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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Sunday, November 3, 2019

From Summer to Autumn

July and August somehow sped by in a flash, and I was in England and Wales for part of September, and suddenly, with a blaze of New England colour, October is over. I marvel when my calendar confirms that November is here!

For much of the summer, I was able to spend lots of time at our lake cottage, interspersed with author events--bookstore signings, radio interview, library appearance, and meeting with a book group to discuss Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr.

Off to a radio interview in a 1940s-inspired dress

Show and Tell item for a book club meeting

During July, I participated in Camp NaNo, and committed to adding another 25,000 words to my novel. I exceeded my goal.

Our younger dog Dot continued her training, formally--completing Level 2 Obedience--and informally, with her agility set at home. And she accompanied me to Maine to see friends, and had a terrific time romping along the beach.

Young Dot shows off her skills--senior dog Ruth cheers her on

A day on a beach in Maine

Other August activities included a road trip to Massachusetts and Connecticut, to attend a rock concert and do a little research at the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, MA, related to the work-in-progress. I meet some famous, familiar characters there.

The Cat in the Hat

With infamous troublemakers, Thing 1 & Thing 2

September is the month I travel to the UK. In addition to spending time at the usual location in Somerset, I ventured north to re-visit Chester, a favourite city where I've got family connections. Using it as a base, I visited the area in Wales where my Evans ancestors lived--a manor house and a very large farm enveloped by hills. The weather was glorious.

One of the family properties
Making myself at home at the ancestral manor house 

An ancestor was born on this property in 1686. 

 From there, I went to London, where the social calendar was full, and I carried out research in the British Library for future novels, and was able to tour some architecturally significant buildings not generally open to the public. One of my favourite stops was the Royal Society, founded in 1660 by King Charles II, father of Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans and protagonist of my novel A Pledge of Better Times. He was admitted to the R.S. as a Fellow in 1722.

At the Royal Society, Carlton Place, London

Since returning home, I've been putting finishing touches on the w-i-p, and rejoicing at good news about Beautiful Invention. It's one of three finalists for the Independent New England Publishers Association Book Awards for Fiction. And it was a finalist, and winner, as Outstanding Work of Fiction for the New Hampshire Literary Awards. I attended the ceremony, never expecting bring home a prize!

My award
Winners for Non-Fiction & Fiction (photo: Ron Stone)

Award for Outstanding Work of Fiction (photo: Ron Stone)

Shortly after the ceremony, I had another radio interview, followed by an author event way down south at a Barnes & Noble where I've appeared in the past, and am invited to return.

Signing books, talking about Hedy

No NaNoWriMo for me this November. I participate every other year, and did it in 2018, plus I had a successful push to 25K words in July for CampNaNo--despite the distractions of lake life, garden tasks, and helping the young dog in her formal education. I presented a Building Your Historical World fiction workshop for New Hampshire Writers Project this weekend, and have more writers' group visits and bookstore visits on the horizon--some in-person, some via phone or Skype.

Our dog Dot completed her Level 3 Obedience (is that a doggie Ph.D.?). She celebrated by attending the Downtown Farmer's Market in her Halloween costume.

Dressed up Dot

Next come the holidays and my annual winter hibernation. Not many weeks left in this very busy and happy year of writing, travel, new dog, author appearances, and family time.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Historical Novel Society Conference 2019

The benefits of attending a writers' conference are numerous. It's a chance to reconnect with longtime friends and colleagues, to make new friends, to pitch book ideas--informally or formally--to editors from publishing houses familiar and not, to absorb the collective wisdom of writers at all stages of their careers, to hear the latest market news. Oh--and of course, to eat, drink, and be merry...for tomorrow, we must return to that manuscript!

HNS is an international organisation, with conference alternating between the US and the UK, and there's an Australasia one as well. I've attended UK as well as US conferences. This year we gathered at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia, and quite close to Washington, D.C. Some members took advantage of the location to go sightseeing in our nation's capital. With  lifelong connections to the region, and relatives and friends in the vicinity, I didn't stray from the hotel until the conference ended.

