Friday, April 29, 2011

Quick! A Writing Update

I should probably mention that I'm up to my earlobes in work-work-problems-work-solutions-firestobeputout-work right now. So I haven't been the best blogger or blog-friend, and for that I sincerely apologize. The end of next week marks the end of my most insane time of year. I'll be a better bloggist, promise.

Plus, I've been writing. Like, a lot. Like, sit down and plow through 1.5K after work and chow down another 1K as an after-dinner snack whenever my schedule lets me. Which, given I've been running out of time to shower lately, is doing pretty well. So I've been following the inspiration and feeding the muse as much as she'll stomach, because you don't always feel like this--sometimes inspiration is dry and it's harder to chug out your word count goals. But of course, this all means I've had less time for interacting with all of you who also inspire me and keep me going.

So--a short update and general ramble over how writing is going. Secret Departure project is going really well--I feel excited about it, I feel, even, mildly confident in it. I'm at 45K (a bit of a slower pace since the first few frenzied weeks, but still respectable for me, for a project I started in February!) and am beginning to pore back over the earlier parts of the book to see what I still need to flesh out. (Consensus so far: A lot.) I'm also trying to decide exactly how to end it, because we're getting to those scenes that will set up a slam-bang ending. See, I know what happens...but not the details. And the details are the most fun, aren't they?

But--I've been feeling really squishy about the project, even though I feel that the plot and characters and concept are all rock-solid. Why? It's not historical fiction, as I shared last time I talked about it. And that's what I do...right? It shakes my identity as a writer to be attempting something different from what I first believed I had a niche in.

Then I read this post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Nothing the writer says quite addresses my concern, but a couple pieces hint at it. One is point #1--about writing to market. Here's the deal--the kind of HistFic I write and want to write? It's not the hottest thing right now. If it was snapping, sparkling good, could it sell? I'm sure--but compared to what's in vogue, it's an uphill battle. It's ok to acknowledge that, I finally realize. And it's ok to write something that sings to me but might have a slightly better stab at selling, just by nature of what people are buying. The other is point #3--about branching out. Sometimes it's ok to branch out--yes, most people can't do a career as a Historical/Urban Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Prescriptive Nonfiction writer. You have to settle down eventually. But you learn from everything--and you never know what might emerge as your new love.

I love historical fiction. But I love what I'm writing now, too.

And, for anyone still hanging on and wondering what the heck I'm working on: It's post-apocalyptic / rather edging toward dystopian young adult.

And it's a blast!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quick! A Sewing Update

I saw my mother over Easter--so of course did a quick fitting on her block-printed gown and petticoat. The jacket fits *perfectly* and I can't wait to see how the whole ensemble goes together! I'm especially pleased with how the skirt of the jacket flares just-so--the way I finished the hems gave it a bit more substance on the edge, so the flare doesn't go limp. Yay! for experiments that worked!

Also--I decided on the light blue fabric for the Regency dress. I think the shade is saturated enough, and a warm enough incarnation of blue, that I can pull it off. Plus, I love it. So summery and light.

As soon as it gets here, fun times in the cutting room! Also--I need a fun name for this dress. "Regency dress" sounds boring. If you have any thoughts...leave 'em in the comments. I'm fresh out of creative wordplay today. The event at which it's making its debut is a Jane Austen festival in July...with a Sense and Sensibility theme. See if that gets you anywhere :)

And--short cloak, I have not forgotten you. You will be cut soon. Hopefully in time to accompany me to our next, probably rather rainy, event.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Bonnet

I used to find bonnets, compared with their flat-brimmed eighteenth-century counterparts, pretty darn lame. So modest. So retiring. So grandma-appropriate compared with a coquetteish straw hat. this:

Attack of the stay-puft marshmallow cap! Run for your lives!

Ahem. Sorry. Drifted a bit there.

Then I started playing with more nineteenth-century fun stuff. And there are certainly some bonnets whose lines are graceful, whose trim is sophisticated, and whose general air is sweet, spring-like youthfulness. Perfect for Easter!

