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Friday, February 27, 2009

Stone Age Weapons

In the beginning there were rocks.


The first weapons were used for hunting. Flint was chiseled into arrow heads (a clovis point), the material was strong as steel and sharper. When used with bows, they were powerful enough to pierce a horse from its hindquarters to its heart. The same points were attached to longer wooden shafts to make spears.
The flint knife had serrations along the edge, as the flint would break in predictable ways. Fragments were useful for making tools along with horns and antlers. They were sharpened for cutting leather, and scraping the skins of animals for clothes.

Stone age tools:

Blade core: stone or obisdian used for making different tools by flaking off peices of the core.

End Scraper: used to scrape fur from animal hides.

Burin: stone tool used to carve bone, antler, or wood. Picture a case cutter, but in the stone age the rounded stone piece was the handle while a triangular blade portruded from it.

Awl: used for shredding plant fibers.

Antler Harpoon: used for hunting large marine animals. picture a rose stem, instead of the thorns facing the sky, the barbs bent away from the point on the top.

Clovis point: used for killing large animals and cutting plants.

Bone flute: used for playing music.

Beads: may have been used for currency.

Needle: used for stitching hides.

Bone Point: projectile hunting tool. A deep groove cuts into the base of the point where a wooden shaft was secured with resin.

Most stories occur long after this time period, but the resilience of man, and the use of creativity to aid survival is always interesting.

For more info go to

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shoes to Die For

My current work in progress is set in Venice, and since that beautiful city is on my mind, today I'm blogging about shoes. And Oh what shoes! I saw a pair in a museum in Venice. Just looking made my feet hurt.
In early modern Venice, around the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries, the footwear of Venetian women drew the eyes of every visitor downward, and no wonder. Chopines, the impossibly high clogs considered the latest fashion, were worn by any woman who could afford them, usually courtesans or the wealthy, as they were hardly attire for a cleaning woman or baker's daughter.
The shoes were made of wood or cork, with leather or man-made material for the tops. The platforms were frequently decorated with jewels and extravagant designs, and sometimes tassels hung from the toes.
Women wearing chopines had to be supported either by men or servants so the wearer would not slip or fall as they strolled along the Grand Canal to see and be seen.

There is controversy over just where the style of chopines originated; some say it came from China, where the women prided themselves on small feet, an indication of wealth and helplessness. Others argue the fashion came from the Turkish baths, where women wore slightly elevated shoes.
No matter the origin, the fashion eventually died out, and I suppose today spike heels would be considered just as dangerous, especially if strolling on cobbled streets and crossing the Rialto Bridge.
Here's a picture of my daughter and her DH that I snapped from another gondola as we discovered Venice by night. It's a city made for lovers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Adding a Touch of Suspense by Slipping Some Poison in the Cup

This blog was originally posted on my research blog, Medieval Research with Joyce, and hence deals with medieval poisons. Deadly Doses (or Howdunit: Book of Poisons) can also be used for other historical time periods, as well.


Want to up the suspense of your medieval novel or short story? There’s nothing like a drop or two of poison in a character’s wine to make a reader sit up and take notice.
But where do we go to find information about medieval poisons?

An excellent starting point is Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons, by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner. Deadly Doses is part of the Howdunit Series published by Writers Digest Books.

Now, this book is not strictly about “medieval” poisons, so you must do a little searching to find an appropriate poison for your time period. But of the eleven chapters, several can be quickly eliminated from your search: “Houshold Poisons”, “Medical Poisons”, “Pesticides”, “Industrial Poisons”, and “Street Drugs” all belong to a more modern age.

That leaves “Poisonous Plants”, “Fragile Fungi”, and “Snakes, Spiders, and Other Living Things” as topics to explore if your focus is the Middle Ages.

For my novel, Loyalty’s Web, I found myself leaning towards some use of a poisonous plant. After a short chapter introduction, the chapter breaks down into the following poison subsections: “Quickly Fatal”; “Mistaken for Edible or Eaten by Mistake”; “Edible in Small Quantities, Certain Parts Edible, or Edible Certain Times of the Year”; “Flowering Plants”; and “Miscellaneous Plant Poisons”.

Each of these subsections is further broken down in the following super-sub categories:

“Name”, “Toxicity”, “Location”, “Deadly Parts”, “Effects and Symptoms”, “Reaction Time”, “Antidotes and Treatments”, and “Notes”.

The first thing I did was take a red pencil and mark the name of each plant under the “Location” category, that was listed as “native to Europe, Britain or England” or that may have been brought there by the Romans. The important thing is to be sure that whatever poison you choose was actually available to the people of the Middle Ages in the area of Europe that you are writing about.

Once you’ve whittled the possibilities down with a red pencil or other highlighter, you can focus your research on the additional information for each of the poisons you’ve marked, and gradually come to a decision about which poison will best serve the plot of your story.

