Grousable Newsletter 1 July

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Book fairs are seriously fun. Readers get to meet authors and vice versa. And when the weather is warm and sunny, people come out thinking they might buy a book. The North Park Book Fair in San Diego was just such an event.

People were there with their dogs and children, and they had a microphone set up for author readings. A very good day.

Here’s some big news: All my fiction e-books are 50% off this month only through Smashwords. So if you’re an e-book fan, now’s the time.

As for works in progress, I am focused for just a little longer on a non-fiction chapter for a book on H.G. Wells. As soon as that’s edited, I hope to get back to writing my California beach cozy. The body has been discovered, and Rosie McMahon is on the case, but how can an elderly woman do more than the local police? And why are there developers sniffing around the town?

A chat

In addition to reading from Murder at Old St. Thomas’s at the North Park Book Fair, I also chatted with a group from the Historical Novel Society on the uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs for writers. 

The best uses of AI for writers are to do business tasks: query letters, library requests. Also, AI can suggest options, create summaries and synopses, make outlines. What it’s lousy at is telling the truth or writing creatively. And sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Murder mystery writers have a hard time getting information on the things that matter to them: the effectiveness of poisons, methods of death, and how to get away with a crime!

Is it Victorian?

The Victorian era is famous for repression — repression of sexuality, women, and open speech. But we know much of this from 19th century “prescriptive” literature. These are books and articles on how a woman should tend to her home and husband, how police should behave on the job, which books are suitable for children. Men and women who don’t know each other, some say, shouldn’t mix in public.

I like to tell my students that if people weren’t committing the crime, there wouldn’t be a law. In other words, people must be doing the opposite if prescriptive literature is trying to encourage certain behavior. So to me, a tract on how women shouldn’t be uppity means that women were being uppity. Treatises on improper literature means that people are reading it, and strict behavioral rules for boys and girls means there were wild and free boys and girls. And men and women most certainly mixed in public. Here’s a bunch of people crammed onto an omnibus:

Omnibus Life in London, by William Maw Egley (1859)

So while free, sexual, open-minded characters in novels may seem to be outliers, they might not be. If you went back in a time machine to Victorian London, you would see women walking the streets alone, individuals breaking class boundaries, and people laughing at rude jokes. It was not as stiff and staid as rumors would have you believe.

Gentleman Jack

Since I don’t have HBO, I was only able to watch some of Gentleman Jack with a friend, but found it fascinating. Based on Anne Lister, the show used her diaries for information and the character’s direct address to the audience. Lister’s diaries were partly written in code, especially for the sections detailing her love affairs with young women, in the first half of the nineteenth century. She married her lover (unregistered) in 1834.

Copyright HBO

While she’s not the first lesbian (or even the “first modern lesbian” as web pages assert), she was different from other women yet respected by her tenants and local society as a businesswoman and landowner. That she cohabited with another woman wasn’t unusual; commenting on it would have been. 

The production values for the show are excellent despite a tendency toward exaggeration: Anne did not look quite as masculine and her hair did not have the 18th century double-roll style. She did wear black, unusual for women not in mourning. So yes, she was an outlier. But the fact that she was successful indicates that Victorian mores, while strict and prescriptive, didn’t always hold.

Social media

I’ve been posting daily on Instagram and Facebook, but if you want to see all my posts I have a “social posts” page on the website. It helps me keep track if nothing else! 

More news coming soon from the garden…