Medieval History in Books

Well, so much for my resolution to be super-productive in the midst of a move.

I’ve come to the realization that if you work all weekend, you have to have some down time to chill, play games, watch TV, and generally goof off (some of us need more recharge time than others). Since I spend my weekends packing and moving stuff, this downtime has to come during the week. So most nights, after work, I go to my apartment and crash. I don’t write, I don’t proof, and I don’t blog (but I am up to level 117 on Candy Crush, which may or may not be saying something).

I’m also working a full 8 hour day. There’s no feast or famine where I might have stretches of time when I have little, if any, work to do. No, around here, every day is a feast day. I have enough special projects lined up to keep me busy every day for the next two to three years. It feels good to be indispensable (especially after being laid off twice), but all that work has definitely curtailed my blogging activities.

I would like to aim for one post a week, just to keep connected with everyone, but that’s still tentative at this point.

Speaking of blogging, I ran across an interesting article on the “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” blog entitled Top Medieval History Facts You Won’t See in Romance. Of course that article piqued my interest, so I decided to compare their list to what happens in my upcoming romance, The Flames of Prague.

The Whole ‘Washing’ Issue, or; The Heroine Smells Like Lavender / Orange Blossom / You Pick The Scent

In the middle ages, they did not wash as much as we do.  It’s a lot of work to haul water and, in the winter, heat it up.  So the hero might have a hard time detecting the heroine’s pretty floral ‘perfume’ amid the general body aromas of the time.  A faint, lingering scene of lavender might not measure up to hard-working B.O. 

Then again, there were no processed foods, no pesticides/herbicides/antibiotics/etc being ingested by plant or beast, so I suspect the odors were much less . . . well, odoriferous.  And those hard-working field hands were not eating much meat which would also make them stink less. 

And the medieval person did wash, more than we might assume.  You can find pictures in illustrated manuscripts of people bathing, even with little canopies over them.  A man and a woman might bathe together, each in his/her own tub, toasting their good fortune in having servants to carry the heated water up the stairs.  There were also public baths, a left-over custom from the days when those communal-bathing Romans played with their weapons in the cold, dark north.

medieval-bath-1My hero, Jakub, takes two baths during the story (that the reader knows about; it’s implied he has decent hygiene). One bath is mostly off-screen, but the second one is shown from the beginning. We see multiple people lugging buckets of water up the stairs until they’re exhausted. Jakub gets a bath, then Alzbeta (the heroine) takes her bath in the same water. Yeah, when hot water is a precious commodity, you share it.

While it’s not shown in the book, Jakub mentions going to a feast which was served in bathtubs. He also recalls going to one of Prague’s “fabled bathhouses.”

Bath 1But no, my heroine is never mentioned as sweet-smelling, except immediately after she eats, when Jakub can smell spices on her breath (more on spiced food later).

It’s interesting that SB Sarah, author of the article, mentions that people might not have had the same body odor as we have, due to eating less meat and having all-organic food. Someone I knew who does 18th century reenacting told me that she had read an article by a scientist who said that the bacteria on our skin (specifically that in the arm pits)—which is what gives us that B.O. funk—has evolved over time, and it’s possible that people’s body odor smelled quite different in the past—and may have even been non-existent.

People’s noses become accustomed to common smells. (Anyone who has had a horse can tell you that they became largely immune to the smell of horse manure.) Only unusual or very strong odors will get someone’s attention. So medieval people—if they had body odor—likely didn’t notice it. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t smell at all. We know from accounts that they complained about the smell from tanneries and butcher shops; those businesses were usually relegated to the furthest corner of town, or outside the walls altogether.

Dig Your Privacy?

Too bad.  In a romance, the hero and heroine usually get a lot of alone time.  Their bedchamber is a place of privacy.  But that was not always the case.  Early on, privacy was considered rude, and even without the social strictures, these were usually cramped quarters, even in castles.  Rooms were small—easier to heat—and people got together for almost everything.  Often, even nobles had big old beds so that hero, heroine, their children could sleep together

Yes, very early in the middle ages, everyone from the king to the kitchen pages slept together in the main hall. (The king and queen typically had curtains around their bed to allow for some privacy, but everyone else had to get it on with no more than a blanket hiding them from everyone else.)

