Friday, January 10, 2014

I don’t like making resolutions. They are too easily dismissed. Instead, I set goals and make up to-do lists. My goals for the New Year are simple:
--to get butt in chair
--to write, write, write
--to finish the projects I’ve started
--to submit often
Also, I am not limiting my writing to just historical romance. I want to also write an adventure series I’ve been thinking of for the past year. I want to work with my Timeless Scribes and publish two more anthologies this year.
My talents are unlimited. My wants, my goals, my desires are … unlimited too, as they should be.
If we set limits on our writing, on ourselves, then we are selling ourselves short.
Isn’t that what we tell our children? That they can be anything they want to be; that they can do anything they want to do. Don’t we encourage them to dream big; and, the bigger the better? Why should kids be the only ones to dream? Why are only kids the inheritors of unlimited possibilities? Adults have dreams too. And, we know how big we can dream and how to make those dreams come true.
I can write anything, be anything. Maybe my writing is not as great as say, Diana Gabaldon or Brenda Novak, but that’s fine. Skill will come with time and hard work. And, I am ready for that. In fact, I am eager to get started, to open my notebook, to take pen in hand, to write.
And the New Year is a great excuse to start afresh. After all, I am unlimited.♥
Thank you to Maria Ferrer of NYC-RWA for the inspiration and help for this message.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bells on Bob Tails

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

John Cordrey's 1806 A Gentleman with his Pair of Bays Harnessed to a Curricle shows regency carriage horses with stylishly docked tails.

It's the time of year for decorations and presents and carols--including the first carol every child learns, "Jingle Bells." I was thinking just today about this line from the song:

Bells on bob tails ring
Making spirits rise.

So what is a bob tail?

A bob tail is a horse that's had its tail docked, or cut short. Nowadays,

Sailor, the winner of the 1820 Derby, is one example of a "bob tail nag" used in racing.
one doesn't often see a "bob tail nag" (as the song Camptown Races puts it), but during the regency bobbed tails were practically de rigeur on quality horseflesh, especially carriage horses. At first, docking was done for practical reasons, to prevent a horse from entangling its tail in its harness. The practice was even thought to benefit the horse's health--removing the caudal (tail) vertebrae was thought to make a horse's back stronger. Eventually, the reasons for docking evolved from simple practicality into a matter of taste and fashion. Not just carriage horses but also riding horses, hunters and racehorses routinely had their tails bobbed.


In this image of foxhunting, Full Cry, every one of the hunters has a bob tail.
(It wasn't just horses that had their tails docked, either. It was formerly common to dock the tails of all working dogs. The practice was meant to prevent injury to dogs when hunting [as when spaniels charged into deep brush after a bird] and fighting [for example, when bulldogs were still engaged in "baiting" bulls for sport]. Though the practice of docking is now illegal in the UK, until 1796 working dogs were actually taxed if their tails weren't docked. Docking the tails of certain breeds is still common in the US, where in many rural areas dogs are used in field sports like hunting.)

As "Jingle Bells" suggests, horses' harnesses were often decorated in the winter with sleigh bells--the "bells on bob tails" that ring in the song. And could there be any more charming sound that sleigh bells at Christmas time?

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance is A Tryst With Trouble, the story of an arrogant man's man and an outspoken spinster who must join forces to solve a deadly mystery. It joins her first two regencies, Lord of Secrets and Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Yesterday, my critique partners and I were at Book Trader of Hamilton (NJ) for a book signing of our holiday anthology, Timeless Keepsakes-A Collection of Christmas Stories. We drove through the first snow of the season. I'm not much of a cold weather person but I love this time of year.

As we get closer to our family celebration the excitement and anticipation build. Our children are on their own and our celebrations have grown to include in-laws and grandchildren. It's a wonderful time with family. While our daughters and grandchildren live close by, our son comes in from Boston and everyone sleeps over for the weekend. It's lots of cooking, playing games, watching movies, and of course opening gifts.

This year is no different. We're still working down the holiday wish list. Most of it is cyber shopping this year. But one of the things I love about this time of year is the music. Here is some holiday music to get you in the holiday mood.

Happy Holidays everyone!







Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Regency Millinery: Blood, Sweat, and Possibly Tears

Earlier this month, I headed off to Perrysburg, Ohio, for a weekend educational opportunity I'd been anticipating for months: a regency bonnet-making workshop taught by historical milliner extraordinaire Lydia Fast.

I'd always wanted to try my hand at making a regency bonnet, and I thought it would be good research for those times when my fictional characters discuss millinery matters. Making a bonnet from scratch is a time-consuming process, and I'd already learned that workshop attendees frequently don't finish their bonnets during the workshop. Lydia also warned me that the class was an advanced workshop, while I'd never tried a millinery project before. But as long as Lydia was willing to allow me to attend, I was eager to learn.

