Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digging Into the Mystery of History's Contraceptives and the Curse of Eve

Hello readers and lovers of history! Seeing as how I've just given birth to my third beautiful daughter...and as much as I love my little angels, I sincerely have contraception on the brain, lol. I thought I'd post an article I wrote a couple years ago for your enjoyment!

***Warning, some vulgar words are used in this post --- not for the faint of heart or underage crowd***

Red dog on a white horse, Aunt Flo, monthly courses, little visitor, Bloody Mary, indisposed, the rag, vapours, time of the month, cramps, collywobbles, period, menstruation, no matter how you put it they all mean the same thing and it ain’t pretty.

When you read a book the most information they give you is the female was indisposed, or she has her monthly courses. In the case of nobles, the ladies maid checked the sheets for spots of the stuff. King’s had spies that would check to see if his wife was bleeding…I sure wouldn’t want anyone spying on me during that time of the month.

They didn’t have tampons and maxi-pads back then either, so what did they use when the Curse of Eve was upon them?

This is where the term “on the rag,” comes from…women used to have strips of cloth rags they would use during menstruation to catch the fluids. It was pretty simple, and not much different than now. Commercial sanitary napkins didn’t come around until the late 1800’s.

Tampons have been around as a medical device since the 1800’s as well, but they were used to stop the bleeding from bullet wounds. It wasn’t until around 1930 that the applicator and string were attached and began being marketed for feminine use.

Also it has been noted in several places that women of the lower classes would use nothing, and one woman was even quoted as saying how disgusting it was to bleed into her chemise day after day. Needless to say, lots of strong perfumes were used…as bathing wasn’t a regular practice for some. (shudder...)

A period meant a woman was fertile, and that she was not currently with child. It was also considered very unsanitary, made worse by the church. A woman who was experiencing her collywobbles, was encouraged to keep to herself. Her husband would be warned to stay away from her and she was not aloud to attend church.

Now that we know a little bit about a woman’s indisposition, what types of methods were used to make sure she kept on having it? I’m talking about making sure she didn't become with child, or contraception.

The Pill wasn’t invented to stop pregnancy until 1960, and while we know coitus interuptus was evident even in biblical times, there had to be more than that right? Of course! We are sexual beings and if we can think up something to keep us doing it, you know we will!

As far back as 1550 BC, women would mix together concoctions, soak a handful of wool, vinegar was popular, and then place it in the vulva, the mixture would be quite effective. Other various soaked sponges have been used throughout history as well. Pessaries of elephant and crocodile dung were introduced in the second century…there is no way I would have put animal feces near any part of my body…

Another popular pessary in Victorian times was the wooden block. Ouch! It had concave sides and was inserted into the vagina. However in the 1930’s it was condemned as an instrument of torture…uh, you think?

There were also various herbal remedies that could be used as a drink to prevent pregnancy or work somewhat like the morning after pill.

Moving on to penis protectors, you know the condom. Everything from animal intestines and skins to fine linens and cloths have been used to cover it up. Many of these sheaths needed to be soaked before use. Casanova was famously known for using condoms. The name condom supposedly comes from a Dr. Condom, who used to make cloth sheaths for King Charles II, however many believe this to be false.

The first rubber condom was made in the 1850’s, hence the term “rubbers.”

So now that I’ve informed you of the various methods of birth control, I leave you with this…

Wiener wrap, French tickler, French letter, armour, roadblock, pecker pack, protection, Dutch cap, love glove, jism jacket, cock sock, jolly bag, Mr. Happy’s business suit, nightcap, sheath, shag bag, raincoat, life saver…

*Not all of the words above were in use throughout history, however some were too weird, unusual or funny for me not to share with you.*

Eliza Knight is the author of sizzling historical romance and time travel erotic romance. She runs the blogsite, History Undressed. Eliza is also a professional critiquer, workshop instructor and president of Celtic Hearts Romance Writers.

Upcomging workshop... will not be taught again until late 2010...

Dates: October 5, 2009 – October 30, 2009
Class: A Noble’s Life in Medieval Times
Instructor: Eliza Knight

Register: www.elizaknight.com/noblelife.aspx

Class Description:

Life in medieval times was so much different than the way we live today. When readers sit down with their favorite medieval historical romance, they are taken away to another time and place.

For most readers, this is where they learn about medieval times, and it is the duty of the author to be as authentic as possible. That being said, you don’t want your book to be a history lecture either, but to just flavor it enough.

This workshop will teach you how people, particularly nobles, lived in medieval times, in order for you to be truer to the era you write about. This is an open discussion workshop, questions and comments are welcome and encouraged. There are five lessons, each of which are broken down daily. This class provides photos, video links, research links, exercises and opportunities to share your work for critique. The lessons will be presented as follows:

Lesson One: The Medieval Castle
Lesson Two: Medieval Entertainments
Lesson Three: Day in the Life of a Medieval Lord and Lady
Lesson Four: Medieval Medicine
Lesson Five: Medieval Clothes

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marriage in the Regency

This is a subject that seems to give most writers of regency a lot of angst primarily because we can't do exactly as we want, when those of the medieval and viking eras can have all kinds of fun!

The most famous wedding during our era was that of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, pictured here in wedding regalia.

The early 1800's were a period of change from the rather lax marriage laws and events of earlier eras. The Hardwick Act of 1753 was part of those changes.

After this act was passed, no longer could a fortune hunter run off and marry an heiress without her parents consent. Though if they made it to Gretna Green then the marriage was legal because the act did not apply to Scotland. but it gives the family lots of time to chase after them. No longer could a family betroth a couple at birth and force the marriage. A bride could not be married without her consent. Which is not to say she could not be pressured by her family to give consent.

For a marriage to be legal, bans had to be called for three successive weeks in the home parishes of the couple before a wedding could take place. So no instant marriages. And no more Fleet marriages.

The marriage was to take place in one of those two parish churches during the hours eight in the morning until noon.

Parental permission was required for children under twenty one.

A short cut? Couples could marry by license. These licenses meant no waiting for the banns to be called.

A standard license had a waiting period of seven days and the couple had to marry in church between the hours of eight and noon. In other words, a shortening of the waiting period by two weeks.

A Special License obtained from the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Doctor's Commons in London (and no where else and in person) required swearing the information given was the truth and paying five pounds. At which point one could marry anywhere, at any hour, provided one could find a cleric to officiate.

Licences were specific, had no blank spaces, i.e for the addition of a different name and could not be altered.

There was no provision fro proxy marriage, no matter how many times you have read of it in a Regency novel.

And divorce was extremely difficult.

Oh, by the way, a single female of age had all the rights of a single male, but once she was married, she was considered feme covert or that husband and wife were one person.

Now of course those are the basics. Beyond that are all kinds of wrinkles and nuances to do with clothing, kissing, legitimacy, inheritance, widowhood and so on.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Head Coverings of Medieval English Noblewomen

When we watch movies set in “medieval times,” the fashions we see can be authentic or a muddle of the medieval period, which spanned more than 400 years.

Many costume research sources delineate periods of fashion development by decades or centuries. I prefer to use each king’s reign (John Peacock’s approach in Costume 1066-1990s). Eighteen kings ruled England from 1066-1485. Two never married (William II and the boy king Edward V). The other kings and their 21 medieval queens, many from foreign lands, influenced national fashion just as presidents and their wives do now. Other influences included the Crusades and improved technology, which enabled the introduction of new fabrics and designs. Sumptuary laws decreeing which classes could wear which fabrics Following is a brief summary of some of the major changes in medieval English headdresses.

