Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Snap-dragon

Of all the strange Christmas traditions observed in English-speaking countries over the years—kissing under the mistletoe, hanging stockings by the fire, standing in line to sit on Santa’s lap—the strangest of all may have been the playing of a parlor game called snap-dragon. It literally involved playing with fire.

The game consisted of warming some form of alcohol—brandy was traditional—in a large, shallow bowl and floating treats in it, typically raisins but sometimes items like almonds, plums or candied fruit.

This 1858 depiction of “Snapdragon” by the artist Charles Keene (1823-1891) appeared in the Illustrated London News.
The alcohol was then set alight, creating an eerie blue flame. Participants would dart a hand into the fire to pluck out a prize, and the alcohol-covered treat would continue to burn until the victorious player popped it into his or her mouth to extinguish it. The fun was in the daring required, and the excitement of watching one’s fellow participants risk injury, blue flames clinging to their lips and hands.

The origins of the game are old enough that Shakespeare makes reference to it, using an older variation of its name, flap-dragon. In Love’s Labour’s Lost the rustic character Costard says, “Thou are easier swallowed than a flapdragon,” and in Henry IV Part 2, Falstaff refers to a character with “a weak mind and an able body” as someone who “drinks off candles’ ends for flap-dragons.”

Though the practice apparently began as an individual drinking game, we know it had evolved into a group activity by the eighteenth century because Dr. Johnson defines flapdragon in his 1755 Dictionary as “A play in which they catch raisins out of burning brandy, and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them.” We also know the game was alive and well during the regency, since Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines it as “Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins.”

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. In this 1887 illustration from “Holly Leaves” (the Christmas edition of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News), one child appears to have burned his fingers.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the danger involved, the game remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. In The Pickwick Papers (1836), Charles Dickens writes, “When they were all tired of blind-man's buff, there was a great game at snap-dragon, and when fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper...” Twenty-five years later, Anthony Trollope included an extended passage in Orley Farm in which his characters play snap-dragon: “Snap-dragon by candlight? Who ever heard of such a thing?” says Madeline Stavely. “It would wash all the dragon out of it, and leave nothing but the snap. It is a necessity of the game that it should be played in the dark, —or rather by its own lurid light.” Lewis Carroll even included a “snap-dragon-fly” in Through the Looking Glass: “Its body is made of plum pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy."

Eventually, however, electricity arrived to shed its own lurid light, and people became a bit more leery of playing near open flames, or perhaps parents just became more cautious about small children plunging their hands into fiery alcohol. Snap-dragon fell out of favor, and now the game is little more than a literary footnote. Still, the next time you’re looking for a way to liven up the holidays, you might want to play...No, on second thought, Jenga is a lot less likely to cause serious injury.

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press, and her second regency, Lord of Secrets, will be out March 25, 2013. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History as we wish it could be.

I love history, but I also love modern medicine, microwaves and the ability to buy what I eat instead of growing it. Luckily, modern life allows history buffs like me to enjoy a taste of history through movies. Since I'm obsessed with period pieces (I am a historical romance novelist, after all) I'll watch any movie with a costume and an accent. As a result, I've seen some great movies, some terrible movies and some that are just great fun.

Below is a sampling of the good, the bad and the fun to watch. This list only represents a small portion of the movies I love. So feel free to post your own favorites. I'm always on the lookout for another flick to add to my list or, at this time of year, to add to my Christmas wish list.

There is something decadent about watching Dangerous Liaisons. The costumes are rich, the story is intriguing and the characters are down right evil. It's wicked fun and a lot less calories than chocolate.

Who can resist the scene in Dangerous Beauty when Veronica's mother instructs Veronica on the art of pleasing a man? The story is a little trite at times but the chemistry between Veronica and Marco is sizzling and Venice provides the perfect backdrop for their complicated love.

How sexy is Rupert Everett in An Ideal Husband? This film combines all the pithy dialogue one expects from Oscar Wilde with excellent actors and lush costumes.

As much as I enjoy King Arthur, I'll be the first to admit it isn't a great film. However, I can't resist Clive Owen and Ioan Gruffadd in Roman costume.
Also, the soundtrack is amazing.

