Friday, August 31, 2018

Where Art and Water Collide: Historic La Conner

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I ran away earlier this week with my husband to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We had planned to visit Victoria, British Columbia, but fate conspired to deny my husband the necessary paperwork to cross the border. So I Googled “Romantic getaways near Seattle.” And one of the places that came up was La Conner, specially, the Wild Iris Inn.

Now, I was familiar with La Conner as the home, with Mt. Vernon, of the legendary Tulip Festival each spring. But what I didn’t know was that the town is steeped in local history, from the heritage of the Swinomish Tribe across the channel to the early days of Washington State.

John Conner (no, not that one—no mention of Sarah) purchased the trading post in 1869 and opened a post office. The town had originally been named Swinomish for the Tribe, but John renamed it to honor his wife, Louisa A. Conner. Many of the homes and businesses in the town still show their frontier roots and are listed on the National Historic Register.

Even the toiletries at our inn has an appropriate vintage.

In its heyday, La Conner boasted more than 1,000 residents, the first courthouse north of Seattle and exceptionally fine farmland, the produce from which was sent throughout the region and shipped far south. The proximity to a waterway that runs from the San Juan Islands down into more central Puget Sound also made the town an ideal fishing spot. My husband and I noticed a number of crabbers setting out with their pots while we strolled the lovely boardwalk along the waterfront on our trip, with views across the water to Tribal lands.

Also prominent is the Rainbow Bridge, which connects La Conner with Fidalgo Island and points west.

Beginning in the 1940s, La Conner became known for something else besides abundant crops and scenic waterways: art. That tradition still stands today, with many galleries sprinkled along the boardwalk and throughout the town. La Conner is also home to the Northwest Art Museum and one of the only Quilt Museums on the West Coast. Even the pilings along the waterfront were appropriately artistic.

And speaking of art, allow me to share a piece I was given this week: the cover for the Timeless Regency collection Christmas novella. Yuletide Regency is now available for preorder. I’m honored to have one of my Fortune’s Brides stories included. This one tells the story of how Meredith and Julian fell in love, all over a very nostalgic Christmas. Look for more details when the book is released in early November.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Blast from the Past: Lawn Ornaments, Garden Furniture, and Hermits

It's a busy couple of weeks here in NineteenTeen East, what with winding down the summer and helping assorted offspring launch new ventures for the fall. So to follow up on Regina's bothy boys (and my upcoming posts on the very picturesque Iceland), here is a revisit with The Picturesque Hermit. Both Regina and I will be taking next week off to enjoy the last gasp of summer, and are looking forward to regular posting as September gathers up steam. Look for a new report from Carriage & Driver on the latest model year vehicles, continuing eye candy fashion posts, and more!

As our 19th century young lady tourists meandered about the country, guidebooks in hand as they visited scenic vistas and stately homes surrounded by artfully planned “natural” landscapes, they might pause to admire a grotto here, a ruined temple there, an obelisk raised on an artificial hill…or they might stop to check out the resident hermit.

Yes, really.

Just as the wealthy landowners of the 18th century rebuilt their houses into magnificent country seats, so they hired landscape gardeners to design what was really an outdoor set of “rooms”. All those fake ruins and follies and grottoes and medieval herb gardens and Chinese bridges and sylvan groves and statue gardens were the outdoor equivalent of the libraries, music rooms, dining rooms, drawing rooms, and salons indoors—spaces made to impress, to inspire admiration. The outdoor features, beside being “picturesque”, also carried picturesque meanings: a ruined temple symbolized man’s creations overtaken by the forces of nature, for example. And if a ruined temple or nymph’s grotto was “interesting”, how much more so would be if it contained a resident?

But since authentic nymphs were not always easy to find, some wealthy landowners built hermitages—picturesque (of course) dwellings which would be occupied by hermits. And just as ruins had a meaning, so too did hermitages--they symbolized the idea of man's return to nature.

Hermitages ranged from the very rustic--a single room, perhaps made out of wattle and thatch woven into the roots of an overturned tree--to the rather grand--a temple or miniature cathedral (the image above is of the hermitage at Frogmore, from an 1823 issue of Ackermann's Repository). The hermits themselves differed as well. Some were men (sorry, no female hermits--just think of the scandal!) genuinely interested in living a secluded, humble life dedicated to work and prayer…while others were cheerful types willing to appear suitably ragged and “natural” in order to entertain his lordship’s guests out for a stroll in the grounds.

Some landowners had very specific ideas on how their hermits should behave, demanding their potential hermits sign contracts stating that they weren't to speak, or to cut their hair or toenails. Others were more relaxed and invited their resident hermits to mingle with guests as a form of rustic entertainment.

