Friday, July 13, 2012

Getting things in order

Holly's advice includes taking one line summaries of scene and arranging them in different orders. Sometimes linear is not the best story. I did use that idea in the first book  - Ridiculous but putting a funeral before the actual death. . .hehehe. now I am trying to juggle several story lines. I have a set of characters staying in Bath, a set travelling to London and a set going to Cornwall. I need to work out when to leave one set and go to another to be interesting! Hmmmm. I suppose the best choice is to look for the grey moments. When someone is in trouble leave them in it for a while and go visit relatives.

evil laughter

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Looking for paperless world

I have so many characters in book two - just counted, 14 characters. Not all POV, thank you very much, but 14 people to juggle and get from place to place and explain their motivations. A computer outline is not enough. I have just started labeling 3 x 5 cards and pinning them to wall, joined together by string to mark interconnections. I need the visual so that everyone will turn up on schedule for their "
On Stage."
sigh.
Overture and Beginners, children.
Beth. Maude. Get your bonnets.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Candy Bar with Holly

Holly recommends doing brief synopsis of what she calls the "candy bar" scenes. The easy to write sometimes pivotal scenes that tell you a lot about the characters. Expand the story. Since I know nothing about the story I started doddling about with the characters. What would Lady Beth like to do? What would Maude do for fun?
And the men who will come into their life. How do they arrive?
It occurred to me that Beth did a lot of growing up in Ridiculous . . and several fans of Ridiculous told me they did not want her to back slide. So, even thought this is Maude's book Beth is growing as well. Beth has demanded, and been granted, the rare privilege of learning to drive. She is given a neat little laudelette and, of course, has an accident. No, not the same sort of serious accident that brought Shoffer and Mr. North together but enough to tell us a lot about the characters. 
The next candybar scene presented itself for later in the book. Beth, Maude, Maude's two admirer's. Beth's two admirers and assorted other young people in the park talking about books they like.
Seems mild except everyone likes Gothic dreadful novels.
That scene will help me define the danger and then, I am struck with at least three possible grey moments for later in the book.
Oh, great. this system of jumping around for Candy Bar scenes is really helping a book I know nothing about to become clearer.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reality of writing

Came face to face with reality. Phone call from publisher. They are planning combined promo, including magazine add and internet banners for existing books in October and it would be "nice" to be able to say that the sequel to either of my current books was coming out later the same month.

Let me see. June, July, August. Allow Sept for editing, galley and other dreck., That is less than three months. So, let's say, 70 days. Average book I write um. . . 130,000. That is 360 pages. So I need to write five pages every day until end August. . .  and this doesn't count.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Baby steps in plotting.

I am now offically a fan of Holly Lisle - writer of such useful books as "Mugging the Muse". (if only she'd write a book on punctuation - sigh - for those of us who slept through those classes)
When setting up to write from cold - where is the book, said the publisher - I never intended to write a series, said me - I had to face the fact I had absolultely no fricking idea what to write about. GRanted I had a couple of spare unmarried characters of suitable age wandering about my last regency and they could probably do with a good romance but, still, I'd had the adventures of Mr. North in my head for a couple of years before putting it down. . . this situation is different.

Hense my seeking advice from books.
Holly as a tome out there - years old - 

Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course: Introduction to Plotting

She made several useful suggestions. First she asked for a one paragraph description of the most important/interesting character. I have decided to make Maude the POV character so I wrote this about her.


Maude is the youngest of the Boarder girls and the most inhibited. She was only 15 when her father died and it has made her very aware of how uncertain life can be. She requires reassurance that her current comforts will continue. She is careful of her money and the only foolishness she has indulged recently is cutting her hair very short. Now she is an heiress she is aware that she does not know what to do to retain her money and it is a constant concern. She keeps to her budget and will nag Shoffer into creating a bank account that she can access – for safety sake. She has discovered an interest in botany and gardening that cannot be explored in a rented house in Bath. IF she ever marries, and she feels this is doubtful, she will accept a safe marriage with a reliable, trustworthy, person with a history of long lived relatives so that she will not be left alone.

next-- the use of candy bars in plotting.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

actual work

This is the first time I'm writing a book that didn't exist in my head first. Usually when I'm writing I'm putting down on electronic media a story that has been a day-dream probably for years. I've worked the concept, played with the characters in my head until the beginning, grey moments and end are clear to me. This time, the publisher said, this story seems to have legs. Sequel please and while you're at it, remember to include thread that can be a third book.
huh?????

Now this is more of a challenge than usual because Ridiculous is a humorous book written to address a specific irritation I had with existing Regency novels. I have been annoyed for years that when the heroine dresses as a man she is immediately, two or three paragraphs, revealed to the quick witted and keen eyed over sexed hero, as the woman she is.
Bull.. . . . . We are better than that!

So, I had a strong opinion and it made writing the book easy.
Now I am going in cold. I have no strong opinion. I like the characters but must chose something for them to care about and it is going to be tough.

