Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Introduction to Aunt Flo

"For perhaps the first time in your active, tom-boy life, you must accept the fact that you are a girl. ... You're a girl and you are getting ready for the special role of childbearing. ... You may think you were intended to be a Hollywood star, or a scientist, or a great writer. But your body ignores all this ... When you know the happiness of childbirth - you will be acting the role you were created for." -- On Becoming A Woman (1958)

Yes, that's 1958, folks. Women can't be scientists or writers in Eisenhower's America. Gotta get with the procreation.

I'm reading Stein and Kim's FLOW: The Cultural Story of Menstruation and so far it has made me really, really angry. I want to go back in time and bitch-slap the two women who wrote On Becoming A Woman (yes, women authors) for trying to make a generation of girls feel they were the sum of their genital parts.

But as a militant feminist I suppose I should cut the authors some slack as brain-washed puppets of the oppressive male hierarchy. Reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale where the wife enjoyed the power she had while getting her husband installed as leader, only to realize afterward that their ultra-conservative views restricting women included her too.

Here's another thing that sent the anger meter spinning: the adverts for "feminine hygiene" douches. Want to know one of the products advertising its ability to provide women with "appealing daintiness"?


Yes, really. Lysol. As recent as the 1950s. "For complete Feminine Hygiene rely on Lysol. A Concentrated Germ Killer."

Scrub out the toilet and your vaginal canal! So economical!

There was also Zonite - "For newer feminine hygiene". Wanna know what Zonite was? Tough, I'm going to tell you anyway.


Apparently internal scalding was fine with the FDA, as long as not too many women die.

I tell you, I'm going to hit someone before this book is finished.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peace, Joy and Pug Love

In the spirit of the season, I offer you this -


May we all have plenty of peace, joy, and pug spit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spread of Technology

So, I've been seriously restricted in my access to the interwebz this week (a source of much chagrin and many conniption fits, lemme tell ya), and I started to wonder how humanity ever survived without being able to tweet about cat antics or lint or the contents of one's coffee to the world.

And then I was reminded of all those classic sci-fi episodes of Doctor Who and Blake's Seven and Star Trek where the Highly Advanced Technologically Dependent Civilization were all just a bunch of big heads because their reliance on technology had caused their unused bodies to wither away.

Remember those?

And then it occurred to me that those episodes were obviously written by active young men who did not actually ever sit around all day in front of a computer.

Because any woman will tell you, letting technology do the walking does NOT encourage bodily withering.

In fact, sitting in front of a computer all day encourages the body to cushion-up the whole seat area, so the sitting experience is more comfortable. So those aliens really should have been massively pear-shaped.

Do I have a point? Am I saying that my days away from the computer, days spent actually locomotivating my body around the house have been a wonderful break and shown me the value of incorporating an exercise regimen into my life?


I'm saying, having to go to the library rather than having the library come to me over the web is Big Time Annoying.

And coming up with activities that allow me to Avoid Actual Work is way harder without access to LOLcats and Twitter and Facebook.

Which reminds me, I really must get to Farmville - my crops could be withering.

What? No, I don't want to go outside and dig in the dirt, I want to harvest my crops. Yes, I know they're pixels. But they're withering, I tell you!

Ah, very funny. I heard you say, "At least something's withering." Shut up and send me a sheep.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pugs Are Everywhere

One of the points I make in my book PugSpotting is that pug owners like to involve pugs in everything they do.

If you can put a pug in it, pug owners are there and have done it.

Random insertions of pugs in books and artwork? Check.

Pugs on utensils, inkwells, match holders, cigarette cases, and finials? Check.

Pug-shaped teapots, pounce pots, and salt-and-pepper shakers? Check.

If you can take your pug with you, pug owners have done that, too. And not just out for a walk or to a restaurant.

Pugs exploring the Old West? Check.

Pugs circumnavigating the globe? Check.

Pugs going to staff an embassy in Afghanistan. Check.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In 1879, Maj. Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari, K.C.B. C.I.E., Bengal Staff Corps, brought his pug with him to staff the Kabul Embassy.

Since this was during the 3rd Afghan War, you might perhaps think this was not the most secure place to take a pug. And you would be right. The Kabul Mission was massacred down to the last man - and there had been about 100 of them.

The sole survivor of the massacre was Cavagnari's pug.

The British would re-enter Kabul, of course, and the resourceful little pug was rescued and sent home to Lady Cavagnari. Amazing, right? True story.

This holiday season, I wish you all the luck of Cavagnari's pug. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Roasting Romance

If someone were to come up to you and sneer, "I don't write romance. I write a real love story involving real people grappling with real dilemmas*," is your response:

a) "Oh, so you do write romance, then?"

b) "Pretentious, much?"

c) "I assume this dismissal of an entire genre was reached through extensive primary research and authoritative secondary sources, or do you simply find unfounded, sweeping generalizations to be easier than actual cognition?"

