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Sunday, July 31, 2011


This is a term I had always known, but knew little about. I just knew the basics of pressing a man into service upon a ship, aka kidnapping. Those who did the shanghaiing were, Crimps and this took place mainly in the Northwest. Crimps was a new term to me. And, the reason for this recent fascination is due to my first trip to Portland, Oregon last week.

I didn't get to learn as much as I would have liked because there wasn't enough time, but I would have loved to take the Portland Underground Tour.

The "Portland Underground" tunnels, more popularly known as the "Shanghai Tunnels," were basements of buildings that connected to other buildings through brick and stone archways that were intersected with tunnels that connected under the streets, linking block to block. These "catacombs" or "tombs", as they were sometimes called, created a unique network of passages and thoroughfares that were used by unscrupulous individuals called "shanghaiiers" or "crimps," in addition to "white slavers" who grabbed women and sold them into prostitution. Shanghai Tunnel

There are three separate tours you could take:

1) The "Shanghai Tunnels Heritage Tour" --- which is the main tour given and involves the history of shanghaiing in Portland. You'll leave knowing more about the shanghai trade in the "City of Roses" than you ever considered wanting to know.
2) The "Shanghai Tunnels Ghost Tours"
--- "Northwest Paranormal Investigations" has proclaimed that the shanghai tunnels are the most haunted place in Oregon and, perhaps, the most haunted place on the West Coast. Given upon request!
3) The "Shanghai Tunnel Ethnic History Tour" provides insights into the histories of the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Gypsies and how their histories relate to those infamous activities in the "Portland Underground." Dispels a lot of myths! Given upon request!
Shanghai Tunnel

Any one of them would have been interesting, and and when I plan my next visit back, I will be taking a tour. Or, maybe all three.

I had never been to Portland before and loved the city and the surrounding areas. It is so beautiful and clean. Not to mention that after coming from a 100+ degree heat index in Illinois to a non-humid 75 degrees was heaven. I've heard that it rains a lot in Portland, but during my five days there I never saw a drop, so we must have picked the right week. And, it is nearly impossible to get lost in Portland. We did have a map and my son-in-law is an excellent navigator, but we soon learned that if you take a wrong turn, it is easy to get back to where you need to be because of how the city is laid out.

This trip consisted of looking for an apartment for my daughter and son-in-law and visiting Marylhurst where my daughter will finish her education. Have I mentioned this place is beautiful? Marylhurst has got to be one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever been on. I wanted to go back to school so I could go there.

Between the apartment hunting and school visits we walked along the river, toured wine country (where I tested some phenominal Pinot Gris wines), ate at lots of restaurants and visited Powell's book store. Powell's was at the top of my list to visit, and I've never been to a bookstore I didn't love. But Powell's is the first one that was ever overwhelming. If you are looking for something specific, I am sure they have it.

As I do with most bookstores, I headed straight to the historical section. I could have spent hours there (and maybe I did). The only thing that kept me from buying tons of books was knowing they would be going in my luggage and I didn't want to have to haul that suitcase, nor pay the extra cost for it being overweight. Unfortunately I didn't keep that same thought when purchasing wine. I ended up buying a shipping box just for the half dozen bottles that came back with me and paying for an extra suitcase, so to speak. But, it was well worth the extra cost, and I am happy to report that none of the bottles were broken on the three different planes we were on.

All in all it was a wonderful trip and my muse was wide awake for it all. My characters usually like to stay in England during the Regency period. However, a few came to life, and I have begun toying with an historical set in the mid-1800s in Portland. I don't know what it will develop into, but I am sure it will eventually get written.

Have you ever visited a place that inspires you to write in a setting and time you never even considered before?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Keeping it Fun

I have been writing most of my life. Short stories, the occasional poem, stage plays, screenplays and now novels. My first short story was in second grade, and I’ve been driven to write ever since. Writing has always been my passion, my escape from real life.

I could never have imagined it would become a chore. But deadlines, edits, PR, marketing, social networks, worrying about reviews, and every other detail that comes along with being an author slowly began to creep up on me. It happened so slowly, I didn’t even realize that writing had stopped being “fun” and had started being a “job”. And yet it had.

I know I’ve become a better author with each book I write, but somewhere along the way I lost a lot of the joy. I’d forgotten how fun it was to figure out where my story was going and what was going to happen next.

But this last week, I am happy to report, my muse slapped me upside the head. After suggesting to my critique group that we should consider writing an anthology together, the estimable Jane Charles took my idea and ran with it, creating a better idea than I could have ever come up with on my own.

So now there are 12 of us working on Christmas short stories that are all connected; and hearing about every one else’s stories and figuring how they relate to my short story has been the most fun ever. My muse is back in full force and I can’t wait to get back to working on my story.

How do you handle all the pressures that come along with writing? How do you keep it fun?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I have not yet begun to fight A Pirate's Arsenal part II

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

Weaponry for any era is an important piece of the puzzle for many authors and we have to make sure we get it right. With that said, here’s my introduction into pistols and their history.
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing, and, more importantly, to keep both eyes on the target.

Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock mechanisms. It continued to be commonly used for over two centuries, replaced by percussion cap and, later, cartridge-based systems in the early-to-mid 19th century. These terms refer to how the weapon was fired.

