History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 June 2007

True Love on "The Floating Brothel"

In 1789, Governor Phillip was anxious about the moral health of the fledgling British penal settlement in Sydney. He sent an urgent dispatch on the first ship back to London, requesting more women to save the struggling settlement from depravity. Home Office Under-Secretary Evan Nepean answered Phillip's call by scouring Georgian England’s overflowing prisons for women of child-bearing age. Over 200 girls and women ranging in age from 10 to over 50 were collected from numerous country prisons and from the infamous Newgate prison. They were herded aboard The Lady Juliana and sent to Sydney Cove, Australia.

The women were supposedly the scum of England – thieves and prostitutes, all destined to a life behind bars... or death. Many had committed “crimes” which, by today’s standards, would have hardly have been classified as such--- a servant girl who borrowed a hair brush without permission, a street urchin who committed bullying pranks. But with the overflowing convict population of England there was no choice but to turn to the penal settlement in New South Wales (Australia). Until 1790, that convict colony was a failed, all-male experiment. Without women, crops withered, disease flourished, and lawlessness prospered.

"In June 1790 . . . four ships from England arrived and saved the colony," author Sian Rees writes in The Floating Brothel. One of them was the Lady Juliana," with "a cargo of fertile female convicts, some of whom would become "founding mothers of Australia," while many others would be lost along the way.

With vivid prose and lush storytelling, Rees makes clear the awful fates of the mostly lower and lower-middle class women aboard the ship---including their use as regular sex partners for the sea-faring crew. Many of the women did not survive the journey, but there were the fortunate souls who lived and established new lives in Sydney---with their assigned convict husbands.

I love this book because Rees develops her historical account of the ship and its passengers from court documents and from the memoirs of John Nicol, the Lady Julian's steward and cooper (there are no surviving accounts of life aboard the ship written by any of the women).

The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, was originally published in Edinburgh in 1822, and reprinted in 1936. His story of life on the Lady Juliana "breathes a humanity that is not easily forgotten" and chronicles his affair with an 18-year-old passenger convict named Sarah Whitelam. A son was born to her during their passage. When the shipped landed in Sydney, John Nicol petitioned to marry Sarah but was denied by the British navy. He stayed in Sydney pursuing his request for almost year, and after a painful and forced departure, he left and Sarah was married to another man two days later.

John Nicol makes many references to his failed efforts to rejoin her. He was subsequently impressed into the Royal Navy, and fought at two of the major fleet actions of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battles of Cape St Vincent and Aboukir. He searched for Sarah and his son for years, but was unable to locate them.

There is documentation that Sarah Whitelam prospered in the colony, then left Sydney Cove on August 31st aboard The Surprise, bound for Norfolk Island. Her new husband, John Coen Walsh, remained in Sydney for several months, earning money to set up his family on Norfolk before he joined them shortly afterwards. Sarah and Walsh had two sons together. Their Norfolk farm was prosperous, and six years after their wedding, he was pardoned. They paid passage for themselves and the three boys aboard the Marquis Cornwallis, which left Sydney Cove for Bombay in June 1796.

The rest of Sarah’s story is lost to history….

When John Nicol dictated his memoirs to an Edinburgh bookbinder in1822, he was destitute. As an old man “his memory of dates, names and the sequence of events was growing cloudy”, but his love for Sarah Whitelam was steadfast. “As old as I am,” he said, “my heart is still unchanged.”I wonder if the elusive Sarah ever looked for John Nicol? Or did she do aboard The Lady Juliana what she had to just to survive? Did she fall in love with the man she was forced to marry? We will never know.

But one thing is for sure . . . John Nicol never forgot Sarah Whitelam---his true love found aboard the floating brothel.

If you can find a local TV listing, check it out “SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Voyage of the Courtesans” a PBS documentary about the floating brothel. I caught the re-runs last month.


28 June 2007

4 Stars for To Tempt a Scotsman!!!

We don't always post reviews here, but I just got my VERY FIRST Romantic Times review, and I can't resist. 4 STARS!!!
"Dahl debuts with a sizzling love story peopled with characters you come to adore. Though there is nothing truly original about the plot, she creates a natural conflict between her three-dimensional lovers and keeps the pages flying with a strong pace and powerful sensuality.

Summary: Intent upon finding his half-brother's killer, Collin Blackburn hunts down Lady Alexandra Huntington, the temptress who lured his brother into a fatal duel.When he finds Alex hidden in the country, he sees that she's not the wild wanton he imagined. Alex is a petite dynamo whose natural sensuality is hard to resist.

He begins to question her role in the duel, and when she sets her sights on the braw Scotsman, he doesn't have a chance. Alex believes that convincing Collin to meet her in bed every day for a week will satisfy her longings. Instead they both crave more, but surrendering to temptation and love only sets them up for danger from a vicious enemy. (Zebra, Aug., 300 pp., $3.99) HOT"—Kathe Robin

I'm thrilled and relieved, and I seriously needed some happy news as I'm in the midst of packing for a family vacation. Nothing but fun for the mom, you know! *g*

Watch for To Tempt a Scotsman on August 7th!

27 June 2007

Speaking of Abodes. . .

I need one! (And, btw, I thought Kalen's title was "Adobes" until I was halfway through the post, a sure sign that I live in the West.)

As we speak, I am at the beginning stages of writing my next historical. I know who the characters are, I know what their conflicts will be, and I know the shape of the landscape. But I don't know exactly where they are. My characters need a home!

Unlike most of my fellow Hoydens (All of my fellow Hoydens?), I've never been to Britain. I didn't go before I had children, and now I haveto wait until they are slightly more civilized before dragging them across the ocean. Did I mention I have two little boys? Yes, it could be awhile. So for now I have to do my best with books.

But where to start? I know my characters live in Northern England, somewhere near Yorkshire, if not in it, and they live on the coast. That seems like a fairly narrow recipe, so I figured the local library would do. I picked up a National Geographic book called Discovering Britain and Ireland. It's fat and full of color pictures, so I assumed it would help me narrow down the options, at the very least. Well, it hasn't helped much.

Though it covers the whole of Great Britain, each of the regions is described with lovely anecdotes. Meaning there's not a general overview of all the parts of a county, just entertaining info about a few interesting parts. Not very useful, but highly enjoyable! favorite so far is the start of "The North Country" chapter, by Frank Entwisle:

"When we were lads and wore long shorts and wiped our noses on our jersey sleeves, we lived in Sunderland, a bleak northeast borough of 180,000 souls [on the River Wear]. . . Six miles north was another river, the Tyne. The nearest Tyneside town was Shields. And between Sunderland and Shields, among the colliery winding towers and black pit villages, there was a swamp to which we went. . .

It was there we met the boys of Shields, who spoke with so different an accent that we pitched them in the ponds on the reasonable grounds that they must be Scotchies. I never discovered what strange race of urchins they thought we were (perhaps some breed of Southerner which--as both sides would have at once agreed--was a pretty contemptible thing to be). . .

The point of this joyful reminiscence is to show how two northern English populations, sharing the same industrial culture, the same everyday experiences--separated by but six grubby miles--could have different vowels and even a varying fund of words."

