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Monday, August 31, 2009

Medieval England: When was it?

When you want to write or read an English medieval, what assumptions do you make about medieval times? That there will be castles, kings, and knights in shining armor? That no one will bathe, people will die of the plague, and women will wear tall headdresses? By any definition “medieval” encompasses hundreds of years. So depending on exactly in which year your medieval is set, the castles, armor, hygiene and fashion may be very different than those that first come to mind.

Not even historians agree on exactly when the medieval period began, or if “middle ages” means the same thing as medieval. For England, use the 5th century fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to identify the start of the middle ages; others begin with the 7th century. Many label the years up to the 11th century as the dark ages or early middle ages. The era is often also divided into high and late, though sources disagree on the precise dates those designations encompass.

The scholars I follow generally define medieval as beginning in 1066 (with the Normans and William the Conqueror) and ending in 1485 (after the Battle of Bosworth and the death of Richard III, the conclusion of what we now call the Wars of the Roses and the start of the Tudor period with Henry VII). Even that definition covers more than 400 years!

Can you imagine lumping together one modern century, like the 20th, considering how many life-altering products were invented and how social mores changed from 1910 to 1990? Watching a few episodes of Mad Men shows us how different the working world of the 1960s was from today. It’s hard for us to believe that computers weren’t common household items until the 1990s, and that many of us grew up without our own telephones, much less a cell with Internet access, multiple apps and texting. Just because medieval times took place hundreds of years ago doesn’t mean society and lifestyle were the same in 1300 as they were in 1400. Even so, many readers and even authors lump hundreds of years into one pot, assuming that life was pretty much the same at the beginning as it was at the end. That just by dressing the heroine in a gown, giving the hero some armor or chain mail and a squire to polish them, and sticking them all in a damp, stone castle (which is often filthy and requires the heroine’s touch to tidy up), you’ve got a medieval.

But attention to the unique, precise details of the specific years in which a book is set--the subtleties of history and politics, and how changes in ruling factions affected the country, food, drink, clothing, architecture, societal perceptions, religion, coins of the realm and more--that make all the difference. That, in addition to being accurate, help make the story come alive and can enhance conflict, plot and character.

But because of stereotypes and assumptions about medievals, I’ve received some frustrating comments from contest judges. One wrote that Richard was not the Duke of York but the Duke of Gloucester. In the 1450s when that manuscript is set, as indicated by the dateline on the first page, Richard Plantagenet was in fact Duke of York, and the Richard she meant was a mere toddler. One commented that people didn't have carpets. Well, in this time, they weren’t common but were being acquired by the wealthy, which my character was. And I don’t quite recall why, but one judge made a comment about Columbus. Who would also have been a child in the 1450s. If I'm not certain about who's who or what existed when judging a contest or writing my own pages, I'll look it up to make sure.

Another issue is word choice. Though I had carefully and constantly consulted ­English Through the Ages to be as accurate as possible about when words came into common use (I wanted to use bluestocking, but clearly that wasn’t period!), a few non-authentic words are bound to slip in. An NYT best-seller graciously critiqued one of my medievals; her view was that even if a word was technically in use at the time, if it sounded too modern it should still be replaced. As a judge, I’ll overlook some words (aware that the earlier the manuscript is set, the more challenging it is to sound authentic. Many, many words we want and need to use were not around in 1066), but will note words that jar me out of the story and if there are many words that sound like and were in use much closer to the Regency than the medieval period.

What do you think?

Ruth Kaufman owns approximately 200 books about medieval and early Renaissance England and has written 5 medievals. Visit her at www.ruthjkaufman.com.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Add Sparkle with Secondary Characters

by Ann Lethbridge

When I sold to Harlequin, Mills and Boon, one of the things that the editor said was that she loved my secondary characters. So I thought I would share my approach.

For me, secondary character are little glimpses into history, like a bit of sparkle on a Christmas card. Oh, of course you have to have a plot and a romance and a happily ever after, and the hero and heroine have to have proper settings and language and clothing, but I love writing secondary characters, because I get to play. I like to play.

When I talk about secondary characters in this context, I don’t mean the villain, or a principle character who might end up with his or her own book some time. I mean the walk ons.

These secondary characters give you the opportunity delve into life during the period you are writing about without getting all detailed and scholarly. Thus I find it very useful to learn about the ordinary people who inhabit our world.

Yes, you need to get those pesky titles correct, and the right event in the right year, but to bring your world alive, you need to know about the ordinary people and ordinary jobs, many of which do not exist today.

A crossing sweeper for example. He can make a sarcastic remark while the hero dashes across Bond Street. He doesn’t need a lot of air time, an age, a down-at-heel, ragged appearance, a nose wiped on a sleeve, a wry remark as he sweeps away the steaming dollop of dung left by a passing horse. You can almost smell it can’t you? In this way the character brings life to the simple sentence. Lord Snipperty crossed Bond Street when he spotted Lady Snooty.