I will keep you updated on my angst.

getting ready to begin work

Here's a question. how do you procrastinate? I'm famous for my creative time wasting. A professor once asked me how I was doing on my dissertation and I said I'd finished my preliminary procrastination. He was impressed almost long enough for me to leave the room. But now I have reached new levels of delay - it
s called "Research". For my next book I have to know about the ranking system in the Church of England. Naval battles between Napoleons time in Helen (???) verses Alba and the legal process in both the Admiralty and the Ecclesiastical Courts. I think that's good for, oh, a couple of non writing weeks.

Ridiculous sucess

Having given in to the nagging - encouragement - of my publisher I am starting the sequel to my book "RIdicullous." Okay, we will count today as start day since the nagging/request came in last week and I have spent a few days complaining and plotting. So, June 20. Let's see how long it takes to intentionally write a book. I have not been given a deadline. only ASAP. sigh.I have chosen POV character as Maude. And now have to make certain that she has a humorous voice without making her the same as the lead character of the last book. Let the games begin.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ridiculous 1st chapter




Chapter one

“Dear God, protect us!” came a shout from the master bedroom. “He is dead!”
Millicent Boarder raised her eyes to heaven, sighed, then gathered the clean bed linens she carried to her chest and ran the last few steps to the upper landing. A loud and sincere wailing followed the shout but even without that guide Millicent would have known where to go. There was, after all, but one 'he' in this household ~ her second cousin, Mr. Anthony North.
Mildred, Millicent's sister, also summoned by the shouting, emerged in haste from the servant’s staircase.
“Whatever is the matter?” hissed Mildred. “I have but this moment soothed Maude to sleep.”
Millicent continued down the corridor glancing back at her younger sister. “It would appear that Mr. North has had the bad taste to die.”
“Oh Lord,” cried Mildred going deathly pale and stumbling to a halt. “What shall we do?”.
“Please, control yourself.” Millicent pushed the oak door open with her shoulder. “I cannot be calming both you and mother. One of you will have to wait.”
With a shrug, Mildred composed herself and trailed along behind Millicent. Inside the bedchamber their mother, the widowed Mrs. Felicity Boarder, sat on the floor beside the master's great bed, her face buried in her skirts. Millicent left it to Mildred to rush to her mother's side and try and stop the wailing. Instead, with a firm and steady step Millicent went to the bedside. Sure enough the chest of the man who lay there did not rise and fall. His pinched and reddened nose did not flare and his hands, so often raised to strike, pinch or grope, lay limp and curled on the counterpane.
“Shake him. Oh, shake him, Millicent,” cried Felicity. “He may just be sleeping.”
“Through this caterwauling?” Millicent cast a disdainful glance at her mother. “I very much doubt it.”
Instead of releasing a fresh wave of tears Felicity raised her reddened face to her daughter.
“What are we to do?” she asked in a helpless, childlike tone. “Where are we to go? If it were not for Mr. North taking us in. . .”
“Yes. Yes,” said Millicent, briskly. “Surely he is the most generous man in Christendom to take in a widowed cousin and her three daughters and put them to work as his maids, cooks and housekeepers. If we are very, very lucky, we shall never see his like again.”
“He may have been unkind. . .” began Felicity.
“And cruel and mean and heartless,” added Mildred.
“But he gave us shelter when even his brother would not.” Felicity twisted her apron between shaking fingers. “Perhaps. Perhaps if I write and say how useful we were to his brother, Perceval will take us in now.”
“I would beg you would not,” said Mildred. “I don't want to volunteer to labor in yet another miserly relative’s home.”
“But what else can we do?” Felicity's voice rose again and she sobbed into her apron.
Mildred and Millicent exchanged a tired glance. A dull thump came from above their heads.
“Maude must be awake again,” said Mildred, frowning at the ceiling. “The fever is broken, but she is still weak. What shall I tell her?”
“Tell her everything will be well,” replied Millicent.
“You cannot lie to her,” cried Felicity.
“Mother, please. If you cannot be composed at least be silent. I am trying to think.”
Millicent stared down at the vessel which once contained her cousin's black and withered soul.
Strange, she thought, how small he seems now. No longer the monster of her day to day life since they'd come here three years ago. No, not now. Instead he was a pale thing, pitiable and fragile.   
Millicent stretched her long fingered hand out beside his.
How odd that she had never realized that the man was much the same height as she. His hair, the same sandy color. Surely she'd been given ample opportunity for study. As she had the neatest script and best mind for numbers of her family, her near blind cousin dictated all his business letters to Millicent. She spent hours in his study, bent over ledgers and documents, while he'd stood only inches from her chair.
