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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


It’s time to enter the Seduced by History Blog August contest. Check on each blog during the month, look for a contest question, send in your answers to each question in one email to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com by or on September 5, 2011. IF A BLOG DOESN'T HAVE A QUESTION, SKIP THAT DAY.

Prizes awarded to one lucky winner include: Victoria Gray’s book "Angel in My Arms", "Spirit of the Mountain" package from Paty Jager, Cynthia Owens’ book "Coming Home", a Kansas basket from Renee Scott, Anna Kathryn Lanier’s ebook “Salvation Bride” and gift basket, “Stringing Beads - Musings of a Romance Writer” by Debra K. Maher, Eliza Knight’s ebooks “A Pirate’s Bounty” and “A Lady’s Charade”, Anne Carrole’s book “Return to Wayback,” a 4 gb jump drive, a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card, and more!

All entries must be received by or on Monday, September 5, 2011 to be eligible for the drawing. Please include your mailing address in email. A winner will be chosen from all those eligible on or about September 6, 2011 and contacted by email. Odds of winning will depend on the number of total number of entries received.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Without Language, Without Heart

Over the thirty years I have lived in Wales, I have had many arguments with traditionalists regarding the symbols of culture: pipes, kilts, tambours, folk dances, tabor-tossing, lovespoons and music but nothing represents a culture and keeps it vibrant like its language. Folk customs and traditions are rigid, unchangeable, museum-ready artifacts of what was. A language is a living testament of a people and culture and is always changing.

Most often, the reason enthusiastic followers of a particular culture prefer the outward trappings of that culture is because they see language as an insurmountable barrier whereas kilts, pipes, dances and music are easily obtained. You can buy any cultural symbol over the counter or over the internet. You can have your kilt, leprechaun, and fluffy dragons in moments. You don’t have to be among the people or speaking to them. You can possess the physical elements without ever setting foot on their soil or living among them while their culture is prostituted and stripped of its essence for the sake of tourism.

About six years ago, I attended an international conference on cultural tourism. The then Irish Minister of Economic Development gave his endorsement to the spreading of Irish culture through dance and music. He claimed that Ireland needed nothing more than Riverdance to secure their stake in world class tourist attractions.

This reminded me of the Native Americans I have worked with over the years I lived in the United States. Many of them were critical of the reduction of their culture to beads and trinkets for the sake of the tourist trade. Their languages and spiritual observances were pushed aside as irrelevant barriers to the accessibility of their ‘culture’ through baubles.

The Irish Minister was proud of the reduction of his country to a dance troupe and its language and history to the museum. Yes. All Irish children are taught Gaelic in school but the language’s use on a daily basis is limited to pockets, largely in the west.

This time of year, Edinburgh is overrun with tourists who attend the Fringe Festival. This brings to the city a huge amount of money but it has nothing to do with the culture of Scotland. You will see men in kilts playing bagpipes at nearly every street corner, their sporran on the ground in front of them to beg the tourist pennies. Although they have to have a license to entertain during the Fringe, these proud men are beggars in their own country.

Before I moved to Wales, I took a course at the university about the impact of the loss of language on Celtic cultures. The lecturer was a Breton. Once a language is lost, the dead remains of the culture are all that are left to testify to its former existence. That quintessential sense of self and worth is gone. The ‘culture’is a commodity and its practitioners become street hawkers.

This may be one of my last posts written in my study in my house in my hometown of Caerfyrddin. When I move away from this place, I will take the physical remnants of my thirty years residence in this country and very little of that will be of the ‘fluffy dragon and lovespoon’ variety. I will speak and dream in Welsh.

Heb iaith, heb galon.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More Than One Way to Cross a River

The images of the historic cattle trail readily come to mind: cantankerous longhorns, cowboys in chaps, stampedes, campfires and strong coffee. One of the most is iconic and notorious among these was the Brazos River crossing at Waco.

My cattle trail romance, West of Heaven, is set in 1871, the year acknowledged as the heaviest for the movement of cattle north. With my primary research completed, I wrote various crossings into my story with the Brazos River and it's swift, unpredictable current and deep waters, planned as the most dramatic. The safest way to cross was by ferry.

As I always do, I continued researching while I wrote. This system helps me freshen my writing with new details and keeps me from getting bogged down collecting reams of unusable historic trivia. When it came time to write the Brazos scene, I plowed into research again. Imagine my surprise to discover that far from the arduous and time consuming task of loading the cattle group by group, my herd could pussy foot its way across the Brazos on a brand, spanking new suspension bridge.

Begun in October 1868 and ready to open January 1, 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge was built by the same firm that constructed the Brooklyn Bridge. Supplies to erect it were brought by steamer, ferry, and oxen-pulled wagon from Galveston, 212 miles away. The three million bricks for the two double suspension towers were made locally in Waco. For a while this engineering marvel was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 475 feet.

The final cost of the bridge was estimated at $141,000 contributed by a group of Waco businessmen. Tolls of five cents a head soon paid off their investment. The resulting traffic achieved the goal to bring enough commerce to Waco to turn it from a small frontier town into a thriving commercial destination.

The bridge was wide enough for allow two stagecoaches to pass one another and to accommodate cattle two abreast on one side and pedestrians on the other. It must have been a scary thing walking across facing a herd of longhorns. With a major updating in 1913-1914, the bridge served for 100 years, first for cattle and later for vehicles. It was retired in 1971. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places and can still be crossed on foot.

My Question: Before the suspension bridge, what was the safest way to cross the Brazoa at Waco?

