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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Thanksgiving Procolamation

EXETER, November 1, 1782.

ORDERED,THAT the following Proclamation for a general THANKSGIVING on the twenty-eighth day of November [instant?], received from the honorable Continental Congress, be forthwith printed, and sent to the several worshipping Assemblies in this State, to whom it is recommended religiously to observe said day, and to abstain from all servile labour thereon.
M. WEARE, President.
By the United States in Congress assembled.


IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf: Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:----- Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.JOHN HANSON, President.Charles Thomson, Secretary.

I found this on the history channel website and thought it intersting enough to share.
Give thanks and let your light shine. You're the only you we got!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Write Regency

Why Regency?

As I sit here among the modern world of jangling cell phones, endless boring meeting and traffic jams, I ask, how can the modern world be romantic?

The commonplace, the everyday, is not the stuff of fantasy. Take me to a world lived against a background of life and death struggles, a vivid time, different from my own, but not too different, where vast possibilities reign--and that I can experience from a safe distance among all the modern conveniences.

Welcome to the English Regency. This historical period ran from 1811 to 1820, when George III of England went mad and Parliament appointed his son, the Prince of Wales, as Regent to rule in his stead.

But the Regency is an elastic term and can encompass the time from the French Revolution to Victoria's reign. The Napoleonic wars, that decades-long struggle which could have sounded England's death knell, occurred then. The literary giant Jane Austen lived and wrote in its midst. The time was one of extremes, of fabulously wealthy aristocrats and desperately poor commoners. But the era was also one of transition, when the old world, which defined a person solely by his birth, slowly and with great reluctance, yielded a new world where a person could make his own destiny.

The period was elegant, at least among the rich. In general, Regencies are tales of the upper classes two centuries ago. I love the sparkling conversation in these stories, the elegant manners and beautiful clothes. If I had lived then, most likely I wouldn’t have been the pampered lady of the house, but a poor servant, even more overworked and underpaid than I am now.

But in the realm of these books, I am the young, beautiful Lady of Quality, married to the same husband I have now, but who’s been transformed into a young, gorgeous hunk. We are both filthy rich so I can do what I like and not have to sit in boring meetings.

And I have all the modern conveniences. Ah, what a fantasy.

Thank you all,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Men's Hosiery and the codpiece

Men’s hosiery has evolved through the ages, dictated by what was worn above. Originally, hose were worn for warmth, under robes and floor-length tunics, but as tunics became shorter, hose became longer. In the Middle Ages hose, sometimes colorful, were held up by bands or fastened to the drawers (braies).
As doublets came into fashion, hose gradually changed from two separate pieces to one piece (like pantyhose). When the length of doublets became so short as to defy modesty, a codpiece was worn, sometimes padded and covered in velvet and luxury fabrics (although there are also metal ones in museums).
During the Renaissance, the hose became shorter, with breeches (like pantaloons) above, again made of rich fabrics in vibrant colors. The length of men’s hosiery also followed the fashion in various countries (witness the kilts that are worn today by some of the professional golfers). Eventually, trousers took the place of breeches and men’s hosiery became what it is today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where to Begin a Story

Where to begin your story

Normally, I keep my posts specific to research, but I'd like to broaden the topic today. Where to begin my story, is a question that plagues me with every novel and short story I write. There are a number of places you can begin your story. It’s not a science. Not even the experts can agree on the perfect place to start.

Decades ago, a novelist could open the story with flowery narrative and lengthy descriptions. That doesn’t work in today's world. Today, the first line or paragraph must grab the attention of the reader.

Many of us are tempted to start with the reasons and motives behind our character's behavior. However, let me tell you a secret: Background, also known as backstory, can wait.

In just a few sentences, an author must get the reader's attention, and make them want to know what happens next. That’s not easy.

Some authors to begin the story where the action takes place. But beginning too late can leave the reader lost and even asking ‘why do I care?’

Giving a little set up, then starting with the action is a good rule of thumb.
I try to begin at the moment where the hero(ine)’s life changes, or when disaster strikes. The start of your novel will determine whether the readers is interested enough to continue reading. It will also set the tone for the rest of the novel.

The beginning should fit the progression through middle toward end. That’s best accomplished once the novel is finished.

For example, perhaps your novel is about a detective. You could start with the detective getting up and getting dresssed, having breakfast and driving to work. Or, you could start with the first person who comes into work to make a statement. You could have him at a crime scene, taking testimonies of witnesses. Or you could even start with the phone call in the middle of the night telling him to go to a crime scene. Which would be more interesting? It depends on how you set it up, and on the tone of the story. Is it a mystery and solving this case is the plot of the story? Is it a romance, and this is how he meets the heroine? Is this a thiller, and how he picks up a stalker? Is this a coming of age story and he’s going to learn something about himself?

Other authors begin with immediate action; bank robberies, car accidents and chase scenes have all opened great novels. As long as the opening isn’t the only exciting part of the book, you can do it. It’s up to you. However, without any set up, you risk the reader not caring, so you have to be careful to weave in emotion and sensory detail to create tension.

I read a book once where the heroine was running for her life, chased by wolves and bleeding. It was exciting. The opening line was good, there was a lot of action. But even after page 2 I was totally lost. It took the better part of the chatper before I learned she and her brother were on a quest and that her brother and everyone with her had been killed in an attack by wolves. I think the author should have backed up a paragraph or two and told me who they were and why they were there.

Where to begin the story has as much to do with the timing of the story as the opening line. Many editors have said when they open an envelope containing a submission, they only read a few lines. If they aren’t interested with it then, they toss it in the rejection pile.

So, how do you do it?

An opening with a teaser that demands answers works very well. Here's an example of an attention-getting opening line:

"She's dead? Murdered?"

When you start with that, you're taunting the readers' curiosity and asking questions such as who was murdered? How? Why?

Finding the answers to these questions is what keeps them turning the pages.
Here's another one:

"I've been dodging the hangman for three years, and I still don't know if I committed the crime."

Think of all the questions this one stirs. How could he not know if he'd committed a crime? Was he drunk? Unconscious? What was the crime? To whom? Why has he been running so long? How is he going to resolve the situation?
Here are the first five lines of Gentle Persuasion by Rita Rainville.

"We've got to get rid of Edgar."
"Quietly...perhaps poison."

Does it leave you asking; Who’s Edgar? Who's planning his death? And why?

A lot of people prefer opening with dialogue because the immediacy helps draw the reader in more quickly. Personally, I think the story should begin with some kind of set up right after the opening line – but still with an interesting hook – otherwise it sounds like a voice coming out of the darkness. But that’s just me. I’ve read some great books that began with dialogue, but always felt as if I needed more time to paint the picture in my mind. Beginnings can also be effective in narrative. It all comes back to that opening line.

No matter which form you choose, narrative or dialogue, do your best to tantalize the reader into wanting to know more. Curiosity will keep your reader interested, and if that reader is an editor, it might spark their desire to buy.
The beginning of Stef Ann Holms', Weeping Angel, is a good illustration.
Every woman out of diapers thought Frank Brody handsomer than a new catalog bonnet.
Every one but Miss Amelia Marshall.

Readers will ask questions such as; Who is Frank Brody? Why doesn't Miss Amelia Marshall think he's handsome when all the other women do? Do they know each other? Do they have a history? Is she crazy?

Here’s one from my first novel, The Stranger She Married

Alicia Palmer stepped down from the coach with
all the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner about to
meet the executioner. She glanced up at the starry
summer sky, seeking courage. Liveried servants
lined the front steps like guards to the gallows. All
she needed was a crowd with an appetite for the
macabre; a role, no doubt that the other guests could

Hopefully, you were wondering why she was so filled with dread? Where she was? Why she was there?

Here’s one from my latest WIP. Does it work?

Anticipation raced through Lady Eleanor’s veins. Across the drawing room from where she sat, open French doors beckoned her toward the cool night. Soon she would spend a few stolen moments alone with the man she loved. True, it was a tender, new love, but more broad and sweeping than she’d dreamed. Before she’d met Tristin Barrett, she’d imagined this kind of love but daren’t hope she’d find it. And now that Eleanor had found him, she knew he was worth any risk.
What questions did you have: What is she going to risk? Why were their moments stolen? Do you care?

Some tips:
* Hook the reader with a compelling opening line
This will create interest and make them want to read more.

*Make sure the tone of your beginning matches the tone of your book and sets up the ending.
If you solve the problem of a character who wants to make new friends, then the ending needs to reflect the resolution of that problem. If they don’t match up, you can decide if you want to change the ending or the beginning; but they must match up.

* Set the tone
Make sure the tone–the attitude displayed by the choice of vocabulary, sentence structure, genre, etc.–sets up the rest of the story. Also, the pace should be the same as the rest of the book.

* Begin the story where the hero’s life changed forever, preferably some kind of disaster.
This form of disaster, and how the hero deals with it, will show the reader who your character is and will make the reader identify/sympathize with the hero.

*Avoid back story except in little drops
Too much backstory slows down the pace and will lose the reader, who, at first will be the agent or editor. How much is too much? Usually, more than a line or two.

* Avoid using a flashback immediately after opening.
Flashbacks are difficult for a reader to follow. Throwing one in early in the story complicates it further. Solidly anchor your novel in the present before leaping back into the past.

*Avoid Introducing Too Many Characters
If your reader needs notebook and pen to keep track of everyone, he or she will get frustrated. Such clutter weakens creates disorder and the reader will put down your book.

Use the opening to name and define a few of the major characters. Define them as individuals with distinct personalities, before you introduce other characters.

