Monday, December 27, 2010

Sixteenth-Century Nose Jobs

Imagine--physicians successfully performed nose jobs (or rhinoplasties, as they are properly called) in the sixteenth century! The procedure is described in a book written by the Bolognese surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi, published in 1597 and recently sold to a modern plastic surgeon for quite a hefty sum (article here). A professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Bologna, Tagliacozzi devised ways to repair the noses, ears, and lips of men wounded in battle. The rhinoplasty involved attaching a flap of skin from the patient's bicep to the injured nose, then shaping the skin after it had properly attached itself to its new location. The poor man had to lie in bed with his arm attached to his head for three weeks! A better fate than going noseless, I suppose. I wonder what the good doctor's success rate was. It's amazing to me that such procedures could be conducted without antiseptics and antibiotics, not to mention anesthetics.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sun, Surf and Words

Registration for the 2011 Historical Novel Society Conference, to be held June 17-19 in San Diego, California, is now open. For readers and writers of historical fiction alike, this conference is a marvelous event. Imagine two days spent with 300 people who love historical fiction as much as you do! The Historical Novel Society has sponsored this event every other year beginning in 2005, and the conference has only gotten better each time. This year Cecilia Holland, Harry Turtledove, and Susan Vreeland are guests of honor. Many other published authors (Diana Gabaldon, Margaret George, Michelle Moran, C.W. Gortner, Mary Sharratt, to name only a few) will give presentations on the craft of writing historical fiction or the art of selling it. Attendees may sign up for a pitch session with an editor or agent who specializes in historical fiction. The event includes meals, banquet, book signings, presentations and endless opportunities to network and have fun. The best part about the conference: the published authors are completely accessible and very generous with their time and expertise. If you have a favorite author, it's a great way to meet him or her in person. Readers of historical fiction enjoy the conference as much as writers do.

The conference can accomodate only 300 attendees. Registration has already reached over 70, so check out the website and schedule soon if you are interested. I've attended the last two gatherings and promise you will not be disappointed.

Hope to see you there!

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Upon education above all other things depends the moral soundness and the prosperity of the community."

Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547), Bishop of Carpentras
De liberis recte instituendis (1530)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra

"Your sacred Majesty, I am surprised and astonished that Your Majesty has deigned to write to the likes of me and, what is more, to ask me for something that can never be adequate to the dignity of your name. Your Majesty must know that I have always sought to serve you as opportunity allowed. But I am old and fully burdened with commissions from the Pope. However, should I have any time left, I would gladly use my efforts to create a work in marble or bronze or a painting for your Majesty. And should death thwart this desire, I will not fail, if one is permitted to sculpt or paint in the next world, to serve your Majesty where none grows old."

Michelangelo to Francis I, April 1546

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"They [the native people] fyght not for the enlarging of theyr dominion, forasmuche as they haue no Magistrates: nor yet for the increase of riches, because thei are contente with their owne commodities: but onely to reuenge the death of theyr predicessours.... As for Golde, Pearles, precious stones, iewelles, and suche other thinges, which we in Europe esteme as pleasures and delicates,
they sette noughte by."

The fyrste viage of Americus Vesputius (May 1497)
from A treatyse of the newe India, with other new founde landes and ilandes, aswelle eastwarde as westwarde, translated out of Latin into Englishe by Rycharde Eden, 1553-55

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"L'envie et la haine fascinent les yeux, et font qu'ils ne voyent jamais les choses telles qu'elles sont."

"Envy and hatred charm the eyes, and make it so that they never see things the way they are."

Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), Queen of Navarre
Mémoires et lettres (1628)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lost and Found

I have to share this story about the four year old British boy who wielded a metal detector to find a gold Tudor-era reliquary pendant buried in a field in Essex. The pendant is worth close to $6 million dollars and could possibly wind up in the British Museum. The boy will have to split the proceeds with the owner of the field, but still, what a prize for an afternoon's outing! Maybe I should get my own son one of those contraptions for Christmas and take him over to France...

It's fascinating to imagine who the pendant's owner might have been and how it wound up in that field. Suppose she lost it one day and someone told her that in five hundred years a young child would unearth it. Would she have believed him? In any case, the pendant is a beautiful artifact and a welcome addition to some museum's early modern collection.

EDITED TO ADD: BBC video of the boy, the field, and the find!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"La vieillesse nous attache plus de rides en l'esprit qu'au visage."

"Old age attaches more wrinkles to our spirits than our faces."

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592),
French writer and humanist
Essais, III, 2

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"This is what the printing presses do: they corrupt susceptible hearts. The silly asses do not see this, and brutes rejoice in the fraudulent title of teachers, exalting themselves with a song like this (be so good as to listen): 'O good citizen, rejoice: your city is well stuffed with books. For a small sum, men turn themselves into doctors in three years. Let thanks be rendered to the printers!' Any uncultured person without Latin bawls these things."