Here’s an interesting video of how a flintflock fires in slow motion. http://youtu.be/D1XMuZuPZFE
Now on to the pistols themselves. One shot muzzle loaders were the standard pistol during the early years of the golden age of piracy. The process involved shoving the powder and ball, along with paper wadding down the barrel. Which is very time consuming and not really effective during close combat because by the time a man got the pistol loaded he’d find a saber through his gut. And much of the pirate combat was aboard a ship and during close confines. A pistol was much easier to load than a rifle due to the short barrel.

These pistols were loaded using a rammer or ram rod which pushed the powder and ball down the barrel. In some cases, the rammer would be attached to the pistol with a swivel so that it would not be lost.
As the technology advanced multi-barreled pistols became available. They had multiple barrels and in most cases two separate locks were used, one for each barrel. In some over/under pistols, the locks were both on the same side but this was not the norm. Often one trigger fires both barrels. A more common method was a small lever-like trigger forward of the real trigger which the shooter would tap after the first barrel is discharged; this would reset the trigger for the second shot. A third method was that the shooter would not cock both dogheads preventing both barrels from firing.

Interesting tidbit: This is where the term “don’t go off half cocked” originates from.
These type of pistols were heavy and often unreliable.

You can find out more about the different multi-barreled pistols here:

Volley guns were interesting weapons. Similar to the multi-barreled pistol, where the multi-barreled pistol was designed to shot one barrel at a time, the volley pistol would shoot several barrels at once. Funny looking thing it is but it was designed to shoot several balls at once. I imagine they weren’t very effective except at close range and even then I would think it would be iffy.

An interesting tidbit: Volley pistols were somewhat rare it is said they were sometimes used by captains of ship for putting down mutinies.

So this is just a basic guide to early pistols and there are several websites that go into deeper detail. I’ve listed many here as well as books. Enjoy and do note that this technology was used through the regency era until the repeater pistols came into play during the mid-nineteenth century.


The Great Book of Guns: An Illustrated History of Military, Sporting, and Antique Firearms http://www.amazon.com/Great-Book-Guns-Illustrated-Military/dp/159223304X

Percussion Pistols And Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use http://www.amazon.com/Percussion-Pistols-Revolvers-Performance-Practical/dp/0595357962

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Traveling during the Regency Period

If you are a historical writer, you know how time consuming researching all the facts you need for your story can be. Yesterday, I sat down to write a new novel, and I immediately had to stop because my character is in France, but I needed to get him to England. I was unsure of exactly how he would have done this in 1812, so I had to stop and do a bit of research. Needless to say, this took all of my writing time for the day. When I was finished, I thought how nice it would be to have a handy little sheet, I could pull up on my computer that would list the common methods of travel with a few facts about each. I got busy and created a sheet for myself and wanted to pass along the information to all of you who might be wishing for the same sort of sheet when you are writing your next Regency. I hope this is helpful!

Mail and Stagecoaches – This was the only form of land transportation available at the start of the century. Wealthy people traveled in privately owned vehicles or by post chaise. Poor people used carts, wagons and slow night coaches. The middle class traveled by mail or stagecoach. Stagecoaches were aptly named, due to the fact that they stopped in stages to refresh horses and pickup and drop off passengers. Seats on coaches had to be secured in advance. One would purchase their ticket where the coach stopped or start.

Private coach – The favored form of travel among those who had money. This was a much faster means of travel than stage coaches. There were many types of coaches and carriages. The barouche – an open carriage drawn by two, four or six horses. The barouche was designed mainly for town use. The gig – any two-wheeled carriage vehicle with a fixed seat. The gig was designed to carry the driver and one passenger. It was usually drawn by one horse but could be outfitted for two. There were also racing curricles led by fast steeds. To name a few other forms of the coaches and carriages there was the phaeton, a high perched phaeton and a curricle.

The Omnibus - * This was not introduced until 1829. The omnibus was used for travel within the city. The omnibus started by carrying twelve passengers, but eventually carried twenty-two. The average ride cost six pence.

The Railroad – There was a railway from Liverpool to Manchester opened in 1830, but rail travel really did not come to the forefront until a decade later.

Steamboats – 1830 - regular steamboat journeys were made downriver to Greenwich and Woolwich. Larger boats made the journey to Margate, Ramsgate and Gravesend. 1840 – you could pay four pence and get on a smaller steamboat to travel between London Bridge, Southward and Westminster Bridge. 1850 – the railroad took a chunk out of the business steamboats did. 1860 – the underground railroad pretty much put an end to regular steamboat service.

Transatlantic Steamships – 1819 – The Savannah crosses the ocean, 1836 – the Great Western sails from Bristol to New York.

Crossing the Channel – Packet boats were often used for this endeavor. They usually departed for France from Dover.

This page is just a little bit of insight.

Happy writing,
Julie Johnstone, the Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ten things I love about Oz

I’m having a mad patriotic moment and decided to share my thoughts on what makes Australia a unique place to live.

