Fantastic History #2: What the Well-Dressed Woman Wore in 1837

When one is writing a family saga that takes place over 90 years, from 1837 until sometime in the 1920s, and one has been, in a previous life a costumer, one finds oneself interested in what people are wearing. Rather than dressing every one in pseudo-Victorian, I went out to do some research regarding fashion for men, women, and children, and take a look a fashion silhouettes of the various times I would be writing in. The Klaereon Scroll series starts in 1837, with two well-dressed gentlewomen, Octavia and Lucy Klaereon.

1837 is an interesting time in fashion. The Neo-Classicism of the Regency with its minimalist structure has given way, twenty years later, to a less basic shape as women embrace the ideals of a tiny waist and a larger skirt. In the evolution of the silhouette, we can see our way toward the giant hoops of the 1850s, as the skirt ever widens, and toward the constricting corsets of the 1860s-1880s, as the waist narrows. The resulting hourglass figure would continue to become more exaggerated until the first bustle brought in some variety around 1870. The foundation upon which this silhouette was built consisted of a chemise, covered by a corset, which cupped the breasts. Petticoats padded the skirt and held the corset in place.

Of particular interest at this time in fashion is the evolution of the sleeve. The sleeve of the early 1830’s was full at the top, but as the decade progressed, the fullness of the sleeve moved down the arm. The necklines emphasized a feminine sloping shoulder, and gowns around the neck and bust were increasingly fitted, while lower arms were plumped out and supported by sleeve plumpers. Points tailored toward the waist emphasized the sloping shoulders and smaller waist. Necklines were lower for eveningwear than daywear.

Hair was parted in the middle and coifed in ringlets on the sides and sometimes the top of the head. Rakish hates of earlier in the decade gave way to primmer, more feminine bonnets. Slippers completed evening ensembles. Button boots with elasticized insets appeared for daywear.

As fashion goes, these clothes were less prohibiting than some of the silhouettes that would come later, but women were losing ground on the way to some of the most constricting fashion choices that would not be modified until after the first world war.


Cath Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. Her YA Gothic fantasy The Vessel of Ra is available from Curiosity Quills. Catherine lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Other recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Catherine is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators. You can find her online at Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, @cathschaffstump,, and

March 2018 Update

Woah. March. So much to tell you about. Let’s start with the readings!

First, we had this wonderful reading at Kirkwood Community College. There are three of of us at the college who are science fiction writers, so Dennis Green, Jed Petersen and I had a wonderful event. It was great.

Next, I journeyed to California. Chris Cornell, Karl Dandenell and I read at Fogcon and at Book Passage. I also had a good time hooking up with my agent Mary C. Moore.

As I write this, I’m at the TESOL conference in Chicago, so it has been a month of much traveling, and while I’ve been having a wonderful time getting out and about, I’m ready to stay home for a while.


Writing-wise, I’ve been pinning down my first draft of my middle-grade hopeful Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science. For those of you who have encountered Abby before, you can expect more encounters with the supernatural. Some of you also might remember Dr. Lila Blake from…places, and yes, she does make an appearance in this book. I am making steady progress. My fine beta readers are sending me feedback on The Pawn of Isis, which I’ll work on as soon as the Abby draft is in hand.


So, April. What’s happening in April? A whole lot of writing, and this event:

If you’re in Ankeny, Iowa, please come and see me. I’ll be selling The Vessel of Ra, and copies of The Abandoned Places Anthology from Shohola Press. Good stuff.

Fantastic History #1: What’s Different and Who Knows About It? by Kate Heartfield

Chopping books into finer and finer categories of sub-genre should never become a dogmatic exercise. But sometimes it can be helpful, as writers and as readers, to have a sense of a book’s internal logic. When I sit down to start planning a new historical fantasy, I ask myself: What’s different about the world, and who knows about it?

There’s something askew about the world I’m writing about, or it wouldn’t be speculative fiction. It’s our world, but different.
Next question: Who knows about this?

