Simple Remedies

April 29, 2010

America Frugal Housewife

Plantain and house-leek, boiled in cream, and strained before it is put away to cool, makes a very cooling, soothing ointment. Plantain leaves laid upon a wound are cooling and healing.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…


In Search of a Setting

April 27, 2010

The process of writing a novel involves many steps. From plot to characters to setting, all the elements must be there, no matter what order you work on them. For most historical fiction writers, my guess would be that setting comes first. Here at The Damsels, we’ve even talked about other time periods we’d like to write about. (Click on the History category below right to see those posts.)  But upon thinking about this, I realized that I had developed the plot of my historical fantasy novel before I decided where I wanted the action to take place.

I could have plopped this plot down just about anywhere in history. It would have been a completely different story if I had, but I chose the late-Victorian era because I’ve enjoyed reading novels of that time period. I wanted the setting to be in Europe, but not England, since so many Victorian stories are based there (see, there was this queen named Victoria). Anyway, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled some in Europe and knew I wanted a small city to base my fictional town on.

Enter Bruges, Belgium.

The Market Square, Bruges © JY Cavalier

This city of approximately 120,000 people has a historic city center that is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. When I visited many years ago, I fell in love with its canals, the medieval architecture, and the windmills. What better place to set a fantasy novel?

Below are some photographs of Bruges, including a few from the Library of Congress that date between 1890 and 1900. It seems only the clothing and mode of transportation have changed. Enjoy!

Canal and belfry in background. Between ca 1890 and 1900.

Bruges canal. ca 1890-1900

Convent bridge. ca 1890-1900

The canals in Bruges are no longer used for commercial traffic. Only tourist passenger boats are allowed.

Kruispoort—Gate of the Holy Cross. ca 1890-1900

Kruispoort, modern day. The Kruispoort is one of the four preserved old city gateways. ©Wolfgang Staudt

Contest: Alchemy and Meggy Swann

April 23, 2010

Since Meggy’s last name is Swann and her best friend is Louise the goose, our contest will have an animal theme.  Briefly tell of the most interesting animal you have befriended (or who has befriended you).  It can be a pet, someone else’s pet, or an animal you met on a hike one day, but be sure to post by Friday, April 30, when I will draw a name to win a signed copy of Alchemy and Meggy Swann.  You get your name in the drawing an extra time if your story involves a goose or a swan:)

Book Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann

April 21, 2010

Alchemy and Meggy Swann
Karen Cushman
Grades 7-10
176 pages

If there is a Grand Duchess of children’s historical fiction, it is Karen Cushman, this month’s featured author on Damsels in Regress.  For all my efforts to blend into the time period of which I’m writing, capturing public sentiment from primary sources and using vintage pictures to decorate houses, they pale in comparison to what Karen Cushman does with her latest novel, Alchemy and Meggy Swann.  In it, you feel the London of early Elizabethan times.  You truly feel claustrophobic on the narrow, twisting medieval streets Meggy walks.  You smell the refuse of a major city before modern plumbing and trash removal.  Your arteries literally clog at the mention of sausage pie and buttery tarts.  I have never read a book so visceral in all my life.

For all that, it has an engaging story as well.  Meggy Swann is thirteen years old and walks with the aid of two sticks her beloved grandmother fashioned for her.  She’s spent her whole life in a small village where her mother is the keeper of the alehouse, and villagers and passersby believe she’s marked by the devil.  When her long-lost father sends for her to join him in London, though, she meets a few city-dwellers who are coming out of the medieval mindset toward disease and disabilities.  A troupe of players, a printer, and a cooper all look past her crooked legs and give her the first real friends she’s ever had.

Her father, the alchemist, is another story.  He has a single-minded focus on being able to turn metal into gold, it’s “true essence,” and it blinds him to everything else, including Meggy’s welfare.  The story unfolds with as many twists and turns as London’s cobbled streets, and Meggy must keep all her wits about her to save herself and her father from his “great work.”

The other thing Karen Cushman doesn’t shy away from is period language.  I read this just before working on my post on this topic, and it was my unconscious example as I wrote. Characters say “in sooth” for “in truth,” “anon” for “soon,” “belike” for “it seems,” and not just once or twice to make a point.  It’s a delightful way to transport the readers back to this time, using vocabulary Shakespeare has either put into their heads or will in a few years.  And the Elizabethan insults will have you rolling on the floor with laughter.

