Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Going Dark

I'm leaving for Yaddo today, and I've promised myself there will be no blog-reading, tweeting, or facebooking while I'm there. Wild with anticipation, of course, but there's also a whiff of ‘trial by fire’ about the whole thing: either I have the most productive month of my life, or I go completely potty from internet withdrawal. (There is internet access, just not in the studios, and I know I won't be sneaking into the WiFi area during working hours for fear of being seen. Sometimes shame is a very good thing.)

(What I'm packing: a copy of Mary Modern for the Yaddo library, some Petty Magic ARCs, one of the Moleskine notebooks Elliot gave me for Christmas, lots of looseleaf paper and gel pens, and a bunch of great books for research and/or pleasure. There's also a book of Dürer etchings—I thought I might use them for inspiration, you know, just sit and ruminate on "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" until I start getting ideas. I'll let you know how that little experiment goes.)

If I can get some good photos (and permission, when needed) I’ll be sure to post them (after 4pm!), and in the meantime this thing is set to auto-blog: more photos from Eastern Europe, great books, and some random nerdy stuff.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Bucharest

(A grave marker in the courtyard of the folk museum.)

Everywhere we went in Romania, people seemed incredulous that we would want to spend a night in Bucharest. Truth be told, we were only there to have lunch (which turned into just drinks—alas, there was a misunderstanding with the dates) with my Romanian publisher, but we ended up really enjoying our visit to the folk museum, and the weather was great (which always improves your opinion of a place, no? can't help it.)

And of course, the architecture and vaguely Byzantine holy art were highlights.

We watched a restoration artist high up on the scaffolding, touching up these frescoes (are they actually frescoes?) And the courtyard of another church building nearby:

(Ornamental caryatids outside the arcade where we had dinner for Elliot's birthday.)

Next up: a whirlwind visit to Belgrade, complete with a flash flood.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Galley giveaway winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest! I drew names over coffee on Friday morning, and the winners were @AngelaPardue, @angelynnodom, @eheinlen, @melistress, and @chickwithbooks. The galleys are going in the mail today.

(That's my WIP bucket bag from MadebyLoumms. Their bags are ADORABLE and very well made!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


(Thank you for all those enthusiastic comments about Petty Magic—I wish I could give every one of you a galley!)

On a sultry day in Brooklyn last summer, I envied every girl out and about in a pretty sundress. Feminine vanity aside, they were keeping a lot cooler than I was in jeans. I wanted sundresses, one for every day of the week.

The pattern is Heather Ross's Mendocino sundress, which she has generously posted on her website. I usually try to buy from a designer/shop offering free patterns, and I did pick up some awesome Mendocino fabric via Fabricworm, but I decided to use it for a different dress out of Cal Patch's Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified. (More on that later.)

I know this is going to sound really nerdy, but I've been in love with this calico since I was a teenager. I'd bought a few yards of it at a mom-and-pop fabric shop back in high school for a dress I got quite a bit of wear out of but am much too embarrassed to show you, and every time I looked at that old dress in my scrap pile I wished I had more to sew something up using a proper pattern. I finally made it back to that shop before Christmas, and what do you know—they still had the fabric, and it was still four bucks a yard!

I remember Kelly saying (back in the day) that it was the sort of thing one's grandmother would wear—"in a good way." This fabric is very vintage-y (heck, it probably is vintage)—that's why I love it so much.

A few notes, if you want to make this dress:

—It was $6.47 at FedEx Office to get the pattern printed on a 24 x 44" sheet of paper. A little bit more than I thought it would be, but taping a lot of smaller pages together would have been rather tedious. (Apparently FedEx ate Kinko's. Whatever it's called nowadays, the email-to-print service is pretty nifty.)

—The schematic indicates that you should position the pockets 14 to 18" below the top of the dress; I decided on 18" because I'm tall, but when I finished sewing the seams and tried it on (insofar as it could be 'tried on' at that stage) my hands hardly reached the pockets. I decided they weren't worth adjusting, seeing as I probably wouldn't use the pockets anyway, so I just ripped the pocket seams and stitched up the sides. But if I make this dress again I'll go with a pocket placement of 14".

—You need elastic thread for the shirring. A nice lady at Jo-Ann pointed me to Dritz brand in the notions section (with all the other types of elastic), which is a lot less expensive per yard than the smaller spools you find on the rack with all the other types of sewing thread. (It's $1.59 for 30 yards of Dritz versus 11 yards of Gutermann. Or you could buy a ginormous spool of it here, but I can't imagine ever needing or using $40 worth of elastic thread unless you're also making jewelry.)

—Found some handy tips at Projects & Preoccupations. For one, the back hem needs to be taken up a bit more than the front because of the extra fabric at the bust—that probably wouldn't have occurred to me on my own! So I pinned up the hem and tried it on before sewing.

