Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Difficulties of 18th Century Dress: Saturday Links

Why is it that the clothing of bygone eras attracts so much interest? Perhaps it is a testament to the importance we place on our own wardrobes. Perhaps it is because we envy the more elaborate beauty of the past.

This week Two Nerdy History Girls shared some photos from a reenactor in Williamsburg, showing a young lady of the colonial era getting dressed for the day. It's remarkable how many layers of clothing a woman from this period had to put on, but as the post points out, someone used to doing it every day can don those layers pretty quickly. The most interesting part to me was that the front of the dress is pinned together using straight pins!

If getting dressed back then wasn't difficult enough, just think about what it would have been like to do the laundry for a household in this era! Maria Grace guest posted over on Kim Rendfeld's blog this week talking about all the steps needed to launder clothing in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Firewood might be gathered the day before, but if not, the laundress would need to move 150-200 pounds of wood to the laundry site to feed fires sufficient for a moderate estate’s laundry. That alone sounds like a day’s worth of effort, but for her it was only the beginning. Once wood was gathered and fires started, water had to be hauled to fill the copper boiler and additional wash and rinse basins.... (read more)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Coffee or Tea? 10 Questions for Me

Yesterday, I had the privilege of answering ten questions put to me by Kayla Posney at the Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner. What five historical figures would I invite to dinner? Which one of Henry VIII's wives is my favorite? And the all important preference question: coffee or tea while writing?

Click on over if you'd like to find out the answers to those questions and to seven others.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Skipping Ahead to the Important Stuff: The Problem with Excerpted Sources

When researching for my novels, one temptation I face is to sample sources instead of reading them fully and to skim through them at warp speed till I find the parts that are relevant to my work. After all, who has time to read William of Malmesbury's whole Chronicle of the Kings of England when all you need is his bit about the Norman Conquest?

One important thing to remember, however, is that research isn't just about finding the facts put forward in a given source; research is about getting to know the historian. When we take the time to evaluate a primary source as a whole instead of picking through it like a flea market connoisseur, we better understand the thoughts of a person living during that time period. And surely that person (even if he only represents a segment of his society), has a better grasp on what facts, what anecdotes, what lists of information were valuable to the men of his era. Sometimes, the boring and bizarre bits that we would want to skip are actually the key to unlocking an understanding of the period.

One example of this is the convoluted Easter controversy in Bede's Ecclesiastical History. To the modern reader, this disagreement between the Celtic churches and Roman churches may seem like a molehill on the horizon of historical mountains. One might be attempted to gloss over the liturgical controversy and excerpt out the "important" bits about the politics and polity of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. But to Bede, this subject was of primary importance, and if we look at Bede as not just a scribbler of facts but also a window into his age, we learn what was important to the eighth century Britons.

Excerpts of primary sources can be excellent timesavers, but they can also be misleading. Excerpts give us the bits that the excerpter (is that a word?) thinks are important, not necessarily the bits that the author considered most essential. I'm all in favor of skipping ahead to the important stuff, but sometimes it takes a thorough reading of a work in its entirety to know what the important stuff is.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Saturday Links

Normally, I use my Saturday posts to highlight interesting articles that I have read during the week. This week all of the items of interest have been authors talking about their WIP's. There's a meme going around called "The Next Big Thing" where you answer ten questions about your latest book and then tag several more people to answer questions about it. It's kind of like those e-mail chain letters that went around a lot when I was a teenager--only there's no threat that if you don't pass it along within three days then something terrible will happen to someone you love.

