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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Yesterday and Today

Parades. Giant Balloons. Football Games. Black Friday. Doorbuster Sales. While families still gather for mouth-watering Thanksgiving feasts, many modern Thanksgiving traditions would amaze those from previous generations. One can only wonder what those who celebrated the first national Thanksgiving celebration in the United States would have thought of the evolution of Thanksgiving into a prelude to holiday shopping.

While there is some disagreement as to when and where the first Thanksgiving on American soil took place, the first national Thanksgiving observance was proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Since then, Thanksgiving has been observed throughout the nation each November. Through the Franklin Roosevelt administration, each president who succeeded Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, usually the last Thursday in November, until December 26, 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill making the fourth Thursday of November the day for the official national Thanksgiving holiday into law.

When Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving observance in 1863, the country was embroiled in the most bitter, deadly conflict ever to occur on American soil. Horrific battles such as the Battle of Gettysburg created widows, orphans, and mourners on both sides of the conflict. For most Americans in the North, the Thanksgiving observance in 1863 was a bittersweet affair. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, had lobbied governors and Presidents for forty years to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. President Lincoln, recognizing the weariness of the nation and the darkening of the nation’s mood, proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to give thanks for what was good in America despite “the wounds of the nation”.

The military did not officially observe the holiday that year, though many units held special dinners and celebrations. In 1864, the Union League Club of New York took steps to ensure Union soldiers and sailors enjoyed a Thanksgiving Dinner. Launching a public campaign, the group raised thousands of dollars and collected tons of food to be used in preparing these dinners. The effort to provide military men with a hearty Thanksgiving meals was a success, with many soldiers and sailors appreciating the effort to care about the troops in the field.

On the Union home front, Thanksgiving dinners were very similar to the feast we enjoy today. Roast turkey with stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie were commonly found on the holiday table, along with fried oysters, soups, sweet potato pudding, and other rich, delicious dishes. Thanksgiving was a time for families to gather and reminisce, cherish memories of those we’ve lost and miss those who aren’t able to be at the table. In that respect, Thanksgiving today hasn’t changed one little bit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Women of the West

WOMEN'S DIARIES OF THE WESTWARD JOURNEY, by Lillian Schlissel, relates letters, diaries and the lives of dozens of women who traveled the Overland Trail during the 19th century. While the men of this major American migration saw the 2,500 mile trip as an adventure and a way to start up a new life, women saw it as “a leaving behind”—family, friends and as Margaret Wilson wrote, “my children buried in...graveyards.” (pg. 28) The women knew they were leaving stable communities and “domestic circles” for the unknown.

What the women discovered, however, was that necessity really was the mother of invention. Within weeks, if not days, after hitting the trail, women found a new circle of support within the female society of the wagon train. They banded together for the common good to move the train along its rocky and uncertain path to the hoped for happy journey's end.

In the 1800's, a woman's place was home—hearth, children, kitchen. This did not change just because home was now a rolling wagon. A woman continued to do the cooking, baking, washing and tending to the sick and children. Only now, the cooking and baking were done over an open fire, in the rain with wet wood or cow chips gathered while walking the day's miles. The washing was done on river banks with cold water and harsh soaps. The children had more adventures and scrapes to be wary of, but often suffered from neglect, because the mothers “carried more than their normal share of care and work.” (pg. 49)

Women had different routines than men. They rose earlier, worked harder and stayed up up later. They did their own jobs and also helped the men with theirs. Martha Morrison wrote, “The women helped pitch tents, helped unload [the wagons] and helped yoke the oxen.”(pg. 35) They also drove the oxen and wagon and herded the sheep and cattle as well.

The work, no matter how unusual to them, soon became routine and repetitious to the women. The mundane work, however, gave a sense of regularity and predictability that could ward off the unexpected dislocations of the road. (pg 102). It helped them to overcome the hardships they endured— the sickness, the deaths, the lost possessions. It helped the women get through one step, one mile, one day at a time. It helped them reach their journey's end.



I think we often romanticize the days of Western immigration. We don't think about the hardships, the hard work, the hard life. Of course, this is true in any time period. We don't discuss the smells, the dirt, the everyone sleeping in the same room.

What is a historical fact of life that you think is best left out of romance novels? I guess in my Wagon Train story, the dirtiness of the characters would have to be it. I mean, how can they be getting romantic when neither one has bathed for days?

Leave a comment and you'll be elegible for a copy of Suzanne Enoch's BEFORE THE SCANDAL.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats

http://www.aklanier.com/
http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting the Research Right

Over and over I’m intrigued by how some authors don’t spend the few more extra minutes it takes to research a bit of history. Something caught my eye the other day, but I won’t name the source, nor mention the publisher, but once again, even with the big names in romance, somebody missed the facts.

