Friday, August 25, 2017

The Day Seattle Built a Railroad

The Transcontinental Railroad shaped the course of many a state’s history. The towns it passed through experienced building booms, population booms, business booms, at least in the short term. The towns it bypassed in some cases shriveled up and died. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Seattle reacted badly when its leaders learned that the Northern Pacific Railway had chosen Tacoma to the south as its terminus on Puget Sound. 

Arthur Denny read the telegram aloud from the city center to an eager crowd expecting good news. When they heard the decision was for Tacoma, cries echoed against the single-story buildings. The newspapers decried such an unfair decision. Seattle had the better harbor. Seattle had the Territorial University. How could the jewel of the Sound have been overlooked? Right then and there, the city fathers vowed they would not suffer silently.

They’d build their own railroad.

The plan was ambitious. They would lay trestle across the bay and out to the coal fields being developed on the other side of Lake Washington. From there, they would push the tracks up into the mountains, crossing what is now Snoqualmie Pass but what was then no more than sparsely traveled trail, to wend across the eastern half of the territory to Walla Walla. Think of it. The timber, salmon, and coal from Seattle heading to the burgeoning agricultural depot of the state, a major supply center for the gold mines in Idaho. Their fortunes were made.

It didn’t matter that they lacked any expertise in laying track or building the structures needed to span bays, rivers, and mountains. Within a week they had elected commissioners for the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad and filed articles of incorporation. It didn’t matter that they lacked funding. They issued $10 million in stock. You could buy it for $100 a share, or you could pay in-kind—by working, lending tools, or splitting wood for railroad. They had vision, they had purpose. They had the will of the approximately 800 people who called Seattle home.
File:A.A. Denny, Seattle's first steam locomotive (5017555191).jpg

For nearly a year, the papers kept the story alive. On May 1, 1874, canons boomed and the Seattle band played while every man, woman, and child in Seattle marched out to a spot some 3 miles south of the city to begin felling trees and clearing the way for the track that was to be laid. Everyone, from Mayor Henry Yesler to the most common sawmill worker, helped for free. The men did the heavy work; the women brought food and drink for a massive picnic to keep their spirits and energy up. Together, they managed to clear and grade 1 mile that day, and 12 miles by the end of October, when weather made it more difficult to work.

The Seattle railroad never did make it over the mountain, but it did arrive at the coal mines, bringing tons of the black gold to ships waiting in the harbor. You might say it was a labor not of love but of justification.

And speaking of labor, Marissa and I will be off next week and the week after for Labor Day, but come back September 5 to celebrate a new release in the Frontier Bachelors series, in which the Seattle May Day picnic looms large, Mail-Order Marriage Promise.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Retro Blast: Big White Horses

Although this week is all about shadows (did you get to see the eclipse yesterday? )summer for me summons thoughts of sunshine and green...and, occasionally, big white horses. Enjoy this retro blast from 2011.)
Our first summer excursion is to Wiltshire, a county southwest of London about halfway to Cornwall. Wiltshire is home to Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge, probably Great Britain’s most famous prehistorical site; it’s a place of rolling, open hills, called downs, with little farming due to the poor nature of the soil.

