History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 December 2007

Kalen’s Pyrate Diary—Part the Thyrd

Lots of stuff going on with the Pyrate Con . . . I’ve been busy sewing and patterning and researching, and sewing some more. I finished a shirt over the weekend, did the long seams on the machine, but all the bits that show are done by hand, including the button holes and the buttons. I went with Thread Wrap Buttons, which are really quite easy to make (and they look great on the shirt!).

To make one you talk about a yard of linen thread, wax it, wrap it twenty times around something round (like a pencil) and then carefully pull it off. Then you make buttonhole knots all the way around it. The result is a stiff circle of linen, that with the addition of a shank (again made up of thread wrapped in knots) makes a killer button.

I also completed the back panel of my waistcoat (isn’t it funny that it’s pronounced wes-kit?). Here I did everything by hand. I opted for the back-lacing style, similar to the one Jonny Depp wears in Pirates of the Caribbean. Mostly this is because I like the way it looks, and I’ve become pretty adept at making hand-sewn eyelet holes over they years (they’re made with the stitch as buttonholes and the thread buttons), so it took me no time at all. I also added an arrowhead at the top of the vent. This is the first time I’ve used this stitch, and I have to say I’m pretty enamored with how it looks.

I’m really pleased with how the projects are coming along. Even though my coat fabric turned out to be a bust (what showed up was a different colour and the pattern was at least 200% larger than what was shown in the image on the website). I sent it back and started the hunt anew . . . resulting in a fab dusty rose cut velvet. So I’ll still be a pink pyrate. LOL!

For anyone interested in historical sewing techniques, I can’t recommend Vintage Sewing enough. Many of the manuals shown are actually Victorian or Edwardian, but the stitches remain the same.

28 December 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

The interview questions below were posed by author Michelle Moran (Nefertiti) and posted on her Author Interviews page at: http://historicalfictionauthorinterviews.blogspot.com/

In your historical romance CRUSADER'S LADY, you write about a woman named Soraya al-Din who disguises herself as a boy during the Middle Ages. Although Soraya is a fictional character, is there any historical precedent for women cross-dressing as men during the 12th century (or even earlier)?

I don't know about historical precedent, but logic would suggest that women traveling alone (or even in company), unless they were nobility, would be much safer in disguise. Many noble women were kidnapped anyway by pirates and sold into slavery. Sounds too wild to be true, but it is.

How much of CRUSADER'S LADY is based on fact and how much is fiction?

The true part is that Richard the Lionheart was in fact captured by German knights while traveling overland on his way home to England from the third crusade. One story goes that he was disguised as a monk, and when the German knights burst into the inn, Richard tried to masquerade as a cook, turning a spit.

The other true part is that Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, acting as regent, collected the requested ransom of some 200,000 silver marks and personally traveled across Europe to deliver it. Eleanor had been waylaid and almost kidnapped years before, in Aquitaine, and after that experience she often traveled in disguise.

It is also true that the famous worthy knight William Marshall, who had been fiercely loyal to Henry II (Richard's father), pledged himself to Richard and to Eleanor, and his appearance in Eleanor's court at Winchester, as portrayed in the book, would be authentic.

Your novel spans many countries, but eventually Soraya journeys to Richard the Lionheart's kingdom. Tell us something surprising about women in 12th century England.

Noble women rarely married for love but were used as pawns to gain property and secure "family heritage." Common women, however, were much freer (in England) to be courted and to marry for love, or because they were already expecting. The "jumping the broom" ceremony was common in the countryside--a couple simply committed themselves to each other and from then on were considered married by the community. The Catholic church didn't like this one bit.

CRUSADER'S LADY brings together two very different cultures. Soraya is a spy for Saladin, while your protagonist Marc is a Scottish knight on crusade with Richard I. What prompted you to bring such different cultures together in one book?

In the first place, it intrigued me that the Scots did in fact contribute crusader knights to the cause. Later, after the brutal 14th century dissolution of the Templar order, many Templar knights "of the brotherhood" fled to Scotland.

In the second place, I am fascinated by "culture clash," where different cultures meet and overlap. I guess I like to suggest that throughout history, beneath cultural, religious, etc. differences, human beings are human beings.

Are you working on another historical romance novel, and if so, where will it be set?

I am in fact working on another historical romance; this one (tentatively titled Pilgrimage of the Heart)revolves around another cultural "mix," that of Christian and Moorish culture in Spain and southern France in the 12th century. The novel begins in Granada and moves to Carcassonne. The heroine is half Arab (but Christian); the hero is a (ahem) Templar, sword to celibacy and fighting in the crusades. BUT he was raised, as a Christian, by an Arab foster family in Moorish Spain. I love the heady mix of cultures in Arab Spain--Jewish, Muslim, Christian. One historian I read (Elmer Bendiner) refers to this time and place as "Paradise."

Romantic Times Awards

This list of 2007 Nominees is out, and I’m ecstatic to be on it! Lord Sin was nominated for Sensual Historical Romance.

Former Hoyden Victoria Dahl is also nominated for First Historical Romance (along with our fellow 2005 Golden Heart Finalist Monica McCarty).

Lots of other friends of the blog (so to speak) are on there as well. Congrats to everyone!!!

24 December 2007

Happy Holidays from the Hoydens!!!

We're going to be taking the week "off", but we've prepared a group of tiny posts about the winter holidays to tide you over till the new year . . .

Mummer's Plays and Other Celebrations
from Lauren Willig: Historical Christmases are a subject dear to my heart right now since, appropriately enough, the book I'm working on begins over the Christmas season of 1803-4, on a large ducal estate where all the traditional Christmas celebrations are observed. As my fellow Hoydens have mentioned, the pre-Victorian Christmas season meant not just Christmas Eve and Day as we know them, but the whole twelve days of Christmas, all with their own traditions and symbolism. There are a number of fascinating practices that survive right through the eighteenth century-- mummers' plays, Twelfth Night cakes with hidden objects that made the finder king or queen for the night-- but the one that really struck my fancy was the tradition in the south and west of England of shooting away the evil spirits on Epiphany Eve. The local men would gather around a tree and fire their guns off into the air to scare away the evil spirits. Cider would be poured into the roots of the tree (and undoubtedly into the revelers' mouths, as well). Sometimes toast soaked with more cider would be tucked into the crook of the tree as an additional offering. I've read various explanations for the rite. Some say it's a continuation of ancient Roman ceremonies, some that it's a pagan ritual to ensure a good harvest the next year, others that it's a variant of German customs where evil spirits must be frightened away before the Christ child can reign. Personally, I think it gave the men of the household a good excuse to get out of the house, fire off their guns, and get sloshed in manly company. Whether you toast your trees or just each other, I hope all of you reading out there have a glorious holiday season and a very happy New Year!

Kissing Under the Mistletoe from Amanda Elyot: Kissing under the mistletoe is one of the grand romantic traditions of the holiday season, one that has its origins in the pagan beliefs of the Norse, a plant sacred to Frigga, their goddess of love and marriage.

