Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Building a Character

Capriccio Padovano by Bernardo Belloto
Here is the painting I chose for my character, Evangeline Lindenmayer, for her bedroom.

Evangeline has simple tastes and isn't given to frills and furbelows like her mother, whose taste runs to the lavishly extreme and frou-frou.

This is one of the fun and necessary things a writer must do when they are building a character. I think about everything from her hobbies, her looks, her gifts and talents, her character defects, to what she might carry in her reticule. (That's old-fashioned for purse.)

I have to pin down her speech, her favorite colloquialisms, and the way she laughs. I figure out the way she thinks and reacts to stress. I searched for a while before I found this painting and I think it's perfect! I'd love to have this hanging in my bedroom.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Charles Frederick Worth & Haute Couture

 One of the pleasures of doing research for historical novels is learning about cultures different from my own. This applies whether I am writing a story set in the 5th century or the 19th Century.

Charles Frederick Worth was an English designer who lived in Paris and is considered the "father" of Haute Couture. He dominated Parisian and American fashion for the second half of the 19th century.

Before he started designing and making everything from peignoirs to ball gowns for American aristocrats and European royalty,
women usually bought fabric and brought
it to their own dressmaker.

Worth was different. He spent hours in museums, studying old paintings for his inspiration. He used every type of material available, from silk to velvet to brocade in his garments. He was also the first designer to "sign" his designs, with a label that was sewn into the dress.

He made 7 Rue de la Paix in Paris the place to go for superlative style.

Many of his gowns are in museums today. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a large collection, also the British Museum in London, and the Costume Institute.

Pictured here are just a few of his creations.

Of course, to wear these beautiful gowns required a corset reinforced with whalebone stays, and laced to an 18 or 19 inch waist.

Often the weight of the gown, due to metallic beading, real silver and gold thread embroidery, fringe, tassels, and crystals made the gown very heavy to wear.

I think it's better to look at them and imagine wearing them at a ball, sweeping across the floor in a Viennese waltz!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Miniature Books

Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 I'm working on plotting out my Gilded Age novel and doing lots of research.

I've decided to give my main character the hobby of collecting miniature books, which have been around for thousands of years. The earliest one on record is a tiny one inch square clay tablet written in Sumerian script from 2000 BC.

To qualify as a miniature, a book must be no larger than 3 inches wide or tall. I have a few in my own personal collection, acquired after years of antiquing and flea marketing.

Medieval Book of Hours
Some of the miniature books were bound in leather and mother of pearl, with gold lettering and beautiful illustrations. Some had enameled covers and gold clasps, set with gems. They can be slipped into a pocket (which my character will do) and carried about easily.

Popular subjects were Bibles and religious books, children's stories, histories, and famous speeches such as Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of Emancipation.

Snap these up if you come across them at a flea market or a tag sale. They are precious.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Entering the Gilded Age

The Gold Room at the Marble House

 I've been a busy little bee, working at plotting out not one but two novels.

I'm very excited about #4, set in the Gilded Age of America. This time period was roughly 1870 to 1914.

It was a time of excess the likes of which had never been seen in America. On one side you have the moneyed and revered patrician stock - the Astors, the Stuyvesants, the Van Renssalaers, and the Roosevelts.

The Breakers, New port, RI
And on the other side, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies, who wanted to enter the highest echelons of society - Mrs. Astor's famous Four Hundred.

TheVanderbilts were nouveau riche. After the Civil War, immense fortunes were made in the railroad industry, coal, mining, manufacturing, etc. The wives of these newly rich magnates were social climbers of the first rank. Mrs. Astor didn't want to receive "those people" into her revered circle of society.

But clever Alva Vanderbilt finally broke into that circle and soon the nouveau riche built ostentatious mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York City, spent spring in Paris, and moved on to London before coming home to summer in their "cottages" along the Atlantic in Rhode Island right along with the old guard.

The Marble House, Newport, RI
In the fall, they moved back to New York for the "season" and started all over again.

Alva Vanderbilt's summer "cottage," Marble House, is pictured here, as well as the Gold Room in the cottage.

Another stunning mansion is the Breakers, the summer home of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.

I'm researching the Gilded Age and it's fabulous and fascinating.

I think I'm going to have to make a trip to Newport!

Monday, September 5, 2011

One-Page Sell Sheet

I've been working on my One Page this week.

A One Page is sort of a visual aid for editors, agents, and publishers. Authors are encouraged to bring these to the upcoming conference.

Another way to think of it is as a visual Query letter. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a query letter is what you send to an agent or an editor to get them interested in your manuscript. To get your foot in the door. If your query is brilliant and outstanding, you might get a request to send some of your chapters.