But it’s the nature of that poor soil that makes Wiltshire—and other places across southern England—the first stop on our Summer Tour. Forming the hills under that thin soil is chalk—yes, the white stuff formerly used to write on blackboards in classrooms. And at some point back in prehistory, someone figured out that you could cut shallow trenches in the soil to expose the underlying chalk, and create enormous pictures spreading across hillsides…like this:That’s the 374 ft. long White Horse of Uffington, (nearby in Oxfordshire, by the way, not Wiltshire) dating back to about 3000 years ago. But in historical times, chalk cutting became a popular pastime for landowners, and Wiltshire is home to several of them. There’s the Westbury White Horse, carved in the 1770s for a Mr. Gee (though it may have covered an earlier figure—mention of a horse carving there dates back to 1742):
And here’s another, the Cherhill White Horse, carved in 1780 by a Dr. Alsop and measuring about 160 feet across:The somewhat smaller--62 ft--Marlborough White Horse was carved in 1804 by schoolboys from a nearby school, and refurbishing it was a yearly school tradition. These chalk figures require upkeep—weeding and replenishing the chalk—at frequent intervals: So what inspired people to spend a great deal of effort to dig trenches hundreds of feet long to form these pictures? The 18th century was really the first great period of English landscape gardening, and carving chalk figures into hillsides was one way to play with the landscape, if you happened to own hundreds of acres in chalk down country. I am sure our young 19th century tourist misses, on their way perhaps to view the stately homes at Longleat or Fonthill Abbey (which I shall write about later this summer), enjoyed side trips to view these images, startlingly white against the green summer grass.

And enormous horses aren’t the only chalk carvings around; huge figures of men also exist such as the Wilmington Figure (which may also date to prehistoric times) and the Cerne Abbas Giant, probably carved during the English Civil War as a sort of satirical cartoon of Oliver Cromwell! The practice continues even today, as a White Horse was created just in 2003 at Folkestone in Kent, overlooking the terminal for the Channel Tunnel. And they remain a tourist attraction in the 21st century; visit to learn more about Wiltshire’s White Horses.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Redefining a Bluestocking

Bluestocking—an educated or literary woman. Derogatory.

Hey! Derogatory? I wear the bluestocking label with pride. That’s one of the reasons Marissa and I named our reading club The Young Bluestockings. I like to think most of my heroines are bluestockings of one sort or another. But only one truly epitomized the breed as viewed by early nineteenth century Society.

Eugennia “Jenny” Welch reads widely, discusses the books with a select group of friends (who also include a gentleman or two—shock!), and puts what she learns into practice. For example, when she was trying to learn how a tailor creates gentlemen’s coats, she stopped by that famous clothier Weston and asked him questions. The poor man he was measuring at the time was so embarrassed he hasn’t been the same since. She’s captured insects for study, invited the Egyptian expedition to practice digging in her rear yard so she could observe, and categorized English pottery of the last century. But something is missing, and she isn’t sure what.

In fact, she’s afraid to tell her bluestocking friends the truth: she secretly wishes a handsome prince would ride in and propose marriage. When charming Corinthian Kevin Whattling does just that, she is stunned. He claims to have admired her for some time, but only came forward now because he must marry an heiress to discharge his debts. Her head warns her to beware, while her heart begs her to pull him closer.

Once one of the most successful intelligence agents among the aristocracy, Kevin Whattling gave up his commission when his younger brother was killed in an illegal boxing match. Now deep in debt, his only hope is to marry a wealthy wife. But as he tries to convince Jenny he is besotted, he finds himself falling under her spell. When a danger from Kevin’s past threatens them both, they must trust each other to win a love far greater than any fortune.

Thus, The Bluestocking on His Knee has been transformed into The Heiress Objective, now available from fine online retailers such as


Here’s to bluestockings everywhere!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Retro Blast: Summer Amusements

Since this post was originally from December 2014, the Goya exhibit is no longer at the Museum of Fine Arts...but roller skates will never go out of style.

A few days after I discovered (to my enormous glee) that yo-yos were all the thing in the 1790s, I happened upon an article in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts magazine MFA Preview. There’s a very fine exhibit of the work of Spanish artist Francisco Goya on display there right now, but what really grabbed me was a reproduction of a sketch he made some time in the mid 1820s that’s part of the exhibit—I don’t have permission to reproduce it here, but you can see it in the exhibit preview slideshow on the Museum of Fine Arts website. The sketch was made sometime between 1824 and 1828, when Goya was living in Paris, and is entitled “Locos Patines”... or “Crazy Skates”—and it shows a rather alarmed gentleman wearing roller skates. Yes, roller skates—and if you look carefully at the background, you’ll see someone riding a hobby-horse, the precursor of the bicycle.

