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Monthly Archives: March 2007

What’s one of the main reasons I’m obsessed with Dancing With the Stars (go, Apolo!)? The clothes, of course! So sparkly and fringe-y and fun. I’ve always loved playing dress-up, and subscribe to way more fashion magazines than is probably healthy. The truth is, I can never actually afford Prada or Marni, and I would never try to squeeze myself into those Edyta-style get-ups from DWTS. But I can always dream! And buy spiffy dance shoes.
One of the earliest of the high-fashion, brand-name modistes was Rose Bertin, favorite designer to Marie Antoinette. Born in Abbeville in 1747, Rose Bertin set up shop as a marchande de modes (female fashion merchant) in 1773, in a luxurious boutique on the rue Saint-Honore. In 1774, she expanded her offerings to include what came to be known as the ‘pouf,’ wild headresses to go with the enormous dresses. These were made in conjunction with Marie Antoinette’s equally snooty and extravagent hairdresser, Leonard, and were built on a scaffolding of wire, cloth, gauze, horsehair, fake hair, and the woman’s own hair, teased up off the forehead. After being doused with powder, the coiffure could become the canvas for all sorts of still-lifes and props (ships, windmills, babies, you name it).
Through her rich clients the duchesse de Chartres and the princesse de Lamballe, Bertin came to the notice of Marie Antoinette, who had just become queen and was feeling her fashion wings (or wild oats). A style was born. One of their earliest collaborations was a pouf titled ‘coiffure a l’Iphigenie’ (to pay tribute to Gluck’s opera), quickly followed by the ‘pouf a l’inoculation,’ to celebrate her husband’s successeful smallpox innoculation. Bertin also designed the queen’s coronation gown, an elaborate affair heavily embroidered with gold thread and sapphires, which almost had to make the trip to Rheims on a special stretcher (until the lady-in-waiting balked at carrying it).
Bertin’s creations (which cost roughly twenty times what a skilled artisan would earn in a year) helped establish France as the center of the fashion industry, which has persisted to this day. But Bertin, reportedly an abrasive woman, was deeply resented, both by the aristocracy (who felt the queen treated her, a mere tradeswoman, with too much favor and distinction), and by the middle and lower classes. She was snooty to would-be customers (for example, refusing to outfit the ‘wife of a mere prosecutor from Bordeaux!’), and the wild extravagence of her creations was derided in the midst of depressions and famines. As a woman, Bertin inspired particular resentment for taking precedence over her male colleagues, and was sneeringly called Marie Antoinette’s ‘Minister of Fashion’ and ‘Minister of Trinkets.’
During the Revolution, Bertin eventually moved her business to London, returning to Paris in 1795, where Josephine was one of her main customers. But fashions had changed, and she soon retired to her house in the town of Epinay sur Seine, where she died in 1813.
A great source for info on this period is Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.
What are some of your favorite fashion eras or designers? Anyone watching Dancing With the Stars???

This morning, I am heading to New England for the NEC-RWA Conference. And since this week has been chock-a-block full of everything (sick kid, real estate, insomnia) but writing, I don’t have a lot to say. At least not anything that’s not profanity-laced.

BUT the weather has finally turned warmer, and I’ve seen crocuses all over the little front yards of Brooklyn, so I am hopeful that Spring will bring a fresh breeze of creative inspiration.

So a few easy questions: What’s your favorite flower? What inspires you the most? When you feel like throwing in the metaphorical towel, what drags you back from the ‘I’m giving up’ brink?


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I’ve just read a very odd little book–recommended to me by Pam Rosenthal–of children’s stories by Mary Lamb.

Of the ten stories, three are written by Mary’s brother Charles, and they form a collection of stories told in the voices of young girls who have just arrived at a boarding school. The describe who they are, who their families are, and why they were sent to school.

Some of them are quite charming–one of them prattles on and on about a visit to the country (ooh! pretty sheep! pretty cows! more pretty sheep!) until the tactful Mrs. Leicester intervenes, stopping her in mid flow: I thought I perceived some ladies were rather weary of hearing so much of the visit to grandmamma. Some of them have a macabre air: there’s a girl who learns to read from studying the letters on her mother’s tombstone; and a very odd tale about two girls, one born to a noble family and the other a commoner, who are exchanged at birth. They yearn for, and sometimes lose their parents, and often are sent on unexpected visits to distant relatives; now all of them have been parted from their families to attend the school.

It’s an interesting venture into the world of Georgian childhood, but even more interesting in light of Mary Lamb’s life. She suffered from bipolar disorder and when she was twenty-two, murdered her mother. She was in and out of mental asylums for the rest of her life, and cared for by her brother and official guardian Charles, whom, sadly, she outlived. So when I read these stories, I was thinking of what I knew of Mary, particularly from reading Kathy Watson’s biography of Mary, The Devil Kissed Her.

Has anyone read either of these books or anything by Charles Lamb? Or do you have any favorite books that evoke childhood for you?

A couple of weeks ago, Megan taught me about McGuffins. I also recently learned about Mary Sues.

According to Wikipedia, Mary Sue “is a pejorative term for a fictional character who is portrayed in an overly idealized way and lacks noteworthy flaws, or has unreasonably romanticized flaws. Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies of the author.” (More at Wikipedia. )

The term originated in the Star Trek fan fiction community but I think romance novelists, too, often skate a fine line with Mary Sues.

Consider these characteristics of a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu).

“The typical Mary Sue is always physically attractive, and her appearance may include an unusual but natural hair or eye color. Eye colour may also be depicted as changing according to time, place, emotion, or other causes. Mary Sue’s name often has a special meaning, and if so, either she or the author will inform the cast or reader of it.”

“Mary Sue is beautiful, so Gary Stu is handsome.”

“Tragic backgrounds are also common among Mary Sues, and frequently include family abuse or neglect.”

“While Mary Sue is often bright and cheerful no matter what her past has dealt her, Gary Stu tends to be brooding and frequently violent.”

Dangerous territory for a romance author! Most of us try to depict our characters as attractive (though not always perfect) and to give them some serious problems to tackle. So when does a character become a Mary Sue?

I decided to put the heroine of my current mess-in-progress through The Original Fiction Mary-Sue Litmus Test.

Imagine my relief when she scored a mere 19 points, in the 11-20 “Non-Sue” range. 🙂

Then I decided to give the test a whirl with the heroine of Barbara Cartland’s HAZARD OF HEARTS. Even when I was a thirteen-year old reading this classic story of a heroine whose father gambles her away to the hero, I knew it was a guilty pleasure. I had to guess how Barbara Cartland felt about her characters based on things I’d read about her and tried to be conservative on those questions. But even considering that, and the fact that she has no paranormal abilities (other than surviving with chronic breathlessness), Serena Staverley scored a respectable 53 points. As I suspected, an Uber-Sue.

Given Barbara Cartland’s undeniable popularity, there were–and probably still are–many romance readers who love a good Mary Sue. Maybe Mary Sue heroines are wish fulfillment for some readers as well as their authors?

As readers, when do you think an author crosses the line between creating an attractive character with problems in his/her past to creating a Mary Sue/Gary Stu? Do you enjoy reading the occasional romance with a Mary Sue?

And fellow writers, do let us know what happens if you try this test on your characters!


Greetings! It is I, Bertram St. James, Exquisite — also known as Bertie the Beau. (Because I am. Very.)

Today I shall (attempt to) teach you all how to be more beautiful, more elegant, more….more…how can I put this?

Oh, very well, I’ll say it. More like me. (Which is of course the goal to which you all aspire.)

First, you must shun all cats. Cats have one goal in life, and that is to ensure that you are as covered in cat-hair as they are. This proves that cats are selfish, vain beasts, and do not deserve the company of such beautiful creatures as us.

Second, you must get your beauty rest. Twelve hours a night should do, but if you insist on staying up late to watch the fascinating dramas on the TeleVision Device (such as Heroes, starring the very beau Hayden Panettiere and Sendhil Ramamurthy) and find you only have eleven hours for sleep, do take a nap the following day.

Third, wash your face in cream seven times a day. (This, by the way, is yet another reason not to keep a cat, who will take far too much interest in such a procedure–after which, one’s face is sadly scoured and red.)

Fourth, you must pay your valet well. (Or your lady’s maid, if you are a lady.) Allow your man to sneak a bit of your best brandy — after all, pettiness never won loyalty — but do not allow him to drink too much of it, or you will find your haircuts uneven and your coats poorly brushed.

Fifth, and most important: be born beautiful.

Those, in short, are my guidelines. What are yours? How do you recommend treating your valet (or lady’s maid)? Do you have a cat, and, if so, how do you manage to stay beautiful?

Yours in elegance,

Bertie the Beau

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