Blogging from A to Z: V is for Volcano Lady

vYou may recall from a previous post that I’m a big fan of independent authors.  Today, I’m honored to have steampunk indie author T.E. MacArthur, author of the Volcano Lady series, as my guest.  Enjoy this delightful interview!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a cat person. Yup! That’s me. My cat disagrees but I’m 100% certain I am a cat too. Cats are natural storytellers. Ever look in the eyes of a cat at 1:30 am – they’re starving to death aren’t they, just ask them. So effective are they at storytelling that you get up, go to the kitchen, and find their bowl is still … full. What’s worse is that it isn’t the first time you’ve fallen for this ruse. That’s the power of a well-crafted narrative. It’s the epitome of getting your audience to shun reality in favor of the new paradigm. Full suspension of disbelief that such an adorable, furry little purring machine could never be so supremely self-possessed that it would wake you up at O-Dark-Thirty because the kibble is shy a ¼ inch from the top of the bowl. Masters of Illusion. Purveyors of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

 

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T.E. MacArthur

When did you first start writing?
Remind me again when the Cretaceous era ended?

I honestly don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t writing. For a little while, I deluded myself into thinking I was a comic book artist. I wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t very good either. I’ve tried plenty of “art” from portraiture (I like the Elizabethan style because perspective and reality never bother to interfere) to Happy Little Trees (because Bob Ross’s voice and instructions can calm me down after work like no other.)

 

What’s your newest work?
The Doomsday Relic. It is a Volcano Lady story, with Lettie, Tom, Miranda, and a bevy of villains. I’m trying something new this time – instead of a full novel, I’ve written a novella and presented it as a Victorian gazette. The layout is meant to evoke the old magazines with their serial stories. I also chose a larger publication size: 7” x 10”. Your average trade paperback is 6” x 9”, but I wanted it to feel and look a little different, yet still fit in a backpack or man purse (oops, I mean, “messenger bag.”)

 

doomsdayrelicWhat is it about? It’s the no-holds-barred adventure of Lettie Gantry, off to the American West, in search of an ancient temple and an old enemy. More gadgets and secrets. Chases. Escapes. Everything you want to read when you’re at the beach – or at home curled up with a glass of wine, a catnip high kitten, the door shut against your weird neighbor and the screaming toddler from upstairs, and Expedition Unknown on in the background. Okay – that’s really specific to me, but you get the idea, right?

 

Where do you get your ideas?
Childhood cartoons and those brilliantly odd TV shows from the 60s and 70s. There are a couple of homages to The Wild Wild West and The Rifleman in The Doomsday Relic. I was very sad last weekend, as I realized that the Saturday Morning Cartoon really doesn’t exist anymore, does it? I’d wake up at the crack of freaking dawn to sneak downstairs to the old black & white TV, with my trusty tape recorder, and I’d make sure I got every episode of Josie and the Pussycats – songs and all.
I think the 60s and 70s were relatively uninhibited. You had a doped-up dragon, a kid on a psychedelic trip with his magic flute, bee-musicians having all sorts of adventures, and a blond racecar driver who spent most of her time dealing with a serial-killer uncle. Sometimes, some barely-disguised soft bondage sneaked its way in, leading many of us growing up then to have a skewed sense of what constituted fun. Good stuff, I tell you.
Let’s of course not forget the (British) Avengers and My Partner the Ghost.
That influence tweaked my sense of adventure. It informed my idea of what a strong woman could do (thank you, Mrs. Peel) and what excitement looked like (hey, I want to be a Secret Service Agent for President Grant!) I think it’s fair to say that I get my ideas from my childhood.

Where did you grow up, and how does that influence your writing?
I grew up in Colorado. Every year we’d take a few trips up to Cripple Creek – this charming little town on the backside of Pike’s Peak that banks on its Victorian and Wild West décor. There was the annual trip to Glenwood Springs – home of every rotten egg on the planet (okay, sulfur springs do not smell nice, but I promise you go nose-blind after the first 3 hours.) Beyond the hot springs and mineral pools, that were amazing by the way, it was also the place where Doc Holliday breathed his last. There were ranches where we went to camp. Rivers to sleep next to. Breath-taking mountains. Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo culture. All of it being the epitome of the American Frontier. I’m not sure why I don’t just go ahead and write Westerns, but I love English history too. Steampunk has allowed me to delve into both with glee!

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy these days is going back to read something I wrote in high school or college and realizing that I don’t (what’s the right word to use on a family friendly blog?) suck as much as I used to. Ha! No, actually, the truth is that I’ve had people I admire greatly and some I go goofy over come up to me and say that they love my work. I’ve heard readers mention little clues I put in or emotional elements I thought might be overlooked with all the history and technology – that informs me how much they delved into the story and how well it touched them. That is my greatest joy

Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite and why?
I love Lettie Gantry but I will make a confession here: I adore Tom Turner. Like Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsy series, I’ve fallen in love with my creation. Lettie serves as an extension of me – which should surprise no one because that’s what all authors must do to keep their writing honest. Miranda Gray is the voice of my inner snark. But Tom is the man I would fall in love with were he to walk up to me. It’s not quite fair, though: I created Tom thus he does the things I would want him to do. He cannot help but be perfect, even in his imperfections.

What are your favorite genres to read?
Well-research historical mysteries. I know I’m playing fast and loose with some elements of history, but this is Steampunk and I admit freely what I’m doing. I honestly despise poorly-researched historical novels that suggest that they are “real” or “factual.” Since I am an historian, reading something anachronistic yanks me out of the story – it reasserts my disbelief. Remember the penny from the movie Somewhere in Time? The penny that broke the spell of the modern man, destroying his submersion in the past, and dragging him back home instantly. Bad history, or repeated yet debunked historical myth are my pennies.

What are you currently reading?
One of the latest Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries by Anne Perry.

What’s your favorite place to write?
Coffee Houses. I adore coffee houses. Since I live near a university, there are plenty of cafes to sit and write (if you don’t mind drop-kicking that one student, who is taking up two tables and brought in their own food, out of your way. I have no problem with this! Cafes are not study halls, they are businesses, and one should purchase food and respect space.)

What do your fans mean to you?
Everything!  I try not to think of them as “fans,” because that feels arrogant to me. They are friends of one sort or another.

Blogging from A to Z: U is for Underpinnings

uAs I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I primarily write historical fiction.  This means researching not only social mores, foods, and events, but also fashion.  When you are looking at the various women’s silhouettes that were en vogue throughout history, you have to also look at the underpinnings that created them.

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Fashion Institute of Technology

I’m not going to lie; women essentially wore two full sets of clothing throughout most of history.  The underthings were almost as heavy as the outer garments.  Corsetry and petticoats were made to fit a given woman’s shape into the styles of the day.  Let’s go back to the earliest period in which I’ve written:  the Regency, which is when Clytie’s Caller is set.  Clytie’s stays (like the ones at the right) would have kept her figure pretty straight, in line with the Empire-waisted dresses that were in fashion at the time.

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Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising

Moving forward in time, we come to the Romantic era, as written about in Bayou Fire.  Some of you may recall my early post about idiot sleeves.  Well, the underpinnings at the left are part of how those sleeves kept their shape.  The “plumpers” on the chemise, and the heavily corded petticoats, gave shape to the dresses of the time.

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Found via Pinterest, no source given

Then we come to the late Victorian era, in which the majority of the Seen Through the Phantom’s Eyes series is set.  The silhouette has changed yet again, becoming more wasp-waisted and constrained.  In In The Eye of The Beholder, I describe Claire’s best corset as being covered in blue china silk. This image is pretty much how I imagined it looking.

It is worth noting that bloomers were not really worn until the late Regency/early Romantic era; it was all about the stays and petticoats throughout most of history.

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Maternity corset, found via Pinterest, no source given

I have also been a historical reenactor so yes, I have worn stays and petticoats.  I own three corsets, one of them custom-made, all from Dark Garden.  If you are interested in corsetry or period attire like this, my plea is that you have a fitting and get a piece that is right for your body.  When I first started reenacting, I borrowed a Victorian corset from a woman much more long-waisted than I am, and the resulting bruises on my hips and overall discomfort were off-putting.  If your corset fits right, it is just as comfortable as any modern-day underpinnings — once you’ve gotten used to wearing it.  Remember, in the periods I write about, young women would have been corseted since puberty, so they were accustomed to it.  They even corseted during pregnancy; stays were the primary foundation garment in daily life.  We are no longer in the habit of corseting, since the modern bra (the original patent for a brassiere was in 1889) came into widespread use during World War I so that corset metal could go to the war effort.  Thus, some care and training is required, wearing your corset only for an hour or two each day at first and gradually increasing the time you do so.

Blogging from A to Z: T is for Lt. Col. George H. Torney

Eye Of The Storm Cover_revisedMaman also went to visit Lieutenant Colonel Torney, the commander of the general hospital, to see how we could all help out. Between the regular hospital and the field hospital, they were horribly short-handed. The Presidio General Hospital was the first to allow women from the Army Nurse Corps, and so Colonel Torney, whom Maman called Georges (his first name was the English George) accepted Maman’s offer of assistance.

 
So, many mornings, Maeve, Maman and I would be on the wagon over to the field hospital in Golden Gate Park. We helped distribute food, write letters … whatever was needed. Maman’s staunch attitude in the face of horror saw her helping out the orderlies in surgeries. Maeve Kaye and I agreed that we could not have borne it ourselves; Maeve had never seen my Papa’s face (which I must admit was becoming harder for me to recall to mind) nor heard about Philippe’s burns. Maman was made of sterner stuff than one might ordinarily credit her. Beau-Père always said her frailties were well-hidden. — From my novel, In The Eye of The Storm


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Brig. Gen. George H. Torney.  U.S. Army photo

In my earlier post about earthquake cottages, I talked a little about the U.S. Army’s involvement in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Along with building the little houses, the Army treated many of the injured victims at the Presidio General Hospital, in building 1006 (this is the building in which I worked when I was deputy public affairs officer for Letterman Army Medical Center), as well as in field hospitals deployed in various parts of the city.

The hospital commander at the time was Lt. Col. George H. Torney.  He had come to the hospital originally for treatment a couple of years before the earthquake, and was eventually appointed not only its commander, but chief surgeon for the Department of California.  He would eventually rise to the rank of brigadier general.

tAt the time of the earthquake, Torney soon put command of the over-taxed hospital in the hands of his deputy/adjutant, and designated himself as the chief sanitary officer for the city.  He went around to the various encampments to make sure disease was not spreading, ensure that food and water were safe and clean, etc.  You can read his report to the Secretary of the Army concerning the earthquake here.

Brig. Gen. Torney passed away in 1913, just a few months before he would have been eligible to retire, of bronchial pneumonia.

I got to know the history of the hospital, and the various buildings in which it was housed (Building 1006 was the second of three) during my time working on the Presidio of San Francisco.  Lt. Col. Torney was surely one of the heroes of the earthquake recovery process, and I delighted in including him in my story.

Blogging from A to Z: S is for Sofreh Aghd

layoutFarukh kept his eyes shut for a moment as he held his breath. When he opened his eyes to look into the mirror of fate, he thought he had never seen anyone look so beautiful. She wore a white sheath dress, over which was tied a snug-fitting jacket covered in silver lace that then draped down over her skirt. Her veil, which hung to her knees, was secured by three silver chains across her forehead. It was a modern version of the traditional wedding dresses of his country, and his bride was beautiful in it. — From my novella, His Beloved Infidel


 

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Traditional Sofreh Aghd/Shang Chen Photo

Sofreh aghd is a traditional Persian wedding.  Steeped in the traditions of Zoroastrianism, the ceremony sees the couple sitting on a settee in front of an array of specially prepared dishes that are consumed during the event.  For example, one of the dishes is a cup of honey into which the bride and groom dip their little fingers to feed each other, so that they will speak sweet words to one another.  Another is a pair of sugar cones, which are rubbed together onto a silk veil that is held over the couple, so that they will be covered in sweetness.

sThe spread also includes a candelabra and a mirror, representing the fire and light of life.  It is in that mirror, the “mirror of fate,” that a Persian bridegroom will see his bride in her wedding finery for the first time.

There are complicated marriage contracts on display, all of them describing the protections afforded to the bride in the event of the groom’s death, or a divorce.  There is also a book, usually the Quran, but it could be a special book of poetry as is the case in His Beloved Infidel.

The sofreh aghd is only the legal part of the marriage; there are parties that go on for weeks and months afterwards, with the newlyweds paying wedding calls on relatives. It is considered good luck for the families to host them.

Blogging from A to Z: R is for Red Beans & Rice

rRed beans and rice is a staple Creole dish.  It’s most often served on Mondays, as historically it was a way to use up the hock from Sunday’s ham.  The best I’ve ever had were served in the restaurant at Oak Alley Plantation; I quite literally scraped my plate to get every bit.

Here’s an easy recipe, from Southern Living magazine.
Ingredients;

  • 1 pound smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Hot cooked rice
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Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license

Directions:

 

  1. Sauté first 4 ingredients in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add beans and next 7 ingredients.

  2. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Serve over rice. To reheat, microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 3 to 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

     

If, like me, you don’t care for the texture of whole kidney beans, you can mash them up to the consistency of refried beans, or buy Blue Runner Cream Style Beans.

As always, there’s some music to go with the meal.  Here’s Bernard Purdie’s “Red Beans and Rice.”