How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

I’ve been blogging a lot lately, just not here on WordPress. I’ve been using Pinterest and Tumblr for quick posts. The interfaces are simple, and the stakes are low because not a lot of people follow me there.

What am I blogging about? Well, they aren’t “essay-like” blog posts, as you are used to here. These are more visual, like a bulletin board or scrapbook. Or they’re more utilitarian, like a ledger. That’s why I don’t think to share them here on the Big Thing.

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit at the Morgan Library on diaries. I was especially interested in how artists use them.

I spent a lot of time looking at the writing journal John Steinbeck kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Here’s a great post from Austin Kleon’s blog about that.

steinbeckI want to hold myself accountable, too, like Steinbeck did. That’s why I started this little Tumblr blog called Every Day I Write the Book.

I also use Tumblr (and Pinterest) like scrapbooks. A place to archive the images and maps I find.

Sometimes I just reblog a picture.

Sometimes I add a picture to a scrapbook I keep for Linda.

Sometimes I make digital scrapbooks comprised of images and maps of one particular place, like Villa Trianon.

The pages I’ve been writing this week are set at Villa Trianon, and I look at these pictures to sort of “will” myself into that time and place.

exterior villa

I suppose it’s no different from cutting something out of a magazine and pasting it down so that you can go back and look at it later.

If you’ve seen Somewhere in Time, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I do more than just clip images. I actually start writing about what they mean to me. Proto blog posts. Like this one on the so-called “classic” look.

In this article, Edwidge Danticat talks about how she creates bulletin boards so that she can see her ideas and the images that inspire her, as well as the overall plot structure.

That’s what I’m doing, too, I guess, except my bulletin board is digital. And share-able.

But this research can’t overtake the actual writing. Instead, I play with my bulletin board/scrapbooks as a way into the writing or when it’s time to take a break from writing–instead of smoking. (The urge to do so has been strong lately for some reason.)

I’ve also been watching period dramas to keep myself thinking in the past.

  • A Room with a View, both the 2007 and 1986 versions
  • Ridicule
  • Austenland
  • My Immortal Beloved
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • A Royal Affair
  • The King’s Speech
  • Agora

Another way that I will myself into the past isn’t digital at all. I read books that were published at the time I’m writing about. Right now, I’m reading a novel by the Duchess of Sutherland, who was a friend of Linda’s. It’s not very good, but the book smells old, the details are marvelous, and it definitely transports me into that milieu.


If you have any other suggestions for me, let me know. Good luck with your own writing projects. Thanks, as always, for reading.

[And so ends today’s writing warm ups. Time to start writing for real.]

I was doing a little research the other day on Linda Porter’s very public divorce from her first husband. Here are some clippings (posted on my Tumblr) that tell the whole sordid story.

Further evidence of the fame and notoriety Linda brought with her into her marriage to Cole, who was pretty much a nobody when they met.

Back to the book…

P.S. This is the first blog post I’ve ever done from my phone. 

Thirteen years later…

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

Birthday Cake with Number 13 Lit CandlesThree years ago, I wrote this post for my novel-writing students about my progress on my book about Linda Porter. At that point it had been 10 years. Sigh.

Finals are over. I’m back to the novel. I’ve got about 300 pages at this point. I’m not sure how many more I’m going to need because I haven’t made up my mind where to end it. I’ve got a notion. We’ll see if it works!

I’m going to try and go off the grid for awhile so I can get a lot of work done during May and June. Emphasis on “try.”

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy reading this old post about the circuitous route writing a novel can take. May it inspire you to keep going with your own baggy monster.

Thinking Like Edith Wharton

Thinking Like Edith Wharton

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

For the last few years, I’ve had Edith Wharton on the brain.

See, I’m writing a book about the life of Linda Lee Thomas Porter, best known as the wife of Cole Porter. But before she was his wife, she was married for eleven years to the son of a robber baron/industrialist named Ned Thomas.

So: what’s the connection between Linda and Edith Wharton? Continue reading

For Cole Porter’s Birthday: My Personal Playlist

For Cole Porter’s Birthday: My Personal Playlist

Mrs. Cole Porter

If you think this is going to be all You’re the Toppy, ha! think again.


