A Quick Update

I must confess, I don’t have a blog post prepared for this week, but since I haven’t missed a post in a long time (it might even be over a year), I didn’t want to skip it completely.

Since I don’t really have anything planned, here’s a picture of my dog, Logan. He’s a good boy.

 

As for real updates, I’ve been writing like crazy, working on my WIP. After some research and plot-timing hiccups, I have now made it to 60K words, so I can happily say that the 40K Slump is over. Whew!

I’m also now into the three month countdown to publication day for The Wardrobe Mistress on August 15th, so I’m working on some special Marie Antoinette/French Revolution themed stuff to be posted soon!

Oh, and I’m on Instagram now –  @meghan_m_author. Come find me there!

 

Memory between Food and Literature

Sometimes, I get a craving for a fancy cup of hot chocolate and it’s all Marie Antoinette’s fault.

Sure, this might seem a little trivial compared to all the other blames heaped at her feet, and since she died almost two centuries before I was even born, it’s obviously a fairly indirect connection. But in my research for The Wardobe Mistress, I found that it was Marie Antoinette’s daily routine to start off her day with either a cup of coffee or chocolate, the latter often infused with orange blossom water.

I thought that sounded very luxurious. Imagine having a rich cup of hot chocolate, delicately flavoured with a hint of orange, brought to you while you lounged in bed or the bath, instead of rushing around at the crack of dawn, trying to get to your day job on time. I’d definitely prefer the first option.

Hot chocolate fit for a queen

When I found a dainty gold teacup and saucer at an antique shop shortly after, I couldn’t resist buying it. Now when I’m feeling fancy, I can sip hot chocolate (usually not with orange though, it turns out orange blossom water is not that easy to find) and it always reminds me of Marie Antoinette.

My example is quite specific to me, I think, but it’s not uncommon for a strong link between certain foods and works of literature. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who thinks of Narnia when Turkish delight is mentioned, or recalls the horror of Mrs. Havisham’s wedding cake when someone mentions Great Expectations.

Sometimes it’s the other way around, when a food inspires a literary work. Marcel Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (also translated as Remembrance of Things Past), was inspired by the taste of a madeleine with tea, which awakened his memories and transported him back to recollections of his childhood in a French provincial town. If not for that madeleine, In Search of Lost Time might never have been written.

Beautifully scalloped madeleines

Speaking of madeleines, I’ve always imagined that lembas bread from The Lord of the Rings had a similar airy texture and light flavour, albeit with more nourishment. I was a bit disappointed when the movie depiction of them seemed a lot harder and crunchier.

I’d forgotten about them until now, when I was brainstorming food and book combinations, but on the exceedingly rare occasion something reminds me of pickled limes, it makes me think of Little Women, because Amy longed to have a pickled lime because all the other girls had them. I have no idea what a pickled lime is, though. It’s certainly not the cool treat that all the kids covet anymore!

Does anyone else have a memory connection between a food and a book? There are enough fabulous meals in literature that someone once ate only foods from books for dinner for a week. Now there’s an adventure for foodies and literature buffs!

 

 

 

Book Update – The Wardrobe Mistress

I’ve reached a milestone as a debut author – getting to hold my novel in book format for the first time. We’re at the galley stage, and I can hardly even explain the surreal excitement I felt as I opened up the box that came in the mail and lifted out copies of my book. It’s so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at it.

Rare author photo, wherein author cannot stop staring at the bound version of her book.

Seeing the story in proper book form even made me want to read it again, an occurrence that I never thought would repeat itself. Through all the writing and edits, I’ve literally read The Wardrobe Mistress at least seventeen times, no exaggeration, and the latest time (during the first pass stage, which is where it’s typeset as it will be for the book, and the last chance to look for errors) I had to read it out loud to force myself to pay close attention. It gets tough, when you know exactly what will happen and why all the characters feel the way they do! It turned out to be very good practise for me though, because I’d been wondering how ‘French’ I should pronounce character’s names at potential future book readings. After reading the whole thing out loud to my cat and dog (very uninterested audience members, by the way) and nearly losing my voice, I’ve figured out what is hopefully a charming compromise of accents.

