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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Indian Wars Cavalry

Doing research for the third book in my spirit trilogy I had to do research on the plains cavalry. This was the mounted army used to curtail Indian uprisings and make sure there was safe passage for the people populating the west.

After the Civil War Southern cavalry officers were demoted to privates. There was feeling that if they were allowed to remain officers they could become in control of the military. So many left the service rather than be demoted. After the war many of the soldiers went back to civilian life, leaving the cavalry shorthanded.

The years following the war most recruits were either illiterate or spoke a foreign language, causing problems when it came to training. Officers, who were graduates of West Point or promoted during the Civil War and had sufficient training and experience in fighting, found themselves teaching ragtag groups how to ride horses and fire a rifle.

The plains cavalry weren't the sophisticated and well oiled machine the movies make them out to be. A good part of the enlisted men were criminals who chose enlisting to going to jail.

Not all forts were as large and accommodating as we see in movies either. Most were small complexes of buildings for housing, cooking and eating, and a supply or trade shop along with a stable and farrier. When the soldiers weren't working on their fighting they were the upkeep and builders of the forts.

During most of the Indian Wars period, the basic enlisted man's salary was $13 a month. Low pay, combined with boredom, and the fact many were there due to paying a debt to society for crimes they committed there was a high desertion rate.

Food at the frontier forts wasn't of good quality. The enlisted man's menu consisted of hash, stew, hardtack, salt, vinegar and molasses. Scurvy was a common disease among the men due to the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.

I discovered with my research the cavalry life was not glamorous and you had to have either wanted to stay away from your family really bad or had no other place to go to want to stay in the mundane life that could kill you just as easy from fraternizing with the local women as it could from a bullet or arrow.


Friday, January 21, 2011

The Allure of Edgar Allan Poe

 Many of my recent posts have dealt with the Civil War era - in particular, spies during the War between the States. I'm fascinated with that era - that interest has led me to write two historical romances set during the Civil War, with a third on its way. However, this post has nothing to do with the Civil War or spies or daring alpha males. In honor of the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe on January 19, I took another look at the life and legacy of Poe and the mysterious Poe toaster.

Three roses and a half-bottle of cognac – a fitting toast to the man who created a literary genre, contributed to the development of short stories as a literary form in American literature, and created macabre images that have spawned countless nightmares, influenced literature and served as the inspiration for . For sixty years, an unknown visitor (or perhaps, visitors), clothing positioned to obscure his identity, ventured out to Poe’s grave during the wee hours of the night to drink a toast and leave the flowers and liquor at his grave. Visitors from across the country journeyed to Baltimore to witness what had been an annual event from 1949 until January 19, 2010, when the  Poe Toaster failed to show. The Poe Toaster’s absence again this year leads one to wonder if the Toaster has passed away, taking the mystery of his identity with him forever.

How fitting that the so-called Poe Toaster (and his conspicuous absence) should be shrouded in mystery.  Edgar Allan Poe was known for his literary mysteries and created the detective fiction genre decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes.  His life clouded by tragedy and cut short at the age of forty under mysterious circumstances from a cause that has never been determined, I imagine the man whose stories of horror and mystery changed American literature would have richly enjoyed the aura of mystery surrounding a simple bottle of cognac and a few cut flowers laid on his grave.

I’ve always been fascinated by Poe’s works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and intrigued by the concept that a modern day pro-football team is named after a poetic work by a man who died long before football became a national obsession. Certainly it’s no coincidence Baltimore’s professional football team is dubbed the Ravens. Poe’s works have inspired hundreds of movie and television works (he even has a page on the Internet Movie Database – not bad for a man who died in 1849), and I have to admit to enjoying corny Vincent Price movies loosely based on Poe’s works – in some cases, it seems only the title was used.  Poe’s death was as mysterious as his works, and he’d certainly experienced tragedy and heartbreak. I won’t bombard you with details on Poe’s life. Suffice it to say his life might have provided fodder for a melodrama. Orphaned as a young boy when his actress mother died and his actor father abandoned his family, he was taken in by a family that raised him but never adopted him. Eventually disowned by his foster family, Poe foundered at college and in the Army, lost a brother to alcoholism, and buried his young wife after two years when she succumbed to tuberculosis. By the time of his death, he was believed to be drinking heavily and exhibiting erratic behavior. Despite these woes, Poe harnessed his literary genius to create an enduring legacy.

He wasn’t a conventionally handsome man, but there was definitely a dark, penetrating quality to his eyes. Poe wasn’t tall (Army records list his height as 5’8” ), and he was definitely not the man to bet on in a bar fight. But his moody genius would have made him quite intriguing. And possibly quite passionate.

So, here’s my question – would a man like Poe have made the cut as a romantic hero? While the vast majority of romance heroes are undisputed alpha males, the beta male offers an undeniably unique appeal. Edgar Allan Poe could be considered a beta male. Intelligent, prone to star-crossed romance, the type of man to use a pen rather than a sword – just the kind of man a strong woman could engage in a battle of wits and claim lasting love as his victory…intriguing possibilities, indeed. It’s fascinating to imagine what might have happened if Edgar Allan Poe had met a woman who was his intellectual equal. And equally fascinating to consider the plot possibilities of a hero with Poe’s moody romanticism. Do I feel a story forming?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1918-1919 Flu Pandemic

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

Since flu season is swooping down on us, I thought I'd write about the influenza pandemic of the 1900's. In the book It's About Time: How Long History Took Mike Flanagan writes on page 10 that the pandemic took three years and that:

"Chicago's crime rate dropped 43 percent. In one day 851 New Yorkers died. More American soldiers died of the "Spanish Flu" in 1918 than were killed on battlefields of World War I. Since epidemic bronchitis preceded the flu from 1915-1917 in France and England, few individuals had a prior immunity to this new lethal strain and often died within a week of exposure. In the United States, 500,000 deaths were recorded between March and November of 1918. Globally, about 40 million people died. Recent studies say the virus may have percolated within humans and pigs for several years until it grew lethal enough to emerge as history's worst influenza pandemic."

An article on the Center of Disease Control website says that over 500 million people worldwide were affected. In addition, the effects of this pandemic are not limited to 1918. Every influenza A pandemics since are descendants of the 1918 virus.

By the way, you may recall that this pandemic was mentioned in the holiday classic "It's A Wonderful Life." As an employee at the pharmacy, George Baily reads a telegram from the war department to Mr. Gower telling him his son died of the influenza. The grief of losing his son causes Mr. Gower to put poison in some medicine he's mixing.George saves the day by noticing what Mr. Gower did and not delivering the medication to the sick family. When George is 'never born,' Mr. Gower was sentenced to years in prison for killing people that day.

Additional information about the pandemic can be found out:


For a time line on the pandemic check out:


The CDC's website says:

Influenza (the flu) is serious.
Each year in the United States, on average:

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications;
36,000 people die from flu.

For more information on influenza from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) check out their website:


And more information on flu shots and statistics can be found at WebMD


If you're at high risk for the flu, young, old, or chronically sick, you should get your flu shot, before the flu gets you.

**Thus ends my public service announcement.

PS – most of this article first appeared on my blog Chatting with Anna Kathryn on October 16, 2008.

~Anna Kathryn

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Anachronisms and Why I Embrace Them

You don't often hear an historical fiction writer say that. We all strive to be as true to our time period as we can. But in some cases, I just don't think it's necessary, or even desirable to do so.

I suppose first I should state my firm belief that I don't care who you are, or what type of historical fiction you are writing, as a contemporary author it is impossible for your fiction not to be anachronistic. Period. We are all creatures of our time. We are influenced by the time in which we live and that will, no matter how hard we work to prevent it, show in our writing. Even Shakespeare's works are anachronistic if we look at plays like Julius Caesar as historical fiction.

Let's start with language. Now, I'm not saying that we should throw modern colloquialisms into our writing willy nilly. I don't want to read a Regency character saying something like, "dude, not cool." You've lost me at that point. But I also don't want to read a modern historical romance with dialog like this: "Do not you want to know who has taken it?" Yes, Jane Austen can get away with it, because when she wrote it the language WAS contemporary. Her characters voices are easy and believable. But for almost all modern historical fiction authors dialog like that comes off sounding stilted and forced. And that will pull me out of a story no matter how historically accurate it is. Because it's awkward for me to read that. It doesn't sound natural to me, and I know it's not natural to the author.

I recently read a novella that took place during the Victorian era. I wanted to like it. The dialog and language were period appropriate, and even the character's inner monologue was appropriate in voice and subject. But, even knowing that, I simply could not like it. The language was stilted and forced and put a wall between me, the reader, and the characters that I could not get over. I was kept at a distance, an observer of the story rather than being pulled in and experiencing the emotions of the characters. As this was a romance, that was a major barrier. And I knew that had the author not adhered so closely to period appropriate language and thought I would have enjoyed the story much more. If I felt these characters were struggling with issues that I could identify with, I would have been drawn into their story. As anachronistic as that may have been, it would have made a better story for me, a contemporary reader.

And that's the real point here. We may be writing historical fiction, but we want to write a story that appeals to a contemporary reader. As an author of historical erotic romance, for me this often results in anachronistic story lines. I've had readers point out that what occurs in some of my books--erotic menage stories with a happily ever after--would never have actually happened during the Regency period. Well, no, probably not. But that's why I write historical fiction and not historical non-fiction (which I have written for academic purposes.) I'm sure there are papers written and published somewhere about the fact that most historical romance heroines are anachronistic. They are far too self-aware, independent, and self-actualizing to really represent women of their time period, allowing for exceptions to every rule. But that's what modern readers want to see in romances, heroines they can relate to, who are struggling with the same choices they face.

This may not be true of all historical fiction writers, but for me the setting of my books is similar to a set on a stage, it's the background for the actual story and not the main element of the book. The book is about the characters and what happens to them, their conflict and motivation and resolution. What they are wearing, the language they use and the food they eat lend depth to those experiences, but rarely do they influence them.

That being said, I dislike inaccurate historical facts as much as the next person. I have a rather flexible willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to a character's motivation, goals, actions, even language to a certain extent, but don't get your facts wrong. Because that will make me put a book down and not pick it up again. There are so many resources for writers on the web--just a few clicks away, you don't even have to go to the library anymore--that to get your facts wrong is inexcusable. And facts include dress, food, language and history.

So, what's your opinion on anachronisms in historical fiction? Are you flexible when it comes anachronistic story lines and characters? What about language? Does genre make a difference?