Category Archives: Writing

Victorian-Era Walking Sticks to Stir the Imagination

Dandys_1830In my Victorian-era romance Duke of a Gilded Age, Wesley is obliged to hire a valet to tend to his new wardrobe and help him navigate the potential minefield of moving in Society as an American duke. Bristling at the idea he can no longer dress himself nor enjoy the complete freedom he’d had in Brooklyn, Wesley is determined to hire someone who will stay out of his way. When valet candidate Cavendish appears, he represents himself as a drunk who enjoys baseball–thereby fulfilling all of Wesley’s requirements. Although Cavendish wins the job, he quickly proves himself to be much more than he seems…starting with a rather extraordinary collection of walking sticks.

Excerpt:

As he reached for a freshly baked fruit muffin, Wesley noticed yet another one of Cavendish’s walking sticks propped up in the corner. This one was slender, fashioned of a highly polished dark wood, and sported a deep blue cut‐glass knob handle. I wonder how many walking sticks the man has?

Since there was much to be done, Cavendish didn’t allow his master to linger overlong at breakfast. After Wesley bathed, the valet gave him a shave and manicure. Wesley examined his buffed fingernails, impressed.

“I’m not uncouth anymore,” he said.

“I daresay you never were, Your Grace.”

“Tell me, Cavendish, how many walking sticks do you own?”

“I’ve never actually counted them, Your Grace, but I am quite the collector.”

Wesley read Jules Verne until his mother was ready to go, while Cavendish sat nearby reading a pocket‐sized copy of L’Art de la Guerre. Wesley gave the book’s title a curious glance.

“Is that French?” he asked.

“Yes. It’s The Art of War by Chinese military general Sun Tzu.”

“He speaks French?”

“No, he lived thousands of years ago. This is a translation from Chinese.”

“Why don’t you read it in English?”

“Sadly, the English translation does not yet exist.”

Wesley returned to his book, puzzled. The man is extremely learned for a valet. Could there be more to Cavendish than meets the eye?

ornament29Walking Stick Compass image courtesy Design ToscanoAn an author, my imagination is seized by the idea of Victorian-era walking sticks serving more than one purpose. Cavendish has all manner of decorative walking sticks, but he also has a very cool walking stick with a compass, a tippling stick containing a compartment in which alcohol can be stored, and a cane with a blade for self-defense. Although admittedly low-tech, it’s rather James Bond-ish, to my way of thinking.  Here are a few resources, if you’re inclined to do further research or purchase one for yourself. Some of these walking sticks are truly amazing works of art. Like Cavendish, I suspect one could build an impressive and fun collection.

~ S.G. Rogers

Design Toscano

Scotties Walking Sticks & Canes (UK)

Ebay

M.S. Rau Antiques

Antique Cane World

DukeofaGildedAge_432

Victorian-Era Iconoclast Catherine Walters

Catherine Walters (1839-1920) courtesy wikipedia
Victorian-era courtesan Catherine Walters

With all the emphasis on moral purity, money, and royal titles in the Victorian era, it’s refreshing to hear about an outsider beating the Upper Tens at their own game. Liverpool-born lass Catherine Walters (1839 – 1920) was the Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton of her era. Nicknamed “Skittles” (perhaps stemming from her early job at a bowling alley), her exceptional beauty allowed her to rise to the level of a superstar. Among her lovers were royals, intellectuals, and wealthy benefactors alike, and her discretion was nearly as valuable as her looks. Among other properties, she had a home in the exclusive London neighborhood of Mayfair. An accomplished horsewoman, she drew admiring crowds whenever she rode on Rotten Row in Hyde Park. Her taste in clothes set trends and sparked envy among aristocratic ladies. She “retired” at about the age of 50 (cougar anyone?) as a wealthy woman.

Although my current work-in-progress (Jessamine’s Folly) is set in the Edwardian era, the story includes a character reminiscent of Skittles. I admire the mindset of a woman who goes about living life in her own fashion, thumbing her nose at snobbish conventions and refusing to bow to a set of societal “rules” which excluded her from birth. I drink a toast to an iconoclast of a prior era. ~ S.G. Rogers

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Go-To Music List

Ardent Notes © Olga Olejnikova | Dreamstime.comI’m the first to admit I’m musically uncool. I even, um, liked the disco era. I think the ’80s was my favorite decade for music, probably because it was upbeat and cheerful. I enjoyed Huey Lewis and the News, the Go-Go’s, and even Wham! Taste in music is an individual thing, admittedly, but I’m guessing most people have a few songs that will put a smile on their face every single time. When I’m writing, usually I prefer dead quiet, but I do have a “writing list” on my I-Tunes account. The songs change from time to time, but I thought I’d share the current Top Ten list with you. Leave a comment, below, and let me know what particular song of yours is a go-to song for you. ~ S.G. Rogers

