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My new best friend

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, whichever one you celebrate!

I got a truly amazing gift this year: a netbook! I had been thinking about buying one, so I could write at work or when I’m out and about, but I just couldn’t justify the money. Then my uncle and a couple of my friends chipped in and bought it for me! I am so grateful I don’t even know what to say.

My netbook, an EeePC S101 named Harry, is my new favorite thing in the entire world. He goes everywhere with me. He’s small enough that I can comfortably check my e-mail or catch up on blogs or watch a movie while wrapped in blankets on the couch! (An important consideration this time of year.) Plus, I adore my laptop, but it doesn’t have wireless. Harry does.

Last week I had to take my car to the mechanic for a few hours. Normally this would mean a few hours of window-shopping or something else equally unproductive, since my mechanic is pretty far from my house and my work both. But I took Harry with me, and lo and behold, someone had opened up a Jewish deli with free wireless just a few blocks away. I was able to have fried salami and eggs with a bagel, AND get some writing done!

(This Jewish deli is my OTHER new favorite thing in the entire world. Seattle doesn’t really have a lot of New York-style delis, and this one is the real thing. I went back yesterday with a friend and got an overstuffed pastrami, swiss cheese, and coleslaw sandwich on rye, aka a “Rachel.” It was HEAVEN. With each bite I was amazed anew that the sandwich was really as delicious as I had thought it was. Mmmmmmm. We also split an amazing piece of cheesecake.)

Anyway. Back on topic. Look at Harry! He’s so pretty and sleek:

(The sticker is a drawing of a T-Rex saying “Ladies, please, one at a time!” It’s from one of my favorite webcomics, Dinosaur Comics.)

I chose Harry because he was light, small, and relatively inexpensive, but an awesome side benefit is that there are rhinestones in his hinges, somewhat inexplicably (my photography skills are not the best, but you can kind of see it’s there):

And here he is showing off my lovely website!

Which segues nicely into the other thing I wanted to mention, which is that my amazing web designer Jo recently updated my website with a whole section for In for a Penny!

It’s all here and includes the first chapter of the book, deleted scenes, character interviews, and more! It also tells you where you can pre-order the book in the US, Canada, and the UK (and the Book Depository has free shipping to lots and lots of places, if you’re somewhere else!). She really did an amazing job, I can’t believe how good it looks. Check it out! (And keep your eyes peeled for a contest! Coming soon.)

I hope the new year brings all of you your heart’s desire.

Casting call! (Part 1/2)

I had approximately twenty million things to get done this weekend, so what did I spent two hours doing? Casting my book. Yep. (I’m posting my results in a couple of installments since I am still stuck on a few characters, plus otherwise this would be a really long post.)

First: my hero. Nathaniel Arthur Delaval Ambrey, Viscount Nevinstoke (son and heir of the Earl of Bedlow). His friends call him “Nev,” and he’s a ne’er-do-well crossed with a geek (because I love geeks). He loves going to the theater and the opera, and he actually studied Latin at Cambridge in between wenching and gambling and all that.

He’s a nice guy, he’s just very young (23 years old) and has never really had to look out for anyone but himself. When his father dies, he finds the sudden responsibility for his family and estate a little overwhelming, but he wants very badly to live up to it. Penelope, the heroine, describes him like this:

There was, to be sure, nothing out of the common way about him. A perfectly ordinary-looking young man, Penelope insisted to herself. He was of middling height, his shoulders neither slim nor broad. His hands were not aristocratically slender–there was nothing to set them apart from the hands of any other gentleman of her acquaintance.

His hair was a little too long, and she thought its tousled appearance more the result of inattention than any attempt at fashion; it was neither dark nor fair, but merely brown–utterly nondescript save for a hint of cinnamon. His face too would have been unmemorable if it were not for a slight crookedness in his nose, suggesting it had been broken. His eyes were an ordinary blue, of an ordinary shape and size.

So why could she picture him so clearly, and why did the memory of his smile still make her feel–hot, and strange inside?

I think he looks like Adam Brody (only, of course, not Jewish and with a broken nose):

Now my heroine, Penelope Brown. Her parents were poor people who worked their way up to owning their own brewery and are now extremely rich. They sent her to a fancy finishing school that gave her a complex about being ladylike and sensible at all times, and she keeps trying to force herself into that mold even though it doesn’t always fit.

