Where do you get your clothing inspiration? Does the real world inspire what your characters wear, if you're a writer? Do characters in books or movies inspire what you add to your wardrobe?
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Like ladies' clothing, it's not so much the cut or the style as it is the fabric and the elegant embellishments that set fine garments apart from workaday middling sorts' clothes. Workaday middling sorts such as merchants, physicians, better-off farmers all would have had well-tailored three-piece suits. They just wouldn't have been made of kicky patterned silk or embroidered to high heaven.
This ensemble is made of matching silk coat and breeches with an ivory weskit, embroidered in a pattern to match the coat. The Met Museum Costume Institute dates it to 1774-1792, but I'm not sure that this is accurate--the breeches don't have the characteristic fall-front from that period, and the larger cuffs with big buttons, and the largeish decorative pocket flaps have the air of an earlier decade--I'd tentatively say 1760s, but what do I know? Perhaps this piece is a "transition" from the more ostentatious midcentury to the more demure late century look--or was an older man's, and he had no interest in keeping up with trends.
One of my favorite details--each button on the weskit is covered with matching embroidery. Little pink flowers...when did men decide they couldn't or wouldn't wear clothing embroidered with little pink flowers? I think the effect here is quite fetching.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Well, it's a subject rather personal to me at the moment. I decided back in July (which really isn't a lot of time when you come down to it) that I'd been away from school long enough and was tired of delaying returning for my Master's just because I was working and my husband is in grad school. I stopped fretting over what subject I should pursue--wouldn't it be smarter to pursue a professional degree like an MBA or MPA, shouldn't I think about where I want to work, I ought to get something marketable--and decided to just return to my first love: History. So I frantically researched my university's programs, got approved as a non-degree student with the intent to apply for the Master's, and filed more paperwork than I have since my undergrad days.
And yesterday, for the first time in three years, I registered for a class. It was a thrilling, nostalgic, and slightly scary moment--though I'm excited to get back to structured studies, I'm also leery of working full-time and going to school. And of course I don't want to give anything up--writing, sewing, reenacting aren't negotiables in my life. So we'll see how this goes (she says with a little apprehension), but overall I'm very excited to get back to it.
How about you? Any other returners to classes this year? Anyone just looking forward to getting done with school?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Regardless. Despite what we hear about children in the eighteenth century being expected to be little adults, there was literature developped and printed just for them, and the ideas were often similar to today's kids' books--simple rhymes, alphabet practice, and fairy stories. Of course, the titles were often less appealing, and have that austerity we've abandoned when it comes to kid lit. Like the one above: Tom Thumb's Play Book: To Teach Children their Letters as soon as they have learned to speak, being a New and pleasant Method to allure Little Ones into the first Principles of Learning. Yeah.
In the Pretty Song Book, there are many familiar rhymes, including "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "Sing a Song of Sixpence," and "Hickere, Dickere Dock" (now spelled Hickory Dickory, but the same rhyme).
Some are less familiar.
Like this gem:
Piss a Bed,
Piss a Bed,
Your Bum is so heavy,
You can't get up.
I doubt we'd see that one in preschool singalongs today.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Like many eighteenth-century fans, this one employs both delicately cut panels and painted artwork--possibly a copy of a popular print. The fan is bone, silk, and tortoiseshell, as well as mother-of-pearl accents.
And if I don't want to talk anymore? Instant screen.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Too many ideas. Clearly, not enough focus.
I had intended to return to a beloved character abandoned in an earlier project, but an image--a single image as always spurs my ideas--came to me this weekend as we were tearing down camp. I saw an officer's wife sitting in her husband's comfortably furnished campaign headquarters, the tent flap tied open to provide a bit of a breeze. I saw her pull a pin from her thick hair and the long dark mess of curls come tumbling down. I saw her lay the pin down and sigh. And I saw the enlisted man who was watching her:
I may be imagining it, but we've been different since she's been here. We stand up straighter. We don't pick our teeth after rations and we don't swear like we used to. Perhaps I imagine that we are all different but only I have changed. That I do know--she has changed me.
So now I'm torn--not sure which project to pursue. I'm going to sit on it a little while longer, I think, see who stalks me more aggresively.
How do you decide which ideas to pursue? Not necessarily a writing question, of course, though you're welcome to share your process there! Do you tend to have several projects going on at once? Or do you pick one and stick with it to the end, sort of a serial monogamist when it comes to projects?
Friday, August 20, 2010
It's at times like this that I thank my lucky stars we have a brazier. Braziers have existed since ancient times--portable boxes or cylinders that can burn wood, charcoal, or other fuel and provide a small cooking space without the hassle of a full fire. In the eighteenth century, they were a natty campaign accessory for officers.