1. Good Time (Alex Goot)

2. I Like to Move it (Reel 2 Real)

3. Supermassive Black Hole (Muse)

4. She’s So High (Tal Bachman)

5. Walk Away (Kelly Clarkson)

6. Shambala (Three Dog Night)

7. You Shook Me All Night Long (ACDC)

8. Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf)

9. We Built This City (Starship)

10. Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen)

What I’ve Been Up To

Although I haven’t posted much on my blog in August, I didn’t take the month off. I wrote a nifty guest post for author Meg Mims’ blog about why I put so much emphasis on strong secondary characters. That post, called More Than Parsley – Writing Secondary Characters With Depth, can be found HERE.

In addition, the third book of my Yden series (Secrets of Yden) was put under contract. I believe that book will be released in January or thereabouts, and to unify the trilogy, a new batch of character-centered covers is being designed. The first cover will feature Kira Szul, the Nomad princess from Yden, the second cover will feature Brett Tanner, and the third will feature Jon Hansen. I’m not certain when these new covers will make their debut, but you can be assured I’ll announce it!

In the meantime, I’ve been writing another historical romance entitled Jessamine’s Folly, to be set in the early Edwardian era. I was so excited to see the new cover for The Last Great Wizard of Yden, however, I was inspired to put the historical romance aside for a few weeks to write an Yden prequel called (tentatively) Kira. The book will detail how Warlord Mandral came to power at the expense of the Nomads, and Kira’s attempts to stop him. I’m not certain of the finished length since I’m only 6K words into the story, but I’m having so much fun writing it I don’t want to do anything else.

After I finish Kira and Jessamine’s Folly, I’d still like to squeeze out a Christmas-themed novella of some sort, but I’ll just have to see what develops.

So, in short, I can solemnly swear I’ve been up to no good.  How about you?

~ S.G. Rogers

Chocolatier of a Gilded Age

Long before Godiva, there was Maillard’s.

While doing research for Duke of a Gilded Age (set in 1890), I discovered several shops on the ground floor of the 5th Avenue Hotel, one of which was a famous confectionary known as Maillard’s.

Image
Maillard’s Candy Store, 116 West 25th St. (1901)
Maillard’s, Broadway at 24th St. (5th Ave. Hotel) (1902)

Mr. Maillard came to the States from France in 1848, opening his first store at 401 Broadway, NYC. A Maillard’s shop was a tenant at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, eventually evolving from a confectionary into a ladies’ restaurant. In 1908, after the Fifth Avenue Hotel was demolished, a much larger store and ladies’ luncheon restaurant opened at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 35th Street.  The decor was Louis XVI, the ceiling was graced with lovely paintings, and the settings were completely French. Mr. Maillard, whose award-winning chocolates were exhibited around the world, furnished the inaugural banquet of President Lincoln, thereby making himself a household name. The shop was renowned for chocolates, bon-bons, cocoa, and ice cream.  Although Maillard’s has long been out of business, their advertisement and trade cards are still collectible items today.

I wish these photographs were scratch-and-sniff, because I’ll bet the fragrance inside the shop was heavenly. Have a chocolate day.

~ S.G. Rogers

Maillardad

Anyone for an Onion Run? Putting Fun into High Fantasy

Not all high fantasy has to be deadly serious. The following excerpt is one of my favorite scenes in my novel Tournament of Chance. Although the interlude gave my characters a chance to interact, the entire bit of action wasn’t strictly necessary to the plot–unless you like to have a little fun. Since I do, the scene stayed in. How about you? Do you enjoy a little humor with your high fantasy or do you prefer the classical approach? ~ S.G. Rogers

Excerpt:

Heather knelt next to the bed of onions and pointed to a fat onion with a nice, full top. “What are the odds on this fellow?”

“Oh, that’s Dim Bulb. He’s even money,” the fairy replied.

“That’s a safe bet,” Icarus said. “You can’t lose.”

Dane leaned over to brush the top of a scallion. “Go with this one, Heather. He’s far leaner and can likely outrun them all.”

“Three-to-one on Toothpick,” Towcheez said.

“Toothpick it is, then,” Heather said, exchanging a mischievous glance with Dane. “I enjoy long odds.”

Neither Joe nor Wren had any money, so Manny had to cough up some gold for his sister. Wriggling with excitement, Wren bet on a leek named Puddle. Towcheez bit Manny’s gold coin before tossing it into his sack.

