Category Archives: Kari Bovee

Writer’s Process Blog Tour

Greetings! I’ve been tagged in The Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend and fellow LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) sister, 2014 Golden Heart®finalist, Shelly Alexander to tell you about my process in writing a novel.

Process is one of the things I love to talk about with other writers. I love to hear about what makes them tick and how they get their stories down on paper, or on the computer screen. Some writers are pantsers, they sit down and let their fingers fly, telling those stories by the seat of their pants. Others are plotters, with pages and pages of scenes, dialogues, outlines, beginnings and endings. I fall somewhere in between. I like to think of myself as a puzzler. I start with a plan, an outline – the frame of the puzzle – and then I add the pieces, usually in a linear fashion. This is the way I work actual jigsaw puzzles. I start with the outer frame and then work from the top down, filling in the pieces.

As a part of the blog tour, here are four questions every writer must answer:

What am I working on right now?

I am working on the first book of a three book series titled Waiting In The Wings. The story is a historical mystery and takes place in 1917, New York City, in the glamorous, glittering world of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Here’s my pitch:

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle - Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star
One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle – Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

Grace Michelle, an introverted, aspiring costume designer in the Ziegfeld Follies, 1917, has everything she wants; pretty good for an orphan who once lived on the streets of New York City. When her sister, Sophia, the star of the show is murdered, Grace’s protected, comfortable life is shattered. She must step into the Broadway spotlight as Ziegfeld’s newest star to find her sister’s killer. When she discloses a secret from their past, Grace becomes a target and soon discovers the horrific truth about Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who raised her as a daughter.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to take real life characters from the past and breathe new life into them. I am particularly drawn to smart, strong women who were mavericks of their time. Although Grace is a fictional character, she is comprised of many of the women I researched for this novel. Some were actresses and some worked behind the scenes. Many of my secondary characters are real people who worked for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway from 1917 -1920. And, of course, the man himself, Florenz Ziegfeld has a starring role in my story.

It was fun for me to learn as much about these iconic figures as I could and then recreate their adventures (in pursuit of fame and fortune) in the theater and on the road. I like working within the confines of history, but expanding on that history and as I imagine what could have happened. After all, as writers, aren’t we all asking that BIG question, what if?

Why do I write what I write?

I’ve always thought I should have been born in a different era. I am fascinated with certain periods in history and can actually visualize what my life would be during those times. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and in a few of those places I have had an intense, visceral, almost spiritual connection with my surroundings. And no, I don’t take drugs – it could be my overactive imagination, or maybe I really did live in those times and places. It’s all a part of the cosmic question, who are we?

How does my writing process work?

As a history buff, I absolutely love getting lost in research. I often take two to three months to research a historical person, place or event. Sometimes, I’ve even been lucky enough to travel where my story will take place.

Once I have a character and setting in mind, then I will start to form the story. I like to use a four-act structure I learned from Lisa Miller’s Story Structure Safari class, comprised of the set up, the response, the attack and then the resolution. Once I figure out vital story components such as the Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, etc, then I start to outline scenes. I use sticky notes on poster sized foam core boards. On each sticky note, I will jot down what I want that scene to be. I map out all the scenes in the story and then I sit down to write. Here’s where the puzzler part comes in. Often, as I write, my characters will say or do something I never expected – which can change the story line. If this happens (and I LOVE it when it does) I have to make the puzzle pieces different shapes to fit the new puzzle. My motto for writing and for life is: Always have a plan. If the plan changes, adjust and make a new plan!

Once I have a first draft, I walk away from it. Sometimes, I don’t look at it for weeks, months, maybe a year – or several – as it’s been for Waiting In The Wings. I am usually working on more than one book at a time, so the separation isn’t devastating. I think about my stories all the time.

Then come the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. I work with a fabulous critique partner and together we work to make our stories as perfect as we can. Sometimes I share my work with other writers and always, I share my work with readers (a select few, of course) because the reader is really the one who counts. At times, I’ve used a professional editor and the experience is invaluable. I highly recommend it!

So, that is my process – for now. Life and writing is full of change.

As writer’s we all have our own process and our own way of telling our stories. All are different and all are fascinating. I’d love to hear about yours!!

