Saturday, March 30, 2013


Next week on Disenchanted & Co. we'll be talking about music, the way it can be an endless fount of inspiration, and how a contemporary song that helped me enormously while I was creating my protagonist for series.

For my other post I have all the details on how the Disenchanted & Co. novels will be published by Pocket Star, including a fun timeline on the first novel's history from the original working file name to the final round of titling. This series is a new venture for me in more ways than one, and I think it's an exciting approach to publishing fiction.

I hope everyone who celebrates the holiday has a lovely Easter, and see you next week.

Image credit: © Roman Milert |

Friday, March 29, 2013

In Fashion

Fashion is often regarded as a synonym for the frivolous, fickle and trendy; never more so than when it's applied to clothing. What we wear or don't wear is usually guided by a combination of clever marketing and popular opinion, and in discussion can appear to have as much depth and meaning as the average mud puddle.

As a teen I was interested in the fashions of my era; when I could save up enough money from my after school job I even bought a few trendy things for my wardrobe (most memorably, a pair of black velvet platform shoes, black hip-hugger bell-bottoms, and a black wrap-around skirt. Yes, I was probably the very first Goth.) After high school I lost interest in fashion, mainly because I was too poor to afford it, but regained an appreciation for the technical aspects when I started making baby clothes, Halloween costumes and holiday outfits for my kids.

My admittedly limited skills as a seamstress did come in handy when as a writer I began creating new universes. In my StarDoc SF series I had to cook up wardrobes for characters belonging to dozens of different species; not always an easy task. I had a bit of leeway in that no one else knew what humans or aliens would be wearing in the far future, so I could invent what seemed sensible to me based on the environments, cultures and job demands. Obviously one doesn't go jaunting around unexplored space in hot pants or a tube top.

To create the fashions I needed for the Disenchanted & Co. universe, which parallels our own Victorian era, I had many more resources to tap, including photographs of real live 19th century people wearing actual 19th century clothing. One of the finest collections I found was Kristina Harris's Victorian Fashion in America, a picture book with 264 vintage photographs with dates and valuable explanations of the garments shown.

As Toriana is a parallel universe I couldn't exactly duplicate 19th century American fashions, but I could use them as starting inspiration for my own designs. My ladies still wear gowns, and my gentlemen suits, with some variations to both unique to my world-building. One example is the waister, a kind of cloth cummerbund worn by women which acts as both a belt and an external corset (even in parallel worlds the ladies want to have a well-defined midsection.)

I've sketched a few Torian garments to get a feel for how they would actually look outside my head, and enable me to better describe them in the story. Here's one of the outfits Kit wears in my second novel:

All of the notes are really for me rather than the reader; I need to know all the details I can. The half-lace bodice is another of my designs that dates back to a time when large amounts of lace were difficult for Torian dressmakers to import and the country had yet to start manufacturing its own. Such practical improvisations often become fashionable later on as part of a nostalgia trend or a variation of retro style.

Clothing fashion still might seem pretty frivolous, but documenting it helps preserve a snapshot of an era -- what people wore and how they wore it. Without Kristina Harris's excellent collection of photos I would have to mostly rely on text descriptions of Victorian-era American clothing, which can often be inaccurate or contradictory. Seeing the actual clothes photographed on Victorian American people is so much better, because it is like looking through a window in time -- it's the real deal.

We can't preserve every fashion, and while I still have a black T-shirt hanging in my closet that dates to 1978, my platforms, bell bottoms and skirt are long gone. I think my mom has some pictures of me wearing seventies fashions, which are now (Holy Toledo!) thirty-five years old. Maybe in another sixty years you'll see a snapshot of me in a vintage photograph book, with the caption "Teen in all-black; possibly early Goth."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mind Your Manners

One hundred and sixty years ago in America people began moving into the cities to find work or start their own businesses. That migration resulted in many making their fortunes. The new money provided an opportunity to assume a much loftier position in society, which in turn produced the often desperate need for acceptance by those who already occupied those elevated ranks. And how does one fit in with upper crust of old money? Becoming an avid acolyte of their manners and morals certainly doesn't hurt.

Wayne Erbsen's Manners and Morals of Victorian America provides the reader with a fun and interesting trip through the Way Back machine to a time when Americans were obsessed with how everyone else should properly behave. Using actual illustrations and publications from the period, the author covers such topics as Bicycling, Cleanliness, Honeymoons, Kissing and even a section on Umbrella Etiquette.

As with everything in life there were trends in behavior, too. When attending a play we are advised that "It is not fashionable to applaud" for doing so "might indicate a natural emotion, and every thing like feeling is now out of fashion." The rules for each gender were often different, too; paying a brief visit to someone (aka calling on them) required a man to remove and hold his hat in his hands, but a woman didn't have to take off her bonnet. At a dance, the master of the house was instructed to see to it that all the ladies present dance, yet a woman was advised never to dance more than once with the same partner unless "she desires to be noticed."

