September 26, 2019 • No Comments
We think of clothing as a means of self-expression—fleeting or classic, occasionally silly, and frequently entertaining. Rarely do we think of adornment as dangerous, but history is filled with literal fashion victims.
Rewind to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Clothing was dyed by natural sources, so unless one’s wardrobe was exotic and very expensive, color choices were dull compared to what we have today. Then when the whale oil used in domestic lighting was slowly replaced by coal gas, the gas industry produced coal tar, and industrialists began experimenting to find a use for this by-product. The result was gorgeous aniline dyes, which created an explosion of bright, clear hues of every description that were affordable to everyone. Predictably, the fashion pages became giddy rainbows of choice.
There was only one hiccup—there were no rules about testing these new products for consumer safety. With chromium, mercury and arsenic in the mix, this rapidly became an issue. While the solutions in some fabrics were relatively harmless—perhaps because they were not worn next to the skin—others, like the gaily striped stockings in vague during the 1860s, were activated by heat and perspiration. Consuming alcohol could also speed the action of these toxins. Blisters, rashes, and even death followed, particularly among the factory workers who handled these materials without protective gear.
These new shades were also used in home décor, candy manufacture, and artificial flowers. Green had a particularly nasty reputation, since its key ingredient was arsenic. The pigment Sheele’s Green was a particular favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte. There is some suggestion the arsenical paint on his walls was a contributor to his eventual death.
There is a saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Be careful what you’re getting into! If you were in old Venice, those shoes might be chopines. These platform shoes proved disco had nothing on the Renaissance. Originally arriving from Turkey in the 1400s, they were invented to lift the wearer out of the mud of the streets. The style lasted in Europe until the mid-1600s. The height of the heel also became linked to the status of the wearer, and both noblewomen and concubines wanting to make a statement had them. While many examples of chopines are around seven or eight inches high, other examples reach twenty inches. Women requires canes and servants to move around, and there is more than one story about women falling to their death. Laws were passed to limit the height of the shoes, but to little effect.Cosmetics were another pretty way to die. Queen Elizabeth I was reported to use Venetian Ceruse as a skin whitener. The paste was a mix of vinegar and white lead and was apparently applied quite thickly. A popular companion to this white base was cinnabar or vermilion rouge, derived from mercury and Sulphur. This duo, while the height of Tudor fashion, caused skin eruptions, hair loss, and bleeding gums.
To complete the look, women used Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) to enhance their eyes. Bella donna means beautiful woman, and a drop or two dilated the pupils to enhance a dark, enticing gaze—right up until increased heart rate, visual distortion, and eventual blindness took over.
The list of potentially fatal fashions goes on and on, from combustible crinolines to young girls removing ribs so their corsets could be cinched that much tighter. Lest one think women alone were subject to dangerous dress, the mercury used in felting men’s hats was well-known to produce “mad” or at least very sick hat makers. Even setting aside the hazards of sweat shops, it was a dangerous time to be in the clothing trade.
Have we escaped such madness in the twenty-first century? I’m not so sure—we have our own version of fashion madness, though hopefully nothing quite so drastic. All the same, if someone tells me they’ve discovered a trend to die for, I’m running the other way!
September 23, 2019 • No Comments
Most of us experience procrastination at some point in our lives. I’m guilty of some very late night submissions, study blitzes, and (ahem) blog posts that barely slide under the wire. But rather than focus on the less attractive aspects of dilly-dallying, why not embrace the creative potential? Don’t settle for any old delay—go for the procrastination gold!
September 5, 2019 • No Comments
The members of the Rogue Skies box set were asked to provide a dream cast for their books. This is always tricky because actors are by nature chameleons and they may match the character in one role but not in the next. I therefore put a disclaimer on this assembly–these folks match the characters in this photo. That being said, here we go for Scorpion Dawn and the series that follows:
Clockwise from top left:
- Emily Blunt as Miranda Fletcher – a rebel just finding her feet
- Natalie Dormer as Sidonie Fletcher – pretty but with a generous helping of mischief
- Jude Law as Detective Palmer (because Jude Law appears in every movie ever)
- Aidan Turner as Gideon Fletcher. It was the disgruntled eyebrows that sold me.
September 2, 2019 • No Comments
It’s that time of year again! The pressure is on for parents to outfit their kids for success. For first-timers, it’s a bewildering season, and for non-humans there are extra considerations most parenting columns ignore. So, because we care, here are 5 tips for sending your monster back to school.
