Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway!
May 1 to May 5

I have two copies of Claude and Camille to give away!  Here are the rules - easy peasy lemon squeezy!

1.  You must be a follower of this blog.
2.  You must be a resident of the U.S.
3.  Leave a comment and tell me why you are interested in this book.

That's all!

Good Luck everyone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nellie Bly (1864 - 1922)

I was born on May 5, 1864 as Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. As a child, I wore a lot of pink and was thus nicknamed "Pink" by my family and friends. My father, Michael, a wealthy former associate justice, died when I was six years old. My mother remarried three years later, but it was a bad marriage and she sued for divorce when I was only fourteen years of age. I testified in court against my drunken, violent stepfather. I attended boarding school for one term, but was forced to leave due to lack of funds to pay the school fees.

In 1880, we moved to Pittsburgh. A chauvinistic column in the Pittsburgh Dispatche angered me. I wrote a blistering rebuttal to the editor and signed it with "Lonely Orphan Girl." The editor was so impressed with my intensity and fortitude he hired me to work for the paper. Female newspaper writers at that time customarily used pen names, and I chose "Nellie Bly" which I borrowed from the popular song "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster.

My early work centered on the plight of working women, and I wrote a numerous investigative articles on the hardships faced by female factory workers. Editorial pressure, however, forced me to cover the more traditional topics of fashion, society, and gardening, for female reporters back then. Dissatisfied, at the age of twenty-one, I traveled to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. There, I reported on the lives and customs of Mexican people. In one report, I protested the imprisonment of a local journalist who had criticized the Mexican government. Mexican authorities threatened to arrest me, and this prompted my hasty departure.

Back in Pittsburgh, I was once again made to report on theater and arts. Displeased, I quit the Pittsburgh Dispatch and moved to New York City. Penniless after four months, I talked my way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World, and was offered a very interesting undercover assignment. I agreed to feign insanity in order to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

After practicing deranged expressions and behaviour, I checked myself into a working-class boardinghouse. Immediately I caused trouble. I refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that I feared them because they looked mad. It did not take long for them to deem me as crazy. The next morning they summoned the police who brought me before a judge. I pretended to have amnesia and the judge concluded I had been drugged.

Several doctors were brought in to examine me. They all declared me insane, a hopeless case. The head of the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital pronounced me undoubtedly insane. My case attracted a great deal of media attention.

Committed to the asylum, I experienced its conditions firsthand. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough, and dirty undrinkable water. Dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. Patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. Waste was all around the eating places. Rats crawled all around the hospital. The bathwater was frigid, and buckets of it were poured over our heads. The nurses were obnoxious and abusive, telling the patients to shut up, and beating us if we did not. Speaking with my fellow patients, I was convinced that some were as sane as I was.

After ten days, at the behest of my newspaper, I was released from the asylum. My report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought me lasting fame. While embarrassed physicians and staff fumbled to explain how so many professionals had been fooled, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting me to assist. The jury's report recommended the changes I had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. They also made sure that all of the examinations were more thorough so that only people who were actually insane went to the asylum.

In 1888, I suggested to my editor that I take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days' notice, I boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began my 24,899-mile journey.

I brought with me the dress I was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear and a small travel bag carrying my toiletry essentials. I carried most of my money (£200 in English bank notes and gold in total as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around my neck.

The New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat my time. She would travel the opposite way around the world. To sustain interest in the story, my newspaper organized a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” in which readers were asked to estimate my arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize consisting of a free trip to Europe and spending money.

During my travels around the world, I communicated by way of short progress reports by telegraph or by regular post. I travelled using steamships and railroad, visited a leper colony, and even bought a monkey.

1888 Letter by Nellie Bly

Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after my departure, I was back in New York, having circumnavigated the globe. My nemesis, Bisland, was still going around the world. My journey, at the time, was a world record.

In 1895 I married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman, 40 years my senior. I retired from journalism, and became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. In 1904, my husband died.

