Dressing and Undressing My Characters

A funny thing has happened in terms of my historical setting.

From the last Carsington book (Last Night’s Scandal) on, I’ve been setting my stories in the 1830s, when clothes looked very, very different from those we associate with the Regency era and Pride and Prejudice. Below are a few fashion plates displaying the vertical style of the Regency.

Many people find 1830s styles ridiculous, even hideous, but I love them because they are so flamboyant and inventive and over-the-top. I especially love this era’s fashion because it’s so complicated to put on and take off, which makes for interesting intimate scenes between hero and heroine.

Mainly we see historical dress in fashion plates, where it does look cartoonish, as fashion plates tend to do. Then as now, the images are stylized. For instance, the pelerines and canazous look like stiff white capes jutting out over the dresses’ enormous sleeves. The images below are from the Los Angeles Public Library Casey Fashion Plates collection.

We can get a better sense of the clothing in portraits, like this one. But in portraits, people are posed. The fabric may drape beautifully, but everything is frozen.

Images in museums show the clothing on mannequins, often headless. Sometimes there’s no mannequin, only the dress. Rarely do we see an entire ensemble.

So imagine my excitement recently to discover, thanks to author Susan Holloway Scott, that a group of historical dressmakers and re-enactors have turned their dressmaking skills to recreating 1830s fashions. I can tell you it’s already made a difference in how I’ve handled the most recent occasion of the hero getting his hands on the heroine.

In case you were curious about 1830s corsets, here’s a video.

This blog post deals with making and adorning an 1830s dress.

A group of talented dressmakers invade the Dickens Fair in 1830s fashions.

Let’s not forget headwear.

And this 1833 dress is from about time of my Difficult Dukes series.


Looking Toward the New Year

This was a tricky year, professionally, as my last couple of blog posts have indicated. Since my life revolves around my writing (to the detriment of my housekeeping, among other things) and since I had an extremely recalcitrant book on my hands (exactly like its hero and heroine, surprise, surprise) there was a lot of growling and stomping around and swearing, 19th, 20th, and 21st century style (what can I say, I’m a multi-century curser). Also tears. What else do you do but weep, when you can’t actually strangle your characters?

On the other hand, I have you, patient you, and the many kind messages of support and encouragement you’ve sent in response to my posts.

Yes, the book, as previously reported, at last seems to be finding its way.

While the next scene percolates, let me tell you a little about the lurcher in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Some years ago, a friend kindly invited us to join her in Tuscany at a gorgeous place called Col di Lavacchio. It was there, on that first of what turned out to be several visits, I met Finty. She was the first lurcher as well as one of the finer dogs I have ever personally encountered. When I was writing A Duke in Shining Armor, she just popped into my head, and the scene came to life. I changed her sex and named her Cato, because I am the author and can do things like that.

in the photo she is with the beautiful Gilli, whom I also met on that trip. A passionate animal lover, Gilli won’t mind my mentioning both her and the dog’s wonderfulness in the same sentence.

The winter solstice is past, and little by little, the days will grow longer. I leave you with a summer night in Tuscany and a full moon, and wishes that your 2019 will bring you memorable times in books and for real, and the good health to enjoy them.

And let us hope the New Year will bring the world some badly needed peace, love, and understanding, too.

Endings and Revivals in the Blog Department

Harry Willson Watrous, Just a Couple of Girls circa 1915,

As many of you are now aware, Susan Holloway Scott and I have decided to write “The End” on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog. The blog brought us many delights and benefits. Among other things, we got to meet virtually and in person a great many more history lovers than we ever dreamt was possible, made contact with historians and historical bloggers worldwide—many of whom welcomed us into their libraries, museums, and historic houses—and, of course, discovered tidbits we put to work in our books. But the blog also took time, and as the years passed, the demands of our main job—our novels—were increasing. Clearly, something had to give, if we wanted to give proper attention to our writing careers.

It feels good to get the time back, yet it’s sad, too, to say goodbye to a project that was so much fun for both of us, and whose support from readers was beyond what we’d ever imagined.

The good news is, you will get to see interesting and amusing, (I hope) historical nerdiness here, direct from my website, and more posts in general, though never enough to flood your inbox. As one who spends far too much time hitting the email Delete button, I am sensitive to this.

But while you may get Loretta Chase blog posts a little more often than before, I shall aim to offer more amusement as well as more substance. Along with new stuff, you can expect some enhanced editions of blogs from the 2NHG archives. I’ve done this occasionally in the past, and it gives me a chance to offer more pictures, among other things.

But mainly, one hopes, saying Goodbye to 2NHG means saying Hello to shorter times between my books.

Me & William Smith, the man whose map changed the world. His work was one of the inspirations for Miss Wonderful.

Oh, and one more thing: Please consider this a fresh opportunity to ask some of those questions that arise when you’re reading my books. Like, What’s a ticket porter? How could an English couple get married in somebody’s house instead of in church? What on earth is a pelerine and why would anybody want to wear one? Why the lurcher? If your enquiring mind wants to know, please use the email form and send me your question.

Difficult Dukes #2 is Recovering from Its Sulks

Willems, Florent Joseph Marie, The Important Response 19th C.jpg

A few readers have contacted me recently, to ask about the second Difficult Dukes book. Those who subscribe to this blog may remember a plaintive post last spring, wherein I lamented the book’s refusal to cooperate with its author.

Matters did not improve.The Duke of Ashmont’s story did not proceed smoothly during the summer and early fall. Oh, I managed to write the first quarter of the book, and there were some good scenes, but something was off. I had no idea what it was, only that every new scene, instead of bubbling up naturally as a result of the scene before, had to be dug out in bits and pieces. And then it still looked ... off.

Here is the thing you learn after 30+ years’ writing professionally: When this kind of creative slowdown goes on for so long, something essential is wrong.

In my case, since what’s essential in my stories is character, it’s always the protagonists who are displeased with my take on their behavior. Unfortunately, they do not offer helpful suggestions or even clues. Instead, they sulk like the immature things they are (thanks to me) until I figure them out.

If I’d written them correctly in the first place, they would be mature and therefore would not sulk and everything would move along at a reasonable speed, always allowing for the periodic, “OK, what happens now?” And as to that, I do have a story arc in mind, but each scene needs to evolve naturally from what went on before. This means the specifics aren’t clear until I get there. And scenes don’t ring true if I don’t truly understand the characters, because the lack of understanding causes them to behave in ways that are not true to them.

Finally, after a series of consultations with my professional team—no, we couldn’t pinpoint the problem immediately; it took some work—we narrowed things down to the heroine. It finally became clear that she had two different personalities going at the same time, and one was wrong. No wonder she was furious with me.

I gave myself a dope slap, went back and revised all the scenes (yes, from page one) ... and lo and behold, the story came alive. At last. At any rate, the hero and heroine seem to have stopped hating me.

Behold me now, chastened, but with confidence restored. I shall do my very best to get this book finished in time for a 2019 publication date. Can’t promise that will happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

International Editions from Japan and Romania

One or two of my publishers abroad use the same covers as my U.S. editions. For the most part, however, the various publishers go their own way. Titles change, and the cover art shows a wide variety of aesthetics. Some covers are steamier than others. Some look more modern, some go for a period look, in an array of time periods. Though all my recent books have been set in the 1830s, cover heroes and heroines have been dressed in clothing from the 1700s to the present day. This is the case for my U.S. covers as well, where the clothing is more modern.

I provide as historically accurate a story as I can inside, but the cover needs to appeal to the majority of readers. Many people would not find the actual clothing of my chosen historical period even slightly attractive, let alone sexy. You probably have to be a major fashion history nerd to love it and what it tells us about people of the time. And not all fashion history nerds are crazy about it, either.

But that’s history nerds and the inside of the books. Publishers everywhere are out there to sell books, and international publishers see their job the same way my U.S. publishers do: What’s going to appeal to their readers?

Here we have the Japanese edition of Dukes Prefer Blondes, and the Romanian edition of Don’t Tempt Me.* For comparison, below are other international editions of these books.

*Special thanks to Cristina Radu, for sending the cover art for the Romanian edition of Don’t Tempt Me. Ms. Radu has translated this book as well as Not Quite a Lady and Scandal Wears Satin into Romanian.

Top Row: (Brazil) Dukes Prefer Blondes, (Germany) Dukes Prefer Blondes, (France) Don’t Tempt Me, (Italy) Don’t Tempt Me, (Spain) Don’t Tempt Me