Sunday, May 10, 2009

History of Mother's Day

These days, we mothers expect to be feted at least once a year, on the official Mother's Day. We get breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner out, or our spouse and/or children fix us a meal. If we're lucky and there's enough money, we get gifts. If there's not enough money, we stress that we don't care about gifts and no one should bother because it's "just another day".

However, Mother's Day began in America in the 1860s not as a way to show appreciation to all the many mothers out there, but as an outcry by mothers against war, the Civil War particularly, due to the loss of life and the ravages of battle on those who survived. There was even a Mother's Day Proclamation, written in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, who also wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

So, on this day, whether you got more than ever or had to say you didn't want a thing, remember that this celebration, like many others, came out of something different. In a way, something grander than just a day of presents -- out of a love of life and those who live it, no matter whose children they might be.

J.M. Grant

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Diver Down

It's consistently making me happy when the Forgotten English calendar that my dear husband bought for me for Christmas coincides with my writing life. And this week was no exception.

A word coming up was "diver" and it wasn't used for boards or underwater swimming. No, it was slang for a pickpocket.

Now, I happen to have a pickpocket as the main character in my current work in progress. So I knew the word already, based on research. What I hadn't known was that one of England's most innovative thieves and master of disguise...well...should have been called the mistress of disguise.

Mary Young, aka Jenny Diver, was quite the pickpocket and conwoman. Her most famous technique was to wear an ornate outfit with two artificial arms and "pregnancy bump", go to church, sit with the rich folks, and pick the pockets of those praying around her.

She was caught eventually, and hanged, but she had a measure of fame. And not just in her time. In addition to being included in John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera", she was also referred to in the Bobby Darin hit, "Mack the Knife". What a fascinating woman.

It's taking a great deal of self-control for me not to read ahead in the calendar. But it's probably better to come upon these little gems one at a time. After all, too much greed can get a girl hanged.

J.M. Grant

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Language Barriers

As a writer of historical fiction, one of the more important areas to 'get right' is that of language. How the characters speak and what they say is vital to transporting the reader to the time and place.

I love this portion of the process, but it makes for slow going in many cases. My current protagonist uses a great deal of underworld slang of his day. Those around him use different language of the day, depending on their place in society. And it needs to be right or it rings untrue to the reader's mental ear. Too much dialect can be tricky to read, too little and you have no real sense of the characters. It's a slippery slope to traverse.

So, I tend to write the dialog as close as I can to the time period, and then go back and replace it with the appropriate wording and cadence for the character and the time. The wrong word can create a barrier to belief for the reader. Too many wrong ones and the reader's lost interest, at best.

Of course, getting it right requires research. As I've said before, I love the research portion, too. But, my goodness, the time it takes. One page can and does take me what many days seems like hours to get completed. And this is just for the first draft.

Ah well. If I wasn't doing this, what would I be doing with my time?

I'll tell you. I'd be reading books and cruising websites looking for interesting facts, that's what I'd be doing. It's an addiction, this love of language and writing, it really is.

J.M. Grant

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Tissick, A Tassick

I have a tissick. And I dearly hope it doesn't kill me.

The other day my handy calendar (that my wonderful husband already wishes he hadn't bought for me) shared that a tissick is a faint, tickling cough. It also shared that it was a cause of death in the olden days, and by "olden" we're talking the mid-1600's.

Apparently in London in 1665, at least 3 people died from tissick. I'll spare you the rest of the death roll -- it's very interesting from a historical research standpoint, and I'm certain it will work itself into my writing, but truly, some of these diseases shouldn't be discussed in polite company.

I read the entry and though, "how quaint". Until this afternoon, when a faint, tickling cough began to plague me. Hours ago, now. Liquids don't seem to be working, food certainly doesn't, neither does lying down, standing up, walking swiftly, walking slowly, sitting, nor whining. Though due to the whining my wonderful husband suggested a hot toddy. I'm hoping it does the trick.

If not, at least I shall go secure in the knowledge that it's better to die from a tissick than to die from a griping in the guts. Though my wonderful husband said that he might die of such if my tissick and my related griping don't cease soon.

J.M. Grant

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Fun New (Old) Words

My wonderful husband bought me a great gift for Christmas -- the Forgotten English page-a-day calendar.

It's filled with old words which have fallen out of usage. And, in honor of my love of both language and the past, I'm going to share some of them with you, off and on.

My current favorite, which I must use in a novel -- chamberer. This would denote pretty much what you'd probably guess: "a frequenter of ladies' chambers; a gallant; one who indulges in wantonness; a concubine". And also some you might not: "a woman who attends a bedchamber; a chambermaid; an effeminate man; a carpet-knight".

Personally, I can't wait to find out what "carpet-knight" means, aside from chamberer. It sounds more exotic than a mere chamberer, as if a carpet-knight were a brave man who protected all floor coverings from shoes and pets. I'm tempted to make a "cut a rug" joke here, but will refrain, in case carpet-knight turns out to mean merely someone who sleeps on the floor.

J.M. Grant

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Welcome, All Who Enter Here

Greetings. I'm an author of historical fiction. While I can and do delve into the far past, I tend to prefer the mid-1700's through to the early 1900's, prior to WWI.

Unlike many historical writers I know, I wouldn't actually have wanted to live in these times. However, growing up I always wanted to visit them, to be able to see 'what it was like'. Movies and books provided that, but not always enough, and not always what I wanted to see. Or, many times, not how I saw it in my own mind. Hence, I write what my mind sees now.

I spend a great deal of time on research -- my shelves are filled with books covering different time periods, including college textbooks. Research can be a trap -- it's so fascinating to read and ingest it becomes easy to ignore that I only need one fact to keep on writing.

But keep on writing I do. I hope to share some of that process with you, as well as research tips (which I hope you will also share with me), and perhaps some historical tidbits along the way.

As we stand less than a week away from the new year, I raise my glass to years past. Some were better than others, some were less exciting than the ones before or after, but each year has at least one fascinating instance within it. My job is to find and share those stories in some way.

J.M. Grant

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