Thursday, November 29, 2007
Victorian Era? Actually, they became popular and proper topics of conversation. In an age when conversation was prized as an art, anything new and unusual or from another part of the world merited as a proper topic in Society.
While researching current topics of interest for my Victorian era novel manuscript, I was astounded at how little was in print about the rising interest by folks in that time in UFOs. I'd read of some reports years ago, but finding them at hand on the Internet proved difficult.
The following article content is reprinted with permission of the writer and researcher Ms. Stevie Pittsley:
Long before the famous stories emerged about a UFO crash in roswell ,in 1947, tales of alien spaceships hitting the Earth appeared in 19th Century papers: "About 35 miles northwest of Benkelman, Dundy County, on the 6th of June  a very startling phenomenon occurred. It seems that John W. Ellis and three of his herdsmen and a number of other cowboys were out engaged in a round-up. They were startled by a terrific whirring noise over their heads, and turning their eyes saw a blazing body falling like a shot to earth. It struck beyond them, being hidden from view by a bank."
The article, from the Nebraska Nugget, goes on to say that the rancher found "fragments of cog-wheels, and other pieces of machinery" lying on the ground. The heat was so intense that "as to scorch the grass for a long distance around each fragment and make it impossible for one to approach..."
The group found the main part of the wreck and one of them "fell senseless from the gazing at it at too close quarters. His face was blistered, and his hair singed to a crisp." "Finding it impossible to approach the mysterious visitor [the UFO] the party turned back on it's trail. When it [the UFO] first touched the earth the ground was sandy and bare of grass. The sand was fused to an unknown depth over a space about 20 feet wide by 30 feet long, and the melted stuff was still bubbling and hissing."
Later in the story the ship is described as being 50 to 60 feet long, cylindrical and 10 to 12 feet in diameter. The writer notes that it was apparently composed of metal with an appearance like brass, but was remarkably light. The story also notes that the wreck is located in a remote and wild region and "the roads are hardly more than trails."
The second story appeared in the Dallas Morning News on April 19th, 1897:
"About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship that had been sailing throughout the country. It was traveling due north, and much nearer the earth than before."
The article describes how the air vehicle "sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judges's flower garden." It continues with, "The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only aboard, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show he was not an inhabitant of this world."
"Mr. T. J Weems, the U.S. Signal Service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he [the pilot] was a native of Mars." According to the story the remains of the ship were composed of a strange metal that seemed a mixture of aluminum and silver. The townspeople came to view the wreak and pick up specimens. The pilot was buried the day after the article was published.
So what can we make of these crash stories? Was 19th century Earth visited by extra-terrestrial beings with superior (but apparently faulty) technology?
In viewing any article from 19th century newspapers we must be aware of the abundance of hoax journalism during that period. Newspapers didn't just report news, but also provided entertainment. Much of this was in the form of books that were serialized of a number of issues. Some of it was in another form that is little regarded now: The hoax news story. Both of the above are probably examples of this almost forgotten tradition. How do we know? Mainly because they lack any collaborating evidence. In both cases no follow up stories were ever written which seems strange if events of the magnitude suggested did really occur. Also no pieces of the spaceships have ever shown up in local museums or historical societies.
The Texas incident was investigated in the late 1960's. Then residents of Aurora who were there in 1897 were still alive. None reported that they remembered the crash. Several stated that Judge Proctor never had a windmill. One confirmed that the T. J. Weems mentioned in the story was not a signal officer, but the town blacksmith. Most were of the opinion that F. E. Hayden, who had written the story, was just trying to get some publicity for the town. In addition, a search of the alleged crash site with a metal detector revealed nothing.
