Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Edwardian Advice on Baby's First Clothes

I recently acquired several antique magazines and found the advice contained in this article interesting. It seems trivial, but several of my friends who are first-time parents have found themselves in all-out marital war over baby's clothes. Mother wants to dress baby up in all the cute, ruffly, patterned, and themed outfits she can find. Father insists the most basic multi-packs of onesies from Walmart and a few swaddling blankets will be more than sufficient since baby is just going to poop and pee on everything before quickly out-growing it anyway.

Mary Bentley offered the following compromise in Delineator Magazine in June, 1907.

"How to make her first baby's clothes is the most vital problem which confronts the young mother. The advice of well-meaning friends is confusing because it is so contradictory. What shall she she do?

This I will endeavor to tell her in the clearest and most concise manner possible, and she may follow the directions with certainty that she will make ample provision for the baby's needs. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Prince Dead: A Note on History

Just a reminder… Prince Dead is still on sale for $.99 on Amazon. As always, it is free to read for members of Kindle Unlimited and you can preview the novel here.

Note: This post is a re-print of the Forward from the novel which explains the decisions behind the presentation of some of the minor historical points. If you are considering purchasing, I hope this helps.

Author’s Note
The Vikings are a people whose history has been much clouded in legend, forgotten in time, warped by their enemies, and twisted in popular culture. Even their name, the Vikings, is incorrect to their people as it stems from the Old Norse word Vikingr, meaning freebooter, sea-rover, or pirate. Not all Vikings were pirates. Most were farmers, landowners, and craftsmen, but it is the few great seamen and the warriors who ravaged foreign lands whom are best remembered.

Gokstad Ship
Among our sources of knowledge about the Scandinavian people of the eighth to eleventh century are the rare rune stones. These give us records written in the actual period. However, they are scarce and, unlike other ancient languages, there is no Rosetta Stone to help in their deciphering. In fact, it would seem that what is recorded on many of these stones is street directions, which indicates that the majority of the population was literate, but tells us little else.

Detail from Oseberg Ship
We also have pieces recovered from archaeological digs. Among the most famous of these are the Oseberg Ship and the Gokstad Ship. Though they are only two of many vessels which have been unearthed, they are the most well-preserved, having been buried in clay. From these and other finds, archaeologists know that by the ninth century Viking ships had undergone vast improvements as compared to their earlier counterparts and were built for specific purposes. Some were large, robust vessels, equipped with sails and built for the open seas. Others were slim, fast war ships, wherein rows took the place of importance. There is even evidence of ships which seem to be built specifically for cargo.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Prince Dead: A Historical Heroine

Just a reminder… Prince Dead is still on sale for $.99 on Amazon. As always, it is free to read for members of Kindle Unlimited.

Now that I had a character sketch for my hero, and had chosen the setting, I needed to draft an idea for my heroine. She was to be Irish, but beyond that I did not know.

There seems to me to be a dominate popularity in historical fiction for what I call, “bad ass warrior babes”. You know what I’m referencing. These are the heroines whose long hair flows in the breeze without ever getting caught on anything and whose gravity-defying breasts do not fall out of their anachronistically low-cut gowns as they meet their enemies in hand-to-hand combat. They are 5’2” tall and weigh 110 pounds but still boast the decadent curves of a Golden Era Hollywood siren, and they are so mighty that when sword-fighting the 6’5” warrior hero who was trained up for battle from the cradle, they send him straight onto his backside and steal his heart.

As you may have guessed, this heroine bores me.

My heroine would be a strong woman, one who was up for adventure, but not an utterly perfect goddess entirely lacking in self-doubt. She must be intelligent and cunning, I decided, but more empathetic than my hero.

I turned once more to my research. Ireland was in a transition phase during the period I meant to set my novel. The old Celtic ways had already been touched by Roman Imperialism and were now merging with newly adopted Catholic beliefs and culture.

I wanted to capture this cultural strain in my heroine. Ironically, most of the first-hand accounts of the Celts were written by their enemies, just as is the case for the Vikings. We do know that there were high-ranking women of power among the Celts and it seems certain that Celtic women held a better position in society than Roman women. Ammianus Marcellinus, describes meeting Celtic women in battle by stating they were “large as men with flashing eyes and teeth bared”. There is also a notion, first popularized by 18th and 19th century Romantic authors that the Celts were a strictly Matriarchal society, yet there is little direct evidence to support this. The Catholic influence in my setting would surely have put an end to much of this, but I wanted it’s echoes to still be heard in my novel.

My heroine would be a stand-in landlord for her father who left her in control when he went on a pilgrimage. Her younger brother would be coming of age, however, and have the full support of the local church in trying to grab power from his sister. The people they rule over are torn, some happy with the way she has managed things, others sure that their leader must be a man, others simply taking the opinion of their priest as fact. To further complicate it, they face encroachment and possible defeat by a neighboring warlord, one who has fully immersed himself in the old traditions and who has no interest in the culture of the Catholic church.

Thus, my heroine would teeter on the edge of losing all. She would try to balance the needs of her people with her own beliefs. She would barter, manipulate, compromise, and fight to do what she believes right.

Now, to make things just a little harder on my heroine, I would send in the Viking invasion…

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Prince Dead: The Setting

Just a reminder… Prince Dead is still on sale for $.99 on Amazon. As always, it is free to read for members of Kindle Unlimited.

Once I had a character outline for my hero, I knew I needed to decide on the setting of the novel. My Viking would be invading… somewhere… sometime. I just needed to know where and when. I turned once again to my copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on June 8, 793 AD, “the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter”. Subsequent raids in England between the late 8th century and the first half of the 9th century were sporadic and seemingly unorganized. After that, however, the attacks intensified until in 869, the Vikings killed King Edmund and conquered East Angles.

I wanted to set the novel within this time frame, when the Viking were known and feared in the British aisles, but before they gained a true stronghold. I was not sure, however, that I wanted the novel set in England. That story, it seemed to me, had been told.

Between 795 AD and 824 AD the Vikings attacked Rechru, Innis Patraic, Do Chonna, Inishmurray, Roscam, Ulaid, Clew Bay, Howth, Cork, Skellig, and Etgal. They plundered, killed, razed monasteries and villages, and kidnapped women for hostages and slaves. From thence forward, the attacks in Ireland only intensified, just as they had done in England.

I personally never knew much about this and I suppose it is because, in an ironic turn of events, American students are generally given English history almost as their own prior to Christopher Columbus arriving in North America. We focus on English history, I suppose, for the simple reason that we can read it. So, while I was vaguely aware that the Vikings had raided throughout the British Aisles, Ireland was not the first place that jumped to my imagination when I thought of Viking invasions.

For this reason, I decided to set the novel in Ireland. It fit just enough with people’s preconceived notions (Americans’ at least), but would offer a bit of a fresh take. So, half my characters and my hero were to be Vikings. Now, I decided the heroine and the other half of the characters were to be Irish.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Prince Dead: The Inspiration for a Viking

In honor of the $.99 promotion I am currently running on Amazon for my Viking adventure novel Prince Dead, I would like to share a little bit about my inspiration for it.

I had known for some time that I wanted to write something set in the Viking era, though I did not know what. So, I had tinkered around with some research to understand the Viking age and the customs of it's people. I knew that the pop culture image of horned-helmet wearing, blood swilling, culture-lacking barbarians was not based in reality. Not even the name we call them, The Vikings, is accurate. Vikingr described the raiders, adventurers, and conquerors who traveled the seas and rivers in pursuit of fame and fortune. To call all Nordic people of this period Vikings is like calling all Europeans in the 18th century pirates.

When I wrote the novel, I knew I wanted to portray a more accurate, rounded image of these people and their cultures, though much of their history is shrouded in mystery. I also knew I would probably write about a raider, a true Vikingr for the simple reason that, like most people, they captured my imagination. The trouble was, I had no idea for a general plot line.

Authors get their ideas in myriad ways and this one came to me in the form of a single picture. I was never a fan of HBO's True Blood. I think I watched half an episode once. One day, however, I happened upon an image of Alexander Skarsgard as vampire / Viking Eric and, for whatever reason, a character started to form in my head.

The character I wanted to write was born to his bloody profession. He did not choose it. He was a quiet man who led a hard life, full of loss and misery. His fate seemed to him to be predestined. He felt he was living on borrowed time.

Further research helped me better sketch the character. The Nordic countries in the Viking age were generally politically turbulent, ruled by clans rather than kings, and plagued with blood feuds and invasions. There were, however, some united kingdoms, and a few great kings. To write about a common man would not provide that feeling of fate to the character, but to write about a noble king or a prince seemed too tediously cliche.

Yngvarr would be the son a a great king, but the disposable son. Nowhere close to being in direct line for the throne, he would be the black sheep of the family, the one they sent to lead the troops into battle when they could not surrender but knew there was no hope of victory. He was raised to serve his family and did so with pride and single-minded determination. The brutality of his era, his military training, and his unwavering loyalty made him ruthless, uncaring, and wary in many ways. He would be a bit of a dark hero, a man whom very few knew well.

At last I had a general sketch for my hero. Now, I needed my setting and my heroine.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Northman Saga: Prince Dead $.99 Promo

Now through Friday 19th Prince Dead will be on sale on Amazon for $0.99! 

Ireland 816 AD

In the dark of night, a Viking warship lays anchor. Ninety warriors besiege a village, lighting its huts aflame and pillaging its monastery. No sooner are they heavily laden with loot than a great storm arises, quenching their fires. They watch, helpless, as their ship is pulled out to sea and smashed to splinters against the cliffs.

Stranded in a foreign land amongst the rubble of their own destruction, caught in the midst of a war not their own, and facing a harsh winter, the Vikings do not fear, for they follow Yngvarr in Feigr…

Prince Dead

Free previews are available on my blog or through Amazon. As always, Prince Dead is free to read through Kindle Unlimited.   

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Colonial Kitchen

My latest novel will be set at the dawn of the American War for Independence and a great deal of the action will take place in the home of the protagonists. We all know that the kitchen is the heart of any home, and it was no different in the 18th century, so I have been doing a little research to make my setting as accurate as possible.

The greatest differences in the style of fireplaces and hearths in this era were dependent on wealth more than cultural or geographic variation. The wealthy might have a separate kitchen where the fireplace could be built up to eight or ten feet wide with a cast iron fire back to protect the hearth from the extreme heat. Contrary to popular imagination, there was not often a giant, roaring fire set in these huge fireplaces. Instead, multiple, small fires of varying intensities would be lit and utilized rather like multiple burners on a modern stove. These fires could be built on andirons or grates. A metal crane would have been used and, with no expenses spared, could have swung on an arm toward or away from the fire, held multiple cauldrons, and raised and lowered them to various settings. A small army of servants or slaves would have attended an array of copper, brass, and iron cauldrons, fry pans, dutch ovens, spits, roasters and even waffle irons.

It was not unusual in this era for all cooking to be done over fire, though separate ovens were sometimes built, particularly in these wealthy homes. Ovens were beehive shaped and constructed beside or below the main fireplace. When beside the fireplace, there was sometimes space to build in a warming oven beneath the baking oven. The oven door could be wood alone or wood backed with metal. These ovens were utilized by first lighting a fire inside until the desired temperature was reached, then scraping out the coals, quickly mopping out the ashes, and then placing the food to be baked inside. This process could take anywhere from one to three hours. A clever cook could use the oven to cook multiple things requiring different temperatures by arranging the order of the items to be baked. In other words, one might start off with a crusty loaf of bread requiring high heat, followed by pie needing medium heat, and finally a crock of baked beans could be made with the residual heat. Here is a great video on baking bread in this style of oven, although this particular oven is outdoors.

My characters are a couple of young farmers who have fallen on hard times, so like most people of their position in this era will not have an actual "kitchen". Their home consists of two rooms: a bedroom and an "everything else room". It is in this main room that the food preparation will take place (along with things like emergency surgeries, gun running, and spying... but never mind about that.)

The fire was all important, cooking all meals and warming the house, so for poor people, the fireplace, hearth, table, and shelving could make up half or more of the entire house. They burned any and all wood available to them. In these houses, the cook would not have had access to a plethora of cooking accessories. Instead, a single "lug pole" (a pole cut out of green wood and used in place of a crane to hang pots) and perhaps a skillet, cauldron, kettle, and Dutch oven would have made do if you were lucky. In the south, corn cakes might be baked on the iron end of a hoe and, therefore, called hoecakes. In the north, they were baked on wooden bannock boards and called bannock cakes. You can also see in the painting below a hanging rack which was essential for hanging freshly butchered meat.

If you are wondering if hanging your heavy cauldron from a wood pole over a hot fire, baking your cakes on wooden boards, and having a wooden door to your oven might be a little dangerous, the answer is yes. The lug pole sometimes came crashing down, cauldron, hot soup and all. The bannock boards did not last long and might catch fire if the cook was not watching. You could soak your oven door in water before baking if you were fortunate enough to have the available water and container to do so, but you didn't count on it lasting long. And yes, skirts did occasionally catch fire, although the natural linen and woolen fibers of the period would usually smolder rather than catch flame and the smell would alert their wearer to the danger before any serious damage was done.

The upside to all of this? Food probably tasted better. It was very interesting to hear Ruth Goodman explain her trials and tribulations with a "new and improved" coal cook stove in Edwardian Farm after watching her cook over open fires and smoldering coals for Tales from the Green Valley and Tudor Monastery Farm. Her explanation was that while wood smoke tastes amazing and you almost want to encourage it to get into your food, coal smoke is disgusting and must be kept from the food at all costs. To put is simply, imagine eating barbecue all year every year.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Body in the Bog -- Tollund Man

When digging in the Bjaeldskovdal peat bog in May of 1950, two brothers and one of their wives stumbled upon a corpse. Under more than six fit of peat, it lay in the fetal position, a cap still on it's on head and a rope still tightened around its neck. The face was that of a man, his stubble and wrinkles still evident, his expression strangely peaceful. Besides the pointed, sheepskin cap, a wide belt around his waist, and his noose, the body was completely nude. Believing they had discovered a recently murdered man, the family notified the police in Silkeborg, Denmark.

Unable to determine a time of death, the police eventually brought in archaeology professor P.V. Glob to assist. His findings? The acid and lack of oxygen in the peat bog along with cold Scandinavian temperatures had preserved the body for over 2,000 years and it had likely been placed there as a ritual sacrifice.