Women almost always wore headdresses because it was considered unseemly for them to show their hair. In William the Conqueror’s time, women simply wore a piece of plain cloth (often linen) draped over their heads, held by a narrow band. Some women wore their hair in two long braids around the turn of the 12th century, some with no veils. By Stephen’s reign, headbands were coming into vogue. These were worn with a veil.

As time passed, women also added a barbette, a strip of white fabric that went under the chin. Others wore wimples, similar to the white cloths some nuns still wear around their faces. Some form of the wimple or barbette with a circlet or hat continued through Edward II. A crispinette, or hair net, became a popular hair accessory of the time.

By Edward III, hair was braided and worn over the ears, not unlike Star Wars’ Princess Leia, except that often a crispinette covered the round braids, and was often worn with a hat or band (called a fillet). Padded roll headdresses emerged in the reign of Richard II, and were often jeweled or embroidered and were often worn with a short veil by Henry IV and the late 14th century.

By Henry V and into the beginning of Henry VI (1422-1461), rolls were worn over other headdresses or crispinettes, some with veils, some not. Transparent veils came into vogue during the latter part of Henry VI. Tall, conical headdresses called hennins (popular in the court of Burgandy, which influenced fashion) with veils appeared during the early years Edward IV but were replaced by fairly boring hats and caps with folded back brims by the end of his reign.

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mining- It isn't for the lazy

My newest release is Miner in Petticoats. It's a story about a man building a future for his brothers and their families. The story is set in the gold country of NE Oregon. I used a well known creek in the area, Cracker Creek, and had the hero build a stamp mill. There were stamp mills in the area but not on this creek. It was a liberty I took with my story, but I did my ground work on how the mills were set up and how they ran.

A stamp mill is a large device used to crush rock and extract gold and other precious metals from the stone.

There are several ways to mine gold:

The easy method is panning. I had the fortune to try my hand at it when my husband and I cruised to Alaska this past month. We toured a jump-off camp on the Chilkoot trail and they had mining pans for each of us to practice the art of panning.

To pan you need anywhere from a 10 inch to 20 inch pan that's made of metal and has a concave bottom with a 30 to 40 degree angle on the sides. Don't forget a pick and a shovel to dig below the bedrock. For the pan method of gold mining you find a spot on a stream where the water is moving slow as the fast moving water would have tumbled the gold along the bottom of the stream, depositing it where the flow was slower. The gold, being heavy, would work its way down into the bedrock of the stream. Shovel away the top layer and fill the pan with gravel, set it in six inches to a foot of water, and knead the mixture with your hands. This breaks up any chunks of clay and causes the heavier material to move to the bottom of the pan. Toss out the larger rocks and debris. Shake the pan vigorously, making sure the small nuggets or grains sink to the bottom of the pan. With the pan slightly tilted, lift it quickly up and down, letting the lighter material wash out over the sides of the pan. This could take up to ten minutes to get down to a small amount of heavy material in the bottom of the pan. Keep adding small amounts of water until you have the material down to one layer and spread across the pan. You can see the gold and pick up the small pieces with a dry fingertip if they are small. Or pick them out if they are a fair size.

The next method is a sluice box. A sluice box is a wooden or metal trough roughly six feet long with a series of riffles placed in the bottom of it to stop the heavier minerals. There are several variations. One is pictured on the cover of my book Miner in Petticoats. The heroine in my book uses a sluice box to find gold from the trailings she digs in her mine. The sluice is designed to speed up the process of separating gold from the sand and gravel. It is easier and faster than a pan and less expensive than other operations. The riffles are usually pieces of one inch lumber placed at intervals along the bottom of the box with a cloth placed beneath them to capture the smaller particles of gold. The cloth can be removed periodically and washed dipped in a tub, rinsing the debris from the cloth to later be panned. A box can be set up anywhere you have a source of water. But it should be set up at an angle of roughly one inch per foot of slope. This allows the water to run down at a slow enough rate to leave the heavier objects trapped in the riffles.

The Cradle or Rocker is another variation of a sluice process. It is faster and harder to build and work. It is a sluice on rockers. It can be agitated, forcing the gravel and other materials to travel faster, yet leave behind the heavier objects. It takes two men or more to work a rocker.

The next method a miner with a small producing mine might invest in was a stamp mill. Like my hero in Miner in Petticoats. They used gravity to force the rocks through the system. They built the mills on the side of a canyon or hill arranged in descending steps. They also used water to run the stamps and wash away pulverized rock so they also had to be near a dependable water source. Mills could be ordered through catalogues. A simple stamp mill could be built by anyone with building knowledge. At the top of the mill, the rock dug from a mine was dumped into a grizzly or grate. Any rock that didn't fit through the grizzly rolled down into the crusher where it was made smaller. All of this filtered down into the stamp battery. This could be anywhere from three to five (in the smaller mills)or up to 100 large square stones weighing 1000 pounds each on the ends of poles that moved up and down like pistons at alternating intervals that pulverized the rock. This then moved down to amalgamating plates. The amalgamation table was coated with mercury and the gold would adhere to the mercury and the "amalgam" would be removed from the plates and the gold extracted from the mercury. After that process the residue of crushed rock and water would wash across the concentration table to collect anything the amalgamating plates missed. These tables were the size of pool tables with shallow riffles and mounted at a slight tilt.

Mining was not a lazy man's occupation. It took long hours and lots of backbreaking work to glean enough gold to make a decent living and money to back you to start up an enterprise like a stamp mill to make your mine pay off even more.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some may be sad to see the last days of Summer. Not me. This is my favorite time of the year. The change in seasons takes me back to the roots of my imagination, mythology. I was always fascinated by the stories of gods and goddesses. Starting with the Greeks and Romans in first grade, I have managed to work my way through dozens of mythological pantheons. Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Hindu, Polynesian, African, Nordic, Celtic, I’ve read about and studied pantheons from all over the world.

The first days of Autumn bring cooler temperatures. And the harvest. Which brings me to my favorite goddesses, the harvest goddesses. In the Oxford Dictionary of Goddesses in World Mythology, there are over six hundred agricultural goddesses listed and that’s not even including goddesses related to non-domestic plants. I have yet to find a culture that didn’t have at least one harvest goddess. Many of the Mother Goddesses of the most ancient cultures morphed into agricultural goddesses in the “civilized” cultures.

Harvest goddesses always had plenty of followers in their temples. Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest and her Roman counterpart, Ceres were major players with celebrations that lasted for days. Nehebka, one of the Egyptian agricultural goddesses was also one of the judges of the dead.

Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of grain was also known as the “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” With things like food and eternal happiness at stake, who wouldn’t want to keep a goddess happy.

The myth of the harvest goddess has inspired many of our stories, the most popular of which is that of Demeter and Persephone. Classic mother-daughter feud that gets settled by a bad-boy hero. Another example is that of Inanna, whose husband betrayed her and brought down the rath of the ultimate woman scorned.

Harvest goddesses can be anything from sweet and motherly to rainers of fire. They are strong and wise, but you don’t want to cross them.

I have a special reason to love autumn this year. On September 23rd, my debut novel, Widow’s Peak, will be released in both Print and E-book Formats from The Wild Rose Press. I finally get to harvest the fruits of my labors. Stop by my website at www.hannarhys.com and sign up for my quarterly newsletter for a chance to win a free copy of Widow’s Peak as well as a chance to win one of two beautiful art pieces in my Super Contest.

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 currently available in Print at the Wild Rose Press, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. She is currently working on Book 2 in the series, Kissed By A Rose.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ghostly Inspiration in Virginia

Living in Virginia, I have history at my doorstep. From historic St. Paul’s Church in Norfolk to battlefields throughout the state to the homes of many of the founding fathers, history is a short drive away. One of the things I love best is Virginia’s rich history of ghost stories and legends.