So what do you think? Is there a spare garden shed in your yard? Why not be 19th century and install a hermit in it?

Friday, August 24, 2018

Blast from the Past: Bothy Boys

I'm heading off to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary with my dear husband. No Iceland for us, alas, but if I see something lovely, I will bring back pictures. In the meantime, enjoy this post from 2015.

What lives in a dark hole in the garden, coming out to till the soil and tend the plants?  No, I’m not talking about gnomes or hobbits.  I’m talking about bothy boys.

Bothy boys appear to be a mid- to late-nineteenth century phenomena in England.  Those wealthy families with extensive gardens often required a herd of gardeners to tend things.  I hadn’t thought about the fact that some garden tasks, like protecting spring plants from a sudden frost or maintaining greenhouses before the widespread use of electricity, were twenty-four-hour efforts.  Particularly on a massive estate, sending your garden workers home to the nearest village between shifts simply wasn’t feasible.

While the head gardener might have his own quarters on the estate, the under gardeners, journeymen, and apprentices were sometimes housed in bothys. A bothy is a small house of sorts, with an emphasis on the sorts.  The term is used for waystations on Scottish trails.  But on the great estates, bothys served as home to as many as a dozen workers.  Some bothys were no more than a dirt cellar carved out of a hillside with piles of blankets for bedding.  Upscale bothys were made of stone or brick and boasted dormitory-style living with a sitting room. The picture at top isn’t actually a bothy--I couldn’t find a royalty-free picture, alas.

The “boys” who lived in the bothy were not always boys--workers ranged from their teens to their early thirties.  They worked hard all day and sometimes into the night, depending on the time of year and needs of the gardens. The best houses provided instructors one night a week to teach the fellows enough botany to care for the plants, enough Latin to recognize the proper names, and enough drawing to sketch plan, placements, and the occasional odd specimen.

Produce from the garden appears to have been part of their wages, and they used it barter for other things, like meat for the table and eggs and cream from the local farmer. The universal feeling seems to be that these fellows had better things to do than cook for themselves; the better estates had a woman come in to clean once a week and cook once a day. Romantic that I am, I was already planning story ideas about a plucky Irish cook and a strapping bothy boy. But then I read that the position of bothy cook was generally given to an elderly female servant who was considered past her prime.

I bet she still kept those bothy boys in line.

For more on bothys, check out this excellent treatise and the pictures herehere, and here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Iceland, Part One: Gasping for Breath

You don’t mind if...I just...sit down here...for a few minutes and...catch my breath.

You see, Iceland totally took it away.

We had an amazing ten days wandering over the western half of this craggy realm of ice and fire and water in the north Atlantic—and you know what? If someone handed me an airline ticket, I’d be back there in a heartbeat. I mean, this was one of the places we visited on our first day--a whole series of cold springs emerging from under a lava field to tumble into a river of astonishing clarity.

Gorgeous... but this was only the beginning. There’s falling water everywhere on the island, either in waterfalls or in rivers or glaciers (that's Snaefellsjokull in the photo) or from the sky (though we had a streak of unusually warm and sunny weather that belied Iceland’s rainy and foggy reputation.)

And there are also volcanoes everywhere. What look like mountains covering much of the landscape are actually volcanoes of various ages, some long dormant, others overdue to let off some steam...or a whole lotta lava. 

Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is actually the border between gigantic, continent-sized tectonic plates. The North American Plate makes up the northwestern part of the island and the Eurasian Plate the southwest...and they’re pulling away from each other at the rate of about two centimeters per year. This is the source of the island’s volcanic unrest—and means that Iceland is actually getting bigger (sometimes a lot bigger when volcanoes spew out thousands of cubic yards of lava and fill in bays or form new islands like Surtsey. In the rift zone between the two plates you can actually see the land pulling apart as in this photo.

And of course, the country is steeped in history. Iceland’s first human inhabitants were the Vikings who arrived in the 9th century—there was no indigenous population, as Greenland had. So the Icelanders of today are in general the direct descendants of those first settlers...and the memory of their ancestors remains strong today in Iceland’s culture and geography and language. Iceland was a literate society almost from its founding; the thousand-year-old Icelandic sagas are still read and discussed by today’s Icelanders; archaeological investigations successfully use them as a guidebook.

We took hundreds of pictures that we’re just sorting out, so I’m not going to embark on a full recounting of our visit until I’ve been through the images and pulled out the best ones. There was so much beauty and wonder in the places that we visited that I want to do them justice. But here’s a few more to go on with...

