I’ve been thinking about the power of clothing.

I do this a lot because I am both a) rather strangely obsessed with historical clothing and b) profoundly dissatisfied with how we dress in modern times.  Look around you – almost nobody looks spiffy.  Rather, nearly everyone looks like they thought they would be spending the day lolling about on the floor of a college dorm room ( even the 50 year old executives on the metro on “casual Friday”) or like they’ve been under the weather so they never quite got out of their sweats.

My son at 6 in a suit modeled on one owned by the Duc d'Anjou and made with fabric remnants from the Vatican

It used to be that clothes reflected a person’s status.  Sumptuary laws made certain that only those at the top of the pecking order were allowed to wear certain materials.  You knew a king when you saw one.  I am not advocating a return to class-distinction by wardrobe.  By no means.  But who would have predicted when dress was democratized that a race to the bottom would begin?  Yet today, after hundreds of years during which tradesmen and later the middle class tried to dress up a socio-economic level (or two),  people willingly leave their homes in such a slovenly state that, but for their hygiene and the fact they have their teeth, they could pass for peasants.

All this “casual” dress is done in the name of comfort, but there is no reason in the world why nice, properly pressed clothing can’t be comfortable.  And if it is not as comfortable as just throwing on any old rumpled thing, isn’t personal pride worth a modicum of sacrifice?

Yesterday over at Steampunk.com there was a discussion of the 2013 Prada Fall/Winter line.  They were, of course, interested in the steampunkiness of the collection but I saw lots of historical references in the garments.  I was struck by just how good the models all looked—even Willem Dafoe who has looked slightly seedy and decrepit for years.  They look powerful, confident, sharp and generally more attractive then when you see them in modern clothing (go ahead, Google Gary Oldman and compare an image of him in street clothing to those of him in the Prada).  This confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time—almost everyone looks better “dressed-up” (as in properly, neatly and relatively formally attired).

If you want further proof compare pictures from people in your own life  when they look “thrown together” with those where they are “sharply dressed.”  I mean there is a reason we tend to put on more formal clothing for auspicious occasions—we want to look our best.  You didn’t wear flip flops, sweats and a tee-shirt for your wedding right? (please, PLEASE tell me you didn’t).  To illustrate my point, here are two pictures of the same young man (a daughter’s boyfriend).  In the first he is dressed in typical college wear, in the other in a vintage bespoke 1939 tailcoat.  Not close is it?

 

I concede (though it gives me no pleasure) that the days of dressing for dinner are past, and that going back to styles which require the assistance of a valet or ladies maid is out of the question.  But surely it is not too late to bring back pride in personal appearance and the idea that different clothing is appropriate for different settings (work vs. cutting your lawn)?

Maybe what we really need is this fellow.  Is he rude in this sketch—yes.  Is it meant to be funny—of course.  But have we all seen people dressed like this and thought they were “a turd”—I sure have.

Can a book have a Quinceanera? The Sister Queens has now been on sale for 15-weeks.  I almost forgot because I am hard at work on a new, 16th century, novel. Still a little celebrating is in order lest the toddler book get jealous of the new baby book.  And just in time for the little anniversary party the novel received an excellent review from The Medieval Bookworm.  Meghan kindly calls The Sister Queens:

an excellent work of historical fiction . . . . Certainly the best I’ve read this year set in the Middle Ages.”

and says:

It’s in part the relationships between the sisters, though, that makes this an excellent book. Yes, they have their children and their husbands, but they also always have one another, and it’s the sort of heartwarming female relationship that doesn’t always dominate mainstream fiction in quite the way it should.”

 Cue the confetti!

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Oh look . . . a fourteenth thing to be grateful for before the week is out!  In celebration of BookExpo America, a number of book bloggers who couldn’t make it to New York are holding an “Armchair BEA.”  Part of those on-line festivities includes compiling “Best of 2012” lists and I’ve just found out that The Sister Queens made two!  Thank you Michelle at The True Book Addict and Kristin at Always With a Book!

For the superstitious, thirteen is hardly an auspicious number.  And, as those of you who’ve read my blog post at Book Pregnant know, a novel more than three months past its release can start to get lost in the shuffle, leaving its author with a case of the not-so-new-anymore blues.  Call me a cockeyed optimist but I choose to face the thirteen-week anniversary of the release of The Sister Queens with a list of thirteen reasons (in no particular order) that I am grateful to be JUST WHERE AND WHEN I AM.

1.  My day started with this touching shout out from fellow writer Joey Francisco.  Joey reminds us that reading can transport people—even people oppressed by pain and illness—and she challenges authors to “pay it forward” by donating a copy of their work to the book cart at their local hospital.  What a timely reminder of the magic of fiction, and what a fantastic service idea!

2.  Reviewers have been generous.  To date The Sister Queens has received more than three-dozen very positive reviews.  Most recently, The School Library Journal declared:

Word on the street (rather, consensus among historical fiction bloggers) is that this is an author to watch whose book is a page-turner, fast-paced, emotional, passionate, well-written and carefully researched.”

3.  The Fans are FANTASTIC.  I am constantly hearing from new people who love my book and support my writing.  Readers, your notes, direct messages, and tweets mean so very much.  Thank you.  Thirteen weeks on, I am still receiving photos from Queen Spotters around the country.  Got another picture of The Sister Queens lounging on a bed inMaine just this past weekend.

4.  I’ve been invited to be a Presenting Author at the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival.  What better way to spend the last weekend in September?  I will be participating in a number of panels including a discussion of “Trends in Historical Fiction” and (oh JOY) a reconstitution of the “Sex and the Historical Novelist” panel that Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray and I created for our triple-author appearance in April

5.  I hit my all-time high Amazon ranking for The Sister Queens in trade paperback on my twelve-week anniversary!  Looks like buzz is building sales even if The Sister Queens is not a “new release” anymore.

6.  High fives, hand-holding and the occasional shoulder as needed from fellow writers make a solitary profession less so.  I’ve never been in a more supportive profession.  From the marvelous writers whose blurbs grace The Sister Queen’s cover, to the twenty-nine fellow members of my debut author group, Book Pregnant, the past thirteen weeks have been full of fellow writers willing to lend an ear or a hand as I navigated my debut.  Talk about renewed faith in mankind.

7.  Team Sophie rocked the postcards.  Team Sophie is made up of readers who signed on to share their enthusiasm about The Sister Queens.  Their first mission was mailing a few custom postcards to recommend the novel to friends.  Team S, you all made a serious dent in my pile of postcards :) and I don’t doubt for a moment that the buzz you generated caused an uptick in sales.

8.  Book clubs made me feel welcome.  I am now a book-club veteran with both live and skype appearances under my belt (here’s a picture of the Georgia club that provided my first skype date).  A chance to discuss the themes and characters in my novel—that’s like chocolate, red wine and good sex all rolled into one. Bless you book clubs. Bless you.

9.  My wip (work in progress) feeds my need.  Sometimes I love it.  Other times . . . it makes me feel like I am trapped under something heavy.  But the truth is I can’t live without the magical time-traveling rush I get from writing.  So I am happy for my current manuscript which keeps me cocooned in the 16th century.

10.  My family reminds me there are more important things in life than how many words I write each day.  When the muse doesn’t cooperate and I descend from my office grumpy and fershimmeled the faces of my husband and children remind me the day is still a success in other, more important, ways.  And when the muse does cooperate and I forget about making dinner, I am grateful that my family rolls with it (generally) without complaint.

11.  The twenty-five readers who reviewed The Sister Queens on Amazon, and the many more who reviewed it on Goodreads took the time to make a difference.  You have powerful voices and help others make reading and purchasing decisions.  Particularly at Amazon your numbers move algorithms, influencing how often and where my book is recommended to other visitors. Thanks!

12.  Nearly 300 people have “liked” either my book page or my author page at Facebook :)

13.  My agent and my editor had faith in me (and in The Sister Queens).  That faith permitted me to step on the roller-coaster that is publication.  It’s been a wild ride so far, but I haven’t thrown up yet! That’s something isn’t it?

Here’s to the next thirteen weeks with all their triumphs and trials!