For a time I was one of the leading female industrialists in the United States, but embezzlement by employees forced me into bankruptcy. I was forced to return to reporting where I covered woman’s suffrage and stories of World War I.

In 1916 I was given a baby boy whose mother requested I see that he become adopted. The child was illegitimate and difficult to place since he was half-Japanese. The boy spent the next six years in an orphanage. When I became ill towards the end of my life, I requested that my niece, Beatrice Brown, look after the boy and several other babies in whom she had become interested.

I died of bronchopneumonia at St. Mark's Hospital in New York City in 1922, at age 57, and was interred in a modest grave at Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Blighted Troth featured on the Indie Book Blog

It was great seeing my book has been featured at The Indie Book Blog today and tomorrow at:

As more and more authors are choosing to go Indie, it's wonderful to know there are such great blogs out there that will showcase our work to the world.

The Blighted Troth has been selling well and reviews have been very positive. Many reviews have yet to come, so I'm anxiously awaiting them.

In addition to the Kindle edition, the trade paperback version is now available on Amazon and most other booksellers.

Kindle version only $3.99

Paperback version only $15.95


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes has recently been re-released by Sourcebooks.

Back Cover Blurb:

The moving, tragic story of Charles I, the last absolute monarch of England, during his imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Richly drawn and inspired by the New York Times bestselling author's own experience living on the Isle of Wight, this dramatic retelling brings to life the cavalier king whom Cromwell deposed. But even more fascinating than the account of royal hopes and misfortunes is the tale of a charming servant girl who is as romantic and tender in love as she is bold and resourceful in plotting the king's escape.

Mary of Carisbrooke is the story of Mary, a fictional young servant girl who is the daughter of the sergeant in charge of the military garrison at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight during King Charles I’s imprisonment there in 1647. It is an endearing tale of a friendship that blooms between her and the king as she aids him in failed escape attempts. 

King Charles I

The history of the kind and gentle King Charles I, deposed by Cromwell, and ultimately executed always draw me - the loveable king falling victim to the harsh political climate. Through the eyes of seventeen year old Mary, the novel beautifully depicts what life must have been like for him in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight during such dangerous times.

View from above of Carisbrooke Castle

Landscape view of Carisbrooke Castle

This is a wonderfully written piece of historical fiction depicting England’s Civil War where the engaging lost against Oliver Cromwell for control of England and the crown. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s portrayal of both Mary and King Charles as she aids him by delivering and passing letters to Royalists and family. 

Numerous personages of the time came into the story, and although it became sometimes confusing trying to remember all the names of the characters and their roles, the essence of the story did shine through. 

All in all, this was a wonderful story, which I highly recommend. A tale full of intrigue and danger that kept my interest from first page to last.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Winners of Sultana by Lisa J. Yarde

Congratulations to Carol N Wong and Teddy Rose who both won copies of Sultana by Lisa J. Yarde.
Thank you both for visiting and for taking the time to learn more about this exciting new novel by an exciting new author.

My appreciation also goes out to everyone else who stopped by and visited.  

Elizabeth Martha Brown (1811 - 1856)

My name is Elizabeth Martha Brown (nee Clark). We all carry regret, but my biggest regret is having married John Brown, my second husband, a man several years my junior. I believe he married me first for my money and second for my good looks. Our marriage was unsettled and stormy from the start. Not long after we were married, my darling husband John took up an affair with Mary Davis, a younger woman trapped in a miserable marriage of her own.

One night, after preparing dinner, I sat in a chair and waited for John. I waited and waited and waited. Finally he came home at 2 a.m. very drunk. The minute he entered through the door, I accused him of being with Mary Davis. This set off his anger. He kicked the chair out from beneath me. Our battle raged for an hour at which time John struck me hard on the side of my head. This disoriented me and I sat down to recover.

He stared down at the dinner I had prepared for him. “Eat it yourself and be damned,” he said as he reached for a whip from the mantelpiece. He struck me with it several times. I screamed and threatened to cry out murder. He did not care and threatened to knock my brains through the window and hoped to find me dead. John then kicked me on my left side. The pain was tremendous. When he stooped down to remove his boots, my blind rage got the better of me. I seized a nearby hatchet which I had earlier used to break coal for the fire to keep his supper warm, and struck him several violent blows on the head. I cannot say how times I struck him. He fell at the first blow and never spoke or moved afterwards.

