Friday, February 27, 2015

Always the Music

Always the Music is the story of Cosima, born in 1837 to the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt and his mistress, Marie d’Agoult. Set against the backdrop of late 1800’s Paris, Cosima’s story tells of a tumultuous childhood and adolescence, followed by a notorious affair with one of Germany’s most famous composers. Her life is a tale of courage and determination in the face of obstacles.

The Paris in which Cosima spent her formative years was not what visitors see today when they visit the famous City of Lights. From fashion and shopping, to dining and entertaining, nineteenth century Paris was a different world.

During the 1800’s, Parisian fashion went through many changes. In mid-century, the crinoline defined a lady’s figure. It spread the skirt of a dress equally around the body in a rounded shape. The crinoline, originally made of horsehair and cotton or linen thread, played an important role in women's fashion for decades. Later the word crinoline referred to any stiff petticoat or rigid skirt that supported women’s dresses and formed them into the rounded shape fashionable at the time.

After 1860, skirts in Parisian fashion began to narrow and flatten in front, with much of the bulk of fabric moved to the back. By the mid 1870’s a new undergarment, the tournure, had replaced the crinoline. The tournure supported the large backside of dresses, a style known as Cul de Paris, or ‘the Paris bottom'.

Shoppers in nineteenth century Paris enjoyed browsing perfume shops. In the latter years of the century, perfume production underwent a change. Perfume was no longer a luxury afforded only by the elite. Thanks to new innovations and techniques in production, it became widely available. Perfume emerged as a popular luxury, thanks to its new affordability and what some referred to as a ‘hygiene revolution'. 

Those dining in Paris in the late 1800’s enjoyed fine culinary experiences. The terms gourmet and gastronome emerged at this time. It is widely believed that the birth of fine restaurants was caused by the French revolution. Seeking safety, aristocrats fled Paris, leaving behind their fine chefs and the contents of their wine cellars. These abandoned workers and fine bottles came together and over fifty new restaurants popped up around Paris.

Strolling the streets of late 1800's Paris was a treat to the senses as art, culture, fashion, and fine dining became commonplace. No wonder Cosima, forced to leave Paris during her adolescence, schemed to return to The City of Light.

 Always the Music brings to readers the story of Cosima, a woman who rose above the shadow of three musical geniuses. This is another book in a series on Women in History. It is written under the penname, Elizabeth Elson.

Look for a giveaway next week where 15 readers will win a free copy of this exciting novel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Julia Augustii

Julia Augustii, daughter of the man who inherited his power from Julius Caesar, was born in 39 BC. As an infant, she was betrothed to Marc Anthony’s eldest son, who was killed shortly after his father committed suicide. Her tumultuous life fascinated me enough to research her life and times more thoroughly, especially her relationship with Marc Anthony's son, Iullus. Julia's stepmother, Livia, is a fascinating woman, too, as are Julia’s successive husbands, especially Agrippa, about whom books and movies have been written.
Julia, Daughter of Rome, is my first ebook, and will be followed by other novels about women who lived their lives in the shadow of famous men.

Because this was set in a much earlier period than my previous historical novels, I wrote it under the name Elizabeth Elson. I’d love to hear from my readers as to what they think of the book. For me, it was an exciting foray into a fascinating period in history.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

History of Coffee

The history of coffee can be traced back to at least the 13th century, but if may have been used for years before that. After the 16th century, Dutch traders brought coffee plants to Italy, and from there coffee’s popularity spread through Europe and to the New World, aided by frequent trade between Venice and Muslim countries.

The English word coffee may have come, in various forms, from Kaffa in Ethiopia, where the plant originated.

Legend has it that a mystic saw some birds acting particularly lively, and experimented with the berries himself, but the first credible evidence of the coffee bean’s use was in monasteries in Yemen, where the monks used it to keep them awake during evening devotions.

In 1720 traders brought coffee plants to islands in the Caribbean, where plantation owners quickly realized the plant’s value, setting in motion the massive transport of slaves from Africa to Cuba to work the fields.

At various times, coffee has been forbidden, in Turkey and other places, but because of its popularity, the bans were always quickly overturned.

For myself, I’m just grateful to whomever the first man was who got past the bitter taste of the raw bean and experimented with making a tasty brew.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coffin Portraits

The protagonist in my current work-in-progress is from Warsaw, and in doing research about the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, I ran across an article of interest. Coffin portraits, seldom used outside the Commonwealth, were an important part of Polish funerals, usually lavish and ceremonial, even for the common people. However, a farmer’s portrait may have been drawn by a family member, whereas a nobleman’s image was done by a professional artist.  Portraits of the deceased were attached to the coffins, then removed before burial and hung on the walls of the church.

