cabinet particulier the reboot

In 2012, laid up from ankle surgery, I came up with an idea to while away the time: I’d write a book. The book centers around an American actress living in England who has massive stage fright but continues to get jobs due to her extraordinary beauty. As she gets long in the tooth, a patron gives her a Kodak Brownie as a gift to keep her occupied during her downtime and she discovers she’s brilliant with a camera. After I fleshed out my character a bit, more ideas came forward: Edwardian period, magical realism, fairies, Arthur Conan Doyle, motorbikes, and a murder and you have a fantastic world in the making.

(This doesn’t mean I’ll be using all the things or anything else comes up but hey! having too much is better than not having enough.)

The name of the project is “Cabinet Particulier,” which is a term used for enclosed rooms in restaurants where men would meet their mistresses. The working title seems appropriate for a book based on a failed actress with the Edwardian version of a questionable background.

(You can read the beginning of my research notes over at exitpursuedbyabear.net.)

Months march on and in 2014, TEH and I decide I’m taking a gap year to write my book. Anyone who’s been keeping track of me these last few years know shit didn’t end up turning out that way.

(The story I’m spinning when future employers look at my resume is I took a gap year and the book stalled, which is mostly true.)

It’s almost five years (!) since the original idea smacked into my brain and I’ve decided it’s finally time to give my book the time it is due.

Let’s answer some questions:

What is the Edwardian period: Period of time begins around 1900 and ends at the beginning, mostly, of WWI (1914). The dates are a bit fluid, with dates extended on either direction but is considered the gap period between Victorian age and the Roaring ’20s. Some scholars consider it to be the tail end of the Victorian era while others, like myself, see it as a wholly different period. The period is named for the English king, King Edward VII, who comes into power after his mother, Queen Victoria (the name sake of the Victorian era), dies. In the US, the period is loosely referred to as “The Gilded Age” and in France, “Belle Époque.”

Why the Edwardian period: I knew I wanted the book to be historical fiction and I also knew I wanted the period to be close to contemporary times since there would be more research available (hah!). I tend to gravitate to periods pre-Depression era (1930s) but I wanted something different than your usual molls and gangsters of the 1920s. The turn of the 20th century was huge with big changes: Cars were becoming affordable and popular, same with radios, telephones, and electricity. Cameras and bikes were also coming into their own. People were becoming more literate, printing was cheap, and you saw the rise of mass produced books and magazines.  The attitudes were more relaxed than the perceived stuffiness of the Victorians and lifestyles was more opulent and extravagant. I also wanted it to be pre-sinking of the Titanic (1912).

In short, it was an era where anything and everything could be possible.

Influences: When I began my research, I found women, more so than men, were commercial and artistic photographers, so giving her a new job was easy. Popular travelogues of the era were written by women. There was a spike in the belief in the supernatural — The Victorians loved their ghost stories, seances, and research into the otherworld carried over to the beginning of the century. It became more socially acceptable for a woman to have jobs that would have been unseemly in the Victorian era, namely actresses and models. Thanks to telephones and postcards (yes, really), communication was easier and faster. This is also the rise of the middle class so you’re seeing a lot money spent on vacations, luxuries, and entertainment.

Research: has been sketchy. Finding material that works specifically with that period has been hard. While there seems to be a zillion blogs/websites/books on Victorians and the Roaring ’20s and forward, the Edwardian period seems to be forgotten. Much of the social commentary on WWI tends to lean towards the Roaring ’20s rather than the time before it. Since many scholars and historians consider the period to be late-Victorian, what I have been finding for resources tend to be footnotes in those works. I thought the popularity of Downton Abbey would see a rush of amateur historians coming to the rescue, but no. I’ve been expanding my search terms to find more information –  Art Nouveau is such an example.

Where are we at now: I took a fiction class in the fall of 2015 and workshopped the first chapter and it was well received. I’ve been playing around with characters, theme, and story lines so the basic idea, “failed American actress living in London,” is starting to flesh out. Since I gave away my print books on the topic, I’m starting my research from scratch. There is an accompanying Pinboard, PinterestTumblr sites as well as a RSS feed if you want to follow along. Posts, as always, will be cross-posted over on Facebook. My Scrivener files are still intact.

What’s next: Now that my meds are under control which means my focus is better, I’m going to sketch out a plan of attack. I know I need to do a lot of research and I should also work on note taking of character / plot / scene. I bought a mechanics book on novel writing to help with the basics. (I’ve found celebrated books such as Stephen Kings On Writing are nothing more than expositioned mental masturbation. The first rule of writing is there is no formula for writing. Reading 300 pages of essays from famous authors does nothing for me. That’s great you drank a bottle of gin before you sat down and wrote The Great American Novel™ but not everyone is going to be that type of writer.) I need to read, read, read works of the era and whatever contemporary works on the era I an find.