Filippo de Strata (c. 1473), Italian Benedictine
Polemic against Printing

translated by Shelagh Grier, 1986
Quoted in The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree (2010)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Henry VIII's "Lost" Palace

Interesting article on a rare painting of Henry VIII's "lost" palace, Nonsuch, built to rival François's great châteaux and standing only 150 years before falling into disrepair. Henry began the palace in 1538 to celebrate the birth of his son and to prove that he could equal François's architectural prowess. The name he chose for it implies that no other palace could equal its magnificence. Unfortunately, Henry's grand palace was dismantled in the late seventeenth century by Charles II's mistress Barbara Villiers to pay off her gambling debts.

Joris Hoefnagel's painting is one of only four extant depictions of Nonsuch and one of the earliest surviving watercolors executed in England.

The article includes a large reproduction of the painting, amazing in its detail.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Early Modern Ghost Story

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, here is a ghost story from Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron. Enjoy!

Marguerite uses the tale to illustrate how "[love] makes women lose all fear, and torments men to arrive at their ends." Some of the tale's listeners praise the servant girl for "liv[ing] for a long while to her heart's content, by means of her stratagem." Others condemn her, claiming "there is no perfect pleasure unless the conscience is at rest." What do you think?

In any case, stay clear of ghosts, lovelorn or not, tonight!

[Excerpt from The Heptameron of Margaret, Queen of Navarre, published by Gates & Co. in 1877. No translator given. Courtesy of Google Books.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

The twilight is approaching,
The night is approaching,
Let us ask God for help
and for protection
From evil spirits,
Who in darkness practise
Their cunning most.

Andrzej Trzecieski [Andreas Trecesius]
Polish humanist and poet

Quoted in At Day's Close: Night in Times Past
by A. Roger Ekirch (2005)

Monday, October 18, 2010


Here are the winners of the drawings for Anna Elliott's novels.


Betty Lindholm Navta

I hope you'll enjoy the books.

Many thanks to all who entered,
and to Touchstone for supplying copies of Anna's novels.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"The body possesses this defect --
the more you give it,
the more it desires."

Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582),
Spanish nun and Doctor of the Church
The Way of Perfection (1566), Ch. XI, 2.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Tel fleurit aujourd'hui qui demain flétrira.
Tel flétrit aujourd'hui qui demain fleurira."

"Some thrive today who will wither tomorrow.
Some wither today who will thrive tomorrow."

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), French poet
Le Second livre de poèmes (1573)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Giveaway: Two Novels by Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott's publisher has provided one copy of the Anna's first book, TWILIGHT OF AVALON, and one copy of the second, DARK MOON OF AVALON, to be awarded in two random drawings. If you are interested in either (or both) of these books, please leave a comment with your email address telling me which drawing you would like to enter. Deadline 10 pm PST Sunday, October 18. Residents of continental United States only, please. Winners will be announced on Monday, October 18, 2010. Good luck!

One Magical Mom: Author Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott has written two volumes of the TWILIGHT OF AVALON series (Touchstone), as well as numerous short stories, despite being the mother of two very young daughters. Recently, I asked Anna how she manages to get so much writing accomplished as a stay-at-home mom. Here is what she shared.

Writing and Mothering

by Anna Elliott

I have two girls, ages 3 and 1, home with me full time, and one of my absolute most frequently asked questions is: where on earth do you find the time to write with two small children in the house? Now, let me say that really in answer to that question what I should do first of all is hold up a photo of my husband. Because there is no way I could write the books I do without his constant daily help and support both with the girls and with every other aspect of my career.

But after my husband, there are a few strategies I've worked out for finding the time to write: I set a strict daily word count goal (1000 words per day) and until I reach that goal, every minute of time I can squeeze out goes into meeting it. I get up early, and try to devote that time when the house is silent and free of distractions to getting my mind into my story for the day. That helps hugely, and allows me to keep the story simmering in the back of my mind even while I'm with the kids. I let myself daydream--well, actually I would say I insist on daydreaming. When the girls are playing quietly and I'm making lunch, I fill up my mind with my story, go over and over the words and the scenes and the chapters, work out what needs to be changed and where I should go from here.

It can be hard, sometimes. There are days when no matter how hard I try, 1000 words is simply not going to happen or when my head feels like it's going to explode with the effort of keeping track of the story and the chaos two small children can create. And then, too, I think one of the unique challenges that writing historical fiction presents is the sheer amount of research involved. And there's a part of my mind that craves a daily word count like a chocoholic craves fudge. A part of my mind that sits in a sulky huddle all day long if it does not GET a word count. But with two little ones, I can either research or I can write, I usually don't have time for both in a single day. So there are times when I have to make myself pause with the story and just immerse myself in the research for awhile.