DSCF0208

The spacious royal apartment in the Tower of London (you are seeing approximately 1/2 of the total room).

But by the 12th century, we start to see the development of the concept of privacy, with the lord and lady getting a room of their own. Eventually there were additional rooms for guests and a solar—the medieval living room reserved for the family (and, if it was a small household, for their staff).

The Flames of Prague is set in the late 14th century. Jakub has his own bedroom, complete with a small table (which he rarely uses; he prefers to dine with the rest of his household). There is also a small solar used by not only him, but by his steward, chatelaine, and his two squires.

I disagree that rooms were small. That was true early, but not by the high middle ages. The king’s bedroom in the Tower of London—which was used as far back as the 13th century, if memory serves, was very large. The later the middle ages, the larger private bedrooms/apartments became. By the Tudor period, the king and queen had so much room, they could dine with a small retinue or receive visitors in the living area of their apartments.

spain-medieval-hospital-granger

Many people lying together in the same bed in a hospital (no, that didn’t spread communicable diseases or anything).

But it is true that many people would have shared a bed. In the late 14th century, the Goodman of Paris tells his wife that she should keep her young maidservants in the bed with her. The Goodman traveled a lot, so it’s probable that the maidservants slept with the mistress while he was gone, but went to separate quarters when he was home. This was a way to ensure the virtue of all the women involved, which is why Queen Elizabeth was said to have shared her bed with some of her ladies.

In some households, the servants slept on the floor of the master’s bedroom; in other households, they might have had their own space. In Jakub’s household, his cook and her daughter share a small bedroom off the kitchen, while his squires sleep together on a mattress in the great hall (this despite the fact that he has a vacant guest room). When Alzbeta stays the night, and the guest room is unavailable, Jakub bunks with his squires and gives Alzbeta his bed.

Dig meat?

Unless you were rich, too bad.  Not much of that.  The good news is, that’s a good beginning to a heart-healthy diet, all those grains and vegetables.  But not raw.  Raw vegetables were thought to be bad for the digestive system. 

Correct on all fronts. Fish was the poor person’s meat, and it was usually saved for holidays (although, admittedly, there were a lot of those). Eggs would have been a common source of protein in the spring and summer, and, to a lesser degree, milk, butter, and cheese. Only animals too old to work would have been killed and eaten by the commoners. Male animals frequently ended up the table, too, (since you don’t need as many male animals as females) but they were more likely to have been sold to more well-to-do people than kept for the peasant’s table; it was old, gristled animals for their meals.

Dig your dog? 

Let him sleep with you?  Feed him off the table?  Sure, why not?  Well, then why make him go outside to relieve himself?

They didn’t back then.  Thus, those rushes on the floor (and in winter, straw), scattered through with herbs and flowers to alleviate the stench. 

And while we’re at it, bring in the horses, and your prized hawk too.  Because the lord of the castle was a bird-loving man.  (Stop.)  I mean a hawk-loving man. And he had a relationship with his hawk.  (Stop that.)  It was very common to have Hawk with him all the time.  On a perch behind his seat (or on his shoulder) at meals. In the bedroom. Wherever. And birds definitely do not get potty-trained.

I have to disagree with this in part. I don’t think people routinely let their dogs shit on the floor. I think that would be stinky even to a medieval person, and it’s certainly messy when you step in it—especially when you consider they all had leather-soled shoes.

Tile

This personal chapel was attached to the king’s bedroom in the Tower of London. I seem to recall that the tile floor was a later addition–14th or 15th century.

Yes, sometimes floors were covered with rushes or straw, but we see that more in the early part of the middle ages because most floors were dirt; the rushes/straw kept it from turning to mud as people tracked in water, the roof leaked, stuff was spilled, etc. It also serves as insulation in the winter (just as walking on carpet is preferable to walking on a cold tile floor), and it made clean-up easier. For instance, Jakub has his servants put down straw before holding a banquet for his tenants. Food and drink that are spilled are largely caught by the straw. It’s then swept out when everyone is gone and there is limited need to get down on one’s hands and knees and scrub up dried food or try to get ale stains out of the wood floor. During normal times, however, there is no straw on Jakub’s floors.