 

Little Sure Shot – Annie Oakley

Phoebe Ann Mosey, (or Moses) most commonly known as Annie Oakley, learned self-reliance at a young age. The family lived in a cabin near Greenville, Ohio where the winters could be treacherous. When she was six years old, her father left the home in a snow storm. When he returned he was grievously ill and died a few months later of pneumonia, leaving the family in a dire financial situation. Her mother married again but the finances did not improve. Unable to feed all seven of her children, Susan Mosey sent Annie and her older sister, Sarah Ellen, to the “poor farm” also known as the Darke County Infirmary. They were put in the care of the Superintendent and his wife, and Annie and Sarah learned housekeeping skills in addition to embroidery and sewing.

In the spring of 1870, Annie was “boarded out” to a family to help care for their son and help with household chores. The job would pay fifty cents a week and she was assured an education. The promises were not kept. Not much is known of this family and Annie never mentioned their names, but only referred to them as “the wolves.”  They were exceptionally cruel to their young charge and would often beat her or lock her in a closet. Once, when she fell asleep doing some darning, they punished her by throwing her out into the snow with no shoes for the night. After two years of abuse from “the wolves,” Annie escaped and found her way back to her mother, who was again widowed and remarried. The family was still living in poverty.

The only item that remained in the house belonging to Annie’s father was his shotgun. Longing for her father, Annie taught herself to shoot and started hunting game to help feed her family. She assuredly did not want to go back to the poor house! Word got out about Annie’s deadly aim and she soon started selling the game she killed to the locals in Greenville, as well as restaurants and hotels in Southern Ohio. Her birds were well sought after because Annie’s aim was so sure, she always hit the bird in the back of the head, thus leaving no shot pellets in the meat. By the time she was fifteen years old, Annie had made enough money to pay off the mortgage on the family farm.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act came to Cincinnati. Shooting was a popular past time and shooting contests were the perfect way for people to showcase their talents. Frank Butler, the traveling show’s marksman placed a bet for $100 (equivalent now to about $2,000) that he could beat any local shooter. Annie’s friends and family urged her to travel to the big city and try her luck. In the end, luck had nothing to do with it, but pure skill did. Imagine Butler’s surprise when fifteen year old, five-foot petite Annie turned up as one of the challengers. One by one, the targets were released (either live birds or glass balls). Annie shot and then Frank shot, neither one missing until the 25th target.  Frank missed. The young, child-faced girl from Greenville won.

While most men may have had their pride wounded or even been angry at the fact that a teenage girl had bested them at this coveted skill, Frank Butler’s reaction was quite different. He was smitten by Annie and after the contest he gave her tickets to his show. Soon, the two fell in love and were married. Annie joined the Baughman and Butler shooting act, not as a shooter, but as Frank’s assistant. One week, Baughman was sick and could not perform. Annie stepped in. Per her usual performance, Annie never missed a target and the crowd fell in love with the pretty petite sharp-shooter. She permanently replaced Baughman and the couple took their show on the road.

In 1885, Annie auditioned for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Impressed with her accuracy and lady-like demeanor, Bill Cody hired her, and Frank became her manager. Annie was soon the star attraction of the show and remained so for seventeen years. Whether she used a pistol, rifle or shotgun, “Little Sure Shot” as she was named by Chief Sitting Bull (also a star of the show) rarely missed. Her feats included shooting a dime in midair at 90 feet, shooting the thin edge of a playing card at 90 feet and then puncturing it with six or seven more shots before it hit the ground. Shooting the ashes off a cigarette placed in Frank’s mouth was a crowd favorite. While touring in Europe, the Crown Prince of Germany demanded that Annie shoot a cigarette from his mouth, but she would only do it if he held the cigarette in his hand. It wouldn’t do if the American “sure shot” blew the face off the Prince of Germany!

In 1901 Annie was badly injured in a train accident. After five spinal surgeries and temporary paralysis she recovered. The injury did not affect her shooting skill and she continued to set records.

In 1902 Annie left the Wild West Show to pursue a quieter life. She began an acting career and performed in a stage play written especially for her called The Western Girl. Annie also used her talents for philanthropy. She traveled the East coast, at her own expense, demonstrating the safe and effective use of firearms for World War I soldiers. Annie was very involved in women’s causes and would help young girls, orphans and widows to further their education. She believed it was crucial for women to “know how to handle firearms as naturally as they know how to handle babies” and it is believed that she taught over 15,000 women to use a gun.

