Thursday, September 27, 2007

Did you all know this?

I was researching a Chateau, and as often happens, I came across something completely different. Did everyone but me know that Queen Victoria's father lived openly for many years (in Canada and the West Indies) with a Catholic woman? Of course they couldn't marry (although there are some rumours about a morganatic marriage) because he might one day become the head of the Church of England--and his marrying a Catholic was against the Royal Marriage Act of 1688.

He finally went home and married Queen Victoria's mother. The interesting thing would be if there WAS a morganatic marriage, because bigamy rules would apply. That would have made Queen Victoria illegitimate!

The Duke of Kent (Victoria’s father) died in January 1820, when Victoria was eight months old. Her mother raised her in isolation from the Court (perhaps to avoid her hearing the whispers, hmmm?)

And yes, I looked it up. The Catholic mistress died unmarried and childless in Paris on August 8, 1830.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday 10

We’re starting a new thing here. You might’ve heard of Thirteen Thursday. We’re doing Tuesday Ten (it’s the alliteration). This is a list of 10 interconnected items that may or may not have to do with writing, the Victorian era, or anything except each other. Since this was loosely my idea, I’m going first.

10 historical novels I’ve read this year:

So Worthy My Love by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Arguably my first romantic historical, and my favorite Woodiwiss book – when she died, I had to re-read it.

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen. I’d always wanted to read her Through a Glass Darkly, but never got around to it. When this prequel came out recently, I jumped at the chance. It’s not so much a romance, but the depictions of Charles II’s court are outstanding – intrigue, politics, backstabbing, and more.

In the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in Barcelona during the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, this is a mystery, a so-called coming of age, romance, tragedy, and pretty much anything else you can think of. There were some clich├ęs I could have skipped, but overall the descriptions were vivid and the plot compelling.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. Not exactly what I thought it’d be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The rigid social and moral codes of post World War I are strong and confining here, as are Lady Chatterley’s attempts to circumvent them.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Tragic and moving, it’s the epitome of Russian literature. There are no happy endings in Russian literature, of course.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. It’s Heathcliff. That’s all I can really say about it. Heathcliff. I was reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and had to re-read this one afterwards.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Granted, I loved the movie more, and the book was really a short story, but it was wonderful. The imagery, the angst, the pain. I loved it all.

A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follet. Rebelling against authority while seeking justice, with a (slightly unbelievable) romance thrown in.

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follet. Late Victorian bankers, it’s all trashy and scandalous, how could you not love it?

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. 12-century England and a fictional cathedral, there are ambitions, politics, 40 years of all sorts of upheaval, and that precarious balance that holds everything together. It was great. And I hear there’s a sequel.

What have you read this year?

Monday, September 24, 2007


I love Savannah! Love, love, love it. It's my perfect city, and if my life wasn't tied to the Northeast, I'd move there. OK, and I could afford to live in their $1.2 million homes right in the Historical Section.

The history is eccentric (yes, yes, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and all, but better), their people were incredibly nice and knowledgeable, the history was bizarre and captivating, and the entire atmosphere was indescribable. Just go there.

Oh, and yeah. Writing was done. There's so much history there, and so much going on now, how could it not?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toilets in the 1800's

The Necessary
Toilets in the 1800’s

Probably everyone is aware that early Romans and Greeks had ingenious indoor plumbing and heating based on water flow. Many of the early sewers built by Romans in England are still utilized. King Minos of Crete had the first flushing water closet recorded. A toilet was discovered in the tomb of a Han Dynasty Chinese king dating to 200 BC. Garderobes in medieval castles were a step down [even though they were upstairs] from the Romans. They emptied into the moat, lake, or stream, which sometimes seeped back into the drinking water’s source and caused cholera and other diseases. The dark ages swept advances in plumbing under the rug, so to speak, along with cleanliness. What about more recent history for writers whose books are set in the Regency and Victorian periods through the early Twentieth Century?

