Monday, February 27, 2012

Woman vs Lady?

I love historical costuming and fashion design. Love of costume is what led me to study history in college and, ultimately, to write historical romance. My first book, probably unpublishable, was too much a costuming lesson and I have since toned it down. But that doesn't mean I'm not as crazy about it as ever.

I watch the Oscars for the costumes... I mean, designer gowns. Who is she wearing? Vintage? Couture? What does it say about her? What does it say about our pop culture? I love it.

Which is why it was hilarious to me when Jennifer Lopez, one of the most classically beautiful and feminine stars today, quoted Edith Head. "Your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to show you're a lady," must be hard to say when your nipple is trying to break free. There is banter back and forth online, but I swear I saw a bit of aureola. Hey, it happens. It's just funny it was happening during that quote.

I'm not judging Jennifer Lopez. She is probably involved in her choice of gown to an extent, but more so are her stylists, PR people, the network, etc... She looked like a goddess, nipple and all. That dress was certainly tight enough to show she was a woman. To tight? Eh -- that's subjective. Would I wear it? HELL NO. Even if I had that body? Ummm, probably not.

Sandra Bullock's dress was not so tight as to question her ladylike qualities, but it was an odd cut with the mini padded shoulder caps, so the result was a very boxy upper body. Classy? Yes. Flattering? No.

 My least favorite has to be the dress worn by Melissa Leo. It looks like one of the billowy shirt's my mother in law wears, only floor length and sequined. Those shirts suit my mother-in-law, but don't belong on the red carpet. This image shows it to have some shape, courtesy of the sash at the waist. I don't think she wore the sash when she presented the awards and that dress was shapeless. If she wasn't showing she was a woman, maybe that means she's an uber lady.

As for positives, I enjoyed Cameron Diaz' nod to old Hollywood glamour. The dress was lovely, but she came across as monochromatic with hair, skin, dress all the same color. I loved Natalie Portman's polka dot gown. Lots of fun. I thought Octavia Spencer's dress was beautiful. It met the standards for the occasion and flattered her figure. My favorite was George Clooney's date, Stacey (whom I have not heard of before). Her dress had that same old Hollywood glamour as Diaz, but with pop. I love how the draping created a rosette. This would be my choice, should I have a perfect body and be invited to the Oscars (both equally plausible), only not in gold. I would look jaundiced. As to woman vs lady, Edith Head would have approved. I was disappointed not to see Kate Winslet or Nicole Kidman-- I don't think  they've ever worn anything I haven't loved.

Overall the silhouettes were streamline. Yes, there were full skirts, but slinky was the word of the day. Very few bright pops of color but a lot of metallics, and very few Bjork-esque risk takers. If the starlets are our aristocracy, our role models, how will this translate into the common woman's fashion? In all, the stars presented a positive body image, recognizing women that were larger than size 2 as worthy of praise. Not too much cleavage or too much leg. I don't recall any short dresses. Most hairstyles were elegant and in natural colors. This was a very safe year in regard to fashion risks. Was this influenced by the economic issues today? Or a growing conservative voice? 

If fashion is a symptom, I wonder what the disease is this time? I would have voted for conspicuous consumption in the past, but now?

And if you think this has nothing to do with my writing process, you are incorrect.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hook, Line, and Sinker: Take Two

I posted the beginning of my WIP for Justin Parente's 2/13/12 blogfest. I have less than 10k words on that project. When I say it is a work in progress, I mean it. The readers agreed that it was rough. Well written, but not a  hook. I agree. The story had not started yet.

My Karma book is a departure from my era and subject. Karma is an experiment and I am very early on the learning curve. I am even considering changing it to first person. I know, crazy. I have faith it will be a good book -- but right now it's too early to judge.