Lydia isn't just a skilled craftswoman, she's a real artist. Her bonnets are gorgeous, and each has an average of 30 hours of work invested in it. (That's 30 of Lydia's hours--for a novice like me, you can pretty much double the time required to finish a bonnet.) Here are a few of her creations:

Bonnet by Lydia Fast


Aren't the fabrics and trims Lydia uses gorgeous? Sorry the photo doesn't show the bonnet linings, because they're equally lovely. (Edited to add: Lydia tells me the brown bonnet at upper left was actually made at last year's workshop by Tonya, one of the other attendees. I think I knew this at one point, but neglected to make a note of it. My apologies, Tonya, and your work is equally beautiful!)

Here's Lydia herself, modeling a bonnet she made during the workshop:

Lydia Fast
Lydia tends to gravitate toward fall colors, which isn't surprising since they definitely suit her.
I decided to make an 1809-1817 style poke bonnet. Each workshop participant received a kit that included buckram (mesh permeated with glue to stiffen it), pellon (a heavy interfacing used to cover the rough buckram), wire for shaping, crinoline tape, and mull (batting used to soften the lines of the buckram form). A well made bonnet has up to nine layers of construction: buckram, pellon, wire, crinoline tape, mull, fashion covering, lining, and trim--not to mention the muslin drawstring liner sewn inside the crown. Bonnet construction also involves a variety of hand stitches: running stitches, whip stitches, buttonhole stitches, overlapping backstitches, and the ladder stitch that makes the finishing invisible. When it comes to quality workmanship, Lydia's method doesn't cut any corners, but Lydia and the other attendees were patient with my newbie cluelessness.

After tracing a paper pattern for later use when cutting our fashion covering fabric, we sandwiched the buckram pieces between layers of pellon, wired them, encased the wires with crinoline tape, then assembled and sewed the pieces together. I ended up with a form that looked like this:

My buckram bonnet form. From this point on, the sewing is mostly by hand rather than by machine.
The next steps involve covering the buckram form with mull, and then covering that with fashion fabric, including the silk lining for the brim. I'd bought ivory silk for my brim lining, and wisely chose to cover the outside of my bonnet in velvet--I say wisely because velvet is a pretty forgiving fabric, and the texture helped disguise my overly tight hand stitching. Due to my inexperience (and boneheaded attempts to wind a machine bobbin with thread made for hand quilting), I was several steps behind the other attendees, who were all re-enactors skilled in costuming. But I did reach my goal for the weekend, which was to get far enough along in my bonnet construction that I could finish the project at home. I left the workshop with the top of the crown and the bonnet brim covered in velvet, and when I got home I pinned and pleated the brim lining, like this:

You can see I've covered the top and outer brim of the bonnet in red velvet before stitching in the brim lining. My bonnet looks slightly squashed on one side, because I was a bit too forceful with it. Fortunately, I was able to reshape the buckram later with a steam iron.
The next step in bonnet construction is to cover the sides of the crown, which on a typical regency bonnet has that distinctive stovepipe shape. Here's Lydia, demonstrating how:

Action shot! Lydia gives the newcomers instruction in sewing a bonnet covering with invisible "magic fairy stitches."
I had a great time at Lydia's workshop. The other attendees were all members of the Jane Austen Society, and it was a joy to be around ladies who knew so much about history, and fashion history in particular. Fun fact: Lydia has seen a number of extant regency bonnets, and she reports that the workmanship in them was frequently poor. I learned a lot, including that it's almost impossible to make a regency bonnet without bleeding on it. (I stuck myself several times with pins, and poked myself more than once trying to pull my needle through the stiff buckram).

So how did my regency poke bonnet turn out? In the end, I was pretty happy with the actual construction, though not quite so happy with the job I did trimming it.

I went with a primary color scheme, including blue piping along the crown and brim, but I don't think the ribbon is wide enough to suit the regency proportions.
Part of our workshop included a field trip to a shop that sells vintage ribbon, and I bought some lovely and rather expensive ribbon there, but when I got home that ribbon just seemed too dark against the red velvet. Instead, I ended up using some inexpensive plaid ribbon from my local fabric store, and though I like the brighter color, the new ribbon doesn't have the right visual impact. I wanted to have a finished bonnet photo for this blog post, but I can always re-trim my bonnet later--something any regency heroine worth her salt would have known how to do.

Because millinery work is so time consuming, it's not for everyone. But I found it relaxing to sit and sew, and the best part about making a bonnet is that it's a small-scale project with boundless opportunities for creative expression. I'm already planning to tackle another bonnet once the holiday rush is over. Maybe something in blue...