I find this fascinating and intimidating at the same time. I doubt even multiple trips to England could give me any sense at all of what I'm dealing with regionally. And regional differences in the nineteenth century, before phones and radios and televisions?! Well, I'll throw in the towel on that one. I can only hope that the vast majority of my readers are Americans who view the whole of England as equally exotic!

But back to my problem. . . Does anyone have a good starting point for me? I need cliffs, not moors. Or actually, the moors are fine, as long as there are cliffs as well. The kinds of cliffs that might be riddled with smugglers' caves or at least lots of crevices where treasure could be hidden. *wink* I need it to be within a day's ride of York, or two days at most, because they will be riding to a previous hero's home at some point. So where do they live?!?

25 June 2007


One of the topics that I see discussed quite a bit is that of the historic home. How does a writer create these? How do they imagine them? How do we know what they would have been like?

Good question.

I can't answer for anyone else, but for me it's a combination of things. First and foremost it's about visiting such places and simply letting the atmosphere soak in (but this option is not easily available to everyone). The option that is, are the numerous books that exist to show you this world.

One of my favorites is The English Country House in Perspective by Gervase Jackson-Stops. This wonderful book shows you 3D renderings of castles and grand estates. It's so useful to be able to see how all the rooms connected, how they were used, how the house was situated. For the town house, there is London's Georgian Houses by Andrew Byrne. This gem shows interior layouts for numerous town houses for a wide variety of people, from dukes to silk weavers to alms house dwellers.

Another favorite is Private Palaces: Life in the Great London Houses by Christopher Simon Sykes. This book shows the interiors of a great many houses, as well as providing interesting and useful information about the cost of building or purchasing such a dwelling (it's good to know, for example, that Mr. Bingley, with his one-hundred thousand pound inheritance could indeed have afforded to purchase a country estate, though it would have taken one quarter to half his worth to do so).

When you read do you find yourself picturing the house? Or is it merely a stage set for the characters? Do you think it shows when an author has a clear understanding and vision of the homes their characters occupy?

22 June 2007

The Gospel According to Irene Goodman

At the June HNS (Historical Novel Society) conference in Albany, New York, über-agent Irene Goodman shared her insights and expertise in two distinct areas: (1) what’s selling; (2) brick walls.

What’s Selling. At the top of the list in current historical fiction [primary focus on the story, not on a romance] sales are stories based on an actual historical personage with a “marquee” name. Preferably female. Preferably written by a female. Preferably a story seen from a female’s point of view. Think Helen of Troy (The Memoirs of Helen of Troy, by Amanda Elyot). Nefertiti (debut novel by Michelle Moran, published by Crown). Think Mary Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory).

A purely fictional story, Goodman says, might be of interest to Claire Zion, Editorial Director at NAL (Signet, Onyx).

Goodman’s preferences? “Most important is a built-in ‘hook’ that resonates with or piques the interest of the female reader.” (Most book buyers and readers are women.) She likes a strong female protagonist, first- or third-person point of view. The No. 1 preferred setting now is England; others are Romanov Russia, Ancient Rome, and possibly Egypt.

You may use historical personages who have been written about before; may use such people as central or as secondary characters; and may choose major or minor historical figures... but “the writing must be A++.”

Current focus is on emotion and character rather than setting. Multiple points of view are okay, and though Goodman personally likes a male pov, most fiction selling in today’s market is a “story seen from the female pov.”

The market for historical romance [primary focus on the romance with the “story” as a backdrop] is changing as we speak: Regency romances that are witty and sexy are emerging as a front runner. Paranormals are also hot now, but Goodman advises us to ignore trends: “They can’t last.”

What Hooks Goodman? The story idea. “You read hundreds of submissions, and then one juts out at you ... it’s brilliant... it has a unique quality to it.” She looks for a dramatic story question, but emphasizes that it can be very simple. The plot should be “organic” (not contrived). Character arcs are necessary.

She also likes “little cliffhangers” at chapter ends and small story questions that draw the reader along. Readers, Goodman says, like characters who have (1) wit and (2) resourcefulness (taking initiative; being in control).

Brick Walls. Apparently American writers are somewhat disparaged in Britain; the English see us as “the rebel colonists” and may even feel that American writers are telling their (English) history!

Preference for woman writers of women’s stories, seen through a female pov, poses a brick wall for male authors, especially if they are writing male-pov stories.

Chinks in the Walls à la Goodman:

1. Young adult fiction: what matters most is not the setting or the era, but the age(s) of the character(s).

2. What makes a good book? “The quality of the writing and a better-than-average story. Some authors just have ‘the right note.’”

3. What makes a good query letter? “The first paragraph must grab you.”

18 June 2007

A Taste of India

I recently toyed with the idea of writing a book set in Regency London featuring a British heroine who had lived in India for a time. Although I've shelved the project for now, I thought I'd share a few tidbits about India I learned while exploring the idea.

It's easy to find the major timeline of the British in India, but the details of social life were a bit more difficult to unearth. Here are a few of the facts I found interesting.


The United States, still called "the Colonies" by many of the British in the early 1800s, was considered a dangerous and uncivilized land. Middle class men seeking economic opportunities were far more likely to go to India. The British East India Company was a major commercial venture; young men in the British Army also found the pay for service in India higher than average, with a cost of living far lower than that found at home.

The trip from England to India lasted anywhere from two to six months, with travelers forced to wait in Cairo until there were enough people to go on as a group (for protection against marauders on the road). In 1830, ship service from Suez to Bombay was started. The best cabins on the way to India were on the north side of the ship, avoiding the constant glare of the sun; going back to Egypt, the reverse would be the better cabin. A round-trip voyage for the saavy traveler would be booked as "port out, starboard home" -- soon truncated to the acronym "posh."


Because the British were not a part of the Indian caste system, they were considered untouchable. The Indians would not shake the hands of the British or eat at the same table with them. British women were not permitted to volunteer or "mingle" with the native Indians. The ladies tried to cling to British tradition, making morning calls and the like. Dinner parties and even garden parties were extremely formal, with place cards for the guests and full evening dress considered de rigueur.

Many of the higher class Englishwomen lived in the "hill stations" (British military settlements). Because the houses were built far back from the road, a small box was placed at the end of the road for calling cards. A small sign was left near the box when a lady was "not at home" in order to save a visitor a long, pointless climb uphill to the main house.


Labor was cheap in India. European households had a minimum of ten servants, but the middle class employed over fifty servants, and the homes of officers and highly placed officials employed hundreds.

Cultural differences between Indian servants and their British employers made for a frustrating time for all. Because Muslim cooks would not handle pork, and Hindu cooks would not touch beef, hostesses were forced to either hire two cooks, or to serve only chicken and goat to avoid the issue altogether.

British women were in short supply in India, and nearly all of them were married. In contrast, most of the British men were single, or left wives and fiancés at home -- often for years at a time. Needless to say, many British men took local Indian women as mistresses. Although some of these women were "pensioned off" when the man's service in India was completed, many of them were simply abandoned.


Tensions grew between the Indians and the resident British through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1857, tensions exploded when the ruling Governor General (the Marquess of Dalhousie) ruled that any Indian state that was not under the command of a "legal" heir would become British property. The Indians revolted with violence, resulting in a wholesale slaughter of English troops and citizens, including women and children. The few Europeans who survived were taken prisoner by the local Indian authorities. The rebellion lasted from May through November, when English troops regained control of Delhi and ended the revolt.

This whole period of British "colonization" (as some would call it) fascinates me, yet I didn't find many first-person accounts of the lives of Englishwomen in India. I'd love to hear any other tidbits of research you might have on the topic.


16 June 2007

Historical Fiction vs. Historical Romance

There were several discussions during the Historical Novel Society convention held in Albany from June 8-10 (at which I arrived on my husband's motorcycle) on the distinctions between historical romance and historical fiction. The more I listened to authors and editors mention the differences between the two, the more I came to accept that I'm writing historical fiction. It’s one reason the romance conventions aren’t the perfect fit for me, because readers who attend them are expecting, well, a romance, to be the core of the novel, and that’s not always what I’m writing. More often than not, I’m writing a woman’s journey, through the high times and the lows of her life. Her story could include courtship, marriage, and even some dangerous liaisons, and I can even go as far to say that my books tell the story of one woman’s quest to love and be loved (hey, aren’t we all looking for that?!) but I haven’t been writing historical romances.

In historical romance, the relationship between hero and heroine is the key thread and through-line and the paramount element of the story. There must be a romance there, obviously, and even if there's a love story in the book, if the main element of the narrative is not the lovers' journey, then it's not historical romance. And in historical romance there is the expectation of, if not marriage, a happily-ever-after for the hero and heroine.

Historical fiction can have a love story in it, a romance in the sense of the noun being a synonym for the words "love story," but not a "romance" in the genre-sense of the word. In fact, if you’re telling the life story of a famous beauty, she might have been involved with many men, even a king, but there might not even be a character in it who one could qualify as the “hero.” And in historical fiction, the characters can take any journey at all and there are no “rules” (other than the expectation of solid and well crafted world-building and good research). Historical fiction doesn’t necessarily have to end happily (though editors think readers prefer it, so they often do).

There seems to be another difference between historical romance and historical fiction in terms of reader and editor expectations, which really translates into which stories are published. In historical fiction, since books like THE RED TENT (about the Biblical Dinah) and THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL hit the bestseller lists, the focus has been on fictionalizing the lives of actual historical personages. There have been a raft of historical fiction novels on everyone from Helen of Troy to Anne Boleyn (who, according to agent Irene Goodman, is an evergreen topic; no matter how many other novels about AB seem to be on the market, the desire to read about her is so strong that there’s always room for one more well-written story about her). These novels can be told in either first or third-person POV. Three of my own historical fiction novels—THE MEMOIRS OF HELEN OF TROY; TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton; and my 2008 release from NAL, ALL FOR LOVE: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson—are all told in the first person.

When it comes to historical fiction, there still seems to be a great emphasis on real-life persons being at the center of the story. Many editors remain convinced that this type of story will sell better than a book with an historical setting about fictional people. And of course, sex sells. Always has; always will. Scandalous and notorious women often led wildly fascinating lives, so novels about famous mistresses and adulterous queens jostle for position on the bookshelves.

Then there are the works of historical fiction that feature fictional characters in the principal roles and actual historical figures in the supporting roles. And some have indeed become bestsellers. Tracy Chevalier’s GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING is a prime example. Griet, the heroine, is a fictional maidservant in the house of the real-life Dutch painter Jan Vermeer. And there are Sarah Dunant’s brilliant novels of the Italian Renaissance where actual figures are reduced to smaller roles, like the renegade poet Pietro Aretino in her IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN, and even the role of the arch-villain (the fiery cleric Savaronola in THE BIRTH OF VENUS).

The exceptions to the rule about the editors’ desire for historical fiction to focus on actual figures are those novels which clearly cross over into a recognizable genre, such as the thriller or mystery. These novels have become successful because thrillers and mysteries, no matter the setting, are very popular, and it’s a genre that a bookseller can handily shelve, and which, therefore, readers can easily locate. MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is an example of an historically-set thriller.

In historical romance, there doesn’t seem to be the need to have the central characters, or even any of the characters be drawn from actual historical persons. There is the expectation from a historical romance that the reader will be given a love story in an historical setting. It would appear that the readers care more about whether the novel is successful as a romance—in the telling of a page-turning love story—than whether the characters actually ever lived or not.

Another distinction between historical romance and historical fiction is this: there are many historical romances set in America, and many that are set in the 19th century (post-Regency) world, whether in Europe or the United States. Time after time, the attendees at the Historical Novel Society convention heard that those settings—19th century, and America, whether it’s one or both of those setting “don’t sell.” There is also the belief held by editors that French settings won’t sell either, because people don’t like the French. They still cite such über-patriotic sentiments as the “freedom fries” issue. Never mind that the French were on our side during the Revolutionary War, and that without their army and their navy, we would still be singing “God Save the [gender of monarch]” as our national anthem. The exception to the anti-France view appears to be anything written about Marie Antoinette—because she’s what is considered by editors to be a “marquee name.” A “marquee name,” defined as being anyone who is so famous that their name has instant recognition, is perceived to sell, no matter the setting. But elements that are perceived as not being commercial in the historical fiction market, seem to sell in the historical romance market.

Again, in Romance, it’s about the romance. French politics and history seem to be a lesser concern to historical romance readers than to historical fiction readers. Or maybe it’s just an across-the-board perception in publishing.

That said, here’s another point of view from someone in the trenches. To that end, I’ll quote agent (and in the interest of full disclosure she's my agent) Irene Goodman about what is seen as commercially viable in historical romance. “Historical romance has become very limited to the Regency. Sexy, witty Regencies are about the only thing we can sell in that genre. It’s a crowded field, and very hard to break in. The only obvious exception is Linda Lael Miller, who writes American western. It’s different for her because A) she’s that good a writer, B) she’s been doing it for so long that none of the readers got the memo about westerns being ‘out’, and C) since she’s the only left in that field, there isn’t any competition. So no, it’s not a good idea to set a historical romance in any place besides England. And not just England—Regency England. You can get away with Georgian, if it feels and sounds like a Regency, but that's about it. Once in a while we see Scotland, but France has always been difficult, the U.S. is totally out of favor, and none of the other countries in Europe work either.”

The bottom line is that the editors are the ones who buy the books, after meeting with their sales and marketing teams. No longer does a single editor fall in love with a novel and—poof—it gets published. Decisions are made by committee these days with the bottom line squarely placed at the top of the chart. For example, if the key Borders or B&N sales reps in the Midwest, think their readers will walk right by a novel about some French people they never heard of, no matter how dynamic or well crafted, the editors will likely pass on the manuscript. In American bookstores, people vote with their purses.

I came away from the Historical Novel Society conference with the distinct impression that the “book of your heart,” whether it’s historical fiction or historical romance, no matter how passionate about it you are, and sometimes no matter how well-written, had better have a marketable setting!

15 June 2007

Shards and Fragments: Still Hooked on Classics

The hero of the book I'm writing these days is a Regency-era classicist/antiquarian scholar -- middle-aged, bespectacled, but (need I add?) way brainy-sexy. Which is a terrific excuse for me to learn something about classical history and literature (about which I knew zilch), and also to try to understand what the classics meant for the cultural life of Regency Britain. All of which I've been finding so fascinating -- beginning, of course, with the Greek invention of eros -- that I know my interest will outlast the book.

It's all still bits and pieces right now, so I guess that this will be a ragbag of a post, more a progress report or a set of field notes than a finished thing. But what's also sort of a happy surprise is that since I first posted about classics (sort of as an oddball serendipitous pursuit of mine) I've begun to feel less alone in my interest.

There are the newspaper and magazine articles, for example, about the newly re-opened and greatly expanded classical wing at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. I hope to visit the collection this summer. Though it's so huge, I'm expecting vertigo and "art sickness."

Then there was the flap of interest in the movie 300 -- and of course the TV series Rome. And most lately there's Cullen Murphy's book, Are We Rome? I haven't read it, so I don't know the answer, but I do find it a relevent question to ask (and in the book I'm writing, I try to address how Regency-era Britons might have thought about that question).

And along with articles about the Met, there have been opinion pieces about whether ancient art pieces should be returned to their country of origins -- which was also an issue in Regency England. Predictably, it was Lord Byron who spoke out most loudly and most insultingly against what he considered art theft (particularly in the case of Lord Elgin, who brought the Parthenon marbles to Britain and sold them to the British Museum). But Byron was hardly alone and there's a lot to be said for his position; I hope to write about it in a future post.

I like to say that my work in progress is about eros, esthetics, and empire. I enjoy allowing my hero to get his hands dirty as we like our romance heroes to do, and also get a nice sexy un-Regency suntan digging up antiquities.

But by far the most important thing I'm learning is about classical Greek eros as the root of our own views of sexuality and desire -- most particuarly from an extraordinary book called Eros: The Bittersweet, by the poet and classical scholar, Anne Carson.

Carson makes the startling and rather totalizing claim that the whole notion of eros is deeply implicated in the beginnings of lyric poetry and the beginning of written (as opposed to oral) literature, particularly in the work of Sappho. I haven't finished the book; I'm taking it slowly and trying to be skeptical, though in truth I'm ravished by her argument (I guess I'm prone to vertigo and "art sickness" wherever I find it). But I did blog about it a little this week, at the Spiced Tea Party, in a post called "Applesauce." And as I said there, I found Carson especially thrilling and reassuring for helping me understand further my contention that desire inheres not only in the meanings of a piece of erotic writing but in its syntax, and that eroticism isn't only a matter of ends but of means.

And finally, in this mix of bits and pieces -- did all the rest of you know that in the first century AD the Greeks created the romance?

I had no idea. But I'm not kidding. There are only five of them extant, but they were written in prose (which otherwise was only used for non-fiction), they were called romances, and were wildly popular in their time, going through many papyrus editions. Perhaps the most famous was Daphnis and Chloe, by Longus (that's it in a 17th century edition) but it sounds like there's a certain similarity to the plots of all five of them of them: a beautiful young couple fall in love, are separated, meet many mishaps, almost always including being kidnapped, sold into slavery, captured by pirates -- until they're happily reunited on the very last page.

And do I need to mention that these Greek romances have always been dissed and/or ignored by the critics as well? (though not, interestingly, by Anne Carson)

14 June 2007

Library Jackpot or Crackpot?

By Deeanne Gist

Our local library has book sales twice a year. They categorize books that have been donated or that they are getting rid of. Then they sell them for fifty cents each. I see this as a good thing and a bad thing.

I love it because it is at this sale where I find those diamonds in a haystack. One year I found a textbook written in 1874 on how to ride a bicycle. Another time I found a Sears Roebuck catalog from 1897. One of my favorites is a thick hardback, Approved Etiquette of Today, published in 1896. It includes instructions for things such as when to wear gloves, the art of dress, the proper etiquette for walking, boating, riding and driving with someone of the opposite sex.

The bad thing is when I find what I know to be a diamond, but I have no plans (at the moment) of writing in that time period. For instance, Life in a Medieval Castle or Indian Signals and Sign Language. Wizards and Wampum or Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Yet I buy them anyway ... just in case. I mean, after all, they’re only fifty cents.

Problem is, I’ve been doing this for years and now my book collection is so big I’m having trouble finding shelf space. I have books in the spare room, in my kids’ closets, in drawers, in china cabinets ... everywhere. And shelf space isn’t the only problem. I don’t really know what all I have. I <gulp> need a card catalog!

What about you? Do you rely on libraries and the internet for your research sources or are you a book collector? What challenges do you face?

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13 June 2007

The Real Pirates of the Caribbean

Brenda Starr -- um, Amanda Elyot -- reporting from the second Historical Novel Society convention, which was held in Albany last weekend. It was a 2-day whirlwind of speeches and seminars, featuring many of our favorite historical novelists, anchored by the marquee names of the lovely Diana Gabaldon and the irrepressible Bernard Cornwell.

I was especially drawn to the lectures on historical research, hoping to pan some gold nuggets from the various speakers' treasure troves of information. To that end, I found Cindy Vallar and James Nelson's terrific seminar on Bringing Pirates to Life particularly informative; in fact, I couldn't take notes fast enough. Confession-time: as a child I used to fantasize about getting captured by pirates. I'm not too sure what that says about me, or my home life. Natually, I couldn't pass up the discussion at the convention.

Vallar and Nelson's suggestions for researching real-life pirates, their haunts, and their behavior, would apply to other historical research as well, of course. Nelson, a maritime historian, cautioned that it's all too easy to get so bogged down in your research (or so in love with your topic) that you never get around to writing the novel. A number of authors, including Cornwell, echoed the sentiment that there comes a point (and only the author can decide when that moment is) where you just have to shove aside the pile of books and start to let your fingers do the walking on the keyboard. Nelson suggested that secondary sources, and even children's lit, which boils the history down to its essentials, is fabulous for getting the big picture--any big picture. Save your research from primary sources for the small picture--the invaluable minutiae that will give your novel both verisimilitude and punch.

Pirates have an evergreen allure, something Hollywood and Disney have capitalized on for years, from Captain Peter Blood to Captain Jack Sparrow. These marauders of the deep have been around for centuries; in fact Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates. And they still exist today on the high seas--they just don't wear frothy jabots at their throats. But when we think of pirates, we're usually picturing those swashbucklers (which Vallar explained isn't really a proper term for pirates, except as it may apply to the dashing and charismatic Errol Flynn in Captain Blood), from the era known as the Golden Age of Piracy (roughly 1650-1720).

Errol Flynn and supporting cast in Captain Blood
Now, why the Caribbean? First of all, it was warm. Never underestimate the lure of lovely weather. Outdoor professions can become downright unpleasant when you're freezing and wet. Secondly, there was gold. Oro. And Spain was shipping it out by the galleon. At the early cusp of the golden age, there was a political quality to piracy. Men like Sir Francis Drake (a hero to the English but still considered a pirate by the Spanish) were given tacit permission by the crown to board and plunder Spanish vessels. It was England's way of sticking it to an age-old enemy without having to start a war with them.

We have many synonyms for the word "pirate," but to use them interchangeably in your novel might reflect a lack of research. For example:

The word "buccaneer" comes from the wooden frames called "boucons" on which a certain group of barely civilized French poachers living on Hispaniola at the time would smoke their meat, mainly cattle and pigs. Those wild, barely educated men soon became known throughout the world as buccaneers. They were not marauders of the high seas, but used ships as transport, descending on Spanish Caribbean territories, sacking them, and transporting the booty back to their home port of Tortuga (one of two pirate-governed locations, the other being Port Royal in Jamaica). Often it would take several raids to accomplish their mission.

The crowns of France and England quickly discovered that buccaneers could be highly useful as mercenaries, or privateers. The monarchs gave the pirate captains a letter of marque, sanctioning their existence and permitting them to raid Spanish towns for a percentage of the booty. Captain Henry Morgan was one such pirate, sacking Panama City. His punishment? He was dragged back to England and knighted for his pains. But by the end of the 17th century, the buccaneer era was drawing to a close. England, France, and the Netherlands were gaining a foothold in the Caribbean and no longer needed mercenaries to do their dirty work.

Capt. Henry Morgan (1635-88), Welsh Buccaneer
Vallar and Nelson set the record straight on some of the proper terms for pirates, depending on the era and location of the piracy, and exploded some pirate lore as well:

The word "pirate" is generic. You can get away with using it in any setting.
"Buccaneer" refers to pirates of a specific time (the 1600s up to 1720-ish) and place (the Caribbean).

A "privateer" (like Drake or Morgan) had a letter of marque from his monarch giving him permission to attack an enemy ship. The word "privateer" however can be applied to an individual, such as the captain of the ship, to the crew, and to the ship itself. Try using the word 3 times in 1 sentence to hit all the definitions!

A "corsair" was specifically a pirate plying the Mediterranean and North African coast. While the Barbary corsairs were Moslems whose mission was to intercept and otherwise disrupt Christian shipping, especially Spanish vessels, Vallar mentioned that the Knights of Malta were Christian corsairs. If your pirate is neither of these, but is French, you can still refer to him (or her) as a "corsair," as it's the French word for the profession.

Mythbusting: Some of the common physical portrayals of pirates depict them with any number of stereotypical accoutrements--an eyepatch, a peg leg, an earring, and a parrot or monkey on their shoulder. Starting with the first misconception, Cindy Vallar reminded us that anyone in the era who had a bad eye could have an eyepatch.

More than likely, peg legs for pirates are fictional inventions (e.g., Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver in Treasure Island), because such a prosthesis was expensive, and everything a pirate owned or wore, from the froth at his throat to the cutlasses and pistols he sported at his waist or around his neck (many pirates beribboned their pistols and hung them around their necks for easy access, one assumes, as each pistol was capable of firing only a single shot), was "borrowed" from his victims. We think of pirates as looking so devilishly sexy, when actually, pirates wore whatever they could liberate. In that era of peacocks, men in general dressed that way, though perhaps pirates, who found it safer to wear some of the valuables they stole, as opposed to storing them, were a bit flashier.

As for monkeys and parrots, odds are the pirates didn't maintain them as pets, but kept them until they reached a port where, because they were valuable as exotic creatures, the pirate could make good coin by selling them.

As for the gold earring, though sailors, who owned few personal effects, often wore them so that they would still have something to be sold to pay for a proper burial, it's probable that pirates weren't so nice, even if they did sign articles of agreement that prohibited stealing from your mates. A dead pirate with a gold hoop was likely left ignominiously just where he lay, with a ripped earlobe in the bargain.

It was a risky profession; not one for the faint of heart, and rarely the get-rich-quick scheme that dreamers of freedom on the high seas imagined it would be. Pirate captains were a bit like authors: a few made a fabulous income, but most of them found marauding a hard way to make ends meet, and were always keeping a weather eye open for possible mutiny, should they fail to provide for their crew.

So what's your take on pirates: romantic or repulsive? Gritty or glamorous? Would you have liked to sail with a real pirate such as Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, or Edward Teach, or do you prefer the popcorn pirates, sailing from the comfort of your couch with Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp?

12 June 2007

Courting Trouble with Deeanne Gist!

Courting Trouble

by Deeanne Gist

June 2007, available now!

It’s 1894, the year of Essie Spreckelmeyer’s thirtieth birthday, and she decides the Lord has more important things to do than provide her a husband. So, she writes down the names of all the eligible bachelors in her small Texas town, makes a list of their attributes and drawbacks, closes her eyes, twirls her finger, and ... picks one.

But convincing the lucky “husband-to-be” is going to a bit more of a problem.

RT - 4 Stars! ****
“Readers will hold their breath as passions are flared, limits are crossed and secrets are revealed. Aside from a great storyline, highlighted with humor, readers will appreciate the insights that are revealed as we follow Essie on her journey toward love and acceptance."

Reviewers International Organization (RIO) - 5 Stars! *****
"From the very first pages the reader will find this one hard to set down. Essie is — in a word – spectacular! ... I was most impressed with this newer author’s previous novels A BRIDE MOST BEGRUDGING and THE MEASURE OF A LADY. But with this latest book positively sparkling with vitality and uplifting entertainment, I can emphatically state Gist has won me over completely."

Library Journal, June 2007 - Recommended
“Essie's journey is touching, funny, and refreshingly atypical of the romance genre. Her faith and fearless determination will warm the hearts of readers who enjoy gentle historicals. This delightful follow-up to the 2006 Christy Award-winning A Bride Most Begrudging and The Measure of a Lady is recommended for historical fiction collections and readers wanting a different, spiritual twist to the traditional romantic tale.”

Courting Trouble is set in turn-of-the-century Texas. How did you become interested in this setting?
My husband and I lived in Corsicana for a short time when we were first married. It was then that I learned oil was first discovered in Texas right there in Corsicana by accident while they were drilling water wells. I’d always assumed Spindletop was where it all started. So I decided it might be fun to explore Corsicana’s role in the oil industry and set a book around that.

Is there anything about this period that constrained your story? What do you like least about it?
Oh, quite the contrary. There were so many things about this time period that I wanted to include and just wasn’t able to work it in with everything else. Our country was on the precipice of big changes. Electricity was gaining momentum. Telephones were starting to pop up in homes of the affluent. Cars were just making an appearance. And women were breaking out of their mold (thus the bloomers and bikes and a new-found independence). I was able to work in some of the women’s emancipation, but none of the rest. (Maybe I’ll manage that in the sequel? We’ll see.)

