Monday, May 31, 2010

Spirit of Vincennes--Viva le Vigo

Well, despite my best predictions, it did not rain on us at the reenactment this weekend. It was, however, beastly hot. One does not, I imagine, truly appreciate heat until one is wearing outfits like these:
Mostly chose this shot for the fab stacked muskets in foreground. Yes, I'm carrying a bucket--it's the only way to haul enough water for all the thirsy soldier-folk.

Yes. Hot. And the water running through the hose-connected faucet tastes a bit like it was pulled directly from a somewhat stale chlorine pool. Interestingly, one does not care four hours into a 90 degree day what one's water tastes like so long as it is cool and wet.

Instead of attempting to be cognizent, a series of vignettes:

Saturday night, 11 p.m. Arrived three hours ago wearing vintage-y purple dress, straight from a wedding. Briefly entertained notion of changing, decided I had already sweated into one outfit, would stay in it. Gathered at statue of Francis Vigo :

where spent the waning hours of the night chatting, playing music, and occasionally climbing on the obliging Vigo's lap to tell him what we wanted for Christmas.

Sunday, 2 a.m. Finally decide to head back to camp and go to sleep. Realize that the delightful lingering smell I keep catching on the breeze is from a huge linden tree in full bloom. As I consider how it is terribly early for the lindens, and how elusive their beguiling scent is, I am caught up a chain of three others skipping down the sidewalk a la The Wizard of Oz. Contemplate how the lindens remind me of the brevity of life, their intoxicating scent as capricious as the breeze that carries it. By the time you have named the scent, it has gone, borne away on the wind. Arrive back at camp and have another glass of Merlot. Sleep can wait another hour...

Sunday, 7 a.m. Wake up. Throw on petticoat. Find stays. Am laced into them. Consider walking to the Visitor's Center for free coffee, then consider that the temperature is likely already 85 and decide that hot coffee is not appealing.

Sunday, 10 a.m. Morning troop and inspection, followed by Memorial Service for a member who passed away over the winter. In the most appropriate of tributes, his ashes were fired from the cannon over the Wabash River, propelled by a grand ceremonial round that echoed on the water in a resounding triumph. Would have appreciated remainder of service and church parade more had someone not passed out in line. Assist with first aid for victim. Good thing I brought my bucket of water and rags...

Sunday, 12 p.m. Battle demonstration. As we form up, our Corporal announces, "Tonight...we Fazoli's!" a la the movie 300, which sends us into hysterics. Battle includes only one wind sprint, for which I am thankful. Battle includes one kilted Scotsman falling at the same moment as an inopportune breeze, for which I am not at all thankful. Aforementioned Corporal among the causualties. Revived with mention of garlic breadsticks and promise of Gatorade in camp.

Sunday, general p.m. May have fallen asleep at some point in here. Blue Gatorade consumed. Too hot for shopping. Another battle demo late in the day. Mourned loss of aforementioned Corporal for the second time.

Sunday, 7 p.m. Dine at Fazoli's. With air conditioning.

And there we have it--and just think! We do this for fun!

Friday, May 28, 2010

L is for...

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee (response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

Score one for product placement--this book was all over bookstore displays, and the beautiful cover caught my eye. Well, perhaps not a complete score for the commercial sector--it caught my eye, so I remembered it and looked for it at the library.

The story appears, at first, to be a simple one--newlywed and new arrival in 1950s Hong Kong, Claire doesn't need to give piano lessons financially-speaking, but needs something to occupy her time. Hired by the wealthy Chens, she finds herself intrigued by their mysterious past and falling in love with their brooding, also mysterious driver, Will. Following the path (lined with banana peels and butter, but we could have told her that) which leads to destruction, she pursues a liason with Will.

Interspersed with the 1950s storyline are flashbacks to 1941, when Will was in an entirely different social position, and pursuing an entirely different sort of woman, Trudy. While Claire is reserved and delicate, Trudy is vivacious and dangerous. The war arrives in Hong Kong and violence and oppression send the elite socialites reeling.