My concern this time was putting maple trees in the wrong country. However, food is often the culprit, and since my background is food, I’m always interested in mistakes people make. For example, early on in our history, all along the east coast of the USA, oysters were very plentiful for everyone and even poor people could afford them until the 20th century.

Then there is the poor tomato. Today I want to set the record start on the ‘poor’ tomato.


Okay, no matter whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, the poor little creature started life in the South, south America that is. When the explorers came to the new World, they discovered people eating and growing tomatoes. They were probably yellow and small, but the plant intrigued the Europeans and they took them back to Europe with them as decorative plants.

The Italians immediately saw their usefulness and began to incorporate them in their dishes. This was in the 1600’s. Oh and by the way, pizza began in the 1880’s in Italy. The chef concocted the dish to impress the Queen, using the colors of the Italy flag, red sauce from the tomato, white from the mozzarella, and green from basil on a bread base. Back to the story of the tomato.

It spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, but people compared it to several poisonous plants and named it poison as well. It traveled from Europe to the colonies as a decorative plant. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s (or so the story goes) that a gentleman by the name of Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and ate a basket of tomatoes before a hushed crowd. People expected him to writhe in pain and died. At the time people began to wonder if the “Fruit” was as poisonous as everyone thought. Of course the Italian communities coming to the big cities were also using the tomatoes but that was until a bit later in the century.

The poor plant didn’t gain complete acceptance until Campbell brought out his condensed tomato soup in the late 1800’s.

The lesson from all of this is - check before you put the fact on paper. We have so many excellent search engines now, and it will only take a few minutes, unless you are like me. When I find an interesting tidbit, I can spend hours looking up all the facts, when I should be writing.

By the way, the lowly tomato, once considered poisonous, is now universally one of the most popular fruit/vegetables we have.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Secondary Characters

In a romance novel, it's the hero and heroine - and their love story - that are the main focus. And that's how it should be. We all love to close that book with a contented sigh at that "happily ever after."

But along the way to the ending are many stumbling blocks for our couples. And one of the best devices to help them along the way to happiness is the secondary character.

I love secondary characters. They can come in many forms - a hero's best friend, a heroine's father or sister. For that matter, a secondary character needn't even be human. Animal friends, ghosts, or fairies can sometimes be just as real in the world of romantic fiction.

Two of my favorite secondary characters appear in my first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, as well as my upcoming Highland Press release, Coming Home.

Margaret Kilpatrick is known to everyone in the small Irish village of Ballycashel as Grannie Meg, She's my heroine's grandmother, shrewd, full of wisdom, understanding, and the rock Siobhan Desmond depended on when her life was nearly destroyed by the Famine. She was also the first to perceive hero Rory O'Brien's true character.

Tom Flynn was even more fun to write. He was Siobhan's best friend from girlhood, a man she looks on as a big brother. He stood by her during the worst time of her life.

Tom has also been like a second father to Siobhan's daughter Ashleen, heroine of Coming Home, and that "second father" role does complicate Ashleen's budding romance with Irish-American war hero, Cavan Callaghan. There were a few times when Tom's Irish stubbornness - and the famous Flynn temper! - tried to take over the story. But I managed to rein him in. And he did help bring about a very satisfying conclusion to Ashleen and Cavan's romance.

Do you enjoy seeing secondary characters take part in the romance of the hero and heroine? Who are some of your favorite - and least favorite - secondary characters?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Twisting Legends: The Amulet in Kilted Lover


A magical Celtic amulet is an important element in my latest release, Kilted Lover. Though the story is contemporary, the amulet is seven hundred years old. My idea is based on the Ring of Dalny. According to legend, Dalny was the Queen of Partholan, one of the first races to inhabit Ireland, more than two thousand years ago. Since Highlanders are descendants of the Irish, the Ring of Dalny ended up in Scotland. I had read somewhere (which I can't find now!) that the Ring of Dalny, which had a blue stone, was stolen from a Scottish Museum and never found. Whether all this is real history is unclear, but imagine if it were. And imagine the ring has magical powers. It would be worth a fortune.

The way I twisted this legend for my own story was to change the name of the ring to Glaminy and create a companion piece of jewelry, a magical peridot and gold amulet worn as a pendant. Instead of being in a museum as the ring was, the amulet has been passed down for many generations through the heroine's family. It is so old, she doesn't even know its history or its purpose. But someone else does, a thief who is an expert of antiquities. He knows it's worth millions and he's determined to have it.