I’ve noticed that each of your books is set in a different time/place. The Measure of a Lady is about a woman living through the gold-rush era in California. A Bride Most Begrudging takes place in seventeenth-century Virginia. Courting Trouble is turn-of-the-century Texas. Deeanne, are you a research slut?
Actually, I have found that by the time I spend an entire year in one particular time period, I’m ready for something new and different. Also, the premises in my books are driven by something intriguing that happens in our history. Unfortunately, those don’t always occur in the same time and location. So, that’s why I jump around so much.

I will confess, though, I can get caught up in the research and have to make myself stop and just get on with the story!

So what sparked the story idea for Courting Trouble? A character? An historical event? A scene that kept haunting you?
I’ve always been amazed that in the “olden days” a woman was considered to be an “old maid” at the age of 24 and completely out of the marriage market by age 30. That’s so young! Even today, we have a culture that goes two-by-two and many women believe they aren’t a “whole person” without a man. I think that’s so not true. So, I decided to explore that in this book.

What kind of major research did you have to do for this book?
So far, I’ve always visited the actual locale of my story. Description and scene setting are my biggest challenges, so going to the actual sight where I can see, taste, touch, feel and hear the location really, really helps. While there, I collect as many local history books as I can and start reading one after the other. (Museum book stores are a great place to find these.)

Another big help is if I know someone who lives there. They can, then, give me the skinny on the best places to go see and where to find the most accurate information. For Courting Trouble, I started at the Corsicana Historical Society. The gal who runs it was wonderful and a tremendous help to me.

You describe your books as “Edgy Inspirational,” inspirational romances that are steeped in the gritty reality of the settings of your novels. Is there any additional research that goes into the religious/spiritual aspects of your stories?
I, of course, study what doctrines were prevalent in the time period I’m writing about (i.e. in LADY, girls were taught “good” women did not experience sexual desire--and if they did, they could end up damaging themselves and their spouses. Yikes!). Other than that kind of thing, the spirituality aspect is finely woven into the story. My protagonists are Christian before the stories ever start, so there is no big evangelical message throughout where someone is “saved” in the end. They are simply stories about two people who happen to be Christian, who face challenges and often fall short of the mark.

Any favorite research tidbits you had to leave out of the finished novel?
There were bunches of anecdotes in LADY that I simply didn’t have room to include. The gold rush was filled with extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The research was fascinating. There was one account where some native American men wandered through San Francisco. It was clear they’d acquired a typical miner’s outfit from someone and divided it up amongst themselves. One wore the trousers and suspenders; one wore the flannel shirt; one the hat; one the scarf; one the boots ... but that was *all* they wore--nothing else!! Can you just picture the guy in the scarf and the guy in the boots? Ha!

In Courting Trouble, it was more of what I mentioned before--I wish I could have given someone a telephone. I mean, what if you were the first person in town to get one and no one else had one? Who would you call? Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll do that in the sequel (Deep in the Heart of Trouble)!

So you're working on the sequel next? Do tell!
Most sequels are about the brother or the daughter that grows up or something like that. Deep in the Heart of Trouble is actually about the same heroine we saw in Courting Trouble. And that’s been a tremendous challenge because she already had this big character arc in the first book. To give her another flaw and another (believable) character arc has really tested my mettle!

Thank you, Deeanne. Personally, I read The Measure of a Lady and fell in love with your work, and I wish you all the best with Courting Trouble and the sequel! Please visit Deeanne's website for more about her books.

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11 June 2007

Food Glorious Food

Research reveals the most delightful eccentricities, the moments of pure serendipity that make you realize that the process of creating a story is the nothing less than magic. This is not news, but it is so much fun to have this blog, a place to share the experience.

Food is a central element in my next book. As I began research in my own haphazard way I came across a dinner served at the Brighton Pavilion on January 15, 1817. We all know how elaborate dinners were then. Courses, removes, side dishes, but in the style of the Prince Regent this one exceeded excess on all levels. There were 137 dishes served, including eight soups, eight roasts, eight soufflés, 32 side dishes and 40 entrees. At the end of the meal eight huge pieces were brought in, made of sugar icing, and formed in the shape of the Pavilion itself, the ruin of a Turkish mosque, a Chinese hermitage – designed to be looked at while the guests nibbled on cheese brioche, orange biscuits and French nougats.

How many quests were at the dinner? So far I have not been able to find out, but what I do know is the name of the chef: Antonin Carême, acknowledged as the worlds first celebrity chef.

Abandoned by his parents in 1792 in Paris, 8 year old Marie Antoine Carême, found work at a cheap restaurant but eventually was apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly a well known pastry chef. Carême learned to fashion “giant confections” of sugar, marzipan and pastry. Using books on architecture he designed pieces that were several feet high. By the time her was eighteen he was considered one of the great pastry chefs.

Eventually he went to work for Talleyrand, about whom it was said, “The only master Talleyrand did not betray is the cheese of brie.” Talleyrand was one of the most lavish hosts of his day. Working for him Carême finished his education by compiling a “year’s worth of menus, without repetition and using only seasonal produce.”

He did freelance work for all of the Paris notables including Napoleon, most likely bringing back to Talleyrand valuable bits if information. Not a spy precisely, but an interested onlooker.

After spending time at the Congress of Vienna as part of Talleyrand’s entourage, Carême went to England to act as head chef for the Prince Regent, then on to Russia to cook for the Czar and finally Carême came back to Paris and the Rothschilds for whom he once made a soufflé with gold flakes.

Carême died at 48, probably of low-level carbon monoxide poisoning, but his influence remains. He invented the chef’s toque and is generally regarded as the first chef whose name and work were recognized all over Europe. The first celebrity chef.

Where is the magic in this?. Antonin Carême skill with spun sugar and pastry fits in so beautifully into my upcoming project that I bet most people will think that I made him up. For this blog my information came from Wikipedia (quoted above), historicfood.com, FOOD IN HISTORY by Tannahill, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF FRENCH CUISINE by Guy, WHY WE EAT WHAT WE EAT by Sokolov and THE SEVEN CENTURIES COOKBOOK by McKendry. The first illustration is a replica of a eighteenth century sugar sculpture, the second is a contemporary version of work in sugar.

Can you add any sources? I can tell I am going to get carried away with this research and welcome all suggested additions to my library.

08 June 2007

I collect old equestrian books with titles like “The History and Romance of the Horse” (Halcyon Press, 1939) and “Heads Up Heels Down” (The MacMillan Company 1944). Some of my oldest books date back to the early 1800’s. What I love most about these particular books are the first hand accounts of horse behavior.

Now the cynic in me (and the horse vet) wants to say “awww, come on” when I read about a horse who drags a heroine from a burning barn or performs some other wild feat of heroism, but the romance writer in me sooooo wants to believe it.

In my oldest books, there are eyewitness accounts of such horse heroism---like the story about the horse that swam into an ocean storm and braved tall waves to rescue drowning sailors from a shipwreck (the men clung to the horse’s mane and tail). Last trip out, the horse’s rider was swept away and drowned, but the horse, with five or six men still hanging on, made it to the shore. I later read a book (“The Horsemaster’s Daughter? The Light Keeper?”) by romance writer Susan Wiggs where she used this account.

