Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Five: Five Things I Should Really Update You On

1) I finished the short cloak I started dreaming about way back in the spring! By finished I mean I still need to line the hood and trim it (which involves finding the perfect fur--either good-quality faux or a piece of vintage too destroyed for anything but re-purposing), but it's wearable--and just in time for a very chilly albeit beautiful weekend for reenacting! I'll post photos and a project recap soon--suffice to say, I started on Monday and finished last night, including quite a bit of hand sewing. In short (Ha! Short Cloak! Get it?), an easy project.

2) I'm querying a project. I like to keep mum at this stage because a) no one wants to live the ludicrous ups and downs with me and b) my professional persona is a quiet mouse. But things are going, fulls are out, I'm cautiously optimistic. And convinced I'll fail, all at once. See? No one wants to read about that with me.

3) I'm halfway through writing Book #2 in the post-apocalyptic project. I'm hitting some snags, mostly in terms of finding time to write. Fall is an insanely busy time for me reenacting wise, but I'm percolating ideas and know where I'm going--into Book #3, even. I'm panicking mildly about investing this much energy in a series, which I know isn't necessarily the wisest career move, so I'm also researching for some other projects.

4) It's fall here. Real, crisp, beautiful fall. It happened all at once. I have yet to get my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. Methinks this afternoon.

5) I don't do this much, but I want to pull your attention for a second to an issue we're hoping to get some organic, word-of-mouth support behind. To make a very long story short, my good friend Sandy is currently engaged in a difficult custody battle. Her grandchildren were abducted by their father and taken into Saudi Arabia, where custody laws are very different and avenues for pursuing legal action to return these children to their mother are narrower. Take a moment to read her blog, and spread the word, say a prayer, or send some positive thoughts if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Snow Beast: Silk Organza Cap

Years ago, a reenacting friend and I made caps together. I made a little, barely-there slip of a cap that turned out sadly too small for my mess of thick hair. She made a heavily ruffled, double-layered creation. It was really cute. Until she put it on. Then it became known as The Snow Beast. We called it this because a) it was very large b) it was very white c) it looked like it was attempting to devour her head.

I had forgotten the lesson of the Snow Beast.

Until this weekend.

I ordered a yard of silk organza from Dharma Trading Company to play with creating caps. It's gorgeous stuff--sheer, delicate but stiff hand, a lovely pure cool white. It was easy enough to put together--the one tricky bit is that everything will show through the sheer fabric, so I had to plan ahead to work over the same stitching rows for each point in the construction process. For instance, I stitched the band to the ruffle over the same line that the ruffle was gathered. This wasn't difficult, but something I almost forgot to consider--so, word to the wise.

I went easy and only did one ruffle. Because, though I had forgotten the lesson of the Snow Beast, a leeriness of ruffles has followed me ever since.

The cap turned out nicely, especially under a straw hat.

Excuse the maniacal laughter--I have no idea what I was talking to the other ladies about, but I'm sure it was not nearly as funny as my ridiculous face in this picture.

But without the hat--the Snow Beast emerged.

It's kind of a lot of cap. I'm kind of ok with it. I need to refine the ruffles in the back--I had tied my little ribbon on a bit oddly so they scrunched up. But a Lot of Cap is very fashionable for the late 18th century, so I think I'll keep this one in the rotation.

And, since organza is such fun, I'm trying Round Two of bitsy slip-of-a-cap, this time with organza and a larger back for my mess of hair.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing: On Being a Camel

Writers go a really long time between successes. A really, really long time. You can write, revise, edit, polish, send that manuscript out into the world, have it hurtle right back, and start again--all without any "real" success--those external markers like praise, publication, or a congratulatory cookie.

There are a lot of characteristics that people claim help a writer succeed. Perseverance, dedication, creativity, mild insanity. I'd like to suggest one more.

Being a camel.

A success camel, that is. A praise camel.

