Sunday, June 29, 2008

I am a Graduate!

Today I graduated from Seton Hill College/ University for the second time. This time I received an MA in Writing Popular Fiction.

Thanks once again to Lee McClain and Al Wendland, Barbara Miller and Leslie Davis Guccione, Tim Esaias and Mike Arnzen, Rich Snyder, Emilie Bishop, Jennifer Hoffman, Aubrey Curry and Stephanie Splater for all the help, input and love as teachers, mentors and crit partners. And to all my friends, grads and fellow students, my gratitude.

Special thanks to my wonderful husband Paul for hauling himself to Greensburg PA for this big event in my life.

Tomorrow we will return to life as we know it.

The next day I begin to write for real.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Almost a graduate

Today I had my next- to -the-last-module in the SHU-WPF MA program. Great work from
Tracy Wilson-Burnes, Jen Stuttle and Aubrey Curry! How coolis it to watch one another develop as writers. Thanks for a great class Barb Miller. You are a mentor and teacher par-excellence.

We heard Walter Sorrell speak-- once in class, once in a public lecture. Informative.

Had dinner with my lovely-and-wonderful husband Paul and my lovely-and -wonderful crit partner Rich Snyder.

Dinner tomorrow with the Tuesday girls- Meg, Sharon and Diane.

More later-- too tired to think.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Teaching for Writers

There is an awful lot of things to learn at the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction residencies. Not only do you learn from the mentors at the core and elective modules, but underclassmen/ women/ people learn from the graduating seniors.

It was my turn to teach this morning.

I had the pleasure to follow fellow seniors Rich Snyder (my current and forever critique partner) and Aubrey Curry ( my first critique partner) in their teaching modules. The class was overseen by Dr. Al Wendland, who will be taking over the program in the coming term.

I Rich Snyder is a physician as well as a writer. His "Anatomy of an Injury" (Trauma) lecture was brilliant. This man is so self-effacing, you would never know he is an excellent public speaker. What a great class!

Aubrey taught about getting inspiration from the photos on I-Stock was very informative. i had never heard of the site and wow, you can get really great photos.

My lecture was about Research for Writers (Backstory). I had fun tying the concepts in with my thesis novel THE GENERAL'S SON. I can talk for hours on the subject of Cosimo de Medici and his wife Eleonora de Toledo. It was a lucky thing that we were alotted only 50 minutes.

I also took a module on the different types of romance novels (series vs. single title) from SHU? WPF grad Shelley Bates. Her color handouts alone are worth the price of the class! Organized, informative and fun. Have I mentioned in color? And that is just the handout. Great class, Shelley!

I checked my email while in the library. Wendy Lynn, The Goddess of the WPF program kept joking about me just waiting around for a meeting with my mentor. (Graduating seniors don't have them.) However, I DID turn in my thesis. I am doing the happy dance. THE GENERAL'S SON will see print -- at least in the library.

I should run through it one more time for typos. Then again, maybe not.

Hung out with the Tuesday Girls. They are lovely, funny and smart. Of course they are paying me big bucks for me to write this! Love you guys!

More tomorrow after Maria V. Snyder's class. I have a boatload of things to bring to her class. More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Thesis reading

Tonight I gave my thesis reading/ defense at Seton Hill University as one of the requirements for obtaining my Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. My thesis novel, THE GENERAL'S SON, about the 16th Century Medici family seemed well received. I passed.

The music from the wedding of Cosimo de Medici and Eleonora de Toledo played as a Powerpoint slide show flashed on the screen. I displayed one of my 16th Century gowns-- a recreation of Eleonora's gown from the Bronzino portrait of Eleonora with her son Giovanni.

Leslie Davis Guccione, my first reader and thesis mentor -- how does this woman look flawless after a drive from Boston?-- introduced me. My original mentor, Barbara Miller, wore the Cosimo de Medici tee shirt that I gave her for Christmas. I was thrilled when Lee McClain, the director of our WPF program, stayed for my whole thesis presentation. She is a very busy lady and she could have been anywhere else.

Very cool. Of course I did not relax until started talking. Then it was all down hill. You couldn't shut me up. It was wonderful that my critique partners Rich Snyder, Jennifer Hoffmann and Emilie Bishop were there. And the Tuesday girls and Annie Madison.. And Shelley Bates and Karen Williams. Who have I missed?

I raffled off two small wooden boxes-- very Renaissance-ish-- as prizes. Also gave away glittery necklaces to every audience member. Hey, the Medici were all about jewels.

It was a great, but draining experience.

Tomorrow I do a teaching module on Researching for Novelists/ how to create a back story.

Graduation is on Sunday afternoon. I will be receiving my second diploma from Seton Hill. It has been a wonderful experience. I wish I could do it again!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

School's out for summer!

I am doin' the happy dance. I just had my final faculty meeting for the term and I am out for almost a month. This has been a trying Quarter and I am SO done. Toasted lightly on both sides.

Of course, during that month, I am driving to Pittsburgh (actually Greensburg) for the final Residency for my MA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Of course I have tons of prep work to do before I depart, but I am a happy woman.

Now on to my next big challenge.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The kitchen-- Or: Why Nothing is Ever Simple

April 27, 2008: Welcome to my little corner of the Universe. I have decided blogging is an idea who's time has come.
We began kitchen renovations on Wednesday of this week. I need to vent. Hey, why not? Our house was built in 1931. Well before we bought it, there was a fire. Did we know there was a fire? No. But it was a cute house in our price range and we bought it. We discovered a lot of smoke damage after we bought it-- when I was cleaning. Knowing there was a fire probably would not have changed our opinion of the house, but since we have been there for 15 years, the point is moot. So-- on to the story of the kitchen. On Wednesday, April 23rd, a couple of guys showed up with a truck to gut the kitchen. I KNEW it would be a mess because I have been through a kitchen demolition before when I was a lot younger. We also did the bathroom here a few years ago. I have discovered through this process that patience does not increase with a person's age.So "Juan One-Thumb" and his pal show up to do the kitchen. I ask Juan what happened to his thumb. He says he lost it in Mexico. I take this as a bad sign. Anyway, I have never seen-- or actually heard -- two guys work as hard as they did. They pulled down the walls of our kitchen (my husband had traken down the cabinets and moved the appliances) and then the two kitchens beneath it. Steel beams, fake walls, plaster with chicken-wire support, the worst of the worst. And the fake 1970s brick facing on the walls. Oh yes, did I mention there was a fire in the house ? Everything had the most interesting pattern from the smoke damage. Then my husband (the long-suffering and ever-loving Paul) looked at what I thought was some lathe from the crawl space above the kitchen. NOPE. It was the underside of the old ROOF. Not the outside roof, but a roof the was COVERED OVER after the fire. So, we have been living with 5 layers of asbsetos shingles within the kitchen ceiling. Lucky that neither of us have asthma.Needless to say, Paul took it all down. He looked like an alien covered with dirt and grit when he was done. All this time I have been trying to clean up. I have been semi-successful, but most of the time I spend typing to avoid dealing with the unpleasentness.

Have I mentioned that I am a writer? No? More about that another time. I'll keep you all posted.We are off to dine with friends who did cabinet refacing for their renovation. We can commiserate over dinner. I hear a bowl of pasta calling my name.
9:23 PM

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Death Race 5000-- or a funny thing happened on the way to the LIRW luncheon

I attended the Long Island Romance Writer's Luncheon on Friday, June 13. The date should have tipped me off, though I do not have triskadecaphobia. Since I am a member of the LIRW, I volunteered to pick up agents and editors at the Long Island Rail Road station in my minivan.