I’ve been excitedly telling everyone I encounter, pretty much, that The Wardrobe Mistress will be published on June 27, 2017. There has been a slight change, however, and now the official pub date is August 15, 2017. I promise it’s not my fault – I met all my deadlines! – but just due to scheduling. As a debut author, I’m learning that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes with a publishing house in terms of scheduling and planning and marketing and everything. It’s been a really amazing learning experience, and I’m so impressed by how much work goes into a book after it’s picked up, and how many people get involved. While writing the first draft of a book, it feels like it belongs only to the author, but as it moves toward publication, it starts to belong to everyone, in a way. It’s a wonderful progression; I think it makes it feel more alive, more like a real thing and not just some figment of my imagination that I wrote down.

In the meantime, while waiting for pub day, did you know that you can read a sample of The Wardrobe Mistress for through “Spring/Summer Sampler – St. Martin’s First”? The e-book also has excerpts from 8 other fantastic authors who have books coming out this summer. And it’s free!

I mean…Ned Stark should really be saying this about winter reading (which is awesome, with hot chocolate and blankets) but since these books are all coming out in the summer, he’s still right

 

 

2016 Blog Flashback

My blog has been in existence for over three years now (!) but 2016 was the first year where I really made an effort to get into a regular posting routine and create some recurring features. I think it was worth it, because I had the most fun with my blog this year. As a bonus, my readership also increased. Thanks for joining me here! You guys are the best.

I rounded up some of my favourite posts from 2016, in case you missed them, or are in between books, or possible hiding out from the chaos of family holiday festivities and desperate for something to read on your phone. (Hey, I know the holidays can sometimes be a little too dramatic). Or, if I’m really lucky, you keep checking my blog because you can’t wait for The Wardrobe Mistress.

Without further ado, the blog flashback of my favourite posts, by month:

January

I kicked off the 2016 Reading Challenge with Fifteen Dogs and it made me feel all the emotions.

I had a lot of thoughts on the ‘singular they’

February

I talked about Resting Bitch Face and some of its excellent alternatives.

I grossed myself out with some thoughts about bugs.

March

I read Hamlet and I hate that guy. So much that I wrote about him twice.

April

My dream came true and I got to announce that The Wardrobe Mistress is being published

In what turned out to create some strange symmetry for this recap, I also had a nightmare and then researched it.

I wrote about Marie Antoinette’s attitude to the French Revolution.

May

I became obsessed with wolverines and I stand by it because they are delightful.

I wrote about a historical figure who wore several hats at once.

I devoured a wonderful gothic book called A Taste for Nightshade.

I took quizzes – for fun! Also I imagined philosophy incarnate as the grim reaper.

June

I learned that the Canadian accent uses a dipthong in the word ‘about’ that American accents don’t even have – no wonder it’s so mockable!

I went to my first writer’s conference and could barely control myself for buying tons of books and getting them signed.

July

I fell in love with Weina Dai Randel’s books about Empress Wu.

August

I went to another writer’s conference and started to feel vaguely like a professional writer. Fun fact that I have never yet disclosed – someone asked me a historical question which I didn’t really know the answer to, and so I naturally started researching it later on. And it sparked the whole idea for the book I’m currently writing! I just wish I could go back in time and not sound like such an idiot when first asked the question. More details on this book in 2017, but it’s under wraps for now.

I also shared my tips for researching historical fiction.

September

I learned that the worst makeup in history not only poisoned its wearers, but also made them sometimes need fake eyebrows made of mouse fur! Yuck.

I talked about theme in fiction, specifically in relation to The Wardrobe Mistress

In an uncharacteristic move, I read some poems.

October

I pretended to interview Medusa (wow, I am so cool).

I ensured you will be a hit at parties by enlightening you on everything you ever wanted to know about the guillotine

November

I neglected my household chores because I couldn’t put down A Song of War

My affections shifted from wolverines to include foxes, which I also stand by because they are charming and everyone has a crush on the fox version of Robin Hood.

December

I suggested books appropriate for holiday reading, along with festive food and/or drink pairings.

I posted a Flash Fiction story that’s a little darker than the picture of an adorable puppy would have you expect (Don’t worry! Nothing bad happens to the puppy).

General

During 2016, I also joined Twitter so if you are also there, please feel free to follow or tweet at me. I tweet a lot about books and also like to share interesting articles. I’m on Goodreads now too, so if a book-oriented social media platform is more your thing, come find me there. I’m super excited to see that a few people have voted for The Wardrobe Mistress on the Historical Fiction 2017 list – thank you, voters, you have generously given my confidence a boost! I’m also thrilled to see that some people have added it to their Want-to-Read list. Even though I’ve been through copy edits and revisions, it still feels so crazy and exciting that this is actually happening and my book will be out in about 6 months!