So of course I had to look into the history of roller skates, which actually date back to the mid-18th century and were first seen either on the London stage in 1743 (presumably in a dance number!), or in the Netherlands at some point in mid-century on the feet of an anonymous gentleman who wished to go ice skating in the summer, depending on whom you ask. A John Joseph Merlin seems to have been making an early form of in-line skates in England in 1760, and the first patented skates appeared in France in 1819, also with an in-line wheel configuration (which makes sense, if you consider that people were indeed trying to ice-skate without ice.) An English patent followed in 1823 for the Volito, another in-line skate design, with wheels in graduated sizes which enabled easier turning (that's it, above right.) By the late 1850s, public roller skating rinks were opening in London.

Curiously, all the internet sources I researched state that skates with four wheels situated two on either side of the foot weren’t invented until the 1860s in New York...but there in the Goya sketch in the 1820s we have skates with just that configuration. I have the feeling there was a great deal of experimentation going on with their design...but who knew that roller skating was another popular 19th century pastime!

I wonder if the young Princess Victoria ever tried roller skates? :)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

She’s Here!

Who’s here, you ask? Why, this lovely lady!

Nevertheless, She Persisted, an anthology of short stories by authors from Book View Café and edited by Mindy Klasky, releases today. I’m obviously very excited—it’s my first published short story—but there are eighteen other stories in this compilation worth getting just as excited over. This anthology celebrates women who persist through tales of triumph—in the past, present, future, and other worlds.

From the halls of Ancient Greece to the vast space between stars, each story illustrates tenacity as women overcome challenges—from society, from beloved family and friends, and even from their own fears. These strong heroines explore the humor and tragedy of persistence in stories that range from romance to historical fiction, from fantasy to science fiction.

From tale to tale, every woman stands firm: a light against the darkness.

Table of Contents:

“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
“Sisters” by Leah Cutter
“Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross
“Alea Iacta Est” by Marissa Doyle
“How Best to Serve” from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle
“After Eden” by Gillian Polack
“Reset” by Sara Stamey
“A Very, Wary Christmas” by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
“Making Love” by Brenda Clough
“Den of Iniquity” by Irene Radford
“Digger Lady” by Amy Sterling Casil
“Tumbling Blocks” by Mindy Klasky
“The Purge” by Jennifer Stevenson
“If It Ain’t Broke” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“Chataqua” by Nancy Jane Moore
“Bearing Shadows” by Dave Smeds
“In Search of Laria” by Doranna Durgin
“Tax Season” by Judith Tarr
“Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre

It’s available in ebook form (epub and mobi) from the Book View Café website store as well as all the usual retailers—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple iBooks...and in print too.

And yes, my contribution, “Alea Iacta Est”, should be of interest to NineteenTeen readers, as it’s set in 1817 and features a young lady who chooses not to let the fact that she wears petticoats keep her from her intellectual passion...for RPG-style war games. ☺

I hope you’ll read it...and all the stories in Nevertheless, She Persisted.

Friday, August 4, 2017

What We Did on Our Summer Vacation, Part 2

Marissa and I so look forward to the Romance Writers of AmericaTM annual conference because, as she noted on Tuesday, we get to spend almost a week visiting, learning, visiting, meeting with editors and agents, winning awards (okay, only one of us won an award, and you know who that was!), celebrating these crazy careers of ours, and visiting some more. This year there were some changes to the cherished conference schedule, but one thing did not change. The first event, and in many ways the premiere event for us, is the Beau Monde mini-conference and soiree on Wednesday.