The amulet in my story has Celtic symbols and Gaelic words carved into it but these are almost worn away by time. These words Tha fios fithich agad, mean "You have a raven’s knowledge."
In Transactions, Volume 12 by Gaelic Society of Inverness 1885-86, raven's knowledge is said to mean "knowledge more than is natural. The raven was believed to possess supernatural knowledge, and of coming events in particular."

Not much is known about the mysterious Glaminy Amulet in my story. It is like a forgotten piece of history that suddenly comes to life and causes all kinds of chaos--greed, danger, passion. The peridot glows brightly at times, or flashes of light pass through it. Depending on what is going on, it can grow warm to the touch, or burning hot.

Kilted Lover: Chapter 1 (excerpt)

“My amulet isn’t for sale,” Leslie Livingston said for the second
time, wishing this line at the refreshment stand would move
forward already. Every minute that the Charleston sun beat down
on her was another step toward dehydration. And the jerk
harassing her about the amulet made the situation twice as
annoying.
“Come now, luv, I’ll give you a hundred US for it.” The gray-
haired Englishman sipped his cola. Too bad she couldn’t have
gotten in line ahead of him.
“No, thanks.” Her grandmother had given her the amulet years
ago and she would never part with it. Even if it was worth only ten
dollars, the sentimental value was priceless.
“Two hundred, and I’m being very generous.” The man beside
her inched closer. His black dress pants and white button-up shirt
seemed out of place at the Scottish Games.
She took a step back, hating close-talkers. “Nope, sorry. Why
are you so interested?”
“I’m a jeweler and it’s an unusual piece. Two-fifty?”
Leslie sighed, though she felt like screaming. “No,” she said in a
firmer tone.
“You’ve got to be joking. It’s only a peridot, for God’s sake. It
can’t be worth any more than that.” His pale gray eyes took on a
menacing quality.
Leslie was tempted to grab his drink and pour it over his head.
“Clearly it is, or you wouldn’t want it so badly.”
“How much did you pay for it?”
“It was a gift.” Move forward, people, she mentally shouted at
those in line ahead of her.
“Three hundred, and you’ll be robbing me blind.”
“Leave me alone,” she said through clenched teeth. “Even if
you offered me a thousand dollars, the answer would still be no.”
The man’s hand shot out toward her chest and the amulet. She
jumped back and slammed into a body so solid that it didn’t budge.
Big hands caught her upper arms.
“What the hell are you doing?” The deep voice almost growled
the words.
“I’m sorry—” Leslie began. But his eyes were fixed with
malicious intent upon the British man.
“The lady said no. So beat it.”
With her back pressed against his hard chest, she felt his words
resonate.
“Fine.” The Brit looked like he wanted to snarl, but he strode
away, muttering about ignorant Americans.
Her rescuer released her.
“Thank you.” Leslie couldn’t help but stare up—way up—into
his sexy face. His narrowed, sea-green gaze was pinned on
someone far off to her left. The frown and clenched jaw
emphasized his rugged, masculine bone structure. She noted his
long, sun-streaked sandy hair, the white T-shirt stretched over his
enormous chest, and the plaid kilt belted at his waist. A low-slung
silver chain held a black leather sporran in place at the front of his
kilt. Male earthiness emanated from his skin. But for the t-shirt, he
might have been a fearsome warrior transported through time from
the Scottish Highlands.
“No problem.” He fully focused on her, and the temperature
climbed ten degrees. That made it around ninety in the shade, not
unusual for September in the Low Country.
Music swirled from bagpipes in the distance. Voices mixed with
laughter, and for an instant, she imagined herself far, far away with
this luscious hunk. In Scotland? Chills and heat raced over her
skin.
“That is an unusual amulet. What makes it light up?”
“What?” The large peridot encased in gold was indeed glowing.
She lifted the stone and the heat from it surprised her. “I have no
clue.”
Though her grandmother had given it to her fifteen years ago,
today was the first time she’d worn it. The story of its origins was
lost in the mists of time. She’d always considered it gaudy and
unfashionable, but she thought it appropriate today, a Celtic amulet
worn to Scottish games.
“How old is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Now was he interested in it, too? Surely not. He
didn’t look as if he would wrestle her for it.
“It’s your turn.” His attention lifted to her eyes and held her
captive with the power of his stare.
Okay, that was just too sexy. Heat and awareness rushed over
her. “My turn?”
He grinned and gestured toward the vendor.
“Oh, sorry.” She spun around, feeling a bit lightheaded, not to
mention idiotic, and placed her order. Dear God, he was yummy.
She had the mad urge to lick him.
That’s just stupid, Les. You’re a mature, responsible, respected
veterinarian. You don’t have those kinds of thoughts.

Nicole North - Kilted Lover, Red Sage
Copyright © Nicole North, 2009
All Rights Reserved, RED SAGE PUBLISHING, INC.