(Long-arming it. I wanted to get a detail of the shirring, but every close-up I took was basically 'and here are my boobs!')

This dress was quick to make, too—took less than a week. The pattern says you can sew the whole thing in an afternoon, and if I make another one I'm sure it'll go a lot faster.

I'm excited to be getting more proficient at sewing, but I have GOT to become tidier and more careful—I have a bad habit of dropping pins in the carpet. Yesterday I went for a run, and on my walk back to the car I felt something sharp in my sock. Yup. A pin. I'm lucky it didn't stab me in the foot. And last week I woke up and found safety pins under my least they were closed!

(Thanks to my mother for the first photo.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Petty Magic Teaser & Galley Giveaway

The galleys have landed!

Petty Magic goes on sale on October 5th, and is now available to pre-order on! From the back cover:

Petty Magic:
Being the Memoirs and Confessions of
Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker.
In this brilliantly imagined tale of adventure and timeless romance, acclaimed novelist Camille DeAngelis blends WWII heroics with witchcraft and wit, conjuring a fabulously rich world where beldames and mortal men dare to fall in love.
Evelyn Harbinger sees nothing wrong with a one-night stand. At one hundred and forty nine years old, Eve may look like she bakes oatmeal cookies in the afternoon and dozes in her rocking chair in the evenings, but once the gray hair and wrinkles are traded for jet-black tresses and porcelain skin, she can still turn heads as the beautiful girl she once was. Can’t fault a girl for having a little fun, can you?
This is all fine and well until Eve meets Justin, who reminds her so much of a former lover, and one night is no longer enough. Eve spends more and more nights—and days—romancing Justin as her younger self, and noticing the many peculiar ways in which he is so like Jonah, her partner behind enemy lines in WWII and the love of her life. Experts in espionage, Jonah and Eve advanced the Allied cause at great personal sacrifice, and Jonah lost his life. Now Eve suspects that her Jonah has returned to her, and despite the disapproval of her coven, and the knowledge that love with a mortal man can only end in sorrow, she can’t give him up. But can she prove it’s really him?
I have five galleys to give away. Here's what we'll do: to enter, just tweet (or re-tweet) about Petty Magic. If you re-tweet and follow me (@PettyMagic), you'll be entered twice. Of course, if you are already following me on Twitter then you get two too. (Yep, doing it old-school—I'm picking names out of a hat.) If I happen to draw your name twice (or if you've already been promised a galley), you'll just get the one; not that I wouldn't love to give you an extra to pass along, but these things are in short supply.

I'll draw the names on Friday morning. Isn't this exciting?!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Backyard Tourist

The Betsy Ross House at 239 Arch Street.

I'm from a town only twenty minutes or so outside Philadelphia, but I don't know the city as well as I should. My dad took us on family outings (the Art Museum, City Hall, the holiday light show at Wanamaker's, etc.), concerts in high school and college with Anjuli, and there was the occasional field trip to the Franklin Institute or where have usually somebody else is doing the navigating.

Kate and Elliot were home last weekend, and we decided to have a mini-adventure in the city on Sunday afternoon. We didn't have much time, so we decided on the Betsy Ross House—we'd never been there before (surprising given that my dad's a history buff), and a visit only takes half an hour or so.

It was really neat to tour an unrenovated 18th-century house, and until you go you don't realize just how little you knew about the lady who designed and sewed the first American flag. I don't remember ever learning in school that she ran an upholstery shop, and that was why she was chosen for the job. Betsy Ross was an incredibly resilient woman: giving birth to seven daughters, widowed three times (twice before the age of thirty!!!), running her own business and surviving wartime Philadelphia and continual economic hardship.

Just around the corner is Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the city (and it very well could be the oldest in the country). All the townhouses on this quaint little street were erected between 1728 and 1836. It's a magical place—very much like a mews I invented for Petty Magic.

And afterwards we went to Marra's, a South Philly institution. Marra's pizza is far and away the best I've ever had. The service is indifferent, but the atmosphere is wonderfully old-school Italian-American. Our dad used to take us here when we were kids.

(Best to get a plain pie though—the veggies are okay, but it's the plain pizza that's really excellent.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Sinaia

(This photo was taken in Braşov, where we had dinner at a pizzeria after the Piatra Craiului trip—hooray, no more polenta and sour cream! The little Germany Belgium flags came with dessert.)

There is one thing that sticks in my head about Sinaia—the architecture. Holy cow, what amazing architecture, and not only at Peleş Castle. There were lots of houses like this in Sinaia:

If I were going to live in this house I would have to become a mad artist and adopt at least three dozen cats.

Peleş Castle is really spectacular, inside and out. It was built in the late 19th century to serve as the summer residence of King Carol I. It's one of Romania's biggest tourist attractions, and you can see why.