A writer needs to be able to go a very long time on a very little bit of success. There will be hours and hours of work for every little bit of encouragement--even if you've built a network of writer friends and critique partners who help to build you up. Much of your time is still spent alone, gazing into the cooly glowing, emotionless face of your computer monitor. Each bit of success--a contest win, a nice word from a crit partner, anything--needs to be stored up to last through the solitary times, through rejections, through the long desert of the road to publication.

Sure, great idea...but I'm not a camel. Well, that's true. You don't have a fatty lump on your back in which to store things. You'll need another method. Try these.

1) Keep a file of all your critiques. I have a terrible habit sometimes of skimming the nice things people say and cutting right to the "meat and potatoes" of the stuff they say needs to be fixed. This is dumb on two levels, people. One--the nice things are actually really useful--don't you need a little guide on what's working as you proceed? Two--later, when you're feeling discouraged, you can look back and be reminded that, yes, in fact, your work is NOT a giant puddle of festering ignorant black type on white paper. You do good stuff.

2) Print a couple of the best ones--in pretty font, even--and put it near where you write. Narcissistic-looking, to the outsider? Maybe. But it's not for them, is it?

3) Cultivate relationships with people who will not only critique, but build up as well. Telling you where you're going wrong is important, but so is encouragement. Sometimes even the best critique partners and writing buddies can't do both for you--and that's ok. Having a large network is fine.

4) Pick up a hobby that does deliver tangible results. One of the reasons I sew--unlike writing, when you sew, the work you put in is generally in direct proportion to the results you get. You put in hours hand-pleating and gathering a blouse? You get a beautiful blouse. You put in hours revising, editing, polishing? You might still get a rejection. Acknowledging that writing is not such a direct game is step one, and if you need that directness, step two is finding something that provides it.

5) Even camels eventually need a drink. Don't push yourself to cross deserts longer than you should.

And your fun fact of the day: There are two kinds of camels, Bactrians and Dromedaries. How to tell them apart? Bactrians have two humps, Dromedaries only one.

And when you put the letter B on its side, it has two humps--and the letter D, only one. Easy!

Are you a success camel? What are your camel suggestions? Are you a Bactrian or a Dromedary? Spitting in the comments not encouraged.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Five: Rules I Break

I tend to like rules. But sometimes, aren't they more like guidelines, anyway?

1) Remember What Not to Wear, how they always chided the over-25 set for shopping in the juniors section? Well...I shop in the juniors section. Judiciously. Nothing sparkly or clingy. But sometimes the jeans intended for "grown-ups" fit me really badly--why do they cut such ridiculous curves into those things? I have hips, not thigh-balloon-animals. No one has a hip poodles protruding from their sides. Plus I found a pair of jeans and the perfect plaid shirt that reminded me of a more grown-up version of what I would have bought for back-to-school when I was seventeen. I liked how I dressed at seventeen. There's some joy to be found in remembering who we were--and appreciating who we were. And ditching anything clingy or sparkly because we've learned better.

2) Measure twice, cut once. To clarify, I've never done much with carpentry or woodworking, so I may well follow this rule in those arenas, given the chance. But as a seamstress--I measure once, cut, and adjust as I go. I'd rather tweak in progress than have it all planned out from the get-go with no wiggle room--because, ever notice? You nearly always need wiggle room. And writing--I have a rough plan. But by the time I type "the end" on a first draft, I've rewritten the pages between it and "once upon a time" fifteen times over. It works for me. A rigid plan would result in a much messier first draft--and a lot more revision work on the back end.

3) Eary to bed and early to rise...Makes Jack boring. I'm not a night owl, but if I was early to bed, I'd never get anything done. Writing, sewing, baking--all good things are started for me, it seems, after 8 p.m. Like last night's sweet potato pie. And occasionally, with good friends, midnight is far too early to call it a night.