Adorable pink straw, open-woven bonnet with an almost-superfluous cascade of silk flowers. Ca. 1865.

Fancy-woven straw bonnet, ca. 1835. Could have been decorated with faux flowers, silk ribbon, or whatever suited the wearer's taste.

Silk-covered 1850s bonnet with sophisticated tonal pink trim. I love the contrasting lining!

And this simple little specimen--a plain straw bonnet from about 1850. This one is my favorite--despite its rougher texture and simpler design, I find it compelling. Almost strictly utilitarian, yet still sporting a graceful if minimal shape.

All images and dates from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. Many more to browse and enjoy--please go take a look!

My Easter bonnet this year won't be nearly as exciting--probably just a feather fascinator or a cute leaf-embellished headband I just picked up. How about yours?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fashionable Updates, Regency Gown Plans, and Why it Pays to be Wanton

First up--congrats to Wanton Redhead Writing for sharing her stylish self--and for winning the Burt's Bees Rose lip balm. Wanton--shoot me an email and we'll chat on sending this out.

Second--after a delightful weekend at the Happiest Place on Earth, I've decided I have to return in July for a Regency-era event. The Jane Austen Festival is outside my usual schedule--but I can think of no better way to spend a summer afternoon than with the ladies and gentlemen in whose company I spent this past weekend, and wearing a new gown from an era I haven't ventured into yet.

So! I've ordered a pattern to use for my new Regency gown, and plan to rely pretty heavily on Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion for guidance and adjustments. The pattern is Period Impressions Bib-front gown, and looks quite a bit like one of the gowns featured in Arnold's book. I'm especially excited to play with the fitting on the back and the gathered, high skirt. I'll be making the short-sleeved it will be worn in July. Should be fun!

As for the rest of the ensemble: I already have a shift I can use with the gown, and I hope to make a pair of Regency stays as well. I have enough book and internet resources for the stays that I *might* try drafting something myself. Nervous! Will see how it goes. And if the stays don't get done--I'll be taking a friend's advice to just wear a modern balconet bra with the gown. I'll whip together a white kercheif for modesty and sun protection from linen I already have. I will also try to finish a bonnet before the event. I hate squinting in the sun.

The only question on the gown now is fabric...I'd love to use a very lightweight linen or cotton. So far, a couple contenders:

Pretty moss green linen.

A somewhat unusual rusty-red linen.

Pale sky-blue linen-cotton blend.

My quandry is that I tend to look better in darker colors--but for a summery Regency day dress, pale colors seem much more appropriate. Perhaps a shot of color from my faux-coral necklace or a brooch or ribbon would brighten the ensemble and keep me from looking like a washed-out Pasty McPasterson.

Any thoughts on color choice? Will keep you all posted on the progress!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth

I'll be signing off for the weekend--first living history event of the year, at what I like to call the Happiest Place on Earth. A few pictures should explain why:

If, when I return, I am a bit less than enthused to return to this century, you'll forgive me. I've been in a palace of redbuds and blooming dogwood and rolling carpets of violets.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Brief Writing Update and Lilacs

I am writing like a madwoman on the Super-Secret Departure Project, which is speeding along at a nearly alarming rate. Once I have a rough draft done, and feel like I can breath when thinking about it, I'll be sure to share more about it! Here's crazy fact #1 about it, and the reason it's such a huge departure--it isn't historical (!gasp!). It has some odd roots and branches that scrape at historical, but it's not historical fiction--and though I feel a bit like I'm cheating on the genre I started writing, I am having such fun! Also--I am amused by the fact that the story starts in winter and progresses through spring--and so did the writing of it! I'm on the spring-y parts now, just as the leaves are unfurling on the trees and the lilacs are starting to bud.

(Lilacs! Can I wax poetic for a moment about how the New Very Old House keeps offering us delighful surprises? First there were daffodils poking their little heads out from the snow. Then, I discovered that two of the trees lining the brick walkway to the back door are redbuds. After that, I noticed that the giant bush next to the kitchen window is a lilac--and I mean ginormous. It's the size of an elephant, honestly. Finally, peonies are sprouting up from between the remnants of the daffodils. It's going to be a very floral spring at the New Very Old House.)

A strange development--I have never before been one to listen to music while writing, but this project is demanding it. So, I have discovered the wonders of Pandora. I am so in love with my Thomas Tallis station, I can't even describe it. My Vivaldi station is pretty fab too, as is the Irish traditional station (with heavy doses of Chulrua and Stan Rogers--if you like Irish music, go listen to Chulrua like right now). How did I make it this long without becoming a Pandora addict?

Finally, I want to offer a sincere apology for not keeping up with all of your delightful blogs as frequently as I have in the past. It's a crazy-busy time of year, and I hope to be back to reading much, much more soon. Accept my abject and humble apologies.

What's shaking with you all? Any brilliant new discoveries of the interwebs or your backyards?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring: Just Plain Pleasant since 1794

Our part of the world has had the most idyllic of spring weekends--a blowsy thunderstorm bowled through on Saturday morning, leaving bright azure skies and glistening new green leaves in its wake. Spring hasn't looked this gorgeous since...
...well, I'm sure it's been lovely a few times between 1794, the date of this print from the Lewis Walpole Library, and now. Let's geek about the lovely clothes for a moment, shall we? Raised-waist, open-front gowns? Check. Sweet little slippers on the lady's feet, replacing years of hefty leather shoes with dear, feminine little flats? Check. Giant, almost-goofy bow on hat? Hat that's moved from flat straw toward the bonnet shape we love from the Regency era? Check. Using your apron as a tote bag to haul flowers home? Done it, and check (aprons are such versatile, useful garments!) Fab indigo blue coat and dear dotted vest on gent? Check.

Gent creepily swiping bird's nest from tree to woo young maiden? Check, and just wrong, buddy. The mother isn't going to take them back now, you know. Hope you like shoving worms down baby bird's throats, because if you kill adorable little chicklets, young maiden is going to drop you like a hot potato. Just saying.

Happy spring, everybody!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Funnies, Historical-Style

One of my history nerd friends forwarded this joke. I found it quite amusing. Of course, it probably isn't anything close to authentic to the period, but it has that tongue-in-cheek spirit we appreciate so much from the 1700s.

An vagabond, exhausted and famished, came to a roadside inn with a sign reading: "George and the Dragon."

He knocked.

The Innkeeper's wife stuck her head out a window.

"Could ye spare some victuals?"

The woman glanced at his shabby, dirty clothes."No!" she shouted.

"Could I have a pint of ale?"

"No!" she shouted.

"Could I at least use your privvy?"

"No!" she shouted again.

The vagabond said, "Might I please...?"

"What now?" the woman screeched, not allowing him to finish.

"D'ye suppose," he asked, "that I might have a word with George?"

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award--Pour Moi? Mais Oui!

So, I'm not entirely sure why I resort to French when trying to sound stylish. C'est probablement ridicule.

But! Lovely historical clothing blogger Abby of Stay-ing Alive AND delightful historical fiction blogger Caroline at Caroline Wilson Writes both awarded me the Stylish Blogger award, within days of one another. Must be something in the water!

First things first--go check out these ladies' blogs, pronto.

Ok. Done? Moving on.

The award requires that I a) list seven stylish things about me and b) nominate seven other fellow bloggers. (I'm going with Abby's version, um, seemed easier than Caroline's ten things. And wow! Talk about an interesting example of internet telephone, how both versions are just a little different.) Abby was right when she said seven stylish things are hard to think of! Here's to hoping you all don't think I'm a frump.