So, just to salvage my reputations, here are the first 491 words from the work I am currently editing, Courtly Abandon (my 3rd Elizabethan historical romance). Please enjoy it more than you did the last one. :)

Holme LeSieur, Nottinghamshire, 1573
Jane hefted her farthingale and skirts past her knees as she sprinted across the orchard. Rufus, the elderly hound and her companion for the morning, loped wide circles around her. She was glad he was enjoying himself but hoped he would not trip her. She had to get to the split log fence at the edge of the orchard without becoming disheveled. Arriving at the property line she straightened her skirts, praying she was not already too late.
Out of breath, she leaned against a thick apple-tree trunk and ran a smoothing hand over her artfully tousled blond curls and net coif. She had looked both ladylike and wanton when she left the house. Now she hoped her exertion had brought a rosy glow to her cheeks that would make any hot blooded man think of bedding her. Of course Sir William, Viscount of Kingsley, was not any man. He was the man she was going to marry. She would make him a wonderful wife, he just did not know it yet. More interested in farming, he had not even noticed her flirtations. At least she hoped that was all it was. She could not abide being married to a stupid man.
At least her first husband had been sharp witted. Though quite a bit older than she, he had treated her well and she had been fond of him. She had also enjoyed her widowhood. Immensely. But, it was time to marry again and Lord Kingsley was convenient, comely, and amiable enough.
He frequently made a morning round of his lands. Jane liked to make herself visible whenever possible. Bringing the dog along had seemed like a good idea at first; should Lord Kingsley happen to pass by, he would see her as a lovely young maid, full of life, delighting in country pleasures. What man could resist such an image?
Jane straightened her emerald green silk skirts and leaned back against the tree in a nonchalant pose. Lord Kingsley would never know the encounter was staged. And, Jane looked down to make sure both breasts were still contained, he would get an eyeful.
She waited, adjusting her position a few times. Perhaps she had been too late? Rufus’ bark made her jump.
“Mistress Radclyffe,” Viscount Kingsley’s called out a greeting, “What a pleasure to see you out so early.” He remained astride. Though his voice was courteous, there was no sign of eagerness to see her.
“I love spring mornings and the scent of the world coming alive. Everything is so… fertile. The earth is ripe.” Nicely done. Honest, suggestive, and sure to play to his interests.
            The Viscount jumped off his horse, but kept hold of the reigns as he toed the ground, careful not to get mud on his boots. He sniffed the air. “Right now I smell dung.”
Dung? Really? Viscount or not, the man could use a lesson in courtly manners.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Campaigner's Challenge: Flash Fiction

I'm excited to be participating in the first campaigner's challenge of Rachael Harrie's 4th campaign.

This short features characters from my Elizabethan historical romances. Mary, in Courtly Scandals, feels like a failure as a woman because she has been told she can't have children. In my epilogue, I show that to be untrue. Here, I give her the wonderful, drug free experience of natural childbirth with a reasonably clean midwife in 1573. Without further ado, here is my 223 word flash fiction submission. I tried, but I could not hit the 200 on the nose.

            Shadows crept across the wall of her confinement chamber. They were the only proof time was passing. That, and the contractions that wracked her body.
Frances stood by the bedside, her hand strong around Mary’s. “Breathe through it. It will be over soon.”
Mary closed her eyes, the orange glow of the candles filtering through her lids as she dragged in another breath. It wasn’t the pain that disabled her, but the fear. Opening her eyes, she silently scanned the faces of the women surrounding her. Were they afraid for her?
The pain that wracked her body had her upright in a nonce. The midwife hurried over, rubbing herbs between her hands before she crouched between Mary’s legs.
She nodded to Frances.
“It is time.” Frances sat on the bed behind her, pulling Mary’s back against her chest. “With the next one, bear down. Hard.”
Mary clenched her jaw, growling past her teeth as she pressed back against Frances. There was so much burning pressure..
“That was good, Mistress Fitzjohn.” The Midwife crooned, her hands a steadying force.
“The baby…” Mary started to cry as the next convulsion overtook her.
“Push!” Frances called from far away, just beside her ear.
Mary let the scream free as she spent the last of her strength.
“A girl!”                                                                        
             A wail filled the room as exhaustion over took her and everything faded.

The above image is at a small Renaissance faire in So. Cal, October of 2006. That is my youngest daughter, Clara, sleeping in my arms. Both daughters were products of c-sections, so I have no real experience with the pushing process.  :)

Addendum: I added the words in bold at the end so it didn't appear that I killed Mary off. Some of the comments made me realize that her death was implied. And yes, chances for death in childbirth was 1 in 4 for the mothers. That same percentage held for infant mortality. Then for deaths before the age of 5. And again for deaths before the age of 25. The good news is if you made it to 25, you were in it for the long haul and could live until your teeth fell out.