Since I wanted to keep my readers guessing a bit about the poison angle at the beginning, I decided to go with a plant that could be “Mistaken for Edible or Eaten by Mistake”. I eventually settled on water hemlock, also known as cowbane. Although the “Location” information seemed to place water hemlock mostly in North America, a note in the first chapter to Deadly Doses, “A Short History of the Dreaded Art”, informed me that : “Water hemlock, foxglove, henbane, and the prussic acid of the almond tree were all found in the Parisian woods and meadows.” (Deadly Doses, p 6) This told me that the plant I wanted also grew in France (the location of Loyalty’s Web). It also taught me that it can be well worth your while to read “generalized” chapters about the background of your subject, before moving on to seemingly more pertinent “specialized” chapters. Valuable tips and facts are often “hidden” in Introductions and the like.

Once I’d settled on water hemlock, which I referred to by its nickname, cowbane, throughout my novel, I went on to glean the following information from its entry:

It had a toxicity level of 6, placing it in the “supertoxic” category, meaning that only a very, very small amount of the poison would cause death. I also learned that younger plants, growing in the springtime, are more poisonous, which again fit with the springtime setting of my novel.

Under “Deadly Parts”, I learned that although the entire plant is poisonous, most of the poison is contained in the roots and rootstock. So when I finally had a character uncover the “source” of the poison, I had her discover a portion of cowbane root that someone in the castle had been hiding. (Don’t want to give too much away here by telling you who!) The poison was also dissoluble in alcohol, which made it perfect for adding a few drops to a cup of wine.

Although it never went that far in my novel, if my hero had actually drunk his tainted cup of wine, this would have been the effect: “Restlessness and feelings of anxiety, pain in the stomach, nausea, violent vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, labored breathing, sometimes frothing at the mouth, weak and rapid pulse, and violent convulsions terminated by death. Respiratory failure is the cause of death.” (Deadly Doses, p 61)

Death would occur between 20 minutes to an hour. (Given the process leading up to death, I think I’d rather go fast, than slow!)

There are antidotes and treatments, but most of them belong to a more modern age, and if the source of the poison had been concealed in something like wine, one would not have known what sort of antidote to try in the first place. Besides which, given the potentially fast-acting nature of the poison, a character would have to be very self-possessed, knoweldgable, and/or experienced to gather one’s wits quickly enough to act in time to save the victim.

This is just a single example of the kinds of valuable, detailed information available in Deadly Doses. As a starting point for authors of mystery, suspense, or who just like to throw in a bit of “surprise” to keep their readers guessing, I highly recommend Deadly Doses, by Serita Deborah Stevens and Anne Klarner.

Note: Deadly Doses is widely available in Used Books on Writer’s Digest Books lists the title Howdunit: Book Of Poisons, by Serita Stevens and Anne Louise Bannon, which may well be the same as Deadly Doses with a new name, but not having a copy of my own, I can’t vouch for that. The description sounds very similar, and since my copy of Deadly Doses is 298 pages, and Book of Poisons lists at 368 pages, I’m guessing that Book of Poisons may merely be an updated version of Deadly Doses, with a new title. If so, this is definitely a book you will want to consider including in your library!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting to Know Loretta

Hello all you Historical Hussie readers. I’m a little wind-burned, a whole lotta butt-weary, and still trying to shake the chill from my bones from my recent motorcycle trip to St. Augustine, Florida. While riding along and thinking about the plot line for my next novel, something hit me in the top of my head. KAPOW! No, it wasn’t seagull, it was my internal conscience reminding me that my blog was due, and geez, I hadn’t even thought of a topic. I could tell you about St. Augustine. It’s a town filled with wonderful history, but I’ll save that for another time. Instead, for those of you who don’t already know me, I’ll introduce myself.

First, I’m Loretta Rogers, and you’ve just learned that I ride a motorcycle. While I’ve given up my own bike, these days, I’m content being the passenger. The other thing about me is that for Avalon books, I write under the pseudonym-L. W. Rogers. The reason being is that men traditionally don’t buy/read Westerns written by women. So, shh! Don’t tell.

I write Westerns (think Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey, Cotton Smith), and I also write historical Western Romance. While I do write in other genres, I’ve always felt that I was born in the wrong era. Setting my stories in the old West allows me to live vicariously during that time period.

One of the difficulties I find in writing about the old West isn’t the subject or the time period, but the research. As a retired language arts/social studies teacher, I have a passion for history, so I tend to get so caught up in the research that find myself delving into topics that have nothing to do with what I’m writing. If I’m not mistaken, that’s called procrastination. One of the most interesting bits of research I’ve come across recently, is the reason sane women in the 1800s were put into insane asylums and the other was why women in this same time period became prostitutes.

