Sewing called on account of darkness. My dining room lights are good enough that I can work on white cloth without daylight. They aren’t good enough to let me work on seriously saturated fuchsia silk that wants to slide off of itself.

The bustled petticoat is done save for adjusting the length of the wires. I’ll finish the underskirt will be done save for the hem tomorrow morning.

I’ve been drooling over M.K. Hobson ‘s Victorian gowns since she made the first one.  I have two events coming up at which I could dress up.  I have two weeks left.  This is my goal, taken from an 1886 fashion plate:

I am INSANE.

The progress thus far has been weird to say the least.  First was the hunt for the basic dress fabric.  That took three days or so as I dithered around.  Then I walked into Fabric Depot with the above accused Ms. Hobson and found 13 yards of deep fuchsia real silk on sale in the discount bin in under 20 minutes.  Getting the notions together took longer, and we were done and home in the fabric-hunting equivalent of nothing flat.

I set off into making the petticoat as a warm up, and spent two days swearing as I made one rookie mistake after the other.  It went like this – buy fabric, realize it’s narrower than the bolt end said.  Return fabric.  Hunt for new fabric, find nothing suitable at JoAnn’s.  A day of hunting later, found far better fabric at Fabric Warehouse in Beaverton.

Fail to read instructions for the basic wired-for-bustle petticoat correctly, rip out first four seams.  Read directions twice.   Got out a cover sheet so I could only see one instruction line at a time so that I wouldn’t foul up again.  Followed the directions successfully to the end, felt quite proud about it, and discovered as I shook it out that I’ve sewn the bottom tier to the top tier INSIDE OUT.  The seam edges, fortunately, are selvage, and it’s going to be underneath my skirts.  They’re just going to stay where they are.  Once I insert the wires and hand tack the channels closed, I’ll go on the to ruffled overlay that keeps any wire-bumps from showing through the skirt.

Tonight I’m going to do the measurements for the bodice (properly, I’m going to put on corset and petticoat and be measure by some poor sucker I impose upon).  Tomorrow I will attempt to mock up the bodice in muslin, try it on, and buy individually sized lengths of boning (Fabric Warehouse ladies are wonderful).  That night or the next morning I will cut the silk and lining for the bodice in time for Ms. Hobson to arrive in all her experienced magnificetude to help me with actually constructing said bodice.

Wish me luck.

 

Somewhere, in one of her carefully preserved files, my mother has the first story I ever wrote. I was six. It’s written in crayon on one of those weirdly-sized pale vanilla sheets with the upper half blank for illustration and the lower half lined in blue and pink, dotted lines dividing up the space so that beginners have guides for letter height.  It’s been through 5 cross-country moves, packed up with more traditionally important documents like birth certificates and shot records.

The fact that I made up a story didn’t surprise my parents at all.  I loved stories so much I made up stories about illustrations before I could read at all.  The fact that the story was about ponies was a no-brainer. I’d been staring at and trying to heist my brother’s Breyer model for as long as I’d been seeing it on the top shelf in his room.  The ponies for the illustration were fantastically loud colors straight out of Crayloa’s super-sized 100 jillion colors box, but that didn’t make them pause.  What made that decidedly-six-year-old effort a keeper was that by dint of working like hell I had been able to write it down without a single mistake.

Mom spotted dyslexia in me virtually the first time I was presented with reading and writing.

Certain fonts were and still can be a living nightmare for me to read, because what I see isn’t what others see.  Take  e  a  &  s.  In many fonts, I cannot tell them apart.  Heaven forbid there should be a string of multiples of them.  Take, as an example, the name of one of the most highly-regarded literary agents in the business.  Mr. Maass, I only know there’s two sets of doubles in your last name because I asked someone to spell your name aloud.  All I see is M followed by a blur of identical shapes that I have to concentrate on to discern how many letters are there.

Writing, which in those days was handwriting, can be a virtual minefield.  The classic d & b swap is the tip of an iceberg.  My married name is Mueller.  Written in cursive, it’s a series of up and down, some short and some tall, and after more than 20 years of practice I still have to think about it when I write it to get it right.  We shall not speak of the evil of zip codes that are one freaking character too many in a row.  Particularly if they contain 5 & 3, and 6 & 9.

From the time I could reach the tabletop until I left home for college, my chore was set the dinner table  correctly every single night as an exercise in spatial arrangement.  Between the ages of four and seven or eight I spent most weekday evenings sitting at the kitchen table practicing writing out lines of poetry that Dad would give me in between chatting with Mom while they got dinner ready.

Everytime I failed a spelling test, and great googly moogly I must’ve failed hundreds.  Every time I was asked to read aloud in class and came home still feeling the sting of it.  Every time I screwed up a math assignment because the columns and rows of numbers had gotten conflated.  Their answer was help me get back up, rub the bruises off my ego, and figure out how to pull more effectively next time.

They didn’t just give out the advice.  They lived it.  There were five of kids.  Three were dyslexic.  To say that life got hectic now and then is an understatement.  Mom and Dad did flat out everything they could think of to help us.  Sometimes they didn’t know, sometimes they were just as frustrated as we were, and sometimes they probably got it wrong; and being the third of the three dyslexics I certainly reaped the benefit of their parenting experience.

Mother’s Day cards, Father’s Day cards, birthday cards, and mountains of other merry detritus went the way of the trash long ago; culled in various moves.  Somewhere in the bottom of the filing cabinet, though, there is one folder devoted to each of us.  Five in all.  Mine has, among other child-sized triumphs, a story about ponies on yellowing vanilla paper.  Mom showed it to me once, when I was in the pit of particularly black teenage despair.   “It might always take you extra effort, but you can do it.”  Tucked up in one corner in my first grade teacher’s precise handwriting was – “Excellent” and a gold star.

I wasn’t the only one who earned that gold star.

 

I donated my short story ‘Wasp Woman’ to this terrific anthology to aid the victims of Japan’s horrific earthquake, along with a lot of other fabulous authors.  Please take a look!

 

In case you’ve never heard of Detective Dee, he’s the hero of a series of Chinese mysteries by Robert van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and expert in Chinese history and culture. Now Detective Dee is coming to the big screen:

It’s in limited release, and it certainly looks like a big-screen-necessary picture. I can’t wait for it to get somewhere that I can see it!

If you’d like to read the books, they can be found at the University of Chicago press in e-book and paper.

“The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.”   Oscar Wilde

“Anyone who knows history, particularly the history of Europe, will, I think, recognize that the domination of education or of government by any one particular religious faith is never a happy arrangement for the people.”   Eleanor Roosevelt

Hand embroidered book covers, y’all.  WOW.  http://tinyurl.com/4hmvd32 Snerched from the Writer Beware’s Facebook page.  This seemed to only be up on Facebook, but if you don’t go to Writer Beware’s blog regularly, you should!  And speaking of the blog…

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss on self publishing services and expecting a miracle: http://tinyurl.com/yt9b8s

Royalties are for hard copies, licenses are for e copies, except they’re not…: http://tinyurl.com/4u3un9p Except at Other Press!  Wow, you legally minded fair play eagles!:  http://tinyurl.com/4wdn4e2 Random House sliding scale that’s mentioned was the result of legal actions.:  http://tinyurl.com/29vwp3x.  Very, very interesting developments!

Line editing and typos and grammar.  And a lesson in how not to react to a bad review.  I hope to be in a position to be an actual professional about it some day.  As opposed to this reaction:  http://tinyurl.com/66otdom I almost feel bad for this writer.  Right up until the rudeness meter bites me.  Then I don’t anymore.

