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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buried Alive...Dungeons

There is something eerie and haunting about entering a dungeon. Your breath feels halted in your chest, your heart rate quickens, and your eyes scan the dark depths for shadow people and ghosts of past prisoners who died, having already been buried alive, beneath the castle fortress.

While the word dungeon, brings to mind underground places--and indeed in many places they were, the word is originally derived from donjon, a French term for Tower--which is above ground. Throughout history, most prisoners were kept, in actual towers cells, however the most famous and immortalized are those dark, decrepit underground cells.

It has been said that the underground cells were occupied by those who would spend the remainder of their lives there, while tower cells were reserved for those who would be quickly executed, or set free.

As terrifying as it may have been to be, taken to the Tower of London--shoved in a cell with no idea if you should live or die--at least you might have had a glimpse of the outside through a window... or not... No, it may be the case that you would be taken to "Little Ease," the infamous dungeon of torture within the Tower of London's White Tower. There is a cell at the bottom, just four feet by four feet, so you can not stand, but neither can you lay flat. Not only would this grow extremely uncomfortable for your body--but would also wreak havoc with your mind.

In Carlisle Castle--first built by William II, the son of William the Conqueror, the dungeon is famous for its "licking stones." These stones collected enough moisture to keep prisoners alive, by licking them--that is until they were executed on Gallows Hill. (click HERE to see pics)

Oubliette's were popular in medieval times... Just a deep hole, maybe in the ground, maybe in the dungeon, closed with a hatch door. Prisoners were tossed inside the holes, and could not get out unless a rope was thrown in.  In other words, there was no escape, unless you had help, and most often, you did not. They were dank, dark, filled with excrement, worms and rats. Often those tossed in were forever forgotten about, and thus the oubliette became a darkened grave where it took days upon days for your torment to end with death. In fact, the word oubliette, means "to forget" in French.

Most torture was performed in the dungeons--which in my mind, most resembles a hell for the living. Here you would be racked--your body stretched until your sockets pulled out, your muscles tore, maybe flesh ripped and bones were broken.  Perhaps your fingers would be crushed one by one with a thumbscrew. Or your fingernails ripped off one by one. Hot pokers might burn your flesh. You may be whipped, or drowned. In any case, your stay would not be pleasant... pleasant would be for you to take your last breath.

In some of my works--mostly my medieval romances and my Tudor-era historical fiction (all of which have yet to be published--but soon, dear readers, soon!)--I make mention of dungeons, towers, prisons, oubliettes, mostly because the threat of death, of imprisonment was very real, especially for nobles and courtiers. Factions pitted against factions, one lord seeking revenge on another, someone scorned, someone jealous, someone wanting what you had, being born to the wrong parents... all of those things could lead to your death, and there was little you could do about it.

I've visited many dungeons in Ireland and France.  They were eerie, they were haunting, they left me breathless, and my mind whirling. Have you ever visited a dungeon? Have you put any dungeons into your work? Tell us about it!



Eliza Knight is a multi-published author in historical romance, erotic romance, historical fiction, non-fiction and middle-grade mystery.  Visit her at http://www.elizaknight.com/ (romance/erotic romance and non-fiction writing craft), http://www.historyundressed.blogspot.com/ (Historical blog), http://www.authormichellebrandon.com/ (historical fiction) or http://www.mleighingles.blogspot.com/ (middle-grade mystery fiction).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bad Girls and the Men Who Love Them

Femme fatale. What does the term bring to your mind? In the latest movie incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, the sleuth is intrigued and besotted by Irene Adler, a notorious thief with a dubious moral compass. She has a soft spot for Holmes, but you're never sure if she's working for him, or against him. She's perhaps the only woman who could take Holmes' mind off the clues around him, simply because he's so fascinated with her. Irene Adler's interactions with Sherlock Holmes call to mind the femme fatales of old. She may be luring him into a trap, or at the very least, thwarting his plans, but he's too besotted to resist. Ah, the allure of the femme fatale.

In the movie Body Heat, Kathleen Turner’s character Matty Walker might spring to mind. Matty Walker’s seduction and duping of Ned Racine, a hunky lawyer so dunce-like one wonders how he passed the bar, is a classic case of a femme fatale luring a man to think with parts of his body other than his brain.Femme fatale is a French term for a deadly woman. Literally translated “fatal woman”, a femme fatale is a strong-willed, manipulative woman who is as alluring and irresistible as she is dangerous. The femme fatale leads men into danger or compromising situations with her seductive charms. This female archetype is present in mythology and folklore, literature, film, and, of course, history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quotes by Women

by Anna Kathryn lanier

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I’m listing quotes by famous (and maybe not so famous) women. I also have links to a websites or articles page about the women. So, check them out.  And read all the way through to discover information about my contest.

It is not easy to be a pioneer -- but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world. – Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, (1821-1910)

We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn. - Mary Catherine Bateson, writer and cultural anthropologist

Instead of getting hard ourselves and trying to compete, women should try and give their best qualities to men - bring them softness, teach them how to cry. – Joan Baez, American folksinger, (1941- )

One should hate very little, because it's extremely fatiguing. One should despise much, forgive often, and never forget. Pardon does not bring with it forgetfulness; at least not for me. - Sarah Bernhardt, actress (1845-1923)

It will not do to say that it is out of woman's sphere to assist in making laws, for if that were so, then it should be also out of her sphere to submit to them. - Amelia Jenks Bloomer, suffragist (1818 - 1894)

The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. - Toni Morrison, writer (1931 - )

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer...it is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. - Charlotte Brontë, writer (1816-1854)

I think the key is for women not to set any limits. - Martina Navratilova, tennis star (October 18, 1956 - )

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too. - Queen Elizabeth I, ruler of England (1533-1603)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. - Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States (1884-1962)

Contest – What is your favorite quote by a woman? All those who comment will be eligible for a drawing for Ladies First by Lynn Santa Lucia. I’ll draw for a winner on Monday, March 21.

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How Ready Are You?

The horrible earthquake in Japan reminded me of how natural disasters can impact all aspects of life.

Here's an article I wrote for our chapter's new letter several years ago, right after one of the large brush/forest fires that routinely hit Souther California.

How ready are you?

As I’m sure you all know, the San Diego area has been on fire for the last week. We live in a suburb of San Diego, and last Sunday morning when I got up the air smelled of smoke the sun of just a orange ball (you could look directly at it) because of the smoke. This was at 7 am, and the TV told me the fire was forty miles away.

Well, brush fires are not uncommon in Southern California, so we went on with our usual business.

By noon, the fire was only twenty miles away, so I told my dh to get a box out of the garage and I started putting all the thing I couldn’t live without in it in case we had to evacuate.

I put in the important papers (birth, marriage, DD214, etc), and photos of weddings and graduations, etc. The good jewelry my husband bought me. A bag with a couple of changes of clothes and underwear, a book (with four novels) and some needlework just in case I got stuck in a shelter for a few days.

And of course, I packed all my back up disks with all my mss, letter to editor/agents, articles I’ve written, any thing to do with my writing. And just as I entered my office to pick up these disks --- the power went out. What if I’d waited to do the back up??

As it turned out, they stopped the fire about ¼ mile from our house. We and the neighbors spent all afternoon and evening at the end of the street watching the flames come closer and closer.

So we were lucky, just a lot of clean up and unpacking and a hard time breathing until yesterday when the weather changed.

The moral of this to all you writers is WHERE IS YOUR BACK UP FOR YOUR WRITING?

Even in my critique group, when we finish a ms., we put it on a disk and give it to someone else in the group, or take a copy to work. What good will it do if your back up disk is next to your computer when it burns down?

Yes, and I knew there are ways to do off site storage on line, but I’m too computer inept to deal with that, so as long as disks work, that’s how I’ll do my back up.

Just as a side note, when I taught a workshop on POV at our chapter, I went back and found, on disk, the first draft of a scene from my first ms., where I’d changed POV every paragraph. Although I’d written it in WordPerfect 5.1 (the best !!), my WordPerfect 10 pulled it right up, and I used the first draft against the final version at the workshop to show how I changed from switching POV every paragraph for four pages in to one POV change, and made the scene work better. And all because I had the back up disk to go back too.

So thanks for letting me share this with you. And go make those back up disk and update it as often as possible.

Terry Irene Blain
(cough, cough)

Monday, March 7, 2011


Because I live in Texas and am a Texan, I’m compelled to mention that this past week, March 2nd, was the 175th anniversary of Texas’ Declaration of Independence from Mexico. The Declaration was framed and issued at Washington-on-the-Brazos. At that time, the town was known only as Washington and was a mile southwest of the junction of the Brazos River and Navasota River, seventy miles northwest of Houston. Washington was an important commercial city. Not until after the Civil War did the town become hyphenated to Washington-on-the-Brazos.

The Alamo at night;
do you believe
in ghosts?
Most of my ancestors hadn’t arrived here by then, but I still find pride in being Texan. (Bailey Hardeman, one of the committee who wrote the Declaration, was a way distant relative at 3rd cousin 4 times removed.) I’m certainly glad none of my direct family line fought at the Alamo, even though I respect those men who did, or I might not be here now. Most of my family arrived forty years later when GTT or “Gone To Texas” was a familiar slogan for those hoping for a fresh start.

Sam Houston
First President
Many people don’t realize that Texas was once a country, the Republic of Texas. We had our own President, diplomats, embassies, and currency. In fact, seeing the bronze plaque marking the Texas Embassy site in London was a genuine pleasure. (Well, of course it was! I was on a trip to England with my husband. How could it not be fun?) My husband and I even ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant nearby. Fun, even though it was nothing like Tex-Mex back home.

Texas' Lone Star flag
When Texas joined the United States, it was by treaty stating that our flag could be flown side-by-side with that of the United States. Sadly, the first Texas state capitol burned. Our current capitol building in Austin is 7 feet taller than the capitol in Washington D.C. Yes, we just had to build it taller than the one in D.C.!

Whether you live in Texas or not, please help us celebrate our state’s anniversary this year!