As we’ve mention, the Beau Monde is the Regency special interest chapter, for authors who write about the early nineteenth century. Most stories are set in England, but some are set in France or Italy, and the daring Darlene Marshall writes Regency stories set in Florida and the Caribbean. (What’s not to love about Regency pirates!) The mini-conference generally features fascinating workshops, a keynote address (this year by one of my personal favorites, Kate Pearce, who writes the marvelous Kurland St. Mary mysteries as Catherine Lloyd), a silent auction of Regency-related goodies with the proceeds going to a literacy charity (Marissa took home a sugar bowl and creamer in the Regent’s own pattern), a soiree with music and dancing in the evening, and the Royal Ascot Awards.

The Royal Ascot is the only writers’ contest specifically for Regency-set manuscripts. Once upon a time, I entered and learned a great deal. But I wasn’t nearly good enough to reach the final stage at that point in my writing journey. This year’s contest, organized by Kalinya Parker-Pryce (an author to watch, ladies!), featured a chance for readers to weigh in on their favorite manuscript as well as judging by established Regency authors. The winner was the charming Louisa Cornell, who was also inducted as the Beau Monde’s next president. (Her published novel came out after she entered the contest.) Here’s to you, my dear!

Of course, one of the reasons I love the soiree is the clothing. Many ladies come in Regency or faux-Regency garb. Here’s the lovely Elizabeth Baron in a coral-colored gown made from antique sari material. Fabulous! 

My picture of the marvelous Cora Lee did not turn out, but she was kind enough to send me an alternative. Isn’t the embroidery gorgeous? The blue matched her eyes!

As always, I was sad to see the week end. I learn so much at the conference that I often feel as if I’ve grown a few sizes (maybe it’s the wonderful food!), and the world seems far too tight when I come home. But my mind’s teeming with new ideas for my next self-published series and projects to pitch to my editor and other publishing houses. So, you know what I’ll be doing the next few weeks.

By the way, a certain young man of my acquaintance will be heading to his final year of graduate school next week, and I will be helping send him off, so I will rejoin you on August 18 with news of the publication sort. Until then, happy reading!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

Okay, so it wasn’t quite our summer vacation... but Regina and I are home from the Romance Writers of America’s annual National Conference, held this year in Orlando, FL...and we had a great time! 
The conference was held at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort (with overflow attendees staying a short walk away at the Swan.) Note the very large dolphins (in the classical style, not like Flipper) adorning the roof or the building. I have to wonder how often they get hit by lightning?

We were lucky enough to have a splendid view out over the lagoon and pool areas of the resort (that's it above.) Herons, ibises, and ducks seemed to enjoy hanging out in the lagoon...and on a few occasions, I saw ducks take to the swimming pool as well. The lovely view didn’t end when the sun went down: we got to watch a nightly display of fireworks and (speaking of lightning) one spectacular evening thunderstorm.

So what do we do at these conferences? Well, for one thing, we talk—about writing and our careers, about our families, about our lives. Regina is one of my dearest friends, and this is our only chance in the year to talk we make the most of it! But we’re also attending workshops on writing and the publishing industry (and sharing notes afterward if we go to different workshops); I found workshops by Lisa Cron (a story analyst and consultant ) and media specialist Fauzia Burke especially useful, as well as workshops on historical forensics and writing romantic adventure stories. We do other business-y stuff like meet with our agents and editors (sadly, my agent didn’t come this year.)

And we go to parties. Regina will tell you about one we attended on Wednesday night in her post on Friday, and I’ll tell you about the party we went to on Friday given by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of RWA.  There was terrific food (the tiny crabcakes and inch-long chicken pot pies were awesome), a costume contest in which my friend and critique partner (and Golden Heart finalist!) Janet Halpin won second place...and the presentation of the chapter’s PRISM Award for published books, in which Skin Deep won in the Best Urban Fantasy category. That’s me and Regina with my shiny crystal PRISM honor I’m most delighted and grateful for.

That’s my wrap-up for Regina and Marissa’s Excellent Annual Girls’ Sleepover/RWA Conference...but you know, we’ve been thinking that once a year isn’t enough...