Contest Updates

Romancing the URLI was saving this information for my first newsletter, but then I figured out that it would get wider visibility if I blogged about it. (HINT, HINT: please sign up for my newsletter here.)

Thank you to everyone who voted for this site in the Romancing the URL contest. I’m the Viewers Choice winner in the aspiring author category, as well as a finalist in the same category. I’ll find out my final placement in August.

Updates on the contests my books are in:

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
I can’t remember for sure what I’ve announced and what I haven’t, so here’s the latest:

  • 2nd place in the Fool for Love contest
  • 3rd place Cleveland Rocks contest
  • Honorable mention in the Fab Five contest
  • Finalist in the Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest, (placement announced in July)
  • Finalist in the Golden Rose contest (placement announced in August)

Madame Presidentess
In addition to being with several agents, I’ve made it into the first round of #PitchtoPublication. This means that any time between July 6 – 16, I may get requests from the five freelance editors who have my entry. If that happens, we’ll edit it and then agents will see it. Cross your fingers.

Wish me luck!

HNS 2015 Conference Wrap Up

Originally posted on Spellbound Scribes:

HNS2015-logo_nd-300x102Hard to believe that the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference (in Denver) started a week ago today. Talk about a jam-packed four days! I learned so much and met so many wonderful authors. This was my first one and I will forever treasure it.

Here’s a rough idea of how the conference went and my personal highlights:

Thursday – Travel day and dinner at the fabulous Oceanaire restaurant (foie gras, stuffed sole and Prosecco). Went to see the one-man play Defending the Caveman. So hilarious! I recommend it to anyone!

CW Gortner giving the opening speech CC Humphreys giving the opening speech

Friday – Eight hours of pre-conference workshops with Larry Brooks on story structure. It didn’t occur to me until the workshop started that he’s one of the authors whose books I’m reading as part of my DIY MFA program. This man is amazing. His theories, along with those of Michael Hauge

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Reform Movements of 19th Century America

As you read this, I’m freshly back (and brain dead, in a good way) from the Historical Novel Society conference. Will post about that once my brain has downloaded all the new knowledge. Until then, we’ll explore some of the reform movements that influenced the culture and society of mid-to-late 19th century America.

Abolition/Post-War Role of Former Slaves

Abolition of Slavery by Thomas Nast (1840-1902), Umpehent, J. W. (Bibliothèque numérique mondiale) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Abolition of Slavery by Thomas Nast (1840-1902), Umpehent, J. W. (Bibliothèque numérique mondiale) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When my book begins (August 1868), the Civil War was only five years in the past, and its hot button issues of slavery, race and the meaning of freedom and citizenship were still very much in the public sphere.  In fact, the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves, had just passed a month before.

It was a conflict that dated back to the time of Thomas Jefferson and  in many ways, still continues today. Many of Victoria’s friends and contemporaries began their forays into reform through the abolitionist movement, including Theodore Tilton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglass.

When Victoria attended her first suffrage meeting in January 1869, she witnessed a very contentious debate between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Fredrick Douglas, who had differing opinions on the 15th Amendment which was being debated in Congress and would give former slaves the right to vote.  Mr. Douglass said, “The right of women to vote is as sacred in my judgment as that of man, and I am quite willing to hold up both hands in favor of this right. But I am now devoting myself to a cause not more sacred, but certainly more urgent, because it is one of life and death to the long enslaved people of this country, and this is Negro suffrage. As you very well know, woman has a thousand ways to attach herself to the governing power of the land and already exerts an honorable influence on the course of legislation. She is the victim of abuses, to be sure, but it cannot be pretended, I think, that her cause is as urgent as ours.”

Women’s Suffrage

Tennie Claflin (Victoria's sister, seated in center) with suffragists, circa 1920. Photo by Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tennie Claflin (Victoria’s sister, seated in center) with suffragists, circa 1920. Photo by Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Closely related was the issue of women’s suffrage, which many suffragists believed was as important, if not more important, than suffrage for former slaves. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued at that 1869 convention, “At this very moment, Congress is debating the Fifteenth Amendment. If it is passed, it would give black men the right to vote. But I ask you, how are we, as women, any less important? How are we to be left out of such legislation? Shall American statesmen make their wives and mothers the political inferiors of unlettered and unwashed ditch-diggers fresh from the slave plantations of the South?”