The trail between Austin and Waco brought enough rain to give Marcella terror-filled dreams about the upcoming Brazos River crossing. Her effort to keep her anxiety from infecting the crew meant haunting the coffee pot to keep her awake longer and longer hours.
Coming off watch on the third day past Austin, she stopped to fill her cup.
"Are you gettin' enough sleep?"
"Jean Luc!" She hadn't seen him until his voice startled her from across the ebbing campfire. He sat hunched in his poncho under the scant shelter of Hans's tarp. He patted the dry space beside him and beckoned her to join him. "So, you grace us with your presence after everyone has turned in for the night."
"It's dryer here than out there."
She sat down cross-legged next to him. "How is it on the Brazos?"
He put an arm around her shoulder and she snuggled into his warmth. "Are you worried about the crossing?"
"Aren't you?" The rain pattered steadily on the oilcloth tarp.
"Nope. I'm lookin' forward to it. It'll be my first time over the bridge. I heard it's a real marvel. Three million Texas-made bricks in the bridge towers."
She sat up and narrowed her eyes at him over her cup. "Bridge? There's a bridge?"
"New suspension bridge opened last year. Cattle down one side. Pedestrians down the other. Wide enough for stagecoaches to pass each other. You won't have to stick one beautiful toe in that river."
"Why didn't anybody tell me about this sooner?" She wouldn't admit how much sleep she'd lost worrying.
He shrugged, "I didn't know you didn't know."
"Well, maybe if you didn't make yourself so scarce around here, you would have." She set down her cup and folded her arms across her chest, making no effort to hide her irritation.
"I just want to avoid -- uh -- trouble."
The wagons had already rolled out to find the midday stopping place.
Jean Luc adjusted his hat. "An easy day today, drovers. The Brazos was a fearsome river to cross in its day, but man has overcome it with a modern bridge. We'll probably spend more time waiting to pay our toll than we will travelin', but we'll take it slow, keep those critters calm and be on the other side safe and dry. All for the bargain price of five cents a head. After that, fine weather, and an even grade. 
"I'll take point, along with Queenie and Jake. Marcella will be up front with us prepared to pay the toll."
He caught Marcella's eye and cast her a half-smile. "Nell and Paz, take right swing, Jasper and Glory, left swing. I want Lou on left flank, Carrie on right flank. June Bug, and Polly, sorry, your turn at drag. 
"Remember, keep those hats on and those bandanas, up around your noses. They don't do you any good hung any lower. Any questions?" He paused. "Good, let's go say hello to some critters." He slapped his dusty gloves against his thigh. "C'mon, Butch."
Jean Luc had crossed many a river in his day, seen his share of catastrophes and near-drownings, both man and critter, but he judged he'd never seen a spectacle as the one he watched that day on the Waco Suspension Bridge. Marcella presented their papers and paid their toll. Then, as placid as if they were filing into church on the Sabath, those longhorns walked two abreast along the planks of the bridge. 
The noise that resulted was difficult to describe except to say that any fish that chanced to swim below at the time must have been drummed deaf by the time he reached the other side. 
Sooner than would have been possible in the old days when the Brazos was king, they were on the other side and on their way. But not before Marcella rode up to him threw her arms around him and planted a huge kiss on his lips. "Now, that's my kind of river crossing," she said before trotting away.
"Well, giddy on up," Queenie shouted, slapping Jake on the back. 
A full two minutes later, Jean Luc felt settled enough to give Nickel his head.

West of Heaven by Barbara Scott is available for Kindle, Nook, on Sony, Kobo, and at Apple's iBookstore.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Plotting or Pantsing

by Ann Lethbridge

I can't imagine that this topic hasn't been addressed before, so let us be clear, this is just my take on this subject.

I am a pantser. A flyer into the mist, as Jo Beverly says. I have tried to be a plotter. I did plot a complete book once, but I never even started writing it, or at least I had the first page done when I started plotting according to some grand scheme or other, and that is where it sits two years later. I was bored knowing how it all unfolded.

I have to keep going back to my mantra. Every writer is different. What works for one does not work for another.

Then why this article I hear you ask. Or is that me asking? Why bother? Well, to be honest, I just can't help thinking about this stuff.

Here's the thing - story is story. The art of writing story is as old as pictographs. There are certain things stories should have - at least in genre fiction. Certain peaks and valleys every story must touch. We've all taken the workshops, we all understand the concepts and the need for structure if you want readers to turn the pages. Hero's journey, W plotting, three act structure, six stage structure,  any advance on six -- do I hear a 9?  All great, by the way. Great. Helpful. Wonderful that writers have taken the time to offer these tools to other writers.

As far as I can figure it out, what a pantser does (no no there I go generalizing again) what I do, is go back and make sure the story hits the highs and lows required once the draft is done.

These are the questions I ask myself. What are my goals motivations and conflicts for the happy couple? Yes by this time they are the happy couple. Are they clear to the reader and not just in my head?

Where are my turning points? Did I take too long to get there? - thus losing tension along the way.

Is the black moment black enough? Is it driven by the romance or the external plot? Does it work?

For me, the key scene by scene test  is as follows:

What changed? Who is worse off now than at the beginning of the scene? If no one is, then it needs fixing. Could something even worse have happened? How does it tie back to their goal, their worst fear or their conflict. Is what they have decided to do next reasonable and does it lead to yet more conflict?

Are the motivations clear to the reader? In that particular scene, not the whole book.  Whatever the character does, is it clear why the character does it? And the answer cannot be that the plot requires that they do that. If the plot requires an unarmed woman to go into a dark basement for no good reason, the reader will not buy it.

Without plotting the book, don't you go off track?  That is a plotter asking, of course. 

The answer is. Yes. Terribly. The last book I handed in, well I just never did get hold of that sucker by the date it was due.  And that's where your editor and/or your critique group can help.  And that is why you need to go back and use the tools in your toolbelt  to polish and sand and rub.  Or at least I do. And I did. Hopefully it turned out much better.