Can’t resist sharing my beautiful cover again.

So what can you look forward to on the blog for 2017? Some features will continue, including Bad Decisions in History and Book Addiction. In lieu of the now-completed 2016 Reading Challenge, I’ll be posting Flash Fiction instead. Also watch out for some more Imaginary Interviews.

Of course, there will also be plenty of posts related to the French Revolution and The Wardrobe Mistress, some informative and others a little more irreverent and fun. Stay tuned for publishing news and possibly some giveaways.

Lastly, I’m planning to attend two conferences again this year, the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland in June and also When Words Collide in Calgary in August. Maybe I will see some of you there!

Lots to look forward to in 2017. All the best to everyone.

 

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Exploring Theme in Fiction

I never thought I was a writer who focused on theme in a story. I studied them, certainly, in high school English and also in university. In classes, I analyzed symbolism and motifs in lots of literary classics, and wrote essays about it. But for some reason, I didn’t consciously think about applying a theme to my own work.

What is theme? It’s a pretty broad question, and can have a lot of thoughtful answers. In essence, it’s the heart of the story. It’s the underlying thread that ties all of the big plot events and character arcs together. It might not always be obvious, but I think every story has a theme. Even if unintentional, which is what happened to me with The Wardrobe Mistress.

I chose the setting of the French Revolution because it matched one of my key criteria for historical inspiration – the setting was a unique situation in history, which presented unexpected opportunities and dilemmas for my characters. It sparked an idea in my head; I wanted to write about people struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing political landscape, one that started out as a rather exciting herald for change and escalated into the violence and unpredictability of The Terror. I wrote my book, (she says casually, as if it didn’t involve hours and hours of research and slaving away over a keyboard), and that was that, or so I thought.

When I first read through an early draft of The Wardrobe Mistress, the theme of loyalty leaped out of the pages at me. My main character, Giselle, works in Marie Antoinette’s household as one of her wardrobe women. In the early days of the revolution, she spies on the Queen, but as it escalates, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to Marie Antoinette, as well as the revolutionaries in her life, including her Léon, the man she loves. Internally, she also struggles with loyalty to herself, to being true to what she believes is right against the pressures of conforming to the revolutionary or royalist ideals of others.

Loyalty unintentionally became a visual cue throughout the novel, mostly due to my research into fashions of the time period (as Giselle would be interested in, given her role in the household). As patriotism increased during the revolution, people wore rosettes made of red, white, and blue ribbons. Tricolour became a symbol of the revolution – fervent revolutionaries might wear almost garishly decorated outfits, heavily displaying the red, white, and blue of the revolution. As revolutionary fervour increased, and it became dangerous to be seen as a royalist, people would wear tricolour cockades perfunctorily, even if they didn’t truly support the cause. Indeed, by September 21 of 1793, women were legally required to wear a tricolour ribbon, the insignia of the republic.

tricolour

Other colours in clothing were factors as well. During the Women’s March on Versailles in October of 1789, Marie Antoinette went outside to address the rioters. She made the grave error of wearing a black and yellow dress. To the rioters, these colours symbolized the colours of Austrian royalty. Since the people of France had never quite trusted Marie Antoinette, suspecting her of having greater loyalty to her home country of Austria instead of to her new one of France, her wardrobe choice almost seemed proof of it, creating yet another reason to loathe her.

My accidental theme isn’t as overarching as some, but it’s still there. I’d argue that every story has some kind of theme. It doesn’t have to be epic, like good versus evil. This is one of the themes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as that of the hero’s journey. In Lord of the Rings, almost no one can go against evil and come out of it untainted. Though he destroys the Ring, Frodo is never the same again. Boromir finds his heroism, but not after nearly succumbing to the Ring’s dark power. Sam is perhaps the only character who emerges whole, and stronger, after all the dark events.

Pride and Prejudice is another classic, well-known novel with a strong theme. It’s right there in the title; Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet embody the two qualities, and provide the book with its theme of the dangers of excessive pride and of judging people without knowing them.

