Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Not-so-fancy Dress

Costumes are great conversation starters.

“Oo, that’s so clever!”
“Love the fabric; where’d you get it?”
“Okay, I give up. What the expletive deleted are you supposed to be?”

When you venture into the world of reenacting, those friendly conversations can take a sudden and ugly shift from helpful hints about keeping your pinner apron in place to screaming debates about how long to soak metal buttons in urine in order to achieve an authentic patina.

No, I’m not kidding.

I fall on the less-hardcore end of the historical garb spectrum, mostly due to a lack of funding and closet space. While I’d certainly consider donating an extraneous organ or two for something like this:

most of the stuff in my costume closet comes straight from vintage Vogue and McCall patterns. No biggie, since my appearance isn’t that important. I spend most of my reenactment time chatting to kids who are fascinated by my spinning wheel, while their parents are giggling and taking videos of my husband as he quietly picks out Stairway to Heaven on his six-string banjo.

Hey, we’re volunteers. We get paid in smiles.

Though I haven’t done scads of research, I have learned a few things about practical wear of historical garb.

1.    Polyester petticoats look pretty, but will stick to your legs and make you sweat like a horse. Stick with cotton.
2.   Gravel pathways and cute little high-heeled shoes do not mix, unless you enjoy accenting your outfit with ACE bandages. If you have to hoof it, and your skirts are long enough, tennis shoes are your friends.
3.  Boots first, then corset.
4.  Drink lots of water, even if you’re wearing All The Layers and have to get dern near nekkid every thirty minutes just to go to the can. If your clothes are made well, they’ll absorb moisture before you even realize that you’re sweating, and you’ll dehydrate and faceplant into the dirt before you can say, “Ah declay-uh!”
5.  Don’t dunk your apron strings in the Porta-Potty.

Even if your garb is more evocative than accurate, it should make you happy. Anybody who wants to complain can go pee on their buttons. Happy Hallowe’en!

When she's not taking part in reenactments, Audrey Lintner likes to spend her time playing with her kid, spinning or knitting from her giant fiber stash, baking All The Things, and drinking coffee. When she gets ten minutes together, she'll post a new column as the Procraftinator.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dressing Down Your Novel

Clothes play a big part in most novels, especially when the genre is historical.

Researching the clothing to get it right is as important as nailing the social mores of the time period. I actually taught a History of Fashion course at a junior college when I lived in Boston, but that’s another story.

Writers have different perspectives on how to treat clothing and facial descriptions. Some prefer to limit the way a character looks and/or dresses because they’d rather have the reader’s image prevail. Others describe every part of the wardrobe, every mole on the character’s face.

I’m in between. Description for me has to mean something, convey something. Describing the clothing is synonymous with describing the character. Is the male character wearing well-worn jeans, or are the jeans pressed with a sharp crease? Is he wearing a polo shirt or a starched dress shirt with those jeans? Is his hair long and shaggy, or does he have a nice, neat trim. Beard, bristle, or clean-shaven? See? Those descriptions paint a picture of the character.

I was a fashion illustration major in college. When a friend tempted me (it wasn’t difficult) to travel to Rome, Italy, with her for a year after college, I was lucky enough to connect with the reporter who covered Rome for Women’s Wear Daily. I accompanied her to the different fashion houses of the day to draw their collections. I met Valentino, and a few others biggies, drew their clothes, and had an experience that was part Rome Adventure, part The Devil Wears Prada, and all beyond the scope of my imagination.

My association with WWD extended to the New England area when I returned home. I accompanied the different reporters who wrote the copy for all the Fairchild publications, which in addition to WWD, included  Footwear News, Men’s Wear Daily, and Home Furnishings Daily.

I’ve used my fashion experience in my stories. Tawny Dell, my high-priced call girl in Hooked, wears nothing but designer clothes because she can afford them, and she is who she is. My series character, psychic entertainer Diana Racine, wears only black and white, bright red lipstick, and sometimes a red accessory. It was her trademark when she performed, and she carries it on when she stopped performing. My male character in Murder Déjà Vu is an artisan. He wears a white T-shirt under a plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots. The clothes in all those instances define the characters in the same way the words they speak and think do. 