Most of the advice issued is rigid, misogynistic, contradictory and often hilarious. Under certain circumstances shaking a lady's hand is allowed, but squeezing it is a dire insult. Robust people are approved to bathe "safely" twice a day in summer and once a day in winter, but those of "weakly constitutions" should only wash once or twice a week. Even following the rules can be a bit risky: "Don't be vulgar, but don't show that you are trying hard not to be vulgar." My favorite passage warns not to allow children to read freely, as "one-half of the youth in our prisons and houses of corrections started on their evil careers by reading bad books, or at best, worthless novels."

By reading through the categories of moral directives and mannerly advice you'll begin to see form an interesting portrait of Victorian American society. Men were expected to be polite but courageous, ever-prepared to deal calmly with ruffians and adversity, and cater to women as if they were delicate flowers about to be trampled at any moment. Women were encouraged to be modest, beautiful and cater to men as if their lives depended on it (which they generally did.) Some of the behavioral directives parallel our modern culture; our ancestors were just as worried about what everyone else thought of them as we are. Others we've happily left behind, like caning children who misbehave at school, marrying according to social rank and the somewhat bizarre custom of throwing old shoes at a newly-married couple.

Whether you're a feminist or not, any woman who reads this book will probably spare a moment to thank God they weren't born in the nineteenth century. Back then the ultimate object of our existence was to get married to the right guy and lovingly take care of him, his house and his children for the rest of our lives -- but no more than that. Women of the time who campaigned for the right to vote were classified as dangerous, hysterical, "nerve-sick" and thoughtless, and we're instructed that devoting all our energies to child-bearing and housekeeping should be enough to keep us busy and mentally occupied. If nothing else it will make you appreciate how much better our lives are now -- we have come a long way, ladies.

I really appreciated this book because through it I could clearly hear the voice of Victorian Americans: nervous, often pompous, but always in earnest. They wanted more and better for themselves, and however wrong-headed many of their rules were, they were obviously eager to improve their situation, make good decisions and live a decent, happy life. No matter what time we scrutinize, that was, is, and I hope always will be, the American experience.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Next week at Disenchanted & Co.:

I've started an online virtual library of the many wonderful books I'm collecting in Her Ladyship's book room, and I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my recent acquisitions. To kick off this feature, I'll be discussing Wayne Erbsen's hilarious but true Manners & Morals of Victorian America, a delightful collection of actual quotations, passages and other excerpts from publications of the period that cover everything from Advice for Young Ladies to Woman Suffrage. We'll also talk about some of do's and don't of proper Toriana etiquette.

I've also got a post planned on a subject near and dear to Her Ladyship's heart: Toriana fashions. I'll explore what designing a wardrobe for every character demanded, and what guided my choices while creating some entirely new fashions for my universe. Along with some details on who wears what and why, we'll take another peek inside Her Ladyship's Sketch Book to see an actual outfit I designed for one of my characters.

Do stop by if you get a chance, and in the meantime have a great weekend.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Beauty of Crane

During the Victorian era there were many innovators on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, Florence Nightingale changed medicine by reforming patient care and initiating the first real education and training of nurses. A Methodist minister named William Booth devoted himself to his mission to feed and find work for the poor by creating an evangelical legion that became known as The Salvation Army. In America, the slave-born George Washington Carver introduced science and technology to agriculture to improve and diversify farming, while Isaac Singer's affordable and practical redesign of the sewing machine took efficient garment-making out of the factory and brought it into every home.

Another force to be reckoned with in the arts was Walter Crane, who began his creative journey as an engraver in Liverpool. Walter, whose father was a modestly successful painter, had been an enthusiastic artist since childhood. At age 13 Walter's drawings so impressed William James Linton that he offered Walter an apprenticeship in his studio. The exacting craftsmanship Walter learned during his three years as an engraver served as the foundation for his long career as an illustrator, designer and writer, and evolved him into one of major creative forces behind the Victorian era's Art Nouveau movement.

After his apprenticeship Walter went to work illustrating children's books, and with his publishers took advantage of advances in printing to develop beautiful but less expensive editions. Popularly known as "toybooks" these nursery tales paired with his brilliant illustrations helped establish his readership and provided him with the financial means to branch out into more serious works of fantasy, poetry and literature. Like William Morris, he also believed that art should be present in everyone's life, so he designed images that were used for everything from ceramic tiles to rugs. He also had a keen eye for technical innovation, and in time began using a four color separation process for printing his artworks to make them even more rich and lavish. This printing process was an early version of what is still used today in Publishing for book illustrations.