The story might have remained dead except for a writer with the Dallas Times Herald. In 1973 the newspaper did a series of sensational stories about the "crash." Despite faulty evidence and questionable witness accounts the stories managed to attract national attention. The excitement reached its peak when an Aurora cemetery was desecrated. The cemetery had kept meticulous records showing just who was buried where and there was no "man from mars" on the roster. Despite this, a plot, that some claimed was the Martian's, was dug up and the tombstone stolen. According to some accounts the tombstone had a picture of an UFO carved into it.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
2.) Tuberculosis—It was consumption for most of the century, and was thought to be a sort of family predisposition. It killed millions of people. (I’ve bloged about this earlier). In 1882 Robert Koch discovered the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The name changed, and the treatments also. Unfortunately the cure (antibiotics) did not come about until the 20th century—1943. After both WWI and WWII! http://www.umdnj.edu/~ntbcweb/history.htm
3.) Electric Light—We all know this one, but we don’t associate it with the Victorians for the most part. Various elements of the light bulb had been around for some time, but Edison was the man who developed the first practical light bulb. And then went on to establish the electrical industry, starting in Manhattan in the 1880’s. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bledison.htm
4.) Anesthesia—Pain relief, really. Sure, there had been many methods (alcohol was one! And laudanum) but ether and chloroform for operating came about during the Victorian period. The first use was in Boston, 1846. Both substances went on to be used quite often in childbirth (earlier blog, also) for which many women were grateful. http://neurosurgery.mgh.harvard.edu/History/gift.htm
5.) Telegraph—the telegraph itself was invented before the period, 1830. But it became widely used during the period, with wires being spread across the US and other countries (although I don’t know as much about them). The first news dispatched my Mr. Morses invention was in 1844, between Washington and Baltimore. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bltelegraph.htm
6.)Telephone—1876 as many of us know. The first telephone line was between Sommerville MA and Boston in 1877. I read—but I don’t recall where—that the first pay phone was in Conneticut. Someone actually stood next to the phone and collected money from people who used it. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bltelephone7.htm
7.) Gas lighting—This was really an early 19th century invention, but was so ubiquitious during the Victorian era that I felt I had to mention it. The first public use of gas for lighting occurred in London, 1812, the Regency period. The first pipes in the US were laid in the Baltimore, 1816. Gas lighting came to New York in 1820, all well before the start of the Victorian period. But as cities developed during the period, gas lines were laid, thus establishing the city as “modern”.
8.) Central Heating—This is something I cannot find much information on, yet anyway. But I do know there were methods and furnaces that provided heat throughout an entire house by the end of the century, because Henry James references it in The Bostonians. (1886, referencing, 1876). I also saw one of these central heating systems in a preserved Victorian in Boston, the Gibson House http://www.thegibsonhouse.org/index.asp
9.) Indoor Plumbing—Toilets and bathtubs, oh my! As I have discussed in previous blogs, indoor plumbing was first introduced in the Tremont House in Boston, 1830 (close to the start of the Victorian period). The Gibson house (see above) had a tub with hot water in the 1850’s.
10.) Bicycle—This was just pure fun, and not the history changing invention of the previous 9. It came about in 1865, and was the rage—enough so that women’s clothes were even fashioned around it—in the latter part of the century.
Friday, November 23, 2007
That all changed when poet and editor Sarah J. Hale began lobbying for a national Thanksgiving holiday. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, looking for ways to unite the nation, discussed the subject with her. So in 1863, he gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November a day of thanksgiving.
During The Great Depression (specifically 1939-1941), FDR sought to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, and proclaimed Thanksgiving the 3rd Thursday in November. Controversy followed, and Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains.
Today's Black Friday, the 'traditional' start of the Christmas season. But if you've seen anything in the stores since, oh, August, you know that's a bunch of bologna. Still I know people who actually woke up at 4 this fine morning to brave the cold and people and do some shopping. Personally, forget it - I refuse to do that to myself. I'd rather pay full price than deal with all those people.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
In the old west, the only means of public transportation was the stagecoach. Stage stops were as common on the western plains as bus stops are today.
Journeys by stage were long, dusty and uncomfortable. Coaches were cramped, loaded down with heavy merchandise and luggage and passengers jammed in like sardines—as many as twelve to fifteen at a time. Crowded conditions such as these required rules.
Here, taken directly from the 1877 Omaha Herald, are Wells Fargo’s Rules for Riding the Stagecoach:v Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
v If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I thought I had persistence. After all, I've been writing toward publication for 13 years now. But, so far, I have only a few short stories published in obscure magazines that pay in copies or don't pay at all. I had one article that won first place in a contest, but I was never able to sell it. And another article was published for the whopping sum of $25.00.
I did have my first novel published about 5 years ago, but that hasn't been a windfall, only a few royalty checks trickle in now and then.
But, I'm still writing and intend to write as long as I'm physically able. Unlike some other writers, I've never set an arbitrary time limit on how long I'll stick it out before giving up if I'm not published or making a living at it in say, 5 years, 10 years, etc., because I never plan to quit. It's my life.
So, does that make me persistent? Apparently not enough. I have to start getting my work out there more, with queries, submissions, contest entries. I intend to do that.
Also, I have to start developing more projects. Get those things in the outline stage out of the drawer and start working on them again. And get those things still in 'the idea in my head', or 'one line blurb' stage, into development.
I want to be persistent, because writing and creating fictional characters that readers love is my life.