It will get easier. That was what I used to tell myself : this will all get easier as the girls get older. And then an amazing thing happened. My three year old said to me, "Soon you won't be a mommy anymore, you know, because I'm going to be a grown up." (I assured her that she might grow up, but she was stuck with me as a mommy for life). But at the same time it struck me--she is in a way RIGHT. Soon--all too soon--I will NOT be a mommy of a 3 and a 1 year old anymore. And what do I want them to remember from these years? That their mommy was the kind of person who every day told herself, "This will all get easier someday?" Good grief, no! I want my girls to remember that their mama loved them so much it fired out her eyes like laser beams and made every day magic. SO, okay. I am a writer and I am a mama to two tiny girls. I needed to figure out a way to make those two facts not just 'hard but something that will get easier' but rather something that is AWESOME. I needed 'I am a writer and I am a mama' to be awesome NOW.

I started telling my girls stories. When they were in the bath, I would tell them about two little girls who were taking a bath and then one day--splash!--a mermaid flew out of the faucet and landed in the tub. The other day Isabella, my oldest, was playing with play-dough and gave me a lump telling me to make something. Now, I am not exactly Rodin in the sculpting department, but I can make sort of okay looking turtle. Round head, round body, five pinches for feet and a tail, right? So I gave Isabella this turtle and told her he was named Timmy Turtle and had always wanted to be a chef. I mean, his entire emotional raison d'etre since he had pecked his little turtle-y way out of his shell had been the dream of someday becoming a play-dough chef and making play-dough cookies. And (after adventures which I will spare you here) he had heard that there was a little girl named Isabella here who could finally, finally teach him how to make cookies from play-dough . . .

My girl LOVED it. She sat my little Timmy the Turtle down on the table next to her and started addressing him very seriously, "Now you see, Timmy, first you have to roll out the dough really smooth . . ." Then she asked for mommy, daddy, grandma, and grandpa turtles for Timmy, loaded the whole turtle family onto a plate and gave them all a tour of our house.

How long am I going to be able to make life magical that way for her? Before I know it, she's going to be a teenager with her own life and her own friends, and I'll say, 'Please come and spend time with me! Mama could make an amazingly badly executed turtle out of play-dough again!' And she will give me the quintessential 'you've got to be kidding me' teenage girl look.

As long as I have libraries and books and computers and a reasonably functioning mind, I will always be able to write more stories about Dark Age Britain. But the story about Timmy Turtle? That story has such an incredibly short window of opportunity. Better tell it--and love that I can tell it--now.


Wise words, indeed. All I can say is Anna's daughters are incredibly lucky to have such magical mother, just as we're lucky to have the chance to read their mother's marvelous stories!

Anna is a regular contributer to the writing website Writer Unboxed. If you enjoyed her article here, be sure to check out her column there. Her website includes articles on writing and publishing, as well as links to her short stories and background information on the TWILIGHT OF AVALON series.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Anna Elliott's new novel, DARK MOON OF AVALON (Touchstone, September 2010) is the second volume in the author's TWILIGHT OF AVALON trilogy, a blend of legend and historical truth set in sixth century Britain. This second volume retells one of the most familiar and beloved tales within Arthurian legend: the unforgettable love story of Trystan and Isolde, who embark on a dangerous quest to rally support for one king and prevent a tyrannical lord from usurping the British throne. From the back cover:

She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. She has fought to preserve Britain's throne. Now she faces her greatest challenge in turning bitter enemies into allies, saving the life of the man she loves...and mending her own wounded heart.

The young former High Queen, Isolde, and her friend and protector, Trystan, are reunited in a new and dangerous quest to keep the usurper, Lord Marche, and his Saxon allies from the throne of Britain. Using Isolde's cunning wit and talent for healing and Trystan's strength and bravery, they must act as diplomats, persuading the rulers of the smaller kingdoms, from Ireland to Cornwall, that their allegiance to the High King is needed to keep Britain from a despot's hands.

Their admissions of love hang in the air, but neither wants to put the other at risk by openly declaring a deeper alliance. When their situation is at its most desperate, Trystan and Isolde must finally confront their true feelings toward each other, in time for a
battle that will test the strength of their will and their love.

Steeped in the magic and lore of Arthurian legend, Elliott paints a moving portrait of a timeless romance, fraught with danger, yet with the power to inspire heroism and transcend even the darkest age.

The first two volumes of the trilogy, TWILIGHT OF AVALON and DARK MOON OF AVALON, are both available on-line and in bookstores everywhere. I'll be posting my own review as soon as I've finished reading. You can learn more about Elliott's Arthurian world at Anna's website.

Be sure to return tomorrow for a guest post by Anna Elliott and a giveaway of the first two volumes!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bronzino: Painter and Poet

A new exhibit on the Medici court painter, Bronzino, has opened at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. "Bronzino: Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici" runs through January 23, 2011 and features 70 paintings by the artist himself, as well as some of his poetic works. The show, which traces Bronzino's development throughout his career, includes many of his most famous works on loan from some of the world's leading museums.