In the next installment, we are pleasantly surprised to find that Bucharest isn't the craphole everyone's been telling us it is!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Process, part 2

(Process, part 1.)

Here's a page from one of my NUIG notebooks. People always seem surprised that I don't write in chronological order, but to me it makes sense (during the rough draft, once the thing has been loosely plotted) to write whichever scene I feel like writing, and stitch them together afterward.

mm chicken scratchings

(Click here for a better view.)

In this case, I'd only just started the draft in earnest (notice the date up top: 6 October 2004), but I was already working on the graveyard scene that begins on page 218. Some famous writer said that if you know how your novel is going to end before you've written it, then it isn't worth writing at all. Biggest load of baloney I ever heard.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Victory Jumper—squee!

(Victory jumper, part 1.)

Is this not the most fabulous thing I have ever knit?!

Pattern: Your Victory Jumper by Home Notes (published June 2, 1945)
Yarn: Regia 4-Ply (kardinal, #1078, just over two skeins) and Lang Jawoll Superwash (all of three skeins of petrol, #0088, and a skein of green, #0116)
Needles: #2.5s for the body, #1.5s for the ribbing
Raveled: here (with full notes on mods made).

I was hoping this would turn out kick-ass so I could wear it in my new author photo (which has yet to be taken). I was also hoping there'd be sunshine this weekend, but alas.

I have only one wish-I'd-done-differently this time, and that's the sleeve length. I wish I'd knit them a couple inches longer so the ribbing doesn't scrunch at the elbows. But that's pretty nit-picky I guess.

(Thanks to Li'l Pete for the photos.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Piatra Craiului

From Sighişoara we took the train to Braşov, a medium-sized town we used as a jumping-off point for a hiking trip in the Piatra Craiului mountains. (Pee-AH-trah Cry-OO-lee.) We also made a day trip to Rasnov, and spent a very wet afternoon at the fortress there:

While we were in Braşov I also got my first (and last) taste of polinka. If the bartender had served me battery acid I wouldn't have known the difference.

So, the hiking trip. We left our extra stuff at the hostel in Braşov and took a train to Zărneşti, a rather frightening little place—ramshackle cement huts, muddy unpaved roads and way too many stray dogs—and hiked to a cabana we'd found in Lonely Planet. We weren't sure what to expect, because the guidebook description was pretty vague (which is a sure sign the author hadn't actually been there; don't ask me how I know); but we were pleasantly surprised to find the place was basically a hotel—rustic but clean and comfortable. In the restaurant Kate and I ordered more polenta with sour cream and defrosted veggies (and we were lucky to find that much!), while Elliot got, ahem, adventurous. To this day I bet he still isn't precisely sure what he ate for dinner.

This dog followed us out of Zărneşti all the way to the cabana. It became such a nuisance that Kate and Elliot named it Sophia, after Kate's crazy freshman-year roommate, and we only got rid of it the following afternoon (yes, it hung around outside the cabana overnight) when some farmers' dogs went after it.

Anyway, we spent most of the following day on a walk deeper into the mountains. When we passed farmsteads with people outside we felt quite awkward, but fortunately nobody laughed at the dumb tourists, or yelled at us to get off their land. We didn't encounter any other hikers, as far as I can recall.

It was getting pretty nippy as we climbed; towards the end we were walking in snow.
Me: “I can’t feel my butt!”
Elliot: “Don’t worry. It’s still there.”
We were going to climb this. Then we decided we'd rather just go back to the cabana and watch Elliot eat some more cat intestines under a giant moose trophy (why didn't I get a picture?)

On the walk back we played GHOST. I insisted that "xylophonic" is a word, but Elliot was having none of it.

Next installment: Sinaia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I was sorting through old journals recently, and found some very rough notes for Mary Modern taken before I even got to Galway.

(Better view here. Or just click on the photo.)

I thought it might be fun to put up a few pages to give you a glimpse of the story in its earliest stage of development. (I don't know about you, but I eat this stuff up.)

(Better view here.)

After all, you've got to start someplace...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Sighişoara, part 2

The torture and weapons museums were a barrel of laughs and all, but my favorite sight in Sighişoara is the Church on the Hill. It is the most picturesque graveyard I have ever had the pleasure of wandering through. To get there, you climb a covered staircase dating to the 17th century:

And at the top there's a church (locked, when we went), and a rectory:

(Lucky priests!)

And then there's the graveyard, with all the old headstones tucked into the hillside.

Elliot: "Give me some of that coconut chocolate."
Kate: [farts]

Next: Piatra Craiului.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dame Alice

(Here's a bit about the most famous Irish witch, Dame Alice Kyteler, adapted from a Moon Ireland sidebar.)

