Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Cards Old and New

Some years I just throw them out--and then feel guilty for doing that--but this year I hung up a string across our living room to hold all the lovely Christmas cards we received from family and friends. And then, a few days ago, I added a second string because the first one was full.

Some of the cards are silly--smiling snowmen, grimacing gingerbread men. Some of the cards are serious--creches, stars, and wise men. About half of them are photos of friends from far away.

The history of the Christmas card goes back to the Victorian era. The BBC has an interesting article on Christmas traditions that originated during this time period and has this to say about the cards:
In 1843 Henry Cole commissioned an artist to design a card for Christmas. The illustration showed a group of people around a dinner table and a Christmas message. At one shilling each, these were pricey for ordinary Victorians and so were not immediately accessible. However the sentiment caught on and many children - Queen Victoria's included – were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards. In this age of industrialisation colour printing technology quickly became more advanced, causing the price of card production to drop significantly. Together with the introduction of the halfpenny postage rate, the Christmas card industry took off. By the 1880s the sending of cards had become hugely popular, creating a lucrative industry that produced 11.5 million cards in 1880 alone. The commercialisation of Christmas was well on its way.

The oldest Christmas card -- only 10 survive today
of the original printing of 1000 cards.

Nowadays Christmas cards are hugely popular--one estimate says that there are 1.9 billion Christmas cards sent annually.

This year was a lean year for us, and as much as I love doing it, we weren't able to have cards printed to mail to friends and family. But despite that, I was able to put together a digital version of a Victorian tradition and share it with family and friends via e-mail and Facebook.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

If Not for the Hundred Years' War, Would Shakespeare Have Written in French?

Today, over at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, I take a short look at what prompted the change from the use of French to the use of English as the "proper" language in England.
The St. Crispin’s Day speech, written by Shakespeare and placed in the mouth of King Henry V, contains some of the most stirring phrases in the English language. Yet, interestingly enough, that very language might not have been what spilled from Shakespeare’s pen had the Hundred Years’ War not been fought.... (read more)
And speaking of English, here's a shameless plug for a book written by English Historical Fiction Authors...not all of them English themselves, but instead, people from all over the world who write English Historical Fiction. I have a few essays in there myself--fun stuff about Bede, William the Conqueror, and the Black Plague.

Elizabeth Chadwick calls it recommended "leisure reading for any history fan." If you're looking for that hard to buy person on your Christmas list, this book might be just the ticket. :-)

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Knight's Tale, England, and a Prejudiced Pope

Today I discuss the phrase, "The pope may be French, but Jesus is English," from the movie A Knight's Tale. It's a line that hints at great animosity between England and the papacy during the 14th century. What was the real state of affairs? Find out at English Historical Fiction Authors....

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Play's the Thing: The Life of King Alfred in Three Acts

It had been a long time since I wrote a play. In fact, I can't remember writing one since my early teenage years when my siblings and I put on a production of Saint George and the Dragon to accompany our medieval feast and amuse the grandparents. 

The occasion of this most recent play was Reformation Day, the Protestant celebration that occurs on October 31 in place of (or concurrently with) Halloween. Our church tends to pick a different Reformer each year to commemorate on that day--John Knox, John Calvin, or the main man himself, Martin Luther--but this year things went rather far afield. Departing from the usual sixteenth century subjects, the organizers of the event elected to celebrate the life of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex who fought the Vikings and started a great Christian reformation in England. Not THE Reformation, but a reformation nonetheless.

And being much more interested in the ninth century than I am in the sixteenth, I offered to write a play for the event. I finished it up in August and gave it to Lauren Shearer, a quite brilliant young woman, who adapted it and directed it with a motley crew of amateur actors, many of them under the age of twelve. 

Photo by George Shubin
Scene following the Battle of Edington:
Alfred: There is one more thing—you must give up your old gods and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Will you do this, Guthrum.

Guthrum: (pausing, then making up his mind) Yes, lord, we will. I give my solemn oath and pledge.

Nobleman 1: (shocked) But Your Majesty, how can you trust him? When have the Vikings ever kept their oaths before? Would it not be better to kill them all while we have the chance?

