Adventures in Research

Spellbound Scribes

Yes, that title is a takeoff of the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting. I have totally just dated myself, but high five to anyone who has seen it.

Ahem. I’m currently working on several non-fiction book proposals (two books on women’s suffrage in the U.S. and a biography) and so I’ve been doing a lot of research. Today I thought I’d share some of the cooler experiences this has brought about.

One thing you need to know first is that one of my all-time favorite books is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It takes place in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the main character, Diana, is an academic researcher.

From the TV version of A Discovery of Witches, which premieres today in the U.S. This is Diana in the Bodleian (yes, it really looks like that). Note the clear plastic book cradle and the white cord-like…

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Two Books in the Semifinal Round of the Cinematic Book Contest!

One of these days I swear I will start doing informational blogging again…but today I have more news!

A few months ago (prior to Madame Presidentess being optioned), I entered a contest called the ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition, which looks for books that have potential to be adapted. Well, I just found out that both Madame Presidentess and Daughter of Destiny made it to the quarterfinal round! Out of 1,200 submissions, 423 books made it to this point. Here’s the list of quarterfinalists. I’m not sure when they will announce semifinalists, finalists, and winners (all they say is “soon,”) but I will let you know if either (or both) books make it!

UPDATE: I heard back from Screencraft and Madame Presidentess is disqualified from future rounds of judging because I sold the rights. Ah well, at least it made it this far!

Daughter of Destiny Named Best Indie Book in Missouri

I’ve known about this since December, but now I can finally talk about it! Just when I thought Daughter of Destiny had won all the contests it could… it won the Missouri Author Project for adult novels! As Library Journal states, “out of all of the submissions, these winning titles reflect the best indie and self-published eBooks each state has to offer in Adult and Young Adult Fiction.” This is huge because Library Journal is a very important publication in the publishing world, especially for libraries (hence the name). Its endorsements rank right up there with Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

Here’s full list of winners from all eight states that held the contest in 2018. (Where there are two, like in Missouri, one is an adult book and one is YA.)There will be an article in Library Journal as well and I will post that when it is available. If you have a subscription, you might want to check in the January issue. I’m hearing that is where it is, but I don’t see it online yet.

Looking Back on 2018/Word of the Year and Goals for 2019

It’s that time again. The one day a year I look back on my goals and laugh. Here’s what I planned to do this year, with commentary on how it turned out:

  1. Get Mistress of Legend done and published. I accomplished this goal. It came out in September. I’m very happy with the way it turned out and it needed the extra time.
  2. Continue on the Rose Ferron biography, which I’m hoping to have done by late summer. I did get a fair amount of work done on this, but it got put on the back burner after that conference got canceled in June, which also canceled my archival trip. I’ll pick this back up again eventually, but I don’t know when.
  3. Research and start writing two WWII books that I’d like to get traditionally published. I tried to start on this after Mistress of Legend came out but my brain wasn’t having it. It wanted me to work on another project, which I’ve since made great strides on.
  4. Research the feminism book I’d love to have out by August 2019 (I doubt it will be ready by then). This project changed scope. It was originally the history of feminism in the U.S. book (which I do still want to do), but it morphed into a book on the suffrage movement that I’m still hoping to have out by August 2020 (the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S.)

2019 Word of the Year and Goals
I was originally going to keep my word from last year (Leap), but I realized it doesn’t really fit anymore. It didn’t end up working out the way I thought it would, but it was still an appropriate word for 2018.

For 2019, I’ve chosen Prosper. I’ve had a heck of a 2018, especially toward the end, so I’m hoping this word will keep the good things coming and build on what 2018 started. I also think it is fitting because I’ve put in years of hard work (since 2008 with writing and since August 2015 with publishing) and it’s time to see them pay off.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I will take it easy in 2019. No-siree-bob. I don’t know how to take it easy. Writing-wise, this seems like it will be a non-fiction year for me, but you never know what may crop up.

  1. Finish the proposal for, successfully pitch and sell a book I’m co-writing with another author. This is the non-fiction on the suffrage movement I mentioned above.
  2. Finish the proposal for, successfully pitch and sell another book on the suffrage movement (different angle from above) I’m working on.
  3. Write both of these books by their deadlines (I’m hoping both will be traditionally published by August 2020).
  4. Finish the biography I’m working on (not Rose, someone else) and sell it.
  5. Attend three conferences and have successful speaking engagements at the ones I’m booked at.
  6. Possibly work on either Isolde or the gothic fiction book I’m planning.
  7. Keep up to date on the progress of Madame Presidentess as it makes its way toward becoming a TV show or movie.

I’ll release details on all the books mentioned above when I can. The two suffrage books and the biography will also help shape a book on St. Louis’ role in the suffrage movement that I have planned for the future. I may be suffraged and non-fictioned out by the end of 2019, but I LOVE research so this will be a fun year.

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Cards (1843)

The very first Christmas card. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is last in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. The source is the Time magazine article linked below.

