featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Today we have with us a very special guest. Grace Kone, who writes as Blair Bancroft, talking about the fashion of bygone days. Grace began her writing career the year the Internet was born—1991, the year of the first Gulf War. Alas, the Internet has become considerably more famous and influential, but she can claim a Golden Heart win, a RITA final, a Best Regency award from Romantic Times, a Best Romance award from the Florida Writers’ Association, and two nominations for an EPPIE, plus a great many four- and five-star reviews.

After nine published print books and eight books presented by major e-publishers, Blair plunged into indie publishing  in the winter of 2011, uploading a good deal of her backlist and beginning to add new titles in 2012. Blair has been an advocate of online publishing (as long as it’s done with professionalism) since her first e-book came out in 1999 and an enthusiastic proponent for the freedom of Do It Yourself. [She considers e-readers one of the great boons to mankind, thank you very much, Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek.)]. She looks forward to another twenty years of writing and at least as many new books. Currently available online are nineteen Blair Bancroft books, ranging from traditional Regencies to Suspense, Mystery, and Steampunk.

Footnote: the mother mentioned in today’s blog as the source of Grace/Blair’s costuming interest would later become well-known as the children’s book author, Wilma Pitchford Hays. Grace never even thought of being a writer until later in life, as it never occurred to her you could have two writers in the same family!

Read more about Grace/Blair at her website and blog.
-- AP
Sleuth in a Costume Shop
I have been blogging about Craft for eighteen months now. The craft of writing, that is. When it comes to the crafts presented by Anastasia Pollack, I blush. I study the instructions she so graciously shares, and my mind boggles. Beyond an occasional hand puppet for the grand girls, I confine my craft suggestions to the nuts and bolts of romance writing, to those who think a tag is a game, a hook for fishing, and presentation doesn’t count.

So what am I doing on these pages?

Once upon a time I was adept at another craft: creating costumes. And after following a serpentine path of remembrance through several careers, I discovered how very much the craft of costume creation has affected my life. So much so, I recently began a mystery series set in a costume shop, a shop where many of the “costumes” are simply the fashions of bygone eras. From the flowing lines of Grecian gowns to Fair Maidens in veils and Knights in dagged surcoats. From Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Scarlett and Rhett, bustles, frock coats, and—oh, joy—the great rebellion of the Twenties, when women threw away their corsets, cut their hair, shortened their skirts, and thumbed their noses at thousands of years of female fashion.

We often talk about the debt we owe the Suffragettes, but what about all those ordinary girls who defied convention to make the Twenties resonate through modern history? And, yes, Twenties outfits— from flappers and pearls to striped suit jackets, fedoras, and tommy guns (plastic, I assure you)—were the most popular outfits in DreamWeaver - Costumes & Creations, the costume shop I once owned and managed. And for which I created more than eighty-five percent of the costumes.

So it should come as no surprise when my heroine in Death by Marriage, a mystery I call a “not quite cozy,” opens a costume rental business called DreamWear - Costumes & Creations.  But how on earth did someone who majored in Music Education with a Minor in Voice (and sang professionally for twenty years, including touring with The Sound of Music) end up with a costume shop?

I believe it all goes back to my mother, who for some mysterious reason directed plays in our small Connecticut town. Which led to people giving her a whole slew of Victorian and Edwardian outfits found in their attics. Plus a few homemade pirate and gypsy costumes, circa 1900-1930. The most spectacular of these was an elaborately embroidered kidskin cape with silk ruffles and gold filigree tassels, so stunning I gave it up only five years ago when I moved to a smaller house in Orlando, gifting it to the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, which accepted it with awe.

What a time I had growing up with all those “costumes” to parade around in. So it’s no wonder that even as I performed on stage in college theater and opera, I was also in the costume room, helping out. I recall one memorable night when the costumer collapsed just before an opera performance in Boston and the director asked me to take care of all the last-minute emergencies.  So how could I not come back to it decades later? I loved those years in the costume shop, but when my husband became an invalid and I was confined to the role of caretaker, I made the big switch to writing.

And, naturally, where else to set a mystery but a costume shop?

To close these nostalgic moments of remembrance, I offer a challenge. Take a good look at what you’re wearing, or at what you wear the next time you dress up for some grand event. Will that outfit, like those poodle skirts from the Fifties, rate space on some future costume shop rack? Will future generations think it great fun to wear the styles of the first two decades of the 21st century ? Or will they, like the fashions of the sad Thirties, the war-filled Forties, and the grunge-look of the Nineties, be ignored, while the glitz of the Eighties and the Steampunk fashions of the past decade stay bright?

You’re thinking: sweat pants and sneakers at a costume party? Well, maybe not. But who knows what the future will bring? I’ve been around long enough to know it can be mind-boggling. Will today’s fashions be tomorrow’s costumes? Only time will tell.
Thank you for allowing my whimsy into your life today.

And thank you for joining us today, Grace! -- AP


Kathleen Kaska said...

What fun growing up in a costume shop and turning that experience into a mystery series. Part of my research for my 1950s mystery series involves looking at fashions for both men and women during that decade. My protagonist often dresses in disguise and this is great fun for me to write. I'll check out your series, Tessa.
Thanks, Lois, for always introducing me to new writers.

Susie said...

I grew up in that costume shop! (I'm Grace/Blair's daughter). I helped make the feather mask's that the Dreamweaver sold and managed the place between college semesters. She really made amaaaazzzingly detailed costumes that people really appreciated. Way to go Mom, oh, and Happy Birthday today!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

What an interesting background you have! A costume shop can be a fun place or a creepy place, depending on your setting details. It's truly an artistic talent to be able to create costumes.

Grace said...

What a surprise to see a post from Susie. And thanks to all other posters as well. Writing this blog really brought back nostalgic memories of my days as a costumer. Thanks for stopping by.

Shelley said...

Having a theater/dance background, I think a costume shop is a wonderful setting for a mystery series.

Pa Ul said...

lovely post this is, want to guest blog post?