Easily the most colorful character in Kilkenny history, Dame Alice Kyteler was a businesswoman in the early 14th century who gained more money and power with each husband she acquired. There were four in all, and since each died under mysterious circumstances it was inevitable that Dame Alice should be accused of witchcraft. According to Peter Somerville-Large in Irish Eccentrics, Dame Alice allegedly led her coven in parodies of the Mass using dead men's fingernails and the shrouds of unbaptized boys. "She sacrificed nine red cocks and nine peacock's eyes to her incubus, Art, or Robert, who had carnal knowledge of her in the shape of a cat [or] a hairy black dog..."

Though formally charged in 1324, her influential friends (her brothers-in-law, mostly) had the offending bishop, Richard de Ledrede, imprisoned for seventeen days. The trial commenced upon his release, however, and Dame Alice and her servant girl, Petronilla, were sentenced to burn at the stake. Dame Alice fled the country the night before the execution, leaving loyal Petronilla to her fiery fate on the third of November, 1324. (Somerville-Large gives the 3rd of September, 1325 as the date of execution.)

Alice Kyteler's firstborn son, William Outlawe, agreed to give alms to the poor and re-roof the choir stalls at St. Canice's Cathedral to avoid the gallows. Dame Alice was never seen or heard of again.

If this story captures your imagination as it did mine, you'll want to hunt down a copy of Emma Donoghue's The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits ( link here). "Looking for Petronilla" is the best of the collection.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Sighişoara

Sighişoara, a medieval citadel town in Transylvania, was easily my favorite stop in Romania—by turns tranquil and spooky. Plus, Sigguhshwahruh rolls so satisfyingly off the tongue! (We have been informed that this pronunciation is not quite correct, which fortunately does not make our way any less fun to say.)

On the train from Budapest. I'm reading The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, my own personal Santa Claus. (Got oodles of compliments on that t-shirt, including a marriage proposal from another American tourist in Dubrovnik.)

A view of the 14th-century clock tower from the center of town; the view from the top (doesn't it make you want to live here forever and ever?); allegorical clock figures; a shot of the handrail.

It's a long way from Jersey.

Next is Sighişoara part 2: the covered staircase and the Church on the Hill.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Great Book #45: Lord of the Flies

I somehow got out of reading this one in middle school Language Arts class, but I was always curious about it; Lord of the Flies is one of those novels nobody seems to like (or if they do they don't own up to it). It’s a shocking book, but what shocked me most was how much I enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author, which is always a particular treat since you hear the story exactly as it was intended to be read.

Even if you haven't read this book you've probably heard how ugly it gets: English schoolboys plane-wrecked on a deserted island during World War II attempt to form a civilization, which quickly disintegrates. Ralph is focused on maintaining a signal-fire so they can be rescued, while Jack is only interested in hunting pigs and unseating Ralph as 'chief'. Jack succeeds in turning the rest of the 'tribe' against Ralph, and they literally begin to hunt him down like a wild animal.

It doesn't matter that how they came to be there—why all boys and no girls? evacuated from where, to where? None of the boys mention having been anywhere outside of England—is implausible, and the ending even more so. The boys' descent into savagery is horrifying because it is, for the most part, believable. On any school playground anywhere in the world you can witness myriad minor cruelties that, in the absence of adult supervision, could snowball all too easily; the innocence of childhood is just a veneer over our cruel primal instincts. Jack—what is he, twelve, thirteen?—uses the prospect of a phantom in the forest to rally the boys behind him, paints his face with pig's blood, and does not care that his obsessive ambition to lead the group results in at least two violent deaths. The fearmongering and the struggle for power, the mad despot, the merciless scapegoating and the torturing of anyone who dares to all sounds awfully familiar.

Golding's prose can be, erm, too evocative (particularly when the boys go after a wild pig with bloodthirsty glee), but some of the descriptive bits are really splendid: "the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence"; "a sudden communion of shining eyes in the gloom"; "the tree trunks and the creepers that festooned them lost themselves in a green dusk thirty feet above him". And it's not just the jungle atmosphere he nails: "Piggy sat expressionless behind the luminous wall of his myopia." I wonder if somebody with perfect eyesight could understand how apt that sentence is, because I sure do. (Poor Piggy! We never find out what his real name is.)

Golding begins and ends his recording with a conversational bit about how he came to write the book. He said he had to make the group boys only, because if it had been mixed the book would have had to be primarily about sex, and if it had been only girls they would have behaved a whole lot better and there wouldn't have been a story. I don't know about that—at times in my adolescence it certainly seemed like the cattiness of girls was a far more insidious thing than the boys' tendency towards violence and domination—but I did appreciate this: 'I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men. They are far superior, and always have been.' As my grandmother says: 'Amen, brother. Amen.'