(As you can see, bigotry against former slaves and immigrants was very common at the time. Both she and Susan B. Anthony were known to refer to them as “Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung,” something we would never condone today.)

The Suffrage movement dates back to 1846, when the first debate on women’s rights was held at Oberlin College. It is thought by some historians that if not for the Civil War, women would have gained the right to vote in the mid-1800s. But as it stood in 1868, women were still fighting, having suffered a setback in 1866 with the passage of the 14th Amendment, which introduced the word “male” into the Constitution as a qualification for voting. The debate as to whether women were citizens according to the Constitution – and therefore legally allowed to vote – would continue for the next decade, promoted by Victoria herself as well as Virginia Minor, but eventually defeated. As we know from history, women would not get the right to vote until August 1920 under the 19th Amendment.

Sex Radicals

An example of one style of reform dress from the mid-19th century

An example of one style of reform dress from the mid-19th century

One of the lesser known reform movement of the period was led by the so-called “Sex Radicals” who believed in Free Love, usually in conjunction with utopian communities, in protest of the sexual slavery experienced by women. This sounds a lot like the hippies of the 1960’s, but the big difference is that in the 19th century, it meant the end of legal interference in marriage, in its binding or dissolving of ties between husband and wife. This idea allowed for divorce, as well as freedom for both husband and wife to take other partners as life presented them, but did not endorse promiscuity. (There’s a great article on Free Love on the American Experience site.)

Victoria and her sister Tennie, as well as Victoria’s second husband, James, and her lover, Theodore Tilton, were all a part of this movement. Victoria and Tennie wore their hair short and adopted a more masculine form of dress (without the bustles and corsets common at the time) in protest of the sexual inequality between men and women. For example, at the time, it was considered commonplace, even accepted, that young men would frequent prostitutes, but their wives could do no such thing or raise a complaint. Furthermore, while their male patrons were sometimes from the highest levels of society, the prostitutes were considered the lowest, too vile even for a Christian burial.

Worker’s Rights
180px-FRE-AIT.svgIn France, the Communards were revolting, installing their own form of government that called for the economic, social and political equality of women with men; gender and wage equality; the right of divorce; the abolition of the distinction between married women and concubines; an end to labeling children legitimate or illegitimate; the closing of legal brothels and an end to prostitution. What made this movement so frightening was that it was workers rising up against those in aristocratic positions, thus threatening the “normal” balance of power.

American businessmen were scared to death of this movement, seeing how it inflamed groups like the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), which used the situation to demand an eight hour work day. Victoria’s friend and mentor, Stephen Pearl Andrews, was part of the IWA, and her husband was part of the American Labor Reform League. It is likely they were responsible for Victoria’s interest in the worker’s movement, which she eventually held on even ground with women’s suffrage.

The IWA was closely linked to Karl Marx, so Victoria felt it was important that the American people understand what they were fighting for. In July 1871, Victoria and Tennie became co-presidents of the IWA. In December 1871, she published the first English translation of his Manifesto in her paper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. That same month, she, Tennie and Stephen led a highly controversial parade in New York, protesting the murder of five Communards in France. She may have become a major player in the movement, had her philosophy of individual rights meshed more closely with Marx’s communal vision. In 1872, Marx himself disbanded Victoria’s section of the IWA, effectively ending her association with the group.

What is your understanding or familiarity with these groups? Had you heard of the sex radicals or IWA before? If so, how? What questions do you have about any of them?

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Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights

Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.

Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.

MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.

Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement.

Who Are Your Literary Mentors?

When I was in college as a business major (my second major was English), there was lots of talk about finding your mentors, those people who would take you under their wing and groom you for future success through advice, modeling positive behavior, and extending opportunities to grow.

The other day I got to thinking about how this applies to my life as a writer. While we tend to have fewer in-person opportunities with our mentors because of geographic distance (as opposed to working in the same office), the internet, and social media in particular, has given us greater access to those we admire.

To truly call someone a mentor implies a special sort of relationship that goes beyond admiration into having changed your life in tangible ways. For that reason (and for the sake of brevity) I’ve narrowed my list to three.

Writing Craft Mentor: Michael Hauge
Michael-Hauge-headshot
Having written six books, it may sound weird for me to say I just recently discovered someone who can explain the craft of writing in a way that makes sense to my brain, but it’s true. I’ve tried many books, attempted to worship at the altar of other people’s writing gurus, but nothing seemed to work for me.