We are all familiar with the butler or the maid in Regency stories, but I routinely try to seek out characters who can give a flavour of the day. In the Rake’s Inherited Courtesan our intrepid hero asks directions of a French farm hand. We learn through that conversation how things changed during Napoleon’s rule and how they have changed since. He stops swinging his scythe and speak a couple of sentences, makes his own little joke and he shows and tells us a great deal about his life.

An osler in a tavern makes a brief appearance in the same story, kindly, and hardworking, he spares a moment for a rather anxious heroine as he rushes to meet the coaches coming into the courtyard and lead them into the stables.

In the upcoming 2010 book, Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress, the coachman, and elderly retainer, offers his own brand horse-sense to his master, while later a farmer’s wife shows off her healing skills.

Secondary characters form a backdrop to the main action. They shouldn’t stand out. They can’t steal the scene. It is easy to get carried away with a particularly interesting and vocal secondary character, but just as we don’t have long descriptions of scenery or surroundings, so we can only provide a brief glimpse of the people who populate our world. And of course they should always help move your story forward as well as charm the reader.

I am sure you have all met your favourite secondary character in a book and I would love to hear about them and what made them so interesting to you.

Ann Lethbridge also writes as Michele Ann Young, and you can find her snippets of research posted at her regency ramble blog

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Notorious Femme Fatale

Femme fatale. What does the term bring to your mind? If you remember the movie Body Heat, Kathleen Turner’s character Matty Walker might spring to mind. Matty Walker’s seduction and duping of Ned Racine, a hunky lawyer so dunce-like one wonders how he passed the bar, is a classic case of a femme fatale luring a man to think with parts of his body other than his brain.

Femme fatale is a French term for a deadly woman. Literally translated “fatal woman”, a femme fatale is a strong-willed, manipulative woman who is as alluring and irresistible as she is dangerous. The femme fatale leads men into danger or compromising situations with her seductive charms. This female archetype is present in mythology and folklore, literature, film, and, of course, history.

How different would the world be without the femme fatale? If Henry VIII were alive, we might ask him that question. Thanks to Anne Boleyn’s seductive charms, the former Defender of the Faith (the title conferred on Henry by Pope Leo X in 1521) began the struggles with the Roman Catholic Church that eventually led Henry to separate the Church of England from papal authority. His desire to annul his marriage and wed a younger, more alluring woman spurred him to sever his ties with a religion he’d staunchly upheld until Anne Boleyn came into his life.

Femme Fatales have been around as long as humans have walked the earth. History documents the talent for romantic liaisons that brought rulers like Cleopatra power and infamous spy Mata Hari the information she coveted. A femme fatale can charm a man into doing her bidding without him giving a thought to the consequences. Unfortunately for the enamored male, love usually has very little to do with the couplings of the femme fatale.

The Bible contains numerous references to femme fatales, including Delilah, the temptress who tricked Sampson into getting his infamous haircut and Salome, a femme fatale whose seductive dance led Herod to order the beheading of John the Baptist. Folklore and mythology is populated with femme fatales such as Helen of Troy, Sirens, and Aphrodite.

The femme fatale is probably best represented in film noir. Movie classics such as Double Indemnity establish the femme fatale as a force to be reckoned with; films such as Basic Instinct and The Postman Always Rings Twice demonstrate the power of a seductive woman that’s used to lure a man into committing a murder that benefits the vamp. Even Chicago’s Roxie Hart is a femme fatale, though not as effective a femme fatale as her fellow jailbird, Velma Kelly.

Femme fatales also occupy a prominent place in literature. Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Dashiell Hammett’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, and John Steinbeck’s manipulative, evil Cathy in East of Eden exemplify the use of the femme fatale archetype in English and American literature.

Even comic books have their share of femme fatales. Where would Batman be without Catwoman and Poison Ivy, or Daredevil without Elektra?

While writing this article, I pondered the question of femme fatales in romance novels. I’ve seem femme fatales used as scheming rivals or as villains who would drive a stiletto through the hero’s heart without a second thought, but I cannot recall seeing a femme fatale as the heroine. What are your thoughts on this? What are some examples of novels in which romance authors effectively used the femme fatale archetype as a heroine? Would this engage you as a reader? Would you become sympathetic to the heroine, even if she were a manipulative flirt? Would the author have to transform the character to a more sympathetic type, or would you relate to the femme fatale, flaws and all? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

World War II - Women of the SOE

“We were all young, we were all different, but we all had the feeling in the beginning that we were going to be helpful. That was why we went into it. And to have impressed the people around them as they did is almost enough. They impressed everyone – the Germans, their guards. They behaved extremely well, those women.” Odette Sansom, SOE Operative, quote from the book Flames in the Field by Rita Kramer.

Following France’s capitulation to Germany, and the signing of the armistice between those nations on June 22, 1940, England’s Foreign Office made an argument that they find some way to assist the French and other resistance movements. A “new organization to co-ordinate, inspire, control and assist the networks of the oppressed countries who must themselves be the direct participants” was proposed by Hugh Dalton, who’d been appointed to the task by Winston Churchill, with the instruction to “now set Europe ablaze”. Soon named the Special Operations Executive (SOE), it was headquartered at 64 Baker Street, in London.