Icelandic horses at Gauksmyri farm. These horses are the descendants of the horses first brought by the Vikings; it's illegal to import horses into the island, to preserve their unique bloodline (and unusual gaits--Icelandic horses have five distinct ways of moving.)

Columnar basalt formations on the south coast at Reynisfara near Vik, looking rather like a phantasma-gorical pipe organ.

Bubbling blue mud at Namaskard. It was a lovely shade of robin's egg blue, due to ferrous iron deposits.

The breathtaking terraced double waterfall at Gullfoss:


I promise I’ll be posting more images and more about my trip... 

As soon as I can breathe again.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: Osterley Park

Full disclosure: the list of “places Regina wants to visit next time she goes to England” only gets longer with each Regency I write. When I was researching for Never Envy an Earl, I wanted Gregory, the hero, to have a wonderful country estate, which he helped design. That’s when I stumbled upon the perfect model: Osterley Park.

Osterley Park is an estate to the west of London. It was built (okay, remodeled) for the Child family, which founded Child’s Bank, by the incomparable Robert Adam. Now, you may have seen a ceiling here, a room there designed by this amazing architect, but the entire house was his canvas in this case, and it shows.

While dubbed a Georgian structure (it was finished in the late 1700s), the turrets at each corner remind me of a castle. I love the entrance, up a set of broad steps and through ionic columns into a central courtyard.

Inside, the rooms are all richly decorated, with fanciful plasterwork, old masters framed with yards of gilt, tapestry on wall and chair, and so much gold!

The Childs didn’t enjoy the house long before it passed into the hands of a granddaughter who married George Villiers, fifth earl of Jersey. His wife would become the famous Lady Jersey, a doyen of society and one of the patronesses of Almack’s.

Osterley Park is currently operated by the National Trust. It can be reached easily by bus, train, or underground. Learn more at the park's website.  

Photo credit for Osterley Park in spring: Mark Percy

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blast from the Past: A Bandalore by Any Other Name

I'm off wandering the wilds of Iceland with my DH and will be back next week to report on our travels. In the meanwhile, here's a Blast from the Past about a different type of pastime. See you soon!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that historical research is probably the most fun you can have with your corset on.

I was doing research on Eton in the early nineteenth century a week or so ago, and was on the website Open Library reading a book called “A History of Eton College 1440-1910” by Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte, and happened to skim over this passage:

Among the minor games popular at Eton at this period and for some time afterwards was that of bandalores. A bandalore was a disc of box-wood, with a deep groove in its outer edge, round which a string was coiled, and the art was to send it flying through the air, unwinding the string as it went, and by giving a jerk at a particular moment to bring the disc back again to the hand, recoiling the string on its return journey. Michael Hicks Beach writing to his mother in his sixteenth year says:— “I have three excellent bandylores and did throw one of them out (which has a string about four feet and a half long), one hundred and fifty-nine times without missing.”

I thought about that for a moment, trying to picture just what this bandalore “game” was...and then it hit me.

It was a yo-yo. They were playing with yo-yos in the late 18th century!

So I did a little more digging...and found this image, from a French fashion plate from 1791, along with the following information: The most common French word for Yo-yo at the time was "Emigrette", but it is called the "Joujou de Normandie" in a caption to a version of this image which was included in Albert Charles Auguste Racinet's Le Costume Historique (1888), a monumental six-volume work on costume (alas, the cheapest set I could find on-line was in the $3000 range!) "Joujou", by the way, means "toy", and has nothing to do with the etymology of the word "yo-yo", which is from a Philippine language...but it's an interesting coincidence, isn't it?

So there you go. Who knew that one of the hot toys for both boys and girls in 1790s Europe was the yo-yo?

Historical research rocks!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Worth a Drum Roll: New Publisher!

[No guesses on where Marissa has gone? You know you want to try. Come on! It sounds very cold, but is very cool! 😊]

Many of you know that, since my beloved Love Inspired line closed, I have been on the hunt for a new publisher. I will continue to publish the Fortune’s Brides series largely on my own, with a novella coming out in October and the next full-length book, Never Vie for a Viscount, coming in November.

I am also delighted and excited to report that I have accepted a three-book deal with Revell!

Now, publishers often seem less well known than the authors they publish. You might recognize such names as Irene Hannon, Amanda Cabot, Lynette Eason, and Jan Drexler. (If you haven’t heard of Rachel Fordham yet, you will!) 

You might also recognize some of their beautiful covers.

My books will be historical romances set around the early days of our national parks (late 1800s). The first features a determined young lady photographer who wrangles a spot on a Corps of Engineers survey of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1871, only to discover the leader of the expedition is the love she once left behind. A Scenic Beauty (title tentative) is scheduled for publication in October 2019.