My own discovery of Walter Crane's work came as I was world-building Toriana. For certain elements of my universe I wanted to riff off the Art Nouveau movement during our Victorian era, but I knew only very general information about the period. During my research I came across the illustration of two swans I showed you last week and for some reason the image said, "Here you go." The style made me wonder if it was a 19th century Japanese woodblock print instead of Art Nouveau, so I did a bit more digging and discovered it was one of Walter's wallpaper designs. From there I searched for more of his works and found an Aladdin's cave of art, illustrations and designs.

Walter Crane's vast body of work would impress anyone, but what drew me most was the imagination and wonder in his art. Here was an artist who could look at a wave coming to shore and translate it through his work as a herd of Neptune's Horses (the painting at the very top of the post) galloping in from the sea. He dressed women in flowing gowns and as flowers, and lavished his borders and margins with beautifully detailed designs. In everything he did there is always present a sense of secret beauty that only he could see until he drew it. As you see here, Walter also had a charming way of signing his work, with a pictograph of the letter C that contained a crane and two birds in flight. I don't know if he drew on Asian or Egyptian art for his little emblem, but it gave me much story inspiration.

We never know how long we're going to be here or what exactly we will accomplish during our lives, but creating something meaningful that you love and contributing that to the world can result in a legacy for future generations. It's been almost a century since Walter Crane passed away, but his art lives on and continues to inspire; I'm proof of that. Perhaps someday after I'm gone one of my stories will help another writer or artist or a musician on their journey, and I can pass along the gift. So the next time someone says to you "In a hundred years, what will it matter?" you can send them to me and I'll tell them this story.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sachet On Over Here

There is really nothing more old-fashioned that a sachet -- most people identify it as the little bag of scented herbs or potpourri that Mom or Grandma kept tucked in the linen closet or lingerie drawer. In fact smelling of "lavender sachet" used to be a popular synonym for elderly.

Sachets are very old; in fact they're ancient. The Egyptians used sachets of wheat and barley to determine the gender of an unborn child (the grain sachet was soaked in the Mama-to-be's urine and left to germinate. Whichever grain sprouted first indicated what Mama was having: barley meant a boy, and wheat a girl.) While the Black Death raged across Europe people would carry sachets of lavender and other dried flowers and herbs to ward off infection -- the infamous "pocket full of posies" from the Ring Around the Rosie nursery rhyme (I'm sure they also helped them cope with the smell of all the dead bodies.) For the same reason during polio epidemics American women would hang sachets of camphor around their children's necks. Sleeping with a large sachet of dried hops, called a dream pillow, was a popular treatment for insomnia. In Africa the sachet is known as the gris-gris bag, a protective talisman filled with charms as well as herbs.

The sachet is no stranger in the kitchen, either. Cooks have always used sachets of herbs tied up in little cheesecloth bundles to infuse their soups and dishes with flavor; anyone who has made classic French onion soup or beef consommé has probably made their own bouquet garni. One possible explanation for the invention of the modern tea bag is thanks to an American importer, who packaged loose tea to send to his customers in small silk bags to cut costs (tins being more expensive). A friend of mine who specializes in making tisanes (herb mixtures brewed like tea for medicinal purposes) stores her concoctions in little organza bags.

When I make sachets, which I do every spring, I follow a custom dating back to medieval days, when bathing and laundry weren't too popular. Sprinkling herbs on clothing was a way to deodorize them, but the oils in the herbs sometimes stained the clothes, so women began placing them in little cloth bags (this was also economical because it allowed to reuse the same herbs many times.) Bags of herbs and/or cedar shavings were the first moth repellents, too. Unlike our medieval ancestors I do bathe and wash my clothes regularly, but I still like to tuck sachets in little spaces like drawers and closets to as a natural way to keep lingerie and stored clothing and linens from smelling musty. I also make up sachets of herbs that I keep in storage bins, the cubbies in my desk and in sneakers, boots and winter coat pockets.

I like sewing decorative sachets because I like to embellish things and give them a vintage look. Here are some of the ones I made last year:

Anyone can make sachets, and the fastest and easiest are the no-sew type. The simplest way is with purchased potpourri; place a small amount in a purchased muslin or organza draw-string bag (click here to see some examples.) You can also make up sachets from circles of tulle or organza by placing a small amoutn of potpourri in the center, gathering up the sides and tying them off with a pretty ribbon, like so:

If you use tulle for your sachet you should double-layer it as the netting might otherwise shed some potpourri pieces. To get an attractive top to the sachet cut your tulle or organize in a circle before you fill it up and tie it off. The pretty ribbon flowers on my examples here are actually fabric corsage pins I found in the bargain bins at Jo-Ann for a dollar; you could also use old brooches or clip-on earrings in the same fashion.