New clothes are part of the back-to-school ritual. Advertisers remind us of this emergency approximately thirty minutes after the last bell of the previous school year.
For non-human students who wear their fur or scales to the first day of classes, missing out on new stuff will seem unfair. Few clothing manufacturers make rompers for a first-grade dragon. And who can blame werewolf moms from shopping at second-hand stores when junior will trash his new duds on the first full moon? As always, parents will have to do their best. A little nail polish on the claws or temporary color in the fur might do to make your little monster feel special. And what could be
more fetching than a baby Cthulhu in a sparkly tutu?
Thankfully, school supplies are far more species-agnostic, assuming your progeny has opposable thumbs. But if your offspring are heading to a specialized school, it might be wise to
consult with other parents who have young ones a grade or two ahead. Magical academies are all the rage these days, but no one talks about the cost of spell ingredients or rare grimoires. Consider sharing some items, such as rare enchanted skulls, among students in the same class. Moreover, be sure your student has a sturdy locker equipped with appropriate wards.
Werewolf, witch, or troll, kids are kids and homework is drudgery. Set scheduled times for after-school study and stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It’s easier to catch poor study habits and correct them early in the year. If your student hangs out with friends after school, consider a summoning circle for the home. It’s a no-fuss method to ensure junior returns in time for dinner.
Meet the teacher
Parent-teacher interviews are an important ritual for all concerned. At the same time, the first meeting with your child’s instructors is never completely comfortable, especially if your student is struggling. Be open-minded if your child describes his or her teacher as an absolute demon. You never know.
School isn’t just about academics. Band, sports, and debate club are time honored ways for children to socialize and broaden their horizons. So is Brownies (please check the rules before giving them new uniforms), candy-stripers, and all manner of volunteer activities. Given new digital technology, vampires are now able to appear in the yearbook, so that might be of interest to your baby fangster. Unfortunately, due to complaints from parents and organizers, the 4-H Club still withholds membership from most predatory shifters.
August 30, 2019 • No Comments
Hello, we’re here at the pet line to answer your questions about how to cope with those special family members during the summer holidays. No, I don’t mean your in-laws. I’m referring to that cute little dragonet you gave the kids for Christmas. Yeah, the one currently charring the back yard to ash. He looked so darling lighting the plum pudding, but now he’s, well, Santa’s short a few reindeer.
Before you download the Dial-a-Slayer app, remember there are No Bad Dragons. Your pet depends on you for direction and affection, and kennels aren’t necessarily the best option once summer arrives. He needs to feel like a part of the family, and there is no shortage of dragon-wise activities during fine weather.
The Family Barbecue
Dragons are a natural at the summer cookout! The smell of charred flesh is irresistible to our scaly friends. Once they know where to aim, all you need to do is baste. Be sure your guests stand well back, just in case Smokey gets over-excited. Cautionary note: be careful with spiced rubs and marinades (as well as scented body lotions and/or sunscreen) in case your dragon has a delicate stomach.
Be sure to check your local community center for pet-friendly programming. There’s nothing like lots of fresh air and exercise to ensure your dragon stays happy and relaxed. Some locations offer agility trials, including storm-the-village events. August features the traditional running of the knights and armor-shucking contests. Bouncy castles are not recommended.
If your pet is more the scholarly type, don’t forget reading club! He’ll receive a sticker and a bag of Snackin’ Squires for every grimoire he reads. For the truly ambitious, there’s the skywriting competition (spelling counts!)
But of course, the real value comes from giving your dragon the attention he craves. Not everything needs to be an organized activity and unplanned fun is often the most memorable. Bask in the sun. Go paragliding (who could ask for a better sail?). Play fetch. Gently. Don’t let him chase the water skiers. Sharknado is not a suitable game for young dragons.
August 8, 2019 • No Comments
July 31, 2019 • No Comments
July 30, 2019 • No Comments
July 29, 2019 • No Comments
Today I sent the final draft of Fortune’s Eve to the copy editor. This is the prequel short story to the new Hellion House steampunk fantasy series. Because I’m so excited, I’m posting an appetizer here!
“If we don’t find the wreck soon, we’ll be obliged to turn back,” Norton Fletcher said.
Gideon glanced at the sky, calculating the remaining daylight. His father was right. No one risked traveling outside the city after dark. “That’s death for the crew of the wreck.”