Reproduction brazier--ours looks a lot like this. However, most originals I've seen follow the cylindrical pattern below. The repro doesn't include the ash recepticle the two below have beneath the containers, and has a grill as a cooking surface, whereas the others require a cooking surface placed over them.
We set one up with charcoal under the shelter of a dining fly, and can cook up sausages, fry eggs, heat washwater--it's all we need unless we're planning for very large dishes like huge kettles of stew or a roast. And with this heat, who wants stew anyway?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
1. Favorite childhood book?
One? One favorite? Oh, dear. I loved The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynn Reid Banks in second grade—that probably holds the title for most beloved book at a particular point in my life. But I also had a dearly loved, gorgeously illustrated copy of Sleeping Beauty (that part where the bad fairy disguised as an old woman tricks the princess into jabbing her finger on the spindle? My dad did the best toothless old lady bit during that part). And the Chronicles of Narnia will always be favorites of mine.
2. What are you reading right now?
The Pillars of the Earth, at the suggestion of my friend June.
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
I wish I had Sahib: The Story of the British Soldier in India 1750-1914 on request. But you can’t request it if someone above you in the university library pecking order has it out—SERIOUSLY. You know who you are, person who isn’t likely to be reading this blog. But if you are—return it, please. Or give it to me for, say, a week.
4. Bad book habit?
I start too many books. And I borrow books from friends and take forever to read them.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Do you want the whole list? It’s long...they’re all research books that relate to the current WIP. Masters of the Air (about the Eighth Air Force in WWII), Goodbye, Piccadilly (about British War Brides), On the Farm Front (about the American Women’s Land Army in WWII), several others. All piled ingloriously on my armchair.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
No...I’d use one if I had one. Mostly for historical documents and manuscripts. I have a feeling I’ll have one after my birthday, though...
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I don’t know that it’s a preference...more of an addiction. I can’t help but have several going at the same time. This is partly because I always have research books and novels going--they just aren't replacement for one another :)
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Not terribly—but I do tend to take note of things I’d mention in a review more since posting reviews of books I’ve read.
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Hmmm...I will say I was most disappointed in The Postmistress and leave it at that. Not necessarily least favorite, but biggest discrepancy between expectation and result.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
One favorite? Eeeep. I suppose Suite Francaise is my favorite from this year. Delicious. But hit up the Historical Fiction label on the side for the rest of the ones I loved.
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Not very often—though I was just saying I should try some science fiction sometime because I know there’s good stuff out there and I’ve never even sampled.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Historical fiction, historical nonfiction, literary fiction (to a point), classics. Poetry. The Bible.
13. Can you read on the bus?
Sometimes I feel like I might yack if I read on anything moving.
14. Favorite place to read?
On the back porch, on a cool evening. Insects whirring and hopefully some nearby tree is blooming, so any breeze wafts a faint fragrance over my pages. Perfect.
15. What is your policy on book lending?
I’m fine with lending “normal” books to people I trust—but my antiques aren’t going anywhere but from my shelf to my bedside table. I’m selfish like that.
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
No, I have a little collection of bookmarks.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No—feels wrong, like marking up a friend with a pen.
18. Not even with text books?
Some textbooks. I have a very particular highlighting system that I use.
19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. But I do enjoy reading in French, too (and not just to be pretentious).
20. What makes you love a book?
Beautiful language—words that do something more than simply propel a plot or share information. I want to take in my breath with delight the same way I do when I see a lovely sunset or an incredible painting.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Usually because I know someone very well, and I’ve read something that resonated with me and I feel it would with them, too. Somehow recommending a book feels very personal to me.
22. Favorite genre?
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Science fiction. My father adores sci-fi and is always telling me about all the books he’s read and loved, but I’ve never given it a chance. I think I ought to—I’m seeing him this weekend and might ask him to bring a copy of one of his favorites for me to test drive.
24. Favorite biography?
I don’t read much biography, honestly...but I do read a ton of memoir and diaries from the periods I research and write about. I love this diary from 1945 and this memoir by George Rogers Clark.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
No—clearly I’m beyond help. Not to get too cheesy, but when I feel I need guidance, I read the Bible.
26. Favorite cookbook?
The original Fannie Farmer cookbook. Just the basics. Most of it sounds awful and uses lard but you know it's delicous.
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Anything by Irene Nemirovsky. Suite Francaise changed my (writing) life. Seriously. Took my breath away.
28. Favorite reading snack?
I rarely eat while reading! A cup of coffee, maybe. Or a glass of cold white wine on that back porch I mentioned.