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance is A Tryst With Trouble, the story of an arrogant man's man and an outspoken spinster who must join forces to solve a deadly mystery. It joins her first two regencies, Lord of Secrets and Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Five Short Stories For the Holidays

The romance of the coming holidays tugs at everyone's heart. The magic of Christmas is in the memories we hold dear and those precious treasures that remind us of the past. Join us as our Timeless Keepsakes take us on five remarkable journeys that heal old wounds, remind us of days gone by, play matchmaker, sweep us back in time and prove that love can conquer all.
~~~~~~~
Introduction ~ Sharon Sala

Mistletoe and Magick ~ Ruth A. Casie
She would give her last breath for him. He would give up everything to guard her well and love her more.
Christmas Spirits ~ Lita Harris
A widow's everlasting love is renewed by the memories of the holiday season.
Granting Her Wish ~ Emma Kaye
She doesn't belong in his time and he doesn't belong back home. Could they belong to each other?
Letter from St. Nick ~ Nicole S. Patrick
She’s trying to save her home and he’s never had one until now. Can an unexpected gift lead their hearts to the same place?
Secret Santa ~ Julie Rowe
A nurse grieving the death of her twin brother receives an unusual gift at the staff Secret Santa party: the bullet that killed him along with a message of hope and love.



Amazon    B&N

Friday, November 01, 2013

Sensual Games


Are any of you old enough to remember the original Thomas Crown affair movie? The one starring Steve McQueen as a millionaire businessman who pulls off a perfect crime because he’s bored. Faye Dunaway is an independent insurance investigator who will receive a percentage of the stolen money if she can recover it.

McQueen knows who she is but can’t resist getting involved with her, sure she won’t get the better of him. They play a game of chess, which was pretty damned sensual and gave me the idea for a scene in my latest release from Carina Press, Finessing the Contessa. Lord Rob Forster, younger brother of the Marquess of Denby, is a chess master and relishes the opportunity to cross rooks with Electra Falzone, the beautiful Sicilian widow who is reputed to play the game as well as he does. Just like Crown, Rob suspects her motives but can’t help being drawn towards her.

Here’s what happens when they play chess in the presence of others and Electra seeks to distract Rob.

Rob leaned back in his chair as the contessa moved a pawn and stopped her clock. The Sicilian defence again? He countered her move, already sensing a trap. She darted frequent glances his way as they moved their pieces in taut silence. She was up to something, something that was immediately obvious to Charles if his amused smile was anything to go by.

Damn it, he needed to keep his mind on the game.

He saw it when it was almost too late to stop the rot. The Steinitz variation. Ah, very clever. He was able to save his position by advancing his rook two squares and trapping her king. “Check.”

She caught her lower lip between her teeth. “Diavolo! I thought you hadn’t noticed.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“Mind elsewhere, Rob?” Charles asked innocently.

“Go to the devil, Charles.”

Charles roared with laughter as he strolled away from them. “I very likely will.”

“Now, what to do?” she mused.

She moved a piece but Rob didn’t notice which one or how it affected his position because he became conscious of something gliding across his foot. A slipperless, stockinged foot to be precise. Perdition, did the woman have no shame?

“Your move, my lord,” she said sweetly.

“Don’t start anything with me unless you plan to finish it,” he said softly.

“You told me to go with my instincts.”

“Hmm, yes I did.” Rob treated her to a challenging smile. “Perhaps I overplayed my hand.”

She canted her head and returned his smile with a sinfully tempting one of her own. “Not afraid, are you, my lord?”

Rob wanted to growl at her. He also wanted to kiss that smile off her lips and then put her across his knee, lift her skirts and spank her bottom for being such a tease. He might very likely do both of those things before the night was out, but right now he had a game to win and distractions to ignore. He made a move that worsened her position—and his—because that stockinged foot was now creeping tantalizingly slowly up his calf.

Rob’s mind froze. He could think of nothing other than the progress of that damned foot and its intended target, now throbbing painfully within the tight confines of his breeches.

“Do you wish to up the stakes, my lady?” he asked.

She cut off the trap he’d set for her with her rook. “I am very satisfied with the terms of our wager, my lord.”
Well, that made one of them.

Rob thought ahead several moves, doing his best to pretend that her toe hadn’t now worked its way dangerously close to his groin. He could see that she intended to attack his king as stealthily as she was attacking his person and made the appropriate defensive move.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said quietly.

“I’m almost afraid to ask why not.”

With a serene smile she landed her toes squarely on his erection, and left them there. Rob, unable to do anything about it other than continue with the game, shot her a warning glance and simultaneously suppressed a groan.

“All actions have consequences, my lady. Are you sure you’re ready for them?”

 Finessing the Contessa, Book Three in the Forsters series, available from November 18th http://tinyurl.com/qe8cgdb Amazon link http://tinyurl.com/luvq2g6

Wendy

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ghostly Portents

It's October once more, that season of Halloween thrills and frights. Fortunately, English history is rich with ghosts. Of all such spectral encounters, however, I think the spookiest may be those involving ghosts said to appear as harbingers of death.