Well that was fun. My guess is there are all kinds of writers out there:

Pl-antsers   -    they pants a bit and plot a bit, then pants a bit more then plot ....
Plo-sters    -    They get an outline going through to the end then fly off the cliff, catching the odd tree branch
                       they planted on the way down, then leap again
Palonstters -     who knows what they do, but they do it well

I wish to every success no matter how you spell what you are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cemetery Walk

The founders of a new colony. . .have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery... - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Since ancient times we have honored the dead by constructing tombs, graveyards, and church cemeteries. Egyptian pharaohs built massive pyramids. In the middle ages and beyond, kings and nobles were laid to rest under the floors of majestic cathedrals. European immigrants to the new world brought with them the custom of burying their dead in churchyards, in consecrated ground.

On a recent visit to see family in northern Minnesota, I traveled with my aunt to an old family cemetery and church. Built by Norwegian immigrants in the late 1800's, the Lutheran church had been empty for many years. In March of this year it re-opened. On the day we visited, the side door stood open in anticipation of more workers arriving to paint the floor.

Last October in Paris I'd visited the awesome St. Eustache Cathedral built in the 16th century. There in this grand cathedral, at least two of my paternal ancestors were baptized before migrating to Quebec.

For all its simplicity, the 19th century Rindal Lutheran Church in rural northern Minnesota was no less awesome. Simpler, but still amazing and pure. As I stood in each building, I absorbed the atmosphere surrounding me. The silent coolness seemed to hold memories of those who had once worshiped there.

On this particular August day, the sun radiated against an ever changing sky. A cooling breeze rustled fragrant pine trees and dried cut grass.

As my aunt and I walked the grounds of this rural cemetery, we read the tombstones. She told me of those she knew who rested there. Some stones told their own story. A beloved infant who died in his first year. An adult son buried with his parents. Soldiers killed in World War II, or who died after coming home. We saw many military graves in the cemetery, each one marked with a Veteran's star. As in other cemeteries, small flags are no doubt placed there on National holidays.

My love of history and family fuels my interest in genealogy. Genealogists can learn much from old cemeteries.

A while ago I discovered an amazing site called Find A Grave. On this free site, one can search for or post burial sites of relatives. Pictures and obituaries can be shown, and pages linked to other family members. There's even an option to place flower memorials. It's a remarkable site to remember those who have gone before, and to research family history. Through it, I've found lost cousins and viewed family stones too far to visit easily. Our 21st century technology comes to the graveyard.

So much can be learned about history by studying one's own genealogy, and by visiting ancient cathedrals, or old family church yards. Give it a try.

Debra K. Maher
Stringing Beads

My question: On what site can you search for over 66 million graves?

SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fantasy or Reality?

Last week I was informed my historical paranormal Spirit of the Mountain placed first in the paranormal category of the Lories Best Published Book Contest.

The funny part about it is I have never considered it a paranormal book. When my historical editor said it had to go to the fantasy line at Wild Rose Press I drug my feet kicking and screaming, "It isn't a paranormal."

I have Indian spirits who are shape shifters and integral characters in the book. This is what makes it fall under the category fantasy/paranormal. To me the spirit element is Native American. It is part of their culture and therefore is more historical than paranormal, but I've lost the argument many times.

Native Americans have long held the belief that animals carry spirits and those spirits were called upon to help with hunts, battles, and the day to day living required when living off the land. These spirits were depicted in drawings, ceremonies with elaborate costumes, and in their stories. Many myths/legends have the main characters of Coyote, bear, skunk, and weasel.

These tales were told around campfires at night. The stories had morals like our fairy tales and fables. Only the characters in the stories were rarely human and always they told of lessons. Sometimes lessons for children and sometimes lessons for adults. And always they told of human foibles through the animals.

Here is a Nez Perce tale:

Coyote was a wise man, and Fox was slow-witted. Coyote said to Fox, "Now we shall have to get up some scheme to procure food. You are slow-witted, just like your father. My father was not that way: he was wise. I have taken after my father."
They were in their camp; and Coyote said to Fox, "If you keep perfectly still and do not move, we shall get some food." Then Coyote began thus: "I wish that I and my friend could hear the sound of five packs of food falling at the door!" Then they heard five sounds: "tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk, tlitluk!" Coyote jumped up and ran out, and there he saw five packs lying at the door. He took the three largest ones for his share, and left the two smallest ones for Fox. The large packs that Coyote got were all dry meat without any fat, but the two little packs contained fine meat. In three days Coyote had eaten all his poor meat; while Fox had a great deal left, because his was so very rich. On the fourth morning Coyote was hungry, and kept his eye on Fox to see if he had eaten all his share. Now, Fox had eaten only one of his packs, so Coyote jumped over and took the other. Then he said to Fox, "You are a fine fellow never to divide up with your friend!"
Five times they repeated the magic act and got food, but the sixth time Coyote wanted to see who brought them the meat. So he said to Fox, "I am going to see the man who gives us meat." Fox replied, "You had better not try to do that, because this is the only way we can get food." But Coyote was determined to see. He stood at the door, and cut a peep-hole so that he could look out with one eye. Then he repeated the wish; and when the packs fell, he saw a man going up over the ridge who wore long hair in a wig. This man was Deer Tick. Coyote shouted after him, "Oh, you man with the wig, you go over the mountain!"
Think you they got food again from the man Coyote had shamed?

SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.

My question: What is the title of my book set among the Nez Perce?

Paty Jager

Nez Perce Tales, By Herbert J. Spinden, 1907
From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.

Tales of the Nez Perce by Donald M. Hines,
Ye Galleon Press; Fairfield, Washington, 1999

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terror and Revenge; Russia's First Female Terrorist by Emma Westport

At 17, Vera Zasulich defied her relatives’ plans to turn her into a governess—the only decent profession for an impoverished young noblewoman—and moved to St. Petersburg.  She hoped to emulate another Vera, Vera Pavlova, the heroine of Chernyshevsky’s novel What Is To Be Done?   Following her idol, Vera helped establish a sewing cooperative and came into with Russia’s most infamous and influential revolutionary, Sergei Nechaev.   Her relationship with him had a profound effect on her life.