Vanity Fair is gorgeous and it's fun watching Rebbecca scheme her way up the social ladder. Also, James Purfoy is really sexy in his uniform. However, the period detail isn't perfect and neither is Reese Witherspoon's accent. I've read William Makepeace Thackery's novel and the movie is a good adaptation of the lengthy tome.
300. Beefcake. Need I say more?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Recipe for Romance

Well, a recipe for a romantic dinner. I love to cook and so does my heroine, Rebeka. This is a favorite recipe of our bookish scholarly heroine, tossed back in time to the 17th century. Rebeka was ecstatic when she found the ingredients for this recipe on Doward's wagon (the traveling tradesman). Imagine her surprise when Lord Arik brought home a fine salmon along with a strong appetite. She couldn't wait to tempt him with her offereing(s). Luckily for both of them this recipe takes less than ten minutes. This is the 21st century version.

PS...Rebeka served the salmon to Arik in the Great Hall. Tantalized  he licked the sticky glaze from his fingers never taking his eyes off of her. But that's a totally different story!

PPS...My son makes this recipe whenever he wants to impress. With a side of whipped potatoes and a vinaigrette salad, all you need is a decadent chocolate cake to finish off the meal.

PPPS...Knight of Runes, Arik and Rebeka's story, is now available in paperback but only through Harlequin.

Rebeka's Brown Glazed Salmon


1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped dill (or 2 teaspoons dried dill)
4 (6 ounces each) salmon fillets
Salt and pepper


1. Preheat the broiler.
2. Spray the rack of the broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Mix the brown sugar, mustard and dill in a small bowl.
4. Salt and pepper both sides of the salmon and place on the broiler pan.
5. Spoon on and spread the glaze on top of the salmon. (You won't use all of it. I keeps forever covered in the fridge.)
6. Position the broiler rack about 7 inches from the heat and broil just until the salmon is opaque, about 7 to 9 minutes. Keep a watch as the glaze can burn.

1. Don't turn the fillet.
2. The glaze works equally well on chicken and pork.

Let me know how you like it.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys, a new(ish) series

For the next few months, I'm going to be recycling a series of posts from my blog on how to manage titles and forms of address within the British aristocracy. First off, an introduction:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the writer of a historical novel set in 18th or 19th-century Britain must be in want of a duke. Even if, like me, you declare yourself a populist, a good small-r republican who doesn't understand what's so fascinating about inherited aristocracy, they have a way of poking their graceful dukely heads up and insisting upon a role in your stories. Or if you can resist the siren song of the duke, you may find yourself writing a less exalted but still lordly creature like an earl or a viscount. And your peer of the realm will have, or acquire along the way, a family.

In every case there is a correct and incorrect way to refer to your peer and his family--his widowed mother, his wife, his daughters, the cousin who's next in line for the title until he fathers a son of his own, etc. And a great many writers get it wrong. They just stick "Lord" or "Lady" willy-nilly into their characters' names. If their hero is John Smith, Earl of Smithton, they'll call him Lord John on one page, Lord Smith the next, and maybe Lord Smithton somewhere in the next chaper. (Hint: only one of the options is correct.)

Admittedly, British titles and forms of address are a confusing and convoluted system, especially for us Americans who have no equivalent in our culture. But I believe it pays to get them right. The more little details you get correct, the richer and more believable your fictional world will be. Also, you'll earn the appreciation and praise of readers like me who've memorized the system and find the errors to be nails on a chalkboard.

There are sites, readily searchable via Google, that explain the rules.  But because stories are easier to remember than rules, at least for me, I've decided to do a blog series exploring proper forms of address using one fictional example and one historical one.

Representing fiction will be Lord Peter Wimsey, protagonist of Dorothy Sayers' Golden Age detective novels. He's the younger son of a duke, and over the course of the series, we meet a good chunk of his family--his widowed mother, his brother the current duke and his wife and children, their sister who starts the series single and marries another secondary character, and, last but far from least, Lord Peter's eventual wife. Between them all, they cover most of the possible forms of address within a duke's family, but they're fairly straightforward and tidy for all that.

For complexity we'll look to history, to the life and family of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. He didn't inherit his title (obviously, since he's the first duke). He was the third surviving son of an earl, and for his military accomplishments was made first a knight, then a viscount, an earl, a marquess, and at last a duke. Know what to call him, his wife, and their two sons at every point of his career and you'll be well on your way to mastering the entire system. And once you throw in the extended family--divorce scandals, a peer who didn't get around to marrying his wife till AFTER all five of their children were born, name changes for the sake of inheritance, and everything else that could complicate the lives and fortunes of a big and often dysfunctional turn-of-the-19th century aristocratic family--well, in my experience there's nothing like juicy 200-year-old gossip to help you remember who could and couldn't inherit a title and how you ought to speak of a duke's children as opposed to an earl's or a viscount's.