I was convicted of his death and was sent to Dorchester Prison in England. I was to be executed thirteen days later.

It rained on the day of my execution. As I left my cell, I shook hands with the chief warder and other officers. On my way to the scaffold, I remained calm and dignified even while those who attended me were overcome and weeping. I conversed briefly with the chaplain and prayed fervently with my hands clasped firmly together, my eyes turned toward Heaven.

When I arrived at the scaffold, I walked courageously up the flight of eleven steps. Here I was restrained and my female attendants left me with the executioner. Among the crowd of nearly four thousand people, a sixteen year old man named Thomas Hardy watched. Little did I know that he was to immortalize my execution in the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles one day. He stood close to the gallows and seemed ashamed to be there.

i wore a black, silk dress. The executioner placed a cloth over my head, but it began to rain and my face became visible beneath it. I managed to hold back my tears. The executioner, after pinioning me, left the platform to spring the track, but before he could do so, he had to return because he had forgotten to tie down my dress to prevent any scandalous fluttering. I remained stoic until the moment “justice” was done.

Dear Woman

Profound words by men acknowledging the strife of women in history.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sultana by Lisa J Yarde

This weekend, take a journey into the exotic world of Sultana and meet author Lisa J. Yarde.

Back Cover Blurb:

In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

I have to admit, I first had the opportunity to read a few chapters of Sultana several years ago when I was a member of a historical fiction writers critique group. It was then that I fell in love with this story - the beautiful prose, the passion, and the unique setting of Moorish Spain. As time progressed, I became an avid follower of every chapter, offering feedback, but mostly praise. My respect for the author bloomed and before long we became good friends.

Good writing always shines, as does a talented storyteller. As a writer myself, I have always made it a point to surround myself with other authors whose talent I admire and whose skill and knowledge I can benefit from. For me, Lisa was such an author.  So it is with great pleasure that I host her here today and together we can reveal to the world, Sultana.

Sultana is the culmination of years of research, travel, and writing - a tale that is spellbinding because of its passion and intrigue. It is the type of novel that will sweep you away into another world and time - and it will keep you reading long past bedtime. Already, I eagerly awake book two in the sequence.

Sultana is not only delightfully rich in historical detail, but also a passionate story of love. Family secrets, intrigues, and driving ambition color every page of this novel.  Lisa travelled extensively to the Al Hambra, walking its corridors and grounds getting a sense of the surroundings in which the heroine, Fatima, lived. It is for this reason, the novel comes to vibrant life.

So take a moment and let's meet Lisa Yarde!

Lisa J. Yarde

Lisa, I'm so very pleased to have you here today. You already know how much I enjoyed reading Sultana.

1. Please tell readers about yourself.
I was born in Barbados, but I have lived in the United States for at least 25 years. I love writing and wrote short stories in junior high school. I also had aspirations of becoming a lawyer and pursued this plan until I realized I did not want that lifestyle anymore. Now, writing is my priority.

2. Sultana is your latest novel. Please us a bit about the new story.
Sultana is a story of revenge and intrigue, the bonds of family and the redemptive power of love. The story takes place during a turbulent period in 13th century Moorish Spain, when the union of a child bride and her groom, precipitates a civil war. Fatima is the young granddaughter of the reigning Sultan of Granada and Faraj is his nephew. Although the couple is part of the same illustrious family, each has separate, sometimes contrary interests. Fatima is utterly devoted to her family while Faraj, who is ten years older than her, has one cause in mind. The marriage has now endangered both their lives. The union has turned the Sultan’s one-time allies into powerful enemies. In addition, the Christian kings of Castile and North African Muslim rulers have their own designs on Granada. Fatima and Faraj have to overcome their initial mistrust and misunderstandings of each other. If they do not unite in the struggle against their common enemies, Granada will fall.

