Friday, November 30, 2012

Mourning Becomes Her
Deborah Schneider

Warning, this post contains some macabre information and might not be for the weak of heart. We’re going to talk about death and dying. I recently attended Steamcon IV, and the theme was Victorian Monsters. There were a lot of workshops on subjects such as ghosts, spiritualists and Victorian mourning fashion and mementos.

Death is a topic the average American avoids, postponing any thought of their demise as if they plan to live forever. Yet the Angel of Death will descend upon us – sooner or later. We’re all going to die, it’s just a matter of timing.

The Victorians had a closer relationship with death, because it was a constant factor in their lives. Poor hygiene, questionable medical procedures, the danger of infection, and infectious diseases all contributed to an average life expectancy of 42 years. The people of this era didn’t fear death, but they were afraid they would not be properly mourned when they passed.

So, an elaborate structure of mourning customs developed during this era, inspired in part by Queen Victoria, when she went into mourning for her beloved Prince Albert.

The rules dictating fashion requirements and social activities were strictest for a widow. She was expected to follow prescribed rules for dressing, conducting herself and publicly displaying her deep sense of loss.

There were specific stages of mourning; beginning with deep (or full) mourning immediately following her husband’s death. It was to last a year and a day, and she was expected to dress entirely in black during that period. She also was expected to limit her social activities with the exception of church attendance.

Full mourning required a wardrobe of black crepe, wool or other dull fabric that did not reflect any light. All her accessories were black, including her gloves, stockings, hats and parasols. This attire was often referred to as “widow’s weeds”. The one exception to the rule of black was undergarments since the dyes were unstable and could stain skin. Many women sewed a large black band on their white petticoats, in the event that her skirt lifted, not even a hint of white should show. Women were also required to wear a bonnet with a “weeping veil”, which was made of sheer crepe or silk and would reach to mid-calf. When out in public, the widow was expected to use the veil to cover her face.

During deep mourning a widow didn’t wear jewelry, but after the year and one day, she proceeded into half-mourning. At that point she could begin wearing mourning jewelry, especially black jet or hair jewelry. This is the macabre part, because hair jewelry was made from the deceased’s hair, woven into pins, pendants or other jewelry.

Half-mourning allowed for gradually easing into wearing other colors: grey, mauve, purple, lavender, lilac and white could be worn. In the late 1800’s, burgundy and subtle prints began to become popular as half-mourning alternatives.

In my book, Promise Me, Amanda Wainwright is the widow of a wealthy man. She arrives in Willow Creek Montana on a mission to fulfill a deathbed promise to her husband.

“Mud.” Amanda Wainwright sighed deeply as she gazed out the carriage window. “This whole town is brown and gray and covered in mud.”
     She was alone in the carriage, so no one answered her. Lately, she’d taken to talking to herself to fill in the blanks and alleviate the loneliness. People might think her a bit daft, or maybe eccentric, if they heard her. Rich widows were allowed to be eccentric, weren’t they?
     She touched the black veiling on the hat perched next to her. She hated widow’s weeds; each glimpse of herself reminded her she was completely and utterly alone.
     Amanda took a deep breath; she needed to prepare herself for the days ahead. She still felt inadequate for the task Arthur had charged to her upon his deathbed. Her dying husband had begged her to make things right for the workers who had sacrificed so much of their lives to make him a rich man. The sour stench of sickness and death had hung over him when he’d extracted the promise from her. She’d vowed to create the Miner’s Benevolent Association for the workforce in his mines.
She twisted her black gloved hands nervously and sighed. It seemed an impossible task. She’d never had any responsibility other than directing servants and being an obedient daughter and wife. What did she know of miners and their problems?
     The carriage halted, and Amanda stretched the muscles that had cramped on the long trip into the mountains. Snatching the despised hat, she set it upon her head and spread the heavy veiling across her shoulders to shield her face. The door opened and her driver nodded to her politely.
     “We’re here, ma’am.”
     Amanda wrapped the ribbons of her black, beaded bag around her thin wrist and held out a gloved hand. The man assisted her to the ground, and mud oozed over the toes of her boots. Lifting the hem of her bombazine gown, she walked to the steps and into the Parmeter House.
      Amanda stood at the polished wood counter and waited patiently. A few minutes passed before a tall woman in a dark gray dress bustled out a doorway and paused to give Amanda a warm smile.
     “Land sakes, you must be the Widder Wainwright.”
     Amanda’s face grew hot. She hated being identified as the surviving mate of a dead man.