My room's view of the ferris wheel & Potomac River

In the hotel's Atrium, replica of Old Alexandria--and massive window

There were extra pre-conference workshops on the Thursday. That evening was devoted to an opening cocktail reception and costume contest. As usual, those who came in period attire looked wonderful. I attended as Hedy Lamarr, costumed for her role in the film Ziegfeld Girl, which she was shooting at the time she co-invented spread-spectrum technology and frequency-hopping. Her experience making the film, and her reaction to her costume, are included in Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy LamarrMy efforts to recreate that gown couldn't match the exquisite Adrian design, or the excellence of the MGM seamstresses, but I did my best.

Hedy wore it better--of course!

Ladies in white: with debut author Finola Austin
Opening reception in the Pose Lounge atop the hotel

Having served on the Program Committee--no easy task--the line up of panels, workshops, skills demonstrations (sword fighting! wool spinning! period dancing!) and group discussions was no secret to me. I was frustratingly aware that whatever choice I made in a given hour, I was missing several amazing other options. I was involved with two panels myself, Silk Stocking Rebels: Writing STEAM-Powered Women (women of Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and Women of Washington. And I was co-leader for a Koffee  Klatch group chat Call off the Revolution! What-Ifs? that Would have Changed the Course of History. [Program Committee members weren't allowed to assess or approve the panels that they proposed, so I had no insider advantage to becoming a panellist!]

Nicky Pentilla, Mary Sharratt, Kate Quinn, Me

Stephanie Dray, Stephanie Thornton, Me

I attended as many panels as I could, when not otherwise occupied. Most were on topics of interest, rather than craft, and all were well presented. Of particular usefulness, now that I'm writing another 20th century novel: You Mean it Didn't Rain that Day? The Perils & Pitfalls of Writing Modern History with Chanel Cleeton, Camille Di Maio, Renee Rosen, Stephanie Thornton, and Kate Quinn. My research incorporates so many primary and secondary sources, and all the newspaper and magazine articles about my characters.

The Friday night Hooch Through History is always a highlight, and this year was no exception--the theme was Revolution. And alcohol definitely fueled or consoled revolutionaries! Isobel Carr proceeded through her slides, and the hotel wait staff delivered the highly potent beverages in sequence, with an occasional amuse bouche.

Our lunchtime speakers, Dolen Perkins-Valez (Friday) and Jeff Shaara (Saturday), were eloquent and inspiring. I also attended the afternoon tea at which both responded to an interviewer's questions, and took questions from the audience.

M.K. (Mary) Todd has a terrific wrap-up on the agents and editors panel, and their views on the current market for historical fiction:  The State of Historical Fiction #HNS 2019. As I become aware of more, I'll add them here. Using the hashtag #hns2019 will bring up social media posts, and some great live-tweeting from the various panels. I've got so many pictures on my phone--the ones I took and ones shared or sent to me. I haven't yet  had a chance to review them all.

Along with 100 or so other authors, I participated in the Readers Festival booksigning event, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the public and conference attendees who came.

At the Readers' Festival Booksigning, with Hedy

After the closing banquet, I was one of the professional actor/authors performing a staged reading of works by several revolutionary female playwrights, compiled by Program Chair Leslie Carroll and directed by Gillian Bagwell. At the conclusion, we were joined by banjo maestro Curt Locklear, and led the crowd in a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."

With Leslie Carroll before the banquet

Scene from Mae West's play SEX, as prostitutes in a brothel

Me, Gillian Bagwell, Leslie Carroll, Leanna Renee Hieber

The full company: Teel James Glenn, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon,
Anne Easter Smith, Me, Gillian, Leslie, Leanna
The next event was Lady Baltimore's Ball, an after-party with period dances--reels and quadrilles--led by an expert in costume. And then there was an after-after party with my fellow performers and others who stayed up late because they couldn't bear for all the fun and fabulousness to end!