From a writing point of view, this book is fascinating. Lee intersperses the past and present scenes with such aplomb that I never felt the presence of the writer, just dove into each scene with excitement. The 1941 scenes were written in present tense, which I usually abhor--but hers was done so unobtrusively that I hardly noticed the tense change, merely a sense of dark immediacy.

From a plot point of view--I was hooked on discovering what had happened, which an interesting change of pace from wanting to know what will happen. And the journey was an enjoyable one to make those discoveries. However, it also led to a bit of a dilemma--what to do with the somewhat fizzly "what will happen" storyline of Will and Claire, set in the "present time" of the book? This made the ending feel a bit forced and unfulfilling for me, like a denouement in a nutshell.

My one major issue with the plot was the infidelity. Infidelity happens, and can be an incredibly strong plot element. But I just didn't feel that here. I didn't see a truly compelling reason for Claire to cheat on her husband--boredom and an attractive man are not, in my view, a good reason to deceive and hurt someone. And this didn't seem to be a huge question for Claire--it just sort of happened. So while I'm certainly not in denial that marriages don't always make it, I also want to see them fight and struggle to live a little more than I saw here. Maybe that's my worldview getting in the way, and not the author's fault.

The real story here is in 1941--not the book's 1950s plotline. While I enjoyed the dual timeline, something needed to happen with the 1950s timeline to make our title character, The Piano Teacher Claire, less of a piece of information-seeking furniture and more of an active participant. That said, I would recommend this read--experiencing WWII in Hong Kong with Will and Trudy is worth it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Spirit of Vincennes

It's going to rain this weekend. Terrible thunderstorms and tornadoes very, very likely. Are they in the weather forecast? No, but that matters very little. The Spirit of Vincennes Revolutionary War festival is this weekend, and the "Spirit" of Vincennes is violent weather.
We attend this event every year, and we've learned to expect a massive storm system to arrive, generally, Saturday late afternoon or evening.

Since we live in these canvas tents at reenactments:
there isn't much in the way of shelter. Storms and high winds are fine (apparently some of these tents have been tested in wind chambers...fortunately) but tornadoes we just can't stand up to while living in canvas.

So we've on several occasions decamped to the damp, dank foundations of the George Rogers Clark Memorial Monument:

which is a lovely limestone structure, whose innards are considerably less lovely. In fact, the floor is dirt intermixed with old building schrapnel and other dangers. Safer inside than out? Hmmm...

Fortunately, we have never been blown to Oz. Though watching a storm system ride across the Wabash River behind all the men lined up at attention, carrying their muskets with fixed bayonets at the shoulder (fixed bayonets on muskets = portable lightening rods)? A sight to behold. And the year that we decided we'd had everything else at Vincennes, we may as well have a volcano? Pure genius--the Volcano Party will live in memory, as will the tiny plastic redcoats destroyed by the volcano's reign of terror.

Will report on the happenings and goings on of the event upon my return! Anyone in the area--come on out for a fun (and hopefully dry) time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

False Rumps and Satire

After the wide-hipped paniers of the early to mid eighteenth century and before the sylph-like silhouette of the Empire there was a brief flourishing of...

The False Rump. The width of the hips from earlier periods reoriented itself to the posterior, allowing additional surface area to play with the elaborate draping of the gowns' skirts popular at the time, namely the Robe a la Polonaise (which translates to Gown in the Polish Style, which translates to Gown whose skirts are rucked up in the back to form artful poufs) and the Robe Retroussee dans les Poches (which translates to Gown Pulled through the Pockets, which translates to Gown whose skirts are yanked through the pockets slits in a charming manner).

Like tight lacing and preposterously large hair, false rumps earned their share of derision from cartoonists.

In this image, a hairdresser gets a leg up from his customer's false rump.