107, by the way. :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Peeves About Blogging and Life in General

Here are some of my peeves, in no particular order.

1. No, I am not a robot. I do, however, have a hard time confirming that when I try to leave a post on your blog (Especially if I'm doing it from my phone). I took off the anti-spam word verification thingy last April during the A-Z blogfest and, since then, have only had 1 spam (which blogspot caught all by itself). Not only does it make it more labor intensive to leave a comment, I know that there have been times when I left the comment, select "post comment" then left the page. I don't know if a robot check came up and/or if my comment posted at all.

2. People who sign up for a blogfest and don't participate. Seriously, don't even sign up unless you are ready to schedule your post. Yes, life gets busy -- but it's busy for the other bloggers who are stopping by to visit. I assume you signed up because you'd like to be a part of the online writing community. If so, don't alienate or irritate people by wasting their time.
Poltergeist Peeves in Lego Harry Potter

3. People who make a mistake, get caught, and blame the person holding them accountable. Really, if you messed up, own it. No, they did not get you in trouble - you got yourself in trouble. Be a grown up. If you happen to be a parent, help your child grow up and accept that they make mistakes that have consequences. Or, if you happen to be a child, start down the path toward being a grown up by being responsible for your own actions. As much as you want to point the finger, you have no one to blame but yourself.

4. If someone tells you to stop doing something and you care about what that person thinks about you, stop doing it! If you value their esteem and don't wish to cause hurt, take their clear communication of "STOP IT!" as the queue to stop. Anything other than that is purposeful bullying.

5. If you get a critique on your writing, don't argue with it. A critique is a gift of the other person's time. They are trying to help you, not be malicious or hurtful. If they see a problem, maybe there is a problem. And if you have to explain what you really meant, then obviously the reader didn't get it and, yes, the critique was valid. I have held back from leaving negative critiques to people I don't know (or rather, who don't know me and won't have reason to think my opinion is valid). I'm not doing them any favors by being nice. What I would do was compliment the positive aspects and just not mention the negatives. Anyone who ever got a critique from me that said they had very lyrical writing, that was my nice way of saying their prose was unreadably purple and overly verbose. I am being more forthright from now on.

This applies to self-published writers that argue with negative reviews. Seriously, just be happy that real readers (not friends and family) took the time to review your book. That means people are reading it, right?

6. If the shopping cart return is right next to your car, why didn't you put it away? You, sir or madam, are an ass.

7. Non-smokers who choose to sit outside, right next to people already smoking, and cough/complain loudly.

8. Smokers who choose to sit right next to families even though there are plenty of open seats further away, and smoke. Then they give the kids dirty looks when the kids (loudly) want to know what smells bad.

9. People who are not crystal clear with their wants/needs/etc... out of reluctance to appear confrontational. This is a problem of mine - in effort not to be offensive, I back down immediately when an aggressive personality wants to change my viewpoint. I always thought there was no point in stating my opinion at that time because they'll just take it as a challenge to change my mind. Unfortunately, my silence is often viewed as tacit agreement. IT IS NOT. Unless I state differently, I stand by what I said. I have to make myself crystal clear. If you don't like something, speak up. If you don't, you'll end up going to a Mexican restaurant when you really wanted Chinese food and then sulking. Or worse. And, yes, it can get much worse.

10. People who take a contrary opinion in an open exchange of ideas as a direct attack. For the record I am not opposed to gay marriage. I am not opposed to stem cell research given certain regulations. I think it's the parent's job to teach their children about sexuality, not the State's. I am pro-small business and anti-big government. I think McCain could have been a great president, but Sarah Palin scares me. I do not believe in government hand outs, bail outs, or that people should be entitled to unemployement because they are too unpleasant to work for anyone (this is about a specific person, not people on unemployment in general). I am not in favor of socialized health care, but do think that medical insurance needs to be re-engineered. I think voting on party lines based on being part of a party shows either ignorance of lack of conviction. I think voting for something you know nothing about is reckless. I think No Child Left Behind is the Federal Government's way of butting into Constitutionally laid out State's rights by dangling a $ carrot (and is crap). I think every child is capable of being great in different ways and that standardized testing does not account for everything.
So, now I have stated my opinions. I respect your right to disagree and will not take it as a direct attack. I am confident enough in myself. If, however, you feel the need to jump down my throat or cry, you are now meeting peeve #10. If you, however, realize I'm entitled to my opinion and not trying to change your mind or shove my beliefs down anyone's throat, we're good. For the record: I don't share my opinions on these subjects with my students. It's important to me that my students develop their own opinions, not parrot mine.

