Saturday, January 23, 2016

Broadway Con!!!





Not only was yesterday, the 22nd, my birthday, but it was also the first day of the very first BroadwayCon! My friend Jess pointed out that last year, the week of her birthday, we went to Elsie Fest, so the fact that BroadwayCon was on the weekend of my birthday was fortuitous.

We got day passes for Friday only, which was plenty fine because we saw and heard a lot! Plus, there's a blizzard hitting us this weekend as well.

We arrived at the Hilton Midtown Hotel, where this "Comic Con for Broadway nerds" is being held on two floors of conference rooms, at 9 am, where we joined the back of a snaking line for check-in. Check-in went quickly once we got to the booth and we both received bright yellow swag bags, which included a Playbill for the entire weekend, a Sharpie, a pen, a sticker, some sponsors' advertisements, and we received badges!

If I qualify at all as a musical theater nerd, it's a combo of loving storytelling, memorizing lyrics quickly for some freakish reason, being a tad overdramatic, and going to college with a group of theater majors. 

Writing is show business for shy people :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Update + WWI Poetry

I haven't been on my computer very much lately because the stupid thing has reached its expiration date. The hinge is broken, so the screen is trying desperately to detach, the spacebar sticks (makes it so hard to type properly), and now the battery is dead and won't recharge!

C'est la machinery! It's okay, guys. Everything's backed up and there will be a new computer on the horizon quite soon. I'm holding off on actual writing until then.

I just finished reading a collection of WWI letters called Letters From a Lost Generation: First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends. If you're at all interested in World War One, you must read this. I'll post more in depth about Vera Brittain when I've finished Testament of Youth, her memoir, but in short, Vera was a literary-minded young woman with a younger brother, Edward. Vera fell in love with Edward's school friend Roland Leighton and the two became engaged. Vera also was friends with two more of Edward's friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. All of the men died in the war. Vera was a V.A.D nurse during the war.

Because it's a collection of letters, you get to read these peoples' voices in their writing. Their personalities shine through. It reminded me a great deal of the book I read a few years on Tolkien and his time in the war.

But anyway. Vera was something of a poet and so was Roland. So here are some of their poems:





Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Reynolds Pamphlet: Part 2

It's 1796. Alexander Hamilton has resigned from his post of Treasury Secretary to return to practicing law in New York City. He is still involved in public life, still writing long essays against Jefferson under pseudonyms, including one where he hinted very broadly about Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

Then in 1797, he comes across a pamphlet called A History of the United States for the Year 1796.

In this, James T. Callender, trashy pamphleteer extraordinaire, repeated the allegations that Hamilton was speculating, that Reynolds was an agent of his and that's why Reynolds was paid off, by using the documents from the night in December 1792 when Hamilton was confronted by Monroe, Muhlenberg, and Venable. Yeah. Callender printed some of the letters Hamilton handed over.

Hamilton was furious. Hamilton first wrote to these men to ascertain that they didn't give this information to Callender. Muhlenberg and Venable replied quickly, saying no, they kept the information confidential.

Monroe? Nope.

James Monroe, 5th President of the U.S.

At first, Monroe denied that he gave the letters to anyone. Hamilton called him a liar. Monroe called Hamilton a scoundrel. They continued exchanging a lengthy round of angry letters that nearly resulted in a duel. In fact, there were several challenges to duels in this back-and-forth.

Who quelled this angry exchange, preventing our first Treasury Secretary and our fifth president from shooting each other? Aaron Burr.

Of course, a few years later, Burr shot Hamilton in a duel. Men. Anyway.

Hamilton felt that the only way to clear his name was to give his own account of his actions. Also, he could never let an argument lapse. He thought that any impugnment of his honor as treasury secretary would damage not only his Federalist party, but the financial systems he'd put into place.

He published a 95-page pamphlet called Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V and VI of the 'History of the United States for the year 1796', in which the charge of speculation against Alexander Hamilton, late Secretary of the Treasury, is fully refuted. Written by Himself.

We call it the Reynolds Pamphlet.




In the pamphlet, Hamilton wrote about the affair in a lot of detail--this is 1797, so this is lurid reading. He talks about conducting said affair in the Hamilton family home. He talks about encouraging his wife Eliza to stay in Albany with her family while he was philandering in Philadelphia. He talks about how he thinks Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds were both in on the blackmail.

Nobody really thought publishing this was a good idea. It was America's first political sex scandal and it prevented Hamilton from holding another political office. 

