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
June 9, 2019 • No Comments
So you want to be a necromancer. As jobs go, there are worse prospects. It’s a niche market with an exclusive but loyal clientele. Pay days may be less than regular, but that’s common with most freelance gigs. Plus, it’s still better than slogging it out as a laboratory assistant for the so-called scientific community. Just ask Igor, who is still trying to file his worker’s compensation claim after the last thunderstorm.
Necromancy is an old profession. The name comes from the Greek nekros, meaning the dead and manteia, meaning prophecy. In other words, necromancy is all about raising the dead and asking them for prophecies. This presupposes the dead are able to divine the future while they are quietly decomposing in their graves. That may seem a stretch, but why not? On one hand, they have nothing else to do. On the other—well, that one fell off. Yeah, there’s a reason necromancers aren’t out there killing it on Wall Street.
Necromancers also claim to have summoned demons to do their bidding. While there is no doubt that demons are more exciting than rudely awakened dead people, this is an expert level maneuver. To prepare for the arduous rituals, adepts practice for months summoning timely pizza delivery, cable TV installers, and teenagers to the dinner table. Only when they are able to command reliable customer service in under ten minutes do they move on to conjuring the forces of darkness. How many survive the attempt is unknown. No doubt a few end up as wizard origami. Those that succeed are definitely barred from doing show and tell at Grade Five career day.
Spoilsports claim necromancy went out of fashion along with witch burnings and the blunderbuss. After all, predictive data modeling looks so much better in an annual report. While that may be true, no software can beat the traditional necromancer for sheer style. Dark robes and glowing sigils are classic and definitely slimming. Custom detailing can be costly, but definitely worth the spend for branding purposes. All the same, choose carefully. Skulls are overdone and don’t get the raven unless you can afford constant dry-cleaning.
If you are serious about a future career in raising the dead, be prepared to entertain a wide variety of requests. Not every job is filled with zest and brimstone. Only fifty percent of clients will ask for a prophecy. Others just want one more conversation with the dearly departed, while a few hire an army of the dead for cinematic purposes. Price accordingly, and be prepared to subcontract cleaning professionals. Zombie armies are unhygienic at best.
So, all you wannabe wizards, are you interested in a profession with a long and fascinating history? Do you like to meet new people with unique (and occasionally demonic) perspectives? Are you a self-starter prepared to work flexible hours? Then necromancy may be for you. It offers the opportunity to work at the cutting and occasionally sacrificial edge. Be prepared to show group leadership skills with your freshly raised dead! Just fill out the attached application and be sure to sign in your own blood.
June 8, 2019 • No Comments
There are so many ways a lady could be deadly without wrinkling her gown. Forget the garter daggers and muff pistols and sword canes in the parasol—those are all terribly stylish but just scratch the surface of potential mayhem. Here are some juicy examples torn from the pages of yesteryear’s headlines:
1. A Fashionable Murder
The New York Times of March 1, 1898, reports that Barotholomew Brandt Brandner, a Parisian visiting Chicago, entered a saloon on State Street only to be murdered by an unknown assailant. Autopsy results showed a concussion, probably from a blow with a liquor bottle. But there was also a puncture that entered the left eye and extended far into the interior of the skull. This was assumed to be caused by a lady’s hat pin. Brandner survived for a week but eventually died from the injury.
Women’s hat pins, while pretty, were sharp steel and usually six to twelve inches long, depending on the style of the hat. Women were well aware of the pin’s potential for self-defence.
2. A Tried and True Method
A true Black Widow, Mary Ann Cotton (née Robson) was born in 1832 in a mining town in the northeast of England. Life in the laboring classes was hard, but enterprising Mary Ann discovered the modern miracle of life insurance. During the course of her forty years, Mary Ann had four husbands (two at once), several lovers, thirteen children, and lots of insurance claims. She was survived by one husband and two children. The estimated number of her victims was around twenty. She was hanged in 1873.
In the age of cholera, gastric fevers, and no refrigeration, stomach complaints were common. So were rodents, and arsenic was a common component of rat poison. Although the sale of arsenic was somewhat regulated, it was still available at the local chemist. Mary Ann brewed in tea, serving unwanted relations until a doctor noticed the body count. Too bad for her, tests for arsenic poisoning were available by the time her final victim was exhumed during the investigation.
Poison has a reputation—deserved or not—as a woman’s weapon. It’s true that the nineteenth century saw a number of cases with wives wishing to be merry widows. However, the amount of hysteria generated by the Victorian press regarding “secret poisoners” makes it sound as if every female forced into a corset and bustle was out for revenge. Then again…
For an excellent biopic of Mary Ann Cotton, check out the mini-series Dark Angel starring Joanne Froggatt.
3. Speaking of Exhumation
Back in the day, medical students had limited access to corpses for dissection. The law of supply and demand gave rise to “resurrectionists,” who dug up the newly dead and sold them to surgical schools. Needless to say, grave robbing is a tedious business and someone was bound to find a way to skip the muddy bits. Why bother with all the midnight shoveling when you could murder someone in the comfort of your own home?
William Burke and William Hare did exactly that in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1828, when they killed sixteen people and sold their remains. These deaths gave rise to the term “burking,” or asphyxiating the victims by sitting on their chests. It was a low-tech and largely undetectable means of murder.
However, as so often happens in history, the women are often left out of the story. Helen McDougal, Burke’s common-law wife, and Margaret Hare, wife of William Hare, shared in the crimes. Incredibly, of the four, only Burke was eventually convicted.
4. Heavy Metal
There’s always someone in the crowd who goes for the direct approach. When it comes to lethal historical ladies, no one cuts (or chops) to the chase like Lizzie Borden. It’s a good reminder that a lady’s weapon does need to be dainty, just effective.
Lizzie Andrew Borden was tried and acquitted for the August 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. Experts and hobbyists alike still debate her innocence and whether her gender impacted the verdict.
For fun, check out Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft for a fantasy interpretation of the case.
5. Fun with Corsets
Corsets or “stays” come in different configurations, depending on the fashion of the day. At the center front is the busk, a slender piece of bone, wood, or other hard material that slides into a pocket of material sewn into the garment. The function of a busk is to keep the corset rigid in order to shape the figure of the wearer. Busks were often highly decorated and given as sweetheart gifts—given the intimate way they were worn, one can only imagine the delicious banter involved.
There is also the suggestion that a small dagger could be slipped into the front of a corset in place of the busk. Although a popular trope, I’ve never been able to find an actual historical precedent for this—probably for good reason. One problem is the hilt sticking out of one’s bodice. Another is the awkwardness involved in drawing a stabby thing that close to one’s face. I leave the option here for consideration, but my money is still on the hat pin for wardrobe weaponry.