Thank you for letting me vent. To think, this all started because I was catching up on commenting on the last blogfest and got frustrated with the security checks. Then it snowballed. From the list, you could probably surmise that I've had a frustrating week (or so).

Feel free to add to the list.

BTW, it is a peeve that Peeves was not included in the Harry Potter movies. The scene where Fred and George let loose the swamp in the school and Peeves gets to go hog wild is one of my favorites from the books.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hook, Line, and Sinker Blogfest

I am entering Justin Parente's Hook, Line, and Sinker blogfest using the opening from my brand-new-me contemporary paranormal romance. Since the blogfest is over a month in the future, this is me being optimistic that I will have finished the first draft of Courtly Abandon and be more invested in my unnamed new project (Haunting Karma? Passion Past? Karma Moves Into a Haunted Condo? Karma's Ghosts? Sexy Ghosts? Possessing Karma? Bad, Bad Karma? -- actually I just brainstormed more successfully now and sort of like Possessing Karma. Although Bad, Bad Karma is funny.... I digress).
Blog details:
Date: February 13, 2012
Where: In My Write Mind blog, and your own
Objective: Post your 500-1000 word hook and critique other hooks posted by participants

Suggestive topics to consider when critiquing:
  • Does the character have a personality I can fall into easily? This includes any dialogue exchanged.
  • Is the world around them set up to compliment the character as they're introduced?
  • Are there secondary characters to assist with the hook?
  • Lastly, would I read more?
So, without further ado, here are the first 1161 words (it felt weird to cut it off 2 sentences from the end of the chapter) from my current w.i.p. Something Something Karma Something. I'm really looking forward to reading the other entries. I hope you enjoy mine.