So, until I run out of material, I'll be running a series on the Wimseys and Wellesleys and using them for examples of how to get your own dukes and their families right. I welcome questions and corrections--I think I've mastered most of the rules, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm still missing a nuance here and there.

Next time, we'll start with both our protagonists as children and learn the difference between younger sons of dukes and earls.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Compromising the Marquess

As a Brit now living in warmer climes, I get very nostalgic come autumn time. For me it conjures up images of roaring log fires, the curtains closed against the nasty weather, a decent glass of wine close at hand and, naturally, a good book. If I’m not reading someone else’s, I’m either busy writing one or dreaming up a plot for the next one. Plot ideas come in the strangest guises and at the most unexpected times.

Take Compromising the Marquess for instance. It’s the first in a four book series published by Carina Press charting the fortunes of the Forster dynasty. The idea for it came to me when I was watching Prince William’s wedding. That got me thinking about his mother and how the paparazzi had hounded her to her death. That, in turn, got me thinking about the history of newspapers in England.

The Times started out as the Daily Universal Register in 1785. An underwriter at Lloyds incurred huge losses due to a hurricane in Jamaica and sought to recoup them through a typesetting process, producing advertising sheets to promote the venture. This, in time, led to the infamous scandal sheets that abounded in the Regency period, so loved by the ordinary people, and that could make or break reputations.
My heroine Leah supports herself and her sister by writing snippets of society gossip for one such publication. When she and Beth remove to the south coast for the benefit of Beth’s health, Leah’s opportunities are severely curtailed, until she meets the powerful and compelling Hal Forster, Marquess of Denby. She erroneously reports that he’s about to marry a local lady, thereby putting him in a compromising position. Worse, she suspects him of working against British interests. Disguised as a lad, she attends a bare knuckle fight held behind the local tavern, which is where she first meets Hal. He sees through her disguise immediately and this is how he talks to her:-
Hal felt a devilish desire to teach her a lesson.
“Come inside, lads, and have some ale. It’s cold as the grave out here.” “No, it’s all right,” she said. Hal shot the woman—Miss Elliott, was it?—an inquisitive glance. She looked away, apparently realizing that she’d spoken in her own voice. “We need to be getting back.”
This time her words were a gravelly slur, partly because she’d pulled a muffler over her mouth, covering half her features with it, but leaving the row of freckles that bedecked her retroussé nose delightfully exposed. Hal hadn’t known that he held freckles in such high regard. “Nonsense.” Hal clapped her on the back. She flinched but gamely stood her ground. “I wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Oh, very well then.”
The dog inserted itself between Hal and the woman as the three of them walked towards the tavern. It alternately growled and wagged, proving itself to be a most inept guardian. Hal bent to scratch its ears.
“What do you call the mutt?”
“Pickle,” said the lad. “He’s a stray.”
“Nice dog.”
“He’s good at catching rats,” the girl said with the hint of a mischievous smile.
Ah, so she knew who he was. “I’ll bear that in mind if I ever find my home infested.”
They entered the tavern. It was packed but Hal managed to secure a small table in the corner and ordered tankards of ale for the three of them. They were plonked on the table by a barmaid whose bosom literally spilled out of her bodice as she leaned over Hal’s shoulder. She roared with laughter, adjusted her clothing and directed a cheeky wink at him. Ale slopped over the table, trickling onto the girl’s lap. Hal had to resist the urge to wipe it away. Miss Elliott’s eyes almost popped out of her head as she looked round the place. It must have been obvious that there were many gentlemen present, congenially rubbing shoulders with the lower classes, all rank forgotten as they bonded over a sporting event. His brother Robert was leaning against the bar, deep in conversation with a crew member from Hal’s boat. The few wenches in the place were rushed, quite literally, off their feet as men paid for their favours. Miss Elliott’s gaze was fixed on Sally, a regular at the Boar’s Head, who was all but giving herself to a bosun at the next table. Hal nodded at the bosun—his own bosun, as it happened. He took the hint, stood up and led Sally outside.
“Want a piece of Sally, do you, lad?”
 “Er, no, of course not.” The girl shook her head. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Come on now, we’re all men of the world here and I saw you looking.” Hal was hard-pressed to keep his amusement in check. “I can arrange it, if you like, once she’s free. Shouldn’t be long.”
“Er, no thanks.” “What’s your name, boy?” “Leon. What’s yours?”
Hmm, clever. Flick had mentioned her name was Leah. “Henry,” he said truthfully. “Haven’t seen you around these parts before. Where do you work?”
“We’re…er, looking for work. This is my brother, Jonny.”
“What sort of work are you after?”
“Anything that pays.”
“Well, I might be able to help you there. Are you willing to go to sea?”
“No,” said Jonny.
“Yes,” said the girl.
Hal leaned back and flashed an amiable smile. “Well, which is it?”
“We have a few possibilities on land,” Miss Elliott said, appearing to recall that she had the welfare of an ailing sister to consider. “Besides, now that I think about it, I get seasick.”
“That’s unfortunate.” Hal lifted his tankard and hid a smile behind it. He was enjoying himself enormously, pitting his wits against the girl. She was quick on the uptake but no match for him. “You haven’t touched your ale, Leon. Something wrong with it?”
She picked up the tankard, took too long a draught and choked on it. Hal reached across and slapped her across her narrow shoulders.
“Sorry, did I hurt you?” Hal smiled at the chit. “A strong lad like you. Didn’t think you’d hurt so easily.”
“It’s nothing.” She hid her face behind her tankard, much as Hal had done earlier, presumably in the vain hope of disguising a fiery blush.
“We’d better be getting along, mi…I mean, Leon,” Jonny said, draining his tankard and standing up.
“Oh?” Hal raised one brow. “Do you have to be somewhere?”
“Well, er…there might be some work for us tomorrow and so we have to be up early to stand a chance of being taken on.”
Hal stood also, focusing his attention on Miss Elliott, who remained seated. He could vaguely detect the swell of her breasts, even though he suspected that she’d bound them before covering them with several layers of clothing.
“Well, if you change your mind about the work at sea, you can always find me here.” “
What sort of work would it be?” she asked, ignoring Jonny when he tugged at her sleeve. Presumably he’d noticed more than one person glancing at her with speculative interest as soon as she stood up and displayed her appealing posterior. Hal should have anticipated that but he’d been having too much fun teasing her and, for once, had relaxed his guard.
“Oh, just general deckhand duties. You wouldn’t mind that so much, would you, Leon? Bunking down with a lot of other lads can be quite jolly.”
Miss Elliott swallowed, her blush deepening. “Well, I—”
“Not shy, are you? We’re all made the same way.” The extent of Hal’s desire to discover exactly how Miss Elliott was put together surprised him. That tempting derriere, those deliciously slender thighs, caused no end of inappropriate thoughts to tumble through his head. He didn’t need the distraction of inquisitive virgins to deflect him from his purpose.

