Mad, bad, and dangerous to know

Today I allowed myself one of the greatest geeky pleasures: a new library card. For a $100 contribution to the Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, I got a borrower’s card! I checked out three books: Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity, and Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750-1850.

As you can probably guess, I’m thinking of writing a character who hero-worships Byron. This type of character was a stock joke in Regency traditionals: they always wore disheveled riding gear and a Belcher handkerchief in place of a cravat in an attempt to ape Byron’s fashion, disordered their hair, and wrote terrible poetry for the heroine. Often they were no good at day-to-day practical things like hailing a cab or remembering to bring an umbrella.

I guess I don’t really see what’s so awful about that? It’s not as if I’ve never bought clothes in an attempt to borrow someone else’s glamor or confidence. It’s not as if I’ve never written terrible poetry. And it’s CERTAINLY not as if I’ve never forgotten to bring an umbrella or missed a bus or left my groceries at the store because I was distracted by the characters in my head.

Plus I think, at the time, Byron was a bad-boy symbol of revolt against the politics and art of The Establishment. Like Marlon Brando or James Dean! (Did you know James Dean’s middle name was “Byron”??)

On a slightly related note: Gossip Girl fans, can’t you just see Chuck Bass and Nate as Byron and Shelley?

I also requested Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights. This being able to just check books out instead of requesting them through Interlibrary Loan from the Seattle Public Library and then not being able to renew them is heady stuff.

As I was walking back to my car, I passed two twenty-year-old boys talking loudly about how useless book-learning is.

BOY #1: What you learn in here doesn’t mean much out there.
BOY #2: Yeah, the stuff you do here isn’t necessarily applicable to the real world.
BOY #1: To make it in the real world, you don’t need all this stuff. You have to learn it out there.

It was like changes on a theme, and they just sounded pleased with how jaded and worldly they were. I couldn’t help laughing, since I was there to use the historical research skills I learned in college for my “real world” job of writing books!

“A ferret! Brilliant!”

1. Still deep in revision-land. I took a brief vacation yesterday for a “Robin of Sherwood” (the 80s BBC series) marathon with my friend Gwen. I loved it! Believe me, you will be hearing lots more about that once revisions are over. If you like tightly plotted drama, this show isn’t for you, but if you like humor, engaging characters, villages bursting into flame, well-dressed bickering villains, and some scenery chewing, then yes, this is a show you will probably love. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks. Also, it gave me the subject line for this post.

2. A couple of days ago I found myself researching how long severed heads stay conscious after decapitation (yes, this was for the book). Luckily I am not the only person who has ever wanted this information. Check out the Straight Dope column. And extra luckily for me, a lot of the most colorful anecdotes are from the French Revolution so my characters can have heard about them! This is my favorite:

According to another tale, when the heads of two rivals in the National Assembly were placed in a sack following execution, one bit the other so badly the two couldn’t be separated.

I did some further research trying to determine the credibility of this versus the likelihood it was an urban legend, but all I could find was that that the anecdote is attributed to Samson, the guy in charge of the guillotine. If anyone knows more, I’d love to hear it!

3. Have any of you taken a workshop with Bob Mayer? If you have, then you may think this is as cool as I do! I think Bob’s a fabulous speaker, and luckily for me he’s a GSRWA member and lives in the Northwest and also sometimes does programming at libraries, so I’ve gotten to hear him present several times over the last year.

There’s a clip from the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line that he likes to show as a good example of how to deal with rejection. (I couldn’t find the clip anywhere online but I was able to find Bob’s blog post about it, which you can read here and which contains a transcript of the short scene.)

In it there’s a music producer/talent scout who rejects Cash’s gospel but likes “Folsom Prison Blues.” This character had previously mainly been interesting to me because he was cute, savvy, and kind of sarcastic, which are qualities I like in a man. But I was recently listening to “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” a song by the Drive-By Truckers (an alt-country band I recently discovered), and I noticed this lyric:

“Sam Phillips found Johnny Cash and he was high
High before he ever took those pills”

Yes! This song I love by my new band I love is in fact about that cute talent scout from that clip I’ve seen several times in Bob Mayer workshops! It’s an awesome world.