One of Frigga's sons was Baldur. At Baldur's birth, Frigga made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant -- and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight, tricking one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. The demise of Baldur, a vegetation deity (or god of springtime), brought winter into the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life. On Baldur's resurrection, Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

Mistletoe has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac and fertility herb. It may also possess abortifacient qualities, which would help explain its association with uninhibited sexuality.

The unusual botanical history of mistletoe goes a long way towards explaining the awe in which it was held in the Norse myths. For in spite of not being rooted in the soil, mistletoe remained green throughout the winter, while the trees upon which it grew and upon which it fed did not (the European mistletoe often grows on apple trees; more rarely on oaks). Mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, as well as an emblem of fertility, although its genesis is rather unpleasant.

Now for the coal in your stocking: According to Sara Williams, "It was observed in ancient times that mistletoe would often appear on a br
anch or twig where birds had left droppings. 'Mistel' is the Anglo-Saxon word for 'dung,' and 'tan' is the word for 'twig'. So, mistletoe means 'dung-on-a-twig'." Not exactly a word origin in keeping with the romantic reputation of mistletoe plants!

Its poisonous sticky berries derive from guano deposits made by thrushes. The plant we kiss under at Christmastime, phoradendron flavescens, grows as a parasite on trees along the eastern seaboard, from New Jersey to Florida, but we're only carrying on a tradition that goes all the way back to the ancient Greek Saturnalia festivals.

One old custom about kissing under the mistletoe originated in England. A gentleman standing under the hanging mistletoe had to kiss each woman who passed him. For each kiss, the man plucks one of the berries. The kissing continues until all the berries are gone. Another mistletoe tradition is that the sprig should never touch the ground between the time it is cut until its removal as the last of the Christmas symbols to be tossed after the holiday season -- allowing for maximum
kissing time, as I see it.

Why don't you create a mistletoe tradition of your own this week! How? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice.

Seasons Greetings to all!

Christmas Dinner from Mary Blayney: Before standard cookbooks were readily available the recipes kept by a household would vary widely. Special holiday dinners would include the dishes that were most popular and most treasured by the family.

Some things have changed but not everything: when time and inclination allow we use cookbooks and the internet to find new ways to prepare foods we like, but on holidays I would wager that most families fall back on their traditional favorites.

In our house Christmas dinner is always the same: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding and the All-American green bean casserole with a Trifle for dessert.

Here is a recipe for Trifle originated by one Martha Lloyd who lived with Jane Austen and her mother and sister in Hampshire for several years. This information is from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. The book offers the original “receipt” and an adaptation for today's kitchen.

Take three Naple Biscuits cut them in Slices dip then in sack lay them

in the bottom of your dish, then make a custard of a pint of cream &

Five Eggs & put over them then make a whipt Syllabub as light as

possible to cover the whole the higher is it piled the handsomer it


In case you are curious, “Naple Biscuits” were twice-baked, hard sponge cakes made as convenient and then used as needed. The sack was used to soften the them.

Whether your holiday feast is beef, turkey or a dish unique to your family I send best wishes for the whole holiday season and the happiest of New Years.

Comfort and Joy from Pam Rosenthal: "December" isn't my favorite of John Clare's* Shepherd's Calendar poems, lacking as it does his more usual glancing views of half-hidden nature.

It's an indoor poem, devoted to warmth, comfort, and the keeping of old customs -- Christmass (as Clare spells it), in the cottage of a Northamptonshire farm-laborer, just a mile or two (in my own internal Regency countryside) from the gates of Mansfield Park -- and no more than a day's drive from Lincolnshire, and the Linseley Manor of my Almost A Gentleman (the flat, sometimes marshy countryside in both places being particularly susceptible to enclosure and agricultural "improvement").

It's a poem
about bringing the outdoors inside. Because I'm guessing that the custom most generally honored at earlier Christmases was to cut down evergreens and decorate the house with them. **

Each house is swept the day before
And windows stuck wi evergreens
The snow is beesomd*** from the door
And comfort crowns the cottage scenes
Gilt holly wi its thorny pricks
And yew and box wi berrys small
These deck the unusd candlesticks
And pictures hanging by the wall

As Amanda writes in her holiday post, the greenery includes mistletoe:

That neath each cottage beam is seen
Wi pearl-l
ike-berrys shining gay

The outdoors are not just brought in for decoration, though, but for warmth . . .

Hung wi the ivys veining bough
The ash trees round the cottage farm
Are often stript of branches now
The cotters christmass hearth to warm
He swings and twists his hazel band
And lops them off wi sharpend hook
And oft brings ivy in his hand
To decorate the chimney nook

. . . well, warmth and decoration. Perhaps what's most touching about this Christmas is how (perhaps only at Christmas) warmth and decoration, body and spirit, are not at odds. The cotter brings in the ash boughs to burn in the fireplace, but uses the ivy entwined about it "to decorate the chimney nook."

Old winter whipes his ides bye****
And warms his fingers till he smiles
Where cottage hearths are blazing high
And labour resteth from his toils
Wi merry mirth beguiling care

The day progresses, entertainers show up at the door -- wassail singers, morrice dancers "bedeckt in masks and ribbons gay," to perform traditional plays of "clown-turnd-kings" "for pence and spicy ale."

There are toys for the children --

The wooden horse wi arching head
Drawn upon wheels around the room
The g
ilded coach of ginger bread
And many colord sugar plumb
Gilt coverd books for pictures sought

And yes, then as now,

And many a thing a minutes sport
Left broken on the sanded floor
When we woud leave our play and court
Our parents promises for more

Oh, and in fact there's also a little bit of the interspecies contention of the rougher outdoor poems. At least one sort of animal is making its crafty, patient way into the festivities:

The yule cake dotted thick wi plumbs
Is on ea
ch supper table found
And cats look up for falling crumbs
Which greedy childern litter round
And huswifes sage stuffd seasond chine
Long hung in chimney nook to drye
And boiling eldern berry wine
To drink the christmass eves 'good bye'

Have a lovely holiday week, everyone.

*I wrote more about Clare here, and you can find this entire poem here. Note also that Clare didn't feel himself capable of punctuating his poems, and left it to his publisher. But since the "Shepherd's Calendar" poems were published in vastly truncated form, there is no punctuated version available.
**I was happy, when I read Clare's poem, to find that I got some of the trees right, that Phoebe and David used to decorate the great hall at Linseley Manor, even if the current cover of Almost a Gentleman makes it seem as tho
ugh the story takes place in a tanning salon.
***From the Oxford English Dictionary, beesom, or besom, is: an implement for sweeping, usually made of a bunch of broom, heather, birch, or other twigs bound together round a handle; a broom. (Dialectally, as in Scotland, the generic name for sweeping implements of any material, e.g. a heather, birch, or broom besom, a hair besom; but in literary Eng. 'broom' is now generic, and 'besom' specific.)"
****I don't know that this means. I imagine a personified Winter wiping his eyes -- "bye" perhaps meaning sideways.
*****Again from the OED, chine is "a 'joint' consisting of the whole or part of the backbone of an animal, with the adjoining flesh. The application varies much according to the animal; in mutton it is the 'saddle'; in beef any part of the back (ribs or sirloin)."

