Sunday, March 31, 2013

Church Story

A few weeks ago at the end of the sermon, the kids came into the sanctuary to join the congregation, and our priest asked them, "What did you study today?"  One of them piped up that they'd talked about Nehemiah.

The priest looked out at us and asked with a smile, "How many of you know how to spell Nehemiah?"  I rose my hand, but was too far forward to see any others.  Apparently there were only two or three of us.  She grinned a bit more, and said, "I only see a couple of you.  And everyone who raised their hands was raised in the Baptist tradition!"

Heh.  G'wan Southern Baptists.  We may not have been famed for certain forms of educational reinforcement, but boy can we spell some Biblical names, yo.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hygeine in History Again

Elizabeth Chadwick has illuminated in more depth the particulars of depilation in medieval history, a subject I have touched on (heh) before.  Not recipes I'm eager to try!

Cliche' Time

It's that time of year, when historical films come out centered on the story of Christ.  Tonight's special, which I'm watching because I like Billy Zane just that much, and frankly it's something different to consume, is Barabbas.

A scene just watched has me wondering about a particular type of exoticization which always seems to crop up in biblical histfic, or Roman, and even in periods across the millennia - the scene which is set by kicking off with a large troupe of scantily (or un-) clad "Africans", dancing suggestively.  This scene appears here - it appears in The Ten Commandments - it appears in I, Claudius.  It comes up so regularly it's going to cause my lunch to come up one of these days.  When Africans are used strictly as window dressing, it is a disheartening reminder that Hollywood still hardly sees beyond the white folks.  (And, yes - the guy playing Jesus isn't what you'd call melanin-enriched either; heck, Billy Zane is not exactly overwhelmingly "ethnic" looking.  The female lead is *milky* white.)

I had serious issues with a scene of literal miniaturization of black people - in cruddy jungle tribesman costumes, of *course* - in The Artist not long ago; and not least because it was not long ago.  I don't particularly forgive racist attitudes in 1930s moving pictures, but at least I know the context in which they were created (a recent re-watching of Gone With the Wind was as ever cringe inducing almost throughout).

The Artist had no excuse for its sickening moment, and throwing around a few half-naked gyrating bodies doesn't have any excuse either.

Beyond Baby Making - Kim Rendfield on Frankish Queendom

Though our periods are separated by centuries (The Ax and the Vase is set at the birth of the Merovingian dynasty; The Cross and the Dragon during the Carolingian), the legend of Frankish queens is common to both our research.  She writes that the role of women, particularly queens, went far beyond the imperative to provide heirs.

Queen Saint Clotilde, certainly, didn't earn that "Saint" honor by way of her passivity; she was an active participant in her husband's court; as was his rather less honorably famous mother, Basina.  Clotilde is known to have baptized one son without permission, to have worked with Bishop (also Saint) Remigius of Rheims in Clovis' conversion and eventual baptism.  She even gained some negative fame for her love of spending money on the Church - a tale remains that she defended her endowments, as not having come out of the royal treasury.  I even lifted a certain legend of a Frankish queen, who threatens an enemy with tonsure by sword through the neck, and attributed it to her in a scene involving one of the many conquests by Clovis of his own kinsmen.

In the excerpt in the sidebar at the right, "Queen", Clotilde's character is frankly little in evidence.  We've barely met her, at this point in Ax, and she is still very young, not yet sure of her position.  As she grows and thrives, we watch her shift from timidity to passion, and even occasional ferocity.  In the legend I mention above, it is a demonstration of power which leaves her shaken, but cements her esteem with her king and husband.

A great deal of time in my research was spent in the analysis, inventory, and understanding of grave goods.  Grave goods, far beyond simply examples of wealth, were also votive offerings.  At the very beginning of the novel, the famed bees of Childeric are a stark example of this, and later we see a dead infant buried with many snails, a mysterious and mystical evocation of protection, it seems.  The graves of women were fascinating, and one in particular is highly documented, including everything from the fine textiles the Frankish woman was dressed in, to the extremely rich and man-sized jewels with which she was bedecked.  The richness of this woman's grave is an illustration of the highly developed arts of the period - from clothing to carved gems to cloisonne' to fine personal tools and adornments.  More than anything, it testifies to the height of esteem this noble lady held - and hers is not a unique entombment.  Frankish women - queens and wealthy or noble ladies - had both wealth and power (as Clotilde testifies in her defense, as to not using the treasury, she used her *own* funds toward the gifts she gave to her religion).

Rocket Kitty

When, around this house, Gossamer drops a bomb, it's usually a litterbox issue and it smells like he burned Satan himself.  I'd have thought cats' emissions plenty weapons-grade enough, is what I'm saying ...

... and yet, we have this illustration of a 16th century feline innovation warlike enough (and perhaps hazardous to the puss) to make Gossy's leavings look amateurish.  The bird just looks uber-cool.

Do not try this at home indeed!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Go Another 1% ..."

... and I don't mean THAT 1% this time ...

Neal Degrasse Tyson is stone cold OSUM.  It's 12.5 minutes you could call well spent.


First Person

Nancy Bilyeau has a nice discussion here of the power of point of view - and a particular look at first person.  The Ax and the Vase happens to be in first person, and admittedly that was the result of a lot less critical consideration on my part than hers.  I'm a "pants-er" writer, far more intuitive than process-driven, though I can attest to the extent administrative expertise does come into play in working out a novel.  First person in my case was born out of a first sentence long, long, long since a darling sacrificed to the greater good of the story - and very not on the order of "Call me Ishmael."  In fact, for some time, I left VERY wide open the possibility that I would rewrite in omniscient - but it never ended up happening.

First person is, for a historical novelist, almost necessarily an anachronistic conceit to begin with.  Journaling is a fairly recent innovation, and even the famed diarist Samuel Pepys wasn't narrating a movie within his own mind.  First person is a manner of telling which foists on a character a way of thinking which, through much of history, would almost literally have been unachievable for most people.  It is a modern manner of self-consideration, a modern linguistic style.  And yet, as Ms. Bilyeau (should I call her Nancy?  We do Tweet one another from time to time, but I hardly consider that sufficient introduction to presume upon her like we're personal buddies ...) points out, it is invaluable in constructing a character's voice, an immediate and extraordinarily clear form of communication.  For that if for no other reason, as an author, I considered it completely valid, even as I considered it disingenuous as far as "authenticity" ... as I said in the author's note linked above - historical fiction depends as much on its fiction as its history.  And conceit is a form of fiction.