The song is about…well, it’s kind of complex song but what it’s mainly about for me is creative expression and why we do it, whether it’s for the money or the fame or the lifestyle or because of something else entirely. The backstory is that Sam Phillips promised to buy a Cadillac for the first guy he was producing who got a gold record, and it was Carl Perkins.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

Too busy for a clever subject line

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently in the middle of revisions for A Lily Among Thorns. And revisions means fact-checking and research! Here are some hilarious tidbits I’ve come across over the last few days:

1. “The piety of Hannah More was ‘practical piety,’ and to her must be assigned much of the distinction this kingdom derives from that all-glorious sentence now so often read in so many parts of it — a sentence that, beyond all others in our language, makes, as it ought to make, an Englishman proud —


AWWWWW. From S.C. Hall’s biography of Hannah More in his A Book of Memories of Great Men and Women of the Age from Personal Acquaintance, available here.

2. From the Wikipedia article on Cockney English:

‘Some of the features may derive from the upper-class pronunciation of late 18th century London, such as the use of “ain’t” for “isn’t” and the now lost reversal of “v” and “w” (as noted by Dickens regarding Sam Weller/Veller). This element of Cockney as parody is often underestimated, it dates to a time when Cockneys earned much of their income from the rich, who they then derided at home or in the pub.’

Ooh, neat! And here’s a related one:

3. I discovered a new possible explanation for the origin of the British curse word “bloody.” Now there are so many explanations that the real answer at this point is probably “no one knows,” but this one seems pretty plausible and I like it! I can’t remember where I first read about this, so if another author talked about it on their blog recently, I’m sorry for stealing! Let me know and I’ll credit you/them.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

‘But perhaps it ultimately is connected with bloods in the slang sense of “rowdy young aristocrats” via expressions such as bloody drunk “as drunk as a blood.” [cf. “drunk as a lord,” which is common in Regency romances.] Partridge reports that it was “respectable” before c.1750, and it was used by Fielding and Swift, but heavily tabooed c.1750-c.1920, perhaps from imagined association with menstruation; Johnson calls it “very vulgar,” and OED first edition writes of it, “now constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered ‘a horrid word’, on par with obscene or profane language.”‘

4. Also from the Online Etymology Dictionary: ‘To be figuratively on the fence “uncommitted” is from 1828, from the notion of spectators at a fight.’ Isn’t that great? It’s completely not the image I had created for myself, which related more to the idea of a fence as a boundary between two things.

And now back to work! Don’t forget to come visit me at the B&N forum!

I don't do anything so mean, I don't even sell apples!

My blog tour starts today! You can read my post about classism in Regency England over at History Hoydens. Here’s the opening:

When I started writing In for a Penny, about a rich brewer’s daughter who marries an impoverished earl, I realized I was going to have to do some research to figure out how people in the Regency thought about class. I had general ideas, obviously, but if I was going to write about my heroine from the point of view of my antagonist, the snobby poacher-hating Tory Sir Jasper, or write about my heroine meeting the hero’s newly-middle-class tenant farmers, I needed to understand more.

I quickly discovered that there were endless gradations, just as there are today:

1. A biography of Hannah More tells this story: the Duchess of Gloucester “desired one of her ladies to stop an orange-woman and ask her if she ever sold ballads. ‘No indeed,’ said the woman, ‘I don’t do anything so mean, I don’t even sell apples!'”

And I’m giving away a signed copy of my book in the comments, too. Check it out!

Contest and other news!

Hi all! In honor of my first book (which will hit shelves in just over three weeks!) I’m running a contest at my site! I’ll be giving away five signed copies of In for a Penny, and one lucky winner will get my Regency Starter Pack—10 of my favorite books! This is an awesome prize, if I do say so myself, so get over there and enter!

I’ve also got a preliminary schedule for my blog tour and signings up on my site index—more dates coming soon! But mark your calendars, my first signing will be at Third Place Books (in Lake Forest Park, WA) on April 2nd at 6:30PM! It’s going to be awesome and you should all come.

And so this post doesn’t consist entirely of shameless self-promotion, here’s a really interesting post about female sexuality in romance from Dear Author (which is a couple weeks old now, so maybe you’ve all read it already, but if you haven’t, do it now):

So going back to the question of whether these views mirror some biological or psychological or historical imperative, even if all that were true, I don’t think it’s the critical issue. For me, the critical issue is that as a society we continue to value a woman’s sexual status and we give value to women (or take it away) based on this status.

Also, my critique partner Susan Wilbanks is doing a really cool series on how to use British titles and courtesy titles, using examples from the Peter Wimsey books and the Duke of Wellington’s family: “Of Wimseys and Wellesleys“! Since title errors pull me out of a story faster than a speeding bullet, I’m pretty excited about this. Especially since I use the Wimsey family to remember lots of the rules myself (Gaudy Night is one of my top romances EVER).