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Monday, May 25, 2009

Regency: How to Light a Candle

How does one light a candle in Regency England?

Usually with a "spill." It's a twisted piece of paper, long and narrow (from a distance it looks kind of like long kitchen match). It was common for a bunch of these to be kept standing in some kind of jar or vase on the mantel, then you lit them from the fire. If there's no fire in the room, then you’d have to light the candle with flint and tender, sparking at least enough of a fire to light the spill. There was also something called a tinderbox which was a small box of flint, firesteel, and tinder (typically charcloth, but could also be dry, finely-divided fibrous matter such as straw). The world became a much easier place with matches were invented! Matches were invented in 1823, and didn't come into mass production until around 1824.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vestal Virgins

In pagan times, through to the era we call Ancient Rome, women were important in politics, and worshipped as powerful deities, goddesses for whom elaborate temples were built. Later, this cultural phenomenon carried over to the Vestal Virgins, women assigned to keep the Fires of Vesta burning, fires from which any household in Rome could ignite a flame and carry it back to their hearth.
To be chosen as a Vestal Virgin was a great honor, and they were given that position while still in puberty. The girls must be without physical or mental deformities, have two living parents, and be the daughter of a freeborn, although later, with the birth of Christianity, when less girls opted for such a life, the restriction were eased a bit. (This is statue of one of the chief Vestals.)
The thirty years of their service were divided into three decades; the first ten years were dedicated to learning, the middle decade to performing their duties, and the third, to teaching.
These priestesses were so revered that a man on his way to his execution, if passed by a Vestal Virgin in her litter, was immediately freed. On the other hand, anyone caught walking beneath a litter carrying one of the Vestal Virgins was killed on the spot.
Vestal Virgins had honored seats at the games, and as priestesses, they had rights no other women had; they could make wills, own property, and vote. However, they were vowed to celibacy for the thirty years of their service, after which they were free to marry, and it was considered a great honor to be married to a Vestal Virgin. These marriages, though, were rare. Why leave a life of luxury to be subjected to the whims of a man, especially in ancient Rome, a world ruled by men? And love affairs were out of the question; a Vestal Virgin caught breaking their vow of celibacy was buried alive.
As paganism faded and Christianity pervaded, a religion over which only men had control, the fire of the Vestal Virgins was ordered extinguished and the women priestesses faded into history.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview with Historical author, Laurie Alice Eakes

Historical Hussies: So, tell us a little about yourself. When did you start to write and how long did it take you get published?

One of these days, I'll come up with a good answer for this. It's a bit complex. I wrote my first novel when I was knee high to a gnome, but I didn't do anything with it. I loved writing and played around a lot, but I went to college, worked, went to some more college, worked, moved a gazillion times, got addicted to research... But the stories were always there. I sold three novels to small presses and they got good reviews, but then I got my MA in writing, got an agent, and finally sold to a traditional publisher. Altogether, 19 years passed between when I wrote my first novel and when I sold my first novel to a traditional publisher, but in actual writing years, I'd say probably I wrote for six years if I put all the fits and starts together.

H.H: How did you break into publishing?

I broke into publishing the first time, the small press route, by happenstance. A friend told me about a publisher looking for novels with characters with disabilities. My first novel, which had been sitting around for years, fit the bill, so I dusted it off and sent it in. They contracted it. RT gave it a **** review, but I made about $200.00 on it and it didn't seem worth the time or effort. I did sell two more to small presses, then gave up. The next time, which was five years later, I got the nastiest rejection I'd ever heard of anyone getting and was going to give up altogether. I had a good corporate job and had little time to write. But my agent encouraged me to try one more project. That sold to Avalon and ended up winning the National readers Choice Award for Best Regency. It took me two years to sell a second one, but now I've sold seven books in five months—four to Avalon and three more to Barbour Books, who bought my second one.

H.H: What inspired you to write romance?

You know, I love other genres and read most of them, esp. mysteries. But nothing makes my soul sing like romance. I believe in everlasting love and think that we're meant to be in pairs. Look at Noah's Ark. Pairs. O everything. I played matchmaker with friends in school and was pretty successful. What better way to play matchmaker but in books, where I can guarantee the outcome?

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

I write sweet historicals and inspirational historicals. So far, all my contracted books are in the 19th century in America or England. Why these subgenres? I love a message of hope and belongingness; forgiveness and acceptance getting across to people without preaching. The inspirationals lend to these messages more strongly than secular books, but I prefer to write the sweet because I'm just more comfortable writing sweet and they don't' conflict with my Christian message in the inspirationals.

H.H: What difficulties does writing this genre present?

Lots of don'ts in both the sweet and the inspirationals. I have to be extra careful that I offend no one, so feel a little constrained at times. At the same time, I love the challenge of getting the reader to feel the pull between the hero and heroine, that tension of attraction, without being overt in what I say.