Bilyeau's The Chalice narrates an aspect of the Tudor period hardly done to death in historical fiction:  the realities faced by a nun now turned out of her living, after The Dissolution of the Monasteries.  The fact that this experience is somewhat unexplored demands an intimacy in order to bring an audience unfamiliar with the period into a particular setting.

For my purposes, first person was also crucial in providing a very specific PERSPECTIVE on Clovis - a king whose legend is not uniformly forgiving, and whose actions not always sympathetic.  First person provided me the opportunity to ignore dissent and questions about his history, to justify and even to manipulate what could be seen by a reader, to allow me as an author freedom of movement in areas where objectivity would actually have been a restriction.  For The Chalice, first person provides strength to the voice - for The Ax and the Vase, it provides exactly the biased POV required to form a character entirely on his own terms.

Clovis is no hero in my mind, yet my sympathy for him as his author *had* to be complete - and is so still.  There is much to admire in this figure - I believe both personally and historically - but the extent to which that is authorial bias, and expediency, was best synthesized with the compromised perspective of this limited point of view.  There is, it must be said, much to question about Clovis's conversion and career as well.  Indeed, the very point of just how mercenary his actions were could be addressed in his own telling - the extent to which Catholicism was attractive for practical reasons, as well as the extent to which its influence upon him was genuine, deeply felt.  Like any human being, the balance between expediency and inspiration varies - with time, with relationships (Clovis had a very longstanding relationship with Bishop (Saint) Remigius of Rheims, who was not famed for his falseness by any accounts I found), with immediate experiences (the moment of baptism, I imbued with a powerful sense of spirituality - a literal transportation, for a man making a commitment both unprecedented and epochal in its eventual ramifications).  Like any human being, Clovis justifies selfishness as serving something beyond himself - in his case, the very kingdom of which he considered himself steward and defender.

Point of view can be one of those aspects of a story an audience - and, sometimes, even an author don't think about too much.  If the intuition is right, the telling will assert its own means.  In the case of Ax, this was essentially the case - I did consider it explicitly, but it wasn't something I spent a great deal of time - nor questioning - working out.  It came to me the way it came to me; I allowed room for things to evolve or change - but, eventually, the rightness of the POV asserted itself, and I was grateful and did not look back.  As willing as I am to kill my darlings, I actually don't interrogate them very much at all.  Editing is not a case of sweating the means, but a polishing, a refining - and, certainly, a cutting-away of what is not necessary.  Indeed, there was much cut out of the first MSS which some of my readers hated to see go.  I didn't.  There was good writing, yes - but it wasn't NECESSARY writing (even the entire *characters* I cut!) - and that was that.  Once an agent, and eventually an editor, get their hands on it, Ax may yet see a bit more change from its existing form - though presumably far less drastically than The Great Revision of 2012.

Bilyeau points out the heart of first person - it allows us to identify with a character across so many divides - time, gender, experience of all kinds.  Transcending all the mechanics and even the art - THIS is the very essence of the novel - not of "story telling" nor any other form of literature, though brain studies show we firmly experience those entertainments we watch and read, as if personally.  A novel is immersive beyond even a movie - two or even three hours can be long, and immensely gripping - but a novel takes hold of us even when we must put it down.  It takes over for days, weeks even, and resides beside us as long as we read it.  This is why, when we love them, we love them SO much.  This is why when we dislike a novel - the repulsion can be as emotional as the love is on the other side of the coin.  It's possible to respond neutrally to a novel, sure - but isn't that a fairly bad response for something that takes so much effort, something that can take so much time ... ?

Game of Violence

At the outset:  this post will in no way but here refer to Game of Thrones.  The title above refers to this post, the title of which might be confusing for most of my readers.  GOTY is the acronym for "Game of the Year" - a popular discussion amongst video gamers, discussing personal opinions on the subject and analyzing winners/losers.  Just like the Game of Academy Awards, but with a lot less emphasis on the products put together by stylists.

At Historical Fiction Online, in two threads, rape and sexual violence have been under discussion, and it brought me back to the link at GOTY - which, sincerely, I can NOT recommend highly enough as a powerful and not overly long read.  It goes to unexpected places, but it's an important view of a terrible part of our world.

And that part - rape, violence, violation - is a part of history, too.  This brings me to a post I put up just now ...


It isn't necessary to pretend rape away for it not to happen in a novel - yet the frequency of it in "World Without End" begs a lot more questions than whether the work feels authentic. Sadly, at least for me, many of those questions end up being about the author, and the context of the writing, rather than the novel itself. Why is it necessary to heap nine (I'm not being hyperbolic - I think I'm under-counting, but refuse to re-watch WWE to verify my own tally) rape scenes into ONE single episode of a miniseries? Why are the women in this work presented strictly as a) incestuous mothers, b) victims, or c) Mary Sues? What is in that author's head? Do I really want to know?


Realism is not a problem for me. I recently read a deeply stunning post about violence against Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider game, which came to brutal and incredibly affecting conclusions. As apropos to this thread, I cannot recommend reading it highly enough; though the specific issue is not rape, it looks at violence against a female character with an unblinking gaze, and ends in forgiving realism so powerful it actually triggered an abuse victim into a pretty bad state.

This said: I do not believe that a work LACKING violence (against women - sexual or otherwise) also lacks realism. My MC was no priss about breaking out an ax, but he was the son of a king who was banished by his own people for profligate behavior - and so I felt, given what primary sources did have to say about him, that rape and promiscuity (much less battery) could not be a part of his character. Perhaps if I'd written about the father - history doesn't say he was a rapist, but it would hardly be a stretch to think a king dethroned by those with a deep belief in the spiritual right and charisma of his position might have had to behave outrageously (by our view, criminally) to earn an ousting. Had I been writing that story, now that I think about it, I almost can't imagine NOT including rape in it, even multiple violations. My duty is to the story and not my personal "squicks" about what happens in it.


