Greetings. Yes, I'm still alive. And, yes, the last time I posted was in September. Why? I use a Chromebook for school and it won't let me sign out of my school account. When my school year ended and I dug my ancient but beloved laptop out and tried to log in. For whatever reason it would not let me past the 18-or-older screen... Sigh. It turns out I had to clear my cache. I'm not good at this stuff. Even as I write this, AVG is popping up left and right to tell me to clear things and pay for things and whatever. Clearly this laptop needs some attention. I prefer a laptop to the Chromebook any day. I dislike writing in Google Docs. I like to have my work saved both in my dropbox and on my computer and the Chromebook is not set up for that. There is something soothing about the weight of this keyboard and the size of my screen. I'm glad to be back in my element, but it seems I have some work to do. So bear with me. In the meantime I will start publishing some of the blogs I wrote in Google Docs over the course of the school year and during the quarantine (I live in Southern California and we were in a "Safe at Home" policy starting in March 2020). I taught my World History and Yearbook high school classes through distance learning. I learned that even though I am self-professed loaner, I do crave some human interaction. And, despite my vampire-like approach to sunshine, I need it from time to time. Vitamin D only does so much.
So hello again my friends. I look forward to posting more soon.
**fun fact - when I went to post this I had no internet. Everyone in my house had internet, but I couldn't connect. Bleh.
I woke up this morning inspired to write. I knew my direction but I also felt like I needed to find the notes I took at a session at the 2018 Romance Writers of America convention in Denver. I could not remember the name of the speaker, but it was about writing for your id. It was a great session and gave me permission not to try so hard to break out of the aspects of romance I enjoyed but worried were cliche. I shouldn't be different for the sake of being different. If it feels right to me, it will feel right to my readers.
The problem I have is that I have loads of spiral note books and I use them for all sorts of things. Which one I write in depends on which one I grab when I pack my bag. I do dress sketches for Irish dancing. I take notes on staff meetings. I write outlines and scenes for whatever is in my head that day, no matter what actual project I'm supposed to be writing. It's a mess. Most of the notebooks are half-full but not in any sort of sequential order. Some of them include ten pages at the back. Usually the very act of writing it down means I'll remember and then type it out later, but I don't do this with notes from events.
As I looked through my notes I found such stand alone, with no context at all, statements as:
200+ years of rape.
Bags of seed save the day.
"I trust you" is the highest honor you can give someone.
I found World of Warcraft fan fiction that I'd forgotten about interspersed with teaching notes I never followed up on. The collection of notebooks went back to 2012 and one of the pages includes my attempt to turn the Batman image into Celtic knot work. I found pieces of a chapter based on the characters from Shakespeare and became inspired to work on the that project (something shelved four years ago so I could finish the manuscripts that needed it) then found notes for my actual work in progress that inspired this search through my notebooks in the first place. Thank goodness that got me back on track.
I did what I should have done in the first place and shoved all the book back onto my bookshelf to go through another time when I wasn't in the I NEED TO WRITE NOW mood. But first I took a picture.
The crazy thing is that I know there are more somewhere.
I did a search online after all of the fruitless digging through spiral notebooks and found the answers to all my questions -- but this puts a damper on the sense of urgency I had while looking through years of randomness. The speaker was author Dr. Jennifer Barnes. This post from Eight Ladies Writing summed it up well and gave me the basic list I was looking for. The blog post author, Jilly Wood, wrote that, "Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons." Wonderful. Question answered. My journey through years of random notes/writing only served to let me know I needed to be more organized.
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:
I once constructed a corset with a lace up front flap to accommodate nursing.
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.
I sewed pockets into my petticoat and could access them from the front split in my overskirt.
I used large zip ties as boning in my corsets and plastic coated laundry line wire on my farthingale. Super not period.
My favorite bumroll was bright yellow and looked like a banana. I called it my butt banana.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 :(.