Compromising the Marquess – A sparkling Regency in which a marquess finds his destiny in an impecunious siren with a beautiful voice and a scorching pen.

Available from Carina Press Amazon.com http://amzn.to/TZgDHT Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/QllKUf

Find out more about me and my books at my website: www.wendysoliman.com I’m on Facebook as Wendy Soliman – Author or follow me on twitter @wendyswriter


Monday, November 19, 2012

An English Harvest Home

Americans in the United States learn the history of Thanksgiving as school children--how the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621, sharing their harvest with their Native American neighbors, the Wampanoag. Though many in the U.S. think of Thanksgiving as a quintessentially American holiday, harvest celebrations are an ancient and widespread tradition, closely tied to our agrarian past.

In England, the feast of Harvest Home was usually held at the time of the Harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox (the word “harvest” comes from the Old English word for autumn, “hærfest”). Though Harvest Home traditions varied from village to village, all were meant to celebrate the conclusion of the farming year and the completion of a successful harvest. Typically, the local landowner hosted the celebration, with the head reaper appointed to preside over the festivities as Lord of the Harvest.

A typical feature of Harvest Home celebrations was the arrival of the “hock cart,” the wagon that carried in the final load of the harvest.

"An English Harvest Home" by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm shows a hock cart traveling through a village, having just visited a tavern along the way.
In 1648, the poet Robert Herrick described the cart as “Dressed up with all the country art,” adding, “The harvest swains and wenches bound/For joy to see the hock cart crowned.” The cart would make its way to the celebration with numerous stops at local ale-houses. Often, the cart carried the “corn dolly,” a harvest effigy fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat cut from the fields.

