Writers, Betas, and Editors: all top Writing Resources for Learning from my Mistakes

Who taught me the best writing lessons, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous?

First, I have to ask: where do you as an author learn to become a better writer? Like most others, I try to read to find ways to improve. I find it easier to read short articles or blog posts than a book. The books recommended to me are written by well-known authors, and the writing advice I’ve heard quoted from them seems a bit fishy, so I don’t trust that their book is going to be helpful. In fact, many sound like marketing and vanity tools.

The best lessons for me personally came from other individuals, including other writers, beta editors, and my Meryton Press editing team. I think the best talent to help a writer grow and excel is a willingness to listen and change, even if it’s hard at first.

Learning from other writers by extensive reading goes back to Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control. I evaluate the pluses and minuses of other books and try to improve my own work based on that reading experience. I also act as a beta editor for other authors, which is a great way to learn, as I have to look up items such as in Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

A not-so-secret technique is to have several friends review my chapters as I write.
Beta readers help keep me on track by critiquing all aspects of the story. I’ve learned a lot of techniques to help me grow as a writer from listening to these cherished advisors, who are generally writers and readers in the author’s genre.

Usually by the time I’ve finished incorporating their suggestions, the plot flows well, the style is consistent, no glaring continuity problems remain, anachronisms (errors in history and language in a non-modern novel) are corrected, the characterization is consistent and will please readers, good habits are employed with the storyteller’s point of view, the spelling is error-free, most of the punctuation follows rules we as well educated persons can agree upon, and so on. Different authors have different weak spots, and a trusted beta can help from brainstorming prior to writing to final cold reading for typos and everything in between.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

They’re also free help, and with love and respect for the huge leaps and bounds my betas have taken my stories through, I must stress that, unless the story is not all that complex, problems will remain within the novel that none of us have experienced before.

That’s why I need professional editors for my work, and I strongly encourage all authors to consider this valuable resource. That impoverished journalism student, the English major who offered to help, a teacher you know, or your sweet Aunt Sally may be free or almost free help, but they’re not necessarily aware of all the details of proper copy editing and proofreading for a novel, which has rules and conventions of its own, never mind how to fit them into the layout for an e-book or print book.

My viewpoint on this is strengthened by experience reading novels written or edited by teachers and English majors that contained numerous simple errors like we discussed in our “Lesson 5” last post, never mind editing conventions they had no clue about! I read a novel by a professional editor who should have hired a professional editor. We just don’t see our own mistakes, and amateur editors don’t recognize them.

Another important issue is that writers must listen to their editors and not disregard their good advice. There’s no use in getting good advice if you sell a book full of problems that you could have avoided, but your vanity wouldn’t let you modify. Amazon readers like to attack those problem areas, and a disclaimer is insulting to both you and your editor.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, sub-genre, etc. There are no exceptions.

My sympathy goes out to those who have hired poor quality editors. As in any job situation, impartial references and entrance exams are important. Most editors will give you a few free pages to see if they are a “fit.” Also, read a published book they’ve edited.

Next post: some examples of when I had to suck it up and listen to my editor.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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How Three Authors Dropped the Ball

“All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.”

ereader free stock imageI’m a reader more than an author, and I’ve learned about writing quality through both. Over the last month or so, I’ve read some excellent novels. Some of these otherwise outstanding stories disappointed me where it could be easily avoided, yet I’m shocked to find my opinion that this is of concern is in the minority.

Three specific novels stand out. They varied from a pleasant romance with mild conflict to an excellent “sweeping epic romance” novel with strong dramatic tension throughout, and another that had a mix of sweetness and angst that put it in the middle of the first two. In each case, the plot moved forward at a brisk pace through the trials the protagonists faced with minor villains and/or misunderstandings towards a satisfying Happily Ever After.

The novels were Pride and Prejudice variations, and compliance with canon characterization for the major characters was strong and consistent. A couple of minor characters were given larger roles and personalities, and new characters enhanced the variations, not unusual for Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), and well done in each case.

Sounds good so far! Read on…

Some tropes were used in one novel, and a subplot seen in another author’s earlier novel was copied in that same novel, but the other two did a fine job of avoiding them. Quotes from Pride and Prejudice were inserted in key places, although in one novel, they were too long and cliché.