I knew the basics of storytelling already, but I didn’t truly understand the three-act structure or the interplay between inner and outer motivations/goals of the characters until a few weeks ago. That’s when I watched a DVD by screenwriter Michael Hauge called Grabbing the Reader in the First 10 Pages. Boom! In an hour or so understood what you need to know and convey about your characters re: goals, needs, etc. Then he tweeted this article on story structure. *Lightning bolt from heaven.* I now understand story structure, plus how the character arc evolves alongside (and intertwined with) the plot.

I’ve spent the last few weeks revising Madame Presidentess based on what I learned and I am in awe of how much better my MS is. This stuff is possible to learn, once you find someone who speaks English instead of Greek. I can’t wait to go back and revise my other books now. In that way, I’m fortunate that I haven’t been published yet.

I have to thank my local RWA chapter for introducing me to Michael Hauge and my DIY MFA program for making me purchase and watch his DVD. Maybe now I can revisit the other people’s works with greater clarity. I am so going to fangirl when I meet him at our October meeting.

Author Mentor: Deborah Harkness

Deb Harkness and me, August 2014

Deb Harkness and me, August 2014

Many of you know that I was fortunate to attend a week-long creative writing course last year taught by Deborah Harkness. I chronicled my learnings from her on this blog, so I won’t go into the details. Oddly enough, as I write this, her second group of students from that class are just returning from their own life-changing week.

But that amazing experience is only part of the story. Long before I was fortunate to meet and learn from her, Deb’s writing inspired me. It’s something about her style, her seamless way of weaving past and present, reality and fantasy into a face-paced story with characters I wish were real. Granted, she’s certainly not the only author to do this, but something about her books has always been special to me. Then when I found out she’s a history professor at USC, I dreamed of taking a class with her. Little did I know I would, but it would be about historical fiction.

Since then, she’s kept in touch with all of us from the class and has remained a model of how to live success with grace and poise.  I am honored to call her my friend and will continue learning from her for as long as she’s willing to put up with me!

Inspiration Mentor: Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert and me, July 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert and me, July 2014

Some people may say it’s easy to be inspirational when you’re a bestseller. Maybe, but I could name quite a few from whom I draw absolutely no connection. What makes Elizabeth Gilbert different? For me, it’s her willingness to share her personal struggles openly and to give back to the writing community. Her TED talks on creativity and inspiration were my first foray into her genius as a speaker and ability to move me creatively. Then I saw her interviewed a few times on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and thought, “yeah, she’s one of my people.”

Elizabeth’s relentless optimism and genuinely held belief that we can all live creative, fulfilled lives is part of what keeps me going, especially when rejection inflicts its terrible sting. I call her my guru because it seems like no matter what has happened in my life, she has a quote that makes me feel better and remember why I’m doing this masochistic thing called writing for publication. One of my recent favorites reminds me not to worry about what is trending right now and write what’s in my heart: “Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants. For most of history people just made things and they didn’t make such a BIG FREAKING DEAL OUT OF IT.” Another reminds me not to get too caught up in the goal of publication and just write: “Your own reasons to make art are enough. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”

I realize she is also promoting her next book, but Elizabeth’s sharing of these quotes as well as daily Facebook encouragement is what I need.  She’s someone who has been where I am: working for a living while trying to make it as a writer. She’s also been where I hope to be: on the top of the bestseller list. But more than that, she’s shown that a writing career can survive a bomb of a book (every writer’s greatest fear) and come back better than ever.

I cannot wait for the release of Big Magic in September. It’s all about living a creative life. I’m sure it will cement Elizabeth’s place even more firmly as my creative guru.

And let’s not forget the writers who inspire me to greatness every time I read one of their books: MJ Rose, Susanna Kearsley, Patricia Bracewell, Geraldine Brooks, Katherine Howe, Robin Lafevers, Mary Kay Andrews and on and on. I hope that this will be an ever-expanding list, growing as I meet and form relationships with more authors and instructors. The Historical Novel Society Conference, which I will be attending this week in Denver, will be a great opportunity for that. It’s funny, but I always found networking for my day job extremely nerve-wracking and awkward, but when it comes to writing, networking is as easy as breathing. I guess that’s yet another sign that it’s what I’m truly meant to be doing.

Who are your mentors, either as a writer or reader? Whom do you admire and why? Who has affected your life? I’d love to hear your stories.

Happy Fourth Blog Birthday!

Happy Blogiversary, everyone! Today we’re four years old. I can’t believe time has gone by so fast. Thank you to everyone who reads these posts week after week, and to all my wonderful guest bloggers over the years.

Lois Beechy underhill giveawayIt saddens me that I still don’t have one of my own books to give away (maybe for the milestone 5th next year?), but that doesn’t mean I’m not handing out presents. I’m giving away one copy of Lois Beachy Underhill’s biography of Victoria Woodhull, The Woman Who Ran for President. This was one of my favorite research sources and provides a concise yet compelling recounting of Victoria’s crazy life. (I don’t agree with her theory that Victoria had an affair with Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, but to each his own.)

Click here to enter. The contest is open to residents of the US only because of postal restrictions. Good luck to all!

Strange, But True: The French Ball in Mid-19th Century New York

The 1869 French Ball. From Barbara Goldsmith's book, Other Powers

The 1869 French Ball. From Barbara Goldsmith’s book, Other Powers

One of the craziest moments in Victoria’s life – and the one that has tripped up more beta readers and agents than any other in my novel – is the French Ball that was held in New York City. No one seems to believe it is real, but I swear it is. The famous female journalist Nellie Bly reported on the tradition, and it’s even the subject of testimony before the New York State Legislature in 1895.

The French Ball was an annual tradition that is in direct opposition with the staid, laced-up view we have of Victorian society – and that’s what makes people think it’s fiction. It began after the Civil War, when a group (either the Cercle Française de l’Harmonie or the Societe des Bals d’Aristes, depending on your source) began hosting masked balls at the American Academy of Music during which the rich of the city would mingle openly with the city’s prostitutes and courtesans.

It didn’t take long for the French Ball to become a by-word for public drunkenness and debauchery. According to Timothy Gilfoyle’s City of Eros, “The Times described it as ‘the naughtiest of the respectable masked balls.’” Both men and women dressed in masks and costumes, the women opening flaunting their bare ankles and shoulders, and showing significant cleavage. One of the most scandalous costumes was that of the ballerina because of the highly revealing tutu – presumably with nothing underneath. The town’s madams were the queens of the night, occupying the boxes normally reserved for men of good name, covered in jewels and basking in the praise of hundreds of male patrons. Over time, fewer and fewer men chose to disguise their identity, openly flaunting their presence at the lurid event, especially if they were well-known public officials or wealthy businessmen/bankers.

Reports paint a scene reminiscent of a Roman orgy, with drunken men seducing half naked women (who likely also were drunk) on the floors and in the halls. In Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, Barbara Goldsmith writes, “Victoria glanced into the box to her right where a girl lay on the crimson velvet couch, her ballet skirts pulled up over her head while two men mounted her in full view of the public.” Men commonly got into fights inside and outside the Academy and many arrests were made each year, though unrelated to public indecency.

Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie attended the ball in 1869, with or without Victoria’s husband, James, depending on the source. Victoria’s thoughts on the night were made clear in her letters and newspaper articles. In 1873 she wrote that the boxes at the event were used “for the purpose of debauching debauched women; and the trustees of the Academy know this.” We know Tennie was greatly disturbed by what she witnessed, because in an 1872 article in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, she wrote about the deflowering of a young girl that night by a man named Luther Challis. “And this scoundrel, Challis, to prove that he seduced a virgin, carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity.” This article quickly landed both Tennie and Victoria in jail on charges of libel and sending obscene material through the mail (thanks to Tennie’s description of the night and its aftermath).

I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly when the tradition of the French Ball ended, but given that the State Senate was still taking about it in 1895, it’s safe to assume it wasn’t until at least the turn of the century.

In my novel, I have dramatized the events of the French Ball based on my sources. Even though it’s a bit jarring, I wanted to include it so that by the time you get to Tennie and Victoria being arrested, you know what they experienced and why Tennie was incensed enough to risk her reputation by writing about it. Plus, it’s a fun tidbit of history I couldn’t bear to not include.

Have you heard of the French Ball before this? If so, how? What do you think about it?

Sources (in addition to those linked above)

Bly, Nellie. “Jolly at the French Ball.” The New York World, February 10, 1889. http://dlib.nyu.edu/undercover/sites/dlib.nyu.edu.undercover/files/documents/uploads/editors/Jolly-at-the-French-Ball.pdf

Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

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