This lady has found a perch for her lapdog. The dog's name, by the way, is Chloe, a name I would not have thought to associate with either the eighteenth century or canines!

The material of choice for false rumps appears, from these cartoons, to have been cork, which provides for even more hilarity.

The caption reads 'The Siege of Cork' and depicts one poor woman whose undergarment is attacked by corkless bottles in pursuit of a stopper.

Of course, with a large bottle attached to one's cork bum, one could have a seat anywhere one goes...By the by, these cartoons tend to lampoon young, attractive women as well as older, somewhat grotesque-looking women like these ladies. The older women always seem a bit more ridiculous, as though the cartoonist implies that young ladies may look foolish following silly trends, but older women who should know better by now look even worse.

My false rump is considerably more modest...and given the scarcity of cork in my neck of the woods, I used frayed hand towels to construct mine :)

All images from the Lewis Walpole Library

Sunday, May 23, 2010

And I a word of caution for writer-friends

...rather sunburned, quite tired, and still smelling vaguely of pork despite showering. Even so, when you're hanging with the group I run around with (in the eighteenth century) anytime is a fun time.

And, writer-friends, a line from a book I'm reading that illustrates the importance of proofreading (no, I will not say what the book is, save to say I'm enjoying aside from this foible, and I've rephrased slightly to protect the innocent):

"The new moon had risen over the trees...and glinted off the rooftops..."

I read this aloud to my astronomy PhD candidate husband, who almost laughed us into a ditch (he was driving) because a new moon is the lunar phase when you can't see the moon. So there really isn't any way to comment on its rising, and you certainly wouldn't see its light reflected in much of anything.

So--take heart. Everyone makes silly mistakes when they write. It's ok. But eagle-eye beta readers and crit partners save you from embarassment in print form :)

**A useless but interesting tidbit from conversation with astronomer-husband: New moon, in other cultures, can refer to the first crescent moon after what we call the new moon. So, benefit of the doubt for the author of the above foible--perhaps s/he is unfamiliar with the more common connotation of "new moon."

Friday, May 21, 2010

What We Do for Love...

Reenacting isn't all fun and games. There's the waking up to the intense need to hobble to the porta potty at dawn--and it's pouring. There's the fire that won't start, will only smoke--and that smoke is having a grand time plastering itself to your face. There's 100 degrees in the shade, and then there's frozen mornings where you have to break the ice off the buckets. And then there's the fundraising.

Not every group fundraises. We have a cannon. Cannons are like pets (pets you don't have to walk, but still). They have expenses--trailers, lots of black powder, upkeep. So we have a yearly fundraiser in which we...

...sell pork chops. Really. We grill pork chops in the parking lot of a tiny grocery store in a tiny town in the nondescript rural Midwest. We get sunburned and leave smelling like charcoal and spicy bacon. We make a couple hundred bucks and I promise it's legal and Health-Code approved.

And we have the funds to play for another year. So that's where I am this weekend--weilding my 21st century meat thermometor for the 18th century hobby.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Research for New Project or, How I Love my Library

I'm one lucky skunk. Really. I live in a college town and work across the street from an eleven story bastion of books known as "The Main Library." There are dozens of other libraries scattered across campus. I can get pretty much any book I want.

It's glorious.
They have a really wonderful system that I use (abuse?) regularly, in which you can browse the online catalog and request delivery on any book in circulation. Which is great, because I can pick out a half dozen books from various libraries around campus, or even in auxillary storage, on Monday morning and pick them up Tuesday at lunch.

So I dove in on fact-checking and fleshing-out research for my latest project, tentatively titled December and set in post-WWII Chicago. I have one character who was part of the Women's Land Army, so I picked up On the Farm Front, which is really fascinating for its exploration of how different regions accepted or didn't accept female farm laborers. For instance--many places were fine with women as seasonal workers, thought not as full-time laborers, and women would sign up for two weeks picking cherries or peaches. Some recalled these temporary stints as nearly a vacation, though a hard-working vacation.

