Yesterday I had the pleasure of being on a Sex and Violence in YA lit panel with two of my  Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks blog sisters, Katherine Longshore and Jennifer McGowan.  It was hosted by the very fab teen librarian Karen Jensen via her Teen Librarian’s Toolbox.  We talked about all sorts of interesting things and got to see one another’s work spaces.  Also you get to hear the dulcet tones of my hounds-from-hell  as the UPS guy shows up.  Bonus! Anyway, check it out.

Also, today, Karen posted this really kind review of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY.  Thanks so much, Karen!



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I admit it.  I get a little thrill of happiness whenever an author I admire talks to me.  For instance, I chatted with Elizabeth Wein on Twitter about Code Name Verity while I was reading the book in England.  And that time when I talked to Miranda Kenneally and Gail Carriger about random stuff.  And when I bonded with Tiffany Reisz over horses.  You can keep your actors and singers; authors are the ones I love to meet.  Which is why I pretty much flipped out when a Twitter friend, Amanda Pedulla, told me she’d noticed Diana Gabaldon had thanked me in her acknowledgments in her latest book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. 


A little background is in order here.  Diana Gabaldon is my favorite writer.  Hands down.  If you don’t know already, she writes the immensely fabulous Outlander series, which is about Claire Randall, a woman from the 1940s, who falls through standing stones while on her honeymoon in Scotland and lands in the 1800s.  She’s taken captive by a band of Scottish highlanders, and while she’s trying to work out what’s going on, she meets a young injured highlander named Jamie Fraser.  Because she was a nurse during WWII, she’s able to fix his dislocated shoulder and then later his stab wounds.  The two become friends and then…well, you’ll have to read them.  These books…these wonderful books… I adore them.  Diana is a fabulous storyteller and she does not hold back.  She has a flare for weaving history in the narrative and bringing each character to life, even the smallest walk-ons.  I’ve long admired these traits in her writing and I work hard to do the same in my own.  Diana’s writing also made me fall in love with the British Isles, and it was partly because of the Outlander series that I headed to England and ended up meeting my husband.

I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Diana in 2000.  I went to a Highland festival in San Diego and I had no idea that she’d be there signing her books.  And there she was, manning the booth all by herself, and we got to chat for a little bit.  I told her I wrote magazine articles and I working on fiction in my free time.  She signed a book for me thusly:


So from time to time I talked to her through her blog and on her writing forum and found her to be a very kind person, generous with her knowledge, and funny, to boot.  I knew I wanted to be that kind of writer, too.  When Random House and Penguin merged, my first thought wasn’t how that merger would affect me as a writer, but how happy I was that Diana and I were in the same publishing house now.

Those of you who know me know that I write for farm magazines, and I’ve written a chicken breed profile magabook.  A couple of years ago, I happened to mention a chicken breed called the Scots Dumpy on Diana’s blog.  She responded saying she was really enchanted with the breed.  I thought it would end there, but then one Saturday night this June while I was working on my latest work in progress, I got the aforementioned tweet from Amanda.  I fast forwarded through my Written in my Own Heart’s Blood copy on my Kindle and found it:

From the acknowledgements in Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

Thrilled? Yes, I was.  In fact I was fangirl flailing to the point of hyperventilating.  I also loved how she incorporated the Scots Dumpy into her story.

I want to thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for entertaining me and inspiring me for many years.  I’m glad I could give something back to you, even if it was something as small as a chicken.  I hope one day I can thank you in person. And by the way, your latest book is so, so, so good. I loved each and every page.

For those of you wondering what in the heck is so special about a chicken that it caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention, here is the information about the Scots Dumpy from my book Guide to Chicken Breeds.


People recognize the cheerful, biddable Scots Dumpy by its very short legs, which have earned the breed several unflattering nicknames, including “Crawlers” and “Creepers.” The breed’s legs result from what has been called a “creeper gene” that can cause chicks to die in the shell before hatching if combined with other certain genes.  The Scots Dumpy offers a quiet, placid breed that enjoys free ranging; handlers should monitor its diet, however, as this slow-moving bird gains weight quickly.  Chicks need special feeders and water drinkers to account for their short stature.  The breed is better suited to warm, dry climates; close proximity to cold, wet ground can lead to sickness.  The hen is a great layer of white eggs and can be used to rear the chicks of other flow.  Because of its large size, the Scots Dumpy does not fly.