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
It was my own fault—The Postmistress again. I kept seeing it and I think I mostly built it up in my own head. To be fair, I still haven’t read Harry Potter because I’m worried about hype...I think I’m almost safe now.
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t really read critics. I’m not awfully interested in their opinions when it comes to picking books, to be honest—I like what I like, and I think that’s how reading ought to be. They can be fun to read to see if what they thought matched up with your impression, but I don't take the whole thing very seriously in the book-selection process.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I like honest reviews—my own and other’s. I’m often interested in what others thought about a novel, whether I agree with it or not. And it’s impossible to have dialogue about art of any kind, literature included, without honesty. I don’t approve of reviews that are venomous, or that don’t say what they didn’t like—if a reviewer gives a rationale, I can see what he or she was reading for—and I’ll know if it’s something that would likely disappoint me, too. It becomes like a conversation. I hope my own reviews are the same.
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
I do read in French sometimes—I should read more. I would love to learn Arabic. And Russian.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Ok, starting Pillars of the Earth was hard—that book is huge! But I'm getting pulled right in and taken along with it with no problem.
And the first time I ever had to read a novel in French for a college course. Loved it.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Anything Russian. Dang, those Russian novelists were long-winded! But I enjoy Russian short fiction, so I feel like I should take the plunge with Anna Karenina or one of its ilk...
35. Favorite Poet?
Tennyson...no, Yeats...no, Tennyson....no, Archibald Lampman...wait, Yeats...
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Either zero or eight. It goes in cycles.
37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Not very often—I usually sit in the library browsing for long enough that I know I want to take something home, and am really excited to get it home with me!
38. Favorite fictional character?
Martha Peake and Harry, from Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath. They should have been completely unbelievable, but they captured me completely.
39. Favorite fictional villain?
Most of my favorite books don’t have villians...they might have antagonists, but not straight-up baddies. Hmmm. I have always liked The Wicked Witch of the West. Best cackle ever (my mom and I claimed waaaay before Wicked came out that those shoes really were hers by right).
40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Something lightweight that I don’t mind losing. Second-hand paperbacks, mostly.
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I didn’t read for enjoyment very much in college. I was reading enough other stuff. So perhaps a semester at a time without a book I picked for myself.
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Actually, there would be quite a few in this list, so I'll share my newfound appreciation for allowing oneself to put down a book if one isn't enjoying it instead. I've brought home a few library books, friend-lent books, and gifts, gotten fifty pages in, and thought to myself, "Self, I don't terribly much care what happens next. And the words are a dime a dozen." And then I put the book down...and after years of abiding by the "start it, finish it" policy, this is wonderfully liberating.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Everything? I’m very easily distracted—I like to keep moving. If I'm watching a movie, I'm also sewing or knitting or cleaning something--it's hard to keep my hands still. And if the weather is nice, it’s hard to keep me inside. I want to go for a walk.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Atonement. I loved the book, and the film really captured the essence of the story, of the themes. I’ve never seen that quite so deftly done.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
I refuse to see the Narnia movies--I'm disappointed they were even attempted. I have a great respect for CS Lewis, and he said once he never wanted these books made into movies, so I won't see the film version out of respect for him.
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I can remember $500 semesters in college. But for my own books, for my own enjoyment? Perhaps $25. I like to spread my buying out.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Page 99 Test, all the way. Honestly, I'll often read a borrowed copy before I buy. I'm terribly cheap.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Poor writing. Or unrealistic storylines or character development. Or abso-flippin-lutely nothing happening. Or aliens suddenly appearing and taking over the storyline.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yeah...they used to be organized alphabetically, but it didn’t work space-wise. Now they’re arranged by size. The DVDs are alphabetical by title, though.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
A little of both. I borrow a lot, but real favorites I’ll buy. And I’ll buy bargain table books a lot and give away the ones that I likely wouldn’t read again.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Avoiding in the sense that other people tell me I need to read it but I just won’t? Twilight. No, friends and family, I am not interested.
52. Name a book that made you angry.
Everything else I’ve read by Ian McEwan after reading Atonement. So here I am, adoring Atonement, savouring every beautiful phrase—and everything else I read feels heavy-handed, overwrought. Uninteresting and terribly depressing. Same story for Patrick McGrath after Martha Peake.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
1984 and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Both the result of a “didn’t read this in high school and everyone else seemed to” swap with a friend. Both with very good reasons they’re on high school reading lists! Those, and The Odyssey, which I read in high school and everyone else hated but I secretly adored.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
It must sound by now that I really hate The Postmistress. I didn’t hate it that much. One more for good measure—Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet just didn’t quite deliver for me, either.
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Anything! I really don’t feel guilty about any of my reading—should I?
Feel free to use and answer! Or--in the comments--what's your biggest book habit? The best book you read this year?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
So I started floating around other city ideas...New York...small town Indiana...Chicago. Huh, I thought, Chicago. Kind of the American every-city. Interesting culture and architecture, still very vibrant and evolving at the time.
Then I found this: An online diary of a high school student from 1945 and 1946. Dot, as you can come to know very well through her daily musings, was a vivacious young woman living in the suburbs of Chicago in 1945, getting into all kind of miniature adventures and romantic tangles. Her son found her diary and, decades after she passed away, posted the entries along with ephemera from the time and place--newspaper clippings, photographs.
Seeing Chicago in 1945 through Dot's eyes sealed the deal for me--this was where my characters belonged. They fit there--I could see them passing her by on the L, sitting a table away at a diner. They visit many of the haunts Dot describes in her diary--the ballrooms, the theaters, the streetcars.
Two years of diary postings are still available on the site 1945 and 1946. Daily postings continue on the world Dot lived in--making this blog well worth a drop by.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
These photos were taken by a friend of mine last year--we're dressed down, some of us still in eighteenth-century attire, some changed into modern clothes, some of us in between. It was a rainy and unseasonably chilly day in August, so you'll see some eighteenth-century outerwear interspersed in there.
A Continental Marine in a Cubs hat helps a merchant's daughter with the bat. She was one of our younger players.
A shot of the field--quite a motley assortment of us! The green-coated lad is a Continental Marine, winded from running all the way to third. The fellow next to him is wearing a great coat against the cold.
Wooden stakes are used instead of bases. Home plate has a bucket next to it--if the ball is placed in the bucket before the runner reaches home, he or she is out.
What's a game without an announcer? We commandeered the PA system that we use for demonstrations and tacticals.
On occasion we'll play football, too, but that's of course of less historical interest. And only the teenaged and younger adult guys play for the most part--though a few intrepid women will join (I'm sneaky on short passes, myself).
Monday, August 16, 2010
But these ethereal concoctions caught my eye. The image is nabbed from the Met's Costume Institute site, the French dresses dated to roughly 1805-1810. What a difference from the fasion of a mere twenty-five years earlier--these little lovelies wouldn't have been weighed down by heavily boned stays, padded rumps or paniers, or layers of petticoat. No, the wearers probably wore lightly boned little stays (think of the difference between a training bra and an underwire push-up and you'll have the idea of Regency stays compared to Georgian stays) over a lightweight chemise. Their hair would have been dressed softly and simply, forgoing the extravagant height and width of eighteenth-century hair excess. I imagine being doe-eyed was a requirement for wearing these, don't you?
And look at the simplicity of the design--decorated with white embroidery on white cotton. And such incredible white cotton--it looks like it's spun of air and cloud, doesn't it? Cotton was coming into its own as an inexpensive fabric after the invention of the cotton gin (before that time it was pricey--just below silk in the pecking order of fine fabric). Yet this is still fine, top-notch cotton--I wish you could find its equal today.
Could it be I've gone soft? Am developping a taste for dainty clothing?
Or perhaps I'm actually beginning to wilt from the heat and can imagine these ensembles being absolutely perfect for a summer evening? Yes, I do believe that's it.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
And, of course, hopping on the research train for the next project! Um, whoever has had Sahib: The Story of the British Solider in India 1750-1914 checked out from my library for the past eight months could you please return it? Thisclose to ordering on Amazon. Any guesses as to the next project? Hints...involves India and the British somewhere between 1750 and 1914. And my second-favorite pair of characters I've ever created (salvaged from another scrapped piece o' work o' mine). First place on favorite characters, by the by, goes to Hadley and Jamison, the comedic turn-of-the-century geriatric explorers who emerge in the car whenever my husband and I are driving anywhere. An example:
Hadley! Where the devil are you, Hadley?
Why, Jamison, don't get in a dither. I was just scouting the best location to begin hacking our way through this dem jungle.
Hang it all, Hadley, you're holding the map the wrong way. (Please note--Hadley is indeed holding the map the wrong way.)
Don't be ignorant, Jamison! We just need to head off this way...(Disappears into treacherous undergrowth.)
Hadley, where the devil are you?
Right over here!
You're about to walk into a nest of highly venomous ground bees, Hadley, do be careful.
Oh, don't be obdurate, Jamison! Now, why in the world was I holding the map all cockeyed....
You may now return to your regularly scheduled weekend. Apologies for Hadley and Jamison.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I have to say, I'm honored--I don't think of what I do as inspiring creativity, but rather just sharing my musings and progress with ya'll. But the rules on the award--to pass this along to three outstandingly inspiring blogs--got me thinking about the cycle of creativity and inspiration.