“Good choice, Princess,” Towcheez said to Wren. “Two-to-one odds on ole Puddle.”

After the betting had concluded, the fairies readied their runners for the race. Heather marveled when each onion shrugged its roots free from the soil. An oniony fragrance scented the nighttime air as the runners took their mark. Towcheez flew overhead with a fairy candle in his hand. He held it high.

“Onions, yer running down to the water pump and back,” he bellowed.“Fair warning…losers will be eaten. Ready, steady…yer off!”

The fairy candle punctuated his sentence with an explosion of sparks. Using their roots as legs, the onions peeled out. The runners with hairy roots moved along like millipedes, while the ones with longer roots stretched them forward like stilt-walkers. The fairies cheered with enthusiasm. Wren and Jovander jumped up and down as they rooted for their onion.

“Run, Puddle, run,” Wren screamed.

At the outset, the onions were in a bunch. Heather couldn’t begin to tell how Toothpick was faring. Halfway to the water pump, however, the race began to get choppier. Dim Bulb’s roots gave out under his weight. He fell over and proceeded to roll toward the water pump like a cannon ball. He mowed several competitors down as he went, crushing their roots so badly they didn’t get up again.

“That’s cheating,” Joe exclaimed.

“That’s an onion run,” Manny retorted.

As he neared the pump, Puddle was outdistancing his rivals. Toothpick ran a close second, and Dim Bulb rolled into third. After the runners rounded the pump, they put on the speed. The return journey quickly became brutal, as downed vegetables lay crushed and limp on the path. Dim Bulb shot forward and knocked Puddle over. Puddle retaliated by slapping at Dim Bulb with his dark green leaves. Toothpick took over the lead. Dim Bulb rolled free of Puddle and angled toward Toothpick. The last few feet, however, Dim Bulb became confused and began to roll in a circle. Heather screamed with laughter as Toothpick stumbled over the finish line and waved his leaves in victory. Puddle limped into second place, and Dim Bulb rolled into a pumpkin patch.

The race at an end, fairy children descended on the runners and began to eat them. In her excitement, Heather grabbed Dane’s arm. “We won!” she exclaimed. When she realized what she’d done, she released her grip. “Oh…excuse me, Your Highness.”

ornament29Blurb:

In the Kingdom of Destiny, King Chance decreed any female be she high or low born may earn a place at court by winning an archery competitiontournamentofchance-200 known as the Tournament of Chance. Although no commoner has ever won before, this is Heather’s year.To prevent her from winning the tournament, however, King Chance will stop at nothing.  The king does not yet realize Heather of the Jagged Peaks will be the spark that ignites a revolution — in time.

E-book available at Amazon HERE, at Musa Publishing HERE (all formats), BN.com HERE, or wherever ebooks are sold.

The Greening of Lady Liberty

434px-Statue_of_Liberty_7My first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as a kid was one of dismay–and perhaps a little disappointment–at its color.  I was familiar with the shape of the statue, of course, but nobody ever mentioned that it was a bilious shade of green due to the oxidation of the metal.  When I was doing research for Duke of a Gilded Age, set in 1890, I had a difficult time discovering what the statue looked like back then. Color photography had not yet been invented, so I tried to rely on eyewitness descriptions gleaned from newspapers or magazines. To my surprise, there weren’t any, or at least none to my satisfaction.  I read a few statements in more recent publications concluding the statue was always green, and that the verdigris patina was acquired when the copper sheeting came over from Europe.  I disagree. The accounts I read about the dedication of the statue back in October of 1886 discuss many statistics and observations, but none discuss the color, other than mentioning the metals bronze and copper. If the metals had been green, I believe someone would have said so.  After all, an enormous green lady standing at the mouth of the North River is big news.

SanFranCall9_9_1904
The San Francisco Call, Sept. 9, 1904

I scoured the Library of Congress Historic Newspaper archives about this issue, and discovered several articles dating from 1904 to 1906 that mention an upcoming restoration project for the statue:

Albuquerque Evening Citizen, July 27, 1906

In both of these articles, mention is made of the toll the elements had taken over the years on the appearance of the statue.

In 1906, an article was published in the Lincoln County Leader which discusses a tour of Europe, beginning with passage on a steamer out of New York. The writer says, “The steamer passes beneath Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty, the copper bronze of which shines brightly in the sunlight…” (emphasis mine) So as recently as 1906, then, some of Miss Liberty’s original sheen was still visible.

