Friday, October 27, 2017

Drinking chocolate – Setting and Symbols

      Warm milk and a little cream on the stove.
     Add a dark chocolate candy bar. I used one that was 95% dark chocolate
     Add 100% dark chocolate powder
     Add a pinch of chili powder
     Whisk until frothy, pour into a cup, and top with whipped cream.

     This will be so thick you will be able to drink it with a spoon.  :)

When I first started writing, Falling in Love with Emma, I’m sure it was a “dark and stormy night,” because I thought about the French-style of drinking chocolate…a lot. Spoiler alert. It’s a typical fall day in Seattle, and I’ve just brewed a warm cup of drinking chocolate. Yum!  Anyway, back to the blog. In my story, I transported Emma and Björn back in time to 18th century Paris, on the eve of the French Revolution, where chocolate houses were almost as abundant as coffee cafés are in Seattle. For those who have read my books, they know that somewhere in the story, someone will mention their love of chocolate.  My novel, Falling in Love with Emma took it to a whole new level.  Although I knew the time and place, I wanted my readers to feel the atmosphere, or setting, as much as I did. The setting needed to be as important as the characters. After all, the setting would affect how the characters would react. Setting can enhance a character’s mood, or bring them down. Setting can help a character achieve their goal, or stand in the way.
This idea of setting as a character is never more apparent than in a disaster movie, involving fire, wind, or rain. There is a movie, Backdraft, with fire fighter, Kurt Russell, where he and his brother refer to fire as though it were a living, breathing, entity, unpredictable and capable of seeking revenge. This makes fighting fires feel  even more dangerous. On the lighter side, the movie Chocolate, with Johnny Depp, not only makes the symbol of chocolate a main character, but this confection, changes in appearance and brings people together.   
When you describe a setting or add symbols to your novel, you must always ask this question. How does it move the story forward? If you describe the wind or rain, it can’t be just because it sounds cool, there has to be a reason why it’s raining. How does your character respond to rain? Will her response help or hinder her as she tries to move forward? The same can be said for symbols. In Falling in Love with Emma, I have a scene where Emma and Björn are eating chocolate fondue. Yes, it can be a sensual dessert, with opportunities to feed each other strawberries dipped in chocolate, but that was not the reason I chose this dessert. Both Emma and Björn were on life’s treadmill. They were both in the friend-zone, without knowing how to escape. Björn, an Alaskan fisherman, was the type of person who grabbed food when he was hungry. He didn’t taste it, or to expand this idea, he didn’t taste life. Emma was an amazing baker, capable of creating swoon-worthy desserts, and yet, she never took the time to appreciate her talent. Fondue was the perfect choice for this couple. Fondue takes time.    

Please check out book three in the Matchmaker Café series, Falling in Love with Emma and let me know what you think. I have posted the recipes found in my novel on my website.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sandra Masters -Welcome to Romance

Latest News from Sandra and an intriguing blog about Killer Clothing:   All the Rage In the 19th Century Arsenic dresses, Mercury hats, and flammable clothing! 
Hello and Hope this finds you well.

Many of you have been kind to contact me about my two surgeries within the past few months. Suffice it to say, it was “ouchville,” but am now on my way to recovery. In five days, I graduate to a less cumbersome splint. Thanks for your kind words.

Had a few signing events   with Anne Donovan of Branches Books and Gifts in Oakhurst, below in August.

Then the Authors Reveal Their Secrets presentation at the Friends of the Oakhurst Library event in July. Linda Lee Kane, Vicki Thomas, Sandra Masters, Kris Lynn and Cora Ramos.

And a TV interview by local Channel KSEE 24 with Kris Lynn and myself. It was a hoot and a holler. You can click on the actual interview on my website at: on the home page.

I am working on edits for Book Six, The Blue-Eyed Black-Hearted Duke, of the Duke Series with the hope a contract will be offered.  It is a departure from my traditional Regency Romance since it is a Regency Fantasy Supernatural. Woke up one night after it was a halfway work-in-process and I had a vision of the supernatural creatures in a stained glass window.  Viola! Revisions made it a reality. More about this in the future. My dearest hope is that it will be available for print in 2017. 