And then I encountered one of the drawbacks of not browsing the stacks myself. Another character was in the Army Air Corps, and requested Masters of the Air, which is a history of the Eighth Air Force. Eeep. It's something like 700 pages long. A tome, if you will. I was hoping for about half that. On the bright side, it's engaging writing and I love reading about this era. On the downside, finding anything is brutal, and I'm having to search subjects in the index and then look up individual pages to get a concise history of the development and use of the various elements of the Air Corps at the time. For instance, I wanted to know how fighter escorts worked, and had to read pages 44-46, then 132-22 and then 213-15 just to determine when it became standard for bombers to use fighter plane escorts. Sheesh. I'm ashamed to admit that I might resort to watching old episodes of Dogfights on Netflix to fill in the blanks...

Isn't research grand?

In the meantime, I also requested one book just for fun--The Postmistress, which I've been dying to read. Pure coincidence, of course, that it's also set in WWII! The fellow checking my books out must have thought me a bit of a nut!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Just Discovered--Fab Patterns. Missing? The Last Hour of my Life...

So I have a couple events coming up that might just warrant new dresses that aren't eighteenth-century (I really need to get out more in terms of period dressing...). One is an annual USO swing dance--would be fun to make a vintage dress to go with my hat collection. I've been getting by on piecemeal separates for long enough. The other is my husband's Navy ball in the fall--why wear modern clothes when way-out-of-fashion ones are so much better?

So, browsing vintage pattern sites, I discovered the Vintage Pattern Lending Library, which is a bit of a misleading name as they do sell repro patterns, not merely lend them. And I immediately slipped into a good, uninterupted forty minutes of oogling over old patterns. I was pretty impressed with the pricing--I often see repro patterns going for over $20 a pop, and these often came in under $15.

In terms of kicky 1940s dresses, what about these numbers?

Loving the Peter Pan esque collar and the doily pockets. No, really. People just don't put doilies on pockets anymore, do they?
Love the detailing on the shoulders, but is this verging on too frumpy?

Under consideration for formal wear:

I adore the diagonal seaming and the fluid line of the lower skirts. Am not sure how well my frame will take to the top bit.

Or this Vintage Vogue pattern, already in my arsenal? I'm trying to decide if I have the chutzpah to pull off this sylph-like silhouette! But imagining it in a beautiful, drapey silk charmeuse makes me go weak at the knees, so I might have to give it a shot.

Thoughts? Preferences? Suggestions of other vintage patterns and sites I should spend more time perusing before settling on a final selection?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lucy Locket Lost her Pocket...

...Kitty Fisher found it.

Not a penny was there in it,

Only the ribbon 'round it.

This is one of my favorite nursery rhymes, because it's like an inside joke for those in-the-know about eighteenth century clothing. Unlike modern clothing and men's clothing from the era, women's clothing in the eighteenth century did not include built-in pockets. Rather, women wore separate pockets tied around their waists, under their skirts. And these pockets were often elaborately embroidered, like this one from the Met's Costume Institute:

You could access your pockets through slits in your petticoats and, if your gown did not have an open front, slits in it as well, as this girl is doing:

To be honest, there are benefits to this method. You never have to swap out your vital personal items from one pocket to another, and you don't have to carry a purse. Which is nice, because you needn't worry about matching your purse to your outfit, and you can worry a bit less about pickpockets (though not entirely...wily bastards...). With the slim silhouette of the early nineteenth century, women could no longer wear their pockets under their clothing without creating a goofy bulge, and instead carried small bags. Farewell, pockets.

There are, of course, disadvantages, as well. For instance, a reenactress forgets that she has stashed items in her pockets and lets them sit all winter. Exhibit A: My embroidered pocket, with a wild rose design that my father and I created:

Exhibit B: The contents of aforementioned pocket, including a lighter which may or may not work, a quasi-melted Tootsie Roll, some cash (score!), an admission button to an event from 2004, my folding fork/spoon and pocket knife, hairpins, a frienship bracelet woven for me by an industrious young friend, and some solid perfume. I also found an antacid wrapper of which I, to my knowledge, did not at any time use the contents.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

K is for...

Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw (Response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

Historical in the strictest sense? Not exactly. Elements of myth, the paranormal, and fantasy permeate this reimagining of the Arthurian legend. Yet, they make sense in the historical setting into which Bradshaw has placed them--a post-Roman Dark Ages in which a confusing world could well hold portals to others. The characters believe in the power of magic, and we can well imagine real-life residents of Britain in this time believing as well, so the element feels perhaps not so fantastic after all.

Following the first book in the trilogy, Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer continues the story of Gwalchmai, one of Arthur's most valued horesemen and soldiers. The gem for me in this retelling was that, rather than told in an omnipresent voice or the voice of an already familiar character, Bradshaw introduces a narrator who fits seamlessly into the legend yet would never otherwise be mentioned: Gwalchmai's servant. This is why, of the three books, this one is my favorite. The voice of a farmer's son lends a realism to the muddy, gritty, harsh world that a historical Arthur and his men would have inhabited.

Additionally, though the other books in the trilogy play much more with fantasy, Kingdom of Summer follows a more temporal storyline, though magical elements still pop up from time to time, and are integral to the story. And Bradshaw's writing is delightful. Reading certain scenes I could truly see the scene in my mind, as though panning through the a film with vivid detail.

If you enjoy historicals with an element of fantasy, you'll enjoy these. Just don't be put off by the cheesy covers. They are so gosh-darn-awful that I'm not including a pic here. Mine are used hardcovers with beautiful, simplistic artwork. Here's the cover for the final book, In Winter's Shadow. I confess, this one was so sad--describing Arthur's downfall--that I only read it once, for propriety's sake to finish the series.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Morning Frolic

I found this print on the Lewis Walpole Library and it sort of cracked me up. Why is it that women wearing men's accessories is somewhat saucy, while men wearing women's is just preposterous? Case in point:

A few points to note: Often in eighteenth-century artwork, a pair of discarded stays visible in the picture (here, between the critters on the left-hand side) indicate that the woman pictured is a prostitute. The fact that the man is an army officer somewhat goes to corroborate that (often stationed away from home...they get lonely...). So, we can interpret this picture to be of a whore and an army officer, the morning after she's rendered services, having a bit of fun. A bottle of wine sits at the upper left, while a silver serving set (possibly for chocolate) sits behind them.

One element I love about this print is how both not only wear the accessories of the opposite sex--he has her ornate cap and fan, she dons his military cocked hat and sword--but have also adopted the body postures. He sits demurely, feet together, with his body partially obscured by the fan. She stands assertively, feet planted firmly apart, hands on her hips (in the eighteenth century, hands on hips was considered a masculine stance--ladies folded their hands in front of them, much as the officer is doing).

The book reads "Ovid's Metamorphoses done into English." Ovid's stories often displayed how love--or lust--made people do very silly things. Clearly.

My one question, for all you art folks out there--what to make of the parrot and the whippet/miniature greyhound? Animals in art often have representative roles, but I'm not sure about these. Thoughts? Or are they filling the oft-used "dog piddling in the forefront" role of eighteenth century art (often cartoons will include a dog in the frame--often piddling--to show a sense of realism, and, when piddling, a sense of displeasure with the scene).

PS I love her purple shoes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Gown Like May Flowers

I went shopping yesterday--for everyday, twenty-first century stuff. It's not that I dislike shopping, but I can't help but feel a bit disappointed as I browse t-shirts and pencil skirts that nothing on the racks is nearly as flattering as my eighteenth century clothes. Plus buying clothes isn't as much fun as making them.

So, the necessity of real world clothes taken care of for the next six months or so, I went virtual window shopping at the Met Costume Institute. And I found this:

All right, how flipping cute is a perky pink striped taffetta gown with a gauzy kercheif, I ask you? It dates from the late 1780s and it's still just as kicky as ever. I adore the slightly masculine details of the wide, simple cuffs and the tabbed bottom of the bodice combined with the utter fluff of that ruffle and the cotton-candy fantasia of color. The sweep of the cut of the gown's skirts is fascinating to me, too--mine are always cut straight, but I might have to try this lovely curved sweep of the hem next time. Only nitpick--I would have placed that huge ruffle on the petticoat lower, and would have stitched the gathers in a quarter of the way down from the top rather than straight through the middle.

I think it's perfectly spring--or is it over-the-top girly? Pink isn't usually my thing, but this would be ideal for a spring stroll through the garden, clipping the peonies that are starting to bloom.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thoughts on Corsets--"Stay" with me!

Sorry for the terrible husband hates my puns and says that "he who would pun would pick a pocket," but I happen to think puns can be quite funny. This one, I freely admit, was terrible.

I always notice and cringe a bit at chatter about corsets and their inhumanity and historical novels in which women symbolize their independence or free-thinking by ditching their corset. I often have visitors to reenactments gape over my stays and insist that I must be terribly uncomfortable. Then I read Isis's lovely argument against this kind of thought, and decided I could add to her thesis by sharing my experience with actually wearing stays.

First off. Eighteenth century stays and nineteenth-century corsets are two different things. On the left/bottom, you can see the hourglass shape created by the nineteenth-century corset. Even tightly laced, eighteenth-century stays on the right/top are still essentially cone shaped. They don't constrict the middle of the torso the way later corsets do (think Scarlett O'Hara and her sixteen inch waist). They follow a natural line of the body pretty closely.

Second, that bit about tight-lacing. Most women would not have tightly laced in the eighteent century or, I imagine, in the ninetenth, either. It quite simply wasn't practical for a working woman, and any woman but a woman of leisure would have worked--cooking, cleaning, farming, gardening, and coralling children. Colonial Williambsburg's collection of stays, at my last understanding, had the smallest pair measuring a waist circumference of 24 inches. Certainly a pair of stays for a thin woman, but not a device intended to drastically reduce anyone's waist size. Upper-class women did tight-lace on occasion, but seem to have been made fun of for their vain practice, as this famous cartoon shows:

My interpretation of this satire is that women of higher classes certainly did lace tightly, but that it was seen as "fashion" rather than necessity (as the title of the cartoon, "Fashion Before Ease" indicates). Additionally, this fashionable practice, like the giant hair of the 1770s and the large false rumps of the 1780s, was satirized for its extremity. In other words, most people thought it was pretty silly, but fashion is what it is: Extreme, a bit ridiculous on occasion, and indulged in its fullness only by the wealthy or those aping their betters.

So, why does an eighteenth-century woman wear stays? First, because they didn't wear bras. Seriously. That's your support--and not only does it support the bust, but it supports your back as well. It also gives your petticoats and gown something to hang on other than your hips and shoulders, which is surprisingly helpful for that weight. And, let's be honest--because it gives the clothing the fashionable shape. Modern women have stopped wearing Mom Jeans for the same reason (remember SNL?).

But it has to restrict your movement, right? Not really. I wear my stays for reenactment all weekend long, and am working in camp constantly. The only thing I can't do in stays that I can do in jeans and a t-shirt is bend at the waist. This just forces me to lift heavy items with my legs instead of bending and using my back--which is actually better for you. I can haul water and firewood, help drag our cannon (and it's pretty darn heavy) and have even sprinted across a mock battlefield on multiple occasions. By the end of the day, I'm dying to take off my shoes, not my stays!

And as for restricting breathing? Only after I've been sprinting too long...and let's be honest, that probably has more to do with the fact that I'm not in great shape! Breathing is normal. The one experience that is entirely different in stays? Sneezing. Sneezing feels like a tiny bomb going off in your chest, and my sneezes in stays always sound like "A-ah-choo!Owww...."

If a woman didn't wear stays or a corset, she wouldn't have had any support and her clothing would not fit. That's not to say that some women, on the fringes of society, may not have worn the normal undergarments. But this would be akin to choosing not to wear a bra with a business suit--it's noticeable, it's probably uncomfortable, and it's a deliberate statement and choice. Even very poor women owned stays--some towns actually distributed leather stays to the destitute, illustrating the perceived necessity of the garment.

So--in short, I hope this helps at least explain why women wore stays and corsets, and why, perhaps, writers should choose other ways to illustrate their protagonists' independent attitudes. Drop me a line in the comments and let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Additive Edit and Chapter Two Syndrome

So, the requisite writing update for those following that development (others feel free to skip this entry--I won't be offended!). Finished Project I (Linden Hall, my Revolutionary War era story, and again thanks to those who have helped by reading and giving feedback) is out with agents who have the full. I'm holding off on further querying at the moment for two reasons. One, if anyone who currently has it offers representation, I'm psyched--no need to keep shopping. Second, if no one offers representation, I'm going to pull back on it and do some reconstruction or assessment if I want to continue with it. Not a surrender, mind you, but a strategic retreat. A third, not quite explanatory, reason is that this querying thing is stressful and I need a little break from it before diving back in. So that's that, in a nutshell.

Not-Yet-Finished Project (December, my post-WWII story) has a rough draft. I've discovered an odd discrepancy between how I write rough drafts and how most (normal?) people write them. Most first pass editing advice and description focuses on cutting all the bits you don't need. My first pass is all about adding in the stuff I missed the first time around.

Once I had the bones of a draft, I let it marinate for a couple weeks and then read it. I didn't let myself make any nitpicky changes or revisions, but if I wasn't happy with a spot I could circle it or make a note. The point wasn't to fix, but to identify what was weak and why. And in the first round, what's weak for me is usually missing stuff.

I seem to have what I am calling Chapter Two Syndrome--Chapter One is fine and does what it needs, but I'm missing Chapter Two. Really, it's gone completely--I skip a requisite tension heightening, plot developping, character testing Chapter Two and head straight into a continuing the story mode of Chapter Three. So my first job in this edit was to create a Chapter Two.

Over an iced chai, Chapter Two emerged from backstory into active prose, from shadowy "this once happened" to immediate "this is happening now and that not only makes ever so much more sense but reads much better, too."

Now for the rest of the additions--and my printed paper copy (as I can't seem to see what's missing on screen) is chock-a-block full of pen mark brackets, scrabbly notes, giant stars, and warbled circles. Back to work!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Best Writing/Publishing Blogs You're Not Reading...yet.

Websites and blogs aimed at connecting, inspiring, informing, and helping fledgling writers abound. If you're aspiring to publication, you've probably found plenty--I have my regular reads that I enjoy and learn from. There are a few, however, that may have flown under your radar. So, in celebration of the best blogs you've never heard of, some of my favorites:

1) Let the Words Flow. This cooperative blog, founded by a lovely group of ladies who met on Fiction Press, is a fabulous resource for writers. The contributors hail from all milestones along the road to publication--some are published authors, some are still working on their first novels, some are querying or on submissions. One is a literary agent, another is an intern at an agency. They blog about writing snags, tips for effective writing, publishing, the query process--the whole package. But the real treasure is the atmosphere--reading and commenting here is like wandering into a cozy coffeeshop filled with writer-friends. Sit down, grab a chai, enjoy the conversation.

2) Getting Past the Gatekeeper. An agent blog like none other. Gatekeeper may not dispense as much advice as Nathan Bransford or Rachelle Gardener, but she gives every post a unique perspective. Despite her anonymity, she reminds writers that there's a human side to the publishing industry and somehow makes the whole process a little less scary. Plus, she answers many of the quesitons left in the comments--feel free to speak up! Additionally, her "Agent Life" posts lend great insight into what an agent's day looks like--you'll have a whole new appreciation for the amount of work they put in!

3) The Rejectionist. Ok, you might have found this one--the Assistant has a huge following. But if not, I recommend reading Rejectionist for the same reason I like to listen to indie radio on occasion. The opinions are unabridged and uncensored, and though I may not like all of it, I'm bound to discover something new. Assistant pays special attention to female writers and writers of color, so the potential for finding something outside the mainstream is pretty good. You might have to read some ranting (and language....just fair warning), but when you walk away with a new appreciation for an author you hadn't heard of (or an irresistable draw to download the Fleet Foxes album), tuning in was worth it.

4) Historical Tapestry and Reading the Past. As a historical fiction writer, reading blogs on the genre written not by writers but by avid readers has been a boon. First, these blogs keep tabs on what's being pubished by whom, and their announcements serve to exponentially increase by To-be-Read pile. And being in the know is always wise for whatever genre you write in. Second, the reviews given by these experienced and savvy readers lend insight into what works and doesn't for the audience I hope, one day, will be my target audience. Finally, author interviews give even more insight to the research, writing, and publication of these fine books. If you're writing (or reading) historical fiction, check these ladies out. And if not--find a blog devoted to reading the genre you're writing, and enjoy!

And of course, all the blogs of fellow writers...I won't list them because I just know I'd forget someone and that would make me quite sad! But reading others' progress, success, and struggles really helps me in my own work. So--thank you for sharing with me! Pop into the comments if you're a blogging writer and leave your url...and let us know if there's another must-read blog we haven't heard of yet!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Simple Petticoat I

Of all the eighteenth century clothing I own, I tend to fall behind the furthest on petticoats. Because they're so simple, I forget to start on them...and then end up going all season on one decent petticoat. Well, not anymore--I vow to rework the petticoats that need assistance and have a new one made before summer!

I've got a good start--the bones of a new olive green petticoat were completed this weekend. I sort of got sucked into watching The Tudors on Netflix with my husband and then figured I could get some sewing done while watching the political shenanigins of Henry and his cohort. The needle flies when you're watching other people get beheaded and go mad in the Tower.

You will need: Fabric. I chose lovely olive green linen from


Taping for ties at top.


I may not make my petticoats in the most authentic way possible, but it works for me! I use the width of the fabric as the width of the petticoat, and measure for length. By measure for length I mean hold the fabric up to myself, find a length I like, pin and fold it double. Then I cut (using this fabulous technique I learned from the Amish department store near my parents'--pulling a thread to show a guideline). I end up with two long rectangles of equal size.

Make that two slightly wrinkly rectangles.

I then stitch them up the sides, and here's the important part--leaving about six to eight inches open at the top for the pocket slits. This is where using the width of the fabric has another bonus, besides avoiding extra cutting--the selvadge serves to avoid fraying, making felling the seam or hemming the turnbacks of the pocket slits unnecessary. I just tack down the pocket slit sides.

Then--hemming the bottom. This part is boring.

Finally--pleating the top. I pleat both front and back of the petticoat, using my "fold the fabric and stab a pin through aforesaid fold and into the carpet" method. I then pin and baste all the pleats.

Finishing touch--I stitch taping to the top of the petticoat, creating a binding for the pleated part and the ties that I will use to fasten the petticoat.

I get my tape from Wm. Booth Draper, and won't be seeing the proprietor and family and their store until an event at the end of May--am deciding if I should whip something up with bias tape until then or just wait.

Or is that the finishing touch? I'm considering adding a decorative pleated band or ruffle to the bottom of the petticoat.

Certainly, these are usually seen in prints on fine ladies' petticoats, not a simple linen one for daily wear. However--adding a bit of leftover would display my eighteenth-century fabric frugality, plus "aping ones' betters" was a quite common occurence (practically a hobby for some...)

What think you? Lovely addition or gilding the linen lily?