Lincoln County Leader August 03, 1906

Perhaps the most significant evidence of her original color, however, is Edward Moran’s painting entitled Statue of Liberty unveiled, dated 1886. The painting was done to commemorate Miss Liberty’s dedication… and there’s not a trace of green on it. Be she bronze or green, the Statue of Liberty is still a symbol of freedom, and on this 4th of July, I will take the time to appreciate her.

~ S.G. Rogers

Historical Research – Details of Dining

Assume for a moment you’re an author, writing a historical novel based in 1890.  Your two main characters arrive at the Fifth Avenue Hotel for dinner and once seated order the… er… what do they order? One could choose to gloss over the menu entirely, of course, or use generic terms such as beef, fish, or chicken. There was no ‘Spa Cuisine’ or ‘Fusion’ dishes in 1890, but if the story isn’t about the food, does it really matter what the characters eat?  Well, to this author, it did.  In my mind, what people were eating in that era and what the food was called, was important to creating an authentic atmosphere. Unfortunately, unless one’s great-great grandmother tucked the actual hotel menu away in a scrapbook passed down through the generations, how is one to know what was on the menu? Fortunately, there is a project at the New York Public Library that has preserved many menus from a myriad of hotels and other venues. The website is called What’s on the Menu?, and not only has this project scanned in actual historical menus (from the 1850s on), but it is also in the process of transcribing the menus so they can be searchable. FthAveHotelmenu1897 The database isn’t perfect; it doesn’t contain every menu from every venue for every day of the year, for example. But for me, it became an invaluable resource. Should I wish to write a novel set in 1851 Boston, I will now know what the Bill of Fare at the Revere House was, including the wine list. I think that’s pretty darn cool.

~ S.G. Rogers

DukeofaGildedAge_432Blurb:

When American-born Wesley Parker inherits a dukedom in 1890, he must learn to be an aristocrat. Assigned to the task is his attorney’s daughter, prim Belle Oakhurst. As they travel to England together on a luxurious ocean liner, their tempestuous relationship encounters more than rough seas. Although Wesley is increasingly attracted to Belle, she is already engaged. While Belle begins to regret her hasty promise to marry, she is bound by honor and duty to keep her pledge. Furthermore, a thoughtless fabrication on her part threatens to expose her as a liar. Neither Wesley nor Belle can foresee that their voyage across the Atlantic will be fraught with peril, and will cost more than one man his life.

Excerpt:

Because the dining room had just opened for dinner, the Parkers and Oakhursts had a table largely to themselves. Not including dessert, there were seven courses to choose from, with several different kinds of soup, fish, boiled dishes, cold dishes, entrées, roasts, and vegetables. Unused to so much abundant food, Wesley agonized over the menu. Finally, he ordered chowder, an entrée of beef filet with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and baked tomatoes. He ate everything set in front of him and still had room for a serving of custard pie afterward.

Belle selected roast chicken for her entrée, along with sweet potatoes and stewed tomatoes. Mr. Oakhurst was delighted with his roast beef and potatoes, which looked so delicious that Wesley vowed to order it next time. A glance at Lady Frederic confirmed she was enjoying her lamb cutlets.

“You look somewhat restored, Mother,” he said. “When Miss Oakhurst and I came in after our walk, you seemed distracted.”

She breathed a happy sigh. “That’s putting it politely. When I saw all our new things, I began to feel overwhelmed. Truly, I’m not sure how I’ll manage the crossing by myself. I hope there will be a steward or stewardess on the ship whom I can call upon.”

“There are both, but you don’t have to manage alone, milady,” Mr. Oakhurst said. “I’ve contacted the Mrs. A.E. Johnson Employment Agency on your behalf. If you’d like to interview candidates for a lady’s maid, you can begin tomorrow after breakfast.”

Delighted, Wesley laughed. “My mother is to have her own maid?”

“The agency also has several highly qualified valets for your consideration, Your Grace,” Mr. Oakhurst said.

“A valet? Like Passepartout in Around the World in Eighty Days?” Wesley snorted. “That’s silly.”

“You must hire someone to attend to your wardrobe and personal needs,” Lady Frederic said.

“You’re not serious?” Wesley shook his head in dismay. “What if I don’t want a valet? I can dress myself, thank you very much!”

ornament29Duke of a Gilded Age is available in Kindle format HERE.

Put Up Your Dukes — Literary References in Historical Romance

398px-Thomas_Gainsborough_008While I was doing research for my historical romance novella, The Ice Captain’s Daughter, I became interested in the concept of male succession.  My research actually provided the idea for my forthcoming novel, Duke of a Gilded Age, in which a dukedom passes to a young American man born on the mean streets of Victorian-era Brooklyn. Early on in the book, my main character, Wesley, gets into a fight with a group of local second generation Irish kids. Although none of them yet realize he’s inherited a title, including Wesley, his royal pedigree has been outed, thereby causing resentment.