The Victoria Era saw many inventions, but for Christmas traditions, one of the most impactful was likely the Penny Post, which allowed people in England to send correspondence anywhere in the country for only a penny. This led to an influx of letter writing, and since social mores dictated that all mail must be answered, letter writing took up an increasing amount of time. Faced with a mountain of correspondence, a man named Henry Cole had an artist friend design a picture that could be printed on cardboard, quickly personalized, and sent through the mail. Within a few years, others were copying his idea, and by 1875, Christmas cards were being created in America as well. Check out this Time magazine article for more.

Do you still send Christmas cards? What’s the most memorable one you ever received?

I have to admit I don’t, not for years now. I do display a few cards each year. My favorite is one my parents gave me when I was maybe 10 that was “from” our dachshund, Gretchen. It has a picture if a dachshund in a Santa hat on the front and says “Merry Christmas from one of Santa’s little yelpers” on the inside. My dad put her paw print on it and signed her name.

This is my last post before Christmas, so Merry whatever you celebrate and if I don’t blog before then, Happy New Year, too!

Christmas Traditions: Advent Calendars (1800s)

This is the advent calendar-type graphic we made to advertise Tangled Lights and Silent Nights.

This is eleventh in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

Believe it or not, Advent didn’t always exist in the Christian church.

It slowly evolved as the Church took shape and Christianity became legal. The earliest echoes are from fourth century Francem when the Church began to use the period before Epiphany as a time of preparation for Baptism. It was called “St. Martin’s Lent” for the 40 days that started on November 11, feast of St. Martin of Tours. Advent as we know it today began about 300 years later in Rome. Pope Gregory I composed many of the prayers, antiphons, and psalm responses.

Advent calendars began as a simple way to countdown to Christmas. In the 1800s, German Protestant families would count down the days until Christmas by making a mark with chalk each day in December on their front doors. In some locations, candles were used instead to mark the passage of time.

The first the use of chocolate as a gift each day of Advent seems to date to at least the 1880s when it was pinned on a board. The first printed calendar with doors that open dates to 1903 in Austria, but commercially available ones that combined chocolate and doors only date to the 1950s.

Do you have an advent calendar?

I haven’t for years. I tried to get the Aldi wine advent calendar this year, but they sold out in 10 minutes!  

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Tree (1600s-1800s)

My tree last year.

This is tenth in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

As mentioned earlier, the Christmas tree has its origins in Germanic pagan tree worship. But the Christmas tree we think of today really dates back to German Lutherans in the 17th century and spread to Pennsylvania in the 1820s after they began to immigrate to the United States. When Germany’s Prince Albert came to England in 1840 to marry Queen Victoria, he brought the Christmas tree with him. The royal family decorated it with small gifts, toys, candles, candies and fancy cakes, giving rise to the modern ornament. Eight years later, a photograph of the royal tree appeared in a London newspaper, and displaying a Christmas tree became the height of holiday fashion in Europe and America.

When do you put up your tree? Colored lights or white?

I put mine up the day after thanksgiving. As a kid, I liked the colored lights, but now I prefer white lights (preferably the ones that look like candles) and rustic decorations that look like cranberries or fruit or things in nature.

Christmas Traditions: Fruitcake (1500s)

Fruitcake. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is ninth in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

Ah, the Christmas traditional everyone loves to hate. According to Time magazine, “fruitcake dates back to the 16th century, when it was discovered that fruit could be preserved by soaking it in large solutions of sugar. Since sugar was cheap, it was an effective and affordable way for the colonies to ensure their native plums and cherries would make the journey to Europe without spoiling. By the 19th century people were combining all sorts of candied fruits — pineapples, plums, dates, pears, cherries, orange peels and cheap nuts — into a cake-like form. In 1913, two of the most famous American bakeries of the time — Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas and The Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia — began to ship mail order fruitcakes.”

Do you like fruitcake? What’s your favorite holiday dessert?

I have never had it and I am fine with that. My favorites are either chocolate chip cookies or homemade fudge!

Christmas Traditions: The Nativity Creche (1223)

This is my cat nativity scene.

This is eighth in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

Tradition has it that St. Francis of Assisi created the first living creche during a Christmas Eve Mass in Grecio, Italy, in 1223. The church was too small for the crowd, so he moved them to a nearby grotto, where he set up a manger with hay, and an ox and donkey. This was meant to symbolize the poverty baby Jesus experienced from birth. Since most people were illiterate at the time and Mass was held in Latin, which they didn’t understand, this was a powerful visual learning tool for them. Later on, as Passion Plays and other liturgical drama became popular, people were used to stand in for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. After the Reformation, crèches became associated with southern Europe. The first ones using statues likely date to the 18th century.

 Do you display a nativity scene at Christmas? For those who aren’t Christian, what is your favorite winter decoration?

 I do. Mine is all made of cats because I’m a crazy cat lady. But my favorite Christmas item is one of the wise men my mom made when I was little and she was taking a ceramics class. She pained him with blond hair, but a black beard. Apparently he found some early bleach!