One of only two breeds developed in Scotland, the ancient Scots Dumpy warned Scots and Picts of incoming Roman attacks during the early medieval period.  Fanciers began exhibiting the breed in 1852.  The Scots Dumpy nearly reached extinction during the mid-19th century; fortunately, a pure line was discovered in Kenya in 1973.  Lady Violet Carnegie had brought the flock to Kenya in 1902 and it was reimported to the United Kingdom to boost decreasing numbers.  A bantam variety of the breed was developed in 1912, just after the Scots Dumpy Club was formed.

Some breeders describe the Scots Dumpy body type as “boatlike.” The breed’s carriage should appear “heavy with a waddling gait,” according to the Scots Dumpy Club.  The rooster has long, flowing tail feathers.  The most commonly seen plumage types include Cuckoo and Black varieties; however Blue, Splash and a very rare white also exist.  The shanks of the Black variety look slate to black; they appear white in the remaining varieties.  The breed’s medium, upright, single comb, wattles and earlobes are red.  The Scots Dumpy rooster weights up to 7 pounds; the hen weights 6 pounds.  Bantams weight 1½ to 1¾ pounds.





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My amazing agent, John M. Cusick from the Greenhouse Literary Agency,  tagged me in a blog tour where writers talk about their process. (Read his post here). By the way, John is not only an agent extraordinaire, but he’s also a very talented writer. His latest is CHERRY MONEY BABY, which you need to read as soon as possible if you haven’t already.  It’s so, so good. I almost didn’t query John because I was intimidated by his fabulous prose.  I mean, how could I compete with this description from his debut novel GIRL PARTS:

There were mansions along the west bank, trees along the east.  The biggest mansion belonged to the Suns.  It was a four-story glass palace, split down the middle like a dollhouse so that the family inside was always visible. 

So. Good.

I’m sure glad I overcame my timidity and sent him A MAD, WICKED FOLLY.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand… The writing process is a subject that is dear to my heart because I’m always looking for a better way to write.  I’m positive there is no one right way; that everyone has his or her own method.  I’m always adapting my own process, but I’ll share what’s been working for me for the past couple of years.

  1. What am I working on?

Right now my work-in-progress is a swashbuckling, romantic YA historical based in the mid-Victorian era, around 1860. It’s the story of a teen who straddles two worlds: her mother’s very religious life in Kent, England; and her father’s Darwin-inspired, explorer/adventurist life. The setting is a small market town in the southeast of England and the southwestern wilderness of China, namely the temperate forests of the Hengduan Mountains. It’s an adventure story with lots of action, which is a new thing for me. It’s also a big story, as is my wont.  I don’t really set out to write big books, but once I get started I can’t seem to stop.  There’s just so much to say.

The story explores themes of obsession and responsibility, ecological preservation, family and (of course, because it’s my favorite theme), female emancipation.  I’ve been thinking about this story for a long time, and with FOLLY on the shelves I can fully turn my attention to it.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m a huge fan of setting, and I really strive to bring a place and time to life so that readers feel as though they’ve time-traveled to the era.  I don’t want to get anything wrong or pull the reader out of the story with an anachronistic detail; therefore I have to do a lot of research!  I think every paragraph in A MAD, WICKED FOLLY has some sort of research attached to it. There’s a section in FOLLY where Will teaches Vicky to ride the Underground.  I lived in England for six years and I took the Tube everywhere.  I was never intimidated by it and whenever people would visit I would teach them the Tube map right away. However I didn’t know what the Underground was like in 1909.  I think it took me a week or so to find out, and I ended up locating a video of an Underground ride from 1908.

I also make sure that every character on the page is developed.  Even if she doesn’t say a word or doesn’t appear more than once in the book, she should be original and memorable, and not a character out of central casting. Of course, she shouldn’t upstage the main character, but she should intrigue a reader. I really love writing secondary characters.  I love pitting them against the main character just to see what she’ll do.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

I love living in my character’s world and falling in love with the setting and the people through her eyes.  Writing these exotic worlds makes me see things differently. For instance I’ve always loved the Waterhouse painting A Mermaid but I never really saw it fully until I saw it through Vicky’s eyes.  Because of my character, that painting has so much more meaning to me. I like to immerse myself in my characters’ lives, almost like method acting, so that I can find out what makes them tick.  So I try to go where they live or I try my hand at their craft, such as the drawing and painting in FOLLY.  I’d never really wanted to go to China before, but now I’m itching to go, especially to the Hengduan Mountains.  I suppose writing ignites passion for new things, and I love that.  I also choose to write historical novels because my imagination springs to live in these settings.