3. Do you have a favorite character in the story?
Of course, the heroine Fatima is my favorite character. She was a remarkable woman. While researching the details of her life, I realized how brave, resourceful and smart she must have been to survive the intrigues surrounding her. I wanted to write about a heroine whom readers could admire for her strength as well as her inexhaustible devotion to her family. A close second favorite is Fatima’s servant, Niranjan. He is her eunuch and most loyal aide, always at her side to offer her physical protection. He is willing to undertake any task on her behalf. More importantly, he serves as Fatima’s conscience through the book.

4. Have you been able to travel to any of the locations in Sultana?
Yes, I am truly fortunate that the primary setting of the story, the Alhambra Palace in the southern Spanish city of Granada is open of visitors. It is astonishing to me that one of the finest examples of Islamic art and architecture is still standing after several centuries of warfare, natural disasters and the attempts of Napoleon’s troops to blow it up. I visited the Alhambra Palace in November 2001 and spent considerable time exploring the palaces and surrounding area. While it does not looks exactly as my characters would have experienced it, the Alhambra Palace still reflects much of the Moorish era in Spain.

5. What is it about the Moorish period in Spain that readers might find fascinating?
When I took a religious studies class in the first year of college, I was fascinated to learn that there had been an Islamic presence in Europe. For seven hundred years, a diverse people had ruled what would become one of the most influential Catholic nations. The thirteenth century in Spain was a brutal and turbulent era, as most of the medieval period, but it was also the flowering of an age of artistic, intellectual and architectural brilliance in Spain. The Moorish period helped bring Spain out of the Dark Ages. When Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered Granada, which was the last bastion of Spanish Islam in the country at the end of seven centuries, they held so much admiration for Moorish culture that they often took to dressing in Moorish clothing. They preserved the Alhambra Palace, rather than destroying it, and Isabella’s final resting place lies in Granada. I think that speaks volumes.

6. Many of the characters in the novel are historical figures. How difficult was it to blend fiction with historical fact?
The medieval period is a fascinating era but part of the difficulty lies in obtaining good sources. For instance, Fatima may have been as young as eight years old or as old as twelve when she married – the sources do not agree. Also, the final end of the antagonists the couple faces is uncertain. That is the difficult part of attempting to tell this story. It is nearly impossible to be 100% certain of the events that occurred. I have found the best method for handling this problem is to review a variety of sources. If most point to a particular event happening on a certain date, even with a few contradictions, I go with the most popular date.

Another challenge is to develop characters and personalities for figures who have been long dead, while being true to their documented personalities. The Nasrid dynasty is not popular like the Tudors, or even their enemies, the Trastamara dynasty from which Isabella of Castile hailed, but there are some decent sources on Fatima’s family. With Sultana, I relied on some but often, later events helped me gain an understanding of my characters’ personalities. For instance, I have portrayed Fatima’s elder brother Muhammad in Sultana as cruel and antagonistic, because of his documented actions in later years. I wanted to show the seeds for that brutality developing in his early years.

7. What are you working on now?
The sequel of Sultana, which is called Sultana’s Legacy, is due this fall. I am steadily applying edits. It is a much darker story than Sultana is, very bloody and intense. Fatima attains her greatest triumph. Before it, she suffers tremendous, terrible losses of almost everyone and everything she holds dear. Here’s the blurb:

“Muhammad should be dearer to me than the sons of Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, because he is the only son of my mother.” Fatima paused, gauging her father’s reaction. When he gave her a look of uneasy puzzlement, she rushed on. “Still, I have long suspected that his reckless nature as a child would make him a dangerous man. He cannot follow you on the throne of Gharnatah.”

In medieval southern Spain during the turbulent reign of the last Moorish dynasty, the peace and prosperity of Fatima and Faraj's life has been shattered. Betrayal and uncertainty surrounds them. War and internal conflicts again threaten the fragile existence of the kingdom of Granada. With a madman bent on seizing the throne, Fatima must survive intricate plots that threaten those whom she loves the most. Her enemies are determined to destroy the enduring legacy of the Sultans of Granada forever. Fatima risks everything for her beliefs, even the potential loss of her greatest ally and enduring love, her husband Faraj. Yet, all her tragic defeats and even her greatest achievement cannot prepare her the most shocking deception - betrayal from within her own family.

After Sultana’s Legacy is completed, I will be working on The Burning Candle, which is another medieval. It is the story of Isabel de Vermandois, the wife and lover of two 12th century Anglo-Norman earls. I hope to have it ready by spring 2012.

8. Please provide your website, blogs and other contact details where readers can chat with you and learn more about your writing.
My email address is lyarde11751 at Verizon dot com. On Twitter, I am @lisajyarde

My website is My personal blog, The Brooklyn Scribbler is at

I am a book reviewer at Historical Novel Reviews,

I am also a regular contributor at Unusual Historicals, and The Best Damn Creative Blog

Thank you for hosting me at the History and Women blog, Mirella

Here is an excerpt of Sultana

Gharnatah, al-Andalus: Safar 677 AH (Granada, Andalusia: July AD 1278)

Fatima endured seven weeks of bitter silence, during which she received no word from Faraj. Her father shared the daily dispatches on the reclamation of the port at al-Jazirah al-Khadra and the defense against the Castillans. Still, no word arrived of her husband’s fate. She retreated into a shell of suffering, filled with self-recrimination. The remembrance of his final words offered little comfort in the emptiness of her bedchamber at night.

On the first cool day of the summer, Sultana Shams ed-Duna insisted she accompany her and the kadin Nur al-Sabah to the souk of Gharnatah. Her stepmother refused Fatima’s initial rebuff.

After prayers, the trio, in the company of Niranjan, the palace guard and some servants, took the route down the Sabika hill and across the bridge of the Hadarro River. The Qaysariyya marketplace spread across the dun-brown plain at the south of the city, extending from the foot of the Sabika hill to the red brick walls of Gharnatah. Jewish and Christian merchants plied their trade alongside their Moorish counterparts, the local goldsmiths, armories, shoemakers, blacksmiths and textile makers.

The Sultan’s guards jostled everyone and made a clear path for the women. Fatima shrank from the resentful gazes of those displaced by the guards’ rough handling. She kept close to Shams ed-Duna and Nur al-Sabah, who doggedly haggled with the market sellers, while their slaves idled alongside the narrow streets and alleyways. Merchants offered slaves from faraway lands, bartering away their lives as easily as the silk, leather goods, brocades, ivory and olive oil sold in the souk.

The stench of piss and offal in the streets vied with ambergris, musk and incense from a nearby stall. Fatima gripped her stomach, as a wave of dizziness overcame her.

The kadin frowned at her. “Are you unwell?”

“I hadn’t expected it to be so crowded, or smell so bad.”

“Look, it’s a symbol of the Nauar.” Shams pointed to a burnished copper wheel dangling from a tent post under a faded, blue awning. “I have not seen one since I left Fés el-Bali.”

Nur al-Sabah peered over her shoulder. “Hmm, the Gypsies. Is it true they foretell the future?”

Fatima shook her head. “What nonsense they must teach in Christian households. The Nauar speak only in riddles to confuse and delude the mind.”

Shams asked, “How can you be so certain? Have you ever been to one?”
Fatima replied, “I wouldn’t dare. Sorcery and divination is the work of the court astrologer. Ask him anything you would like. I’m sure Father wouldn’t object.”

Then, a heavily veiled woman followed by two eunuchs exited the shop. One of the slaves pressed two silver dirhams into the olive brown hand of a little girl with bulging, black eyes. She took the coins and disappeared into the tent. The other eunuch handed his mistress a silken kerchief. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes, before bustling through the marketplace, her slaves following.

“I’d like to go in.” Nur al-Sabah cupped the roundness of her belly jutting beneath the green silk robe. “The court astrologer has promised another girl, but I know the Sultan wants a son. Perhaps the Nauar might know for certain.”

Fatima sniffed at this and looked away. She did not resent Nur al-Sabah’s desire anymore. Still, her father did not need more sons. He already had her brother Muhammad and now Shams ed-Duna’s boy.

Shams ed-Duna tugged at her hand. “What harm could there be if you came with us, Fatima?”

She pulled away. “I forbid it!”

Shams ed-Duna chuckled and Nur al-Sabah rolled her eyes.

Fatima gritted her teeth together and then expelled a sighing breath. “Very well, I’ll indulge you both in this foolishness. Come, let us see this fraud.”

They crossed the street, avoiding refuse and excrement, while a cadre of the guards and their servants surrounded the stall. Niranjan held aside the low curtain hanging over the entryway. Fatima glanced at him briefly, but he averted his eyes from her. She entered first and asked the little girl with black eyes for the fortune-teller. She led them behind a cloth curtain and gestured to the lone seat at a table.

Behind it, a shriveled figure with lips drawn tight over her teeth peered at them in silence. A ring of seashells, all oddly shaped, dotted the edge of the table, with one black pebble in the center. Fatima grinned at this poor mockery of mystic symbolism, but Shams ed-Duna urged her forward.
The gypsy woman bowed her head. “Peace be with you.”

Fatima asked, “And with you. Are you the one who speaks of the future?”
“Do you wish to know the future, noble one?”

Ignoring Nur al-Sabah’s gasp, Fatima leaned forward. “Why do you call me ‘noble one’ when you do not know me?”

“It is what you are.” The woman turned to the girl hovering at her side. Whispering in some language other than Arabic, she waved the girl away. The child soon returned with a cup of fragrant tisane, which the woman offered to Fatima. “It cannot harm you.”

Fatima glared at her companions, both of whom nodded. She drank the brew, bitter to the tongue at first, but sweeter as she continued. She finished and handed the cup to the woman, who said, “If you could swirl the cup, noble one?”

Fatima ground her teeth together, but complied. She set the vessel down with an abrupt clank. A few of the leaves clung to the sides and bottom. Her gaze fixed on the woman who nodded. “We must wait for the leaves to settle.”

When Fatima groaned, Shams pressed a hand against her arm. “Be patient.”
After an interim, the gypsy asked, “What is it that you wish to know, noble one?”

Fatima countered, “Tell me what you see.”

The woman stared into the cup and after a brief interval, she pronounced, “The future of Gharnatah lies within you.”

Fatima smiled at her companions. “You see? An answer, if I can call it such, without any meaning. Just as I expected.” She stood and looked down her nose at the gypsy. “Can your leaves tell you anything about me?”

The woman stated, “Nothing you would believe, princess of Gharnatah.”
Nur al-Sabah pecked at her arm and whispered something, but Fatima stilled her and leaned toward the gypsy. “Why do you call me a princess?”

“It is what you are. As I have said, the future of Gharnatah lies within you. Already, you carry one of its heirs in your womb, your son, who shall become the Sultan of Gharnatah.”

Shams ed-Duna pressed her hand against Fatima’s shoulder, but she shrugged her stepmother off. “If you knew anything of me, you would know that no child of mine could ever be Sultan. It is treason to suggest it, when the Sultan already has an heir. Besides, I would know if I am with child.”

“I speak only of what I see, noble one. You are a princess of Gharnatah. You carry a son. One day, he shall become the Sultan. Such is the fate that awaits you, whether you would wish it or not.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 - 1973)

Elsa Schiaparelli
(1890 - 1973)

"I gave to pink, the nerve of the red, a neon pink, an unreal pink"

Fashion Designer

Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome on the 10th of September 1890, the daughter of a Neopolitan aristocrat and a renowned scholar and curator of medieval manuscripts.  As a child, Elsa studied the heavens with her astronomer uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the canali of Mars.

As a young woman, she entered the University of Rome where she studied philosphy.  It was during this time that she published a book of sensual poems.  The poems were so risque, and shocked her parents so much, they promptly shipped her off to a convent.

Angered and rebellious at her strict surroundings, Elsa unsuccessfully went on hunger strike.   Because of the wealth and lofty social status of her parents, Elsa was able to lead a life of relative comfort with many luxuries. But she wanted to rebel from this too because she believed it was wealth and luxury that smothered her creativity.  She endured the convent until the age of 22 when she eagerly accepted a job as a nanny for a family in London.

While on her way to London, Elsa was invited to a ball in Paris.  Having just come from the austerity of a convent, she had no ball gown.  Worse yet, she had no money to purchase one either.  So, ever resourceful, she purchased some dark blue fabric and wrapped it around her stylishly and pinned it in place.

While nannying in London, whenever she found a spare moment, she would attend museums and attend lectures about art and design.  It was at one of these lectures that she fell in love and married Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, a Franco-Swiss theosophist.

In 1921 the couple  moved to New York where Elsa immediately took to the modern city with all its cultures and businesses.  While she was busy fitting in and growing ever more comfortable each day, her husband did not.  He became unhappy and distanced himself from the city and Elsa.  By the time their daughter, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor (nicknamed Gogo) was born, Count William had abandoned them.

Elsa found work with the owner of a French fashion boutique.  While there met artists like Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray who lured her to Paris. 

While in Paris, Elsa began to make her own clothes.  She soon opened her own store, but it closed in 1926 despite its popularity. 

In 1927 she launched a new collection of knitwear using a special double layered stitch created by Armenian refugees with surrealist trompe l'oeil images.  Her first designs were featured in Vogue.  But when she created a pattern that gave the impression of a scarf wrapped around the wearer's neck, her business boomed.
Following that success, she created the "pour le Sport" collection which included  bathing suits, skiwear and linen dresses.  Elsa created a divided skirt, a forerunner of shorts.  Lili de Alvarez wore them in competition at Wimbledon in 1931 and shocked the tennis world.

In 1931, Elsa began to design evening gowns.  When France declared war on Germany in 1939, Elsa toned down her designs with darker colours and camouflage print taffetas.

When Paris fell in 1940, Elsa boarded a ship and returned to New York for a lecture tour where she remained until the end of World War II. 

But when she returned to Paris, it was a changed city.  Fashions were much different.  Elsa struggled to build her business in a city devastated by war and struggling to escape austerity.  The house of Schiaparelli struggled to make ends meet until she was finally forced to close at the end of  the year in 1954 when Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, returned to the business of fashion design.

At the age of 64, Elsa wrote her autobiography and then lived out a comfortable retirement between her apartment in Paris and house in Tunisia. She died on 13 November 1973.

Elsa was recognized as an innovative fashion designer.  From graphic knitwear, to faniciful prints of body parts, food, and other unusual themes, she slowly gained recognition.  She was the first to use brightly colored zippers, appearing first on her sportswear in 1930 and again five years later on her evening dresses. Not only was she the first designer to use brightly colored zippers, but she was also the first to have them dyed to match the material used in her garments. She was the first to create and use fanciful buttons that looked more like broaches. They came in the shapes of peanuts, bees, and even ram’s heads.

Elsa invented culottes, introduced Arab breeches, embroidered shirts, wrapped turbans, pompom-rimmed hats, barbaric belts, the “wedge,” a soled she that would trend through the 20th century and into the next, and mix-and-match sportswear, the concept of which would not be fully recognized for another forty to fifty years.

But what she is most known for, was her use of  "shocking pink".

Chanel referred to her as 'that Italian artist who makes clothes'.

In 1937 Elsa designed a jacket and an evening coat embroidered with a female figure with one hand caressing the waist of the wearer, and long blonde hair cascading down one sleeve.  The coat featured two profiles facing each other, creating the optical illusion of a vase of roses.

Elsa is also famous for the Lobster dress, the Tears dress, the Skeleton dress, the shoe hat.

Lobster Dress

Tear Dress

Skeleton Dress

Shoe Hat

Elsa Schiaparelli Bootees, winter 1939-40.
Pink, green, and white silk satin and leather with mother-of-pearl buttons.

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