It both angers and saddens me that romance - consistently one of the best selling genres - is still in this day and age consistently the object of ridicule - and by people who should know better.

[The "romance" genre] sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It sets up expectations and lays down rules of what "romance" should be and what great sex is like.*


That's your final answer?

You're saying romance readers can't differentiate between a romance novel, that is to say Fiction, and Real Life?

I'd be insulted, except now I'm wondering what the "rules" to "great sex" are than aren't actually involving of great sex.

I mean, are you saying that fictional great sex does not actually resemble real great sex? Because then I am .... confused. Isn't "great sex" by definition ... great?

I'm not seeing where the bad is.

It can't possibly be because great sex from a woman's point-of-view is less valid than the male's.

Because that might lead one to suspect the assumption that romance is read and written mostly by women is one reason the genre is devalued.

But that's just paranoid thinking, isn't it? Women's literary achievements aren't overlooked these days.**

But to return to the blog post that started this rant, lastly, there's this gem:

I don't do sex because I'm more interested in love -- and love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.*

Some might say sex is one of those challenges, and as such needs to be addressed.

Some might say exploring the experience of love without a nod to sex is like exploring the Godiva store with your mouth taped shut.

Others might point out that if you're having sex without love, perhaps this is something you should discuss with your therapist.

Because, when you get right down to it, most criticism of the romance genre says a lot more about the critic than it does about the genre.

*actual quotes
**Publishers Weekly’s list of top 10 best books of 2009 contains no female authors. Not one.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Libellous Fiction

Nathaniel Hawthorne (who as you can see was somewhat of a hottie) also experienced libel accusations in regard to one of his most famous works of fiction.

In The House of Seven Gables, the name of the corrupt, evil villain is Judge Pyncheon. It just so happens that there actually was a Judge Pyncheon, and one of his descendents wrote to Hawthorne, complaining of libel.

Hawthorne responded:

"It pains me to learn that I have given you what I am content to acknowledge a reasonable ground for offense, by borrowing the name of the Pyncheon family for my fictitious purposes, in the "House of the Seven Gables."

It never occurred to me, however, that the name was not as much the property of a romance-writer as that of Smith, for instance...

I intended no allusion to any Pyncheons, now or at any previous period extant...

You suggest that reparation is due for these injuries of my pen, but point out no mode in which it may be practicable. It is my own opinion that no real harm has been done; inasmuch as I expressly enter a protest, in the preface to "The House of the Seven Gables," against the narrative and the personages being considered as other than imaginary."

The entire letter is very apologetic in tone, and it seems that this was enough to "pacify" the complainant.

As it happens, we know Hawthorne absolutely meant no libel toward any Pyncheons because we know precisely on whom Judge Pyncheon was based.

But that is a tale for another day. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Libellous Fiction

You may have heard how a Georgia jury found the author of The Red Hat Club, a novel, libeled her former friend by basing a character in the book on her - going so far as to even identify her actual neighbors - and adding that she was a right-wing, atheist, sexually promiscuous alcoholic.

Not a combination of adjectives you see every day.

Unsurprisingly, the victim was upset. Surprisingly, she won and was awarded $100,000 in damages.

This is surprising because normally in the US works of fiction enjoy great latitude - publishers are protected by the plausible deniability of having published the work "in good faith," plus there's that little disclaimer at the beginning of each novel where it specifically says it's a work of fiction and not to be construed as fact.

One news article pointed out that many famous writers based their characters on people they knew. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That doesn't mean they got away with it.

In 1911 Britain, a "little-known actor" sued an author whose story was appearing in installments in a weekly paper. He felt one of her characters, an actor, was libelling him. She protested that the character was "purely fictitious."

He won and was awarded $1,000 in damages. (over $23,000 now)

The author decided "as a protest against and in ridicule of the English libel laws, under which it has become dangerous for an author or publisher to use the commonest names in fiction, lest persons bearing similar cognomens should take legal proceedings" to release her novel with all the names changed to famous people's. (After asking their permission, of course.)

G.K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown mysteries (among many other things), thus became the name of the book's "fiery-tempered lover."

In fact, Chesterton responded to her appeal with, "You can rely on me to bring no libel action. You may depict me as a burglar, or as a man who steals pennies from the blind, or a beggar, or even as a politician."

Very cool dude.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Sugar Isn't Sweet Enough

Did you get a chance to try Pepsi Throwback when it came out earlier this year? If not, you're in luck, because it's coming back in December for a limited engagement of 8 weeks.

What's the deal with Throwback? It's made with natural sugar.