Alfred: And if we do kill them, then we are no better men than they. No, friend, we have been given God’s grace and we must show that grace to others—even to our enemies. And if we can teach them His Word, then, and only then will these Vikings learn to keep their own word. (going forward and raising Guthrum to his feet) Come, Guthrum, let us go to the church. The bishop will baptize you this very day and I will stand your godfather for the ceremony. 
All in all, it was a great success. The battle scenes were so harrowing that my almost-two-year-old had to be taken out screaming. My favorite part was the ending song performed by the whole cast, lyrics written by King Alfred himself and music written by my sister Angela.
When the enemy comes in a’roarin’ like a flood,
Coveting the kingdom and hungering for blood,
The Lord will raise a standard up and lead His people on,
The Lord of Hosts will go before defeating every foe;
Defeating every foe.  
For the Lord is our defense, Jesus defend us,
For the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Too Busy to Write about the "Massacre" at Limoges...

I was supposed to have a post up on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog on the 9th, but...well, things happened (see picture below), and I didn't make my deadline.

Hugh Franklin Spears, born October 2, 2013
Debbie Brown, the fearless leader of the EHFA blog and editor of Castles, Customs, and Kings, graciously traded posting dates with me, which gave me two more weeks to write up my piece on the massacre at Limoges, an event that, at face value, makes it difficult +to portray the Black Prince as a romantic hero. How did I reconcile that atrocity with my portrayal of the prince in I Serve? Find out on today's post over at EHFA....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Think *You're* Busy? Check Out the Duties of a Dead Medieval Saint....

Today I get to blog over at English Historical Fiction Authors about Thomas Becket and the not-so-peaceful afterlife for medieval saints who were expected to be constant intercessors between the faithful and Christ. Head on over and have a read if you're so inclined....

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And in other news, the final cover for Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors made its way into my inbox yesterday. Isn't it gorgeous? And I love the quote by Elizabeth Chadwick in the top corner. Release date is September 23!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Castles, Customs, and Kings: Goodreads Giveaway

Where have I been for the last three weeks? (Or is it the last eight months?) Reading history essays for an anthology that Madison Street Publishing is putting out next month.

One more week till the final proofreading deadline for Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. Then it will go back to the book designer for finishing touches and be released on September 23. This is the longest book we've published so far at Madison Street Publishing, well over 500 pages. It's also been a challenging project, coordinating text edits from 50+ authors.

But despite the challenges--or perhaps because of them--this book is shaping up to be one of the most exciting items in our catalog. The cover is beautiful, the essays are a history-lover's dream, and if you don't treat yourself to an early Christmas present on September 23...well, let's just say you will be missing out. :-)

We're running a giveaway of two copies of the book on Goodreads for the month leading up to the release. Feel free to enter and spread the word!


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Castles, Customs, and Kings by Debra  Brown



          Castles, Customs, and Kings

          by Debra  Brown


            Giveaway ends September 23, 2013.
            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.

      Enter to win

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How a Legend Became History: Brutus of Troy and the Birth of Britain

Today I get to talk about some history that almost assuredly didn't happen over at English Historical Fiction Authors. Did one of the survivors of the Trojan War go on to found Britain? That's what medieval historians claimed....

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If you’re an ancient Greek, you have wrathful Achilles, the “swift-footed son of Peleus” who defeats Priam’s mighty son Hector and paves the way for the eventual destruction of Troy. Or if guile is more your style, you have Odysseus, the resourceful hero who wanders the world for ten years on his homeward voyage, braving Cyclops, Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, before slaying the scores of suitors ensconced in his own halls.

If you’re an imperial Roman, you have Aeneas, striding proudly out of the flames of Troy, escaping the wiles of Dido of Carthage and carving out a new home in Italy.

But if you’re British and living in the ninth century A.D., you have…nothing. And frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing. Or, at least, it was to the historian Nennius.... (read more

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A How-To Manual for Sainthood?

Well, how did one become a saint in the high Middle Ages? I'm sure it's been a pressing question on your mind.

Today, over at English Historical Fiction Authors I look at the requirements that Thomas Becket had to fulfill in order to become a saint--they might be a little bit more stringent than you had previously imagined....

Friday, June 21, 2013

Oregon City Library Celebration and Author Fair

Today is the 100th birthday of the Oregon City Carnegie Library, and tomorrow is the festival celebrating it. By a strange quirk of fate, the OC library is currently housed in the Carnegie Center, the same building where it opened its doors in 1913. The library has lots of fun events planned which you can read about here.