For larger sachets you can lay flat you can make a pillow sachet out of two old handkerchiefs and some thin ribbon. I wheedled two out of my mom that had frayed hems and a couple holes in them, and sewed them together around the edges with the ribbon using a tapestry needle:

If you try this use big stitches so that the ribbon shows, and remember to stop a few inches before you finish stitching for enough space to open the sachet and add the potpourri:

For demonstration purposes in this post I've used some potpourri I bought at Wal-Mart, but I'm picky about scents so I generally use herbs and spices: French lavender for my clothing and quilts, patchouli or rosebuds for linens and paper goods, citrus and clove or sage for stored Christmas ornaments, winter clothing or the kitchen spaces, etc. While I purchase a lot of single-scent herbs I also make my own custom mixtures, too. Here's my recipe for a kitchen sachet blend (all of these ingredients are dried, btw):

2 tablespoons chamomile
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons orange peel
1 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 or 3 spearmint leaves

Because this recipe uses dried herbs and spices you need to mash them up or grind them to release the essential oils and get the scents to blend well. You can do so with a food chopper or processor but I like to run them through a nut mill. You can also adjust the amounts to suit your nose, just be cautious with the star anise, sage, cloves and the spearmint leaves as even a small amount of these give off a powerful or pungent scent that can overwhelm the others.

Another bonus of using natural herbs and spices for your sachets is the green factor. Commercial potpourri is often scented with artificial/chemical fragrances that are skin irritants, so they shouldn't be used anywhere they'd come in contact with clothing, towels, shoes etc. I prefer to use all-natural blends so that when my sachets lose their scent (as eventually they all do) I empty them outside in the garden to return them to the soil. Once year some of the lavender even took root and started to grow.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Winner & Forthcoming

There were so many inventive entries for the Looking for Toriana giveaway; Her Ladyship's Hat Box thinks you all would do very well living in her universe. As to the winner of the quilt show goodies, she is:

June M., who wrote I would think that things such as ribbons, buttons, lace, etc. When making clothing, scraps of materials can be used to make quilts, as can old clothing that have damage/stains. Out of date clothing can be refashioned.

June, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to info to so I can get your prizes out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

It's also Forthcoming day, and I have an arts and crafts theme planned for next week. For the arts portion I'll introduce you to the very talented gentleman who created this and many other gorgeous illustrations, and tell you how he's influenced me and the Toriana universe:

For the crafts portion I'll be sharing a fun, easy project I do every Spring that can add a little Toriana around your home, using these and some other lovely materials:

Until then, have a great weekend.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Teacart Sticky Buns

In my Disenchanted & Co. novels one of Kit's favorite breakfast treats are the sticky buns she buys from the teacart near her office. These are the Toriana version of American cinnamon rolls, made all in one pan like a pineapple upside-down cake (and to give you some visuals I've linked to photos of what the buns look like as you make them in the instructions below.) This recipe, which I modified and trimmed down from an old Cooking Light version I used to make for big family brunches, will yield an even dozen buns.


1 package 1/4 oz. dry yeast*
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup water
1 large egg


1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter


1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter melted

You should also have on hand a 9-inch square or round cake pan, cooking spray, an extra cup of flour, a rolling pin and a bread board or other clean flat surface to roll out the dough.

Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing bowl and let it set for a few minutes until the yeast begins to bubble or foam (if it doesn't do anything, you need to toss it out, buy some new yeast and start over.) Add to the mixture the rest of the ingredients for the dough, mix until blended, and then knead until smooth and not sticky (I use a a standing mixer with a dough hook for this; you can also knead the dough by hand on a lightly-floured bread board. By mixer it takes about four minutes on medium-high, by hand it takes about ten minutes.)

Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, transfer the dough to the bowl, spray the top of the dough with cooking spray, and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for 45 minutes to rise until it doubles in size.

While the dough is rising, mix in a small saucepan the topping ingredients, and heat on medium, stirring regularly until it bubbles. Coat the inside of your 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray and pour the topping mixture into it to cover the bottom. Set this aside for now.

Now make the filling by melting the butter in a small bowl and then mixing in the brown sugar and the cinnamon. The blend should be a little crumbly, like streusel topping.

Once your dough has risen, punch it down, let it set for a few minutes and prepare your bread board by lightly flouring it and your rolling pin. Place your dough on the board and roll it out into a rectangle that is roughly 12 by 10 inches. Sprinkle your filling mixture all over the rectangle of dough, gently pat down the filling mixture, and then roll the dough from one 10 inch side to the other like a jelly roll. Pinch the dough together along the length of the roll to seal it but don't pinch off the ends. Using a sharp knife, cut your dough roll into twelve 1-inch slices, and place each slice cut-side down on top of the topping in your cake pan. Once you have all the slices in the pan place it in a warm spot for 30 minutes so the buns can rise.