Kay had everything organized in order of size. If she knew what information the attendant would ask for first, she would have set it up that way for efficiency’s sake. As it was, she had a nice little stack in her hand that resembled irregular stair steps; California driver’s license, luggage tags, passport, and a tri-folded printout of her online flight reservation just in case.
Not that she needed her passport for a national flight, but one could never be too careful.
The bored bottle blond behind the desk signaled for her to step forward. The girl was pretty enough. She obviously put effort into the ritualistic hygiene required to attract a mate, but the dullness behind her eyes made Kay think it would be best if this woman did not procreate.
“Monique, is it?” Kay always made a point to address people by name, if the name was available. Based on Monique’s name tag, she had been with the airline for three years. “My name is Kay Betancourt. I have reservations on flight 6730 to New Orleans.”
The girl did not make eye contact and simply retrieved Kay’s license from the neatly fanned documents she had placed on the desk.
“I have your reservation here: Karma R Betancourt, business class. I do not see a return flight booked – is that correct?”
Kay nodded.
“Do you have any luggage to check?”
Kay shrugged her shoulder, hefting her over packed small suitcase. “Just my carry-on.”
“Alright-y then.” The girl looked less bored. Maybe she was wondering what a thirty-something woman travelling alone with no return flight was planning to do in New Orleans. If she wondered, she did not ask; she merely nodded, printed up a page, folded it, tucked it in a small folder, and placed it on the desk. “You are all set. Please go to gate 52. You flight should begin boarding in the next twenty minutes or so. Thank you for flying with us, Miss Betancourt.”
Kay tucked the small folder in her purse and fought the urge to correct Monique. Doctor Betancourt. She knew better than to care about such trivialities – she would never see Monique again and the correction would just come across as pompous.
Reaching her gate, she found a seat that afforded a view of the rush – people coming and going, most of them in a hurry. The tired looking woman wearing sweats, carrying a screaming toddler obviously was more focused on reaching her destination in one piece than being a part of the social networking around her. A young man, military, probably a Marine, sat straight and proud. His eyes were open to the scene around him, particularly to the activities of the young woman across the corridor at Gate 53. That young lady was enrapt in the pages of a book, her face flushed. She kept licking her lips and fumbling with the top button her blouse. The book, though obviously a paperback, had a brown paper jacket cover. Kay wondered what type of book she was reading – the woman obviously felt some shame about reading it in public, either that or she was very private. Then again, if she were truly private, she wouldn’t be sharing her personal reactions to the author’s fantasy with complete strangers in an airport. She was both separating herself from her environment and adding to it.
Kay stopped her musing from bordering on poetic. Yet again, she was on the outside looking in, observing human interaction as if through a window. As if she were not part of the scene itself. Which she was – passive or active, she could not avoid physically being there in the moment. It was just simpler for her to observe rather than participate.
“Flight 6730 to New Orleans will now begin boarding for premier guests.”
Kay stood up automatically and retrieved her paperwork, her California Driver’s License and boarding pass. She stepped into the short line and noticed the young Marine’s eyes on her. He was not subtle in his appraisal. Kay always found being ‘checked out’ interesting. Did the man find her body pleasing? How did his subconscious assess her breeding capacities? She certainly had full enough hips and bust to imply she would create healthy children. Her overall physique was strong, but not too well muscled to imply that she would not accept his alpha dominance. She was clean and healthy, her face appropriately symmetrical. Overall, she knew herself to be a good specimen. He met her eyes and held her questioning glance for a moment before looking away.
Dismissed, yet again.
Not that she wanted that young man to pursue her, but it would be interesting to hear an honest answer as to why she was not worth approaching.
Then again, she already knew the answer.
She was weird. Off. Regular women did not analyze the data that drove mating rituals, they just participated. They depended on instinct and chemistry. Kay could not do that. She could not simply be, she had to know why.
It was her turn at the gate. She handed her boarding pass to the attendant.
“Miss Betancourt, welcome to flight 6730. You will be in seat F3.”
“Thank you.” Again she held back the correction. Doctor Betancourt.
The retractable tunnel between the airport and the plane shook with each step. Gentle suction from the intense air conditioning ushered her onto the plane and the flight attendant showed her to her seat.
The good looking man, no more than twenty-four, repeated his rehearsed lines. “My name is Todd. Let me know if you need anything more. Enjoy your flight, Miss Betancourt.”
Kay smiled and almost held herself back. “Doctor.”
Todd turned back to her. “Sorry?”
“I am Doctor Betancourt.”
Todd’s face remained neutral. “My apologies, Doctor Betancourt.” His voice did not betray whether or not he felt her insistence at the title was ridiculous.
Maybe it was. The only universally accepted caste system in California seemed to be based on wealth or popularity: Kay had established her social rank academically. She would never gain notice or import by being gregarious or vivacious. No, she elevated herself into an elite social rank by her own intelligence and work ethic. She was a Doctor. That meant something; perhaps it meant more than driving a Mercedes or wearing Prada shoes. Or maybe it didn’t. At least it meant something to her.
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to pry,” the older woman in seat F2 turned to her, her voice polite, “but did I hear you say you were a doctor.”
Kay smiled. It did matter. “Yes. I am a doctor.”
“Wonderful! I was wondering if you could take a look at this bump on my arm. My daughter says it’s nothing, but I can’t help but worry…”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you.” Kay was not in the least bit sorry, but it was the right thing to say. “But I’m not a medical doctor. I am a doctor of anthropology and sociology.”
“Oh.” The woman looked stunned for a moment. “Oh, well, that’s very interesting.”
To her credit, she did not try to appear interested.
            They would be in New Orleans in six hours. 

So there is my intro. Kay is moving to New Orleans to start a new job, her first time as a real adult outside of the bubble of academia.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Aphrodisiac - Romantic Friday Writers

This is my first submission for Romantic Friday Writers. I apologize that it is only the long side at 655 words. This is also my first time writing in first person. Or contemporary. Basically, this bit of flash fiction is completely different from anything I've ever done. I have, however, cooked a goose before.