But everyone enjoys a hint of the real Austen, right? Read on…

A range of ability to use of point of view was seen in the books. The sweet romance author did an excellent job of maintaining a standard (not deep or close) third person, multiple point of view, taking care to ensure that POV changed by scene. The other two were less successful, awkwardly using multiple techniques and head-hopping. Obviously the latter authors are less disciplined in good POV techniques.

Ouch. But the novel that escaped head-hopping must be the best one, right? Read on…

Much of the language felt authentic and maintained the mood of the Regency era. The light romance novel was bogged down with long sections of narrative and could have used more dialogue; the others were well-balanced. The authors each used a number of non-period words, but I’ve read far worse by well-known prolific JAFF and Regency romance authors. Most of the common anachronisms included by Regency writers were avoided, and scenes were peppered with little touches of period description that helped move the reader’s imagination into another time.

One made a common mistake: rather than ending when the story arc had been completed, the story line digressed into a new plot direction when it should have been tying up loose ends. That wasn’t enough: an epilogue that had nothing to do with the plot line and was of a different style altogether followed. But the other two novels had perfect endings: no loose ends, the timing was neither abrupt nor dragged out, and the reader was satisfied with the romantic outcome.

Okay, a few flaws, but they still sound like good books, right? Read on…

Stockholm Public LibraryMost authors have at least one weak area in their writing, including those above. Some have continuity or inconsistency problems, so the reader is frequently pulled out of the story to flip back to try to resolve their confusion. Excess elements such as side plots, back story, or redundancy result in boredom. Too many novels have an inadequate premise with minimal conflict and a plot with no complex elements, rushing through predictable circumstances to their happily ever after while rendering the novel forgettable.

These three novels escaped those specific problems. The striking situation here was that even with the weak areas noted, the authors were skilled. Weaknesses were not specific to one novel; rather, each had one or two areas to improve upon but excelled for the most part. The novels each had an interesting, unique premise that was well-executed. Dashes of humour enhanced the dramatic themes, and excitement was felt during situations with physical action. Strong romantic themes supported the story arc. One in particular stood out among JAFF Regency novels for excellent story-telling that took the reader’s imagination away.

For a captivating story line, a reader could overlook one or two flaws, right? Read on…

All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.

A lack of proofreading significantly spoiled the final result of what could have been a decent book.

If I were reviewing these novels for Amazon, a full star would be dropped at minimum for the proofreading errors alone. I’m not being trivial over a few minor typos. Plurals using an apostrophe and incorrect plural possessives, made-up spellings of words, homonyms and homophones used incorrectly, missing letters, missing periods at the end of sentences, and missing quotation marks on one end of a character’s dialogue are examples.

A JAFF author once questioned why I liked working with Meryton Press as opposed to self-publishing, and I listed the benefits I get for free, including editing. Her response?

“No one cares about editing. JAFF readers buy everything released and give top reviews no matter what the quality.”

Sadly, she’s right. Whether enchanting or bland, JAFF novels with poor attention to editing routinely get five-star reviews, even when the reviewer mentions the editing was bad! Review blogs never mention proofreading and ignore blatant mistakes, as they’ve rated these three books almost consistently at 4.5 to five stars. It’s disappointing for those of us who go the extra mile.

Many reviewers make exceptions for self-published books, saying poor editing is expected. That must be a disappointing surprise to 80% of self-published JAFF authors* who make that extra effort to put out quality novels for their fans. Readers shouldn’t reward author-publishers who are lazy or cheap any more than traditional publishers who employ editors who don’t know their craft—it’s not fair to those who care about their readers. I paid for the book. I have a right to expectations.

The errors added up, affecting my overall perception of these otherwise good books. The high-angst novel was one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read, and though the problems were fewer than the other two, it had confusing head-hopping and enough proofreading errors that it was not just a slight omission. In all three novels, clearly no skilled person did a final check for the author.

red pen and laptop editing free image smallerA smart author won’t stop there. The use of a good general editor (substantial editor, line editor, and/or copy editor) would make these authors look so much more professional. Even those who can manage a good effort at all of the aspects mentioned above will have weak points they don’t see when they read through their work. Another set of eyes, particularly a professional who is experienced at what to watch for, can make an okay novel great.

I have huge appreciation for the beta teams who have assisted me with my unpublished work. Their volunteer, well intentioned, non-professional reviews helped me learn to be a better writer. This is great for JAFF sites such as A Happy Assembly  where members with a huge range of writing skills are encouraged to add to the large number of free stories. But if you charge for the book, you’ll be held to a higher standard.

A beta reader, Aunt Sally, an English major, or a teacher can’t take the place of an experienced professional editor. I’ve read JAFF novels written or edited by these supposed experts that had laughable errors. Professional editors are familiar with typical mistakes, the specifics of genre fiction rules, and lots of good alternatives to improve a novel.

Special smooches go to the Meryton Press editors I’ve worked with: Gail Warner and Christina Boyd. Both are caring, kind, fun women. With their unique talents and styles, each brought my writing to a higher level as professional editors. Ellen Pickels is the lady who covers the a55es for all of us as Meryton Press’s final editor. She serves as proofreader, layout editor and graphics editor! After reading the above mentioned novels, the view that she’s worth her weight in gold has been reinforced! Thanks to them all!

I hope authors who read this will know where they fit, and those who care will improve or continue their best practices and be proud of their dedication to their readers’ satisfaction. I also hope those who don’t care will get their just desserts someday, rather than a reward of five stars when they didn’t even try to respect their readers. Wishful thinking, I know.

 

* My “guesstimate.”

Note: This post has not been professionally edited. If you need a few spare commas, I probably have some to offer!

Next post: The Smart Author Self-Edits: some links to help you improve your craft.

A road trip to Madame Gilflurt’s blog: My guest post on sneaky Regency hands.

I clicked the wrong link. I intended to email the organizer of a Jane Austen ball to tell her about the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, but I accidentally clicked a link that led me to Madame Gilflurt.

011-Mrs-Robinson-as-Perdita-246x300 as Madame Gilflurt“No problem,” she said, “but would you consider doing a guest post on my blog?”

Of course! I love to hear myself talk, and a busy blog sounded fun. I had an idea for a blog post that came up during my research on Regency gowns, and offered to post it on her blog. She loved the idea. It took a while for me to write the actual text of the post, and by then, Madame Giflurt was in the middle of her own series.

Today, the post is up: The Itch Exposed: A Special Report for the Admirers of Regency and Georgian Fashion. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at an accidental observation I made while perusing hundreds of Regency gowns in museum pieces, historical paintings, and fashion magazine drawings—the position of some ladies’ hands in drawings from Costume Parisien and other art during the early 1800s. You can read the post at A Covent Garden Gilfllurt’s Guide to Life: Glorious Georgian dispatches from the long 18th century…, Madame Gilflurt’s blog.

La Miroir de la Mode gown from 1803, the inspiration drawing for Suzan Lauder's January 20, 2016 guest post on "A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life" blog.

La Miroir de la Mode gown from 1803, the inspiration drawing for Suzan Lauder’s January 20, 2016 guest post on “A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life” blog.

Madame Gilflurt, also known as Catherine Curzon, blogs about the fascinating personalities of history, focused on the 18th Century and Regency periods. Her lively blog includes a number of interesting guest writers each year. She is also the online host for An Evening with Jane Austen, and may just get to see Adrian Lukis’s (Mr. Wickham from the BBC/A&E 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice) phone number come up on her call display from time-to-time. Madame Gilflurt will join road trips with the redhead for a guest post celebrating the release of her non-fiction book Life in the Georgian Court, which is being published by Pen and Sword books in June 2016.

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A reminder to catch up on chapters of Letter from Ramsgate, now posting at A Happy Assembly! We’re past the bad angst and moving towards mush. The comments thread is as much fun as the story!

Graphic art for signature design by L.L. Diamond using an oil painting by Johannes Vermeer: "A Lady Writing."

Graphic art for signature design by L.L. Diamond using an oil painting by Johannes Vermeer: “A Lady Writing.”

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As can be seen on the sidebar of this blog, Then Comes Winter has been selected as a favourite on three top JAFF book blogs! YAY!

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Please comment on this blog (below) at any time, or for today’s guest post, on Madame Gilflurt’s blog!

Two Road Trips for Then Comes Winter (and one for the redhead)

Blog tours are de rigeur for book releases these days. “Flat Stanley” circular tours in three countries–not so common! But Then Comes Winter, the newest offering from Meryton Press, is an unusual book with an unusual team!

Holiday romance anthologies and Austen-inspired anthologies come and go, but this compilation isn’t your standard bundle of specific-era themed short stories or Pride and Prejudice variations. The variety is evident when the only Austen novel missing is Emma, and of the P&P stories, half are loose P&P-esque modern romances with original plot lines. Reviews are coming in with good things to say about every story in the book.

The launch events for this book have been fantastic. A week of quizzes and dozens of prizes just wrapped up, and now a particularly special event has begun for this book.

Author and blogger Natalie Richards suggested we mail a copy of the anthology around and have each author sign her story so in the end, we have a copy of the book signed by all authors and the anthology editor for a give-away. We each have an opportunity to put in a little extra gift for the prize winner before we pass it on.

The "Flat Stanley" book tour route for "Then Comes Winter," the Meryton Press holiday anthology for 2015.

The “Flat Stanley” book tour route for “Then Comes Winter,” the Meryton Press holiday anthology for 2015.

The book’s adventures start and end with our editor, Christina Boyd. The anthology will travel across Canada and into New England, with a virtual trip to Romania before it returns to the US South. It goes cross-country again to work its way up the Pacific coast. The idea was nicknamed “Flat Stanley” after the elementary school activity where children mail a paper doll that travels to family and friends, who photograph themselves with it. Meryton Press will share the progress of the book on A Then Comes Winter Road Trip.

Our “Flat Stanley” left NW Washington on November 25, 2015 and arrived in Victoria, BC, Canada on November 26.

A Victoria, BC postcard, a bookmark for "Alias Thomas Bennet" by Suzan Lauder, and an embroidered handkerchief in honour of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment are tucked into "Then Comes Winter" at Suzan Lauder's "Delivery Boy" for the Flat Stanley Book Tour.

A Victoria, BC postcard, a bookmark for “Alias Thomas Bennet” by Suzan Lauder, and an embroidered handkerchief in honour of the “Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment” are tucked into “Then Comes Winter” at Suzan Lauder’s “Delivery Boy” for the “Flat Stanley” Book Tour.

"Then Comes Winter" stops at Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway on November 28, 2015 as part of the "Flat Stanley" book tour. Author Suzan Lauder, with the strait of Georgia in the background.

“Then Comes Winter” stops at Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway on November 28, 2015 as part of the “Flat Stanley” book tour. Author Suzan Lauder, with the Strait of Georgia in the background.

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, Canada, and is in a micro-climate at the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, which means its weather is significantly milder than the rest of Canada and much dryer than the nearby cities of Vancouver, BC, Seattle, WA, or Portland, OR. The island is about the size of the US state of Maryland or 1/4 the size of England. Most of the population is in the southeastern quarter; the Capital Regional District is home to 360,000 people. About three million passengers per year travel to or from the island by ferry or air, including a float plane landing strip in the downtown inner harbour.

Author Suzan Lauder and "Then Comes Winter" anthology at the Terry Fox memorial statue in Victoria, BC, Canada on November 28, 2015 for the "Flat Stanley" book tour.

Author Suzan Lauder and “Then Comes Winter” anthology at the Terry Fox memorial statue in Victoria, BC, Canada on November 28, 2015 for the “Flat Stanley” book tour.

At Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway, we posed with the statue of Terry Fox, a Canadian hero who attempted to run across Canada in 1980 to raise awareness for cancer–and he had one leg. In those days, prosthetics were nowhere as advanced as they are today, so he had a painful, limping sort of gait. He ran into atrocious weather, drivers who ran his group off the road, blisters, shin splints, and language difficulties, but awareness for his Marathon of Hope ramped up as he continued to run. Unfortunately, he was hospitalized with a return of his cancer at about midway across the country and was unable to finish. He passed away just short of his 23rd birthday, after raising an unprecedented $1 for every Canadian, a total of $24M, and facilitating a huge increase in awareness of the need for funding cancer research. The annual Terry Fox Run is now the world’s largest single-day cancer fundraising event.

After its stop with Terry Fox, the book was mailed to Alberta, Canada and author Melanie Stanford of Becoming Fanny, one of the nods to Mansfield Park in the anthology. Watch our A Then Comes Winter Road Trip page and social media for her photos!

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While “Flat Stanley” is in the land of grain fields, dinosaurs, and oil wells, the authors are having yet another party–uh, road trip. Excellent daily activities are planned for the “Then Comes Winter” blog tour. Yeah, we don’t quit having fun for this book!

tcwhorizontalbannerFor my part, I’ve arranged to have a little fictional vignette on Janet Taylor’s More Agreeably Engaged: an interview with the “Delivery Boy,” Billy, from my short story in the anthology.

MAE blog graphic no words n darcy3You may recall that my first guest blog was an author interview with Janet just over two years ago, and she’s the artist who turned her modern, bearded son and toddler granddaughter into the Regency cover of Alias Thomas Bennet! (About half way down.) This visit to her blog on December 2, 2015 will also feature a draw for a copy of the anthology for those who comment on the interview.

Nineteen stops are featured on this blog tour, enough for an editor and 12 authors, plus a few reviews thrown in just for fun, and quite a few chances for give-aways!

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Speaking of prizes, we had a great time during my turn as quizmaster for the Then Comes Winter Launch party, and Lisa Angel won the prize I donated, consisting of nice, warm, Canadian flag mittens, a signed copy of Alias Thomas Bennet, and a signed Regency Reticule from the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment.

Then Comes Winter Launch Party giveaway Suzan Lauder1Kirk Companion won the choice of any Meryton Press book in a random draw for participants in my quiz. Congrats, all those who won prizes, and thanks to all those who participated in the activities all week. I sure had fun!

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I’m going on a little road trip of my own soon: another vacation to Mexico! I’ll still be posting Letter from Ramgate at AHA while I’m away, and I hope to join a local writer’s group, and maybe even make some progress on that new Regency comedy I have in my head!

Wish me “bon voyage!”

Better yet, enter the draw for the “Flat Stanley” book signed by all 13 of us, join in the comments on the blog tour, and comment below on this post! Thanks!

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January 11, 2016 Update: Keep following the progress of the Then Comes Winter Road Trip on the Meryton Press Blog! It’s has made its way to Bucharest, Romania and MP author Lory Lilian as of this date! Enter the draw for the whole package: the traveling book signed by editor Christina Boyd and all 12 authors plus all the cool gifts Christina and each author have added along the way. The draw is open until Valentine’s Day!

 

Mr. Darcy in the making: The Thrifty Regency Gentleman’s Costume

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Beau Monde, 1807, Morning Dress

Mr. Suze used to bug me to let him read my Regency writing. I told him he’d have to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice first, so he’d understand it better. I didn’t expect him to actually read my favourite novel, but he did! What choice did I have but to share Alias Thomas Bennet with him? I was preparing to submit it to Meryton Press at the time, and he was a good final cold reader.

He became a big fan of my writing, and joined me to watch the A&E/BBC 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice. A good sport, he went along with me on half a dozen meet-ups of my online friends from A Happy Assembly while we were on vacation in Washington, Oregon, and California over several road trips.

When I told him I wanted to go to Louisville, KY for the JASNA AGM, he said I could go on my own; he’d had enough of Jane Austen events. Over time, he softened to say he’d join me and enjoy the city on his own while I was at the conference, and later, he agreed to dress in a Regency costume for the Saturday festivities. In May, my vintage and thrift shop trips to finalize my own costume included searches for his items. I quickly got the lay of the land.

For this post, I’ll speak to two items: the tailcoat and waistcoat. The rest of the costume will be seen in future posts.

I saw only three tailcoats in vintage and thrift stores, at $65 and $35, but two were too large and one, too small. There were no suitable vests for a waistcoat, even if I looked at size extra-large in Ladies’ wear. Mr. Suze is not a large man, and I thought if I did a good job, he’d be okay with this.

Please note these are sewing projects. The same result will not be easy to achieve with no-sew iron-on tape, and the fabric is too heavy for that product in any case.

Upcycling a garment into a Regency tailcoat

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Coat, 1810, dark brown herringbone.

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Le Beau Monde, 1807

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Regency tailcoat 1815, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Post-Regency example for fun! 1825-1830 dress coat

Regency tailcoats were by no means all the same. They came in many colours, and some had interesting textures, as shown in these thumbnails, which can be enlarged if you click on them.

 

Louis-Léopold Boilly - The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – The Arrival of a Stage-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (Detail), 1803.

Both single and double-breasted designs were stylish, but double-breasted appears more frequently in the examples I could find, and I’ve been told they outnumbered single-breasted by about 2:1. Lapels tended to be wider, and the opening quite high in comparison to modern menswear.

Many modern tuxedo tailcoats require slight modifications to straighten the bottom front to match the style of the early 19th Century. The Regency tailcoat has no back waist seams: each panel is one piece of fabric, whereas post-Regency, the seam at the waistline came into play, and continues in modern tailcoats.

Because I couldn’t easily find a used tailcoat in thrift shops, I looked to the Internet, where previous rental tuxedo coats are readily available at under $100. Problems that rule out some modern tuxedo tailcoats include trim such as velvet or satin that do not look Regency. Shawl collars or narrow lapels are common. Most are black, white, or grey. Black would do for a court suit or a formal ball, but the other two would not work, unless I decided to buy a white one and dye it the popular dark blue of the Regency.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Modern morning coat, dark green wool, herringbone.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

Back view of Regency tail coat to show the single panels of fabric, with no waist seams.

A wool morning coat in dark green, with a fine herringbone pattern and slightly wider lapels, caught my eye and got approval from Mr. Suze. Of course, he doesn’t know that Jane Austen fans love the idea of a green coat ever since Andrew Davies had Colin Firth choose it to ride into Lambton the day Elizabeth got her fateful letter from Jane!

This coat appeared to have no back waist seam in the photos online, but when it arrived, it did. Also, the collar was not self-lined, so it would have to stay down. Oh, well, we knew we were not going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and it fit well, so that was a huge relief. It was advertised on eBay at £25, or $80 with shipping.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

Green tailcoat after first cut of shape of front opening and tails.

George "Beau" Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

George “Beau” Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton, 1805.

Mr. Suze is a bit particular about his clothing. His father was a menswear tailor at the Canadian institution of high-class shopping: Eaton’s. My husband is accustomed to a well-fitted, flattering suit in quality fabric, and that was my goal for the Regency tailcoat. We looked at numerous examples from museum pieces and fashion pages like Ackermann’s, and decided on a full curve at the waist, as opposed to a straighter line. A painting of Beau Brummel served as reference. The line was pinned while “my Beau” wore the coat, and the future wearer did a mirror check to approve it. To further achieve a Regency look, the lapels were pressed higher, and extra buttons are needed to suit this modification. The front of the cut coat is shown above, on the left.

I re-applied the matching fabric facings to the underside of the new shape of the tails. To sew the new contour front edges together, I thought about pinning them under and top-stitching, but I opted to sew a normal seam with the fabric pinned right sides together. That meant I had to turn half the jacket inside out.folded and tied with elastics to sew right sides togetherpinned for sewing, all inside the taildetail of fake side pocket

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

Green tailcoat, back, final except buttons.

I tied the upper portion together with elastic bands as shown and laid it inside along the length of the tail, where I’d opened the bottom hem. The tail was pinned right sides together over it all, and sewn with a 1/2″ seam. It was turned it right side out again by pulling it through the open bottom of the tail.

I did a test run with the narrower side before I was brave enough to photograph it for this blog!

I used scraps of fabric to fake Regency by putting flaps that look like pockets at the sides of the jacket. Regency coats sometimes had a cuff, so if your modification allows more fabric, that’s another way to make it more authentic in appearance. Mine did not.

The Regency coat design didn’t always close, but boasted decorative buttons, and men wore them buttoned or unbuttoned, though I’d assume formal circumstances would demand a tightly-buttoned look. The buttons are plastic, and I have yet to purchase proper buttons for the tailcoat. As mentioned earlier, Regency menswear often had fabric-covered buttons in the same colour, though not always the same fabric as the garment. Regency coat fronts have buttons closer together, so my mockup has 4 buttons where the original suit had one.

My intention was self-covered buttons with a brass ring trim from Dressew, and I had enough extra fabric left for them. But I didn’t have enough buttons of the right size, and none of the stores in my city have the snap-on brass trim. I won’t be able to get to Dressew (in Vancouver, BC) prior to the JASNA conference, so I can’t use these buttons at this time.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

Suit, 1815-1820, The Victoria & Albert Museum.

The alternatives are thread buttons, which are a lot of work I don’t have time for, and metallic buttons. Brass buttons were a must on blue coats in the Regency, and seen on other colours sometimes, too. The estimated cost for this tailcoat is $20 on sale. Some attractive steel buttons with an insignia will cost about $7 at Fabricland, so next shopping trip, I’ll purchase them.

Making a modern vest into a Regency waistcoat

The modification of a vest into a nice facsimile of a Regency waistcoat was an easy sewing project, once I found the suitable vest. Strange, since I was lamenting that I’d have to make this item from scratch!

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, 1810-20, National Trust Collections

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21" by 33", Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Waistcoat, early 19th century, British, wool and silk. 21″ by 33″, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s not that Regency waistcoats are so limited in design that it’s impossible to find them: this clothing item was the pizazz in the man’s outfit. Almost limitless possibilities existed for colour and pattern, as seen in the set of thumbnails. Click to see larger images.

The most common fabric was silk, but cotton and linen were worn as well. Some boasted gorgeous detailed embroidery. Similar to the tailcoat, the waistcoat could be single- or double-breasted.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat French or English, 1790–1810, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts. Note the detailed embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

Waistcoat, 1805-1810, Mccord Museum, Montreal. Note the embroidery.

The trouble with modern vests is their simplicity. Plain, pin-striped, or herringbone wool or wool-like synthetics are as good as it gets for suit vests, which are difficult to find. Most thrift shop vests are casual, with zippers and fleece and plaid and quilting and such.

Regency vests usually had stand-up collars and lapels, too, which modern vests lack. The balance is that Regency vests were straight across at the bottom, so I knew I had a fabric source for the collar and/or lapels: that double V-shape on a dressy modern vest.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.

The internet, and used tuxedo rentals, offered more options in terms of colour and pattern, and the satin vests mimic the look of silk. Mr. Suze and I agreed on a paisley pattern for a fullback vest. It cost $11.99, and included a matching bow tie; the total was $25 by the time we paid for shipping.

He selected ivory since it best suited the green coat, compared to the bright colour palette otherwise available. The other colours would be great with a black or blue tailcoat. We had also noted that many of the waistcoats in paintings were white or ivory.

The vest was a bit on the big side, and I realized I could use that to my advantage, as I pinned it up at the shoulders to get extra fabric to make a short stand-up collar, plus raise the V of the neckline higher, to make it more Regency in appearance. The photos show it pinned up before the cut (left) and after the collar is made, but not attached, and the bottom is trimmed (right). Two extra buttons are on the bottom in the photo on the right, to show how it would look if more were added.Ivory paisley waistcoat, pinned for the cuts to the shouldersIvory paisley waistcoat, collar made, showing cut and location for lapel

 

 

 

 

 

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 - 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Waistcoat, National Trust Inventory, 1790 – 1810, Cotton and silk, Chastleton House, Oxfordshire.

Regency waistcoats sometimes had distinct lapels, but more often, the front panel rose to the collar above the button line, and that upper portion was propped open by the cravat. Unfortunately, when I removed the two Vs from the vest’s bottom front to straighten the line for a Regency look, I couldn’t put it on like the latter design, as it was lined in herringbone, the same as the back panel of the vest. The option was a small lapel.

Ivory paisley waistcoat, final

 

 

 

 

If you have additional fabric, a detail that appears on some, but not all Regency waistcoats is a small pocket on each side, which can be faked with a piece of finished size of about 1-1/2″ by 5″. I tried to make them with what I had left, but they were too small.