P&P

One of my favourite themes in a book is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because it slowly builds over the entire series. The idea of ‘home’ is a strong theme in the novel. Through his entire childhood, Harry longed for a home, for the idea of belonging. He finally found a sense of belonging at Hogwarts, but he struggles during the holidays when everyone else has a home to go to. During his search for the Horcruxes, Harry visits the homes of other characters – some of them which were also substitute homes during his childhood, like The Burrow. It’s this that helps him understand that he must make the ultimate sacrifice to defeat Voldemort and defend Hogwarts (his home, and a home for others, too). He understands he needs to protect the people and places he holds dear, and that is the true belonging.

What themes have resonated with you in a book? Can you think of a book to challenge my theory that every single one does have a theme? Please share!

Research in Historical Fiction

Research is a very significant aspect of my writing life. I’ve spent hours chasing down facts, and I know I’m not alone. (Which is comforting, actually). I’d like to share some of my favourite tips for historical research. I’ve written about time periods ranging from the French Revolution, the Golden Age of Piracy, and Belle Époque, and the reign of Mary Tudor, so research has taken over large sections of my life many times. I’m interested to hear your research tips, too, if you’d like to share.

Read A Lot. Read Widely.

When I first start researching a project, I never quite know what I’m looking for. At the beginning of my research for the novel that ended up being The Wardrobe Mistress, I had a vague idea that my character was going to work in the kitchens at Versailles, maybe making fancy pastries and soft white bread. She’d be the kind of girl with rosy cheeks from the heat of the ovens, and flour or sugar dusted through her hair. She’d probably be too generous sharing the fruits (or baked goods) of her labours.

Instead, I discovered the significance of tricolour rosettes to demonstrate revolutionary support – or not. I learned how fashion played a prevalent role in the French Revolution. My sweet kitchen maid turned into a cool-headed girl who could assess someone based on their outfit, could fix your hem in thirty seconds, and had an appreciation for beauty and occasionally a tongue as sharp as her sewing needle.

rosette

Go to the Library

It might sound obvious, but I’m a huge fan of my library’s system to put items on hold, so they deliver them to the branch closest to my house. I just have to go grab them off the hold shelf, conveniently located near the door, and I’m often out of there in two minutes. Not that I don’t like being at the library, but I have a full time job and a hefty writing workload, so efficiencies are precious. I rely on the holds system more than I probably should.

However, when I’m starting out a new project, I search the library catalogue for one book on the topic, preferably with a broad take on the subject matter. To start, I’m not looking for something like “French Fashion and What it Meant in Front of the Guillotine” (Hm. I should write that, with that title). Just “The French Revolution.” Don’t get into specifics yet. Then, go to that section of the library and find it on the shelf. It will be surrounded by at least ten other books that you’ve never heard of, most of which will prove invaluable to your research. It’s like the best treasure hunt ever. Let the Dewey Decimal System help you.

dewey decimal

I never thought I’d tell anyone the Dewey Decimal system is cool, but it is. The 900 section has been a good friend to me.

I’ve heard some advice from other avid-researchers and writers that they like to start with the kids section. Apparently it’s a great way to get down to the basics of what you want to research. I have not tried this yet, but I intend to.

Get Visual

If you can, travel to some of the sites you’re researching. This isn’t always possible, of course. I didn’t manage to visit Versailles during my research for The Wardrobe Mistress. Fortunately, we have the internet, and that is the next best thing. Use Google Street View to explore the area, if you can. Even if the landscape is modernized, the general layout might still give you an idea of how it would have looked. Look at photographs of the area for the same reason. If your time period is far before the invention of cameras, check out paintings from the time period. Read travel books or talk to someone who has been able to visit the area.

It's not a photograph, but this depiction of the view of Versailles as it would have looked in 1793 was still helpful to me.

It’s not a photograph, but this depiction of the view of Versailles as it would have looked in 1793 was still helpful to me.

Look for Primary Sources

Reading source material written during the same time period that you’re researching is extremely valuable. It will give you an idea of the way people spoke, what they found important, and what kind of values they had. Depending on the time period, you also might get a glimpse at an alternate view. History is written by the victors, so they say, and you might get a peek at the ‘losing’ side through primary sources.

Also Seek out New Research

Scientific journals grow outdated much faster than historical books, but in both cases, it does happen. When new books or articles are published, new theories and viewpoints are built upon existing research. It happens with history, too. If you’re researching Anne Boleyn, even though she’s been dead for almost five hundred years, you’ll find different interpretations of her life in books published in the 1970s compared to something more recent.