Williamsburg, Virginia features ghost tours every autumn, as do many towns and cities. One building on the tour stood out for me. The Wythe House, the home of George Wythe, a law professor, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and professor to Thomas Jefferson, has been the site of numerous ghostly encounters. The house was used as George Washington’s headquarters before the siege of Yorktown and French General Rochambeau after the final battles with England that won American Independence. One of the most widely seen ghosts in this house is a woman who has been sighted throughout the structure. She is believed to be Ann Skipwith, a former occupant who died in childbirth. She’s been spotted by employees of Colonial Williamsburg and visitors alike. If it is really Ann, she’s concerned with her appearance, because she’s been spotted combing her hair and in a mirror.

Berkley Plantation in Charles City County, nestled between Richmond and Williamsburg, was the home of Benjamin Harrison IV, the father of Benjamin Harrison V (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), and ancestor of Presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison. Benjamin Harrison IV met his death at Berkley Plantation one rainy night when he tried to close a jammed window and was struck by lightning and killed instantly. Unfortunately, two of Harrison’s daughters, including one carrying the infant Benjamin Harrison V, had come to his aid and were struck by the lightning as well, dying at their father’s side. The baby survived and went on to his place in history.

Berkley Plantation has become the scene of numerous ghostly encounters over the years. A baby has been heard crying, perhaps echoing young Benjamin V’s cries on the night his mother died while holding him. The bedroom window that wouldn’t close during the rainy night in 1744 when Benjamin Harrison was struck by lightning slams shut by itself, for no apparent reason, and a young girl holding an infant has been spotted at the window late at night. These are only a few of many incidents that have led to the home’s haunted reputation.

Of course, historic homes are not the only sites for hauntings. Fort Monroe, an army base in Hampton, Virginia, is the subject of much ghost hunting lore. The ghosts of Abraham Lincoln, who once stayed at Fort Monroe, and Jefferson Davis, who was incarcerated there after the Civil War, have been spotted throughout the fort. Other specters spotted at Fort Monroe include a small child in an enlisted person’s quarters and the ghostly figure of an Army captain’s murdered wife in the officers’ quarters.

This is just a small sampling of the many ghostly legends to be explored in Virginia. Though I haven’t written a paranormal yet, the ghosts of Virginia inspire me to create a ghost story with historical overtones. With all this inspiration practically in my backyard, I’m sure I’ll conjure up a story someday.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dressed for Success - Medieval style

illustration from 'T-tunic' - the period way by Lady Muireann ingen Eoghain ua Maoil Mheaghna

In the early middle ages there was one style of dress - a t-tunic. It didn't matter if you were king or peasant, this was your style. The only variation was in the type of fabric (linen, silk, or wool) and the quality of the weave and the trimmings. The finer the fabric and trimmings, the wealthier the owner. But everyone was dressed in the same style at least until the 12th century, but we'll get to that.

These tunics were entirely geometric. As you can see by the above illustration, not a piece of fabric was wasted. Garments were made in a large geometric style so that more than one person could wear a single garment, thereby getting the most use from it. When a garment "wore out" it was because it had been worn to nothing - literally. If someone outgrew it, it was given to someone else, or possibly cut down for a younger member of the family. The wealthy gave their old clothes to servants who when they wore them out gave them to those even poorer than they. Ultimately, the fabric shreds which were too small to make or repair clothes with, were used to stuff mattresses.

The photo to the right is me, taken several years ago wearing a Viking style tunic and apron.

Why such frugality? Because you didn't go to Walmart for $1 a yard fabric back then. You hand wove it...every blessed inch of it. Gores (additional fabric inserts in the side and front of a garment) and gussets (small squares of fabric under the arms) were used to provide ease of movement which are not easy to create if you only use rectangles. The differences between men's and women's clothes were length, and depending on your station a man's tunic might be as long as a woman's. Generally, one also wore layers. The wealthier the person, the more layers one could afford to wear. A noblewoman usually wore (at least) a chemise or shift, an undertunic, and an overtunic. She may also wear robes and cloaks as well.

If you were wealthy you might have a few changes of clothes but if you were poor, you probably had - at best- two sets. Most likely only one. Yep, the folks were probably pretty ripe smelling -especially the poor ones. So if you find yourself writing early medieval fiction, make sure you don't have your protagonists dressed in tailored garments. The clothes were loose fitting and cinched in with belts.

In the mid-1100s a new style garment became the rage. It was called a bliaut and yes, both men and women wore these garments. This garment was fitted to the individual - hence it wasted fabric - and the construction was far more complex than previous garments.

The sleeves were close fitting, as were the bodices. These garments were to be worn by one individual - not shared. These were the garments of the wealthy because it was entirely impractical to fashion garments which were tailored to fit someone. Also, because they fit so tightly, they often required assistance to get them on. Only the wealthy could easily afford that kind of assistance.

In the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, yet another new style appeared. The sideless surcoat, commonly referred to as the "gates of hell."

The gates of hell were the open sides of the garment which was considered risque and far too revealing. Why? Because good Christian men and women should not wear garments which revealed so much of their body to the opposite sex thereby enticing them to sin. No doubt there were a lot of "oh the kids these days..." comments. The undertunic was tight fitting but the sideless was loose over the top. Most sideless surcoates revealed the waist and hips through the sides of the garment so the moral danger was those open sides.

When you're writing something set in the middle ages, remember to do your homework first so you know what your hero and heroine would have been wearing. You don't want your Norman heroine wearing a sideless surcoat anymore than you'd want a contemporary of Eleanor of Acquitaine wearing an Elizabethan ruff around her neck. And trust me...neither do your readers. Cause if you dress your people wrong, your readers will know. And they'll tell you. grin.

Do you enjoy writing historicals because you love researching the clothes? Do you hate slogging through the clothing research? Are you curious about the way style developed and evolved through history? Please share a comment to let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Journey West – Catherine Sager Pringle

The Westward Movement of America (1841-1880) is one of the eras of history that fascinates me. I plan to write a novel about a couple on a wagon train, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, I've begun to collect books with diaries, letters and essays on women who made the arduous journey.

Recently, I came to possess a new book (okay, new to me) WOMEN'S DIARIES OF THE WESTWARD JOURNEY by Lillian Schlissel. One story in it caught my attention, because 1) a TV movie was made based on it and I watched it (way back in the 1970's, I believe) and 2) the woman, Catherine Sager Pringle, shares my maiden name, Sager. Catherine's story reflects many of the dangers the pioneers faced on their journeys.

In 1844, Catherine's father, Henry decided to move his family from Missouri to Oregon. Catherine reports that the unfamiliar motion of the of the wagon “made us all sick, and the uncomfortableness of the situation was increased from the fact that it had set to rain, which made it impossible to roll back the cover and let in the fresh air. It also caused a damp and musty smell that was very nauseating.” (Some the family is pictured left, prior to their leaving for Oregon.)

Not long into the journey, Catherine's mother, Naomi, gave birth to a daughter, her seventh child. The rain continued, soaking everything inside the wagon as it “ran through the tent.” Then the wagon overturned, nearly killing her Naomi. By the tme the wagon was up-righted and everything returned to it, her mother had recovered enough from the accident to continue on the road.

However, the family's troubles were far from over. The children would jump from the wagon by way of the tongue, thus saving their father from having to stop to let them out. On one such try Catherine's dress hem “caught on an axe-handle, precipitating me under the wheels both of which passed over me, badly crushing the left leg.” Amazingly, she survived this injury without much harm. Her father set the leg and did such a good job, she hardly had a limp from it.