Miss Otis Regrets

[Follow the title links to hear the songs!] Supposedly, Cole Porter wrote this hilariously maudlin song on a dare: his friend Monty Wooley gave him the worst title he could think of and challenged him to make a song out of it. This was the result. It’s a “story song,” told by Miss Otis’ maid or butler (depending on the gender of the singer), and the plot is reminiscent of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I’ve linked to a particularly amusing rendition of the song performed live by Fred Astaire. Continue reading

Add it Up

Add it Up

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

“Wait a minute honey, I’m gonna add it up…” — The Violent Femmes 

Everyone gets their picture taken at the John Harvard statue, so I did, too.

I just spent a month thinking and writing and reading and researching. I lived like a monk, haunting the libraries, completely focused. There were no distractions other than the ones I created for myself. Do you know what it’s like, someone giving you money to think about something for a month? I’ll tell you what it’s like: it’s pretty freaking awesome.

This is what I accomplished:

For my novel-in-progress:

I wrote two new chapters (25 pages) and completed a 10-page synopsis.

For my nonfiction project (for which I got the funding):

I read and/or reviewed 16 books and 15 articles or book chapters. I generated 100 pages of notes. Single spaced. I took 400 digital photographs of Linda Porter’s scrapbook pages. There are 86 volumes of her scrapbooks at the Houghton, and I reviewed all but a few of them, along with scrapbooks belonging to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Eliot Norton, and Josephine Prescott Peabody, just to name a few. I also interviewed Daren Bascome, who owns his own branding business, Proverb.

How was this idyll made possible?

  • I received a Beatrice, Benjamin and Richard Bader Fellowship in the Visual Arts of the Theatre from the Houghton Library at Harvard University and an ASPiRE Research Grant from Ball State University. Thank you.
  • My colleagues at Ball State Tony Edmonds, Robert Habich, Mark Neely, Rai Peterson, Elizabeth Riddle, and Joe Trimmer looked over my proposal and/or showed me their own research proposals. Thank you.
  • My husband Eric Kroczek took care of everything during the month I spent hammering out these proposals, and he took care of everything during the time I spent at the Houghton Library. Thank you.

And because I couldn’t work all the time, I took breaks with my former TCNJ colleague Michael Robertson, my old college chum Karen DeTemple, and my new writer friend, Lise Haines. It was also great to meet Elizabeth Searle, who was kind enough to let me sit with her at a production of Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera, one of the funniest and saddest and most wonderful things I’ve witnessed in quite some time.

A typical day included 6-9 hours in the Houghton Library reading room, a very pleasant place to spend the day, especially when it’s 100 degrees outside. To save money, I’d bring something to nibble on outside rather than go out for lunch. Some days, I’d go to the Lamont or the Widener libraries to work and write, and a few days (not very many), I never left my little studio apartment. In the evenings, I found that I couldn’t read. I think the human brain can only absorb so many words in a day. So, I watched a lot of BBC and Masterpiece Classic series on Netflix or YouTube. My favorites were North and South (based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Civil War) and Daniel Deronda. Many thanks to the Facebook group British Period Drama for the daily suggestions.

It was a great month. And now I return to real life with a purse full of receipts for the other kind of accounting that I will no doubt have to do.

Midnight in Paris & Fantasy Linda

Midnight in Paris & Fantasy Linda

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

A sincere thank you to everyone who wrote me to make sure I knew about Midnight in Paris. This is the conversation I imagined having with all of you about the movie.

Hey, you said, do you know that Cole Porter is a character in this new Woody Allen film?

Yes, I do know this.

Continue reading

Linda Died 57 Years Ago Today

Linda Died 57 Years Ago Today

Mrs. Cole Porter The Biggest Things Writing

Note: If you’d like to follow the progress of my book, follow Linda on Twitter, @MrsColePorter. Believe me, if Linda were alive today, she would totally use Twitter.

Linda Lee Thomas Porter died on this day, May 20, 1954. She died in her apartment in the Waldorf Towers after a long battle with emphysema.

Linda described her illness as “smothering spells.” Imagine that: smothering to death over the course of a decade. She once said, “I suppose I shouldn’t want to stop coughing as I have coughed for so many years, if I stopped, the shock might kill me.” Continue reading