Preheat your oven to 375F, and bake your rolls for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, slide a knife all around the edge between the pan and the rolls, and then cover the pan with a plate, invert and you've got hot, fresh Toriana sticky buns.

You can also customize this recipe to your preferences -- have some fun with it and add chopped pecans, walnuts, raisins or dates to the filling mixture, or sprinkle them on top once you've popped the baked buns out of the pan. Sometimes I sautee some diced apples in a little butter and brown sugar as a fruity topping for the buns; you could probably do the same thing with diced pears. Sliced almonds also look beautiful sprinkled or arranged on top of the buns.

*I originally posted this as 3/4 oz., which was a typo. The correct amount is 1/4 oz. Thanks to Christy for catching my error.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Looking for Toriana

Last week I attended my favorite county quilt show, which was two days of complete delight while hanging with my quilter pals, seeing hundreds of amazing quilts and thousands of fabrics, notions, widgets and just about everything a needlewoman drools over in her dreams. If you've never been to a quilt show it can be a fascinating experience, and the vendors as well as the folks who run the show are friendly, helpful and chock full of advice and ideas.

In years past I've always gone to this show to see friends, be inspired, stock up on hard-to-find items and just generally have a good time. This time I went with a slightly different goal: to look for world-building ideas. Unlike most of the goods in our world, everything in the Toriana universe is handmade, from clothing to blankets to accessories to decorative items. Among the common people, who generally don't have the funds to buy premade items or new materials, reusing and recycling is especially important. I've already created a number of items unique to my universe but I have an ongoing list of things I need to invent or makeover, and I was hoping I'd see designs or techniques that would point me in the right direction. Which I did, as follows:

At the gild boutique I found this wonderful patchwork pear made of multicolored bits of wool and backed with tweed. I could envision a Toriana woman raiding her scrap bag to make something like this; she might not have enough good pieces of one color to make the pear so she'd piece together what she could in crazy-quilt fashion. The bold design and simple embroidery gives the piece a terrific graphic punch, and might be something she'd make to hang in her kitchen or her child's room.

Not having enough fabric wouldn't stop the women of Toriana from making their own, either. The make-do designs of this pretty little bag made from ribbons sewn together and these strip-pieced and crazy-quilted bags had me thinking of what happens to all the Torian clothing and gown sashes and hat bands and hair ribbons once they've become torn or soiled or otherwise unusable for their original purpose. A clever needlewoman might trim off the damage bits and sew them together to make a larger piece of fabric that could be fashioned into a reticule, shopping bag, fichu or shawl.

At one booth I noticed a group of woman hand-dyeing their own silk scarfs, and while I've only done some very limited experiments in dyeing fabrics it looked so easy I had to give it a try. Thanks to the instant, wet-set dyes and the friendly instructor my scarf came out beautiful, and I had a bit of an epiphany as to how Toriana women on a limited income might liven up their wardrobes by hand-dyeing their muslin, cotton and broadcloth fabrics. Stretching homemade dyes by diluting them or over-dyeing fabrics might create some lovely watercolor-like fabric patterns similar to the scarf I made (and I have a lot more research to do in this department, as my knowledge of 19th century hand-dyeing methods is miniscule, but now I have a better idea of what to look for to suit Toriana.)

One aspect of my universe that I've been waffling on with is precisely how Torians deal with the color black. It didn't come up as an issue in the first two stories, but mourning practices are very present in the novel I'm working on now. As it stands Torians have disliked wearing black ever since Queen Victoria II's first act after assuming the throne was to issue a compulsory public mourning decree for the entire empire that lasted three years (a historical parallel to how her mother mourned Prince Albert's death in our universe.) Initially Torians were suspected of being behind the royal family assassinations, and in retaliation the Queen had every known rebel and rebel sympathizer rounded up and questioned. Unfortunately things got out of hand and hundreds of Torians died while in custody. Once it was discovered that the assassins were Talians the Crown released the Torians who survived, but from that time on black became a symbol of persecution for Torians.

Instead of trying to remove the color from their culture, I thought the Torians would do some secret, subversive thing with the color black. I found the perfect inspiration as to what when I saw these two blocks with gorgeous applique work on black backgrounds. Flowers, which to me have always been the symbols of love and hope, were already part of my world-building, and seeing them against the black background gave me a Eureka moment. Torians use flowers in symbolic ways to remember those who died during the lost war of independence, such as displaying forty-seven roses on the day when the last forty-seven soldiers fighting the war chose suicide over surrender.

Thanks to the blocks I've decided Torians will never wear plain black. Instead, they'll trim it with bright floral colors or embroidery. The number of flowers displayed on their black garments will equal how many family members and friends they lost during the persecution.

Now onto the giveaway I promised:

As you can see I've stocked Her Ladyship's Hat Box with the latest issue of Quilting Arts magazine, one of the quilted bags that inspired me, and some other neat swag from the show. If you've like to win the lot in comments to this post name something you think the ladies of Toriana might regularly reuse (or if you can't think of anything, just toss your name in the hat box) by midnight EST on Friday, March 15th, 2013. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the magazine, the bag and the other goodies. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so please join in.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Welcome to this week's Forthcoming post. As the daughter of a chef I love great food, and as a writer I often like to use real recipes of my own in a story to feed my characters. For the Disenchanted & Co. series I'm hoping to put together a collection of these via Her Ladyship's Cookbook, a regular blog feature bringng to you the different foods and dishes of the Toriana universe. Next week I'll begin by creating and then making the recipe for one of Kit's favorite breakfast treats.

I've also just returned from our annual county quilt show, which was so inspiring I still think my head will explode any minute. If it doesn't, next week I'll explain what I did differently at the show this year to help me expand my Toriana universe, which involves an adventure with silk, a Eureka moment, and the above lovely items. I also brought home something from the show to give away, so stop by to find out what it is (and it might just end up being yours.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

When the Story Finds You

Any writer can tell you that they have ideas for stories all the time. When we choose to write, we're often preloaded with concepts and characters and crazy plots that we've been thinking about, often for years. I thought up one story back when I was in the fifth grade that I didn't actually write until three decades later (thankfully that story was one of the very few that took long for me to get it on the page.)

I've also learned over time that some story ideas have to find me. I can decide to write a story, and think and plan and write notes and research and end up with? Zero. Nothing. After all that work the result is lame or tired or something I don't want to write. When that happens, I know I'm overthinking it, and I have to stop and let inspiration come to me in its own time. Because I'm also a very organized pre-planner type person I don't like this at all; it makes me cranky and I tend to worry. What if the story idea I need doesn't find me? Being a professional writer means creating on demand and pitching in advance and knowing exactly what the heck you're writing at all times -- even when you've got nothing, you have to tell them something.

Such as last year, when I told my editor I was going to write a promotional story for the Disenchanted & Co. books. My plan was to give the story away for free on the internet so people could get a decent preview of the universe and some of the characters. I've done this several times before with my StarDoc and Darkyn series novels so I'm very comfortable with it. I like writing in my universes; they're great big playgrounds to me. At the time I told my editor about the idea I hadn't planned exactly what I was going to write, but I gave him some vague ideas and then set it aside so I could deal with the holidays.

Once the holidays were over, I decided to get to work on my promo story. At which point I realized that every vague idea I'd had wasn't really worth writing. In hopes of dreaming up better I focused on developing some new ideas. I wrote loose outlines. I switched around characters. I came up with five or six new plots, too. Yet the more I work on these ideas, the less I liked them. They were okay -- competent, but nothing special. I needed a very special, exciting, thrilling story idea that would have me running to the computer every morning, just as the first of the Toriana novels had. I wasn't going to do that with any of this lukewarm ho-hum stuff. I'd drag my feet. I'd be distracted by other things I wanted to write. I'd end up with a disaster.

I knew what I had to do. I wadded up all the plans and notes and ideas and threw them in the garbage (which was exactly where they belonged.) Once I'd cleared out all the rubbish, I stopped thinking about the story project. I meditated, listened to music, painted some watercolors and wrote poetry. I began work on an art quilt that had absolutely nothing to do with my Toriana series. I read books, I took long walks, and I keep myself open, waiting for the inspiration for my story to find me.

One night I was searching for a gift for a quilter friend on, which is one of my favorite sources of creative supplies, and a random search popped up this wonderful piece of art created by Sparrow Salvage, a mixed-media artist in Australia:

I can't tell you why this image sparked my story idea, only that it was right there. I took one look and I had it all. Everything. The longer I looked at the image, the more story details played out in my imagination. I could clearly see the characters, the setting, how the events in the story unfold, and even the way it ended. By the time I purchased the art (which was absolutely imperative; I had to own it) I knew the whole story, start to finish -- and I couldn't wait to begin writing it.

If I didn't trust the universe as much as I do, it probably would scare me to think about how slim the odds are that I would have ever seen this image. I wasn't even looking for mixed-media artwork that night I was browsing through Etsy. I can tell you that I have never been more grateful for the amazing power of the internet to provide the chance for an author like me to connect with and be inspired by an artist on the other side of the planet.