Confession time. I used to travel up and down Route 106/ 107 past the Hicksville station quite a bit in my younger days-- oh, about 20 years ago. However, things change. Roads get busier. And when the police and 20 buses are parked in front of said station, it make it hard to drive into a place. So, I took a tour of Hicksville and tried to find a legal way in to the parking lot. I was thinking of riding over the curb at one point, but opted not to do so. It would have wrecked the paint job of my undercarriage-- and lord knows I need a nice undercarriage at my age.

Arriving in the parking lot, and saw my fellow LIRW members standing around their cars (Why else would a bunch of romance writers be standing in a station parking lot, if not to pick up agents and editors from the train?) The train arrived late-- this is after all the LIRR-- and we started off to the Milleridge Inn. (Have I mentioned the luncheon was being held in the Carriage House-- the same place my husband and I had our wedding reception? )

Have I mantioned the traffic?

So, I have Janet Reid and Joanna Stampfel from Fineprint Literary Agency in my car. We are chattering and laughing. Suddenly, the light changes and Janet makes a strange strangling noise-- the kind of noise that a person makes when she sees her life flash before her eyes.

The light changes to red, and we stop dead in the midst of oncoming traffic.

Oh good. I have almost killed two literary agents. Nice job!

Luckily, the average driver in Long Island has a pretty good handle on dealing with stupidity and they gave us a wide berth, opting neither for vehicular homicide nor vehicular damage.

We got passed the intersection with no bloodshed and almost got to the Milleridge Inn-- except I almost killed them again, when the lane turned in to an exit ramp. Now, I am batting a thousand and know my manuscript will never grace the desks at Fineprint in my lifetime, or any other. Sigh. Just get out of the car and get inside the restaurant, I thought.

We laughed about the experience and chatted about the historical clothing I make. Whew! Maybe Janet and Joanna will forget about my driving ability.

The luncheon was a great experience-- the food was good and the company excellent. For some reason Joanna sat next to me-- probably she figured she was safe because we were not in a car.

So during the remarks from the agents and editors, Janet "outed" me and my driving skill. Luckily she was laughing. She also asked to see my manuscript, as did Joanna.

Now my LIRW luncheon experience all this was a real lesson for me-- especially when both Janet and Joanna were willing to offer me advice, even after I almost killed them twice.

I now have an active blog with pictures of historical costumes I have made. (Thanks, Janet!) Who knew this legitimized me as a writer? I found out my interest in the Sixteenth Century and all the research I have done on the Medici family go hand-in- hand with my costuming skills. (But then again, how many writers can say they have Renaissance clothing in their closets?)

All this works together to make me a better writer. Just like building a garment, writing needs structure, support and "underpinnings" to make the story come together. Doing the costuming makes me understand the everyday experiences of a person in the period-- how the clothes felt, how people walked, moved and even ate (or didn't, as the case may be).

So the LIRW luncheon was an experience I will remember for a long time. I even won a doorprize and I rarely win anything.

Driving Janet and Joanna was one of the luckiest things I have ever done. And I am sure they will remember our Death Race 5000 experience for quite a while! Thanks, Ladies.

How does a Costume Designer become a Writer?

After training as a theatrical costume designer at Seton Hill College, and spending six years fun-filled and exhausting years in professional theater I decided I needed a steady paycheck. Eating was never much of an option for me and the landlord got cranky if I failed to come up with the rent on a monthly basis.

I decided to head back to school for Interior Design. Even though I had a BA and an MA in Costume Design and History, with professional credits in opera and various other theatre productions, I had never had a full-time "real" job. I had absolutely no confidence in myself. I knew I needed to face the "real world." I enjoyed ID, and had "done" a couple of houses.

I spotted an ad in a day-old issue of Newsday, our local newspaper. "Swimwear Designer Wanted. Experience Desired but Not Necessary." I knew less than nothing about swimsuits, but I took a chance. After all, I had nothing to lose but my pride.