I also love writing for young adults because they have such a zest for life.  I think it’s the newness of their adult world that intrigues me.  They want to grab hold of life, and there’s so much story in that mindset\.

  1. How does your writing process work?

A story starts when something sparks my interest.  It can be an object or a historical event or an occupation during a certain time.  I start to think what would happen if…? Then I imagine the main character and her name, how she lives and what she wants.  I make notes in a hardback spiral notebook (I hoard these!) and start sketching out the plot.  I don’t write a formal outline, but I write down ideas for scenes and where they should go.  I make sure I have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end before I dig in. I have to know the story before I begin writing. During the day, I’ll have ideas for scenes, description, and themes, and I’ll jot those down in my notebook.  Everything goes in there, even the goofy ideas because the out-of-the-ordinary options often lead to something better, so I don’t discriminate in this early stage.  I try to write in a linear fashion but it’s not a hard and fast rule.  If I think up a good scene I’ll write it and save it for later. Cause and effect can be an issue later on, however, if you write out of synch. A scene just can’t be tacked on; you have to lead up to it.  It’s not a problem, per se, just something to be aware of as you write. Sometimes a dangling scene can be helpful.  You know you have this thing up ahead, so how are you going to get there?

I write in the morning for at least two hours.  I read and edit what I wrote the day before and then write fresh.  When I’m done writing I take the dogs for a walk on a wooded path near my house.  I mull over the story while listening to a WIP soundtrack I’ve put together.  I think up new ideas or details and then jot them down into my notebook when I get home.  In the afternoon I do my research.

Once I get my rough draft down I use Martha Alderson’s plot planner.  I lay out my entire plot on butcher’s paper using sticky notes on the plot line.  This way I can move scenes around and see if they’ll work in different places.  I can see where the story would drag or where I need to slow it down.  It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye view of your story.  Then I revise, revise, revise!

So that is my process.  Of course I’ve left out all the angst and self-loathing that happens when I’m writing.  That is for another time!

Okay, over to two stellar writers who also happen to be good friends of mine.  Jennifer Salvato Doktorski who released not one, but two novels in one year: FAMOUS LAST WORDS and HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES.  She writes fabulous contemporary teen reads, funny and heartfelt.  And Christa Desir, rape counselor and author, who released the heartbreaking FAULT LINE last fall.  FAULT LINE kept me reading way past my bedtime, and made me think about how we view rape in this country and how we treat victims.  A definite must read.

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There’s something magical about hearing your character speak for the first time.  When my agent told me he’d sold my audiobook rights to Listening Library I was so thrilled. I was soon introduced to FOLLY’s fabulous producer, Janet Stark, and the book’s amazing actress, Katharine McEwan.  Listen to the clip and I think you will agree that they did a fabulous job bringing Vicky’s story to life.


Janet and Katharine kindly agreed to share their process with us.  And in honor of this, I’m giving away A MAD, WICKED FOLLY audiobook. All you have to do is answer the Rafflecopter questions after the interview and you’re in.

Katharine McEwan, FOLLY’s actress.

Katharine McEwan recording A MAD, WICKED FOLLY for Listening Library

Katharine McEwan recording A MAD, WICKED FOLLY for Listening Library


Katharine is an actress, writer, and producer based in LA.  She is originally from the North of England. In addition to voicing FOLLY, she was the actress for Page Morgan’s riveting THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE CURSED (The Dispossessed).

What drew you to voiceover work? And how did you break in?

My good friend Steve West – who is a huge presence in the audio book world – told me about narrating, and suggested I give it a try. He introduced me to the wonderful Janet Stark over at Random House, who coincidentally was just casting a book that needed a British narrator.

How do you prepare for a recording?

The first time I read the book, I try to feel my way through it, connecting to the main character and what they’re going through emotionally. It’s the same as preparing for a role in a movie – you have to find a way inside your character’s soul and uncover the longing there.

There are so many characters in my story, and you had a different voice for each one. How do you keep track of them all?

I find creating strong visual images really helpful – recalling a character’s face and physical essence helps me connect to how they sound. And failing that, playback is always an option!

And now questions about FOLLY!

It was so amazing to hear my characters come to life! I love how you did Vicky. How did you decide to portray her?

I was very lucky in that I related instantly to Vicky as soon as I read the first line of the book! There were strange coincidences too – like ‘The Mermaid’ is one of my favorite paintings and the very first poster I bought and framed when I left home. So it was more a case of bringing myself to her – allowing my life experiences to color hers.

What was your favorite FOLLY character to voice?

After Vicky, it would be Sophie. She’s so feisty and courageous, and stands up for what she believes in. I think through Sophie, Vicky learns that in life we have to find our own moral compass in a morally ambiguous world.

What was the most challenging character to voice?

Will. I was so afraid I’d mess him up. I knew we all had to fall in love with him, and root for him and Vicky’s relationship. The stakes were high!

When I heard you grew up in the north of England, I knew you would be perfect for voicing Sophie. Do you sound like her in real life? 

That’s a complicated question! I do and I don’t. I actually grew up with two accents because my mother wouldn’t let me and my sisters speak with a northern accent at home. There used to be a lot of judgment in England around having a regional accent and my mother wanted us to have the best chance in life. At the time I couldn’t appreciate it, as ‘talking posh’ where I grew up was not popular and people thought we were being stuck up. So I learned two accents – one for home and one for outside! I never felt like I could fully identify with either one, and it took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to make a choice, that I could dwell in more than one world and still hold onto who I am in my heart.

You did Lucy’s American accent and the French accents really well. How did you learn to do them?

Thank you :) The American accent is challenging for me and I work on it all the time. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to accent tapes and practicing in my car! Claire Corff, my amazing voice teacher, taught me to learn the ‘melody’ or ‘song’ of an accent first, which really helps – as does not being afraid to go too far and get silly with it!


And now…Janet Stark, FOLLY’S producer

How did you get into producing audiobooks?

From a background in music recording and producing, I found myself in a Bay Area recording studio that happened to have a local indie publisher as a client. Authors came in to narrate their own books, generally non-fiction, personal growth. It was a wonderful way to introduce me to the world of audiobooks. Later I relocated to Los Angeles where there’s a lot more going on, and here we are!

How long does it take to record and edit a book?

It really depends on the length and complexity of the book. A short book can be recorded in a day or less; epic fantasy titles can easily go many weeks in the studio. Many factors affect the edit and all things post. Multi-cast and non-fiction titles are more time-consuming. Another factor is how efficient the reader is, and how well-matched reader and director are working together during sessions.

How is an audiobook made? What are the steps?

After reading through a preview pass and contacting the author, a sense of who I want to hear reading to me will filter up through the pages. There may be a single narrator or several, depending on povs and how the book is laid out. A casting decision is made, a director is assigned, and recording dates are put on the calendar. After recording, the sound editor cuts the raw audio to CD-length sections, then the program goes to quality control for a final audit. If any corrections are needed, the reader(s) will return to record pickups, which are cut in and it’s off to the replicator and download vendors. Of course this is an abbreviated version of what goes on behind the scenes!

What do you love best about your job?

Looking for and finding the perfect voice(s) for a book. Great reviews certainly don’t hurt!

And now for the giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Just in case you haven’t heard the news about an upcoming movie called Suffragette, let me fill you in.  The movie is about a young suffragette named Maude (played by Carey Mulligan) who turns militant when peaceful protest starts falling on deaf ears.  Meryl Streep will play Emmeline Pankhurst and I hear she’s going to be giving one of Mrs. Pankhurst’s historic speeches.  Also in the film are some of my favorite British actors and actresses.  All are incredible in historic roles—Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai (who was fabulous in The Crimson Petal and the White), Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, and Samuel West. It’s directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan. I chatted with Dr. Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst’s great granddaughter, a few days ago and she told me that she and some of the other Olympic opening ceremony suffragettes were going to be extras.  I’m so happy for her.  What a great experience that will be.

When I first started writing A MAD, WICKED FOLLY I always pictured Carey Mulligan in the role of Vicky (these days I go back and forth  between Mulligan and Bel Powley) so I was even more excited when I heard she was playing Maude.  The filming started on Monday and a few pictures were released.  I really like this one of Mulligan climbing onto a horse bus because it’s exactly the thing that Vicky took when she was rushing to meet Will.  Vicky discovered how slow it was and Will taught her how to use the Underground.

I cannot wait to see this, and I’m telling you right now I’d give just about anything to be an extra suffragette in this movie! Votes for women!  I’ll yell the loudest.  Promise.

Carey Mulligan as Maude in Suffragette

Carey Mulligan as Maude in Suffragette


A good example of the traffic scene in Vicky's era.

A good example of the traffic scene in Vicky’s era.


Carey Mulligan on the top of the horse bus

Carey Mulligan on the top of the horse bus

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I don’t know about you, but for me, the best gifts are the ones that are heartfelt. The ones you know the giver thought a lot about and searched high and low until she found it—that perfect thing she knows you’ll love. Receiving a gift like that, however big or small, is magical.

Recently at my book launch my Aunt Shirley sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and made sure they arrived at the launch.  My niece, Ashley, sent me orchids.  I felt like a ballerina after a debut when she receives that giant bunch of roses at the curtain call.  Also my aunt made me this awesome scrapbook page.

Art by Aunt Shirley

Art by Aunt Shirley


At the same party my parents gave me bookends in the shape of a mermaid, a nod to Vicky’s favorite painting A Mermaid.  I’ll treasure them forever and each time I look at them I’ll think about my book party and how happy I was.

2014-01-26 12.15.46


Which brings me to William Fletcher and Victoria Darling.  Will is Vicky’s art model and collaborator and when Vicky’s birthday arrives he surprises her with a gift.  I should mention that Will is a working class boy, a police constable without a lot of money.  And Vicky is an upper class girl, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, who has everything she could ever want, every material thing, that is.  So what could William Fletcher get Victoria Darling for her birthday that she doesn’t already have? Will being Will found her the perfect thing.


SPOILER ALERT! Don’t go any further if you haven’t read A MAD, WICKED FOLLY yet and don’t want to know what the gift was.   Instead enjoy this kitten valentine…


And this cute picture of a boy feeding goats…


Excerpt from A MAD, WICKED FOLLY

“Happy birthday!” Will said when I reached him.  He handed me a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with a green ribbon.

“Will! You didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to.  It’s just a little thing.”

He watched carefully as I undid the package.  Inside was slim volume of the poems of Tennyson.

“Turn to page twelve,” Will said.

I found the page, and there was the mermaid poem.  Above the poem was an illustration, a woodcut of Waterhouse’s A Mermaid.  The illustration was signed JW Waterhouse.

Without any warning, tears filled my eyes.  No one had ever given me such a kind and thoughtful gift before.  I pictured Will going into the shop, looking over the books, and then discovering the very one he knew I would love.  I even pictured him watching as the clerk wrapped the volume in brown paper.  I wondered if the clerk had tied the green bow on it or if Will had gone into a notion shop and chosen it himself.  These were all small things, but kindness was built of small things.

So in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m giving page 12 away to 20 lucky people. Leave a comment about your favorite gift you’ve ever received or given.  The first 20 commenters will get the page.  Send me your address through the contact me form and I’ll send you page twelve from Will.

Will's gift to Vicky

Will’s gift to Vicky

The Mermaid by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Mermaid by Alfred, Lord Tennyson











The mermaid sketch was done by my very talented dad, W.R. Biggs

My dad and a couple of suffragettes

My dad and a couple of suffragettes




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Rafflecopter has spoken and chosen the five winners of my Folly Friday giveaway! Thanks to everyone who entered and spread the word about the giveaway.  And thanks to Jen Parrish, of Parrish Relics, who designed the beautiful Waterhouse A Mermaid necklace.  And to my father, W.R. Biggs, whose sketch of A Mermaid adorns my launch party t-shirts, postcards, and temporary tattoos.  If you want to know my about my very talented dad or get in contact with him, visit him at Biggs Violin.  Here is a fabulous video of my dad in his shop, created by the equally fabulous team of Striking Media UK .

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Hi everybody!  I want to take this Folly Friday to express my gratitude to my agent, John M. Cusick, my editor, Leila Sales, and all the people at Viking who took a chance on my little historical.  And to Janet Stark and Katharine McEwan of Listening Library/Random House who did an amazing job with the audiobook. And another huge thank you to the bloggers who graciously took on the task of reading a historical by an unknown writer.  The reviews have been so beautiful and heartfelt and I can’t thank you enough. I hope to someday meet you all in person and give you a hug. I wish you could all come to my launch party tomorrow but because many of you can’t, please don’t forget to enter the giveaway here: Mad, Wicked Giveaway.

I can’t forget my family and friends either. I couldn’t have done this without you.

My book launch yesterday was fabulous; best day of my life. Thank you!