(As opposed to un-natural sugar? Deviant sugar? Perv sugar? It's actually a blend of cane sugar and beet sugar.)

The point is that this cola is flavored with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, ye olde cheap sugar substitute.

So I thought, hey, what a great idea, I'll try that. And I did.

It wasn't sweet enough.

At which point my brain exploded. Apparently I have grown up on Cheap Artificial Crap so that my tongue no longer recognizes Actual Food. It was sort of a revelation.

I need to drink less soda anyway, but now when I reach for a bottle, I try to pick one with all natural ingredients.

Just Because.

My current faves are Boylan Creme Soda and Boylan Creamy Red Birch Beer.

(Again, per FTC rules, let me state I buy my soda with my own money. No freebies.)

If you've never had Birch Beer, it's a lot like Root Beer only ... different. It's hard to explain.

So anyway, I invite y'all to try some Pepsi Throwback or another sugar-sweetened soda and see if you like it or if your taste-buds also need to be re-trained like mine. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Patrick Moberg's Internet Vices

is a vodka cranberry.

Social lubricant used to enhance still developing social etiquette. You're aware of your uninhibited actions, but comforted by the built in safety net of excuses.

Guess the Internet Vice where: "Plans of overthrowing mass media fall prey to collective laziness."

You must go see the rest: http://www.patrickmoberg.com/internet-vices/

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Coffees

With Thanksgiving approaching, I have three different pumpkin coffees to compare for you.

(Yes, it's a difficult job, but somebody's got to review all these coffees, and I'm thinking it should be me.)

Timothy’s Perfectly Pumpkin.
This is pumpkin pie in a cup.
Warm pumpkin pie in liquid form. Yum, yum, yum. It smells lovely and it tastes both of pumpkin and pumpkin spices. My favorite.
If you like pumpkin pie, you’ll like this.

Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice.
Now this tastes like the container of pumpkin spices you use when you’re baking a pie. Not so much pumpkin. At first I was a little disappointed, but it should be all about the spices because the name is Pumpkin SPICE. I hadn’t noticed that before. If you like cinnamon, ginger, and clove you will like this. It is very tasty.

And last but not least:
Gloria Jean’s Pumpkin Spice. This is also a pumpkin spice coffee, and has even less pumpkin taste. I found it to be the most mild of the three coffees, but still very good.

Now, these three were all tested with skim milk and 3 spoons of sugar (which is how we roll here), so the tastes described may differ if you use less or more of these ingredients.

Happy coffee!

PS I bought all these coffees with my own hard-earned little dollars.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Colonial Coffee House

Guess what the newest exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg is - a coffee house!

From The Washington Post:
"Now [Williamsburg] is home to the modest Charlton's Coffeehouse, built from scratch on historic foundations and billed as the only 18th-century coffeehouse in America."

"At some point in the 1760s a young immigrant named Richard Charlton used the building -- adjacent to the Colonial Capitol -- as a coffeehouse, serving a brew that likely would have tasted burned and bitter to the contemporary palate."

Back in the day, coffee was a man's drink and men hung out at the coffeehouse like it was an intellectual pub. The American Revolution was planned in coffeehouses.

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Colonial coffeehouses, following the London model, became powerful social catalysts, providing an excellent forum for the exchange of ideas and the distribution of news.

And, of course, people drank coffee at home -- along with tea and chocolate. In case you've ever wondered about the difference between a coffee pot, a tea pot, and a chocolate pot:

This is a chocolate pot.

Notice the removable finial - attached to the body of the pot by a chain so it isn't lost.

Chocolate pots have removable finials because the thick colonial cocoa needed to be stirred before it could be poured.

"A molinet, or stirring rod" would be inserted in the hole revealed when the finial taken off.

This is a coffee pot.
Coffee pots are "tall and tapered, with a curved pouring spout and a wooden handle to protect the pourer's hand from the heat-conducting metal."

And this is a tea pot. Tea pots, as the song says, are short and stout.

Tea was also an important beverage in colonial America leading up to the Revolution.

Remember, when the tax on tea was levied without their consent (no representation), outraged colonists reacted with The Boston Tea Party (December 1773).

You don't mess with a person's cuppa. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RWA Responds to Harlequin Horizons

From http://www.annaguirre.com/archives/2009/11/18/rwa-has-stones/ :

Romance Writers of America was informed of the new venture between Harlequin Enterprises and ASI Solutions to form Harlequin Horizons, a vanity/subsidy press. Many of you have asked the organization to state its position regarding this new development. As a matter of policy, we do not endorse any publisher’s business model. Our mission is the advancement of the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.

One of your member benefits is the annual National Conference. RWA allocates select conference resources to non-subsidy/non-vanity presses that meet the eligibility requirements to obtain those resources. Eligible publishers are provided free meeting space for book signings, are given the opportunity to hold editor appointments, and are allowed to offer spotlights on their programs.