Town Names – Did we corner the market of odd town names, or what? We have places like: Binnaway, Boing Boing, Bong Bong, Broke, Burpengary, Chinaman’s Knob, Cock Wash, Coffin Bay, Come by Chance, Dismal Swamp, Dunedoo (pronounced Dunny Doo), Foul Bay, Humptybong, Humpty Doo, Mooball, Mount Buggery, Pimpinbudgie, Poowong, Rooty Hill, The End of the World, Tittybong, Useless Loop. Believe me there are more like these!

Music – There really is no substitute for home grown talent to get a feel for a culture. Take a listen to Cold Chisel, INXS, Midnight Oil, Hunters and Collectors, Crowded House, Jet, Wolfmother, Eskimo Joe and Silverchair.

Big – Are Aussies obsessed about size? It’s possible. We have: The Big Banana, The Big Axe, The Big Ayres Rock (as opposed to the real on in the Northern Territory), The Big Beer Can, The Big Blue Heeler (it’s a dog btw), The Big Golden Guitar (Tamworth NSW), The Big Merino (Sheep), The Big Oyster, The Big Boxing Crocodile, The Big Captain Cook, we even have a big mower! Seriously, my country men need new hobbies.

Actors, Actors, Actors – there are so many home grown (and gorgeous) talent on US TV shows and movies that I had to include them: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Simon Baker (The Mentalist), Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe (a personal fav), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Cate Blanchet (Robin Hood and Elizabeth), Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five O), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Jesse Spenser (House), Hugh Jackman, Geoffrey Rush (The Kings Speech & Pirates of the Caribbean), Mel Gibson.

The Grey Nomads – I’m talking restless retirees here not rebels without a cause. Australian’s are brought up to think of our home as our castle and my parent’s generation have put wheels under it. Every winter the roads are dotted with Grey Nomads escaping north for the winter or simply traveling round the countryside (as the Leyland Bros told them to do years ago) and exploring all the Aussie hot spots. Forty degree days (104F) are the norm in the red centre so they fixed that by installing air conditioners in their caravans. I dubbed my parent’s leadlight glass decorated caravan the Taj Mahal, but it keeps them happy. I’ve gotta wait another twenty years before it’s my turn!

Movies with a distinctive Aussie edge – Picnic at Hanging Rock (although I still don’t understand that one and its been 20+years), Mad Max (Mel Gibson) 1, 2 and maybe 3, The Man from Snowy River, Kenny, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Paperback Hero (Hugh Jackman as a romance author – oh yum), Gallipoli, Alvin Purple.

Friendly Competition – Sydney versus Melbourne, NSW versus Queensland (State of Origin Rugby League), Ford versus Holden (well of course you must say Ford). A little friendly competition is good for the soul. LOL

Small and Yappy – This, hopefully, will be my next dog. Say hello to the Australian Silky Terrier. Big enough to make a noise, small enough to tuck under your arm when they’re being stubborn (which is often – they’re a terror terrier). Despite their small size, they make a good watchdog, are intelligent and curious and are great to travel with. Aussie Silky’s hair is similar to human and is great for allergy sufferers but requires lots of grooming. I can live with that!

Language - Ga Day Cobber. Fair suck of the sav, but Australia’s a beaut place to grow up. For the sheilas – go put the kettle on for a cuppa. For the blokes – go crack a tinnie and remember it’s your shout. I mean, Holy-dooly, you’re probably scratching your head like a stunned mullet at my rambling. But you could hear any number of these expressions at one time or another. Probably not all together. I had a hard time typing the Aussie lingo like that myself.

Last but not least The wildlife.
"The second confusing thing about Australia are the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep." Douglas Adams

Echidna, Dugongs, Platypus, Kangaroo, Wombats, Galah's, Budgie, Tasmanian Devils, the Emu. Douglas Adams said it all - they are confusing. But definately don't forget the sheep!

If you haven’t guessed yet, we don’t take things too seriously down here. Life is short – go tart yourself up and enjoy it!



Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of an Era

Now that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 has been out for about a week, it is starting to sink in for me.

There's no more new Harry Potter anything on the horizon to look forward to. Oh, sure, there is Pottermore, but we don't really know what that will be other than supposedly all of the books available in digital format, do we? Okay, fine, so I haven't yet been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, so I can look forward to that someday, I suppose.

But my point is that for well over a decade, Potter fanatics like me have always had something specific and concrete on the horizon. There was a new book coming out, or another installment of the film franchise was in the works, or spoilers were leaking about potential titles or who might die. There was always something we were on the edge of our seats, waiting anxiously for.

And when that something was released, you can bet your socks (or Dobby's, as the case may be) that there were oodles of us in line well before the midnight release. Who cares that it's a kids' movie? Not me. What's that you say? The books are meant for teenagers? Guess I'm a teenager at heart.

Without that something specific and concrete coming, a strong sense of loss has settled in for me.

This world that I've come to know and love will always be there for me to read or watch again...but there's nothing new. No new chapters to fill in. No unanswered questions left to be answered. (Well, I could argue that there are still plenty of questions that need answers, but that's for another day...)

Is anyone else grieving the Harry Potter saga like I am right now? And how are you dealing with it? Any suggestions on what to replace it with?