Her father, however, wasn't as lucky. Henry Sager was caught in buffalo stampede as he tried to turn the beasts away from his wagon. He soon died from his injuries. Catherine's mother roused herself from her own sick bed to continue with their journey to Oregon. She hired a man to drive their wagon, but he soon took off, with their gun, to hook up with a train ahead of them, where his lady love was traveling.

Weakened by her recent childbirth, heartsick over the death of her husband, Naomi soon became ill with “camp fever.” She became delirious and her infant child was cared for by other women in the train. “When she died, a grave was dug by the side of the road. In just twenty-six days, the seven Sager children were orphans; the eldest was fourteen and the youngest just a few weeks old.”

The children continued on the with the wagon train until it reached the home of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, missionaries for the Presbyterian church.. The Whitman's had lost their only child to a drowning and the couple took in all seven of the Sager children in October 1844. For the next three years, life was good and settled for them all. Then the mission was attacked by Cayuse Indians. The Whitmans and twelve others, including both Sager boys, were killed in the attack. (The Whitman Compound - Missionary Life by W.H. Jackson)

Catherine overcame the odds and survived to adulthood. She married Clark Spencer Pringle, a circuit Methodist minister and raised eight children during her long marriage. She also wrote about her family's crossing, leaving for future generations a detailed record of tragedy and triumph.


Catherine Sager Pringle, Image courtesy of the Oregon State Library
Catherine Sager Pringle, Elizabeth Sager Helm, and Matilda Sager Delaney - below

Web sites to visit:
The True Story of the Sagers
Catherine Sager's Account of Mission Life

What do you think about those who gave up all they knew to travel to the promise of new land, new opportunities? Would you join a wagon train?

Leave a comment and you could win a copy of my e-book SALVATION BRIDE: She rode into town for her own deliverance, but will Doctor Laura Ashton heal Sheriff David Slade's pain before the dark secret of her past turns up to steal his SALVATION BRIDE?

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Friday, September 18, 2009

Settings that Inspire Stories

By Michelle Willingham

When I was growing up, some of my favorite historical romances were medievals. I devoured books by Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, and Julie Garwood. I loved writing and the first romance I ever attempted was set in medieval Scotland. The wild landscape, Celtic mysticism, and legendary heroes were all irresistible. But when I visited Ireland on a trip in 1993, I sensed an unexpected connection to the country. The moment I set foot upon the green fields, I felt like I was coming home. And when I stood on the parapets of a castle, I knew that I had to set a book in medieval Ireland.

I could visualize the fierce warriors, fighting for their land and their women. Their stories called to me, and just before I sold my first book, I went back to Ireland for additional research. One of the most memorable castles was Trim Castle. Instead of the government renovating it, they chose to leave it in its natural ruins. Ironically, I later learned that Trim Castle was one of the settings used in the movie "Braveheart." Apparently the producers decided that Trim was a more visually compelling location than Scotland.

But it was there that my Irish warriors truly came to life. As I walked through the different stone chambers, I could imagine the men training, their swords echoing within the inner bailey. I took endless photographs of artifacts and architecture, and sometimes a detail would come into the story when I least expected it.

One of the rooms within Trim Castle was a tiny family chapel. The whitewashed limestone walls still held traceItalics of the original coating, though it was covered in green. The small stone chapel became a setting in my newest book, Taming Her Irish Warrior, though not in the way I anticipated. My heroine, Honora St. Leger, learned to train with a sword alongside her childhood friend Ewan MacEgan when they were fostered together. The book opens inside the chapel when Honora is wielding her sword against a thief who's been stealing religious artifacts.

After standing inside the chapel, I could visualize that scene in vivid detail, and it was great fun to write.

Other castle details also surprised me, like how narrow the spiral stone staircases truly were. No hero could possibly carry a heroine up the stairs; he'd knock her unconscious rounding the corner. But my favorite architectural element was the battlements of a castle. There was something incredibly romantic about the visual atmosphere, overlooking the rest of the castle grounds. Although they were primarily for a military use, I knew I wanted to set another story against that backdrop.

My connected novella "The Warrior's Forbidden Virgin" is about Honora's sister, Katherine of Ardennes, and her unexpected romance with Sir Ademar, a hero who rarely speaks. I used the battlements as the opening setting for a scene about two people betrayed by those they loved. The danger of the narrow parapet walkway, coupled with a fierce rain, gave it exactly the tone I wanted.

Have you ever been to a location, historical or natural, that spoke to you? Did you ever sense the ghosts of the past? Or if not, where have you always wanted to visit? Post a comment, and I'll offer up a signed copy of Taming Her Irish Warrior and a free download of "The Warrior's Forbidden Virgin" to two lucky winners! Visit my website at www.michellewillingham.com for excerpts, behind-the-scenes information, and more photographs of Ireland.

Michelle Willingham

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Medieval Women and the Church

Over the years, I’ve smiled at some of the misconceptions written about the women of important medieval families, the Church, as well as how life in a convent is portrayed.

At the time, most women of the early titled families were considered only good for two things. They could marry someone who would increase their father’s position, holdings (property), influence or – they could pray. That was it.

Some of the clergy at the time even insisted that St. Augustine in his correspondence to St. Jerome, wrote a boy received a soul at the moment of conception and a girl didn’t get one until six weeks after conception. Disrespect for women didn’t stop there. She couldn’t attend a religious service after the birth of a child until she’d been ‘churched’ and if she died in child birth, she couldn't be buried in concentrated ground. Many believed she also wasn't smart enough to learn too much. She was considered inferior by many clergy and just a step above animals.

If a woman didn’t want to marry, or was widowed and had no desire to remarry or couldn't for some reason, she got to pray. Of course, she couldn’t stay in her home; she was sent to a a special place. The houses for these women, ‘convents’ were separate from the monasteries, sometimes miles away, and in almost all cases they were governed by a man, usually a priest. It wasn’t until later that women governed themselves. Leaving the convent and caring for the sick, the poor, the infirm didn’t really begin until the late 1600's.

Now, when a ‘virgin’ went to the convent, she was encouraged to take solemn vows, “take the veil”. She was called a nun and she couldn’t leave the convent, couldn’t talk to anyone but the other nuns nor could she see any family or friends. Her life consisted of fasting and praying, although she might be required to help with some menial tasks needed for survival, like food preparation. When widows came, they also accepted that kind of life. Late in the 1200's, a woman(usually a widow, or a woman whose husband decided to go to a monastery) could take ‘simple vows’, hence ‘sisters’. Their vows weren’t as binding and allowed a woman to associate with young girls who came to the convent to be educated. The education was not much more than learning to read the bible and their prayer books and in some cases, simple arithmetic. Eventually they were allowed to leave to minister to people who lived around the convent.

The contribution of property or money to admit a woman to a convent and keep her there, didn’t come along until later.

Oh, it’s fun to stretch the truth in fiction, to glamorize the life of one of these women. However, medieval women in convents weren’t considered brilliant managers, many had only rudimentary skills in reading and writing, nor would they have been able to govern a large estate until much later in history, whether they had the skills or not. No, most of the women of the time didn’t have much of a life, whether they were sent to a convent or married. There are of course a very few exceptions, but they were few and far between.

I like to write about the women of that time period, and yes, I like to portray these women as much more than they were allowed to be, but I sure wouldn’t want to go back in time and live then.

Allison Knight

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Words & Music

I am passionate about music.
This doesn’t mean I would ever attempt to create music. Or lyrics.
It does mean that I have music playing nearly every hour of the day – from the time I awake until I sleep, especially when I write.
I used to insist on the correct music before I would even read. I remember wearing out the soundtracks for EXODUS and GONE WITH The WIND in the course of reading the books.
Now days, I am more concerned with music when I write than when I read. When I say I am concerned, it is more accurate to use the term “obsessed.” I use music as a crutch, creating a soundtrack for each book. This helps me, like Pavlov’s dog, to respond appropriately to stimuli. When I put on the music, it is time to write. If you do this morning after morning, resistance becomes futile. Cue music; hands on keyboard. (To write, not to play!)
For writers who are tempted to kick and scream before coming to the page, this is very helpful. It also helps when, months after you released the manuscript to the editor, it comes back and you need to revisit the story for certain, uh, enhancements. Put on your “soundtrack,” you are back in the story.
I try to be faithful to the time period and choose music that my characters might have actually heard, but since I write in the fourteenth century, this creates certain challenges. The truth is, our approximation of what people in that era heard is only that: an approximation. Sometimes, I settle for music with the “feel” of the story or the period I’m writing.
But for my current release, IN The MASTER’S BED, music was of particular importance. The book is the story of a heroine who runs away from home, disguised as a man, to study at the university, where women are forbidden. She meets the hero, who, thinking she is a he, takes the “lad” under his wing. The hero plays a “gittern,” a sort of medieval guitar. In the course of the story, his music, from drinking songs for the young scholars to a love song for the heroine, plays an important role. While I knew I couldn’t convey the music to my readers with words, I at least wanted to hear some myself so I would know what it was like.
How could I write what I had never heard?
Luckily, I found the answer, a CD titled “Songs from the Taverne: Ballads and drinking song from the time of Chaucer.” The time period was perfect. My students spent lots of time in taverns. And Chaucer even mentions “gyternes,” so there were several played on the disc.
Was the final result worth the search? Can you hear the music on the page that I wrote? Well, I can only hope that some of it came through. I’ll give a copy of IN The MASTER’S BED to one lucky commenter and you’ll be able to decide for yourself.
What about you? Do you use music, either as a reader or as a writer, to get into the mood? Or do you prefer to read or write in silence?

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved®and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sharron Gunn Presents:

Highland Dress: 17th & 18th Centuries

On a trip to Italy many years ago, a dozen Canadian boy scouts wore kilts. They were amazed at the reaction to their uniform. People stared at the boys. Italians aren't shy about staring -- and they tripped over curbs, walked into utility poles and bumped into shop windows. Highland dress is noticeable as much today as several centuries ago, and quite different from mainstream European dress.


Kilt, an English word of Norse origin and cognate of quilt, means 'tucked up'. It is used to translate Gaelic féileadh. The older garment of two loom-widths is called féileadh mór (big kilt) was worn from about 1580 until 1770; the garment of one loom width, worn from the second half of the 18th century, is called féileadh beag (little kilt), anglicised as 'philibeg'.

Today, in the U.S.A., the word 'plaid' refers to the chequered pattern or sett of the kilt, and I believe that was the case in 18th century Britain. However in Scotland today, 'tartan' refers to the chequered pattern and 'plaid' is the upper garment worn wrapped under the right arm and pinned with a brooch on the left. Plaid, rhymes with 'dad', may have been the pronunciation in 18th century Scotland, but today it rhymes with 'laid'.
Breacan-an-Fhèilidh / Tartan Plaid of Folds
In 1600 the clothing of the Elizabethan period was influenced by the court of Spain, and the European elite were starched, padded, stitched and boned into their clothing to the point of being hardly able to breathe. In contrast, the clothing of the Highlands was comfortable with great freedom of movement.
Sometime after 1580, the breacan-an-fhéilidh, the 'tartan plaid of folds', developed and was worn for nearly 200 years by Gaelic-speaking Scots -- Highlanders. The breacan was a length of tartan cloth, about 5 ft wide, made of two single widths of about 30 inches each sewn together, and usually from 12 to 18 ft in length.
To use it as a fèileadh or great kilt, a Highlander would lay it over a belt on the ground or on a sloping bank and gather it neatly in folds to a length to 4 or 5 ft, leaving a foot or more at each end unfolded. He would then lie down on it in such a way that its lower edge was level with his knees. After overlapping the two ends across his body, he would fasten it round his waist with a belt. On standing up, the upper and longer portion of the plaid would hand down all round him nearly to his ankles. He would then put on his jacket.
He could then arrange the upper portion in two ways: it could drawn over the head and shoulders in case of bad weather, or the usual thing was to pass the left-hand corner over the left shoulder from behind, and to fasten it there with a pin, brooch or button. The rest of the upper part was passed under the belt so that little was seen from the front.
Robert Gordon of Straloch, the cartographer, wrote a description of Highlanders' clothing in this period:

'As for their apparel; next the skin they wear a short linen shirt, which the great men among them sometimes dye of saffron colour. They use it short, that it may not encumber them when running or travelling.' Saffron, which produced a yellow or golden dye, was collected from the itty bitty stamens of the crocus. It was labour-intensive and expensive so the colour yellow or gold came to symbolise the Gaelic nobility of Scotland and Ireland.

'In the sharp winter the Highland men wear close Trowzes [tight trousers or trews] which cover the Thighs, Legs and Feet. To fence [protect] their Feet they put on Rullions or raw leather shoes. Above their Shirt they have a single Coat, reaching no farther than the Navel. Their uppermost Garment is a loose Cloke [cloak] of several ells [one ell = 45 inches], striped and parti-coloured, which they gird breadth-wise with a leather belt, so as it scarce covers the knees; Trowzes are for Winter use; at all other times they content themselves with short Hose, which scarce reach to the knees. When they compose themselves to Rest and Sleep, they loose the Belt and roll themselves in the Plaid, lying down on the bare ground, or putting Heather under them ... '

And you thought Highlanders traditionally went about bare-bummed. Trews were also used for riding. No need for explanation.

Taylor the Water Poet was an Englishman who gathered subscriptions for a book about a 'Pennylesse Pilgrimage' -- he proposed to travel to Scotland without a penny, and he wouldn't beg or ask for food and lodging. Must have been a good talker. In 1618 he made his way to Scotland and was invited by the Earl of Mar to join the hunting and feasting in Braemar:
'For once in the year, which is the whole month of August, and sometimes part of September, many of the nobility and gentry of the kingdom ... do come into these high-land countries to hunt, where they do conform themselves to the habit of the High-land-men, who for the most part, speak nothing but Irish [Gaelic]: and in former time were those people which were called the Red-shanks. Their habit is shoes with but one sole apiece; stockings ... made of a warm stuff of divers colours, which they call tartan: as for breeches, many of them, not their forefathers never wore any, but a jerkin of the same stuff that their hose is of, their garters being bands or wreathes of hay or straw, with a plaid about their shoulders, which is a mantle of divers colours, much finer and lighter than their hose, with blue flat caps on their heads, a handkerchief knit with two knots about their neck; and thus they are attired.

Now their weapons are long bows and forked arrows, swords and targes [shields], harquebusses [long guns], muskets, dirks, and Lochaber axes. With these arms I found many of them armed for hunting. As for their attire, any man of whatever degree that comes amongst them, must not disdain to wear it ... This was the reason that I found so many noblemen and gentlemen in those shapes ... My good Lord Marr having put me into that shape I rode with him from his house.'
About 1620 MacKay's regiment went to Stettin to serve Gustavus Adolphus in the Swedish army during the 30 Years War. Only the officers would have spoken English of any kind including (dare I say) Lowland Scots. The caption says the soldiers are 'Irrlanders' or Irish because they spoke Gaelic. Even in Scotland in this period, the Gaels are called Irish and treated as if they were foreigners. MacKay's regiment (2000 men) fought hard, but few survived and returned to Scotland.

