for exceptional flying or contributions to the field of ballooning.

Me? I’m afraid I’m one of those terribly practical people who prefer their feet to remain safely on the ground!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Retro Blast: My Fantasy Library

Do your summer plans include some leisurely reading time and a visit to the library? If so, this post from 2013 might prove inspirational, at least for some serious summer daydreaming. Enjoy!

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?