I wrote on Monday about one link between my sewing and my writing; in short, I noticed how those two creative outlets feed on one another quite a bit. I find myself designing ensembles for my characters (especially the eighteenth-century ones) that never see the light of day in either the writing (lands, how boring would that be to read?) or in my sewing room (project overload). But on occasion they cross over. As you can see from Monday's post, my dreams of the perfect peacock blue sacque were born out of a character's wedding dress. And the 1930s Peacock Gown has me thinking--there is a story in this dress somewhere. I may have to write it.
So inspiration and creativity seem, to me, like a cycle--one is inspired by something, lets that inspiration out in a little burst (or a long marathon) of creativity, only for that endeavor to serve as inspiration for another. And when we're all spurring one another's creativity, what a tempest of inspiration!
All this to say, not at all succinctly, that it's very difficult for me to pluck the most inspirational blogs from those I visit frequently. Your very presence is inspiring. And everyone reading here now--your kindness in dropping in to say hello and share a thought inspires me more than almost anything else. If you're reading, feel free to snag this award. Seriously.
And, to play along as best I can, three categories of inspiration, with outstanding representatives in each:
The Book Blogs: You inspire me because, first and foremost, you read. And I do, too, but I write, as well. So you remind me that there is a voracious audience for good books, and that inspires me to write my best and to never give up my hopes of publication. You guys keep reading and blogging, and I'll keep growing my TBR list. Dolley, your posts have been nothing but droolworthy lately.
The Writer Blogs: You inspire me because you're there. Writing, editing, revising, you're in the trenches and the crazy thing? You love it. And that reminds me why I love it, and why, even if I'm nuts, I'm among friends. Plus, your courage to post your work for the rest of the world to read--well, it inspires me to come out of my shell a little, too. Lua--you are incredible in this regard, as are you, Miss June. But really, you all encourage me.
The Seamstress Blogs: I love pretty things. You make pretty things. Perfection. Isis, Gentlewoman Thief--you create such lovelies, and share your inspiration, and what's more, you encourage my endeavors. Keep making pretty things, we need more of them in the world!
As always around here, you can play along or not--I don't ask that you participate in the blog-award thing if you'd prefer not to, so this comes with no strings attached. Just this one--keep on creating, and I'll keep on being inspired.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I used the random number generator at random.org which yeilded...Angela!
Angela, please shoot me an email at hyalineblue079 at yahoo dot com (that's zero seven nine) and we'll talk specifics.
In addition, just for fun, some pics of eighteenth-century lovelies from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are all listed by the museum as "corset" though we know that term isn't quite accurate. These are all either stays, jumps, bodices, or an elusive something else...and sifting through what constitutes each is my current research project! It's been anathema in recent years to suggest that sleeveless garments may have been worn as outerwear, but I'm uncovering some evidence to the contrary, especially in France and elsewhere on the continent. Even the reenactor-despised term "bodice" is showing up (in the eighteenth-century dictionary, no less, so rather undeniable evidence), making me wonder if we have our research lacing as tight as it could be...
But back to the fun stuff:
A garment that, from its front closure, I have a sneaking suspicion may be intended to be worn as an outer garment. Listed as European provenance, it has a Continental look to me--French or German, perhaps?
Monday, August 9, 2010
The first is more significant than the second--a peacock gown as a wedding ensemble in the now-shelved Linden Hall. Despite my adoration of eighteenth-century clothes, I only went off the deep end twice in this project with the clothing descriptions which, given that it was set in 1780s Charleston, probably the most fashionable city in the Americas at the time, was quite a feat. This was one of them; as you can see, the clothing becomes a bit of a symbol by the end of the passage (the kind of significance a good gown deserves, really):
"Will you tie my necklace on for me?” Marjory asked. Anna obliged, tying the silk ribbon into a neat bow. She had expected Marjory to look different, to somehow bear the mark of her disgrace. Instead, she was characteristically stunning, wearing a peacock blue taffeta gown over an ochre petticoat that matched her amber jewelry. There was a frond of a peacock feather pinned into her dark curls. The iridescent eye of the feather winked in the light as Marjory turned her head. She was tightly laced beneath her fashionable gown, Anna noted, and wondered whether this was medically sound... Marjory sighed, and regarded her reflection in the mirror. Suddenly, she grasped the pin holding the peacock plume in place and tore it from her hair, flattening the feather onto the vanity beneath her open palm.
The other, in December, my WIP, I held back on, leaving only:
“Well, how was it?” Gloria had changed into a dark teal cocktail dress with a corsage pinned to it. Emily wondered who the flowers were from.