After the repressive years of the Cromwellian Protectorate, clothing in England exploded into wild fashions with men wearing 'lace, ribbon loops and bows from their hats to their shoes'. Men wore not breeches but skirts (horrors), commonly called petticoat breeches. As a contemporary wrote in The Life and Times of Anthony Wood about 1663;

'A strange effeminate age when men strive to imitate women in their apparell, viz. long periwigs, patches in their faces, painting [their faces], short wide breeches like petticoats, muffs and their clothes highly scented, bedecked with ribbons of all colours.'

Highland dress was also exuberant during this period -- but more manly IMO. The portrait of Lord Mungo Murray (1668-1700), a younger son of the Marquis of Atholl was painted in the mid-1680's. He wears a slashed doublets -- slashed doublets were popular in mainstream Europe in the 16th century, but still worn in Gaelic Scotland and Ireland. His tartan is predominantly red stripes on a gold background. Gold of course was the symbol of the nobility.
Lord Mungo carries a musket, the new weapon, but he also wears a sword, the ancient symbol of nobility. Duine uasal is the word for gentleman or nobleman in Gaelic terms; nobility did not depend on the possession of land and a feudal title as in England. Nobility in the Highlands depended on blood. Highland chiefs paid poets a good deal of money to record their genealogies, and write poems in praise of their families.
Martin Martin was a Highland gentlemen from the Isle of Skye. From his book A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703) comes this description:

'The first habit of Persons of Distinction in the Island was the leni-Croich (léine-chròich), from the Irish [i.e. Gaelic] word Croch (cròch), saffron, because their shirt was dyed with that Herb: the ordinary number of ells used to make this Robe was twenty-four: it was the upper Garb, reaching below the knees, and was tied with a Belt round the middle: but the Islanders have laid it aside about a hundred years ago. They now generally [1700] use Coat, Waistcoat, and Breeches, as elsewhere; and on their Heads wear Bonnets made of thick cloth, some blue, some black, and some gray.'

Martin wrote his book to 'prove' that the Highlands were not so uncivilised as Lowlanders thought and, whenever he mentions a custom which might appear barbaric to outsiders, he says that it is no longer exists. But Highland dress was obviously still worn long after his time.
He used the term 'bonnet', a word from French referring to a man's brimless hat in the Middle Ages. 'Bonnet' (bonneid in Gaelic) was superseded by the word cap about 1700 in standard English but retained in Scotland. It is first used for woman's brimless hat about 1500 -- after the Middle Ages.

There are no 'clan tartans' in this period. Martin Martin says every island in the Hebrides or district in the Highlands had its own tartan. Every island or district had a tartan, but clan names weren't attached to tartans until the end of the 18th century.
'Every Isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids, as to the Stripes in Breadth and Colours. This humour is as different thro' the main Land of the Highlands in so far that they who have seen those Places is able, at the first view of a Man's Plaid to guess the place of his residence.'

Daniel Defoe's book Memoirs of a Cavalier, written about 1720, it describes events of the English Civil War (aka Wars of the Three Kingdoms). Defoe was a part-time spy for the British government and he might have based the description on authentic materials from his own time. Highlanders are barbaric -- a typical English POV of this period.
'I confess the soldiers made a very uncouth figure, especially the Highlanders: the oddness and barbarity of their garb and arms seemed to have something in it remarkable. They were generally tall swinging fellows; their swords were extravagantly and I think insignificantly broad, and they carried great wooden targets (shields) large enough to cover the upper part of their bodies. Their dress was as antique as the rest: a cap on their heads, called by them a bonnet, long hanging sleeves behind, and their doublet, breeches and stockings, of a stuff they call plaid, striped across red and yellow, with short cloaks of the same. These fellows looked when drawn out like a regiment of Merry-Andrews ready for Bartholomew Fair.'
The Grant piper would have been painted in Defoe's time.

Whatever outsiders thought, Highlanders were proud of their costume. Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald) was the poet and chief propagandist for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' during the Rebellion of 1745. His songs are all in Gaelic. Songs in English such as ''Wi' a Hundred Pipers', and Charlie is ma darlin' were composed a generation or more after the rebellion. Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair expressed his opinion on the Highland dress in the song-poem Am Breacan Uallach (The Proud Plaid):
B' fhearr liom breacan uallach
Mu m'ghuaillibh, 's a chur fo m'achlais,
Na ge do gheibhinn còta
De 'n chlò as fearr thig a Sasgunn.

I prefer the proud plaid
About my shoulders and under my arms,
To any coat I could get
Of the best cloth from England.

Fìor-chulaidh an t-soighdeir,
'S neo-ghloiceil ri h-uchd na caismeachd,
'S ciatach 'san adbhàns thù
Fo shrannraich nam pìob 's nam bratach.

True dress of the soldier,
And practical in the heat of battle,
Graceful in the advance, you are
Under the droning pipes and banners.

Stirring stuff.

Jeremiah Davison's painting of Sir James Macdonald (1742-1766) and Sir Alexander Macdonald (1745-1795) as children dates to the mid 18th century. The boys wear four different tartans! But they are similar to some of the tartans called 'Clan Donald' today. So much for clan tartans. The image is also interesting because one boy wears triubhas -- trews or trousers -- and the other a fèileadh beag (little kilt). Both the great kilt and the little kilt were worn in this time. And there is no apron, the flat, unpleated front, no knife pleats. Indeed in Gaelic poetry the kilt of the round folds is often praised.

The painting of the 3rd Duke of Perth, a Jacobite leader of the 1745 rebellion, portrays him wearing tartan trews and coat in the fashion of this period with a large plaid wrapped about him. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Culloden and died on the ship carrying him to France.After the Rebellion of 1745, the kilt was forbidden to all except men in Highland regiments. Although some men ignored the law and wore kilts anyway.
The second portrait of a Murray, a soldier, shows him wearing tartans of differing colours and setts. Highland dress survived in
When the ban on Highland dress was lifted in 1782, Duncan Bàn MacIntyre composed a song in praise of the event:

Chuir sinn a suas an deise Bhios uallach freagarrach dhuinn Breacan an fhéile preasach Is peiteag de'n eudach ùr Còt' a chadadh nam ball Am bitheadh a'charnaid dlùth Osan nach ceangail ar ceum 'S nach ruigeadh mar réis an glùn.

We have assumed the dress that is comfortable and suitable for us the tartan kilt of folds and a waistcoat of new cloth a jacket of chequered homespun Hose that does not hobble our steps And falls short of the knee by a span.

The span, something like 8-9 inches, suggests the kilt is very short in this period! In the portrait of the Highland soldiers of 1793, the kilt looks like it's at least 4-5 inches above the knee.
Charles Grant, Comte de Vaux, was a Frenchman of Scottish origin, made a visit to the chief of the Grants in the Scottish Highlands. From Memoires de la Maison Grant comes this excellent description of how a gentleman put on a kilt:

'... the gentleman stands with nothing on but his shirt ... when the servant gets the plaid and belt round, he must hold both ends of the belt till the gentleman adjusts and puts across in proper manner the two folds or flaps before; that done, he tightens the belt to the degree wanted; then the purse and purse-belt is put on loosely; afterwards, the coat and waistcoat is put on and the great low part hanging down behind, where a loop is fixed, is to be pinned up to the right shoulder, immediately under the shoulder strap ... that properly adjusted, the pointed corner or flap that hangs at the left thigh to be taken through the purse belt and to hang, having a cast-back very near as low as the belt to be pinned in such a manner that the corner or low-flyer behind hang as low as the kilt or hough (thigh) and no lower; putting at the same time an awkward bulky part of the plaid on the left side, back from the haunch, stuffed under the purse belt ... When the shoulder or sword-belt is put on, the flyer that hangs behind is to be taken through, and hang over the shoulder-belt ... No kilt ought ever to hang lower than the hough (thigh) -- scarcely that far down.'