I treat my writing as a business. I write every day, approximately 8 hours a day. When the story is flowing, I might put in 12 hours. When I’m on deadline, I’ve even awaken at 4:00 in the morning, still in my typing chair. On those hectic deadline days, my husband comes in and gets me out of my office for fear that rigor mortis will set in. One of the coolest things about being a writer is going to work in my pajamas. I don’t do that often, only sometime. Seriously, the best perks about being an author (besides getting publishing contracts) is doing book signings and giving writing workshops. I enjoy chatting with people, whether they buy books or not, and of course, being a teacher, I like sharing what I’ve learned about writing with aspiring writers.

One thing that has surprised me the most about writing is how much time is required to market myself and my novels. Marketing goes beyond having a nice website. And marketing isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Marketing is a balancing act between how much time to allow for blogging, answering and reading emails, creating book trailers, traveling to book signings, finding time to work on a new novel, and meeting editorial deadlines for galleys on contracted novels, and somewhere in all that madness still find time to do housework, buy groceries, pay bills and breathe.

I’m often asked if I’m a plotter or a panster. I think I’ll coin a new phrase and call myself a, planster, because I’m a little bit of a plotter and a whole lot of panster. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term-panster-it’s someone who has the story in their head, sits down and writes it from beginning to end. Who/what influences my stories: characters or plot? It depends on the type story I’m writing. Westerns are plot driven with fast-paced action, while Western romances are character driven. Which do I like the best? Hmmm! Regardless of whether it’s plot or character driven, I tend to like whatever I’m currently working on, the best.

When aspiring writers ask for advice, I usually tell them to read, read, read books in the genre in which they are interested in writing. Recently, I had occasion to attend a workshop given by Joan Johnston. She reaffirmed this advice. In fact, she said it takes about ten thousand hours of reading books in a person’s selected genre to know what works and what doesn’t work, what makes that particular book a best-seller and what makes the reader want to throw a book against the wall. The next piece of advice is to grow a thick skin. The averages of getting a rejection letter the first time submitting is greater than getting that first contract. Rejection letters tear a hole in your pride. You have to learn not to take it personally. Next, set that old manuscript aside and start a new project. Once you’ve completed and submitted the new project, then go back and revisit the old one. Sadly, I know people who after thirty years are still writing that same old tired novel. If you expect to get published, you have to write, rewrite, edit, perfect, know the publishers’ submission guidelines and get your manuscripts in the mail or in today’s world of modern technology sent off by email attachment. Then after you’ve chewed on your fingernails for a while, spent a few hours praying, and a couple of sleepless nights fretting about did you get everything right, get busy writing another story.

A little about my projects—The Twisted Trail, a “Cracker” Western published by Avalon Books released April, 2008, and my newest Western, Brady’s Revenge will release October, 2009. It is slated to be Avalon’s lead novel. Also published with The Wild Rose Press, Isabelle and the Outlaw, a time-travel, historical western romance novella, released December 2007, has been recontracted to release in April 2009 in the Through the Garden Gate Anthology print edition. Also a novella, McKenna’s Woman, a historical western romance will release in June 2009 as part of the Outlaw’s and Lawmen Anthology print book. Currently, I’m working on a new L. W. Rogers Western for Avalon Books.

I think I’ll close out this lengthy biography by sharing the most unusual way I came up with how to kill off a character in a story. In Westerns, people tend to all die the same way: gunfight, shot in the back, trampled in a stampede, an arrow through the heart, etc. Well, I had a villain who was so despicable that he deserved to die a horrific death. I just couldn’t come up with anything original and really gruesome, until. . .I was watching Paula Deen on the cooking channel. She was creating a dish where she poured brandy into a hot frying pan. The fire flamed up and looked as if it had consumed my television screen. That’s when I had my “Aha” moment. But, you’ll have to wait until Bannon’s Brides is published to find out exactly how I used whiskey to set the villain ablaze. And once the novel is published, I’m going to send Paula an autographed copy.

Now that you’ve gotten to know me, I hope you’ll come back and visit Historical Hussies often.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Victorian Servants

