Thursday, May 31, 2007

Victorian Games

OK, we all know Victorians were into games - cards, croquet, tennis, you name it, they did it, invented it, or expanded upon it. Modern poker comes from the American West, as does the precursor of Pinochle, Bezique.

But the games they really excelled in was one of status. The upper class may have been involved in reforms, but they wanted to maintain their own status more than they wanted to change the world. Fashion, punctuality, manners, etiquette, you name it, they knew it. And anyone who didn't, was shunned and considered of the lower class.

So let's play a little game: How much do you know about Victorian etiquette? The Keys to History site has a great game where you can test your knowledge of the time and fashion. Victoriana

What's your high score?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Making a household name for yourself

Well, Lord Stanley certainly went about it the right way. The Stanley Cup finals are on, featuring my Ottawa Senators against the Anaheim Ducks. (Oh, sorry, I’m talking about ice hockey.) So I figured this was a perfect time to discuss our Governor-General, The Earl of Derby (Lord Stanley of Preston).

Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Preston, was the second son of the 14th Earl of Derby, British Prime Minister (3 times) in the 1850's and 1860's. I can’t say I like the dad much, he fought with my Earl Grey (mine because he’s in my story) and was responsible for, and then refused to repeal, the Canadian Corn Laws. But that was the dad, not Lord Stanley.

Baron Stanley of Preston was appointed Canadian Governor-General in May of 1888. While Governor-General, he travelled extensively throughout Canada and the one thing he noticed all regions had in common was our love of playing ice hockey. Rules were somewhat different in each area, but he thought that if he encouraged a fair game with rules that were generally accepted, it might bring some cohesiveness to what is, let’s face it, a very disparate country. In 1892 he announced a challenge cup for the champion hockey team in the Dominion.

The cup has changed a bit over the years, but as the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America, I guess that must be expected.

Stanley Cup today
Stanley Cup 1893

Lord Stanley held the Governor-General’s post until his older brother, the 15th Earl of Derby, died in 1893. He became the 16th Earl of Derby and had to go home.

I can’t think of any historical figure we Canadians talk about more. Certainly not our first Prime Minister–many of us don’t even know his name. But I THINK its general knowledge that Lord Stanley was a Governor-General of Canada, and that’s where we got the Stanley Cup.

So let that be a lesson to all you political types out there. You want us to remember you–give us a prize!

Our Pictures, and Andersonville Prison

Last year after RWA’s national conference in Atlanta, I took a tour of Andersonville National Historic site, named for the infamous Civil War prison. I meant to blog about it earlier, along with creating a web page of pictures, but the way life gets in the way—well I didn’t figure out how to do it until now.

Anyway for those who don’t know, Andersonville (in Georgia) was a prison built at the end of the Civil War when the South was in its last throes. It was basically a stockade fence surrounding twenty-seven acres of land. There was no shelter and very little in the way of firewood. In this prison were incarcerated over a period of 6 months, 45,000 men. In June of ’64 it was so crowded that each prisoner had only 32.3 square feet of space to himself—and this included the swamp in the middle of the prison. The conditions there were so horrible that of the 45,000 men, roughly 1/3—13,000—died there. This doesn’t include the amount of men who died later due to health problems suffered at the prison.

What did they die of? Dysentery was probably the number one killer. The men’s only water source was a stream that ran through the camp and came to a swamp at the bottom of a hill. It was probably polluted even before it entered the prison by confederate soldiers using it on the outside, and was never sufficient in the first place. Worse, the men inside the prison used the swamp as an outdoor latrine. Drinking the water, therefore, was deadly and the men took to collecting water during rainstorms.

Food was a problem also. Let’s remember for a moment that it was difficult for the Confederacy to feed and clothe its own soldiers at this point. It would be small wonder that they could do nothing for the prisoners, either. The food they did get was often of poor quality—poorly ground corn that could make dysentery far worse—and few if any vegetables. Many died of scurvy. Even when they were fed, the food was raw and there was no firewood to cook it.

And this was bad enough if you were incarcerated in good condition. Consider the men who came in injured or already malnourished. It’s a wonder that any of them survived at all, which is probably what I find so fascinating about it. Not man’s inhumanity to man really, but the ability of men to survive the worst conditions, and the kindness, compassion, and consideration shown under those conditions. I am not a Civil War historian, and certainly not nearly as knowledgeable as some of my fellow bloggers (waving specifically to Susan!) so I will probably never write a story surrounding Andersonville. Still, I find it interesting enough that more than one of my heroes was incarcerated there and bear the emotional scars from it.

Anyway, I could write a complete book about this subject but why bother when there are so many good books out there? I will refer you to the best (in my humble opinion) John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary. And, for those less inclined to reading there’s the movie which is where I first heard about it. Of course, I now own the movie :).