Boxing Day from Tracy Grant: December 26th is one of my favorite days of the holiday season. A friend and I go after-Christmas sale shopping in downtown San Francisco (at seventy-percent off we can afford labels that would otherwise be completely out of reach), look at the decorations, and have a holiday at a lovely restaurant with a view of Union Square. December 26th would also be an important day for the characters in the late Regency world of my books, but Mélanie Fraser would not spend the day meeting her friend Isabel Lydgate for an afternoon of shopping in the Burlington Arcade. Instead, Mélanie and her husband Charles would be presenting Christmas boxes (filled gifts such as food, clothing, toys, and money) to their servants. If they were at their country house, they would hold an open house for their tenants and present them with Christmas boxes (being very responsible landowners, I'm sure Charles and Mélanie would arrange for a Boxing Day party for their tenants even if they weren't in the country themselves). Being responsible parents, I imagine they would have their children help fill and distribute the boxes. A far more altruistic way to spend the day, I confess, than sale shopping :-).December 26th is known as Boxing Day after these Christmas boxes (not, as I vaguely thought as a child when I first read the term in British novels, because it was a day prize fights were held). It coincides with St. Stephen's Day, the day when "Good King Wenceslas looked out" and saw "a poor man gathering winter fuel." The Christmas Box tradition is owed at least in part to the fact that servants would not have December 25th off and so would celebrate with their families on the 26th (taking with them the contents of their Christmas boxes). Thinking about this reminded me once again that there would be a great many people working very hard to keep the elite world of the beau monde running smoothly. Charles and Mélanie are very egalitarian and forward-thinking, but I doubt they'd have done without a staff on Christmas Day. I do think they'd have gone to great lengths to throw a wonderful Boxing Day party, however.

Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

Hogmanay from Kalen Hughes: My dad’s family is Welsh and Scottish, and like so many expats, they cling to the more obscure bits of their heritage. One of these is adding Hogmanay into our winter rituals.

From Wikipedia: “The roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain. In Europe, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia, a great Roman winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.

There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses until the 3 January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year, so it is important that a suitable person does the job. A tall, handsome, and dark-haired man bearing a gift is strongly preferred. According to popular folklore, a man with dark hair was welcomed because he was assumed to be a fellow Scotsman; a blond or red-haired stranger was assumed to be an unwelcome Norseman.”

Somehow the description always makes me think of the romantic hero ideal (tall, dark and handsome). So when the rest of your holidays are over (and perhaps you’re suffering from a champagne-induced hangover), I wish you a very merry Hogmanay!

I’m going to strike a decidedly non-historical stance and simply urge you all to get your hands on a copy of the television miniseries of Terry Prachett’s Hog Father (which I think must be a play on Hogmanay). Death filling in for this alt-reality’s version of Santa (the Hogfather, who’s been sidelined). Death’s adopted granddaughter out to save the day (after she’s done thrashing the monsters under the bed). Murder an mayhem in the castle of the Tooth Fairy, and as always, the desire for a puppy. You’ll never think of Hogmanay the same way again.

21 December 2007

Two Views of a Countryside

"It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance."

"By some such improvements as I have suggested... you may raise it into a
place. From being the mere gentleman's residence, it becomes, by judicious improvement, the residence of a man of education, taste, modern manners, good connexions."
The first quotation, of course, describes Pemberley, that greatest of all the great good places in the romance canon, as first seen by Lizzy Bennet -- a "first impression." Which is significant, because First Impressions was Austen's working title for a novel that has taught us just how misleading first impressions can be.

Surely, though, this first felicitous glimpse of Pemberley is a truer view of the man resident within that our heroine has hitherto been afforded.

Or is it?

Because upon closer scrutiny, that description isn't quite as limpid or self-evident as it first appeared. Surprisingly, the sentence demands a little work before its meanings are completely unpacked. The banks of the stream, "neither formal nor falsely adorned," are so delightful, both to us and to Lizzy, who "had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste," that we may see the landscape as a wholly natural spot -- even while Lizzy is moved to feel "that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!"

To be mistress of Pemberly is something indeed. But Lizzy’s and our view of the place can profit from the second quote at the top of this post. This one is in the voice of one of Jane Austen's lesser gentlemen. Actually no gentleman at all, but a charming seducer, Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park. Mr. Crawford knows something about landed property: he's got some of his own in Norfolk, upon which he's worked his own "judicious improvements." And what Henry Crawford (and Jane Austen as well) know about property improvements is that they shouldn’t be obvious.

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at how tricky Austen's description of Pemberley turns out to be. Because upon first reading, it may escape the reader's notice that the "stream of some natural importance" has been "swelled into greater." "Without any artificial appearance," the stream has doubtless been widened by one of the period's great landscape gardeners, perhaps employing one of those new Watt & Boulton earthmoving engines.

Then as now, "natural" didn't come cheap or easy -- and nature wasn't to be trusted to do the job on its own.

Nor is appearance necessarily a guarantee of true inner nature. "Improvement" and "cultivation" can be slippery, ironic terms in an Austen novel. No wonder successful love is such hard work for an Austen heroine.

Ironic or sincere, one can't overestimate the importance of a "pleasing prospect" in the Georgian/Regency worldview. Power in landed society is power to turn nature into landscape and to dictate point of view. English estate owners of the eighteenth and nineteenth century invested large amounts in "improving" their property, creating seductive, natural-seeming vistas, to be seen from elevated spots or through enlarged windows. Some of the greatest English fiction takes place against this landscape, upon the great and near-great estates where the dramas of marriage and inheritance took place.

The literature has taught us to how to see such landscape. What has it hidden from us?

Lately, I've been taking some peeks beyond the outside the gates of the park and the stone walls of fields newly enclosed for improved agriculture -- in the poetry of John Clare (1793-1864).

An agricultural laborer and self-educated poet, Clare enjoyed a brief popularity with English readers in his youth, and a longer, painful obscurity, the last half of his life spent in a madhouse.

And while it's impossible to know what drives anyone mad, it's difficult not to suppose that the pressures of supporting a family through hard manual labor, combined with a lifelong pursuit of writing (and he wrote a lot) wouldn't have something to do with it. As Geoffrey Summerfield says in his introduction to Clare's Collected Poems:
By 1832, some difficult truths had shaken Clare's delicate and vulnerable sensibility: very early he had made the crucial and irreversible shift from a primarily oral culture to a literate and literary culture. But even as his work was in fact published, meeting with a confusing variety of responses from his readers, the integrity of his vision and his native language was challenged and compromised by well-meaning friends, patrons and editors, and he continued inescapably to live among people to whom poetry was a closed book.

How lonely he must have been, stranded between a disappearing world of farm laborers enclosure was rendering increasingly redundant, and the great, glittering one of English letters.