And people think the 18th century was so dainty and proper. 


Oh, and as an epilogue to this whole drama: years and years later, Eliza Hamilton--Alexander's wife--who outlived him by fifty years--was living with her daughter in Washington, D.C. One day in the 1820s, James Monroe visited. Eliza received his calling card and asked, "Why has that man come to see me for?"

She went into the parlor, didn't invite Monroe to sit down. Monroe said something to the effect of time softening influences, they were nearing the grave, they should forgive past differences...

To which Eliza answered: "Mr. Monroe, if you have come to tell me that you repent, that you are sorry, very sorry, for the misrepresentations and the slanders and the stories you circulated against my dear husband, if you have come to say this, I understand it. But otherwise, no lapse of time, no nearness to the grave, makes any difference.”

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Reynolds Pamphlet (Have You Read This?): Part 1

One of my favorite songs in Hamilton comes in the second act. It's called "The Reynolds Pamphlet."

Thomas Jefferson sings, "Well, he never gon' be President now."

It also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the biography on which the show is based, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow because it's so ridiculous.



Alexander Hamilton was the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. He is not only on the ten dollar bill...he created our entire financial system. The reason Wall Street is Wall Street is because of Hamilton. Our currency is due to him. All of these complicated financial and economic things that my hopelessly math-stupid brain can't comprehend are due to Hamilton.

But.

Hamilton was also a loudmouth. He didn't know when to stop. And he was painted, at least by his enemies, as a licentious man, this upstart immigrant who wanted to strengthen the federal government and executive power because they alleged that he was in love with the English system of government and wanted to create a monarchial system in America.

Hamilton was one of Washington's top aides in the Revolution, commanded a battalion, fought at Yorktown, represented New York in the Constitutional Convention, was an abolitionist, wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers which defended the not-yet-ratified Constitution, and was concerned about the Democratic-Republican faction (led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), who were for States' Rights and in love with the French Revolution... even as it devolved into guillotines, regicide, and the Reign of Terror.

But.

Hamilton had a long affair during his time as Treasury Secretary. Maria Reynolds was the woman's name and her husband, James Reynolds, used the affair as a way to blackmail Hamilton. Hamilton, who was married with four or five kids at the time, not to mention a government official, paid Reynolds the hush money. This was in 1791 and 1792.

Hamilton eventually paid Reynolds a total of $1,000. In 1793 money. That's a lot of money!

Reynolds was jailed for speculating; of course, knowing he could get Hamilton into a lot of trouble, he used that. Hamilton was being investigated for being associated with William Duer, a New York man who speculated in buying up American debt to France and then went bankrupt---Hamilton's ideas for stocks, exchanges, and securities was still deeply suspicious to a lot of people.

When James Monroe and Congressmen Muhlenberg and Venable got wind that the Treasury Secretary may have misappropriated funds and that Reynolds may have been associated with Hamilton, they confronted him one night in December 1792. Had he been embezzling government money? Had he been participating in improper speculation?


Nope, Hamilton said. He revealed that he'd had an affair with Maria Reynolds and the money he paid the husband was to keep the affair under wraps. It wasn't government money. He wasn't speculating. He even turned over the love letters Maria wrote. Muhlenberg, Venable, and Monroe swore never to tell anyone and cleared Hamilton of any charges of speculation.

But James Monroe gave some of these papers to a clerk to copy. The clerk told Jefferson about what he'd read in the papers.

And Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other. Despised each other.

Also, today, January 9th is Alexander Hamilton's birthday.

So. To be continued.