Shakespeare might have written the idea― “apparel oft proclaims the man”― but Mark Twain elaborated slightly in his characteristic way by saying, “Clothes make a man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Clothes might make the man, but they shouldn’t take over pages of your novel, or you might bore the reader to close your book.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trick or Treat

There have been several excellent posts here this month about costumes and dressing our characters, so I thought I would take a bit of a divergent path with my post today. 

Have you ever stopped to think that life is so much like the bag of Halloween candy that we used to get when we went out trick-or-treating? The bag would fill up with all kinds of unknown things as we dashed through the darkness going from house to house shouting, "Trick or treat."

The air was filled with electric excitement as we anticipated enjoying all the goodies that were filling our bags.

Then sometimes as we walked along the sidewalk, we'd reach into the bag and pluck something out, not really knowing what we were going to get. Maybe it would be something really scrumptious, like our favorite candy bar. Or maybe it would be just a simple piece of peppermint wrapped in plastic. Or the dreaded apple.

Life is like that.

Often we reach into each day and we don't know what we're going to pluck out. Sometimes it's something sad. A loss in our family or circle of friends. Or scary, like some of the things we see happening in the news today.

But sometimes it's something sweet and wonderful.

Like a great day at the computer when the words flow in great unending streams. And the characters talk to us. And we end our day feeling so very good about what we have accomplished.

And sometimes there's a wonderful surprise in our email box like one I received recently. I was notified that Stalking Season, the second book in my Seasons Mystery Series received top honors in the John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award for 2017 in the Police Procedural Mystery category. The cover design is also in the running for the best cover in that category, so I am doing the happy dance with my editors and my graphic artist.

The Seasons Mystery Series features two women homicide detectives in Dallas, and I do try to dress them appropriately for the job. Unlike so many women officers on television, they do not wear spike heels and blouses that barely contain their breasts. As Sarah, one of the protagonists says, "There isn't a perp alive who gives a damn what we're wearing."

Sarah's costume of choice includes jeans, a tee shirt - not too tight - and a blazer. Angel, her partner, prefers a bit more of the professional look with a suit, although she did switch from a skirt to slacks after her first day as a detective. She found it was much easier to run in slacks when chasing someone down the street.

What surprises have you found in your "bag of life" recently? Does the good candy outweigh the icky stuff? Please do share.
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Period Dress — A reflection of the times

Have you ever noticed how social attitudes, public decorum, accepted behavior, and fashion seem to go hand in hand? Consider, for example, the early Victorian era. Both men and women of class wore fancy garb. An upper class woman's gowns modestly covered her body more or less from head to toe. High collars were worn in public, and men, too, were garbed from top to bottom. (Interestingly, in the 16th century, a woman's breasts could be partly or even totally exposed, and this was the accepted norm.)

During the first part of the Victorian era, a woman's job was to manage the home for her husband, whose only domestic duty was to make the money to run the household. She must be virtuous, obedient, faithful, and devoid of any intellectual opinion or pursuit. The man, however, could have a mistress (also expected to be faithful) and/or an afternoon or evening dalliance at a man's club.

Near the end of that era, women began to come into their own; not long thereafter, we have the roaring twenties and the day of the flapper. How times had changed! The independent woman could enjoy an exciting night life in a sexy dress without  a man escorting her and without judgment from her peers. In fact, her peers were probably there with her. Speakeasies and roadsters created handy entertainment and mobility, and nobody foresaw the impending crash of '29 that ended it all. The Great Depression with its simple, basic garb and incredibly hard times brought reality back with a vengeance. The glamorous twenties were all but forgotten in the struggles to keep a roof overhead and food in the stomach.