He claimed to be blind, but Millicent suspected he had been merely nearsighted. And, after glancing up one morning to see the man smirking at her bosom from a distance of only a few inches, Millicent had taken to wearing sack like dresses with necklines up to her ears.
“Perhaps if we summoned the doctor?” suggested Felicity.
“That drunk? To do what?” demanded Mildred. “His visit yesterday did no good. He wanted to bleed all of us, including the healthy.”
Millicent's attention wandered back to her cousin's hair and she ran her fingers over her own tightly braided bun as she thought. The idea teasing in the back of her mind was so strange, so audacious, so impossible, that she could not put it into words.
 And yet, it could be the only thing that would save her mother and sisters from a return to the workhouse and years of genteel poverty and suffering.
“Mildred, dear,” said Millicent in a soft and absent tone. “Be so kind as to run down to the sewing room and fetch the shears. On the way back, go to my room and fetch my brown gown.”
Their mother's head came up in an instant.
“Millicent? Mildred? What are you about?”
Millicent yanked down the sweat stained and soiled sheets that covered her cousin and began removing his nightshirt as Mildred fled the room.
“Millicent! Stop!” Felicity climbed to her feet. “This is unseemly.”
“He's dead, mother,” said Millicent. “He cannot be shocked.”
“But. . . But, what are you doing? I insist you tell me, at once.”
Millicent fetched a bowl of cold water and a cloth from the nearby table and began washing the body.
“Millicent!”
“Mother,” said Millicent, as Mildred returned, breathless and burdened. “You had best begin referring to me as Mr. North.”
“What?” cried Mildred and Felicity together.
“We're going to send the gardener down to the village, to the vicar, with the message that Millicent Boarder has just died and Mr. North, concerned about further contagion wants her out of the house and buried immediately. The vicar, of course, will protest that the  grave cannot be dug until tomorrow because of this pestilential rain.  He will call to offer condolences and bring his brother, the undertaker. By the time they arrive we'll have Mr. North, dressed in my gown, wrapped up and ready for encoffining.”
“Millicent, you cannot be serious,” said Felicity. “This is obscene. You cannot bury Mr. North's body under your name. God will never forgive you.”
“And being homeless and penniless is not obscene?” demanded Millicent. “Did Mr. North ever in life spend one moment's thought on our care or future? No, he did not. And I am not going to worry one minute about the damage to my soul, what little that there might be, if we bury him under my name while I take on his.”
“But you can't. You're a woman.” Felicity gestured towards Millicent's bosom.
Millicent prepared to pull the old brown gown over her cousin's head and ignored her mother.
“Millicent? What about the chemise and stays?” asked Mildred.
“Mildred,” cried Felicity, “you cannot be thinking of aiding Millicent in this mad venture!”
Startled, Millicent glanced back at her sister.
“You want to wear stays once you're dead?” she asked with genuine curiosity.
That question caused her sister some confusion.
“Well, I should feel undressed without my chemise at the very least. Besides, the more layers of fabric we dress him in the less likely anyone is to notice he is not a she.”
“Good point,” said Millicent and pulled the gown back off.
“Girls, you cannot do this. It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Millicent, you cannot impersonate him.  Mr. North is known in the neighborhood. Worse, you would have to wear breeches. People will see your . . . lower limbs. You would be found out in an instant and we will all be shunned. Far better to throw ourselves on the mercy of your cousin Perceval. He'll have both Anthony's and his estates now. He can afford to be charitable.”
Millicent came to her full height and glared down at her mother. She had never in her life been so angry. Not when she'd learned that her father had made no plans, written no will, for the protection of his wife and children which meant what little he'd died possessing went to his male relatives. Not when she'd been turned out of her home and forced to fetch and carry for an abusive and unfeeling cousin. Never.
Until this moment she hadn't realized it was possible to tower in her own rage.
“Do you believe, mother, that it is better for us to be penniless dependents? To be servants? To be slaves to the whims of men? That it is necessary that we permit everything we own to be taken from us as when father died? Heaven forbid we protest. Heaven forbid we take some action to protect ourselves.” Millicent fairly vibrated in her anger. “Do you believe it is better that we starve on the street rather than I wear men's trousers? Of all insane suggestions, mother, that is the worst. We may die of starvation but at least we will have maintained the proprieties, that is the most important thing!”
“Yes. No. Oh, Millicent do not shout at me. I am so afraid.”
“Then let me take care of you. Please, mother, I can do this.”
“Think of your sisters. Think of the disgrace when you are found out. You cannot shame them like this.”