 For more about Promise Me, visit

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Place of the Birth of Democracy

Jade, my son living a dream. My Spartan has arrived
If you haven’t seen the movie 300, you should. It is fantastic eye-candy for all females and enough action to keep men watching too.  It was a Hollywood, yes. But the fact, in 480 B.C, that 300 Spartans did halt 10,000 Persians from advancing on Greece long enough for Greece to realize the threat was coming their way. Thus,the first republic formed, uniting against a common foe.
King Leonidas


This is the actual  place where the 300 stopped the Persians (and our driver)

Jade/my son and I (both lovers of the ancient world) insisted on seeing this magnificent piece of history where this battle of Thermopylae took place. We got to stand on this sacred ground even though it was a highway. It was unbelievable.  It was amazing. Sand to the right. Mountains to the left.


Today, the beach  has filled out with sand at least 100 yards so it was rather plain. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to be here  Originally, the water lapped the one shoulder of the road, to soft for the Persians to spread out. The other shoulder was lined by a mountain range.This pass funneled them onto the shields and lances of the Spartans for weeks.

Jade  my son walking in the steps of the 300
The trail up to the last stand of the 300
As in the movie, the Persians found a goat trail around to the rear of the Spartan warriors. At this point the Spartans were surrounded. So those left climbed this hill and fought to the last man. 

This is the monument to their sacrifice.

Monument to the last of the 300

 Not far away is a museum in honor of these 300. Unfortunately, few people venture the 2.5 hour drive away from Athens to see it. 

So much history fills this country every step you take. So it’s easy to be distracted by the Acropolis (which we did see)                          

For all democracies out there, this is where it all began. I feel blessed to have stood there and breathed the first air of freedom.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Time Magazine takes a look at Indie Publishing

by Sheryl Hoyt, writing as SaraLynn Hoyt

A few years back I wrote historical romance, Dangerous Heart, that took place in and around Philadelphia. Now I had never been to the City of Brotherly Love so all I could do was rely on research. Thankfully, I had the help of a knowledgeable Philadelphian librarian to assist me in making sure I was able to recreate the city as it was in 1838. He went to the archives and pulled maps, articles and pictures for me to use to reimagine the life and times and goregeous homes of my characters.


Many things are the same, but many have changed as well. For instance, although the rivers haven’t moved much over the last hundred and fifty years, there certainly were not as many bridges in 1838 as there are in the 21st century. Therefore it was important that I placed my characters in areas that had easy access to where I needed them to travel. You wouldn’t want to put them across the river from their destination only to have the closest bridge or ferry several miles away. 


Philadelphia was a fascinating city in the mid 1800’s because it was really at the center of the social and political spectrum. Between the old capital and Ben Franklin’s many public projects, it was on par with London at the time.


Although I’m not an expert on the time and place I worked very hard to make sure my facts were as precise as possible. I didn’t want anyone to know I had never actually been to Philly when they read the book. And I think I was moderately successful. Recently, someone who read my novel, Dangerous Heart, told me they found it interesting to read about the area they had grown up in. I waited, breath held for him to tell me what I had gotten wrong, but only got a surprised laugh when I said it was all created from “research”.


This young man who grew up close to the area of Philadelphia that my story takes place in is a freelance reporter living in New York. We met in Chicago at the Romantic Times Booklovers 2012 convention this last April and he took an interest in me and my indie publishing journey.

I’m excited to say that in a few week’s time the article he wrote about Dangerous Heart and my self-publishing journey will appear in Time Magazine. It was an amazing adventure for any writer and I can’t wait to see what develops from it both for myself and all the other hard working indies out there.

Let’s all celebrate what we do and the joy we get from writing what we love.

Take care and Happy Holidays, Sheryl Hoyt writing as SaraLynn Hoyt

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Yearning for Gingerbread by Jodi Henley

It’s autumn, and up here in the Cascade foothills, it’s cold and raining. The weatherman recently cancelled El Nino and said we’d be going into a neutral winter, which means I need to get new tires. There’s no way I can get through a snow event with my current tread depth, a sad fact that made me buy ingredients for my favorite cold weather comfort food—gingerbread.