A lot of his poetry betrays its lack of formal education - until I read Clare, I hadn't realized how accustomed I was to the romantic poets’ wide education in form and meter (or even the formidable breadth of what Jane Austen picked up from her father’s library). But the best of Clare is an astonishment and you should check it out.

A particularly lovely way to discover Clare (and what Michael and I have been doing) is to read his Shepherd’s Calendar poems every month, here, online.

Long, detailed, sometimes meandering, sometimes stumbling on their clunky meters, these poems nonetheless bring us to a hidden, almost Darwinian world of creatures struggling for survival in the forgotten byways of a changing society gearing up for industrial revolution.

It’s a word of multiple, contending points of view, everything going on at once, with no grand landscaper to tell you whether to look at the birds, the trees or the clouds, or to blend them into pleasing prospect. This world takes its orders, its order and its complexity too, from the changing seasons, a world of many small ongoing dramas and wars - like this one (not in the Calendar poems) between gypsies, their dogs, and the hedgehogs they’re hunting:

But still they hunt the hedges all about

And shepherd dogs are trained to hunt them out

They hurl with savage force the stick and stone
And no one cares and still the strife goes on
Not only does no one see (their view directed onto the pleasing prospects of great, natural/artificial/natural vistas), but no one cares.

Except, perhaps, for the perennial figure you find wandering through Clare's fields, farms and forests:

And now and then a solitary boy
Journeying and muttering o’er his dreams of joy

Writers and readers both: are you conscious of the role that landscape and the natural world play in novels, even in romance novels that are so character based?

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19 December 2007

Lucky Charms ... Magically Superstitious

Every writer has a unique way of working. I tend to be very visual and visceral. I try to engage every sense as I work, and if I have an object in front of me that evokes the specific work in progress, it becomes more than a research tool; I start viewing it as a talisman.

As I was writing THE MEMOIRS OF HELEN OF TROY (Crown, Nov. 2005/Three Rivers Press, July, 2006), I had the notion that Helen would be penning her story on papyrus (she spent the nine years following the Trojan War in Egypt, reunited with Menelaus) with a white swan's feather. Her father, of course, was Zeus, who had visited her mother Leda, in the guise of a swan, and Helen was the result of their cross-species coupling. In the novel, I had Zeus leave a white swan's feather on the plinth where he and Leda had made love. Leda had saved the feather, and after her death, Helen claimed it -- the only thing Helen had of her father.

Swans routinely glide through the cove that runs behind my parents' summer home in Sag Harbor. One lazy afternoon I noticed that one of them had shed a quill. I raced to the dock, hopped into my kayak and paddled over to retrieve it. I kept it on my desk as I worked on the edits for the novel, and it's there still.

When I worked on TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton (NAL, Feb. 2007), I felt the power and aura of Emma and Lord Nelson emanating from Emmas's autographs, which I set into a small frame on my desk, and the bust of Nelson made from the melted copper taken from the Foudroyant, Nelson's favorite flagship. Why was the Foudroyant his favorite? Because it's the one where he made love to Emma.

And during the early research stages for ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy (NAL, June, 2008), I found a genuine four-leaf clover pressed into the pages of one of the used books I purchased through Amazon. I'm convinced the clover was intended to come my way -- a good-luck charm that somehow assured me that the project (the most difficult of my writing career, to date) would turn out all right.

So, how about you? Are there any talismans you have accumulated in your research, or which you purchased to keep your memory sparking as you work on a specific novel? What are your lucky writing charms?

17 December 2007

Pick a Year, Any Year

In the spirit of the season, this blog is going to be short. Thus allowing you (and me) a few more minutes to WRITE, buy gifts, make gifts, do cards, decorate the house, the yard, yourself, bake goodies, wrap gifts and otherwise prepare for the holidays still to come and a Happy Hanukkah to all whose holiday is already a memory.

On my list of regularly consulted research books, is the encyclopedic volume entitled The People’s Chronology by James Trager. The cover announces that inside you will find “A year-by-year record of human events from prehistory to the present.” Personally, I do not have much use for the pre-history section but the years of the Regency are filled with useful information. It is one of the first places I look when I am starting a new book. It gives me a brief (God bless it) overview of what went on that year, what events would have influenced my characters lives, directly, indirectly or in the long run.

Let’s take a look at the year 1817 – of the thirty-nine entries, eighteen of them could have had an impact on the life of the characters in my WIP, from the publication of Rob Roy by Walter Scott to the extension of the Coercion Acts passed by Parliament to “extend the 1798 act against seditious meetings, suspend temporarily the right of habeas corpus … and has the effect of stimulating activity by extremists in the radical movement.”

Trager does seem to favor events in the United States and he does omit some events that were important at the time, but seemed to have lost historical weight over the years. One example is the death of Princess of Wales, Charlotte, in November of 1817. Overall I find the book very useful and a good jumping off point for further research. Call me lazy but all shortcuts are welcome.

Have you noticed that research books fall into several categories: books you treasure, books you read constantly, books you consult occasionally and some you have never opened? I treasure Mrs. Hurst Dancing, have read Life at Burghley more than once, consult the above regularly and have never opened (but will someday) The Complete Angler. What other categories are there? And what makes your list or tresaured, oft read and ignored?

13 December 2007

Welcome, Diane Whiteside

Beyond the Dark
by Diane Whiteside
Available January 2008

My apologies to Diane. I grabbed the wrong book of her site in non-caffeinated stupor this morning.

Caught by the Tides - Diane Whiteside

England, 1803

Exhausted after more than a decade of bloody war, England and Napoleon signed a peace treaty two years ago. England paid off her army and navy and set about healing her people.
Napoleon consolidated Europe under his rule and rearmed. Now he stands less than twenty-five miles from England’s coast with the greatest army Europe has ever seen, determined to conquer the only country that’s refused to bow before him.
England is defended only by a handful of troops, the few ships left in the Royal Navy – and the King’s Mages.

Owen Bentham, a King’s Mage, carries a message Napoleon will do anything to stop from reaching London. A howling gale washes him ashore on the Cornish coast, more dead than alive, where he’s rescued by Emma Sinclair, a naval officer’s widow. But the same treasonous mage who wrecked Owen’s boat has trapped Owen and Emma on her estate, unable to deliver the message or even call for help.

To break free, Emma must give more than her heart to this chance-met stranger – or England itself may fall…

“Caught by the Tides” from BEYOND THE DARK is set in April, 1803. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I love Regency England – and I love the Napoleonic Wars. I love all the classic elements of a great Regency love story – the tightly constrained setting for each story, how conflict is expressed in quick twists of dialog and manners, the vivid details of clothing, locale, and dialect. Yet I’m also fascinated by the intensity of the Napoleonic Wars, how each side could see themselves as fighting for freedom while the other side jeered at them for being tyrants.
Both aspects are highlighted for a few short months during 1803. The world’s future hung by a thread several times during that war and one of the most critical was April, 1803. Napoleon had just crowned himself emperor and is apparently determined to invade Britain, backed by an enormous army. London is frantically rearming, having stripped their army and navy down to basically nothing. France and the entire continent is littered with Englishmen, blindly having jolly holidays abroad and sending home delicious French handiworks.