Nechaev was a charismatic psychopath.  The model for Dostoevsky’s character Peter Verkhovensky in The Possessed, he believed anything—lies, violence, murder—could be justified in the name of the ‘cause.’   Picked up for questioning by the police in January 1869, he decided to leave Russia.  He wanted Vera to join him.  He loved her, he said.  He needed her.  Vera hesitated—and then refused.

Nechaev left but every letter sent back to Russia, every letter to friends and supporters, asked for news of Vera.  Nechaev knew the police would read these letters yet he made no effort to protect her identity.  Stupidity?  Hardly.  Revenge?  Possibly.  Nechaev was not used to hearing ‘no.’  Vera was picked up for questioning and in April 1869, arrested.

She was imprisoned in the Lithuanian Castle, one of Russia’s worst prisons.  Death and disease ran rampant.  Rotted floorboards gave way beneath her feet and prisoners were afraid to touch the walls lest the slime that grew there come off on their hands and clothes.  Covered in damp and mildew, the prison stank so badly visitors, literally, could not stomach it.

Vera wasn’t interrogated nor was she charged.   She was simply left alone.  Kept in a cell, by herself, for over a year, she had no human contact and no reading materials.  Her mother complained to authorities that she’d been allowed only one short visit with her daughter.  The 19-year-old Vera struggled to stay sane.   

Conditions improved when she was transferred to the Peter and Paul Fortress.  Here, at least, her cell had windows, the food was edible and she was allowed to read any book she could get her hands on.  And then, in March 1871, she was released.  The government decided the evidence against her was too weak to get a conviction. 

She was arrested again ten days later.   Again, no charges were pressed.   With only one ruble in her pocket and the light dress and shawl she was arrested in, Vera was exiled to Novgorod.  A sympathetic guard, afraid she would freeze, literally gave her the coat off his back.  For months, she survived on the charity of villagers and their local church.  She was returned to St. Petersburg in June.  The government wanted her to testimony.

Nechaev had killed one of his followers.  He had escaped abroad but over a hundred of his supporters had been rounded up and put on trial.  Why the government wanted Vera’s testimony can only be guessed at.  She was incarcerated when the murder occurred.  In any case, she was less than cooperative.   “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” were her most usual replies.   Others were more outspoken, blaming everything on Nechaev.  Among those convicted was Peter Uspensky, Vera’s brother in law.  Sentenced to 15 years hard labor, he was murdered in his cell, suspected of being a police informant.

Nechaev was finally arrested and extradited to Russia in 1872.  Tried and convicted, his hold on the Russian revolutionary movement collapsed.  By then, Vera had no illusions about him.  But, for her, the damage was done.  Her sole goal was the overthrow the autocracy.  The 1870’s were marked by years of exile and increasingly radical activity.

It all came to a head in January 1878.  In the mid-1870’s, Russia had witnessed a remarkable movement, ‘going to the people.’  Young men and women left their homes and universities to work among the peasants or take jobs in factories, hoping to foment change.  Arrested by the hundreds, many, like Vera, were held for months, then years, without trial. 

One of those prisoners was Arkhip Bogoliubov.  He was not a remarkable man.  He didn’t head any movement nor were his ‘crimes’ any worse than anyone else’s.  His only mistake was to be standing in the prison courtyard , talking to friends, when General Feodor Trepov, Governor of St. Petersburg, made an unannounced visit.  Already outraged by what he saw as the breakdown of discipline in the prison, Trepov snapped when Bogoliubov refused to remove his cap.  Trepov struck the young man and ordered him flogged. 

It was a stupid, petty show of tyranny and that was exactly how the press portrayed it.  Vera waited to see what would happen.  Surely the government wouldn’t get away with something so vile.  Trepov had to be punished.  He wasn’t.  Taking matters into her own hands, Vera returned to St. Petersburg.   On the morning of January 24, 1878, she hid a revolver under her shawl and joined the other petitioners lined up to see the Governor.  When Trepov approached her, Vera fired twice.

That she didn’t kill him was a miracle.  Arrested and put on trial, Vera expected to hang.  But neither she nor the prosecutor recognized the mood in the country had changed.  Educated society was disgusted with Trepov.  Far from condemning the quiet, unassuming Vera, they admired her.  She had done what men had feared to do.  She’d said ‘enough.’  Then her attorney, Peter Alexandrov, turned the court on its head.  He defended Vera—and attacked the government. 

The jury deliberated only 30 minutes before Vera was acquitted on all charges.  People came to their feet and cheered.  Amid rumors the government planned to re-arrest her, Vera was spirited away.  Friends convinced her to leave Russia.

A reluctant heroine, Vera continued her revolutionary activities abroad but came to disavow terrorsim.  She opposed the October Revolution of 1917 and attacked Lening openly, seeing too much of Nechaev in the man.  She predicted what Lenin's brand of Communism would do to Russia.  She died in 1919.

(For further reading, Ana Siljak’s Angel of Vengeance:  The Girl Assassin, the Governor of St. Petersburg and Russia’s Revolutionary World offers great insights into the event and turbulent period of pre-revolutionary Russia. )

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spies in Pop Culture...How Do I Love Them, Let Me Count The Ways!

I have a confession...this blog will not deal with spies who made any impact on the events of nations...nope, these spies weren't even real. My blog this month is a tribute to spies in pop culture. I've always been a fan of spy movies and television shows. Even now, I do a little glee-filled dance each time a disc with old episodes of the Avengers arrives in the mail. I love the characters of Emma Peel and John Steed, and must admit that I am among those in the world who loved the Avengers movie with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, regardless of the critics' opinions. Intrigue, sophistication, and secrecy...delightful! Perhaps it's because I'm a Scorpio. Perhaps it's because I love the gadgets and cars. Who knows why...I only know that I love spies in pop culture.

Of course, the most well-known pop culture spy is Bond, James Bond. Despite his many incarnations with actors who don't even resemble each other (of course, one could say the same of Batman), one thing stays the same: he's the alpha male's alpha male. Daring, smart, and never in need of a nap, he's virility and daring personified. Many think Sean Connery's portrayal of Ian Fleming's creation is the superlative incarnation, but I think Daniel Craig has made the character his own. Gritty and real, he brings a human quality to the Bond character that I feel Connery lacked. I also liked Roger Moore's twinkle in the eye...a totally different take on the character, but very much in keeping with the irreverence of the seventies.

Emma Peel is my idol. Nearly fifty years after the Avengers first aired, Diana Rigg's portrayal of the sleek agent remains the epitome of a female spy. Witty, sophisticated, and the intellectual superior of the men who were foolish enough to confront her, she set the bar high. Ah, to slink along in a cat suit and disarm men with a well-placed kick...such is the fodder of my dreams. Her partner in espionage, John Steed, was immaculately attired and painstakingly well-mannered, yet he could kill a man with his hat and his umbrella without breaking a sweat. Impressive, indeed!

And then, you have Austin...Austin Powers, that is. Yeah, Baby! This character blends the suave, lady-killer spies of the sixties and seventies into one "hairy-like-animal" creation who's bold, a bit obtuse, and ultimately quite a sympathetic character. As a fan of sixties spy flicks, Mike Myers' homage to slick spies like In Like Flint's Derek Flint, James Bond and Michael Caine's Harry Palmer with a touch of Dr. Strangelove mixed in for good measure was a perfect guilty pleasure. I admit to feeling a surge of excitement each time there's a mention of Austin Powers 4 in the works...oh, if only my dreams would come true...

My new release from Ellora's Cave, Claimed by the Spymaster, was inspired by my longstanding fascination with spies. If I had to say which pop culture spy I had in mind, it would be Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of John Steed. British spy Alec Jameson is sophisticated, cultured, and lethal, and he'll stop at nothing to capture a traitor to Queen Victoria's empire. 

Here's a little about the story:

Russian actress Valentina Baranova travels to England to marry, but the arrangement is definitely not a love match. Betrothed to a cunning and ruthless English lord, she’s the sweetener in a deal that will put stolen British documents in Russian hands and curry the Czar’s favor for her father. Determined to escape her loathsome intended, she flees him—and promptly falls into the hands of his most bitter enemy. An enemy who stirs her like no other.

Spy for the crown Alec Jameson, Lord Carrington, is on a mission—unmask the traitor responsible for his brother’s death before the blackguard can further betray Queen Victoria’s empire. Capturing Valentina to use as bait, he spirits her away from London. Despite his efforts to resist the alluring captive he’s snatched from his enemy’s grasp, Alec claims Valentina in the most carnal way possible. Once the beauty has been in his bed, he wants her for his own. But she must lay siege to a long-untouched part of Alec’s existence—his heart.

Claimed by the Spymaster is available from Ellora's Cave

Next month, I promise a more serious look at spies throughout history. But my thoughts as summer winds down, my thoughts are focused on much lighter fare. Hope you'll leave a comment and sound off on your personal favorites in the world of fictional espionage!

Speaking of spies, if you perform some reconnaissance among the Seduced by History postings for the month of August, you can enter the Seduced by History contest. Here are the details:

SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.

My question:
Which fictional spy inspired the character Alec Jameson in Claimed by the Spymaster?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lady Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March

In 2007 I splurged and bought a copy of the BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF HISTORY OF SCOTTISH WOMEN and was amazed at the breath and scope of Scottish women who for centuries have been absent in Scottish history. Sure we all know about Queen Mary of Scots and Flora MacDonald, but what about Caroline Oliphant, Lady Nairne (songwriter, 1845), or Finella (assassin, 995) or Marion Gilchrist (physician, 1894). But one of my favorite Scottish women is…

Lady Agnes Randolph, countess of Dunbar and March

(Black Agnes)

“She kept a stir in tower and trench,

That brawling, boisterous Scottish wench

Came I early, came I late,

I found Agnes at the gate.”

---from a ballad attributed to the Earl of Salisbury

Lady Agnes Randolph was born before 1312, the daughter of Isabel Stewart, a cousin of Walter, the High Steward of Scotland and Sir Thomas Randolph, the first Earl of Moray - a hero of the Scottish Wars of Independence and the man named Regent after the death of Robert the Bruce. He is thought by most historians to be the nephew of King Robert through the first marriage of the king's mother, Marjory Bruce. Agnes married Patrick Dunbar, ninth Earl of Dunbar and March sometime before 1324.

Dunbar Castle in East Lothian was the strategic keep for both the Scots and the English during the two Wars for Scottish Independence After the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when King Robert Bruce's army routed the army of Edward II, Patrick Dunbar was forced to give sanctuary to Edward at Dunbar before Edward was whisked away to England. Later, Bruce forgave Patrick Dunbar making him guardian of Berwick Castle in 1322. Dunbar tore down his own castle at Dunbar after trying to defend both from the English. However in the second war of Independence, Edward III forced Dunbar to rebuild Dunbar at his own expense to house English soldiers. But in 1338 Dunbar now a patriot of the Scottish cause got it back.




In early 1338, while Patrick was elsewhere with the Scottish army, Agnes was left to defend the castle against the English Earl of Salisbury. Salisbury thinking a castle held by a woman was easy pickings but he quickly learned Agnes was no ordinary woman, she was a Scot. When Agnes refused to surrender, he catapulted the castle with huge rocks and projectiles, but Agnes rallied her women when there was a lull in the barrage, she signaled her refusal to surrender by having her ladies in their best clothing meet on the ramparts to dust away the mess with white cloths as if they were doing a bit of cleaning, a suitable insult.

