Friday, July 31, 2020

Food, Glorious Food, Mount Rainier Edition

I’m working on my third book for Revell, set on and around what would become Mount Rainier National Park. This story has the latest date of the American Wonders Collection so far—1893. I shared how little and how oddly the early explorers of the Grand Canyon ate, as I discovered while researching for A Distance Too Grand (October 2019), which is set in 1871. You would think more than 20 years later, things would be better.

Not so much!

Mount Rainier was a tantalizing figure on the southeast horizon for many in the burgeoning cities of Tacoma and Seattle, not to mention the state capital of Olympia to the west of the mountain. Some of those who decided to venture onto its icy slopes seemed to be a little spare on the food. Jerked venison is frequently mentioned, as is coffee. But some of the men who climbed claimed to have only taken flour and coffee. At least one account describes each man “eating” a half cup of flour as food each day. I searched and searched to find what they added to it and how they cooked it. It appears they didn’t.


At least others came better fortified. Philemon Van Trump, who made the first successful ascent in 1870 and returned several times over the years, brought such staples as flour, bacon, coffee, canned Boston baked beans, jerked venison, oatmeal, potatoes, butter, sugar, condensed milk, and canned apricots, peaches, and pears. He did, however, have a pack horse as far as Paradise, a little more than a third of the way to the top. Little of that made it to the summit.

Some of the items he took surprised and intrigued me:

  • English breakfast tea. I hadn’t known it was named that then, but that was what he wrote in his own report of the climb.
  • Codfish balls. Apparently canned.
  • Potted tongue. Also canned.
  • Liebig’s extract of beef. This was apparently a thick, dark paste. It may have been used like we use bouillon cubes today, as there are records of “beef soup” being served in the crater by those spending the night among the steam vents.

There was one other item that was mentioned on a number of visitors to the mountain, and it’s no stranger to campfire cookery today.


S’mores, anyone?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sort of, but not quite Retro Blast: Skin Deep

Today is re-release day for Skin Deep! A slightly revised version of the story first published in 2016 is now out through Book View Cafe; while it’s the same story, it’s been polished (ask any author: once you release a book, you immediately see all the sentences you wish you’d worded differently or the commas you should or should not have used) and repackaged a little. But it’s still the same award-winning, starred-review story...and one I’m still very proud of. You can buy it direct from Book View Cafe in both MOBI and EPUB formats, as well as at all the usual on-line bookstores.
And just to remind you what selkies are...
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For those who aren’t familiar with them, selkies are a type of shape-shifter, a magical creature that can take the form either of a seal or a human.  They’re a Celtic creature, from the islands and west coast of Scotland as well as the east coast of Ireland. But unusually for shape-shifters, they don’t just change from one form to another: in order to assume his (or her) human form, a selkie takes off his or her skin and puts it on again when it’s time to return to the sea. In human form they’re said to be very beautiful, dark-haired with shining eyes—so beautiful that humans who see them often fall madly in love with them. But they also often have rough skin on their hands as well as webbed fingers.
The most common stories about selkies usually involve a human happening upon them at one of their dances, for selkies were said to gather on beaches at the full moon to take off their skins and dance together in the moonlight. Smitten by their beauty, the human (usually a fisherman out late at night to check his nets) would sneak over to where the selkies had left their skins and steal the one belonging to the fairest selkie maid, forcing her to remain in her human shape. Though she would beg for him to return her skin he always refused, and would somehow convince her to marry him (maybe she figured that if she stayed close to him she would be able to find her skin again.) They would marry and raise a family together...but years later the selkie would find the place where her husband had hidden her skin  (often led there by one of her own children, who has no idea what the soft furry cloak he or she has found is) and snatch it away to return to the sea...though in some of the stories she would return to visit her children.

It’s a beguiling image, isn’t it—the beautiful selkies, laughing and smiling as they dance on the beach with the sea glittering beyond them in the moonlight, the smitten fisherman watching them from behind a boulder, perhaps? I’m not sure if that’s the image that drew me, or the fact that seals are pretty neat creatures to begin with...but the selkie legend has always held a strong fascination for me, so it was inevitable I’d write about them one day.  But in Skin Deep, I’ve turned the selkie legend more than a little upside down...and given it a happily ever after ending.  

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Park for the Regent

I love parks—the greenspace, the sound of children playing, birds singing. It always seems like I can breathe a little easier out among the flowers and trees.

I’m not sure that was the Prince Regent’s reason for deciding to create another park in London. I’m not even certain it was Prinny’s idea, though many sources mention “the Crown” as the instigator. Whatever the genesis, 487 acres of land in what was then northern London belonged to the king and was being leased as farmland, and in the early 1800s, the Commissioner of Woods requested proposals from architects as to how it could be better used.

The proposal of John Nash, often called Prinny’s architect, won the competition. He envisioned a round park, with an Inner Circle and Outer Circle, both ringed by elegant homes. In the center would be a new summer palace for the Prince, with a grand avenue leading from it down St. James’s Palace. The Regent’s Park would include an ornamental lake and a canal as well.

Work started in 1811. Nash first excavated the lake, which was fairly deep and intended to allow boating. After an accident in 1867, in which dozens of people died by drowning after falling through the ice on top, the lake was filled in to a 4-foot uniform depth. Nash also believed in ground contouring and planting early, before construction.
Next came the villas of the Inner Circle and the townhouse terraces of the Outer Circle. The architecture is generally credited to John Nash but at least some evidence suggests that Decimus Burton, then getting started on his career, was involved, with financial support from Burton’s father, James Burton, a wealthy real estate developer. The Holme in the Inner Circle was James Burton’s home.

It was also one of the few to be constructed. Prinny ultimately decided against having his summer palace built in the park. Of the 56 villas planned, only 8 were ever built. The grand avenue to St. James’s Palace, completed in 1819, became today’s Regent Street. The Regent’s Canal that was to run through the park was moved to its northern edge and became the Grand Union Canal.

Instead of Prinny’s set, wealthy merchants and professionals leased the townhouses of the Outer Circle. At first, they and those who lived in the mansions on the inner circle were the only ones allowed to use the park, although it may have been open once a week for carriage rides. In 1828, the recently formed Royal Zoological Society leased some of the land and started the London Zoo. In 1832, the Toxophilite Society built a hall and grounds for archery. In 1838, the Royal Botanic Society moved in and continued to populate the landscape.

It wasn’t until 1835 that the park opened to the public, and then only two days a week, with access to the east side. Today, Regent’s Park welcomes visitors from all over the world and is a much beloved London park.

All that lovely green.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Blast from the Past: Flirting with Fans

It’s been quite astonishingly warm out here in New England, and all I can say is thank heavens for air conditioning, because relying on a fan to stay cool--especially a hand-held one--would have not have worked for me! Then again, fans have other uses, as we learned in this post from 2009:

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Now, on to how to flirt with fans. Mr. Shafer’s introduction to fan flirtations in his Secrets of Life Revealed (Baltimore, 1877) is short and to the point:

The fan is also used for flirtations, and the following rules govern the subject:

Carrying in right hand: You are too willing
Carrying in right hand in front of face: Follow me
Carrying in left hand: Desirous of an acquaintance
Closing it: I wish to speak with you
Drawing across the forehead: We are watched
Drawing across the cheek: I love you
Drawing across the eyes: I am sorry
Drawing through the hand: I hate you
Dropping: We will be friends
Fanning fast: I am engaged
Fanning slow: I am married
Letting it rest on right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on left cheek: No
Open and shut: You are cruel
Open wide: Wait for me
Shut: I have changed
Placing it on the right ear: You have changed
Twirling it in left hand: I love another
With handle to lips: Kiss me

Well! Again I see a lot of potential for miscom-munication here, especially for those of us who tend to be klutzy. Then again, we might end up with a wide circle of acquaintances that way…