 

Excerpt:

When Wesley stepped onto the street a few minutes later, however, the Irish were waiting for him.

“Thought you’d give us the slip, eh?” Liam said. “Where’s your silver spoon, pretty boy?”

Wesley’s hackles rose, and he assumed a cocky swagger. “How’s that fine-looking sister of yours, Liam? I hear she’s lonely for me.”

“Shut your filthy mouth about my sister! Why would Coleen be lonely for the likes of wee Lord Fauntleroy,” sneered Liam. He ended his sentence by knocking Wesley’s cap into the gutter.

Wesley’s knuckles showed white. “Don’t ever call me that again.” He decked Liam and turned to face the others.

One down, four to go.

ornament29Fauntleroycover

The insult ‘wee Lord Fauntleroy’ was, of course, a reference to the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Before I wrote Duke of a Gilded Age, I was familiar with the book only insofar as it involved a young American boy who discovers he’s the heir to a British earl, his grandfather.  I decided to read the book to get more than a passing understanding of the story, and I was glad I did. As ‘unrealistic’ as the perfect child’s portrayal might have been, I’ve always been drawn to characters who have the ability to change others for the better.  Although the earl grooms the boy, Cedric, to become an English aristocrat, Cedric’s sweet and loving nature softens his grandfather’s heart toward Cedric’s American mother and toward the people who serve him.

The book was originally published in serial form (1885 – 1886) in St. Nicholas Magazine, and became a huge phenomenon in the States especially. A fashion craze for Fauntleroy suits began (black velvet with a lace collar) and Fauntleroy hair (“lovelocks” and curly ringlets), as American mothers sought to give their young sons the “royal treatment.” Although I have no empirical data on the subject, I also suspect many matrons also tried (unsuccessfully) to get their boys to call them ‘Dearest,’ Cedric’s form of address to his mother.  I daresay many of these poor little chaps were beaten up and bullied due to their fussy appearance, and perhaps harbored a lifelong resentment toward their mothers for being thus inflicted upon.

In Duke of a Gilded Age, Wesley Parker is far too old (twenty) to wear a Fauntleroy suit, and his mother is too poor (and sensible) in any case to have ever considered such a thing. Nevertheless, references to the novel pop up from time to time as certain inescapable parallels are drawn. Since my story is set in 1890, the Fauntleroy craze had not yet run its course, and would have been in the popular culture. Other literary references crop up too, as I depict what other books people may have been reading and discussing at the time. The context of a story thereby becomes an immutable character which adds richness and depth to the narrative.

I hope you agree.

~ S.G. Rogers

Blurb:

When American-born Wesley Parker inherits a dukedom, he must learn to be an aristocrat. Assigned to the task is his attorney’s daughter, prim Belle Oakhurst. As they travel to England together on a luxurious ocean liner, their tempestuous relationship encounters more than rough seas. Although Wesley is increasingly attracted to Belle, she is already engaged. While Belle begins to regret her hasty promise to marry, she is bound by honor and duty to keep her pledge. Furthermore, a thoughtless fabrication on her part threatens to expose her to shame. Neither Wesley nor Belle can foresee that their voyage across the Atlantic will be fraught with peril, and will cost more than one man his life.

Duke of a Gilded Age, a historical romance set in 1890, will be released June, 2013.

Wild Hairs and Maggots – Sources of Inspiration

Clio, Euterpe et Thalie by Eustache Le Sueur (1616–1655) (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Clio, Euterpe et Thalie (The Muses)

Wild hairs, maggots, and muses are often cited as sources of inspiration.  “Wait a moment… maggots, did you say?” Why, yes I did. At the beginning of the 16th century, the phrase “maggots in the head” was used to indicate obsession with a notion or fantasy, and was interchangeable with  “bees in the bonnet.” (see Free Online Dictionary).  Why is this factoid significant? Because Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is the horrible name of a beautiful piece of music. Although the song is used in many Regency-era productions, it’s a traditional English country dance tune first published by Henry Playford in 1695.

I first became aware of the song in the mini-series Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Here is the same tune played at a more lively pace:

My friends and I used to use high-sounding names for the mundane, such as Chez BigMac (McDonald’s), or we’d use a French pronunciation to make something sound better (ie: The Target department store would be pronounced with a soft ‘g’, like ‘Tarjez’).  I hereby propose Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot be pronounced ‘Mr. Beveridge’s Maj-oh,’ just to make it more palatable.

A maggot by any other name would be as whimsical.

~ S.G. Rogers