(And is there anything you particularly loved or hated about anything along the way? We're all here to vent with/cry over/hug if needed.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Early History of New Orleans Part Dos

Yesterday I blogged about early French influence on New Orleans, but France wasn’t the only country to play a role in the formation of this city. France eagerly handed over Louisiana to Spain in 1762 after the conclusion of the French and Indian War. Basically, England and France were fighting over who could be the bigger expansionists and dominate North America and the Caribbean colonies. The English were winning victory after victory when Spain jumped into the fray, aligning with France.

Overall, Spain was behaving honorably by following the “Family Compact” between the two Bourbon powers on the thrones of Spain and France. (If I followed the family tree correctly, the two kings were cousins.) At the end of the fighting, Spain had lost Manila and Havana to the English, and it seemed certain they were going to lose Florida, too. If your cousin has your back, I suppose you had best repay him, and Louis XV did so by unloading of a huge money pit.

Spain was not naïve in matters and had no intentions of trying to make a profit from Louisiana. Their interest was in creating some breathing room between their desirable Spanish territory and the blasted English with their fancy tea, biscuits, and stolen fresh squeezed Florida orange juice. Spain was in no hurry to take possession of Louisiana. For four years, the French flag continued to flap in the breeze, probably leading the settlers to believe they would never see the Spanish. So it must have been a shock when Don Antonio de Ulloa landed in New Orleans in March of 1766 with just enough soldiers to tick off the locals. Ulloa set out to tour the other parts of Louisiana, but when he returned, a group of men with financial stakes in New Orleans greeted him and his men with guns and ran them out of town. But you can’t really pull guns on a major world power without receiving a negative response.

In 1769, Spain came back to New Orleans with a fleet of 24 ships under O'Reilly (an Irish man who had fled to Spain and saved the life of King Charles III in a riot in Madrid.) The twelve leaders of the rebellion were arrested and received various sentences, none of them good. The people of New Orleans were granted amnesty and ordered to take an oath to the king of Spain.

O'Reilly was reportedly a competent administrator and helped to organize the colony. He instituted Spanish law and created the Cabildo (town council), and had a building constructed for the council's deliberations. Also called The Cabildo. The building still stands at 701 Chartres Street. The Cabildo was the court of last appeal, much like the United States Supreme Court.

Part of the reason Louisiana survived was due to the willingness of Spain to look the other way when it came to trade and allowed smugglers to go about their business. After the Pickney Treaty of 1795 granted Americans the right of deposit in New Orleans, ships leaving the port would as likely be flying the American colors as Spain's. The major exports during these years were tobacco, deer hides, salt meat, flour and indigo.

The population of the colony finally increased under Spanish rule from approximately 7,500 in 1762 to 50,000 in 1803. New immigrants came to the area from Canada (Acadians aka French Canadians aka Cajuns) and the British colonies in North America. The number of black people increased as well with new arrivals being transported from the West Indies and Africa as slaves. Emancipation was considered fairly easy under French law, but even more so under Spanish law. By 1803, there were around 1,300 free black people in New Orleans.

There was a custom practiced by a small minority of young white men and free black women called placage. Until the white men married, they would take black mistresses, sometimes maintaining them afterwards, too. As the practice continued, African blood became more diluted.

Eventually, the people of New Orleans began to call themselves Creoles, a Portuguese word that means “native to the region”. The French were the first settlers, so initially the term Creole applied to their descendants. When the Spanish arrived, there was intermarriage between the two cultures, so the term began to evolve to mean the blending of two cultures. Creoles of color denoted the bi-racial descendants of Europeans (mostly French since they were the larger population) and Africans or West Indians. The French and Spanish made a distinction between Creoles of color and Africans. However, Creoles of color were not seen by the whites as equals either.

Even though New Orleans thrived under Spanish rule, Spain had little lasting influence on the culture. The people still mostly spoke French, had French attitudes toward pleasure, and practiced French cooking. What you can still see of Spanish influence is in some of the surnames and architecture. Fires in 1788 and 1794 destroyed most of New Orleans, so when the Spanish rebuilt the city, they styled the buildings after the architecture in Spain.

New Orleans has so much history that I have only scratched the surface. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll share a little about the Ursaline nuns, the casket girls and rumored vampires.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Early History of New Orleans Part Un

I have been lucky to have visited some great cities in the US over the years, but one of my favorites is New Orleans. My husband and I had the chance to stay in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and though the Crescent City hadn’t regained its former glory at the time, its spirit was still alive.

I loved every moment in the city: sitting in the outdoor cafés, observing the street performers, savoring the Creole cuisine, admiring the historic homes of the French Quarter. Therefore, when it came time to write about a hero who is the master of his own ship, New Orleans was my first choice for his sea port away from home. The city was calling to me.

Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it—writing a story in a different setting aside from England required me to do a lot more research. I didn’t have as much information at my fingertips. Even though not much of the story takes place in New Orleans, I wanted to include details to help build the world, and I wanted them to be accurate. Today I’m going to share some of my research and subject you to my commentary on the early origins of this wonderful city.

The French were the first to recognize the strategic significance of a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi, and in 1682, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, led an expedition from Canada down the Mississippi river to its mouth. On April 6, 1683, they reached the salt waters and he placed a cross in the mud, claiming the country for France. It was named Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV. La Salle probably didn’t realize at the time his outside-the-box thinking would eventually contribute to political and economic failure for his home country.