The metal on which the portrait was painted was shaped to fit the end of the coffin where the head of the deceased would be. The opposite end of the coffin generally held the epitaph, and on the side of the coffin mourners would see the coat-of-arms of the deceased. Because most were painted in oils, on either tin or silver, the images have disappeared from churches as years passed, either taken as booty during one of several wars, or stolen by vandals.

Aside from this period in the Polish Commonwealth, the term coffin portrait was also used to describe the funerary art from Ancient Egypt, portraits common during 1 BC and until 3 AD, a relatively narrow expanse of time. The Egyptian portraits were painted on wood. The portrait covered the face of the mummy, and was attached to the cloths used to wrap the mummy. Some nine hundred of these Egyptian portraits are in the hands of collectors and museums, but because of the warm climate in Egypt, which helps to preserve the wood, the portraits are useful in determining hairstyles and clothing of the period.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review of an Historical Mystery

I loved mysteries as a teenager, but somewhere along the way, I turned to historical novels, my first love. However, not long ago I took the time to read a debut mystery written by another member of Historical Novel Society. I love books set in France (as is evident by my writing), and so I settled down to read Judith Rock’s Rhetoric of Death, an historical mystery set in 17th century Paris. To my delight, the novel has all the appeal of good historical fiction—the ability to transport me to the past, to the streets of Paris, where a Jesuit monk follows leads down dusty back alleys to solve the mystery of a murdered student and the attempt on the life of another.

If you love historical novels, you will love Rhetoric of Death. Judith has another mystery just out, The Eloquence of Death. The book titles would be off-putting were the author not so talented, the plots interesting, and the characters so real. I’m recommending it to both my book groups, and highly recommend Judith’s books to anyone who wants a book they can’t put down until the final page, wishing then the read was not yet finished.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

History of Keyboards

As early as the 8th century, musical instruments have had keys, though the keyed instrument Emperor Constantine sent to King Pepin of France was probably nothing like the keyboard instruments of today.

In the early part of the 11th century, Guido of Arezzo, a Benedictine monk who is regarded to be the inventor of modern musical notation (the staff) and the ut-re-mi (do, re, mi name for tones) devised a way to attach a keyboard to a stringed instrument.

One of the earlier keyboard instruments was the clavichord, which at first had only twenty keys.

After the 15th century almost all the key-stringed instruments used the chromatic scale, as we find it in modern pianos. Keyboard size varied from instrument to instrument.

In the 18th century, a piano maker in Vienna built a concave-formed keyboard, convinced it would better serve the tendency of the human arm to move in a semicircle.

A piano maker in the 19th century designed a keyboard on which the semitones (our black keys) were the same color as the full tones, and were not raised. Thus, the keyboard we know today is the result of experimentation through the ages. As a pianist, I am grateful to have raised black keys and the full 88-key keyboard of today.
For further reading go to

Friday, July 15, 2011

Are Conferences Worth the Price?

HNS Reception - photo by Adelaida Lucena-Lower

Recently I attended the Historical Novel Society's conference in San Diego, where I was a panelist with three other authors, all of whom have a stack of best-sellers to their credit. Flights cross-country, hotel room prices, and conference fees can add up pretty quickly, and people have asked me, are conferences really worth the price? My answer is an unequivocal yes. First, you know that anyone there has an interest in your genre, or at least, in books and what makes them great. Secondly, no matter where you are in your writing career, you can always find workshops that will give you fresh knowledge, and improve your writing. I attended a workshop on Writing Gay Characters, and took notes like crazy--even spoke with one of the panelists who said he would gladly look over some scenes I was not sure were right. Thirdly, of course, are the pitch sessions, where you can meet that editor or agent you've been wanting to talk to, face to face. Add to all these benefits the networking, one of the most enjoyable parts of the conference. At one meal, I sat next to an author who I later learned sang in a group that does medieval music. What a coincidence! She and I started talking, and she knew I had written The Tapestry Shop, my 2010 release about a trouvere, one of the wandering poet/musicians in northern France during the thirteenth century. After I returned home, she wrote me that she read my book on her return flight, plus she send me a nice review. At a reception one evening, I met the author Karleen Koen, whose recent release, Beyond Versailles, intrigued me with its title. I am about halfway through the novel and loving it, and I loved meeting Karleen, a talented and intriguing personality.
Are conferences worth it? Of course, and in this changing industry, I believe writers' conferences are more important than ever, not only for the reasons I mentioned, but to keep track of what lies ahead on the horizon--for authors and publishers and agents. Right now I'm looking forward to the Colorado Gold conference in September, sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Maybe I'll see some of you there.