*Avoid Dream Scenes
Dreams in general are often seen in the work of beginning writers because it provides an easy out. Therefore, dreams should be used sparingly no matter where they occur in a story, but should not be used as an opening.
(time when it was okay to break that rule)

Now, take an unbiased look at your first page. How many questions are unanswered? If there are none or very few, then look at your first chapter and see where the real questions, the real excitement, starts, then put that at the beginning of your manuscript.

Consider beginning much later (or much earlier). Often, it takes writers a while to get started in a story. Open your ms to page 10. Consider starting your story near here. Would you really miss anything from the first 10 pages? Then flip to page 25. Would this be an even better place to start? Usually, the pages you are sure are critical to the story, are really backstory and set up.

Conversely, do you start with a lot of action which leaves the reader with no idea who these people are? Should you add a paragraph or two to set it up? Build up the tension? Set up the character for a massive fall?

Begin where you feel in your heart the story really begins. After all, it’s your story.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ghandi's letters to Hitler

It was common knowlege Poland was oppressing Jewish and German minorities in Poland, and Gandhi spoke out against all activities dehumanizing to people. When Hitler threatened to take a firmer stance against Poland, few were surprised, though Ghandi wrote the fuhrer and recommened non violent action. One method, he suggested, might be to encourage Poland to change its ways of dealing with minorities.

The first letter was written in 1939, there was still hope for peaceful solutions to problems in Europe. Ghandi knew Hitler was in favor of the British Empire and, as a Hindu Indian, Hitler would look down on Ghandi.

Critics have denounced Ghandi for starting letters to Hitler with the greeting "my freind."
I can't. Face it had he started the letter with "Hey butthead," it is unlikely to have been read. An excerpt of one letter shows Ghandi treaded lightly:

"Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence." He follwed with:
It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?"

At least he tried.

The smell of war was in the air dispelling any concern Ghandi might have had, so the first letter was written, ending with:
"Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you. I remain, Your sincere friend, Sd. M. MK Gandhi".

In light of Hitler's attitude, this attempt on Ghandi's part was very brave, despite what critics say. Even as early as 1939, there was evidence of Nazi willingness to act with aggression.

Hitler supported the British empire and offered a solution to the problem of the Indian National Congress. He recommended assassination of Gandhi, and if that isn't enough then kill the other leaders too, if that isn't enough then two hundred more activists, and so on until the Indian people will give up the hope of independence.

If Gandhi was unaware of Hitler's advice, he knew the Nazi attitude toward non-aryans. True to his character, Gandhi remained friendly towards his own would-be killer.

A year later, he took off the kid gloves. Ghandi followed the vatican in denouncing the Nazi's with this letter:

But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in human friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity."

Though England was considered an enemy to India, Ghandi,Unlike many of his countrymen, rejected the idea of achieving freedom from British rule with German help:

"We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid." Instead, Gandhi explained to Hitler, the non-violent method could defeat "a combination of all the most violent forces in the world".
some consider Ghandi weak for his passion about peace. He would not exchange one bully for another. In his mind, one oppressor was the same as the next.

In Gandhi's view, a violent winner is bound to be defeated by superior force in the end, and even the memory of his victory will be tainted by its violent nature: "If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud"

Ghandi couldn't stop WW2, though critics may still view him as weak, his methods ineffective. I have to respect a voice of sanity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guy Fawkes Night

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason that gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

The British celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, also called Bonfire Night or Firecracker Night, on the evening on November 5. Compulsory until 1859, Bonfire Night was one of the holidays observed in the Regency.

Guy Fawkes Night marks the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605. On that night, King James I was present in Parliament when a group of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were caught with barrels of gunpowder in the basement of the building.

This foiled attempt to blow up Parliament and assassinate the king was a reaction to the persecution of Catholics under James I.

Anti-Catholic sentiment ran high at the time, and the Gunpowder Plot served to increase a hatred of Catholics that lasted over two hundred years. Parliament passed punitive laws that remained on the books well into Victorian times, although restrictions had eased somewhat by the Regency. For example, in the Regency, Catholics could serve as officers in the Army and Navy, where a hundred years earlier, they could not. They were allowed to attend classes in the universities, but were denied degrees. A Catholic peer could not sit in the House of Lords until 1870.

Festivities include shooting off firecrackers and burning a "guy", an effigy of Guy Fawkes, on a bonfire. Since Nov. 5 coincides with the end of the harvest, Guy Fawkes Day contains some elements of harvest festivals. The firecrackers are probably a reference to gunpowder, but bonfires are a feature of Samhain, the ancient festival celebrated on October 31 and which is the precursor to modern Halloween. As the Samhain bonfires scare away specters and goblins, the burning of the guy symbolizes the defeat of the treachery of the Gunpowder Plot.

Some superstitions remain. One states that Parliament will not open on November 5, although the 1957 session, at least, did. And superstitious or not, the Yeoman of the Guard does a traditional search of the Parliament basements in one of the ceremonies before each session begins.

Thank you all,
Pictures from wikipedia. Top image is an etching of Guy Fawkes Night on Windsor Commons, 1776