When Nev first meets her, he has this to say: “She was really very pretty, with fine dark eyes, a straight little nose, and a girlish mouth, thin and expressive. Her complexion, framed by straight dark hair, was almost translucent. He suspected she would freckle in the sun.” I think she looks a little like Molly Parker in this picture:

All I ever really say about Nev’s little sister Louisa’s appearance is that she’s seventeen, has the same color hair as him, and that she is extremely fond of elaborate bonnets. Bonnet humor, never not funny. Louisa can be a brat, but I like her a lot. She has reasons to be angry; her family life isn’t the greatest despite having an awesome older brother. I think this passage will give you a pretty good idea what she’s like:

“Remember Louisa’s sixth birthday?” Nev asked.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more precise,” Percy [Nev’s best friend since childhood] said.

“She’d been telling everyone in sight for months that she wanted a pirate sword, and–“

“Oh, Lord, and your father bought her that enormous doll in a pink satin dress. I never saw a child look more forlorn in her life.”

“He had no idea what was wrong.”

“I can picture that doll perfectly to this day.” Percy smiled reminiscently. “As I recall, I was betrothed to it for a time. Louisa used to commandeer its ship as it sailed to England to be my bride, and I had to duel her for it.”

I think she looks like April Matson (the hair color is exactly right too):

Nev’s mistress, Amy, is a talented actress (did I mention he loves the theater?). She’s small and slender and has a tendency to freckle, like Penelope–Nev has a type. This description of her is from the scene where Nev has gotten engaged to Penelope and has to break up with her:

“He looked at her, but he didn’t see her brown eyes or the mischievous tilt of her mouth or even the small, creamy breasts that curved into the clean white muslin of her frock. He didn’t remember the year of laughter and sex and casual affection they had shared. He looked at Amy and all he could see was the thousands of pounds she had cost.”

She has blond, curly hair, and I think she looks a little like Lindy Booth:

     

And finally, at the beginning of the story, before she gets engaged to Nev, Penelope is informally engaged to her best friend, Edward Macaulay. Mr. and Mrs. Brown don’t approve for various reasons, including but not limited to: 1) Edward used to work at Brown Jug Breweries, but he left to work for a northern industrialist, which is much lower status than brewing, 2) he once got drunk and embarrassed himself at a Brown Jug Christmas party, 3) he’s Catholic, and 4) they think that Penelope is not really in love with him–which she isn’t. Nev describes him like this:

“Edward Macaulay had a broad, sensible, Scottish face, and broad, sensible, Scottish shoulders. His sandy hair was kept unfashionably short and brushed carefully back from his forehead, even though it was clear that had he allowed it to grow, it would have curled riotously in the best modern style without any prompting. He looked like a steady, dependable man, and Nev hated him on sight.”

I imagine him as looking a bit like a younger version of Nicholas Lea–that same round face, bland coloring, and tendency to frown, but with some kind of indefinable charisma going on behind it.

And that’s it for installment one! Next week we have Nev’s best friends, Nev and Penelope’s parents, and of course, the villain.

Jane Eyre, by Johnny Guns

This Kate Beaton comic on Burke and Hare cracked me up. As she says, “Here we meet Burke and Hare towards the end of their killing spree, a period which may be described as ‘unbelievably sloppy’ and also ‘lazy.'” She also did another short one about the Brontë sisters. My Brontë sisters t-shirt by her (based on the comic I linked to a while back) came in the mail yesterday and it’s awesome (although I should warn you, the shirt is more of a light green and the ink on the sisters is almost black, rather than the light/dark blue shown on the website)! Maybe if I have a good hair-day I’ll post a picture.

In other news, I have a new Goodreads account here. I’ll be posting book recommendations there, mostly for romance and historical research books, but probably also for whatever I’m reading that I like.

