Thursday, August 8, 2019

Historical Costuming

I had a wall of Rubbermaid containers in my room, four long, 3 high, for about two years.

My husband hated it.

Let it be known that it was his fault. He brought them in from the garage because he wanted me to sort through them and thought putting them there would inspire me to get it done. He was wrong--I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides the fact that going through them would lead serious allergies and require a good days commitment to having no bedroom, it also meant coming to terms with the fact I would never wear those costumes again. That's right, those bins were FULL of Elizabethan lower nobility costumes, early reign and the remnants of the fabrics I used in their construction. Each gown was the product of hundreds of hours of work, much of it by hand. Each gown was a reminder of the wonderful times spent at the Renaissance Faire* as a lady in the court of Queen Elizabeth. Each had been meticulously researched, designed, and constructed based on portraiture of the period, Patterns of Fashion 3 by Janet Arnold, and the guidance of costuming mentors within the guild. These gowns (I had a few men's suits too) represented some of the first times I let myself be proud of work I'd done. Yes, there were plenty of mistakes, but when I wore them I felt accomplished. No false humility--I'd made something from nothing and I felt great about it. (Note: not all of the costumes were 100% historically constructed. I made modifications for the ease of dressing since I don't have servants.)

This year I finally went through the boxes and, as I knew I would, gave almost all of them away. I donated them to a dear friend who will see they find good homes and, hopefully, be worn again. It's bittersweet, but it's okay. I keep telling myself that. At least my bedroom has a functional window again.

I may not be participating in living history events for the time being, but my love of costuming has an outlet in my historical romance. You would be amazed at how much I had to cut out of Courtly Pleasures to make it readable. The False Lady Beatrice, my current work in progress, has a mixture between courtly fashions and the functional clothes of the peasantry. I'm having fun with the dichotomy and what that says about Beatrice's identity.

Just for fun, here is a short video showing the steps to dressing Queen Elizabeth I.

Fun random facts about my costuming adventures:
  1. I once constructed a corset with a lace up front flap to accommodate nursing.
  2. I made my 18 month old a full dress (coral pink, pictured below) and, since it was so small, built it as a single unit. It worked out great so I decided to make one for myself (also pictured below). The dress weighed over forty pounds and was so unwieldly it was difficult to store and required three people to help me dress. Bad idea.
  3. I sewed pockets into my petticoat and could access them from the front split in my overskirt. 
  4. I used large zip ties as boning in my corsets and plastic coated laundry line wire on my farthingale. Super not period.
  5. My favorite bumroll was bright yellow and looked like a banana. I called it my butt banana.
  6. I kept one costume, the one that came in first place at my faire's costume competition. There's no way it will fit now, but it might someday. Maybe. 
  7. My computer doesn't recognize the word 'unwieldly.' Farthingale and bumroll make sense... but unwieldly? It's not an unusual word.

My daughters, ages two and three. I did not include oversleeves, corset, or farthingale because, you know, the age two and three thing. I wanted these to be light, breathable, and to be able to throw these in the wash

Circa 2009
I am in the gray dress (it's the awkward, one-piece dress mentioned above) dancing with an actress portraying Mistress Anne Vavasour.

*Faire: yes, I know it's spelled wrong, but that's how my Ren faire spelled it to make it olde English-y.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Courtly Scandals: Abortion

When I started Courtly Scandals, one of the defining parts of Mary's life was her abortion.

The story grew as she struggled with forgiving herself, not because of any philosophical discussion of right or wrong, but because she'd wanted that baby and hadn't been strong enough to defy her father. Opposite to today's definitions, she had no right to chose what to do with her own body because she another person demanded she have an abortion.

I changed the story at a well established author's advice: she said I would alienate readers over a controversial issue. It made sense to me, but I wanted to keep the meat of the problem. It was integral to the story. I changed it to have her lose the baby in a traumatic accident before going through with the abortion. The choice was taken away from her but she still blamed herself for not being strong enough to stand up for herself and mourns what might have been. In the scene where she shares her story with Blanche Parry,  Blanche doesn't bat an eye because it's not a unique situation, but that doesn't change how Mary felt about herself. Mary, that was her moment of no return. Rational or not, a feeling of guilt was true for her.