Occasionally, these ominous appearances come in the form of a fateful animal. Arundel Castle in Sussex is the principal seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, and the appearance of a white owl at the castle windows is said to herald the imminent death of some prominent resident or member of the Howard family.

Similarly, a sinister black dog with glowing eyes--the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles--pops up again and again in English folklore, particularly in East Anglia, where the hell hound is known as "Black Shuck" or just "Shuck" (the name may stem from the mythology of Viking riders, from an Old English word for "demon," or from a dialect word for "hairy"). Such an otherworldly dog is particularly known to haunt Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent. It is seen roaming the halls and disappearing into stone walls just before a resident of the castle dies.

The south front of Leeds Castle, shrouded in fog (photo by Ian Wilson).
The dog's presence is thought to date to the fifteenth century, when Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, was imprisoned in the castle to await trial for witchcraft and necromancy. Despite the ominous implications of the spectral dog's appearance, however, the ghost once reportedly saved a woman's life. A member of the Wykeham-Martin family, former owners of the castle, was sitting in a bay window when she saw the dog. Leaping up, she narrowly avoided tragedy when the window masonry where she'd been sitting collapsed.

Another old castle has an even more fanciful ghostly omen--the Dun Cow of Warwick. This magical giant cow was said to have run amuck until it was killed on Dunsmore Heath by the equally legendary Guy of Warwick. (The Victorian philologist Isaac Taylor believed that the tale of the Dun Cow likely commemorated an Anglo-Saxon conquest of the Dena Gau or "settlement of the Danes" near Warwick.) Whatever the origin of the story, the appearance of an actual dun cow is now said to foretell the approaching death of a member of the Earl of Warwick's family.

But not all ghostly omens come in animal form. Perhaps the most spectacular specter of all is the horse-drawn hearse--manned by a headless driver, no less--that was said to enter the gates of the now-ruined Caister Castle in Norfolk just before the death of a family member. The ghostly hearse would circle the castle courtyard seven times. I'd think that sight alone would be enough to guarantee a death, if only from sheer fright.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance is A Tryst With Trouble, the story of an arrogant man's man and an outspoken spinster who must join forces to solve a deadly mystery. It joins her first two regencies, Lord of Secrets and Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

2 Unrelated Posts: ~Windows Tech Scam ~New Release

Today, I'm shortening my originally planned post about an anthology my critique partners and I are self-pubbing (see below) to talk to you about hacking.
Windows Tech Scam. Computer hacking to be precise. Last week, and again today, Windows support called me and told me that they had information that my computer was corrupted.
While I had them on the phone I instant messaged with my son who does computer security work for the Defense Department. After laughing and telling me windows is a program not a company (I knew that), he told me about the scam.
A technician from windows support calls to tell you about your corrupt computer. They walk you through getting to your Event Viewer to see all he error messages. They ask you to download software so they can remote into your computer and delete the error messages and 'fix' things. They go on to try to sell you software to protect your system.
I'm certain you've seen several red flags here. I've helped you a bit there. In addition you have given them credit card information and what you don't see is the software they download into your computer to do even more havoc.
Here is a great article and video from Wire.Co.UK that explains the entire scam. The scammers call randomly. When they called Jerome Segura they didn't realize they had reached a senior security researcher at anti-malware company Malwarebytes.
* * * * *
New Release. My critique partners and I have put together a holiday anthology that will be available on Amazon early November. We are excited that Sharon Sala has graciously offered to write the introduction. Here is the information about the book.
The magic of Christmas is in the memories we hold dear and those precious treasures that remind us of the past. 
Join us as our Timeless Keepsakes take us on five remarkable journeys that heal old wounds, remind us of days gone by, play matchmaker, sweep us back in time and prove that love can conquer all. 
Available November 1, 2013
Mistletoe and Magick ~ Ruth A. Casie
She would give her last breath for him. He would give up everything to guard her well and love her more.
Christmas Spirits ~ Lita Harris
A widow’s everlasting love is renewed by the memories of the holiday season.
Granting Her Wish ~ Emma Kaye
She doesn’t belong in his time and he doesn’t belong back home. Could they belong to each other?
Letter From St. Nick ~ Nicole S. Patrick
She’s trying to save her home and he’s never had one until now. Can an unexpected gift lead their hearts to the same place?
Secret Santa ~ Julie Rowe
A nurse grieving the death of her twin brother receives an usual gift at the staff secret Santa party: the bullet that killed him along with a message of hope and love.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

To Defy a Duke

I simply love making opposites attract in my books, and you can't get more geometrically opposed on the social scale of things than being a wealthy duke in need of a wife and an impecunious young woman hiding away in a ramshackle cottage on that duke's estate.

I just adore this cover. What do you think?



