Sunday, May 23, 2010
One of my historical western stories ends in Silver City, Idaho. Miners flocked to Silver and Ruby City after 1863 digging over 250 mines in the Owyhee mountains. During the boom the town boasted about a dozen streets, seventy-five businesses, three hundred homes, a population of around 2,500, twelve ore-processing mills, and was the Owyhee County seat from 1866 to 1934.
It's hard to believe all those buildings fit in the narrow canyon I found when I visited the town. There is only one way into Silver City. The town sets at the end of a windy gravel road that snakes up a mountain. Visitors traveled from Boise, Idaho by stage (four horse coaches) and crossed the Snake River (1/2 way between Boise and Silver) on a ferry at Walter’s Ferry. Paiute/Bannock Indians were a threat to the stage coaches after they crossed the river through 1878.
In Silver City the Idaho Hotel was one of the most famous in the west because of its luxurious accommodations and good food. Other accommodations were the War Eagle Hotel and Brook’s Restaurant and Lodging.
I toured the Idaho Hotel which is being revived to look as it did back during the boom. The bedrooms weren’t large, but they had good beds, matching rose painted porcelain pitcher & bowl, and chamber pots. Marble topped writing desks. The lobby opened to an office area behind an L-shaped counter on the left. Straight ahead were double doors into the bar, a door to the right opened into the restaurant. To the left guests went through a door that led straight into a 12x12 parlor with a beautiful Beatty piano and landscape paintings. A room in the far back northern corner on the first floor of the building sat the bathing room. It was a large room with partitions between the tubs. Chinese men filled and drained the tubs.
Many social functions were held at the Hotel including balls, weddings, funerals, musicals, literary club meetings, socials, and banquets
The roads and dirt in the area sparkle from flecks of mica that's in the dirt. Two creeks run through the town/gulch. One is Jordan Creek and the other is Sinker Creek. But Jordan is the main one that runs right down the bottom of the gulch, it’s the one that made the gulch over the years.
Locals called the town Silver. People who didn’t live there were called “Outsiders” And if they were going to travel off the mountain they were going “Outside”.
While the trip to Silver City was and still is arduous, many people visited the boom town, including me and my dog, Tink.
I enjoy visiting the areas where I set stories.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The U.S. Cavalry was a branch of Army service known for their skill as horseman and soldiers. These forces played many important roles in warfare throughout this country’s history. During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers on both sides of the conflict assumed key roles on and off the battlefield.
In earlier conflicts, cavalry soldiers were used for offensive actions. Massive cavalry charges were used to overwhelm infantry formations. As weapons became more accurate at larger ranges, the effectiveness of cavalry charges diminished. A horse and rider were easy targets for rifles accurate to 300 yards or more. The cavalry’s role in offensive actions shifted to cavalry against cavalry offenses rather than cavalry against infantry. This type of cavalry against cavalry action occurred during the first Battle of Bull Run.
Cavalry soldiers were often tasked with defensive actions to delay offensive attacks and to carry out long-distance raids. These raids often brought fame to those who led the operations. Confederate General J. E .B. Stuart’s raids against the Union Army of the Potomac in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign brought him renown in the South, while Union General Benjamin Grierson’s long-range raid in Mississippi offered strategic support to Grant’s army in Vicksburg.
During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers assumed a key role in reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance. With their mobility and speed, the cavalry served as the eyes and ears of Union and Confederate generals. They were also utilized to raid enemy lines of communication, supply storehouses, railroads, and to conduct guerilla warfare.
The hero of my new release, Destiny, is a cavalry officer tasked with an extremely unusual mission: protect the runaway daughter of a Northern senator by beating her would-be abductors to the punch. Major Jack Travis is a skilled horseman, a crack shot, and an experienced raider who’s none too happy about his new roles: captor and bodyguard. He should be in the field, not stealing a runaway bride from a train to keep her out of the hands of her father’s enemies. The by-the-book officer finds his captive is anything but the plain, mousy woman he’d been told to expect. Emma Davenport is beautiful, intelligent, feisty – and forbidden. He’ll risk his neck to protect her, but how can he protect her from himself?
The real-life soldiers of the United States Cavalry were my inspiration for Destiny’s hero and his partner, Steve Dunham – who finds his own heart on the line in the sequel to Destiny, Angel in My Arms, due out later this year from The Wild Rose Press. Cavalry officers fought valiantly, provided crucial intelligence, and were often viewed as a first line of defense against opposing forces…all of this, while exposed to enemy fire on horseback. These brave men were real American heroes, regardless of whether they wore blue or gray.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I was told about http://www.onlinecollege.org/ last year, and did post about it on another blog, but thought I’d post an updated blog here, since it looks as if the site itself has been updated, too. As Caitlin Smith says on the site, “With new technology making the world more interconnected every day, it can be beneficial no matter what field you work in to have a good idea of the history of not only your own country but those around the world. These open courses will help you to learn about history in diverse countries and time periods to give you a well rounded knowledge of the social, political and intellectual history that has shaped the modern world.”