My adventures weren't yet over...a dear friend collected me and I spent a few days with her and her husband, whose marriage ceremony nine years ago took place at our lake house, and their darling dog Jasper (whom I hadn't yet met).

At the same time, my own darling dog Dot was completing her final session of Level Two Obedience, with my husband as handler. She and her classmates were working on their Downtown Dog skills, and walked along Main Street to our city's fantastic Independent Bookstore. Once there, I'm told, Dot walked right over to the "P" section in fiction--perhaps looking for my books? Good Girl!

After discussing my work-in-progress with editors, I intend to spend the summer working towards its completion. For discipline and self-imposed deadline I'll possibly rely on Camp NaNo. It's the July program sponsored by National Novel Writing Month/NaNoWriMo, which I successfully completed last November, writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Camp NaNo has a "set your own goal" feature that's more compatible with my life right now.

I came home to an abundantly blooming rose garden, and after a hosting an Open Garden for friends and locals, I plan to hide away at the lake and write. I have a few more author events scheduled, including a radio presentation, so I can't be a complete hermit!

Happy summer to you....

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Spring Book Tour, Continued

A busy time, for author events and for garden tasks, now that spring is here.

I attended the New Hampshire Writers Project 603 Conference, and was so inspired by Gregory Maguire's keynote speech, "The Light Within the Story: Fairy Tales in a Dark Time." It's always fascinating to enter another writer's mind, and learn about their motivations and process, and receive insights This was a truly uplifting and wide-ranging presentation, with excellent use of visuals. I will be pondering it for some time.

My next appearance is coming up soon: Margaret Porter at Taylor Community, Laconia on May 6. As  part-time resident of the Lakes Region, I'm excited about this event.

Recently I had the pleasure of a television appearance at a local station. What was especially meaningful was being interviewed by someone who is not only a Hollywood insider, but was friends with individuals who worked at MGM during the Golden Age of cinema and were personal friends of Hedy Lamarr. How wonderful to have such a knowledgeable broadcaster, and one with a great love of cinema history. The 25 minutes of our conversation passed in a flash, and I look forward to our getting together again--off camera. I need to pick Paul's brain for my next Hollywood novel!

On set, before the interview

After my interview. He's read my novel 3 times! 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Spring Book Tour & Update

I've just returned from the Southern leg of my spring tour, sandwiched between New England events.

It was wonderful meeting readers and signing books.

And I had the opportunity to discuss Hedy Lamarr and Beautiful Invention with an energetic and enthusiastic book club.

Also, the weather was warm, and so many flowers were blooming!

Upcoming activities include taping a television program, another book club visit, a presentation at a library, a public event in the Lakes Region, and two writers' conferences.

I'm glad to have emerged from wintertime hibernation, during which I was devoted to my work-in-progress. It is still progressing....

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hedy Lamarr as Actress, Inventor, Artisan--and Artifact

As a result of writing Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, and as a collector of antique and vintage items, I've acquired several original artifacts associated with my protagonist.

One of the most intriguing is this metal boot- or shoe-jack. The letters of Hedy’s name are soldered to the frame, and each support bears half the year of its creation, 1940—the 19 on one side and the 40 on the other.

Although the provenance isn’t specific, it reportedly was made for the actress, who by 1940 had attained the peak of fame. But by whom?

One candidate for its creation is Hedy herself, because she was a maker. She designed her own jewellery and clothing, and mixed her own perfume by combining scenes she liked. Knitting and needlepoint were ways to keep occupied between scenes in her dressing room or trailer. She was a painter. She modeled in clay, making miniature animals to display in her dressing room. As described in the novel, she gave them to her Come Live with Me castmates as Christmas gift—Jimmy Stewart received a pig—and she accepted commissions. And she was a woodcarver, who specialised in making decorative doorstops covered in needlepoint or fabric. Her woodworking projects sometimes took place in the carpentry shop at her studio, MGM, where she could use a lathe.