I’m going to see the Mountain Goats in concert tonight! They write amazing love songs. The first one I ever heard, way back in college, was “Going to Georgia”:

The most remarkable thing about coming home to you
Is the feeling of being in motion again
It’s the most extraordinary thing in the world

I have two big hands and a heart pumping blood
And a 1967 Colt .45 with a busted safety catch
The world shines
As I cross the Macon County line
Going to Georgia

The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway
Is that it’s you
And that you’re standing in the doorway
And you smile as you ease the gun from my hand
And I’m frozen with joy right where I stand
The world throws its light underneath your hair
Forty miles from Atlanta, this is nowhere
Going to Georgia

You can get the .mp3 from Amazon here.

Tell me an unusual love song that works for you.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

In for a Penny is listed on Amazon!!!! I had been checking it obsessively for a while to no avail and had finally given up, figuring it wouldn’t be up until a couple of months before publication. Then last week my friend Paul Pollack (who, by the way, just published a lovely number theory textbook, “Not Always Buried Deep“) IMed to say “Hey, your book’s on Amazon!” There may have been chair-dancing.

Look! It’s my book! Available for pre-order!

I have arrived.

My trip to the UK!

It’s been almost a month since I got back from the UK, and it’s taken me this long to organize and upload all my pictures. But my trip was AMAZING. We started out in Newcastle, where we spent most of our time on our friend’s couch giggling and watching TV–“Black Books” is my new favorite thing!–but also managed to take in a castle and gardens, some art museums, and lovely architecture. One of my favorite things about the UK is how old stuff lives right alongside new stuff: in Newcastle I saw Tudor wattle-and-daub buildings jostling Georgian Neoclassical stone, Victorian townhouses, and modern glass-and-steel.

Then we took a train, bus, and ferry up to Orkney. I was horribly seasick on the ferry, which I didn’t expect because I’ve never had a problem with boats before. You know those scenes when characters are crossing the Channel and someone’s seasick and they’re lying there shaking and moaning, “I’m dying, I know it”? I always thought those were an exaggeration but no, it is exactly like that.

Orkney is, hands down, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and its history is fascinating too. I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend who works for Historic Scotland so she had all kinds of great information and recommended a couple books as well. I’ll be setting a book there sooner rather than later, I think. I was also pathetically amazed by the sight of cows and sheep grazing right at the edge of the sea. As an American, I’m just not used to the lack of beaches!

Then we drove down to Edinburgh and spent a few days there before flying home. My friend took us on the scenic route through the Highlands, and wow. I get what the big deal is now. (There were sheep on the highway, too, in case you were wondering.)

We also discovered that the most popular brand of oatmeal in Scotland has this picture on the box:

I think it’s the shotput that makes it.

I’ve uploaded all my best pictures to flickr. You can see them here. To whet your appetite, here are some of my favorites (I apologize for the sides being cut off, I can’t figure out how to make it not do that):

The Poison Gardens at Alnwick. Our guide was a truly macabre elderly woman in a sweater set, who kept making pronouncements like, “Two berries from this plant will kill a small child in ten hours. If you grind the berries into powder and sprinkle them on the ground, you will become invisible.”

I told you Orkney was beautiful:

These are naturally occuring steps in the rocks by the sea. What a great place for a kissing scene!

This chapel was built out by Italian POWs during World War II so that they would have a place to hold Catholic services. They used two Nissen huts, some plaster, and leftover concrete from the causeways they were building. Here’s the Wikipedia article–it’s a fascinating story and the chapel is beautiful.

And now for something completely different! This stuff was everywhere in Edinburgh.

An embarrassment of riches

Last week I was very, very good and finished all my writing goals for the week! I even cleaned my bathroom (and boy, did it need it). So I promised myself I could buy as much as I wanted at the Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale this weekend. Here’s what I ended up with:

Research:

1. The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain 1789-1837, by Ben Wilson.
2. Slave Women in Caribbean Society 1650-1838, by Barbara Bush. (A different Barbara Bush.)
3. Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, by Juan Cole.
4. Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871 by Adam Zamoyski. I’m not sure how much of this will be Regency, nor does he appear to talk much about women. However, I’ve been wanting to read more about the Romantic movement for a long time and the book looks interesting, so we’ll see.
5. London Life in the Eighteenth Century by M. Dorothy George. She seems to mean the long eighteenth century (which can start as early as the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and end as late as the Great Reform Bill of 1832, although in this case it means 1700-1815), which is nice for me. It mostly focuses on the details of working class life, with a whole section on “London Immigrants and Emigrants,” one of my current research topics!
6. The Illustrated Companion to Nelson’s Navy, by Nicholas Blake and Richard Lawrence.