“Caught by the Tides” is a Regency paranormal, set in an alternate universe as close as possible to historical fact – except for mages.

What/Who do you like to read?

Yes, I’ve read all of Georgette Heyer to the point of nearly memorizing many of her Regencies, plus Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverly... But I’ve also read all of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, plus many of the other great naval war stories. And, of course, there’s Daphne Du Maurier’s JAMAICA INN!

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

I wanted to write a story where the more upper-crust elements of a traditional Regency were combined with a grittier reality, closer to that of classic Napoleonic seafaring adventures. Then I remembered King’s Messengers.

King’s Messengers are a very secretive lot who work for the British Crown. There aren’t many of them; in fact, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the British Government even admitted how many there were. They’ve carried diplomatic messages since the reign of Richard III and their silver greyhound badge came from Charles II, who broke off a punch bowl’s ornaments during his exile to identify them. They’re often former army officers and they have a good deal of authority, although it’s usually wielded discreetly. Legend says they can even commandeer a battleship, if that’s what it takes to get their message through.

Ah ha! I had my hero: Owen Bentham, a King’s Messenger, an ex-cavalry sergeant, a gentleman’s bastard – caught between two worlds, a mage but not pleased about it. He’s absolutely dedicated to getting his message to London but there’s nothing Napoleon won’t do to stop him.

I also used the King’s Messengers’ mystique to build people’s reaction to him. For example, when he’s racing to get out of France, other Englishmen will lend him their horses or ride with him, even tie him in the saddle so he can sleep. Emma, my heroine, is appalled when she first sees his condition, since nobody should knowingly attack a King’s Messenger.

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

It’s more that I like this period so much I could have spent more time in it – but I was writing a novella! There’s no room for self-indulgence in a hundred pages.

Owen gets picked up by a courier ship in the first chapter, which the French destroy – thus stranding him in Cornwall on Emma’s doorstep. I had a delightful time working out the exact type of ship, what his quarters would look like, how the magickal battle would occur, how he’d be thrown into the ocean – even wrote most of the scene… Then I looked at the page count, whimpered, and deleted it.

Emma is a very respectable woman. However, she’s a naval widow and she’s not about to let Napoleon kill anybody else if she can help it, even if that means risking her reputation. Well, Owen – and I, as a big fan of traditional Regencies – would have enjoyed a somewhat slower courtship, starting with a few lingering glances and maybe some unexpected brushes against each other. But there’s little time for that in a novella, especially when you’ve also got a treasonous mage who’s determined to kill the hero and kidnap the heroine.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

The most startling research had to do with Owen’s clothing, which became a major part of characterizing him. At the beginning, he’s a courier, riding across France with a vital message. If stopped by the French authorities, he plans to tell them he’s a British tradesman, desperate to return home. This wasn’t the typical situation for a Regency hero – neither a ballroom nor a fox in sight!

Well, I could easily guess he was wearing high boots, as befitted a former dragoon. Buckskin breeches were also a safe bet, with a simple shirt and cravat. But what about his coat? Wool? Hardly, when he’s carrying guns. Plus, he’s a tradesman and they dressed more roughly.
Sounded like time for a hunting jacket, made from chamois leather!

Owen is dressed from head to toe in leather, the first time the reader meets him? Oh be still, my beating heart… I still can’t believe I can have a historically accurate hero who wore leather.
Owen graduates from that to a blue banyan, its looseness more appropriate to his invalid status after Emma rescues him from the storm. Then there’s the respectable but somewhat ill-fitting clothing he dons to exercise in, only to magickally tweak it into fashionable perfection when he realizes Emma will be accompanying him.

Owen wears full regimentals for the final battle, which I enjoyed designing. His regimental uniform is based on a hussar’s uniform, which was always intended to be impressive – as in, terrifying to opponents. To my surprise, no British hussar regiment ever wore a purely scarlet and gold uniform, since infantry regiments apparently grabbed that color scheme first. (The facings could be scarlet and gold, but not the tunic itself.)

The uniform itself is based on Baden-Powell’s 1930 photo as colonel of the 13th Hussars. Most of his uniform’s elements would be familiar to Napoleon and all of them had meaning to a soldier. The gold braid and gold lace are actually protection from sword cuts, designed to turn away a blade. The fur-lined pelisse, tossed decoratively over his shoulder, can be worn in foul weather. Baden-Powell’s shako is standard British issue. Owen’s bearskin cap is based on a battle honor earned when a British cavalry regiment bowled over a French one during the early eighteenth century.

Gryphons play an important role in “Caught by the Tides” magick. They’re a cross between eagles and lions and are masters of land and air. To my fascination, the egret feather arrived during the British Raj – and I didn’t find it on any other country’s uniform. It seemed appropriate to place a similarly jaunty and arrogant feather on Owen’s bearskin cap, this one taken from a gryphon, to show his growth from leather-clad courier to polished officer of the King and suitable mate for a lady.

One last comment: Regimental colors are still deeply embedded in people’s psyche. One cavalry regiment was originally raised in Ireland during the late seventeenth century, when it wore its founder’s aristocratic colors. The cavalry regiment still survives, although it serves the British Commonwealth. The land where its troopers once came from is now part of the Republic of Eire, not the British Commonwealth. But the people living there still wear the same combination of colors when they cheer their local football team on.

12 December 2007

Building a Literary World

“World building” tends to be a phrase we associate with fantasy and science fiction novels. And yet every writer has to build the world of his or her novel, and for the historical novelist this is a particular challenge. One of the things I love about historical fiction is feeling as though I’ve stepped into the world of the book. As historical novelists we need to not only understand the broader context of the eras in which our books are set—the political situation, the economic shifts, the intricacies of social convention--but also to be able to use specific details to bring the world to life—the smell of a particular type of snuff, the way a gown fastens, the taste of treacle pudding, the rattle of an inn sign in a gust of wind, the shadows interior carriage lamps cast on watered silk upholstery, the glow of candlelight reflected in the polished veneer of a Sheraton writing table.

Beyond bringing an historical era to life, as historical novelists our world building often extends to specific buildings our characters live in, and the history of those buildings and the people who inhabit them. When I began work on “Secrets of a Lady,” I had a quite detailed outline of the plot. I had done sketches of the main characters, family trees, notes on the key plot points. But then I got to Chapter 2, in which Charles and Mélanie (the hero and heroine) realize their six-year-old son is missing. Their first thought is that he’s hiding (he got in trouble earlier in the day for fighting with his sister), so they organize a search of the house. Of course for the search they wake up all the household. Having written a number of Regency-set books, I had a general idea about the composition of their staff—a butler, footmen, a cook, housemaids. But for this scene, I needed to settle on specifics. How many footmen? A butler and a housekeeper or just a butler? A cook or a French chef? How many housemaids? How many kitchen maids? I ended up with Higgins, the butler; Mrs. Esrkine, the cook (a Scottish name, because Charles is Scots); Addison, Charles’s valet (who’s been with him since Oxford); Blanca, Mélanie’s maid (who came from Spain with her); Morag and Lucy, the housemaids (again, Scottish); William and Michael, the footmen (Michael came from Charles’s grandfather’s estate in Ireland); Polly, the laundry maid; Jeanie, the kitchen maid; and Kip, the boot boy; in addition to Laura Dudley, the governess, who first alerts them to the fact that their son Colin is missing (Laura’s name was Sarah Cummings in this early draft; I changed her name when I realized the role she would play in subsequent books and her name didn’t seem to fit, but that’s another story).

Having identified and named the characters who would search the house, I needed a floor plan of the house to describe the serach. I sketched one out, floor by floor, which was a good thing, as I was writing a series and would be returning to this setting often. When I began the book, the Frasers’ house was in South Audley Street, just off Berkeley Square. Later, while writing the book, I went on a research trip to London and found a beautiful house on Berkeley Square which became my exterior model for Charles and Mélanie’s house, and I moved their direction to Berkeley Square.

My next book, “Beneath a Silent Moon” (which will be reissued in trade this May) takes place largely in Charles’s family home on the Perthshire coast in Scotland. For this book, I needed to do a floor plan not only of the house but of its grounds and out buildings. To do the floor plan, I needed to know the house’s history, when it had originally been built, when it had been added to and modified. And that meant knowing the history of my fictional Fraser family. Exploring Charles’s family was part of my inspiration for writing the book, so as I developed the book I went back and forth between working out the history of the Fraser family (for instance, I decided Charles’s father was a poor relation, who bought the estate after the death of godfather and distant cousin) and the history of the house.

I went to Scotland on a research trip in the early stages of writing “Beneath a Silent Moon.” My good friend, fellow writer, and critique partner, Penelope Williamson, and I spent a fabulous two weeks traveling round Scotland, visiting a wonderful succession of castles and country houses. Bits and pieces of a lot of those castles and country houses went into the creation of Charles’s family home.
I based it primarily on Drum Castle in Perthshire and Dunrobin Castle, farther north in Ross-shire. It was Penny, over dinner in a lovely country house hotel, who suggested the name Dunmykel for the estate. It seemed right, and I liked it because one of my close friends is named Michael (though he goes by his middle name). In addition to creating the main house, historical era by historical era, I worked out the lay out of the grounds (primarily the creation of Charles's mother, inspired largely by those at Dunrobin), and other building such as the sixteenth-century chapel (inspired by a chapel at Drum). By the end of the trip, my fictional Dunmykel and its history had fallen into place. “…a turreted mass against the blue sky, washed white by the sunlight. The thirteenth-century tower, the fifteenth-century north wing, the seventeenth-century central block and south wing, all overlaid by the embellishments and improvements of the eighteenth century. A jumble of eras, layered one on top of the other, like a tangle of memories.”

Dunmykel became in a sense a metaphor for the tangled lives and histories of the characters in "Beneath a Silent Moon", and the layers or memories and secrets they hold between them and coneal from one another. By the time I finished the book, I could understand why Charles loved the house so. It’s a setting I’m eager to return to.

As a writer of historical fiction, do you enjoy building the world of your books? Do you create floor plans and family trees and lists of staff and family members, collect photographs, or use other techniques to build your setting? As a reader, are there literary houses that linger in memory? Are there books in which the details about the family and household staff are particularly vivid?

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09 December 2007

Button, button, who's got the button?

Ok, so maybe buttons aren't the most interesting topic in the world, unless you're a costume historian and you're making a reproduction item of apparel. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm going to be attending the 2008 Pyrate Con in New Orleans next April. I'll also be giving a workshop on the clothing of the Golden Age of Piracy, and simple methods to make off-the-rack pirate attire more authentic, original, and fun. We're going to call it The Devil is in the Details.

Since sometimes it's only the little things you can chance--and IMO the little things can make a HUGE difference--I've been giving the buttons for my coat and waistcoat a lot of thought. One of the cooler buttons I've seen used on extant garments from the time period is the thread-wrapped Death Head or Leek Button. There are sources out there to buy these from (at four-pounds each!). And the coat or waistcoat will take a least 45 buttons (roughly $800). Since I'm not a trustfund-brat or married to a Silicon Valley CEO, I'll be making these myself . . .

Luckily I came across Norman Fuss's book, which has really wonderful directions, as well as a concise history and pictures of many extant examples. The buttons are quite time consuming to make, but I think the effect will be worth it. It took a bit of doing to get the method down pat, and even with directions I had to invent my own step of waxing the wooden button mold before attempting to lay down the first wraps.

It took a few nights after work of solid toil, but very soon I had a large enough stash of these to complete my waistcoat. I'm still deciding about what to do for my coat buttons. I finally found just the right fabric (a soft pink cut velvet with a great Baroque pattern), and I'm thinking that I might totally lose my mind and make something with embroidery and spangles (aka sequins).

Clearly I've lost what was left of my mind, but what a wonderful way to go. As Captain Reynolds (the futuristic pirate captain from Joss Whedon's wonderful, and sadly short-lived, series Firefly) would say: I aim to misbehave.

08 December 2007

Who Knew?

Want to know what plants grew in 14th century Ceylon? What the bride wore to her marriage ceremony in the Maldive Islands? Did you know Egypt endured a plague in 1354 A.D.?

Ibn Battuta, an amazingly intrepid traveler of the 14th century, went everywhere and wrote it all down in a book called The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354. The translator (Rev. Samuel Lee) says: “The Sheikh Ibn Batuta, the author of these travels, left his native city of Tangiers for the purpose of performing the pilgrimage in the 725th year of the Hejira (A.D. 1324-5.)”

The work is translated from an Arabic manuscript, now preserved in the Cambridge Public Library, and documents history, geography, botany, antiquities, etc. of all the places he visited.

The man traveled in the Near East, India, China, and Africa for 20 years, recording the names of cities he visited, names of kings and sultans, how long it took to sail from one coastal city to another or plod across the desert on camel back, what he ate, how much money he was given by generous hosts, and practically everything else you’d ever want to know about those lands he visited.

Here are some snippets:

Egypt: “The Nile, which runs through this country, excels all other rivers in the sweetness of its taste.” [Translator Rev. Samuel Lee notes: “That the water of the Nile was commonly drunk as early as the times of Moses, we are informed in the book of Exodus, chap. vii.”]

Syria: “I entered the sands (Desert)... at each stage (village) there is an inn, which they call El khan. Here the travellers put up their beasts; here are also watering camels, as well as shops, so that a traveller may purchase whatever he may want either for himself or his beast.

I next arrived at Gaza, and from thence proceeded to the city of El Khalil Ibrahim (Abraham the Friend). In the mosque of this place is the holy cave, and in this are the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with those of their wives. This cave I visited.”

Iraq: “The inhabitants consist chiefly of rich and brave merchants. About the gardens are plastered walls adorned with paintings, and within them are carpets, couches, and lamps of gold and silver.”

Persia: “It is a practice with them [the inhabitants of El Hilla, near Babylon] to come daily, armed to the number of a hundred, to the door of the mosque, bringing with them a beast saddled and bridled, a great number of persons also with drums and trumpets, and to say, ‘Come forth, Lord of the age, for tyranny and baseness now abounds.’”

Turkey: “ From this place (Tekrit) I went to Nisibin, where I arrived after a journey of two days. This is an ancient city; but is now mostly in ruins. It abounds in water and gardens, and is surrounded by a river as with a bracelet. Rose-water incomparable in scent is made here.”

Zanzibar: “Their meat is generally rice roasted with oil, and placed in a large wooden dish. Over this they place a large dish of elkushan, which consists of flesh, fish, fowl, and vegetables. They also roast the fruit of the plantain, and afterwards boil it in new milk: they then put it on a dish, and the curdled milk on another. They also put on dishes, some of preserved lemon, bunches of preserved pepper-pods salted and pickled, as also grapes, which are not unlike apples, except that they have stones.”

Arabia: “From this place [Amman] I went to Hormuz, which is a city built on the seashore; opposite to which, but within the sea, is New Hormuz. This is an island, the city of which is called Harauna. It is a large and beautiful place, and here the King resides. The island is in extent about a day’s journey: but the greatest part of it consists of salt earth, and of hills of Darani salt. The inhabitants subsist upon fish and dates... they have but little water.”

Tartary: “This desert is green and productive: it has, however, neither tree, mountain, hill, nor wood in it. The inhabitants burn dung. They travel over this desert upon a cart... the journey is one of six months.”

Kabul: “I proceeded to the city of Barwan, in the road to which is a high mountain, covered with snow and exceedingly cold; they call it the Hindu Kush (Hindu-slayer) because most of the slaves brought thither from India die on account of the intenseness of the cold.”

Ceylon: “The ruby and carbuncle are found only in this country. They are not allowed to be exported, on account of the great estimation in which they are held: nor are they elsewhere dug up. But the ruby is found all over Ceylon. When they dig for this ruby, they find a white stone abounding with fissures. Within this the ruby is placed. They cut it out, and give it to the polishers, who polish it until the ruby is separated from the stone. Of this there is the red, the yellow, and the cerulean. They call it the Manikam. It is a custom among them, that every ruby amounting in value to six of the golden dinars current in those parts, shall go to the Emperor... and what falls short of this goes to his attendants. All the women in the island of Ceylon have traces of coloured rubies, which they put upon their hands and legs as chains, in the place of bracelets and ankle-rings. I once saw upon the head of the white elephant [belonging to the Emir] seven rubies, each of which was larger than a hen’s egg.”

Hindustan: “This Emir had always before him a number of bows of various sizes, and when anyone, who wished to enlist as a bowman, presented himself, the Emir threw one of these bows to him, which he drew with all his might. Then, as his strength proved to be, so was his situation appointed. But when any one wished to enlist as a horseman, a drum was fixed, and the man ran with his horse at full speed, and struck the drum with his spear. Then, according to the effect of the stroke, was his place determined.”

“We next came to the city of Hinaur, which is situated at an estuary of the sea, and which receives large vessels. The inhabitants of this place are Moslems of the sect of Shafia, a peaceable and religious people. The women of this city, and indeed of all the Indian districts situated on the sea-shores, never dress in clothes that have been stitched, but the contrary. One of them, for example, will tie one part of a piece of cloth round her waist, while the remaining part will be placed upon her head and breast. They are chaste and handsome. The greater part of the inhabitants, both males and females, have committed the Koran to memory.”

Maldive Islands: “They are a cleanly people, each individual washing himself twice daily, on account of the great heat of the sun. They very much use perfumes, such as the galia, and scented oils. Every woman must, as soon as her husband has arisen and said his prayers, bring him the box of colyrium for his eyes, with the perfumes, and with these he anoints and perfumes himself. The whole country is shaded with trees, so that a person walking along, is just as if he were walking in a garden.

“Whenever a traveler enters these islands, he may marry for a very small dowry one of the handsomest women for any specific period, upon this condition, that he shall divorce her when he leaves the place.

“The greatest part of their trade consists in a sort of hemp, that is, thread made of the fibres of the cocoa-nut. It is made by macerating the nut in water, then by beating it with large mallets till it is quite soft; they then spin it out, and afterwards twist it into ropes. With this thread the ships of India and Yemen are sewn together, of which, when they happen to strike against a rock, the thread will yield a little, but will not soon break, contrary to what happens when put together with iron nails.”

Sumatra: “I traveled to the city of Jabnak, which is very large and beautiful; it is divided by the river which descends from the mountains of Kamru, called the Blue River. By this one may travel to Bengal and the countries of Laknouti. Upon it are gardens, mills, and villages, which it refreshes and gladdens like the Nile of Egypt.”

Java: “In Java there is only the frankincense of Java, camphor, some cloves, and Indian aloes. ... Of this is the frankincense, the tree of which is small, and about the height of a man; its branches are like those of the artichoke [translator doubts this word]. The leaves are small and thin; and the incense is a gum which is formed in the branches. As to the camphor, its tree is a reed, like the reeds of our own countries, except only that it is thicker, and the knots are longer. The camphor is formed within it: and when the reed is broken, both camphor and myrrh are found within the knot.”

China: “In China grows the sugar-cane, and is much better than that of Egypt. Silk is most plentiful among them, for the silkworm is found sticking and feeding upon the trees in all their districts; and hence they make their silk, which is the clothing of the poorest among them. Were it not for the merchants, it would bring no price whatever, and still, a cotton dress will purchase many silken ones.”

Spain: “The first place I saw was the Hill of Victory... From this place commenced Islamism, in the great victory; for here landed Tarik Ibn Ziad, the slave of Musa Ibn Nasir, at the time of his passing over to Spain. From this circumstance it was named after him, and called Jabal Tarik [corrupted to Gibraltar].

“I then went to Granada, the chief city of Andalusia, which, for its structures and suburbs is unequalled in the whole world. The King of Granada was at this time Abu El Walid Yusuf Ibn Nasir.”

Africa: “From Granada I then traveled by land to Marrakish [Morocco], which is a most beautiful city, of extensive trade and territory.”

Sudan: “As to their bad practices, they will exhibit their little daughters, as well as their male and female slaves, quite naked. Nor do the free women ever clothe themselves till after marriage.”

Source: The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, translated by Rev. Samuel Lee, Dover

03 December 2007

Welcome, Joyce Henderson!

To The Edge Of The Stars
by Joyce Henderson
Available Now!

The instant attraction Kalen Barrett felt for Taylor Savage terrified her. But each time she glimpsed the promise of passionate fulfillment in Taylor's heated eyes, she came a little closer to losing control, but he�always held back the words she longed to hear. If he would only give her his heart, she would follow him�body and soul---TO THE EDGE OF THE STARS

"The tough and the tender fill this heartwarming yet gritty love story. The grit comes from the sexy, tough hero; the tenderness from the strong-willed heroine; and the reality from the well-drawn backdrop. Readers will take to this tale like a newborn calf to its mother."
--4 Stars RTBook reviews

To The Edge Of The Stars is set in Central Texas, 1870. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I've always wondered about the interaction between Comanches and whites of that era. I want to believe that mating, or "hooking up" in today's terminology, wasn't always the result of raiding and rape; that half-breed births may have been the result of attraction, at least occasionally!

My great- grandparents migrated to that area in 1900. I visited the old homestead many times, even after my marriage in 1952 when my husband was stationed in San Antonio.

My husband still remembers the dinner my great-aunt cooked on the still-in-use woodstove. The outhouse was still in use, as well. A little aside to that. My great-grandmother wasn't any bigger than a minute, but she raised twelve children on that 60-acre farm. Grandma Bond was stubborn as the day is long. When she was about 75, she had an indoor bathroom built in the house, but the day before all the plumbing was to be hooked up, she went in the room for some reason and banged her foot on the commode. Until the day she died--and out of pure spite, I think--she wouldn't let anyone finish that indoor bathroom because her foot never healed (diabetes), and she was wheelchair bound the rest of her life. She died at 93.

I have a sneakin's hunch my stubborn streak may be inherited, and not just because I'm a Capricorn. :-)

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

I wouldn't have wanted to live then: the dirt, no air-conditioning :-). There's not much that I have trouble plotting around, I fly in the mist, but I do have to constantly check my verbiage that was in use or not in use in that day and age. I wanted to use the word "psychosomatic" to describe a secondary characters blindness, but my editor deleted it. The word was in use, barely, and she thought it sounded too modern.

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

An historical event, you might say. Not too far in the past, only 1968 or '69...the death of a child from being kicked by a horse.

And living!

I've always had a rich imagination and lived several lives--as many writers do--before I settled on writing fiction. I married 11 days out of high school, lo those many years ago, and still married to the same hero! A mother by age 18, I was a stay at home mom while hubby, after discharge, went to college (I typed all his papers! I have a PHTC certificate from UCLA).

Bob worked in the aerospace industry while we were headed to the moon. He worked on the LEM project, Lunar Landing Module; the retro rockets that kept Neil Armstrong from crashing on the moon. Then we owned the ranch and I worked part-time in offices as a bookkeeper, then secretary treasurer of our own corporation. I was a part-time manager in a international cosmetics firm for 35 years, and didn't settle on writing until I was 49 years old!

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I have probably read one hundred books about the era. As for the horses aspect of my stories, we owned horses and a working ranch for about 20 years in Southern California. What I come across that I may not remember or know, medications come to mind, I can research to find out...usually on the web.

What/Who do you like to read?

I read everything, but in the Old West subgenre, I love, love, LOVE Kathleen Eagle's and Pat Potter's historical work. Cassie Edwards and Leigh Greenwood have been around for a long spell, and recently I've read Karen Kay and Cindy Holby. Of course, Nora's no slouch in historical work. :-)

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've always been a pantser (fly in the mist) until recently. My agent insisted I write a proposal for TO THE EDGE OF THE STARS, which meant a synopsis, and that, to a degree, is plotting. I see scenes in my head, so I write the whole thing at once. That's not to say I don't have to edit, usually twice.

I work with two critique partners who are superb. What one doesn't catch the other one does. :-) Both are English majors, both taught school, one high school literature, the other 7th and 8th grades, and honors students. While I do hold a certificate from the Newspaper Insitute of America, I am really a graduate of the "school of hard knocks" rather than "Ivory Tower" education, so my critique partners keep me on my grammar toes. None of us write the same sub-genre, and we are able to critique without disturbing one another's voice.

What are you planning to work on next?

I am 250 + pages into my next story about a full-blood Comanche and a white woman and their desire to wed, but of course that is frowned upon by both her people and his.

After I finish that, TO THE EDGE OF THE STARS has a blind secondary character, and the one I'm working on has a mute secondary character. I may write the mute's story next.

Or...I could write the story of how the secondary character became blind.

Or...I have a mini time travel in mind. By that I mean, from now back to the mid 1850's.

Or...I wrote a rough draft of a deaf heroine that I might fish out and rewrite. I liked her story. Although, when I wrote that story, I didn't know how to write fiction.

As I said, my imagination runs wild, and I like what I do. It's the best job in the world. I'm sitting here right now in my Bullwinkle long tee shirt that I wear as a robe. Where else could you shuffle into your office in slippers?

Check out my web site, which I created myself--ugh--and keep up after a fashion. www.joycehendersonauthor.com

Research in Unlikely Places

I can dig into weighty historical sources with the best of them. At least once a week, I try to convince myself that $295 isn’t too much to spend on a copy of The Regency Companion. But I have to confess that the most exciting research -- and sometimes the most useful -- is the random stuff that comes when I least expect it.

One of my hobbies is fishkeeping. Last week, I stumbled across a recent article detailing how to keep fish in unheated aquariums. The author mentioned in passing that keeping unheated tanks goes back hundreds of years. In fact, during the late Georgian and early Victorian period, keeping tropical fish was a popular hobby. Because the average winter temperature of an English home in that era was less than sixty degress Farenheit (brrr…) and they had no means to reliably heat an aquarium, species that White Cloud Mountain Minnowcould tolerate cold temperatures were preferred. The author even referenced a few, like the lovely White Cloud Mountain Minnow from China (pictured).

Now there’s a hobby you don’t see in every Regency book on the shelf. No doubt I’ll use it someday, when I have a heroine in need of a peculiar pastime. It's a little bluestocking, but not a cliche.

Gerard Dou - A Lady Playing a Clavichord, circa 1665Another great find -- while taking a break from writing a book about a Regency heroine who loved music, I saw a review of a new CD of clavichord compositions from the Baroque era. Although I’m moderately knowledgable about classical music, I didn’t know much about the clavichord, a small stringed instrument which usually only has four octaves (the range of modern pianos is 7 and a half octaves). The reviewer gave a brief history of the clavichord, including such tidbits as the instrument being favored in smaller London homes because it wasn’t very loud and wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. My heroine was a cellist, but of course she couldn’t play her cello in polite company. The clavichord became her instrument of choice, making her a shade more interesting than the usual pianoforte-pounding heroine.

To hear samples of many different keyboard instruments through history, check out Dr. Bradley Lehman’s site. You can really hear the increased "sustain" in the fortepiano as compared with the clavichord.

I could go on and on, but I’ll restrain myself. What about the rest of you? Have you found interesting historical factoids in unexpected places? Did any of them spark a plot idea or turn up in a book? Any tidbits you have stashed away for future use?

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