The reason I'm posting here, apart from my personal axes well ground about rape culture and the war on women, is that final couple of sentences, the whole last paragraph.

We talk a lot, as authors, as readers, about how intimate the process of writing can be, or the experience of reading.  This is my intimacy.  The power for a simple chat online - albeit one about a difficult issue - to turn me to serious consideration of stories that might have been.

Stories which, perhaps, even should be.

I've never found a subject that inspired me to short form histfic, but honestly the idea of taking on Childeric's banishment suddenly fascinates me.  He appears in fragmentary form in The Ax and the Vase; it would be impossible for the father of a king like Clovis (a king who came to the throne so young) not to feel the presence of his own father, even if the character does not appear.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"David Bowie Is" ...

At last, a post that combines my love of artifacts, the history of costume, my middle-aged chick bragging rights about having seen all the cool concerts, and Ziggy/The Thin White Duke/any spider you ever found on Mars ...

No less than the Victoria and Albert Museum has sold, apparently, nearly 50,000 tickets to an exhibition of David Bowie memorabilia, creating what promises to be an exhaustive and multifariously fascinating retrospective of the man, the art, the career - and, yes, the costumes and his various dramatic personae.  Hit the link if for no other reason than the photos The History Girls have posted (by special permission; so not reproduced here) - the Yamamoto bodysuit alone is worth the clicks (two clicks - if you don't view it full size, you aren't viewing it at all!).

Bowie is a valid subject for those interested in history for - pick your reason.  He is the 20th (and 21st, as long as he's been quiet this century) century's answer to the Renaissance man - and his collaborations have  reached farther across the arts and popular culture than anyone in Renaissance times, perhaps, could have, or could even have conceived of.  Not merely by what he has himself done, but by his myriad associations and - let's face it - a dizzying fortune the like of which Michael Jackson never even dreamed - Bowie has accumulated force unlike any other rock star.  Far more than personifying glam rock, he practically invented reinvention - a dynamic so necessary to pop stars today it's almost unthinkable to associate him with the idols who have lived within one image throughout generations-long careers.  There was a time, boys and girls, when even Elvis's single transition from leather jackets to spangled pantsuits could cause cognitive dissonance.  To this day, people still talk about the "fat Elvis" years as something almost alien to the rock and roll guy who gave us his most iconic music - and gleefully cheesy movie musicals.

David Bowie had already lived nine rock and roll lives even by the time *I* saw him in 1984 - and was candid about having damn near lost his, literally, thanks to some of the more florid chemical excesses of his glam years.  The Thin White Duke wasn't ghostly merely in a visual way - he was the husk of a man all but displaying his own corpse.  And that was thirty years ago.

Bowie is the man who caused me my undying adoration for snaggle teeth (I never did forgive him for getting braces - that was actually worse in my mind than marrying someone who wasn't me!).  He was my second big arena show.  He has crooned Wild Is the Wind into my ears since I was a weeping, overdramatic teenager, and my own encroaching age has only deepened my appreciation for the instrument of his voice.

I can hardly even comprehend the level of technical expertise, the sheer madness of his creativity, the scope of his contributions on the stage, and in all the lives of those who are his fans for one reason or other.  Few people have developed the ability to offer quite so damned many reasons, at that.

What's funny is - as hagiographic as all this hyperbole embarrassingly is, and I don't deny it - the fact is, I'm trying NOT to be a gushy little fangirl.  Bowie has DONE all these things - he just IS an immense presence, it's not my gooping about him that makes it so.  If I'm honest, most of my goopier feelings about Bowie are long since dessicated in my own drying-up hide, and I just enjoy (a) the nostalgia memories of my own Bowie experiences bring on, and (b) his catalogue of music, which is literally matchless - without hyperbole.

For those who have the chance, I envy them the opportunity to see this exhibit.

For those who never have - y'all can envy *me* the memory of seeing him live, from the front row.

Schroedinger's Query

Last night on Twitter, an agent I've recently queried said she was reading something she found so hard to put down that she might have to break her two year stretch without signing a new author.

Now, I know she's received hundreds of queries just in the week and a half since I threw my submission in the pile.  I also know that the one she's reading might not be that recent - slush piles being what they are, it can take some agents months to read what they even decide to read at all.  There's no reason for me to think that I'm responsible for her excitement.

Even so, until I know for sure ... I'm in a state of perfect potential - the cat can simultaneously be dead and alive, as far as my experience is concerned.  Quantum state query.  It's also simultaneously exciting and sobering!


In truth, I have been a particularly slow author about my work during this past six months.  I completed the revisions before last October's JRW Conference, but the rate of my submissions is significantly less than it was when I first (thought I had) finished the MSS.  This isn't because I have lost confidence, by any means - and I can't honestly complain that it is because I'm "just too busy" - I'm as busy as I was before, but I may be being more dismissive, in terms of the process of elimination.  I may fear I'm too old.  I may just have become slightly inured to the role of Unpublished Author.

But Ax is a great novel.  Not Great Novel - but a great read, a ripping yarn.  It deserves, perhaps, a better steward than I have been, at least of late, with my lazy advocacy.  It will "get out there" ... but not without my getting it there.


So ...  I have to edit this post to point out that I realized some obvious facts after writing it - and the cat, unfortunately, is dead indeed.

At least, this particular cat.  It's possible there's another box lying around in the world SOMEwhere (though if Carole Blake has gone two years without a new client, I'm thinking at least this query might be short on Possible-Cats).

But the thing is ... she was saying she had something she could not put down (clue #1) AND was talking about signing someone (clue #2).  The thing is, yes - I've queried her recently.  However, I have NOT sent her a partial nor a full.  She has exactly what Blake Friedmann's submissions process requests:  query, synopsis, three chapters.  Boom.