How about you? Have you set any arbitrary limits on the time you will take to make it as a writer before giving up?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
10 Famous Firsts that debuted at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (otherwise known as the Colombian Exposition (which happened to be in Chicago) of 1893). Many of these are from The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Eric Larson, a great book (if you skim the boring menu parts) about serial killers, grand designs, and great Victorian history.
- Ferris Wheel - George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. had the idea while the Fair's committee searched for something to rival the Eiffel Tower showcased at the Paris Fair. He was laughed at, ridiculed, told it couldn't happen, and made a ton of money off it.
- Juicy Fruit Gum - It was a huge hit, and profits certainly have decreased in the ensuing century.
- Aunt Jemima's pancake mix - an all-in-one pancake mix for those busy Victorian women.
- Cracker Jack - originally called 'Candied Popcorn and Peanuts', it was a mixture of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts.
- Cream of Wheat - invented by wheat millers in Grand Forks, ND, where a warm breakfast seems to be a necessity.
- Quaker Oats - despite that huge lawsuit, still going strong and tasty, and still based in Chicago.
- Shredded Wheat - it wasn't expected to take off, for who would want what that was shredded? Guess those fair-goers didn't know anything.
- Pabst Blue Ribbon - actually it was just Pabst, but since it won the blue ribbon at the fair, was forever known as Pabst Blue Ribbon.
- Elongated coins - those 51¢ pennies with a neat design on both sides? Yeah, they debuted here, too.
- Vertical File - No, not food, which seemed to be the big thing to debut at the fair, but pretty darn important. Melvil Dewey (the guy who invented the ambiguous Dewey Decimal System) invented it.
The momentum of achieving drove the fastest eras of innovation in all fields that occurred during the Victorian era, itself a conglomeration of many dramatic cycles of trends and changes.
The Victoria and Albert Museum continues to showcase the types of high-level achievements that would've done the court of Victoria justice.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Sorry Nic, for accidentally stealing your idea!
1.) The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette, by Professor Thomas E. Hill. The information in this book is adapted directly from material published by Mr. Hill between 1873 and 1890. It give me a good idea of how people at this time were “supposed” to behave, concerning conversation, table manners, traveling and a number of other things. Parts of it are just plain funny.
2. )Confidence Men and Painted Women, Karen Halttunen. I bought this mostly because it had the dates on it, 1830-1870, which encompasses a good portion of the Victorian period. I really didn’t expect to get much out of it, but it has a wonderfully large section on Victorian mourning rituals. This is particularly important to me, since I tend to kill people off in my books.
3.) American Beauty, Lois W. Banner I expected this book to tell me interesting things about makeup and hairstyles and things like that. It did to some extent, but it also has lots of information on the changing “style” of women in general from the thin women of the early Victorian period, to the more robust women of later years. It also talks a lot about the theatre, which was very useful in Wild Card.
4.) Hands and Hearts, A History of Courtship in America by Ellen K. Rothman. This was one of those books that other books I read on the subject kept referring to. So I took this book out of the library—a lot. When I start taking books out 2-4 times a year, I figure it’s time to buy it. It details the courtship rituals from 1770-1920, and uses many diaries and other original resources to back it up.
5.) Victorian America, Classical Romanticism to Gilded Opulence, Wendell Garrett, David Larkin. This book is just plain pretty. It’s a picture book of Victorian homes and the furniture in them. I’ve used it in pretty much every book I’ve written, and some of the rooms in my books come directly from this one. There’s discussion of furniture and changing architecture.
6.) John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary, John Ransom. I love this book, and I can’t tell you why. I think because it’s all about triumph of “good over evil” or at least of the human spirit over horrific circumstances. Regardless, Andersonville plays a part in a couple of my books, as background. Besides, I love John Ransom’s writing voice.
7.)The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America, John S. Haller, Robin M. Haller. This was interesting just for an all around view of how sex was viewed in the Victorian era. Also had some interesting information on birth control.
8.) Murder in America, Roger Lane Of course I like this one because I like to kill people off in my books. I don’t yet own this book, I just take it out of the library a lot. Probably time to order it. It is helpful in reading about punishment for murder during 19th century, and other times, also.
9.) The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser In Plain English, R.V. Pierce MD. This would be difficult to come by for most because the copyright is 1876. I “borrowed” it off my stepfather several years back and have yet to return it. It details common medical problems and remedies in the 19th century. I’d be glad to look information up, if anyone wants to learn something specific. I use it quite a bit, as I also tend to make characters sick (I’m really coming across as sadistic here, aren’t I?)