Straw under a leather-soled shoe is slick as snot. (Go ahead: ask me how I know.) And by the 15th century, illuminated manuscripts are showing us decorative tile floors in wealthier homes. Why would they have used expensive painted tile, only to cover it up with straw?

Incidentally, Jakub has hunting dogs, but they stay in the barn. Just as today, some people then were dog people and some were not. Jakub’s dogs are not kept as pets, hence why he doesn’t have them in the house. (He does, however, adopt a kitten, which he keeps as a pet inside the house.) A man who had a favorite hunting dog or two might have kept them in the house (the Goodman of Paris mentions such a situation), but the entire pack wasn’t likely let inside unless it was a very large castle. Later in the middle ages, though, we see women keeping lap dogs strictly as pets.

Birdcage

13th century manuscript showing what appears to be a parrot in a cage.

Some people might have kept their hunting birds indoors (and during the taming period, that’s a requirement), but I think that would have been the exception, not the rule. Lords and ladies who had hunting birds had special buildings where they were kept and attended by a trained handler at all times.

(Jakub is not rich enough/ of enough status to have a hunting bird; ownership of birds of prey was highly regulated throughout the middle ages.)

The Goodman of Paris instructs his wife that if she ends up keeping small birds as pets, she should make sure that the servants clean their cage daily—giving us evidence that medieval people, like modern people, most commonly kept their birds in cages.

To Be Continued…

In the meantime, check out this awesome, awesome site: HowToHistory.com They have videos of people demonstrating medieval crafts and basic modes of living. This is a great resource for medieval writers, as well as re-enactors. They’ve added a number of videos since I first found them last week, so even if you don’t see a tutorial for something you want to learn, check back often.

Hey, I AM Still Alive

So, I know things have fallen silent on here lately. I am still alive and doing well. In fact, I’m doing so well, I don’t have time to blog. Since moving to Chattanooga a month ago, I’ve been in constant demand–family, friends, meetings, more family. I’m a regular social butterfly. (Quick, to the Hamster Ball of Solitude!)

The black hole of the internets.

The black hole of the internets.

I’ve also found that I was quite incorrect about the benefits of high speed internet. I am not more productive when websites load faster. That’s because games are now playable on said websites. (Friends don’t let friends play Candy Crush.)

I still don’t feel like my life has a rhythm yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully things will settle down soon and I’ll be able to return to blogging soon.

I also need to get back to writing. I have an idea for a romantic short story floating around in my head and I haven’t had time to write more than one page of it. And then today, while I was waiting for my breakfast bacon to cook, I had an idea for a movie thriller. …Except I don’t know how to write a thriller. (Writing a screenplay would be easier; I know a little bit about scripts from theater.) I’d need to spend time reading up on detective work and true crime and actually read some thrillers to get an idea how to plot it (in other words, that one has an outside chance of completion, far, far in the future). I have more ideas than I have time to write. (And that’s not even figuring in the time lost to the internet.)

Progress is slow on The Flames of Prague; I’ve pushed back the publication of it from fall until winter (I’m hoping January). But, slow as it is, it is at least moving forward. I take my proof copy with me to work and proofread it as I eat lunch; I get a chapter or two done every day.

Non-Sequiter

In keeping with the space theme:

2f224546848b0a2934747efd20c42e3d-how-dogs-see-road-trips-vs-how-cats-see-road-trips

 

To Italicize or Not to Italicize

So, my book woes continue. Now CreateSpace has rejected my interior file because the pages aren’t numbered correctly (a problem I had while I was formatting it, but I thought I had fixed it).

I just want a bleeding proof copy for my beta readers to read. I’m not done with my editing, so the blank pages and page numbers, etc. are all going to have to be dealt with again. At this point, I don’t really care; I just want something they can read so they can give me feedback.

So, question for the writers and editor-types out there:

In English, it is standard to italicize foreign words unless they have entered common parlance. So, you might see déjà vu without italics (although you might see it with; depends on the writer/editor), but when your characters throw out foreign words, like “Oui,” they get italicized

When I was writing Acceptance, and Marie was driven to curse in French, that was easy: it was all italicized. I was more iffy on Micah calling his father “Abba,” since that’s Hebrew for “father.” He used it as a proper noun, and you could make the argument that it was used like a title (titles are not italicized), but he also referred to Isaac as “my father” in English, so there was a definite difference between him  using the English word and the Hebrew word. I ended up italicizing it.

The problem is magnified in The Flames of Prague. The book is set in 14th century Bohemia. While I’m writing in English, the understanding is that all of my characters are speaking Czech. Alzbeta calls her father “Tata,” which is Czech for “dad.” Should it be italicized or no? She calls her mother “Maman,” which is French, and so is foreign to both English and Czech, and therefore should be italicized, but I think it might look weird if I italicize that word, but not “Tata,” since it’s not English either.
What are your thoughts?

 

Fireworks and “Flames of Prague”

Argh. The last several days have been very frustrating.

Kimball

Ah, the old Tennessee Alabama fireworks stand in my hometown, Kimball. It’s still there, but they got cheap and redid their sign sans neon. It’s just not the same.

I did have a pretty decent Fourth of July weekend, although it rained the entire time. We had to miss out on a cookout with friends and the fabled fireworks displays in Marion County, the fireworks capital of the United States. (No, seriously. There are no less than 6 permanent, year-round fireworks stores in the county. I went to elementary school next to a fireworks manufacturing facility. When we were safely ensconced inside the building, they closed off the street with gates and shot off experimental pieces in the road.)*

What has me really frustrated (and silent on my blog for the past week) is the proof copy of The Flames of Prague.

I uploaded my file and cover, but the file was rejected for having too many consecutive blank pages in it.

I thought that was bizarre, considering I didn’t put more than one blank page between sections. But, after dredging up year-old memories about this process, and looking at the actual .pdf file (as opposed to the Word file), I remembered that, for some bizarre reason, extra blank pages get inserted into the .pdf file when it gets converted from Word. I have yet to figure out why this happens—although I spent the better part of a day trying to figure it out last year. The easiest, fastest thing to do is to convert the file, open up the .pdf, and then manually delete the extra pages. It’s still a pain in the ass—because you have to do it every time you make a change to the text—but it works.

The only problem is that I no longer have access to a full version of Adobe. Where I used to work had a copy, so it was no trick to just delete the pages. But Adobe Reader and Foxit Reader neither one let you delete pages. A full version of Adobe Acrobat is $140; Foxit is $90. I hate to pay that for a program I need to use three or four times a year to do this one thing.

I downloaded a free trial 30-day version of Foxit yesterday, installed it, and fixed my file problem. Now I’m ready to try uploading my book again. (All this work and it’s just the proof copy. I still have to let my beta readers read it and do all my proofing.)

I did hit on a good idea yesterday, though. My former boss is trying to close up her law practice. I’m going to go work for her Sunday, and I’m going to ask her if I can buy her copy of Adobe Acrobat, since she doesn’t have a need for it anymore. (In fact, I’m going to make an offer on the office computer, since I know it’s newer than mine. Mine belonged to my husband before it was mine, and he bought his new computer back when times were still good—no less than 5 years ago. So my current computer is probably 7-9 years old.)

So, note to people who want to publish their books on CreateSpace: you need to get a full copy of either Adobe or Foxit Reader because you’re going to need the ability to edit a .pdf file. Start looking for an older, used copy now, before you actually need it. (Having to hunt for one has put me a week behind.)

The other thing I learned from this experience: make a CreateSpace to-do list (I wisely made one for Smashwords/Kindle, but not for the print portion of this enterprise). A lot of the problems I had with formatting and uploading both the text and the cover were problems I had last year when I did the same thing. In other words, I had to reinvent the wheel. You can be sure, though, that I wrote a checklist this time.

Non-Sequiter

An updated Gadsden flag for our times.

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I think “they” know I’m trying to post this picture. Suddenly I can’t connect to Google anymore. I had to use Bing. And we all know that’s the first step towards a Communist takeover.

*You may ask yourself: what happens if a fireworks store catches fire? Well, it gives the volunteer firefighters all the way into Alabama something to do, I can tell you that.

Someone drove through the front of one fireworks store in Jasper and caught it on fire. But, other than melting the siding and roof off one end of the Western Sizzlin’ next door, it didn’t do any serious damage to anything but itself; it was eventually rebuilt. One building of the fireworks factory blew up one night, but it didn’t do any major damage to any of the other buildings or the surrounding homes or school (it may have blown out some windows, but that was it). It, too, was eventually rebuilt. And I seem to recall that the Stateline fireworks store burned down when I was very little. I think it rocked the neighborhood, but nothing more.

All in all, it’s better to live near a fireworks store than a fertilizer plant.

Moving Right Along with “The Flames of Prague”

You ought to know when my blog goes quiet, something’s going on: either I’m getting a lot of work done on one of my books, or the phone line is down again.

This time, it’s been some of both–mostly, though, getting work done on The Flames of Prague. (If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, click that link.) Friday, I finished the last of my major edits. (Yea!) From here on out, it’s just proofing and minor editing. (Boo!)

(What’s a major versus minor edit, you ask. A major edit–for me–involves rewriting parts of the story to make it shorter, longer, or better in general. Entire scenes may disappear, be combined, or be added. New characters may even be added.

A minor edit involves rewriting at the sentence level: things that don’t make sense, sound awkward, or are redundant. Proofing, which is the last step, involves spelling and grammar check, looking for double-periods and -spaces, missing punctuation, and typos like “lead” when I meant “led” (I’m really bad about that one!). Formatting means setting up the page size, margins, font(s), chapter headings, table of contents, etc. for print and ebook.)

I got all of my formatting for print done last night. Right now, I’m running a preliminary spelling and grammar checker. (Of everything the grammar checker dings, only 5-10% are legitimate errors; the rest of its suggestions are either completely wrong or don’t work in my situation (for instance incomplete sentences in dialog). Still, I feel the need to spend time running it because the small errors are the hardest to find, yet are the quickest to make you look unprofessional.)

I hope to be able to get it uploaded to CreateSpace this weekend (I hope I remember how to use it! It’s been awhile!) and get a proof copy made for my beta readers.

As soon as that’s out of my hands for a little while, it’s on to editing Acceptance. (I shudder to think of the number of “lead/led” errors in it. I had no idea I was so bad about that until I did a search.)

The Flames of Prague Book Trailer

I had a really productive Sunday! I made myself cross two things off my to-do list. One, I finished putting The Bloodsuckers on Wattpad (so now Wattpad has all the episodes that my blog has). Two, I finished my trailer for The Flames of Prague!

Like the credits for Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, I made the trailer for Acceptance at the last minute and at great expense. (Actually, it didn’t cost me anything, but I did make it in less than 24 hours using a program I had never used before.)

Book trailers work best, though, when you make them up a little in advance of your publication, instead of 24 hours before. I’ve been working on The Flames of Prague trailer for a while, but neglected it for several months when I lost access to a computer that had Vista (which has a much better version of Windows Media Player than older Windows versions). But, my husband happened to acquire a laptop with Vista on it a few months ago, so I finally made myself sit down yesterday evening and finish it. And I have to say, I’m pleased.

Front-Cover-v3-For-WebI suppose you should take it as a good sign when I fall silent for a week. I’ve been getting some good edits done on Flames of Prague. In fact, I only have four more chapters to edit (and I think I’m going to add one more; it moves a little too fast at the end), plus update my notes/bibliography. (I’m determined to have the most extensive notes section ever found in a historic fiction novel.)

My goal is to finish my edits and format the entire thing for print by the end of June. Then I can have a proof copy printed and get it to my beta readers (i.e. my husband and my friend, Carla). While they’re reading it, I’m going to proofread Acceptance yet again. (I think this will make my eleventh… or maybe it’s thirteenth… time reading it front-to-back for the purposes of editing.) I want to put out a revised edition of it sometime this year, complete with the new cover.

Acceptance Cover (Front only)I’m hoping to have comments back from my beta readers no later than the end of July, giving me August to make adjustments based on comments and September to proofread. October should be for formatting, leaving me publishing it in November, as originally planned. And, if I hadn’t finished it already, I can do the last proof of Acceptance in December and re-release it.

I have a plan!

In the meantime, if you’re still struggling with completing your novel (trust me, it gets easier the more you do it!), have a look at Tear Down the Wall: 6 Tips to Help You Finish Your Novel.