December 18, 2010

Guest Post--Consuelo Saah Baehr, author of Daughters

I would like to welcome Consuelo Baehr to the blog today.  Please enjoy her informative post on researching historical fiction.

When I began my historical saga, Daughters, I could just as easily been about to perform brain surgery. That is how inexperienced I was at research, never mind integrating world events and data into a smooth flowing narrative. My major qualification was that my paternal grandparents had grown up in a small village near Jerusalem (where my novel is set) and many relatives were still around to remember how things were done in the old days. I began with an oral history from both men and women. If there are people who still remember their own stories or stories they heard growing up an oral history helps you get the minutiae of daily life down in an unselfconscious way. Oral history told me the terrain of the village, the crops the farmers grew, the growing season, when the harvests took place and how the villagers participated. I found out the kind of food they ate, the rhythm of the seasons and the way they spent their days and how they courted and married.

Jerusalem has always been a cosmopolitan city because of the pilgrims who flock to the Holy Places for all religions and inevitably there were many travel books and memoirs written about it. Two of the most helpful books were Jerusalem Walks and the diaries of the Society of Friends. Jerusalem Walks pinpoints the Street and house number of stores, banks, publications, monasteries, churches etc. When you can name a Street or a specific spot, the reader feels comfortable.

In this passage, the father in Book One inherits a plot of land and grows some vegetables that he brings on a cart to sell in Jerusalem:

“By May he was able to bring his early crop to the Jaffa Gate and sell it alongside those of the other village farmers. The plaza outside Jaffa Gate was the busiest spot in all Jerusalem for here ended the well-traveled road from the ancient port city of Jaffa. Here, diligences, carriages bringing imported necessities and luxuries, discharged their passengers and goods. Mustafa fashioned a two-tiered cart with long handles to hold his produce and he and Miriam pushed it the ten miles from Tamleh every Wednesday. The spot they chose was at the foot of Suleiman Street in front of the French Hospital of St. Louis.

It was the thriving hub of the city. Jaffa Road, though still unpaved, had sidewalks. In just one small stretch, across from the Russian Compound, there was a branch of Barclay’s Bank, the Hughes Hotel, a specialty cobbler and several elegant shops and cafes. The Greek Consulate occupied spacious offices stop one building that housed a branch of the Russian Post Office below.”

Also invaluable were the diaries of the Society of Friends who began building schools in my fictional village in the 1850’s. With the help of the diaries, I knew precisely what day, the British Protectorate ended and the area was left without a government because the teachers heard the armies marching out at midnight and I could say that with certainty to my readers.

Toward the end of the First World War, when my fictional family has to leave the village to escape a famine and cholera, they walk across the Jordan to a monastery in En Salt.  I was completely comfortable describing the terrain because I had read descriptions in several memoirs.

“It was so hot. The dust on the road attacked their throats and gagged them and they stopped speaking to conserve their saliva. Only Esa had energy and he skipped ahead sometimes running back to apprise them of some horny-headed lizard or chameleon he spotted on a rock. Toward afternoon of the next day, after stopping to rest at dawn, they reached the great depression of the Ghor that provided a bed for the Jordan. They passed many gorges into which the debris from the hillsides had tumbled creating a desolate wasteland. Most frightening of all were the narrow defiles with perpendicular sheets of striated cliffs on each side allowing no place to turn should they be attacked. Nadia crooned softly to herself and stuck her thumb in her mouth, lethargic from the heat and dehydration. The older boys and Nadeem took turns leading the donkey. Miriam kept her eye on Esa but her mind wandered and from time to time she became disoriented.

On first view, the Jordan appeared as a meandering ribbon of grass. There were muleteers who warned them of the muddy bottom but when their donkey began to slip and flounder and was in danger of drowning, the men made no move to help. Nadeem cut the animal loose from the packages and Miriam saw all of their belongings sink to the bottom. He saved only the food and although he submerged himself several times searching for the water skin, the men called out that it was useless. The strong current had already taken their cargo several miles. Nadeem led the donkey back and forth with each of them atop the animal. When they were all safely on the other side, he sat by himself, his wet clothes plastered around his thin body and wept into his hands.”