Whether a reader was pro-choice or pro-life I had hoped that they could accept the struggle to come to terms with trauma from the past. Mary's personal journey was to learn to love herself and realize she is worthy of love. Part of that involved her being able to forgive herself, right or wrong, and move forward with a sense of hope. Personally, I believe there are things in everyone's lives that they have to either ignore or to forgive themselves for everyday. They may have nothing to do with varying ideals of morality or law, just choices from the past that each of us have to live with.

I have had varying responses and ended up alienating readers anyway. The moral of this story is that you can't please everyone. All readers have their own filters and I can't control that. I can just tell stories and stand behind them. I don't regret putting Mary on this journey. As an author or historical romance I like to link the past with present and show that the people that paved the way for our society were not that different from ourselves, that nothing is new.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Back on the Grid

The last time I blogged was in March. That's also when I deleted my Twitter app.

March was when the RITA finalists were announced and none of them were black. Romancelandia in Twitterverse exploded in rage and accusations. As it seems to happen more and more each day, reasonable concerns lead to vitriol and extremist views. There was no gray area and I found that people I had respected in the writing community were truly toxic. I tried to continue to be active online and NOT engage. The problem was that both sides of the discussion triggered an anger response and I didn't need that in my life. I deleted Twitter. I stopped posting on Facebook. I backed away from the Romance Writers of America and did not go to chapter meetings. I just couldn't.

Since then I've been a serious reader. Yes, of course I always have been a reader but since I started taking publishing seriously I stopped reading for myself and read for research. That took the joy out of it and made it a chore. So I started reading non-romance so I could just read. I went through almost everything Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson*, and Marie Brennan. I have an hour and half commute every day so many of these were on Audible and Neil Gaiman narrates many of his books so I got to feel like I knew him**.

I didn't read a romance until just recently when my preordered copy of Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James arrived. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it. I hadn't seen the newsletters or promotions. It was like a surprise gift in the mail and I read it in a day. I read for joy. It reminded me about why I loved romance. Everything about it spoke of healing and optimism. It made me laugh and cry. Yes, I knew there would be an emotionally satisfying happily-ever-after but I never rolled my eyes or yelled at the book on the journey there.

I write this blog post out of genuine optimism that romance is a place I can find escape and solace again. I am certain that Eloisa James does not need my support or any additional blips on her Google alerts. She's made it as a romance author and this book will be successful with or without my review. That is not the purpose of this post.  This is a celebration of the genre and the hope that is woven into the stories, the hope that was stolen by anger and bias in the industry. This book revived me and I am so grateful.

So I'm back on the grid again.

*Not including the Wheel of Time books. I read those as a young adult before I really understood the misogyny implicit in all of Robert Jordan's depictions of women. Maybe Sanderson elevated it, but I read those so long ago that I don't care to reacquaint myself. Though I do chuckle every time Sanderson has one of his characters blush furiously. I've used that one in my own books as a joke with myself that I wouldn't expect anyone but my brother to pick up on.
Addendum: Maybe I should give them a chance because, after all, Sanderson is awesome and his heroines are awesome.
**I think if you read enough of an author, you do get a peek inside their brain. Don't worry, I have no illusions that Mr. Gaiman and I are buddies. I was excited to learn, however, that he and Tori Amos are friends. It answered the question about who the Neil she referred to in her songs was. When I realized that I felt like I had learned some GREAT TRUTH but no one else was excited about it :(.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sneak Peak of a Work in Progress

I lived in Glanmire, Co. Cork, Ireland from 1985 to the summer of 1988. My grandparents owned the Vienna Woods Hotel and my family operated it. We lived in a bungalow at the top of the hill, above the hotel and surrounded by woods. We kept the wood open and maintained the paths. Some of the growth was ancient and some ornamental from the time the hotel was a private home. It was an amazing place to grow up.

I take terrible selfies.
I concentrate too much on the mechanics.
My husband, two daughters, and I visited Ireland this past summer. My eldest daughter, then thirteen, was the same age I was when we left. I tried to share my experiences but the hotel and grounds had changed so much that I felt very little connection and the lack was heartbreaking. I had built this homecoming experience up so much that nothing could have matched the expectation. The saddest part was that the wood was completely inaccessible and even the main opening at the top of the hill was blocked by dumping. One owner at some point had used the wood as their own private waste
disposal for debris from expanding the hotel (it is now about 3 times the size of the original structure). For the record, the hotel was in great condition, the staff welcoming (surprisingly so considering I was probably really weird), and the restaurant experience great. We stayed in a vacation bungalow.

I need to go back and spend time not being a tourist and just let myself experience Ireland slowly, day to day. I know I will and soon, but in the meantime I hold on to memories of belonging that I never had again after moving back to the states.

One of my manuscripts in progress is set on the grounds of the Vienna Woods (although morphed for my creative use because a writer I am all powerful). The premise is that a woman returns to the Ireland seeking the connection she'd had to the land, an elemental power within the earth, something that pulsed through the forest itself. Due to disrespect and greed the forest is in peril and with it the spirit that feeds nature itself. This story is a paranormal romantic suspense with only the seeds of my own life experiences at its core. This is The Gift meets Quiet Man meets Avatar and is quirky and creepy and endearing all at once. I look forward to actually finishing it to my satisfaction (I have finished it  twice now :(, but both went in the wrong direction).

Click below to read a selection from the manuscript when Gillian first steps into the wood after thirty years away.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Do the Thing

There are so many things I intend to do... eventually. I put them off because I'm lazy, afraid, or awkward in general.

This past year has taught me that you may not get that eventual opportunity and then regret sinks in. So do that thing, whatever it is. Whether you think it's for you or someone else, it's actually for you because living with NOT doing it is your burden.

So here's a public service announcement:

Paint that picture even if it may be horrible. Write the books and stop all the excuses. Go to France and try to speak the French you learned, even if it's not good enough. Clean up the pile in the corner and give the costumes to someone who can use them. Make that doctor appointment you've been avoiding. Put together the photo album you meant to do fifteen years ago. Tell that person you love them even if it's awkward and uncomfortable -- it will be worse when you no longer have the opportunity. Eventually they will be gone. Eventually you will be gone. Make your mark and do it with gusto. With chutzpah. With excitement. Be fearless. Do it because you still can.

No, I am not ill or dying (besides general fact that we're all dying), but my family has dealt with loss this past year and reminded me that time is short.

All the things I listed above, I should do them (maybe not the France thing, not right away at least). Right now I'm writing one of the books, book one of The Merry Midwives of Windshear Abbey. Then I'll write the next one. Funny how that's less daunting than the pile of crates in the corner full of Elizabethan costumes.

What thing are you going to do?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Thyself

This is, in part, about the word "fat," but mainly about allowing yourself to be beautiful.

I first discovered I was fat when I was 13 and my mother put me on a Slimfast diet. I was 5' 7" and about 130 lbs (which is actually underweight for that height). My body was still figuring itself out and it would later settle in a curvaceous 38-24-36... and I still thought I was fat. I wore over-sized clothes and, even though I was in dance and had legs of iron, never wore shorts. By the end of my senior year I figured out that I shouldn't be ashamed of my body, but I still thought I was fat because I wasn't skinny.

I haven't used the word "fat" to describe myself or anyone else in over fourteen years. What changed? I had a daughter and an epiphany about self-love. I am not fat, I have fat. I have more fat than I should for my height and it's not healthy, but it has nothing to do with how I face the world or my sense of worth. If I want to lose weight it is for health, not to meet someone else's standards. I can feel more attractive at a size 16 than I did at a size 8. When I hear someone complain about or judge someone for being fat I cringe at the word as strongly as I might if they used a racial slur.

