Tag Archives: history

My favorite war poem

When I was in college, I took an absolutely brilliant class on 20th century American war literature. Although my beliefs have always tended strongly toward pacifism, I grew up in a city with large military bases and a strong military history.

My grandfather told me stories of his experiences in the Philippines and Japan. Grandma said he never once spoke of the war after he came home until I was 12 and told him what I’d learned about it in school. He started telling me stories, and it was the first time she’d heard them, too.

I can’t think of any literature more heartbreaking than stories of armed conflict. For me, the most powerful stories aren’t those that focus on the political or ideological nature of war, but on the personal. The best war fiction shows the often absurd nature of conflict, and the contrast between those who are far removed from battlefields – families, politicians, media – and those who are far too close.

That’s why this poem – my sweet old etcetera by e.e. cummings – is my favorite war poem. In fact, it’s one of my favorite poems on any subject. I can’t read it without picturing my 22-year-old grandfather lying in mud and dreaming about the 19-year-old wife he left in California.

my sweet old etcetera

by e.e. cummings

my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting

for,
my sister

isabel created hundreds
(and
hundreds) of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

mother hoped that

i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et

cetera
(dreaming,
et
cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

Do you have a favorite war poem or story? How are you marking Remembrance Day/Veterans Day?

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Interview with Joanna Bourne – and giveaway!

After I graduated from college I stopped reading romance for seven years. Those first three years, I lived in Prague, where English books were extortionate and none of the handful of bookstores sold romance. Then I moved to London and did an MA, which required hours and hours of reading legal and academic articles.

I finally picked up a romance novel again in 2009, and was hooked all over again. But I had ideas of what the genre was like—as if it wouldn’t have evolved—until I read about an author who’d released a novel the year before to huge acclaim.

Joanna BourneJoanna Bourne’s second debut (because it came out 25 years after her actual debut), The Spymaster’s Lady, changed everything I thought I knew about romance. With its clever, resourceful heroine and lyrical language, the novel helped me realize that romance can be literary and smart as well as entertaining.

I’m so thrilled to have Jo as my guest today. She’s giving away the hotly anticipated  BLACK HAWK (which comes out tomorrow, people!) to one person who leaves a comment, but first: Welcome, Jo!

1. Your debut novel, Her Ladyship’s Companion, was published by Avon in 1983 (you write beautifully about your first sale on Dear Author) and then you embarked on a career globe-hopping with the federal government. What made you decide to start writing romance again after a 25-year hiatus writing for the government?

Spymaster's LadyFairly straightforward answer to that one.  I stopped working overseas and returned to the United States.  It was work I loved, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of an 80-hour-a-week job does leave you with a little more leisure time.

Now I can use all those exotic impressions from all those foreign places in my writing.

2. Readers have been antsy for years waiting for Adrian’s story. Your last novel, The Forbidden Rose, is set when Adrian is twelve, and on the All About Romance website you say, “Think of the worst twelve-year-old you’ve ever known, and then hand him a knife. That’s Adrian.” How would you describe Adrian as a romantic hero?

Forbidden RoseY’know, it’s really hard for writer to analyze her own characters.  At least, it seems hard for me.

Folks tell me Adrian is a ‘bad boy’ hero.  A sort of James Dean.  Adrian is the lad from the wrong side of the tracks.  Dangerous, because he doesn’t play by the rules.  Unpredictable.  A little ruthless.  Definitely not safe to love.

I try to take that aspect of the young Adrian and run with it.  What would a ‘bad boy’ — a very, very intelligent bad boy — make of himself?  Black Hawk, the book that’s going on the shelves November first, is partly a Pygmalion story telling what Adrian created out of the raw clay of a street rat and thief.

I hope folks enjoy reading about the teenaged Adrian as much as I enjoyed writing him.  I hope folks like seeing him change.

In maturity, Adrian is still dangerous, still ruthless, still unpredictable.  Just — he’s not at all a ‘boy’ of any kind.

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Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents, and she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one lucky commenter!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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Interview with Jeannie Lin – and giveaway!

Jeannie LinA couple of years ago, Jeannie Lin burst onto the romance scene with her Golden Heart contest entry, set in China during the Tang dynasty. Romance readers had to wait over a year to be able to read Butterfly Swords, but everyone agreed it was well worth the wait—and it certainly revitalized my interest in historicals set in unusual eras.

Welcome to my blog, Jeannie!

1. What drew you to Tang Dynasty China in the first place?

The Tang Dynasty was the Golden Age of imperial China. It was a time when China was truly the center of the world and traders and merchants all over Asia and Central Asia came to the capital of Changan. I felt it was both a time of wealth and elegance, but also a time of danger and intrigue. And on top of that, it was visually inspiring. Great cinematography for a story, you know?

The most important aspect for me was that it was a time when women had more independence. It was a historical period with ideals of meritocracy and empowerment that resonated in modern times.

2. What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned about Chinese history during your research?

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Photo tour of London’s East End on an anti-fascist anniversary

Today marks the 75th anniversary of an extraordinary event in London’s history: the Battle of Cable Street.

On 4 October 1936, the British Union of Fascists planned a march down Cable Street in Shadwell, an impoverished part of London’s East End. The area has been home to refugees and migrants for hundreds of years. In the 1930s, many Jewish families who had fled Europe had settled in the area.

Hundreds of thousands of anti-fascists turned up and created roadblocks, determined not to let the fascists march through their neighborhoods. The police clashed with the anti-fascists until a street battle broke out.

That day, Londoners stood up for some of the poorest and most persecuted people of their time. They risked their lives to show that hatred and racism would not be tolerated.