You can check out the pictures I took here:

And of course there are other sites all over the web with pictures. For those interested, here’s the web link for the park itself.

But I didn’t find it all that informative.

And yes, the North had some fairly horrible prisons too, I just haven't visited them yet. Bear with me, I'm sure I will soon enough!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cutty Sark

The world’s sole surviving extreme clipper, Cutty Sark was built in 1869, and launched November 22. In 1951, Prince Philip took possession of it on behalf of The Cutty Sark Society. The Society was formed by Frank Carr, Director of the National Maritime Museum, and patronised by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip).

Today, a devistating fire swept through it.

A spectacular fire caused heavy damage to the clipper ship Cutty Sark on Monday,
adding millions to the cost of restoring one of London's proudest maritime
relics. [AP GREENWICH, England (May 21)]

Here's the link to the rest of the article.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Internet

I probably blogged about this before, and will no doubt do so again, but I once more feel the need to say how convenient the internet is to research. Most non-students don't like Wikipedia, but I adore it. OK, I admit to double checking those facts once I find what I'm looking for, but I do use it as a starting point. Why? It's fast, easy, and generally knows what I'm looking for even if I type in generalities.

Wikipedia aside, Google, Yahoo, and are right up there for me. How much easier is it to type in 'mourning rituals Victorian' or 'railroads Leeds' and find a great link (usually with supporting references) than plowing through book after book, and hoping you've got the right one to begin with?

I love books, and don't think they're at all passé as people seem to believe these days. The book will never go out of style. But come on! In 10 minutes, you can go online, search, read, and get back to your story. Minus the requisite reading email, getting lost in the history, and taking a tangent to traveling customs when really, all I wanted was to see when the Leeds train went to London!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Goals Redux

Two weeks ago (ok, ok, FINE! Closer to 3) I posted a blog on how I hadn't done on bit of my 2007 goals. I can now safely revise that.

The first of our (now) 4 part Victorian Erotica is finished. Done. Complete. *Sigh*
We'll be sending it out this week. *Nerves*
We'll also be taking another look at Book 2's plot and the 15 or so pages we have of it. *Groan*

But hey, Book 1 is finished! I can't thank my fellow Scandalous Victorians enough for their wonderful comments, facts, and encouragement.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

With e-mail, instant messaging, cellular phones, as well as land-line telephones, we of the 21st century don't need to write letters to communicate and keep in touch with friends and family. But during the Victorian era, writing long letters was an important form of communication.

During the Civil War, with families being separated for long lengths of time, letters became vital for both the soldiers and their families back home.

According to Bell Irwin Wiley, author of: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, "... letter writing was one of the most pervasive of camp diversions." Civil War regiments sent out an average of 600 letters per day.

Letter writing soldiers often had to improvise. They wrote by candlelight, sitting on the ground, using another soldier's back or a knapsack as a writing surface. They also used such things as "... knees, tin plates, books, cracker boxes or drumheads." The Life of Billy Yank ... p. 184.

Writing paper varied in quality from fancy stationery to ruled pages torn from record books. While men preferred to write with pen and ink, they often had to rely on lead pencils. Soldiers Blue and Gray ... p. 105

They wrote about such things as battles, health, weather and new places and people they'd seen and met.

Soldiers also looked forward to receiving letters from home. One New Jersey soldier wrote in a letter to his family: "You can have no idea what a blessing letters from home are to the men in camp. They make us better men, better soldiers." Soldiers Blue and Gray ... p. 114

Men who felt they hadn't received letters from their loved ones frequently enough would write angry letters home, demanding their loved ones write back to them.

Some of the most beautiful love letters were written by lonely soldiers to their wives and sweethearts.

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Union soldier, Sullivan Ballou to his wife, dated July 14, 1861, while contemplating the possibility of his death in battle:

"But O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night--amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours -- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by."
Click the above link for the complete letter, plus samples of others.

Another site where you can find samples of actual Civil War letters is:

People of the Victorian period were sentimental and their letters show it.

Sources: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union by Bell Irwin Wiley
Soldiers Blue and Gray by James I. Robertson, Jr.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


As I bang my head against my computer desk I realize it's probably not helping. Funny thing is, no matter how hard I bang, the words I need aren't appearing on the screen. I think that's highly unfair. Erato, the muse of erotic poetry and the closest I can get to what I'm doing now, is laughing. I'm certain I can hear her.

I can tell the story, that's not the problem. I can plot it and play with it and plan it out until it's all nice and neat. Everything's ordered. Everything works. I've got a story! A wonderful, pretty, finished, story.

I just can't tell you what it's about. My order's gone. I forget key points, but are they really key? I mean should I put them in because they're secondary characters. But what if the story only makes half sense because they're not there? Or will it muck it all up if I do put them in, and throw off whatever flow I manage to organize?