H.H: Tell us about your other works, books, stories, etc.

I have these three books coming out with Barbour, which will be books 2-4 for them. The first one, Better than Gold, is a mystery romance set in Iowa in the 18770s. People are hunting for lost gold said to be hidden in this small town. It's re-released in a compilation with two other books under the title Wild Prairie Roses.

My next book with Avalon is scheduled for a June 2010 release, where my heroine is a doctor and the hero was a doctor blinded in an accidental shooting and how both live through tragedy and rebuild their lives and careers. The Avalon series is all about career women in the 1890s—doctor, lawyer, merchant (ship captain) chef.

H.H: What are you working on now?

I am working on the second book in the New Jersey Historical Series for Heartsong Presents by Barbour books. The first one was set in 1809 and centered around the glass industry in NJ and will be out around Christmas. This one is in the north and takes place in 1858. The third in the series will take place in Cape May in the 1890s. But before I write the third one, I have to write the second book for my new Avalon series. This is about a female lawyer in the 1890s.

H.H: That sounds very unusual. How do you write? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?

I am a plotter. Once I learned to plot ahead of time, I started not only finish manuscripts, but selling them. My stories have definite plot, even a little suspense, but they are definitely focused on the characters.

H.H: I love those character-driven stories! How do you choose your characters' names?

I use all sorts of resources. One thing I try to do is use surnames from the state or county in which the story takes place. Then I check popular names at the time of the story for the right names. Then I go to meanings of the names. It's quite a process and takes me a while to decide.

H.H: Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?

Classical music. I have satellite radio so the classical station is on all day. Lyrics totally distract me

H.H: What has surprised you about being a published author?

How it kind of freaks people out. I live near Washington, DC, where it's what do you do, not who are you in greeting. When I say author, people kind of get quiet. You can hear their brains clicking—in what box do we put a writer? It's kind of amusing. I didn't know it would be a conversation-stopper as much as it's a conversation starter.

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

Watch old movies, especially Bogart and either of the Hepburns. I'm also into Foyle's War right now. I like music of all kinds, especially live, and theater. Hiking is great, but I don't get enough of it in these days.

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

I like the independence, having a job I can do whenever I like. I don't like the insecurity of it, the wondering when or if the next contract will come.

H.H: What was the most unusual way you came up with a story idea? What made you to think, ‘hey, I could make that into a story?’

Probably the inspiration for my next Avalon book, but if I tell, it gives away the crucial surprise in the story. So maybe the Iowa historical series I wrote with two other authors. The little bit about lost Civil War gold no one ever found. Well, what if a lot of people seek it and someone actually finds it?

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

This is hard to answer. Right now, I'm thinking maybe John Fielding of Bow Street. Why? Because he was blinded, yet still did his job and did it amazingly well, at a time when blind people were generally hidden away or left to beg and definitely not given meaningful work to do.

H.H: I love the Bow Street Story! How do you do research for your books? What’s the most interesting bit of research you’ve come across?

I research in libraries and on site and on-line. I've had several graduate hours in how to research, so am pretty good at it, forming a search-string and all that. I love original documents when I can find them, so Google Books is a blessing for the public domain stuff. Same with Gutenberg. I've also gotten some great books from InterLibrary Loan, and never forget Microfilm. Lots of old stuff on Microfilm, fiche, and now on CD.

Most interesting? Probably all the work I did on midwives when working on my master's in history. They were interesting women in Early Modern Europe and North America, much more influential than other women generally were. I can go on for hours about midwives.

H.H: What advice would you give aspiring writers today?

Write. Finish. Rewrite. Finish. Submit. Write more. If the fire, the call, is inside you, you won't give up until you reach your goal.

H.H: Thank you for the Interview.

Thank you for having me here today. Please come visit my blog, where I am posting a free read at fairly regular intervals. This is a story I wrote, but which I never intend to sell, so am giving it away to my readers for fun and enjoyment.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This is the last 'installment' on medieval garb—well, maybe. Here's a picture of my finished hat that goes with my medieval gown, which I'll be wearing at the Costume Pageant at the Historical Novel Society conference. This year the conference has a terrific lineup of agents and editors. I can't wait to see friends again, ones I made at the very first North American conference in Salt Lake City in 2005, although they're held every year in the UK.
In my June release, Jeanne of Clairmonde, the heroine is making her way, along with a handsome squire she professes to dislike, to the French court in Paris, and I thought of her as I picked out a pattern for gown and hat. I'll post a picture from the conference later, of me in my medieval outfit.
A 2010 release from Five Star is also set in France, and the musician whose story it is has the king's nephew for a patron. I imagine he sees hats much like mine when he performs for royalty.
Next week I'll be blogging about Ancient Rome, because that's what I'm working on right now—edits on another historical novel, one of a trilogy set in the last years of BC. Watch for some good recipes; the Romans were gourmands.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Of Myths and Men