* * * * * *

Incidentally, I needed a fan this past weekend, when I learned that Evergreen won the Best Young Adult Novel category of the OK-RWA's National Reader’s Choice Award! A thrill and an honor, for which I'm very grateful.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Blast from the Past: Summer Exhibitionists

When I first penned this post in May 2009, I had two heroines who were painters, Lady Emily Southwell of the Lady Emily Capers, and her mentor, Hannah Alexander of Secrets and Sensibilities. Now I have three with the introduction of Abigail Archer in The Artist’s Healer. So, it seemed a good time to bring this post back to the forefront.

The sun is shining, the air is warming—summer is here, and the bravest are starting to sport some skin! In the nineteenth century there was another way to exhibit oneself in England. One of the highlights of summer was the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Everyone who could afford the 1-shilling entry fee strolled through the galleries to view paintings and sculpture from England’s most renowned artists. 

And a few not so renowned.

The Summer Exhibition, which ran from May to August, was open to amateur artists as well. All you had to do was submit your work of art to a jury of members of the Royal Academy of Art. This Selection Committee deliberated for days to choose around 1,000 works of art to be featured in the exhibit. Supposedly footmen carried in the art and placed it before the jurors, who gazed on it and gave a thumbs up/thumbs down kind of vote. Pieces that received enough thumbs up were allowed in the exhibit. 

But there was a second hurdle to jump before a piece actually appeared to the public. Pieces approved by the Selection Committee went before the Hanging Committee, who had the unenviable job of squeezing all the pieces into the galleries for viewing. As you can see from the picture, they literally crammed everything into the space. Sometimes, a painting that was approved by the Selection Committee was rejected by the Hanging Committee because they just couldn’t make it fit!

But can you imagine the excitement of a young lady or gentleman getting that final letter of acceptance? Your work is going to be sitting alongside Constable, Turner, Rowlandson, and other household names of the art world! For a few days before the exhibit opened, you were allowed to join these impressive talents to schmooze and add “finishing touches” to your piece. And if your piece was hung “on the line,” a railing that ran around the room and served as an anchor for the paintings, that meant you had truly arrived. After all, inferior pieces were hung in the stratosphere, where the audience needed a telescope to see the details.

Today, the opening of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is still a red carpet event bringing notables from around the world. This year, for the first time, it will run in the fall and winter, from October 6, 2020, to January 3, 2021, because of the coronavirus. The world may change, but art lives on.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Artist Arrives, and Regina Hits 50!

Fifty books, that is. 😊

While Marissa and I were off celebrating Independence Day, the third book in my Grace-by-the-Sea series made its debut! The Artist’s Healer picks up where The Heiress’s Convenient Husband leaves off, with the discovery that French spies might be lurking in the little village by the sea and the accidental shooting of Abigail Archer.

Spunky artist and entrepreneur Abigail Archer is determined to see her friend, Jesslyn Denby, restored as director of the spa at Grace-by-the-Sea, even if that means ousting the news physician who took her place. A shame she was recently injured and requires him to dance attendance on her. But if he thinks she’ll meekly accept his orders, he’d better think again!

Doctor Linus Bennett came to the little coastal village with his young son to escape a troubled past. He’s not about to lose his post to some crusader, but the pretty painter awakens feelings he’d thought long buried. When it appears the French are about to invade, Abigail and Linus must work together to save the village. In doing so, the doctor may just find that falling in love with the outspoken Abigail is the best prescription to heal his wounded heart.

This book is near and dear to me because it is my fiftieth. That’s right, Regina Scott has 50 books to her name. I am so honored and blessed to be able to make that claim.

To celebrate, I’m giving away an e-book copy of my first published Regency romance, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, and a $50 gift certificate to Amazon to one winner. To enter, go here, starting on Monday, July 13 and ending July 19. Open internationally. 

Fifty books! Who knew? Here’s to reaching for your dreams!