OK, that didn't actually make me feel better, but this blog did. I think I'll put the 1 1/4 pages it's taken me a week to write away for now. I'm sure there's something else I can write in the meantime.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Being Held Accountable

In the past few weeks, I have struggled with finding time to write. No, that’s not true. I have struggled with making time to write. But I’ve had that old lifus interruptus creeping up on me again. I tell myself “Okay, as soon as I finish doing (you fill in the blank), I’ll have time to write.” Yeah, snort. Tell that to my kids. Or my husband. Or the job. Or any of the other people, places or things that conspire to get in the way of some good solid writing time.

But the release date for my Wild Rose Press release "The Model Man" has been set for November 1; first round edits went back to my editor on May 1 and she has promised to get second round edits back to me no later than July 1. The pressure is on – and doggone it, I’m going to finish Wild Texas Wind before I dive back into The Model Man again. It has been set aside one too many times.

So I’ve set up a plan to get back to writing every day. I didn’t give myself a set number of pages for each day, that never works for me. I get too caught up in “but I did more yesterday” or the “I failed” mentality on the days I don’t meet my goal. Worse, I find myself writing longer sentences in order to make the goal. (Ex: he stalked across the room becomes he strode across the room slowly and with great purpose. For those of you who know how much I hate “ly” words, you know I’m only making work for myself down the road. I’ll be editing that out.).

But the twist this time is being held accountable for the number of pages I write. I’ve asked my two closest CP’s to nag me. Non-stop. And it’s working. Knowing that at the end of the day I have to report to someone how many pages I actually wrote really helps to motivate me. And finding messages in my inbox first thing in the morning that say things like “why are you checking e-mail when you’re supposed to be writing?” remind me to stay focused on my goal.

And I’m amazed at how well it’s gone. Yesterday I had one of “those” days. I’ll spare you the details, but it was definitely one of “those” days --by eight a.m. Not the big smack in the teeth life sends our way every so often, but a series of little slaps and pinches that added up to one big, stressful “Ouch!” Normally a day like that would find me diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream the size of a swimming pool – to heck with writing, I need comfort food!

At one point, I told myself “ahh, when Paty hears what kind of day I had today she’ll understand why I couldn’t write.” Directly on the heels of that thought came the realization – no she won’t! She’ll say I should have written through it. So I did. And instead of that bowl of ice cream I settled for a second cup of coffee, figuring the caffeine would either worsen my mood or perk me up. (For the record, it did both). At the end of the day, when the dust had settled, I only ended up with about four pages. But it’s four more than I had, so I won’t beat myself up over that. And when I told Paty about my horrible morning, and how I’d still managed to crank out a few pages, I got a wonderful cheerleader-perky note back telling me to keep going.

So I learned an important lesson yesterday. Being accountable to someone for the number of pages I write in a day works for me.

How do you motivate yourself to write?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

History - defined and debated

A co-worker of mine recently returned from a library conference and brought me back a few stacks of paper on reader's advisory (how to advise people who've read it all and want something new that's just like their favorite authors). In one, the speaker talked about "Historical Fiction -- Imaging History" and uses this quote to define it:

"A fictional work (mainly novels) set before the middle of the last century, and
ones in which the author is writing from research rather than personal
experience. This usually means that the novels will take place before the
author's life and times.'" [Sarah L. Johnson Historical Fiction: A Guide to
the Genre

It then goes on to describe Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose and the controversy: "Because Stegner based this work on the real life of Mary Hallock Foote issues of artistic license have been raised."

Mary Hallock Foote's letters were later published as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.

Paranoia - that one sentence makes me think (unreasonably) that I should never use a real person in a fictional work. And let me tell you, it's way too late now! I have no intention of taking out Queen Victoria from Birthrite, nor do I plan on rearranging the 3rd book in that series to take out the Khedives of Egypt and Sudan, specifically Tewfik. Just because they're not integral to the story doesn't mean I don't want them there for historic reasons.

But back to Stegner's story. It's obviously fiction. He even won the Pulitzer in 1972 for fiction. If even the Pulitzer people recognize it as fiction, then why are these artistic license questions raised?

Because he changed Mary Hallock Foote, to Susan Burling Ward. He never acknowledged that change until Mary's letters were published.

Granted, Stegner should've said this was a fictionalized version of Mary’s story, especially since he used whole passages from her letters. Is that the same as using a speech given by Victoria? It's hard to say, but my answer is no. Now, you can check Victoria's speeches on the internet. In 1971, you couldn't, and had those letters not been published, would anyone have known?

Then again, this is a fictionalized version of the story. Whole letters aside, how much could he really know about the circumstances surrounding Mary’s life and loves from her correspondence alone?

What are your thoughts?