10.) Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories Anne Buck I need to dress my characters. This book helps because it has some pictures and it explains what various items are. It also talks about materials used and which were fashionable and which were not. There’s a section on men’s clothing and children’s, too. I consult it often.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Maybe so in some areas. Not in Boston, 1872, when Jesse Pomeroy was roaming the streets. Between February 1872 and mid-September 1872, he tortured, in a sexually explicit manner, 8 young boys between the ages 5 and 8. (I'll spare you the details of the abuse because it's just too horrific for me to put on a public blog.) Pomeroy was 12 at the time. Yes, that's right, not even yet a teenager. He was caught on September 20th after being identified by the last boy. He spent 2 years in a reformatory and was released in January 1874, after scarcely serving 2 years. He was considered a model prisoner, no doubt "reformed". I sincerely doubt in these days of "easy" prison terms, this child, obviously already a sexual predator, would have been released so easily, especially with so little fanfare.
Regardless, Jesse was NOT reformed.
Within 4 months of Jesse's release he not only went back to his former hobby of torture, he took up murder as well. He later confessed to two murders, a 10 year old girl and a 4 year old boy, both mutilated similarly to the torture he had inflicted on his other 8 victims. At the age of 14 he was convicted of murder in the first degree for the 4 year old boy. And condemned to death. But his sentence was commuted--he was only 14--specifically in solitary confinement in prison for the remainder of his life.
Society at the time labeled the horror of it all as a symptom of society decay, much like we label similar murders these days. Perhaps society is continuing to decay and that's why we still read about these things in ever-increasing frequency. Or maybe it's just because we are bombarded with information, and because we have such greater tools of detection these days then in the 19th century. The book I got this information Fiend by Harold Schecheter labels Pomeroy the "America's youngest serial killer". Personally, I doubt it. I just think it's the one we know about.
And now, some of you might be wondering, "How is Denise going to work this into a book?". I can't honestly say. Much of what was written in Fiend is just too disturbing, even for a true-crime, CSI addict like me. I may make a mention of it in one of my books because a few of my characters grew up in Victorian Boston. Still, I may just prefer to forget it, and go back to the comparative comfort of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper. Comforting because he was in England! And didn't prey upon children. I just thought this post should be written as a reminder that for all the advances we make, some things in history just do not change.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Aside from having always been a history buff? LOL. Hmm… I’m fascinated by it. The courage it took to build a nation, the passion that held it together, the raw guts and determination it must have taken to travel west on a wagon train. Simpler times, simpler struggles. It seems so much more romantic than anything going on in the present day. I guess we could sum that up in one word: escapism!
What part of the Victorian era/setting do you write in?
I’m a real fan of the 1880s west of the Mississippi—the wild and woolly days of the old west. I also really love the Civil War era, but for some reason the whole idea of Cowboys and Indians, range wars and frontier justice calls to me the loudest.
What is it about the era that most intrigues you?
The struggles, the sacrifice, the courageous men and women who held things together during the war or built new lives out west. With the old west especially there’s a sense of lawlessness, that notion of black hats versus white, and good triumphing over evil that really appeals to me.
Where do you get your information?
Books. Many, many books, LOL. I really need to stop accumulating them. I start out with the internet when I need a quick answer, but I like to verify what I find by researching it further in books, which usually leads me to some other fascinating tidbit I didn’t know about, and then I have to hunt that down and learn everything I can about it, LOL. In other words, if I’m not writing about history I’ve most likely got my nose in a book reading about it. (Which makes me a very fascinating conversationalist! Not!)
What are you working on now?
A bunch of things! I’m revising and editing my western historical, Wild Texas Wind. Kensington requested that one quite some time ago and I’ve really been dragging my heels about getting it to them (Fear. There’s no other excuse for it.). A secondary character in that story is demanding his own story, so I’ve begun some research with a goal toward making that happen. On top of that, some fellow Wild Rose Press authors have asked me to take part in an anthology that will be released next summer called Sons of Summerville, so I’ve been brainstorming with them on story ideas. As if that weren’t enough, I’m also contracted through The Wild Rose Press for a Civil War historical, Northern Temptress, to be released next summer –I need to get busy polishing that story and get it off to my editor. Additionally, last year’s holiday Novella, Small Town Christmas, will be re-released this month in print format. Whew!
How many books have you written?
About six or seven since I really got serious about writing – before that, probably dozens that I started and never finished. Most will never see the light of day again, others I’d love to pull out and polish. Each and every one was a learning experience that saw me grow as a writer so it will be hard to go back and “fix” what I did wrong, but one of these days… LOL.
Do you write outside of the Victorian era, genre?
Yes. Both my Wild Rose Press releases, Small Town Christmas and The Model Man (due out early next year) are contemporary-set, and the Sons of Summerville story will be, as well. I think occasionally my brain likes a vacation from all the history and sends me ideas that don’t require as much nitty-gritty research.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming release, The Model Man?