I was interested to find out that Sophie Perinot's next project is about Catherine de Medici's daughter Marguerite.
Both Marguerite and her mother Catherine de Medici are the stuff of legend—and legend hasn’t been very kind to either woman. I believe that this is largely the result of the political and dynastic struggles which consumed France during the Wars of Religion, generating slanderous publications about the Valois—including the notorious Divorce Satryique that painted Marguerite as a corrupt wanton and which eventually came to be accepted as historical truth—and assuring that they had many enemies. When the Valois dynasty ended (with Marguerite’s brothers/Catherine’s sons), there was no one to protect their legacy as history was being written. I was interested in giving readers a more fair and accurate view of Marguerite who was, in fact, not only one of the most beautiful women of the French Court but also one of the most intelligent.... (read more)
I was happy to hear more about Nancy Bilyeau's book The Chalice, the much-anticipated sequel to The Crown:
I very much wanted to write a sequel to "The Crown," but I was determined to raise the stakes. I wanted to try something darker and more epic, but also I wanted to make the second book more romantic.... Some of the real people who lived in the late 1530s pop up in The Chalice, including not one but two women who would marry Henry VIII. Joanna Stafford also comes face to face, at last, with...Thomas Cromwell. (read more)
I also enjoyed hearing about Debra Brown's inspiration for her WIP For the Skylark. I've been privileged to read part of an early draft of it, and interestingly enough, I enjoyed it even though the inspiration comes from Charles Dickens. (David Copperfield and Great Expectations were my nemeses during high school).
I was always so intrigued and in awe of Charles Dickens' character, Miss Havisham. I wanted to write a story about a reclusive woman like her. I had no idea what would happen in the story when I started, but within a page or so, her adult twins, Dante and Evangeline came into being. It turned out to be them I loved. They had been raised on an estate in isolation and have psychological consequences of that situation. The story took off.... (read more)
And then, as it turns out, I was tagged myself by the delightful Sandra Byrd, who shared more about her third novel dealing with Henry VIII's wives and their ladies-in-waiting.
When I set out to write the Ladies in Waiting Series, I already knew the three queens I liked best, and wanted to write about: Anne Boleyn, Kateryn Parr, and Elizabeth.  I just didn’t know from which Lady’s point of view I would tell Elizabeth’s story.  So when I stumbled upon Elin von Snakenborg, later Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, I knew I’d found my girl.... (read more)
So, now, after sharing all these lovely links, I get to answer the ten interview questions myself and let you decide whether my book is good enough to be "The Next Big Thing." Here I go....

1.) What is the title of your book?
Flower of the Desert

2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is the second book in my First Crusade trilogy, The Chronicles of Tancred. The idea for the whole trilogy came from reading primary sources written by those who traveled on the First Crusade. I was originally planning to follow the Frankish members of the Crusade, but the character of Tancred--a young, impetuous marquis from southern Italy--jumped out at me and refused to be anything other than the hero of my tale.

3.) What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction.

4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
It's hard to think of someone tall enough to play my blond-haired, blue-eyed protagonist Tancred, but Ryan Gosling might fit the part in other ways. Ralph Fiennes could take the role of Count Raymond, the hero's nemesis in this book. And my two leading ladies? I think I'd have to stretch farther afield than the American actors that I know since one of them is Turkish and the other is Greek....

5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Tancred continues his crusading journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, overcoming Turkish strongholds and finding his own heart strongly overcome in this tale of love, loyalty, and lust for power.

6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by Madison Street Publishing.

7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? And read the intro.
I am a little over halfway done with the first draft...and it's been about a year so far. I'm hoping to finish it up in the next four months. Here's the first line: "The hole in the floor of the church grew deeper with each thrust of the soldiers’ spades." I hope that makes you wonder what they're digging up....

8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I've had a few readers compare my books to Sharon Kay Penman's, and the crusader history in this book is similar (though earlier) to the setting of her book Lionheart.

9.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Tancred's passionate quest to retake Jerusalem for Christendom, coupled with the strange twist to his character following that conquest (I can't say anymore for fear of spoilers), inspired me to write a fictional account of his life to solve the enigma of his character. I wanted to know why Tancred did what he did. And since the historians don't tell us, I decided to write the reason.