Early attempts at settling the colony were far from successful over the next 65 years. Most original settlers hoped to become rich through mining and fur trade, and no one wanted the life of a farmer. Oddly enough, that meant no crops were planted to prevent starvation. Add on the occasional hostile relationship with the Native Americans, malaria, dysentery and a lot less women than men, and is it any wonder the French had trouble finding volunteers to come to the new colony?

With the various failures to create a thriving settlement, it seems like France would have given up on Louisiana, but instead they decided to make it a proprietary colony in 1712 under Antoine Crozat, Marquis de Chatel. Crozat’s best move was arranging for twenty five women of marriageable age to be brought to the colony. Let’s just say there was a period of contentment for the men. Crozat didn’t see the riches he had dreamed about when he started his venture, and in 1717 the colony was transferred to the proprietorship of John Law’s Company of the West.

Mr. Law was a Scot, a professional gambler and reportedly a good shot. After he killed a man in a duel, he found it wise to leave Scotland rather quickly and eventually made his way to France. He had big aspirations and made big promises to the young Louis XV. In exchange for granting Louisiana to his company, Law agreed to transport six thousand colonists and three thousand African slaves a year to its new acquisition. He couldn’t deliver, but never let it be said he lacked ingenuity.

When it became hard to find volunteers to come to Louisiana, France allowed for the release of some of its prisoners who were willing to sail across the world for their freedom. Later, convicts were forced to come whether they wanted to or not. No more cozy French prison cells for you, mes amis. Since that tactic seemed to work so well, the France began sweeping the streets for prostitutes, vagrants and beggars for an all-expenses paid voyage halfway around the globe.

These ragtag groups of settlers made for poor candidates for colony life, because most didn’t survive the voyage or they succumbed to illness soon after they made it to New Orleans. The ones that did survive continued their lifestyles of gambling, drinking, and late night runs into the Spanish territory for Taco Bell. (Not really. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.) Since the new arrivals had no farming skills and showed no inclination to learn, food had to be imported from France, the West Indies and the Illinois grains area.

Eventually, Law’s company realized their mistake and began looking for settlers outside of France. They promised settlers land, work animals, tools and food to last until the first harvest. Many peasants from the Rhineland and German-speaking parts of Switzerland were happy to have an opportunity for a new beginning. These new settlers were hard workers, and though New Orleans didn't become self-sufficient with their arrival, they lessened the colony’s dependence on outside sources.

What is interesting is that after a few generations, the Germanic settlers had lost their native tongue and were speaking French. Unique to Louisiana was the French's ability to impose their language on other nationalities, including the slaves from Africa and the West Indies.

In 1731, the Law’s Company of the Indies (previously Company of the West) had exhausted its resources and begged France to take the colony off its hands. Louisiana once again was a French colony.

Tomorrow I’ll cover Spain’s influence in New Orleans after France ceded the colony to them, under the guise of an apology for making them lose Florida, Havana and Manila to the English at the conclusion of the French and Indian War. I think France just wanted to unload Louisiana and who better to dump on than their allies?

Monday, July 18, 2011

It is a Hot One!

Across the country we are facing a scorching week. Where I am at we expect the heat index to be from 100º to 113º because of humidity. The air conditioning, if you have it, has been turned on and the lightest of cotton clothing you can find is being worn. If you are lucky enough you are hitting a pool. Sometimes a dip in cold water (if it stays cold) is the best way to cool off.

Can you imagine the reaction if a Regency male were to pop into our world on a day like this (or almost any day for that matter)? In the early 1800’s intentionally showing an ankle was a bit risqué. One trip to a public pool would probably give him heart palpitations.

It is at times like this I am glad I don’t live in Regency England. I can’t imagine dealing with this heat with no hope of relief. I am sure many a Regency Lady would love to have stripped off her gown and removed her corselet and just sat around in her chemise. Which she could have done, I suppose, as long as she didn’t leave her room.

I think the men had it worse though. If you wanted to be the height of fashion you wore a linen shirt, cravat, jacket, pants or pantaloons, etc. No wonder smelling salts were kept with each lady. Who wouldn’t be passing out in the heat and I am surprised it didn’t happen as much with men as it did ladies.

I am not sure what the temperatures were during the Regency period but I am confident it wasn’t a comfortable 70º all summer long. I did do a quick bit of research and Britain did not start tracking temperatures until around 1870/1875 so I have no way of knowing, unless there is a record somewhere else. What I did learn was that on August 11, 2003 a record was broken when Kent reached 100.2. That probably isn’t the only time in history the temperatures have reached that number and I think it is safe to assume there were some very uncomfortable days by in the early 1800s.

