In Search of Childhood

I’m not ashamed to admit I still love kids’ books. Among my favorites are Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. I actually reread both series every year.

I grew up with the Little House books, but didn’t discover Anne of Green Gables until I was about 22. I read the entire series the summer before grad school and have lived part of every summer since with Anne on Prince Edward Island.

I do love a book that sweeps me into another time and place. I’m a history buff, and the 1800s and early 1900s have always held a fascination for me. Along with many other times, of course—but something about the American frontier captured my heart as a kid. I built my interest around the pioneers, and extended it across the pond into Victorian England.

For me, stories of struggle and satisfaction at the cusp of a changing era remind me of being a kid—we all face continual and steady changes as we grow up, and each little victory is, while not quite like discovering electricity or conquering the wild plains, a settling of a new frontier.

It’s more noticeable as I watch a friend’s six-month-old discover the world around her. Every discovery—a hand, her own foot, the taste of a grape—is a grand moment, and every frustration—her inability to walk or hold up her own head—is a tragedy. Space may be the final frontier, but every little human settles old, familiar lands with every single day. And somehow, it’s novel to watch, every time.

I revert to my kids’ books any time I get stressed or anxious, and the stories they contain take me to a simpler world, one that probably never existed, where every day brought a new discovery or dream.

What books speak to you of childhood? Where do you find new—and old—dreams to discover?

Ancient Girl Power

If you’re like me, reader, you read a LOT. I mean, you’re reading right now, right?

Well, if you look at my GoodReads Currently Reading list, you’ll see I’m working my way through Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. It’s a seminal tome on, well, myth and culture in ancient Ireland and Wales. (Shocker.)

You may have noticed that I love history. I’m not a historian or anything, but I devour medieval biographies, archaeology magazines, and any history of the United Kingdom. I also love mythology, so a book that looks at mythology in the context of history and then places the myths of one land in juxtaposition with the still older myths of another Indo-European tradition just sets my nerdy little heart aflutter.

I especially love tidbits that reveal how ancient people were exactly like us or, in some ways, even more progressive.

Take this bit, for example:

It is said that Partholón went hunting and fishing one day, leaving his wife and Toba, his henchman, to guard the island. The woman seduced the man, and that was the first adultery that ever was in Ireland… Then Partholón upbraided his wife, but she put up the defense that it was her husband’s fault for leaving her in a situation in which the inevitable had happened… And that was the first judgment in Ireland, ‘the right of his wife against Partholón’, a judgment which seems to echo the words of the Indian Laws of Manu: ‘the adulterous wife throws her guilt on her (negligent) husband.’

Or, as my fiance summed it up, it was Partholón’s fault, since he couldn’t satisfy his woman. The international law of ‘he had it coming.’

Now, I’m not advocating adultery or anything. But this little factoid amused me so much that I had to share it with you. The people of two thousand years ago really weren’t all barbarians strutting about, saying, “Ale! Wenches! Mrar!” Once upon a time, perhaps, people had some free-thinking ladies who took their fun where they found it.

It goes further than just ancient girls gone wild, too. You see a fair few matriarchal societies in fantasy novels, but rarely do we see a society based on the skewing of just one accepted standard. What if there was a world where people were always punished for negligence? If, for instance, you got robbed and could do nothing because you’d left your door unlocked: it was your fault for failing to protect your property. (Not that Partholón’s wife was property, but you get the idea.) There’s not a whole story concept there, but endless plots could spring up from putting someone from that society in conflict with someone with our modern notions of how social interactions should go down.

What do you think, readers? Did Partholón have it coming? Have you come across any fascinating factoids lately? I love hearing from you!

Corrupting History: Victorian Books

Some of you may know that The Radiometry Conspiracy is an historical fantasy, set in a skewed 19th-century England. It’s not exactly steampunk—mostly steam, little punk, so it really fits better into the historical fantasy category.

My world is not all that much like England, though. I did a ton of research, which I corrupted to suit my own purposes. (Mwahaha!) Next week I’ll write about the corruption process, but this week, I want to tell you a little story and then list some books. Sound good? Good. (Like you have a choice.)

Earlier this evening, I put the tea kettle on in the dark kitchen. After it hit boiling, I poured the tea, still in the dark, but then I realized I couldn’t see the tea steeping. Cup in hand, I went to turn on the light… but I hit the garbage disposal switch instead. It roared to life, I jumped, balanced my tea on the edge of the sink so that I could hit the right switch, and then—the tea fell. And what did I do? I caught it. (Imagine me screaming, “Son of a monkey whore!” because that is in fact what I screamed.) I now have nasty burns on the first two fingers of my right hand. Ouch.

So you’re getting a list, and then I’m going to go watch Buffy in bed and feel sorry for myself. I’ll be back tomorrow for Freudian Friday!

Kristin’s Indispensable Books for Writing about Victorian England

1. Inside the Victorian Home, Judith Flanders
This book was indispensable for teaching me about daily life for average people in nineteenth-century England. The focus was on the middle class, everything from social conventions to daily diet, including medicine, mourning, sex, and bathrooms. This bad boy has everything.

2. Victorian London, Liza Picard
The focus for this one was urban life. My fantastical society has a huge divide between the wealthy, country classes and the poor, urban classes. My characters come from the city originally, and knowing about the hideous conditions of Victorian London helped me shape the city they came from and its influence on them.

3. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool
You just can’t beat trivia for slaking a writer’s thirst for knowledge and adding detail to a world. Knowing the composition and color of London’s peculiar smog really added something to my worldbuilding.

4. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, C. Willett Cunningham
This book served as inspiration. I know I’m going to have to cut the 100-word long descriptions of Eva’s dramatic ballgowns. No one really cares to read that stuff. But just being able to visualize her gowns, to look at pictures of how she might have looked, gave me inspiration on a daily basis. And when you’re writing a 215,000-word monster, you need all the daily inspiration you can get.

5. Never Give a Lady a Restive Horse, Thomas Hill
Technically this one’s about 19th-century America, but it’s loads of fun. Want to know about the Victorian language of flowers or how to turn down a suitor? This book has examples. Any social convention you could want is in this book.

So now you’re asking, “Kristin, what’s with the bold? And why are you telling me this?”

I’m telling you because I think it might help you pick books for your research. You can’t read every book on a topic. Instead, pick ones that will help you understand daily life in several environments and the social conventions of the time, and will give you some trivia to color your understanding. The inspiration and the fun is just to keep you going.

Happy researching!

Research and Writing

First of all, for those of you who are new followers to the blog, I sincerely apologize for the delay between posts the past couple of weeks. Last Friday, as you know, was Christmas Eve, and I spent the day baking cookies instead of writing (a fair trade, I think), and today is New Year’s Eve… Today’s excuse: I’m working at full steam to finish the first half of my book. So please excuse the triteness of today’s post, and I’ll see you next week with a real status report and a more thoughtful blog post. Happy New Year!

I think every writer is a magpie. We like things that are interesting, shiny, or just unexpected.

To this end, I’ve done a lot of research for creating my pseudo-Victorian world. I don’t use everything I’ve learned–I’m not writing an historical fiction, after all. This is a fantasy, but real historical details will give it a touch of truth. Likewise, in a traditional fantasy, the details you make up will give the world and its occupants texture and life. Remember when the Lord of the Rings movies came out? There were all those making-of specials that showed how all the props were incredibly detailed, like the horse head on the nose-piece of Eomer’s helm. …Okay, maybe no one but me watched that stuff, let alone remembers it, but it’s there, and those details count toward the realism of the world.

Plus, you just learn cool stuff.

Details I’ve learned and used:

  • On formal occasions, dukes wear/wore a circlet with eight gold strawberry leaves. The picture in my head is much prettier than the one on Wikipedia, so I co-opted this custom of British royalty for my own world.
  • After Osiris’s death at the hands of Set, Isis found the scattered pieces of his body and resurrected him, making him Lord of the Dead and the Afterlife. This story became the basis for my world’s religion.
  • Fashionable Victorian women might wear up to 37 pounds of clothing, and full-skirted dresses could require 25 yards of fabric. I take this one with a grain of salt, but have you seen some of these dresses?
  • A gentleman never smokes in the presence of ladies.
  • In the Victorian ‘flower language,’ the sweet briar-rose means, “I wound to heal.”

And that’s just a few. I won’t even go into the things I’ve learned and am saving for later or just sometime down the road.

Have you learned and used any random trivia? Or learned something and not used it, so that maybe I can co-opt it?