“Oh, really mother, be sensible,” said Mildred. “I agree with Millicent. Indeed, we are lucky that she can attempt this. I am too short for such a thing. No one would be deceived for a moment. But Millicent is so tall, everyone will believe she is a man.”
Millicent grinned down at her sister. That was the simple, honest truth. Though there was only one year difference in their age Millicent towered over her younger sister. She was, in fact, taller than most of their acquaintances. Her sisters and mother were all tiny pocket Venuses with thick golden curls, as opposed to Millicent's straight sandy hair that resisted the most tightly knotted curling papers. Their petite forms were graced with generous curves and tiny waists. Compared to them Millicent frequently felt like a hulking giant. A skinny, flat chested giant. Well, to be honest she did have bosoms, but she anticipated no particular difficulties concealing them. The only thing the women had in common were eyes of golden brown that glowed catlike when strong emotion moved them.
“I'll fetch a chemise and stay . . .well, no, not the stays,” said Mildred, thoughtfully. “You're right, of course. We deserve to be comfortable in our graves, if nowhere else.”
“But it won't work,” moaned Felicity.
“Mother!” Millicent stopped, sighed and continued in a softer tone. “Let us at least try. Consider the alternatives.”
Mildred returned with underclothes, stockings and shoes and the two women set to work dressing the body.
“We have to work quickly while the body is still soft,” said Millicent.
“His hair is a problem. Tis too short,” said Mildred.
“I told you it wouldn't work,” murmured Felicity, and was ignored.
“We have to cut my hair anyway,” said Millicent. “Fortunately he and I are much of the same shade. If we cut my hair while it is still in its braids and wrap it around his head. . .”
“It will fall off or come undone.” Mildred finished her task of tying the ribbons to hold up Mr. North's stockings. “Wait. I have an idea.”
And shortly thereafter they were finished. Millicent's hair was shorn, shorter than Cousin North's had ever been, and loops of her carefully braided hair was sewn to a frilly spinsters cap Mildred found, and tied on the dead man's head. It had taken all three women working together to carry the heavy body out of the master bedroom and down the corridor to an empty guest room. The body was dressed, arms folded over the flat bosom, masculine hands hidden beneath a bouquet of dried flowers from the still room and the whole wrapped tightly in old, patched but clean sheets awaiting the arrival of the undertaker.
As soon as the body was prepared Millicent and Mildred set to work on Millicent's transformation. Her face was whitened with flour and her nose reddened with rouge. Her recently trimmed hair was hidden under a sleeping cap. With all that, and the room curtains closed tight against the setting sun, the two women hoped that their trick would succeed. Sitting up in the recently vacated master's bed Millicent huddled inside her cousin's powdering gown just as a heavy cart rumbled into the forecourt.
It had been decided that Mildred should handle the vicar and his brother since Felicity could not yet be relied upon. Instead Felicity was banished to the servant’s rooms in the attic where Mr. North had insisted the women should live, to sit with Maude.
Three years ago, after the death of her husband had left them alone and penniless, Felicity had written to all her acquaintances and relatives explaining the plight of herself and her three daughters. The first round of letters had been met with universal rejection. A second set of letters, desperate and begging, went out. That time Felicity received but one positive reply, from Mr. Anthony North.
Relieved to have received an offer of a home, the women traveled to Mr. North's principle estate in north Yorkshire, to be met with the news that Mr. North had dismissed all his female servants in anticipation of the Boarder family arrival. It was his expectation that those positions were to be filled, unpaid, by the bereaved ladies. Without any other recourse the ladies did so for three long years.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew about Mr. North's nipfarthling ways, therefore the vicar and his brother were not surprised when Mildred answered the door instead of a footman, butler or housekeeper, and led the way upstairs to where the body rested.
“My mother is upstairs with Maude,” said Mildred, after the vicar had said a short prayer over the deceased. “We are still concerned about the health of my younger sister. Fortunately Mr. North's fever has broken. He is still weak and would prefer no visitors.”
“The neighborhood has been much afflicted by this fever,” said Mr. Abram. “This is hardly my first visit to a house today for this same sad reason. We must pray for Mr. North's and Miss Maude's continued improvement.”
“I must speak to Mr. North, at least,” rumbled the undertaker. “I must have instructions regarding the coffin.”
Mildred blinked, then realized what the man meant. He wanted to know how much Mr. North, known skinflint, was prepared to pay for the burial of a woman who was, for all intents and purposes, his upstairs maid.
“And I must speak to him regarding the eulogy,” added Mr. Abram.