In the past I've always been too self-conscious to talk much about the creative side of my writing process, which I'm well aware is often strange, regularly illogical and occasionally bizarre. When you have a passion like mine, things often do get a little weird. Still, weird can be wonderful, as it was when this story found me -- and that's what makes every day I write an adventure.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


How a writer chooses a name for a character can be as simple as flipping through telephone directory or as complicated as plowing through dozens of census lists, baby name books and even interrogating friends and family. I myself have been known to ask random strangers things like "What's your middle name?" or "What's the weirdest name you've ever heard?" (to date, no one has come up with one stranger than the name belonging to a gentlemen I met in Europe, whose name translates into English as Spot Dog. Yes, first name Spot, last name Dog. No explanation or etymology offered.)

For the Disenchanted & Co. series I was very deliberate in using real history combined with mythology to name my characters. There was one old gent, however, who flatly rejected every attempt I made to give him a name. To stop driving myself crazy I gave him a nickname (Doc, short for Doctor [Something]), and promised myself I'd think up the rest of his name after I wrote the book.

I finished the book. Doc seemed to like his nickname but continued to stonewall every other attempt I made to name him. When this happens to me it's generally for subconscious reasons, and I simply have to figure out what they are. Doc really did feel like he should be somehow named Doc, but not as a medical doctor or a professor doctor. My Doc was another sort of doc.

I began making a list of all the words I knew that began with the letters DOC: doc, docile, dockery, docket, dockyard, doctrine, docudrama, document and so forth. The one word I kept going back to look at -- docket -- didn't make any sense to me. Doc had nothing to do with the courts or legal system in Toriana, and while I had a vague idea of what a docket was it had no personal meaning to me or my character. At the same time it looked terribly familiar, like something I'd seen every day. Since I don't hang out with lawyers or in courthouses it really perplexed me, and I wasn't going to use it until I understood why I wanted to name the character Docket.

I decided to research the word, and one definition from my dictionary jumped out at me:

[British] A list of things to be done; an agenda.

There was a connection; because Doc is a mechanic (very much like my guy) as well as an inventor who is forever tinkering on something or coming up with new ideas for some fabulous contraption he is very much a doer type of person. I have cousins in the UK, so it was possible I heard one of them use the word in that context, but I still had the nagging feeling that the word was somehow part of my daily life -- but how?

The lightbulb didn't go off until the day I went out into the garage to find a flashlight so I could hunt for my cat (he likes to hide in dark places.) As I reached for the torch I saw this on my guy's work bench:

There was the docket I'd been seeing every day. My guy always keeps a to-do list on his workbench as a reminder of things he has to do, and because he prefer small notepads I buy him these mini Tops legal pads which carry the Docket brand. I didn't consciously remember that, but when I named my character my subconscious kicked in with it.

So that's the story behind Docket's name. If you'd like to meet him, I've posted a new excerpt from Her Ladyship's Curse here in which he makes his first appearance in the story.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Winner & Forthcoming

I appreciate the many creative and inspiring suggestions offered for future giveaways here at Disenchanted & Co.; you've given Her Ladyship's Hat Box some excellent ideas and she applauds you all for your efforts. As to the winner of the first giveaway, the books, journal and bookmark go to:

Diana Troldahl

Diana, please e-mail your full name and ship-to address to so I send get your prizes out to you. Many thanks to everyone for joining in.

Today is also my day to provide some hints about what's ahead next week on the blog. To keep it fun, I'm going to be a little mysterious this time and simply show you two clues. The first is an image:

And the second is a character's name: DOCKET.

What do both mean? To find out, stop in next week.

Friday, March 1, 2013


When Prince Albert, royal consort to and beloved husband of Queen Victoria, died suddenly in 1861, he must have known it would devastate his wife. Even after having nine children they were a devoted and loving couple, and Albert had already witnessed several times how deeply Victoria could grieve. She had just lost her mother, the Duchess of Kent, in March of that year, and she had been so distraught that times Albert had feared for her mental health. He may have even suspected that Victoria had an unnatural obsession with grief, but I doubt he could have guessed how long his wife would mourn him -- for the next forty years, until the day she died.

Throughout history the practice of mourning the loss of a loved one has been a common and enduring social ritual. Public and private demonstrations of grief provide an opportunity to emotionally process a loss, and in time transition from the sorrow, shock and anger death instills to finding peace, acceptance and the strength to go on. In that sense it is healthy and even important to mourn.

Like any social practice mourning has also initiated trends and inspired unique behaviors. At the time Queen Victoria lost her husband extravagant shows of mourning by women had become quite the vogue -- and like all fashions, had a long list of rules to go with it. Grieving widows were required to dress completely in dull or matte black with little or no jewelry for the first year after their loss, and never step a foot outside without first covering their head and face with a veil made of black crape, a kind of crimped gauze made of silk and cotton. Men had it a little better; they were expected to wear black hatbands and armbands (the latter being adopted from an old military mourning practice among soldiers.) Men's swords and buckles were sometimes blackened, too, so they didn't shine. While the servants of a mourning household would usually wear a black armband to denote the loss, some wealthy widows dressed their entire household staff head to toe in black.