With the launch of Harlequin Horizons, Harlequin Enterprises no longer meets the requirements to be eligible for RWA-provided conference resources. This does not mean that Harlequin Enterprises cannot attend the conference. Like all non-eligible publishers, they are welcome to attend. However, as a non-eligible publisher, they would fund their own conference fees and they would not be provided with conference resources by RWA to publicize or promote the company or its imprints.

Sometimes the wind of change comes swiftly and unexpectedly, leaving an unsettled feeling. RWA takes its role as advocate for its members seriously. The Board is working diligently to address the impact of recent developments on all of RWA’s members.

We invite you to attend the annual conference on July 28 – 31, 2010 in Nashville, TN, as we celebrate 30 years of success with keynote speaker Nora Roberts, special luncheon speaker Jayne Ann Krentz, librarian speaker Sherrilyn Kenyon, and awards ceremony emcee Sabrina Jeffries. Please refer to the RWA Web site for conference registration information in late January 2010.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Gaylord Opryland!

Michelle Monkou
RWA President

New Harlequin On The Horizon

If you follow the writing - especially romance writing - community at all, you will have heard of the new partnership between AuthorSolutions and Harlequin: Harlequin Horizons.

Some people are worried that:

1) This venture will dilute the Harlequin brand. In other words, that a reader will pick up a Horizons book and think that all Harlequin books can be measured by it. Because obviously it will be crap, right?

I would hope that, for the prices they are charging, a Horizons book will not be crap. Although it looks like one might be able to skip the editing and go straight to publishing. In that case, hopefully the customer has already edited and proofed the book beforehand, like with their critique group or something. I'm just saying, just because it's a vanity press doesn't necessarily follow that it produces crap.

But say that some Horizons books are bad - we've all read poorly edited or typo-ridden books from major NY publishers, haven't we? I've noticed a lot more of this in the past few years. Doesn't stop me from reading more books by that publishing house.

2) This allows a writer to bypass the "paying your dues" stage and go directly to the "Harlequin Author" stage. The "I suffered for years to be published so you have to suffer for years too - no shortcuts!" mentality, forgetting that they could have gone the vanity press route themselves if they'd wanted. Not everyone wants to wait, and that's okay. The more choices open to authors, the better it is for authors. All authors.

3) This only helps rich people to be published and will lead to publishing being an elitist industry. Huh? Aside from polo, what is more elite than publishing? They've got their own word, for pete's sake - literati. Historically, being able to read was pretty elite. Not sure this has ever truly changed.

4) This is selling a dream that won't come true. Okay, here I agree. The website prose is a little too too, with phrases like "Dare to Dream" and "Gain Exposure to a Wide Audience" and "Compete in the Marketplace" and "Have you always dreamt about being the center of attention at a book signing event featuring you, the published author?"

Because, lemme tell ya, very very very rarely will you be the center of attention at a book signing event. Mostly you'll be asked where the bathroom is. Or if you work there. Or you'll be politely ignored as customers scoot past with averted eyes. At least, that's what I'm reliably informed. I've never done a solo book signing. (I do the giant Romantic Times one, which is a total hoot and I recommend it big time.)

But I do know that you won't get wide exposure nor be able to compete in the marketplace - at least, not in the way you dream of (unless you have very grounded, realistic dreams) - with such a program for the simple reason that your book will not appear on bookstore shelves.

Now, if you realize that, and you understand this most likely will not lead to quitting your day job, then all is fine.

However, you should also realize that you can do much of this yourself, for little or no cost. Check out Patricia Simpson's very cogent account of her experience. Her article is really the final word on self-publishing. Read it, learn - and be inspired. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Henry

The Red Poppy is the symbol of Remembrance Day, 11 November. Remembrance Day was started in 1919 as Armistice Day, to honor the end of The Great War. The War to End Wars.

Which came to be known as World War I.

After World War II, the name was changed to Remembrance Day to honor the dead of all wars.

This year is the 91st anniversary of the end of World War I. Did you realize that? I only know because last year - the 90th anniversary - was covered extensively by the BBC. They put up amazing content on the BBC website. Why don't US news organizations have similar content?

Possibly because in the US this is known as Veterans' Day, when we honor living veterans of war. The US has Memorial Day to honor its war dead.

Personally, I think we should nominate another day as Veterans' Day and return November 11 to Remembrance Day. Why? I am so glad you asked.....

We are traveling back in time to the final days of The Great War (this is great as in BIG HUGE GINORMOUS, not great as in cool). No one is winning and the cost in human lives has been enormous. It is agreed between the warring nations that an armistice should be called. An armistice is when countries just stop fighting. No one is the winner. No one is the loser. They just stop.