The duke's path might never have crossed with Athena's but for the fact that he fell from his horse after several days of carousing with his friends prior to returning home for his mother's house party, during the course of which he's expected to choose a bride from the oh-so-eminently suitable young ladies assembled there. The moment Eli opens his eyes and sees the goddess who rescued him from his fall, it's definitely if not love, then at least attraction at first sight. Athena gets his attention, even if that wasn't her intention.

Eli can't possibly marry Athena, not without breaking his mother's heart, but at least he can try and solve her problems for her. To do that he must discover who she's afraid of, and what she's hiding from. Where is her husband, and why is he leaving her unprotected? Perhaps, if he can't have her for his wife, Athena might agree to become Eli's mistress...

To Defy a Duke - now available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all good etailors.

Wendy

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Angels and Geese for Michaelmas

Last year, I blogged about the feast of Harvest Home, a celebration of the end of the agricultural season. It tended to fall close to another celebration, this one of both ecclesiastical and bureaucratic significance: Michaelmas.

Guido Reni's 1635 "The Archangel Michael Defeating Satan" shows the angel expelling the rebellious Lucifer from Heaven.

Though Harvest Home was a movable feast, coinciding with the full moon, Michaelmas (pronounced MICK-el-mas) always falls on September 29. In the Anglican calendar, it's the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.

Michael, the patron saint of soldiers and the sick and suffering, is the most powerful of all the angels, one of only two archangels (along with Gabriel) in Anglican theology. Michael is a warrior-angel, the leader of God's army; in painting and sculpture, he's nearly always depicted wearing armor and carrying a sword, and sometimes bearing a shield with the Latin inscription Quis ut Deus--Latin for Who is like God?, the Hebrew meaning of his name. He often stands with either a dragon or Satan beneath his foot. This is because in Revelation, "Michael and his angels" are said to have "cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

But historically, the significance of St. Michael's day in British life has more to do with practical matters than sacred ones. In addition to lending its name to the autumn academic term at Cambridge and Oxford, Michaelmas was also one of the four quarter-days, dates on which accounts were settled--rents paid, servants hired or let go, leases renewed, allowances handed out and debts collected. (The other three quarter days also fall near the end of the calendar seasons: Lady Day on March 25, Midsummer Day on June 24, and Christmas on December 25.)

Servants were often hired on Michaelmas, and many villages held "Mop Fairs," hiring fairs in which those looking for work would present themselves with the tools of their trade. Michaelmas was also a day when local officials such as council members and reeves were elected. The righteous influence of St. Michael was thought to make it an auspicious day to fill such positions.

In "Michaelmas" by Victorian painter Philip Richard Morris, a goose girl drives a gaggle of stubble geese before her.


As with most holidays, certain foods were associated with the day. It was traditional to serve a "stubble goose" on Michaelmas, since geese were in prime condition after having fed among the stubble of the harvested fields. Typically, the goose was a gift from the tenant to his landlord, presented along with his rent payment as a means of currying favor. Dining on goose was thought to ensure prosperity in the coming year. A poem of 1709 includes these lines:
Yet my wife would persuade me (as I am a sinner)
To have a fat goose on St. Michael for dinner:
And then all the year round, I pray you would mind it,
I shall not want money--oh, grant I may find it!
While visiting their brother Edward, Jane Austen even wrote to her sister Cassandra, "I dined upon goose yesterday--which I hope will secure a good sale of my second edition."

It was the last day of the year on which to eat blackberries, owing to the legend that when Satan fell from Heaven, he landed on a blackberry bramble and spit on it, turning the berries bad. Bannock, a type of flat bread, was also traditional in parts of Great Britain, particularly Ireland.

So remember Michaelmas on September 29, and eat goose for good luck. I may just try to roast one myself.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released on September 23. It's the story of an arrogant man's man and an outspoken spinster who must join forces to solve a deadly mystery. It will join her current release, Lord of Secrets, and her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

History Porn

I give you...four thousand years of world history in one image. Isn't she beauiful? Courtesy of John B. Sparks via Rand McNally. The first version appeared in 1931. For those visual learners out there, this is priceless. My late FIL worked fo Rand McNally, so I was hoping to find one of the bad boys squirreled away somewhere, but no luck. Yet!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Stolen and Found

Recently in Amsterdam the Swedish museum recovered a rare 1590 astrolabe. An astrolabes is a devise used by astronomers, navigators and astrologers to locate the positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars to determine local time, for surveying, and casting horoscopes. Astrolabes were used as early as the 150 B.C. until about 1650 A.D.

The brass-and-silver astrolabe, made in 1590 and worth about $750,000 has been missing from the Swedish Museum for almost fifteen years. It turned up when an Italian collector discovered that the piece was listed as missing and came forward to return it.

The astrolabe is a very ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to time and the position of the sun and stars in the sky. Several types of astrolabes have been made. By far the most popular type is the planispheric (a map of a sphere) astrolabe, on which a map of the stars and planets are shown. A typical old astrolabe was made of brass and was about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter, although much larger and smaller ones were made.