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Today on Folly Friday, I’m announcing my book launch giveaway.  I’m having a big launch party in my town but because not everyone can come (pesky distance issues), I wanted to do something nice for the online FOLLY readers.  Several months ago I approached Jen Parrish, an incredible Pre-Raphaelite inspired jewelry designer who created Ugly Betty’s B necklace, and asked her if she’d be willing to design a necklace using JW Waterhouse’s A Mermaid painting.  Many of you who’ve read FOLLY already know that Vicky is a huge fan of this painting, so I wanted to give away something that Vicky would want herself.  Jen graciously agreed to take on the commission and I’m glad she did.  The resulting necklace is gorgeous! And it’s one-of-a-kind made especially for my book launch.  There will never be another.

You ready?  Here it is:


prmermaid2Isn’t it beautiful?

Now, the details.

The first place prize includes: Jen’s A Mermaid necklace, a signed book, an audiobook, a launch party t-shirt with original art drawn by my father, launch party swag with original art, and a FOLLY soundtrack.

Second prize includes: Signed book, an audiobook, launch party swag, Iron Jawed Angels DVD, and a FOLLY soundtrack.

Third prize includes: an audiobook, swag, Waterhouse art cards, FOLLY Soundtrack, A Mermaid notebook.

Fourth prize includes: launch party swag, Pre-Raphaelite art cards, FOLLY soundtrack.

Fifth prize includes: launch party swag, FOLLY sound track.

The giveaway is open to US and Canada.  However, if you’re from Europe and want to participate, you can.  You’ll just have to pay the postage for the bigger prizes.  Just send me an email through my Contact Me page and let me know. Rafflecopter entry form below.

In addition to providing the beautiful necklace, Jen sat down for an interview and shared her creative process.

Jen Parrish learned her craft at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and has designed for museums, the entertainment industry, and other lucky writers, such as Neil Gamain.  Parrish Relics is an alchemy of modern and old world techniques.  Stained glass and found images are joined with highly detailed sculpted frames, semi-precious stones, or glass vessels, and finished with the hand-painted patinas of antiqued metals for a romantic, time worn presence. Visit her at Parrish Relics.

My protagonist, Vicky, adores the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and counts them as her inspiration.  You use a lot of Pre-Raphaelite art in your work.  What is it about the PRB that inspires you?

I am drawn to their iconic visions of Myth and Romance, their interpretations of Nature, Beauty, Symbolism. There is a story in every painting, not just what is shown in the image, but behind the scenes…what the artist was going through at the time, who their muse was, the state of their world and what they believed in. Sometimes it was only just what they found to be beautiful or compelling. They interpreted what they read about in poetry, Medieval tales, literature, and brought them to life in a unique way, a bit more lush and glorious than the grey Victorian England that seemed to surround them.

Vicky’s favorite artist is J.W. Waterhouse, an inheritor of the PRB legacy, and the artist of A Mermaid, which is, of course, the subject of the beautiful necklace you custom-designed for the giveaway.  Do you have a favorite PRB artist?

I do! Sir Edward Burne-Jones. There is just something about his work, and his flawed but loveable character that I am so enamored with. Certainly a complicated human, but his Art and his self-effacing cartoon drawings of himself and his circle make me adore him even more. His cartoon of “his half” of the cat is one of my favorites, he is always drawn disheveled and bleak-eyed. Some of them weren’t very kind to the people in his life, but he made fun of himself just as often it seems.


I do love Waterhouse as well; his technique and style are dreamy and powerful at the same time. My friend Lisa Gill, who owns Medieval Muse, and I drove from Boston to Montreal one arctic February weekend to go to a fantastically designed and curated Exhibition of his work. Well worth the cold and sometimes hair-raising driving! Also had the opportunity to see the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition in Washington D.C. at the National Gallery last year (with the same great friend). So much beauty and inspiration! Art-adventures are the best. I found a new admiration for William Holman Hunt there, seeing his work in person was just breathtaking.

What drew you to jewelry design?

I have always been attracted to self-adornment, as a statement about who we are at first glance. The way we clothe and accessorize ourselves can tell so much about the time we live in, what is important to us, how we differentiate ourselves from the masses. Going to museums with my mother when I was a child, I was particularly fascinated by the jewelry…crowns, rings, adornments of all kinds and cultures. Ceremonial and rich, or rustic and crafted of the most humble of materials. All beautiful in their own way, as they were given importance by the people taking the time to create them. Elaborate Egyptian gold and lapis collars, stone carved greek animals that were worn so long ago, held such mystery to me. Memories of begging my mother to buy me a tiny reproduction of an ancient ibex amulet of brass in the gift shop, and cherishing it. It seemed to hold a kind of magic, mysterious and beautiful.  I made jewelry for my dolls at home, even toy animals wore bracelets and collars crafted from anything I could find. But the final impetus to make my own jewelry from clay came from my High School Art teacher, who suggested I make my own jewelry instead of wearing keys, safety pins and all manner of junk in my ears and around my neck. (the 80’s was an “interesting” time for fashion J)

I then went to Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts to learn about Art History, Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture, immersed myself in everything I could and applied it to my designs. And never stopped! That was over a quarter of a century ago.

I find it fascinating that you don’t remake your pieces, and that they are truly one of a kind.  Can you take us through your creative process? For instance, where do you find inspiration, what materials do you use, and how are the pieces made?

There are a few shapes and designs that come up in my work over and over, but I do try to make each one truly unique. Since they are all completely made by hand, even when doing small lines of production work, they are all slightly different. It just can’t be helped when you aren’t a machine! And I think that is what makes them special.

For pictorial necklaces, I usually start out going through my huge inventory of found images. I recycle various catalogs and magazines I have collected over the years, and pour through them over and over, drawn to different things each time. Many images are cut out and stored in a file system by era, style or subject, but I’m not always that organized! Then the “treatment” of the image is chosen, either cutting glass in an interesting shape to frame it, or selecting a vintage glass cabochon, or even a tiny glass vessel to set it in. For Stained Glass designs, I get a lot of inspiration in Venetian Architecture, Medieval Churches, Nature. A Victorian designer named Pugin is my absolute favorite for uniquely gothic and floriated shapes and window forms. A short-lived genius, he created designs for Architecture, Jewelry, Tile, Stained Glass, Furniture and Ecclesiastical Raiment. I love the idea of tiny windows in tribute to other times and places, real or imagined, to be worn around the neck and carried with you. I frame the glass and imagery in clay that is fired, and then painted with four different layers of base color and metallic finish to give it a time worn and aged look. Then I choose the beadwork or chain that it is held on, sometimes that takes a while, as I like to really compliment the shape or image and have so many options in my studio to chose from! Other times it is easy and I just feel like a channel that something flows through. Barely thinking about it, just doing.

What is your work space/studio like?

Right now it is a former tiny bathroom at the top of a stairway, barely enough room for my desk and chair, and my cat Galatea. But it is warm and filled to the ceiling with supplies and materials, and things that inspire me. Hoping to be moving to a bigger space in the spring, we shall see.

Jen and assistant Galatea in her studio

Jen and assistant Galatea in her studio

I love Ugly Betty’s “B” necklace, which is a nod to Anne Boleyn’s iconic necklace. Can you talk a little bit about the story behind your own version?

Over the years I had made reproductions of a few Historic Jewelry pieces, either for myself to wear, or for local theatrical productions or photo shoots. I had created a version of Anne Boleyn’s famous “B” initial necklace and brought it to a meeting with my jewelry rep at the time, along with my original line and other reproductions. She was expecting to meet with the costume department in London for “The Other Boleyn Girl” and was going to show them my work…but the “B” was intercepted in NYC by Patricia Field, who was styling the show and thought it would be perfect for Betty. The rest is a “second history” for this odd little necklace. It was quite thrilling to see something that I had created with my own hands, ending up on giant billboards hanging in Times Square, and working so very hard on filling orders from fans of the show around the world, one at a time. Quite a surprise and I’m still very proud to be a small part of a fun show starring such a loveable character that is still important to many people. Though my 15 minutes of fame felt to me a bit like a band becoming known only for a cover song! It’s ok though, I have slowly over the many years built up a wonderful tribe of support who collect my work and appreciate it, and keep me going when it isn’t always easy to be a self-employed artist.


Ugly Betty’s iconic B necklace

I’m thrilled to be part of a group of writers who have commissioned work from you.  I love the amber piece you did for Neil Gaiman. How did he discover your work?

Thank you! I was vending at WisCon one year and the jewelry artist next to me, the wonderful Elise Matheson and I chatted over the weekend. It was my first time vending there, and she was so incredibly welcoming and helpful, introducing me to everyone who stopped by her table. She later contacted me about a project Neil had first asked her to create, but she felt my work was more appropriate. How amazing and giving is that? I was excited and thrilled with the project and I heard that he was happy with it too so that was a very good experience.