It’s not as if you will actually participate in an online college class, where you’ll have a teacher and assignments that are due. What this site offers you are links to the course information, downloadable and free of charge. You would then go over the information at your leisure and, if you want to do the assignments, more power to you.
Now, how does this work? Let’s look at one of the MIT courses. Once you click on the link from the 100 Courses website, you are taken to the website of the course. On the left hand side is a menu:
• Course Home
• Study Materials
• Related Resources
• Download Course Materials
From this page, you get the course handed to you. As said, there is no teacher; you study on your own. The courses are free, but I see that MIT asks for a donation, to support “the production and distribution of high quality MIT course materials.”
Most of the courses are offered through MIT, but other universities are present as well: Notre Dame, Berkeley, John Hopkins, UMass Boston, Yale and WGU.
So, what courses can you take? Here’s a short list of the 100 classes Caitlin mentions:
The World Since 1492: This course focuses on four major areas of world history: the struggles between Europeans and colonized peoples; the global formation of capitalist economies and industrialization; the emergence of modern states; and the development of the tastes and disciplines of bourgeois society. [MIT]
Monarchs, People and History: This course will help you learn about the origins and reasons for the monarchy and the role it played in the history of Europe and around the world under European imperialism. [UMass Boston]
The Civil War and Reconstruction: Learn more about this particularly tumultuous period in American history, from the events that brought it about to the eventually reunification of a nation. [MIT]
The Emergence of Europe: 500-1300: This course will cover a wide range of European history, including the crusades and various other conquests. [MIT]
Nineteenth Century Europe: This course will take you through European history from 1815 to 1900. [UMass Boston]
The Ancient City: This course will focus on urban architecture in Greece and Rome, using current and past archaeology as a starting point. [MIT]
Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective: Learn more about the social and economic changes in medieval Europe and its connections to Islam, China and central Asia. [MIT]
History of Western Thought, 500-1300: This course will help you to learn more about intellectual traditions from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages. [MIT]
French Revolution: Here you can learn about the origins of the French Revolutions and the bloody aftermath that followed. [OpenLearn]
Check out all the great courses at 100 Free Courses to Teach Yourself World History.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
I just finished the seventh book in my erotic Regency series Brothers In Arms. It hasn't been sent to my editor yet, but just the act of typing The End always makes me giddy. The book, Love's Fortress, is about Gideon North. Gideon was a captain in the 14th Light Dragoons in the Peninsular War. He was injured quite badly at the second siege of Badajoz, as a member of the Forlorn Hope, the first troops to storm a fortress during a siege. The purpose of the Forlorn Hope was to draw fire and to hopefully make the enemy blow any mines they may have laid before the main force attacked.
Those of you who are familiar with the second siege of Badajoz and the Forlorn Hope are saying, "The 14th wasn't at Badajoz, and they certainly did not volunteer to lead the Forlorn." Yes, that's true. So I had to find a reason to place Gideon there, and a way to get him with the Forlorn. Which leads me to the main purpose of this blog. How to find reliable sources for obscure information during your research.
I went to Melvyl. Melvyl is the catalog for the University of California Libraries. The beauty of Melvyl is that it allows you to search WorldCat, a database of libraries worldwide. I think Melvyl is easier to use than WorldCat so that's why I recommend it. I find searching Melvyl far more helpful than a Google book search. Their database is more current and geared toward academic research.
After my search I had a list of books on some pretty obscure aspects of the Peninsular War: fortresses, sieges, fighting techniques, and military medicine. General histories of the Peninsular War touch on these subjects in a page or two, but I needed a more in depth understanding of them to figure out Gideon's story. I looked for the books at Amazon. After all, I never miss an opportunity to collect more books on the Regency period. But some were not available, and others were more expensive than I was comfortable with. I can't see writing another book about this particular aspect of the war, so it would not have been money well spent.
What was a writer to do? Go to her local library, of course. I went to the Interlibrary Loan desk. If you have not made friends with your local librarian in charge of interlibrary loan get thee hence. It took some doing, two of the books were in only a couple of libraries willing to lend them out via interlibrary loan. I may be late returning my kids' books to the library, but I am NEVER late returning my interlibrary loan books. I'd be up a creek without a paddle if I lost that privilege.
So, the books that were most useful to me were: (these aren't full citations)
McCallum, Jack Edward. Military Medicine: From Ancient Time to the 21st Century.
Fletcher, Ian. Fortresses of the Peninsular War, 1808-14.
Myatt, Frederick. British Sieges of the Peninsular War.
So, why was Gideon there? He'd been traveling and heard about the siege and went to talk to the commander of the 4th Division, who was at Badajoz. I based this on the true story of a captain who did just that. And then Gideon unofficially attached himself to the Forlorn. Again, based on a true story, although the officer in question did not attach himself to the Forlorn Hope but to the 4th Division. Why would Gideon attach himself to what was essentially considered a suicide mission? For advancement and reward. But that's another story.
Gideon's reason for being at Badajoz is perhaps one or two lines in the book. But I had to get it right. What are some things you've spent hours researching only to need them for a line or two?
Thursday, May 13, 2010
One of the reference books I list when I teach is Food In History by Reay Tannahill. This book covers the who ate what when and where. But really the reason I mention it is twofold. Since we write historical, the heroine is the one doing the cooking, and since people eat, the writer often has scenes where people gather together and have a meal. And, two, if you’re going to say specifically what your historical characters are eating, you should get it right.
A basic history of food. Early man got his food by hunting, fishing and gathering. Then with the Neolithic Revolution came the domestication of plants and animals. Which opened up a whole new world of food.
Fun fact: With the Norman Conquest of England the French speaking Normans became the upper class and the local Anglo-Saxons became the commoners. As the English language developed from the blending of the two over time, Anglo-Saxon words described the animals. Cow, sheep, pig are Anglo-Saxon based words. But when the food got to the table, beef, mutton an pork are French based words.
Today we’re used to getting practically any food at any time of year. Obviously this wasn’t always so. First let’s talk location.
And let’s hear it for Marco Polo who gets credit for bringing back to Italy the noodles he found while visiting the Far East.
And please consider the season when you historical characters are eating. There are the delicates of spring with strawberries, and bounty of summer and the work in the fall to preserve as much as you can for winter. Without commercial refrigeration there was drying and salting.
Family Story: My great grandmother didn’t like soft butter, so in the summer she stored the butter in a bucket let down in the well. Every meal my grandmother had to go and bring up the butter and carried it back to the house under a damp rhubarb leaf. She also remembered the hog butchering in the fall.
The reason all this food stuff occurred to me is that I’ve just started teaching an on-line class. Another Time, Another Place is all about transporting the reader, dealing with research and how to incorporate the information into you work. It’s not too late to sign up.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
As I looked through cookbooks of food preparation in the 1800s, it seems that women of the American frontier did likewise. Here are a few tidbits I gathered...
"The quality of butter depends very much upon the kind of cows. Those who give a great deal of milk, are usually small and thin. Every cow should have a tea-cup full of salt each week, and must be well fed. Green cornstalks and carrots are excellent for cows. Turnips, cabbage, and parsnips spoil the milk.
Two particulars are indispensable to success in making a good butter; the first is, that the churning be frequent so that the cream will not grow bitter, or sour; and the second is cleanliness in all implements and processes connected with it.
In hot weather it is important to keep the milk, cream, and butter as cool as possible. For this purpose, those who have no ice-house or very cool milk-room, hang their cream down a well.
After the weather gets cold, the cream rises more perfectly after allowing the milk to stand say ten or eleven hours, to set it over a furnace a while till it is warmed through, but not heated hot enough to boil. Then take it back, let it stand eleven hours longer and skim it. This secures more, and better cream.
Do not use the hand in working over the butter, as it injures it so much that a higher price is often paid for butter made without using the hand. A wooden spade made for the purpose is the proper article for working over butter." (Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, 1856)
Yellow or brownish colored eggs are mostly produced by hens of Southern breed, and the white alabaster egg, by Northern breeds. (Home Studies, 1856)
To tell good from bad; put eggs in water in a vessel with a smooth level bottom, but reject those which stand on end as bad. If eggs gurgle when shaken gently, they are “totally depraved.” (Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877)
Eggs were preserved by several methods.
In lime-water ~ One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water. If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs; and if there be a single egg cracked, it will spoil the whole. The yolk becomes slightly red, but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years. (The American Frugal Housewife, 1832)
Rubbed with fresh butter or dipped in liquid mutton-suet or beef suet, hung in a net, and daily turned upside down. (Home Studies, 1856)
Eggs are preserved longer by packing them close, standing them on their small ends. (Miss Beechers’s Domestic Receipt-Book, 1856)
Good flour adheres to the hand, and, when pressed, shows the imprint of the lines of the skin. Its tint is cream white. Never buy that which has a blue-white tinge. Poor flour is not adhesive, can be blown and easily, and sometimes has a dingy look, as though mixed with ashes. (Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877)
It is estimated that one barrel of flour will last one person one year, which gives a rule of proportion by which to buy. (The Boston Cook Book, 1884)
Flour…of old mixed with plaster of Paris, ground bones, and potato-starch—thanks to the cheapening of pure materials, has come to content itself with alum only. (The New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1872)
A girl learned as she helped at her mother’s side. A missed step, an unclean utensil, could easily end up spoiling the food and undoing hours of work. I supposed it could undo even more time if one takes into account the feeding and care of the cow or the hens. The more I learn of how difficult life was for women on the frontier, the more I appreciate my modern conveniences—especially the refrigerator and the supermarket!
Monday, May 10, 2010
Because yes, I AM seduced by history and I know you are, too!
If you want to see Part I, go to http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/ and scroll down to April 26. Sorry! Contest is over, but I'll give a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE to a commenter to today's post.
As any writer knows, you must research far more than dates, the names of kings, and political and military history. In fact, those are usually the easiest things to find. But I use real people and events in my books, so I need a level of detail an ordinary history text doesn’t offer. So for this post, I’m focusing on the research I did around real characters and events. And this time, I’ll give you a peek at what I had to leave out because it didn’t contribute to my story.
The childhood of Lord Douglas. The Scottish border lord, William Douglas, later the first earl of Douglas (though not during my story!) was one of the most powerful men of his time. He was a secondary character I envisioned as rough and ready, and slightly uncouth, so I crafted a couple of scenes under that assumption. He did, after all, murder his uncle to assume leadership of the family. That didn’t seem the most civilized behavior.
Then, I discovered he had been fostered in France as a child. In fact, he was quite the Francophile, even fighting for the French at Poitiers when they were defeated, resoundingly, by the English. This called for a major rewrite of scenes and dialog and shifted his motivations and the conflict he represented for my heroine, who was also a Francophile.
What didn’t get in the book. The story goes that Douglas was responsible for the French defeat at Poitiers because he was the one who told them to fight on foot, a strategy that doomed them. Dozens of French nobles were killed or captured. Douglas was not. The chronicler writes that “when he perceived that the French were hopelessly defeated he made off as fast as he could; for so much did he dread being taken by the English…"
Edward III’s military campaigns. There’s no battle in my book, but my hero was conceived during Edward’s early Scottish campaign, accompanied Edward on the French campaign, and the book begins during the second Scottish campaign. The latter was so destructive that the Scots labeled it “Burnt Candlemas.” I needed to know what my hero had been through, where he was when the story opened, how long it would take him to get to the heroine’s lands, how the fighting continued for her father and the others on the Scots side…all that stuff. I discovered, for example, that Edward III brought falcons with him when he invaded France in 1356, a fact that tied in with the use of falconry as a key element in my story.
What didn’t get into the book. Edward III was very nearly captured during the Burnt Candlemas. William Douglas, yes, same as above, had planned an ambush, but at the last minute, the king took a small retinue for an unplanned meeting with Henry of Lancaster.
Where John of Eltham was buried and what his tomb looked like. 20 years after his death. This real life character was father to my fictional hero. There’s a pivotal scene in the book in which he stands before his father’s tomb. It’s key to his emotional climax and I wanted to see what he saw. Fortunately, out of print, out of copyright books and images exist, so I was even able to describe the sculpture of his father’s face. (That's a picture on the right. But if you go to Westminster Abbey today, it won't look like that. The canopy has since been destroyed.)
What didn’t get into the book. The tomb has a full effigy of John of Eltham, the last son of a king of England to die an earl, and he is wearing the earliest known example of a ducal coronet.
So, what about you? As writers, have you ever chased an obscure fact? And as readers, what details seem to really pull you into the world? I’ll give a copy of HIS BORDER BRIDE to one lucky commenter.
Thanks again for having me here. You can read an excerpt from HIS BORDER BRIDE, and more about the story, on my website, http://www.blythegifford.com/. I also love to have visitors at www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford.
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. Copyright 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
It was my now 13-year-old daughter who coined the term "grammariffic" several years ago. And okay, maybe I'm a little obsessive about correcting people's grammar. I was in labor - with this same daughter - when my husband told me, "You're doing good." Between contractions, I snapped, "It's you're doing well!"
Perhaps my obsession is a result of my late father, who was largely self-educated. If there was a word he didn't understand, he'd consult his pride and joy, the Funk & Wagnall's dictionary. That dictionary now has pride of place on my desk.
There are a few grammar mistakes that really bother me when I either read them or hear them spoken. "If I would have known..." instead of "If I'd known." "It wasn't that good of a grade," instead of "It wasn't that good a grade." "As best as he can" rather than "As best he can."
Of course, when you're talking, it's easier to overlook these mistakes than if you're reading them. A friend I knew from school asked me to read a short story she'd written. The plot was interesting, and the characters were believable. But the grammar ... well, let's say it needed work.
Things like effect instead of affect, wood instead of would, there, their and they're. I gave an honest critique, telling what I liked and didn't like, then suggested she buy a good grammar handbook!
How about you? Are there grammar mistakes that drive you crazy? That resonate like fingernails on a chalkboard?
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
In the May issue of RT Book Reviews is a 4 Star rating and book review for Northern Roses and Southern Belles. I'm thrilled that this anthology of Civil War stories and one post Civil War story found recognition not only by a reviewer for RT Book Reviews, but also other reviewers.
How did this happen? Was it pure luck, or did we six authors bring it about by writing the best stories we could that incorporated the most accurate facts we found? I believe it's the latter rather than pure luck. We researched incidents surrounding the Civil War and chose our external plots according to what interested each of us the most. Discovering all the facts followed next as we each studied our selected bit of history.
We gathered information and facts from various sources. Even though a couple of us chose stories that came from our family history, we researched the historical incidents involved. I used the Handbook of Texas Online where I found articles about people who had been involved in the history surrounding my story, "Are You Going to the Dance?" In addition, I used information from notes I had taken years ago from a couple of library books about intriguing incidents in Texas after the Civil War.
We wrote down our ideas and ran them by each other. Satisfied we were on the right track, we wrote rough drafts. After another round of critiques we fleshed out our stories. More critiquing followed until we each felt we'd written the best story we could.
In addition to our research and careful writing, we had an excellent editor from The Wild Rose Press who helped us fine tune our stories. The project took a lot of hard work from all of us to achieve the great results we've enjoyed. We crafted romance stories based on historical facts. Not only can our readers enjoy reading the romances, but they can learn a bit of history at the same time. We're confident we wrote romances that entertain while being historically accurate. For readers of historical romance, isn't that what makes a great story?
Northern Roses and Southern Belles, by Susan Macatee, Mary Ann Webber, Jeanmarie Hamilton, Jennifer Ross, Isabel Roman, and Caroline Clemmons, can be found at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon.com, and various other booksellers online.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your snail mail addy, and we'll get your prizes to you ASAP!
Sunday, May 2, 2010
This outdoor museum is like a trip back in time to see how residents of Isle of Skye lived a hundred or more years ago. The seven stone cottages are the genuine articles and their thatch roofs are fascinating. Since Skye is almost devoid of trees, stone was the only material available in early days for building. Some of the walls are three feet thick. Timber had to be used for the rafters, of course, and the residents got this from the ocean when (wooden) shipwrecks washed up on shore. The thatch is a locally grown reed, and beneath this is sod or turf.This (above) is called the The Old Croft House with mill stones sitting outside. It is the largest building on this site. It contains three rooms, the most important of which is the kitchen where the fire was kept in the fireplace year round. The family gathered here to stay warm, to eat, etc. The fireplace used in the 1800s was an improvement and replaced the earlier central hearth which caused the whole house to be smoky. This house also contains a children’s bedroom with two box-beds, and a smaller parents’ bedroom. The Old Croft House was built at the beginning of the 1800s and was a real family home for about 150 years.
Also included here is a barn containing old farm equipment to be used with horses, a smithy (above) showing how farming implements and other things like horseshoes were made. If I'm remembering correctly, we were not allowed to take photos inside the buildings. But if you visit the website, you will see the inside of the smithy on the front page. The Ceilidh House is another of the buildings. The Ceilidh (pronounced kei-li) House was where the people of the community would gather in the evenings to entertain themselves, especially during the long dark winters. (Since Skye is so far north, their winter nights are longer than ours here in most of the US.) They would tell stories, play music, sing, dance and socialize. The Ceilidh House now contains a large amount of historical material about Isle of Skye.
There is also a Weaver’s Cottage (above). Weavers made all the clothing worn by the community as well as blankets, curtains, or anything of fabric. The cloth was mostly wool and maybe some linen.
Here is a lovely view of the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides across the Minch.
One interesting side note, over 50% of the population of Kilmuir still speaks Scottish Gaelic.
I hope you enjoyed this wee visit to Isle of Skye.