4) Finish what you start. I used to be this way about pretty much everything. If I started a book, I had to finish it. If I made dinner, by gum we would eat it in leftover form until it killed us. But sometimes being a finisher isn't all that important. If the book is terrible, put it down and read something else. If that recipe tastes like dog kibble, toss it and order pizza. Finishing what you start is still important--sometimes. I've revised my position--Decide what's important, then finish it. But never be afraid to start something because it might not be something you want to finish.

5) Don't live in the past. Why not? It's such fun! :P All joking aside, while it's not wise to dwell on regrets, it's not wise to ignore who we were and what we hoped for, either--find solace and inspiration in memories and dusty dreams!

What rules do you break?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I'm Writing Now

What's a nice history geek like you doing writing a post-apocalyptic novel?

I've always presented myself as a history nerd here--and when I first started this blog, I was writing only historical fiction. First the whole package was pretty 18th century in theme--18th century clothing, history tidbits, and novel in progress. Then it branched out when I started writing a WWII-era project.

Now it must seem I've gone off the deep end, writing not a story of a recreated past, but spun from a speculated future.

Not quite.

Because, you see, I can't quite get away from my historical roots. I firmly believe that there's nothing new under the sun, and if we're doing it now or may do it in the future, we can be informed of the hows and whats and whos by looking at the past. Much of the research for a world where technology is defunct must come from history--so I was right in my element, drumming up questions and answers in the history stacks of the library. My characters have to plant and harvest without machinery, trap and hunt and raise livestock. And not only sew, but produce fabric. There are spinning wheels and drop spindles and knitting needles littered throughout the book--because, as in the past, in this world, constant work is a way of life.

To get even more specific, the three groups of people tied together in the story are based on different historical groups. For realsies. You've got:

The Colony: This may be a touch obvious, but--the Colony is based on the period of early settlement in North America. A large part of this is the importance of small community--both groups are reliant pretty much only on themselves for survival. Oh, and lots of carving an existence from the forest and stuff. I specifically thought of the first settlements in the American Midwest--the French who settled in what they called "La plus belles pays du monde"--the most beautiful country in the world. Their existence was difficult, but their communities, cultures, and behavoir was, mostly, rather refined.

The Federate: My antagonists are probably my favorite group in the story. They're great at being arrogant, efficient, and charming. They're trying to build an empire. They're the British military, c. 1800. I love these guys--you hate what they're doing, but man--do they look nice in the uniform. And what they do is pretty despicable, unless you like colonialism's nasty faces of slavery, oppression, and "progress."

The Metropole: These guys are a bit shiftier. The City dwellers who stayed, their culture fractured into tribes or clans, making them easy comparisons to a myriad tribal cultures. But I'll take the step that their fierce loyalty to their clan, their uneasy relationships to one another, and their focus on fighting as pretty much the only way to distinguish themselves, I'll call it--they're like my Celtic ancestors. If only they got drunk more, they'd be deadringers for Irish (I kid! Just a classic, self-deprecating 'all we do is fight and drink' joke!)

Enough of me blathering about my story...what interesting ties between past and present--or future--have you found lately?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Block-Print Ensemble, Finished! (Sort of)

It took some dedicated effort to get this done this weekend as planned. It also took The Phantom Planet and Gamera (giant fire-breathing turtle, much?) queued up on Netflix. But I finished the block-print jacket and petticoat combo for Mother. I was determined to be done for an event next weekend--a somewhat farb-fest* of an event that we go to primarily because it's close and they have apple dumplings and meat pies.

Why did this take so long? I honestly don't know. It shouldn't have. The jacket was mostly done months ago. Then...I got distracted by other things. And things. And these things, too.

In addition to that, however, "the" petticoat is a bit of a misnomer. It's actually two (double the fun?). Because this beautiful printed cotton voile is rather thin, I made a plain white cotton voile petti to go underneath so that the print shows unmuddied. And let me tell you--Dharma Trading Company's cotton voile is my new favorite thing. I'll be ordering mass quantities and dying them in the near future. I could flail about happily in a giant pile of their soft, delicious, just-stiff-enough-not-too-stiff heavenly voile.

