October 1, 2012

The Best and Worst of Being a Writer

by Caroline Clemmons

 One of my favorite Charles Dickens works is TALE OF TWO CITIES. If you’ve forgotten, it begins “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Those lines describe a lot of life, don’t they?  They remind me of research. Writing, especially historic novels, requires extensive research. This is the worst because of the time involved. This is the best because those of us who write about history love, love, love researching our time period.

For instance, I am writing the third of my Men of Stone Mountain series, BLUEBONNET BRIDE. My heroine, Rose, wants to use a sewing machine she discovers in the home she’d just purchased in 1872 Texas. Is it a hand- crank machine or treadle? What kind of machine is it? Does it have a nice cabinet? What does it look like? 

We live in a wonderful age, so I didn’t have to stop writing, change clothes, do my makeup, curl my hair, or drive anywhere. I own a reproduction 1897 Sears Catalog, but that is way too late for this series. So, I relied on the handy-dandy internet. Fortunately, there was plenty of information, complete with photos.  

Imagine my surprise to learn that a good product does not necessarily equate success. The first functional sewing machine was invented by the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1830. Thimonnier's machine used only one thread and a hooked needle that made the same chain stitch used with embroidery. Sounds good, but not for him. The inventor was almost killed by an enraged group of French tailors who burnt down his garment factory because they feared unemployment as a result of his new invention!

Despite a further flurry of minor inventions in the 1840s, most Americans will claim that the sewing machine was invented by Massachusetts farmer Elias Howe who completed his first prototype in 1844. Yet perhaps the essentials of a modern machine had come together in early 1844 when Englishman John Fisher invented a machine which, although designed for the production of lace, was essentially a working sewing machine. [Possibly because of miss-filing at the patent office, this invention was overlooked during the long legal arguments between Singer and Howe as to the origins of the sewing machine.]


Howe’s was patented in 1845 and Howe set about trying to interest the tailoring trade in his invention. He even arranged a competition with his machine set against the finest hand sewers in America. The machine won hands down but the world wasn't ready for mechanized sewing or its hefty $300 price tag. Despite months of demonstrations, he had still not made a single sale.


After failing to sell his machine in America, Howe tried England. Corset maker William Thomas eventually bought the rights to the invention for £250 and arranged for Elias to come to London to further develop the machine. The two did not work well together, each accusing the other of failing to honor agreements and eventually Elias, now almost penniless, returned to America.


When he arrived home he found that the sewing machine had finally caught on and that dozens of manufacturers, including Singer, were busy manufacturing machines--all of which defied the Howe patents. Howe sued Singer for patent infringement using funds from a mortgage taken out on his father’s farm. In 1854, eight years after patenting his sewing machine, Howe was victorious in defending his rights to the lockstitch. He won his patent lawsuit against Singer. All companies that were using his invention were now forced to pay him royalties.

Sewing machines did not go into mass production until the 1850's, when Isaac Singer built the first commercially successful machine. Singer built the first sewing machine where the needle moved up and down rather than side-to-side and the needle was powered by a foot treadle. Previous machines were all hand-cranked. Woo Hoo, this was the information I needed! But, being addicted to research, I couldn’t stop reading.


When most of us think of sewing machines, we probably think of Singer. I learned that the real development Isaac Singer made was the credit payment plan, what he called the hire-purchase, where a customer could buy the machine and use it while paying for it. I had erroneously thought the “buy now, pay later” system was a modern thing, like credit cards. Nope, Singer came up with it. In fact, Singer did not invent any notable sewing-machine advances, but he pioneered the hire-purchase system and aggressive sales tactics. Both Singer and his competitor-turned partner, the formerly penniless Howe, ended their days as multi-millionaires. I love a happy ending, don’t you?

Since I do, let me tell you about my new release, HIGH STAKES BRIDE, Men of Stone Mountain, Book Two. I guarantee a happy ending. The fun is discovering how we get there, isn’t it? Here’s the book’s blurb:


Mary Alice Price is on the run from dangerous men. She had known that when her stepfather died, she would have to hurriedly escape her stepbrothers. Hadn’t she heard them promise her to the meanest man in Texas as payment for high stakes gambling losses? One misfortune after another devils her until she links up with Zach Stone. He looks sturdy as his last name and invites her to his ranch where his two aunts will chaperone them. She figures life finally dealt her a winning hand.

Zach Stone has the sweetest ranch in all of Texas, at least he thinks he does. All he needs is a wife to build his family of boys and girls to carry on his ranch and name. He’s been jilted and vows he will never even speak to a woman again unless she's a relative. Then he comes across Alice Price and comes up with a crazy plan. He’s figured everything out, and is sure nothing can go wrong with his plan.  