Aphrodisiac Schmaphrodisiac
The goose was rubbed down with honey and citrus. I had been drawing cup after cup of rendered fat away for the past three hours. Oysters chilled on their bed of ice in my sink with only a little of my blood still staining the drain from my first practice shucking. The artichokes were steaming and the olive oil, caper, and dill drizzle was setting, drawing and blending flavors. The wine had been decanted, my prized Waterford red wine goblets, polished.
I had eschewed my regular floral perfume for a spicy cinnamon body lotion. My hair was loose, my cleavage bountiful. I had followed the Aphrodisiac Cookbook to the letter, but knew if all else failed, I could count on my breasts.
One way or another, I was going to get laid tonight. No, not 'laid' -- seduced. My needs were basic; I wanted to be wanted. I wanted to feel. For so long I had been a wife and mother. Toward the end, when the Huntington's had disabled the man I married, I was more caretaker than wife. Now, with Jason finally at peace and the boys in college, it was time to be a woman again. I blinked away the threatening tears and checked my eyes in the mirror. The mascara was definitely worth the eight dollars, though the lip stain looked too contrived. Grimacing, I wondered if I should have colored my hair. The strands of silver among the auburn screamed, "Old lady." And no one seduced an old lady. No, they helped her open jars and cross the road. My skin was still smooth. Without the grey, I could, maybe, have pulled off thirty-nine. With the grey I was every inch of forty-seven. I ran a finger over my brows, and gave myself a smile. I looked... well - I look like me. And Mr. Harris, David, already knew what I looked like.
The chimes sounded. He was here. I took a deep breath and slipped my bare feet into the kitten heeled slings I bought years ago for a Caribbean cruise but never wore. They still felt sexy.
He stood in the doorway, tall and clean cut in his casual slacks. My son’s former soccer coach, I’d never seen him in anything but his team jersey and sweats.
“Good evening, Mrs. Walsh.” He smiled and brought his hand from behind his back. Roses.
I blushed like an idiot and took them. My smile was so big it hurt. “Gemma, please.”
“Sorry. Old habits.”
I stepped back and he stepped in, wiping his feet on the rug. I should have moved further back – I was too close, in his space. Before I could, he took my hand.
“I’ve been looking forward to tonight for a long time.”
His voice was deeper than I remembered. He was holding my hand – should I squeeze? Pull away? Stay limp? I blushed again, burying my face in the roses. Jeese, you’d think I was sixteen, not someone who couldn’t open jars.
“David,” his name sounded decadent on my tongue, “would you like some wine?” I gestured with the bouquet, but stayed beside him, my hand warm in his.
“Umm, yes,” he cleared his throat, “Or no. Not now. Christ, I’m no good at this.”
“Good at what?” My voice was breathless.
He stepped closer, tracing my cheek with his finger. My breath caught in my throat as he leaned toward me.
 “This,” he whispered. Lowering his head he brushed my lips with his. His hand cradled my jaw, his fingers spearing back into my hair.
I leaned closer and he pressed his mouth more firmly against mine. Closing my eyes, I melted into him and he wrapped his arms around me.
The roses fell to the floor, the timer on the oven beeped, and the wine continued to breathe. None of it mattered. This man, David, he wanted me, grey hair and all, without aphrodisiacs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Girl Fight!

I witnessed my first real girl fight recently. I came in at the end, but there was enough hatred, hissing, cursing, and blood to be more than enough for me. I have seen plenty of boy fights - meh. Girl fights are something else. It made me realize my own attempt at writing a girl fight was lacking. My inexperience with violence really showed. There was too much talking, not enough scratching and swearing.

I am including my girl fight scene from Courtly Scandals below. I appreciate any input you may have on bettering the pacing and realism of the fight.