If you click on the "Exhibition" tab at the Strozzi website, and then on "Sections," you can examine paintings from different periods of his life in great resolution. In addition, Alexandra Korey has posted a wonderful video review on her website, Tuscany Arts.

Bronzino is well-known for his exquisite portraits of the Medici family. I have a special fondness for him as the artist of the portrait I used on the "virtual cover" I created for my first novel a few years ago (follow-up post here). The novel I'm working on now centers on French portraitists, and Bronzino warrants a brief mention there, also. I so admire these artists who were able capture likenesses with such accuracy and can only imagine how amazing their portraits must have seemed in the days before photography.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Among natural prodigies, the first and rarest is that I was born in this century when the Earth was discovered, whereas the ancients hardly knew a third of it."

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576),
Italian mathematician and physician
De vita propria (1576)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Tribute to Judith Merkle Riley

A sad note: Judith Merkle Riley, the author of six acclaimed historical novels, passed away on September 12 from ovarian cancer. Ms. Riley, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College, published her novels between 1989 and 1999. A VISION OF LIGHT, IN PURSUIT OF THE GREEN LION, and THE WATER DEVIL form a trilogy set in 14th century England. Her three other novels, THE ORACLE GLASS, THE SERPENT GARDEN, and THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES, are all set, partially if not wholly, in sixteenth or seventeenth century France. You can read a tribute to Ms. Riley's life and works here.

Ms. Riley was one of my favorite authors. I enjoyed all of her novels immensely--so much so that I wrote her my first and only fan letter. I never expected to hear back from her, but she sent a warm response, thanking me for my praise and encouraging me in my own writing endeavors. I believe she was the guest of honor at the first North American Historical Novel Society Conference, the only HNS Conference I was unable to attend. I always regretted missing the opportunity of meeting her in person and hearing her speak about her craft.

I highly recommend her books, historical fiction with a fantastical bent. I have only the final book of the trilogy left to read. Now I will read it slowly and savor it, knowing that, unfortunately, it is truly the last.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rats Have History, Too! Hilary Wagner's NIGHTSHADE CITY

One of the things I like best about participating in a writing group is the opportunity to read other members' works and celebrate their successes. Today I'm excited to tell you about Hilary Wagner's recently released middle grade novel NIGHTSHADE CITY (Holiday House, September 2010), a captivating adventure tale written in the tradition of the Brian Jacques's REDWALL series. With its charming characters, high-stakes mission, and empowering message, NIGHTSHADE CITY is a book that should grace every middle-schooler's beside table.

Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect. Following the Bloody Coup, the once-peaceful democracy has become a dictatorship, ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman, Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery. Three young orphan rats--brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover--join forces with Billycan's archenemy, Juniper, and his maverick band of rebel rats as they plot to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city--Nightshade City. This impossible-to-put-down fantasy explores timeless themes of freedom, forgiveness, the bonds of family, and the power of love.

Love is what keeps hope alive in the hearts of the rats of the Catacombs, once free and equal citizens and now nothing more than slaves to the appetites of Killdeer and the whims of Billycan. Killdeer asserts his control by destroying--or attempting to destroy--families, the basis of rat society. After murdering or exiling parents, he forces young boys into barracks as members of the Kill Army, bound to revere and protect him. Girls sleep in crowded dormitories and work endless hours in the kitchens, preparing food for the army. Yet the deprivation and capriciousness of life post-coup cannot extinguish the love that binds families together, even if only in memory. Brother tends brother, uncle niece, mother children. Families care not only for their own members but for orphans and the less fortunate. (In an ironic twist at the end, a father's love for his adopted son sets the stage for complications sure to come in Book Two, scheduled for publication in October 2011.) Juniper, a true hero motivated by a thirst for justice rather than revenge, devotes all his energies to creating a new city where generosity and selflessness can again prevail. The vision underlying NIGHTSHADE CITY is an immensely positive one. Evil is a harsh reality, but not indomitable. I found myself completely caught up in this well-written, thoughtful tale and rooting for its lovable, courageous characters in their quest to conquer selfishness and fear.

[One small caveat--The evil rats are vicious creatures and depictions of fights between the rodents tend towards the graphic. These parts might be a bit intense for very young or squeamish readers. The violence, however, is never gratuitous.]

In keeping with this blog's focus, I asked Ms. Wagner a few questions about the role of history in NIGHTSHADE CITY.

1. How important is history to the rats of the Catacombs? How does their memory of the past shape their present actions and their plans for the future?

History is extremely important to them. Their tumultuous past is what drives them to change their future. They once had a peaceful existence, but were taken over by a horrible dictator--High Minister Killdeer. And after eleven years of oppression, the rats finally fight back.

2. Did you have any particular eras of American or world history in mind as you wrote NIGHTSHADE CITY? Did you model any of your characters on historical figures?

There is a very French revolutionary feel to them. Omar Rayyan, the illustrator picked up on that right away--they are ragtag in appearance, but charming all the same. I didn't model them after any historical figures in particular, but I'd say some of the main characters, specifically the bad ones, are an amalgamation of some particularly wicked rulers in world history. My editor says my rats are very Dickensian--they are quite well spoken, I must say!

3. When you were creating your rat society, how far back and in how much detail did you construct their history?

Their history goes back several generations, revealing how the Catacombs came to be and why they are so very dear to the rats that dwell within. KINGS OF TRILLIUM, Book II of the Nightshade Chronicles, goes even further back into their history, revealing why they are so unique compared to other rats--even other creatures.

4. What ideas would you like your young readers to take away from the book regarding the relationship of past to present?

I want readers to realize change is possible. No matter what odds are against you or how unattainable something seems to be--change can happen, but you have to make the change yourself. You have to step up and say, "No more." I want readers to realize that it's never acceptable for a few to decide the fate of many. You have a choice.

5. Are there any YA works of historical fiction you'd like to recommend?

Since I like novels with a creepy charm, I have to recommend An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi. Post Civil War grave robbing--what could be finer? ;)

6. What are you working on next?

I have a new animal series in the works, which I cannot talk about, per my publisher--top secret stuff and it couldn't be more different than NIGHTSHADE CITY! I'm also thinking about Book III of the Nightshade Chronicles, which will reveal the rats' full history, with some shocking twists about where they came from and what they really are.

Thanks so much for having me, Julianne. The history in my book is so important to the story and I never fully realized how my rats have such a deep, intricate history and at times quite a messy one! ;)


Be sure to visit Ms. Wagner's website for more information about the book, including a lengthy excerpt.

NIGHTSHADE CITY is available on-line, at Barnes and Noble stores nationwide and Indie Booksellers as well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Power Billboards

Fascinating article by scholar Lisa Jardine on the use of commissioned tapesty and other artwork to proclaim the power, influence and cultivation of their owners on the international stage in the sixteenth century. An excerpt:

As part of the preparations for an unprovoked military attack on Muslim forces in North Africa in 1535, the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V hired the same Pieter Coeck van Aelst and the artist Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen from Haarlem in the Netherlands to travel with his military retinue and record the progress of the campaign for propaganda purposes. By late July the Imperial forces had conquered Tunis. The campaign was - as Charles V had hoped - a surprise victory over the increasingly invulnerable Muslim forces, and a blow to the international prestige of the French king, Francis I, who had declined to be drawn into a North African war.

On Charles V's return, no expense was spared in creating a magnificent tapestry series, The Conquest of Tunis, based on Coeck's and Vermeyen's eye-witness drawings, and a room in the imperial palace at Toledo was constructed to house the twelve panels of the series. Thereafter they often travelled with the Emperor - carefully rolled, and stacked on purpose-built wagons - to be unfurled on the occasion of a state visit, to remind those attending an Imperial gathering of the awesome power of the Habsburgs.

The article includes photographs of the Acts of the Apostles tapestries designed by Raphael and executed by the same Pieter Coeck van Aelst, presently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Celui qui ne sait pas se taire
sait rarement bien parler."

"He who doesn't know
how to be silent rarely
knows how to speak well."

Pierre Charron (1541-1603),
French theologian and philosopher

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Young Turks

In 1520, Suleiman the Magnificent became sultan of the Ottoman world, which stretched from Hungary to Baghdad to the Eastern Mediterranean. He was only 26 years old. At the time of his accession, the leaders of the western world's three superpowers, France, the Holy Roman Empire (which included Spain and the Netherlands), and England, were just as young: François I (born the same year as Suleiman, 1494), was 26; Charles V (born in 1500) was only 20; Henry VIII (born in 1491) was eldest at 29.

To put this in perspective, imagine a world whose supreme leaders were the likes of Zac Efron, Justin Timberlake, Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe (all born in the 1980's).

Scary thought, isn't it?

Of course, unlike the celebrities listed above, François, Charles, Henry and Suleiman had all been groomed since childhood in preparation for kingship. They were well-educated, trained in the arts of war and governing, and counseled by seasoned statesmen and diplomats, many of whom had served previous monarchs. Convinced of their divine right to rule, these kings knew it was their duty to serve the best interests of their people.

Still. Nowadays we consider a politician "young" at forty. But twenty?

Men in their twenties are notorious for "strutting their stuff," vying with each other to claim that "top dog" status. François, Charles, Henry and Suleiman did compete directly with each other not only for territory, but for wealth, possessions, and influence. As they fought each other for chunks of Europe, they strove to construct the most magnificent palaces, employ the most accomplished artists and maintain the most cultured courts (Henry and François dug deep into their countries' coffers to outshine the other's extravagance at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520; François pulled the stops again in 1539 when Charles traveled through France on a state visit). They competed for the same offices (Charles beat out François in 1519 for the title of Holy Roman Emperor) and spheres of diplomatic influence (especially papal alliances). They raced to beat the others in exploring and colonizing the New World and monopolizing trade routes. They might have shared a woman or two (rumor has it that François might have been friendly with a young Anne Boleyn). Henry and François even wrestled each other for fun in front of the court at Cloth of Gold (François won handily, I might add).