But life holds surprises for Alice and Zach... 

Here’s an excerpt: 

Zach slipped into the bedroll and waited, pistol in hand. He feigned sleep, wondering what kind of man tarried nearby. Whoever it was could have picked Zach off, so the sidewinder must not have murder on his mind.

Probably up to no good hiding out like that, though, because any Westerner would share his campfire and vittles with anyone who rode into camp. Zach wriggled into a comfortable spot and lay motionless. Anger at recent events helped him remain awake.

The footfalls came so softly he almost missed them. He opened his eyes a slit, but enough to see a thin shadow move toward the fire. About then heavy clouds overhead parted and the moonlight revealed a boy who scooped up a slice of bacon and slid it into his mouth.

The culprit set Zach’s tin plate on the ground near the fire, ladled beans into it, and picked up a fork. He squatted down and balanced the plate on his knees before he commenced eating. Zach noticed he kept his left hand in his pocket the whole time.

Something must be wrong with the thief’s left arm.  Looked too young for it to have been a casualty of the War. Lots of other ways to get hurt out here. Whatever had happened to his left arm, his right one worked well enough. He forked food into his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in a week.

Zach let him shovel beans for a few minutes. Crook or not, anyone that hungry deserved a meal. When the kid stopped eating, Zach couldn’t figure out what he was doing.  It looked as if he used the fork to scratch around on the ground, so he must have eaten his fill. Zach slipped his hand from beneath the cover and cocked the pistol.

“Hold it right there, son. I’d like to know why you’re eating without at least a howdy to the man who provided the food.”

The boy paused, then set the plate down slowly. “I left money here on a rock to pay for it.”

Odd sounding voice, but the kid was probably scared. Zach slipped from his bedroll and stood, but kept his gun pointed at the food robber. “Maybe.”

Zach walked toward the kid, careful to train his gaze so the firelight didn’t dim his eyesight. Sure enough, he spotted a couple of coins on the rock beside his pot of beans, or what remained of them, and his empty plate.

He faced the intruder. “Why not just come into camp earlier instead of sneaking in after you thought I was asleep?”

“I—I was afraid you weren’t friendly.”

Zach thought he also heard the kid mutter what sounded like “...or maybe too friendly.” Must be the wind, he thought, as he neared the boy.

Zach motioned with his free hand. “I don’t begrudge anyone food, but I hate dishonesty and sneaking around.  Stand up so I can see you.”

The kid stood, hat low over his face and his good hand clenched.

Zach reached to push the brim back. “What’s your name?”

The kid stepped forward. “None of your business, mister.”

A fistful of sand hit Zach’s face. He heard his assailant run. Mad as the devil, Zach brushed grit from his eyes and set out in pursuit. The kid was fast, he’d give him that, but so was Zach. His longer legs narrowed the distance between them.  With a running lunge, he tackled the kid.

“Oof. Let me go.” The lad was all wriggles and kicking feet as he squirmed trying to escape.

Zach wasn’t about to let that happen. They rolled in the dirt. In one move Zach pinned the boy’s good arm. The hat fell aside and a mass of curls spilled around the kid’s face.

His jacket parted and unmistakable curves pushed upward where Zach’s other hand rested. Zach stared in disbelief. Registering his hand pressed against a heavenly mound shocked him and he jerked his paw away.

“Well, I’ll be damned. You’re not a boy.”


Did that capture your interest? I hope so. Here are the buy links: 


Thanks to Anna Kathryn for having me as her guest today.
Thanks to you, readers, for stopping by!


Caroline Clemmons lives in North Central Texas with her personal hero husband and a menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls, genealogy, and an occasional nap. You can learn more about her at www.carolineclemmons.com or stop by her blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com.








Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks for having me, Anna Kathryn.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog about sewing machines. What great info! I'll keep it in mind for future reference.

High Stakes Bride sounds like a fun read. Yummy cover!

Jacquie Rogers said...

This is great information, Caroline! I always learn something from your posts, and of course I'm dying to read your new book!

Rinelle Grey said...

Fascinating stuff about the sewing machines! I learnt to sew on my grandma's old treadle sewing machine, and I still have it in my garage somewhere.

The snip was great too!

Paty Jager said...

Caroline, Great information and a fun excerpt.

Geri said...

Carolyn, who knew? I never go near sewing machines. Since I can't draw, walk or write a straight line, I figured it a waste of time. Then came 9th grade and I had to take Home Economics and half of it was sewing. The skirt I made never made it to the finish line. My teacher was so sick of me ripping out stitches, she told me to forget it and she'd give me a passing grade. :)
Geri Foster