There were folk songs and later hymns associated with Harvest Home, and the festivities included games and dancing. The day culminated in an impressive feast attended by gentry and laborers alike. (As the local landowner, the hero of my regency Ruined by Rumor hosts the Harvest Home celebration for his workers.) The pre-industrial Harvest Home was a high-spirited occasion, one that mingled the expression of gratitude with jovial good cheer. And, even going back hundreds of years, I'll bet there were quite a few merry-makers who ate so much they couldn't wait to unbutton their breeches.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press, and her second regency will be out in March of 2013. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hot Cocoa: A Winter Night's Treat

Hot cocoa or hot chocolate as we say in the South dates back the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. It was nothing like the hot cocoa we have today. Milk was not used and it was served cold with a blend of wine and chili peppers. EWWW!

Chocolate was brought to Europe in the 1500's and in the 1600's chocolate houses, much like coffee houses, were found throughout England. The most fashionable chocolate house was White's, which opened in 1693. Later, like many chocolate houses, White's became a gentlemen's club and still exists today.

Besides being enjoyed as a drink by the aristocracy (cocoa was very expensive), it was used to treat various stomach disorders, liver disease and fevers. In France, chocolate was used to "fight fits of anger and bad moods". I think it is still used for that by women everywhere!

Cocoa progressed through the decades and some of the historic names associated with hot cocoa are present today. In 1842, John Cadbury is selling 16 types of drinking cocoa. 1879 milk chocolate is invented in Switzerland using powdered milk invented by Nestle. In 1926, Hershey introduces Hershey syrup, 1935 Carnation comes up with instant hot cocoa and in the 1950's Swiss Miss produces packets of hot cocoa for airline passengers.

Hot cocoa has become a well-loved comfort food. What is better on a cold winter night than a cup of hot cocoa? And, this is definitely the week to enjoy it as the deep freeze continues. Here are my recommendations:

Instant chocolate mix:

I give Land of Lakes five stars! It is the best instant hot cocoa mix that I have used. Great rich chocolate taste. It is an expensive brand, compared to Nestle or Swiss Miss. But the flavor, which doesn't taste instant at all, is worth it.

A simple delicious recipe for making hot cocoa yourself and cheaply, too:

1/3 cup dry milk
1 tsp cocoa
1 tsp sugar
Add 1 cup of hot water. Stir and enjoy!
you can also mix with cold water and heat in microwave)
This hot cocoa will have a creamy milk taste, more chocolaty and less sweet than the store-bought mixes.

Regardless of how you prepare it, I hope you enjoy a hot cup tonight!

Patricia Preston

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Name that God: Anath

History is littered with civilizations. Some of which we know a great deal about, while others are shrouded in great mystery.  We know a lot about the Greek and Roman civilizations but often very little about the peoples they conquered. As I started a new story set during the Roman era, I was looking for an obscure god that had meaning to women, but who’s worship may have also seemed brutal and senseless both then and now.
Enter Anath, also known as Anat, a major Semitic goddess. She has a Biblical tie-in to the infamous Ba’al as either a sister, a lover, (or both—ewww). Some accounts mention her as a virgin, the meaning here more along the lines of an independent and strong-willed woman (not sexually inactive). She is credited with putting a violent end to the seven-headed serpent Yamm and has a ferocious reputation, cutting off heads and wading through rivers of blood. She avenges Ba’al’s death with the fearsome anger of a woman scorned. She is a Middle Eastern goddess, and quite possibly the forerunner of Athena, a warlike goddess in her own right.
Not much is known in detail regarding the rituals or worship of Anath and those of the same pantheon.  Cultic practices included animal sacrifices at high places. Sacred groves with trees or carved wooden images are noted. Divination, snake worship and ritual prostitution were practiced. Male prostitutes were called qadesh, female quedsha. Sexual rites were supposed to ensure fertility of people, animals and lands, as typical for the time.  She is often represented as a naked woman astride a lion, a lily in one hand and a serpent in the other. 
That leaves a great deal of leeway for the imagination. The ancient world isn’t known for its “warm fuzziness” and the difficult life of those pressed into service to such deities can only be described as brutal. A life of ritual prostitution and blood sacrifice leaves the modern mind bewildered. It will be challenging to go that far back in time and slip into the ancient mentality that endorsed—or rebelled against—such practices. “What if” questions continuously pop into my mind, leading me toward characters, motivations, and plot points that I'm attempting to string into an intriguing narrative for readers.
So I must ask, which ancient god or goddess captured your imagination? As children, we all learned the Greek and Roman stories, and some will know more Biblical details than some.  Share--who fasinated you and why?

Friday, November 09, 2012


Last month’s offering was about the ancient Avebury stones in Southern England. The stone circles and megaliths that pre-date written history leave much to the imagination. It’s no wonder they are the setting for mystical and magical stories. The Druids, a mystical order of people, have spurred legends and stories of magic, human sacrifice, and ancient rites. It seems like a match made in heaven!
The earliest references to Druids are in the writings of Julius Caesar. He cited Greek and Roman texts from 200 BCE. These now lost early writings depicted the Druids as wise Celtic elders. The responsibility of these elders was to memorize the history and knowledge of their tribe and pass the information on to the next generation to ensure the future of their society.
The Druids, with their revered knowledge, played an important role in society and were a respected warrior class. They were a single authority responsible to act as judge, a lifelong position passed down in secret, to the next generation. This elite training, held in caves and forests, along with their herbalist expertise and the later development of the Ogham alphabet, associated with the Celtic lunar tree calendar, may have led to the summation that Druids were strongly linked to nature. Their vast knowledge gave them unequaled power over their people.
They met annually at a sacred place in a region owned by the Carnute tribe in the heart of Gaul. Gaul was a large area in Western Europe that is now France, Luxembourg, Belgium, as well as parts of Switzerland, Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany.
Without any written history, it is difficult to know the ritual, political and clerical practices. However, if we look at documented Celtic history we could make some assumptions about the druids.
The ancient Druids were priests, teachers, physicians (herbalists), legislators, astronomers, chemists, musicians, poets, theologians, philosophers, diviner, and judges of their time. Their insight was highly respected and their religious, judicial, and scholastic authority was absolute. Viewed as the conduit between the people and the gods, they handed down their knowledge orally from generation to generation.
Druid beliefs focused on the supreme power of the universe and the belief that the soul was indestructible/ immortal and after death passed on to another. Because of the diverse geography and number of tribes and cultures that made up the Celts, there were a variety of gods. This is one of the strongest factors in supporting the theory that Druids did not teach religion but rather taught their philosophy which gave order to the many different structures, instilled morals, virtues and ethics. So strong was the teaching that aristocrats, even kings, sought out Druids to teach their children. Because druidic instructions were memorized verses, none of the verses have survived.
Claims that Druids participated in human sacrifice are uncertain. Caesar claimed they sacrificed criminals by burning them in a wicker effigy, the wicker man. But other authorities claim Caesar’s information is all propaganda to demonize the Druid and justify his move to eradicate them.
Because the common people held them in such high regard, the Romans feared them. It was this reverence that prevented the success of Caesar’s invasion of Briton in 55 BCE. As a result, Caesar ordered their extinction. While almost successful a few Druids survived by hiding or converting to Christianity.
As with any invading and winning army, the Christian church absorbed the Celtic religion. Many of the pagan gods and goddess had new life as Christian saints with many sites that held spiritual significance becoming locations of cathedrals. By the 7th century CE, Druidism was all but destroyed or had gone into hiding.
In medieval tales from Ireland, the Druids were portrayed as sorcerers with super natural powers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, fraternal groups and neo-pagan organizations revitalized the ideas held by the Druids and there was a resurgence in Druidic beliefs. Today, modern Druidism is one of the pagan religions which include Wicca, Asatru, Shamanism.
If you are wondering about the picture at the top of this month’s blog, I couldn’t find a Druid but I found Gerard Butler from the movie 300 *sigh*  If you find a picture of a Druid, please send it along. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Politics got you down? Or up? Read a book!

Today is Election Day in America. I cast my vote weeks ago, since Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so today I'll just be biting my nails, checking all my favorite political blogs during breaks at my day job, and then spending the evening watching the results come in. Depending on the result, I'll be elated or devastated. Either way, I doubt I'll get much sleep tonight.

But I'm not going to talk about that here. You'll notice I didn't even mention which result would elate me and which devastate me. Because I'm declaring this space a politics-free zone. We're here to talk books. No matter how the race turns out, books are the answer!

Don't believe me? Here's how I see it:

Did your chosen candidate win? What better way to celebrate and unwind after the stress of following the race than with a nice, relaxing book!

Did your guy lose? Drown your sorrows and escape your fears for the future in a book!

Recount or the Electoral College tied 269-269? (Please, God, not that!) Well, then, we'll ALL need some nice distractions--like good books!

Citizen of another country? Ignore us and our insane politics by reading a book!

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have more reason than normal for hoping lots of people turn to books in the weeks to come. My latest historical romance from Carina, An Infamous Marriage, released yesterday.

Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he's back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife's love may be the greatest battle he's faced yet.

One commenter here between now and tomorrow at 5 PM Pacific Time will win a download of An Infamous Marriage in the electronic format of their choice, and at the end of the tour I'll be giving away a grand prize of a $50 gift certificate to the winner's choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Books to one commenter on the tour as a whole. You get one entry per blog tour stop you comment upon, so check out my blog for the whole schedule! If you'd like to be entered in the drawing, please include your email in the format yourname AT yourhost DOT com

So comment on anything but politics. (Seriously. There are other places for that. Argue politics here, and your comment will be deleted. You'll also be barred from winning the blog tour grand prize.) Have you read anything great lately? What's your favorite kind of book for when you just want to escape? What upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

What makes a writer a writer?

These are some questions I was asked a while ago, which help to explain why I feel compelled to write. Ring any bells?

1) I started life as an author writing regency romance. I now write contemporaries, too, and also a series of marine crime mysteries.

2) What is a typical writing session like?
No such thing. Every day varies. I have to clear the decks, so to speak, get all the boring daily stuff out of the way first – like cleaning, shopping or whatever – then the rest of the day’s mine and I can lose myself in a world of my own creation.

3) Men: boxers or briefs? Women: underwire or banded? (apparently people want to know this!)
Underwired. I’m an inverted pear-shape so carry most of my weight up top! Enough said.

4) If you use a pen name, why? If you don't, do you worry about stalkers?
I write my contemporaries and marine crime novels as W. Soliman, just so that readers of my regencies don’t get confused. I’m certainly not trying to hide who I am – far from it. And I might as well 'fess up and admit that I also write erotica as Zara Chase.

5) What is the oddest thing about your writing or the way you write?
Went to an Abba tribute band concert a while back and as they sang ‘The Name of the Game’ I thought it would be a great title for a book. (Us writers are never off duty!). That book has now been published..

6) Give us a glimpse into how you choose the names of your characters, please?
If I’m writing regencies I refer to my Penguin book of names and then check on line to make sure the name I choose existed in the time period I’m writing about. A Lady Jenna wouldn’t really cut it! With contemporaries, I usually just choose names that I think fit the personality of the character I’ve created, or a name that I like, but with eighteen published books under my belt, I’m running out of those.

7) Any thoughts on staying healthy while pursuing such a sedentary career?

I walk – fast - at least an hour and a quarter every day with my dog. (A great activity for plotting, by the way), I pump iron at the gym twice a week and have just acquired a push bike.

8) Dogs or cats, and why? (don't say "neither" because even if you don't have one, choosing is informative! )
I love all animals but have had dogs for years. My latest is a rescuee from a shelter in Spain. We paid more than the price of a business class seat to have him flown out to Florida, where we spend half the year. Couldn’t be without him and didn’t think twice about the expense, which is more than can be said for my husband, who had to foot the bill! Here he is. See what I mean?

9) If you research, what's your method? If you don't, how do you get away with that?
I mostly use the internet for research but also have an impressive library of research books, mostly centred on the regency period.

10) What is the most interesting or outrageous comment you've heard/read about your writing?

When my first book was accepted for publication, someone very close to me who ought to have known better, asked if I was actually being paid for it!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

It’s October, and that means Halloween and things that go bump in the night—or, sometimes, bang in the night. Did you know that until 1827, it was legal in England to booby trap a gravesite with a set gun, a cocked and loaded firearm attached to a trip wire? If anyone drew too close to the booby-trapped grave, he’d be shot. Just why a nineteenth-century Englishman would want to booby trap a grave is a matter for history.