In 1904, William Randolph Hearst published a false story that Annie Oakley had been arrested for theft to support a cocaine habit. The story caught fire and newspapers all around the country were printing the report. The woman who had actually been arrested was a burlesque performer who used the name “Annie Oakley.” Still, the newspapers, ever eager for a story of a fallen hero, persisted.

Annie spent the next six years in court trying to regain her reputation. She won 54 out of 55 libel lawsuits against the newspapers. Hearst, in an attempt to avoid paying court judgments of $20,000, sent a private investigator to Darke County to get dirt on the famous sharpshooter. They found nothing.

Well into her sixties, Annie continued her philanthropic work and also participated in shooting activities. In 1922 Annie entered a shooting contest at sixty-two years of age. She hit 100 clay targets in a row from 48 feet. Later that year, she and Frank were in a car accident where Annie sustained more injuries. Again, the injuries didn’t stop her and she continued to set records till 1924.

In 1925 Annie’s health finally gave out. She died of pernicious anemia at the age of sixty-six. Annie Oakley, an American hero, is considered a role model for men and women alike because of her accomplishments and her moral character. Annie Oakley has been the subject of numerous articles and biographies, film and stage dramatizations and her story is present in many historical museums. She was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

Annie Oakley’s motto for life: “Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you’ll hit the Bull’s-Eye of Success.”

References: www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/bio.html, Women in History, Living vignettes of notable women from U.S. History, www.lkwdpl.org/wihoio;oakl-ann.htm, Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie-Oakley

Photographs: http://39clues.wikia.com/wiki/Annie_Oakley, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Annie_Oakley_NYWTS.jpg

Favorite Passages From Favorite Novels

The power of words is a wonderful thing. How often do you get lost in a novel and some line or passage knocks the wind out of you and makes you want to read it again . . . and again?  Here are some of my favorite passages from some of my favorite novels. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do–and I hope you share some of yours with me!

“…The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived. That is how one respects indigenous people. If you pay any attention at all, you’ll realize that you could never convert them to your way of life anyway. They are an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned. You might as well come down here to unbend the river. The point then, is to observe the life they themselves have put in place and learn from it.”

Ann Patchett, State of Wonder.

“Babe could feel it as he wiped his bat down with a rag. He could feel all their bloodstreams as he stepped to the plate and horse-pawed the dirt with his shoe. This moment, this sun, this sky, this wood and leather and limbs and fingers and agony of waiting to see what would happen was beautiful. More beautiful than women or words or even laughter.”

Dennis Lehane, The Given Day

“As was his custom, Augustus drank a fair amount of whiskey as he sat and watched the sun ease out of the day. If he wasn’t tilting the rope-bottomed chair, he was tilting the jug. The days in Lonesome Dove were a blur of heat and as dry as chalk, but mash whiskey took some of the dry away and made Augustus feel nicely misty inside–foggy and cool as a morning in the Tennessee hills. He seldom got downright drunk, but he did enjoy feeling misty along about sundown, keeping his mood good with tasteful swigs as the sky to the west began to color up. The whiskey didn’t damage his intellectual powers any, but it did make him more tolerant of the raw sorts he had to live with . . .”

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

“An old man’s palsy overtook his hands and they reached for her face. He kissed her forehead. In that extraordinary and unstoppable act he realized, not without a twinge of pride, that he loved her, and that he, Thomas Stone, was not only capable of love, but that he had loved her for seven years. . . Love so strong, without ebb and flow or crests and troughs, indeed lacking any sort of motion so that it had become invisible to him these seven years, part of the order of things outside his head which he had taken for granted.

Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

“And I pray one prayer–I repeat it till my tongue stiffens–Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you–haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul.”

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

What Do You Need In A Workspace?

What do you need in a work space to feel comfortable and get those creative juices flowing? Natural light? A comfy chair? Things neatly organized and in their place? These are some of the things that are essential to me. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was I needed.  My first office was set up in my daughter’s room after she left home. It wasn’t as bright as I liked and it was still . . . Jessica’s room. I suppose it will always be her room – not my office. I tried a sunnier spot in the house – the living room where a beautiful antique desk resides. While I loved the spaciousness of the desk, and the flood of sunshine streaming through the french doors,  there were always distractions:

The dogs outside the glass door, their happy faces begging, “come play with us!”