How do you handle the heat, especially on days like today (assuming you are in the part of the country where 100º+ is the forecast for the week)?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

“I have not yet begun to fight” John Paul Jones

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

In lieu of my newest release this month called the Wrong Kind of Paradise, which takes place just before the golden age of piracy, I’ve decided to do a few blogs revealing some of my research. I’ve also decided to start with the big guns because let’s be honest here...that’s what I like.
And size does matter...at least in cannon warfare. The history of missile throwing devices through history is fascinating to say the least but I plan to focus more on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — as most of us research these eras more frequently. And cannon’s did not truly establish a foot hold aboard European ships until the Sixteenth century, two hundred years after its introduction in the armies on the continent. And the main reason was portability.
By the end of the sixteenth century Naval artillery had been born and the guns were mounted on two or four wheel carriages. And so launched a new era of naval warfare.
The main changes in the seventeenth century involved size and numbers. European ships were now carrying as many as a hundred guns on up to three decks. With this new technology came the creation of special shot. Artillery shots called barshot, chain shot, bundle shot, canister shot and grape shot were developed (which would serve as it’s very own blog post as the difference in each shot can be very complicated.)
The golden age of piracy was also the golden age of sail as ships were improved drastically. And with these improvements came better guns. Cast iron muzzle loaders ranging from the small six pounders to the large thirty-two pounder were the norm. Elevation was researched and developed more. And a general understanding of trajectory was better understood.
Naval artillery now had an unheard of range of about two thousand yards by this time, despite most engagements were fought with less than a thousand yards between them. The art of heated shot was discovered as well as explosive shells. Some of the cannons began to using a flintlock mechanism for firing instead of the flaming torch, which was more reliable and safer. The mechanism worked by pulling the lanyard instead of a trigger.
So why do we call cannons pounders? It refers to the size of a gun. A six pounder fired a solid shot of lead which weighed approximately six pounds. A thirty-two pounder fired a ball of lead which weighed approximately thirty-two pounds. You’re thinking to yourself but this says little about the weight of the cast iron gun. You’re right.
The weight of the cannon had to significantly increase as the size of the shot increased. Thanks to Blind Kat’s website I can show you this graph to understand. You can find more info here: http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/pirates/pirates.html
For Instance:
bore size
gun weight
shot weight
powder weight
2 pounder
2.5 in
600 lbs
2 lbs
3 1/2 lbs
6 pounder
1,000-1,500 lbs
6 lbs
6 lbs
24 pounder
4.5 in
3,000-4,000 lbs
24 lbs
14 lbs
32 pounder
5 in
4,000-5,000 lbs
32 lbs
18 lbs

Now onto some famous cannon battles. You can’t speak of naval battles and not mention the famous battle of Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the American Star Spangled Banner. Beginning at dawn on September thirteenth, 1814, British warships continuously bombarded the fort for Twenty-five hours. The American defender’s had eighteen, twenty-four, and thirty-eight pound cannons with a maximum range of 1.5 miles. And the British had a range of two miles. And through it all the American flag was still there.
The Uss Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy and is the oldest commissioned naval vessel which launched in 1797.
The HMS Guerriere was sighted on August the nineteenth and opened fired upon entering range of the Constitution. But the Constitution held its guns in check until the two ships were a mere twenty-five yards apart and then ordered a full double-loaded broadside of grape and round shot.
 The two ships collided at one point and rotated together counter-clockwise while the Constitution continued firing. Guerreire’s bowsprit became entangled in the Constitution’s rigging. Once the two ships separated, the force sent shockwaves through the enemy’s rigging. Her foremast collapsed which took the main mast down shortly thereafter. Dismantled, and unmaneuverable, the British surrendered. A sailor reportedly exclaimed, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron” which allotted her the nickname Old Ironsides.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships volume two by the U.S Navy department.
Btw, the picture at the top is the cannon believed to have been found off of Black Beard's flagship, The Queen Anne's Revenge. You can find more information here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6207766/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/cannon-found-blackbeard-wreckage/

I am giving away a free copy to one lucky commenter today. To register please enter your email address in your comment box.
Wrong Kind of Paradise
to be release July 2011
Even the Hell’s Angel needs a guardian and English Privateer Blac Barclay is unwillingly recruited for the job in this high seas adventure.

Now Blac must choose between revenge against the British Lieutenant who’d ruined his family or keeping his word to the pirate who’d saved his life. Escorting the pirate’s daughter to her grandfather’s care becomes impossible when the little wanton steals his ship. Ordered by the Lieutenant to retrieve the woman they call the Hell’s Angel, Blac is determined to honor his word to his friend and use the wayward wanton as bait. But will his plan cost him the only woman to ever steal his heart?

When Angel De’haviland’s father is imprisoned with charges of piracy, the pirate’s daughter commandeers a British privateer’s ship and plans to kidnap a high ranking official to ransom for her father’s release. But her attempted abduction is foiled by the very captain whose ship she’d stolen, and she becomes a captive herself. Now she must trust her handsome captor to free her father as he leads her right into the Wrong Kind of Paradise.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Making your dialogue shine like a diamond.

Lately, I have been obsessed with dialogue. Does my dialogue sound natural? Would my characters really say that? Heck, would anyone really say that? Dialogue can be very tricky. It can make or break a novel. It can give you a fast track into a characters head or make your characters seem like two pieces of cardboard with nothing to distinguish them.

I’m a craft book junkie. I’ll admit it. But I swear craft books have helped me grow as a writer tremendously. My newest book that I am reading is “Writing Dialogue” by Tom Chiarella. I’ve just started the book, and I had the brilliant idea that it would be fun for some of my fellow writers to come on the journey with me. So, for the next several blogs that I write, I am going to give you a few of the exercises to do that Mr. Chiarella assigns in his book. Then I want to hear how it went for you and what you think you learned.