Romance:

1. Flat-Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy. I remember this got a great review on Smart Bitches when it first came out.
2. Seduction of a Proper Gentleman, by Victoria Alexander.
3. The Boys Next Door, by Jennifer Echols. (YA. I loved her debut about the marching band, Major Crush.)
4. All-American Girl by Meg Cabot. Possibly her last YA series I haven’t read any of.
5. Love Letters from a Duke by Elizabeth Boyle.
6. The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann. Someone recced this to me YEARS ago.
7. Aaaaand, an extra copy of Lord of Scoundrels. Because you never know.

Cookbooks:

I don’t cook at home as much as I used to now that I cook for a living, but I still love it and I always look in the cookbooks section. In past years I’ve found such gems as Barbara Cartland’s The Romance of Food, The First Ladies Cook Book (featuring the favorite recipe of each First Lady of the US), and last year a book of excitingly-shaped cakes (dinosaurs, volcanos, &c.). This year I ended up with:

1. Romantic Italian Cookery by Mary Cadogan.
2. The Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America’s Kitschiest Kitchen. I never even knew Liberace was a cook! The book is full of amazing photos of him cooking, and also food with rhinestones on it.

Not a bad haul! If you’re looking for me in the next month or so, I’ll probably be diving into my books like Scrooge McDuck into his Money Bin.

Does your town have a library book sale? What’s the best find you ever bought there?

The House of Commons opera hat

I’ve been doing some research on the British Parliament for my next book, and wow. I forget how much OLDER the UK is sometimes, and how much more time they’ve had to accumulate customs.

On one page of my book (The Great Palace by Christopher Jones) I see:

“The Mace, the symbol of Royal authority, must always be present when the House is sitting. Without it, the House is totally powerless.”

(More on the Mace from Wikipedia. And here’s a picture.)

On the next page:

“The Serjeant-at-Arms[…]is the only person in the Chamber allowed to wear a sword.”

Two pages later:

The House of Commons snuffbox. It is kept by the Principal Doorkeeper. Any Member may ask for a pinch of snuff before going into the Chamber.”

How awesome is that? According to Wikipedia, “A floral-scented snuff called ‘English Rose’ is provided for members of the British House of Commons at public expense due to smoking in the House being banned since 1693. A famous silver communal snuff box kept at the entrance of the House was destroyed in an air raid during World War II with a replacement being subsequently presented to the House by Winston Churchill.” (The new box was made from the timber recovered from the damaged Chamber.) Nicholas Fairbairn, an MP until 1995, was known during his tenure for being the only person to actually use the snuff.

What is even more awesome is that I cannot possibly feel the least bit superior, because it turns out the US Senate has ceremonial snuffboxes too!

But my very, very favorite is this:

The House of Commons opera hat. The collapsible top hat which Members must wear if they want to raise a point of order during a division [their word for a vote].”

And there’s a little picture of an old top hat sitting on a bench.

I was desperately sad to discover that this custom had been discontinued following a recommendation of the Select Committee on the Modernization of the House of Commons:

“64. At present, if a Member seeks to raise a point of order during a division, he or she must speak ‘seated and covered’. In practice this means that an opera hat which is kept at each end of the Chamber has to be produced and passed to the Member concerned. This inevitably takes some time, during which the Member frequently seeks to use some other form of covering such as an Order Paper. This particular practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than almost any other, particularly since the advent of television. We do not believe that it can be allowed to continue.”

Another beautiful image was provided by Hansard’s record of the discussion on the issue:

“We recommend a new procedure for raising points of order during a Division. At present, we have the opera hat, and, although some Members may feel that they look particularly fetching in it, it makes the House of Commons look ridiculous when someone wearing the hat is trying to raise a point of order from a seated position while everyone else is milling around and going to vote.”

(Sidenote: If anyone writing historical romance with a political dimension doesn’t already know about the online Hansard’s, here it is! It is saving my life with things like dates of parliamentary recesses, when bills were proposed, &c.)

Can anyone find a picture of the opera hat? Preferably being worn. My Google-fu is failing me.