In Essex, where I live in the United Kingdom, we've been suffering from Arctic conditions. During the worst of the weather, when we had several inches of snow, we ran out of central heating fuel. For the next six days I was forced to experience conditions that would have been quite normal 150 years ago. I like to be accurate with my research, but this was taking it a step too far. Then I remembered that as a child I often scraped ice of the inside of my bedroom window, and used to take my clothes into bed with me and get dressed under the covers.
This made me think about what it must have been like for the thousands of men, women and children who went into service. In many written accounts of domestic life it's the large households and well-to-do who feature prominently because it was there that service was seen at its most spectacular. However, most households which had servants, employed only one or two maids, and perhaps a washerwoman to help with the laundry. These women would work for their keep and lodgings and maybe £5 per annum.
In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, set in the 1830s, the heroine was paid only £30 a year to run the village school at Morton, but was also been supplied with a young maid servant to carry out domestic chores while she was teaching.
Here is a brief outline of what a maid-of-all-work would be expected to do, when she got up at dawn, taken from a book written at the time.
"The first business will be to light the kitchen fire, brush up and clean around the grate and fire place, take up the ashes, sweep the floor and hearth, and having made all quite clean, rinse out the tea kettle, and set it on the fire, with clean spring water, preparatory to the family breakfast; and also another kettle to heat water for household purposes. She next takes the tray, carpet broom, hair-broom, hearth- rug, a clean dry duster, the basket or box containing the brushes, rags, leathers, brick-dust, scouring-powder and other things for cleaning the grate and the fireplace, and proceeds to the parlour, or sitting room to get that in order, before the family comes down to breakfast."
Good grief! and this was before she started her real work. I'm exhausted just reading about it. I'll tell you about what happened with the laundry next time. In my latest book, The Ghosts at Neddingfield Hall,(Robert Hale) the servants have vanished along with their mistress. A groom is forced to act as temporary cook until replacements can be found. A large house couldn't be run without the help of these anonymous people.
I have no interest whatsoever in housework, I've not met many writers who feel differently. I'm ashamed to admit that I only give the house a real clean when we are having visitors. To quote a family saying, 'Life's too short to stuff a mange-tout.'
Fenella Miller

Saturday, February 14, 2009

History's lovers

I was going to begin a blog on weapons, but this seemed inherently wrong on Valentine's day. Instead, tribute is paid some of my favorite couples from history.

First, technically second, is John Adams and his wife, Abigail. The second, first couple of the United States. They courted, fell in love, had children, moved to the president's house and nurtured a new country.

Feminist studies usually include a series of tender letters the two wrote each through their lives. Abigail was anti slavery, and a believer in education for all sexes and races, her husband shared her progressive ideas. He admired her wit and intelligence, the tone of his letters were always loving.

Women, Abigail believed, should not be bound by laws in conflict with their best interest. In a letter to the continental congress, she addressed this issue:
"...I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives."But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and, notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet."

John replied, commenting on her sauciness:"We are obliged to go fair and softly, and, in practice, you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight."

Their love never faded through the challenges of raising children and countries. Upon her death, Abigail's last words were: "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long."

Winston Churchill doesn't seem like the typical romantic hero. He was brash, drank a bit, his humor was quick and cutting at times. He knew his destiny and saw England through two world wars. His wife, Clementine and he were married in 1904. while Winston excelled in all things military, Clementine was chairman of the Red Cross aid to Russia fund, and president of the young Christian women's association. She stood by her husband even when he was criticized for his hawkish views by those who favored appeasement with the Nazi's.

One woman, so annoyed by Churchill's views told him: "If you were my husband, I would poison your coffee."Winston assured her "If I were your husband, I would drink it."

Despite his never say die philosophy, he held his wife in deepest regard. When a reporter asked "If you could be anyone in the world other than you, who would it be." Without hesitation Winston replied "Mrs. Churchill's second husband."

Across the channel, boxer Max Schmeling had his own issues with appeasement. He married Anny Ondra, an Austrio-Hungarian actress. Politely refused Hitler's request for him to join the Nazi party, rescued two Jewish children from Gestapo and smuggled them to America. He refused to fire his Jewish manager and enraged the Nazi's by refusing to be part of their propaganda.
Anny begged him to be more compliant, reminding him he is not untouchable.
Max was saddled with many titles he never wanted in his pursuit of the one he wanted, heavy weight champion of the world. Angry Max wouldn't comply with the party, Hitler sent him on suicide missions as a paratrooper.

Max survived the war and lived to be 99. His beloved Anny at his side through it all until her death.
Max said in an interview: " I had a happy marriage and a nice wife. I accomplished everything you can. What more can you want?"

Love gives you the strength to be something better than you would be without it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Donna interviews Joyce Moore

Hello all you history lovers. Today Donna will be interviewing Joyce Moore, another Hussie, so our readers can get to know the authors behind the books.

Donna: Good morning, Joyce. I have a lot of questions so let's cut to the chase. Tell us a little about yourself. What is your typical day like?

Joyce: I'm a history junkie who loves delving into the past. I find the lives of medieval women fascinating and never tire of reading or writing about them.
My day? I take my cappuccino to the computer, check to see if there's urgent email (read: agent, editor, publisher), then I write. If I have a WIP I write 1000 words a day, sometimes more, but 1000 is minimum. That happens no matter what. If I have to get an oil change, I write while I'm waiting, but those 1000 words will get done. The only thing that interferes with that is if I have an edit to do (again, for agent, editor, publisher).
Afternoons are for blogging and catching up on emails.

Donna: When did you start to write and how long did it take to get published?

Joyce: I always wrote—you know, the poems you hide in a dresser drawer. My degrees are in Music Theory and I taught a while, writing during lunch or whenever I got the chance. Later I changed careers and started writing in earnest. My first book was Haunt Hunter's Guide to Florida. I sent out three queries to publishers and was lucky. Pineapple Press asked to see more, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donna: What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?