There’s now a beautiful mural commemorating the event.

Battle of Cable Street mural

Battle of Cable Street mural

I love the look of shock on Hitler's face, and the stoicism of the RAF pilot

London’s East End is still a beautifully diverse mix of cultures that have left their stamp on the area’s history. I’ve lived here for over six years, and since I’m leaving the country soon I’m feeling nostalgic.

Historical romance readers will be familiar with my part of London. It’s portrayed as the area where criminals and doxies lived. Where heroes went for a pint in seedy public houses before being coshed on the head and press-ganged onto ships.

But to me it’s always been the city’s most diverse and welcoming area, with an incredible array of markets:

Petticoat Lane

Petticoat Lane, changed to Middlesex Street by the uptight Victorians

Spitalfields

Spitalfields, where French and Irish weavers and dyers worked in the 17th-19th centuries

And a flourishing Sunday flower market on Columbia Road (listen to them hock the flowers to the punters)

They’re obviously irresistible.
Kat with flowers

Brick Lane is lined with curry restaurants and fabric shops for all your sari needs.

Sari fabric

And even though my part of London, Wapping, features as the sleaziest part of historic London in many novels, I prefer to think of it as the area where Britain’s sense of charity was born.

Wapping charity building

Wapping charity building

What place are you familiar with that you wish featured more accurately in fiction?

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One day in a time machine

Credit: dlee/sxc.hu

Credit: dlee/sxc.hu

Research – love it or hate it, it’s vital for any well-written story. If, like my critique partner Suzanne Johnson, you write urban fantasy and paranormal romance, you might find your bookshelf filled with fun titles like The Complete Guide to the Undead. I’m jealous; my shelves are filled with war diaries.

As a contemporary romance writer, I get to research by asking real people about what their lives and jobs are like. Since I’m working on a series about women who work for a humanitarian organization, and I work for such an organization myself, I’m surrounded by friendly experts.

But there are times when I think of ideas for historicals and, if I’m honest, the thought of spending months upon months sifting through old newspaper articles and history books feels a little overwhelming. Writing a novel set in a completely different world would be so much easier if we had time machines and could talk to the people who actually lived there.

So, this week my gift to you is one day in a time machine.

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A birthday weekend fit for a romance novelist

My birthday is tomorrow. I know, it doesn’t give you much time to shop for me. But don’t worry – my husband’s already given me the best gift ever, so you don’t need to get me anything.

Almost every year since we’ve been together, my husband has taken me away for my birthday weekend. Each time he’s made the location a surprise. This year, I had a couple of clues: we were going for one night and driving, so it had to be somewhere near London.

On Saturday morning, we got in the car and that’s when he revealed our destination: Rye in East Sussex. You might not have heard of it before. It’s a very small town just inland from the south coast. Henry James lived there for several years. My husband said he chose it because it looked like it would appeal to an American (in other words, it’s got really, really old stuff) and to a romance novelist.

He was right on both counts.

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Traveling through novels

View over Jodhpur from the fort

View over Jodhpur from the fort

First off, I’m really sorry for the two-week silence on the blog. One of my colleagues went to Pakistan for a month to help get relief supplies to people displaced by the floods, and I took on a lot of her normal work, so I haven’t had much time to do anything else. (Fortunately she’s returned safely and brought me a beautiful pashmina as a thank-you. This should be made organizational policy.)

Since I’ve been working so much, my imagination has been doing a lot of traveling. Fortunately, my body will be able to follow my imagination soon. My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan, and when we booked our tickets one of my first thoughts was that I need to read some novels set there.

I’m a big fan of learning about a country’s history by reading novels. Last year, before going to Delhi and Rajasthan, I read a couple of romance novels set in 19th century India. Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows intrigued me so much that I spent hours researching what was true and what was artistic license. When I was in India walking around museum exhibitions describing the 1857 uprising against the British (which forms the backdrop of the novel), I was better able to picture the types of weapons used, the clothing the combatants wore, and the terror the people involved would have felt.

Of course, novels are novels, not non-fiction. So while they do a fantastic job of bringing historical events to life, you also need to be aware that their authors often use history as a jumping off point for their story.

Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

For example, in The Duke of Shadows a pivotal scene is set at Sapnagar Fort, a fictional place based on three different locations: Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Amber Fort in Jaipur, and the City Palace in Udaipur. I was fortunate enough to visit all three, and arriving with a small sense of the history surrounding this part of India made me all the more eager to learn more while I was there.

Do novels form part of your trip preparations? Or have you ever been so inspired by a novel’s setting that you decided to go there? Can you recommend any fantastic novels set in Japan?

Photos by me

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Getting it on in historic homes

The National Trust – which protects special properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and Mills & Boon have teamed up to publish a series of romance novels set in NT properties.

The Guardian has a great article about the partnership, including references to some real-life trysts that caused scandals.

My favorite quote is from John Stachiewicz, publisher at the National Trust: “Our visitors love a good story about the romance of the houses and the history of the families [and] these houses have seen a lot of action.”

I bet they have. I’ve toured several of them, and, while I didn’t get lucky, I can totally understand how they’d help create special memories for the people who lived in them.

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Learn and let learn

My husband and I have been travelling around northern India for two weeks in what’s certainly one of the most exciting and thought-provoking trips I’ve ever taken.

Part of my preparation included reading  Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband and Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows (by the way, they blog together at Plotters and Manipulators United, but they don’t update nearly enough. I guess that’s the peril of being published authors; you don’t have time to write other stuff). Both are set in 19th century India and are very beautifully written. As I walk around forts and hill-top palaces, their evocative scenes return to me and make the history seem more alive.

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