ETA: Dave was kind enough to write and share this video of the opera hat in use! Thanks Dave!!

EEEE!

Very exciting news! My editor e-mailed me my cover yesterday!! Look:

(There’s a larger version here if you’d like to see more detail on the painting, which is beautiful.)

Also note the incredibly flattering cover quote by Lauren Willig. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

I am so, so happy with this cover. I have heard a lot of horror stories about covers so I was a bit nervous about what mine would look like, but clearly the Dorchester art department is ACE. While in one small respect the cover doesn’t fit the book (the book takes place in the middle of summer), I think it captures the mood of the book perfectly. I LOVE the way the warm sunset colors contrast with the snow. Plus red and gold has been my favorite color combination since I was about ten years old.

The cover also fits the book in another way that I think must be a coincidence (although I don’t know for certain) but that means a lot to me personally. There’s a scene early in the book where my impoverished hero is having dinner with Penelope and her nouveau riche parents, trying to win them over so they’ll give their consent to the marriage.

It was as though he had the Midas touch. He went straight to her mother’s wall of sentimental engravings and old book illustrations in gilt frames, and pointed to a garishly-colored old engraving of Venice that her mother loved. “It’s the Bridge of Sighs! Have you been to Venice, Miss Brown?”

“No,” Penelope said. “I have never been out of England.”

Mrs. Brown smiled. “Oh, those old pictures are all mine. Penny is much too elegant for such trifles! I hope very much to go to Venice with Mr. Brown someday.”

Penelope, poor girl, is very concerned with appearing to have “elegant taste” at all times, since her parents sent her to boarding school with a lot of gently-bred girls and they all made fun of her for being a vulgar parvenue. I’m not entirely sure what type of wall-hangings she would prefer, but I’m guessing distantly-spaced original works in sober colors and plain frames, maybe contemporary landscapes or portraits. Gilt would NOT be involved. (Don’t worry, she mostly gets over herself by the end of the book!)

I, on the other hand, think Mrs. Brown’s wall sounds pretty, and it’s an exaggerated version of something from my own life. On the wall by my parents’ bed, there was a few feet between the window and the dresser where my mom had hung six or seven small romantic prints–a Hudson River School painting of the Amazon, a Bouguereau mother and child she got as a gift when I was born, a commemorative print my grandmother bought at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a sheet music cover my father bought her as a gift, and so on.

My mom died a few months after I wrote that scene (and long before I finished the book), but she was the audience I imagined while I was writing anyway. She read Pride and Prejudice aloud to me when I was nine, introduced me to Regency romances when I was twelve, and read my first manuscript when I was seventeen and told me it was good (in retrospect, it might have been more accurate to say it had potential).

The framed picture on the cover of In for a Penny would have fit right in on her wall, and that makes me very happy.

And I'll be in Scotland afore ye!

Great news–plans are finalized and at the end of this month a friend and I are going to the UK for two weeks!

We’ll be visiting friends in Newcastle and Orkney, and then spending a few days in Edinburgh.

I’ve been to the UK twice before. My mom took me to London, Bath, and Brighton as a college graduation present (so five years ago–yes, I’m young), and the year before that I studied abroad in Paris and spent some time in the summer travelling around Europe. In England, I visited the same three cities plus Canterbury and Oxford.

It was wonderful and I loved all those cities (especially Bath–sorry, Jane Austen, I know you weren’t a fan!), but I’m excited to see a bit further north. Less and less of my book ideas seem to want to be set in London these days, so I want to collect other interesting settings. Newcastle is one of the northern industrial cities that come up so often when researching Regency politics and labor/class relations, and Orkney is…

Okay, my main association with Orkney is still Lot and Morgause from the Arthurian legends. But it’s at the very northernmost part of Scotland, and my friend and I are taking a six-hour ferry ride there from Aberdeen. I LOVE ferries. It is going to be beautiful! (And there is a BAR on the ferry. I’ve never been on a ferry with a bar before.) Also, my friend lives in a cottage. She doesn’t even have a street address, just “— Cottage.”

I promise I will post loads of pictures!

Does anyone have any tips to share for international travel (I haven’t been out of the country in years), or suggestions for things we really ought to see? Regency-era stuff especially welcome…