If you can use the name of the boat, the name of the street, the name of anything, it becomes much more authentic and valuable.

“Samir sailed from the port of Jaffa with twelve other passengers on a coal-burning cargo ship of the Khedevieh Line that was under British control. He left on September 11, allowing himself three weeks to make the trip and arrive in time for the fall term at the London School of Economics, which had become recognized as part of London University for the BSc degree in Economics. The ship dropped cargo at Naples and Lisbon and that was the last comfortable climate he was to know. The school was located in Aldwych just off The Strand and about a mile from Bloomsbury, the central University site. He was assigned a cold and drafty room on Fitzroy Street but it might as well have been off the face of the earth as he knew it.”

I felt very comfortable depicting the first meeting of an arranged marriage because I had heard it straight from my aunt’s mouth. In this scene the rebellious daughter is alone with the boy her parents have decided would be a good match. He has just asked a fatal question.

“Why do you want to go to such a rigorous school? My sister goes to Mar Yusef. It’s a good enough place.”

She looked at the boy as if he had spoken an obscenity. What made him an authority on what was good enough for her? It’s the best school in Palestine, “ she said firmly. “The American Consul says so and the British Consul agrees. Every visiting scholar makes it his business to stop by and lecture to us. Anyone who graduates can pass the London University Exam or the National Matriculation Exam. How can you ask such a question? If you had a choice between having something that was just so-so and having the best, which would you choose?”

The boy was frowning. He wasn’t expecting such aggression and it confused him. She could see he was deciding whether to be aggressive in return or to be polite. He sighed and shifted so that instead of sitting squarely on the couch, he was angled toward her. “How do you like to pass your time? Or perhaps you don’t have any free time in this fancy school.” He said “fancy” in a sarcastic way so she knew his feelings were hurt.

From out of nowhere she had this sense of freedom to say anything she pleased. It was wonderful not to care how someone reacted. “I pass my free time playing tennis. I’m mad for tennis.” She was trying for an off-hand brittleness precisely because it would annoy him.

“Tennis? Where you hit the ball back and forth?”

“Well . . . that’s not all of it.” To explain the finer points of the game would be useless. He would scoff. “How do you pass your free time?”

“I don’t have much of it,” he said proudly. “My father and I have the franchise for the Singer machines. Do you own a Singer? Do you sew?”

For any major event, I always researched at least two sources, especially for the passages of Bedouin life in the desert. I had to know it well enough to put one of my characters in the thick of it for an entire chapter. One of the main characters in Book Two is sent to become “a man” in the desert. By making Samir naive, the reader and I can ask a lot of questions:

“Why do you choose to live like this? Samir asked. It had occurred to him that Marwan’s father was wealthier than many of the villagers, yet this life held relentless hardship. They slept on the stony ground, chilled to the bone by night and suffocated during the day. Water was precious and rare for these were the driest days of the year and it would be two months before the rains began to replenish the water holes. Food was monotonous. The frothy salty camel milk fresh from the udder was repulsive but there was nothing else and he reluctantly began to tolerate it. The occasional meat was cooked so rare he couldn’t touch it yet the young men fought for the raw heart of any animal that was slaughtered. They guzzled the blood believing it gave them strength and virility. “Don’t you yearn for a different life?”

“Where else would I live? I was born here as was my father and his father before him.”

“But it’s so difficult. There’s a much easier way.” As he said this, anxiety rose in him. Would his father come back to claim him? And when?

Marwan laughed. “Easier for whom? We welcome the hardships of the desert. We love them.”

“But why?”

He answered with an innocence that made Samir ashamed for questioning. “We love the desert life because it is ours.”