World War II brought yet another change in dress as men headed into battle and women took over the factory jobs that kept the troops and the country running. By the end of the war, nearly 25% of married women worked outside the home, and their independence was reflected in their choice of stylish, professional clothing. Chic fashions marked the mid to late 40s as the great actresses on the silver screen donned well-designed day and evening wear as they stepped out into the world of men.

Along came the fifties and sixties and the counterculture hippie movement back to basics. Then came the rockers, the druggies, and the increasing rebellion against accepted societal norms. Protests against the Vietnam War made headlines. Values were changing. Fashions came and went until today, where we have X-rated gowns designed to barely cover minimal parts of actresses who try to outdo one another in the shock category as they walk the red carpet to some entertainment awards event. Genders have melded together so that one may not be certain whether the person they see is male or female. Social attitudes, public decorum, accepted behavior, and fashion continue to go hand in hand as trends march forward to who knows where.

What does all this have to do with writing? Everything. Whether you write historical fiction, flapper-era mysteries, 1940s romances, modern day thrillers, or something in between, your readers expect to be transported seamlessly to the time and place of your story. Your characters had better be properly attired for the ride because a significant number of those readers will know if you get it wrong.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and offers private mentoring as well. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com. Also, you can visit her at DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What Are You Wearing?

Image by Rockandbacon, via Flickr
Look at yourself right now. What are you wearing? Clothes of some sort, right? If the answer is ‘no’ well, that’s a post for a different time.

However, let us assume that there is clothing of some type draped about your form. Work clothes. Stay at home clothes. I’m not feeling well and this is comfortable clothes. Gardening clothes. Cleaning out the garage clothes…you get the picture. Clothes are the outer signs of your role for the day or night. Sleeping? Baking? Making a court appearance? There are clothes for that.

There are clothes which identify your work role. Nurse. Lab technician. Judge. Surgeon. Armed forces personnel. All clothes - not costumes.

A costume isn’t your clothes. It’s something you have to get accustomed to wearing. It’s different. It could be awkward to wear; maybe it’s long or heavy. It might be something you wear on a special occasion. Whatever it might be, it’s unusual for you to be wearing it. You’re aware of it. No one is aware of their clothes. They’re just clothes. Even those who adorn themselves in designer togs from head to foot wear them casually. If they don’t - then it’s a costume.

No one lives in costumes; not even actors. For actors, costumes are work clothes and the trick is to make, whatever form or shape the garment happens to be, be clothes. The costume is the character’s clothes. It’s normal for him/her to be dressed like that. They don’t give it a second thought.

It’s obvious when someone isn’t comfortable in their clothes. This can be a good thing for writers/actors/readers because then the questions start. Why are they uncomfortable? What are they doing that’s new or strange? Etc.

Take a look the next time you’re out and about. Who’s comfortable in their clothes? Who’s not? You may find the inspiration for your next story.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at host-party.com since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Blank Mind Cure

Image by Mark Turnauckas, via Flickr
What do you do when your mind goes blank? Don’t tell me yours never does, because if you do I won’t believe you. Here is one way I deal with that awful blank page or screen, when suddenly your mind is as empty as the screen.

Be like a boy scout: Be Prepared. If you know this will happen to you (it happens to every writer), one thing that might help is to have a prepared list of things you are interested in. Make this list when your mind is not blank, but teeming with too many subjects that interest you. What is actually on the list doesn’t matter, as long as you have an interest, and preferably a passion, for the subject. Don’t elaborate, just write them down. Then save this list!

Here’s a list I made a couple of years ago. Some of the subjects I’ve already written about, others I no longer have an interest in. But others are still fertile ground waiting for me to plow through them. If one of them interests you, I’m happy to share.

Bee-keeping. Paganism. Candle-making. Hippies of the 1960s. Growing large zucchini and making zucchini boats. Spider webs. Starting a new business. The role of grandmothers. Aromatherapy. Community softball. Bungee cord jumping and those insane enough to try it. Television sitcoms and what they show about us. Siamese cats. The psychological effects of constipation. What you can learn from Alzheimer’s victims. Square dancing for round folks. True love and what it doesn’t conquer. The long shadows of lies. How Google is eliminating wonder. The sex lives of worms.

That’s my list. What’s on yours?

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Walking the Talk: Bringing a Character to Life through Costume

I once read a free Kindle book that purported to be a novel about a woman who is kidnapped by some vaguely Middle Eastern ruffian and taken back to their homeland. There is she taken under the wing of a strong local woman who eventually helps her to return to her home. I know that there are very good books being self-published, but this one did not fit into that category. The oddly named characters (an Arab name that translated to “zucchini,” for example), the blatant stereotyping, and the clunky use of odd spelling and word order to denote a foreign language were distracting, but the book did not become laughable until the author attempted to portray the protagonist walking around in African/Middle Eastern garb. It was painfully obvious that the writer had no idea not only what the clothing should consist of, but what it would be like to move around and function in it on a daily basis.

Being a Muslim woman who wears Islamic clothing when I go out, the deficiencies in the book were glaringly obvious. Not only did the author not take the time to learn the correct terms for various garments, she obviously had no understanding of how they were worn, how they affected movement, or what it felt like to actually wear them. If she had taken the time to do any of these three things, her portrayal of her female characters would have been stronger.

1: Read accounts of people wearing similar clothing. There are many articles and YouTube videos about non-Muslim women putting on hijab and going out in order to truly understand what it is like.

2: Talk to Muslim women and get their insight and perspective on wearing the hijab.

3: Do some research and then wear the clothing herself, experiencing first-hand what it is like.

This is true of any character we are writing about. For example, I have no idea what it would be like to wear a women’s business suit and high heels around all day. In order to write a believable portrayal of a women who did this, I would have to do more than use my imagination to flesh her out.

When I was active in theatre, I loved the world of costuming. The research was fascinating, but seeing how the costumes actually looked and worked once the actors put them on was always an eye-opener. It went beyond that though- sure, the actors could do incredible work in rehearsals without costumes, but once the clothing was added everything ratcheted up a notch. Noblemen straightened their shoulders even further and the limping gait of the beggar gave life to the character. Clothing does not make the person, but in many ways it does define us, and establishes parameters as to how we interact in our environment, both physical and societal.

Writing a book is, of course, different from acting in a play. However, a whole new layer of truth and depth can be obtained when we authors take the time to not only carefully choose our character’s clothing, but to understand that what she wears will not only tell us about her, but will affect how she is able to function in her role, and how others perceive her.

Khadijah Lacina lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dressing Your Characters

October and Halloween are the season where anyone, young or old, can play dress up. We love selecting our favorite characters, time periods, monsters, or fantasy heroes. From wigs and rags to elaborate makeup, our imaginations can run wild.

In world building, whether you have chosen a specific historical period, a contemporary city,  a futuristic planet, or a fantasy world, part of the fun is researching or inventing costumes.

In the latest edition of my Story Building Blocks series, the Build A World Workbook, I devote an entire section to questions about apparel with lists of resources.

To get started, here are a few basic questions:

1. What were common clothing items: for men, women, children, or the elderly?

2. Do they have uniforms? Why and for what purposes? What do they look like?

3. Do clothing items indicate status, position, or their role in society?

4. Does clothing have religious connotations?

5. What were the popular styles and color palettes? What colors were possible? Did they have plant dyes or chemical dyes?

6. Did they have shoes or other footwear? What materials were they made of?

7. Did they have natural fibers (hemp, flax, cotton) or synthetic materials?

8. How were clothes fastened? Did they have metals to make snaps or zippers?

9. Did they have hats, gloves, capes, jewelry, purses, pouches or other fashion fads?

10. How did they feel about nudity? How much skin was exposed? What about undergarments?

There are so many wonderful resources in libraries and on the internet to explore for historical clothing. When building a Fantasy or Science Fiction world, the only limit is your imagination.

For more information about dressing your characters, pick up a copy of the Build A World Workbook available in print and e-book versions.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.