Agents’ training was tough and intensive, including a commando course, and mock interrogations, as well as training in the use of guns, explosives, wireless telegraphy, sabotage and how to survive their clandestine existence in Nazi-occupied territory. They were also taught the techniques of unarmed combat and silent killing. Major William Ewart Fairbairn, in charge of teaching these “ungentlemanly techniques” to the SOE said: “This, is WAR, not sport. Your aim is to kill your opponent as quickly as possible.” It would become clear that female SOE agents were equally as capable in this regard as their male counterparts.

“In my view, women were very much better than men for the work. Women … have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men.” Captain Selwyn Jepson, SOE Senior Recruiting Officer.

In April 1942 Winston Churchill gave his approval on sending female agents into Europe (they had previously been employed in behind-the-scenes work in London rather than in harm’s way). The French Section of the SOE was under the leadership of Maurice Buckmaster, and Vera Atkins, CBE of F Section and Buckmaster’s Intelligence Officer, a masterful asset to the operation and its agents.

Vera Atkins’ attention to the most minute of details, and her resourcefulness at culling information, papers, and clothing, among other things, made her a formidable supervisor. Her SOE agent George Millar said of Atkins that she was “wonderfully soothing in her difficult job. A tough, clever and thorough officer”.

SOE agents carried out three primary jobs: “Circuit” (group) leaders were almost exclusively men. Wireless operators were both men, and women, despite the danger of the job. Lugging the conspicuous 30 pound equipment was bad enough, but the seventy feet of antenna required was also dangerous. That, and the fact that the Nazis generally could locate a radio transmission within half an hour. Finally, couriers were generally always women. Able-bodied men would raise suspicions, because they were either expected to be in the military, or they had been conscripted for forced labor outside of France.

Vera Atkins prepared her charges for their missions, as well as guarding their possessions and private papers – wills. She attended every departure of the agents that she could, and likewise attempted to be present for every return. Too many of her agents did not return. Of the 39 women SOE agents Vera Atkins sent into Europe, thirteen perished.

Two Who Did Not Return. Agents who were captured – men and women alike – faced brutal interrogations, torture and subsequent imprisonment or death, or both. Of the thirteen women who lost their lives in the battle for freedom, two women have reached legendary status for their bravery and fortitude.

Code Name: Louise. Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo was a French-born girl who moved to London with her family before the war. She had married French Foreign Legionnaire, officer Etienne Szabo and they had a daughter, though Szabo, who died of wounds received in the battle of El Alamain, never saw his child. Following her husband’s death, Violette Szabo offered her considerable resources as a fluent French speaker and someone familiar with France, to the SOE.

Following intense training, including navigation, escape and evasion, demolitions, explosives and cryptology, on April 5, 1944 Szabo parachuted into German-occupied territory near Cherbourg. Her first mission was a success. After reorganizing a group, she led them in sabotage missions, and her wireless reports with locations and details of factories producing war materials for the Germans enabled British bombers to decimate them. She returned to England safely on April 30, 1944.

On June 7, 1944, after arriving in Limoges, France, however, she was a passenger in a car stopped by a Gestapo road-block on June 10. Her fellow Maquis section agents escaped while she retreated into a house and fought off the enemy with a Sten gun until her ammunition ran out and she was arrested. After SD interrogation and torture in Limoges, including sexual assault, rape and severe beatings, reports of which indicate she divulged no information, she was interned first in Fresnes Prison in Paris. Later, Szabo was transferred to the Ravensbruch concentration camp. There, along with three other female SOE agents, - Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefert and Lillian Rolfe, Violette Szabo was executed with a bullet through the neck and her remains disposed of in the crematorium. Szabo, posthumously honored with the British George Cross, the Member of the Order of the British Empire and the French Croix de Guerre, was 23 years old.

Code Name: Nora. Princess Noor Inayat Khan had lived with her family in Russian, London and France before the outbreak of war. In 1940 the family fled to London on June 22, 1940 ahead of advancing German troops. Though influenced by her family’s pacifist teaching, she joined the WAAF and as Aircraftwoman 2nd Class was given wireless operator training. This stood her in good stead when she entered SOE training. Despite her superiors’ misgivings about her ability to engage in secret warfare, her fluency in French and wireless training tipped the scales in her favor. Khan was the first female operator dropped into France and despite the arrest of over half the radio operators in her group, she refused to return to Britain and continued transmitting.

Betrayed by one of two SOE agents, Khan was arrested on October 13, 1943 and interrogated in Paris. All reports indicate that she was a fierce fighter, and was designated an extremely dangerous prisoner. Her interrogation lasted over a month during which she attempted escape twice. Gestapo head Hans Kieffer later testified that she never gave them any information. She managed to escape on November 25, 1943, but was immediately recaptured and was imprisoned. Shackled in chains befitting her dangerous status, she was sent to Dachau concentration camp, along with fellow SOE agents Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment. All four were shot and executed. However, a Dutch prisoner witnessed, and later recounted, Khan’s brutal end. He claimed that an SS officer stripped and beat her until she was “a bloody mess”, before shooting her. Just before she was shot, she screamed “Liberte!”. The women’s bodies were sent to the crematorium.

Khan was posthumously awarded the British George Cross, the Member of the British Empire and the French Croix de Guerre. She was 30.

Two Who Returned.

Code Name: Lise. Odette Marie Celine Sansom was the daughter of a WWI hero and the wife of an Englishman. Her husband was already in the military when Sansom was asked to join the SOE. Leaving her three daughters, she made her landing near Cannes in 1942. As happened with numerous others, there were double-agents and betrayals and Sansom, along with her supervisor, Peter Churchill, were arrested. Odette immediately showed her mettle. Following her imprisonment Sansom was tortured by the Gestapo, which abuse included having all her toenails pulled out. She failed to break and stuck with her cover story: That she and Churchill were husband and wife and Peter was, in fact, the nephew of Prime Minister Churchill. Regardless ,Odette was condemned to death and transferred to Germany (along with Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden, Andree Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky) and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Unlike her unfortunate compatriots, who were executed there, the erstwhile Sansom, despite being emaciated and gravely ill, actually talked the camp commandant, Friz Suhren, into releasing her. In the face of the allies and the advancing Red army, he did just that.

Sansom was awarded the George Cross for bravery, and the Member of the Order of the British Empire and the French Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. She died in 1995 at age 82.

Code Name: Witch. The bane of the Nazis throughout the war, Nancy Wake became the most decorated servicewoman of World War II. Born in New Zealand and with Maori in the mix of her ethnic makeup, Wake ultimately ran away from home at 16 and began training as a nurse. With her earnings she ended up in London, but moved to Europe to work as a journalist. At the start of the war she was living in France in the height of luxury, married to a wealthy Frenchman. Six months after her wedding Germany invaded France. Wake joined the French Resistance and worked as a courier and smuggler as well as aiding refugees fleeing in advance of the Nazis. She helped more than a thousand escaped prisoners of war and downed Allied fliers to escape through France into Spain. Already under observation by the Gestapo she was so skilled at evading them that they named her The White Mouse. By 1943 they had put her at the top of their most wanted list. It was decided she was too “hot” and she should leave France. She made six attempts to escape by crossing the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. She was captured on one attempt by the French Milice (Vichy militia) and tortured for four days. She escaped with the assistance of another WWII legend, Patrick O’Leary, the “Scarlet Pimpernel of WWII.”.

After reaching London she began work with the SOE. As with the other women she was officially first assigned to the “First Air Nursing Yeomanry”, which was the innocuous cover that remained in place until after the war. Parachuting with a male SOE agent into the Auvergne region to organize the Resistance in preparation for the D-Day invasion, they were in the thick of 22,000 German troops. She led men in guerilla warfare, biked over 100 miles through checkpoints with replacement radio gear (in 71 hours). She said of her safe arrival “I got back and they said ‘how are you?’. I cried. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t do anything. I just cried.”
Tears or not, she continued to plan drops and sabotages, hiding in the woods and traveling clandestinely to coordinate. Tracked by the Germans, in June 1944, 22,000 SS troops attacked her 7,000 Maquis. The end results after Nancy and her troops escaped: 1,400 German fatalities; 100 Maquis dead. Wake continued waging her amazing war against the enemy, including a raid on Gestapo headquarters in Montucon, where she killed a sentry with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alert. And following another raid, on a German gun factory, she fought her way out, surviving shootouts at German roadblocks and personally executing a German female spy.

After the war The White Mouse, was showered with recognition. The George Medal for “leadership and bravery under fire”, the Résistance Medal, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with two bronze palms and a silver star and the Medal of Freedom from America. Oddly Australia, her adopted homeland, failed to recognize her until 2004 when she was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2006 she received the New Zealand RSA Badge in Gold. Nancy Wake is alive and living in a New Zealand nursing home, aged 97.

Aftermath: Immediately after the war ended, the SOE was disbanded. But Vera Watkins demanded to know what had happened to the 13 women who never returned. She finagled a military commission and hunted down the ends of all the courageous agents she had sent off to their deaths. In the process she gathered evidence against numerous Gestapo, SS and Nazi military which was used in prosecutions against them at the Nuremburg and Dachau war crimes trials. Of her tireless efforts, Atkins said: “You owe people something, after all, who fought for you and risked their life for you.”

Silence, yes
Let them have silence.
Call the roll of their names
and let it go at that.
To long sleep and deep silence
they have gone.
Deep among the never forgotten.

Carl Sandburg

Lise Horton

Monday, August 24, 2009

How far would you go?

We seem to be on a research binge. How far would you go to get the information you need for a story? Do you dig and dig until you get the answer or do you give up when it looks like it will be a lot of work? Especially knowing you may only use a minor piece of the information for the story?

I've been digging up information for two stories lately. I've borrowed books from the library, purchased used books on the subject, and I've sent out email feelers to loops and people I know to get more information to make my characters jump off the page. I now have some scholars in my address book and I've corresponded with experts on railroads in my area(and made a new friend) not to mention I joined an online group of Native Americans to pick their brains.

I've also cornered people for interviews, had some hands on experience with tools my character will handle, and walked as well as I could in the shoes of my characters.

After writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper in a town where the museum curator went out of her way to help me, I now have a standing invitation to do book signings at the museum.

Along my long and winding road of searching for the illusive bit of information that will make my characters and setting come alive I'm gaining a larger list of support people and new friends.

And volumes of notes either highlighted in books or scribbled on various colored notepads and stuck in binders.

How much of the research you do, do you think actually makes it into your books? And do you also feel that research isn't so much the words you put in a book but also the tone and setting you impart?


Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Real Historical Hussy

If you looked in the dictionary under Historical Hussy, I have no doubt you would find a picture of Princess Nest of Wales.

During the Norman invasions and conquest of Southern Wales, war and upheaval was an everyday part of life. Had her father lived, Nest would have been a common noblewoman, married to a prince of a neighboring land. But the death in battle of Rhys ap Tewder, the last true king of South Wales, changed the fate of his young daughter and also the path of the History of three countries.

The Normans realized the value of holding the kings children as their hostage. Her brothers were captives of Norman invaders in Ireland and England and at the tender age of ten or eleven, Nest was sent to live at under the rule Arnulf of Montgomery.

Arnulf was one of the most powerful Normans in Southern Wales, so young Nest found herself in the company of men who would change the history of Wales. She was a very pretty child and caught the eye of Prince Henry, the brother and probable heir to England’s king, William Rufus.

Henry had himself appointed her protector and, as Nest grew into a great beauty, of course he fell in love with her. The only problem was the future king could not marry a low-level Welsh princess. Nest was smart enough to realize that the mistress of a prince and possible king, had nearly as many advantages as being his wife. She bore Henry a son, also named Henry and the FitzHenry line was born.

After Henry became king in 1100, he undertook to make sure that Nest and her son were provided for by marrying her to a favored vassal, Gerald of Windsor. Gerald was Henry’s steward of south Wales, so Nest became the most powerful woman in the territory. She bore him several and so we have the FitzGerald’s.

In 1109, the beautiful Nest, caught the eye of Owain ap Cadwgan, the leader of the Welsh resistance to the Normans. He kidnapped Nest from Gerald’s castle and carried her off to his own lands. She reportedly had a child by him and so Nest added her royal blood to the FitzOwain’s line as well. King Henry had to eventually intervene to send Nest back to Gerald. Rumor has it that she was not happy about it, but to maintain the peace, she went back to Pembroke Castle.

Nest managed to outlive Gerald and married twice more. She had a son by Hait, the sheriff of Pembroke and two more children by her last husband, Stephen, the Constable of Cardigan. So the Hay’s and the FitzStephens’ can lay claim to being of royal blood as well.

Quite a busy woman was Princess Nest of Dyfed. In her lifetime, she managed to be the mother of five prominent families. Many of her children rose to importance in Wales and England. Placed as a hostage with the Normans as a child, Nest could have been merely a pawn in the politics and intrigue of the times. Instead she used her beauty and brains to become an astute manipulator of men, English and Welsh.

If you’d like to know more about Nest of Dyfed and her times, I recommend, Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, by Kari Maund.

Hanna Rhys Barnes is one of those people with an evenly balanced right and left brain. She has a BA in English, but recently finished her final year as a high school math teacher. She loves to cook and was a pastry chef in a former life.

A member of RWA’s national organization and of several local chapters, she currently lives and works in Portland, OR, but occasionally visits her retirement ranchette outside of Kingman, AZ

Hanna’s Debut Novel, Widow’s Peak, is due to be released September 23, 2009 from The Wild Rose Press. She is currently working on Book 2 in the series, Kissed By A Rose.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Holding out for a Hero

"I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight."

Back in 1984 singer Bonnie Tyler sang a song that women everywhere could relate to - we wanted a man who could fight the rising odds and win. A man with a core of honor and and a sense of chivalry that would impress us. One who could impress us with his sensitivity yet protect us from evil. Yup, those are the heroes I like and the kind I try to write.

It was super helpful to me to discover Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by by Caro Lafever, Sue Viders, Tami D. Cowden. This book describes character archetypes because I realized that my favorite hero type was the warrior. Oh my heroes might have a hint of the chief, bad boy, best friend, or lost soul to him. But ultimately...at his core...he was a warrior.

I'm a sucker for the guy who'd die for a cause or for a loved one. The man who would tear up over an injured horse then turn around and kill the scumbag who had wounded the animal. The warrior is the protector. The stand-up guy with honor but he's also lethal in a fight and lethal is relative.

A warrior doesn't necessarily take out his sword and kill the bad guy - unless he's a medieval hero. If he's a modern hero, he's the one who will plan the financial demise of a bad guy if it's against the law to kill him. Or he's the cop who will hunt down the criminal and put him in jail while following the letter of the law because the law is his code of honor. He'll also put himself between the heroine and danger, whether she wants him to or not.