In the early nineteenth century, medical schools had two sources for the cadavers they needed in order to train new doctors: those rare altruistic individuals who left their bodies to science, and executed criminals. In the case of those who volunteered their bodies, any objection from a surviving relative could block the donation. In 1752, the British Parliament passed “An act for better preventing the horrid crime of murder.” It decreed that the bodies of executed killers should be delivered to surgeons, and “dissected and anatomized...but that in no case whatsoever the body of any murderer shall be suffered to be buried; unless after such body shall have been dissected and anatomized as aforesaid.” At the same time as medical education began to advance, however, the rate of executions declined, until by the early 1800s the need for bodies far exceeded the available supply of anatomical specimens. Thanks to this ever-increasing shortfall, medical schools paid top dollar for donor cadavers—eight to ten guineas a corpse—and tended not to ask questions.

"The Anatomist Taken by the Watch...Carrying off Miss W--- in a Hamper" shows Dr. William Hunter and an accomplice caught in the act of bodysnatching, 1773.
As a result, a flourishing trade developed in human bodies. Armed with lanterns, shovels, and a ghoulish degree of daring, body snatchers slipped into graveyards by night to dig up the freshly buried. Although stealing the clothing or jewelry from a body amounted to a felony, stealing the body itself was a mere misdemeanor.

Body snatchers, also known as “resurrection men,” were especially active in London and Edinburgh, the two principal centers of British medical education. To fight back, area graveyards built watch-houses and hired armed security guards called beadles. Some of the bereaved even encased their loved ones’ graves in iron bars called mortsafes, or employed the kind of booby-traps mentioned above. Bodysnatchers responded by bribing the beadles and tunneling into fresh graves from a careful distance.

Dr. Robert Knox dissecting a cadaver. The caption "Nox, somni genetrix" means “Night, the mother of sleep,” playing on Knox’s name and his role in the Burke & Hare murders.
In Edinburgh, two particularly unscrupulous bodysnatchers, William Burke and William Hare, realized that it was easier to create dead bodies than to smuggle them out of graveyards. Between November 1827 and Halloween of 1828, they sold seventeen bodies to anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Most of the bodies were victims Burke had smothered to death. The pair were finally caught when tenants at Hare’s lodging-house discovered a freshly-murdered body temporarily stored under a bed. The case became a media sensation, even spawning a popular jump-rope rhyme: "Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief, Knox, the boy that buys the beef." Hare received immunity in return for testifying against Burke, who was hanged on January 28, 1829, whereupon he himself was dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College.

Burke and Hare’s murders were so well known that they inspired copycats. One group called the London Burkers began as ordinary bodysnatchers, later admitting to having stolen between five hundred and a thousand bodies before they decided to take the lazy way out and augment the supply of dead bodies. The group committed at least four murders before the ringleaders, John Bishop and Thomas Williams, were caught and tried. They were hanged at Newgate on December 5, 1831, then their bodies were sent to medical colleges for dissection. In another case, a woman named Elizabeth Ross murdered a Whitechapel woman called Catherine Ross in order to sell her body to surgeons; Ross was subsequently hanged.

Alarmed by this emerging trend, the public sent up such an outcry that Parliament was compelled to pass the Anatomy Act of 1832. The act made it lawful for licensed anatomists to collect and dissect any body that went unclaimed, including those who died in prison or the workhouse. No longer did medical schools have to depend on executions—and bodysnatchers—to obtain anatomy specimens.

And what does any of this have to do with romance? Well, nothing much. But I personally believe that there’s no better excuse for cuddling up on a cold autumn night than sharing a scary story.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press, and her second regency will be out in March of 2013. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beignets: New Orleans Treat

A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans and spent a few days in the French Quarters.  Besides history, food was the next best thing in the Quarters. I fell in love with beignets.

Beignets were brought to New Orleans by the French colonists where they became part of the local cuisine. These tasty treats are French donuts and not to be confused with American donuts. I love donuts but beignets are different. They have a different taste, they are crispy and coated in confectioners sugar.  I loved them. Of course, they didn't do my thighs any favors!

I brought home a box of beignet mix from Cafe Du Monde. The Cafe Du Monde is located in the French market and all they sell is beignets and coffee 24 hours a day year round. Also, I have found that you can buy the mix at Kroger and the instructions are simple enough.

I have yet to give making my own beignets a try but I'm hoping to do so this weekend. Of course, many times my cooking adventures turn into disasters so I'm prepared for flat and chewy instead of light and fluffy! Have you ever tried making beignets?