Ahem. Flailing aside. The outfit. It's going to look much better on a real person--the skirts fall pretty limp on poor Felicity, who doesn't have quite the figure to pull this off. I'm going to try to find my sheer white apron to match with this to break up the print a little, and have extra pink ribbon to doll up Mother's cap and tie on a necklace.

About that pink ribbon. For one, it looks much less Pepto and much more summer-berry-happiness in person. Still, I don't want to overdo it--in my original plan, the jacket would be trimmed about the hem with the ribbon and the sleeves would have box-pleated trim to match the front. Still on the fence--I might see how it wears a bit less adorned, and then steal it back to add more floof.

To come--pictures on a real human being. And apple dumplings. Wait, those are just for me.

*Farb/farby--a reenactorism meaning not authentic, incorrect, pseudo-historical. Said to come from the expression "Far be it from me to correct you, but..."

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Like Big False Rumps and I Cannot Lie--The Further Adventures of the Polonaise

The only difference between an eighteenth century lady and a twenty-first century lady? When the eighteenth-century lady asks, "Does my butt look big in this?" you say, "YES."
Before you ask--I asked a friend to snap a pic of my gown right before changing at an event last weekend. Some folks, however, had already changed--which explains the overalls in the background. No, denim bib overalls were not part of the Congressional military issued uniform during the American Revolution. But it would be cool if they were. Anyway.

I randomly decided about four days before our reenactment this weekend that I wanted to rework my (already once-reworked) gown. This involved creating a matching petticoat from the leftover fabric, and though I love wearing a contrasting petticoat, the effect of the matching one was exactly what I was going for. I also added pinked-and-pleated trim on the neckline and trim on the sleeves gathered into little "balloons" (I know someone knows what I mean by this--is there a better term?). In more mundane additions, I tweaked the neckline so it would fit better. Finally, I redid the polonaise-bum-floof with new tapes to tie it up.

That said, the new stays fit a bit differently (but are incredibly comfortable compared to my older pair--even though they lace tighter!) so I have some new wrinkling issues on the bodice of the gown. Que sera, sera--you fix one thing and another crops up. I may resolve this by taking everything out of and off of the front of the bodice--hooks and eyes, boning, all of it--and just refitting it on the new stays instead of tweaking it piecemeal. And though my butt looks pretty big, I think I could go bigger without bordering the ridiculous. New false rump is in my future.

Finally--I had to share a photo a fellow living history person took at the event, because
a) it's really well-done! and b) it shows the Hat of Win to its best advantage. And c) you can see that wrinkling I'm talking about. Blerg.

Have a great weekend, all! I plan on one filled with getting out of The Slump and completing a long-overdue sewing project--to be debuted next weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing Slumps

Everyone has them. Sometimes your excitement about your story fizzles. Sometimes you're just feeling burned out. Sometimes other emotional or physical factors are exhausting you and you don't have much left to stoke your creativity. Sometimes you're just too dang busy.

I think breaks from writing are fine. It's ok to decide you need a vacation from your writing, that you need to work on something non-writing-related for a while, or that there's something in the "real" world that's temporarily taking precedent.

But how do you get back to it?

For me, writing isn't a habit as much as it's a regular part of my week. That is, I don't have the habit of writing at X time in Y place everyday for a set number of words or a set amount of time. My life doesn't really allow that. Instead, it's a regular thing--almost every day, I'll write something, somewhere. And I get a lot done. But the lack of habit makes getting back in the groove a little tricky.

I'm in that place now--the past couple weeks have been very busy outside of writing, I've had other creative endeavors with deadlines (sewing photos coming soon!), and I've felt kind of emotionally spent for no real good reason. So I need to get back on track!

A few ideas to try:

1) Create a schedule. If you're not usually a scheduled writer, but write more sporadically, make a date with yourself to write. Schedule the time--make it a habit for a week or two until you're back in the swing of things. This may mean prioritizing writing over something else--but you can put aside just about anything for a week, right?

2) Write something new. Sometimes the reason you're avoiding writing is your current project. Maybe you're not feeling as excited as you were in the beginning. Maybe there's a giant problem that you don't know how to tackle. Yes, you're going to have to get back to that eventually. But in the meantime, I find that writing something is better than dwelling on how you're not writing anything. Try a short story. Play with another project. It's not cheating. It's reviving your creativity. It also lets you write without boundaries--if you're feeling clogged, even freewriting or journaling gives you an outlet to start using your writing muscles again.

3) Try revision instead. Occasionally easing myself back into the writing waters by editing something I've been working on revs me up. The older and more distant I am from the revisable project, the better. This may sound really self-involved, but I get excited realizing "Hey, I wrote that! And...I could do it again..." Then there I go, back to the project I was stuck on.

4) Take yourself out. Try writing someplace new. When I'm home I find myself distracted by those millions of little things that kept me from writing in the first place. The laundry, the half-hemmed skirt, the floor that desperately needs sweeping. Get away and devote the time to your work. I find that, laptop in hand, surrounded by other people working (I live in a college town), I feel pressured into being really productive. Plus, I can tell myself "You came here to work. Now work!" Bonus: The pumpkin spice latte is back. Just saying.

5) Keep an inspiration book/board/computer file/whatever. While you're brainstorming or writing, keep tabs on the things that motivate you. For me, it's often music--there are certain songs that capture the mood I want out of a project, and just listening to them makes me want to dive back in. Maybe you're more visual--and a bulletin board chockablock full of pictures will get you excited. Or maybe it's just a collection of words, ideas, and research nitbits. Whatever it is--if you're slumping, either look at it or start collecting it. The process of associating another medium--music, art, poetry--with your project can get you back in your project's good graces.

What tricks do you try to get back on track?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Tenth Eleventh

Strange, how I'll be doing the same thing the weekend of September 11 this year, ten years later, that I did the weekend after it happened.

That date has serves as such a marker, a common point for everyone who was alive that day. We all know where we were, what we were doing. For me, I was at home, despite the fact that I was a junior in high school--we had standardized tests that day and upperclassmen didn't have to take them, so could go in late. So I was home on a Tuesday morning. Sewing. Fixing a red wool shortgown for a reenactment the following weekend.

This week I've been sewing in the evenings, fixing a red silk gown for a reenactment this weekend.

Of course I didn't understand what was going on until the second plane hit, like everyone else, and then my friend picked me up for school and we were barraged by teachers when we walked in the building, beseeching us not to tell the students still taking tests (how were we to see them?) what had happened (we still didn't really understand) because it would distract them (I tended to think this was the least of our concerns).

So we were shuttled into class--I had Physics--and our teacher put on CNN and paced the back of the room. His nephew was working in the World Trade Center that day.

And then the question arose on whether we'd cancel our event that weekend, and we heartily answered no in what may have been one of the more rousing and less idiotic incantations of "if we do that, they win." Because we felt that in portraying the foundation of our country, we'd be asserting its strength for continuation. And, maybe, because we wanted to be together.

We did nothing different that weekend, save one thing: We usually begin and end the day with an 18th century muster and trooping of the colors. We did that. But we added raising--and lowering to half-staff--the American flag, and singing the national anthem. We've never done this before or since.

Ten years later, it seems everything has changed--for me personally and on the world stage--yet this weekend, I'll be doing nothing different than I was a few days after the attacks. Same people, same day begun cooking over a campfire, ended wrapped in wool blankets and music and the dim glow of fading campfire embers. Still wearing red, still madly sewing just before the event.

Apologies for the self-indulgent, reflective post.