This cease-fire is signed at 5:00am on the 11th day of November, 1918.

But the war didn't end.

Because this had been The War To End All Wars. Millions of people had died.

Quoting from the
Imperial War Museum:

"One in three families in Britain had a loved one killed, wounded or taken prisoner. In other warring nations, the figures were even higher; France lost nearly a million and a half men – double that of Britain – while nearly two million Germans and a similar number of Russians died."

They couldn't just end the war and walk away - not with all those dead. Their deaths had to mean something. There had to be something, something memorable, that people could point to and say, "This is when the last war ended."

They chose 11-11-11. War would end at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.

So they KEPT THE WAR GOING until 11:00 am. MEN DIED so that we would have the symbol 11-11-11.

Of course, we all know war didn't end. But what is even more tragic is the fact that soldiers died for a symbol that is no longer remembered in the US.

Quoting from the

"The respected American author Joseph E Persico has calculated a shocking figure that the final day of WWI would produce nearly 11,000 casualties, more than those killed, wounded or missing on D-Day, when Allied forces landed en masse on the shores of occupied France almost 27 years later."

Wrap your mind around that, if you can.

And if that didn't blow your mind, this will: Again quoting the same BBC article: "What is worse is that hundreds of these soldiers would lose their lives thrown into action by generals who knew that the Armistice had already been signed."


For example, the 89th American Division was sent to take the town of Stenay by a general who knew the Armistice had been signed, but he'd heard that Stenay had bathing facilities. And apparently he couldn't wait until 11am.

"That lunatic decision cost something like 300 casualties, many of them battle deaths, for an inconceivable reason," says Mr Persico.

Those were American casualties, did you notice? They died because of a "lunatic decision" and for a symbol of which most Americans aren't even aware.

In fact, the last soldier killed in action in World War I was an American boy from Baltimore. He was shot at 10:59am. His name was Henry Gunther.

Does he get a mention over here? Not that I'm aware of. We don't even have a moment of silence at 11:00am. Because it isn't Remembrance Day for us.

"No man surely has so short a memory as the American." - Rebecca H. Davis

Prove her wrong. Today, remember poor Henry and all the others who died for 11-11-11.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Guy Fawkes Day in Colonial Boston

November 5, 1765

"This was the anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, in which Guy Fawkes figured, in 1605.

Pope's day, however, originated in 1558, on the accession of Queen Elizabeth.

At first, the Pope and the Devil were the only pageants, but it afterwards became somewhat changed. These anniversaries had long been celebrated in Boston, and for several years the competition between the North and South Ends, had caused two celebrations.

The programme on these occasions, was to form processions at headquarters, and march through the streets, collecting contributions as they passed, to carry on the celebration ; and woe to them who did not contribute.

A pageant accompanied the procession, consisting of figures mounted on a platform on wheels, and drawn by horses. These figures generally represented three characters, — the Pope, Devil, and Pretender, with sometimes the addition of obnoxious political characters.

(The Pretender was James Francis Edward, and his effigy was added in 1702.)

Under the platform were placed half-grown boys, with rods extending up through the figures, to cause them to face to the right or left, and to rise up and look into people's windows. In front of the procession might be seen a fellow with a bell, who notified the people of their approach, and who would chant something like the following: —

Don't you remember the fifth of September,
The Gunpowder treason and plot?
I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

From Rome to Rome the Pope is come, amid ten thousand fears,
With fiery serpents to be seen, at eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.

Don't you hear my little bell, go chink, chink, chink?
Please give me a little money, to buy my Pope some drink

The two celebrating parties in Boston, after having marched about town, generally met near the Mill Creek, where a desperate fight would ensue for the possession of the effigies, and bloody noses and broken bones were often the result.

If the South (End) were victorious, the trophies went to the Common;
if the North (End), Copps Hill was the rendezvous, where the pageantry was burnt.
This year the two parties formed a union, and union Pope was celebrated till the Revolution."

- From A Chronological History of the Boston Watch & Police by Edward Hartwell Savage

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween and Pagans

Yet again, people with good intentions are out on the walking mall trying to save the souls of Halloween celebrants. And once again I have to laugh.

Because Wiccans don't celebrate Halloween.

Wiccans and pagans in the Celtic tradition celebrate Samhain (most commonly pronounced Sow (ow as in ouch) - inn). This ancient holiday is considered New Year's Eve on their wheel of the year.

It is also considered a time when the veil between this world and the next, the Otherworld, is thinnest, so spirits of the departed can cross over and come home. You're not going to be traipsing around the neighborhood when you're expecting company. You eat a silent, reverent meal, thinking of the departed, and leave goodies - foods they liked - outside for them.

Enter the Christian era.