The kilt was only worn by Highlanders, Gaelic-speaking Scots, before 1800. Highlanders were a people living on the periphery of Europe and their clothing was a reflection of their political and cultural isolation. You can assume they spoke a different language, had different laws and customs. They did.

A Highlander is a Scot whose first language is Gaelic, and who is a member of a clan, a family resident in the mountainous region of north and central Scotland as well as the Western Isles but not the Northern Isles. The term 'Highlander' was first recorded in the early 16th century; at the end of the 14th century, Scottish Gaels were called 'wild Scots' in contradistinction to 'civil Scots', English-speaking Scots. (And Irish Gaels were called 'wild Irish'.)

The films 'Rob Roy', 'Last of the Mohicans' and 'Mrs Brown' all have Lowlanders playing the parts of Highlanders. Billy Connolly, a Glasgow man, plays John Brown, a Highlander. The minor characters in 'Whiskey Galore', 'Tunes of Glory' and 'Local Hero' speak Highland English.

After exemplary military service in the Napoleonic Wars, Highland dress became prestigious throughout Britain. The 19th century romantic movement resulted in a tourist boom in the Highlands -- even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought a castle and wore tartan. Ironically Highlanders couldn't afford to wear the kilt unless they were in the service of a Highland proprietor or the army in the 19th century. However, today many Scots can afford and do wear Highland dress on special occasions. At the Royal National Mòd, a huge music festival, all performers wear tartan kilts and skirts.

Baumgarten, Linda & John Watson, Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790
Betcherman, Lita-Rose, Court Lady and Country Wife
Brown, J. Hume, Early Travellers in Scotland
Burt, Edmund, Letters from the North of Scotland
Campbell, John Lorne, Highland Songs of the Forty-Five
Cheape, Hugh, Tartans
Dunbar, J. Telfer, History of Highland Dress
Hesketh, Christian, Tartans
McClintock, H.F. & J. Telfer Dunbar, Old Irish and Highland Dress
MacLeod, Angus, The Songs of Duncan Ban MacIntyre
Waugh, Nora, The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600 - 1900
Yarwood, Doreen, European Costume: 4000 Years of Fashion

Sharron Gunn has an honours degree in Scottish History and Celtic Studies from the University of Glasgow. She lectures part-time at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, and also gives online courses in Scottish, Irish and Medieval History for CHRW and HHRW.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I thought since this has been our year for weddings – both our sons married this year, I’d blog about weddings. The standard wedding traditions are fairly well know. How true the background and reason for these customs, I leave up to you.

The wedding ring symbolized eternity, as it has no end. The third finger of the left hand was chosen because of the belief that ancient physician thought that a vein ran from that finger to the heart.

Why they thought this, or who specifically proposed this idea is lost in the midst of time.The idea of the veil comes from the tradition of arranged marriages, where the groom doesn’t get to see the bride until after they are married. Or sometimes the veil thought to symbolize the bride’s virtue.

The tradition of the white dress comes from Victorian England.And of course, the traditional rhyme of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a lucky sixpence (or penny) in her shoe.

For my (1969) wedding:
Something old (a lace handkerchief from my grandmother)
Something new (the dress)
Something borrowed (must have been something, but it’s so long ago I don’t remember!)
Something blue (the new tradition of the blue garter)
A lucky sixpence in her shoe (a girlfriend bought me sixpence from England)

My March daughter-in-law:
Something old (her great grandmothers embroidered handkerchief)
Something new (the dress)
Something borrowed (a hairpin)
Something blue (engagement ring is blue sapphire)
A lucky sixpence in her shoe (a ha’penny)

My September daughter-in-law:Something old (her mother’s garter
)Something new (her dress and jewelry)
Something borrowed (will borrow something on the day)
Something blue (her initials are sewn in blue in her dress)
A lucky sixpence in the shoe (a sixpence from her mom at the bridal shower)

As you might guess from all the similarities, that I’m very pleased with my sons for choosing such great gals.

Do you remember your something old, something new? If so talk about among yourselves on the comment section, as I’m actually at the second wedding today.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Keeping Pace with Colloquialisms

A song states “The times they are a changin’” and that is definitely true in all things, but I want to focus on the craft of writing today and colloquialisms. They can make or break your story’s setting, not to mention the pace of the story. With competition today from TV, video games, and sports, writers have a challenge to produce the best stories possible to keep the attention of their readers. This can cover a wide continuum from slower-paced character studies to fast-paced action, but always there should be a thread pulling the reader through the storyline.

The challenge with colloquialisms is to use just enough to set the stage or the character, but not so much that it is difficult to understand and slows the pace as the reader tries to sort it out. Take Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer as an example. Probably many of you read this book in school at one time or another. It is full of colloquialisms that give flavor to the Hannibal Missouri setting and the 1800s, but unless you’re able to immerse yourself in all that, it can be a tough read for today’s youth due to the liberally scattered expressions. Here an example: “Can’t Mars, Tom. Ole Missus, she tole me I got to go an git dis water and not stop foolin’ roun’ wid anybody.”

Other areas this crops up is in Scottish set historicals with all their dinna and verra and “Do ye no?” Oh--I do love those rolled rrrrrr's!

A writer’s job is to figure out just how many colloquialisms to use to capture the flavor of the characters and setting without distracting from the story or slowing the pacing. Considerations include whether it is a central character or a "walk-on" or "extra."

Since I write western romances, I use colloquialisms such as "waken snakes" which means to start an argument or fight. Then there is “pulled foot” which means to leave in a hurry. One of my favorite expressions is “feelin’ finer than frog hair.

Can you think of any favorite expressions that are used in your locale or ones’ you’ve read in a book? I’d love to hear some new ones…

For one lucky commenter, I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of my new release ~ Texas Wedding for their Baby’s Sake from Harlequin Historicals.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rough and Tumble (and Romantic) Historical West

My love affair with the historical western started when I was about 8 or 9 and my dad began reading me the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I was obsessed with watching the TV show when I got home from school and Dad wanted to share with me the stories that inspired the show. In junior high school my love affair with the western continued with the short lived TV series “The Young Riders”, about the Pony Express, featuring some real life people like Jimmy “Wild Bill” Hickock and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. My 13 year old self wanted nothing more than to have one of these dashing riders come to my rescue. In fact, my first ever historical western story was based off the show (I was writing fan fiction before I even knew what it was!). Other shows like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Deadwood” soon followed and further fueled my love of this time period. Oddly enough I don’t enjoy most movie westerns.

When I started reading romances in my late teens, I was drawn to the historicals and mostly drawn to the westerns. The truly wonderful authors who write this genre took me to a time and a place that I’d loved since I was a child. When I decided to take my love of writing and pursue being published, a historical western romance was my first project.

So why the historical west? My simple answer is: variety. The historical west was a vast place, there are stories written from the Canadian Yukon to the Mexican border, from the plains of Minnesota to the coasts of Oregon and everywhere in between. It was a time of change and exploration in our country’s history. The time period is just as vast as the places, from before the Civil War, to during that conflict to afterward through the turn of the century and even beyond.