A damp cold assaulted Mary’s face and neck as she stepped into the winter afternoon. There had been no time to think about fetching a cloak as Anne dragged her out into the garden. It appeared Anne was not taking the new rumors well. It had taken all of Mary’s self control not to laugh at the direction the malicious gossip had taken. She may be a slut, but Anne was the murderess. She could live with that. Besides, the reputation of promiscuity would soon blow over: if that type of thing stuck, no woman at court would ever have a reputation intact enough to marry.
Anne released her wrist and spun to face her, her skirts flinging droplets of slush as she turned.
 “You bitch.” Anne punctuated her words by slapping her open palm across Mary’s face.
Anne had struck her!
Mary was surprised that she was not surprised. She lifted a hand to the warm spot on her cheek. “Anne, get control of yourself. You are making a scene.”
All five-foot two of Anne gyrated with rage. “You! You started these rumors.”
In spite of her throbbing cheek, Mary had an unusual sense of peace. She really did not care what Anne had to say at this point. Of course, almost every courtier from Queen Elizabeth’s privy chamber seemed to care and was crowding the doorway into the cold.
“Anne, this is neither the time nor the place.”
“I am the Countess of Oxford. I will say when it is the time and the place. You are no one but a nursemaid.”
“The only person I have ever played nursemaid to is you.” Mary stepped closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. “For goodness sakes Anne, you are acting like a spoiled child.”
Mary stepped back just in time as Anne swung again, the momentum causing her to fall to the sleet covered ground. In a puddle of skirts and melting snow, Anne struggled to right herself.
She had barely recovered her balance before turning to the audience and pointing dramatically at Mary. “This woman is a whore and a murderess.”
Mary stood silent. There was nothing she could say in her defense that would matter, but Anne’s behavior was so extreme that she was unwittingly making the case for her.
“You are no friend to me. You only stayed with me so you could seduce my husband and then kill him. You have always hated him. You wish him dead.”
Did Anne have any idea of the trouble she was causing? Of course, Anne was a countess. Her position was assured regardless of bad behavior. Through no fault of Mary’s, she was a spectacle for the court. Again.
“Anne, you must stop this madness now. It has gone too far.” Mary could tell that Anne was past seeing anything rationally.
“I see nothing but a strumpet set on stealing my husband.” Anne’s skirts were covered in dirty slush. Her hands, shaking fists. She must be freezing. “Are you jealous of me? Do you wish he had married you?”
“You do not have the right to be so familiar with me. I am a grown woman and a countess and you will address me as such.”
If only she’d act like one. “Lady Oxford, surely your great mind can see the fallacy in your argument. I could not wish to see Oxford dead and wish to marry him at the same time.” Mary kept her voice low, hoping Anne would latch on to the logic and remember herself. Anne was embarrassing both of them enough.
A deep voice called from the opposite side of the garden. “Lady Oxford, you are a countess. Will you stand for such a slight against your reason?”
Anne and Mary both looked up at the same time to see the Earl of Oxford, beaming gleefully. He was wrapped in a counterpane and standing on the balcony outside his sick room, looking down on the frozen garden below him.
In the moment it took Mary to wonder at Oxford’s presence, Anne had managed to muster enough fury to attack.
Mary fell back as Anne jumped, her hands clawing at Mary’s face. She could hear cheers from their growing audience as she gripped both of Anne’s wrists to hold her at bay. Oxford was bellowing wagers, his money firmly on her.
“Two crowns that Mistress Mary will fell the Countess of Oxford.” Oxford shouted to the delight of their other spectators.
Face to face with Anne, separated only by Anne’s clawed hands, Mary whispered, “This is madness, Anne. Think of your baby. The future earl.”
“You would have me kill my child, too, wouldn’t you?” Anne redoubled her efforts, straining to reach Mary’s face.
Mary pushed back with all her strength, rolling Anne over on the frozen earth, their hoops and layers of skirting flailing around them. The crowd cheered and a woman’s voice called out. “I’ll take that bet. It’s always the little one’s that are the most venomous.”
Another spectator replied, “Come now, my Lady, Mistress Mary has at least two stone in weight on my sweet little Countess.”
Anne shrieked and pressed forward.
Oxford continued, his voice conciliatory, “My dear Countess, no sense in denying it. The odds are clearly in her favor. It would be silly for me to lay a bet on you, regardless of my affections. I do hope you prove me wrong.”