Astrolabes are used to show how the sky looks at a specific place at a given time. Made up of several disks engraved with critical information, the disks are adjusted to a specific time and date. Once set, much of the sky is represented on the face of the instrument. The back of the instrument was engraved with a wide variety of scales for measuring angles and determining the sun’s longitude for any date. Some astrolabes included a scale for solving trigonometry problems (shadow square). A cotangent scale was added to many
Islamic instruments to determine prayer times as well as the true direction to Mecca.

The Swedish Museum (Skokloster Castle) in Stockholm, is glad to get the piece back. The astrolabe was stolen in 1999, one of a string of unexplained thefts of books and objects at the castle. Other precious items, dozens of manuscripts were noted as missing from the Royal Library in 2004.
This newly found astrolabe is in outstanding condition and could still be used today. It is an intricate mix of astronomical knowledge and metal craftsmanship, the piece is about the size of a pancake, and engraved with the name of its builder, Martinus Weiler.

German scholar Petra Schmidl of Bonn University, who studies astrolabes, described astrolabes as a “two-dimensional model of the three-dimensional world.” She goes on to say that modern clocks, while precise, tend to leave our understanding of time “stripped from its astronomical origins. Before telescopes, the astrolabe was the way you could say: ‘What time does the sun rise? When will it set?” Today fewer than 2,000 astrolabes survive.
For more information see the full article from the Washington Post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Beauty or Not?

Beauty is, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder. Personal preferences guarantee that no matter how gorgeous a woman may be, she's bound to have her detractors. But whether beholders agree or not, both admirers and detractors should be able to recognize the same woman in a portrait and perhaps describe her in similar terms to a police sketch artist. That's why Fanny Crewe (later Lady Crewe) leaves me scratching my head. Was she a beauty or not?

She certainly had the reputation of a beauty. Born in 1748 to the diplomat Fulke Greville and his poetess wife, also named Frances, she married John Crewe, the son of a Cheshire landowner and MP, when she was 18. Crewe had been elected to Parliament the year before (with Fanny's help, he would go on to earn a barony in 1806, making her Lady Crewe), and Fanny quickly became the toast of Whig society. Quite literally the toast--after the politician Charles James Fox won the hotly contested Westminster election of 1784, a race in which Fanny had daringly canvassed for him, the Prince of Wales attended the victory party and raised his glass with the words, "True blue and Mrs. Crewe."

A popular hostess and enthusiastic campaigner, Fanny was the subject of three portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan dedicated his most famous work, The School for Scandal, to Fanny. Sheridan had a beautiful wife of his own (painted more than once by Gainsborough), but that didn't stop him from having an affair with Mrs. Crewe. Sheridan wrote in his dedication:

Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate--
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face--
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine...

Here's one of Reynolds's paintings of Fanny before her marriage, in which (as Miss Greville) she's portraying Hebe to her young brother's Cupid:

If my math is correct, Joshua Reynolds painted Fanny as Hebe when she was only thirteen.

She looks quite pretty, and capable of growing into the woman her friend Fanny Burney praised by saying she "uglified everything near her." She looks even lovelier in the painting Reynolds did some twelve or thirteen years later, when Fanny was a married woman in her mid-twenties (here reproduced in an etching):

Lady Crewe was the model for St. Genevieve in this painting by Reynolds.

On the other hand, author Amanda Foreman writes in The Duchess, a biography of Fanny's contemporary Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, that Lady Douglas described Fanny as "very fat with a considerable quantity of down about her mouth." She does look a bit plump, albeit pleasingly so, in this caricature of 1784, in which she's shown canvassing for Charles James Fox:

"The Devonshire, or the Most Approved Method of Securing Votes" by Thomas Rowlandson. Lady Crewe is on the left, saying "Huzza - Fox for ever"; the woman on the right is Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Then there's this portrait by Thomas Lawrence. It may just be the lighting, but she does seem to have a faint mustache:

Thomas Lawrence painted Lady Crewe circa 1810.

The painting that really makes me wonder, however, is this portrait by Gainsborough:

Does this even look the least bit like the same woman from the Rowlandson caricature?

There's no sign of either fat or down in the painting, but I wouldn't call the subject a great beauty, either.

Which brings me to the point: I'm convinced Fanny Crewe's beauty was the kind best appreciated in person, because in addition to being an energetic hostess, she was also an intelligent and lively conversationalist. Her admirers included not just Fox, Sheridan, Burney and Reynolds, but also the philosopher Edmund Burke. Charles Arbuthnot called her "amazingly well-informed."

At a time when women held no direct political power, Frances, Lady Crewe was friend and counselor to the great. And I suspect it's due to that intelligence and energy, and not just due to her changeable looks, that she was so ardently admired.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's upcoming regency romance, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released on September 23. It will join her current release, Lord of Secrets, and her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If at first you don't succeed, do some more research.


Anyone who writes historical romance novels knows how much research goes into developing and creating a story. Since I'm a voracious nonfiction history reader, this is one of my favorite parts of the process, but it can be tough. History in broad strokes is easy to discover. It’s the small details of daily life that can be elusive. Sometimes I can find the details, other times I have to take some artistic license based on my knowledge of the period. Then there are times when, despite my research and my careful fact checking, I still manage to get it wrong



I was recently editing my latest regency manuscript, and double checking my facts when I discovered I'd made not one, but many mistakes. I'd read a sentence and something about it wouldn't seem right. Off to the internet or a research book I'd go, only to find out I was incorrect. Then I’d ask myself, “How did I miss this during the umpteen times I’ve read this story?” or “I know I looked this up before. How did I get it so wrong?”

1776Since catching mistakes and making changes is part of the editing process, I can’t be too hard on myself. Also, after listening to an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough, I know I’m not alone. When asked about his research methods, he admitted that he continues researching right through the copyediting process. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard this. If a noted historian of his stature can keep researching until the last minute, then so can I. After all, in the end it doesn’t matter when you get it right, as long as you do. 

Interested in seeing how my research is incorporated into my stories? Then check out my Regency novella Hero's Redemption, now available from Carina Press. 



Friday, August 09, 2013

Double, double, toil and trouble…

… Fire burn and brimstone bubble. Witches and witchcraft date back through the ages to when people worshipped the Mother Earth or nature goddess. It was a time before traditional religion when the unexplained was called magical and people with unique talents were special.  The Old Religion which existed since the Stone Age was far from evil. These people were connected with the seasons, the plants, the animals and the planet and sought a balanced life. These special people were seers, knowers, healers, and averters of evil.

Over the centuries the nature goddess was replaced by more traditional religions and practices. The word witch only took on a negative meaning with the coming of Christianity, which taught that all the heathen gods were devils. And by association, anyone who clung to the old ways and the Old Religion was a devil worshipper.

The real roots of witchcraft and magic appear to come from the Celts, a diverse group of Iron Age tribal societies which flourished between about 700 BC and 100 AD in northern Europe.  The Celts were a brilliant and dynamic people, gifted artists, musicians, storytellers, and metalworkers, as well as expert farmers and fierce warriors much feared by the Romans.

They were also a deeply spiritual people and believed in the many gods associated with Mother Earth, the Divine Creator.  By about 350 BC, a priestly class known as the Druids had developed. They became the priests of the Celtic religion as well as teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, midwives and bards.

The religious beliefs and practices of the Celts, their love for the land, and their reverence of trees (the oak in particular) grew into what later became known as Paganism. Blended over several centuries with the beliefs and rituals of other societies, practices such as concocting potions and ointments, casting spells and performing works of magic, all of which (along with many of the nature-based beliefs held by the Celts and other groups) developed and became known as witchcraft in the Medieval Period.

There are many types of witches. The witchcraft of the Picts, the early inhabitant of what is now the Scottish Highlights, goes far back and differs from all the other types of witchcraft in Europe. This is Old Scotland and its history and legends are filled with stories of magickal workings, spells and charms. There are charms performed to increase farm production and to ensure a favorable wind for fishermen. Some seamen walked around a large monolith stone seven times to encourage a good trip/catch. Other people created charms such as the woodbine wreath. They would cut down woodbine (a form of honeysuckle) in March during the waxing moon (anytime between the new moon and full moon) and twist the boughs into large wreaths. They kept the wreath for a year and a day. Young children suffering from a fever would be passed through the wreath three times to be cured.  

Old superstitions have a strong hold on people. There are hints of the 'old ways' even today. Some in Scotland carry a lucky penny or 'peighinn pisich' that they turn over three times at the first glimpse of a full moon.

There are many cases of Witchcraft throughout Scottish history, demonstrating the zeal of the Protestants and Catholics alike, in their paranoia over possible "servants of the devil." The vast majority of Scottish Witches practiced as Solitaries (alone without a coven), only occasionally coming together for special celebrations.

Witchcraft was first made legally punishable, in Scotland, by an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament, in 1563 during the reign of Mary. Witch hunts swept through Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and were fed by a mixture of superstition, religious fever, political motivation and general suspicion. No one was safe, not the peasant not the nobleman. Storms, diseases, and misfortunes had to be blamed on something or someone—witches were an easy target. 

Types of witches:
Kitchen Witch: Practices by home and hearth, mainly dealing with practical sides of the religion, magick, the elements, and the earth.
Ceremonial Witchcraft: Mainly use ceremonial magick in their practices such as Kabbalistic magick or Egyptian magick.
Satanic Witch: This doesn't exist. Why? Contrary to the witch hunts of Europe and America, witches don't believe in Satan.
Celtic Wicca: Believe in the elements, the Ancient Ones, and nature. They are usually healers. They work with plants, stones, flowers, trees, the elemental people, the gnomes, and the fairies.
Eclectic Witch: These witches don’t follow a particular religion or tradition. They study and learn from many different systems and use what works best for them.
British Traditional Witch: A mix of Celtic and Gardenarian beliefs. They train through a degree process and the covens are usually co-ed.
Alexandrian Tradition: They are said to be modified Gardenarian.
Gardenarian Tradition: Follow a structure rooted in ceremony and practice. They aren't as vocal as others and have a fairly foundational set of customs.
Dianic Tradition: A compilation of many different traditions rolled into one. Their prime focus is the Goddess. It is the more feminist side of 'The Craft'.
Pictish Witchcraft: It's originally from Scotland and is a solitary form of The Craft. It is more magickal in nature than it is in religion.
Hereditary Witch: Someone who has been taught the 'Old Religion' through the generations of their family.
Caledonii Tradition: Also known as the Hecatine Tradition, it has its roots in Scotland.
Pow-Wow: Comes from South Central Pennsylvania and is a system based on a 400 year old Elite German magick. They concentrate on simple faith healing.
Solitary Witch: Any witch who practices alone, without a coven.

Strega Witches: Originally from Italy this group is known to be the smallest group in the US. It is said their craft is wise and beautiful.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A beginner's bibliography of the Napoleonic Wars

While at RWA in Atlanta last month, I gave a talk titled "Beyond Trafalgar and Waterloo: Your Hero's Military History." at the Beau Monde Regency Special Interest Chapter's mini-conference. My goal was to help writers go beyond the most obvious battles and tropes when writing a military hero. (Or heroine! One of these days I'm going to finish that manuscript with a young lady disguised as a boy in the navy.) In my handouts I included a list of what I think are some of the best sources for writers who'd like to write a Napoleonic-era military or naval hero but don't know where to begin.

It occurred to me that interest in such a list might go beyond the thirty or so people who were in the room that day, so here it is. This isn't even remotely intended as a comprehensive bibliography--just a good jumping-off point if you're a writer who'd like to add more richness to your military hero's backstory or a reader who enjoys romances with military heroes or books and movies like the Sharpe series and wants to learn more about the reality behind your favorite heroes. (Note that several of these books are out-of-print and sufficiently expensive that I've only included their buy links so you'll have all the info you need to track them down via interlibrary loan.)


Adkin, Mark. The Sharpe Companion: A Detailed Historicaland Military Guide to Bernard Cornwell’s Bestselling Series of Sharpe Novels. Designed as companion pieces for the Sharpe series, this book and the one above contain a wealth of detail about the lives and campaigns of British soldiers of the era.

Barbero, Alessandro. The Battle: A New History ofWaterloo. A page-turner of an introduction to the battle.

Brett-James, Antony. Life in Wellington’s Army. A book about every aspect of a soldier’s life but battle, this is a wonderful source for understanding how your hero would’ve lived while on campaign.

Burnham, Robert & Ron McGuigan. The British Armyagainst Napoleon: Facts, Lists, and Trivia 1805-1815. Something of an encyclopedia of the British army, full of useful details such as soldiers’ and officers’ pay, cost of commissions, rations, punishments for various offenses, casualty figures, etc.

Crumplin, Michael. Men of Steel: Surgery in theNapoleonic Wars. Want to write a surgeon hero, or have your hero wounded and in need of surgical care? This book is for you.

Elting, John. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Focused on the French, but it manages to be both encyclopedic and fascinating about what made an army of the era tick.

Foulkes, Nick. Dancing into Battle: A Social History of theBattle of Waterloo. Worthwhile for romance writers for its focus on the social and cultural milieu.

Haythornthwaite, Philip. Nelson’s Navy. A short, well-illustrated introduction to naval life.

Lieven, D.C.B. Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story ofthe Campaigns of War and Peace. Not directly relevant to an author focused on British characters, but a fascinating and thought-provoking view of all the major powers involved in the wars.

Longford, Elizabeth. Wellington: The Years of theSword. My favorite of the many Wellington biographies I’ve read.

Michael O’Meara Books Ltd. Ships’ Miscellany: A Guide tothe Royal Navy of Jack Aubrey. A good introductory source on the ships of the era and the life of a sailor.

Morgan, Matthew. Wellington’s Victories: A Guide to Sharpe’sArmy 1797-1815. Yes, another guide for readers of a fiction series, but they tend to make extremely useful and readable introductions.

Park, S.J. and G.F. Nafziger. The British Military: ItsSystem and Organization 1803-1815. Bernard Cornwell pointed me to this one when I met him at the Surrey Writers’ Conference a few years back. It tells you where every regiment was during the time frame covered—invaluable in finding a regimental home for your hero.

Whipple, A.B.C.  Fighting Sail. It’s a Time-Life book—which means it’s fairly detailed and full of illustrations, and it doesn’t expect you to come into the book with an expert’s knowledge. Focuses almost exclusively on Nelson’s life and campaigns.