Thursday, January 7, 2016

White Light by Anna Simpson

Today we have a special guest on the blog. Anna Simpson, who is known on the Internet as Emaginette, has released her new book White Light. Here, she tells us what her top ten challenges of writing White Light were.
Thanks for having me here today, Michelle.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I could come up with ten things, but it didn’t take long to get into the mind set. This is a cozy, gall darn it. The most inspiring fun of all.
Here were my challenges:
1.     The personal challenge of writing a mystery – Like all stories, there are rules I needed to follow. I slipped a little when I added Great-Aunt Alice, but I couldn’t help it.
2.     Hiding the clues – I’m not sure if I should get into it but slipping those clues in so they don’t have a blinking sign above them wasn’t easy. 
3.     Making the people laugh – The one thing that all cozies need are a sense of humor. Heck, until my editor told me, I thought I’d need to hire a comedy writer.
4.     Ghost, who doesn’t love ghosts – okay not everyone. I’ll let that slide. J
5.     Romance – I always like to add just a little to make it fun. What’s life without it?
6.     Yelling at the police – My biggest dream come true. Most of the time the police scare me. I always think I’ve been caught doing something wrong. For the record, I follow laws that haven’t been written yet. It was nice to vent all over Benny the bully.
7.     Getting in crazy situations – This was so much fun. I admit, I laughed pretty hard myself when I got all evil and in their faces. This cast of characters took it in stride.
8.     Writing about small town living – Here I got a little real, then stretched it. I live in a small town and would love to have some mystery hunters living next door. I’d buy some binoculars and turn off the television.
9.     Catching the bad guy – This was hard for me to do. Not because I don’t believe in justice but because I wanted them to be too smart for their own good. I think I did okay.
10. Being a hero – Anyone can be a hero. My most favorite part of this story. 
The power of the writer is strong. What fun do you have when playing with different scenarios? What makes you belly laugh at your character’s antics?
WhiteLight_AnnaSimpson_cover_453x680   

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Emma never dreamed of being a super-sleuth. In her mind, she’s more Scooby Doo than Nancy Drew and when her nosy neighbor, Mrs. Perkins, drags her to an anniversary party to solve a mystery, she rolls her eyes, buys a box of chocolates and hops in the car.
What’s a party without an attack on its host—or more accurately on the host’s grandson, sparking an allergic reaction and moving the party to the hospital waiting room. Suddenly, everyone is a suspect. Emma and Mrs. Perkins, along with Great Aunt Alice (a spirit with boundary issues who keeps stepping into Emma’s body like a new dress and playing matchmaker), dive into an investigation that almost gets Emma killed along with the man they are trying to protect. With so many reasons to kill him and so much to be gained if he died, Emma and Mrs. Perkins must unravel the tenuous ties that point to every member of his family as potential killers.
Even if it means going back to the psych ward, Emma will protect her friend and this innocent man. What good is freedom if it’s haunted with guilt?

To Purchase:

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Excerpt:

To stay free, I perform a ritual every morning. It begins with stepping outside, where dawn streams through the leafy branches of my maple tree, landing, shifting, and dancing on the flowerbeds at my bare feet. A steaming cup of coffee warms my hands. The fragrant air fills my lungs. I sip, leaving the liquid on my tongue to capture a moment of rich goodness.
My name is Emma, and I need to stay grounded and calm. It’s important for my health, so I walk along the fence and let the cool blades of grass tickle my toes and dewdrops cling to my skin. For fun, I kick a ball of dandelion fluff. Little parachutes take flight catching the same breeze moving the leaves above my head. The seeds float up, and up, over the fence to land on Mrs. Perkins’ perfectly tended lawn. Not a dandelion or mat of moss to be seen.
In a half acre of green sits one flowerbed, brimming with Lily of the Valley. I remember the first time I saw them over fifteen years ago. The delicate white bells could only be fairy hats. Today, the round base of cemented river stone is still full of waxy green spear tips. I don’t see fairy hats anymore. No, now I enjoy the effects of nature—its simple perfection.
Mrs. Perkins does it best. In fact, everything around Mrs. Perkins is perfectly cared for—her home, her yard, her car—all perfect.
But not today. A dark line sits between the jamb and the edge of the door.
A few inches of shadow drives my calm away and prickles the long blonde hairs at the nape of my neck. Butterflies in my stomach tell, no scratch that, demand I find my phone and go next door.
Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not a snoop.
Mrs. Perkins, a wiry old bird, did everything herself. I’m not sure if it is because she’s the independent sort or if she has no one else to help her. Either way, when she suggested we watch out for one another, I agreed.
I’m also alone. It doesn’t bother me unless I catch the flu or something. Then I wonder if I will die and no one will notice. It’s a thought, or fear, I can’t shake. Mrs. Perkins’ house has my full attention, and within it sits the same worry. I’ll check on her because she would do the same for me.
I crash into my kitchen, slopping my coffee onto the counter as I slam the mug down. My phone could be anywhere. My gaze travels from the pine tabletop to the gray marble counter. It’s not here. I push through the swinging door to the living area, run my fingertips between the couch and chair cushions, scan the smoked-glass coffee table through my veil of long blonde hair, and sneak a peek under my overturned book on the throw rug. Desperate, I check around the bowl by the door where I toss my keys as I pass the spiral staircase to the loft. Still nothing.
Down the short hallway, I rush to my bedroom. I tug the midnight blue duvet off the bed and shake it. My pulse speeds up as something thuds on to the carpet. I pick up my smartphone and check the battery. Half power.
Excellent. I dash through my front door, across the lawn and unlatch Mrs. Perkins’ white picket gate. Her shiny yellow front door looks as solid as stone. I follow her path to the back wondering if danger lurks.
I gasp as I near the door. It’s like living a moment in a crime drama. I mimic what I have watched on television and bring up my phone to take a picture. Inching forward, heart pounding, I wonder if poor Mrs. Perkins is sprawled out on the bathroom floor, from a stroke, heart attack, or a butcher knife.
Don’t worry, Mrs. Perkins. I’m coming.
I pull my cotton sleeve over my hand and push the door wider. Her kitchen looks untouched as if it’s sterilized or newly installed. Tiles cool my bare feet with each step. Fear scratches at my nerves, “Mrs. Perkins? It’s Emma from next door. Are you okay?”
Silence.
I raise the phone to call for help.
A small sound carries from deeper in the house. I should stop, leave, and make the call.
Following the sound might be dangerous or, worse, plain stupid. And I’m scared. So scared, my breathing is all I hear over the pounding of my heart. I’d look stupid if I’m wrong. Ravenglass Lake is so small-townsville, and Benny the bully is like no cop I’ve ever met. He would be no help. Worst of all, they’d call me crazy for sure. I slip the phone back into my denim pocket, quietly open her knife drawer, and pull out a meat cleaver. Armed, I creep forward.
Thank goodness Mrs. Perkins likes an open airy room. Evil housebreakers have nowhere to hide in the dining room.
A small thump like a cat landing on carpet makes me jump. But Mrs. Perkins doesn’t have a cat…or carpet—only allergies.
I tighten my grip on the cleaver as I stick my head into the living room. All is quiet and undisturbed. I enter the corridor to the front door. To my right are stairs to the upper floor. Farther ahead is a hall closet and nook where she keeps a desk and a small bookcase. Nothing seems touched.
I glance up at the glittery ceiling, swallow, and pull my phone from my pocket. The sensible thing is to dial 911. I sidestep for the front door, but in my mind’s eye Mrs. Perkins, wiry but frail, shakes her head. Her arm outstretched urging me not to leave.
Thump, I freeze. The noise is right beside me coming from the hall closet.
Without thinking, I open the door and find Mrs. Perkins tied up with duct tape across her lips. Her green eyes, round and unblinking, grow wide, and her usual perfect curls are mussed. I drop the cleaver. It clatters on the floor, and I pull the tape free. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

IWSG: 2016!


This is the first IWSG post of 2016! We post about our writing insecurities every first Wednesday of the month, following our leader Alex J. Cavanaugh. This month's co-hosts are G. Keltner, Denise Covey, Sheri Larsen, J.Q. Rose, Chemist Ken, Michelle Wallace.


It's 2016 and I am determined to be less insecure about writing this year. 

I mean, last year, I published a novella and people I don't know have definitely bought it. It hasn't been talked about as being the worst thing people have ever read, which is comforting.

This year, I'll be participating in Randi Lee's Turning Points anthology and I have a novel idea that I'd like to get back into after being quite distracted from it. And I think I'd like to write another novella. I never thought I'd say it, but I've actually enjoyed writing short-ish works; it kind of suits my somewhat minimalist descriptive style.

But there are three things I'm insecure about:

1. Machinery. My laptop is getting up there in age--and although all the programs have been updated and I recently did a full-system backup and everything completely works perfectly--my screen is trying desperately to divorce itself from the hinge. This, as you can imagine, gives computer time a new and metallically crunchy-sounding edge.

2. Blogger. I started on Blogger almost 7 years ago and it's been fine (Seriously?! It's been almost 7 years!) Lately, I've noticed that when I'm drafting a new post, the cursor does odd things and the browser doesn't let me scroll up and down as easily. Annoying. Anybody know if I can move this thing completely over to Wordpress or why Blogger is acting a little strange?

3. Blogging ideas. In 2015, I definitely felt like I was running out of ideas to blog about--a sensation I've not experienced in the years before. I had plenty to blog about--my first foray into self-publishing, new story ideas involving new research and anecdotes, a few real life adventures--but I didn't want to blog about my writing process anymore. It's too navel-gazy. I've always thought of my fiction and blogging as two writing entities.