The fun thing is that the very things that make him an outstanding hero also make the heroine want to kick him in the butt. He may lie to protect her, which she'll resent. The hero may try to wrap the heroine up in cotton wool so that she's never hurt, when what she really wants is to stand at his side as his equal to help him fight the bad guys. His sense of honor can be a straight jacket - creating a rigidity that only the heroine can help him break down. His willingness to jump into the fray to defend others can become reckless abandon that has the heroine terrified he's going to get himself killed so it's up to the heroine to straighten him out. Isn't it nice how all of his good traits have a flip side which enhances the story conflict. I love it when a plan comes together.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Historical Research

Last month, I was one of the 2,000 plus RWA members who converged on Washington DC and attended the National Conference. Aside from escaping from reality for a few days, I had a wonderful time visiting with 'cyber' friends and attending workshops.

One of the workshops I attended was
Lauren Willig's “How to Live in Another Century or Just Sound Like You Did.” I recommend it for any historical writer (though I really don't know if she's doing it again....but worth it if she does so near you).

Lauren talked about the different stages of research, she said there were three, but alas, I only have two starred, so not sure what the third one was.....my fault, but it's okay, we'll muddle through.

The first stage is Deep Research—reading anything you can find from the time period: letters,
biographies, diaries, and literature. Lauren commented that letters are especially good because you can catch the cadence of the time, as well as figuring that people aren't lying about everyday things. An example she gave was the blooming of a flowering bush that one might write about. Why would the letter writer lie about a bush flowering in May? Okay, you might need to mention a bush flowering in May, but hey, it could be an important scene in your book. All right, the point is, when reading a letters written in your time period, the every day facts are more than likely true, because there was no need to lie about them in a letter to Cousin Clara. Of course, it is much easier to find letters from the 18th Century than from the 8th Century, but they can be found. It just takes a little research.

In doing research for a wagon train story, I have read several diaries and letters of women who rode in the trains themselves. These are wonderful sources for daily life and I have blogged about them in the past, especially at my own site,
Chatting with Anna Kathryn, as well as on Seduced by History.

Museums, especially folk museums, are an excellent research source, too. While living in Louisiana a few years back, I visited several of that state's antebellum homes, which were furnished with time period pieces. It's especially nice if you can visit on a day when they have live history activities going on, where people explain about the everyday life of the time period. I have also attended several battle re-enactments and encampments and have learned how to load a musket....not that I could do it in the heat of battle, but I did see how it was done.

The second stage discussed is Tailored Research. This is where you use footnotes in books, contact history professors, antique dealers and museum curators. Lauren suggested sending off one inquiry and if you don't hear back, leave them alone. But if you do use their information in your book and you credit them, quote and credit them right. Nothing is worse than crediting misinformation to a history professor!

Lauren suggests to Google societies for information, too. I know I corresponded with an association for sheep farmers concerning some questions. They were very helpful.

Okay, I think the third stage of research is Specific Research. I have it written in my notes, but I'm not positive if it is right or not. Specific Research may just be another name for Tailored Research.....

While we are historical writers and want to 'get it right,' our dialog is with our readers. Even if it is a word common enough in your era, if your reader is not familiar with it, you may want to think twice about using it. Or, at least explain it so they know what it is, should you really want to use it. After all, if at the time, it is well known to your characters, it is not out of place. It is just unfamiliar to the modern reader. Very few of us have footmen these days, and I don't think any of us really understand the smells that were common during the Medieval era (nor, do I think, we really want to). But both these examples were very familiar to your characters.

Lauren suggests that we watch TV shows and movies to get a feel for what our readers expect from the time period. Movies can also help you with the clothing, décor, and other normal daily activities of the time period. Though you do need to be careful. Hollywood is not always as true to the eras as we are.

And one final note....as writers, we ARE given artistic license to make small historical changes, such as the dates of when something happened, or when a song came out or where a person really was on March 28, 1156. Off the top of my head, I recall one book I read that changed the dates of the World's Fair in St. Louis and another book that had a song performed in the late 1800's a few years before it was composed. Neither of these changes took away the strength of the stories. And I'm sure there are a gazillion books who put a historical figure someplace other than where they actually were on any given day. So, as long as you don't put a cell phone in William the Conqueror's court, you should be okay with a few historical changes.

What is your secret research tool? Leave a comment and you could win your choice of one of two books by HHRW authors: “A Knight of Desire” by
Margaret Mallory or “Tempted by His Kiss” by Tracy Anne Warren. as well as a copy of my own "Salvation Bride."

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Monthly Prizes to Win!


Thursday, August 13, 2009


When I first started reading romance – OK I’m one who didn’t grow up reading romance, but historical novels – I often encountered something that became one of my least favorite themes. A historical heroine with no domestic skills. I’m was always asking myself, why would the hero want a woman who couldn’t help him in anyway, can’t do anything except provide sex?

Would you believe a contemporary hero who wanted to marry a woman who not only couldn’t get a job, but couldn’t drive a car, use the phone or computer, couldn’t vacuum, cook, look after the kids, couldn’t do anything but be a bed partner. The contemporary hero, if he had enough money, could hire everything else done. But not so the historical hero. He needs a partner, a helpmate -- a wife. Even the contemporary heroine doesn’t need a man. She can hire someone to mow the lawn, fix the garbage disposal, install a new water heater.

In a historical novel one of the sub-themes is that it takes a man and a woman working together to make a go of it. A true partnership. Which, of course, is the foundation of romance.