Samhain (which is properly November 1st, but the Celts counted their days as beginning the night before, so November 1st actually starts the night of October 31st) shares its holiday with All Saints' Day.

Just like it sounds, All Saints' Day is a feast day to remember saints and martyrs. These are "hallowed" (blessed) people. So this feast day was also called All Hallows' Day. The night before it would then logically be All Hallows' Eve, eventually to become Halloween.

I have heard it said that people came to believe because All Hallows' Day was a saintly day, the angry/jealous forces of darkness walked abroad the night before - which is how Halloween got its spooky/dangerous vibe.

In any case, over time, an evening that had been about welcoming your dearly departed became an evening to be feared.

In the modern age, this mostly took the form of children playing "tricks." A night of vandalism that you could blame on the forces of evil.

The Turner Classic Movies TV channel periodically runs a short, black & white film about Halloween customs that was made in like the 1950s, and it attributes the "trick or treat"-begging-for-candy-around-the-neighborhood tradition to a deliberate movement in small towns. The town leaders wanted to organize children into doing something positive (or at least parentally-accompanied) on Halloween rather than being purely destructive - a movement which caught on across the country. Whether you believe that old film or not, Halloween today is generally celebrated as a sugar-feast day where children collect all the candy they can.

Unless you live in Salem, Massachusetts.

In Salem, Halloween is much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Only without the beads. And it lasts for a month.

You'll find adults wearing costumes more often than children. And all month long, not just on Halloween.

There are street musicians, street dancers, street vendors...the air smells of grilled sausages and fried dough and roasted peanuts.

You can get kitschy witch stuff or you can meet actual, self-proclaimed witches.

You can also visit the Memorial to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials - who are probably spinning in their graves (if we knew where their graves were) about all this. Sometimes we forget that these people were so NOT witches that they would not say they were even to save their lives.

But let's return to the street party.

On Halloween itself, people of all ages in all sorts of costumes join the scrum that is downtown. 100,000 people are generally expected, especially when Halloween lands on a Saturday. Add that to the 40,000 townies and you can barely move on the sidewalk.

Yet a jovial, friendly atmosphere is maintained. Everyone smiles at each other. Strangers compliment other strangers' costumes. For that large a number of people, it's very Woodstock. Peace and love.

The only sour note you will find are the few people - probably from miles and miles away - who come every year with bullhorns that scream and garishly large placards that proclaim how we are all going to Hell. Because we're downtown dressed in costumes for Halloween - and that must mean we're godless pagans and Wiccans.

I always laugh when I see them because what they don't understand is, in this veritable sea of humanity, there are NO PAGANS.

Nope. NO WICCANS. This group has come all the way out here to literally preach to the converted.

How do I know? Because for pagans and Wiccans, this is still Samhain. A serious holiday of reflection. Where one cooks for the dearly departed and stays home quietly and thinks about them.

They aren't the hedonistic partiers. It's the rest of us.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Historical Truth

In the professional world of historians, there is some debate over the presence of truth in history. (For those of you who are students of history, this concept will come as no surprise.)

The idea is, other than dates of events, all else is filtered through the person relating the fact. We are all prisoners of our own time periods. How we tell a story reflects who we are and when we live, and thus is a snapshot of us - and should be used by historians to study us, not the "facts" in the story we're trying to tell.

This concept is used to good effect in A Sentimental Murder by John Brewer. Instead of looking for the objective truth of what happened in this historical true crime murder mystery (which is essentially unknowable), he looks at how the telling of the murder changed over the centuries depending on who was doing the telling, why they told the story, and when they were telling it.

It's really quite fascinating, if you're into that sort of thing, and I recommend it.

Monday, October 26, 2009


"He is what you might call a "chick chaser." That, I believe, is the term for old guys who choose 'em very youthful. Old girls who like young men are called "veal hunters." Thus the English language is enriched every day." - Damon Runyon, 23 January 1927

And thus proving there have been cougars, and nicknames for them, for a long time now. I definitely prefer the term cougar, though, don't you?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Witch Hunt

A group of females start identifying witches in their village. A fearful mob seizes the accused and tortures them. There are underlying suspicions that the accused women may have been targeted for their land and money.

Salem in 1692?

Or India in 2009?


"Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India's Jharkhand state.

Police say that people in Pattharghatia believe that certain women in their village are possessed by a "holy spirit" that can identify those who practise witchcraft.

"These women recently identified five women from the same village as being witches who practised witchcraft and brought miseries to the area," a police official said.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people - especially widows - are targeted for their land and property."

To read the rest of this BBC article: Click Here

Friday, October 23, 2009

Emigrants' death voyage recalled

This photo and the quotes below are from BBC News

This is an interesting little corner of Highland emigration history. I've read about the emigration to Canada and the US, but I had not read of this. St. Kilda is a small, remote island, the westernmost of the Outer Hebrides. Today it is no longer inhabited by anyone.

