While writing An Unlikely
Suitor, I drew on my roots...I grew up in a sewing household. My mother made clothes for herself and three daughters. I didn't have a store-bought dress until I was in high school. Prom dresses, wool coats, and even our wedding dresses were sewn by my mother. My sister remembers her prom date having to wait while Mom finished sewing her a matching wrap for her dress. Mom is the one who taught us to do our own designing too. It wasn't unusual to take the sleeves from one pattern, the skirt from another, and the collar from a third. My first two jobs were as a clerk in a fabric store and my first big purchase was buying myself a Pfaff sewing machine--which I still use forty years later.
That background explains my interest in dressmakers of the Gilded Age (the last few decades of the 19th century.) Yet sewing a dress nowadays is nothing compared to creating one of the intricate dresses of that era. It's the difference between making a cake from a boxed mix and adding a canister of ready-made frosting, or creating a four-tier wedding cake from scratch, with fondant frosting, lacework, Marzipan flowers, and edible pearls and beads.
Yet the seamstresses of 1895 were not that different from seamstresses today. Both learned from experience and were taught-by-doing--my preferred way to learn anything. I admire the Scarpelli women in my novel for their work ethic, and I reveled in being able to move them from a dingy sweatshop, to a fancy dress emporium, to the halls of Newport's finest homes, where they were set free to fully use their talents.
I love stories about immigrants who came to America. Their pluck, courage, and determination inspire me. Where did your ancestors come from? What made them leave their homeland behind, to take a chance, to start over? What are their stories of failure and success? Of dreams abandoned and achieved?
Fortunes were made in America; lost, and made again. Some were huge and boggled the mind. Consider the "cottages" of the rich in Newport. The Breakers, which is the location of the climax of An Unlikely Suitor
, has 65,000 square feet of living space. The average size of an American home today is 2,300 square feet, which means twenty-eight houses could fit into this single-family "cottage."
What an exciting place for two poor seamstresses and a crippled heiress to find love. And friendship. And purpose. And yet, the grand mansions in Newport weren't the real setting for Lucy, Sofia, and Rowena to experience their revelations and growth. Newport's Cliff Walk, that path edging the mansions and the ocean, inspired like no creation of man could ever do. Go ask the sunrise . . . Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139: 7-10
Today I urge you to take a few minutes from your busy life and go outside. Seek a place of the
Creator's design where His hand will hold you fast and guide you toward love, friendship, and your