Joyce: I always write about history. I suppose I chose the genre because it's what I read and enjoy and what I'm best at. One of my historical novels won an award at the Florida Writers Conference and in June, my historical romance, Jeanne of Clairmonde, will be out. I have two other historical novels out to publishers and have high hopes for those. I don't follow the market—I have to write what I enjoy.

Donna: What difficulties does this genre present?

Joyce: As you know, with any historical, an author must not only write a good story but also be true to the period. So elements like clothing, transportation, politics, or furniture, have to be carefully researched. I like original sources the best, but I do use sites like Wikipedia to get started. Often their references below an article give me direction.

Donna: How do you write? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?

Joyce: Hmm. Pantser or plotter? Both, I guess. I do plot before I begin, but then my written plot changes as I write. It helps me to write the synopsis early on. That way I tend to see weaknesses before I spend time writing something that doesn't work. And that brings me to the second part of your question. Definitely, the plot is driven by the characters. Many of my historical novels are about real historical figures. If I try to maneuver them to do something, they balk. Scenes don't work. They're not motivated and the plot point fails. So my characters' motivations drive the plot.

Donna: If you could spend an hour talking to anyone from any time in history, who would it be? And why?

Joyce: Ooh, I would have loved to interview Theodora, that much-maligned empress of Justinian. I would ask to put on her jeweled collar, to see how heavy it was. I would tell her she spent the treasury wisely in building homes for aged prostitutes. I would hope she would invite me to a banquet and loan me one of her Byzantine gowns to wear.

Donna: What is your all-time favorite book?

Joyce: Oddly, it is a book I use for research: Wise and Foolish Kings, by Anne Denieul-Cormier. The writing is so beautiful. I searched the internet for anything else she wrote, but could find nothing. When people want to cry because you only wrote one book—now that's a writer!

Joyce at FWA Awards

Donna: What will be your next project?
Joyce: My next project is editing, a historical novel for Five Star. When that's finished, I'll start another novel, maybe set in 15th century Venice. The plot? That's a secret even I don't know.

Donna: Joyce, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, and a little about your novels. I'll be waiting for your next historical to be out.

Joyce: Thanks for asking about my work. I always enjoy talking to another historical author.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How to Visit a Castle Without Ever Leaving Your Living Room

I once attended a writing class where the instructor, a successful writer of medieval romances who was sharing her medieval research methods with us, ended the class by informing us all that she would soon be returning to England to research her next novel, because she “finds it difficult to write about things she hasn’t actually seen for herself”…such as castles.

There I sat, thinking to myself, “Hmm, does that mean I can’t write about the Middle Ages unless I go to England and ‘see for myself’?” A thought immediately followed by the dour recognition that a trip to England was in no way compatible with my current budget, or likely to become compatible anytime in the near future. (Much though I still dream of visiting England and its castles “someday”.)

I, too, am a very visually oriented person. It’s difficult for me to describe something I haven’t actually seen, hence my fondness for “picture books”, such as books on medieval clothing or even children's books on the Middle Ages. Once I have seen a picture or image, I can then store that in my imagination to use as a point of reference when studying more detailed, less visual texts.

For those of us who write about castle-dwelling characters, but who have never had the opportunity (and no immediate prospect) of seeing even so much as the ruins of a medieval castle in “real life”, how do we begin to imagine, much less transport our readers, back to this far-distant environment?

Modern technology is…well…marvelous. And thanks to a History Channel DVD called Modern Marvels: Castles & Dungeons, those of us with limited budgets can now enjoy a striking tour of medieval castles from the comfort of our own homes.

I remember reading for years about the “motte and bailey” model on which the earliest castles in England were built. And I remember straining for years and years to try to imagine exactly what these books were talking about. I didn’t want to “guess” at what a motte and bailey castle looked like. I wanted to know. Castles & Dungeons took away all my guesswork by showing me exactly how closely my imagination had and hadn’t matched “the facts”.

In addition to learning how castles were built, first of wood and later of stone, this DVD gives the viewer an up close and personal look at such castle features as: crennelation, glass windows, loop holes and arrow slits, the portcullis, murder holes, the oubliette, the great hall, and castle kitchens. The visuals and narration are so well done, that one comes away feeling reassured that an actual trip to England isn’t an absolute requirement for writing medieval fiction with some degree of authenticity and confidence.

Modern Marvels: Castles & Dungeons is currently only available from the History Channel, but you can get a copy by clicking on this link:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Silly Superstitions About Petticoats & Yellow

Who would ever think that superstition would center around something as simple as a woman’s petticoat? Well, certainly not me. Goes to show how much I know, and why it’s important to do research when writing novels.