The likelihood of an agent getting that far ahead of a preliminary like that is vanishingly slim, if not outright imaginary, of course.  An agent with the experience of Carole Blake?  I'd suspect none-at-all fits the bill more precisely.

Even so.  One more query.  One more rejection in waiting, I would think - and she's already been so very kind as it is, particularly with me kissing up publicly.  One more step on a path I'm not ready to quit.

Even if I am rather slow strolling along it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Caligula - Not Just for Malcolm McDowell

At the bottom of this post is a link to a fascinating piece about the place costume has in a society - specifically, the shoes of children and even infants, found on the sites of Roman military institutions.  Many know, but many do not - the name "Caligula" was not a formal given name for a particularly infamous Roman emperor; it was a nickname, meaning "Little Boots."

The Roman military shoe (they are generally referred to as boots, but might appear like sandals to a modern viewer) was called the caliga, and its diminutive form was caligula.  Famously, the emperor, son of Germanicus, was dressed as a very small child in boots exactly like those worn by his father's armies.  Thus the name by which we all remember Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Apparently, he was far from the only one - and, like most costuming, his boots were meant for talking.  This is what they said.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What Women *Did*

This article focuses on Hittite women, but certain of the activities it elucidates are close to timeless, or at least functionally practical enough that they span quite startlingly large swathes of history.  One notable exception to this is the role of priestess, which Christian tradition revoked entirely from women once the Catholic church gained sway, and which to this day remains unavailable to those of us with the wrong chromosomes.  At least in some Christian denominations.  Interestingly, the most visible religious role available to women today in that particular tradition is the one marked out by its abstention from the one function for which women have historically been valued, and insists upon virginity.  Hmm.


For those gamers who dip in here from time to time, the single most important, harrowing, and absolutely beautiful post I've ever read about gaming.  It was the article after all.

Women's History, Literally

It's strange for me to go this long without a post, but this past week at work had me so busy that apparently I wasn't coming home in much shape for writing even here.  More important to focus on querying, so at least if I gave up on something it was the irrelevancy of this page.

Still, tonight has provided some entirely fascinating things to read, so it it time to fire up again and share some of these things with you.

First we have an arresting piece of legal history for women's history month, this piece on Hittite law and its protections for my sex.  Like many ancient legal codes, it's fascinating for its mix of enlightenment and dismissal as regards gender rights.  This comes to us courtesy of my newest Twitter pal, Judith Starkson, who works in this interesting period.

The provisions regarding rape are interesting in the bald assumptions made - if a woman is raped outside the home, the man is guilty.  If she is caught with a man in the home, it is not rape - and, indeed, if married, her husband may kill both her and the man with impunity.

In my own research, the traditions of law and wergild eventually informing and becoming part of the Salic law placed the value of a woman in her childbearing years extremely high, societally speaking.  Wergild (the "man-price" as it is often called in explaining the concept - or the recompense owed for the life of someone if they are murdered) is higher for a woman of fertile years than it is for an old man or a boy not yet of an age to fight nor contribute to his community.  She is quite literally valued at a good rate.

The tension between how highly valued women were as potential and actual mothers can be difficult to take for those of us who presume our value is independent of whether we can and/or do bear a man a child.  And yet, especially for those of us who write historical fiction, it is a crucial dynamic in understanding almost any period other than our own.  This valuing(-but-only-on-specific-bases) informs so much about women's power, and lack of it, throughout the world and history.  To try to write around it - or to try to read about history while ignoring it - will obstruct real understanding.  Like so many other aspects of cultures and societies other than whatever may be here-and-now for you, me, or that guy over there smoking a cigarette on the corner, understanding these things is entirely the point.  Without opening up to mores we might find personally questionable, there's no in-depth reading ... and no worthwhile writing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Tidy Rows Shows It Was Early In the Plague

BBC News has a typically informative and relatively in-depth look at yet more grave finds in Britain, this time plague graves outside London.  One of the interesting things about this piece is the comments section (which is often the least interesting, and/or most frustrating accessory to online journalism), in which several posters comment on the virulence of 700-year-old germs.  Brings to mind Connie Willis's Doomsday Book (which beats letting myself get all scoffy at the things people say online and is a good read).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First Works

Today, at the hour the pope was elected, the 60-degree day shifted suddenly from a slightly overcast day to DRIVING SNOW FLURRIES and whitecaps on a little manmade lake, then to half a sky full of sun, half full of dark clouds, then rain, then sun, then I lost track.  Not a good nor a bad thing, but we got some jokes out of it (the best?  "The Pope's first miracle -reversing global warming!") and it made for a little break in the day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Process of Elimination

Tonight seems to be one of those nights when query research is definitely more a process of elimination than a big glut of new emails to send out.  Ah, well.  At least I am doing the work.

In other news:  agencies without websites in this day and age drive me BANANAS.  Likewise those who won't accept queries except via dead-tree mail.  *Le sigh*

Agencies not only having no site, but agents whose interviews are available only via blogs viewable BY INVITATION ONLY - or are so old they no longer even exist on Teh Intarwebs ...  Seriously.  Are you kidding me?

Good Advice from Denise Marcil

I just started researching this one, but it looks like I'm probably not a fit for this agency.  Even so, the advice at the link is VERY good to always keep in mind.


Not long ago, I think I mentioned my frustration with the fact that I've been doing so much better at work, but damn if any mistake I manage to make isn't going to be the one in front of my upper boss.  At the time, he said something to me which was beautifully phrased - but I felt I couldn't really claim.  "It's not a problem of attitude or aptitude" -- and he went on to ask what had been put on me that was too much.

It's not like you can say, "Well the number of changes we make to massive projects at the last moment creates reversals I'm not keeping up with" really.  But not like you can't sort of think it anyway.  The series of eight (or was it ten when we started ... ?) video conferences spanning locations across every time zone.  The travel changes due to family commitments (what admin's going to question THAT!?), or winter storms, or changing needs at the last moment.  I can predict the next flight out is going to come down to a "can we get an earlier flight?" on the morning of, and that is no problem.

The problem is that all these things affect other, smaller things.  That call my boss didn't make because we changed travel and I didn't get his calendar updated.  My fault.  I know it is.

But ...

Oh, the dream.  To actually gripe.

I posted today at one of the chattier fora at Historical Fiction Online ... about what it is like.  When EVERYTHING - every single last goddamned (yeah, I said it; let mom come read it, at this point I wouldn't even apologize) thing - is up ... to you.

"Oddly, I've been having a related sort of gripe for precisely opposite reasons.  Because I am functionally alone and single, EVERYTHING in my world is up to me to manage, handle, do, take care of, endure.  At home, and at work.  And lately, it is just too much.  I am the sort who hates to ask someone else to do what I think of as my job for me, but twice today I turned to the absolute rockstar in our travel group, and dropped "can you call this hotel?" sorts of things on her.  At home, I don't get to come in and relax; first it's feeding, sometimes cleaning up (poop when the dog was sick, or the litterbox, which doesn't take vacation), letting Penelope out in our newly fenced yard (*), walking her, getting myself dinner, getting ready for tomorrow, getting on email, querying, writing that ghost story, researching the WIP, staring stark drool-chinned at the wall for two minutes ...

(* And then there's the financial responsibility for it all, too, which can be a weight when my salary *still* remains less than it was five years ago.  Le sigh!)

When I talk about missing Mr. X ... it's not always for rose-colored reasons.  Sometimes, the mere idea of someone else just pumping the gas once in a blue moon is unreasonably wonderful."


There is nothing whatsoever in my life I can leave for anybody else.  Nothing.  Not a bill to pay, not a menial household chore, not the car, not my job, not the massive debt for a new fence (under $2k might not sound like much to many people; for me it is a colossal commitment), not the million things still in need of attention and remediation around here.  I sometimes say proudly I've paid my own mortgage for twelve years now ... but I've also been hearing since the first year I moved here about all the home improvement projects I "need" to manage.

Mostly from my mom, yeah.  Most recently it was an ongoing slow-burn about how the configuration I chose for fencing the backyard was - basically - "doing it wrong."  When I mentioned at one point the limits on what I care to pay for, the immediate response was "I will pay for the difference" ... but that really went far beside the point.  I didn't want to fence things her way for 100 reasons besides the money.  But she's been feeling the need to tell me lately about all the shortcomings I've been indulging.  I haven't done my taxes yet.  She and my brother don't approve the fence configuration.  After an accidental problem occurred during the fence install, "she'd never get to" its resolution "on her own".

That was the bit that broke this camel and resulted in a bit of, "You know what?  When EVERY single last thing in the world is up to you for twenty-plus years, and you don't have a husband or kids or anyone at all to help you, support you, or even occasionally just do a damn thing for you - THEN you can tell me how wrong I am doing my life."

This wasn't by way of a fight, and didn't even get a serious fret out of her; it is perhaps that blazingly obvious that Diane does a little bit in her life.

And it does have its compensations.  Look at the joy all over that pup-head.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Did You Know About Animal Trials?

The judicial trial of animal defendants is a part of history I've been aware of so long, it never occurred to me until recently that most people - even history and histfic geeks - have not heard of it.  The older I get, the more I run into things like that - tidbits and factoids, and even their debunkings, I know, and consider almost part of the wallpaper of given knowledge - which hardly anybody else has ever heard of.

Twenty years ago, Colin Firth starred in "The Advocate" (also called "The Day of the Pig"), a mystery set amidst the trial of a pig for murder.  More recently, The History Girls have been getting attention with the linked post discussing this phenomenon.

I recommend both the post and the movie - not least for the latter's supporting turns by Ian Holm and Nicol Williamson (possibly best known as Merlin in "Excalibur"), who has the best line in the movie, in an assessment of his daughter's - ahh - marriageability.

Do you ever have "huh" moments about things you think of as common knowledge, which turn out to be unheard of by most others?


Tonight I put aside the ghost story and the still unorganized researching, and got back on the querying horse again for the first time in TOO long (I realize, by looking at the dates of my most recent submissions).  Amazingly, the first two agencies/agents on the list I have to finish out were query-worthy, which is pretty unusual.  Most often, query research is a process of elimination; so how nice to be able to actually fire off two emails in relatively quick succession!

A good evening, all around.  Even with Spring Forward.


Siddy was a dog so unerring in her trustworthiness, I could always leave the room even during a meal, and expect my food to remain unmolested.  When I first adopted Gossamer and Penelope, I had to re-learn not to do that sort of thing ...

And yet, just now, I popped up for a moment to get some water, and Pen never even raised her head toward the unfinished piece of pound cake only inches from her.  Gossy may not have been aware of it, having been playing Kitten In a Box pretty much all day now.  Even so, it was a gratifying moment, to realize the fur kids have come to this point.  A toast to all, with a piece of strawberry swirl pound cake - pets really are amazing sometimes.

Near My Period

One of the fascinations of historical fictions is the different means by which authors choose their history and thus create their fiction.  I've discussed this in the author's note for The Ax and the Vase ... in this post at Reading the Past , we see Justin Swanton (another acquaintance from HFO's fora) discussing his research for Centurion's Daughter, a novel in which Clovis appears.

Wikimedia Commons
Baptism of Clovis, National Gallery of Art, Washington,  DC, USA

Swanton places (Saint) Genovefa's part in the siege at Paris during Clovis' reign; yet my research indicated this occurred during Childeric's (Clovis' father) time.  He accepts the tales of the fratricides and murder within Clotilde's family.  Many people do, of course, so I don't argue that choice.  But, for my own work, I found reason to question these legends, and did not choose to accept nor include them except as rumors, in a fleeting mention.

Swanton also accepts the placement of Clovis' baptism as being nearly simultaneous to or at least within a year of his conversion; whereas, based on some sources and some other indications that showed a conscious self-modeling by Clovis of his life and acts on Constantine, I chose to separate the conversion from the baptism by a period of years, making the baptism perhaps even more profound an alteration by the King.  For Clovis, born a pagan, who believed his very line sprung from a god of the sea, to accept a new faith was a powerful statement.  For a king who carried the charisma of divine descent ... to renounce that and re-anoint himself on his own, by then secure, throne - and to proclaim the tenet of divine right ... was a fundamental enough shift in the public basis of power itself to take some time for a man like Clovis to get to.  He not only redefined his own being - and his royal charisma - he set the course of European royalty for a thousand years and more.  To this day, even Elizabeth II's self-expectation of her divine right is a central part of her every action.  It is a manner of responsibility unlike anything conceived in Clovis' day.  And the responsibility was to the Christian G-d.

Like me, Justin Swanton worked much of the magic by researching everything but the characters - by finding information on the lives lived by, in his case, the Gallo Roman populace of the time and place.  I searched grave goods, researched horse breeds and sword-making, worked out the history of textile and read the Salic law, set down by Clovis himself.  When primary sources are slender, it's possible to learn how many other types of sources there are - in my case, by far more extensive than I had dreamed when starting out.

Elizabeth Chadwick's Agent ...

Elizabeth Chadwick is a friendly and enormously generous author I've become acquainted with at Historical Fiction Online's fora and who was kind enough to follow me back on Twitter as well.  Her periods fascinate me, and her research has come up at this blog of course more than once.  She has shared 29 tips from her own agent, Carole Blake, of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, posted at  Highly recommended, of course, for authors in the querying stage!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lincoln's Witness

The archive of film and video now available in digital form is sometimes breathtaking, sometimes jaw-dropping, sometimes spine-tingling.  This one was, for me, the latter.

Astonishing.  The giant cigarette ad between host and guest is interesting in its way as well - and the prize is $80 and a can of Prince Albert (Mr. Seymour didn't smoke cigarettes).

I'd like to thank Day Al-Mohamed for this link.

A Conversation With Nancy Bilyeau

This is an interesting discussion on the borders of history and historical fiction - one of those things we'll never set nor enforce hard-and-fast rules to determine, but always a fascinating discussion.  Matthew Lyons interviews Nancy Bilyeau.

Coffee, Dryden, and Essence of Old Shoes

For all you coffee lovers, a great post from Deborah Swift - excellent images along with it, too.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Pooch

I don't know why we do it, though my theory is that it started off as a strain of pugnaciousness in the pop-cultural idea of "sexy" in the early 90s.  Whatever its ultimate causes, there seems to be a weird physical tic with an (my) entire generation of American women:  the mouth pooch.  It's most pronounced when you watch "women of a certain age" on TV, and I'd say reality TV is most rife with it (even those with implants still pooch - perhaps even most of all).  What's irritating is that I catch myself doing it all the time, and though a lot of my "concentrating" or emotional facial sets come from mom or are at least something I'd think of as natural, the mouth pooch definitely isn't.  I end up looking like this:

Now, obviously our pal here is *going* for that face.  She's a character whose strongest motivation is to prove how "strong" (read:  angry) she is, so the pooch is every bit the out-thrust-lower-lip facial "dare" expression it ever was in the comics of kids standing up to bullies - or of bullies, at that.  She is, I believe, actually younger than I am, and the hardness about her face goes with a hardness in every other aspect of her persona - and that brand of hardness became, to a lot of women my age, in years long since past, an emblem of power and a certain kind of confident attractiveness.  The high-held chin of a twenty-year-old woman becomes the hatchet-faced caricature of a middle-aged one, and what we cultivate as challenging and empowering at one age may ossify into something less appealing at another.  It may also lead to odd and unpleasant lip implants

It all began ... I won't say "innocently" enough, in the post-seventies age of supermodels with some physical presence, one of whom in particular burst on the pop-cultural scene with a notable brashness and astounding clarity in an image not often cultivated when she emerged.

Image:  LA Weekly
Anna Nicole Smith
Unabashedly curvy, Anna Nicole's Guess campaigns were also considered nearly pornographic, and the message (even if, twenty years later, it looks to some a bit less outre') was and remains abundantly clear.  I'm here to be looked at, and not as a piece of art ... boys.

Another one took the message to boys and girls equally, and had lips hardly in need of pooching.  Look how Angelina Jolie smiled before she became a plastic product:

Look how she LEARNED how to smile as she was transformed:


Even in her latest role as a maturing woman insisting upon respect, Jolie's lips will never release her - nor most of her early-2000s fans, at a bet - from their poison kiss.  She's trapped by a sexuality she traded on cannily when it was less embarrassing - and, even as she collects more and more maternal cred and wizens convincingly into an icily aristocratic looking rich philanthropist with causes, those modeling years, those years making out with her beloved brother, the Billy Bob's blood in a phial around her neck years, *still* inform everything we think of her ... and, to some extent, everything we think of that brand of appeal women tried to invent and then found imposed, during a decade or so when we thought women artists and activists might become relevant, only to find Grrl Power had subsumed thought, self-ownership, and personal power into another fashion statement, another marketing method for cosmetic companies and Hollywood to determine "edgy" body consciousness and reduce ideas to already dated fads aging badly.

It doesn't feel long ago, to me - seeing the brash statement of personal appeal and watching countless people emulating it, catching myself doing the same.  It doesn't feel long ago - seeing vintage clothes and dance and habits re-emerging and becoming something more than marginalized "women's work" (so very cool we were, picking up knitting needles and sewing - like grandma, but DIY-stylee, punking things up (hah), taking ownership).  It doesn't feel long ago - Grrl Power and Lilith Fair and Buffy and PJ Harvey and Ani.  Even then I was already "old" - so could see these things, and think feminism might get somewhere by unexpected, but refreshing routes.

It doesn't even feel all that long ago I watched most of these things either fade away ("the year of the woman" in music - and now all the women are girls with a certain size of waist, a certain shade of pink or blue hair, a certain obedience to their own strictly modulated image) ... or simply grow old.  Or die.

Anna Nicole's death wasn't upsetting for me, but being pretty near her age myself, I understand the world she grew up in intimately well.  I don't understand selling my body as if there were nothing else to give - but I have seen it enough, and not always from so afar, to find it  heartbreaking, even when all the punchlines are so loud.  I remember, in those final months before what now seems must have been inevitable - back when I didn't have cable, and so actually watched Entertainment Tonight, and witnessed the meticulously constant, intimate dissection of her spiraling, ending life.  I remember thinking, "Yes, she's lost weight, and yes, she seems so delicate and so sincere - but she has a hardness to her now."

I remember noticing, over and over and over, the pooch of her lips.  The pushing-away of her very face, the eyes constantly hidden behind false lashes.

Every time I catch myself, still for too long, at my desk at work, paralyzed in an insensible rictus of hatchet-faced concentration, or headache, or inertia - I have got the mouth pooch.  I've looked at myself doing it - it DOES not suit me.  I have a nice enough mouth, but exaggerating it is no favor to anybody looking at my face.  Mom never taught me that face, not as an artifice (and I acknowledge ALL sorts of affectations).  It's not a natural expression.  It seems almost drawn out of me by all the vicarious drama of reality TV, by the expectations of femininity for those of us born at that certain time, by the frustration of its loss, by the hardness of age.  I try to exercise my face, and every day a dozen times I try to force it to relaxation.  The pooch comes back.  The stupid exaggeration, the same effect plastic surgery tries to impose, the same hardness I used to see on "older women" and have cursed myself with bearing now.  It weirds me out, and I haven't figured out how to put a real, final end to it.

Image:  The Daily Tay
(This is Melanie Griffith, by the way)

But at least I *can* ...

Getty Images

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mom Guilt - or - How I Didn't Waste The Good Shoes

When I was a kid, my dad was not what you'd call a pushover, but it was unquestionably our mom who delineated with lines of fire exactly the limits and consequences available to me and my brother for general behavior.  Her expectations were entirely *reasonable* - but infractions were not dealt with by a variable nor lenient hand.  In my case, this has been all to the good; it took me thirty years to grow an ambition gland, even with a motivated mom behind me.  I'm not what anyone would consider an *over*achiever, even if now I'm at least a responsible quasi-grownup.

So today, after two days of feeling like I was cheating at my job by doing it from home (I actually did accomplish plenty; but I also did laundry and got to pet the furbabies, and I was working in sneaks and dog-walking pants), and though there was a storm asserting itself starting in the wee, I got up, confirmed on email that we had no late-report-in nor work-from-home policy in place for the day, and went in to work.  I put on my best dress shoes, picked an unobtrusive warm sweater to top things off, and sashayed off, laptop bag, shoe-carrying bag (I wear flats for the commute, kids - heels hold up better, as do my feet, without outdoors wear-and-tear), purse, and umbrella, and got on the road.  The rain had some snow in it for about half the trip, but at the point I topped the highest elevation in our area (an intersection on the non-interstate route I take in), the storm tipped its hand in earnest.  Literally in the space of the yards it took to crest that hill and cross the intersection, the roads went bad.  And kept getting worse the whole way in.

It never occurred to me to turn around (taking my laptop with me) and go home to work there once again.  Even once I got here, through access streets clearly in a pretty dangerous state, the idea of getting back ON those streets hardly seemed logical nor attractive.  And there still was no notice of any altered operations schedule, once I logged on and got to email.

It was 7:46 before that came out.  And still later they policy was broadcast that WFH (work from home) and liberal PTO were in place.  And what nice timing for all the parents we have, employer entity.  It's not like any of them might have had daycare or school closures before these announcements, nor any inconvenience from the realization that prediction - "one to two inches/minimal accumulation" - and reality - 3/4 of an inch of treacherously heavy slop drivers around here by and large refuse to manage properly in - were at odds.  I didn't strongly care, really - but it can be said one of our other employees came in long enough to pick up their laptop and go, and only one other non-manager came in at all.  He left shortly after the manager said we probably should.

I wanted to get some things tied down, kept tying them down, and ended up deciding, to heck with it, I'll stay.

And then my upper management decided they were going to come out to our location after all (having had meetings at another location for the morning).  With a pretty slender population out here overall, in our own group, only the manager and I have been here to play welcoming committee to our execs.  Thank goodness mom instilled in me that sense that not being at work is really not working.  Even though I still get a lot done - the fact that I can snuggle with kittens and do laundry in between calls and tasks makes WFH just feel like cheating in my obsolete and geriatric heart of hearts.  The world has changed, but sneakers and dog-walking pants still don't feel like professional attire, even when nobody sees them.

And so it was that my vintage style Circa Joan and David's tuxedo-bow pumps did not go to waste.  My bosses in no way whatever actually care WHAT is on my feet.  It's not like they want anything but that everyone on their team do the work and look presentably professional - as long as nobody's sporting wildly inappropriate skank clothing nor embarrassingly torn things, they aren't looking twice is my presumption.  But as with most clothing - the pumps are for me.  They have a look I care to present in this context, and they're comfortable as can be.

And so a snow storm didn't let an arbitrary effort go to "waste" nobody would know about nor worry about, even me.  Not the worst score of my day, actually!

Even As It Edges Toward Obsolescence ...

... it still never, ever gets old - nor even ends up quite *wrong* ...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Food Regulation - 16th Century

English History Authors has a wonderfully detailed post about the way we standardized and enforced the quality of food in 16th century England - more excellent starting points for research!

DS9 - "Body Parts"

I've been enjoying some episodes from Season 4 of Deep Space 9, a period in the show when the Dominion War is heating up.  Right now, I've hit pause on "Body Parts" - one of those intriguing plotlines Trek likes to do, in which the real life pregnancy of Nana Visitor (Major Kira Nerys) is dealt with by having the fictional child of Chief and Keiko O'Brien transferred to the Major's womb in emergency circumstances.

Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig - or Siddig El Fadil, in previous seasons; in real life, the father of Visitor's child), explaining to the Chief and Captain Cisco after the transfer procedure has taken place, says, "I had to find another womb for the baby, and the only two people available were Major Kira and me."

Cisco nods sagely and says in his inimitable voice, "I think you made the right choice, Doctor."

I'm leaving some space after that statement so as to simulate a bit of a pause here.  Let's leave aside the contrivance that we're dealing with, the management of a cast pregnancy we don't want to script for the character, and think about the universe Trek is supposed to take place in, and its cultures.

Major Kira is Bajoran, and Keiko O'Brien a human being.  The incompatibilities between these species are dealt with in pretty compelling detail as the O'Brien/Kira pregnancy advances.  The dangers are not minimal, and there are risks.

The doctor says, specifically, "I had to find another WOMB for the baby."

But ... even since I was a little girl, medical science has acknowledged the physical fitness of the human male to carry a child.  Biologically imperative it ain't, but in a gestation similar to the mechanism of an ectopic pregnancy, it's long been accepted as physically possible.  Given the supposed gender equality and socially openminded milieu of Trek, particularly DS9 (there is at least one episode where Cisco himself talks about buying a baby gift for an expectant *father* on the station), would not the least impact have been made on this child by providing it the nearest possible equivalent of its mother's species gestational environment?  A human body?

(Yes, yes, yes - I am aware the point was to deal with Visitor's condition - we're being intentionally esoteric here, looking at the question, not the actual situation.)

Given Siddig's actual paternity (again, yes, I know I'm contradicting my own logic here - it's NOT as if Trek doesn't do that constantly!), there'd be a certain rightness about his taking on this particular, ah, function.  And he's the doctor.  Heck, prenatal care is right there, and with the right species as incubator too.

My point is that the built-in presumption was that this particular plot contrivance could be so unquestionably presumed is built, in fact, on a gender role expectation already explicitly contradicted by the show's own internal logic and societies.  Where demonstrated, even pointed, diversity in biological and gender roles has been so explicitly stated - it's weird that the only reason the inter-species transplantation of a pregnancy is performed is that the only same-species candidate around was a male.

Trek does this sort of thing all the time, of course - and often coming up with varying answers for itself depending on the needs of one given episode.  I don't find these sorts of things annoying, but do find the convolutions fascinating.  Almost like Bible study, the loopholes, errors, and omissions are for some worthwhile in themselves.  Like, what's a fig tree doing in a vineyard?  Heh.

Edited to add:  TWO EPISODES LATER, we're again mentioning the male gestating parent "budding" again - indeed, commenting on his prolific littering!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pitching With Brevity

Leila, this is pretty interesting.  I might have to try a few versions myself!  I like your second one as the grabber.

More 19th Century Color

Even before Perkins' aniline dyes, clothing styles of the 18th century were not drab and colorless.  We never have been, of course - all medieval and other early production design aside - but American Duchess has some excellent photos this week, of Regency era styling in golden yellows, and an exciting project to come in one of my personal addictions - sari silk!

Passion of Former Days

The Passion of Former Days blog has some GREAT images up - first, Daguerrotype Babies - and next, Cornwall in Color.  Not to be missed - Tintagel, for those Arthurian lovers out there.

Kim Rendfield and Her Dad

I've grown a little addicted to Dr. Zollman's physics posts at Kim's blog.  In related news, I love her thoughts on religion in history!

The Chalice - The Trailer

From the delightful Nancy Bilyeau - take a look at the trailer for The Chalice!

Friday, March 1, 2013

1896 in Snow!

This is a GREAT vid from Two Nerdy History Girls, and I'm so excited they posted it!  Another very old French moving picture:

As to the Girls' comment on the leg-o-mutton sleeves?  Those gave the women's shoulders the room to MOVE and  throw!

1856 In Color

William Perkin, in 1856, famously gave the world its first synthetic dye when he was trying to do something else (producing synthetic quinine).  The byproduct of his experimentation gave the world a blast of color even those who have heard of Perkin - or his dye, mauveine - has largely forgotten, because so many who study don't always see.

Image:  Wikimedia

Images of genuine dresses from the 19th century sometimes shock people.  We think of history in sepia tones, and the reality of aniline dye overturns all our expectations either of languidly lit, romanticized Victoriana - or of frumpy, potato-colored drudgery.  (Of course, potatoes can dye a purplish sort of hue, but that's a post for someone else's blog.)

Aniline was eye-popping, and quickly grew beyond its first hue, mauveine (don't think of the drab tone of mauve - here you go) into colors we might call garish compared to the staid expectations later ideas and nostalgia painted over the reality of historical costuming.  The reality was strong stuff - exuberant, even.  In fact, aniline color was just as powerful as the design itself, of the second half of the 19th century:

Copyright:  Victoria and Albert Museum

Brutal angularity in the transition, extravagant volume and textile in the polonaise styling at the bustle, acres and acres of ruching and ruffling, trims, and every seam - designs like this were meant to showcase cut and fabric - and color was a massive presence in design.  There's no way around the acid shades of the era, and there's plenty of documentary and even, as above, surviving textile evidence of their vividness.  Critics decried the fashion for these new dyes with parodic names modeled on illnesses (mauve measles); but, as we certainly know, brights were here to stay.  With the advances in mass production and increasing availability and decreasing price for chemical color, we've never looked back.  Just today at lunch, Cute Shoes and I shared a charming bistro with a very large contingent of Red Hat ladies.

Image:  Wikipedia
Mind you, there's a lot to be said for woad, too - and natural dyes rightly have regained a great following in the 21st century (remember that comment about potato dye?).  But obviously the chemicals ... are color stay.

Poor Spelling

My ex husband and I used to argue about the importance of spelling.  After our divorce, he emailed me way-back-when to give me the news he'd graduated magna cum laude in Enlgish.  I dam near died.  Laughing.  We're friends, and I love him very much - but there are reasons we are divorced!

Any way, spelling does in fact matter.  We judge others by their presentation, and communication is nothing else.  More to the point - language is a tool!  Used improperly, even excellent tools can cause injury.

Or a loss of sales.  For instance ...  eBay sellers:  spelling actually is important.  If I want to find your items for sale, I won't be able to if you don't bother speaking the language coherently.  Well, typing it.

A sampling:

60ies and 70ies
sequence (for sequins)
patient leather (are shoes made of this as comfortable as they sound???)

Ed. to add - 03/04/2013 - one of the queens on RuPaul's Drag Race almost got into an argument with production staff over using a lyric about a "sequence" dress.  SIGH.