Why Regency?

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My husband and I were talking the other day, and he asked me, “But why the Regency era? Out of all the other periods of history out there, what made you choose that one?” I thought about it a lot, actually. It made me remember an experience I had years ago.

My friend Tami and I had gone to a stage production put on by a traveling troupe of–get this–radio actors. The story? Pride and Prejudice. As we sat and waited for the curtain to go up, I overheard a couple of men talking behind us. One of them said, “You know, I’ve seen this movie like six times–both versions–and I still don’t get it.”

It made me laugh.

Their wives joined them at this point, so I didn’t get to hear any more of their discussion. But, having five brothers who groaned and moaned and mercilessly teased me about my taste in movies and books (“Are you watching ‘Anne of Stinky Stables’ again?”) I grew a thick skin. I liked what I liked and that was that.

Still, simply saying that you like something isn’t really a reason. Just ask my ten-year-old son, who has autism, and often uses, “Because I love it!” as an excuse for misbehaving. It doesn’t save him from the consequences.

So, while I do love the Regency era, why do I love it? Why have I dedicated hours upon hours in research and writing time to set a story in England and Scotland in 1813? I’ve come up with a few reasons.

  1. Different, but still the same. The Regency period is long enough ago to have some very distinct differences from the time we live in now–horses, strict social classes, very defined rules for behavior and manners–but short enough ago that the language is similar, and, thanks to Jane Austen, we know the psyche is similar as well. While there were still a lot of arranged marriages going on, the idea that you could wait and marry for love was kind of rebellious and romantic at the same time.
  2. The fashion. I don’t know what it is about cravats and morning dresses and riding habits and gloves, but it intrigues me to think about how much care was put into dressing. Perhaps it just shows that people are vain in any era. [Shrug.]
  3. Transportation. In writing, we talk about “world-building,” where the world of your book or story is a colorful, intricate backdrop for the action playing out center stage. When I read a well-written Regency novel, I can experience the thrill of being transported to a world with manners, social decorum, and balls.

There are other reasons, but I’ll stick with these big three as the main purposes for choosing to write a Regency novel.

What of you, dear readers? Why do you like Regency fiction?

 

 

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Erasing the “Romance Writer” Stigma

When you hear the phrase “romance writer,” what do you think of?

Yeah, I think we need to update that picture. Too many people formed their romance writer consciousness by authors in the ’80s and ’90s. Big hair, floral wallpaper, feather quill pens, and a fainting couch.

Smelling salts, perfumed paper, and titles like Cornered Tigress or The Musk of a Gentleman.

In a boudoir. (Shudder).

The truth is, all the writers I know–romance or no–don’t put on those types of airs. This is my writing space:

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Of course, calling it My Writing Space may be a bit too generous, as its true title is The Homework Table and it shares the spot with a typewriter, a box of clutter, and art projects in various stages of completion.

Nary a fainting couch in sight . . .

I guess my point is this: occasionally we stereotype people. Used car salesmen, kindergarten teachers, romance writers.

One of my favorite lines in a remake of Pride and Prejudice happens when Darcy, a book publisher, is having a business lunch with Elizabeth, an author. He’s basically making an offer for his publishing house to buy her book, but she is so prejudiced against him due to their previous encounters she barely gives him the time of day. He’s saying something about her book and calls it “a romance.”

Elizabeth cuts in. “It’s not a romance.”

Darcy says (in his suave British accent with slightly raised eyebrows), “It’s not a put-down, Miss Bennett; it’s a category.”

So, while I have struggled with the stereotypes in my mind, I have reached the point where I can embrace it. I love the Regency period. I love sweet romances.

And I’ll continue to write them, despite not writing with feather quill pens.

Some stereotypes are just begging to be broken.

Did you hear the great news?

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It’s kind of hard to see in this picture (and, let’s be honest, everyone would rather look at the cake, anyway), but that finger is pointing to “THE END” in my notebook.

That’s right–I finished my book!

Of course, when I say “finished my book,” what I’m really saying is, “I finished my rough draft.” This was near the beginning of this month, and as I’ve begun edits I’m realizing there’s still a L-O-N-G way to go to get this thing to the point that eyes other than mine can look at it.

However, if that’s not a reason for celebrating with chocolate cake, I don’t know what is.

Feel free to make your own chocolate cake and celebrate with me. 🙂

Scotland Chat #2.5–More Food!

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I can’t believe I didn’t post anything in October.

(Actually, I can believe it. October was crazy–but good-crazy. My mom came for a visit, and then later in the month, my friend Tami came to visit. I love visitors!)

Anyway, in our last Scotland Chat, Tami and I talked about the food in Scotland and how it’s different than the US. Here’s the other half of that conversation–and, yes, curry is mentioned.

Tami: I think, as we are here longer, we will learn more about how Scottish people eat. We eat our way still. I want to learn more about their habits and meals.

Wendy: Where do you buy your food? Mostly one store?

Tami: Big things Costco. Then either Asda, which is an offshoot of WalMart, or Tesco. And the little towns right by me have little versions of those kinds of stores, so I pick up small things there when I don’t need a lot. I can ride my bike, walk or catch a bus easily.

Wendy: Cute! I can see it in my mind’s eye. (Although I guess if I had a bike, I could go pick up stuff at the 7-11, but it just doesn’t look the same in my head . . .)

Tami: I know, right? Something about biking through the countryside to get your milk. Stores close early here, but Asda is open late. Tesco is open later than most. But still, shopping doesn’t happen after 7 or 8.

Wendy: That could be nice. It could also be annoying, especially when it’s light later at night and you lose track of time.

Tami: That is true. Now we are rapidly approaching the time of year when it will be darker earlier.

[Editor’s note: That time has now arrived (we had this chat in September).]

Wendy: So tell me about eating at restaurants. Where do you like to go best?

Tami: We have been trying a variety. As a family McDonald’s is good. Different food to some extent. Smaller portions. We get Domino’s pizza, which is fairly comparable. But we need to go back to homemade pizza.

Wendy: Are people less fat in Scotland, then? In a noticeable way?

Tami: Yes, I think so. Rare to see morbidly obese here. Not that there aren’t some, but not as many. The ideal size here is shown in the media as a bit bigger than the US, so more realistic. And I think middle age and older folks are still pleasantly plump, but not obese. I think they walk more, I think they eat smaller portions. They love sweets but I see more moderation in serving size.

Wendy: Nice. And interesting, I mean that their ideal size is better. I like that.

Tami: No Mexican take out here.

Wendy: 😦 But lots of Indian? (I learned that from Monarch of the Glen, so it may or may not be true.)

Tami: Yes. And they like curries and tandoori. I want to try more of that and learn to cook some of it.

Wendy: Phew. I was concerned it might be leading me astray on Scottish living.

Tami: Haha! Nope, seems good so far. I feel more like cooking here, could be that it’s not convenient to eat out.

Wendy: That’s good, I guess. I like cooking. I just don’t like cleaning up so much.

Tami: Chinese food we’ve eaten tastes fresher and less Amercanized.

Wendy: Cool.

Tami: There are no drive thru places. Not banks, not pharmacies. Not food. Thomas said he saw a McDonald’s drive thru but I haven’t seen it yet.

Wendy: I wonder if that shows our fast-paced, go-go-go culture. Along with stores being open later.

Tami: Yes. It does. It is very much less that way here. Slow down, take a breath. Let the person coming down the road turn in front of you. Be home with your family in the evening.

Wendy: I like that. Although I’m the first to admit, especially when I had tiny kids, it was a blessing to drive thru at the bank instead of keep them all corralled.

Tami: I know! I agree. I like the changes and I like what it is motivating me to change. But sometimes I do miss the easier way of doing things.

Wendy: I can definitely see that.

Tami: I love exploring new foods though, so it’s fun. And when you think about my list of what I miss, it’s not a big list. Things aren’t so foreign that we can’t find our own family groove here.

Wendy: “Things that I miss: Root beer, Crisco, Drive Thrus, Wendy” 😉

Tami: Yup! But maybe put Wendy above Root beer.

Wendy: Haha!

Tami: 😉

Wendy: Well, I enjoyed the chat very much. Food is one of my favorite subjects, and to have it with one of my favorite people, well, that’s just icing.

Tami: Haha! Thank you! And over time I will actually know more about Scottish food.