I haven’t decided on the other two parks to be featured, though I am leaning toward Yellowstone and my own Mt. Rainier.

Any suggestions? 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Quiz: Where is Marissa Going?

Today’s post is an abbreviated one, because I’m presently scurrying around folding and packing and otherwise getting ready to get on a airplane later on this evening. I’ll be gone ten days, so next week’s post will be a “blast from the past” while I’m off gallivanting with my DH. This trip is our belated 30th anniversary celebration (because we’ve now been married 31+ years!) but well worth the wait.

Where are we going? We’re going to—

Hmm. Nope. Not gonna make it easy. You’re going to have to take a quiz to figure out where we’re headed, partly because it's a fascinating place and partly because I'm a tease. 😉 

Are you ready? Here it goes...
  • This place is one of the breeding grounds of a well-known type of bird sometimes called the ‘sea parrot.’
  • The name of a certain location in this place, Geysir, has become the word for all other places of a similar type.
  • The language spoken here still bears a strong resemblance to its early medieval form.
  • One of the world’s oldest Parliaments, the Althing, dating to the tenth century AD, meets here.
  • This place is one of the two locations on earth where you can see the meeting of two tectonic plates above the surface of the earth.
  • There are no mosquitoes here!
Any guesses?

I'll be back the week after next with lots of pictures of my mystery location...see you then!  😘

Friday, August 3, 2018

Between Silk and Sand is Excerpt.

I'm still dancing round the room (well, metaphorically anyway) over the release of Between Silk and Sand, just released on Tuesday from Book View Cafe. 

While I've posted a first chapter sneak-peek sample of Between Silk and Sand on my website, I thought it would be fun to give our dear NineteenTeen readers a further sneak-peek into the that occurs at a pivotal point in the story. Enjoy!