""The deaths of 18 islanders on a voyage to Australia was a factor in ending large-scale emigration from the Highlands," historian Eric Richards, professor of history at Flinders University in Adelaide, has said. ...

""The 36 who went represented a third of the population of St Kilda. On the course of their journey to Australia half of them were to die not from smallpox, or influenza but measles.""

"The St Kildans were so badly affected by measles because their remote island life meant they had not previously been exposed and built up any immunity to it.

The survivors, many of them orphaned children, were quarantined on arrival in Port Phillip. Prof Richards said the authorities were also frustrated that most only spoke Gaelic and no English."

For the rest of this article: Click Here

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Designs

I have a brand new website and blog design - as you can see. :)

Whoo-hoo! I'm so excited! Check out the website here: http://www.SusanneSaville.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Prince Albert's Prince Albert

From the Archives:

Yes, we're back to piercing again.

This is sort of a tangent off of my Victorian Breast Piercing Research - it's male piercing. If you don't know what a Prince Albert piercing is ... try Wikipedia.

You will find many websites - and even books - declaring that this type of body piercing was so named because Prince Albert (married to Queen Victoria) wore one. You will find them saying that these circular piercings were also known as "dressing rings" and that they were used to secure oneself to the left or the right leg.

Dude. Seriously?

I mean, think about it, what would it be tied to? Your thigh? And it would have to be a slip-knot because, really, just think if the string got caught on something.... [rrriipp] That's painful just contemplating it.

And we haven't even addressed the fact that, in the real world, if you need to be tied down to your thigh, then perhaps you're having one of those episodes the Cialis commercials warn about and you should be proceeding to a hospital at once.

The British Victorian period may have been more risqué, but in the US, you couldn't actually say the word leg because it was too inflammatory - you had to say limb. Cereal was invented because, the belief was, giving a man steak and eggs for breakfast was just asking for him to be aroused all day. The same for Graham crackers - non-arousing steak substitute.

In that climate, how could a gentleman possibly face his needs-to-be-protected lady wife with a piercing amidst his unmentionables and expect remain considered a gentleman?

Another thing: according to The Piercing Bible by Elayne Angel (p. 156), the healing time for a Prince Albert is "4 to 8 weeks or longer". Now, in a time when infection could not be reliably controlled, who is going to pierce themselves anywhere - let alone somewhere that delicate?

Are you beginning to smell a hoax?

In her book, Angel confirms my suspicions that Prince Albert did not have a Prince Albert, as does Matthew Sweet in Inventing the Victorians.

So why do so many people think he did? Where did this "dressing ring" thing get started?

According to Angel, these stories were made up by a man who called himself Doug Malloy (real name Richard Simonton). He is considered the father of modern piercing culture in the US.

He also made bags of money franchising Muzak. Not three words you'd expect to find in the same sentence are they, "body piercing" and "Muzak"? Go figure.

(Muzak, by the way, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb 10 2009).

I can hear you asking, why? Not why the Muzak bankruptcy, but why would someone make something like that up?

Apparently, the answer is: Because it makes a great story.

If you are promoting a new fad, it helps with promotion to have that fad possess a fun historical background. It gives it roots. Validity.

And stories are the bedrock of culture. It doesn't matter how unrealistic a tale is, as long as it makes a great story. Think of all the urban legends you've heard.

This seems to be why the Prince Albert story has legs - why it has spread so far for so long.

We humans love to tell each other a good story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More on Victorian Nipple Piercing

From the Archive:

Okay, I've found another book that mentions the "bosom ring" - it says that Victorian English women would go to France to get their nipples pierced.

This book is from the same era (1970s) as the other book that referenced Victorian nipple-piercing. It does not contain any direct quote from a first-hand source, but it does footnote where this bit of info came from:

a GERMAN text from 1912.

And even that is not a primary source - it is referencing ANOTHER GERMAN article.

So I have yet to find a primary source document!

Wouldn't it be funny - since this seems to stem from a German article about English and French women - if this were all a bit of pre-war propaganda on the part of the German press?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Victorian Nipple Piercing

From the Archives:

That got your attention, right?

I've been off doing research for a Victorian short story I'm writing. I luuvvvv doing research. This is one of the books I read.
Tell me what you think:

A history of make-up by Maggie Angeloglou

My review
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book - it was interesting as well as helpful for research. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars was because some of the more ... controversial? ... statements had no citations to back them up.

For example:
Did you know Victorian women engaged in nipple piercing?
There is a quote which backs this up, saying how pleasurable it is, from what is described as a primary source magazine, but the name of said magazine is not given (nor the date of the issue).