STOP! Don’t close this blog as the idea of ‘homework’ sets in and causes a panic to make you sweat. This will be virtually painless, I promise. And if not, remember, I’m doing it with you and misery loves company! Plus, we will be growing as writers, prepping ourselves to become the next NYT bestsellers. So here goes:

Exercise (Provided by Mr. Chiarella)

Listen to yourself. Spend the day recording what you say. In order and trying to grab every sound. Don’t worry about punctuation. Don’t leave out little words such as eh, huh, hi, etc. Don’t note where you go or skip lines to indicate the passage of time. Don’t tell anyone what you are doing or reveal what you are doing. Find some private moments here and there to jot down what you have said. Start NOW and finish when you crawl into bed tonight.

Do not shape what you say when you don’t like the way you sound. Save this document and type it up line by line. We will use it next week. Good luck! If your so inclined share your first few lines with me here. Here are the first things I said this morning.

You like the kitty? My phones dirty. I'm sure Inge would go for that.

I swear the first is not dirty!!!

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you believe in second chances?

There are often instances in life where you wish you could choose a different path. For example, you drank too much at a work function and flirted with the married but gorgeous CEO, overdress for a picnic and cursed your heels into oblivion, cook cupcakes while half asleep and forget to add eggs. Those small little mishaps can prove uncomfortable but what if we were talking about your love life, or the love life of your characters? Would you let them lie down and give up when faced with failure? Do you give them a second chance?

At the RWA conference I sat in on a session Story Superglue: Making Theme Work for You by Suzanne Brockman and Sarah Frantz. I’ll admit themes in fiction had a nebulous quality for me prior to this session. I could never define my story theme clearly or found them all weirdly the same. I’ll use my own work to demonstrate my small lightning bolt moment:

*   One Wicked Night – past lovers reunite for one blistering night of passion
*   In the Widow’s Bed – older widowed woman falls for much younger man
*   Chills – prickly friendships turn warmer once misunderstandings are explained
*   Broken – commitment shy rake finds love with former betrothed

So, as you can see, I write a lot about second chances. You might say I’m writing the same story over and over. But during the Story Superglue session I heard the words that reassured me: an author may have a career theme – an overarching focus that spans, perhaps, all the stories they write. And for me that is so true. When I thought over the stories in my “to write pile” I still had that same theme of “second chance at love” occurring in each. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Readers can expect that theme to permeate all my books.

The second most interesting thing from the Story Superglue session was that a story can have more than one theme. They can in fact have many: trust, rebirth, live and learn, deception, individuality. All those themes are present in my work with varying degrees depending on the story.

But what if you’re uncertain of your theme in a current story? Glad you asked. The presenter mentioned that often theme may not be clear while writing the first draft. It may be that the theme is discovered much later in the story, or perhaps clarified during edits. What an author can do then is reinforce the focus of their story during edits–layering in hints, the same way we would layer in historical detail for a regency romance. I frequently do that after the first draft is down so now I know to apply that practice with theme too.

The last point that really resonated with me was that of perspective. An author may have an idea that their story has two themes: trust and second chance. However, a reader, someone who has different life experiences, may see something completely different: shedding labels, making your own family. Neither perspective is wrong. Every reading experience is different and sometimes when you re-read a work of fiction years later you see things you missed on the first run through.

Theme is fluid. But for the author it’s not something to get hung up on. You can write a multitude of stories before you discover you’ve have a career theme going on right under your nose. That happened for me. Have I discovered why I write about second chances so much? It probably has something to do with my own love life. When I was 21 I gave up on the guy I loved ever feeling the same about me, and then he came back. We’ve been married twenty years now so I’m really big on giving love a second chance. What about you? Do you spot themes when you’re reading or just get lost in a story?


Heather B    

Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 5 Reasons E-Reading Rocks!

I used to be somewhat against the idea of reading books on a screen. After all, I spend most of my day looking at a computer, so the thought of looking at a smaller one in my leisure time was a bit off-putting. But then I got my iPad, and I downloaded the Kindle App, the iBooks App and the Nook App, as well as a PDF reader, and since then I haven't had the need or desire to touch a paperback book. Except for research, but you'll read about that in a minute.

So, for those of you still on the fence about e-reading, here are my Top 5 Reasons why E-Reading Rocks!

1. Dictionary. I remember when I first started reading Regency romance and I had no idea what 30% of the words meant. Since it was pre-Kindle days, I was forced to read near a computer so that I could pull up Dictionary.com when I needed to. And I'm sure many of you are accustomed to even using *gasp* an actual dictionary. Like, a paper one! But in an e-reader, all you have to do is touch the word and the definition appears at the bottom of the screen! It's brilliant!

2. Bookmarking/Highlighting. No longer do I have to worry about losing my place in my book. Not only can I bookmark the page virtually, but I can also highlight the last word I read! That's invaluable. I'm reading a paper research book right now and this morning I re-read almost two whole pages because I didn't know exactly where I was. So annoyed. And now wishing I had purchased that research book for Kindle.

3. Thousands of books in one, compact place. I think back to just a couple years ago when Eric and I would travel. I would toil over which books to bring, because I could only fit so many into my suitcase. And ironically enough, I hardly ever find time to read when we're traveling. But still, no less than 5 books went into my bags, taking up valuable space that could have been used for another outfit or another pair of shoes. Now, of course, I don't have to worry about that. I don't have to toil over titles, either. All my books are in one of my reader apps on my iPad at all times.