This is my inspirational meme by Kris Lynn - Kristallynn Designs.
For all of my books, I create visionary graphics to allow me to escape my own world into my characters’.

               Sandra Masters, Historical author.
Sandra Masters Author Page - See all her books here:
Newsletter sign up:

Now to some fascinating information. 

In all of my five Regency Historical Romance books, I do explain the fashions of the day and what my heroines and heroes wore.

In search of another topic, I came across a headline that indicated that fashion had its price and sometimes it was DEATH! It was sometimes referred to as Killer Clothing.

My shock was doubled since I spent at least twenty-five years in the fashion industry in New York City working for various textile manufacturers and never had a clue! Woe is me.

Killer Clothing Was All the Rage In the 19th Century
Arsenic dresses, Mercury hats, and flammable clothing caused a lot of pain.

Did you know that while sitting at home one afternoon in 1861, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, caught fire. Her burns were so severe that she died the next day. According to her obituary, the fire had started when “a match or piece of lighted paper caught her dress.” At the time, this wasn’t a peculiar way to die. In the days when candles, oil lamps, and fireplaces lit and heated American and European homes, women’s wide hoop skirts and flowing cotton and tulle dresses were a fire hazard, unlike men’s tighter-fitting wool clothes.
It wasn’t just dresses: Fashion at this time was riddled with dangers. Socks made with aniline dyes inflamed men’s feet and gave garment workers sores and even bladder cancer. Lead makeup damaged women’s wrist nerves so that they couldn’t raise their hands. Celluloid combs, which some women wore in their hair, exploded if they got too hot. In Pittsburgh, a newspaper reported that a man with a celluloid comb lost his life “While Caring for His Long Gray Beard.” In Brooklyn, a comb factory exploded. In fact, some of the most fashionable clothing of the day was made using chemicals that are today considered too toxic to use—and it was the producers of this clothing, rather than the wearers, who suffered most of all!


Many people think that “mad as a hatter” refers to the mental and physical side effects hat makers endured from using mercury in their craft. Though scholars dispute whether this is actually the origin of the phrase, many hatters did develop mercury poisoning. And even though the phrase has a certain levity to it, and while the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was silly and fun, the actual maladies hat makers suffered were no joke—mercury poisoning was debilitating and deadly.

In the 18th and 19th century, a lot of men’s felt hats were made using hare and rabbit fur. In order to make this fur stick together to form felt, hatters brushed it with mercury. “It was extremely toxic,” says Alison Matthews David, author of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present. “Especially if you inhale it. It goes straight to your brain.”
One of the first symptoms was neuromotor problems, like trembling. In the hat-making town of Danbury, Connecticut, this was known as the “Danbury shakes.”

Then there were the psychological problems. “You would become very shy, very paranoid,” Matthews David says. When medical examiners visited hatters to document their symptoms, hatters “thought they were being observed, and they would throw down their tools and get angry and have outbursts.” Many hatters also developed cardio-respiratory problems, lost their teeth, and died at early ages.

Although these effects were documented, many viewed them as the hazards that one had to accept with the job. And besides, the mercury only affected the hatters—not the men who wore the hats, who were protected by the hats’ lining.

“There was always kind of a bit of a pushback from the hatters themselves,” Matthews David says of these dangerous working conditions. “But really, honestly, the only thing that made [mercury hat making] disappear was the fact that men’s hats went out of fashion in the 1960s. That’s really when it dies. It was never banned in Britain.”


Arsenic was everywhere in Victorian Britain. Although it was known to be used as a murder weapon, the cheap, natural element was used in candles, curtains, and wallpaper, writes James C. Whorton in The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play.

 Because it dyed fabric bright green, arsenic also ended up in dresses, gloves, shoes, and artificial flower wreaths that women used to decorate their hair and clothes.
For example, in 1861, a 19-year-old artificial flower maker named Matilda Scheurer—whose job involved dusting flowers with green, arsenic-laced powder—died a violent and colorful death. She convulsed, vomited, and foamed at the mouth. Her bile was green, and so were her fingernails and the whites of her eye. An autopsy found arsenic in her stomach, liver, and lungs.