Option 1: Secret history. Only certain people know about the existence of magic or the supernatural element. It is not reported in the newspapers. World events unfold largely as they did in our own history. The fantastic element doesn’t change the course of our history, it explains it. The author’s invented plots happen behind closed doors, off the official record.

Option 2: Alternate history. Everyone knows about the fantastic element, whether it’s magic, or dragons, or sentient IKEA furniture. People talk about it at the breakfast table. The historical record is already different from our own, so anything’s possible.

An example of an alternate-history fantasy is The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, which posits a 20th-century Paris that has been ruined by a long magical war. An example of secret history is Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers, in which the existence of vampire-like creatures explains real events in the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite poets and artists of the 19th century.

You can have alternate history that isn’t fantasy. Alternate history answers the question, what if? What if the dodo never went extinct? What if Berlin was never divided? One great example of alternate history that doesn’t contain any supernatural elements is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, which considers what would have happened if the United States had provided land in Alaska for Jewish refugees during the Second World War. All the laws of physics still apply, in this kind of alternate history. The only speculative element there is at a meta-level, in the positing of a different timeline.

You can also have secret history that isn’t fantasy. In fact, most or all of what gets shelved as “historical fiction” falls into this category. All the big, documented events are unchanged, but the behind-the-scenes conversations may be invented, and to some extent, the characters and their motivations are the product of the writer’s imagination. If a minor plot point deviates from history, it’s for reasons of artistic license, not speculative world-building. Hilary Mantel’s brilliant book Wolf Hall is an example of secret history without fantastic elements. It tells the story of Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII.

I write both kinds of historical fantasy.

My first novel, Armed in Her Fashion, is coming out in May, 2018. It is very much an alternate history; early on, this line appears: “In the year of our Lord 1326, a woman drove the beast called Hell up to the surface of the Earth.”

My second novel, The Humours of Grub Street, is a secret history, scheduled for 2019 or 2020. It posits that real historical events in London in 1703 can be attributed to witchcraft, and that the true history has been kept secret.

Both approaches to historical fantasy—alternate and secret—have their appeal. Both explore the uncanny valley between the familiar and unfamiliar. In both cases, writers have to wrestle with how the supernatural affects the world. In alternate history, that often means applying the changes to the world itself. In secret history, that means coming up with reasons why the wider world hasn’t changed, despite the existence of the supernatural within it.

Alternate history reminds us how fragile history is. It illuminates the strangeness of real history by showing that our world might not be as different as we think. Take the magician Jonathan Strange’s rather fraught declaration (in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) that while a magician might be able to kill a man by magic, “a gentleman never could.” Even in a world where everything’s different, everything’s the same.

Secret history reminds us that the causes that move history are sometimes private and unseen. It illuminates the strangeness of history by showing that supernatural explanations are no weirder than real life: take, for example, Dante Gabriel Rossetti opening his wife’s grave to retrieve a book of poems, a real event that figures in Hide Me Among the Graves. Is it weirder to imagine that there was something supernatural going on, or that there wasn’t?


Kate Heartfield is a writer in Ottawa, Canada. Her first novel, a historical fantasy called Armed in Her Fashion, is coming from ChiZine Publications in May. Her interactive fiction based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Road to Canterbury, is coming this spring from Choice of Games. She has two time-travel novellas on the way from, and is the author of one novella in the collection Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World, from Abaddon Books. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Lackington’s, Strange Horizons and Podcastle. Website: Twitter: @kateheartfield

Unreliable Posts through 2-23-18

It’s been a while. I’ve been writing a book.

Here are yer podcast updates for a couple of months.

Author Spotlight: Damien Angelica Walters

To MFA or Not to MFA

Flash Fiction Online with Anna Yeatts

Things to Come

Nerd Fitness 101 with Ransom Noble

Author Spotlight: Caroline Stevermer

Who Said It?

Game Spotlight: Rosemary Claire Smith

Reading Challenge Results

Author Spotlight: Molly Tanzer

Riverdale and Sabrina

February 2018 Update

Hello everyone. I haven’t updated the blog since December, and I will now make an attempt to send you an update of what’s going on every month in my writerverse. Another way to get this information, albeit in slicker, glossier form, is to sign up for my newsletter, which I also hope to get to you every month. You can do this on the front page of my website. Just scroll down a little.

Unreliable Narrator slinks will also continue to be posted on the website.


First, I want to say that The Vessel of Ra is now available at local bookshops and Barnes and Noble. Ask for it by name. I’ll be working on getting around to some shops as soon as I can. I’m booked up through April right now, but we’re working on appearances. We’re also in the Baker and Taylor catalogue, so we can get the book into schools and libraries (and school libraries.)


So, where the hell have you been, you might ask. You might remember in December I suggested the best way for me to move forward was to write another book, so I have diligently been finishing The Pawn of Isis, which is with beta readers right now. I wanted to take a moment to say yes, I did that. I’m working on finishing Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science now, which is about half way through its first draft. I can say writing is progressing well, and I’ve gotten in the habit of laying down words every day.


I would like to mention I have a story appearing in the Abandoned Places Anthology coming out March 8th from Shohola Press. You can see details about that on the front page of the website. My entry there is “Mark Twain’s Daughter” which was originally published in Cucurbital 3. Big doings about that. Appearances and stuff. Read on.


This month, I’m going to be reading at my college, Kirkwood, with two other science fiction and fantasy authors, Dennis Green and Jed Quinn. If you’re local, you can come and hear us in Cedar Rapids on the main campus in Ballantyne auditorium, from 11:15-12:10. The reading is free and open to the public, and all of us will have books available for purchase after the event. I’ll be reading from The Vessel of Ra.

In March, I’m heading for California. I will be with the Shohola Press crew at Fogcon in Walnut Creek. Several of us will be reading Saturday March 10th from 8-9:15 pm. You do need to be part of the con to attend. There are also plans to do a reading at a local bookstore. I’ll throw those details down here as soon as I get them, but it’s going to be Monday, March 12th at Book Passage in San Francisco at 6 pm. On this trip I’ll be bringing along some Vessel of Ra swag. Hope to see you there.


So, that’s where we are. Next month I’ll chat a little about the trip, and where we’re at with Abigail Rath.

Game Plan 2018

I’ve been reading some books about marketing lately, because I am attempting to become more savvy in that direction. One of the books Mike Stop Continues suggested to me for a variety of reasons was 10 Step Self Publishing Boot Camp: The Survival Guide for Launching Your First Novel. It was a good book with a lot of material in it not only for the self-published, but my biggest takeaway from the book was the concept of big levers and small levers.

Levers are essentially Quinn’s analogies to what you can do to leverage sales of your book. I bet you’ll never guess what the biggest lever was. It was…


Yes. Okay. There are many small levers too. Connections are important. Social media is important. Advertising is important. But note, the most important thing.

So, that might explain why I haven’t been posting here quite so much…:D


With this in mind, I have been thinking about my approach to publishing. Some time ago, I decided my focus was to try to move forward, and my goal was to get an agent. Long time readers might remember my three-pronged attack: publish short stories, send out a novel, and ultimately self-publish something. Happily, I met that goal even though I never made it to the self-publish stage.

My current goals are working on two manuscripts: the sequel to The Vessel of Ra, called The Pawn of Isis, and working on a new middle grade book, Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science. I am deep into the second rewrite of Pawn, and half way through the first draft of Mad Science. My word count for the year, including revisions of Vessel a couple of short stories and a start on a YA Troll novel has been about 100K, my most productive year ever.

What does 2018 hold? I can tell you already that I have a short story appearing in a collection that a couple of friends are putting together as the first endeavor in their small press. It has always been a life goal to share a table of contents with Edgar Allen Poe, and they are going to make it a reality.

And for those of you who have been waiting for my werewolf Southern Iowa novella patiently, Paper Golem tells me that The Ground is Full of Teeth is going to be published in the first half of the year as part of Alembical 3. So that’s good news.