Reading these old horse books gives me a reason to suspend my disbelief and write about horses in way I might not otherwise. There just has to be some element of truth in these tales. Maybe I embellish it in my books, but historical romance particularly lends itself to writing about heroic horses and sexy, hero riders.

Need contemporary evidence that horses can do amazing things? Check out this video of Andreas Helgstrand and his 9 year-old mare, Matinee, at the World Equestrian Games in Denmark. They are performing in the Musical Freestyle Dressage competition.


All I can say is WOW! This man and his horse are totally in sync. They made history with this performance and imagine what the “eyewitness accounts” to this show might sound like a hundred years from now. They might say “The mare feels the music. Her rider is dancing with her. He is the lead, but they are truly partners.”

. . .And I’ve no doubt this horse would jump into an ocean to save a heroine if he asked her to . . .

06 June 2007

Rake or Libertine?

How do you feel about rakes? Personally, I’m not a big fan of the male slut as a hero who’s magically transformed by the power of his woman’s love (or private parts). I’m too conscious of venereal disease, I suppose. So how the heck did I end up with a 2008 book tentatively called A Rake’s Guide to Ruin?

Well, lucky for me, my hero is considered a rake by the ton, but he’s truly not. He was definitely headed for that lifestyle in his youth before stunning betrayal intervened, but now he is cold, powerful and mysterious, and consequently sought after by the ladies. Who doesn’t like cold, powerful and mysterious? Mm.

So what is a rake to you? I found an interesting description in the book Erotic Love by Sardi:

The Georgian rakes and Regency Bucks were not exactly Don Juans. The Latin
lover’s romantic adventures were motivated by sensuality pure and simple. The
English Beaux were little concerned with passion. Their approach to love affairs
was cold and calculated, and motivated by a power complex that found
satisfaction in a romantic conquest. Such was the rake who was the “hero” of
Richardson’s novel, Clarissa. Taine thus described the rake: “What a character!
How very English! . . . Unyielding pride, the desire to subjugate others, the
provocative love of battle, the need for ascendency, these are his predominant
features. Sensuality is but of secondary importance. . . In France libertines
were frivolous fellows, whereas here they were mean brutes. . .”

Wow, that is just spot-on for me. And actually, my hero thinks of himself as having a “libertine’s soul”. (Piggy-backing on Kristina's previous post, I get the feeling that her hero is the same.) My rake hero is a secret sensualist, not really a rake, but I believe those distinctions would be lost in the gossip of the ton. Plus “Rake” makes for a title that the sales department will like. *g*

So how do you feel about rakes? Your favorite kind of hero or a danger to his lover’s venereal health? Do you demand that your rakes use protection? (With everyone but the heroine, of course. I’m a sucker for the “swept away by a heretofore unknown emotion” plot device. I just am. Leave me alone.) And what are your thoughts on the differences between rakes, rogues and libertines?

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05 June 2007

New Release from Kristina Cook!

To Love a Scoundrel
by Kristina Cook
Zebra­--June 2007
One lucky poster will get a signed copy from Kristina!

HE'S NOTORIOUS FOR HIS WICKED WAYS…Frederick Stoneham thoroughly enjoys the life he leads as one of London's most disreputable rogues. When his father arranges for him to wed Lady Eleanor Ashton, he believes his decadent lifestyle can carry on uninterrupted. After all, he remembers Eleanor to be plain and timid--not the kind of wife who will demand attention or insist he leave his mistress. But Frederick has a change of heart when he sees the striking beauty Eleanor has become…

CAN SHE REFORM HIM?Eleanor is stunned to discover she is to wed Frederick Stoneham--the man she has secretly pined after for years, despite his reputation. When Frederick's former mistress tells her a horrible lie, Eleanor feels betrayed. But Frederick's persistence--and a passion that refuses to be ignored--are slowly melting Eleanor's resolve. Now Frederick must prove to Eleanor that his days as a rake are in the past and that she is the only woman he will ever love...

"TO LOVE A SCOUNDREL is a luscious tale that will keep you turning pages until the sun comes up. Don't miss it!"
--Sabrina Jeffries, NYT bestselling author

The Hoydens are always excited to announce the release of a book by one of their own. Kristina’s latest book is actually a prequel to Her “UN” series, so if you’ve never read her before, what better place to start than here and now?

TO LOVE A SCOUNDREL is set in 1806. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

This is the fourth book in a series that is set in the 'extended' Regency period (the series spans from 1806 to 1824!). I've always been interested in Regency England, thanks to Jane Austen--probably my all-time favorite author. I think it's the perfect setting for romance, thanks to the built-in conflict provided by the social structure. I also like that the period still seems very 'historical'--very different from modern times--and yet it's also the beginning of what feels like 'modern' times, if that makes any sense!

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

I always find it a challenge to try and get my hero and heroine alone somewhere--without a chaperone. Yet it's generally necessary! I try and use Austen as my guide, as there are definite situations in which Emma and Knightley or Lizzie and Darcy, or even Elinor and Mr. Ferrars are alone. If Austen can do it, I can do it! Despite the strict social rules, I'm sure that human nature reigned, and rules were broken. There are even examples of this--Lydia Bennet, for example--in Austen.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn't get out of your head?

TO LOVE A SCOUNDREL is actually the fourth and last book in a series, though it's actually a prequel, taking place eleven years before the first book, UNLACED. People often ask me why I did this, but actually the entire series is written out of chronological order, written in the order that the muse struck. Once I’d finished the first three books, I still felt as if something important was ‘missing.’ Hard to put my finger on it, but there it was. The impetus; the single event that set the entire series in motion. I realized then that that event was the marriage of Lady Eleanor Ashton, the twin sister to UNLACED’s hero Lord Mandeville. Her matchmaking efforts played a key role in Lord Mandeville’s happily-ever-after; without her prodding, he might never have married UNLACED’s heroine. It’s clear in UNLACED that Eleanor and her husband Frederick love each other very much, despite that fact that their marriage was an arranged one. In fact, Eleanor’s love for her husband was so strong that she desperately wished for her brother to experience the same happiness. I simply *had* to find out how Eleanor and Frederick went from that arranged match to true love, as that set into motion a chain of events that play out over the course of three books.

Did you have to do any major research for his book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn't already know?
There's a duel in the book, so I had to do a bit of research on the 'art of the duel.' It's amazing just how formal a duel actually was, how many rules there were for an illegal activity!

What do you like to read?

I have a few favorite historical romance authors--Julia Quinn, Judith McNaught, Jill Barnett, Mary Jo Putney, and Mary Balogh. Lately, however, I've been reading a lot of YA. I loved Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT, Libba Bray's A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, and John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA. I also love to read my CP's (Charlotte Featherstone's) erotic historicals--her stories are so lush and sensual yet very emotional and touching at the same time.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I'm definitely a panstser, which gets tricky when I need to write a synopsis before I finish a book. Actually sitting down and plotting a book before I write it somehow 'ruins' it for me--it's almost like reading the last chapter of a book first! Discovering the story as I write it is part of the creative process for me. I pretty much come up with the main characters, the general set-up, and, crazy as it sounds, the characters pretty much take it from there!