Frustrated Salisbury brings in a battering ram, but of course Agnes was ready as she had her men drop one of the huge rocks his army had catapulted into the castle bailey and smash the ram. Salisbury is now really getting frustrated, so hoping to get inside he tries to bribe a local village inhabitant but was thwarted again. Adding to his frustration throughout the siege are Agnes and her ladies continued attemps to thwart him at every turn with verbal insults as if he were less than important.

As the siege has dragged on for weeks, Salisbury decides to bring her brother, Sir John Randolph, the Earl of Moray now a prisoner of the English, to the castle. Sir John was forced to call out to his sister, that if she didn't surrender he would be killed. Agnes in bold Scottish determination replied:"...if he is killed he has no heirs, so his land will become mine." Not quite the reaction Salisbury expected from a loving sister. Randolph was returned to prison and the siege continued on with an impotent Salisbury.

What Salisbury was not aware of was despite the fact his army had the castle surrounded on all sides but one, the water, in the dead of night the townsfolk would row over supplies for those trapped in the castle. When the Scottish hero Alexander Ramsay learned of Agnes's plight and with his 40 Scottish troops he entered the castle through the water entrance to rally those inside. The five months siege ended when Ramsay and his troops surprised the English by riding out the castle gate and attacked the English. Totally surprised the Salisbury’s army scattered, and on June 10, 1338 Salisbury signed a truce and left the castle to Black Agnes.

'The mother of two sons who did not survive her, Agnes died in 1369, and her husband died a few months later. Oddly enough, in 1347 her brother John died with no heirs, and Agnes inherited his wealth/lands. She was called Black Agnes not because she was wickedly evil to the English but because she had a dark complexion.


For all those who leave a comment you will be enrolled in a drawing for a copy of David R. Ross’s book Women of Scotland, please leave your email address.

SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.

As one who loves the history of Scottish women here is my contest question..

Who was the first Scottish woman to climb Ben Nevis in a bikini and why?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Montgomery Ward Catalog

By Anna Kathryn Lanier
Yesterday was 129th anniversary of the launch of an innovative idea that  became an American icon.  On August 18, 1872 Aaron Montgomery Ward started what would become a 113-year business with the first mail-order catalog on a single sheet of paper.  Montgomery was born in New Jersey in 1844, but his father moved the family to Michigan when he was nine.  At the age of the fourteen, he became an apprentice for a barrel making factory, before working in a brick factory. He later moved to St. Joseph, where he entered the retail business.  Within a few short years, he’d worked his way up from mere clerk to manager, making $100 a month, plus board, excellent pay at that time.

In 1866 Ward moved to Chicago and started working for Field, Palmer and Leiter, the forerunning of Marshall Field and Co. For several years, he travelled by train and horse buggy to rural merchants, listening to complaints from both owners and their customers on the hardships of receiving goods. He decided there had to be a better way of delivering merchandise to rural Americans. Though his idea was considered to be not only radical, but crazy and his first bit of inventory was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire (1871), he pushed on. With two fellow investors and $1,400, he started his mail-order business with 163 items available.    

Both his partners sold out a few years later and his brother-in-law, George Thorne joined the company.  With the help of members of the Patrons of Husbandry, the Midwestern farmers’ association, the business grew rapidly from the single sheet of paper advertising merchandise to a 152-page catalog with over 3,000 items in it by 1876.

In 1897 the catalog was 1,000 pages and annual sales were $7 million.  By 1910, sales were $21 million and the company employed 7,000 people at their Chicago operations.  In another 10 years, by 1920, sales exceeded $100 million in mail orders. A few years later the company opened its first retail store and did well during the Great Depression, with annual sales going from $200 million to $400 million. The company didn’t do as well during the last half of the 20th Century and in 1985, the company closed its 113-year-old catalog operation. In 2000 it announced the closing of its retail stores.

Throughout the years, Ward's catalog sold all manner of goods. Clothing, underwear, corsets, shoes, cellos, toilets, barbed wire, windmills, bells, bicycles, steam engines, butter molds, clocks and, even, birth control….though it wasn’t called that, of course….could be found between the catalog covers. When the new ‘wish book’ arrived, the old one more than likely was sent to the outhouse for additional usage.

With his novel idea, hard work and the slogan adopted in 1875, “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” Montgomery Ward proved to consumers and naysayers alike that reaching the far corners of rural America was good business.

Reference websites:

SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to seducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.

My question: How many pages was the very first Montgomery Ward Catalog and how many items did it feature? (information given in two different paragraphs)

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hatswww.annakathrynlanier.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Medieval Take on Marriage of the Aristocracy

With much ado about royal weddings this year, a historical perspective might curb fairy tale dreams for William and Kate’s marriage. Unlike the modern hope that marriage includes romance and love, medieval society held no such expectations. Marriage was a matter of dynastic survival. In a world where battles over boundaries abounded and family fortunes were decided by the slash of a sword, noble medieval brides were valuable tools to advance their family’s ambitions and dynastic claims.

Betrothed in their infancy, the young noble girl just out of the nursery left her home for her future husband’s land and court to learn the language. There she was to play out her part in a political game whether it be filling her husband’s treasury with her dowry and land, be the embodiment of a strategic alliance or a truce.

Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England, left her native home in England at age of six to become the bride of Heinrich V of Germany, who was future Holy Roman Emperor. When she turned twelve, the canonical age for marriage, the official wedding took place. Firmly ensconced in her position as a wife, her duties began.

Duties assigned to medieval noble wives were five in number. All carried a risk for the noblewoman.

The crucial task was to provide her husband with a legitimate heir to inherit his titles and land. If the marriage remained childless, two options were available for the families of the bride. If the husband died before the noble woman, his wife was once again the pawn of her family politics. Matilda found herself in such a position in 1127. With Heinrich’s death, her father Henry I of England forced to her marry a man eight years her junior and of inferior status. Her marriage to Geoffroi, the heir of Anjou, protected Henry’s duchy of Normandy from French encroachment. It would also provide his heirs to the English thrown through her bloodlines as Matilda’s brothers were dead.

The other possibility for a woman in a childless marriage was annulment of the marriage. With the Pope willing to annul his marriage, the nobleman was free to find a new wife. His former wife, being barren, was of no use in the medieval political games or in the eyes of medieval society because she had failed in her wifely duty, was shipped off to a convent for the rest of her life. The treatment could also apply for reason of state. When Louis VII’s sister-in-law, Petronilla, needed a husband, the king of France chose his cousin, Raoul, Count of Vermandois. Although the count was married at the time Eleonore of Champagne, the Pope saw no problem of nullifying the first marriage to sanctify a second.

If the lady managed to produce the heir and survive, her next duty was to conduct herself in her husband’s court with a piety and decorum that left her and her children above any scandalous rumors that would cause her husband’s enemies to question the heir’s right to the lands. Otherwise she faced retribution. Her supposed lovers would face execution while she would be imprisoned or executed. The trumped up charges of scandalous love affairs sometimes accompanied reason of state, namely the need for a male heir, for removal of a wife. Anne Boleyn is the most notorious example.

While her husband presided over his court and his lands with an absolute justice, the noble wife had the duty to bring clemency and mercy to those judgments by interceding with her husband. This allowed the king to mete out leniency without jeopardizing his iron authority.

The noble wife’s next task was to secure her husband’s borders and lands while he was away at war or on a crusade. Although her husband had taken over the rule of whatever lands she brought in her dowry, she was his deputy when he was gone or unable to rule. Margaret of Anjou, married to a simpleton, Henry VI of England, had a more difficult task. She fought from 1444 until 1471 to keep control of Henry’s realm in the king’s name. While she was ultimately defeated by the Duke of York and imprisoned, she embodies the struggles to ensure a dynastic line that was the heart of marriage in medieval England.

The final task a noble wife faced was securing and holding her eldest son’s territory for him while he was yet a minor. The fact that Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, was able to negotiate a settlement with Stephen whereby her son Henry II would succeed him proves tenacious women could protect their children’s claim to the throne. However, Margaret of Anjou’s life as a queen reflects the other side. After years of protecting her husband and son, she was unable to defeat the Duke of York. With Henry VI in his possession, the Duke of York waited until he pinned Margaret and her son down when they landed in England in 1471. Prince Edward was killed in the engagement, Margaret was taken prisoner, and Henry died the next day. Margaret lost the battle to save the Lancastrian inheritance of England for her son.

A love match simply wasn’t part of the medieval calculated marriages. As a modern romance writer with modern views on marriage, the actions of the medieval lords against their wives leaves me with plenty of fodder for the two wives my fictitious first Earl of Ryne. There are plenty of indignities that would motivate a woman, or in my case two women, to haunt his castle for five centuries in Wanted Ghostbusting Bride.

For further information about royal brides of medieval England and the politics that swirled about them, read She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor.

Who are the four She-Wolves Helen Castor writes about? Hint (Visit my website for the answer)

Margaret Breashears


Monday, August 15, 2011


by Debby Lee
Sometimes, with the most nonchalant of actions, people make history and they don’t even realize it. Forty-two years ago today, thousands of people walked on to a humble dairy farm in upstate New York, and did just that. They made history.
They traveled from the farthest corners of America in psychedelic buses and Volkswagen Beatles to sway to the rhythm of the music. While most people know about one of the greatest rock concerts of the 20th century, many may not know all the interesting facts behind the story. Here are a few.
-Woodstock was originally scheduled to be held in Wallkill New York. The city got nervous and backed out on a technicality at the last minute. Because of this, the concert nearly didn’t take place.
- In April of 1969, Credence Clearwater Revival was the first band to sign on and agree to play at the concert.
-The first performer on stage was Ritchie Havens who began on Friday. He wasn’t scheduled to be first but many musicians were stuck in traffic and were unable to arrive on time. Jimi Hendrix was the last performer who wrapped things up on Monday.
-The concert actually took place closer to the town of Bethel and not the town of Woodstock as many people might assume. Bethel is 43 miles from Woodstock.
-The cost of attending Woodstock for three days was 18 dollars. Tickets were sold in advance. Many people attended for free due to a combination of overcrowding and unprepared concert organizers.
-The Who had the longest play list with 24 songs. The Quill had the shortest with a performance of only one song.
-Charles Schultz is said to have named one of his Peanuts characters Woodstock, in honor of the music festival.
-Max Yasger died of a heart attack in 1973. He received a full page obituary in Rolling Stone magazine for his contribution to music. A rare honor indeed. Thank you Mr. Yasger.
I would have loved to have attended the music and arts festival of the century, but I was only three years old at the time. I missed out on the peace, the love and the camaraderie, and yes, the mud, the cold and the hunger too. But sometimes great moments are a combination of hitting the high notes with perfect pitch and playing off key in a tone deaf band.
So, next time life throws some glitches into your melody, try to learn something from the experience and love your brothers in the process. You never know, you just might be making history.

Thank you for taking the time to stroll down memory lane with me. I hope you enjoyed the journey. Look for my short story, Butterflies Are Free, coming soon from Books to Go Now. Feel free to visit my newly updated web site at booksbydebbylee.com

Question of the day. How many Woodstock performers can you name? Hint: a few are named in the article. Answer the question in the comment section of the blog and be entered to win a Woodstock button (not from the actual festival) and a copy of my short story Butterflies Are Free, when it comes out.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why I was seduced by history

Why I was seduced by history

I was seduced by history by my history, if that makes sense. I was born in Illinois, and for the first seven years of my life my family lived either with or across the alley from my paternal grandparents. And my material grandparents lived in the next little town a whole seven miles away.

We went back to Illinois every summer until after I graduated from high school. I spent those summer sitting on the front porch at the family reunions with tons of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great aunts and uncles, second cousins – you name it, they were there. And they all talked about when they were kids, or told the stories they had heard from their parents.

So I always knew my family’s histories, and where I fit into the scheme of thing (luck me!). So I grew up hearing the stories of my ancestors told of growing up in the 19th century, or with Indians, or wild animals, or the weather. Going to school, it seemed a logical choice to study history – because it just to story of people.

And teaching history lead me to the writing of historical romance. Researching this historical periods is easy and a lot of fun for me. When I write, I like to think that the characters I’m writing about lived just down the lane from my ancestors.

This was especially true when I wrote my first book, Kentucky Green, I used a lot of thing I remembered from my family’s stories in this book. One was my great grandmother’s dislike of soft butter, so my grandmother chore as a little girl was to walk down to the spring house where the butter was stored and bring it up for each meal.

I also have a scene where my heroine is churning butter, which was another of my grandmother’s jobs, so I had my heroine use the same rhyme that my grandmother used.

“Come (up) butter (down), come (up).
Come (down) butter (up), come (down).
Little Peter (up) at the gate (down), for his buttered (up) bread does wait (down)
Come (up) butter (down), come (up).

Writing historical allows me to keep the past alive, for me, and hopefully for my readers.

Why were you seduced by history? Family? A favorite teacher? Or just lucky?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Greatest Civil War Battle You've Never Heard Of

By McKenna Darby

A Civil War-era view of Battery Buchanan, the highest battery at Fort Fisher. Thanks to the fort, Wilmington, N.C., was the last Confederate port to fall to the Union.

Shiloh. Antietam. Cold Harbor. Gettysburg.

Most Americans, even if they don’t remember the details of the U.S. Civil War’s great conflicts, will never forget their names. But one of the war’s greatest offensives – the largest combined land-sea assault in the history of warfare until D-Day – may be the greatest Civil War engagement you’ve never heard of: The First and Second Battles of Fort Fisher.

Even today, the eroded remains of Fort Fisher, built under the command of Confederate Col. William Lamb, stand at the southern tip of New Hanover County, North Carolina, on a thin strip of land wedged between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.

From its highest batteries, the fort’s guns could pick off any ship of the Union blockading squadron foolish enough to stray within five miles of the Carolina coast. Known as “the Confederate Goliath,” the earthwork fort guarded New Inlet, the main access from the Atlantic into the Cape Fear River, which twists and turns 17 miles until it reaches the scenic port city of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Wilmington, which is still a port today, as well as a thriving resort town, was the Confederacy’s leading port for most of the Civil War, thanks in large part to geography. With Norfolk and Baltimore in Union hands almost from the start of the war, Wilmington was the Confederate port closest to the main battle lines in Virginia. The city also was a quick four-day sail from Bermuda, one of the Confederacy’s chief sources of supply. The Wilmington & Weldon railroad, which ran from Wilmington north to Virginia, easily moved everything from rifles to medical supplies to Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army and the Confederate capitol in Richmond.

Fort Fisher was as important to Wilmington as Wilmington was to the Confederacy. Its guns kept the Union naval blockade so far from shore that blockade runners managed to slip into Wilmington on an almost daily basis. Fort Fisher was so vital to the Confederate war effort, in fact, that Gideon Welles, US Secretary of the Navy, lobbied throughout the war for soldiers to help in attacking the fort, but failed to win the cooperation of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who preferred to use his troops to keep the pressure on Lee.

Early in 1864, however, with his re-election in doubt and the war going badly, President Abraham Lincoln desperately needed a win. Convinced by Welles that closing Wilmington could provide the boost he needed, he asked Grant to reconsider. On the advice of William Tecumseh Sherman that cutting off the Confederacy’s last source of supply was well worth the risk, Grant agreed to support an attack on Fort Fisher.

War is a disorganized business, though. By the time the first assault finally launched on Christmas Eve 1864, Sherman had taken Atlanta, Lincoln had been reelected, and the political and strategic importance of felling Wilmington had diminished. Although they had sustained the South for three years, Wilmington and Fort Fisher became minor footnotes in the story of the war.

It’s a quirk of history that has haunted me since I first visited Fort Fisher thirty years ago, so it’s no surprise that Wilmington and the fort in the last year of the war became the backdrop for my manuscript Traitor to Love. Although their sacrifice is little remembered, the actions of those who fought and died at Fort Fisher helped to hasten the end of one of the saddest chapters in our nation’s history. Theirs is a tale well worth knowing, and I hope the story I've woven around it will help to attract more people to explore the history behind the fiction.

McKenna Darby writes historical novels with elements of suspense and romance. Visit her at http://mckennadarby.com

Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August.  One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’  All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer andSeptember 1-5, 2011 send in your answers toseducedbyhistoryblog@yahoo.com.

Prizes award to one lucky winner include:  Victoria Gray’s book "Angel in My Arms",  "Spirit of the Mountain" package from Paty Jager,  Cynthia Owens’s book  "Coming Home",  a Kansas basket from Renee Scott, Anna Kathryn Lanier’s ebook “Salvation Bride and gift basket, “Stringing Beads - Musings of a Romance Writer” by Debra K. Maher,  Eliza Knight’s ebooks “A Pirate’s Bounty” and “A Lady’s Charade”,  Anne Carrole’s book (that's my book:) “Return to Wayback,” a 4 gb jump drive, a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card, and more!
All entries must be received by midnight Monday, September 5, 2011 to be eligible for the drawing. A winner will be chosen from all those eligible on or about September 6, 2011 and contacted by email.  Odds of winning will depend on the number of total number of entries received.

Here's my question: I've given you the date for the start of the First Battle of Fort Fisher. When did the Second Battle start?