More voices joined in the betting as Mary crawled backward enough to stand again. Anne writhed in the wet snow, struggling to right herself. Mary spared a glance at the crowd, searching for Charles. The audience cheered, urging her on, as she noticed Charles standing behind two pike-bearing guardsmen. Why were they holding him back?
“She’s not even putting up a fight.” The courtier sounded disappointed.
Was it her imagination, or had the crowd stepped closer, hedging her in? “Of course she is not; she would not dare strike a countess.” Mary did not recognize the voice as she scanned the garden, looking for an escape.
Oxford replied, “So why have you wagered two Angel’s on her winning? Come now sweeting, you can’t let my wife get away with ruining your chances at court.” Oxford laughed at his own words. “Anne, darling, that wench has been throwing herself at me for years. And now she has the audacity to pretend to be a lady? She’s naught but a country wench. Does she deserve to put on fine airs?”
     Mary sighed at Oxford’s tactics. He was egging on Lady Oxford and the crowd loved it.
“I am the better woman. I am a countess and she is nobody.” Anne seemed to have regained a second wind. Mary turned to see Anne smiling maniacally at her husband. Turning to Mary, Anne’s eyes narrowed.
“Please, let us stop this before it gets any worse.”
“Oh, I plan to stop this.” Anne bent to the ground, scooping handfuls of frozen, sodden earth, then rushed her.
Mary tried to move aside but Anne was determined, much to the delight of the crowd. Anne smeared frozen mud over Mary’s chest and bodice even as Mary tried to hold her off. Mary ducked out of her grip, only for Anne to grab her hair and yank her head back against Anne’s slight figure. “You will pay for your betrayal.”
Mary spun to face her, heedless of the pain as Anne’s grip held firm in her coiled hair. “Betrayal? You married the man who murdered my fiancé! You were like a sister to me, and now? Now, when you know how I feel, you think I have betrayed you by bedding your husband?” Mary stepped closer, the aggressor. If the crowd still hollered, Mary no longer heard them.
Anne stepped back, surprised, her hand still clutching a length of Mary’s hair.
“Oxford would bed anything with a hole and, what? You hate me because he wants me? God knows he only wants me because he can’t have me.”
Anne regained her composure and looked ready to strike.
Mary did not give her the chance. Both hands pushed Anne back and she stumbled.
In shock at Mary’s offense, her hands went defensively to her abdomen. “You would hurt my baby?” Any true concern for the child was gone as she charged forward to attack, both hands outstretched.
Mary stepped to the side, letting Anne rush pass. Again, she slipped on the frozen mud, sliding across what was usually the Queen’s ornamental garden. A place of peace and beauty that had become a frozen, muddy, battleground. Mary stood firm. “I would leave and never see you again, but you seem set on settling this here. So let us settle it.”
Anne rose again, this time hurtling towards Mary, catching her across the middle. Both forms locked together, Mary pounding Anne in the head and back; Anne pummeling Mary’s stomach. Mary heard the crowd cheer.
God’s teeth, what was she doing?
She stepped away enough for Anne to pull back her arm and aim another slap. Mary met her blow with her arm. Then both ladies were reeling, their arms flailing at each other like windmills in a storm. Mary could not hold herself back as she screamed, not sure if any of her blows here landing. All she knew is she wanted to hurt Anne. Hurt her.
It took a moment for the single, calm word to sink past the haze of anger. Halt.
Mary stopped short, dropping her hands to her side. Anne, taking this as an opportunity, jumped forward only to be restrained by a black clad arm.
Mary’s vision cleared and focused. William Cecil, Baron Burghley, Secretary of State for Queen Elizabeth, stood in front of her. One arm wrapped around a sobbing Anne. The other hand rested on the dagger at his waist.
“My lord Burghley.” Mary dropped back in an elegant reverence.
“Mistress Mary.” Burghley gestured her to rise. “I apologize for my daughter’s behavior. It is not to be condoned.” He spoke directly to his daughter, “A countess should behave as a countess.” Anne’s sobbing increased as Baron Burghley turned back toward Mary. “Mistress, I trust you will remove yourself from the Oxford household immediately?”
     A shout interrupted Mary’s response. Oxford. “Dear father, must you spoil all my fun?”

And, for your viewing pleasure, one of my personal favorites from Funny Or Die.
Jane Austen's Fight Club - watch more funny videos     

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