What are you planning to work on next?

I’ve just begun a new historical trilogy set in 1819. The heroine is the eldest of three sisters, and a widow. She’s the first ‘experienced’ heroine I’ve ever written, and I’m having fun with that—gives me a bit of leeway to make the story slightly steamier than my previous books. And the hero is a younger man, a guy who has secretly pined after the much older heroine since boyhood. It’s a premise that I really like, and I’m having a great time creating a whole new ‘community’ of characters. I’m also working on several YA (contemporary) projects, most with paranormal elements. It’s definitely a challenge to develop not only my YA voice, but also my contemporary voice, but it’s a fun challenge!

03 June 2007

The Life and Times of Aud the Deep-Minded

The Life and Times of Aud the Deep-Minded

Aud the Deep-Minded, daughter of a Norwegian Viking who ruled in the Hebrides in the mid-9th century, married a widower Viking king of Dublin and had a son by him. When this son died years later, she took the king’s other son and daughters from his previous marriage into her own household and moved lock stock and longboat to Iceland.

This was not unusual in the Viking era for a number of reasons. First, even if they had no husband, women of high status had considerable autonomy and were treated well. Second, high-status women (some of them) traveled and explored right along with their men, so traveling to Iceland and relocating there would not have been unusual. Third, Aud the Deep-Minded worshipped Odin and Freya, not Mary and Jesus; thus she was not bound by strictures imposed by the Christian church. She could go where she wished and pretty much do what she wanted when she got there.

What Did She Wear to the Feast?

Ninth century Viking garments were similar for both rich and poor; what distinguished them would be the quality of the cloth (wool, linen, silk). Common women wore garments of woven wool or flax; rich women wore garments woven in intricate patterns, dyed with vibrant, warm colors derived from plants, often with decorative braid strips or edging. The fabric itself was
often intertwined with gold or silver thread for high-status women, and finished off with twisted silver wire buttons.

Aud wore a long-sleeved, ankle-length underdress over a “pinafore” dress fastened above the breast with a brooch of amber, carnelian, jet, even amethyst and finished off with a twisted gold neck ring and a cloak, fastened at the throat by another brooch. Her shoes, like men’s, were slip-on leather, laced up to the ankle or strapped across the instep. And she might add a square silk cap or scarf over her head.

Where Did She Live?

While common people lived in farmsteads or village communities in small wooden/sod houses with a rectangular hearth in the center for both warmth and cooking, Aud, however, would live in a “long house” or “hall house,” also constructed of wood. Sitting and sleeping benches spread along the walls, and in some houses separate rooms accommodated guests. The head-of-household sat in a carved high-back chair, and in addition she would have chests full of clothing and various belongings.

Gravesites contain pottery jars, buckets, bowls, wooden kitchen implements, pins, needles, spindles, and ceramic loom weights, bone ice skates, bone and antler combs, even a whalebone “smoothing” board carved from a single shoulder blade. She also would own walrus ivory boxes, leather shoes (cowhide tanned with dog dung, bird droppings, and urine), drinking horns, and amulets (a metal “Thor’s hammer” was a favorite).

What Did She Do for Fun?

Aud attended feasts to celebrate victory in battle, participated in ceremonies honoring Freya, goddess of love and sex, attended market fairs to see the latest goods from Arab, the Byzantine, even Charlemagne’s Carolingian traders. And she went a-viking with the men in their longboats when she had a mind to.

Erecting a “rune stone” would be a great pleasure for a woman. By the 2nd century a distinctive alphabet had been invented in Denmark, remaining in use throughout the Viking Age. The very act of commissioning such a stone indicated wealth and standing. A woman would proclaim her status as an individual land holder and her legal right to her inheritance. Such stones are found
throughout Britain, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries.

The epic poem Beowulf , an oral composition dating from the 7th century and written down in the 11th century, describes feasts in the long house (Hrothgar’s Hall) and the woman’s role as hostess, as well as drinking contests and tales told after supper about battling other-worldly gods, giants, dwarves, trolls, and monsters. Pagan life in Iceland is described by Snorri Sturluson in his 12th century Sagas. The Volsunga Saga of the 11th century is the Old Norse tale of Siegfried and Brunnhilde, which was later used by Wagner in his opera series, “Ring of the Nibelung.”

How Was She Buried?

Viking warriors believed Valkyrie maidens would bear them away to Valhalla, palace of the gods, to attend Odin, chief of the gods. [They also believed in the underworld, which they called Hel.] Often a warrior would be laid out on a pyre constructed on a ship, which was then set afire and sent off to sea. Or they might be buried in the earth along with all his earthly riches.

Viking women of high status were laid out on a much smaller “burial ship” and then lowered into a pit and covered with earth in a “boat grave.” Jewelry and treasured objects such as metal kitchen utensils were buried with her.

02 June 2007

Bordelleos, with Bonnie Edwards

My Midnight Confessions series is an erotic romance set in a haunted bordello. What does this have to do with historical research? Plenty.

The spirits of the hookers who worked there each have a story to tell. Since they lived in Perdition House pre-WWI I had some major work to do.

For the first time ever, I found myself writing historical fiction. One question on the net about brothel museums led me to The Montana Historical Society at the state website.

I learned that Butte, Montana had a reputation for its bordellos and vice dens. And that the crusader Carrie Nation had met her match in madame May Maloy. The women scuffled and Carrie emerged the loser.

Butte became the perfect place for me to find my madame. Not a prostitute, but a kept woman, raised by a single mother who'd embraced the Free Love movement that rose in the years following the Civil War.

So, I had Carrie on one side of the movement for social change and Belle a fictional forward thinking free love advocate who also needed to make a living. I used Carrie's appearance in Butte as a ticking clock.

In one vignette about one of the hookers signs appear that Carrie's due to arrive. In another, I show the scuffle that ended Carrie's time in Butte. Carrie Nation is a catalyst for change within the novel's historical setting. Belle, my fictional madame, sees Carrie's interference in Butte's business as a sign that it's time to move on. She decides to collect several women and head west to Seattle to build a fine mansion dedicated to elite businessmen and powerful politicians.

Oddly, months after completing the first story I fell across the book: Stella, by Linda J. Eversole. This is a creative non-fiction biography of a madam, Stella Carroll who operated brothels from San Francisco to Victoria, BC.

Reading the account of Stella's life sent chills up my spine. Her reasons for choosing her locations were exactly the reasons I chose to set the mansion where I did. Her attitude toward living the high life, having the best wines, the best foods, fine clothes were shared by my fictional heroine, Belle Grantham.

Creepy? You bet. Except, that for me, the real story of Stella Carroll proved that I'd come at the characters correctly. They felt real to me and now, having read about Stella, I'm hoping my characters in Midnight Confessions feel real to the readers as well.

I'm pleased to be able to offer copies of both Midnight Confessions (March 2007) and Midnight Confessions II (June 2007) to two different readers.

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