1) I have a thing for red shoes. I like red in general, but red shoes--that's where it's at. I have red flats, red pumps, red vintage-y t-straps. All in that rich oxblood red shade that goes with anything. No red shoes? You're wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Add red shoes? It's an outfit.

2) I love natural fibers. I'm a fabric snob. Completely. I have rejected clothing items for having too much synthetic fiber. I love silk, love wool, love that gorgeous cotton-silk blend poplin that's finally catching on. Love sheer, wispy cottons. Love thick, hearty wools. Can't get enough silk. I'm learning a lot about laundering delicates and I take a lot of stuff to the dry cleaner, but it's worth it. But I swear it makes your clothes look more classic, more expensive, more like you meant them when they're natural fiber.

3) I hated skinny jeans until I tried them. I was convinced that I would look like a porker in skinny jeans. I finally bought a pair for the sole purpose of wearing with my boots. So, I was completely wrong...and nothing suits me as well as dark-washed slim jeans. It's all I wear now in the denim department. Lesson learned--don't knock it til you try it.

4) I don't dress literally vintage or historically in my day-to-day life--there are times I would like to, but for the most part it's a touch too impractical. But--I love wearing vintage or reproduction dresses for special occasions, and popping in a vintage element here or there with my "normal" clothes--clunky 50s earrings, t-strap shoes, my "Campus Queen" brand cardigan, a fab bright red vintage jacket I have.

5) A lot of my vintage clothes are heirloom finds--great-aunt Georgie's Pendleton double-breasted coat, jewelry fished from my Grandma Ruby's drawers, my Nana's cashmere cardigan. I love that I know who wore this stuff, and that I'm giving the pieces new life!

6) Nothing beats having neatly kempt brows and a good haircut. No amount of makeup or styling. When you're pale and dark-haired like me, the contrast is huge--and even more important. I love my stylist. And my brow girl. I feel like a pretentious twit having a brow girl. But it's so worth the $12 I spend every couple months. To balance my high-maintenance salon needs? My favorite beauty product is Burt's Bees tinted lip balm (Rose is the best shade IMO).

7) If you want to know what my favorite clothes are, just scroll through the reenacting/living history/sewing project photos on here--I am happiest when I'm wearing my stays and a pile of petticoats, and I feel prettiest then, too!

Now, the second part of the award! I am terrible at selecting favorites from the awesome blogs I read. So here's the deal. Leave a comment about YOUR style--anything that makes your style yours. In return, I'll give away a free brand spankin' new Burt's tinted lip balm to one commenter. Deal? Good. PS Smart Me would have included a deadline here the first time. Smart Me was clearly on vacation. Post your comment by April 15 to be entered for a freebie :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Late Eighteenth-Century Hat of Win

I'm not sure where my mother came across this hat. I'm not sure how it came into my clutches. I'm not sure she quite realizes she's never getting it back. But after much experimentation and ribbon-clipping, pin-stabbing, reshaping, and trial and error, I've figured out how to wear it fashionably--without it flying off my head. Please excuse the ratty t-shirt look. And excuse the poor photography. I nipped these right before Christmas and haven't had a chance to play dress-up with the hat since. Mother had given up trying to wear this lovely without attaching ribbons to tie it on. Which, to be honest, gave her tunnel-head more than Hat of Win. I played with pinning it to upswept hair and, low and behold, a sturdy pair of pins and a pile of hair for an anchor combine to offer rakishly tilted, still feminine hat-ness. This is going to look fab with the block print caraco! Can't wait to wear it out to our first event in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Crisis of Conscience and Gingersnaps

Today is heaven, by the way--a bright, breezy April Sunday with the daffodils bobbing in the yard, my lawn chairs skirting across the patio, a cup of French-press coffee and freshly baked gingersnaps in hand. And my oven beeping at me.

Ok, no more oven beeping. Much better.

If you came for the cookies, by the way, feel free to skip my introspective blathering and nip down to the bottom. Today feels even more weekend-y than usual, because yesterday I worked--a prospective student fair for the university I work for. It was, to be honest, pretty fun--I like chatting with high school students about what they hope to do in the coming years, answer their questions, talk up the cool points of the program I work with.