* * * 

Talnith slunk in, carrying their saddlebags. “This is an inn?” she sniffed, dropping into a chair. “Don’t see no kitchen. Do the Day-hans cook their food?”
Saraid looked around the room. The walls appeared to be of baked mud, smoothed and polished and red in the lantern light. Hangings made of dyed string knotted into elaborate patterns decorated the walls, and carved beams supported the high, rounded roof. It was foreign but attractive in a spare, simple way. “Things are done differently in different places, Talnith. I expect the kitchen is elsewhere so that it doesn’t get too hot in here during the day.”
“A clever observation,” said a voice, “which happens to be correct.”
Saraid managed not to visibly jump—probably because she was too tired to do so—and turned. A man dressed in Adaihan robes, his hood drawn partly across his face, leaned against the door the innkeeper’s wife had vanished through, though far back enough that she couldn’t get a good look at him. “It seemed to make sense,” she replied.
The man inclined his head, then stepped into the room from the shadowed doorway. He was tall, much taller than the innkeeper. “And yes, the Adaihans do cook,” he said to Talnith. “This inn is known for its good food.”
Talnith looked at him appraisingly. “How would you be knowin’ that, then? Are you the cook here? And what do the Day-hans eat, anyway? Sand and rocks?”
He laughed. “No, I’m not the cook. And they don’t eat sand. Adaihan cooking makes use of plants and animals that can survive in the desert. Sheep and goats can live here, so expect to see them on your plates.”
His accent was different, crisper, though with a trace of the Adaihan vowels she’d heard in the speech of the innkeeper and his wife. Was he the traveler occupying the other room? Whoever he was, chatting with a stranger hardly seemed proper. “I am sure whatever we’re served will be quite edible, Talnith. Thank you,” she said to the man, trying to sound pleasantly dismissive.
He turned toward her. Saraid got an uncomfortable feeling that he found her amusing. She’d mentally scolded Captain Zamas for nearly calling her “Your Highness” a few minutes ago, and now here she was, acting like one. She took a deep breath and said, “Pardon me if I was ungracious, but it has been a long ride. Won’t you sit with us?”
“My thanks.” The man sat in the chair across from her, putting back his hood as he did.
Oh. Whatever she had expected him to look like, it hadn’t included bright gold hair worn long and a little shaggy, curling around his ears, and the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. His skin was dark, the weathered tan of someone who had spent years in the bright, hot sun. Not that he seemed very old. Somewhere in his twenties, a few years older than she. His brows and eyelashes were the same gold as his hair, and his smile was open and sunny despite the lines around his eyes and forehead that somehow seemed older than the rest of him.
Next to her Talnith sat up straighter. “So tell me more about this Day-han food,” she said, pouting her lips in a way that probably was supposed to be enticing. “How good is it?”
“Very good indeed, though it can vary depending on local customs.” Saraid caught a twinkle in the young man’s eyes as he looked at them. “I’ve heard that some Adaihan women down south by the Nolorish border make soup by putting a live hainsh-fowl and several hatsuan peppers in a kettle of water and setting it out in the sun at midday, so that by nightfall it’s nicely simmered.”
Saraid tried to match his solemn tone. “It gets that hot down there, does it?”
He glanced at her sideways, and the twinkle deepened. “It does. Though if your fowl is large, you’re best putting it out earlier, right after you rise in the morning.”
“Ah.” Saraid nodded. “Of course. I should have guessed as much.”
Talnith shot her a suspicious look, then turned back to the young man. “That’s just plain nasty. What about the feathers and all?”
“Oh, the feathers dissolve into the broth, thanks to the peppers. They give it a distinctive flavor, so it’s said,” the young man replied. “And the feet stew up nicely, so that they’re quite tender. The mothers save them for their teething babies to chew on.”
Saraid just managed not to giggle. Talnith looked queasy. “That ain’t true…is it?”
The innkeeper’s wife came back into the room, carrying a large pitcher and cups of glazed red clay. She paused when she saw the man, then set her tray on the table and bowed, looking anxious. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to wake you—”
“Water! I thought I’d never see it again!” Talnith nearly lunged across the table for the pitcher. She poured herself a cup and gulped it down, then another.
“Cold palm-mint tea, actually.” The man took the pitcher from her, poured a cup, and handed it to Saraid, glancing quizzically at Talnith as he did. “Thirsty, were you?”
“We was dyin’ of it,” Talnith said dramatically, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. “Old Captain Stick-up-the-Pants got us lost when we was hiding from those Day—” She broke off into a grunt as Saraid kicked her foot.
“We were somewhat delayed and running low on water,” Saraid said blandly. “Talnith, when you’ve drunk your fill, could you bring our packs to our room?” Where later on maybe Captain Zamas could fit her with a muzzle. Pox it, she’d warned Talnith about watching what she said! The fewer details anyone learned about them, the better. And double poxes on her for ruining the silly conversation they’d been having with him. She hadn’t had such fun in weeks.
Talnith glowered but didn’t dare argue. “Yes’m,” she said, and chugged down a last cup of the tea, then followed the innkeeper’s wife through the door.
Saraid glanced at the young man. His liveliness seemed to have left the room with Talnith; now he was pouring himself some tea, staring at the cup with a concentration that the simple act didn’t seem to require. Was he thinking about what Talnith had just said?
She leaned back against her chair and closed her eyes as she sipped her tea. Maybe if she drank it slowly, instead of slurping it down the way she really wanted to, the man would think that Talnith had been exaggerating. What had he said it was? Palm-mint? Whatever it was, it was delicious—cool and fresh, like the essence of green. If the Adaihans had created this, they probably did know a thing or two about food.
When she opened her eyes again, she saw that the young man was gazing at her with a thoughtful frown on his face. His eyes really were an amazing shade of blue, weren’t they? Or was their intensity just due to the contrast with his tanned skin? Maybe—but they looked as though they were used to looking into far distances and had absorbed the hue of a wide cloudless sky.
Then she realized that they were staring at each other.
“I should go see that Talnith is all right.” She scrambled to her feet, suddenly afraid. By Keranieth, she’d been ready to drown in those eyes, and he’d been ready to let her. “We’ve been riding all night, and she’s, um, a little…”
He stood up as well. “I think I know what you mean,” he said, making a wry face, and she felt absurdly pleased. And then wanted to slap herself. They were anonymous travelers in a tiny, out-of-the-way oasis in the Adaiha. He’d more than likely be gone by nightfall, and she’d never see him again.
“Good ni—or, er, good morning, I suppose.” The inversion of night and day was starting to get to her.
He smiled. “Sleep well and peacefully.”
She hurried through the door and ran full tilt into the innkeeper’s wife, who listened to her stammered apologies with a bemused expression on her gentle face and showed her to her room. Talnith was already stretched out on a pallet on the floor. Saraid wasn’t at all troubled by her sudden, ostentatious snores as she tiptoed past. The last thing she wanted now was conversation with Talnith.
A bowl of gently steaming water, strewn with fragrant herbs, had been set on a small table. Saraid gratefully washed her face and hands and collapsed onto the bed, not even bothering to unbraid her hair. As she slid into sleep, she could still see in her mind’s eye blue eyes gazing into hers.

* * *

Between Silk and Sand is available from Book View CafeKobo, Barnes and Noble, ibooks
Amazon, Smashwords, and GooglePlay and can easily be ordered in print from your favorite local bookstore.

Thank you for celebrating with me!