With a nod Mildred led them to the master bedroom. After a soft knock,  she opened the door and permitted the two men to proceed her. If this subterfuge was going to fail it was best they know it now when they could still pass it off as a miraculous recovery.
“Mr. North,” said Mr. Abram, with a cough. “Please accept my condolences for your loss.”
“Keep away from me,” rasped Millicent and, covering her face, went into a spasm of sneezing and coughing. “I've barely survived one foul pestilence, I don't need yours.”
“My apologies.”
“And close the door. You're letting in drafts.”
With the light from the corridor blocked by the door the bedchamber was plunged into a deep gloom which made it impossible to tell if the figure in the bed was male or female. Even so, Millicent took no chances. Covering her face with a large handkerchief she sank back further under the many coverlets and quilts.
“What do you want?” she demanded in a hoarse voice.
“I only wish to know about the funeral. . .”
“Take the body away and put it in the ground,” snarled Millicent. “Don't you know your own business?”
“Ah.” The  vicar blushed and glanced across at Mildred, who put a suitably distressed expression on her face.
“Mother would appreciate it if the body could rest here tonight,” said Mildred, “so we may take leave of our sister.”
“Just keep it far from me,” said Millicent.
“Do you have a particular preference for her placement in the cemetery. . .” pressed the vicar.
“I'll not pay to have that worthless chit buried under the nave if that's what you're getting at,” said Millicent. “Bury her with the paupers if you must but she must be out of the house at first light.”
Both Mr. Abram and the undertaker paled at that cruel dismissal. Mildred managed a choked sob then blushed and turned away when the figure in the bed turned to glare at her.
“About the coffin. I have a fine. . .” began the undertaker.
“Wrap her in newspaper. Put her in a sack like a drowned cat. I'll give you one pound between you. Do what you will with her.”
Wisely, neither man asked about grave markers.
“Fetch my purse,” commanded Millicent, pointing to where it rested on a dressing table.
Weeping softly, Mildred carried it, unopened, to the bed. Millicent muttered and grumbled as she searched through the contents. Eventually she drew forth ten stained and tarnished shillings that she passed, one by one, into the hand of the vicar.
“I will not be well enough to attend the internment and her sisters and mother, well, you don't want them putting up a howl and causing a scene so you may be sure I'll keep them home, as is proper, so there'll be no need for the expense of any church prayers.”
Whatever opinion the two men had about this spare and disrespectful dismissal of a young woman’s death they kept to themselves. Instead they bowed their way out of the bedchamber, all without meeting Mildred's eyes. With the aid of the gardener, and with Mildred watching from the shadows to be sure no one closely examined the body, Mr. North was encoffined in a thin pine box and carried down to the drawing room.
“I'll be back first thing tomorrow to collect her,” said the undertaker with professional sympathy.
“Thank you for your kindness,” said Mildred, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
As soon as the men departed Millicent descended from where she'd watched from the top of the stairs.
“We did it,” cried Millicent. “They didn't suspect a thing.”
“You were everything that was miserly, mean and unfeeling,” said Mildred, hugging her sister. “Of course they believed you were Mr. North.”
“It won't work, you know,” said their mother, walking slowly down the stairs behind them. “You cannot go into local society. Mr. North may not go about much tis true, but he is well enough known hereabouts for a deception to be impossible. One day, two at the most is all we have. We should pack our bags, take as much as we can carry that can be sold and leave tonight.”
“Mother, you underestimate me,” said Millicent. “I have been giving the matter some thought and I know exactly what to do. Mr. North may have gone about a little in local society, but since he inherited he has not ventured further from this estate than twenty miles.” She paused and grinned at her sister. “In a few days we are going to put the story about that Mr. North has recovered, somewhat, from his fever and he has decided that he is going to Bath to take the waters for his health. No one knows him there. We shall be quite safe!”
“And taking us with him?” asked Mildred.
“But of course. Otherwise he will have to hire local servants in Bath, and you know how expensive city servants are. Far better to have us since we cost him no more than food and lodging. We will hire local people to clean and maintain this house, to scrub it from top to bottom and drive out the disease while he is away.”
“That is all very well to say,” said Felicity. “but we have no money to live in Bath. Nor for hiring servants.”
Millicent rolled her eyes and glanced across at her grinning sister. “Mother, you forget. I shall be traveling as Mr. North. We have his money.”
Felicity waved a hand around the gloomy hallway. “Look at the way he lived. He hasn't much. We must be careful and husband every penny.”