My husband put this together for me and I think it's beautiful. I also think, however, that I need to work on my text a bit more. It just doesn't FEEL right to me.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2 Year Anniversary

September will mark the two year anniversary of this blog.

It doesn't seem possible that two years has gone by!

Many blogs reveal their stats on anniversaries, so I'm going to take a moment away from my furious writing, re-writing, and editing to share a few numbers with you.

All Time Page Views:  10,513

Last Month's Page Views: 1,040

Most popular blog post has been the post on Wax Tablets & Writing Instruments: 1,022 All Time Page Views

Second Most Popular was Woad: 751 Page Views

I've had visitors from all over the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, India, China, and Italy.

It's been fun. I guess I need to graduate to Twitter now!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Time is running out!

Only seven weeks left until I go to St. Louis for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference!

Seven weeks to finish the revising, rewriting, and perfecting of this manuscript that finaled in the Historical category of the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers.

My crit partner Melissa and I have been feverishly trying to get through the remaining chapters of our manuscripts. There will be literary agents, editors, and publishing houses at the conference and we want to be ready! Just in case we get the coveted request for the "completed manuscript".

I am one of three finalists in my category. I haven't quite allowed myself to dream that I could actually win. I feel as if I've already won because the agents and publishers will have all the finalist's names. It's my chance to stand out from the crowd.

So housework has gone to the dogs. Forget about my favorite TV programs. Sleep? Who needs it? I'm eating, drinking, and breathing the 5th Century. All my brain synapses are alert. The neurons are firing. All systems go!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Underground Rome

Basilica di San Clemente

I'm fascinated with the archaeology of ancient civilizations. Especially Rome and Egypt. Recently I've been reading quite a bit about underground Rome. There are archaeologists and spelunkers who explore the ancient remains of the city of Rome, below the surface of the modern city.

Ceiling of the Basilica
One of the most fascinating examples of this is the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome, finished in 1120. It is famous for its 12th century frescoes and mosaics.

But it's what lies under the basilica that captivates me. An Irish Dominican priest began excavations underneath the present basilica in 1857 and soon unearthed a 4th century Christian church and catacombs. Building of the catacombs began in the 1st century. The ancient volcanic rock called tufa was perfect for tunneling because it was soft at first but hardened after exposure to air.

4th Century Christian Catacombs

Below the 4th century level, more excavation revealed a 1st century shrine or temple to the ancient Persian god Mithras.

When Rome conquered another country, it often adopted that country's gods and Mithras was one of these. Mithras was a special favorite of Roman soldiers.

1st Century Shrine of Mithras
The rites of a Mithraic temple were open to men only and took place in near darkness. The photo above shows the Roman altar stone in the temple. Offerings would be left on the top of this stone. Stone benches for the worshipers are carved out of the rock on either side of the altar.

We don't know what the offerings consisted of but Mithras is frequently portrayed slaying a bull by cutting its throat and spilling its blood. You can't see it very well in the above photo but that is the motif relief-carved onto the front of the altar.

In my second novel, I have a scene that features a Mithraic temple built alongside Hadrian's Wall, outside the city known in Roman Britain as Luguvalium, today's modern city of Carlisle, England.

Do you have a fascination for ancient archaeology? I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Brands and Tag Lines

My wonderful husband is currently studying Dreamweaver so he can build me a new website.

This is one of the photos I've chosen for it. I want to incorporate both Celtic and Roman-British images, since my first two historicals take place in those cultures.

Another thing I've been thinking of is my "brand". I hear this constantly in the world of publishing. What is your brand? How are you going to market yourself? How many people do you have ready to go out and buy your book when it's published? Will they talk about it it? Will you Twitter?

So, in between working with my wonderful crit partner Melissa to get my Genesis novel revised yet once again, I am trying to come up with a brand or a tag line for myself that characterizes my writing and my books. And it's hard!

I'm a member of several online writer forums and some of these authors have the coolest brands. Some of my favorites:

Kathleen Y'Barbro - "Fiction With a Southern Accent" - www.kathleenybarbro.com

Marcy G. Dyer - "Roller Coaster Suspense" - www.rollercoastersuspense.com

Janice Hanna Thompson - "Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever Afters" - www.janicethompson.com

Rachel Wilder - "Romance With Old World Charm" - www.rachelwilder.net

Ane Mulligan - "Southern Fried Fiction" - www.anemulligan.com

and my personal favorite: Camy Tang - "Romance With a Kick of Wasabi" - www.camytang.com

I've come up with a couple ideas but nothing that grabs you like these tag lines I've mentioned. I've thought of History Unveiled. But that seems rather dull. How about Sword and Spirit? Nah, not quite right. See? It's hard.