The refrigerator right around the corner.

The food pantry next to it. (It’s amazing how those two beckon when I’m trying to write!)

The TV.

I finally settled on “The Zen Room.” This was once a patio off the master bedroom that was converted (poorly) into a hot tub room before we moved in. We tossed the ancient hot tub, put up dry wall, and added beautiful windows. When we first renovated the house, this room would be the “exercise room” complete with Yoga mats, a treadmill and plenty of UV light. However . . . the room never got used. I started taking Yoga classes at a nearby gym. I ride horses and play tennis and relish the fact that these activities keep me outside. And really, who wants to use a treadmill? Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for folks that do – I just don’t have that kind of attention span!

So – the Zen Room became my office. I purchased a swanky glass and metal desk and a nice cushy chair. Don’t underestimate the importance of a comfortable chair! I used to write while sitting on a straight backed wooden kitchen chair. Why do we do things like that to ourselves? No wonder I could only sit there for 30 minutes at a time while my poor back screamed in protest. I also have a sweet little armchair for reading and relaxation. Unfortunately, the cats have taken possession. As you can see, Louise (of Thelma and Louise) is comfortably napping on a manuscript cushioned by a pillow.      

The ribbons and trophies you see are not writing awards. (Alas!) They are horse showing awards. While they once resided in a plastic storage container, I decided to hang the most important ones along the long wall of my office. I wanted to be surrounded by my accomplishments. As most of you know, the writing business is rife with criticism and rejection. While we are supposed to take it like a champ, rise above it and work even harder, sometimes it sucks. A lot of times it sucks. Every once in a while we need to be reminded of our successes – even if they have nothing to do with our masochistic yet preferred craft.

I can happily say I love spending time in my work space. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but with an oscillating fan and a space heater, those problems are remedied. The cats think it’s their room, but luckily they are willing to share. Whether I am staring into space in an attempt to come up with ideas for new stories or diligently at work on a story in progress, my work space is conducive to creativity and long hours in the comfy chair.

What do you need in a work space? Please share your thoughts!

Lady Jane Grey – The Nine Days Queen

I have always held a special fascination for Lady Jane Grey, the nine days Queen. She died a religious martyr at seventeen years of age, and lived her life as a political pawn and social ladder for her overly ambitious parents. What must it have been like for such a young woman to knowingly and willingly face death rather than defy her parents or her religion?

Lady Jane Grey, born in October of 1537 was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, the marquis of Dorset, and Frances Brandon, niece to King Henry VIII and the third in line to the throne. Jane was named for the King’s wife, Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward VI just two days after Jane’s birth. Henry and Frances had big plans for their daughter and hoped she would one day marry the prince.

They raised Jane with strict rules and very little freedom. Her role in childhood was to prepare herself for greatness. She said of her parents, they expected her to “do everything as perfectly as God made the world, or else I am sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened . . . that I think myself in hell.”

At the age of nine, Jane was sent to the court of King Henry VIII to serve his sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, and to learn about court life in preparation for her future.

The Dorset’s desired only the best education for their daughter and hired royal tutors. Jane proved to be extremely precocious and found her greatest refuge in her studies. Jane would often neglect her domestic lessons in dance, music and riding to lose herself in the more intellectual pursuits.

At a young age she was reading the Greek philosophers, and through her tutor would correspond with German Calvinist and Zwinglian ministers. The correspondence later became known as the Zurich Letters.

When King VIII died, his son Edward VI inherited the throne at ten years of age. Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour who had taken a liking to Jane and saw big things in her future. He also assumed that through his connections in court he could arrange a marriage for Jane with the new King, young Edward. He offered the Dorsets two thousand pounds to become her legal ward. Eager for their daughter to someday become queen, they complied. Jane, free of her parents’ strict household, found great comfort in her friendship with Katherine Parr. Her two years in the Parr/Seymour household were known as some of her happiest days and it was through Parr’s influence that Jane found her love of the Protestant church. Sadly, Katherine Parr died in 1548 due to complications with the birth of a daughter. Jane stayed to serve as chief mourner at her funeral and then was sent home. By this time, Thomas Seymour had fallen out of favor with the throne, so all hopes of Jane marrying Edward VI were dashed.