Yes, I say dark teal. What I have in my head....peacock blue on the greener side.
The really funny thing is that these two characters have a lot of similarities, and not just that they'd both look incredible in peacock blue. Marjory is a classic Southern beauty, but eighteenth-century style rather than Victorian--so she's spicy and witty and not at all retiring. Gloria is a chorus dancer in 1940s Chicago. Both are beautiful, but what's more, they know that they're stunning and use that to their advantange. In the end, both end up a bit crushed by the machinations of men they had hoped to manipulate (who both figure in the scenes, oddly enough...in case you didn't discern from the limited verbiage, Marjory is pregnant, forcing her into the world's most elegant shotgun wedding, and the flowers Gloria wears are from a slimy theater producer). I've a feeling neither will be kept down for long, though. After all, they're the sort of lady who wears peacock blue.
So what does it say that I'm currently obsessed with the color? Probably not much--as much as I'd love to pull a coquette move once in a while, it really isn't in my nature. However, I do find myself wanting to dress like my characters--imagining those fantastic 1940s ensembles makes me wish we still had that degree of class in our dressing, that we still wore hats and gloves and got dolled up to go out to dinner or dancing.
Any colors, clothes, or other outward trappings that surface in your writing? Any ensembles you've read about in books or seen in movies that made you want to acquire them for yourself?
Saturday, August 7, 2010
A shirt I bought my husband, and a purse I bought myself to replace my six-year-old bag whose handles were disintegrating. I'm sure the color choices were mere coincidence...
But now that it's done, I rather like it--so I've cut binding pieces and straps from a contrasting fabric and plan to finish this as a kicky tunic tank top.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
ANYONE, WORLDWIDE, MAY ENTER!
The gist and the rules are still posted further back, but to make things simple, you may enter there or here--remember to include your email address, and if you've mentioned this elsewhere on any social media for extra entries. Must be a follower (through any kind of feed, just let me know) to enter.
Deadline extended through Sunday August 8 to allow time to make up for my indecision and allow international friends to enter.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I was super-excited about this novel. For one, the multi-viewpoint format and the time period made it in some ways similar to my WIP, and I wanted to see what another writer did with that skeleton. Plus, WWII is one of my favorite eras to read about, and the unique perspective--set simultaneously in a wayside Massachusetts town and overseas in London during the Blitz--resonated with my interest in feeling out what the common person was doing, where he or she felt the impact of the war.
Because Amazon did a lovely job on the sum-up, here is their blurb:
Weaving together the stories of three very different women loosely tied to each other, debut novelist Blake takes readers back and forth between small town America and war-torn Europe in 1940. Single, 40-year-old postmistress Iris James and young newlywed Emma Trask are both new arrivals to Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod. While Iris and Emma go about their daily lives, they follow American reporter Frankie Bard on the radio as she delivers powerful and personal accounts from the London Blitz and elsewhere in Europe. While Trask waits for the return of her husband—a volunteer doctor stationed in England—James comes across a letter with valuable information that she chooses to hide. Blake captures two different worlds—a naïve nation in denial and, across the ocean, a continent wracked with terror—with a willingness to take on big, complex questions, such as the merits of truth and truth-telling in wartime.
What you see in the summary is what compelled me to pick this up and keep reading--the multiple perspectives and seeing how they wove together and the overarching theme of deciding which story that ought to be told trickling into the plot. I loved that this book attempted to do more than just tell a story--it attempted to enlighten and broaden the understanding of the reader.
Blake's writing was often very beautiful, turning a phrase in deft ways that brought more insight into the book. At other times, I felt a bit steamrolled--I love subtlety, and sometimes the author would hint beautifully and then pound home. I'd be content with the hints. There were also times when I felt that the dialogue was unrealistic--when you read along and think "No, no. No one actually says those things. We only wish they would." I get that writing dialogue is not the same as writing a conversation, but there were times that I felt the dialogue was being used to further the plot in a way that was not believable.
And the story itself...well. I do say that I love what Blake attempted, but I'm not convinced she succeeded. Some plot elements felt a bit half-baked. For example, the reasons explaining why newlywed Emma's husband leaves to help in London felt mediocre to me--there needed to be something deeper than what happened, because I didn't feel the circumstances justified his actions. And once Blake dove into Frankie's story, which followed the intrepid journalist through the Blitz and into war-torn Europe, I felt that this was the story she really wanted to write. Very little happens in the way of character development or conflict for either Iris or Emma after the opening chapters, and they feel more like conduits for connecting Frankie to something else, to something larger.