Another even more likely candidate, and the one I chose for fictional purposes, is British actor Reginald “Reggie” Gardiner. He was her first Hollywood boyfriend and lover. 

Hedy with Reggie Gardiner
Hedy & Reggie at a film premiere

A skilled artist, he painted her portrait more than once, in oils and in watercolours. 

Reggie working on one of his Hedy portraits

After their initial romance ended, they remained very close before and after her various marriages, and they continued dating until he fell in love with the woman who became his wife. He built her coops for her flock of chickens and ducks, hutches for her rabbits, and constructed a swimming pool at one of her houses. Anyone who sees him portraying the quintessential, sophisticated, upper-crust Englishman in such films as Christmas in Connecticut or Everybody Sing! will be surprised by his non-theatrical pursuits. It would certainly not be out of character for him to have engaged in metal-work.

What was the significance of 1940?

It was a very busy year for Hedy, and not a happy one. She separated from her second husband, producer Gene Markey, and initiated a divorce—which had the potential to jeopardise the final adoption of their toddler son. In the midst of domestic turmoil, she was working on four major movies: Boom Town (with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable), Comrade X (with Clark Gable), Ziegfield Girl (with Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and Jimmy Stewart) and Come Live with Me (with Jimmy Stewart).

During the final months of that year, appalled by the tragic German U-Boat attack on the children’s transport ship City of Benares, evacuating British children to Canada, she decided to put her knowledge of munitions to use against Hitler and the Nazis. She embarked upon her now-famous collaboration with George Antheil on the wireless torpedo, and the development of “frequency hopping” and spread-spectrum technology for the National Inventors Council.

It's impossible to know the origin of the bootjack, or why it bears the particular date. But it is an attractive—and potentially useful—household item.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Hedy Lamarr and her Velvet Ballgown

On 16 January, 1937, the woman who became Hedy Lamarr—then Mrs. Fritz Mandl—attended the Vienna Opera Ball. On that occasion she wore a velvet gown with crossover bodice. Her jewels consisted of a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, a large brooch, and several gemstone bracelets.

Hedwig Kiesler Mandl, 16 January 1937

Hedy at the Vienna Opera Ball, 16 January 1937

One of many myths about Hedy—which she created and perpetuated—was her autumn 1937 “escape” from her native Vienna and her controlling, duplicitous husband. Fritz Mandl, an Austrian-born Jew, was a millionaire munitions manufacturer who provided European dictators with armaments in the years just prior to World War II. Hedy's disgust at his connections with Hitler, combined with his mistreatment of her, prompted her to leave her homeland.

In her quite lurid and much discredited (by her) ghostwritten autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, there is an exciting but highly dubious description of how she got away from her husband after various failed attempts. She claims to have hired a maid who resembled her. After sending money and jewelry to a friend in Paris, says Hedy:

…I put three sleeping pills in Laura’s coffee, packed her suitcase, left her some money, dressed in my maid’s costume with the collar turned up and sneaked out of the servants’ entrance. I had the keys to Laura’s battered car, and I reached the railway station unchallenged…I knew that once I was discovered, and alarm would go to Mandl in Germany just as quickly as if he were in the next room!

This subterfuge would not have been necessary. By that time, the marriage was no more than a sham.

The year before this supposedly occurred, in October, 1936, U.S. papers printed a story about the scandalous couple, declaring that Fritz Mandl

...has not only lost his five-year fight to suppress the movie Ecstasy, in which his beautiful wife stars in the nude, but he now stands in danger of losing his wife as well. At least, so the Viennese gossips say. And they add that his wife, famous Austrian cinema star, Hedy Kiesler, has also lost—her heart to Count Ferdinand von Starhemberg.

Ferdinand was a hereditary Austrian prince, not a count, and he tried to help free Hedy from Fritz, with disastrous results. By the following year, the Mandls were taking separate vacations, and both were involved in affairs with other people. Moreover, that summer the European press reported that divorce was already on the cards. On the 18th of September, 1937 it was reported:

A cousin of Mandl revealed today that Hedi [sic] and her husband had filed a mutual divorce action. It was reported, however, that they would not wait for a trial of the suit but would go to Riga, Latvia, the Reno of Europe. Hedi’s aspirations to return to the stage were blamed for the final rift, but although Vienna society has been talking for weeks about the public appearances of the actress with Count Max Hardegg.