10.) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
The love triangle in the book is based on a 16th century epic poem called Jerusalem Delivered. In the poem, there are two Turkish princesses, one interested in Tancred and the other the object of his affections. In Flower of the Desert, I've changed one of them into a Byzantine girl tagging along with the Crusaders, but I've incorporated several other plot points from the poem. Alexandra or Erminia? By the end of this book, Tancred will have found the answer to that question.
______________________________

Well, the rules of this thing state that I'm supposed to tag five more people and pass it along. But, there's a slight problem--being tagged so late in the game, I've discovered that almost all the writers in the circles I frequent have already done their posts for The Next Big Thing. So, I'm going to break the rules and break the chain--which isn't too out of character since I never sent those chain letter e-mails through, even when I was a teenager.

Thanks for reading about my Next Big Thing, and do click on over to visit the links of some of my fellow HF authors. They're who I would have tagged if I hadn't been the last kid in gym class to get picked. :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Regency Plot that I Forgot

If you've read either of my novels, you know that medieval historical fiction is the genre where I hang my hat. But while both my published works take place between the 11th and 14th centuries, that's not the only time period I have an affinity for. Believe it or not, I have a couple partially written Regency romances in the drawer just waiting for me to finish what I started.

There's one piece in particular that I'd like to turn into a novella or a full length novel. Right now it's only at 6,000 words and it doesn't have a title yet, but here's the set-up:

Mrs. Ellsworth sighed wearily. She propped herself up against the striped satin cushions to make her final appeal. “You, sir, are his uncle! How can you be so unfeeling toward his plight?”
Lord Pearlton gave an affected yawn and adjusted his sleeve cuffs with minute precision. “My dear sister, the blessed state of bachelorhood is hardly a plight which one need be feeling towards. Your Harry is unmarried—let him count himself fortunate. The beast matrimony will savage him soon enough.”
“Your personal distaste of matrimony is wholly irrelevant to the issue,” replied Mrs. Ellsworth coldly. It was a sore point between them that Lord Pearlton had never married. She, a dozen years his senior, had never failed in offering her admonitions on the subject. He, a wealthy bachelor of the first stare, had never failed in disregarding them. When he had turned thirty last spring, she had pronounced him incorrigible and had disappointedly given up all projects for his future. Now, however, there was another project to be managed. Young Henry Ellsworth had reached the hallowed age of twenty-one, and his mother was determined that he would marry an heiress. But first, his uncle must introduce him into the proper society.
“Camilla,” said Pearlton languidly, “you do understand that fortune hunters are not looked upon favorably in society, do you not?”
Mrs. Ellsworth took offence. “Harry is not a fortune hunter!”
“Oh, I beg your pardon. Perhaps there is a better phrase to designate impecunious gentlemen desiring to entrap wealthy females.”
“Upon my word, Lindsey! You are completely odious.”
“Regrettably, yes.”
“I knew how it would be when I resolved to ask you, but no amount of effrontery will deter me from seeking the good of my child. Will you, or will you not, do your duty by your nephew?”
“I was not aware that my duty consisted of throwing him in the way of wealthy young women.” 

Naturally, Lord Pearlton is prevailed upon to acquiesce to his sister's request. He bring's Harry to London and sets about finding him a bride. A dinner party and some social visits narrow down the field to Anna Marchmount, an heiress with an invalid mother who does not spend much time in Town. Pearlton connives to get an invitation out to the Marchmounts' country estate and brings Harry there to woo the fair damsel. In the process, Pearlton realizes that he's fallen for Anna himself.

The trouble is, it's been so long since I first started this piece that I can't remember what is keeping Pearlton and Anna apart. What's the obstacle that must be overcome (other than the fact that she was supposed to be Harry's in the first place)? There's a scene a few thousand words in that sets up a mystery in Pearlton's past:


 Without mincing words, Pearlton outlined the commission entrusted to him by his anxious sister, namely, to promote his nephew’s interest with a lady of quality and money. “And the long and short of the matter is that I agreed to it, and now I have the wretched lad in tow.”
Wilmington whistled thoughtfully. “That does beat all. Don’t envy you. Wouldn’t like it if it was me. Is he up to snuff?”
“Regrettably, no. He’s the veriest gudgeon I’ve ever laid eyes upon. He has no sense of address, no charm, no virtues at all that I can discover, unless they be his staunch sobriety and adherence to familial duty. But be this as it may, I am determined to carry it off. I view this undertaking in the light of a challenge, and I cannot fail.”
“Can’t fail, eh?” said Wilmington with a mischievous shine in his eye. “Let’s hope this challenge ain’t like that one with Featherby because if it is, you ain’t--”
“Good God, George!” interrupted Pearlton. “Will you never let me live that down?” He ran a hand through his brown curls and begged his friend to give up his constant allusions to that unfortunate incident now ten years past.
The Earl of Wilmington chuckled. “If it was me, you’d never let me forget it. They all said that you were the sure thing, and that Featherby couldn’t hold a candle to you--”
“Enough!” pleaded Pearlton.
“And I laid out a hundred pounds on you. I had such faith--”
“My good man,"--Pearlton's voice was jovial but an experienced listener might have noticed a hard edge to it--"if you continue on in this vein, I really must take my leave of you. My amour propre cannot survive this constant assault.”
“Oh, very well then,” said Wilmington, but the smile did not leave his face.
“Very well then,” repeated Pearlton severely, as if the subject had been definitively closed.

I'm certain that this bet involving "Featherby" that happened ten years ago is a crucial piece to the plot and will come into play later as Pearlton tries to win the girl. But I can't, for the life of me, remember what that bet was. Perhaps I never knew in the first place, even when I wrote that scene.

Yesterday, while I was musing on Regency romances (yes, they've been on my brain a lot lately--I'll tell you why in a minute), I came up with a brilliant solution to the "Featherby problem". I now know what happened ten years ago in the challenge that Pearlton lost. I now know why he doesn't want to talk about it. And I now know how it is going to create conflict in the story when he finally woos the girl. But I never said I'd tell you what I came up with--you'll just have to wait till I finish the story. (And since it's number 3 or 4 on my list of WIP, you may be waiting a while. Sorry.)

___________________________________

The thing I did want to tell you is why Regency romances have been a topic of such keen interest to me of late. This summer I've been busy editing a Regency romance for our publishing company, Madison Street Publishing. It's the debut novel of Philippa Jane Keyworth and we've just set the release date and revealed the cover. The story is delightful and the cover's a beauty too. So while you'll probably have to exercise the patience of Job before I get a Regency of my own ready for publication, you won't have to wait long at all to get your hands on this gem. Available online in e-book and paperback December 1--


THE WIDOW’S REDEEMER

By Philippa Jane Keyworth

A penniless young widow with an indomitable spirit. A wealthy viscount with an unsavory reputation.

London, 1815: After her husband’s untimely death, Letty Burton comes up from the country with her domineering mother-in-law. Hiding a past she wishes to forget and facing an uncertain future, all she wants is to navigate London Society as a silent companion.

A chance meeting with London’s most eligible bachelor sets in motion a series of events that will bring her quiet life under the unfriendly scrutiny of the ton. With the net of scandal, debts, and rivals closing in, will she let her dark past dictate her life forever? Will she learn to trust again? And most importantly, will she allow herself to love?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's Important for a Writer, and What's Important for a Man: Saturday Links

This week I read an inspiring guest post by Elizabeth Chadwick talking about how she came to be a published writer. It was especially interesting to me how she didn't care what job she had to work, because she knew that job wasn't her real vocation. It was just something to pay the bills so that she could write.
I left school at eighteen. I had thought about doing a degree in medieval history, but I needed Latin and I didn’t have it. I thought about doing English literature at university, or journalism, but I was put off by the teacher responsible for career advice. She told me there was no point in me applying to university in those subjects because I would need high grades, and I wasn’t good enough to get them. She said there was no point in me applying to do journalism because there was too much competition. So I took her word for it and didn’t apply. Instead I went to work in a department store as a management trainee. In the meantime, my exam results came through and my scores were of the right grades to have won me a university place. But like a train, my life had changed tracks. I had met my husband and I was working as a shop assistant. And really I didn’t care what I did, because I knew I was meant to be a writer. The job was just to earn a wage while I got on with the real business of working on my novel. In quite moments in the shop, I would write down ideas and stories on pieces of scrap paper and card. My heart wasn’t in the job because what I wanted to do was write.... (read more)
* * *

Another guest post that caught my eye this week was by Sophie Perinot over at What Women Write. She starts with a question: "Military victories and territorial holdings remain history’s measure of male success. Should they be the only ones?" She then goes on to talk about how while women are often judged by their looks, men are judged by the size of their paycheck.
Traditional political and military history celebrates men who are effective rulers. The personal aspects of those men’s lives are either ignored or attached little value. I, however, came to writing with a background in women’s and social history. Those fields have a different view of what is important. I also came to my story as a woman or rather—since I was writing alternate first person present tense viewpoints—two women. The opportunity to look at each king through his wife’s eyes raised a pair of questions that (given that, generally, women now choose their own husbands) are even more relevant today than they were 700 years ago:
  • Should the definition of “successful man” include competence as a husband, father and friend?
  • Is it better to be married to a traditionally “successful man” who has little time for his family or to a good and loving man who is an epic failure?
As I got to know Louis of France and Henry of England intimately, my personal answer to the “Louis or Henry, who would I marry” question became clear.... (read more)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Write What You Know: The Universality of Utter Frustration

There's a scene in my current WIP, Flower of the Desert, where Count Raymond, one of the Crusader nobles, feigns illness so he doesn't have to ride out to battle with the rest of the men. His plan? To accept the surrender of the enemy's citadel while his fellows are otherwise engaged.

Unfortunately, his rival Bohemond suspects his sudden sickness, and--sending a midnight messenger up the mountain--performs a power grab of his own. Bohemond makes a secret agreement with the citadel commander who promises to surrender only to him.

The Crusaders capturing the city of Antioch
I've had fun imagining Count Raymond's utter frustration when his carefully laid plan goes awry. I've had fun typing how furious he must have been when the citadel commander refused to fly his flag and bade him send up Bohemond's instead. The fun, however, has been entirely on my side of the computer screen, and not on Raymond's.

As a former teacher and now a stay-at-home mom, I've never been in a situation that's similar, on the surface, to Raymond's. But like most of humankind, I have experienced the emotion of utter frustration. So, in a sense, I'm writing what I know.

I used to think utter frustration was encapsulated in the computer printer not working--when you're about to be late to class, and the ink cartridge keeps telling you it needs to align, and you need that stupid assignment that you just finished seconds ago to PRINT! I now know that printing problems, although they're a close second, must yield the podium to the greatest frustration of all: taking apart my son's port-a-crib.

Normal port-a-cribs have their challenges, but this port-a-crib is a punishment that should have been reserved for one of the lowest circles in Dante's Inferno. The bottom bars (as well as the top bars) lock, and each bar has hidden pressure points that must be pushed so that it will fold in two places.

You have only to read the warning tag on the side of the crib to realize that its makers were not concerned with being user-friendly:

BASSINET WARNING 
FALL HAZARO-To help prewenl talls, DO NOT use this product when the inlanl begins to push up on hands and krees or has reached the manufaclurer’s recommended maximum weight, whichever comes lirst. 
SUFFOCATION HAZARD-Inlands can sullocade: In gaps between an etra pad and side of the bassinetcradle. On soft bedding. 
-NEVER add a mattress, pillow, comforber, or padding Use ONLY the pad provided by manutachurer. 
-If a sheet is used with the pad, use ONLY the one prowided by the bassinet or cradle manutadurer or one specifically designed to fit the dimension of the basshet or cradle mattress. To reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden infant Dead Syndrome). Pedatricians recommend healthy infants be placed on their back to sleep, unless otherwise advised by your physician.
I kid you not. This is, letter for letter, the exact spelling of the tag on the outside of the port-a-crib. It looks like the "manutachurer" scanned in the text from the tag on another crib and then didn't care to (or wasn't able to?) read through it to see if there were any errors. 


While I may never have been thwarted in my plans to seize a mountainside fortress, I have definitely been thwarted more than once in my plans to collapse a recalcitrant port-a-crib. And if Count Raymond feels like cursing a little when he hears the bad news, I would certainly not be the one to cast the first stone.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Enterprising Monk: How Bede Changed Historical Dating for the Western World

Have you ever wondered why we started using A.D. and B.C. to reckon time? Have you ever wondered who was the historian behind it?

Today I have a post up at English Historical Fiction Authors entitled "Anno Domini and the Venerable Bede."


Over twenty centuries of history have this phrase appended to them, but it has only been fifteen centuries since the system of dating was first devised, and only twelve centuries since the work of the Venerable Bede made it common usage in the Western world. 
The Romans used the founding of Rome by the legendary figure Romulus, the year we now know as 753 B.C., as year one of their dating system. As the Roman Empire spread, this system of ordering time spread with it. If Rome still ruled the world, the date on this blog post would be the year 2765 ab urbe condita (and these paragraphs would probably be written in Latin). But Rome went the way of the tyrannosaurus rex, and somewhere in that muddle we know as the Middle Ages, someone decided that time needed to be re-ordered. Someone decided that the founding of a little city on the banks of the Tiber would no longer be the focal point of history.... (read more)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Clever Question and the New Release I've Been Waiting For: Saturday Links

It's easy to think of the character in literature you would most want to be (Lizzy, from Pride and Prejudice, of course!), but what about the character you would most not? The New Yorker asked a clever question last week related to this topic, and the answers it elicited gave me a few chuckles, and perhaps even a chortle or two.

In last week’s contest, we asked for the worst jobs in literature. Not actual jobs, necessarily, but jobs implied by the text. Granted, the notion is a bit abstract, which is why we were pleased to find that readers took to it so naturally. An example? This, from @RBDeac: Rip van Winkle’s alarm clock. Or this, from @momattt: Hamlet’s motivation coach.... (read more)
* * * 

And speaking of characters randomly culled from classic literature, I am ridiculously brimming over with excitement that N.D. Wilson's next book in the YA Ashtown Burials series is going to be released next week. Tuesday, September 11, to be exact. It's called The Drowned Vault and it follows up The Dragon's Tooth which I read and reviewed in March of this year.

This week I read a pre-publication review of Wilson's upcoming release on Random Musings of a Bibliophile and felt giddy with excitement.
In The Drowned Vault Wilson takes the interestingly intricate world he built in The Dragon's Tooth and kicks it into high gear. Or even higher gear as the first book was pretty intense to begin with. The story is an action packed adventure from start to finish. There is a lot going on and a huge cast of characters to keep track of. In addition to the characters we  already know and love (or fear), a whole host of new ones are introduced including Gilgamesh and Arachne. Yes, THE Gilgamesh (as in Epic of) and THE Arachne (as in the myth). There is now not just one super creepy evil villain to deal with, but two. Not to mention the large group of people whose apathy and fear are causing trouble for the heroes. Then there are all the historical references too, which are great fun if you catch them. The genius of Wilson's writing is that he manages to write well developed characters while maintaining a plot that is in hyperdrive. Most writers can do one or the other. It is a rare talent that can do both.... (read more)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Gift of Grandmothers

A nice quote about grandmothers,
although kind of creepy if you know the context
in which it is said in the play itself....
The last two weekends we took two three-hour road trips up the I-5 corridor. Why? My husband's Grandma Shelby was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The doctors don't know how long she has left--a few weeks? A few months? We want to spend as much time with her as we can and give her a chance to see our kids before she passes on.

Grandma Shelby, Adam, Marcus, Oliver

I don't know Grandma Shelby that well, but I do know that she isn't afraid to be involved in her grandchildren's lives. The first time I met her was at my brother-in-law's wedding. She sized up me and David (my boyfriend and her oldest grandson) and said, "Why isn't this you yet? You're next!"

Grandma Shelby - Pictures by Grammy Pics
My own grandmothers have been a big blessing in my life. I remember learning to knit and sew from my mom's mom, Grandma Donna. True, I didn't get much further than knitting fuzzy scarves and my grandma's signature dishcloth, and yes, I still have the pieces of the unfinished quilt I started at age 12, but I have fond memories of the projects we worked on together. Grandma Donna was never much of a conversationalist, and working together with needle and thread was the best way to get to know her and share something in common.

Marcus and Grandma Donna
Grandma Donna has suffered from Alzheimer's for the past year or two. She moved into a memory care unit in our town a couple months ago, and my own mom has been very diligent going to visit her. I paid a long overdue visit last week, making quite the splash among the nursing home residents with two kids in the stroller and one sitting on the handlebars. It's hard to know whether Grandma Donna recognized us much (She asked my mom, "Are you a relative?"), but she enjoyed seeing the baby and smiled and clucked at him.

My dad's mom, Grandma Monica, has never lived nearby. She was always the one we took vacations to see, in Northern Washington or sunny Arizona. She's the grandma who sent us T-shirts with pictures of cacti or Native American designs. She's the grandma who took us to the pool or the miniature golf course or the Egypt exhibit at the museum. In some ways, her story is the most fascinating. Her father, Carl Heidenreich, was a modern art painter who fled Germany when the Nazis seized power and she herself emigrated from Germany to New York before WWII. Her health has been failing over the last few years, but I hope that someday my own kids will get to meet her.


My third grandma, Grandma Patsy, was my father's stepmom, and not even that anymore since she and my grandfather divorced a few years ago. But even though we're not technically related, she is still the grandma I'm closest to. She gives great hugs and thoughtful presents (like the dining room table set and hutch she picked up from an estate sale in hopes I would be able to use it someday!). No matter how much I try to talk her out of it, she insists on paying whenever we go out for lunch. She knows how to tell a story as big as Texas (that's where she's from, and it shows), but she also knows how to listen to stories too. I think that's what makes her such a good grandma, the fact that she's a good listener. I call her regularly, much more regularly than I call my girlfriends, and we chat about my life and hers.

Grandma Patsy stopping by the hospital
to see newborn Marcus

All of these women have been a great influence in my life, and I'm excited to see how David's mom and my own mom are eager to participate in the lives of my own kids. The gift of grandmothers is a great blessing, and even if it means a three hour road trip, it's something I don't want my children to do without.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Horses and Horsemen in History: Saturday Links

I love it when historical novelists prove they're also historians! This week I ran into two delightful posts by novelists who want to get their history right.

Susanna Calkins over at A Bloody Good Read posed the question: "How long would it have taken to travel the fifty-plus mile trek from London to Oxford, by horse and carriage, in the mid seventeenth-century?" It's a crucial plot point in her WIP.
I needed the cart (wagon, really) to be able to carry two men and two women, along with two or three barrels or bags of miscellaneous supplies.  I needed the journey to take less than a day.   The wagon had to be decent, but more serviceable and sturdy, than luxurious. It had to be capable of traversing 50 or so miles of the muddy, unpaved London Road. Similarly, the horses had to be from a hearty stock, and affordable for hire by a journeyman. Not being an equestrian, a farrier, or a blacksmith (okay, let’s face it, I’m not even sure if I’ve ever even been on a horse), this has been a truly puzzling question.... (read more
Jonathan Hopkins guest posted over at One Ridiculous Author on another horsey topic--the 19th Century British Cavalry. As every Jane Austen lover knows, the regiment coming to Merryton means eligible men aplenty. But what kind of officers would have been in a regiment like that? Would they have even been gentlemen?

Most fictional cavalrymen are, or were, officers. After all, a lady needed to maintain a certain standard of living so it was no use becoming romantically involved with a private soldier. And since officers had to purchase their commissions, provide their own uniforms, horses and equipment, all on a level of pay which hardly covered daily subsistence, (a lieutenant received only £164 5s 0d a year before deductions and income tax) most needed private means of some sort: family money. 
So it’s somewhat surprising to find in real life the majority of officers were not members of the aristocracy at all but sons of wealthy farmers or industrialists, doctors and lawyers, even clergy – the moneyed middle class – who could afford to subsidise their offspring’s careers.... (read more)
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