The first sewers in America were built in the early nineteenth century in New York and Boston. These were to rid the streets of refuse. At this time, no one addressed getting fresh water safely to individual homes and apartments or eliminating the smelly outhouse. Chamber pots varied from open buckets to decorative ceramic containers with tight fitting lids. The pots were emptied daily into an outhouse or, heaven forbid, into the street. Offal carts made the rounds of city streets. The drivers used buckets and shovels to empty outhouses and cesspits and sprinkle the recesses liberally with lime. What a horrid job that must have been!

Thomas Crapper [yes, that really was the man’s name] was erroneously credited with inventing the first flushing toilet. However, he was a plumber and holds many patents for plumbing products, and had several plumbing shops. Actually, the earliest known flushing toilet in Western history is credited to Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I. It was crude and the Queen reportedly refused to use it. The earliest patent for a flush toilet was issued to Alexander Cumming in 1775. The problem with early toilets was that people did not understand how germs spread or the need for venting fumes away from the toilet. There was also difficulty perfecting a system would take all of the refuse away when flushed. In addition to smell, germs accumulated and spread disease. People became afraid to install the toilets inside their homes.
Bathing rooms were exactly that—rooms in which people could bathe. Using a cistern or a pump from the kitchen range’s water reservoir, water was piped to the bathtub. It was never more than tepid, and bathing was in only a couple inches of water. The alternative was having servants carry buckets of water to the bathing room. Usually, the tub emptied into a pipe that dumped water into the yard, street or a cesspit.. These tubs were often set into elaborate wooden cabinets that matched the bathing room wainscoating—not at all suitable for long term exposure to bath water.

Although it was not until the 1880’s and 1890’s that American plumbing flourished, early inventors were moderately successful. In 1829, the Tremont Hotel of Boston became the first hotel to have indoor plumbing and featured eight water closets. Until 1840, indoor plumbing could be found only in the homes of the rich and in better hotels. In 1852, J. G. Jennings invented an improved flushing system, and popularized public lavatories by installing them in the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Over 800,000 people paid to use them. In 1910, toilet designs began changing to resemble those of today. However, in rural areas as in the poorer section of cities, the outhouse was used well into the twentieth century. In a recent television interview, actor Michael Caine remarked that—as a child in England—his four-story tenement had only one outhouse for use by all the building’s residents.
Authors of Georgian through modern times may determine how plumbing was utilized in their time period by seeking publications on home restoration. Books on restoring homes of various time periods detail the plumbing plans with useful illustrations. Information on earlier time periods is available on the web and in history books.

Writing on Vacation

Isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I went away on this mini-vacation to Hilton Head to write, and ended up with a horrible migraine the first day. In my world, this isn't unusual. On vacation? This definitely is. I mean it's vacation! I should have no issues, problems, pain, or worries on vacation.

I did manage to sleep way more than I'm used to last night, and this morning plan on getting a big jump on the actual writing part of this vacation. Of course it probably doesn't hurt that it's more than a tad cloudy and I won't be spending my days on the beach or my one of 3 pools. But I have a great view!

This afternoon I'm off to Savannah for some sightseeing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Victorian Women In Journalism

In my Civil War time travel romance, Erin's Rebel, my heroine is a modern day journalist who finds herself transported to the time of the Civil War. Although at first, she's forced into the position of a laundress in an army camp, she later obtains a job as a reporter on a small town newpaper.

To learn if a woman in this time period could hold such a position, I researched the role American women played in journalism in the years leading up to the Civil War. What I found was that American women worked in publishing as early as the colonial era where they held positions as printers and publishers. Over time, they moved into newsrooms as reporters.

But unlike today, women reporters "were often relegated to covering the women's perspective, or writing 'sob stories', so called because their sentimental style was designed to get readers crying."

For years, women journalists wrote exclusively for 'women's pages' and none covered hard news.

A few of the American women journalists who wrote during the Victorian era were Margaret Fuller, Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton and Sarah Josepha Hale.