But it is not mine, thought Samir with sadness.

One early morning, after the moon had set but while it was still dark, Marwan shook him. “We must ride into the wilderness,” he said and handed Samir a waterskin and some dried dates. Each rode a dromedary while two riderless mares cantered at their side and held by lines to the camel girths. A few miles out of the camp, Marwan, rifle in hand, flung himself from the camel onto the back of his mare, unslipped the line and raced off in a cloud yelling wildly. Samir made three attempts to do the same but fell twice. He couldn’t ride bareback and found himself gripping with his thighs for dear life. He reached Marwan who was casually pitching stones at a pile of bleached animal bones.

“I thought you were in danger,”’ shouted Samir.

“You were supposed to ride as if danger were near,” said Marwan coolly.

“I almost broke my back. Who ever heard of riding a blasted horse without a saddle! And jumping on him at that!”

“It’s the way it is done.”

“It’s a good way to kill yourself.”

“It’s the way we ride for the gazu, the raid,” he said stubbornly. “It is the way we move our camps. It is the way we protect our grazing areas and our flocks. In order to survive in the desert you must be ready to move swiftly from the camel to the war mare. It is the only way to be a man. We must try it again until it is as easy as walking.”

Samir rubbed his back. He thought: I’m never going to be in a raid. I’m not going to move a camp. One day I will return to my home. Yet Marwan was already retying his line to try again. They worked all day on the maneuver and Samir was enticed by the spectacular look of the transfer when it was accomplished properly. Using the left wrist to launch himself, Marwan lifted both legs up and to the right then swung gracefully between the two animals and landed squarely on the back of the mare, unhitching the line at the same instant he spurred the horse. Then came the wild yell of freedom. The thrill of speed atop the most splendid horses in the world, the “drinkers of the wind.”

In the end, after two years of exhausting research and re-writing, I was proud of the book that resulted. Daughters was translated into fifteen languages and received excellent reviews.

Thank you, Consuelo, for sharing your research experience with us.  Those of us who love historical fiction really enjoy learning about the ins and outs of writing the genre.

About Daughters:
From the one room dwellings of a tiny village near Jerusalem to the elegant town houses of Georgetown; from a world steeped in ancient traditions to a world of independent women comes this multi-layered novel of the lives, loves, secrets and strivings of three generations of Palestinian Christian women.

Miriam Mishwe is born into a world that hasn't changed for centuries, rural Palestine in the last years of the 19th century. She marries a man chosen by her family but the world she sees as unchangeable is on the verge of upheaval.

Nadia is Miriam's daughter. Sent to a local British school, she adopts many modern ideas but is not ready to renounce her heritage. It is Nadia's child, Nijmeh, who looks to the west and calls herself by her English name, Star, when she goes to live in America. There she faces problems unknown in her childhood world of brooding hills and desert and brilliant skies.

Daughters is an unforgettable novel about courage, love and hope; and about two worlds, one ancient, one modern, and the extraordinary women who bridge them.

About Consuelo Baehr:
I am a repurposed writer who got off the couch several months ago, formatted my out-of-print backlist books published them on Amazon and now sell them in the Kindle store. The idea of publishing another book with a traditional publisher was so daunting, I remained silent for several years. E-publishing has set me free. My mind used to only work for a couple of hours in the morning. Now it works all the time. . I don't know if I will sell enough books to make a difference in my life but the "psychic" income of having control to publish my writing and control what happens to it is thrilling. Yes, thrilling. The first day, I pulled the trigger and uploaded my historical epic novel, Daughters, onto the publishing platform on Amazon, I was beyond happy. As Truman Capote said when he sold two short stories in one day, "Dizzy with happiness is no mere phrase. It used to be that I would clean the oven to avoid writing. Now I write avidly because I know I can publish what I write. I have satisfied my two passions - writing and commerce. I'd love to share the ride with you and also two or three other things.

Visit Consuelo at her website HERE
Daughters can be purchased on AMAZON

December 14, 2010

A Humble Proposal to Standardize Historical Fiction Citations By Stephanie Dray

A Humble Proposal to Standardize Historical Fiction Citations

Historical fiction exists in the sometimes murky world between literature and scholarship. As authors, we rely upon sources both in the public domain and out of it, both contemporary and ancient. Yet, no uniform procedures or system for recording and giving credit to sources have yet been adopted.

While footnotes are called for in academia, they distract fiction readers. Consequently, historical fiction sources are most often cited in the acknowledgements page or at the end of the book in an author's note. Unfortunately, due to the cost of printing paper, this solution is often discouraged by the publisher. Even when a publisher is amenable to this solution an author may only have a certain number of pages he or she can dedicate to the enterprise, and any information that crops up after the publication of the book cannot be added to the list.

Jan. 4, 2011

Given the rise of the electronic book, this may soon prove to be no problem at all. However, we currently exist in limbo between a world of electronic books and a world that is still dominated by print. While this is still the case, I would like to humbly suggest an alternative solution. Given the ubiquitous nature of websites, authors should adopt a uniform system by which we record our sources on bibliographic pages on our own author websites as I have done here.

Some might argue that this is not an ideal solution, because readers often fail to visit such websites at the end of the reading. This may be true, but can be alleviated by a standardized system of reader expectation. If all historical fiction authors adopt this mechanism by which credit can be given to the writers who have come before us, those whose words or ideas have inspired our own work, readers will seek out this information. They’ll come to expect it. Best of all, such efforts might lead readers to learn more about the history than they might otherwise learn from our narrative fiction.

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.

December 06, 2010

LONDON, OCTOBER 1660: A Guest Post by Gillian Bagwell, author of The Darling Strumpet (Jan. 2011)

Please welcome author Gillian Bagwell with the following article which is amongst a series of articles commemorating the 350th Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II,  at which time coincided with the reopening of the playhouses and also brought the first actress to the stage. This article relays the regicide trials of those who sat in judgement against Charles I and signed his death warrant in 1649. The list of articles can be found at the author's website. Her newest historical fiction release, The Darling Strumpet, will be available January 2011.

 by Gillian Bagwell

By early October 1660, rumors were beginning to leak about the scandal roiling around the Duke of York and the pregnant Anne Hyde that had consumed the court for so much of September. On October 7, diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that he had dined with his patron the Earl of Sandwich, “he all dinner time talking French to me and telling me how the Duke of Yorke hath got my Lord Chancellors daughter with child, and that she doth lay it do him. Discoursing concerning what if the Duke should marry her, my Lord told me that among his father’s many old sayings that he had writ in a book of his, this is one: that he that doth get a wench with child and marries her afterward it is as if a man should shit in his hat and then clap it upon his head.”

The Duke himself was starting to act as if he thought the same. He stopped the secret visits he had been making to Anne and began to think of renouncing the marriage. This bad behavior was probably due to the Iago-like whispers of his friend Sir Charles Berkeley, who argued that the marriage wasn’t valid because the King Charles hadn’t approved it beforehand, and also claimed, without a hint of truth, that he and others had slept with Anne.

The King continued to be occupied by the business of disbanding the army and arriving at some kind of settlement of religious matters and the issue of tolerance for various faiths. He wanted to extend tolerance to Catholics, but couldn’t quite say so directly, and encountered stiff opposition. After much wrangling the promise he had made in the Declaration of Breda the previous spring was repeated, that no man “shall be disquieted or called in question for Differences in Opinion on Matters of Religion which do not disturb the Peace of the Kingdom,” but nothing more specific was promised than tolerance for Anglicans and Presbyterians.

Charles was still rising early to play tennis, and distracting himself from the cares of state by his ongoing work on St. James’s Park. On October 11, Pepys walked in the park with a friend “where we observed the several engines at work to draw up water, with which sight I was very much pleased.” Charles expressed a desire for two gondolas to the Venetian Resident, and gondoliers to go with them, and by the end of the month the Venetian Senate had ordered the boats built expressly for the new King. Pepys also recorded that he had gone to the Cockpit theatre in Drury Lane to see “The Moore of Venice, which was well done. Burt acted the Moore; by the same token a very pretty lady that sot by me cried to see Desdemona smothered.”

Edward Kynaston

This performance was part of an intriguing but temporary development in the reestablishment of professional theatre. Tom Killigrew and William D’Avenant, having secured an official monopoly on the right to present plays, brought their united companies together for daily performances at the Cockpit from about October 8 to October 16, performing Wit Without Money, an old favorite by Beaumont and Fletcher; The Tamer Tamed, otherwise known as The Woman’s Prize by John Fletcher, and undoubtedly other plays besides the Othello that Pepys saw. The roster of His Majesty’s Comedians dated October 6 lists Nicholas Burt, Charles Hart, Michael Mohun, Robert Shatterell, John Lacy, William Wintershall, Walter Clun, William Cartwright, Edward Shatterell, Richard Baxter, Thomas Loveday, Edward Kynaston, and Thomas Betterton. Many of these men (no women acting yet!) had been members of the old King’s Company at the Blackfriars Theatre, when the King was Charles I. Baxter and Cartwright, as well as Theophilus Bird, who was working with the company soon, were second generation professional actors, and Bird’s son, also Theophilus, followed in his father’s footsteps, now that acting was once more a possible career choice.

John Lacy

The actors’ residence at the Cockpit coincided with a much less pleasant series of ongoing entertainments – the trial and punishment of the men responsible for the execution of Charles I. On October 10, Pepys heard that the 29 regicides “were this day arraigned at the bar at the Sessions House, there being upon the bench the Lord Mayor, Gen. Monke, my Lord of Sandwich, &c; such a bench of noblemen as hath not been ever seen in England. They all seem to be dismayed and will all be condemned without question.” On October 11, diarist John Evelyn wrote, “this day were those barbarous Regicides, who sat on the life of our late King, brought to their trial in the old baily.”

Over the next two days, all but one pleaded not guilty, but Pepys was right. The first conviction was of Thomas Harrison, and the Lord Chief Baron pronounced the punishment for treason, “…that you be led to the place from whence you came, and from thence to be drawn upon an hurdle to the place of execution; and there you shall be hanged by the neck, and being alive shall be cut down, and your privy members to be cut off, your entrails to be taken out of your body, and you living, the same to be burnt before your eyes, and your head to be cut off, your body to be divided into four quarters, and head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the king’s majesty, and the lord have mercy upon your soul.” Five more of the accused were condemned the next day.

Harrison was the first to die. Pepys noted “I went out to Charing cross to see Maj.-Gen. Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered – which was done there – he looking as cheerfully as any man could do in that condition.” Not so very cheerfully, one would imagine. “He was presently cut down,” Pepys continued, “and his head and his heart shown to the people, at which there were great shouts of joy.”

Over the next few days the trials and executions continued. By October 16 all the regicides had been condemned, and the rest of those who had already been condemned were executed. Evelyn wrote,“This day were executed those murderous Traytors at Charing Cross, in sight of the place where they put to death their natural Prince… I saw not their execution, but met their quarters mangld & cutt & reaking as they were brought from the Gallows on baskets on the hurdle, O miraculous providence of God.”
This must have been an incredibly strange time. Londoners were thronging to the Cockpit to see the King’s Comedians, and no doubt some of these same people were crowding around the scaffold to see the executions. The mood in the playhouse must have been peculiar, and it must have been hard work for the actors.

On October 11, after describing the butchering of Harrison, Pepys wrote “From thence to my Lord’s and took Capt. Cuttance and Mr. Sheply to the Sun tavern and did give them some oysters. After that I went by water home, where I was angry with my wife for her things lying about… Within all the afternoon, setting up shelfes in my study.” On October 19 he recorded, “This morning my Dining-room was finished with green Serge hanging and gilt leather, which is very handsome. This morning Hacker and Axtell were hanged and Quartered, as the rest are. This night I sat up late to make up my accounts ready against tomorrow.”

It was getting pretty bad in the neighborhood of Charing Cross. The residents complained that the air smelled of burnt bowels, and petitioned the King not to carry out further executions there. So the next two traitors were hanged at Tyburn instead.

The Parliamentary Intelligencer newspaper reported that “The friends of Mr. Carew and Mr. Hacker begg’d their respective bodies; Axtell’s Quarters are not yet boil’d; Harrison’s Quarters are not yet disposed of; Cook’s head and Harrison’s (a Councellor and Attorney) are set upon Poles on Westminster Hall; the heads of the rest upon London-bridge, and their Quarters at several Gates.”

On October 20, Pepys “dined with my Lord and Lady, where he was very merry and did talk very high how he would have a French Cooke and a Master of the Horse,” and later, “calling at Crowes the upholsterer in Saint Bartholomew – I saw the limbs of some of our new Traytors set upon Aldersgate, which was a sad sight to see; and a bloody week this and the last have been, there being ten hanged, drawn, and Quarterd.”

The King decided enough was enough, and the rest of the sentences were suspended for the time being. Charles now turned his attention back to the matter of Anne Hyde. During a bedside interrogation by a delegation of ladies and gentlemen, Anne affirmed that the child she was carrying was the Duke of York’s, that she had never been with another man, that she and the Duke were married, and that there were witnesses to prove it. Slipping in under the wire of respectability, she then gave birth to a son, the King declared her to be the Duchess of York, and James, the repentant Duke, came creeping back to her side and agreed that she was his wife after all.

On October 28 Charles consecrated five bishops. On October 29 the new Lord Mayor was installed, and the Right Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors produced a lavish Lord Mayor’s show, with two pageants. Both Pepys and Evelyn saw the pageant at Cheapside, “with the royal Oake, & historie of his Majesties miraculous escape at Bosco-Bell &c.”

Queen Henrietta Maria
 The drama for the month was not quite over. The Duke of York set out to meet his mother Queen Henrietta Maria and his youngest sister Minette, who were arriving from Paris, and with the entire fleet, conducted them into Dover harbor. Charles followed a few days later, accompanied by his sister Mary of Orange and cousin Prince Rupert, and rendezvoused with the rest of the royal family on October 30. The Queen had arrived.

Sources and further reading:
Online: The Diary of Samuel Pepys -
1660: The Year of Restoration, Patrick Morrah (Beacon Press, 1960)
The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. Guy de la Bédoyère (Boydell Press, 1995; First Person Singular, 2004)
The London Stage, 1660-1800, A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments, and Afterpieces Together with Casts, Box-Receipts, and Contemporary Comment, Part I, 1660-1700, ed. William Van Lennep et al. (Southern Illinois University Press, 1963)

Pepys’s Diary, Volume I, selected and edited by Robert Latham (Folio Society, 1996)

Gillian Bagwell is the author of the upcoming novel The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London’s most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of King Charles II.

This is the sixth in a series of articles chronicling the events from May 1660 through January 1661, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of the English monarchy, the reopening of the playhouses, which had been closed for eighteen years under Cromwell, and the first appearance of an actress on the English stage, in contrast to the old practice of boys playing women’s roles.

Gillian Bagwell

The Darling Strumpet
The tumultuous life of Nell Gwynn, beloved 17th century actress and royal mistress.
The September Queen
The unbelievable true escapade of the ordinary English girl who saved the King and the monarchy.
Both coming from Berkley Publishing Group in 2011.

For links to the other articles and information about Gillian’s books, please visit her website,