Then there are the story arcs. Of course historical westerns have their clichés just like any other genre, but for me it’s much harder to happen upon the same story arc over and over in westerns than with other genres. The types of characters and conflicts within a historical western are as vast as the time period and setting. People of all faiths, races and economic status headed out to settle the west. One couldn’t venture into this place during this time and be a wimp. The heroines were already strong or came to find a strength they didn’t know they possessed, often out of pure necessity to survive. The heros were rugged, tough and mostly lived by their own rules in a place where law was practically non-existent. The couples that came together could have been different as night and day and yet managed to find true love despite all the odds.

I love doing research and I love being able to experience a place first hand. My family’s travels when I was younger seemed to center on road trips through my native Minnesota, into South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I’ve been to Register Rock in Idaho and stood in the spot where Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickock. I’ve stood at the Little Big Horn Battlefield and at the place Laura Ingalls once called home. These experiences have helped to fuel my love for this time period even more.

I’d love to know what others think of historical western romances. Do you read them? Who are some of your favorite authors? What other time periods do you enjoy reading and can you give me any recommendations?

Among my favorite historical western romance authors are Linda Lael Miller, Sarah McCarty and Stacey Kane . As a whole I don’t really enjoy Regencies but perhaps you can suggest something that might change my mind? I have read a couple of medieval stories that have led me to think this might be a time period I’d love to explore more of. I also really enjoy time travel romance.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the Seduced By History blog who allowed those of us in the Hearts Through History RWA chapter who aren’t yet published the opportunity to blog here this month. So thank you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Living Next Door to Hitler

We've all heard the saying that if a child does not like an adult, pay attention. Their innocent minds have the ability to see through the layers of falsehood.

I have two friends, who, as children, were forced to gaze into Hitler's eyes. They did not like him.

Gerlinde was six years old when she was chosen to stand before Hitler and Goebbels in front of a throng of thousands waving their little swastika flags. Daughter of a high-ranking official in their Bavarian town, she'd been chosen for her perfect blonde hair, blue eyed Aryan looks to present Hitler with a bouquet of flowers. When Hitler bent to her level to accept them, he had a serene smile on his face and gave her a gentle pat on the top of her curly little head. She looked into his eyes, not four inches from hers. Although her child's mind could not translate the look in them as insane, she inwardly cringed.

"I do not like that man," she later told her father. Not many months passed before her father realized Hitler was mad and agreed. They fled. But not far enough.

My other friend, Gunda, was also six years old when she was forced to look into Hitler's eyes. Her father was a top ranking official, Rudolf Hess's best friend, and his personal astrologer. They had realized before the war even started that Hitler was mad. Gunda remembers the clandestine meetings between her father and Hess in her family's kitchen. They poured over astrological charts spread atop the table, deciding the right time to secret Jews out of the country, and when the right time would be for Hess to make his move.

Hess flew into Scotland with the intention of informing England of Hitler's invasion plans. Meanwhile, Gunda's father used his astrological charts to steer Hitler off course. Hess spent the rest of his life in prison while Gunda's father, his treason against Hitler discovered, was thrown into a German concentration camp for two years and then placed under house arrest until rescued by the Allied Command.

With her father gone, Gunda, her mother and brother, were sent to live in a house next door to Hitler's headquarters in Munich, so he could "keep an eye on them." They were, in fact, political prisoners. Hitler would wander into their residence at will, lean down to Gunda's eye level, pat her on her blonde curls, smile, and present her with candy. She did not like him. Not one bit. At age seven she and her brother were sent into the Alps to live out the war with her maternal grandparents. Her mother remained a political prisoner.

Gunda later learned that astrology was not all Hitler was attracted to with regard to the esoteric world. He chose his speeches carefully and dramatically, knowing that ceremony and tradition binds people, one to the other. That is why in documentaries you see so many newsreels with long parades and huge crowds of people gathered before him.

And in these documentaries, have you noticed that every man, woman and child in the crowd waves a little red flag with a black swastika emblazoned on it, while a huge version hangs behind the dais?

Hitler knew what he was doing. He bound the crowd together and to him to the ceremony. The flags of the people were given to wave were full of symbolism, right down to the colors the Nazi party chose. Metaphysically speaking, everything has its opposite-for day there is night, for black there is white. Esoterically, the color red signals power. But red also signals fear (which is why Satan was traditionally depicted in red - to instill fear), and so the red in the Nazi flag had a dual purpose: it subconsciously signaled empowerment directed toward Hitler and his regime, while subconsciously inflicting fear as a means of control. Black also has its dual purpose which was why the Swastika itself was black. People tend to fear the darkness, and fear is a great control mechanism. But the duality of black also is where the void is, where answers lie (why do Priests wear black if it is so evil? Native Americans revered the color black, believing that out of the void of nothingness came enlightenment). The black swastika was portrayed against a circle of white. White is the only color without duality. White represents purity.

Oh, and the swastika itself. What a shame Hitler took the most powerful spiritual symbol of the cross and desecrated it. But again, the party knew what it was doing. This "Whirling bird" symbol can be found in many cultures all over the world. Anthropologists have found evidence of it in Mesopotamia and in North America, on pottery and splashed across the walls of caves dating as far back as 4500 BC. Buddhists associate the Swastika with the Buddha. The symbol can be seen in their temples. Hindus associate it with the nine planetary gods (they still use it in wedding ceremonies). Did you know that up until Hitler's desecration of the swastika, it represented good luck in America?

Not only did the Nazi party adopt the swastika because of its long association with the Aryan race (the Aryan race was once made up of Persians, Iranians, Indians, Germans, and Pelasgians - so much for the blonde, blue-eyed Nordic appearance Hitler demanded), but the "wheels" or "arms" of the swastika have a particular meaning depending on which way they face. Turning counterclockwise, the flow of the swastika represents female energy, the energy of sitting down and negotiating without war. However, turthe arms the other way (clockwise) and they represent a male, aggressive action outward--war. Unfortunately, the swastika will most likely remain an enigma in the world. Its use is outlawed in Germany today.

Jews were not the first group of people Hitler chose to annihilate. He initially went after artists and musicians because these groups of people were the free thinkers who sat around in coffee houses purporting change. He also went after the esoteric crowd because their world was abuzz. They had figured out the earth-shaking symbols and realized Hitler was up to no good.

My husband, Hans, is German, born after the war. He tells me the story of when he entered first grade. His teacher told the class of Hitler's atrocities and informed these young children that all Germans must absorb the historical guilt of what Hitler did. Hans, stubborn and self-realized even back then, gathered his things and ran home. He told his parents what happened and said, "I did not know that guy Hitler, and I am not going to feel guilty because of what he did!" His parents, who suffered long years in prisons because of the war, agreed. The madman's name was never brought up again.

Note: This was written with permission from both women who live in the U.S. today. Gunda, the daughter of Rudolf Hess's astrologer (Hess was second in command under Hitler), has all of her father's secret papers that she has not yet made public, and intends to write a book. She wears a ring her father gave her, one made up of sacred stones (according to him) and with the stones cut and polished in a certain design of flat triangles and squares to represent her astrological sign. I had no idea what this ring meant until she told me. She said there is so much more that Hitler did in using the esoteric and turning it into dark occultism. Gunda is a wonderful and benevolent person, giving and loving. She said her traumatic early years living next door to Hitler taught her about the lessons of choice: we can use whatever we have either for good or for bad, depending on one's intention. Therefore, she makes a point to do nothing without first asking herself what her true intention is. And after her experience with Hitler, that intention is always meant to be for the good of all.