I now have two daughters, both young teens and nature is working itself out. One has very, very low body fat, that's how she's built. One is more like teenage me, and that's how she's built. I have tried to promote portion size and nutritional values, but I don't teach calories. They know I am overweight and need to exercise for my health. They encourage me to exercise because they love me, not because I should meet some standard of beauty. I don't want "fat" to become part of their regular vocabulary or value system. They will face plenty of struggles in their lives without the ever-present specter of being fat or being afraid of being fat following them constantly.

How does this relate to writing:

Romance heroines are beautiful... but what does that mean? In my first draft I wrote Frances LeSieur as so-so (with or without the makeover). Not unattractive, but not stunning. I wanted the sense of her beauty to shine more and more and Henry fell in love with her. My beta reader's feedback said I should change that. Why? Because romance has that element of fantasy full of beautiful people.

The rest of my heroines are, so far and forevermore will be, beautiful. That doesn't mean they will be created from cookie cutters from Playboy.

Beauty is so many things. Frances is a size 8-10 and has a body that has born five babies. Mary is too slim to be fashionable then but would be adequate today in a size 2-4. In her era, however, this was not a positive trait. Jane (coming soon in Courtly Abandon) is petite and curvaceous in a way that wouldn't fit most clothing today--she would have to shop in the petite plus size section (she is, in fact, more in line with the standard of beauty appropriate to the era). While none of these ladies are a 2XL (yet) they are beautiful in their own ways and highly attractive to their mate.

None of them worry about being fat. None of their friends complain to them about their fat legs or pooch or flabby arms. It's a non-issue. Mary is a little self-conscious about a very toothy smile and tries to emphasize her bust, but, out of all of them, she might bemoan NOT having more girth.

If I had to whittle this down to my main points it would be that beauty is subjective and something we force on ourselves, so why destroy it with self-hatred? Romance novel heroines may be figures of beauty (in the book, based on the book's standards) but even there there is no standard they all meet. They find what is beautiful about themselves and learn they are worth the effort of claiming happiness.

I have fat and I am not thin, but I am me I am beautiful in my way.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Extended Imaginary Epilogue

Courtly Scandals is set over the twelve days of Christmas. This means Mary and Charles have twelve days to find their happily ever after. While the fates (me) put them in the position to find each other and have a common goal binding them, it's hard to pave the way for them to have a viable future. Sex is easy (although it's something I have difficulty writing, especially with my kids not respecting the fact that I REALLY am working right now), it's the possibilities of what will come next that is really tricky.

I like to see the potential for success in their relationship. Marriage is tricky and the infatuation based love that comes from our innate instinct to mate and reproduce, is not a long lasting condition. This means the couple has to be able to be friends and have similar values when it comes to fidelity, honor, and the willingness to work on staying in love. This is why I have trouble suspending disbelief for the tropes of the maiden and the rake, especially if there is a broad age difference.

Personally, I write beta males that can be alpha when needed. Don't get me wrong, they're confident, strong, attractive, and smart but they are not pushy. While the man who takes what is his can be sexy in an escapist fantasy, I want a man who listens and respects the woman he loves. That sort of man would never push a woman to the point where, even though she was saying no, her body was saying yes. He would never steamroll over her dreams. It's not just about consent, it's about trust and friendship. I have a hard time visualizing alpha males being true partners as parents or supporting their wife while she deals with depression or what-have-you. The alpha is so set as himself that it would be hard to grow and change with his partner.

While I do write epilogues that give the flavor of what comes next, it would be fun to do something ten or twenty years down the road. Julia Quinn re-released some of her books with extended epilogues and I bought them even though I owned the originals (and loved them). I love seeing what happens next. Romance is so full of potential and hope--it helps promote faith in humanity to see that potential realized. Love can work if you work it and, I think, my characters can stand the test of time. For all that romance is fantasy, it's a good model for life and can help guide good choices for big decisions, even if it's not easy. There's a quote on Julia Quinn's page that says:

“In some ways, portraying a 
healthy relationship in literature
 is the most revolutionary 
thing you can do.” 

—Julia Quinn

When you read romance do you think about what comes next?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...