There are a number of myths that crop up in Regency Romance novels that drive me crazy. Mind you, until I became a Regency Research Geek, I was just a reader who didn’t know any better, although I sometimes noticed inconsistencies between stories, but not enough to bother me. Nor did I appreciate how much work it is to do that much research. But now that I've embraced the craze, I do know better. And I think all authors owe it to their readers to do their research. When I began researching the Regency Era for The Stranger She Married,a historical romance that just wouldn't go away no matter how much I dreaded taking the research plunge, I realized what a huge undertaking it was going to be. And I also learned that there are a number of "truths" which are, in fact, false.

I don’t know who started these odd beliefs not based on any fact, unless people are confusing Scottish laws/customs with English, but in Regency England, many of the favorite themes that a reader finds in a Regency Romance novel never happened, could never happen, would never happen. Here are a few of the most common mistakes and misconceptions:

Myth: illegitimate sons could become a lord.
1. No illegitimate son could ever inherit a title of a lord; he (or anyone) could inherit property or money if called out in a will, but never the title or entailed property. Also, a man who had just inherited a title had to prove his parents were married at the time of his birth. He would not be legally recognized as a peer, or sit in the House of the Lords, until his birth was proven unquestionably legitimate and the House of the Lords had summoned him. If there were no legitimate heir, however distant, the title died out or went dormant. It did not go to an illegitimate son. Ever.

Myth: an illegitimate son could be made legitimized and therefore inherit a title.
2. No illegitimate son could ever be legitimized. I don’t care who he was or who his parents were; if his parents were not married at the time of his birth, he/she was considered a bastard. (Notice, I did not say they had to be married when he was conceived – just at the time of his birth.)

Myth: children could inherit land or title from their mother's side of the family.
3. In England, unlike some cases in Scotland, no one could inherit entailed property or a title from their mother’s side of the family. Again, wills were a different story.

Myth: an unwanted marriage could be annulled as long as it wasn't consummated.
4. Failing to consummate a marriage never left it open to be neatly annulled. Having a marriage annulled, for whatever reason, was as messy, difficult and scandalous as getting a divorce. I cringe when I read plots in Regency Romance Novels where the hero and heroine get married to help one of them out of a tight spot with the understanding that as long as they don’t consummate the marriage, they can just annul it quietly. Marriage was considered a permanent arrangement -- not a convenient quick-fix.

Myth: weddings were lavish; with many bridesmaids, a kiss, a ring exchange and a huge reception.
5. These are fairly modern traditions. In Regency England, weddings did not include bridesmaids in matching gowns carrying bouquets and marching down the line in front of the bride, a ring exchange, and a kiss. The typical wedding was a lot like a church service, with an additional ceremony where the bride and groom would take their vows. Afterward, the bride and groom signed the registry, and then they were legally married. Usually, they went to the wedding breakfast -- as all weddings,by law, had to take place in the morning -- but never to a reception.

Authors have a duty to do our historical research so that the stories are as real as possible. Yes, we write fiction, which is why the heroes are usually tall and hunky, and we fail to mention how BAD most peoples’ body and dental hygiene were, or the state of the open sewage, but the back drop of any historical novel should be researched enough to create a believable historical feel. After all, why read a historical novel if the author has only written a fantasy? If authors want to duck out of research, they should write fantasy novels!

That being said, it’s not possible to get every single fact perfect. However, big things should be done right. And readers trust the author to get it right while providing a lovely, happily-ever-after that transports them into a glittering new world. Hmmm. That sounds a little like fantasy after all, huh?

So, gentle reader, the next time you pick up a historical novel, send good thoughts to the author who probably labored over the research to provide you with a window into the past...mingled with a healthy dose of creativity.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

History's tough mothers

The worlds' oldest profession, err, the other oldest profession.


We are the cornerstone of society, the building blocks of an empire rest on our shoulders, how we nurture the next generation makes history. This mothers day, I would like to acknowlege some of the tough mothers we might have forgotten.

Anne Boleyn:

Refusal to become Henry VIII's mistrress. Anne kept her eyes on the prize. She became Queen of England when Catherine of Aragon was evicted back to Spain.

A key figure in the English Reformation, She gave birth to one of the greatest leaders in England: Queen Elizabeth I. Sadly, the birth of a daughter became her undoing when the king wanted a son.

She was beheaded May 1536 for high treason.

When her daughter became queen, Anne was venerated as a marty and heroine of the English Reformation.

Her sister ran off with Anne's child and raised her so, Mary Boleyn deserves mention as a tough mom as well.

Olympias of Epirus:

Princess of Epirote, commander of her own army and Queen of Macedonia, Alexander the Great just called her mom.