Margaret Fuller was "the first femal foreign correspondent." She also was a book review editor and edited a quarterly literary publication, 'The Dial', from 1840 to 1842. In 1846 she became a foreign correspondent for the 'Tribune'.

Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton wrote speeches and press releases for her husband who served in the U.S. Congress. She was also editor of the newspaper they owned.

Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a novel, Northwood, that was successful. As a result she was recruited as editor "of a new magazine devoted to women." In 1836, she was approached by Godey to edit his 'Lady's Book', but she at first declined to stay with her own magazine. Later, he bought her magazine and combined both publications into one, keeping Sarah as editor.

Although Victorian women were shut out from covering all but stories of interest to other women, they were a force in the journalistic world of the times.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Interview with Jennifer Ross

Here's the next part of our monthly interviews with our authors. This month we're talking to Jennifer Ross, whose short story appears in No Law Against Love, Highland Press.

Why do you write historical?

I think it’s important to understand how we came to be where we are. I also think it’s fascinating! Even little things like expressions we still use today take on a whole new quality when we discover WHY we say them.

Take the way women were viewed, for example. The slow incremental steps that had us going from a piece of property indistinguishable from, say, a chair, to the really-close-to-complete-parity we have today. Every single one of those steps required a fight by the women of the time. I hate to think we take their sacrifices for granted.

What part of the Victorian era/setting do you write in?

At the moment, I’m in the very beginning of Victoria’s reign (and I say I’m in it because I spend so much of my time there it’s sometimes hard to return to the present).

What is it about the era that most intrigues you?

I didn’t pick the era, it just happens to be when the historical facts I’m writing about took place. But now that I’m here, I’m most intrigued by how quickly things are changing. Much like the 1990s and this decade (do you say the 2000s?) they were having an explosion of new technologies. Combine that with a new Sovereign, new countries, new morality, new wealth--it seems quite dizzying.

I also find it intriguing that the head of state of an ‘Empire where the sun never sets’ is one of those, you know, chair-like beings, and NOBODY seems to find that at all odd.

Where do you get your information?

Anywhere I can. I’ve read textbooks and diaries, visited archives and museums, and spend an incredible amount of time surfing the internet. I’ve joined and used to belong to the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions until they changed their policy to make individual memberships prohibitively expensive. I really miss access to the full collection a lot.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the edits on A Test of Loyalty, and just beginning to do research for the next story in the series.

How many books have you written?

I have published a short story with Highland Press and have a few other short stories drafted, but A Test of Loyalty will be my first full-length novel.

Do you write outside of the Victorian era, genre?

My published short story, A Frightful Misconception (in the No Law Against Love anthology) was contemporary. I’m also thinking about a third story in the Test series that will take place in the early 1900s.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Name every challenge for an aspiring writer. My biggest challenge, I guess, is the terror I have at public speaking. I’ve done a few readings and things that resulted in disaster. They certainly did nothing to improve my confidence! Maybe that’s not fair. The last thing I did--a romance author panel at my library--went very well.

What is you writing schedule like?

Schedule? We’re supposed to have schedules? I work on some form of my story every day, but that doesn’t mean writing, necessarily. It might be as little as thinking through a plot point, or reading a census entry or website. Often it means critiquing others’ work so they’ll return the favour. The editing process is a lot different than the writing process, but I don’t think I’m any more organized with it. I have tried to ‘write every day’ as so many established authors suggest, but that only erodes what confidence I have in what I’m doing and results in more writer’s block, several pages of absolute garbage, and depression. I finally decided to do it the way that comes naturally to me, and I do think I’ve been more productive. Happier, anyway.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Goals - redux

It's September (do I hear a big wail?) So as summer theoretically wanes, I thought I'd revisit my 2007 goals. Not that I really remember what they were, but here goes.

I finished 2 stories this year, have revamped, revised, and rethought 2 more. I've blogged at least every week here and at Unusual Historicals, though not my personal blog. For the rest of the year, I plan on finishing at least another book and submitting, submitting, submitting.

And taking 2 more 'writing' vacations. Honest, writing is being done!