It appears that in the Victorian era long-standing tradition has it that a girl whose petticoats show beneath her dress is loved more by her father than by her mother. In other research, it stated that if an unmarried lady who slept with one of her petticoats under the pillow would ensure that she would enjoy dreams about her future husband. In still another place, I found the following poem that was often recited by young ladies:

This Friday night while going to bed,
I put my petticoat under my head,
To dream of the living and not of the dead,
To dream of the man I am to wed.
The colour of his eyes, the colour of his hair,
The colour of the clothes he is to wear,
And the night the wedding is to be.

According to the Portuguese, meanwhile, a woman who fears she is threatened by the ‘evil eye’ can escape harm by wearing seven petticoats at once.

An old wives tale stated that if a bride wore a yellow petticoat under her gown, it meant she was ashamed of her fellow: “to wear a petticoat of yellow, she is ashamed of her fellow.”

Speaking of the color – yellow- it was considered one of the unluckiest of all colors. It was and perhaps still is generally associated with cowardice, sickness and death (though some people connect it with the life-giving sun). Yellow leaves that appear on peas or bean plants are supposed to presage a death in the household and even evil spirits are said to avoid the color. Even in today’s modern society, actors and actresses are sometimes reluctant to wear yellow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Interview with Fenella Miller

Today Joyce Moore will introduce a new contributor, a historical author who lives across the pond in the UK. We're happy to have her with us.

Joyce – Hi Fenella. Glad to have you here. So that everyone can get to know you and a little about your writing, I'll be asking you a few questions. Let's get started.

Joyce; So, tell us a little about yourself? What is your typical day like?

Fenella: Hi Joyce. Firstly I'd like to thank you for inviting me to join this fascinating historical blog. I have had a multitude of jobs over the years, but spent 25 years teaching both in secondary and primary education. ( That's ages 10 to 16.) However my dream was to become a published writer before my 60th birthday. Over the years I scribbled away and never had time to get anything finished. I'm sure you will understand how family and paid employment have to be put first.

I was offered early retirement at the same time as my dear father died and left me some money. At last, I had my opportunity. I achieved my goal by selling my first two books, The Unconventional Miss Walters, to Robert Hale, and the return of Lord Rivenhall, to D. C. Thompson in April 2005 -- 2 weeks before my birthday.

I am married, have been with the same lovely man for 45 years and have two wonderful adult children and two grandchildren. Finally I am able to spend my days doing what I've always wanted - writing full-time.

I am an early riser, I'm usually at my computer by six o'clock in the morning. I work until 10 and then shamble upstairs to shower and dress. If I'm not going to a class of some sort or meeting other writer friends for coffee or lunch then I'm back at work for the rest of the day. I usually stop around six o'clock in the evening. I use a voice recognition package, this means I can produce five or six books a year without damaging my neck and wrists.

Joyce: How did you break into publishing?

Fenella: I am a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, which is similar to the R. W. A. that you have over there. It is through the help of established writers and I discovered how to approach a publisher, and to set out a manuscript and all the other things that are so far hard to find out when working in isolation.

Joyce: What genre do you write? Why did you choose this?

Fenella: I began by writing historical romantic suspense set in the Regency. It was my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer when I was growing up, and latterly Bernard Cornwell's brilliant Richard Sharpe novels that influenced me. Everyone says you should write what you know, so it was a good place to start. As a history graduate it was natural I should write books set in the past.

Joyce: Tell us about your other works, books, and stories.

Fenella: I write Jane Austen related stories, one is with my agent, Kate Nash, at the moment. I also write historical family novels set in the Victorian era, Kate also has this. I have written two books set in World War II, these need revising before I can think of sending them to Kate.

Joyce: What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

Fenella: I think I am blessed to be able to spend all my time doing something I want to do. I have to admit that I'm obsessed by writing, I'm either at my computer, dictating into my dictaphone or plotting in my head. This happens 24/7, 365 days a year. Thank goodness my husband is 100% behind me. What I like least are the rejection slips - even after having had eight books published by Robert Hale and six by D. C. Thompson, not counting all the large print editions, I still get despondent when something is turned down.

Joyce: What advice would you give aspiring writers today?

Fenella: Persevere. Write what you read - if you don't like contemporary fiction then don't attempt to write a novel in this genre. If you have a really good story to tell, eventually you will get an agent or publisher to pick it up. Remember - if you write most days then you are a writer, being a published writer is another thing.

Joyce; Tell us about your newest book.

Fenella: The Ghosts at Neddingfield Hall, was published by Robert Hale a month ago. It is a Gothic romantic suspense. I'm not sure you have this genre in the US.

When Miss Culley and her entire staff vanish without trace from Neddingfield Hall, Hester Frobisher is certain she can solve the mystery and find her great aunt. However, her cousin, the Earl of Waverley, thinks differently, so she is obliged to accept his help. However, sinister forces are working to lure the two, and those around them, towards their deaths. No one at Neddingfield is safe. Is it ghosts, or something far more dangerous that seeks to destroy them?

My books are available from Amazon, but also on as downloads. Ghosts is not up yet, but will be in March - but my previous book, The House Party and six other books, are all available.