Angry at comments that her son was an inferior hier as he wasn't of pure Macedonian blood, she told her husband Zeus fathered her baby. They divorced and her husband, king Philip of Macedonia, denied Alexander.

At the wedding of his next wife, a toast was made blessing Philip and the legitimate heirs he will have with his new bride. Philip then offered this man the hand of his daughter (with Olympias).

He was found murdered soon after and Alexander took over his father's throne.

Olympias supported her son and they were close, afer his death Olympias reared her grandchildren as warriors, plotted against ememies, and caused the deaths of usurpers.

Cruel while in control it is said she was denied burial rites after she died.

Elizabeth (Ersébeth) Bathory:

Countess of Hungary, mass murderer, occultist and mother of four.

When accused of her crimes aginst female blood the countess outsmarted her cousins attempt at a land grab and left all her property to her children, assuring thier wealth and title after her death.

She helped fund the war against the Turks and was in line to be queen of Poland.

Her son stood up for her in court. Bathory was not executed but bricked up in her room until she died four years later in 1610.


Incestuous marriage to her brother yeilded no children. Political alliances (and betrayals) bore a son to Julias Ceasar and a son as well as twins to Marc Antony.

Her reign marks the reign of the Roman Era in the Eastern Mediterranean. She rebelled against Rome and tried to fend for the best interests of Egypt.

Allied with Marc Antony they suffered a final defeat at Actuim. She killed herself.

Her beauty was not as renowned as history proclaims. In the words of Plutarch, what made Cleopatra attractive was her wit, charm and sweetenss in her tone of voice.

Coretta Scott King:

After her husband's murder in 1968, the easiest course for this lady might bave been to flee to a more tolerant part of the country and never risk raising public ire again.

Coretta might have been critcized for not protecting her children, instead she rose to the challenge of continuing her husbands work with the civil rights movement, as as well as the womens movement.

She approached Josephine Baker, an entertainer and activist, to take over her husbands place as leader of the civil rights movemement. Josephine declined, stating her children were too young to lose a mother.

Coretta stepped up to the plate herself, speaking boldly for human rights, and an end to war and poverty.

She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center of Non Violent Social Change in Atlanta.

Any threat of violence was superceded by a desire to carve a better world for children, hers and ours.

Does motherhood bestow an occult inner strength or does the power of love transcend all forces both natural and supernatural?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why Cats Get the Bum Rap

Throughout history the cat occupies a central position among animals credited with supernatural powers, and in consequence cats throughout the world are associated with a wealth of superstitions. The ancient Egyptians bestowed divine status on the cat and it was a crime punishable by death if a citizen killed one. In fact, entire household went into official mourning if a cat died. Not only that the corpse would be buried with an elaborate ceremony. It was from ancient Egyptian superstition that the modern belief that a cat has nine lives was derived.

In later centuries the cat became closely identified with witchcraft throughout Europe and even today no depiction of a traditional witch is complete without her black cat, the form into which sorcerers were often said to transform themselves. Such cats were, it was alleged, fed on the blood of their mistresses. Many people once believed that kittens born in May, a month particularly associated with the dead and with the practice of witchcraft, should be drowned immediately after birth. People would also show a reluctance to discuss family matters if a cat was present, just in case it was a witch’s familiar or even a witch in disguise. In eastern Europe cats were often marked with a cross to prevent them turning into witches, while in France cats suspected of being witches were often caged and burned alive.

Most significant of all was a cat that was entirely black in color. A black cat that crossed a person’s path bestowed good fortune and enabled the person concerned to make a wish(though the opposite is maintained in the USA, Spain and Belgium where white and grey cats are preferred and a black cats brings only bad luck.)

In other myths about cats, a sneezing cat promises rain but is generally a good omen, unless it sneezes three times, in which case all the family would suffer colds. A cat that sits with its back to the fire knows that a storm or cold weather is on the way, while one scratching a table leg warns of imminent change in the weather.

If a cat watches its face over the left ear it was believed a female visitor was on her way; if it washed over the right ear, you guessed it—a man should be expected.

It was also believed that cats bestowed good luck on newly-weds if the cat appeared next to the bride, but must be caught and killed if it jumped over a coffin, as this was thought to put the soul of the deceased in peril. Killing a cat was ill advised, however, as this was enough to sacrifice one’s soul to the devil, and even if a person kicked a cat the person would open himself to rheumatism.

Sailors and fishermen use to take a black cat on their voyages thinking it would bring them luck, but disliked hearing a cat mewing on board ship as this was a warning that danger or difficult sailing lay ahead—such as gales or violent storms. The wives of seafarers would often keep a black cat at home to preserve the luck of their husbands while at sea.

If you’re a cat lover—go hug your cat. If you’re not a cat lover—go hug your dog. Either way, be kind to animals.