A day after the first anniversary of the death the grieving widow could enter into the second stage of mourning, which wasn't much different than the first. She could go out with her veil lifted away her face, add a little black trimming and shinier or more decorative black fabrics to her lacklustre wardrobe (pinstriped black was also now allowed), and wear some mourning jewelry, usually made of jet. After another nine months, the mourning woman could finally ditch her all-black gowns and dress in half-mourning, which was generally somber but much lighter shades of gray or white, and later on lilac, lavender, mauve and even burgundy. Finally, after two years of this depressing business, mourning was considered completed (unless you had the bad luck of losing someone else, at which point the cycle started over again.)

Queen Victoria was still wearing full mourning for her mother when Prince Albert died, and she would continue wearing it for her husband for the next three years -- as would her entire court. The clothing industry naturally capitalized on the Queen's grief by stocking up on black fabrics, trims and other mourning desirables. Poor women would dye their ordinary clothing black (which they later bleached out) while the middle class relied on bombazine, a silk-wool blend. Rich ladies demanded more luxurious black goods and could afford to buy fine cambric linen, kid, fur and silk for their gowns and accessories. Men began wearing black cravats and shirt studs, soldiers covered up their uniform brass with crape, and the macabre fantastic "hair art" -- ornaments and other wearables created from the actual hair of the dead -- reached new heights. Thanks to the queen's reaction to the loss of her husband, demonstrating bereavement became very fashionable.

Across the pond in America grief over Prince Albert's death was not felt as keenly. Not out of any shown of disrespect to the Queen, either; our country had plunged into the nightmare of the Civil War. When it ended in 1865 over six hundred thousand soldiers had died, creating an unprecedented void of grief for their loved ones. While Americans still emulated English fashions, the terrible losses may have initiated the gradual move away from adherence to Victorian mourning practices. After the war America needed to rebuild itself, and it couldn't do that sitting in church in black bombazine and a weeping veil.

Creating my Toriana universe required a few adjustments to history. In my world, Queen Victoria is actually assassinated, along with Prince Albert and several of their children, and in the aftermath their daughter, also named Victoria, assumes the throne. The Civil War also does not take place. While these are admittedly radical adjustments to history, by making these changes I was able to shift the timeline into new and different directions.

Although they are still publicly obedient to the Crown, Torians quietly demonstrate their underlying rebellious natures by creating and following their own social practices, and among them mourning is one of the more elaborate and unique. A newly-widowed Torian woman does not dress in all-black like the English, but instead dresses exclusively in vivid white, red and blue. This custom pays homage to the loss of a Torian man in a symbolic color parallel to the same colors of the lost flag of independence, known as the "Stars and Bars." While the deceased's name is never spoken in public (a custom dating back to the Lost War of Independence in an effort to protect his next of kin), he is remembered, usually by the display of symbolic red, white and blue flowers. Some other rituals, such as installing nesting doves outside the deceased's residence, were derived from imitating the mourning practices of indigenous tribal peoples.

In addition to the personal display of grief, several celebratory, wake-like, indoor and outdoor gatherings are held for the family and friends. On the night after the burial, the immediate family hosts a "Heavenly Freedom" dance or ball, during which neighbors, friends and business associates present largely ceremonial gifts of food, money or other goods to the widow (a practice dating back to the lost war, when the family of a soldier killed in battle was left entirely destitute and depended on the community for immediate support.) If she is childless, the widow is also introduced to potential suitors; this to prevent her deceased husband's monies and properties from reverting to the crown. By law a childless Torian widow must remarry within three months to transfer her husband's estate to her new husband, or forfeit her rights to it entirely.

These Torian mourning practices range from very modest (the wearing of red/white/blue hair ribbons, placing a single nesting dove over the front door, and a gathering of neighbors at a local tavern for a poor widow) to beyond elaborate (months of lavish parties, picnics, house guests and balls leading up to a wealthy widow's high-society remarriage.) Naturally merchants profit enormously from Torian mourners and provide a wide range of suitable goods. While the Crown is certainly aware of some if not all of the true meaning of Torian mourning practices, turning a blind eye to them keeps the peace so they don't interfere.

In the same way that Victorian mourning practices could be very depressing and isolating, the Torian version can be a grueling ordeal for a widow. Intended to inspire a sense of community, Torian mourning does require a hefty amount of emotional endurance by the grieving family. As with other bereavement rituals throughout time, however, such demands are regarded and respected as a social duty; in Toriana they are even more vital, not only to honor the dead but to quietly demonstrate their secret patriotism. Torians may abide by English rule, but they cling fiercely to the hope of someday gaining their independence from it. In this unique way the mourning practices of Toriana celebrate life as much as death.

Photo Credit: © Tammy Belanger |