Maybe it's just me, but for something that shocking, I would have at least given the name and date of the source material - in a footnote if nothing else.

It is difficult to believe that a middle-class, Victorian lady (who was, I believe, the target audience for such magazines) would do such a thing, or that a publisher would encourage her so to do.

Maybe a Victorian prostitute would, but why would a Victorian prostitute be writing in to a magazine?

I would love to get my hands on whatever the primary source material was. If anyone has ever come across references to nipple-piercing during Victorian times, please let me know.

It would be fun to use in a story, but I'm afraid the reader would throw the book against the wall, shouting No Way!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can Kittens Read Kindle?

So I'm reading my Kindle in bed and my Maine Coon kitten is curled up next to me. I get up for something, probably another cup of coffee, and leave the Kindle lying on the blanket.

I return to see my kitten staring at Edgar Allan Poe's face.

Each time the Kindle goes into rest mode, it randomly chooses a portrait of a famous author to display. This time it was Poe.

So she's staring at him. Then she reaches out a front paw and pats his face. Then she pats the white keyboard a couple times. Then she pats his face again.

Clearly she can see him. But why does she care?

As it turns out, this kitten is Daddy's Girl and he's been away on a trip. She misses him, which is why she's with me (normally I don't get the time of day from her). He sort of looks like Poe - dark hair, moustache. Is that why she's drawn to it?

Not only was the kitten patting the Kindle adorable, but I think I've found a whole new market for pet products. You know how there are DVDs that you can leave on for your cat to watch? There's got to be some way to produce an e-picture-book for them. :)

Or maybe we'll find out, now that they don't have to worry about holding the book and turning the pages, that cats have known how to read all along. ;)

Photo above from CatSpotting

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Origin of The Big Apple

Ever wonder why New York City is called The Big Apple?

According to Landis MacKellar's book The Double Indemnity Murder, famous evangelist Billy Sunday, pictured here preaching, once said, "If America is the Garden of Eden, then New York is a big, rotten apple."

This quote most likely was proclaimed before his 10-week stint in New York City in 1917, because at the end of that campaign he complimented New Yorkers, saying, "They seemed to want to hear about God. I think New Yorkers are keener than country folk; they are more used to seeing and hearing new things; they catch on quicker."

And New York, apparently cool with Original Sin, turned that initial condemnation into a beloved nickname.

You can understand how such a nickname would appeal during the Roaring Twenties. :)

It became part of a major tourist advertising campaign in the 1970s, and that's probably why we're familiar with it today. I'm betting those ad men didn't know where the nickname came from, though.

Monday, October 12, 2009

FTC Regulates Amateur Bloggers

I snagged this great image from Janet Reid's blog.

If you have a blog and you comment about things you like on it, better read her post here - because the FTC could come after you if you don't disclose your connection to the product.

Yes, it is a brand new two scoops of crazy from a bureaucracy that should have better things to do with its time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bizarre Bazaar

This weekend is the Salem Bizarre Bazaar!

From the Salem Chamber of Commerce:
"Fun for all ages, this street festival has something for everyone. Crafts, jewelry, paintings, stained glass, and other unique items will be featured along the Essex Pedestrian Mall. Street performers, face painters, and musicians will entertain all."

Visit Salem's Official Haunted Happenings blog for more images!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scent of a Coffee

From the archives:

I was watching 1947's Born to Kill tonight and was amused to find a little bit of business about coffee toward the beginning of this film noir.

The private detective (who is the closest we're going to get to a hero in this flick) hears a delivery man comment about how the coffee in the cafe "sure smells good" and "isn't it a shame it never tastes as good as it smells." Our detective takes this comment and goes on to wax philosophical about how life is like that - better in theory than in fact.

I was somewhat surprised that their coffee didn't taste as good as it smelled.
What kind of sub-par coffee were the customers settling for?

Then I remembered that this movie was made back when people boiled the heck out of their coffee. If you let the percolator just run and run, you continually re-boiled the coffee grounds, and you ended up with a very bitter drink. Hence, the coffee smells better than it tastes.

Of course, they could also be talking about instant coffee, this being only a few years after World War II. But I'm betting it was the percolator.

With all our gourmet brands and specialty drinks, we forget how lucky we are just to have a cup of joe that tastes as good as it smells.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lovecraft on Cats

"[The cat] is for the man who appreciates beauty as the one living force in a blind and purposeless universe...who seeks a proud and beautiful equal in the peerage of individualism...

The cat is for him who does things not for empty duty but for power, pleasure, splendour, romance, and glamour - for the harpist who sings alone in the night of old battles, or the warrior who goes out to fight such battles for beauty, glory, fame, and the splendour of a land athwart which no shadow of weakness falls."

- H.P. Lovecraft, Something About Cats, 1937