I attribute much of the vim and verve of the first half of the sixteenth century directly to the youth and raw masculinity of these four rulers. How many battles were motivated not by the best interests of the country, but by a desire to beat the other guy? How many paintings and statues were commissioned in order to claim the title of supreme patron of the arts? How many religious dissenters were persecuted in order to prove oneself the staunchest defender of the faith? How many alliances were shifted or broken in order to make life difficult for one of the others? How many miles of silk and leagues of ribbon were cut and sewn in attempts to set the trends for all of Europe? One wonders.

Kings of their countries, these four men clawed and tussled to become King of the Hill.

Imagine how celebrity rags would have read.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"He [François I] liked it [Fontainebleau] so much that he spent most of his time there . . . all that he could find of excellence was for his Fontainebleau of which he was so fond that whenever he went there he would say that he was going home."

Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1510-1584), French architect
Les plus excellents bastiments de France (1576)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Taste of Avalon

What's a writer to do when she falls in love with the secondary characters in her novels? Write short stories about them, of course!

Anna Elliott is the author of the TWILIGHT OF AVALON trilogy (Touchstone), a series set in sixth century Britain that explores the celebrated romance between Trystan and Isolde. The first volume of the trilogy came out in 2009; the second volume, DARK MOON OF AVALON, will be published this September (I will be reviewing it mid-month). Anna created a character in TWILIGHT OF AVALON who completely captivated her; however, as the author worked on the second and third books, she could find no way to work this character, Dera, back into the story. Unable and willing to ignore Dera's tale, Anna wrote it up as a short story, which she is offering to readers free of charge:

In the shadow of King Arthur's Britain, a young mother will need all her courage to save the Queen's castle from the hands of a traitor...

Dera owes Britain's former High Queen Isolde her life. But as an army harlot, the life she leads is one of degradation and often desperate danger, with small hope for the future either for Dera or for her small son.

Through a Britain torn by war with Saxon invaders, Dera makes her way to Dinas Emrys, last stronghold of Britain's army, to beg Queen Isolde's help once more. Isolde offers Dera a new life, both for herself and for her child. But when Dera and Isolde uncover a treasonous plot, Dera must leave her little boy and undertake a dangerous mission, the outcome of which comes to her as a stunning, but wonderful, surprise.

And as she risks her life, Dera also draws nearer to Queen Isolde's most closely-guarded secret: one that Britain's courageous witch-queen may be hiding even from herself.

THE WITCH QUEEN'S SECRET features a minor character from TWILIGHT OF AVALON, but it's self-contained; you don't have to have read any of the trilogy to understand it. The story is available in various e-reader and printer compatible forms on Anna's website here. Or (because of Amazon policy), it's available for 99 cents on the Kindle store here.

From what I understand, Anna plans to make other stories about minor characters in the trilogy available to readers. What a clever way to keep her readers happy between books and to satisfy her own curiosity about her characters' lives!

Enjoy your reading, and be sure to check back here in September for a review and giveaway of DARK MOON OF AVALON.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Genoan Jewel

The Villa del Principe, a Genoan villa begun in 1529 by Andrea Doria, an admiral who fought at various times for both François I and Charles V, now houses a stunning collection of Renaissance art. Caravaggio's "Flight to Egypt" is the centerpiece of the collection, which includes paintings by Titian, Bronzino and del Piombo. The villa itself has been painstakingly restored to its sixteenth-century splendor. This article gives a brief history of Doria, the house, and the artwork within it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Dieu aide toujours aux foux, aux amants et aux ivrognes."

"God always helps madmen, lovers and drunkards."

Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549), writer and queen
L'Heptaméron IV, 38 (1558)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"La vraie noblesse s'acquiert
en vivant, et non pas en naissant."

"True nobility is acquired through
living, and not by being born."

Guillaume Bouchet (1514-1594), French poet and printer
Les Serées (1584)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Castle Graveyard

A student of architectural history photographs "things that would go unnoticed in the streets of Paris" for his blog, Paris 2e. This post documents fragments of the chateau of Fontainebleau that were discarded during recent renovations and now litter a nearby field. The blogger asks a good question: what should be done with these authentic but unneeded pieces? Museums can take only so many, I suppose. Should they be sold to raise money for additional renovations? I know I would love to place some of that stonework in my garden!

Be sure to check out the beautiful and unusual photos of Paris 2e.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Il faut perdre un veron
pour pescher un saumon."

"You have to lose a worm
to catch a salmon."

Henri II Estienne(1528-1598), French hellenist and printer
De la précellence de la langue françoyse (1579)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[N]o es vencido sino el que se cree serlo."

"Only the one who believes himself to be defeated is."

Fernando de Rojas (1465-1541), Castilian author
La Celestina [Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea] (1499), Act 4

Monday, July 26, 2010

Write Like a Pro

Some days I think I'd rather walk into a room full of professors and defend my dissertation a second time than sit down in front of the blank computer screen and start a new chapter of my novel. Well okay, maybe not, but when I'm faced with a blinking cursor and no idea on earth what to do with the next 3500 words -- never mind the 80,000 following those -- just about any activity from ironing undershirts to scrubbing toilets to extracting clover, leaf by leaf, from the front lawn appears infinitely more appealing.One of my favorite methods of procrastination involves reading books on craft or creativity,for I can convince myself with little effort that I'm "working," learning skills and tricks that will render that first key-stroke all the easier the next time I do sit down to write. Yesterday, I didn't have to hoodwink myself to justify my dilatory reading, for I devoured a book that has the power to change my (writing) life if I take its message to heart. A short but powerful reflection on resisting creative endeavor, screenwriter and novelist Steven Pressfield's The War of Art (Grand Central 2003) was worth every minute it kept me from producing pages of my own.

The War of Art is divided into three sections. In the first, "Resistance: Defining the Enemy," Pressfield examines the characteristics and operations of Resistance, which he defines as the force that separates the life we live from the unlived life within us. Self-generated, Resistance keeps us from following the calling or action that we must follow before all others; it prevents us from doing the work -- be it artistic, charitable, scientific, spiritual or entreprenurial -- through which we will produce the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give. "The more important a call or action to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it" (12). Think of Resistance as "self-sabotage" and it is easy to identify the many forms it takes: procrastination, obsessions, self-dramatization, hypochondria, victimhood. Pressfield boils Resistance down to its essence: fear. Fear, however, serves a useful purpose, for "it tells us what we have to do" (40). The extent of our fear indicates the importance of our task: "The more scared we are of a work or a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it" (40). If a project meant nothing to us and was unimportant to the growth of our soul, we would feel no Resistance towards it.

Yet how does the writer/scientist/entrepreneur over come the fear that paralyzes her? By "Turning Pro," as Book Two explains. Becoming a professional, Pressfield reveals, means nothing more (and nothing less) than sitting down despite one's fear and doing one's work. The professional shows up every day, no matter what, and stays at the job until the whistle blows. She's committed over the long haul, masters the job's techniques, and doesn't over-identify with the work (69-70). The professional acts in the face of fear, unlike the amateur, who believes she has to first overcome her fear before she can do her job: "The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.... [H]e forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he'll be okay" (79). As for rejection and criticism? The professional refuses to take it personally, for doing so only reinforces Resistance. Resistance is the enemy, not editors and critics; the professional does not allow external criticism fortify her internal foe (88). In contrasting the traits and habits of the amateur with those of the professional, Pressfield encourages the reader to take charge of her situation and implement the changes that will advance her from one state to the other.

The final section of the book, "Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm," situates Pressfield's thoughts on Resistance and professionalism into a spiritual framework. He assures us that when we create, we are in touch with our truest selves and the divine and well along the path to discovering our purpose in life. "We come into the world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become" (146). If we refuse to do this job, we hurt more than ourselves, for we deny others the very thing we were given unique talents to achieve. Far from a selfish act, creative work becomes a gift to the world (165), one that needs to be undertaken with dedication, persistence and love.

Both practical and philosophical, The War of Art is one of the most inspiring books I've read, one that I'm sure I will be turning to often for encouragement. I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves blocked in their creative endeavors or searching to reconcile work with life's larger questions. And although I hate the word, I have to use it in this case: Pressfield's work is empowering for anyone who suspects fear is preventing her from realizing her potential. I'll leave you with this:

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
This second, we can sit down and work. (22)

That blinking cursor doesn't seem so scary anymore.

[Many thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary for bringing this book to my attention.]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Royal Treatment

Tradition holds that Catherine de Medici introduced the fork to France; could it be that François I introduced yoghurt? From an article in yesterday's Guardian on the history of the curdled delight:

"[I]t took a long time for yoghurt to become a staple. In 1542, François I lay mopish and squitty with diarrhoea, depression or both. The French king heard that his ally Suleyman the Magnificent in Constantinople had a remarkable Jewish doctor who reportedly cured anything with a miracle tonic made from the milk of his sheep. François sent for the medic, who trudged across Europe with his flock over several weeks to reach Paris. A course of sheep's yoghurt was prescribed, and the king was cured. All the sheep died, sadly, and the doctor headed home despite François pleading for him to stay."

What, the milk from French sheep wouldn't cut it? In any case, the good doctor's journey gives new meaning to the term "house call"!

Monday, July 19, 2010


The winner of Catherine Delors's



Debbie from Deb's Desk


Debbie, please send your mailing address to
juliannedouglas05 [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Thanks to everyone for entering the drawing.
Enjoy this marvelous read, then help spread the word!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Every man who tells a tale usually taints it with his own invention, either through malice or vanity, and always moreso rather than less."

