Any writer whose honest about the subject will tell you that the real secret to getting the job done is simple: Get your butt in the chair and keep it there until you’ve got something written. But what if that chair is uncomfortable and not worthy of cradling your precious bootie? Such was the case for me until this past Wednesday, when I got a lovely new desk chair.

Knoll Pollock Executive Chair

What we have here, folks, is a vintage Knoll Pollock Executive Chair. Designed by Charles Pollock for Florence Knoll in 1963, it was an “instant success” and has become one of the “best-selling office chairs in history.”

The thing is, I’m not as much of a modern design buff as I pretend to be, and the Pollock chair wasn’t on my radar at all until this past Wednesday. I’m sure I’d seen versions of it in the past, but it never really caught my eye. My goal was to someday get a vintage Herman Miller Time-Life Executive chair, which is much more recognizable.

Vintage Time-Life Executive Chair

The thing is, even a vintage version of this chair is in the $1000+ dollar range. A brand-new model is over $3000. Mama doesn’t have that kind of cash to throw around on chairs, people.

For the past two years I’ve been sitting in a relatively stylish but cheap knock-off I bought for less than $200 at Office Depot:


The problem is that the chair looked good, but in less than 2 years of full-time use, I had metal poles poking up at me through the seat. This was a very sad-making situation. I didn’t want to buy a cheap new chair that was in my budget because I knew in two years I’d just be doing it again. And yet I didn’t want to invest in a super-spendy dream chair either. My solution was to keep my crappy-ass chair and troll Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy for an affordable vintage Time-Life Executive chair (or something similar). Alas, the search was fruitless for many months. Until…

On Wednesday, I happened upon a website called that sells vintage furniture via independent vendors. I had little hope I’d find an affordable chair, as most of what they sell is out of my price range even if it is vintage. But I found a listing for a Pollock Executive chair. It was $375 but located in Texas, which would’ve added to the cost if you factored in shipping. There were a few more listings for the chair, all of which were around the same price. Further research showed that a vintage model of the chair, which retails new for about $2000, is generally available in the $200-$600 range, depending on the condition and the materials. As it turns out, the Pollock chair, while well-designed and iconic, isn’t nearly as popular as similar chairs designed during that period, and thus, it’s less in demand, meaning that I might be able to find one I could afford.

“I can work with this,” I thought.

That very day I found a listing on Craigslist for a black leather version of the chair and it was a STEAL at $275. I convinced Mick it would be worth his while to trek down to Orange County that evening to check it out, and lo and behold, we came back with my beautiful, new-to-me, chair.

It’s black leather, with a blessedly plump seat and no metal bars to poke me. And it’s in fantastic condition, with (hopefully) many more years of use to go.

Holly WestThe winners of the Amazon gift cards are: Stephen J., Pop Culture Nerd, and John B. Thanks for playing, everyone. And more importantly, thank you for your wonderful comments.

Today is February 3, 2014.

Today I am a published author.

I started writing Mistress of Fortune (then titled Diary of Bedlam) in June 2008, but the dream of writing and publishing a novel started much earlier, borne from the reading I did as a child. I wanted to write novels too, to inspire others with stories the way I’d been inspired. And now, I’ve finally done it.

I’m nervous, of course. Now that Mistress of Fortune is out in the world, there are so many things to worry about: Will it sell? Will people like it? I’d like to say that just for today, I’ll put those concerns aside and enjoy this moment. That’s not likely to happen, but I’ll do my best.Mistress of Fortune Cover

There will be other stories that capture my imagination and compel me to put them to paper. I’ll spend more long hours alone at my computer, attempting to bring new characters to life and trying to figure out what drives them. But there will never be another first novel for me. And so, today, I celebrate.

There are a few real-life historical figures in the Mistress of Fortune series. King Charles II, for one. Nell Gywn, one of his mistresses, is another. Much has been written about both of them, so why would I include them as characters in my own novels when it’s already been done?

I’ll tell you why: for me, they’re too compelling not to include. The key, however, is not to regurgitate the same old material, the tired characterizations we’ve seen over and over again. Rather, my recreations of these characters are entirely of my own imagination, based upon what historical accounts have revealed them to be. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

I personally dislike when historical fiction authors use real quotes as dialogue. Any authenticity it adds is negated by the contrivance it creates–it feels like info dump to me.

For example, today I’m writing a scene for my second novel, Mistress of Lies, in which Barbara Palmer appears. Barbara was perhaps the most well-known (certainly the most notorious) of King Charles II’s mistresses, and undoubtedly possessed more power, for more years, than any other. This is saying a lot, because Charles II had a lot of mistresses.

Portrait of Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland
Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland

Barbara is, in some ways, the nemesis of my protagonist, Isabel Wilde. Though she moved to France before the Mistress of Fortune series starts, she played a key role in Isabel Wilde’s history. Isabel, who in 1665 served as a spy in Amsterdam for the crown, was essentially sent there by Barbara Palmer, who was at that time the king’s most powerful mistress. Though nearly thirteen years have passed since then, Isabel will never forgive Barbara Palmer for her interference in her life.

She doesn’t appear at all in the series’ first book, Mistress of Fortune, though she is mentioned. She wasn’t supposed to appear in the sequel, Mistress of Lies, either. She was just a piece of backstory. But in plotting Mistress of Lies I found that I needed someone to reflect what Isabel Wilde’s life would be if she’d made different choices. Barbara Palmer is just that person.

Isabel Wilde, of course, is a fictional character. But not only was Barbara Palmer a real-life historical figure, she is one that has appeared many times in fictional accounts of the Restoration time period. Now I find myself with the challenge of portraying a different side of her than perhaps we’ve seen in the past. Barbara is usually shown at the pinnacle of her power, when she’s arrogant, selfish, and certain that she’ll never lose the king’s love. But my novels take place several years beyond that, when she’s been banished to France because she fell out of favor. In Mistress of Lies, she returns to London, hoping to regain her spot at Court. She’s still arrogant, but she’s also desperate and aging (at 38, she’s considered old).

There are many quotes attributed to various historical figures who lived during the Restoration. But I personally dislike when historical fiction authors use real quotes as dialogue. Any authenticity it adds is negated by the contrivance it creates–it feels like info dump to me. Rather, such quotes give me an idea of how the historical figure spoke, and what their sensibilities were–I use that in creating my own dialogue. But the words and actions I attribute to them are wholly my own. To me, that’s the only way to truly bring a real historical figure to life.

What do you think? Do you like it when authors use real-life historical figures in their fiction?