The Dorsets refused to give up hope for their daughter and formed an alliance with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was one of sixteen executors of Henry VIII’s will. When Thomas Seymour was executed, Dudley reclaimed his title of Lord High Admiral with direct access to the young King. Jane was fifteen years old at the time. Her parents informed her she was to marry Dudley’s youngest son, Guilford. In her only documented act of defiance to her parents, Jane refused. The result was a sound beating from her mother until she submitted.  In May of 1553, Jane married Guilford, a handsome and charismatic young man who was also arrogant, spoiled and known as a “mama’s boy.” The marriage was not consummated until a year later, and then the couple still continued to live apart.

During this time, the King, young Edward VI became gravely ill. The next in line to the throne, according to his father’s will, was Mary Tudor, Edward’s half- sister, a woman devoted to the “old church” Catholicism. Greatly influenced by his step mother Katherine Parr, Edward had also become a fervent Protestant. Dudley, along with other Protestant followers close to the king encouraged him to change the succession. In late 1552, Edward began his Device for the Succession eventually naming his cousin Jane Grey, heir. Two months later, Edward VI died.

Three days after Edward’s death, Jane was called before the Council and was told she would be Queen. Horrified, she fell to the floor in a faint. When she finally recovered she announced, “The Crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Her parents, enraged, tried to reason with her. Jane dropped to the floor and prayed for guidance. After several minutes, she rose and took her seat on the throne.

Many people felt Mary was the rightful heir and were not pleased with Jane as Queen. At her coronation there were few cheering subjects. At first Jane refused to wear the crown, but later complied. She had been raised for this position and she decided to embrace the role she felt God called her to. However, when she was told that Guilford would be named King and a crown was being fashioned for him, she claimed she would gladly make him a Duke, but he would never be King. Finally, she would not be swayed from a decision.

Meanwhile, Dudley knew Mary Tudor would try to claim the throne. He left with an army to capture her, but was met by her army marching toward London. While he was absent, the royal council proclaimed Mary the rightful Queen. The proclamation was made and the people of London rejoiced. To save himself, Jane’s father signed the proclamation, went to his daughter’s apartments, and tore down her canopy of estate. Jane was no longer Queen. Jane stated, “Out of obedience to you and my mother I have grievously sinned. Now I willingly relinquish the crown. May I not go home?’

Her father left her in the Tower where she and Guilford became prisoners. Dudley, her father and Guilford were soon executed but Jane had been told the Queen would pardon her. When Sir Thomas Wyatt rebelled against Mary, she realized her Protestant enemies would stop at nothing to take her throne. She signed Jane’s death warrant. Uneasy with her decision, Mary sent John Feckenham, dean of St. Paul’s to Jane to try to convert her to the Catholic faith. Mary knew Jane had taken the throne under duress and if she could be persuaded to claim Catholicism as the one true faith, she could justifiably save her. Jane, true to herself and true to her faith, refused.

In my novel-in-progress, Jane the Quene, I open with Jane’s execution. I wanted to show her great dignity and courage during such a terrifying ordeal. She was a young woman with strong convictions and a desire to always do what was expected of her. She was truly an obedient servant to her kingdom, and her faith.

 

She emerged from the Tower upon the arm of the Queen’s lieutenant. Her diminutive frame and large eyes gave her the look of a bewildered child. Deep red, wavy locks framed her tiny, heart-shaped, face. She wore black and walked steadily, her head held high. She carried a well-worn prayer book.

            They were met at the scaffold by a tall man, wearing vestments of the church. Several other chaplains attended him. She spoke to him.

            “Dr. Feckenham, may God grant all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although, indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.”

            The tall man gave her a faint smile, full of helplessness and pity, and took her elbow as she began to mount the stairs. Her two ladies-in-waiting wailed as she ascended, unflinching, her mouth set in a determined smile. When she reached the top of the scaffold, she stopped and addressed the small crowd:

            “I am to die this day for accepting the crown and thus committing treason, but, I do wash my hands in innocence, before God and the face of you, good Christian people. And now, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”

            She knelt, looking heavenward into a sunless sky and recited by memory the fifty-first psalm:

 Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,

In your great tenderness whip away my offences;

Wash me thoroughly from my guilt,

Purify me from sin.

For I am well aware of my offences,

My sin is constantly in mind.

Against you, you alone, I have sinned

I have done what you see to be wrong . . .”