Gingerbread is an old sweet. The earliest forms were used in Egypt for ceremonial purposes. Later, as it traveled to Europe in the 15th century, it evolved into something very much like modern day rum balls—a molded confection of bread crumbs, spices and honey.

Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; (simmer a quart of honey and skim the foam) take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on (add some saffron and powdered pepper); take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; (add enough grated bread to make a stiff paste) then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; (add some cinnamon) then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. (press it into a mold and let it dry a few hours)

The molds were deep, highly detailed and sometimes explicitly bawdy like the small 15th century earthenware molds currently at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Because honey is hygroscopic, early gingerbread needed to be thick to hold its shape. By 1650, the English had replaced bread crumbs with flour and baking molds reflected the ability to create thinner pieces.

In the late Regency, gingerbread molds had morphed into little more than cookie stamps—although the carving was still intricate.
Cookies ran the gamut from fancy lebkuchen style fruit and nut extravaganzas to simple, ginger-flavored drops.

Mix three pounds of flour with half a pound of butter, four ounces of brown sugar, half an ounce of pounded ginger; then make it into a paste with one pound and a quarter of treacle (golden syrup) warm. 

Despite my interest in the history of gingerbread, I only make one kind. There’s something about the smell of candied fruit that makes me think of Christmas. 

If you’d like to get your own copy of A New System of Domestic Cookery by A Lady (Maria Eliza Rundell, 1842) google play offers it as a free e-book.

In The Taming of Lady Honoria, the first book in my erotic serial regency, Honoria has nothing at all to do with cooking and very little to do with eating.  One day, she swears--she'll eat a full meal, but until then, she'll continue to hope for prawn loaves when her mother throws a ball.

Lady Honoria Cavanaugh is as tempestuous as she is beautiful. When her spoiled demand for a new gown brings her to the attention of her old childhood friend, Robbie MacGregor, an erotic passion ignites. But who is Danton, and what does the enigmatic lord want? Two lusty men, a devoted maid, and a Beauty of Immense Fortune. Who said, "There can be only one?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Anna Markland

Modern day symbol of the Camino
The Way of St. James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was heavily travelled.

The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol concern the death of Saint James, who was beheaded in Jerusalem. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula.

Version 1: After James' death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

Version 2: After James' death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James' ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God's hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

The scallop shell also served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. It gave them privileges to sleep in churches and ask for free meals, but also warded off thieves who dared not attack devoted pilgrims.

The pilgrim's staff is a walking stick used by pilgrims. Generally, the stick has a hook on it so that something may be hung from it.

The earliest records of visits paid to the shrine dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela date from the 8th century. The pilgrimage to the shrine became the most renowned medieval pilgrimage. The earliest recorded pilgrims from beyond the Pyrenees visited the shrine in the middle of the 10th century, but it seems that it was not until a century later that large numbers of pilgrims from abroad were regularly journeying there. The earliest records of pilgrims that arrived from England belong to the period between 1092 and 1105. However, by the early 12th century the pilgrimage had become a highly organized affair.
The daily needs of pilgrims on their way to and from Compostela were met by a series of hospitals and hospices. These had royal protection and were a lucrative source of revenue. Romanesque architecture, a new genre of ecclesiastical architecture, was designed with massive archways to cope with huge devout crowds. Pilgrims walked the Way of St. James, often for months, to arrive at the great church in the main square of Compostela and pay homage to St. James. So many pilgrims have laid their hands on the pillar just inside the doorway of the church that a groove has been worn in the stone.

The popular Spanish name for the astronomical Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago. According to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by travelling pilgrims. Compostela itself means "field of stars". Another origin for this popular name is Book IV of the Book of Saint James which relates how the saint appeared in a dream to Charlemagne, urging him to liberate his tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow by the route of the Milky Way.

Today tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims and many other travellers set out each year to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey.

Four pilgrimage routes originate in France, then a well-defined route crosses northern Spain. Pilgrims on the Way of St. James walk for weeks or months. They follow many routes, but the most popular route is the French Way (Camino Francés). The Spanish consider the Pyrenees a starting point. Common starting points along the French border are Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Somport on the French side of the Pyrenees and Roncesvalles or Jaca on the Spanish side. (The distance from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella through León is about 800 km.).

Another possibility is to do the Northern Route that was first used by the pilgrims in order to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages. The greatest attraction is its landscape, as a large part of the route runs along the coastline against a backdrop of mountains and overlooking the Cantabrian Sea.

However, many pilgrims begin further afield, in one of the four French towns which are common and traditional starting points: Paris, Vézelay, Arles and Le Puy. Cluny, site of the celebrated medieval abbey, was another important rallying point for pilgrims.

In Spain, France and Portugal, pilgrim's hostels with beds in dormitories dot the common routes, providing overnight accommodation for pilgrims who hold a credencial. In Spain this type of accommodation is called a refugio or albergue, both of which are similar to youth hostels.

Modern day Pilgrims' Passport
Most modern day pilgrims carry a document called the credencial, purchased for a few euros from a Spanish tourist agency, a church on the route or from their church back home. The credencial is a pass which gives access to inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation in refugios along the trail. Also known as the "pilgrim's passport", the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio at which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides walking pilgrims with a record of where they ate or slept, but also serves as proof to the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago that the journey is accomplished according to an official route. The credencial is available at refugios, tourist offices, some local parish houses, and outside Spain, through the national St. James organisation of that country. The stamped credencial is also necessary if the pilgrim wants to obtain a compostela, a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.

The compostela is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way. To earn the compostela one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. The pilgrim passport is examined for stamps and dates. If a key stamp is missing, the compostela may be refused. The pilgrim can state whether the goal of his Camino was 'religious', 'religious and other' or just 'other'. In the case of 'other' a compostelate in Spanish is given asking for blessing of this heathen. In the cases of 'religious' or 'religious and other' a compostelate in Latin is given. The Pilgrim Office of Santiago awards more than 100,000 compostelas a year to pilgrims from over 100 countries.

A Pilgrim's Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela each day at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.

In my latest release, Dance of Love, the hero and heroine are forced to embark on the pilgrimage to Santiago by King Alfonso of Aragon. The year is 1107. Here is an excerpt:

They rode in silence, side by side. Most of their fellow pilgrims were on foot, and of peasant stock, yet they were everywhere greeted with respect and wished Good Journey more times and in more languages than they could count. There were few women among them. It was plain to see many were ill.

While Alfonso’s guide made sure Izzy and Farah were provided with sleeping accommodations that befitted their rank, he suspected most of the pilgrims slept on communal straw mattresses, trying to share warmth, willing to endure the inevitable lice that abounded in such close conditions. Izzy shivered, revolted by the thought of his beloved Farah being subjected to such deprivations.

His anger at Alfonso rose anew in his throat. Farah was too quiet. The journey was taking a great deal out of her and he worried about her health, recalling how ill she had become after the journey across the Perinés. Compostela was still a long way away.

At least they had the means to pay for good food, which he suspected most of the pilgrims did not. Many of them probably drifted off to sleep with less than a full stomach. Food and lodging was supposed to be free for pilgrims, but even well intentioned ecclesiastical orders had a limited ability to provide meals.

Izzy had experienced firsthand the dangers from bandits along the Camino. Peasant pilgrims had no protection from such hazards or from unscrupulous ferrymen, toll collectors and money changers. The so-called safe conduct pass did little to protect them from bad elements.

Potable water was a constant problem and most pilgrims had only shoes, some of them sturdy, some not, a cloak, a staff, a gourd for water, a leather bag, and a wide-brimmed hat. Every one proudly sported the ubiquitous symbol of the pilgrimage, a small scallop shell, around their necks. Izzy refused to wear the token, though Farah wore one tucked into her bodice. She put her hand over it in silent prayer when she thought he was not watching.

Izzy marvelled at the resilience of these folk. Travelling the camino on horseback was tiring enough. They had obvious faith in the gruelling pilgrimage to the far flung reaches of Spain. Many of them would be away from family, friends, and loved ones for at least a year, if they made it back at all.

He wondered somewhat sarcastically how many of them helped their ailing fellow pilgrims after hearing the dire warning of the Miracle of the Thirty Pilgrims. The supposed miracle had taken place more than a score and ten years earlier, but it was still the most talked about event. No man wanted to incur the wrath of Saint James by foreswearing their promise to help other pilgrims.