I like historical novels where the woman is shown pulling her own weight. Where her husband-to-be/husband recognizes that he’s got a prize beyond rubies.* I like historical novels showing how women worked and the contribution they made to make the home and society function.

Of course, this does not mean that I want paragraph after paragraph as we follow the heroine through the day. But I want to see her work, her skills, the qualities the hero admires in the background as the story progresses. Everyone of us reading this knows what it’s like to work, we all do it all the time, and part of reading historical is to see ourselves reflected in the past, the past reflected in us.

In Johanna Lindsey’s Medieval novel DEFY NOT THE HEART, the knight hero, resisting marrying the lady tells his friend ‘any lusty village wench will do’. And his friend points out to him all the work involved with keeping a castle by saying ‘can you hand a villein a sword and call him a knight? It takes years of training to be knight, years of training to be a lady.’

The Medieval Lady is a woman with responsibility. She’s the one who sees that the meals are on time and of good quality, that the household is feed and clothed, the castle clean (there’s a task!!), food is stored for the winter, wool and flax are spun, woven, cut and stitched. The lady oversees the laundry, kitchen, wine cellar, buttery, linen closet, gardens, etc. She’s the CEO of the castle and the manor people.**

The Medieval lady is the ‘super mom’ of the Middle Ages. And we like the hero who recognizes his lady’s contribution. I think this is one of the reasons we love the Medieval lady of the castle, we can see ourselves in her.

If your writing about a Regency lord, what will he want in a wife? Can she handle his household, will she behave so as not to disgrace his name and family. Show her capable of making a gracious home, organizing a charity, raising his heir – whatever he considers important.

When creating a character you have to ask yourself what qualities would a hero and heroine look for in a lifetime companion (and remember, for most historical period, it was ‘lifetime’, as divorce wasn’t an option). Pretty and handsome are good, but will it bring home the bacon?

I think this sub-theme shows up best in Americana historical, which are usually set on the ‘frontier’ of the time. If you lived in next door to Daniel Boone, would you want your daughter to marry a handsome man, or one who knew how to hunt and farm so she and her children wouldn’t go hungry? Because this idea of ‘partnership’ is so appealing to me, this is why the frontier is my favorite time frame. The frontier man knows full well he needs a wife to help tame the wilderness. A man alone in the wilderness just becomes part of the wilderness.

For example, think about the movie LAST OF THE MOHICANS, do you think Nathaniel (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe) are going to live exactly the same life style that Nathaniel lived before? While I loved this movie, I sometime wonder about the HEA. Do you think Daniel will go back to Europe with Cora? Probably not. So it’s a good thing that we know Cora is strong, as she’ll have to ‘hack it (a life) out of the wilderness, without so much as a by your leave’. Does she possess the domestic skills she’ll need to live in a log cabin? Probably not, but after what they’ve been through, I’m sure she can learn.

When I wrote KENTUCKY GREEN, I made sure that the background to all the scenes showed how the heroine worked. In conversation with a secondary character to give exposition, the two women are mending. In a pivotal scene where the hero acknowledges to himself he loves her, they talk while she churns butter. In COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD, the heroine is helping her uncle with some bookkeeping. Later in the day she fixed a sandwich for the hero, and I have him think how she’d been ‘at work’ at the office, and now is still working at the house.

It’s the history teacher in me that makes me want a historical novel to subtly teach something to the reader. And working women is a great sub-theme. We contemporary women can identify with the woman of the past who are always busy. And the little details of the work you put in your story add the dept that makes it realistic. And since in historicals, the HEA is, per force, marriage, I want to see a partnership that as a reader I’ll believe lasts beyond the last page of the book.

What else makes a book a keeper, than to believe in the characters and story so that they live in the readers mind after they close the book? I guess what I want is to see that the hero values the heroine beyond her pretty face and young, sexy body. Probably because I’m old enough to know that the pretty face and young, sexy body won’t last forever.

Terry Irene Blain
who after 40 years of marriage and two sons, can no longer fit into her wedding dress

*Bible (King James version) Proverbs 31:10-31, in the original language, an acrostic of the ideal wife.

**Trivia note: since the lady walked around with the keys to these various area at her waist, the key became the symbol of power, and the clinking keys eventually became a charm bracelet

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Release! But what's with that title?

This is a shoutout to let everyone know about my new release, Texas Wedding for their Baby’s Sake, which is officially coming out September 1st (but is available at eHarlequin now.) This sequel to The Rebel and the Lady tells the story of the younger brother, Brandon Dumont and the woman he left behind...

“Caroline Benet enjoyed one night in her fiance’s arms before he left to fight in the Texas territory. The day news reaches her of the Alamo slaughter is the day she learns she is carrying his child.

He may have survived, but Brandon can’t return to the life he once knew or the woman he once loved—not as a cripple and a man battling his own personal demons.

When Caroline shows up in Texas, Brandon is determined to send her packing. But Caroline wants more than Brandon’s name for their baby. Looks like it will take a love as big as Texas to win him back.”

Okay, okay--I've heard some remarks about the title. Yes it's long. Yes, it contains those special words that help sell a book--namely Texas, Wedding, and Baby. I've also heard that there are others out there--words that is, that help sell a book. What are your thoughts on it? Do you pick up a book based on certain words in the title? I'm curious now. And the opposite--are there any titles that make you put a book down?

No matter your take on this particular title, to celebrate its release I’m running a contest on my website this August for a free autographed copy along with a Borders Gift Card. Hope you’ll check it out! (The contest and the book!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Little Inspiration, Please!

Every writer has days when the words aren’t flowing, the scenes aren’t unfolding as they should, and you’re sitting staring at a blank computer screen. Those are the times when you just want to say “Forget it!” “I’m going to start something new,” and sometimes even “Why did I think I wanted to be a writer anyway?”

Well, on those days, I look to others for a little inspiration and encouragement. Here are some of my favorite quotations for when I just need a little inspiration:

“I'd rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are; because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star. I'd rather be a has-been than a might-have-been by far; for a might-have-been has never been, but a has-been was once an are.”

~ Milton Berle

“One of the easiest things in the world is not to write... If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

~ William Goldman

“I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.”

~ James A. Michener

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
~Calvin Coolidge

"Far away in the sunshine are my highest inspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see the beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they may lead."
Louisa May Alcott

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.

~Helen Keller

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not Your Mother's Civil War Romance

I'm so excited about the blog tour I'm taking part in this week for the anthology five other authors and I have put together for The Wild Rose Press. We all wrote novellas which take place in the Civil War era, either before, during or after the war in my case.

My Texas family's experiences inspired my story, Are You Going to the Dance? With TWRP's support, our anthology, Northern Roses and Southern Belles, came together easily. I was so encouraged that I've written two other novella's since, and I have one out now with Red Rose Publishing, titled Pure Heaven, and have submitted another novella, a werewolf historical, to The Wild Rose Press for consideration. Along with all our anthology stories, it has been a thrill to see Are You Going to the Dance? in print because the story that inspired it is dear to my heart.

My novella is inspired by my great great grandparents' experiences although it does not represent my Dutch great great grandfather or my French great great grandmother. They and many folks in the German communities of the Texas Hill Country believed strongly in preserving the Union. If he had been caught taking mules he raised to the Union Army, he could have been shot by the Confederates.

The town where they lived in Texas voted to form local militia units rather than send men to the Confederate army. Their son joined the local militia unit and took part in protecting their own town. The local citizens, including farmers and ranchers also enjoyed weekend gatherings to dance and socialize.

My great great grandmother was known for her independent spirit. It is said of her that she would have rather been outside riding her horse and working with the men than working inside the house. One night, she found an Indian brave who had been wounded during a raid, but not discovered by the farmers. She saved his life without the farmers knowing, and as a result his tribe never again raided their farm.

I hope you'll check out our blog tour. You still have an opportunity to win a prize.

Blog Tour Calendar:
Saturday August 1: Isabel Roman is at Night Owl Romance http://www.nightowlromanceblog.blogspot.com

Sunday August 2: Jeanmarie Hamilton is at Petticoats & Pistols http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

Monday August 3: Susan Macatee is at Love Romance Passion http://www.loveromancepassion.com/

Tuesday August 4: Caroline Clemmons is at Slip into Something Victorian http://slipintosomethingvictorian.wordpress.com

Wednesday August 5: Mary Ann Webber is at Arkansas Diamonds http://arkansasdiamonds.blogspot.com/

Thursday August 6: Jennifer Ross is at Romantic Crush Junkies http://www.romanticcrushjunkies.blogspot.com

The Civil War as you've never read it! Northern Roses and Southern Belles now available from The Wild Rose Press!
For an excerpt, visit my web site www.JeanmarieHamilton.com
Jeanmarie Hamilton

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sights of DC

I loved my recent trip to Washington DC for many reasons. I did my first ever booksigning at the RWA National Conference literacy autographing! That was an exciting milestone! I enjoyed everything about the conference but also the sightseeing since I hadn't been to DC before. It's truly a beautiful city! I want to share some of my favorite pics. Above is the Capitol Building and the National Mall.

National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum

(above) Inside the Museum of Natural History

The Hope Diamond on display in the Museum of Natural History.

The Smithsonian Institution Building aka The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, begun in 1847.

The Smithsonian Castle, inside. I love the architecture!

I'm having a contest during August! Please visit the contest page on my website for more information. www.nicolenorth.com

The cover of our anthology Secrets Volume 27 was recently featured on NBC Nightly News and one of the authors, Leigh Court, was interviewed! This story also aired on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC channel.

We've been getting some wonderful reviews for Secrets Volume 27, which contains my story Devil in a Kilt:

5 cups from Coffeetime Romance: "Ms North has provided a classic "love will conquer all" tale. By adding the magic of time travel and a highland hunk, she has added an extra level to an already exceptional story.... I have always had a love for anthologies and this one surpasses all my expectations. Each of the stories in this special collection has its own brand of magic and extraordinary characters who find love in the last place they would have thought to look."~Hollie

Hope you're having a wonderful weekend!