One event in conjunction with the library festival is the Atkinson Author Fair which will be held across the street in front of "the pink church." I'll be there representing my books as well as some other books put out by Madison Street Publishing. The author fair runs from 10:00am - 3:00pm. Stop by and see me if you're in the area!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Mirror of Christian Kings--and His Interest in Music

It was going to go up Wednesday, but things got switched around a bit, and so my post about "Henry V: King, Conqueror, and...Musician?" is up today on English Historical Fiction Authors. You know that he beat the French at the battle of Agincourt, but did you know that that victory opened up the way for England to become a world-leader in music? I'd love it if you would head over there and read it and give me your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Same Thing or Totally Different? Writing Medieval HF and Regency Romance

Is the process for writing historical fiction the same regardless of the era in which you are writing? 

Today I ponder that question in a guest post over at Philippa Jane Keyworth's site. What are the differences between writing medieval historical fiction and Regency romance? Or is the research and writing process simply more of the same?

Is it just as easy to conjure up the world of Thomas Becket as it is the world of Lizzie Bennet? I'd love it if you would head on over there and give me your thoughts on the matter....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Makes a King Great?: The Law Code of King Alfred

I've been reading up on King Alfred lately. It's research...but not for a novel. It's actually in preparation for a play that I'm hoping to write (collaboratively) to be performed at one of our church festivals in the fall. And since I've been focusing on Alfred, I decided to make that research do double duty for my monthly blog post over at English Historical Fiction Authors.

If you'd like to learn a little more about the only English monarch who has ever received the title "the Great," head on over and read my post "Alfred the Great and the Importance of the Oath." It's all about the foundations of English law, and Beowulf gets a mention or two, just for kicks.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Interview with a Book Designer: Masha Shubin

Today I am happy to interview Masha Shubin, a good friend and book designer extraordinaire. Masha has been an invaluable help for me, doing freelance work for my own books and my publishing company, Madison Street Publishing. She provides valuable insight for authors (from the other side of the book design conversation), and has very funny stories to boot.

1. How long have you been in the publishing industry and what all does your job entail?

I have been in graphic design for about 20 years. The last 10 of those years I've worked for a small publishing company. My title is Creative Director. It is my job to oversee any and all design projects from books – print and electronic – that we publish, to book trailers, to advertising pieces, to websites, to packaging, to trade show booth layout/design. I also need to keep up with the latest industry news, standards, and innovations both for our company and the customers we assist.

All the book covers shown on this post
were designed by Masha Shubin.

2. What are some of the elements that make a good book cover?

Clear hierarchy of focal points: When designing a book cover, you want to purposefully guide the reader's eye along a path of the most to least important information that will create instant interest in the mind of the potential reader. Is the author famous? Then that should be most prominent. Did a celebrity praise the book or write a foreword? Then their name might be larger than the author's. Is the graphic dramatic, intriguing, or beautiful on it's own? Is your title too juicy to resist? You have basically half a second to catch someone's attention. Giving equal design weight to multiple elements will cause them to pass your cover by.

High-quality graphics: "Well, it looks good to me," or "My niece Jenny drew this for me," are not valid qualifications for graphics that should go on a cover, sorry...unless the book is for your family. If you want your book to appeal to a professional audience (reviewers, book buyers, contests), you need to make sure the images you choose are high-quality and done by professionals. Those who are part of the industry know quality from non-quality. And the good news is that high-quality does not necessarily mean expensive. There are stock photo sites out there that can give you a good cover photo for under $10. And if you want some custom work, try going to a local art college. Students may do something for you for low or no cost just to have their own portfolio built up.

Targeted audience: The main job of the cover is to create desire or curiosity in a stranger. Not to serve as a vehicle for the ego of the author, not to dryly convey an accurate description of the contents, and (please, oh, please) not to show off a piece of artwork unrelated to the subject of the book. You must figure out who your target audience is and somehow show-off, flirt with, impress that audience. "But my book will appeal to everybody," I hear you say. Congratulations! I hope you also have a budget that will enable you to market to everybody.  Financial success in the book world comes easiest (note, I did not say easy) to books and authors that have intentionally targeted one type of audience. If your book is so good that it will appeal to everyone, then by word of mouth eventually they'll all hear about it. But if you're just starting out, zeroing in on a specific audience will be your best launching point.

 3. What genre of books do you like designing covers for best? Why?

How does one write a sheepish grin? Just like the many actors that claim playing the bad guy is the most fun, I get the greatest kicks (and giggles along the way) in designing dark, sinister, and bloody covers.

Here's my album on Facebook of some of my favorite book covers I've designed.

4. What are three things you wish authors knew about book/cover design? (Or to put it another way, what are your three pet peeves about authors you have worked with?)

Good question. The biggest thing I'd love for authors to understand is that there are actual rules to designing the interior and cover of books. I would need a book to cover all of them, and most people would need months if not years to master them.

As they say: you have to know the rules to break them. This is a big pet peeve of mine in both writing and design: many people think because professionals can break rules, then the average Joe can break – or more commonly completely ignore – any and all rules. So, unless you know the rules to both design and the publishing industry, I would highly recommend you trust the advice of someone who specializes in the publishing field. Not all artists or designers know the rules to good book design. This goes for both the cover and interior designs of your book.

Another question authors ask advice about is author photos on the cover. Here's my advice: your cover is meant to be a marketing piece for your book. 1) If you think your photo will make your book more enticing to strangers, then it is a good thing. Otherwise, either put it on the interior or don't have one at all. 2) If you do want to have an author photo, take the time to have it professionally taken. You can get studio shots fairly cheap. As I mentioned earlier, if you want your book to make a good impression on the professionals in the industry, then you need to have professional quality elements. There are lighting and focal aspects that a professional photo have that your average snapshot (or self-held camera phone) do not have.

5. How can an author make a book designer's job easy?

Probably one of the best things authors can do for both designers and editors is learn to use the word processor in a correct manner. There was a book published ages ago called Your Computer Is Not a Typewriter. When you type, you are not only telling the computer what letters to put down, but there's a whole host of invisible commands: spaces, tabs, paragraph breaks, page breaks, alignment, etc. that you also key into the document. Once you've gotten your manuscript written (or if you want a break along the way), find out how to turn on these characters so you can see them. (For Microsoft Word users, hit CTRL + SHIFT + 8 or look for the menu character ¶ on the top bar.)

Make sure there are no tabs in the middle of paragraphs, or paragraph break marks in the middle of paragraphs, or double spacing between sentences (double spacing is only appropriate for monotype fonts), or centering titles by hitting the space bar a hundred times, or creating faux blockquotes by paragraph breaks and tabs, or manually putting in page numbers on every page, or double spacing the manuscript by hitting return twice at the end of every line, or hitting the Enter key a bunch of times to start a new page. Or...worst offender of all...saving each page as a separate file. (Ok, I've only come across that once.) Learn how to use your word processor properly. They have built in functions to format your manuscript cleanly.

Also, cookies and flowers never go unappreciated.

6. Besides book design, you are involved in some other literary and creative projects. Can you tell us about them?

I love to write as well. I have published a few children's chapter books, and I am working on a few longer pieces. In the past I've worked on plays (written, directed, and produced), I've written and produced an audio drama, and I've also worked on a film. My non-literary passions can be summed up by saying I like to make things pretty. This extends into jewelry design, interior design, photography, and a miscellany of handcrafts. I even had the honor of teaching Elisabeth Elliot how to do paper embossing.

Jewelry by Masha
7. Elisabeth Elliot--that's a big name! Are there any other famous people that you have worked with?

Name dropping or establishing professionalism? I've worked with a few prominent folk. Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon on Sesame Street. Mike Reiss, who is an writer and executive producer of The Simpsons. Steffan Postaer, who is a superstar in the advertising world and best know for the Altoids ad campaign of Curiously Strong Mints, and his father, Larry Postaer, founders of RPG (he's the P), a major advertising firm. Robert Smith, an ESPN commentator and former Minnesota Viking. Alexandre and Sonia Poussin, who are well known in their native France and stars of the special series Africa Trek seen on US public television.

8. I remember a funny story you told recently about a fantasy author who wanted a phoenix and yarn (yes, that's right, balls of yarn for knitting or crocheting) on their cover. Do you have any other funny stories to share? 

- An author once asked me to take a trip to Sears and look in their dryer section. He wanted his cover to be the almond color of their washer/dryer combo.

- Our company had an author from Roswell, NM send us a manuscript detailing her kidnapping by aliens. The purpose of her kidnapping was for them to have her write an alien/English dictionary. After the woman sent us the dictionary and promised to be in touch soon, we never heard from her again in spite of our repeat calls and emails. I still have the manuscript she sent us in my desk.

- We deal with a few authors who are mentally unbalanced. One author called up a few months after her book was published claiming we (meaning I) sabotaged her book--that I had gone into her manuscript and turned all the question marks upside down and turned her book into a sex novel.

- We published one book by an author who do I say...logically different? He had a chart in his book that had the hierarchy of the US Mafia Network. Included were snakes, doctors, Queen Elizabeth and her lookalikes, as well as the "1,000 ugly lesbians of English descent living in or near Wyoming"...and their lookalikes. Elvis was never mentioned. I guess he is safe.

- We've had an author submit a children's book. Her artwork not only was sub sub-par, some of the text was handwritten over the art. She "fixed" other errors by scotch taping and stapling new pieces of paper over the original page.

Masha: For this book cover the author requested
"Two Sumo Wrestlers falling/fighting
in the air during a sandstorm in Arizona."

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Masha! 

I hope all my readers have enjoyed learning more about Masha and the book design process. If you have any questions for Masha, feel free to comment.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"You are needed if this expedition is ever to succeed": Excerpt from Flower of the Desert

It's been a little quiet around here lately...which is actually a good thing because I've been focusing on writing instead of blogging. But rather than have my blog atrophy completely, I've decided to post excerpts periodically from my WIP, whatever WIP I happen to be writing since I have several competing for the keyboard at the moment.

The last several weeks the WIP of choice has been Flower of the Desert: Book II of the Chronicles of Tancred. Here is an excerpt from the scene I wrote today:

“The point,” said Alexandra, in just as high dudgeon as the marquis, “is that you must leave the city. The plague is spreading as fast as the stink of the latrines. Your life is in jeopardy.” 
“Yes," said Tancred, "but every one of my men is at just as much risk as I am—why this sudden spate of concern for me?” 
“Why?” Alexandra fumbled for an answer. “Because you are important, a leader among men. You are needed if this expedition is to ever succeed. The other lords had sense enough to quit the city last night, but you stay on for God knows what reason!” 
“I’d say more people than God know that one,” mumbled Ralph. He was trying to keep out of the fray as best he could, but he could not resist an aside or two when the occasion presented....
Note to self: investigate whether "latrines" is proper word for the time period. 

Tentative release date--December, 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Typology in History

So, I know what you're thinking: "You never post on this blog anymore except to tell us that you've posted something else on another blog." Sadly, that does seem to be the case. I have the privilege of posting monthly over at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, and while I often neglect my own site, I am quite diligent to write up regular historical essays for EHFA.

This month I am talking about typology over at that other place I blog--about how the bishop Germanus woke from sleep to calm the wind and the waves, and how the people of England threw down their coats in front of Thomas Becket and shouted "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Both of them are "types" of Christ, doncha know? Or, at least, that's what the medieval historians thought. You can go here to read more about it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sticking up for Thomas Becket

The Murder of Thomas Becket
Today I have a post up on English Historical Fiction Authors. Last month, I got to talk about Anselm, the archbishop who defied two kings. This month, I turn my attention to a more famous conflict between archbishop and monarch--Thomas Becket and his fight with Henry II.

The subject I 'm specifically addressing is the Case of the Criminous Clerks. Over the centuries, Thomas Becket has taken a lot of heat for his stance on this, his argument that churchmen, even if they commit murder, can only be punished by the Church and not by the State. I try to look at the issue in its context, providing a little more sympathy for the archbishop, although not complete agreement.... (read the article!)

Friday, March 1, 2013

I've Been Busy...How 'Bout You?

I don't flatter myself that many of my blog's followers eagerly check each day to see if I have a new post up. But at the same time, one (or two) of you may have noticed that there's been a sad dearth of posts lately. This post is a brief explanation of my silence.

What can I possibly have been spending my time doing besides blogging?

Well, first off, my husband and I are working on starting an elementary school for this coming September. It's called Paideia Classical Christian School and will be located here in Oregon City. I'm enjoying doing all the admin work to get it set up. Hopefully, this will be the school that my boys go to some day!

Second, I've been very, very busy with editing work at Madison Street Publishing. We are releasing a new book in April by Scott D. Southard titled A Jane Austen Daydream. It's off at the proofreader's right now, so I have a little bit of a break before I move onto the next step in the publishing process.

I've also begun editing another book called Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It's a compilation of essays from the EHFA blog that I write for, put together by Debra Brown.

Third, I've been taking care of three little munchkins! Marcus turned one at the end of January, is walking (and almost running), and is very eager to climb on all the furniture. We took him into the ER a couple days ago for a possible broken arm after falling from a chair. False alarm.

The twins are almost two and a half and are beginning to doubt the importance of the afternoon nap ritual. We had a short-lived attempt at potty training two weeks ago that will have to be repeated sometime in the (distant) future.

David, it could be argued, has been even busier than me. He's going to school full time, working as a janitor 15-20 hours a week, and interning at the capitol in Salem 15-20 hours a week. He's also trying to finish up writing his book about his adventures as a panhandler last summer. We see him...sometimes. Usually on Sundays.

So, all this is to say that I've been busy. Too busy to blog. How 'bout you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hearts through History Giveaway WINNER

And the winner of a paperback copy of I Serve for the Hearts through History giveaway is...

Linda Brower

Congrats, Linda! I'll be e-mailing you to get your shipping information.

Thanks to everyone who commented and participated in the blog hop, and thanks especially to Maria Grace for organizing it. Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Edward III and His Sweetheart Philippa: Hearts through History Blog H-O-P

Blog hop icon
All next week I'm participating in the Valentine’s Hearts Through History Blog Hop! Hop from site to site and enjoy lovey-dovey anecdotes from history to celebrate Valentine's Day. Each stop is also offering a giveaway, so be sure to click over to the rest of the sites through the links at the end of this post.

The story I want to share with you is about Edward III and his wife Philippa. Edward III was one of England's most martial kings, famous for initiating the Hundred Years' War with France. But he had a softer side too, and that side was reserved for his wife Philippa.

Edward married Philippa of Hainault when he was just sixteen years old. She was just fourteen. The marriage was arranged by Edward's mother Isabella who wanted to secure an alliance with Hainault, a county near Flanders on the continent. But although it was an arranged marriage, that does not preclude romance--out of all the available daughters of the count, Edward specifically requested that Philippa be the one for him.

Edward and Philippa had a very felicitous marriage which produced thirteen children--enough sons to later cause the inheritance problems which led to the Wars of the Roses. Edward is reputed to have been faithful to his wife until near to the end. (He took a mistress while his wife was terminally ill with dropsy, or a similar disease).

Froissart, a historian who served in Queen Philippa's court, records this story about Edward and Philippa during the siege of Calais. The year was 1348. The city had just capitulated after a year-long siege. And Edward was hopping mad that he had wasted twelve whole months trying to subdue it. He decided, at first, that he would offer the town no terms--meaning, that the citizens would likely be put to the sword. When his nobles remonstrated with him, begging him to be a merciful conqueror, he ameliorated his demands to this: that six of the leading citizens come out of the city and kneel before him with halters around their necks. Edward's nobles pleaded for mercy again, but this time he would not budge. He would have his revenge on the city of Calais--those six burghers would pay the price for their city's obstinacy. Froissart writes:

The king looked cruelly on them, for greatly he hated the people of Calais for the great damages and displeasures they had done him on the sea before. Then he commanded their heads to be stricken off: then every man entreated the king for mercy, but he would hear no man in that behalf….  
Then the queen, being great with child, kneeled down and sore weeping said: “Ah, gentle sir, since I passed the sea in great peril, I have desired nothing of you; therefore now I humbly require you in the honour of the Son of the Virgin Mary and for the love of me that ye will take mercy of these six burgesses.”  
The king beheld the queen and stood still in a study a space, and then said: “Ah dame, I would ye had been as now in some other place; ye make such request to me that I cannot deny you. Wherefore I give them to you, to do your pleasure with them.”
This story is perhaps not the usual one that comes to mind when you think of a lovey-dovey historical anecdote, but what shows greater love than this--that a king, unused to being crossed, would give up his revenge for the sake of the love that he bore to his wife? That, my friends, is a love story worth telling. 

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And now, one lucky person will win a copy of my book I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince. Edward, Black Prince of Wales, was one of those thirteen children that Philippa bore to Edward III. He crossed the Channel with his father to wage war against France, and he was there that fateful day at Calais when his mother entreated his father's clemency. A tale of arms, of death, of love, and of honor--leave a comment on this post and fill out the form below to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
* * * * *

Don't forget to visit the other sites in the Hearts through History Blog Hop!

  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
  17. Georgie Lee
  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
  20. The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
  21. A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
  22. Karen Aminadra
  23. Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thomas Becket's Hero?: Anselm of Canterbury

Today, I get to post over at English Historical Fiction Authors about the archbishop who defied a king...two kings, actually. No, it's not Thomas Becket. It's his predecessor, Anselm. One of the interesting things I discovered while researching this is that it was Thomas Becket who requested that Anselm be canonized as a saint. It certainly makes sense, given that Becket was following in Anselm's footsteps by defying royal authority and defending the power of the Church.

English Historical Fiction Authors is a fabulous blog run by Debra Brown with around forty member authors and a new historical post every day. The blog celebrated its first anniversary a few months back and Debra is compiling a book of the first year's blog posts, to be published by Madison Street Publishing. A very exciting project for us, and lots of proofreading for me to do! I'm thrilled to get to read through all the posts again and help present them in a more accessible format to readers. The release date for Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors has not yet been set, but I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ingredients of Historical Fiction: Saturday Links

My apologies right off the bat. This first article in my Saturday Links is a little lurid, but it was oh-so-funny to read this decades' old article about writing a historical bodice ripper.
We settled on ''The Barbarian Princess'' and I began constructing a plot. I use the word loosely because not even Aristotle could get a plot out of the fifth century. Besides, I didn't really need one; like the typical sweet savage entry, my novel was a sadomasochistic daisy chain of incidents based on the popular wisdom of the antifeminist hour: ''When in doubt, rape.'' (read more)
Historical fiction author Barbara Kyle had an interview this week over at Mary Tod's blog. I was especially inspired by her writing process which enables her to put out one book a year--it looks like a game plan that would be beneficial for me to imitate in the future.
I spend about three months developing an outline, a detailed document that is eventually about twenty pages and covers just what happens. Research is concurrent with building this outline. For me, the outline is crucial: it’s where all the heavy lifting of creation gets done, the development of the characters and plot. When I teach writers I call this process Storylining, because as writers we can never forget that we’re telling a story. Once I have an outline I spend about seven months writing the first draft, then about two months on the second draft, leaving the last couple of weeks for a polish draft. (read more)
Sam Thomas had a very interesting article about how he transferred from a tenure-track professor at a large university to a secondary teacher at a prep school. The latter provided more of a sense of community and a feeling that what he was doing was really making an impact on his students.
Because my ninth-graders have the basics down, I have the luxury of working with them on more difficult questions: What is the best use of historical evidence? How should they structure their arguments to be more convincing? And I do that knowing that with three or four more years of training, they will arrive at college far better prepared then many of their peers. I go to work knowing that I am making a difference in my students' lives, and that is no small thing. (read more)
And what about the academic research that he kind of misses? He gets to use it in his historical fiction writing. Sam Thomas' first historical thriller, The Midwife's Tale, just came out this month.

One benefit on being a little late to finish this Saturday Links post is that I get to include articles hot off the weekend press. Stephanie Cowell posted a marvelous article today discussing her initial trepidation about fictionalizing history and concern about creating dialogue to put in the mouths of real historical figures--and then sharing her realization that that's the point of writing in this genre.
“But what is historical fiction?” people also ask and I reply, “It’s fiction based on history.” More, it is a dramatic piece and must tell an interesting, hopefully gripping story. To do that it must have a plot and dramatic highlights; it must not be repetitive or meander. Real lives do both. You must trim and shape real life into fictional form. (read more)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Great Debate: Eleven Norman Conquest Sources Duke It Out

Way back when, when I used to teach high school history, one of my favorite projects was the Norman Conquest Debate. I would split the class into two teams, give them a packet of primary sources, and have them prepare to argue that William or Harold was the rightful heir to the English throne. Given the chance, high schoolers can become amazingly impassioned on the subject of history. And one of the best ways to give them that chance is to let them work out history like a puzzle--to let them be a "historian" not just a "history student."

This week on English Historical Fiction Authors, I had the pleasure of doing a two-part post about the Norman Conquest. I shared eleven primary sources about the event and talked about the questions they raise. The first post, which came out yesterday, has generated quite a bit of fabulous discussion. It seems that blog readers can get just as impassioned about this subject as high schoolers. The second post was just added to the mix, but I'm afraid it adds more questions than it does conclusions. Enjoy!

"Harold made an oath to Duke William"
But what were the terms of the oath?
And was it under compulsion?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spiritual Matters in Movies and Books: Saturday Links

Last year I wrote a post about the difficulties, but importance, of writing religion in the alien past. This week I came across two articles that reminded me of this same topic.

Stephanie Cowell discussed the subject on English Historical Fiction Authors:
It is difficult to write about spiritual matters. They are the most intimate of our feelings and more difficult to express in words than physics, which is most deeply expressed in mathematics. And words are all we have as novelists. Yet a good historical novel can transplant a reader to spiritual places and feelings which a theological book can seldom do. Novels can be a gate to “thing that are unseen.” (read more)
In an application of this idea, Medieval Reader rebuked the movie Brave for including paganism but not Christianity in an obviously medieval setting.
The glaring anachronisms, like castles and ‘cakes’ were forgivable, but the worst aspect, and that which I found most objectionable was the total exclusion of Christianity whilst giving prominence to pagan beliefs and ideas.... Whilst Brave, with its panoramic highland scenes and folk music is clearly intended to celebrate Scottish culture, the seemingly intentional ignoring of the religious ideology which had such a profound effect on that culture is, I believe a travesty of the highest order. Whether secularists like it or not, Christianity left an indelible legacy on the history and cultural heritage of the British isles.... (read more)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Links

I've been a little schizophrenic about historical eras recently. It's bound to happen when you're two-thirds of the way through writing two different books, each set in a different historical era. Middle Ages vs. British Regency, pieces of plate armor vs. high-waisted ball gowns, Crusader castles vs. country manors.

The articles I found interesting this week draw from both eras. E. M. Powell answered some questions about her work in progress--a sequel to her book The Fifth Knight about my college crush, Thomas Becket. Currently, The Fifth Knight is being released in serial format--I'm waiting till the whole things comes out in one volume before I get it.

Another article that caught my attention was a comparison between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester. I'm always been a big Austen fan, and although I enjoy the story of Jane Eyre, I confess Charlotte Bronte's hero has never held much appeal for me. This post helped me to understand why I felt that way.

Mr. Darcy smolders with repressed feelings; Mr. Rochester, by contrast, never seems to hold anything back. Early conversations with Jane Eyre are full of disclosures that seem highly inappropriate, like the history of his mistresses. This would definitely set off alarm bells in a Jane Austen novel; Jane Eyre takes the sordid revelations with an odd calm. 
It’s really hard (though well worth the effort) to imagine Mr. Darcy dressing up as female gypsy to deceive his own houseguests — definitely the craziest moment in a novel bursting with them. 
But Mr. Rochester crosses a line, does something that Mr. Darcy would never do, when he seeks to marry Jane Eyre deceptively. Whatever his justifications, this is clearly not acceptable, something Jane Eyre realizes too. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, at the moment when the chips are down (when Mr. Wickham, whom he hates, elopes with Lydia Bennet) acts with remarkable decision and unselfishness, putting himself to a great deal of trouble on the remote chance that this might eventually cause Elizabeth to change her mind and marry him. He uses his wealth and power for good, something Mr. Rochester cannot really claim.

I already shared the previous link on my author page on Facebook, and a reader directed me to a fabulous comic "Dude Watchin' with the Brontes." (Warning: some coarse language) If you've ever read the Bronte sisters' books, you will die laughing....

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Treasured Tapestry

When I taught high school history classes, I used to let the students borrow my books to use as sources in their research papers. All except one. I remember a student asking if he could take The Bayeux Tapestry home, a coffee table book sized volume with full color plates of the Tapestry edited by David M. Wilson, and my answer was, "Absolutely not!" Then I softened it a little. "You can look at it here in the classroom. But be careful with the pages. And don't rip the dust jacket." That same book currently sits on display on the top shelf of our living room bookshelf. It "faces out", a high mark of favor when bookshelf space is at such a premium in our house.

Today I have a post up at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about the Bayeux Tapestry. Did you know that Aesop's Fables appear in the margin 12 times in the Tapestry? Are they just decorative or do they have some deeper commentary on the larger narrative? My post hypothesizes the latter with a detailed look at the embroiderers' use of "The Fox and the Crow." I'd love it if you'd head on over and take a look...just be careful with the dust jacket!

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