Look for the Little Things

The little things are both the joy and the bane of writing historical fiction. One minute, you’re happily writing along, nearing the end of a scene. “He sipped his coffee,” you might write. Wait – did they have coffee yet? Time to hit the books (or internet) to confirm!

An English coffeehouse from the 17th century.

An English coffeehouse from the 17th century.

The little things are always a surprise. You never know when or what you’re going to need to know until it comes up as a gaping maw in your manuscript. The little things are proof that research never really ends.

Small, specific items of information can also be the toughest to track down. It makes the reward all that much more exciting when you do find them.

Have Fun

Research can drag at times, but not for long. Researching a topic you chose, that you are passionate about, is a lot closer to the fascinating end than the dull end of the spectrum. Chasing down facts can have its challenges, but on the whole, it should be an enjoyable one.

By the time your manuscript is complete, you might be sick of the time period altogether. It’ll come back around though – trust me. By the time I finished The Wardrobe Mistress, the last thing I wanted to do was read another word about the French Revolution. But when the editorial revisions came around, even though I was supposed to be cutting out a whole bunch of my word count, but I still managed to work in a new tidbit about Marie Antoinette’s perfumer I’d discovered in the meantime, because my exhaustion with the time period didn’t last long. It just needed a recovery.

Laptop-and-books

What are your favourite research tips? I’d love to here them! Same goes for anecdotes of research triumphs or trials.

 

Happy Bastille Day

 

Today is Bastille Day, which means it’s an excellent day to share another excerpt from The Wardrobe Mistress. I chose a scene that takes place a few days after the fall of the Bastille, and since the other excerpts I’ve shared here were both kind of violent, I picked a sweet one, for a change.

bastille


“I brought you something,” Léon says, taking my hand and pressing a small object into it. Part of it feels like a delicate chain, the metal warm from his palm. I open my fingers and smile in delight at the slender chain, though the small rock fastened to it puzzles me.

“Is this a special sort of stone?”

“Indeed. It’s from the Bastille.”

I glance at him in astonishment, and inspect it more closely. A little bigger than my thumbnail, the stone has been filed into an oval shape. The file has left a whiter scratch across the back of the sandy-grey coloured stone. How odd, to think of wearing part of a building around my neck. The stone is pretty though, in a rustic way, and I predict it will be height of fashion in weeks to come. People have been carting away the stones of the Bastille as souvenirs of the historic event. Geneviève will envy my necklace. Holding it up to the light, I realise the chain is made of interlocking sections of gold and silver, each gleaming in the sun. It’s very pretty; the chain is my favourite part.

“I made it myself.” The shy tilt of his head and the tentative tone of his voice betray his worry over the reception of the gift. “I had to use scraps leftover from repairing pocket watches for the chain, that’s why it doesn’t quite match. I hope you don’t mind.” He hesitates. “While I was making it, I liked to think the gold and silver together are like the sun and the moon.”

The idea brings a smile to my lips, and I trace my fingers over the stone and the softly glittering chain. “It means a lot to me that you fashioned it yourself, Léon.” I lift my braid away from my neck. “Will you help me fasten it?”

His fingers brush across the nape of my neck as he fusses with the clasp. The light touch makes my heart quicken, and I turn to look at him over my shoulder. “Thank you for the gift.”

“You’re welcome, Giselle.” His fingertips slide along the length of the chain, skimming across my throat.  It feels very pleasant. For a second I cannot remember what I meant to say, and when I do recall, the words tumble too quickly out of my mouth.

“I should have known you would manage to get a piece of history.” Léon is far too fervent of a revolutionary to miss this opportunity. Even though the fall of the Bastille is a blow to the King and Queen, I can’t help feeling a frisson of excitement about it. I can hardly help it, now that I’m back home, away from the palace. The streets are full of optimism for the revolution, and it’s a little contagious. I feel like Léon and I hold a piece of the future. The Bastille was solid rock, something that should have been unshakable, and now here is a small piece of it, made into something new. This is what our country needs; the old, ineffective ways dismantled and remade into laws that better serve the whole population. I pray that the royal family will see it, and aid the much-needed reforms before any further violence happens.


 

Accessories made of stones from the Bastille were quite common shortly after its fall. In my research, I stumbled across a few, but my favourite examples are a locket set with a Bastille stone and tiny diamonds to spell out the word ‘Liberé’. The other top contender is a complex headdress with white satin towers meant to represent the Bastille. Oh, historical fashion!