In short, there is a lot of work to be done.

notes for cabinet particulier, part ii: History of Edwardian postcards

Edwardian postcard.
Edwardian postcard.

Dear Internet,
Today TheHusband, my MIL, ThePug, and myself spent majority of our time in the main living room doing various and sundry tasks. I curled up in a chair with a constant cup of tea near me with ThePug conjoined to my hip as I researched on Cabinet Particulier and juxtaposed the research with recreational reading. TheHusband worked with my MIL on her oral history — she literally is one of the most interesting women in the world. In between bits of cookies, tea, and reading, I gave archivist advice on documenting, curating, and archiving her stories. She, along with my FIL, are published poets and writers and there are plans of TheHusband and I becoming the family historians in the next few years to start documenting their papers and stories to save for future generations.
I have been toying with the idea of my heroine as supplementing her income as an actress by becoming an Edwardian postcard model, which was something many of the actresses of the era did, something I had come across from my initial research a few years ago. As I started falling down that particular research hole this afternoon, I came across this great paper The Edwardian postcard: a revolutionary moment in rapid multimodal communications which discusses a current project at Lancaster University co-directed by the authors. The paper goes into great detail about literacy and accessibility of writing postcards, which lead into it becoming a social phenomenon during the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Mail delivery happened in major cities up to 10 times a day, so responses were often “instant”
  • The average number of postcards written during this period, per person, is 200
  • UK Postmaster General reported to have delivered 6 BILLION postcards during the Edwardian era
  • Postcards were significantly cheaper to send than regular letters (Half penny per postcard as opposed to a full penny for a letter)
  • Postcards could be, and were, written in a very informal style which gave writers more freedom of expression

[Postcards] are utterly destructive of style, and give absolutely no play to the emotions. George Sims circa 1902

I found the above quote amusing since near identical verbiage has been given about Twitter.
The paper and the project were the source of why numerous articles in 2009 popped up about Edwardian postcards and referring to the postcards as the grandfather of social networking.
For those like me who are interested in more history on postcards, and their rise in Edwardian era, below are good points to start out:

If you’re interested in seeing examples of Edwardian postcards, Google, Flickr, and Tumblr each have a treasure trove of examples that should keep you busy for some time.
xoxo,
Lisa

This day in Lisa-Universe: 2012, 2012

notes for cabinet particulier, part i

maudefealy
Maude Fealy, American actress, circa 1901

Dear Internet,
I spent most of last week working on my book by scraping most of my original notes, reworking some plot points, researching down rabbit holes, outlining the first six chapters, and taking copious new notes. I reactivated my Tumblr/Pinterest accounts for the book for inspiration and historical note taking as well as started a Pinboard bundle for other links of research/interest/do-not-forgets.
I am insanely curious of how other people approach their writing habits/research/thought process, even more so on topics of specific interest to me. When I come across these works of fictional interest and there is no research notes, thoughts, or the only comment is something along the lines of “well-researched/heavily researched,” I am suspicious. I am, at heart, a librarian after all and part of my job is to verify the authority of a work. Example: I was looking for other titles in my time period and came across a soon to be released YA title of interest by someone who lived in England for numerous years and showed horses/was a horse trainer. The book has nothing to do with horses, but is about a young girl who is breaks free from social ties to go to art school. Early reviews have been hugely favorable on the work and much of the commentary notes how heavily researched and accurate to the period the book is. Fabulous! Good to know! But where did this person get all their research from since the only bio background they provided was they trained horses and lived in England? Why is there not a bibliography page or something of note to let readers wander through related interests on their own, even on their website?
[Addendum: Krazy Kate, once when we got into a heated debate about Dan Brown, said the whole reason she adored Dan Brown was that he had a bibliography at the end of each book. I have to grudgingly give the man props.]
I purposefully made the conscious effort to keep track of all my research, online and off, for this specific complaint. It keeps me better organized and I know others are looking for the same research so why not keep make it freely available?
My specific interest for the book is 1890s – 1915 or thereabouts, with the main action to take place sometime between 1907-11 England. Depending on the geography, this period is referred to the Gilded Age (US), Edwardian (UK), or Belle Époque (France) with Art Nouveau and Modernism filling in the edges.
I love this period for its swift social, cultural, and technology changes. It was important to me to have a time that I could play with and bend to my will, that things my character do are not so far removed from modernity as we know it, but new enough to raise an eyebrow or two in the time the books are being written. Motor cars, electricity, telephones, indoor plumbing, bicycles, public transportation, portable photography –  the list goes on of the number of things that we take for granted every day but were all coming of age during this period. I wanted my main protagonist to have the latest and greatest but have it still have new enough that it would be considered. I wanted to specifically concentrate before the First World War or even before the Titanic sinks. I wanted the real world to still have a touch of innocence to her before all the chaos of the 20th century takes its hold.
My main protagonist is an American stage actress living in London who makes a modest living and occasionally gets close to being famous except for one thing: She has massive stage fright. She gets such anxiety over public speaking, which has gotten worse as she gets older, she’s barely able to support herself. She is beyond beautiful (Maude Fealy is one of my female inspirations), but she’s getting a little long in the tooth for this acting business and frankly, she’s a bit bored with it all. She has lived a bohemian life (married numerous times our girl has and also counts numerous women of note in her conquests), but she wants something more. She is bestowed a Kodak Brownie from one of her admirers and everything changes.
I wanted her to be “other” enough (American, living/working in England, going against societal rules) that some of her actions would not seem out of line with her personality but with enough toes in the formality of the period to not be rejected from “those who matter.” I imagine it would not be too difficult of a  stretch for her to have dinner with Arthur Conan Doyle, be escorted to a ball given by P.G. Wodehouse, or flirt with Henry James. The working title, Cabinet Particulier, is Edwardian slang to refer to a private rooms, usually in restaurants, where men would meet their mistresses. I liked the sly side wink of the context and the infinite possibilities of the suggestion.
When I got the idea of the book in the summer of 2012, I thought it would be a good idea to research everything from class and behaviour, to theater of the period, even make up and shopping . I also thought it might be a good idea to read authors written in the era and downloaded whatever I could from Amazon (or Project Gutenberg) of  works from G.K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and so on. Contemporary authors writing fiction in the period are slim, namely as many pick up with the First World War and go forward, or they skip over the Edwardian age by calling it high Victorian and wrap everything under a single bow. I’m half way through Sick of Shadows, the third book the M.C. Beaton Edwardian series, which has been great for research as I’ve been keeping tabs of slang, behaviours, and other things of interest. I’ve also started a list of future reads over at Amazon as I find them.
As always, any suggestions for authors / blogs / interest, please don’t hesitate to pass them along!
x0x0,
Lisa

This day in Lisa-Universe: 2011

Brevis in longo

Dear Internet,
Apparently, I’m pretty prolific. In addition to upping my writing here, I’ve also been writing every day in DayOne, which I mentioned here, and also actually working on my fiction. There is one thing to be said for a humanities scholar: We know how to crank out verbiage like no one’s business. Between the three, and this is including the re-writes of public blog entires and the fiction, I’m cranking out about 5,000 words a day. And that is being conservative. Now how much of that is “good” writing? Hard to say, really. My writing in the public sphere tends to be tighter since I obsess over the editing, the writing on the private journal has better readability (because I an writing more freely and more about the minutia of my life), while the fiction writing is still uneven in a deckled edged way. Some of what I produce for the fiction side is dreck and other times, it’s pure gold.
(Also, I decided to style myself as a modern day Samuel Pepys, at least in my head.)
I think one of the reasons why this is becoming a lot easier is that I have finally figured out a system that works for me to keep all of this organized which was so problematic for me for years. I know, it’s crazy considering that I organize shit for a living, but I couldn’t organize my writing to really work for me until now. Finding the Day One app was probably the tipping point, and also being a heavy user of Evernote and Scrivener also helped.
Here’s the status of my current projects, and which will find it’s way to Readers. The main landing page for my writing will also have all posts about this topic on the page, and if a project has their own landing page, those too will have posts updated on their landing page. Thus, if you’re hot into Edwardian good times but not Viking gore, you can skip directly to the landing page for the Edwardian projet instead of slogging through all the posts about Vikings and everything else.

Books

Project Name: Cabinet Particulier
Status: Research
Details of the project on its own page, so I won’t repost them here. I started collecting the research in July and currently haven’t moved forward yet other than doing the readings. Ideally, I see this as a pretty big project (read book series) so I want to get it off to a good start and I have a vague idea of how the first book will go, I want to dig deeper into her world before I begin writing.
Project name: Unnamed Medieval project
Status: Idea formation and preliminary research
Details: At this point I know it’s going to concern a woman, possibly in Scotland, sometime before 1066. Possibly containing Vikings.

Short Fiction

Title: PETITIONS OF THE GODS
Status: 80% finished
Summary: From my notes: Anonymous protagonist gives background on the invitation, a brief history of the Althing, and beginning of the world creation.Our protagonist is losing power and she knows this. The struggle with her, and with others like her, is how to remain relevant in a world when less number of people are believing in them. What would you do to stay relevant?
The beginning and ending are strong, but I’m floundering in the middle. It’s already at 2500 words with some heavy revision in the last week, so much so that the outtakes have their own folder in Scrivener. TheHusband read one of the first drafts and liked a lot of the clever uses for explanation of things but I can’t unstick the sticky at the moment. While I think this is at 80%, I would not be surprised if I end up ripping it entirely apart and restructuring all of it.
Title: AD LIBITUM
Status: 80% finished
Summary: What happens inside the Sistine chapel when no one is looking? Answer: Sex, drugs, and disco.
Idea sparked a “what if” when reading an article tonight about Russia’s Golden Ring and the author wrote eloquently about the medieval cathedrals and churches they were visiting. The line, “Jesus jumped off the cross, stretched, and went to light a cigarette.”, which sparked the idea of what in the hell happens in a cathedral at night when no one is around? Within minutes, I found this gorgeous virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel and the story started writing itself.

———————————-

So far, I have nearly a dozen people signed up for Readers, which is awesome. I haven’t decided if I should close the request at this point or keep it open. I had planned on start pushing some of my older stuff through the list to get those cleaned up and publishable, but after reading through many of them decided not to. They are that wretched or I am not into the genre as much anymore or the story just doesn’t appeal to me. So they will stay buried in the digital trunk.
I’m so motivated to be creating again but I keep thinking what do I want to do with the stuff that I create? I definitely want it to be read by the world, but how to go about that is tap dancing in the back of my brain. Having been a bookseller for many years, I work now as a librarian, and then throw in all the writers, literary agents, artists, booksellers, and other people in the publishing world I either know personally or stalk online, I feel pretty grounded on the back end o the industry. I just want to make sure that I do the right thing by my work.
I was pretty thrilled to discover Duotrope yesterday in my quest to sort out submission organization for at least the short pieces because my librarian-fu was actually failing me looking for a comprehensive source for magazines, literary zines, and other such publications to submit my work to. At the very least, I know this is the path I want to take with my shorter fiction. I’m also thinking of some kind of crowdsourcing shenanigans might also be in place too. This is going to be amazing.
TTFN,
Lisa

Bumps in the midnight

Dear Interent,
Recently one night while it was incredibly late (and almost shockingly so), I found myself in my office writing for the first time in so many months. Earlier in evening, TheHusband had dropped off to sleep earlier then his usual times and I found myself anxious to move out of bed and into my office, so in attempted silence, I walked-thumped to my office to work. What struck with me in particular about that night was the intensity of the desire, which has been burning for weeks, more brightly then it has for years. It was becoming physically painful to ignore the urge. I felt like I was in high school all over again, except without the forbidden pack of cigarettes hidden in my desk and the 2 liter of Diet Coke on the floor by my side.
Lately, I’ve found myself sketching out story ideas, notes, and other ephemera on anything I can get my hands on. That night, I decompressed a Moleskin notebook I’ve been carrying around for a few years and found that it contained travel logs, journal entries, and notes for knitting and gardening amongst a few of the types; kind of a catchall, if you will. A page of WOULDN’T THIS BE AWESOME flipped with “CO 68 ST st” and a drawn out pattern of the design I am remarking on.
In addition to decompressing the Moleskin, I’ve been picking apart some editing and doing some note taking on existing story lines. The vast amount of notes on story sketches is startling to me whenever I chance upon them. I keep finding fairly decent first chapters written, note, and outlines for the projects. I see potential here for amazing creating to occur and that gets me excited. I’ve started to collate everything into either Evernote or Scrivener, depending on the status, and will begin the world building and story plotting.
I’ve got three distinct worlds that are fighting in my head at the moment: Pre-history, medieval, and Edwardian. Sometimes it gets a bit messy. I have A Teach Yourself Guide: Complete Old English (Anglo-Saxon) rubbing shoulders with Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End. I have Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 snuggling against The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. I’ve almost finished The Prose Edda and I’ve got The Dark Mirror: Book One of the Bridei Chronicles waiting in the wings.
This is just the tip of my (almost too long) reading list.
Right now I’m falling, almost rather neatly, under the weight of the research. The next month I’m working on shorter hours so I’ll have time to get organized before I go full-blown day job mode. My first priority is to organize writing schedule with the research schedule into something that can be scaled back to a doable mode once work goes in full swing.
I’ve got a couple of completed short stories I need to start workshopping and a few more to finish in the next few weeks. I’m going to be looking for alpha readers, so keep your eyes peeled for that announcement.
TTFN,
Lisa