This vest had matching satin-covered buttons, perfect for Regency. One was cut off with the bottom V, and there was one spare. Because Regency had lots of buttons, I’ll add more in between the current buttons if I have time after my other projects are complete for Louisville.

The two pieces put together look nice! There’s about 2″-3″ of waistcoat showing below the bottom of the waistline of the tailcoat, a fashionable length. The small lapel on the waistcoat fits neatly into the higher opening at the collar of the tailcoat. We’ll see the shirt ruffles and cravat fill that space in a future post!

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

TSRCE for Gentlemen: Green herringbone tailcoat and ivory paisley waistcoat.

Next post: Who knows? My time has become filled with editing for myself and a fellow author, fitness programs that stopped for August, as well as new activities.

I’m scrambling to complete the most important Regency costume projects now, as time is running out. The balance of Mr. Suze’s costume will come some time this month, and I have lots of little projects I want to finish for Louisville. If I can manage to write something to accompany photos, that will be the topic for upcoming posts!

Book Club Questions for “Alias Thomas Bennet”

Who would expect heavy rains to be so welcome? After the recent extended drought in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, my home-away-from home again this weekend, it makes sense. My Chat Chit friends’ gardens will green up! Of course, I attribute it to the engineer friend who passed away this week: he’s up there above us, and repaired the systems!

The last time I was here, I was part of a “Meet the Author” event with “The Real Orange County Book Club.” I enjoyed meeting another of their members yesterday. Her enthusiasm about my book and writing inspired me to share the Book Club Questions I wrote for their use when my novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, was their monthly read for September 2014.

Alias Thomas Bennet 1263 x 900Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder
Book Club Questions

1. Alias Thomas Bennet is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and follows its general plot line, which in Fan Fiction is referred to as “canon.” Discuss the differences between “canon” and Alias Thomas Bennet. Do you agree with how the changes have been made? What could be done differently?

2. Outside of this book, Fan Fiction encompasses almost every area of storytelling in our culture: from The X Files to Mulan, Little Women to Wolverine, the online community of re-writes is immense. Discuss your familiarity and reactions to the idea of Fan Fiction. What other examples of Fan Fiction are you aware of? (Hint: famous trilogy based on Twilight!)

3. Maria Lucas is a minor character in the original Pride and Prejudice. What do you think of her role in Alias Thomas Bennet? Discuss her motivation and the societal aspects that compelled her.

4. A mature scene told from Darcy’s point of view has been controversial with readers. How would this differ if it was presented by an omniscient narrator as in most mature novels? Do you think it would be different if it was not a fantasy, but a sex scene? What is your reaction to the concept that Darcy ultimately decided to propose because of his desire? Do you think there might be some element of that in Pride and Prejudice?

5. The story begins with a series of flashbacks. Talk about your reaction to the exposure of information in the flashbacks, your understanding of them, and your suspicions as they evolved with the information in each vignette. Discuss how close your conjecture was to the exposé in chapter 8 and 9.

6. Wickham is a particularly evil villain in this adaptation. Some might criticise this as a ploy to victimize the heroine in order to add importance to the role of the hero. What is your view? What do you think about the outcome for him in this book? What do you think about Elizabeth’s reactions?

7. What is your impression of Fanny and Thomas Bennet/Lord Shelton? Do you think they are over-played, and the story should be more about Elizabeth and Darcy, as in Pride and Prejudice? Why?

8. In canon, Fanny Bennet is flighty and distractible. In Alias Thomas Bennet, it’s implied she suffers from PTSD. What do you think of this possibility? Why or why not is it a plausible explanation for her canon personality?

9. Discuss what life would have been like on a sailing ship for a month with small children, eating only hard tack (cracker-like bread) and gruel.

10. Some readers love the gown descriptions, and some hate them. What do you think?

11. Discuss what it might have felt like for Elizabeth and Jane to suddenly become the focus of society, when before, they were unknown. What do you think of this class structure issue? How does it compare with how people are judged today? What are the similarities and differences?

12. What did you like best about this novel? What would you change?

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Please share any special thoughts that came up as you read this list, as I love feedback, and other readers would love to hear about it as well!