My new angle of attack will be three-pronged again. I will be giving up writing short stories. I will continue writing The Klaereon Scroll Series, as I want these books to all come out eventually. Abigail Rath will also be finished. If I can find the time, I would also like to write something for readers to access: maybe some Klaereon novellas, or a serial, something to tide them over during the wait for publication. Obviously, the two manuscripts are happening first.

So, I’m going to predominantly focus on the large lever. I will write here occasionally, post and update about events going on, and continue to have a blast with the other Unreliable Narrators. And I must admit that I am spending more time in real time with dear friends and hitting the gym and cooking well, getting in shape. Honestly, the only thing I would like is more devoted writing time and more energy left over when I have finished my professorial work for the day, but I hope getting into shape will help with some of that.

And…this is as close to New Year’s resolutions as you might get.

Post 17: Learning about Book Catalogs

One of the interesting things that all authors need to think about is the availability of their books for a variety of distribution purposes. Since my book was published in September, I have learned a great deal about how books are distributed in places like libraries and book stores, and have thought a lot about balancing the issues of profit over exposure. While I can safely say this information is very 101, still I wish I’d had this knowledge a little earlier in the process of organizing my book tours and appearances, as it would have been very helpful. Every author’s situation has a few variables, so I’m just gonna walk you through a few details and not make any recommendations.

Createspace: Amazon’s print appendage, CreateSpace is a great place to order books that are posted electronically on Amazon, and have been published by Amazon. Some small presses and self-pubbed authors choose CreateSpace because they feel it is the easiest option for them regarding convenience and set up. A disadvantage of using CreateSpace is that most bookstores, indie and big box, see Amazon as competition. You can print books via CreateSpace and sell them as consignments in bookstores, but bookstores will not order them for you for signings or events.

Ingram: Many small presses and most large publishers are in the Ingram catalog. Bookstores of all stripes order from Ingram for signings and events. Self-pub authors can also use Ingram for printing instead of CreateSpace through various options.

Baker and Taylor: Libraries order books through the Baker and Taylor catalog. If you want a book to be available at public institutions or in schools, this is a catalog you want to be in.

Obviously, you can be listed in more than one catalog. I am currently available via CreateSpace, and I will be available in Ingram.


Now, to talk a little shop regarding royalties and profits. One of the things my publisher does is to allow me to purchase printed books at a reduced rate, and I see fifty percent of the profit from my books. However, these books do not apply toward my royalties. Further, unless a bookstore orders my book through the Ingram catalog, my book is sold on commission, reducing my profit substantially. It seems that the best venue for CreateSpace authors to sell might not be bookstores, but rather conventions and book events. In these scenarios, my publisher and I benefit, because we both receive maximum royalties.

Bookstores benefit from ordering through the Ingram catalog. Being in the Ingram catalog is important for exposure and organizing events for bookstores, so if you are the kind of author who has always fantasized about the book tour, you definitely want your self-pubbed book or small press to have a presence in Ingram. Books sold through Ingram count in regard to royalties, and since being in bookstores logically increases your exposure, even when you are not present, it is a good move. Bookstores have the advantage here, as books may be returned to publishers if they don’t sell, but publishers may have a distinct disadvantage, depending on how well a book sells.

Some publishers, such as, have begun experimenting with a kind of hybrid approach called Print On Demand. CreateSpace is fully print on demand for Amazon customers, but again, the rivalry between the physical and the virtual bookstore looms large. However, if you are in Ingram, and a bookstore wants to forego the risk of having books of an author that don’t sell, a book can be ordered and shipped again. What you lose there, of course, is the casual buyer who will be captivated by your cover when they know nothing about you.

Is there an ideal solution? It sort of depends on what you’re looking for as a publisher, an author, a library, or a bookstore. I mean, for me, I’d like to be in all three catalogs, and be wildly successful, so no one lost money on my books. This is what we should all shoot for. 😀 But this isn’t what we usually get as first time authors.

All that said, you should buy my book. Somewhere.