Maybe somebody out there could come up with a bright idea for me?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Genesis Contest Final!

Early this spring I entered one of my historical manuscripts in the Genesis contest. American Christian Fiction Writers is one of the biggest Christian fiction organizations in the country, and this is their yearly contest for unpublished writers.

The top 20 highest scoring entries made it into the semi-finals, which were announced in April. Only 3 manuscripts would be selected from those to become finalists. The finalists were to be named on May 13, and I spent that day talking to the Lord, telling Him I wished it didn't matter so much to me, and trying to prepare myself for disappointment. I told the Lord that whatever happened, I would take it as coming from Him, and either way it would be OK.

And then when I got the phone call that I was a finalist - well, after the word "Congratulations!" I didn't hear anything else the ACFW representative said. I had to replay the message later and listen to it again.

The winners of each category won't be announced until the national conference in St. Louis but I feel as if I've already won. I'm blessed and grateful. Unpublished writers as a whole are very insecure. We are constantly asking ourselves if we're "good enough".

The affirmation and encouragement that finaling in the Genesis has given me is wonderful. I'm reminded again to keep going, keep writing, keep learning the craft, and above all ABIDE in HIM. He is the one who holds all the days of my life in His hand and I can trust Him.

Thank you, Lord. It's all You.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Old Apalachicola Cemetery

I love visiting old cemeteries. So many stories waiting to be told! People who lived in past centuries had a different take on death than we do today. Life expectancy was shorter and many babies didn't live to see their first birthday.

I'm always struck by the evidence of people's faith engraved on the stones. Little Clarence Goettinger was two years old when he was taken away from loving parents. They erected an angel to watch over his tomb. You can read the verse they had inscribed on the stone below.

Apalachicola's old cemetery had Confederate graves, victims of shipwreck and yellow fever, and many monuments to dearly loved children. Even across the centuries you can still feel the pain of losing a loved one.

A child's gravestone with Scripture.
Spanish moss, white sand, and seashells everywhere.
One creepy grave. When I was a kid, I would've wanted to look in there!
A family grave. Four infants  lost. The tiny stone slabs that
mark the grave's outlines are heart-rending.

The stone at the foot of Clarence's grave.

Clarence Goettinger closed his eyes in death,
and flesh and spirit severed.
When earth and fatherland and home
with all their beauty sank in gloom
say, Was it to be forever?
No, not forever.

Clarence's angel.

A Confederate grave. 2nd Florida Cavalry.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Apalachicola, Florida

I finally had my beach day.

My husband and I spent five days in beautiful Apalachicola on the Florida panhandle, just where the coast turns south.

It's also called the "forgotten coast" of Florida. No main interstate goes directly to or by Apalachicola. Therefore it has never been developed like the rest of Florida's beach communities.

No high rise hotels or condos. No McDonald's. Just a sleepy Florida town with bungalows and historic homes that probably looks much the same today as it did fifty years ago.

The beach in the photo is on St. George's Island, a barrier island on the gulf of Mexico. There were very few people there. You can see the closest ones in the photo above. My kind of beach. And it was pristine. That famous white sugar sand and the water was so warm! Tons of shells. It was heavenly.

Of course, with my penchant for history and graveyards, I had to visit the historic cemetery draped in Spanish moss that stood across the street from our bed and breakfast. It had Confederate Civil War graves and memorials to people who died of yellow fever.

I will be doing a post on some of the graves and the unusual statuary I found there.

If you'd like to have a look at The Coombs House Inn, here's the link: www.coombshouseinn.com.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I had an interesting revelation this week from the Lord.

I haven't been blogging much because I've been intensively re-editing and revising my second manuscript, which is in the semi-finals of a contest put on by a major fiction writer's group.

I also found a new crit partner. Her name is Melissa, and she's awesome. She calls herself a "slasher" - you can probably guess what that word means. Her crits are TOUGH, and when the latest one arrives, it always means hours at the computer for me, going over everything she has suggested and slashed from my chapter.

Anyway, for a few months now, I've been trying to work at a particular sin in my life. And not having much success. Then condemning myself because I can't do better for my Lord, who has given me everything.

And then, in the space of  a week, I read two things. One was in the side notes of my bible. This particular bible I've had since 1987, so it's 24 years old. And this week, I read this note that said, basically, as we get older in the Lord, we often settle and rest on our past pursuits of God. We don't make any "fresh" pursuits. Isn't it funny that just this particular week, I read that particular note? It's been there in that Bible for 24 years. But the Lord knew I needed it this week.

And then I came across the scripture Matt. 6:33. "...but seek first the kingdom of God and HIS righteousness, and all of these things shall be added to you."

And I realized that my efforts to avoid sin was the wrong way to go about it. Instead, as I seek HIS righteousness, in fresh pursuit, He will take care of it. And everything else too. My books, getting published, all my hopes for a writing career.

Thank you, Lord. This week I'm starting a fresh pursuit. Let me catch You.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This is the Fun Part!

One of the more enjoyable aspects of writing a story is choosing someone to represent the character while you're fleshing him out. I had Clive Owen in mind when I wrote the character, Lorcan, in my first manuscript, Ciara's Tale.

Clive Owen

Clive can play a good guy or a villain with equal panache. Another actor I thought of using is Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig
He made a fantastic James bond! Below is Mads Mikkelsen, a Danish actor getting a lot of attention in Hollywood right now. And is it any wonder? Look at those cheekbones! Gorgeous. I can see Mads as the good guy and the villain both.

Mads Mikkelsen
Yes, I'm slaving away at my computer, feverishly writing and revising and editing. But I'm having some fun, too!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cabin Fever: I want to go to Rome!

This has been a long cold winter for many parts of the USA. I am especially sympathetic toward my friends and family in western NY and New Hampshire who have been inundated with snow and ice this year.

I live in Kentucky now and although winter here is usually mild with little or no snow, this has been one of the snowiest and coldest in 40 years.

So I've been daydreaming about Italy this week. I want to walk through a sunny vineyard and drink wine and eat fresh mozzarella with olive oil and basil!

The city of Rome has been trying to build a third underground subway route for years but it's nearly impossible because just about anywhere the architects dig, another archaeological find is waiting.

 The modern city of Rome is built over the streets and buildings and monuments of ancient Rome.
I'm thinking about a story that would intertwine these two time periods. So of course I have to go to Rome, right? Just as I traveled to Ireland, Scotland, and England for my first two manuscripts. I need to visit Italy, soak up some sun, eat pasta with fresh tomato sauce. Doesn't that sound good?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dried Flowers, 3400 Years Old

In 1908, an American archaeologist by the name of Theodore Davies made an interesting discovery while excavating in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

A dozen large storage jars were found, containing broken pottery, animal bones, bags of natron (used in mummification), bags of sawdust and pieces of linen with markings from years six and eight during the reign of a little-known Pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

Some of these pieces were given to the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and over time the curator realized that the animal remains probably represented a funeral meal and the linens and natron were embalming refuse from the mummification of Tutanhkamun.

The curator's analysis became an important clue to the discovery of Tut's nearby tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter.

I find the floral collars fascinating. The top collar is amazingly preserved and shows how the collars were made. Alternating rows of flower petals and blossoms, leave, berries, and blue fa├»ence (a type of glass) beads were sewn to a papyrus backing, and linen ties secured the collar around the neck.

Some of the flora in the top collar have been identified as persea leaves, blue cornflowers, blue lotus petals, and nightshade berries

The black and white photo above shows the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun with face mask and chosen floral collar in place.

The collar below uses olive leaves and cornflowers.

Some of the collars in the cache were bound with red cloth . The resulting combination of red, green, and blue would have been very colorful.

I have been fascinated with Tutankhamun since I was a child. He was my entry into a lifelong fascination with history and archaeology.

Tut was the subject of my very first post!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hope and Expectation. And Answered Prayer.

I had a very nice surprise this week.

In my email inbox was a message from a name I didn't recognize. This is what I read when I opened it:

Dear Renee:

So happy to hear from you! And I'm sorry it took so long to answer. Please do send the complete manuscript to my work email. Both I and my marketing director loved what we read on your site. Thanks!

This is the acquisitions editor at a major Christian publisher I was speaking about in my post on expectation and waiting. I had so completely given it up to the Lord that no bells rang when I saw her name in my inbox.

Isn't if funny sometimes how the Lord works? After we have struggled and wrestled and given up that thing we hold so close to our hearts, it's then that the Lord moves.

When I was a young Christian (many years ago, I might add), I read somewhere that:

the struggle is to stop struggling. 

So simple yet so profound. Stop struggling and rest in the knowledge that He is sovereignly in control of your life. After 35 years of following Jesus, I am still learning to do that.

Let me add a caveat here. A request for a full manuscript doesn't mean that she will buy my book. But it is a definite step toward that end. It's a very big deal for an unpublished writer.

Thank you, Lord. I bless You and praise You and I am so grateful that you hold my life in the palms of Your hand!