The interview was arranged, and after digging myself out of a snowdrift-filled driveway, I made it to the interview. I felt like my life was on the line. The man who interviewed me was very nice and we shook hands and parted company.

I did not get the job. Oh, well, I thought. So what. I am still going to school.

About two months later, I got a phone call. Would you like the swimwear job? The person who had been hired did not work out and the job was mine if I wanted it.

Oh, boy! What do I do NOW? I was getting great grades in school, and really liked ID. If I quit, I'd be in debt up to my eyebrows and the student loans would come due before I could blink. Plus, there was no guarantee I would succeed as a swimwear designer.

I opted to take the job.

In the next 24 years I designing every type and variation of swimwear known to man-- and woman. I received awards as well as kudos from my industry peers and associates. I also started and ran the swimwear department for a major US manufacturer.

However, all good things come to an end. In December 2003, after almost 25 years as a swimwear designer, my job went off-shore.

It was a bad year for the US textile and garment industry. Many owners sought to make a financial killing
for themselves by sending their manufacturing to the cheap-labor plants in Asia. Unfortunately, that arrogance was rewarded with a failure. The company for which I'd worked went out of business in 2007.

When I lost my job, I thought panic would set in. Or tears. It was odd because I did neither. Maybe because I had faced being jobless already, I just made an effort to find something new.

I landed a one-day-a-week teaching job in the brand new Fashion Design Department of the Art Institute of New York City. I LOVED teaching. I felt as if I was giving back to the next generation of designers.

Through a good friend I made connections and I was offered a job as a patternmaker a couple of weeks later. I thought it might be a good fit. They were even willing to let me teach one day and work the balance of the week for them. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity.

But I kept thinking: What happens if the new company goes off-shore in five years? Then what? Do I look for another design or patternmaking position?

I hesitated about committing to the patternmaking job. The day I was to give my answer, an offer to be a full-time instructor at AI-NYC was presented.

I said "yes" to the teaching position and have not looked back.

I miss the excitement of the garment center with its action and creativity, but I have turned my life toward a different goal. The Art Institute of New York City has been a home for me, giving me the opportunity to teach, to learn, to grow and to share with my collegues and my students.

With free time available because I was not required to be at a job five days a week, I began to write historical fiction. The Writer's Voice Workshops at our local YMCA gave me (and later my husband, as well) the opportunity to get feedback on what I'd written.

I loved the workshops and bought everything I could on writing instruction. I wanted more. I wanted classes. So I started to hunt for a graduate program.

What is ironic is, while surfing the Web ond day for writing programs, I stumbled upon a familiar name. Seton Hill.
My alma mater had become a University, and had a graduate program called Writing Popular Fiction.

After submitting my application, I was accepted. In June 2008 I will be graduating with my MA in Writing Popular Fiction. My Thesis novel is The General's Son. The second novel of The Medici Prince duology, The Emperor of Florence, was also written during my tenure at Seton Hill. A third novel, The Illustrious Woman, about artist Sofonisba Anguissola, is in work.

I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I am living my dream of teaching and writing.

And THAT is how a Costume designer transforms into a writer.

Comments on my Historical Clothing Collection

The pictures here are from my collection of recreation of historical clothing, as exhibited in January 2008 at the Gallery at the Art Institute of New York City, where I teach college-level courses in Fashion History as well as other classes on the fashion industry.

Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism are required to wear an "attempt" at period clothing to events. I am a twenty-year member of the Society. Some of us do a lot of research in this area. Since I have been sewing since I was 12, and have a deep love for the history and technical aspects of clothing, the SCA has been a wonderful outlet for my creativity.

Here are some of the garments I have made. Most of them are based on portraits from the Sixteenth Century. I especially love the garments of Florence and England. My favorite fashion icons of the period are Eleonora de Toledo, Duchess of Florence and Queen Elizabeth I of England.

More about this in a later post.

Historical clothing redux

Recreations of Historical Clothing

More Historical Clothing