Articles about Scheurer’s death and the plight of artificial flower makers raised public awareness about arsenic in fashion. The British Medical Journal wrote that the arsenic-wearing woman “carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet with in half a dozen ball-rooms.” In the mid-to-late 1800s, sensational claims like these began to turn public opinion against this deadly shade of green.

Public concern over arsenic helped phase it out of fashion—Scandinavia, France, and Germany banned the pigment (Britain did not).
The move away from arsenic was hastened by the invention of synthetic dyes, which made it “easy to let arsenic go,” according to Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.

This raises interesting questions about fashion today. While arsenic dresses might seem like bizarre relics of a more brutal age, killer fashion is still very much in vogue. In 2009, Turkey banned sandblasting—the practice of spraying denim with sand to give it a fashionable distressed look—because workers were developing silicosis from breathing in sand.
“It’s not a curable disease,” Matthews David says of silicosis. “If you have sand in your lungs it will kill you.”
Yet when a dangerous production method is banned in one country—and when the demand for the clothing that method produces remains high—then production typically moves somewhere else (or continues despite the ban).

In the 1800s, men who wore mercury hats or women who wore arsenic-laced clothing and accessories might have seen the people who produced these items on the streets of London, or read about them in the local paper. But in a globalized economy, many of us don’t see the deadly effects that our fashion choices have on others.

Mauve boots dyed with the new synthetic color containing arsenic, picric acid, and other toxic chemicals, English (early 1860s) (Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, photograph by Ron Wood)
For example, there’s the achingly narrow shoes worn by women to slip into a “beauty ideal,” and for men and women alike there was mauve footwear tinged with the first synthetic dye. Created by William Henry Perkin in 1856, mauve was revolutionary in influencing color tastes. It was unfortunately incredibly toxic, made with arsenic, picric acid, and other harmful chemicals. Around the same time tortoises and elephants were being spared in making hair combs, but the manufactured celluloid was explosive. Ballerinas draped in tulle were pirouetting into gas lights on the stage at such a frequency it was called a “holocaust.” Even the high heel, which had come back into vogue in the late 1850s, deliberately threw women off-balance as part of a very confined, yet alluring, form of femininity.

The 19th century shoe demonstrates the movement over the era from personal relationships with independent artisans to industries like the 700 embroiderers who labored on boots in the factory of François Pinet. Matthews David points out how with these elaborate shoes, “the same object exists in both spaces,” moving from the unsanitary, debilitating conditions of the unventilated factories to the foot of a strutting member of the upper class. Likewise all those gleaming, shined boots were not kept clean in the dirty 19th century by the rich wearers, but by the numerous, poor shoeshine boys who worked the streets for scraps of money.

Murphy, photograph Arnold Matthews) Hands damaged by arsenic dyes, lithography from an 1859 medical journal (courtesy Wellcome Library)

Perhaps the most evocative fatal fashion trend of the 19th century is the color green. Before inventor Carl Wilhelm Scheele came along near the end of the 18th century, there was no color fast green, only the option to do a blue overlay with yellow or vice versa. By mixing arsenic and copper, Scheele developed a pigment that would hold, whether in wallpaper, paintings, or clothing. It also happened to look fantastic under natural and new gas light, an important duality for the time. By the mid-19th century, when, as Matthews David notes “nature was disappearing from the environment,” this “Emerald Green” was incredibly popular in artificial flowers. It was also highly toxic, even deadly, and it’s no coincidence that Baudelaire titled his book of tormented poems Les Fleurs du Mal — The Flowers of Evil — just as the death of a young artificial florist was being investigated.

Becky Little is a writer focusing on history. Published October 16, 2017
Fatal Victorian Fashion and the Allure of the Poison Garment ;
Sources: Wickipedia, Internet
In no way does this author claim originality for this information.

Originally posted on