“But not for us.” Fletcher’s face was rigid. “Don’t get caught up in the emotion of these missions. It’s a quick way to die.”
Gideon gave a low laugh to hide his resentment. His father never let go of the impulse to instruct his grown son. “I have compassion.”
“A waste of energy. Everything breaks and everything mends,” Fletcher said. “Live long enough, and you’ll understand.”
“Do you truly believe that?” Gideon asked, heat creeping into his words.
“Yes,” his father replied, “and no. It’s what old men tell themselves to stop the ache of fear in their bellies.”
The words were terse, a bitter blend of the flippant and the true. Questions crowded Gideon’s mind, but Fletcher’s expression closed like a door banging shut, the Dragonfly’s captain replacing the father. Not that the difference was pronounced on most days.
Gideon studied his father, who stood at the pilot’s station with feet planted wide and back ramrod straight. Fletcher wasn’t a large man, but his stocky figure and lined features, weathered by decades of sun and wind, made Gideon think of petrified oak. Fletcher eased a lever forward and the Dragonfly dipped closer to the river, twin propellers thwop-thwopping through the mist. Autumn fogs trailed ghostly fingers around the dirigible as if they meant to snatch it from the sky.
A flare had gone up two hours ago, according to the report of the watchmen who scanned the forest from the great towers that flanked the city gates. Fletcher Industries—one of the premier airship firms in the city—kept half a dozen rescue craft on standby, but the last week had been busy. When word arrived, only the Dragonfly was still at the airfield and the crews were shorthanded. Norton Fletcher—owner, designer, and still one of the best pilots in the sky—had taken the job himself. Of course, Gideon went with him. He was heir to the Fletcher empire and familiar with the day-to-day operations, but he still took pleasure in watching his father work. Or he had. As the afternoon wore on, that first thrill darkened to anxiety. They weren’t finding any trace of the wreck.
Gideon peered over the edge of the gondola, estimating the distance to the dense treetops. Ash, birch, oak, chestnut, and the occasional conifer grew in a lush tangle. They called this area between settlements the Outlands. After the population had fled the countryside, Nature had thrown a party. The result was the beautiful but deadly forest that grew up, covering every trace of civilization. Gideon leaned out another inch, one hand on a sturdy cable. There was still plenty of clearance before they risked scraping the branches, but distance made it hard to see the river. Unfortunately, closing the gap would be unwise. That was the gamble with rescue missions—risk all to save the innocent, and risk becoming a victim oneself.
A trio of dragons soared above the branches as the ship passed overhead. Their population had grown with the forest, but the city dwellers paid them no heed. Few of the creatures grew larger than a goat, and humanity had far more to worry about than an invasive species of lizard.
For the hundredth time that afternoon, the broad silver swath of the river emerged from the encroaching trees. The Dragonfly had followed a zigzagging path, searching both sides of the water. They had seen a fleet of River Rats—clans of wandering thieves and magicians who lived aboard their crafts—and once a smuggler’s ship with gun ports open. Both had probably been bound for the walled farms to the east. There was gold in river business, for those brave enough to risk it. Gideon would take the sky any day.
The foliage slipped from view, and the water gleamed directly below. His heart skipped as he saw what the Dragonfly had come for—the wreckage of a mid-sized sailing craft.
“There!” Gideon cried, pointing over the side with one hand while he fumbled for his spyglass with the other. “Bring the ship around again.”
The crew—four hands besides the Fletchers—jumped to obey, hauling on the lines that adjusted the auxiliary sails. Boilers hissed, feeding the engine that drove the propellers. Slowly, the Dragonfly, with its twin gray and white silk balloons, pivoted in the sky.
“Sir, we dare not go lower,” said Higgins, the grizzled senior airman.
“Then get your gear on,” said Norton Fletcher, guiding the ship into position above the wreck. “We’ll go down for a look, although it’s not promising.”
Hopeful or not, it was still their duty to search for survivors. Gideon grabbed his own equipment, wondering what they’d find. Fools had a way of getting what they deserved.
The river—cold, fast, and often foggy—was riddled with ruined weirs and the stumps of old bridges. Wise travelers took a River Rat who knew the water’s tricks. According to the harbormaster’s records—all crafts were required to declare their routes before they cast off—Mr. Joseph Ellery, esquire, had not. On some level, Gideon wasn’t surprised. He’d met the weedy banker at parties and the theater and had been consistently underwhelmed.
By the time the Dragonfly was hovering in place, Gideon, Higgins, and Crewman Yale were ready to descend. Flight crews typically wore supple leather suits as protection from wind and weather, along with high boots and close-fitting helmets. Gideon added a weapons belt and a rifle in a sling across his back, as well as long knives strapped to his thighs.
“You’ve got an hour of good daylight,” said Fletcher. “Don’t waste it.”
Gideon tried to catch his father’s eye, but the goggles that protected his eyes against the burn of the wind made it impossible. He wasn’t sure why he bothered to grasp that last moment of connection—he should need no reassurance, and emotional displays were not the family way. Still, the unknown that lurked below left a hollow in his gut. When Higgins offered him a flask of smuggled French brandy, he accepted it gratefully and took a swig for luck.
A square metal plate, about five feet across, formed part of the Dragonfly’s main deck. Once unlocked from thick steel hasps, the platform could be raised and lowered with steam-powered efficiency. Cables spooled onto four large wheels that moved on a single automated crank calibrated to keep the plate perfectly level—a key feature of Norton Fletcher’s design. The rescue crew mounted the platform, crouching low and grasping the lines for balance while Fletcher himself released the brake. With a whir of well-oiled gears, they gently floated the forty feet to the river’s shallows.
A breeze caught the platform, swaying it slightly. Gideon didn’t mind. The scent of greenery and rich mud was a novelty, and he inhaled with gratitude. His home stank of smoke and too many bodies crowded close for protection. The Outlands might be deadly, but at least they were clean.
The men jumped the last few feet, boots splashing in shallow water. The wreck was in the middle of the river, but there wasn’t enough of the ship left for survivors to take shelter. The crew would have struck out for dry ground or been carried off by the current. As this was the closer bank, it made sense to begin the search here.
“By our calculations, that’s where the flare was fired,” said Higgins, pointing a dozen yards ahead. “Anyone hoping for rescue wouldn’t go far.”
Gideon nodded agreement and scrambled up the bank, not wasting time. He pushed up his goggles, needing his peripheral vision now. As the September shadows lengthened, the fog was already misting above the water. It would be dusk here long before the sun actually set.
Unholstering his rifle, he strode onward, using his nose as well as his eyes and ears. Death had a smell, as did blood, but the wind was off the river and gave him no clues. A rustle in the trees caught his attention.
Gideon raised the rifle and turned slowly, realizing there had been birdsong a moment ago, and now there wasn’t. Somewhere in the treetops, a dragon squawked and flapped in seeming fury. He began to sweat, soaking the shirt beneath his jacket. He was still on the bank, the bush and trees a dozen yards distant and hiding who knew what. Countless ruins lay buried along the riverside, evidence of a world before walls and the terror of the Unseen.
Gideon swept his rifle in a slow arc, his nerves alive with dread. “Ellery?”
The woods to his left exploded with movement and sound. He swiveled toward it, but was a beat too late. He had a swift impression of rags and bony limbs, but his senses failed. A long shriek of rage split the air as the thing hurtled through the air, arms extended. Gideon had no chance to aim.
July 2, 2019 • No Comments
The selfie craze isn’t exactly new. Back in 1854, André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri, a photographer in Paris, patented a small type of photograph called the carte de visite. This was basically a piece of card with a slightly smaller photo glued to it. The card measured around 2.5 inches by 4 inches and frequently bore the photographer’s address at the bottom. The glory of this new invention was that it was more affordable than previous techniques. Those of modest means could have their picture taken for the first time. We get an intimate view of the working people of the era that doesn’t exist in such variety prior to this period. Many cartes de visites were made for soldiers during the American Civil War.
Here’s one of Edgar Allan Poe in the 1870s. Since pets were also popular themes, he might have also had one done of his raven. A search through the internet will turn up a vast number of cats and dogs, babies, and kids in fancy dress. People really haven’t changed that much.
The popularity of the carte de visite surged when Napoleon III had his card done. Soon all the cool kids were not only getting their own portrait taken, but also collecting the cards of the rich and famous. It was common to display one’s collection of cards and–always a trendsetter–Queen Victoria had an album for photos of her extensive family.
Here’s one of Victoria and Albert:
“[Carte-de-Visite Album of British and European Royalty]” by F. Joubert is licensed under CC CC0 1.0
In the early 1870s, a slightly larger format called the “cabinet card” replaced the carte de visite in popularity.