4. Instant Gratification. I think it was Barbara Vey at Nationals who said she was in the airport and asked a woman about her Kindle and what she was reading on it. The woman listed off a couple of big names like John Grisham and Michael Chrichton. (Don't quote me on this!) And then Barbara told her what she did and the woman launched into the list of romance authors she had on her Kindle. When Barbara started reccommending other authors the woman might like, she immediately downloaded all of them! Right there in the airport. No writing it down on scrap paper (that could get lost) and perusing the shelves of B&N ad naseum until she found the titles. Nope. She had them all within minutes and she didn't have to move a muscle!

5. Lending. Okay, this one I haven't done yet, but I used to lend out my paperbacks and bite my nails until I got them back. I was very anal about the condition of my books. I don't break spines, I don't dog-ear pages, and I most definitely don't write in books (autographs are okay.) So it was always with great trepidation that I lent my books. But now...I no longer have to worry about my precious books when I lend them out. If they have the lending option, I can send them electronically to a friend. No dog-earing or spine-breaking even possible! Yay!

So those are my top 5...What are yours? Do you have an e-reader(s)? If not, does this list of features make you more likely to jump on the e-reader bandwagon?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Trailers: Yay, Okay, or Please Go Away?

Book trailers seem to be all the rage amongst authors these days. They use them as a way to raise awareness about their new releases and hope that they'll encourage readers to buy and read their books.

There seems to be a wide variety of methods to creating book trailers that authors are employing. I've seen everything from the book blurb scrolling across the screen set to music, to still photos telling the story of the blurb along with music, to cartoon animation, to live action with actors, and everything in between.

I'm not 100% sold on them, though. They seem like they have the potential to suck up a lot of an author's time and resources that could have been directed towards writing more books--without a lot of proof (that I've seen) of providing value in return. Do people actually watch book trailers? Do the people who watch book trailers then go out and buy the related books? And are their purchases due to the book trailers, or were they already planning to buy the books anyway, or else they wouldn't have watched the book trailer in the first place? I've got a lot of unanswered questions--or at least, unanswered by anyone other than me. Any statistician will tell you that a sample size of one is a bit on the small side.

Over the last several years, I've watched a number of authors' book trailers. Not one of them has convinced me to buy a book that I didn't already intend to buy. A couple of them have made me question whether I wanted to buy the book at all. Only two stand out in my memory as being terribly inventive or different--and while I did buy the books they were advertising, my decision to purchase had more to do with the author being an auto-buy for me, or the general anticipation I already had leading up to the book's release, than it did with the book trailer itself. A few stand out in memory because the trailer made the book seem like something other than what I expected from reading the blurb--and in a way that made me less inclined to want to read the book.

Essentially, for me as a reader, a book trailer has more potential to turn me off than turn me on. 

At this point, I don't plan to create any book trailers for my books--largely because of my impression of them. But I know my opinion is simply that--mine. So I'm curious what other readers think of book trailers. In fact, I've put together a little (highly) unscientific poll for our readers, to help me decide what direction to take. (If you're reading through email or a feed reader, please click through to participate in the poll.)

Have you ever bought a book because of watching a book trailer? (And if you're an author, do you make book trailers, and do you think they're effective?) Please elaborate on your answers in the comments, if you're so inclined. :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rewriting a Happily Ever After Ending

Last week in NYC I had a chance to do something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I saw a Broadway show, and as a bonus, I got to see it with a great group of writers (Ava Stone, Heather Boyd, Julie Johnstone, Jane Charles, Sabrina Jeffries and the Tammy half of Lydia Dare). We saw “Wicked”.

What an amazing show! Everything was first rate: the story, singing, dancing, acting, set design, lighting. I was transported to another world and brought to tears. The story was lovely, and the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda so very touching.

I’m a huge fan of the book “Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West”. I loved the political overtones and glimpse into the making of a villain. However, I wanted Elphaba to be something different at the end. I cared about her. I didn’t want her to become embittered or to repeat the same patterns of poor parenting with her son that she had endured. I wanted her to have a transformation at the end, but it never happened. And after reading the last words, I wanted to rewrite the ending.

Well, I was giddy with the stage adaptation of “Wicked”. I got the happily-ever-after I wished the book had achieved, and I walked back to the hotel enveloped in a warm glow. I know not everyone enjoys musicals, but most of us who write or read romance do so because we like that warm feeling that comes with a happy ending.

I just finished reading “The Help” on the airplane trip back home. It was such an engaging story all the way to the very end, but for me, it felt incomplete. I know some people like to be left hanging, but all I could think about was how Aibileen would survive. Here was this character I had grown to love, and she might end up homeless. What the heck? I want to write a new ending.

And as long as I’m changing other writers’ masterpieces, Jack is surviving at the end of “Titanic”, Rhett Butler is coming back to Scarlet and saying, “Frankly, my dear, I DO give a damn,” and neither Romeo nor Juliette are really dead. They are living happily under assumed identities, perhaps on a thriving vineyard.

What about you? If you had a magic wand, what books or movies would you like to change to a happy ending?