And in Thailand their version of ‘American Idol’ has a singular, inspiring singer.  Just keep watching…  http://tinyurl.com/6x2j6rg

 

Natchez, Mississippi escaped the Civil War almost entirely unscathed.  Some say they capitulated, but ‘some’ apparently didn’t realize that almost everyone in town was either A) at Vicksburg or B) they’d made their money on Wall Street and in the north and were, therefore, not what you’d call sympathetic to the Confederacy.  So the Union army arrived to fire one shot from a gunboat on the river, and were then invited to tea.  Pretty much the whole story, right there.  One child, playing where the warning shot was fired, was killed completely unintentionally.  Check out Vicksburg about their casualties.  Natchez was indefensible and they knew it.  So… smart, or capitulation.  I suspect that what you call it depends on where you live.  I was raised in the west and north, and therefore my feelings about the ‘romance of the Old South’ go straight into the seething, ranting heebeejeebees without so much as an introduction.

During their ‘Pilgrimage’ month, from mid-March to mid-April, the people of Natchez open their historic homes to tours.  They are as gracious as they could possibly be and then some.  The houses run the gamut from beautifully preserved to badly rundown.

This last week my parents, husband, son, and mother-in-law, stayed at the absolutely beautiful Elgin Plantation in Natchez.  Ruth Ellen Calhoun and her husband Bill made us entirely welcome, and Lizzy, whose last name I shamefully do not know, teased my son like she was a member of our family.  They are spectacular people.

My family used to own Elgin.  My great grandfather bought it in 1915, after the boll weevil had decimated the area’s agriculture.

My mother remembers Elgin as the place she rode on her charming and charismatic grandfather’s shoulders.  Where her parents were social movers and shakers.  It’s the place she was born.  The place she said her first word.  ‘Camellia’, for the bushes her grandfather, Poppop, planted.  Her beloved Poppop took her around to introduce her to each of them.  From his shoulders she could reach down and pick flowers from the tops of the bushes.  They’ve grown into thirty foot tall specimens of botanical glory while she was away.

Poppop took out a loan against the plantation with the Federal Land Bank to build a pecan shelling plant in Natchez, hoping to bring a new economic life to the town.  He took out that loan in 1928.  My grandfather, Hoddy we called him, came home from college to run Elgin when his father became ill.  Like basically everyone else, he worshiped his father.  Poppop died not many years later, after a long illness.  Hoddy found himself 25 years old and struggling to hold onto Elgin in the teeth of the Great Depression.  The bank, which might have extended more time to a known business man, wouldn’t extend the same to a man of my grandfather’s more tender years who hadn’t even graduated college.  My grandfather lost Elgin.  To the day he died, Hoddy was still trying in some way to make up for it.  Elgin was the place that broke his heart.

I listened to Hoddy’s stories of Elgin.  He could describe every stick of every building.  About gigging frogs when he was a boy.  How he’d helped take off a badly added-on room on the upper porch.  Of my mother learning to walk on the veranda.  Of the people he’d grown up with, and the friends he’d had there.

Hoddy talked about leaving Natchez in a train car packed with livestock.  He couldn’t afford a train ticket for himself, so he rode with the animals up into a Wisconsin winter.  He’d have frozen to death without the animals to keep him warm.  He talked of the hobo who got into the car part way, who shared a sandwich with my grandfather.  Because the hobo had one and my grandfather didn’t.  Every time, Hoddy teared up and wondered what had become of that man who’d shared the last bit of food he had with a total stranger.

My mother adores Elgin because it’s her home.  Where she came from.  She still loves camellias.

But it broke Hoddy’s heart.

Hoddy bought the ‘hobby’ farm in Wisconsin from the family and made it a successful dairy farm because he and the University of Wisconsin came up with the innovation of importing Holstein bulls from Canada before they were known in the US.  He built it up and sold that place and the business there for enough to retire to Arizona, buy a boat, and spend the rest of his life doing what he pleased.  Still, he’d speak of Elgin with quiet longing.

The owners before the Calhouns subdivided the land and sold off the cattle pastures and the pecan groves, but when you’re at Elgin you could swear there are no neighbors for miles.  It’s amazingly beautiful.  The camellias were in bloom.  Azaleas that some heathen planted tumbled themselves into gorgeous drifts of pink blossoms across the place where Poppop’s sacred tennis court had been.  Mason bees, who have no sting, bumbled in the wisteria that sweetly scented the air.

How do I feel about Elgin now that I’ve been there and seen it?  It’s gloriously beautiful.  My mother will always remember it as the home she had to leave, that in a way she’s always wanted to go back to.  Her grandfather loved it and shared that love with her.  Elgin is beautiful, peaceful, and in the hands of people who revere it for its beauty.  I was glad for the chance to visit, and I treasure the stories my mother told me while we were there.  Elgin itself?  Elgin has broken everyone who ever owned it, except for the Calhouns.  I may go back again, some day, simply to be in that gentle spring and glory in a lovely place.  But…  in spite of the beauty, in spite of the kind people, in spite of my mother’s love of the place, I suspect I’ll always think of it as the place that broke my grandfather’s heart.

Librarians are starting to bite back about the new Harper Collins lending policy. It’s an interesting debate, but also true that hard cover copies, particularly in library bindings, last FAR longer than 26 circulations.  Paperbacks?  Possibly 26 is closer to their lifespan.  Perhaps HC should offer a ‘library binding’ style of their ebooks for sale to institutions that costs slightly more?

The Locus voting and poll page is up! Who’s there?  (I cheat, I already looked)  Who’s going to win?  And holy hand granades, can they come up with harder choices??  It was a very good year!

Have you read Kristine Katheryn Rusch’s ‘Business Rusch’ series?  File this under ‘What’s the future of the publishing industry?’.  She’s a Lady, and one with highly informed, strong opinions.  Every single one of these articles has made me think.

And in the Gee Whiz Cool department, we are now featuring the iPad 2.  Do I need this?  I may attempt to borrow an iPad 1 for a day or so… presuming I can get anyone to part with one for that long!  Do I need this?  I think I may need this…

 

All right, so I’m making up words again.  The point is that I’ll be in Pasco this coming weekend, attending RadCon.  I’m driving over with the guest of honor, Deborah Ross.

I love a car trip.  It’s a sickness, no doubt, but I have it.  I did a lot of miles in cars as a kid, between moving and vacations.  In spite of the endless grain fields of the midwest, no air conditioning in central Arizona, and the endless miles of… well, NOTHING for the length of central Nevada, and the sure and certain knowledge that reading in the car would make me sick, I remember those long trips extremely fondly.

My parents always had a variety of car snack fruit, crackers, and the twin pack of Stanley thermoses.  One of coffee, the other of milk.  Gas stations could provide vending machines of soda, but not caffeine that my dad wanted to drink, nor the protein buffer against the crabby-hungrys.  My parents were fans of getting where they were going, but figured there was little point in having everyone miserable along the way.  Every day at breakfast, my sister and I would solemnly order pie for breakfast with sides of bacon or ham because you can’t beat the look on a waitress when she’d glance over at my father, and he would deadpan remind us to have the pie heated if we were getting it ala mode.  Freaking out grown ups never got old.  Still hasn’t.  I’m still a fan of pie for breakfast, too.

Mostly, I suppose, I remember those road trips because my parents made every one a Great Adventure.  Considering the number of car miles we logged, it’s sort of amazing to me that they never got old.  Particularly when you add in that many of them meant we were moving.  New town, new state, new school, no friends until we made them again… moving was always hard for that; but after the last day of school, there was a hyper-organized frenzy of packing and then the van drove off and we were on the road… and somehow it turned into a road trip.  Once we were in the car it was all okay.  The luggage, the bird book, the maps, the picnic lunch, car games, two cats, and ‘for goodness’ sake girls don’t bug your Dad in heavy traffic.  It can wait until we’re through Chicago/Saint Louis/Albuquerque/Dallas!’  There were places to see, and things to explore.  We were on a Grand Adventure.  Every time.  I love a road trip.