She then nodded to her ladies. One of them, her nurse Mrs. Ellen, moved toward her, trying desperately to stifle her sobs. The young lady handed over her gloves and handkerchief, and then handed her prayer book to the Queen’s lieutenant. As she began to remove her heavy cloak, the hooded executioner moved forward to assist her, but she brushed him off. Mrs. Ellen removed the lady’s headdress and neckerchief and took the heavy robes. The executioner knelt before her and asked for forgiveness, which was customary.

            The young lady smiled and said, “I give it willingly, sir.”

            There followed a five minute silence. Crows could be heard from the crow’s keep, their crude squawking penetrated the silence, sending a shiver down her spine. Dr. Feckenham, the tall lieutenant, raised his face to the sky, closed his eyes, and fervently prayed.

            Finally, the executioner told her where to stand, placing her directly in front of the square block. She held her hand out to Mrs. Ellen for her handkerchief, eyes never leaving the wooden stump. She addressed the executioner.

            “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Kneeling down, she looked up at him, confusion on her childlike face. “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” she asked, holding out the handkerchief.

            “No, madame.”

            With slightly shaking hands, she tied the cloth around her eyes and then reached her hands toward the block.  Her hands flailed in front of her, seeking the wooden perch. “Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?”

            A man from the crowd climbed up the scaffold and gently helped her place her hands on either side of the block. She whispered her thanks and then in a clear voice spoke the words, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

            The axe went down, sudden and swift. The executioner grabbed the blood soaked head by the hair and held it out in front of the crowd. “So perish all the Queen’s enemies,” he shouted. “Behold, the head of Jane Grey, a traitor.”

References: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7545/MaryI.html; http://www.ladyjanegrey.org/time_line.html

Picture: 343429 Com de Laroche Jane, Suite 101.com, Wikimedia

Rebel Empress

While researching an idea for a new novel, (I was specifically looking for a famous horsewoman in history) I stumbled across the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  She was indeed an avid horsewoman and was actually known as “the finest horsewoman of her day.”  She excelled at the hunt, taught her horses tricks, and trained with famous circus riders at the riding school she built at Godollo in Hungary.

As I researched further, I became intrigued with the rest of her compelling, fascinating and tragic story.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Munich, Bavaria 1837, “Sisi” as she was known to her family, grew up far from court in the Bavarian countryside at Possenhofen Castle.

Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, raised their four children with little discipline and few rules.  The children spent much of their time riding and pursuing country sports rather than learning the protocols and etiquette of court life.  This fact probably led to Sisi’s later philosophy that to be an individual and non-conformist would be the greatest achievement of all.  Her quest of this individualism would be her biggest challenge and one that she never quite achieved.

As in most royal families, marriages were arranged.  When Sisi was fifteen, she accompanied her mother and her older sister Helene to Bad Ischl, Austria to meet Helene’s betrothed, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.  The arrangement was orchestrated by Franz Joseph’s domineering mother, ( also Helene and Sisi’s aunt) Princess Sophie of Bavaria.  Although Helene was considered the beauty of the family, Franz Joseph became instantly infatuated with Sisi.  He defied his mother and told her if he could not have his cousin Elisabeth he would have no one at all.  The betrothal was announced five days later.

Elisabeth’s married life was far different from her free-spirited childhood.  Hapsburg court life was rigid and strict.  Her Aunt, the Archduchess, was an overbearing and demanding mother-in-law who interfered in the new couple’s life at every turn.  Soon, Elisabeth began to display health problems.  She had difficulty with her lungs and would suffer from spasms of coughing, and also developed several phobias.

Ten months after the wedding, she gave birth to her first child, Sophie, named after her mother-in-law, by her mother-in-law.  This was to set the stage for next child born to Elisabeth, Gisela who was also immediately taken from her and put in the care of the Archduchess.  The Archduchess also made it abundantly clear her disappointment at Elisabeth’s inability to bear a son.  The Archduchess was to suffer several other disappointments when her son, Joseph Franz took Elisabeth and his two daughters to Hungary for a visit in 1857.  During the visit, Elisabeth fell in love with the Hungarian people, particularly the Magyars, an ethnic group associated with the Hungarians, (whom her mother-in-law despised) and urged her husband to show mercy to Hungarian political prisoners.  She was later chastised for her “political meddling.”  The trip also proved horribly tragic for Elisabeth as both her daughters became ill with diarrhea.  Gisela, the baby, recovered quickly, but two year old Sophie succumbed to the illness, which was later determined as Typhus.  The death of her first child sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

Elisabeth was painfully learning that most aspects of her life were not in her control.  She felt she had no identity as a mother or the wife of an emperor.  In her depression, she began to shun all responsibilities and spent much of her time riding.  Grieving her daughter, she would also stop eating for days at a time.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth realized her physical appearance was an attribute greatly valued by society.   Her looks became the primary source of her control and her self-esteem. She became obsessed with her face, hair and figure. Unusually slender, Elisabeth’s waist measured 19 inches.  At 5’8 inches tall, she weighed 110 lbs.  Living on a strict diet of beef broth, milk and eggs, she was able to reduce her waist to 16 inches in diameter. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110, the next few days would constitute a strict fast.

Elisabeth also emphasized her tiny waist through the practice of “tight lacing.”  She had corsets specially made of leather, to hold up under the strenuous lacing, and would only wear them for a few weeks at a time as they would eventually stretch.

The only “flaw” in her beauty was her teeth.  Due to either poor dental care in her youth, malnutrition from dieting, or from the possible effects of bulimia, her teeth deteriorated early.  In public, she would often hide her face behind a small leather fan.  After age 32 she refused to have her photo taken or sit for portraits.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided.  She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day.  She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Another of Elisabeth’s unusual beauty traits was her hair.  Thick and golden brown, her tresses reached somewhere between her knees and ankles.

Every two weeks, her hair was washed with special “essences” of eggs and cognac.  The process took hours, so activities and obligations for the day were cancelled.  Her hairdresser was forbidden to wear rings and was required to don white gloves while dressing the royal coif – an activity that took two to four hours a day.

In 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir.  This, coupled with her sympathy toward the Hungarians made her an ideal mediator between the Magyars and her husband, the Emperor.  Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics developed as she grew older. She firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side whenever there were difficult negotiations between the Hungarians and the court.  At one point, she demanded that Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman (and rumored to be her lover) be named Premier of Hungary or she would leave the Emperor.  He complied and Elisabeth stayed in the increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary and in turn, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were named King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there, where she built her riding school.  Elisabeth much preferred her Hungarian home to her Austrian one and rarely went back to Vienna.  In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  She was determined to raise this child herself and openly rebelled against her mother-in-law.  Soon after, the elder Archduchess Sophie died forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children.

With the oppression of her mother-in-law lifted, it would be assumed that Elisabeth would take control of her children and family, but instead, she drifted further away from them and began a life filled with travel.  She claimed that if she arrived at a place and knew she couldn’t leave, it would become a living hell.

In 1889, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph’s only son, and heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire died.  He was found with his 17 year old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera.  It was determined a murder/suicide committed by the 30 year old Rudolf.  The death would cause a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, and Hungary and Austria.  The line of succession would now be passed to Franz Joseph’s brother and his son, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

In perpetual mourning and never to wear anything but black again, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels.  When her health prevented her from riding, she took to making her servants endure miles long hikes and walks in the wilderness.  At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports.  She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse.  She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized.  Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

               In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux.  Wanting to avoid a “procession” or to be recognized as a person of significance, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train.  Since she was without protection, this gave Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, a perfect opportunity.  In town to kill the Duc D’Orleans, and failing to find him, the assassin learned from a Geneva newspaper that a woman traveling under the name of “Countess of Hohenembs” was the Empress Elisabeth.  Soon after she and her lady exited the hotel, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Lucheni stated after the murder, “I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…it did not matter to me who the sovereign was…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.”  Had he done his homework, he would have realized that Elisabeth was famous for preferring the common man to courtiers, was known for her charitable works and was a rebel within her own home and community and stood up for the underdog.

The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was in deep mourning.  On September 17, 1898, eighty-two sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral procession to the tomb in the Church of the Capuchins.  Her husband was devastated and quoted as saying, “That a man could be found to attack such a woman, whose whole life was spent in doing good and who never injured any person is to me incomprehensible.”

Although exceedingly eccentric, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became a historical icon.  Her limited though significant influence on Austro Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire.  She will always be known as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.  Ironically, she herself could not escape the gilded cage.