So I started asking around for guest bloggers and that's worked out really nicely. I'm enjoying the different varieties of work, different perspectives and advice, and, hopefully, even trying to get creative friends to come on and tell us about their non-writing creative pursuits.

In fact, tomorrow, there will be a guest post by Anna Simpson. Do check it out!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Top Ten Favorite Historical Period Films


I recently watched Testament of Youth and realized that it definitely hits my top ten favorite movies list. And then I began thinking of other historical period-set films that hit my top ten list. And then I wanted to post about historical fiction because that's how I roll and couldn't think of a related topic I hadn't already pedantically covered at some other point. And then I made this list. It's not in any particular order, but here you go.


Shakespeare in Love: I saw this movie around the time we started studying Romeo and Juliet in high school, I think. Of course, I already knew the basic story and the very basics of Shakespeare's life by this point; soon after, I went into my Tudors-obsessive phase. Shakespeare in Love is the very fictional story of William Shakespeare, playwright, actor, and currently suffering from writer's block. He's beginning work on a new play when Viola de Lesseps disguises herself as a man to audition--and the two fall in love. It's a dramatic comedic love story with a lot of jokes and allusions to Shakespeare's work.


Titanic: Look, there's nothing as rabid as a 12-year-old girl's love. And even now, I have to count Titanic in this list because anytime I stumble across it on cable, I'm still swept away by this utterly improbable love story surrounded by the quite historically accurate tragedy of the great ship sinking on her maiden voyage. Also--I still maintain that Rose could've made room on that door for Jack.


Bright Star: This is a delicate, small film with a great love story at the center--that of the real life relationship between English Romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Many of Keats' letters to Fanny are featured here and this movie made me go and read Keats' poetry. Sadly, John Keats died young from tuberculosis. Fanny Brawne went on to marry and have children, but she never sold the letters Keats wrote to her.


Testament of Youth: This is a quiet but powerful movie. Based on the memoir Testament of Youth by English writer Vera Brittain, the film begins with the young Vera Brittain determined to study for and enter Oxford--something women didn't necessarily do in Edwardian times. Her closest friend is her younger brother Edward; Edward, in turn, is close friends with Victor and Roland. Roland is an amateur poet, as is Vera, and the two find a connection in one another. Vera gets in to Somerville College at Oxford and Roland is also Oxford-bound. But as they fall in love hard and fast, World War I begins and Roland enlists. Then Edward enlists. Then Victor enlists. And Vera no longer feels like she can simply continue on in her studies and becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.

Becoming Jane: Like Shakespeare in Love, Becoming Jane is another fictional story about a famous author. Jane Austen is portrayed as a slightly absent-minded but strong young woman, a little out of step in her society, when the worldly Thomas Lefroy appears. In real life, Jane and Tom seem to have had something romantic occur, though it did not go to the extent in the film. Still, what's a little inaccuracy when compared to James McAvoy?

The Painted Veil: This is a movie about a self-centered society girl who marries a nerdy bacteriologist who works in Shanghai in the 1920s. Their marriage is not happy--there's an affair, a threat of divorce on the grounds of adultery, and a move to an inland Chinese village where Walter helps to combat a cholera epidemic.

Jane Eyre: Even before seeing this or reading the novel, I knew that Rochester was a Byronic hero, Jane Eyre had a tragic backstory, and there was a wife in the attic. When I saw the movie, I was surprised at the depth of it--and the bleak but beautiful atmosphere of the moors.


Amazing Grace: Before I saw this movie, I knew approximately zero about William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament in the late 18th century who proposed, again and again, that Britain abolish slavery. I can't say that this movie actually makes it into my top ten, but it is a very good representation of the work it took to get the abolition movement going.

The Notebook: Look, I'm a sap, okay? It's not well-known. But anyway, yes, the tale of Noah and Allie in the 1930s and then the 1940s is a hugely sappy love story. But the 1940s fashion gives it a different vintage and the modern day story adds a different aspect to this movie.

The New World: I went through a Pocahontas phase when I was about 12. I was all about Williamsburg and Jamestown then, so much so that I was really excited when this movie was released nearly a decade later. A live action motion picture about Pocahontas! Finally, a movie about the first English settlement in America revolving around the famous Native American woman who dealt with them. Although the movie features an inordinate amount of voiceover, the visuals were gorgeous--it really gives you a sense of the "untouched" natural setting of 17th century Virginia--and the acting was amazing. Plus, it's far more factually accurate to Pocahontas' story than the Disney version.