Website alert: Historical fiction may attempt accuracy (never achievable), a wild but serious alternative representation (Hamilton), or broad-stroked just-for-fun romance that should fool nobody (Bridgerton). Now, suppose you aim for accuracy. What a delight to find that doing so can still startle you out of conventional thinking. Consider these two heads of Caesar Augustus. On the left, the usual blank aura of marmoreal power. On the right, whoops! a somewhat worried weird young man. Now there's a stimulous imagination! It's not just that we need to realize that ancient statues were painted, it's that color helps us conjure up living people—and so, off you go to "HISTORY IN 3D" creates a series of accurate reconstructions of the first 12 Roman Caesars.
Picturing a World
Blog post alert: Suppose you said to a computer, "Avocado-shaped chair," and it came up with these. Yikes! It's so over my head that I don't even really understand what the website OpenAI is, but it says, "We've trained a neural network called DALL·E that creates images from text captions for a wide range of concepts expressible in natural language." And they have. And they'll let you play with it at DALL·E: Creating
Images. Now how can a writer put this to use …?
Blog post alert: Charley Parker's Lines and Colors strikes again and introduces me to British female artist contemporary with Jeanette— Jessica Hayllar—a painter who depicted those quiet interiors, "portraits without people." You can find more paintings by her here. To me as a storyteller, they suggest either a quiet harbor to retreat to, or a world about to be disrupted.
Yesterday, I attended an absorbing webinar on Boston artist Sarah Gooll Putnam. Every aspect of the topic interested me (see below), and I hope it will be posted to YouTube as planned. For this blog, it introduces one more excellent, little-known woman artist. Putnam was a successful portraitist in Boston elite circles, painting in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux.
An even bigger Wow! for the historical novelist are her voluminous diaries now digitized at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In them, she recorded daily events, illustrated her entries with drawings, and supplemented them with clippings and other memorabilia. If you have a hankering to undertake a story set in Boston in the latter quarter of the 19th C or early 20th, don't miss these.
Horrors! Steampunk facial recognition? Mannequin mind control? Bizarre external sensory systems? Pursuing Rachel powder a little further, I came across this Max Factor Beauty Calibrator at Cosmetics and skin: "Developed in 1932 it was supposed to measure how far a person's features differed from the 'ideal face.'" Surely, the time has come for it to inspire a sci-fi tale, preferably feminist revenge. Or, oh no, wait, historical fiction?????
After reading my post on Rachel powder, a friend told me about playing with her mother's and aunts' cosmetics when she was a little girl. She had a hazy memory of seeing something labeled Rachel. That sent me back to the internet, and voilà, more information about Elizabeth Arden products and the company's history here and here. What useful details for fiction set in the 20th C! My old editor at Berkley thought I should set Anonymity in a more glamorous industry than publishing. I sarcastically queried, such as interior decorating? Good idea! she said.