“He may have given you and everyone hereabouts the impression that was the case, but it isn't true. I have been managing Mr. North's accounts and correspondence for three years, mother. He has an annual income of nearly twenty thousand pounds. He lived like this because he was a mean, unimaginative miser.”
“Why didn't you say anything?” demanded Felicity.
“Would it make any difference? He made it clear to me he had no intention of paying us a salary no matter what his income was.”
“We are rich! Rich!”  Mildred laughed and clapped her hands. “Excellent. Then we can afford to hire staff. I so look forward to having a bath when I haven't had to heat and haul the water myself.”
“And so you shall,”  Millicent assured her.
“But, you are not looking to the future,” Felicity's teeth worried at her lower lip. “This masquerade cannot hope to succeed.”
“That is because you have only seen me in my night cap and powdering gown. Come on, Mildred. Let us garb Mr. North in his Sunday best, such as it is.”
Holding hands the two women ran upstairs to plunge into Mr. North's dressing room.
The late Mr. North was so much a miser that most of his clothes were obtained second hand, and therefore, not tailored exactly to his form. Likewise he was not much concerned about fashion so he was content for his clothing to hang loosely on his skinny body and he was not required to have the bother and the expense of a valet.
 It felt quite peculiar, Millicent found, to put off her chemise and stays and wrap layer upon layer of Mr. North's cravats about her torso to bind down her breasts. None of his collars were particularly high, but the cravat Mildred tied was good enough to conceal Millicent's lack of an Adam's apple. Millicent was quite shocked to discover how close in size and form she and her cousin had been. Even his shoes fit, after a fashion, once she'd layered on two pairs of knitted stockings.
At last Mildred led the way downstairs and halted just inside the drawing room where waited Felicity and the closed coffin.
“May I present Mr. North of Yorkshire,” declared Mildred and Millicent entered, swinging Mr. North's one and only cane.
Felicity came to her feet with an astonished cry.
“Dear God,” cried Felicity. “I had never realized how masculine your features are Millicent!”
“Thank you, mother,” replied Millicent, dryly as she posed, leaning confidently on the cane.
“No, my dear. I don't mean to say that you are not handsome as a girl, but you quite surprise me as a man.”
Felicity cast her eyes over Millicent's form as the girl bowed her acknowledgment of the complement then turned to bow to her sister.
“Millicent, you should be more careful. Don't bow so deep,” cried Felicity. “It pulls the fabric too tight across your. . . sitting area. Perhaps you would do better in knee breeches. Or with a longer frock coat.”
“Then she would have only silk stocking from knee to ankles,” replied Mildred with a laugh.
Felicity blushed for her daughter.
“Oh no. No, I cannot permit it, Millicent. You must go upstairs and dress properly at once. We shall write and take our chances with cousin Perceval”
“Mother.” Millicent paused, coughed and continued in a lower tone. She, of her sisters, had never possessed a soprano voice, being content with a contralto. Now she concentrated on speaking in the deepest of her vocal range. “Cousin Felicity. This will never work if you are forever fussing about my limbs being exposed, or my way of walking and talking. You should begin now, and forever after, referring to me as Mr. North.”
“Millicent. . .”began Felicity.
“Cousin Felicity, please remember, your daughter Millicent died today. There is her coffin,” said Millicent, pointing at the sad pine box. “I am Mr. North.”
“This will never work,” moaned Felicity.
“Say it,” cried Millicent. “Say 'good morning, Mr. North.'”
“Oh dear. I cannot.”
“Say it,” shouted both her daughters.
“Millicent. . .”
“Millicent is dead,” cried Mildred, seizing her mother by the hand. “I grieve for her but it is for the best. Mother, I don't want to go back to the work house. I don't want to get a job as a maid, or a governess or, Heaven spare us, end up selling myself on the street for bread. You saw it, didn't you, while we were there in the work house. Those poor women giving themselves to strangers in the back alley for a few pennies. Is that what you want for yourself? For Me? For Maude?”
Felicity rocked back and forth with both hands pressed to her face.
“Say it,” said Millicent in a gentler voice, resting one hand on her mother's bent shoulder and drawing her into a comforting embrace. Allowing her mother to realize, for the first time, how much taller Millicent truly was. How strong. “Call me Mr. North and I promise you, you will have servants tending you for the rest of your life. Hot chocolate for breakfast. Beautiful clothes. You will never have to worry again. I shall put Mr. North's wealth to work providing you with a good and safe home!”
After a long pause Felicity raised a pale face and regarded her daughters. Then she glanced upstairs toward the place where her youngest lay sleeping off a fever, her body weakened by the ravages of three years of hard work and deprivation. Then she looked Millicent directly in the eye, stepped back and gave her most dignified curtsy.
“Mr. North, how good to see you looking so well.”
 *
Later as the women took supper at the kitchen table Felicity returned, reluctantly, to what she saw as practical matters.