Well the underlying theme is that sometimes the person who seems all wrong for you turns out to the one person who is exactly right. It’s lighthearted and funny, but my editor really helped me to dig deep and pull the emotion out of these characters. Here is the back cover blurb:
Single mom and romance novelist Kelly Michaels has no time for a man in her life. But when mega-famous cover model Derek Calavicci puts the moves on her at a romance writers’ conference, she succumbs to temptation. Common sense prevails, however, and after a few passionate kisses she turns him down; she has impressionable teenagers at home, after all, she doesn’t need a one-night-stand with a much younger man, no matter how hot he is. When photos of their passionate moonlight kiss hit the tabloids, her agent has to do some fast footwork to save her reputation. Will the notorious bad boy go along with her scheme?
Derek rarely hears a woman say “no” – it’s been that way his entire life. If Kelly isn’t interested, he’s not going to push her-- even if she does melt like ice cream on a hot sidewalk every time he touches her. But when an unexpected opportunity falls into his lap by way of Kelly’s scheming agent, he jumps at the chance. Pretend he’s in love with Kelly Michaels for two weeks? No problem. After all, the lady may say she’s never going to sleep with him... but he's got two weeks to convince her otherwise.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
Name an era that doesn’t sell and I probably write --or have written-- it! Whether it was the Civil War, the old west or even The Model Man where my heroine is over forty and thirteen years older than the hero—if it wasn’t popular to write about, I probably had a story in the works about it. When I belonged to the RWA chapter in my hometown, I was usually the sole historical writer, and always the only member writing American history. I spent years unable to connect with fellow American Historical writers—I didn’t even know if there were any out there besides me. Thank God for the internet and the Hearts through History chapter!
What is you writing schedule like?
Ha ha ha. I do try to touch base with my characters each day, but the only “guaranteed” time I get to write is while my youngest is in preschool three days a week. I guard those two hours like a rabid Rottweiler – I won’t answer the phone, won’t check e-mail and shut down my IM. But if you’ve ever had a preschooler you know that preschool is really just a fun place to go and swap germs with other kids, so he’s home sick almost as much as he’s at school. I do try to get up early and write (around 5-5:30 a.m.), but usually just as I’m getting into that routine one of the kids will get sick and it takes me weeks to get back into the swing of it again. So my schedule is haphazard at best. For me consistency is key, so even if it’s only for five minutes or if I just re-read something I wrote the day before, I make that daily “appointment” with my characters. Every little bit counts!
Thursday, November 01, 2007
What is it that appeals to romance readers and therefore writers about skydropping their heroines into male dominated settings while wearing trousers?. For one thing, it is fun to read and sets up automatic conflict (that necessary component in novel scripting) between the hero and heroine, peppering any scene. I know more than one writer parading their heroines about in some form of menswear, and I’ll admit that I always enjoy reading about this type of spunky romance heroine that has become considered a classic in the genre.
My muse led the search for details on the lioness trend.
Lionesses were originally an elite group of fashionistas in Paris around 1840 and 1850 who went out and about in exquisitely designed men’s styles. They were eventually outlawed from such costume when they’d grown in number but not before their cavalier attitudes caught on. When a woman meant business, therefore, she could feel free to tread out in pants and waistcoat and even riding a stallion. A pistol and sword completed the outfit.
The trend lasted a couple of decades but moved into the West in a different form where we see homesteading and pioneering women traveling about in down-scaled versions of the Parisian Lioness. Paris and Napoleon’s court boasted a nearly unrivalled fashionable court. It volcanically ignited most traceable trends in the imperializing world during the heights of the Victorian era.
Women of high merit and underplayed social status began proverbially wearing the pants in the Lioness trend before the middle of the century in Paris. By the 1860s or 1870s, though, women striding out in trousers were considered of easy moral character in some parts of the world and even presumed to be ladies-of-the-night in other parts. As a romance or historical writer, though, such facts are not deterrents. Rather, they’re tools to authorially use in plotting machinations, of course.
When my heroine, therefore, opens her story in swashbuckling style to encounter the hero. She’ll be in a mildly tattered Lioness outfit that her dearly departed mother had worn as she takes care of family business in a Quadrant that was world famous at the time for both its high caliber entertainments and haute cuisine. And famous for its extreme dangers. Only those skilled in defenses or who could afford body guards dared tread where a Lioness held no fear in going. All aristocratic Spanish ladies were trained well in self-defense and martial arts, so only a hero as strong as my hero, then, can impress her.