Most of these students were bright, pleasant folks--some nudged forward by over-eager parents, some snapping up every brochure they could find in their own excitement. I asked all of them what they hope to do, so we could tailor what we talked about to what interested them.

And I'm still bothered by my reaction to one young woman. I asked what she hoped to do, and she replied that she wanted to study creative writing.

Now, my professional demeanor didn't change--I directed her to chat with the right folks at the fair, and congratulated her on finding her direction so early. I gave her a brochure on our program in case it sparked any interest (you can never have too many sparks going into your last years of high school). It was my inner conflict that startled me. The writer in me said "Yes! You go, girl--follow your dreams!"

And the pragmatist in me said "OK, let's hold on a touch and talk about what you hope to do after you spend four years on a pretty unmarketable skill."

That pragmatist is such a bitch.

I realized that this isn't about this girl--she's still got a couple years of high school ahead of her, and then that pivotal first year of college that, for many people, changes everything. And I hope she succeeds at whatever she chooses to do. This is definitely nothing against the non-career-oriented degree programs out there, by the way--not in the slightest. I don't believe school's purpose is something to sludge through in order to get a job. Nope. It was about me, and still having no confidence that my non-career-orientated goals are worthwhile.

That I can take pride in sewing a fab historical garment and researching the heck out of it. That I can spend hours writing and call it developping my art. That I don't have to plow through a career path that I may or may not actually enjoy--and that my ambitious, driven side can take a backseat once in a while and learn that success isn't always measurable in job titles or salary increases.

So, a bit of musing on a Sunday afternoon. I still don't have any answers for that young lady I met yesterday--just, perhaps, to really think about what you want your life to be, to know that you're allowed to be an artist with a crappy day job or a career-driven professional with an artistic hobby. That you probably can't be both. That you don't need to study writing, or sewing, or music, or cooking, or whatever your passion is, in order to make it something you enjoy your whole life--and that you have to accept the risks of making an art your career. That you get to keep changing your mind for a few years...before college...during college...after college...pretty much until you die.

Because obnoxious introspective, self-involved blogs go better with cookies, my gingersnap recipe! This is the closest I can get to the gingersnaps my Grandma Ruby made. By the way, they're not really "snappy"--more soft.

Grandma Ruby's Gingersnaps

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat 3/4 butter and 1 cup white sugar.

Add 1 egg and 1/4 cup molasses. Add in 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground clove.

Roll dough into balls (about a spoon's worth--use less than you think you need, they spread out) and roll in white sugar. Place on baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.

Let cool a couple minutes on the sheet--they're very puffy and fragile right out of the oven--and transfer to a cooling rack.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Shoes! Huzzah!

Four months ago my mother sent me a check for my birthday. The purpose? She wanted to buy me new eighteenth century shoes as a gift, but wanted me to pick them out.

I sat on that money until today.

And now I'm getting me some silk shoes from American Duchess.

So should you.

Check out the Duchess' website for more info on the shoes and preordering. Having bought my share of historical repro shoes, these are very fairly priced!

My only debate right now? What color I'll dye the shoes. I'm torn between a fawn/gold color, a pale peach, and an oxblood red. Fawn or red would exactly match my current best gown, and I have a thing for red shoes--I rarely buy modern shoes that aren't that classic oxblood shade. Still, peachy pink or fawn would coordinate with just about anything...and who knows what eighteenth century delights I'll make down the road that will need shoes to coordinate?

A quick historically geeky note on why I'm buying these even though I have serviceable eighteenth-century shoes. The shoes I have are...well...serviceable. They're leather, and quite nice for working in camp and even for being a lady taking a constitutional, but for formal occasions, a lady would often wear silk shoes that matched her gown. I can't wait for my next nice evening event to wear these! I'll be a real lady now--with shoes not just for camp wear!