Your chance to win a signed copy of this delightful book will begin Friday, so stay tuned!

Author Interview: Karen Cushman

April 19, 2010

Another first for Damsels in Regress: we’re a stop on a blog tour!  We’re teaming up with five other Seattle-area authors, Kirby Larson, Laurie Thompson, Kimberly Baker, Jaime Temairik, and Allie Costa to promote the latest release from the amazing Karen Cushman!

Since Karen has a lot of questions to answer between all of us, this interview is shorter than most we’ve done.  However, just follow the link to the Chinook Update in our sidebar to find out more about Karen and her new book, Alchemy and Meggy Swann.  In the meantime, here’s what she had to say for the Damsels.

1.  How did you balance your use of period language with giving readers the clues to figure out strange words?  Was it a challenge or something that came easily?

I wanted to suggest the flavor of Elizabethan speech–florid, colorful, and exaggerated–without writing something incomprehensible.  I worked hard at finding words similar to modern words or understandable by their sound or in context.  It was time consuming but great fun.  I’d get lost in the thesaurus or Oxford English Dictionary or one of the many helpful online language tools.  

2.  What was your favorite period word or phrase that you got to include in the book?

I pick gallimaufry though beslubbered, dampnified, and gorbellied come close.

3.  You’ve written books in so many time periods, set both in the US and in England.  What are some periods you’d like to explore in future projects?

I am intrigued by the state of the brand new United States immediately after the Revolutionary War.  In terms of U.S. history, we tend to think of the revolution in 1776 and then skip right to the War of 1812.  There’s a story in-between there somewhere.

Winner of A Conspiracy of Kings

April 17, 2010

And the winner of this months contest for a copy of A Conspiracy of Kings is Adalanne! Please email us at damselsinregress AT gmail DOT com.

And as promised we had some interesting entries! My favorite entries were:
– The Annux Chronicles
– Of Kings and Thieves

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Book Review: The Loud Silence of Francine Green

April 16, 2010

This is the last of our reviews of Karen Cushman’s previous titles for this week, though there are more lovely ones we could talk about.  Next week is all about Meggy Swann, but for now, I’m going to talk about her latest book prior to Meggy, set in the early days of the Cold War.

The Loud Silence of Francine Green
Karen Cushman
Grades 5-8

225 pages

Thirteen-year-old Francine Green lives within walking distance of Twentieth Century Fox studios in 1949.  She sees most of the world in terms of her favorite movies, but her own life isn’t nearly so exciting.  She has a hardworking father, a homemaker mother, and is the middle child with an obnoxious older sister and cute but pesky younger brother.  She goes to a strict Catholic girls’ school and never questions the nuns or her family until Sophie Bowman, who lives down the street, transfers to her school.

Sophie is full of radical ideas instilled in her by her widowed father, and she takes on the strictest nun in school, Sister Basil the Great, with questions ranging from why hats are required for church to whether crossing the international date line on a Friday enables you to eat meat.  While the nuns are exasperated with her nit-picking of church teaching, things grow more serious when she questions the growing hysteria over communism.  And Francine slowing begins to ask the same questions in the midst of going through puberty and dreaming of Montgomery Clift.

This book has much in common with Karen Cushman’s other books, not the least of which is superb story telling firmly grounded in a particular time and place, but it also offers something a little different.  Maybe because it’s closer to the modern day and the issues it raises can still be felt in America.  Maybe because modern Americans feel much the same way toward Arabic Muslims as post-WWII Americans felt about communist Russia.  Francine also has an “every-girl” quality about her that other Cushman heroines don’t, largely because her story is more recent.  Young girls (and not-so-young girls, a-HEM) can relate to Francine’s dilema of wanting to seek truth but wanting to keep a low profile all at once.

Like every good Karen Cushman book, though, Francine has her favorite expression of disbelief, annoyance, or anger.  In fact, she has two: “Ye gods!” and “Oh nausea.”  No one has Karen Cushman’s way with historical explitives, and it is one of the many reasons she gets two whole weeks of lovin’ here on Damsels:)