When that paragraph was printed, Hedy had already left Austria and was in London, staying at the elegant Regent Palace Hotel.

Decades before Hedy's memoir was published, shortly after her arrival in Hollywood, she told journalists that she deserted Fritz while he was away on a hunting trip in Hungary. Here’s an early version of the escape story, a year after it occurred, as described in a 1938 Photoplay interview, the year after her departure from Austria:

She packed her luxurious clothes and with her tiny nest egg made ready for flight…and then quietly one night during her husband’s absence, she with the aid of a faithful maid, crept to the depot and caught the train.

No mention of drugging the maid. Or a single suitcase. The servant is an active assistant, no doubt helping to carefully pack those "luxurious clothes." She was not an unwitting victim.

In July, 1938, ten months after Hedy fled from Vienna, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper visited Hedy's home, reporting that, "She brought with her the finest jewels, which she keeps in a vault, and scads of beautiful clothes."

So Hedy did carry jewelry and couture gowns with her when she climbed aboard that train to Paris. From France she crossed the Channel to England. In London an MGM employee secured her a meeting—not her first—with Louis B. Mayer. She's believed to have sold some of her jewelry to pay for her passage on the S.S. Normandie, but much of her collection was intact when she sailed. She surely had more than limited amount of clothing she could have fitted into “Laura’s suitcase”. On disembarking in New York on September 30th, she possessed stacks of luggage. She had purchased clothing in the designer shops on board the ship—Mayer gave her carte blanche to buy anything she wanted and send the bill to MGM. But judging from her comments to Hedda Hopper and to Photoplay, she'd brought plenty of fine clothes on board.

Apparently that same velvet ballgown she'd worn 9 months earlier at the Vienna Opera Ball was carefully packed with others as she departed the ten-room Ofenheim Palace apartment where she lived with Fritz. Accumulated photographic evidence proves that it made the long journey with her from Vienna to Hollywood.

In one of her early MGM publicity stills, shot by photographer Clarence Bull, she wears that very garment.

Hedy Lamarr, MGM starlet

And in the final hours of 1938—the year she achieved Hollywood stardom as Gaby in Algiers—she wears it again. Seated with her at the New Year’s Eve party is her co-star, Charles Boyer, who was responsible for her getting that crucial role.

Hedy & Charles Boyer, 31 January 1938

The velvet gown had at least one other outing, paired with her famous chinchilla cape. She wears both in this photograph at an event with actor George Raft and Norma Shearer, at that time the Queen of MGM, Hedy’s studio. Some sources indicate that this was at the Academy Awards ceremony in February 1939.

After the Mandls' marriage was eventually dissolved, Fritz went on to marry nearly as many times as Hedy did. They remained on friendly terms. He telephoned her every birthday, and from time to time provided her with gifts of money—once as much as $10,000. Whatever had drawn them together when she was a teenaged actress never completely disintegrated. They met only once again, after both were remarried, she to producer/writer Gene Markey and he to an Austrian baroness. The reunion, noted in Hedy’s FBI file, probably occurred during the Markeys’ visit to New York in early 1940, when Fritz and his new bride were also there.

I doubt she wore the well-travelled velvet dress on that occasion. If she had, I'm sure her ex-husband would have remembered it, and he would have known the cost—because  he'd paid for it.

There's no proof of which couturier created the sleeveless and oft-worn gown. Hedy often purchased clothing in Paris. Madeline Vionnet created this very similar one in 1934, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. And purple was a favourite colour of Hedy's.

Vionnet gown, 1934, V&A

You can read about Hedy's married life with Fritz, her escape from him, and what happened afterwards in Hollywood and during World War II, in Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr