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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cuss Words of Bygone Eras

Okay, so I'm totally cheating!  I actually posted this tidbit once before on my previous blog, but since I've re-vamped it, that blog no longer exists, so I'm posting this tidbit again because...well, it's kind of amusing.  I just felt the need to explain in case anyone thought it looked vaguely familiar. :D

Did you know...?

Catherine the Great was the first progressive ruler of Russia. She called herself an enlightened despot, which meant that she genuinely cared about her people and wanted them to have rights--even fashioned a constitution of sorts--but ultimately also wanted to retain her own power.

While she was on the throne, the peasants in France revolted, crashed the Bastille, and their monarchs, Louis and Marie Antoinette, lost everything from the neck up.

Catharine, though generally all about the rights of a country's common citizens, was horrified that the French peasants had risen up and beheaded their rulers. She was terrified that the same thing would happen to her. When she got the news of the peasants' deeds, she called them "damned rascals."

At the time, this was the worst curse a person could utter--akin to our "f" word or one of the "c" words today.

When I learned this, I felt so validated! I have long thought that when Hollywood makes movies where cowboys in the Old West use the f bomb, that was just us imposing our culture on the past. This proves it!

In the late 1700s, the worst thing a person could be called was a damned rascal, and the fact that the queen, who was supposed to be all grace and poise and daintiness, said it, produced the scandal of the day. :D

That always made me chuckle.

Does anyone else have any interesting history-of-cuss-words stories or tidbits?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rainy Day Mood

So on Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my room writing the next chapter of my story, when something started tapping against my window.  Don't worry, it wasn't creepy.  It was rain.  I happen to be someone who LOVES the rain.  When the thunder rumbled close enough to shake my window in it's frame, I ran to the vertical blinds, twisted them open, and pulled them across so I had an unobstructed view of the window.  The sky was gray, the rain coming down in sheets, and thunder shivered over my house off and on for more than half an hour.  Alas, I didn't actually see an lightning, but I'm sure it was there, skittering behind the clouds.

I really couldn't have asked for more perfect weather right at this moment.  Why you ask?  Two reasons. One, thunderstorms really fire up the creative drama part of my imagination.  If I'm not writing, I definitely want to be.  The second reason is that I actually was writing, and the beautiful, albeit brief thunderstorm was the perfect backdrop to set the mood I needed.  I just happened to be writing a scene where three people were standing on the side of a mountain talking.  One is an enemy to the other two (or at least a perceived enemy) and the two individuals stand around debating the evils of collectivism verses individualism, and trying to win the one collectivist to their way of thinking.  Meanwhile, the wind is blowing and the sky is overcast and threatening and there's all kinds of awesome, high drama dialogue being thrown around, so as I said, the storm was perfect for my mood.

Rain has that effect on me.  I sighed blissfully as I walked my characters through their tortured, conflicted neuroses.  Don't you just love being a writer?

What kinds of weather inspire your writing?  Or just your mood in general?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Atlantis the Lost Empire

Did you know...

That the legend of Atlantis was born from a detailed account of the Minoan civilization, and a mistranslation of the Old Testament?

In the book of Numbers, many numbers are given. (Stating the obvious, I know.) This is where the Children of Israel were essentially counted. However, scholars have debated for centuries the truth of the numbers we are given. It seems that they are entirely too large; how could the Children of Israel have grown so exponentially in so few generations?

The answer lies in the simple fact that the bible used to be written in shorthand. Rather than copy it word for word, it was a common technique--long before Gutenberg was born--to write the words in the bible without their vowels. This can be a very effective system, but in Hebrew, it sometimes poses a few problems.

For example, the word for 'professional soldier' is alluph, while the word for 'a thousand' is eleph. Without their vowels, these words are identical. So, in the bible, when it says something about twelve thousand men laying in wait to spy on the enemy army, it's probably a mistranslation and really means twelve professional soldiers were sent to spy on the enemy army.

So, what's this got to do with Atlantis? Hold your horses! I'm gettin there.

Plato obtained what has now been identified as a detailed record of the Minoan civilization and it's downfall. However, it was translated from shorthand. Because of the errors of translation, all figures in the account were multiplied by ten. Plato, being the Bill Gates of his time, knew that the Mediterranean was too small to hold such a vast civilization, so he wrongly decided that the location was the error, rather than the numbers. He changed the location to the only place he believed could have held such a civilization, and still be in line with the historical account: the Atlantic. Since no society in recent times matched the account, he pushed the date back to antiquity.

Hence, the legend of the lost empire of Atlantis was born.

Knowledge of the past is our inheritance; what we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!
My teasers:
From Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (Yes, the unabridged version 'cause I'm just that awesome!)
"Yes, the brutalities of progress are called revolutions.  When they are over, this fact is recognized,--that the human race has been treated harshly, but that is has progressed."
"As she rocked her little ones, the mother hummed in a discordant voice a romance then celebrated:--
'It must be, said a warrior.'
Her song, and the contemplation of her daughters, prevented her hearing and seeing what was going on in the street."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bizarre and Nasty Punishments

As you know, I'm interested in tidbits from every part of the world and every period in its history. While reading about medieval secret societies, I found this interesting story. There is an Eastern and somewhat middle Eastern secret society known as the Assassins. A man named Hasan is generally believed to be their founder. After his death, his son Muhammad took over. When many people became disillusioned with his leadership, many of them turned to his son, also called Hasan. Hasan was charismatic and rumored to be a rebel, even drinking wine, which is forbidden in Islam. Hasan's father adamantly opposed the factions that believed his son was the "Imam" or spiritual leader of the band.

To punish his son's followers, he did something rather twisted. He killed 250 of Hasan's devotees, then tied their corpses to the backs of 250 more. He then banished them from their home city of Alamut.

I'm assuming they had to leave the city, carrying their dead compatriots on their backs. I can't help but wonder what was going through Mohammad's mind at the time. What was the purpose of this? If it was just to degrade and demoralize them, I'm sure it worked. But was there some other symbolic meaning? To carry the weight of the dead? To flee with blood on their hands (or in this case backs?) I don't know, but it's interesting to think about. I also wonder how far they walked before relinquishing the corpses. And did they bury them at that time? One would think so, but it's hard to know for sure. I haven't found any historical records that say.

I'm not one who's usually drawn to stories about Eastern societies, but this would make fascinating story material. What do you think? Sorry if I've given everyone a mildly unpleasant mental picture, but if you're gonna continue to read this blog, you may want to get used to that.

Anyone got any bizarre or nasty punishment stories that trump this one?

Remember, knowledge of our past is our inheritance; what we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cures for Writing: Bear Lake

So I've always heard about writer's retreats and how awesome they are. You know the kind I mean? Where you go up to a cabin and write all day long and then meet with all the other writers in the evenings to discuss?  I always thought they sounded totally wicked, but I've never been rich enough to participate in one.  Don't hold your breath--I'm not participating in one even now.

I am, however, vacationing with my family at Bear Lake in northern Utah.  The lake is ginormous--like loch size--and pale blue.  It's so cold this time of year that it's difficult to breathe when you wade into the water.  There was much screeching and gasping as we all ventured in for the first time.  As with most water sources, the more time you spend it in, the more you get used to it.  The problem here is that by the time you get used to it, you can't feel certain tiny bits of yourself anymore, and you start to contemplate the blissful feeling that drifting endlessly on lake tides would bring...and realize it's time to get out.  Fast!

Never underestimate the effect an idyllic setting can have on your creative senses.  If you've ever experienced writer's block (or if you're more like me and more often than getting blocked simply have a hard time getting yourself in the right mood or mindset to write) one of the best ways to push through is to change your setting.

On top of the peaceful, grandiose or creepy lake (depending on your mood/genre) there was also some mild thundershower-type weather.  Nothing gets my imagination firing away like a charcoal gray, rumbling sky!

Of course, I might suggest not trying to write while on vacation with your teen-aged brothers. My time has been commandeered by volleyball and soccer games, dips in the lake alternated with mad dashes to the hot tub,  a little bit of TV time, a LOT of chow time, and some good, old-fashioned hang-out-and-chat sessions.  It's been great!  Relaxing, liberating--everything a vacation should be.

The only catch is...I'm not getting much writing done! :D

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why the Middle Ages Needed Anne Geddes

Did you know...

During the early Middle Ages, especially during the time that the Roman Empire was beginning to decline, it was common to leave babies by the river. Seriously!

These babies were not necessarily unwanted; they were simply inconvenient. At at time when no one had birth control or knowledge of how a woman's monthly cycle relates to conception, most poor women had a baby a year until they either died (often in child birth) or went into menopause, though few women lived that long. (Sucks to be them!)

When peasant families grew to six, seven, or eight in size, the parents no longer had means to provide for more children. When another child came, rather than watch the children they had slowly starve to death, it was common practice for the father to take an infant and set it on the bank of the river. (I know, right?)

There was always the chance that a compassionate stranger might happen by and claim the child, but more often than not, the elements, the rising river, or hungry animals would claim the life of the baby instead.

I wonder what people who did this were thinking as they did it. Were they sad to leave a child by the river? You would think so, but perhaps not. Maybe they were bitter at having to do it at all, and sick of watching their other children suffer, and so had no qualms about putting the infants out. I think it must have been done by the fathers simply because the mother's couldn't and wouldn't. Having just given birth, the mother probably wasn't physically able to make the journey to the river, but even if she could, I doubt many mothers would have had the heart to leave a cute, screaming infant on the deserted banks of a frigid river. (This is why mothers really ought to rule the...uh, be in charge of things.)

In more prosperous roman households, fathers held absolute power over wives and children. They could put a child out if it was handicapped, or just ugly. If Dad didn't like the look of the child, he could take it to the river and it was totally legal and within his power to do.  Maybe if they'd had cute pictures of precious babies in sweet poses popping up all over the place, things would have been different, but...well...

I began a story with this element: a remorseful father leaving a child by the river because he felt he had no other choice. In my story, however, a monk happens along and picks up the baby, while a sinister man watches the exchange from behind some nearby foliage...

Anyone interested?Remember: knowledge of the past is our inheritance; what we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies.

Monday, May 7, 2012

POV -- One Superior to Another

I thought today I'd say a few words about point of view (POV).  Point of view is the voice or vehicle you use to tell your story.  You can tell it first person, which means one of the characters is actually tell the story, using 'I,' 'my, 'we,' etc. (Think Hunger Games)  Or you can use third person, which uses 'he/she,' 'they,' etc.,  (think Harry Potter) as though another narrator is standing nearby observing.  Either one works, just depending on what you want to accomplish and how strong a connection you want your reader to feel to the story.

Between the two, first person will establish the strongest bond for the reader.  This is because they are actually in the head of the character telling the story.  They are right there, in the moment, with that character, so they feel a powerful bond to connection to what's happening as it's happening.  The downside is that you are stuck in the head of one character and can't really venture anywhere else.  On the flip side, third person allows for multiple narrators and POVs, but won't establish as strong a link between the reader and the story.

Personally, I've never written a novel in first person.  I've done a few short stories, but that's all.  I prefer to be able to use multiple narrators because it gives me the most complete storytelling power.  That said, I think my work might be stronger in first person, but I have yet to write a story that I felt I could tell from exclusively one POV, so I haven't used it.

If you're going to take on something daring like a first-person-present tense POV, you must know what you're doing.  I've seen some writers try to do this and end up shooting themselves in the foot because they slide between tenses or try to tell too much.  Make sure you know what you're doing and that if you're going to do it, you do it well! (Again, Hunger Games!)

I suppose this could be said of any tense, though.  If you're going to play it safe and use third person (like yours truly) you have to make sure that you give the reader enough of a connection to keep them in the story, even without the added advantage of a first person narrator.  In that light, the POV used may depennd as much on  writing ability as on what kind of story you want to tell.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this is that I've been criticized before for using multiple narrators to tell my stories.  Those who've given me this critique are agents, publishers and others who are concerned with actually selling stories to audiences.  They've told me that using multiple narrators can confuse the reader, even if the different narrators are obvious and well-written.  This surprised me because many of my favorite stories are written from multiple POVs.

Now, I completely understand not wanting to overwhelm your audience with seventy-five narrators (Wheel of Time, anyone?) but I also think that most people who are willing to sit down and read your book are willing to trust you and follow your lead.  As long as it makes sense and the writing is good, I don't see the difficulty with multiple narrators.  But perhaps that's just me.

What does everyone else think?  Are multiple narrators, in and of themselves, a problem for you?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Medieval Tidbit

Here's an example of a tidbit!  For me, it just means some random fact, occurrence, or story that gets my imagination going and starts me thinking of a new story.  This can be absolutely ANYTHING!  Here's one of my favorites!

In the 16th Century, men condemned to death were given rose tattoos. This was so that if they escaped, they would be immediately recognized. If you look on the internet, you can find references--with almost the exact words I just typed!!--that say this. However, it's hard to find any more detail on the subject.

What country was this in? Who instituted it? Was it a very common practice? What specific part of the body was tattooed, or did it even matter?

The lack of info makes me wonder how true this assertion is, but if anyone has any more detail, I'd love to hear it!

It seems to me that, especially in Europe, in the 16th century, tattooing would have been a bit of a mystical art. So were some kind of Eastern mystics commissioned to do the work, or were there locals that could do it?

I love this fact because it sets a perfect stage for a story: A man condemned to die escapes but has to keep some part of his body covered up so that no one recognizes him as a convict. The real question would be, is the thing he was convicted for something heinous that he really did, or just something he was falsely accused of? The answer could determine whether this is a protagonist or antagonist, and, you know, the course of human history as we know it.

...just kidding. I tend to be a bit of a drama queen when I get caught up in my story telling.

Remember, knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies.