I’m back with my Quarter Days’ post!
If you celebrated Christmas a few days ago, I hope you had a merry one with family and friends. And if you’re in the midst of celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah, well, my wish for you is the same!
Which reminds me of a story my sister once shared. She was lamenting about having to choose and buy Christmas gifts for her three kids. The doctor she worked with said, “Ha! Try having to buy one gift for each night of Hanukkah for each of my three kids.” (Maybe it’s not obvious, but this was a mom-doctor, not a dad-doctor.)
Today, instead of talking about historical traditions related to the Yuletide, I wanted to share Of The Book, a new anthology–not fuzzy-feeling-inducing holiday romances, but scary, raise-the-hair-on-your-neck stories.
In a word, horror! And more specifically stories rooted in Jewish folklore.
I’m especially excited that this anthology includes a chilling story by my niece, Hadley Scherz-Schindler. (Proud aunt here!) More on her contribution, “The Baby Naming” below.
Around the time I was planning this post, I received an email about a new marketing report from Alex Newton founder and proprietor of the book analytics firm, K-Lytics.
Alex has just published his first ever Horror Fiction report. He often has his finger on the pulse of the market, and he’s seen a surge of interest in straight up horror fiction. I wish that the late Joyce Ward, who once told me she loved writing Horror, was around to take advantage of this trend.
In any case, if you’re a fan of the genre, here’s a bit about the anthology:
For nearly 6000 years the Jewish people have been gathering stories. Stories of sheydim and golem. Stories of heroes and monsters.
For as long as the People of the Book have been, they have been storytellers. Gathered here are tales of contemporary Jewish folklore. Frightening, supernatural, uplifting and upsetting. These Jewish writers took old tropes, legends and concepts of an ancient faith and spun it into something incredible and new. From across the diaspora, they gather in Of The Book.
The blurb for “The Baby Naming”, by Hadley Scherz-Schindler
A distant Lithuanian cousin, a scholar of the Kabbalah, crashes the naming ceremony for little baby Rachel, sharing a warning about a family curse, and the sacrificial requirement to defeat the demon. But will the exhausted parents heed the warning? And what will happen if they don’t?
Short and scary, I loved this story! I’m dipping into the other eleven hair-raising tales as I get up the nerve.
Hadley Scherz-Schindler grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, a city full of music, barbeque and ghosts. She converted to Judaism when she married into a family of rabbis and has four children who drift between college, grad school and home. Hadley still lives in St. Louis with her husband, Josh, and their collie, Frodo.
I’m back with another Quarter Days’ post about Michaelmas
True Janeites (fans of Jane Austen) might be interested in a fun website I stumbled across while researching a story I have in the works.
The “Chronology of Pride and Prejudice, according to MacKinnon and Chapman” takes us through the detailed timeline of P&P’s events. (Oh, to be such a renowned author that fans prepare a chronology for your novel.) I don’t know about my fellow A Slice of Orange authors, but I always have to check and double-check that I have the story days correct.
Pride and Prejudice begins when Mr. Bingley takes the lease to Netherfield Manor and moves in.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, Quarter Days might be occasions for feasting and parties, but they also had a commercial significance. Contracts were entered into or terminated, property was leased, and rents and wages were paid. Thus, as the story begins, a wealthy bachelor in need of a wife kicks off the story by becoming a neighbor of Mr. Bennet, a man with five unmarried daughters.
And Mr. Bingley has been kind enough to bring along an even richer bachelor friend! Well of course; late summer/early autumn was also the start of hunting season, when a man might welcome parties of friends to tramp through his fields and shoot birds. Mr. Bingley would want to show off his new domain to his influential friend, Mr. Darcy.
Bird season began a bit later, in September running through October. Hunting in Britain was very much dominated by the elites, even during periods of economic downturn and food scarcity. Ownership of weapons and even dogs was restricted, and penalties for poaching might include transportation. (See my post about this topic.)
Autumn was prime house party season also because families had shipped off their young males to boarding school in time for the Michaelmas term. No young boys would be running about distracting the shooters or worse, accidentally shooting themselves in the foot. They’d be back home though for the next Quarter Day, Christmas, which is when I’ll return to A Slice of Orange. See you then!
A few ideas popped up for this post, but since I write historical fiction, I decided to honor Midsummer by talking about Queen Victoria, with a passing mention of mangoes.
June 28, 2019, is the 181st anniversary of the coronation of the nineteen-year-old Queen Victoria. Her stable and fecund marriage and her famous stodginess has branded the looooong years of her reign in the same way the post-World War II 1950s are remembered as Ozzie and Harriet-land.
For someone so stuffy and boring, Victoria has managed to stir up a lot of twentieth and twenty-first century publicity. The movie Mrs. Brown depicted her long and intimate friendship with Scottish servant, John Brown; The Young Victoria covered her early life, marriage and court intrigues; and of course, there’s the PBS mini-series about her which just finished its second season.
Her most recent depiction in film is Victoria and Abdul. The movie features the “Munshi-mania” surrounding her close friendship with another much younger and much more-foreign-than-a-Scotsman male servant. Abdul Karim, a Muslim Indian from Agra, became her teacher, or “Munshi”.
Last year Victoria’s name popped up when the Wall Street Journal featured an article by novelist Chandrahas Choudhury about the 1663 varieties of Indian mangoes. Persuaded by her Munshi’s praise of the “Queen of Fruit”, Queen Victoria ordered her household to import mangoes from India. They were, predictably, “off” because of the fruit’s short shelf life.
I personally don’t like mangoes, but Choudhury has an explanation for that:
Whichever god brought forth the mango, she did so as a project that would frustrate imperial desires in the 19th century and defeat even the global supply system of capitalism in the 21st. That’s why almost all the mangoes in American markets are the fine-looking but bland, fibrous pretenders from Florida, Brazil or Mexico, not the storied ones of India.
Someday maybe I’ll get to visit India and sample a true Queen of Fruit.
Motivated by the mango story, I watched the movie Victoria and Abdul and started the book on which the movie is based. Shrabani Basu’s book is a beautifully written work of nonfiction. She delves into the patronage culture of Victoria’s court and British colonialism to tell the story about the deep friendship between the Queen and Karim.
When the elderly Queen Victoria is smitten by young Karim, the court is appalled at their growing friendship and the gifts she showers on him as he tutors her in Urdu and Indian culture.
What was the Queen’s motivation? Basu has this to say:
What her family could not comprehend was that the Queen was a born romantic…The death of her beloved husband had left her lonely and heartbroken…It fell to John Brown to draw her out of her self-imposed isolation, and the Queen soon leaned strongly on him. Brown was devoted to her and she could talk freely to him…His death once again robbed her of a companion.
When the Munshi arrived…his presence lifted her spirits…The Queen sensed a certain depth in Karim and found she could talk to him comfortably despite the language barriers. Karim brought her closer to India, the country that she had always longed to visit.
Is true friendship and loyalty possible between a powerful older woman and a younger man? Why would Karim leave the warmth of India for the cold and hostile British Court?
In the film, an Indian servant tells the British courtiers that Karim was toadying for favors like everyone else there. Otherwise, the filmmakers depict a close friendship between the Queen and her Munshi. Based on her research, Basu believes Karim’s regard for the Queen was genuine.
“All history is written by the victors,” and worthy of questioning. This is especially true of films which are crafted to make sure tickets sell and the audience doesn’t fall asleep. Setting, costume, and language bring a story to life, but filmmakers pick and choose what to include, what to omit, and what to make up to hit all the plot points and story arcs.
The Victoria and Abdul filmmakers did a good job, but they were honest about their craft. The opening credits include this statement:
Based on real events mostly
My vote: if you want the full story, the book is always better. What do you think?
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging my historical nerdiness. Happy Summer!
All images are from Wikimedia Commons except for the mangoes which are from depositphotos.com
Normally I’d devote this Quarter Days column to a topic I’ve uncovered in historical research, but preparations for the California Dreamin’ Conference have consumed my life lately, and I have to share. This is going to be a great conference!
From April 5-7, 2019, authors and aspiring authors will gather at the Embassy Suites in Brea, California for workshops on the craft and the business of writing fiction. Plus, we’ll connect up with agents, editors, and industry professionals to help grow our businesses, whether pursuing traditional or indie publishing.
And we’re not just covering Romance! Kate Carlisle will teach us how to write a Cozy Mystery, Rebecca Forster will cover Police Procedurals, and Orange County Deputy Coroner Paul Hoag will talk about dissecting a death scene (sorry–couldn’t resist that image). We’ll have workshops on Women’s Fiction, and YA, and Historical Fiction.
Authors pursuing traditional publishing will have a chance to pitch to seven editors and two agents. Those following an Indie track can meet one-on-one with representatives from Ingram Spark, Draft 2 Digital, ACX/Audible and WonderPR. And since everyone, both trad and published, has to market, we’ll find workshops on selling our stories to editors, Hollywood, and most importantly, the readers!
Conference add-ons include a fabulous all day Book Camp on April 5th presented by author and writing teacher, Janice Hardy, offered for $99. Learn how to write that story from start to finish!
Short on cash? You don’t have to attend the full conference to sign up for Book Camp!
For those who do attend the conference, our Editor/Agent critique sessions are full and closed, but we still have spots for a new conference add-on: Special Author Critique Sessions. Spend $10 for an hour of expert advice!
What’s a conference without keynote speakers, and we have two! Beloved and bestselling author of Regency romance, Tessa Dare, will speak at Saturday night’s dinner. Bestselling Contemporary Romance author Theodora Taylor, known for writing alternative heroes and smart feisty heroines, will speak at Sunday’s luncheon.
And speaking of food–the conference features an opening night reception, soup-and-salad bar lunch on Saturday, and sit-down dinners on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. For those staying on site, Embassy Suites offers a full made-to-order hot breakfast.
After noshing on appetizers at the Friday night reception, attendees can pull out their laptops and tablets and take part in the great Friday Night Write-In. Get those words flowing onto the page in the company of your fellow writing enthusiasts!
Check out all the great things in store for you at the California Dreamin’ Conference and register today!
’Tis the Fourth day in the Twelve Days of the great feast of Christmas and I’m back to talk about celebrating the winter holidays in the British Isles where the stories I’ve been writing are set.
A week of binge-watching the series Shetland gave me a good appreciation of the closeness of Scotland to Scandinavia. Given the Celtic and later Viking influence, It’s no wonder that many of this season’s customs date back to pagan festivities marking the winter solstice. The word Yule (as in Yuletide and Yule Log) comes from the Norse word “jul” or “houl” meaning wheel.
Ancient Rome also celebrated the winter solstice in the Saturnalia festivities of ancient Rome. I mentioned in my December post last year that the early Christian church built a religious holiday, Christmas, around this natural time of ancient celebration. Many of the Christmas traditions—Yule logs, mistletoe, feasting–date back long before the designation of December 25th as the birthday of Jesus.
Though we’re a week out from the shortest day of the year, nights are still long, so why not keep partying? The seventh day of Christmas, December 31st brings us to the celebration of the new year. In Scotland, reaching back to their Norse roots, the locals celebrate Hogmanay with torchlight parades, bonfires, and lots of good whisky.
My favorite Scottish New Year’s tradition is the First Foot.
Tradition says that if the first person to cross the threshold in the new year is a tall, dark, handsome man, the home and all who dwell therein will have good luck in the coming year. (No red-headed men, please—they’re considered unlucky!) I saw this set up in a blurb for a Christmas romance this year, and then promptly lost the link. If you recognize that story, please mention it in the comments below.
Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, I hope you’re surrounded by family and friends. I wish you many blessings in the New Year. Have a Happy Hogmanay!