“I suppose, if you stay indoors and avoid society no one will see you and find you out,” said Felicity, staring at her eldest daughter as if she'd never seen her before. “Be honest, Millicent. You are tall for a woman, but you are not manly. Your form is thin, not muscular. You have no aggression or pride in your features. No one who meets you will believe you are any sort of man at all!”
“Muscles would matter if I were doing any manual labor, but I'm not replacing the blacksmith. I am a man of property. Of leisure. I may be as weak and ineffectual as I wish.”
Felicity shook her head. “If you were attempting to be a lad of sixteen or so, perhaps. But Mr. North is what? Thirty.”
“Mother, please,” said Mildred. “There are as many types of men as there are flowers in the garden. Only compare in your mind the figure of the vicar to father, for example. Neither were particularly robust type of man. Or that fellow who we saw in church last summer who was on repairing lease visiting his family. You know, the ridiculous one who was wearing green pantaloons, a red and blue striped waistcoat and those silly buttons! Would you say he was the same type of man as Mr. North?”
“Good God, No,” said Millicent. “I don't think I could be that sort of man. Can you see me as a fop?”
“You will make mistakes, I know you will,” cried Felicity.
“Your faith in my acting abilities is touching,” said Millicent. “The more I think on it the easier I expect it to be. Mildred's point about that silly fripple is a good one. If I set out to be deliberately silly, inconsequential and foolish, then if I do something odd then people will say, 'oh, that is just that odd Mr. North. Think nothing of it.'”
“What do you mean?” asked Felicity.
“I mean, that trying to be a Corinthian would be a waste of time and I could never carry it off. But what I intend to do, what I can do, is become the most ridiculous man in England.”
Felicity groaned and dropped her face into her hands. Over her head her daughters continued the debate.
“Even if we stay in Bath for a year's mourning, it will not be long enough for people hereabouts to forget what Mr. North looks like,” said Mildred.
“Yes, exactly,” said Felicity. “When we return. . .”
“Why do you think we'd come back?” asked Millicent. “You forget, both of you, that this is not Mr. North's only property. It is merely the one in which he chose to live. While we are in Bath I shall write to all his, that is to say my tenants and look over the list of available properties. Then we shall chose someplace where Mr. N. . .where I am not previously known. I believe you will be surprised by the range of choice available to us. Or we could stay in Bath. I have read that a respectable number of the ton visit there and the entertainment is on par with London for concerts and fireworks displays.”
Mildred rose and spooned a little broth into a dish and arranged it on a tea tray.
“We shall have to wait for Maude to be well enough to travel,” she said.
“Agreed,” said Millicent. “Although we shall tell everyone that it is Mr. North's comfort we are waiting on. If anyone calls before we leave we shall tell them that Mr. North is avoiding contagion by hiding in his room. Tomorrow Mildred will follow the coffin to make sure it is buried without incident. . .”
“You told the vicar you would keep her at home,” said Felicity.
“Why would anyone be surprised that the girl disobeyed me and slipped out, since she loved her sister so much,” asked Millicent. “You may be assured I shall punish her appropriately upon her return. After the internment she can go to the bakers and such and start spreading the story that we'll need a few servants to watch the house while we're in Bath. We'll give the impression that Mr. N. . . that I'll be coming back. But, so what if I chose to go elsewhere? I am the master of the house, after all. The master of my fate. I may what I will.”
“Where shall we go?” wailed Felicity. “Where will we live?”
“Cousin Felicity, we will have the whole winter to decide.”
*
It took three weeks for the removal to Bath to be arranged. Felicity spent every waking moment of those weeks expecting that the next knock on the door, the next letter delivered would be the one that revealed the deception, but all went well.
Mildred followed the cart containing Mr. North's earthly remains to the cemetery. Felicity went back every morning for the next week to put flowers on the grave. For a wonder, the grave robbers permitted the body to rest undisturbed.  Since it also gave the impression that a mother was grieving deeply for a lost daughter no one attempted to prevent it.
The servants who had been supplanted by the arrival of the Boarder family were contacted and persuaded to return, the old housekeeper expressing relief when told Mr. North would be absent 'for some time’.
Mr. North's old carriage was hauled out and cleaned, horses rented, driver and outriders hired and, on the arranged day, an ailing Mr. North cursed and grumbled his way downstairs – a blanket over his head as shelter from the elements. A still weak Maude was aided into the carriage by her devoted mother and sister and all four left the neighborhood.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on Australian Independence Day