Mateo Alemán (1547-1614), Spanish novelist
Guzmán de Alfarache (1599 and 1604), picaresque novel

Sunday, July 11, 2010

King Arthur's Conference Room

Have archaeologists located the site of King Arthur's round table? Fascinating conjecture that the table was not a piece of furniture but an amphitheater where 1000 followers of the king could gather.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tea and Pastry with Catherine Delors

Yesterday saw the release of Catherine Delors's second novel, FOR THE KING (Dutton). To celebrate the release, Catherine has stopped by to answer a few questions about the book, herself, and writing in general.

1. The historical note at the end of the book describes the fascinating life of the historical Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoëlan, who later became a Catholic priest. Did Limoëlan ever publicly express regret for his part in the rue Nicaise attack? Did the Sisters of the Visitation in Georgetown, with whom he ministered, know his true identity and the story of his past?

To my knowledge, Limoëlan never publicly expressed regret over the part he played in the Rue Nicaise attack. He moved shortly afterwards to the United States, where the event may not have caused as much of a shock as in Europe. As for the sisters of the Visitation in Georgetown, it seems highly unlikely that they were ignorant of his past. They knew, but they believed in redemption, one of the tenets of the Catholic faith. As I write in my historical note, I am convinced that Limoëlan’s belated repentance and conversion were sincere.

2. The resistance of the Chouans to the republic and to Napoleon is a chapter of French history little familiar to American readers. Were the Chouans a force to be reckoned with or a mere annoyance? How close did they come to reinstating the king?

The Chouans were a major political and military force. On Rue Nicaise they came only a few seconds away from blowing up Napoléon. Had his coachman been less alert that night, they would have assassinated him right then and there, years before he crowned himself Emperor.

It may not be generally known, but in the spring of 1815, the Chouan insurgency had been revived. A full French division was again busy battling them in the Western provinces, instead of being under Napoléon’s command at Waterloo, hundreds of miles away. The French forces were outnumbered almost two to one on that battlefield, so you could say the Chouans changed the fate of Europe that day. Ultimately they were instrumental in the defeat and ouster of Napoléon.

3. How did you become interested in the rue Nicaise attack?

The 9/11 attacks prompted me to revisit the Rue Nicaise plot. The number of casualties is without common measure, of course, but it was the same callous disregard for human life, the same blind hatred, all in the name of a superior “cause.”

4. Your secondary characters, such as the Secretary General Piis, and even characters who figure only momentarily in the novel, like Pulchérie Fontaine, seem as real and three-dimensional as your main characters. Do you do a lot of work developing your characters before you begin writing? What, in your mind, is the "secret" to creating believable characters?

Thanks, Julianne! For historical characters, I do my biographical research beforehand. I love to work with lesser known figures like Piis, where there is little more than a sketch of the real person. Then, as I write, they come to life by themselves, and sometimes they quite surprise me. For purely fictional characters like Roch, I have no idea of what they will become when I begin writing. That’s the magic of the novel: characters are pretty much autonomous from the author.

5. How has your training as an attorney influenced your writing style and/or habits?

In many ways. For instance, in FOR THE KING, it was fascinating to follow the sweeping legal changes that followed the Rue Nicaise attack, and to deconstruct the many outrageous miscarriages of justice that ensued.

6. What advice to you have for aspiring authors? What do you see as the future of historical fiction?

My advice to aspiring authors? Brace yourself! This is not a business for the faint of heart. Publication is only one step on a long, long road… The future of historical fiction? I wish I knew the answer, with the business of publishing at large very much in flux. Frankly I don’t think anyone can answer the question at this point.

7. Which of each of the two choices best describes you? Comment as you see fit.

-- tea or coffee? I am a self-confessed tea addict. I like coffee, but the feeling is not mutual.
-- mountains or seashore? I love both! My mixed Auvergne and Normand ancestries, I suppose…
-- morning or evening? Evening.
-- soccer or tennis? I usually prefer soccer, but after the performance of the French team at the World Cup… enough said.
-- kir or pastis? Kir.
-- designer boutique or bargain basement? With your permission, Julianne, I will stick with the bargain basement until FOR THE KING hits the NYT list.
-- millefeuille or bagel? Millefeuille, hands down.
-- Balzac or Hugo? Balzac, a childhood –and lifelong- love. I read EUGENIE GRANDET dozens of times, always with a renewed sense of wonder.
-- longhand or computer? I am dyslexic, which makes it very difficult for me to handwrite. Computers are a blessing for people like me.
-- carriage or horseback? Horseback. More flexibility!


Catherine has surrendered all her secrets, but the characters in FOR THE KING are much harder nuts to crack. See if you can figure out what they're hiding before Roch solves the case. Enter the drawing to win a copy of Catherine's fabulous book or pick one up one at your local bookstore.

Thanks for playing, Catherine!