***
The Carsons are getting ready to experience their first Thanksgiving in Scotland. Since they don’t actually celebrate it there, they’re getting together with some American friends on Saturday and holding their own. So Happy Scottish Thanksgiving, Carson Family! Hope the food is delicious!
That wish goes double for all of my American friends: Happy Thanksgiving! Eat a piece of pie for me!

Scenes to Write–

I was able to go to a writers’ retreat a couple of weeks ago. Picture a beautiful (if frigid) setting, with the forest behind and the ocean in front.

Yes, it was just as incredible as you are imagining, but just to add some reality to the experience, here are a couple of pictures:

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I got to see dear friends from my writing group, the American Night Writers Association (ANWA), as well as meet new writers. We caught up, ate, and laughed together.

The best part is that I got a lot of writing done. I’m within spitting distance of “the end.” Like, ten scenes. Of course, that will simply finish my first draft, so there are going to be rewrites and editing after that, but having never finished anything novel-length before, I’m excited about it.

And to all you who are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)–good for you! (Even if it has taken me three years to get to this point, I don’t resent you pounding it out in a month. Much.)

Life/Writing Balance

The other day, I was looking for some dental floss. I’m not what you’d call an “avid flosser,” but I try to do it two or three times per week. I’d recently finished off a box of floss, but I was sure another one was lurking in that jumbly mess-of-a-top-bathroom-drawer. Instead of floss, I found this:

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That’s right. Toothpaste.

Tube after tube after tube of toothpaste.

It was like a clown car. They just kept coming.

And guess what–no floss was hiding in that drawer.

How is it possible I had fifteen (15!) tubes of toothpaste and not one measly box of dental floss?

It seems as though I write often about trying to fit writing into my life. I know some writers who say they do it because they can’t not write. That’s very fine for them, but I’ve discovered that’s not the way it happens for me. Yes, I can tell when I’ve spent time away from my writing, and yes, I miss it when I do. But I find it all too easy to be swallowed up in everything else in my life, so that my writing slips through the cracks.

I’m a mother and I love it. I’ve got these four incredible and exasperating children I’m in charge of. If I’m not careful, their needs can completely overwhelm me to the point of doing nothing else.

I brush my teeth every day. Without fail. Brushing is my first dental-health priority.

I try to floss two or three times a week. Some weeks I’m better at consistently flossing than others. I feel good about my dental health; it would be worse if I didn’t floss at all, right?

As a mother, I take care of my kids every day. Without fail. Motherhood is my first priority.

I only write two or three times a week, like flossing. It’s recommended daily, but it would be worse if I didn’t do it at all, surely. Yet I still manage to beat myself up over what I’m not doing.

Henceforth, I’m going to look at my life more like my dental health: do what you can, and don’t beat yourself up when you fall short of the ideal.

Now I’ve got to go and buy some floss.

Scotland Chat #2: FOOD

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Picture taken from Tami’s website, here.

Once again, I’d like to welcome the fabulous Tami Carson to my blog. This time, I picked her brain about a subject near and dear to my heart (and stomach): Food.

Wendy: So tell me about the food in Scotland.

Tami: There is food available and food they eat. In other words, what you can buy in a store and what you find in restaurants.

W: What? Food available is food from a store?

T: haha! Like what foods are available to purchase here and which are not

W: Do they call it “edible” food?

T: Oh, I see. No, those are my own special terms for food.

W: Oh, okay. Slow brain. So what types of foods are available (in stores)? And what isn’t available that you miss?

T: I miss rootbeer. I miss big bags of things like flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, I miss Crisco, the kids mentioned kool aid the other day.

W: Do they only come in small bags, then? And, if things only come in small bags, what do they sell at that there Costco you go to? 😉

T: Yes, hard to find big bags. Even Costco has smaller amounts. Or 5 small bags packaged together. There are some convenience things not here like microwave popcorn. I am pleasantly surprised by the selection of cereal, it’s plentiful and inexpensive.

W: No microwave popcorn? My parents could never move to Scotland, then. They eat a bag of microwave popcorn every night before bed.

T: They could just bring it over in suitcases. 🙂

W: You *can* make your own microwave popcorn, though. Since I imagine you didn’t take your popper due to the plug issue-thingy.

RECIPE FOR HOMEMADE MICROWAVE POPCORN

1/4 c popcorn in a paper bag (lunch size). Microwave for 2 minutes. Add butter. Voila!

T: I will have to try it. First I will have to locate popcorn. I haven’t looked.

[Post-chat edit: Tami sent me a picture of her next Costco trip, where she found popcorn–so it is available. In five little bags. (Okay, I made that part up.)]

W: Weird! Do they have popcorn at the cinema? (Please note I tried to use the proper UK term here–) (And, seriously, if they had to take it over in a suitcase it would take, like, an entire suitcase of its own . . .)

T: Yes, the cinema has popcorn but it is very different! You can get sweet or salted. And neither have much butter either. The bags are much smaller. I like the salted one, it has a mild butter flavour. Mark [Tami’s husband] likes the sweet better but doesn’t love it. Healthier I am sure!!

W: Interesting. Who knew popcorn differences could be so fascinating?

T: I know right. And you adjust I think to the flavour. Theater popcorn in the States will be a shock! Baking supply aisles are sadly lacking. Tiny containers of cocoa powder, baking soda (which is bicarbonate of soda), baking powder, etc… And flavourings are different, can’t find maple extract.

[They also spell “flavourings” differently . . . ]

W: Yikes–and I think the cocoa powder containers HERE are too small! You can only make one or two things of brownies. Speaking of healthier . . . haha!

Can you get maple syrup? I saw the recipe for Cinnamon Quick Bread on your blog and wondered about that. Do they import their syrup from Canada or the US, or do they have places where they make maple syrup in the UK?

T: They have maple syrup, pure maple syrup not Mrs. Butterworths or anything like that. Anywhere! The pure is expensive but a little less so than in the States.

W: It’s definitely better for you than the fake kinds.

T: And the containers are, again, small. We get the “big” jug at Costco and ration it and get two dinners of pancakes out of it. I want to bring back maple extract and start making our own.

W: Phew. Zack [my 13-year-old son] would have a hard time. He’s syrup-ration challenged.

T: So are my kids. And frankly, I don’t like dry pancakes. Again, we will get used to a more pure, less artificial taste in things.

W: See, I don’t care for syrup, really. We’re all about melted butter and granulated sugar at my house. Well, except for Zack. Well, Eden, too. I guess it’s just me and the little kids who like melted butter with sugar on top.

T: We may need to try that. A few of the kids have done butter and powdered sugar. “Confectioners” sugar that is.

W: Right! So if you asked for baking soda, they’d say, “You mean bicarbonate of soda?”

T: Yes they do!! And it was hard to find the first time. In general I think they use less preservatives. Thus smaller containers so that things don’t go bad. Less artificial colours and flavours.

Lamb is more common in stores, both minced and chops.

W: So . . . since I come from a sheep-herding lamb-eating family myself, how do you like it?

T: Lamb is good. Still trying it out. I put it in something once and my family didn’t even notice it. At all! But I knew in my head it was lamb so it creeped me out.

W: Hahaha! Have you tried haggis? Also . . . what is haggis exactly?

T: I haven’t. Joe [her 13-year-old son]  has. He gets it sometimes but I’ve never seen him finish. He gets it in a roll, like a sausage roll. I’ve heard rumours about the content but haven’t investigated yet. Sausage rolls are well loved in my family. An actual sausage (not ground) baked in a flaky croissant type roll.

W: Sounds delicious! What do you use for Crisco since they don’t have it? Lard?

T: Butter.

W: Haha–right. That’s better, anyway. 🙂

T: Haggis is: lamb heart and lungs, cooked in spices with oatmeal then stuffed into the stomach lining of a sheep or ox. Like a sausage.

W: Heart and lungs? Oh, dear.

T: I know. I probably won’t try it.

W: Sounds . . . tough. Chewy.

T: It’s all minced and cooked down, so it’s a similar texture to sausage.

I think, as we are here longer, we will learn more about how Scottish people eat. We eat our way still. I want to learn more about their habits and meals.

***

Haggis is a good stopping place. We chatted more about food–quite a bit more, actually–so I’m going to break it up and post it later on this week. In the meantime, enjoy visions of sweet-ish cinema popcorn, abundant cereal, and haggis rolls in your heads!