What I did appreciate was that Blake was willing to dive into American attitudes about the war before our entrance, and I feel she did a great job of showing the complexity and variation of how individuals felt and reacted to what was, at the time, still a foriegn war. The American pre-war years are not explored very much, and I appreciated that Blake focused her efforts here, directing the audience to a time and place we do not encounter often.
This is a complete sidenote, but I was also a bit surprised with the way that Blake handled mid-century attitudes about sex. Emma and Iris are naiive and meek to a degree that I felt was unrealistic. The opening scene is even Iris having her virginity ascertained by a physician so that she can present that information to the man she wants to marry. Compare that with Frankie, who we see having random sex with a stranger in an alley minutes after the character is first introduced. Now, I am sure that both of these attitudes existed in America at the time, but such a wide swing felt contrived. After all, my grandmother enjoys insinuating that it was her generation that learned what back seats were for...yet I doubt many women nipped out to the alley for a good time with strange men. Just a bit that struck me as odd, but perhaps I'm overanalyzing it.
In short--I wanted more from this book than it gave me. I had high expectations and perhaps was demanding too much of a fantastic premise, but the execution fell short for me. Still, the writing was good and I'm curious to see what Blake does next.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I have a confession to make. I lost my purple revision pen. And I don't know where to find it. So I had to attack the last third of my manuscript with a pink pen, which, despite its willingness and valiant effort, was in many ways far inferior to the purple pen. For one, it was pink. For another, it was harder to read. But between the two of them, the Purple Pen Stage (as it shall be called, for it was lost in the struggle) is finished. The document overhaul and manicuring now begins.
In the shuffle of cutting, trimming, expanding and hopefully improving, I lost the scene that inspired the entire story. So, in memory of the purple pen and of the first scene written, the story behind the story and the scene itself.
I was sitting on the sofa in the middle of winter, doing some sort of handcraft (let's say knitting, but I really don't recall--could have been mending or making holiday party invitations). Foyle's War, a mystery series set in WWII, was playing on PBS, and there was a character who had recently returned from deployment. He was talking with a woman he used to know, and it struck me.
What the heck would two people talk about in that situation? Say you've been overseas with the military, fighting what would become the most remembered and storied war of the twentieth century. And you're newly back, and you're having a polite conversation with a nice girl who worked in a nice, safe office or on a nice, pleasant farm (at least, you think so) the whole time you were away. You're sitting on a sofa much like the formal, hard-backed one I was sitting on, my knitting (or paper and ribbons) fallen aside. You're trying to maintain that appropriate distance, between you on the sofa and between your words--close enough to be sociable, far enough not to crowd.
There's a couple feet between you on the sofa, but you can't find any common ground.
I imagined this conversation--with nothing said on the surface, but so much simmering just below it. I wrote a scene in which language between two characters fails.
Emily was very bad at darning socks, but she persevered. Perseverance and darning were abilities she had developed in the Land Army, perseverance from long days of identical farm work and darning because the nearest shops were so far away. She plucked at her yarn, picking up the fibers while the radio transitioned into a soap opera in the background. Mother kept the radio on all the time; she didn’t recall this from before, but she had been on her Land Army assignment in Michigan and then worked long hours in the newspaper office. Perhaps Mother kept the radio on all day to make it less lonely.
The doorbell rang. Mother was in the kitchen, bustling about humming to herself.
“Shall I get that, Mother?”
“Yes, dear.” Her voice was distant, uninterested. Mother hated answering the door.
Emily rolled the yarn carefully around the sock and wove her darning needle through it. She dropped the bundle on the side table on the way to the door.
Nate Bennett waited on the stoop. “Hi, Nate.”
“Oh, hi Emily. Is Gloria around?”
“No, Gloria’s at the theater.”
“Oh. She and I ran into each other the other day and she said I ought to drop by sometime. I suppose I ought to have asked which day would be better.” Emily recalled that Nate had always been a bit forgetful, once even shuffling into church midway through the prayer with his shirt untucked, looking back at the startled parishioners with a muddled expression. She hadn’t seen him at church for months, not since the first Sunday he had been home and his mother had paraded him about the narthex. Mrs. Bennett had flushed peach with congenial pride, but Nate had only fidgeted, favoring an arm still suppressed by a sling from an overseas injury.
“I’m sorry she’s not here, and I don’t know when she’ll be back.” This sounded cold. “Want to come in for a bit?” she asked, trying to make up for her distance.
“All right.” He carried the smell of cigarette smoke with him into the living room. It was an unpleasant smell, one she could tell that he tried to cover with soap and aftershave but failed to mask.
