Well, it's been a LOOONG time since I've been down here--but I've got a new book to tell you about that's worth the wait! When you write the naughty ghost stories, you meet writers of all manner of interesting fiction. One of the smartest, funniest, deepest authors of romance I know is Katherine Wyverne, and she's got a new book out called A MUSE TO LIVE FOR. I'm just dipping into it now, and it's fascinating. So I'm turning the blog over to her today!
So, without further ado, here's the author herself!
A Muse to Live For is the third installment in my loosely interconnected “transgender trilogy”, which includes also Woman as a Foreign Language and Spice & Vanilla. While WaaFL and S&V are very obviously connected (they have two characters in common), the threads connection Spice to Muse are much subtler, so much so that I consider it almost a game with my readers to find them.
Unlike the other two books, which are Contemporary Romance, Muse takes a plunge back into the past and is set in the 1880s.
This is part of why it took me so long to write it (almost a year, on and off). Much as I am familiar with Victorian England from having read so much Dickens, and Conan Doyle, and the Brontë sisters, and a number of other books written or set in that period, whenever one begins to write, one discovers how many details they are still missing. How much did a shave cost? How did you ride a cab? Where would a poor Irish immigrant likely live? How do you wear a bustle dress? How do you fix one if it’s worn?
It became so fascinating to research all these things (and much more) that I spent more time in Victorian London than I had ever intended, and once more, a short story became a novel (story of my life).
The main reason for choosing a period setting however was not the fancy costumes and moody atmosphere, but a desire to write a story about an artist of that amazing period, when the Pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists and the Impressionists were changing the face of art, and to write a transgender character before transgender became a thing, before there were any labels or any sense of belonging to a group.
It is the deepest trip I ever took into the emotions of any two characters, through obsession, depression, love and wonderful fulfilment, and both characters have some autobiographic relevance to me. It’s my favorite story to date.
And here's an excerpt!
There is this to be said for my profession.
I can sleep in.
That unspeakable time of day, the early hours of the morning, when the whole world trudges along the streets with dead eyes and heavy feet, on to another day of toil, is spared to me.
I see the tiredness of the world at the other end of the day. But by then it’s dark, and there is not much to see, and the tiredness has a different flavor. To me, that’s mostly the flavor of a man’s spendings, which I mostly spit on the pavement. You get used to it. You get used to almost anything, given time.
Darkness or no, I must be seen of course. I am the one in the stolen foggy spotlight of the lamppost’s golden halo. But the darkness outside stares back blankly, and mostly I like it that way. I have seen enough of the world to last me a lifetime. My business needs the night, in any case.
I wish I could say my bed is warm and comfortable, but mostly it’s lumpy, damp, and cold. But it’s mine and quiet, here at the top of the silent house. If you’d ever spent any time at all in the slums of Whitechapel, you’d know this is downright luxurious.
Mrs. Gride doesn’t like noise. She says it makes her temples ache, which is all stuff of course, but still, we all creep about as quiet as mice. No, much quieter than mice. They do not listen to Mrs. Gride’s injunctions about walking along the drugget, talking in a low voice and making no sounds. I can hear them chewing and scrabbling behind panels and wainscots at night, when the house sleeps, and I come home to my lonely room. Usually they are the only ones to welcome me back. I’m always the last one to return. I feel a bond of likeness with them. We all live at the edge, behind screens. It doesn’t stop me from throwing shoes at them when they cross the room too boldly, or go close to my wardrobe. I have little enough as it is. The mice will have to nest elsewhere. I am not a charity institution after all.
In the morning the bed has a narrow strip of warmth in the middle, a stripe exactly as wide as my body, and I must not move, lest I stray on the flabby, cold linen outside, but still, eventually I find the nerve to reach out and fetch my cigarettes, and light the first of the day. I smoke it in bed, my one and only indulgence. I have become adept at smoking in bed without shedding ashes on the sheets or setting myself on fire.
I watch the thin, ghostly, white smoke curling and floating towards the pale grey skylight, swirling into a puff of breath. It’s likely to be the most beautiful thing I’ll see all day.
I have a small pile of work to do for the girls downstairs, so I finally heave myself out of bed. I don’t ask money for these small jobs. By tacit agreement, I help out, and the girls close an eye on my strangeness. It works very well for all involved.
Later, much later, in the light of a single candle, I shave at my little mirror (an evening ritual, for those like me). As usual I give fervent thanks that nature hardly gave me any beard to shave. Then I shed my trousers and my waistcoat and my shirt and wear my other things.
The stockings, which need mending again, but will do for one more night, in the dark. A small chemise. Then I put on my boots, with small heels and about a thousand fucking tiny buttons that are hell to work with stiff, cold fingers. They are old, second-hand or third, like everything I own, but well-greased and waxed and buffed to a sheen. It’s cold out there, and wet.
And then my tight, tight corset. It needs some fancy bending to lace it up by myself, but I am limber. I pull the laces as tight as I can around my waist, feeling the shape of me change, like some creatures are said to change in the light of a full moon. The core of the corset is whalebone and steel, stiff like armor. It knows my true shape better than my body does. It hardly needs padding at the chest, hard as it is, but it suits me to pad it anyway, for the weight of it, with two silk cravats I keep for the purpose, so old, worn so soft by use, so waxy with the damp of my skin, that they almost melt to my chest. My skin is all tingling now, and it’s not the cold. Silk and steel hug me so close, so much tighter than my day clothes. I am almost naked, and yet every bit of me is more defined and clear, like I have come into sharper, truer focus in the searching eye of a telescope.
I paint my lashes and my eyelids, black and black, to make my eyes shine. I paint my lips red. That marks me as the whore I am, and I don’t mind.
I am what I am.
My wig hangs from the corner of the wardrobe. Freshly brushed, the blonde hair shines in the candlelight and waves like a ghost in the faint breeze as I open the wardrobe door. Maybe the ghost of the woman whose hair it is, who knows. She might well be dead. I don’t know what would be creepier, to wear the hair of a dead woman or the hair of a live one. Still, I’m stuck with the wig for now. I am not pleased with the color, which does not mix with my dark hair. But I got it almost cheap in Middlesex Street. It was the sort of bargain where nobody asks too many questions.
I wear my violet skirt over a small horsehair bustle and a blouse and tight bodice. I don’t button this all the way up, but I put on a shawl, for the cold. The wig, which in summer would hitch and sweat, is almost a comfort now. I look at my mirror one last time as I tie my hair in a loose chignon at the nape of my neck, and stab it through with a horn comb. No pins. I learned the hard way not to trust a man around a hairpin. The mirror is too small to see much. My pale face, the dark circles of my eyes, the red lips, the ghostly locks. All the rest I can only imagine.
But that is my life. Imagining myself, conjuring myself into existence … especially the parts that don’t fit in the narrow, narrow picture.
Intrigued? I was! Thanks, Katherine!
A MUSE TO LIVE FOR is an Evernight Editor's Pick, and here's where you can buy it--
Find A Muse to Live For at Evernight.
Or on Amazon.
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Or follow her on Instagram @katherinewyvern