Tuesday, July 30, 2019

We’re Baaaaaack!

Regina and I are each home from the Romance Writers of America National Conference in New York City, a.k.a. our annual girls’ sleepover...and it was just wonderful.

While Times Square is not my favorite part of NYC, we were fortunate to have a room facing away from the Square and its light show, so that we had a quiet, restful place to return to after each busy day. The room itself was quite roomy and comfortable, and not on too high a floor so that when the elevators got too crowded, we could sneak up and down the stairs (which were, admittedly, more than a little creepy.) Speaking of elevators, isn’t this a fun view?

We both arrived Monday evening, because the week kicked off with the annual Beau Monde Chapter (Regency romance) mini-conference. We heard excellent workshops, including ones on the British presence in Africa during the early nineteenth century and researching outside the box (a topic near and dear to our hearts)...and in the evening was the Soiree, a gathering for socializing and dancing (complete with a Regency era dance expert to instruct and lead the dancers.) Sir Reginald was unable to attend the Soiree this year, but the charming Lady Regina was spotted treading a measure or two.
Also at the Soiree, the Beau Monde chapter’s annual writing contest, the Royal Ascot, is awarded. I’m thrilled to report that my The Ladies of Almack’s won the Wild Regency Category of the Royal Ascot Readers’ Choice Award...which allowed me to wear pretty ribbon sashes for the day!

But the best part is, as always being able to spend time with Regina. I was extra lucky this year, as the conference’s being in New York meant that she could take a couple of extra days to visit me in Massachusetts before flying home—which was lovely. When you only get to see one of your dearest friends once a year, a few extra days are extra precious.

Altogether, we had a delightful, educational time at this year’s RWA!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

I'm Not Really Here...

Thanks to the wonderful pre-posting function on Blogger, I can type this up on Monday morning to post for you to read later on, because I won’t be here. Regina and I are off to the RWA National Conference in New York City for our annual girls’ sleepover, and by the time you read this on Tuesday, we’ll be happily attending the Beau Monde Chapter (Regency) annual one-day mini-conference. Then Regina’s coming home to Cape Cod with me for a few days, so this will be a quiet week at NineteenTeen.

But we promise a full report and lots of pictures, so toodles till next week!

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Lost Letter That Launched a Book by Guest Blogger Rachel Fordham

Lost mail? Is that story worthy? I asked myself those same questions after touring an old post office and first hearing about lost mail and how it was sent to the Dead Letter Office. I didn’t have to ask myself these questions very long. Of course, lost mail was story worthy! This was only confirmed to me when I began researching the postal system and its history.

One of the hard parts of being a historical writer is finding mounds and mounds of delicious historical details and only being able to utilize a small portion of it in your story. The first third of Yours Truly, Thomas was once longer but with each edit the start was trimmed downed in order to get our lead characters together sooner. As a result, I had to cut out some fascinating pieces of trivia. Here are just a few. For more info, I highly recommend the Smithsonian’s archives. They have an entire postal museum, and if you’re like me the vast amount of info will keep you scrolling and reading for hours.

Originally there was only one dead letter office. It was located in Washington, DC. The employees were paid decent wages for the time. Men made more than women. More women worked there than men. There are different theories for why that is. Some say it’s because the women were more trustworthy and wouldn’t steal; others said it was because of the pay difference.

These postal workers were essentially detectives. They would start with the outside of the envelope and look for clues. Often words were just spelled wrong, especially if the writer was an immigrant and was not an English speaker. If they couldn’t “solve” the mystery based off the outside they were the only postal workers that had permission to open mail. They’d scour the inside contents for clues. The amazing thing to me is that they could rehome these letters with no internet to search for answers!

Often the mail contained boring pieces: bills, taxes, legal documents…but sometimes there were live animals, rare valuables, and family secrets. Items that couldn’t be rerouted were sold at auction after a certain amount of time, and money was put in the national treasury.

When I was dating my husband, we were apart for a couple months. We wrote old-fashioned letters to each other. We’d pour our hearts into those letters and send them off assuming they’d make their way across the many miles that separated us. They always made it, but it’s not so hard to believe that sometimes even love letters were lost. This idea grew in my mind until I’d create my character Penny. She works at the dead letter office, and some letters become personal to her. Thomas’s letter was one of those. Opening that letter changed her life.

Has a letter ever changed your life? Could it?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Welcome to Rachel Fordham and Yours Truly, Thomas!

We are delighted to welcome to Nineteen Teen the talented author Rachel Fordham! Regina had the delight of reading her sophomore novel, Yours Truly, Thomas. What a sweet, tender love story, and one very likely to end up on many a reader’s keeper shelf. Here’s a little about the book:

For three years, Penny Ercanbeck has been opening other people’s mail.

Dead ends are a reality for clerks at the dead letter office, and she dreams of something more--a bit of intrigue, perhaps a taste of romance. When she comes across a letter from a brokenhearted man to his one true love, it becomes her mission to place this lost letter into the hands of its intended recipient.

But when Penny's undertaking leads her to the intriguing man who touched her soul with his words, everything grows more complicated. She wants to find the rightful owner of the letter, and yet . . . she finds herself caring--perhaps too much--for the one who wrote it.

Please welcome Rachel and come back Friday to learn more about the intriguing setting of her novel.

Nineteen Teen: So happy to have you, Rachel! Your heroine, Penny, has an interesting vocation. How did you decide on that?

Rachel: I was touring an old post office in the Midwest, and the guide mentioned that the mail that wasn’t claimed or they couldn’t decipher was sent to the dead letter office. I immediately started googling the dead letter office and just knew I needed to write a story about it.

19T: If you could write a letter to anyone—past, present, or future—who would it be and why?

Rachel: This is a really hard question….hmmm….

As much as I’d like to write to my ancestors and ask them all sorts of things about the past, I think I’ll pick the future. I’d like to write my children and their children all the bits of wisdom I’m learning about life. We’ve gone through some deep waters as a family. For example, this picture was taken around the time our then four year old was diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy. We cried and struggled through that difficult time, but we also learned and grew. I’d love knowing that when they faced their own struggles they had my words to help them in addition to God’s help and grace.  

19T: What research did you want to put in the book, but couldn’t fit in?

Rachel: There were lots of funny items that came through the dead letter office and interesting facts about how much postal workers made. Since Penny works at the postal office only for the first part of the book it was really hard to fit in as much detail as I would have liked. I think a whole series could be written inspired by this important place.

19T: This is your readers’ second visit to Azure Springs. What’s special about the little town in Iowa?

Rachel: I’ve been able to read a lot of reviews for The Hope of Azure Springs and have gotten several emails from readers who have discussed the town. I think the general consensus is that Azure Springs is the type of town we’d all like to live in. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place for second chances, where the eccentric cast of characters is willing to rally around one another. Connecting with people is so important to life and happiness, and Azure Springs is a place you feel like you could walk into and make real friends. 

19T: You have your own special spot to live. How did that come about?

I am lucky enough to live on a small island in Washington State. We have a bridge, so we don’t have to boat everywhere we go (I’ve gotten that question before!). I grew up in Washington, so when we were  done with school and looking for places to settle we started our search by looking near my family. We ended up finding a job a couple hours away and couldn’t be happier. Our house was an easy pick! We have a big family, and there are very few big family homes where we live so when one came up it was a done deal. I’ve always thought that great houses need great names, so we named our house on the island Green Haven. Partly because it’s green and beautiful, but mostly because green can mean young and we want our home and land to be a haven for children!

19T: What’s next for your writing endeavors?

Rachel: My 2020 release is about a teacher in the Dakotas that left her big city life six years ago but no one knows for sure why. I actually wrote this story a couple years ago and have had a great time revisiting and editing it and even though it’s a year away I’m so anxious for readers to dive into this one!

19T: Popcorn Round!
Coffee or tea? I’m so boring! I’m a water girl through and through.

Salty or sweet snacks? Sweet! I keep trying to kick the habit, but I love sugar.

Bustle or hoop skirt? Hmmmm….I think if I was to get all dressed up and travel back in time I’d have fun wearing a hoop skirt.

Buggy or horseback? Horseback!

Cat, dog, chicken, or bunny? We have a couple outside cats and chickens.

19T: Where can readers connect with you?
Rachel: My website is usually up to date and has a link to sign up for my newsletter. I’m also on Facebook and on Instagram @rachel_fordham.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dead Letters and Live Authors

Back in February 2013, I wrote a post that included information about the Dead Letter Office. Little did I know that I was one day to read a fabulous book about a heroine who works in that office. Please come back next week to hear more about Rachel Thomas and her new book, Yours Truly, Thomas. In the meantime, here’s a little more about England’s Dead Letter Office.

During the Regency period, letters were paid for by the recipient, as we’ve mentioned, so sometimes a recipient simply refused to accept the letter. There are stories about plain girls refusing valentines that insulted them, women refusing letters from their sisters because they could tell by the writing on the outside that all was well. Then too, someone might refuse a letter if it was clearly not theirs.

Those letters ended up in the Dead Letter Office. Post Office employees would try to determine the rightful owner and see the letter on its way.

But in the early nineteenth century in England, Post Office employees were allowed to open and read your mail under other circumstances too:

  • Perhaps you were suspected of being a traitor to England (“Dear Napoleon—I love you! Please come visit soon. I'll leave the candle burning.”).
  • Perhaps you were rumored to be evading Customs (“Dear Aunt Charlotte, that case of French lace is safely stored in the cave under Peasbury Chapel. Do avoid the Excise men when going to fetch it, and give my thanks for the rector for allowing the use of the premises.”)
  • Perhaps you were involved in a robbery (“Dear Susan, I am delighted to relate that I was able to make away with that diamond ring you always wanted. Her ladyship only protested a little when I pulled it off her finger.”).
  • If you were in jail for bankruptcy, the Post Office even sent all your mail to the solicitor in charge of prosecuting the case!

I think if the Post Office was monitoring my mail today, the employees might get an inkling as to what I do for a living, what with author copies, contracts, and business cards coming in. And all those lovely reference books. 😊

Looking forward to visiting with Rachel Fordham next week! I hope you are too.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Retro Blast: Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress

I'm away from home (and my research books and prints) for another few days yet, in what might quaintly be called a "Bathing Place", a.k.a. Cape Cod, so this blast-from-the-past post seems appropriate for the occasion. I hope your summer plans will bring you to the Bathing Place of your choice...and that you'll have an equally delightful costume to wear while there!

Now, I ask you, dear NineteenTeen readers: is this print not perfectly wonderful?

I’m not absolutely certain of the date of this marvelous “Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress” print from La Belle AssemblĂ©e. One source lists it as being from January 1813...but would anyone really be interested in “bathing place” attire in winter? On the other hand, the placement of description of the dress at the top of the plate is in keeping with other La Belle AssemblĂ©e prints from 1809-1810, so I’m going to go with August or September of one of those years.

It shows a young woman strategically posed before a full-length mirror so that the viewer very conveniently gets a look at the back of this delightful dress. I can’t begin to guess the materials used, but the style gives more than a passing nod to drapery techniques—the ribbon drawing up the overskirt and the peplum-like decorations  in back make me think of custom window treatments. Note the tops of the sleeves—strips of the green fabric, woven in a lattice—and the frill of lace extending all around the neckline, and the little lion’s head belt buckle.

And her hat! It’s a delightful cross between a Nelson bicorne and a Carmen Miranda head-dress (do I spy a pineapple in there?) and utterly made of win. Notice too how her hair is arranged, with a braid across the forehead ending in a fetching little curl!

We’ve seen another “bathing place” costume recently—the evening dress that was actually a walking dress, also from La Belle AssemblĂ©e. I’ve yet to discern what it is that separates an everyday ball dress (if there is such a thing!) from a Bathing Place ball dress. Perhaps a touch more informality than one might expect in a London ball dress? Whatever the difference, I think it can be agreed that this is quite the outfit!