He took off his hat, placing it on his lap as he sat down on the sofa. Gloria’s magazines were stacked on the armchair again, and her mother’s knitting basket overflowed on the wingback at the opposite end of the room. Emily sat on the sofa, as well, leaving what she judged a socially appropriate measure between her and Nate.
“Good to have you back,” she offered, a feeble attempt at small talk. Her mother was better at small talk, but she remained in the kitchen, humming loudly enough that Emily could recognize the tune. “Ding-Dong Merrily on High.” Her mother sounded like a lunatic, and Nate still hadn’t said anything to compete with the solo emanating from the kitchen.
“Glad I was back in time for the holidays, for Mom’s sake,” he finally said. “And we were getting a bit stir-crazy toward the end.” He turned his hat on his lap. “Not that I’ve much to do nowadays, either.”
“I imagine it must be a bit dull.” Emily knew her days were dull. “I was thinking of going back to school or—“
“Just that I didn’t have a job before we left.”
“What was that?”
“All the boys who left jobs, they mostly got them back.” Emily nodded, feeling an unwarranted bitterness at the “boy” who had taken her job at the newspaper. “I didn’t. I enlisted right out of high school, didn’t have a job. So now it’s a bit cutthroat, finding a post.”
“I see. I was saying, I had thought of going back to school,” she said. Nate just nodded, not interested in this possibility.
“Did you hold out the war here?”
“Not exactly,” she replied. “I was a land girl, for about half a year, in Michigan.”
He laughed. “No, really? Every land girl I met had thick ankles and bad teeth. You’re too pretty to be a land girl.”
She didn’t know how to respond. “Most of the girls I worked with were pretty.”
“Didn’t stick it out?”
“I didn’t get on with the family.” How else to explain what had happened? General discord would suffice as a means of explanation, as spineless as that made her sound. Didn’t get on with the family, all the while Nate and her brother had been getting shot at. She lapsed into silence. She waited for him to say something, to uphold his end of the conversation, but he just looked down his thin nose to his hat. His wavy hair was mussed in the back. She wanted to ask him about his time in the service, but it seemed an inappropriate question.
Before she could decide what to say, he found words. “You working now?”
“No, I worked at one of the newspapers—the Herald-American—but the boy who I was subbing for came back, so they had to let me go.”
“So we’re on opposite sides of the same boat, then.”
“Do you ever read the opinions in the Sun?”
“Once in a while, I haven’t in the past week or so,” she fibbed. She felt suddenly uninformed, stupid and badly cultured.
“Oh. Well, there was an article about that, some blowhard saying that now that women have worked outside the home for such a sustained time they won’t be happy with housewifery anymore. The rebuttal made a lot more sense, but anyway.”
"I guess I never thought of it that way. I don’t know what most women think—seems most I know want to get married and take up housekeeping with their boyfriends once they get home.”
“Yeah, plenty of girls want that, I guess.” There was a slight edge to Nate’s voice, and Emily wondered if she had said the wrong thing. He was quiet again, and she fought to find something to say.
“Well, I probably should go. I didn’t intend to stay long, and Mom wants me to put up the garland on our mantle. She can’t reach.”
“Thanks for dropping by. I’ll give Gloria your regards.”
“Alright, you do that. I’ll see you around.” He showed himself to the door before Emily could offer to show him out. She picked up her sock and began darning again.
And now the scene is cut out of the story, that conversation picked apart and parcelled elsewhere. After some major structure changes, it just didn't fit any longer. But the inspiration for this storyline remains the same--two characters struggling to find common ground when the words just aren't there.
Lose any favorite scenes in your own writing? Any scenes you thought the piece couldn't live without? Any that were easy to ditch?
Sunday, August 1, 2010
And what, you may ask, is the dinner plate doing on the table? Excellent question--thanks for posing it. The plate is there as a guide to cut the neckline. I traced the half the plate, then cut slightly wider and flatter than the semi-circle it created. Expedient, no?
After the gores were in place, I pieced the sleeve gussets. The gussets are squares of fabric that keep the arm holes roomy. After they were attached to the sleeves, I attached the sleeves to the body.
And this is where I made Ye Oldeste Error in Ye Booke. While concentrating on piecing the gussets precisely (and on a vital scene of Them, streaming on Netflix), I managed to join the sleeve to the body wrong-side out. D'oh!
You can kinda see the rough edges of the sleeve poking out the bottom. Will have to fix that, won't I? The gusset shows nicely on this photo as the triangle-shape between the body and the sleeve.
And another gusset shot.
And here's the fully assembled shift, having fallen in a swoon onto my guest bed. I still need to do all the finishing work, so final stage still to come!
And onto something completely different--I've ordered this lovely silk charmeuse. But for what...? Any guesses? Will share soon!