Viking cross and amber oroborus piece for Neil Gaiman

Viking cross and amber oroborus piece for Neil Gaiman

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1905 Life Modeling Class, Art Institute of Chicago

1905 Life Modeling Class, Art Institute of Chicago

I knew I would eventually hear comments about Vicky posing nude and whether an Edwardian girl would ever think about doing such a scandalous thing.  My editor questioned Vicky’s actions when we first embarked on our editorial journey together, so I knew it would come up in readers’ minds, too.  It’s a valid point because most books written about or set in the Edwardian and Victorian era paint the picture of proper young ladies who wouldn’t dream of doing such a scandalous thing as posing nude.  But truly, the Edwardian era wasn’t as buttoned up as you might think. For instance, affairs were common.  People tended to marry for other reasons besides love.  Love came later.  After children were born, both wife and husband were free to fall in love and have affairs, providing they didn’t speak of it out loud or flaunt it. King Edward had many affairs, most of them public.  His most famous paramour was Alice Keppel, maternal great grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and second wife of Prince Charles.

When talking about Victorian morality, Sally Mitchell, in her fabulous book, DAILY LIFE IN THE VICTORIAN ERA, says: “All stereotypes simplify the real world, and most people’s values are too complex to express in easy maxims.” She also says that “more nonsense has probably been written about the feminine ideal than any other aspect of Victorian life.  Many Victorian essays about women’s delicacy and fragility, for example, were written by men who wanted to prevent girls from playing sports, studying Latin and mathematics, or planning to practice medicine when they grew up.”

Let’s talk about the nude posing. Life drawing is an important anatomy lesson for an artist and always has been.  Without it they never truly understand how to portray the human figure.  Artists know why they are drawing from the nude.  It’s not for sexual reasons, and anyone leering or asking a model to pose provocatively is usually asked to leave.

It took Vicky a long time to even contemplate posing, and the decision wasn’t an easy one for her to make, but when she was confronted with her own hypocrisy, she couldn’t say no.  As Vicky says: “There can’t be two sets of expectations, one for them and one for me, the only girl in the class.” Of course there was fallout from Vicky’s decision to pose, but there often is when anyone dares to step outside the norm. And this risk led, ultimately, to a better life for her.  But how did Vicky become so free thinking? Her time in France around the artists opened her eyes to a different sort of life, one where creativity is found beyond the clutches of society.  She wanted to have a life like the male artists had, and so she naturally followed in their footsteps.

It’s said that female models were usually prostitutes who had nothing to lose or working class women who often didn’t adhere to the morals of society, but I’m sure there were other women like Vicky who posed nude.  The last time I was in Rye I discovered this photograph of a teenage model in a book called EDWARDIAN RYE by Geoffrey S. Bagley.  The photo was found in Mary Stormont’s house after her death.  Mrs. Stormont was a famous artist in Rye and today her house is the Rye Art Gallery. I can’t help but think this model is Vicky every time I look at it.

Nude model. Rye (1905)

Nude model. Rye (1905)

1909, the year my novel is set, was a time of girls behaving very badly indeed.  Suffragettes were becoming more and more militant, chaining themselves to railings, heckling politicians, and smashing windows.  Even today people often reflect upon this militancy as out-of-control hysteria, which really annoys me.  It’s perfectly fine for men to wage wars on other countries or in their own country when rights and freedom were threatened, but when women dared to rise up and insist on equal rights they were called hysterical and unladylike.

Dora Thewlis, 16-year-old suffragette.

Dora Thewlis, 16-year-old suffragette.

I don’t think women had any less passions and desires in the Edwardian era than they do now.  We didn’t invent sex, after all. In my research I found many cases of women acting in a way we would label modern.  For instance, Sylvia Pankhurst had a long love affair with the very much older and married politician Keir Hardie.  In 1899, Vita Sackville-West was a teenager when she fell in love with Rosamund Grosvenor and a long, secret affair with her.  Also as a teen, Vita had an affair with Violet Trefusis, daughter of the aforementioned Alice Keppel. They even ran away to Europe together for a time.

As Elizabeth Wein says in the author’s notes in her wonderful book CODE NAME VERITY, all she asks is that her details be plausible.  And so for Vicky, it’s certainly plausible that she would pose nude.

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