I'm looking forward to being a contributor on this blog and making new friends all over the world.

You can find out more about me and my books on my website

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interview with Historical Hussies Contributor, Joyce DiPastena

Historical Hussies would like to introduce to you, our readers, the authors who are and will be contributing to this blog. We kick off our introductions with a question/answer interview with Joyce DiPastena, author of the medieval romance, Loyalty’s Web.

Historical Hussies: When did you start to write and how long did it take you get published?

Joyce: I dabbled with writing as far back as high school, but I started my first novel in college. I didn’t think of it as a “novel” at first, just as another story that I was “dabbling” with. But the characters really captured my imagination, and unlike my earlier writing efforts, all of which had eventually fizzled out, these characters continued to propel me forward until six years later, I found myself with a full-fledged novel on my hands. (Yes, it took me four undergraduate years and two years of graduate school to finish my first book.) And yes, in case you’re wondering, my first book was a medieval novel. ☺

That novel was never published, and neither was its sequel (which took me another six yeas to write). Loyalty’s Web was the third book in my series. It was also the best written, since I’d learned tons more about good writing technique since those very early efforts. Still, it remained unpublished for probably a good fifteen years while I worked on other projects. It came close to being published by a national publisher once, but my potential publishing house merged with another house, my editor was let go and Loyalty’s Web was dropped. Throughout all those years, I continued to return to Loyalty’s Web and polished and repolished and polished it again. I always thought I had a good story, and I never completely gave up on it.

HH: How did you break into publishing?

Joyce: By the end of 2006, I’d pretty much given up on ever finding a publisher for my books. I’d never seriously considered self-publishing before, but technology was changing. With the new print-on-demand option, I no longer had to invest thousands of dollars to self-publish a garage-full of books that I knew I’d be too shy to ever try to sell. But now, for a relatively small investment, I learned that I could self-publish, get my book posted on Amazon and Barnes&, and my books would be printed only as orders were placed for them. I found myself thinking, “I’ve allowed all my books to (figuratively) sit tucked away in a drawer for all these years. I can either leave them there till the day I die, or I can take a chance on them, try a print-on-demand self-publishing program, and see if there really is an audience out there for my stories.” I figured I would never know if I never tried. So in 2007, I began by self-publishing Loyalty’s Web.

To my surprise, people actually started buying copies and seemed to be enjoying them! Later that year, I learned about a contest for published books that allowed self-published entries. I decided I had nothing to lose by entering, so I did. Early in 2008, I learned that Loyalty’s Web had been selected as one of five finalists for a Whitney Award. Loyalty’s Web didn’t win, but it caught the attention of a small publishing house called Leatherwood Press. Their editor contacted me and expressed interest in republishing Loyalty’s Web for a wider audience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

HH: What genre or sub-genre do you write?

Joyce: I write a sort of medieval cross-genre. Romance, with strong mystery, suspense and political elements…a drawback in the national market, according to the many editors who turned me down because they didn’t know how to “peg”, and therefore, market my writing. But Leatherwood Press has shown wonderful faith in me, and readers’ response has been extremely positive. Leatherwood has marketed Loyalty’s Web as a romance, and a romance is always at the heart of each of my stories, but there is usually much, much more going on alongside the romance. I like to play with lots of different plot threads, but in the end, my stories are ultimately about two people falling in love and living happily ever after.

HH: What difficulties does writing this genre present?

Joyce: I suppose the obvious answer to this question would be “research”, but I love researching my novels. I guess the greatest difficulty is finding specific bits and pieces of research that I need for my story. You’d think the internet would have made that aspect of writing easier, but I haven’t always found that to be the case. So much on the internet is “general” rather than “specific” oriented, plus a lot of it is simply splashed on a website without any clear authentication of where the site came up with their “facts”. I prefer to know I have a reliable source before I insert a bit of research into my novels. Two reliable sources confirming the same fact is even better. I continue to have my best research luck with good old fashioned books. Book sites like have made it much easier to track down research books dealing with delightfully arcane bits of medieval knowledge, so in that respect, that internet has truly been a blessing.

I have a blog called Medieval Research with Joyce, if your readers would like to take a look at some of the books I found particularly helpful in writing Loyalty’s Web. Some of those posts may be making guest appearances in future Historical Hussies blog posts. ☺

HH: What are you working on now?

Joyce: I’m just at the very beginnings of what I’m calling my “troubadour book”. The hero, a very young man, is torn between whether to become a knight, as his birth entitles him to, or follow his love of music and become a troubadour instead. Don’t ask me about the heroine. She’s still very much in flux! If you’d like to read something of my current wrestles to get this story off the ground, you can read my post on “Alligators and Me” on my JDP NEWS blog.

HH: What has surprised you about being a published author?

Joyce: What surprises me the most is that people will actually plunk down money to buy something that I’ve written. What thrills me the most is when they actually enjoy my book!

HH: What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Joyce: Sleep, eat, watch TV…all that good lazy kind of stuff.

HH: What advice would you give aspiring writers today?

Joyce: Write because you love to write and never give up. It took me over twenty years to get my first book published. There were times I gave up on publishing, but I never gave up on writing. Of course I wanted to be published much earlier, but I simply wanted to write even more. Learn all you can about “good writing”, then write what you love and write from your heart. If you love what you’re writing about and it comes from your heart, that will come through to your readers. And have faith that you will have readers one day, no matter how long it takes. To paraphrase Saint Paul, “The race is not to the swift, but to he who endures to the end.”

HH: Can you give us a summary of Loyalty’s Web?

Joyce: Sure. Here’s the backcover blurb:

In twelfth century France, King Henry II of England has just finished quashing a rebellion by his power-hungry sons and now seeks to tame the lawless barons who supported them in this corner of his "Angevin empire." To this end, the king has sent the Earl of Gunthar as his royal representative to ensure that Prince Richard and his former cohorts faithfully adhere to the terms of the peace treaty.

Far from being welcomed with open arms, Gunthar no sooner steps foot in the county of Poitou than he is greeted by a series of assassination attempts. All appear to be linked to the former rebellious prince through the agents of the family and friends of young Heléne de Laurant. A clever, intrepid young woman, she realizes that the only way to prove her loved ones’ innocence is by exposing the true assassin. Heléne races against time—and dark secrets of the past—to unmask the killer before the kingdom plunges back into war.

Fierce determination gives way to mutual attraction as Heléne and Gunthar spar over the identity of the traitor. But their blinding magnetism almost causes them to overlook an even deadlier threat from an entirely unexpected direction.

HH: It sounds fascinating. Where can interested readers purchase a copy of Loyalty’s Web?

Joyce: Loyalty’s Web is available on,, or in Deseret Bookstores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington state.

HH: Thank you for joining us today, Joyce. We look forward to your future posts on Historical Hussies.

Joyce: Thank you for the interview. It’s been a delight to share some of my thoughts and reflections with your readers. I’m excited to be part of this group, and look forward to sharing some of my research with your readers in the future!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Regency Duels

In England, dueling was part of a long-standing code of honor, far beyond a mere tradition. Gentlemen took their dueling very seriously; they would rather die than be dishonored.

Does your heart go pitter patter just at the sound of that? Mine sure does. How many man that honorable do you know? Okay, maybe we'd call it misplaced pride, but hey, that was a different world with a different set of rules.

The procedure for issuing a challenge was very specific. A gentleman never challenged a social inferior. For instance, a gentleman of significance with ties to the aristocracy or nobility would never challenge a commoner, such as a blacksmith or a farmer. Also, if there was a significant age difference, the duel would not be extended.

If they were socially equal, or at least similar, the gentleman who was offended would tell the man who’d wronged him that he should choose his “second,” a close friend or family member who would look out for his best interests. If he was really incensed, he might slap him with his glove, but that was considered extreme and beneath gentlemanly behavior, as it was the ultimate insult and probably resulted in a fight then and there.

After the verbal challenge – or perhaps warning would be a better word – was issued, depending on the severity of the offense, the other might have a choice; he could either apologize, or he could accept. Sometimes, the apology would not be accepted, often if there were a third person who’d been wronged.

The next day, supposedly after heads had cooled, the wronged man who wished to duel would send his “second” with a written letter challenging the duel. The other may chose to apologize or accept the challenge. If accepted, he would choose swords or pistols and name the time and the place.

When the allotted day arrived, they met, probably in a remote place where they wouldn’t be caught by the law, and the seconds inspected the weapons to be used. A final opportunity for an apology could be given. If not, the seconds decided if the duel should be fought to (a) first blood, or (b) until one can no longer stand, or (c) to the death. Once that was decided, the opponents dueled and the seconds watched to insure that nothing dishonorable happened.

If one of the duelers becomes too injured to continue, occasionally the second would step in and duel. Sometimes, the seconds were hot-headed and ended up dueling each other as well.

By the Regency Era, dueling was outlawed. However, duels still happened more frequently than many people knew. The problem was, because courts were made up of peers, they were reluctant to charge another peer with murder as a result of a duel. There is a case where one nobleman was charged with murder and tried, but used the defense that his behavior was gentlemanly and honorable, meaning that he acted within the proper code of conduct. He was acquitted by his peers.

As horrible as it sounds to our modern selves, these gentlemen took their honor very seriously, and considered death preferable to living with the label of a coward, a label that would follow them and their families for years.

And, maybe it’s me, but there a certain romance about a gentleman brave enough and protective enough to be willing to risk death defending my honor from another man who’d besmirched it.

A duel is what leads to all the trouble for my hero in my newest book "The Stranger She Married" and causes events he wishes desperately he could change, especially when the duel goes awry and causes pain to an entire family.

I'm sure glad my husband isn't likely to try it...