When I first arrived in the US I was warned by more experienced travelers that Americans are insular.
So I shouldn't be surprised that soon after one of them provided proof.

I was working on July 4th when one of the nurses came across and asked me, "How do they celebrate July 4th in England?"

"Seriously?"

"Yes, how do they celebrate America's Independence Day in England?"

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said, "It is a sad commemoration of that dreadful day when the ungrateful colonialists rose up in insurrection against the lawful rule of his gracious Majesty King George."

"Oh," she said. "Are there fireworks?"

"Yes. IN MY HEAD!"











Tuesday, January 24, 2012

First Destroy All Giant Monsters 1


The Prologue.

A little while ago. . . . .
Lucinda De Goode, tall and silver haired despite being only twenty five years old,  glanced out of the window at the rain pouring down on the streets of the village of Tintagel then returned her attention to the game at hand. After a moments consideration, she put down the ten of hearts.  Lucinda, recently graduated from college with degrees in History and Religion, had left the safety of central Pennsylvania for a tour of the Standing Stones and Sacred Sites of England, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales and had not been surprised to find other like-minded witches engaged in the same pursuit.
Lucinda suspected the magical Law of Attraction to be responsible for four similiarly trained women from different areas of the world to choose the same time of year for the journey and the same out of the way B&B in which to rest.  On their arrival it had taken them, oh, about two seconds to recogize each other for what they were –witches out on the prowl, and now on this typically Cornish Summer morning, four complete strangers on their way to becoming friends were trapped inside by bad weather. The sympathetic owner of the B&B advised them that in this corner of the coast of Cornwall playing cards was the only alternative entertainment to watching TV and the only channel she could pick up when it was raining was transmitted in Welsh.
The conversation this rainy morning covered all manner of topics of mutual interest – from the difficulty of translating old grimoires, to finding modern substitutions for old ingredients and the embarrassment of almost being caught wandering about at night sky-clad.  Not to mention how those night breezes did get into the most uncomfortable places.
“I wonder what it would be like to play poker with a tarot deck?” mused Lady Lisa Ellingswood – a traditional English witch with surprisingly modern views on life and magic – as she flicked the paste-boards with a shiny red fingernail.
“Pinochle is hard enough for me,” muttered Mahini Patel as she rearranged her hand yet again.
“It wouldn't be right,” declared Lucinda. “It would be disrespectful of the cards.”
“Oh, please,” sniffed Lady Lisa. “What do cards know about respect?  They're pieces of cardboard, tools, just like candles and potions. You take your magic too seriously, Lucinda.”
“And you don't take it seriously enough. How do you do magic?  Do you just gather energy willy nilly and toss it around with no thought to proper organization?  No records. No consistancy. No consideration of the impact it has upon the Ether? It's wasteful and untidy!”
“Ladies, please,” interrupted Mahini, “don't quarrel. Different is not wrong. Our dear friend Lucinda would never consider performing a spell without offering respect to the five Elementals and we know many witches who only acknowledge four elements and are still quite successful. We four even honor different Gods and Goddesses as we work and still the magic comes.  No one is right and no one is wrong.”
“Maybe we're all wrong and we don't know because no one has studied the matter,” said Lucinda. “How do we know what is the best way to do a spell? Have you ever tested it? What I'd like to see is two witches perform the same spell with their own techniques and have the results assessed by an impartial observer.”
“If there's a result how would you know which spell caused it?” inquired Lady Lisa.
That didn't stump Lucinda for more than two heartbeats.
“We should match up two people with similar requests and have two different witches do a spell for each of them. We don't tell the witches who they're doing magic for, just have them do it and see what happens. Scientists call that a double-blind study.”
“Magical scientists,” laughed Lady Lisa. “Now that is something I’d pay money to see. Better than a show on the West End.”
“That wouldn't be popular with those seeking magical aid,” said Mahini. “People seek us out only at times of great need.”
“Oh, please. You must have different seekers where you're from,” said Lady Lisa, pausing the blow a raspberry. “Most of the time I get frivolous requests.  Love spells, I ask you. Three of them, last week. Oh, for the good old days when we cast spells to keep Hitler from invading!”
“Love spells?” repeated Lucinda. “Do people still ask you to do that?”
“What? Ask for love spells or make them?” Lady Lisa laughed. “Certainly they do. Not I, but enough practitioners do it for me to be ashamed of my sisterhood.”
She played an ace with some satisfaction.
“That’s true. How often do we get a truly serious request?” asked Lucinda. “Most of the stuff I see is, well, not frivolous, but not life threatening either. Besides, Doctors test new medicines on sick people without knowing what the end result would be and that's considered ethical.”
“It's sounds like a lot of work and, really, why bother?” asked Lady Lisa. “My magic works well enough for me.”
“Because I don't like wasting effort. There's no reason why we can't assess our magical spell books scientifically. See what really works. We assume a great deal. Just because our teachers told us something doesn't mean it is right. We owe it to ourselves, to our future students to test these assumptions. Personally I think it's long overdue. Don't you want to be more efficent?”
Mahini tossed down another card and considered. “True. And for the first time in history we can consult with witches from many countries. Communications is easy and relatively cheep. We could try researching a few basic things and use computers to correlate the data. I'd do magic for your clients in my country with my rituals and phone you to tell you it's done.  The client will tell you when he feels the effect and you can measure it and tell me.”
“We'd get him to fill in a questionnaire,” said Lucinda. “Just like proper scientists. Have the witch write down her exact ingredents and ritual and the next time we get a similar request we could change some part of the ritual and assess the result! Or we could have an ingrediant of the month change, all white candles for example, and see if it makes a difference!”
 “I think we should do it.” Madame Charlemagne De Fue, who'd picked up and laid down cards without comment since the game began, spoke for the first time. “I, for one, want to know about the graveyard dirt of a hanged man. I've wondered for years, should it be from above the coffin or under it? Either is difficult in New Orleans, you understand, with our cemetery's all being above ground. And have you ever considered if it makes a difference if the man hanged himself or was executed for a crime?  Suicide verses guilt, if you think about it psychologically, should influence the results.  And what if he were an innocent man hanged unjustly, does that change the spell? When you think that hanging of guilty men is becoming rarer, can we collect from the graves of the electrocuted or those poisoned to death?  If not, then we shall soon see holes in graveyards where rests a hanged man from witches taking dirt away.” She sat and regarded the others with a quizzical look. “You agree, ladies, this is something to think on and, at my time of life, I should like to stop hanging around graveyards at midnight.”
Since none of the other three women could make a guess as to the Madame's age they simply nodded.
“Exactly my point. We don't know. We don't know and we should. If we want to be taken seriously we should be serious, or at least methodical.” Lucinda picked up the notebook where they'd been recording the scores and flipped to a clean page. “How do you think we should begin?”