31 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Colonial Fun and Games

Carol A. Spradling

Force me onto a stair stepper and I'll spill family secrets faster than a mob snitch. I'm void of the endorphin gene and there is no worse punishment for me than exercise. Colonial Americans, on the other hand, considered a foot race highly anticipated entertainment. God love them. Luckily for anyone of the time who shared my genetic defect, walking, horseback riding, carriage and sleigh rides were also appropriate leisure activities. Ah, that's more my speed.



Other activities that drew a crowd were militia musters, court days, and public executions. Talk about being desperate for entertainment. To fill the lulls during these occasions, the townspeople would conduct side entertainment in the way of wrestling contests, horse races, and a rather interesting activity where participants would bludgeon each other with a stout stick. Thank goodness for the war. Apparently the Continental Congress felt it best to reserve energy for a more unified cause.

Away from the war effort, dancing became very popular. A dance master would travel the country, teaching the latest maneuvers. His repertories included minuets, reels, and jigs. However, not everyone preferred such physical amusement.

For the more even-toned, there were card games, board games, and billiards. Women enjoyed these games of skill and chance as well as the men. To encourage the sexes to mingle, and since females were not permitted in taverns, these games were played in private homes. Some card games of the period have evolved into modern games. Whist is commonly known as bridge and if you have ever sat with three other people and held thirty-two cards between you, you have probably played euchre. So did the Colonists.

We have all heard about the evils or cards and dice. My grandmother would not permit a card or dice game of any type into her home, no matter how innocent, because of the immorality associated with it. The Colonists were no different, and with good reason. Many card and dice games attracted unseemly characters and brought ridicule from Colonial society. Polite society did not play hazzard or put, a precursor to poker, this was left to the lower classes. Instead, refined citizens entertained themselves with cribbage, loo, and the royall. I suppose this is better than cockfights, boxing, and knife throws, which most men enjoyed. However, both sexes of all classes enjoyed gambling and drinking.

Printing literature was as time-consuming as every other chore. Broadsheets were a great source for current events, but chapbooks provided stories of shipwrecks, folk heroes, villains, and even boasted lurid plotlines. These cheap books with paper covers were very similar to genres found in local bookstores.

The mentioned activities were ideal for grownups, but children were technologically disadvantaged compared to their modern counterparts. While adults may have been forced to substitute chocolate or coffee for their tea, it brewed on in little girls' imaginations. Pretend tea parties ensured hours of fun along with tops, marbles, dolls, puzzles, balls, and Bilbo catchers.

Remove batteries and solar power from the quotient and we are no different than our ancestors. We tend to work hard and play harder. Only the toys are different.

30 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Fox-Hunts

By Jennifer Linforth

Oh bloody hell. Was I completely foxed last night?

Digging, snorting...even pulling on the plug with his teeth did no good. The hole to his den was completely plugged. Lifting his whiskers to the pre-dawn light, he cussed again--a sneezy, yelping sort of combination. For a moment he thought his late night romp in the farmer’s chicken coop had resulted in him digesting some foul meat--until he recalled what he ate was fowl—thus removing the notion that he could be hallucinating.

He certainly would not plug up the entrance to his hole. Nocturnal animals would not do this. Yet here it was plugged solid. He scratched his ear with a back paw as he thought. Could only mean one thing—the field was gathering. Horror struck, he stopped scratching. Beady black eyes shot toward the sun then down to his bushy tail. He regarded his shadow. 11AM.

Spinning in a circle until he was crazy like the fox he was, he pondered his way out of this one. "The field," those mounted sportsmen would be gathering with their dogs...usually forty to fifty to a pack if he recalled correctly. They would be at the "meet" by now--the designated spot for start of the hunt.

He paced frantically. He was a fox. His instinct told him to head to the covert. Hide there. But wait, what the hell was that saying? He paused to bang his head repeatedly against the trunk of a tree. Think, think, think you red furred fool...this is important! 'A fox can change his fur but not his habits'...damn it.

Seems he would have to change his habits...

The covert would be out. That is the first place the master of the hunt would lead his sporting troupe. All foxes would run to a covert if they found their den plugged. Coverts meant shelter--unless a fox-hunt was under way. Then it meant dogs. The hounds would be sent in one end of the thicket or gorse patch with the intent of sniffing their way through until they flushed him out.

Then all hell would break loose and he as so not in the mood for that.

For as soon as he ran from the covert, the "tally-ho" would be sounded and men, horses and hound would all be charging after him. It was not a good time. Seriously. Man found it a good time… but from his point of view it was anything but a delightful afternoon. Trotting in a circle pondering what to do, he failed to see the sport in all of it. Men riding at ridiculous speed through forests, streams, dashing across fields all while trying not to break their necks in pursuit of him. Eventually they would corner the fox and the hounds would eat him.

Relatives often made the worst friends...

They would typically not eat all of him... the "brush" (tail), "mask" (head), and "pads" (paws) would be cut off and handed out as macabre trophies to the sportsmen.

So. Not. Fun.

Though instinct told him to heat for shelter and hide he decided to turn tail and run fast and far--immediately. He heard there was a new gathering of geese at the farm on the opposite end of the estate. Perhaps they might care to listen to him preach a sermon or two...

This day he would keep his reputation intact and avoid the hunt.

He was, after all one sly fox.

29 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Baseball Cards

By Eliza Tucker

As far back as the 1840s, baseball was a popular sport in the U.S. As with any tournament game, its players and fans wanted a way to show their support for specific teams and the sport in general, and so many people made their own cabinet cards with photographs of players or teams pasted onto wood or thick paper for the purpose of displaying their interests.

In years following the American Civil War, Peck and Snyder, a sporting goods company based in New York City, came up with a way to further market the game--and their business. By printing "trade cards" with famous players or teams on the face with advertisements on the back. These cards were not sold, but handed out on the streets, much like today's fliers.
During the 1870's to the 1890's, trade cards were popular form of advertising. In fact baseball theme trade cards made up only a fraction of the total trade cards. Trade cards depicted many subjects, including presidents, animals and comics. A popular type of baseball trade card were comic trade cards, which shown baseball scenes in a comical situation. Collecting trade cards and pasting them into scrapbooks became one of the country's most popular hobbies. Many of these baseball trade cards found today have some damage on the back where they were removed from scrap books. Collecting old trade cards is popular with some collectors today...

Goodwin & Co., another tobacco company in New York, issued the Old Judge cards, a small picture card that was inserted into packs of Old Judge brand tobacco. Goodwin & Co. produced these cards both as a 'stiffener' for their cigarette packs and to boost sales.
Cycleback.com
By the start of the first World War, the tobacco companies had released their hold on the baseball cards, but the prize prints had long since found their way into Cracker Jack boxes, gum packages, and even boxes from clothing shops.

28 December 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Beattie

We're back! Hope everyone had a lovely winter break, as we did here at Unusual Historicals. To get us back in the swing of things for the last week of the year, we've invited Michelle Beattie to talk about her debut WHAT A PIRATE DESIRES, set in the 17th century Caribbean.

A LADY IN DISGUISE...

When her family was murdered by the brigand named Dervish, all that Samantha Fine cherished was swept away in the churning waters of the Caribbean. Driven by revenge, she masquerades as Sam Steele, the most cunning pirate of the seas, striking terror in the hearts of every merchant who dares to cross her path. If only they knew the legendary buccaneer's extraordinary secret...

A MAN IN NEED...

One man has discovered that a fiery female spirit wrestles beneath Sam's fearsome exterior: the pirate, Luke Bradley. He once sailed with the vile Dervish, and now has a score of his own to settle. But as he joins Sam on her journey across the unpredictable Caribbean Sea, Luke is drawn to her loyal heart and courageous strength. Now, making Dervish pay for his sins is second to the quest to win Sam's heart...
***

Welcome, Michelle! Tell us a little about how you got started with this swashbuckling idea.

WHAT A PIRATE DESIRES came about due largely to Johnny Depp and his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. I'd never written a pirate book, it had never even crossed my mind. Can't say they interested me much. Sparrow changed all that. Johnny changed all that, as I don't think anyone else could have sparked my interest the way he did. So, after 18 months of writing drought, brought on by the death of my dad, I now had a drive, a purpose and a story.

How do you come up with the characters names?

Some just come. I take into account the year and the setting, and then often take the first name that pops in my head from there. For Samantha, I thought a little harder. I wanted a name I could shorten to be a man's name and I wanted a tough last name, thus Sam Steele came to be. I since learned there was an R.C.M.P officer named Sam Steele. Honestly, that's a coincidence, but being Canadian and finding out there was a real Canadian Mounted Police Officer by that name is kinda cool too. For Luke, I wanted a name with a hard sound at the end, because it sounded stronger. Since there was already a pirate we all know named Jack, I thought of Luke. It's also how I came up with the heroes in books two and three of the series, Blake and Nate.

And I always try to have names that flow well together, like Sam and Luke. Justine and Luke wouldn't sound as good.

How do you create a character?

I'm more of a plot-driven writer. I usually think of a story first, and then pick people to play the parts. Using Sam and Luke, I knew I wanted a female pirate, and once I had her name, then I thought, all right, what would make her be a pirate? Is she a reluctant one or a willing one? And usually the best conflict between your main characters comes when their goals contradict one another. I knew I wanted Luke to be a man who enjoyed piracy, so right away I knew Sam wouldn't like it. Then I thought, ok, why? Why would she do something if she didn't like it? And from there came her back story.

For Luke, he needed a reason, too. Why did he like piracy? What did it give him that he couldn't find elsewhere? What would it take for him to give up something he loves?

Do you associate a name to a character trait?

Sometimes. The villain in WHAT A PIRATE DESIRES is called Dervish, which means devil. I picked that purposefully as Dervish is a vile and cruel man. Usually I give villains names I don't particularly like, or named I wouldn't ever give one of my heroes.

How much research was necessary?

I have a great dictionary called English Through the Ages. It tells me when a word was invented and what's it meaning was at that time, since meanings change over time. If a word I really want to use wasn't actually used until 1700 and this is 1650, I'll probably use it. But there was one word I wanted that wasn't used until the 1800's and because that was too long a stretch I found another word. As a reader, I don't like words that jar me out of a story by sounding too modern for that time period. However, I try to use less formal words as what may have been used because it should still be about the story. If you have to stop reading to look up a word or have to stop to try to figure out what it means, then you lose flow for the sake of exactness. For me, I'd rather have a well-moving story.

Do you have any other ideas after this series that's not written yet?

Yes. I love westerns, it's what I started writing first and where my heart lies. I have one for sure in my head at the moment. I've also written a contemporary and have new ideas for a few more of those as well.

How did 'the call' come about?

Well, I'd sent off my partial (3 chapters) at the end of January. Less than two weeks later came the written request for the full manuscript. That was sent off immediately, and just under 3 months later, as I was unpacking my daughter's backpack from school, I hit the play button on my answering machine. And there it was. "Hi Michelle, It's Berkeley Publishing calling, we'd like to talk to you about your manuscript."

I'd won two contests with the manuscript and also came in dead last in another. From those two contest wins I had one agent and one editor look at the partial. Neither liked it enough to ask to see the whole thing. I went to a conference, met another agent and editor and neither of those two thought they could do anything with this manuscript. I don't think, for me, that contests and the conference helped, though certainly the contest wins wouldn't have looked bad on the query letter. But I think it was hitting the right editor for my writing on the right day.

Where do you get your inspirations?

From movies, other books, life in general. I started writing after reading a book and being disappointed in a direction she took the story. I thought, "I'd have done that differently," so books certainly influence me. Sometimes, like the first western I wrote, the idea just comes. Other times I'll have a vague idea and will brainstorm it around with friends until it becomes something I can work with.

Does your life resemble Samantha's in any way?

Well, I've never been to the Caribbean or on any sailing ship but I always give each of my heroines a trait I either have or wished I have. Sam is stubborn and when she gets an idea in her head, she goes for it. I'm much the same.

Does your next book continue with Sam and Luke or are there new characters?

My plan is to have this be a five book series. In each book you'll see many of the same faces pop in, and yes, Sam and Luke will be in each, though certainly not as the main players. Each book will have its own hero and heroine and its own story. There is an underlying theme that'll carry through each book and won't be wrapped up until the end of book five, but you'll have to wait for Romancing the Pirate to come out in September before you know what that is!

Selected Reviews

"Mr. Depp did for Pirates of the Caribbean what Michelle Beattie is doing again in her pirate series featuring What a Pirate Desires. This story is filled with lots of swashbuckling action, adventure, mayhem and don't forget the romance." Cheryl, Manic Readers

"What a Pirate Desires is swashbuckling good fun. Luke has charisma and warmth that just oozes. Both characters are wonderful in the way they take chances. With crisp dialogue and romance that sizzles, Michelle Beattie spins an interesting tale that this reader found satisfying." Cherokee, Coffee Time Romance

"Beattie's latest is a treasure trove for pirate/adventure lovers as a daring female brigand and a rugged captain match wits in a sexy battle of wills. Beattie uses rapid-fire repartee, double entendres and a daring heroine and dashing hero to spice up a tried-and-true plotline, turning it onto a nonstop read. 4 stars." Romantic Times

"This very traditional but fun romance features a feisty heroine, a tortured hero and a sassy parrot along with strong doses of betrayal, action and plenty of cunning." Publisher's Weekly

***

So, to participate in our last Sunday promo contest of the year, please leave a comment or question for Michelle. Maybe...what do you think of pirates as romance heroes? Any Johnny Depp fans out there? A winner will be drawn next Sunday. Good luck!

25 December 2008

Excerpt Thursday: Jennifer Mueller

NUTCRACKER SWEET by Jennifer Mueller
Thursdays on Unusual Historicals means excerpts! Here's a special one for the Christmas season from Jennifer Mueller, whose Red Rose short entitled "Nutcracker Sweet" is available now. Happy holidays!

Sometimes the Nutcracker really is a Prince in disguise! Tara Barbour hasn't had the easiest time since her husband died, but all that's about to change when a secret admirer starts signing The Nutcracker. The only real question is will she wake up come morning and find it all a dream, just like Clara did?
***

"What...What are you doing here? How did you get here?" Tara stammered.

"They have your address at the ballet school. I asked to send the nutcracker."

Tara couldn't believe her ears. "Yeah, and you just showed up?" His grin did things it shouldn't. That's why she left early. Megan would have been fine for her to sit and talk. The dreams wouldn't have been an issue.

"The show is over, I don't have to cook for people I don't know for a few days, and I feel like cooking for someone I know."

"You hardly know me."

"Maybe I thought you could use a night out, and I knew you wouldn't leave the house for it. I brought the date to you."

"Date?"

His eyes bored into her. He didn't even have to say the words 'triple dog dare you.' The look said it all. "You remember those, don't you? Where's the kitchen?"

A dinner she didn't have to cook, without a child in tow. She couldn't even come up with any argument. Taking a deep breath, Tara lifted her chin and stared into his eyes. "In the back. I'm sure it's nothing like what you're used to using."

Jake only grinned. "Show me the way."

The kitchen was the one room they had redone after moving in. It was small, but well furnished, at least for her needs. The beige granite countertops matched perfectly to the mahogany cabinets. For the price, they should.

He sat the bags on the butcher-block island and pointed to a barstool. "Get comfortable."

"You cook all the time. Are you sure you don't want me to do it?"

"Sit." He ordered and pulled out a bottle of wine. "Glasses?"

"In the dining room, top shelf of the china cabinet." Tara sat down slowly, still trying to figure if this was really happening. He was right that she wouldn't leave Megan to go out, but for him to show up? A drop dead gorgeous man couldn't have really shown up to make her dinner on Christmas Eve, could he? The glass he handed her was full, but if she thought that he was trying to get her drunk, he hardly even looked at her before he started going through the cupboards, seeing what there was to work with.

"You've a better stocked kitchen than some restaurants I've worked at." He was busy pulling out bag after bag from what he brought.

"I doubt that. There's never enough counter space. It's only clean because the neighbor is coming for supper tomorrow." She knew he was serious, though, when he took out a knife and sharpened it on the hone she'd never even touched before.

"So where do you want to travel?" He was looking at her as he cut fresh herbs without even a glance.

"You're showing off."

He still hadn't looked at his hands even as he took another bunch. "Is it working? You might not let me stay if you don't think I'm really a chef."

"I'll throw you out on your own if you cut yourself. I'm not spending Christmas Eve in the emergency room." It had been a long time since there was real laughter in that kitchen, and suddenly how he got there no longer mattered. There was someone to talk to, and his laugh was enough to seduce any woman.

21 December 2008

FROST FAIR Winner!

We have a winner for Erastes' FROST FAIR giveaway:

Elisa Jankowski!

Contact Erastes to give her your address. The book must be claimed by next Sunday or another winner will be drawn. Please stop back later to let us know what you thought of her book! Congratulations!


19 December 2008

Weekly Announcements - 19 Dec 08

Anita Davison was featured on Historical Novel Review throughout the week of December 14 as their feature author. You can read a character Q&A with Helena Woulfe Palmer, plus reviews and
excerpts of Duking Days Rebellion and Duking Days Revolution.

***

Christine Koehler, writing as Isabel Roman, sold to Ravenous Romance. Murder & Magicks is a Victorian-set paranormal that will be released on December 24. Here's the blurb:
For a Victorian lady, losing her virginity means ruin. For Raven Drake, it means freedom to explore her sexuality. As a Magicker in hiding, Raven subscribes to her culture's less prudish philosophy. She wants to experience every erotic sensation imaginable.

Malcolm, Lord Preston, desires her from the moment he sees her, and doesn't allow society's rules to stand in his way. More than happy to introduce Raven to the pleasures of sex, he doesn't expect to fall in love with her.

Their tryst is a welcomed distraction from Witch Hunters and political maneuverings. But can it overcome the weight of another man's ring on her finger?
***

And if you're interested in a bit of romantic parody, Carrie Lofty posted her chapter of The Italian Gourmet-Baby-Food Baron's Ironically Pregnant Virgin Mistress, which features contributions from bestselling authors Meljean Brook and Ann Aguirre.

***

Unusual Historicals is on hiatus until Monday, December 29, with the exception of a special excerpt by Jennifer Mueller on Christmas Day. Until then, have a wonderful holiday season, no matter your faith, and take a moment to tell those you love how much they mean to you. Good wishes!

18 December 2008

Excerpt Thursday: Penny Ash

Thursdays on Unusual Historicals mean excerpts! Here's one from Penny Ash. She writes:

It occurred to me that I hadn't posted an excerpt of my historical novella, CAESAR'S LOVE. It won't be available in this form much longer, as it is being revised and made longer. I hope you enjoy ancient Rome as much as I do.

Laurentius Caesar has everything a man could want: power, prestige, and the admiration of all. He lacks only love, and his hopes for such are amended on meeting one of his house slaves, Auriel. Having known only the life of a servant, Auriel is surprised with her new role as Caesar's lover. Is Laurentius' love strong enough to erase their differences?
***

Auriel worked as quickly and silently as possible, scrubbing the floor of the great hall. She truly hated to be given chores anywhere near the royal apartments. Usually she managed to avoid them by doing the less pleasant tasks no one else wanted to do. But Rufa was ill and Pulvillus was hiding somewhere so it fell to her.

Born a slave in a Roman garrison deep in the wilds of Britannia, she had long ago resigned herself to her fate. When she was a child she was sold into the household of the governor of Gaul, caring for his small children. And when the children had been carried off one by one a victim of illness the governor had returned to Rome and sold her to a Senator.

She had learned to avoid attention quickly when she saw how the other young female slaves were treated. Survival lay in hiding her pale hair and budding body under a few layers of filth and loose rags. The Senator had finally married and seeing through the dirt and grime the jealous new wife promptly gave her to Caesar.

Given her own choice she would have been content to go unnoticed in a minor land owner's house somewhere far from Rome. But a slave's life was subject to the whims of her master, or her master's wife, and so here she was in the palace of the ruler of the civilized world.

Auriel sighed. She had seen Laurentius Caesar a handful of times as she went about her work, and while she did think he was beautiful with his thick dark hair and green eyes, she would rather go unnoticed by him. He was dangerous, like all men of power and wealth. And she very much liked being alive.

Intent on her work, she heard the sound of footsteps and quickly raised her arm to stop whoever it was from marring her newly cleaned and polished floor. The hall floor was large and she did not want to have to repeat the chore of washing it. Looking up, she expected to see another slave or one of the guards. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the richness of the sandals ornamented in gold and precious gems. She sighed resignedly and looked up into the angry deep green eyes of Caesar himself.

"My Lord, the floor is slippery and wet, dangerous to walk upon," she said, her voice shaky. If she was lucky he would merely have her beaten. If not he would strike her down where she knelt. Silently she apologized to Rufa. Blood was so hard to clean from a marble floor.

17 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Bundling

By Anna C. Bowling

Imagine tucking your teen or twentysomething daughter snugly into bed with her gentleman friend and wishing the couple a good night while the rest of the family goes on with the rest of the evening's entertainments as usual. Perhaps you sit down to a spirited game of cards with your spouse, help your younger children with schoolwork, or regale the family with the newest song you've taught your caged canary or discuss the merits or flaws in last week's sermon--interrupted, of course, by shooing away any curious family members who might try to listen at the bedroom door.

Daughter and her friend need their privacy, and even the most inquisitive family members need to respect that. The younger children may want such privacy of their own someday, and the older family members were young once, too. Everybody back to business. How about that sermon, hmm? If the couple want to share any highlights before the gentleman returns home tomorrow, they'll do so.

Where and when would such a scenario take place? In a modern, metropolitan American household? Possibly. But this practice, called bundling, was also a common scenario for colonials of Dutch, German or British extraction during the eighteenth century, and could provide a good deal of entertainment for all involved--not just the bundled pair.


During warmer months, courting couples would spend most of their time alone walking out, which is exactly what it sounds like; taking a stroll outdoors, likely in sight of some older family member of one of the pair. What's the same couple to do, though, when the temperature drops, flakes fly, and a fellow can't be sure it's quite safe to traverse the icy roads after paying court to his lady fair? Pack themselves off to bed, of course, and no, not necessarily for what first comes to mind.

Though of course the actual practice varied, depending on the individuals and societies involved, the couple would climb into bed together, fully dressed, often separated by a bundling board, a long piece of wood down the middle of the bed. (In my colonial historical romance, My Outcast Heart, my hero and heroine substitute a rolled quilt for the board.) A chaperon may or may not be present, and sexual activity was not expected or encouraged for the bundlers. They would be expected to converse and get a taste of what it might be like to spend time in solely each other's company in close quarters.

While this could make for a perfect setup for romantic scenes for any genre from inspirational to erotic, the couple did have other distractions than merely being a hair's breadth from their beloved. Remember all those relatives mentioned above? Remember all their activities? Add in the chatter of several generations of relatives, children with clackety wooden toys, a musical instrument or two, and that noisy canary, not to mention assorted individuals trying to listen or peek, or concerned older relatives "just checking" on them, the mood was not always the most romantic. Nevertheless, bundling did often lead to a wedding--and sometimes a rather hasty one.

Modern bundling board photo courtesy of: The Benchmark Inn, Provincetown, MA

16 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Viking Board Games

By Michelle Styles

It is very tempting to think of the Vikings as always out raiding or fighting. However, the Vikings had many leisure activities including playing musical instruments, reciting of sagas, composing poetry and playing board games. Many grave sites include some evidence of game playing. With boards or counters being found in a number of graves across the entire Viking world.

The board games were important as they helped to teach strategy, a skill that many Viking warriors would have needed when deploying their men. They are not the sort of game where you simply followed a path, but pitted one opponent against another. From the sagas we know that women also played the games and so they were not simply a male preserve. Board games were often a place where men and women could pit their wits against each other.

Chess is a late 11-12 century addition to Viking board games. The famous Lewis chessmen which were discovered on the Island of Lewis in 1831 date from the early 12 century and are thought to be a lost Viking hoard. Uig, the place where they were discovered is windswept white sand and things rapidly become buried or hidden as I know from nearly losing a shoe on the beach. They are not sure if the chessmen were owned by a Viking, or if they were part of a Viking trader's stock.

The 93 pieces are divided between the Scottish National museum and the British museum and are considered to be part of Britain's great treasures. They are made from whale's teeth and show little sign of use. It is possible to buy replica sets. The rooks have berserker type fury on their faces and the queen simply looks glum.

In Old Norse chess was called skak-tafl and took the Viking world by storm, rapidly displacing other perhaps more pagan board games.

Prior to the introduction of chess, tafl referred to hnefatafl or king's board/table. No one is quite sure how it was played but there have been many guesses based on a variety of clues and riddles left in the sagas and the incomplete boards that have been found. The hnefa is thought to refer to the king piece who is surrounded by eight maidens. Scholars are not sure if dice were used in the game or not. Thud, a game from Terry Pratchett's disc world owes something to tafl, and perhaps gives the most flavour of what it could be like to play.

Other games in the Viking period included a variation on fox and geese (a complex game where one player has one piece and the other tries to surround him) and nine men morris.

However the games were played, they were a popular pastime and required a great deal of intellectual thought and a knowledge of the rules.

15 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Ancient Egypt

By Jean Adams

It is obvious from the scenes depicted on pyramid and temple walls that the ancient Egyptians knew how to keep fit. In ancient Egypt sport was a part of the daily life and culture. Archaeologists and scholars have uncovered interesting information about ancient Egyptian sports practiced thousands of years ago.

Not surprisingly, ancient Egyptian games and sport are not that different from the games we practice and enjoy today. Murals and paintings dating back to the days of the ancient Egyptians indicate that the pharaoh and his people enjoyed activities such as wrestling and the javelin.

With the fact that Egypt lies on the banks of the Nile River it is quite likely to assume that many of the ancient Egyptian sports were water related. Evidence indicates that Egyptians enjoyed such sporting events as swimming and rowing.

Judging by drawings and paintings, ancient Egyptian sport also included an assortment of ball games. One of the games involving ball play appears to be a version of handball, while other games were played using balls and bats fashioned from palm trees.

Many of the ancient Egyptian sports were enjoyed for the pure fun of it but others might have developed into professional spectator sporting events. Certainly the latter would have been attended by the royal family as a means of entertainment and diversion.

In addition, ancient Egyptian sport included marathons that were recorded in a number of Egyptian texts. Marathons seem to have even played a part in the coronation festivities of pharaohs throughout most ancient Egyptian history.

The Egyptians favoured organised sporting events, such as boxing and fencing with sticks. Marathon races were important events, particularly during celebrations commemorating a new pharaoh. One of the rituals of these celebrations was to hold a marathon run by the pharaoh around the temples before spectators to reveal his physical strength and his ability to rule using his bodily and mental capabilities.

The artist has brought out, with a thorough knowledge of anatomy, the harmonious play of muscles. The positions of Zoser's arms, trunk and legs denote an expertise of technique and movement which only advanced development can achieve.

The ancient Egyptians engaged in sports with the intention of training and strengthening their bodies, as well as for pleasure and recreation.

The high standard of physical fitness reached by the ancient Egyptians is revealed in their standard portrayals of the male and female forms in sculpture and painting.

The men are strong, and radiate a muscular vigour, while the women are slender, and redolent with femininity.

There are countless representations on tomb and temple walls, but none is more striking than the oldest document relating to sport. It is a unique mural, not only because of its date, but also through its social implications, depicting the Pharaoh Zoser the Great, the founder of the third dynasty nearly 3000 years before Christ, or about 5000 years ago.

Fully aware of the invaluable role of sport in raising the standard of health, and hence of national productivity, the ancient Egyptians as a whole, men, women, youths and children, were all engaged in sporting activities with a zeal which amounted to a cult.

There is a theory that the ancient Egyptians began the custom of holding international games regularly at Akhmem in Upper Egypt. It should also be said that in Egypt, sport was born and flourished, and from there spread to Greece, Rome and to the rest of the world.

The ancient Egyptians filled their leisure time with many pleasant activities. They enjoyed good food, drink, music, singing, and dancing. The upper class watched professional dancers at formal banquets. A number of musical instruments accompanied the dancers. The flute, oboe, trumpet, and an instrument resembling a clarinet were the most common wind instruments; stringed instruments included various types of harps, lutes, and lyres; and tambourines and drums were the normal percussion instruments. In rituals, sistra and clappers were used.

Other leisure activities included hunting, fowling, and fishing for sport. Hunters used a bow and arrow for most game--ibex, gazelle, wild cattle, ostriches, and hares. Fowling and fishing took place in marshes. For fowling, Egyptians used a throwstick that acted like a boomerang, stunning the bird and knocking it out of the sky. For fishing a long, double-barbed spear was used.

Members of literate households (5 percent at most) enjoyed reading. In the quiet of their homes, the ancient Egyptians played a number of board games, the most, popular being senet. Ancient Egyptian children had games and amusements similar to those of Egyptian children today. A number of simple toys like balls and dolls have been found in tombs. They lived life to the full. At festivals and parties they feasted and drank, and were entertained by singers, dancers and musicians.

Egyptians held feasts to celebrate births, marriages and religious festivals, or simply to entertain friends. The wealthy enjoyed holding dinner parties, where cooks would prepare huge meals, flavoured with imported herbs and spices. Dressed in their best clothes, guests sat on chairs or on cushions on the floor, eating and drinking large quantities of wine.

Party scenes show how much the Egyptians liked music and dance. This well known banquet scene is from a tomb of a wealthy nobleman named Nebamun. The tomb was built around 1400 BC in Thebes. One woman plays a double flute while others clap along and dance.

An integral part of both religious and secular festivals, dancers and musicians would enliven the festivities with harps, lyres and lutes, the oboe (most often played by women) the double flute, and drums to keep up beat of the music. Dancers and musicians were usually employed by a temple, or could work as freelancers.

These carved wooden toys would have been pulled along by a string. Pulling the string on the wooden cat would have made its mouth open and close. Other ancient animal toys have glass eyes, movable legs and arms and tails that wag. Simple rag dolls were also a popular choice.

VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE Winner!

We have a winner for Michelle Styles's VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE giveaway:

WENDY K!

Contact Michelle to give her your address. The book must be claimed by next Sunday or another winner will be drawn. Please stop back later to let us know what you thought of her book! Congratulations!


14 December 2008

Book Party: Erastes

Today we celebrate the release of our contributor Erastes' latest release, FROST FAIR. Enjoy!

***

Gideon Frost is willing to do whatever it takes to earn enough money to save the printing shop that was left to him by his father. But when faced with the prospect of having to engage in acts society deems unnatural and the law declares punishable by death, he realized there are limits as to how far he'll go. Then he meets the privileged and handsome Joshua Redfern, the one man who tempts Gideon to break his own rules.

Joshua Redfern has no title or important relations, but his independent fortune allows him a life that is more than comfortable. And more importantly, it enables him to offer assistance to the unfortunate but beautiful Gideon just when the man needs it most. Joshua realizes his interest in Gideon is far more than charitable, but is the man similarly attracted or merely indebted?

When the Thames freezes over and London hosts the great Frost Fair of 1814, trouble and necessity bring Gideon and Joshua together. But just as ice is destined to eventually crack, will the circumstances break these two men as they learn that life isn't always fair?
***


Once upon a time, before all this nasty global warming, the River Thames freezing over was a pretty regular occurrence. When William the Conqueror was still on the throne, it wasn't unusual for the Thames to be solid ice for weeks at a time.

In 1564 the first Frost Fair was held-although there's not that much recorder evidence of it, but we can rely on the Londoner's sense of free theatre, they'd have flocked to anything new. There were probably street vendors galore, cock fights, bear baiting and the like.

Why did the Thames freeze then and not now?

It was all to do with the bridges. Once, all the bridges had small arches, so when the ice formed in large enough clumps it couldn't flow easily under the bridges, so it piled up and the water behind it froze. Once the bridges were replaced by ones with larger spans this ceased to be a regular occurrence. The Thames did freeze occasionally after the Regency period but there was never to be a giant Frost Fair again--the last one was in 1814, and it's around this week-long event that my book FROST FAIR concerns itself.

How is this an Unusual Historical?


It's a break from a "traditional" Regency romance (and not only because it's a gay romance!) in that there's no aristocracy, no balls, no pump rooms, nothing like that. The main protagonist, Gideon Frost, is an impoverished printer and engraver eking out an existence and not making any profit. Sometimes he simply runs out of money completely and finds himself forced to frequent the sites of male prostitution (Lad Lane, Cock Lane and St Paul's Churchyard, which were all notorious) to earn a few shillings to make ends meet. (Pardon the pun!)

He falls in love--hopelessly he feels--with a customer, Joshua Redfern, a wealthy man who comes to his shop one day, little knowing that Redfern shares his predilections and is as in love with Gideon as Gideon is with him. However, this being 1814, it's not exactly something one can bring up in conversation! Redfern has already lost one lover to the hangman, and it's not a risk he wants to take again.

Stir in a returning character from Hard & Fast the devilish Finbarr Thouless, a cockney shop-assistant and a dastardly plot and you have Frost Fair.

It's at the top of the bestseller's list at Linden Bay Romance, (of which, out of the Ten Ten, four are gay historical romances) which makes me happy!

Would you like to share an excerpt? If so, set it up for us.

Yes! Redfern's just met Gideon for the first time.

Thouless raised one darkly handsome eyebrow. "Well, then," he said with the exquisite patience and subtlety of a rhinoceros, "perhaps Mr. Frost might be persuaded to do a commission. Were you not saying that you were thinking of getting some pictures done? Of the house?"

Redfern could feel himself coloring, as for the third time, and, convinced he looked like some cork-brained nincompoop, all he could find to say was, "Yes. Yes, I was."

Somehow, he'd snapped himself out of his shock, and in moments, the young man--Gideon Frost--had written down Redfern's name and address in, Redfern could not help but notice, an elegant hand, and had promised to call within a very few days. He'd explained that his assistant was unwell but he had every hope that his recovery was imminent. Redfern left the shop with a spring in his step he hadn't had for many a month and found it difficult not to smirk. Thouless--damn his questing eyes--commented favorably on Frost's talents all the way back to Fleet Street.

To cover up his interest in the young man, Redfern said, "Are you trying to shock me, Finn? To hear you speak, I'd think you were smitten by young Frost."

Finbarr hailed a hackney, and as it trundled along the street toward them, he said, "I appreciate art, Joshua. That young man creates it, and his Creator has made it in him. If you tell me you did not see the beauty in him, I will call you a bowyer and as such I will never believe anything you say again."

Redfern had grunted something, enough to placate his friend and make him change the subject onto the ball of that night, and that had been the end of the matter between them. When Frost came to sketch the house, there was no archly sarcastic wag to confuse matters. But it did no good. For all that Redfern wanted to be the charmer, the urbane friend to Frost that Thouless was to him, he found it impossible. He was not so much tongue-tied, but seemingly tongue-less in the young man's presence and all he had been able to do was give the engraver carte blanche to sketch where and how he liked. He sounded curt and gruff even to his own ears, and he knew that it was self-protection; better to appear an arrogant nouveau-riche than to give any hint of his true feelings. For from the moment he'd seen Frost again he knew that he was violently, passionately attracted to the young man, in a way that he hadn't felt for many years.

He left Frost to sketch, and forced himself not to trouble his work. He stayed in his library, giving orders to the staff that he had left the house and that he would call on the engraver presently. He sat and wrestled with the burgeoning attraction for the man he'd seen twice. What good would it do to moon after the young man? What good had it ever done? He'd learned harsh lessons in his life, that his predilections had brought nothing but danger and misery to all concerned. He'd long been of the opinion that it was better to live like a monk than to put one more man at risk.

So what, he wondered, as he stood outside Frost's shop on a freezing day, had led his footsteps back here? There was nothing in their business that could not have been done by servants or by correspondence but here he was. Before he gave it another thought, and talked himself out of it, he pushed open the door, and suddenly, as he saw the engraver stand with a welcoming smile on his face, he was warm.
What's next for you, Erastes?

A very exciting book release in April 2009. An imprint of Perseus Books--Running Press--is releasing a line of M/M Romance as mainstream romance for the first time ever. They'll be available in the women's romance section of books and marketed specifically at women with "proper romance covers". My English Civil War romance TRANSGRESSIONS and Alex Beecroft's Age of Sail adventure, FALSE COLORS are to be the pathfinder releases and they are lining up more releases to follow.

Sadly I can't show you the covers yet, but I'll keep you all posted! I hope you give FROST FAIR a try and enjoy it if you do.

***

Thanks so much to Erastes for stopping by today. We're giving away a copy of FROST FAIR to a random commenter when we return from the holiday break on December 28. Leave a comment or question for your chance to win. Good luck!

12 December 2008

Weekly Announcements - 12 Dec 08

Carrie Lofty is pleased that WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS continues to earn quality reviews. Merri Crawford of Medieval Book Reviews writes: "Although set in distant times, WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS captures in imagery, psychological depth and imagination, a timeless truth in the way only fiction can. ...a book to read slowly in order to savor in all its details. Keep a hanky for the ending, not for tears of pain but joyful tears."

And in even more exciting news, Carrie's recent spread in the romance magazine LoveLetter helped her catch the attention of German editors. Translation rights to WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS were purchased by Cora for a 2009 release.

***

Join us tomorrow when Erastes celebrates the release of Frost Fair, a m/m romance set during the Frost Fair of 1814 in London.

***

We'll also draw the winner of Michelle Styles's VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE. There's still time to leave a comment for your shot at winning!

***

Have a good weekend. If you have an announcement to make for next week, email Carrie. See you next week...

11 December 2008

Excerpt Thursday: Delia DeLeest

Thursdays on Unusual Historicals mean excerpts! Here's one from Delia DeLeest. She writes:

To go along with my post yesterday on popular games of the 1920s, I thought I'd post an excerpt from my Wild Rose Press release It Takes Moxie. This is almost, word for word, from a conversation I was an unwilling participant of when a group of people were trying to convince me to join club they were a part of. My husband said I'd be nuts to not share it with the rest of the world. Ben and Moxie are on the run from thieves and gangsters, but that doesn't stop them from making a few new friends along the way.

***

The man was old, veteran of the Revolutionary War old, Methuselah old. He may have known King Tut personally. He was stooped over, his clothes clinging to his bony frame in a last ditch effort to prevent him from totally crumbling into a pile of dust at their feet. He gave them a good-natured, though a bit gummy, smile.

"I said, you have something of mine," he repeated.

"We do?" Ben looked at Moxie accusingly.

"Don't look at me like that. I didn't take anything of his. I've never seen him before."

"Our cribbage peg. It slipped off our table and bounced under your chair. The girls and I play cribbage here every afternoon." He gestured towards a table of elderly woman, one of whom gave them a little wave. Ben gave her a weak smile in return. "I was wondering if I could bother you to move your chair so I could get the peg."

"Let me get it for you," Moxie offered.

"I'll get it."

Ben and Moxie both reached under the chair at the same time and banged their heads. Ben quickly pulled back and managed to crack his head on the bottom of the table in the process.

"Are you all right? Let me look at you." Moxie jumped out of her chair and fingered his head looking for a lump.

Ben used his arm to push Moxie away. "I'm fine. Don't try to help me anymore. Please." He scooped the peg off the floor and placed it into the old man's gnarled paw.

"Thank you kindly. Say, would you folks be interested in joining our little group? We meet here at one o'clock every weekday. There used to be more of us, but our charter members keep dying. We could use some fresh blood."

A picture of the man in a Dracula cape attempting to bite, or in his case, gum, someone's neck, had Moxie erupting into a bubble of giggles.

Ben looked at her curiously, then shook his head. "Thanks for the offer, old bean, but we're just passing through. We don't live around here."

"That's too bad. The girls and I would have loved to have you and your wife join us."

"She's not my-"

"Maybe we'll have to start our own cribbage group at home, won't we, Honey?"

"Moxie-"

"So sorry, but we have to be going," Moxie explained to the old man. "My husband and I have a lot of driving ahead of us yet, don't we dear?"

10 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: 1920s Game Time

By Delia DeLeest

The prosperity of the Industrial Age brought something new the average man or woman hadn't experienced much of in the past--free time. With electric vacuum cleaners and washing machines, a reduced work week and a general exodus from farm life to city and small town living, people had more time on their hands than ever before. Then, they needed to find something to do to fill that void. They found the answer in games and puzzles.

The first crossword puzzle was made in 1913, by the 1920s, the crossword craze was sweeping America. Everywhere you went, people were sitting, pencil in hand, filling in those little squares. The New York Times claimed they were a "sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport...people get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development." Most were sure the crazy fad would soon be forgotten.

Even bigger than crossword puzzles was Mahjong. Mahjong originated in China, but made its way to the Western world in the late 1800s. Its popularity in the States reached its peak in the 1920s where people, mainly women, spent hours at the game. Though there are many different versions, the one mostly played during this time was Chinese Classical Mahjong. Basically it consists of each player being dealt a number of tiles and through a series of draws and discards. They must match their tiles, with the winner pulling the final tile that completes their hand. The rules are so diverse and complicated that entire books have been written. The difficulty in learning the game didn't stop people from all over the country from investing up to three hours of their time playing a single game.

Board games were becoming popular during this time also. Halma, a cross between checkers and Chinese checkers became very popular. Parcheesi, cribbage, Snakes and Ladders, as well as a variety of other games were also stocking peoples' cupboards and using up all that extra free time.

Though the Great Depression slowed the sales and interest in board games, they came back with a vengeance in the second half of the century. Even today, in an effort to foster togetherness, many families have instituted "Family Game Night," and there are store aisles dedicated entirely to board games. With new games being invented all the time, I don't foresee the craze stopping any time soon.

09 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Sharpshooters in Love

By Elizabeth Lane

Cincinnati, Ohio
Thanksgiving Day, 1875

Frank Butler was a professional trick shooter who showed off his skill in traveling stage shows. When a $100 prize was offered to the winner of a shooting match, he was confident the money would soon be his--especially since he'd be shooting against a pint-sized 15-year-old girl.

Young Phoebe Ann Mosely, known as Annie, had been hunting game to feed her family for years. One hundred dollars was a fabulous sum, and she was determined to win it. The two competitors took turns firing 25 shots each. Annie hit the target 25 times. Frank missed his last shot. He lost the match, and his heart in the bargain. "I was a beaten man the moment she appeared," Frank later said, "for I was taken off guard." A gracious loser, he gave Annie's family tickets to his show. Soon he was courting her.

An Irish charmer, older than Annie by ten years, Frank had been married before and fathered two children, but he was a kind man with no bad habits, so Annie's mother gave her blessing. The couple was married August 23, 1876 (a date later given as 1882, perhaps because of Annie's age or because Frank may not have been legally divorced at the time).

A man with a poetic soul, Frank would write of his wife, "Her presence would remind you / Of an angel in the skies, / And you bet I love this little girl / With the rain drops in her eyes." In the early years of their marriage, Frank performed with a male partner. On May 1, 1882, his partner took sick. Annie had to go on stage to hold the targets. Frank wasn't having his best night. When, after some misses, the audience clamored to "let the girl shoot," Annie gave a spectacular exhibition. Soon the team was performing as Butler and Oakley. But Frank soon realized that Annie was the real star of the act. Some husbands wouldn't have taken kindly to having a celebrity wife. But as Annie's fame grew, Frank became her manager, handling finance, bookings and promotions. It was a happy partnership that would last for the rest of their lives.

In 1885 the pair joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, touring and performing with them for 16 years. Annie Oakley became one of the most famous women in the world. But in private life she was always Mrs. Frank Butler. In 1901, after suffering injuries in a train wreck, they left the show to rest and recover. Frank took a job as a representative for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company. They continued to tour and perform on their own, finally retiring in 1913. Even then they did charity work, raising funds during World War I.

In 1922 Annie was planning a comeback when both of them were seriously injured in an auto accident. Annie never fully recovered her health. On November 3, 1926, at the age of 66, she passed away from pernicious anemia. After 50 years of marriage, Frank was unable to go on living without his Annie. He stopped eating and died 18 days later, on November 21.

08 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: 1700s Russia

By Christine Koehler

Leisure time in tsarist Russia was practically nonexistent. The nobility had some time, but with freezing winters there wasn't much to do but drink and carouse. Which they were so very good at. The peasants had no time to do anything but work the fields. (And, ah, procreate.)

During Peter the Great's time, everything was in flux. He was bound and determined to bring the country into the 17th century and wasn't going to let anything stand in his way. Not drunken nobles or stubborn peasants.

Reading exploded as a popular pastime. While the Russia novel wasn't what it would become, nobles read in the language, French. Later in the century, during the Age of Enlightenment, even Catherine the Great would admire Voltaire to the point of trying to implement some of the Enlightenment's ideals.

Charity work also expanded, though most nobles ignored the plight of the poor, some tried to help. With limited structures ad ideas, but nearly unlimited funds, corruption was ripe and charities were reduced to social gatherings for the rich.

Cards are always popular. Eralash is very similar to contract bridge in its nature. The word eralash means "muddle, mess, or jumble".

Plays were popular, too, but sadly it's nearly impossible to find titles of them. All in all, Peter the Great's reign was more on building than on fun. Elizabeth's reign was war and holding onto her crown, and Catherine the Great's reign was fraught with opposition to her reforms. Very little time for playing.

07 December 2008

WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS Winner!

We have a winner for Carrie Lofty's WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS giveaway:

LINDSEY EKLAND!

Contact Carrie to give her your address. The book must be claimed by next Sunday or another winner will be drawn. Please stop back later to let us know what you thought of her book! Congratulations!


Book Party: Michelle Styles

Unusual Historicala takes great pleasure in welcoming back Michelle Styles to discuss her latest North American release, VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE, her second book set in the early Viking period.

***

With the war drums echoing in her ears, and the sharp northern light glinting off the sharpened swords, Sela stood with trepidation on the shoreline. The dragon ships full of warriors had come, ready for battle and glory.

But it wasn't the threat of conquest that shook Sela to the core. It was the way her heart responded to the proud face and chiseled body of Vikar Hrutson, jaarl, leader of the invading force--and Sela's ex-husband!
***

Anything you are excited about, Michelle?

One of the great things Harlequin has done for the release of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife is to create a book widget. Mostly it is just the passion lines which get widgets, so it was a real honour to be chosen. A widget means you can read the entire first chapter as well as my author's note at the back. The note deals with divorce in Viking times, as well as giving a list of some of the books I found useful when I was doing my research.

Was divorce common in Viking times?

Because of the lack of written information, it is difficult to accurately determine how wide spread divorce was. If you read the sagas, you will see women could divorce for basically any reason and divorce is often used for dramatic purposes. One of the big problems for women was their children belonged to their husband. This is something Sela, the heroine of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife, strongly objects to, and she tries to circumvent the system. She believes that she has succeeded until her former husband sails up the fjord...

So you were looking at divorce in Viking times, what else intrigued you when you were writing?

One of the things that really interests me is how much truth there is in a saga and how things get changed and altered through time. For example, it was through looking at Homer's Iliad that Heinrich Schliemann discovered the city that is now thought to be Troy. Deciding what is the truth about the legends holds the key to Sela and Vikar's survival.

Are there any more Vikings in your future?

The third book, which is Ivar's story, is currently sitting on my editor's desk. It has been revised twice, but I am hopeful that I finally have cracked it. I want the story to be super strong and a worthy successor to the other two. After that, it depends really on the sales and if a story really strikes me.

Are some books harder to write than others?

Short answer--yes! But ultimately, it is all about getting the story right for the reader. The goal is always to give as powerful a read as possible. This is where the eye of an experienced editor really helps as they can see the holes or possible problems. Sometimes, it is not about getting it right the first time, but getting it right finally. Allowing words to harden like cement can be a problem for some writers, particularly aspiring authors.

Was Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife hard to write?

It was fun to write! When the revisions came (there are always revisions), I could see how they would make the story stronger. For example, I had just finished writing A CHRISTMAS WEDDING WAGER and my editors pointed out that perhaps I had forgotten that this was not a sweet Christmas story set in Victorian times, but a passionate Viking.

I duly made changes, and I was thrilled when Romantic Times said, "A family in conflict, an ambitious hero bent on vengeance and a bold woman hiding a secret quest for salvation combine for a heady, tension-filled, passionate sequel to TAKEN BY THE VIKING."

It is just great when revisions work!

Are Vikings popular?

They seem to be. Certainly, I have had a lot of reader feedback saying how much they enjoyed Taken by the Viking and now Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. Sometimes a myth goes around that a time period is dead or whatever, but really the Viking period has always been a popular one for Harlequin Historical. Ultimately, it is all about crafting a story that people enjoy and hopefully readers will enjoy this one.

***

Thank you, Michelle, for dropping by. Leave a comment and have a chance to win a copy of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife (or any of Michelle's back list). To help you out: Do you think there is any truth to legends and myths? A winner will be chosen at random next Sunday. Good luck!

05 December 2008

Weekly Announcements - 5 Dec 08

Carrie Lofty has had a whirlwind debut release week, with great reviews coming in from all over. The most exuberant have been at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Dear Author, It's Not Chick Porn, and even a Heart Review (the equivalent of an RT Top Pick) from the German romance magazine LoveLetter. The complete listing of Carrie's reviews and interviews can be found here.

***

Michelle Styles received author copies of her upcoming release, IMPOVERISHED MISS, CONVENIENT WIFE, the sequel to A QUESTION OF IMPROPRIETY. This marks Michelle's tenth novel with Mills & Boon!
His unexpected bride...

Wealthy landowner Simon Clare shuns Northumbrian society. With his son gravely ill, the last thing Simon needs is an interfering woman assuming command of his household and nursing young Robert--no matter how sensuous her figure, or how tempting her luscious lips.

Phoebe Benedict knows what it is to struggle, and finds herself drawn to the badly scarred recluse. Despite his tough exterior, she knows that Simon is a father who yearns for his son to recover--and a man who misses the tender embrace of a woman...
Michelle also received a lovely review from Romance Junkies about VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE.

***

Join us tomorrow when Michelle celebrates the American release of VIKING WARRIOR, UNWILLING WIFE. You can read an excerpt of it here.

***

We'll also draw the winner of Carrie Lofty's WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS. There's still time to leave a comment for your shot at winning!

***

Have a good weekend. If you have an announcement to make for next week, email Carrie. See you next week...

04 December 2008

Excerpt Thursday: Michelle Styles



Thursdays on Unusual Historicals means excerpts! Here's one from Michelle Styles's latest release from Harlequin Mills & Boon, Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife. She'll be stopping by on Sunday to discuss this latest Viking adventure and give away a copy. Be sure to check back then!

In this excerpt, Vikar Hrutson has won the battle and captured Sela's home. She is now faced with being a prisoner of her former husband's...

***

His eyes raked her form, lingered on her breasts. "You would make an admirable concubine."

"To you?" Sela's mouth went dry as the word echoed in her brain. The walls of her father's chamber appeared to have shrunk, pushing her towards him, towards his hard unyielding body.

Unbidden a memory of the last time they had joined assaulted her senses, the way his hands had stroked her body playing it as expertly as he played the lyre, how his mouth had drawn the cry from her throat as the two reached their peak at the same time. She pushed it away, back in a place where she never ventured. She refused to remember what it was like before his betrayal, before she had learnt the truth. She forced her lip to curl.

"I will pass, thank you very much."

"A challenge? You know I am never one to resist a challenge." A hint of laughter echoed in his voice. Sela remembered when that particular sound had sent shivers of delight down her spine. Such things had vanished long ago along with her girlish illusions. She had grown in the four years since she last saw him, become a different person. And the person she had become would not be attracted to him and his easy charm.

"A refusal." She crossed her arms over her breasts, stared into his deep green eyes and forced her lips to smile. "Surely by now, you must know the difference."

A muscle in Vikar's cheek jumped and his body grew still. Sela swallowed hard. Had she gone too far? A tiny shiver passed over her. She took a step backward and tried to somewhere other than at the green flame flickering in the depths of his eyes.

Vikar's hands closed around her upper arms. He hauled her towards him until their bodies collided. The softness of her curves met the unyielding strength of his muscle.

"Are you saying we were not good together? I seem to recall differently."

He lowered his lips, captured hers, plundered it with expertise. His mouth drew her breath from her body, replaced it with a growing heat. Her body began to melt. A soft sigh escaped from her throat. His arms came around her, cradled her firmly against his body as her lips gave way under the practised onslaught.

Practised. Planned. Cynical.

Sela pushed against his chest with her last ounce of resolution, controlled her breathing and his arms fell away. Cool air encircled her. Her tongue explored her mouth as she sought to regain control of her breathing. Even in that brief span of time, her lips ached, longed for the warmth of his touch again but she forced her body to remember how he trampled her heart in the dust. She hoped he had missed her response.

"My point proved." He inclined his head and a dimple flashed in the corner of his mouth. "We were good together. You and I."

"There is more to marriage than sexual attraction."

"Agreed but it does help." He ran a finger down her cheek, and another pulse of warmth went unbidden through her. "It makes everything easier, less complicated."

"Our marriage died a long time ago." Sela jerked her head away. "It can not be remade."

"I don't believe I offered marriage. I simply stated the obvious." His eyes hardened to shards of green glass. "You need a protector."

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.

03 December 2008

Sports & Entertainment: Let's Rodeo!

By Jacquie Rogers

Rodeo is a modern sport and the only sport born in the United States that came from an industry--the cattle business. It's only natural that after the chores are done, the cowboys have a little competition to see who could win bragging rights of being the best, and maybe earn a few dollars, too.

The term "rodeo" is from a Spanish word meaning to round up or encircle. So rodeo actually is closer to our term of round-up than, say, tournament or horse show, terms used for early rodeos. Many claim to be the first rodeo. From the University of North Carolina:
The first formal rodeo was held in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1872. However, the first rodeo to deliver monetary prizes was said to be in Pecos, Texas in 1883, and the first rodeo to charge admissions was in 1888 in Prescott, Arizona. The rodeo emerged as entertainment between 1890 and 1910 due to Midwest shows and performances during July fourth celebrations and cattlemen conventions.
Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show also professes to be the first.
In 1882, the town of North Platte, Nebraska where Cody lived at his Scout's Rest Ranch, wanted to celebrate the 4th of July, and asked Colonel Cody to put the show on for them. Cody obliged, and put on what has been considered to be one of the first rodeos in America, and was called "The Old Glory Blowout".
This show is still on the road today, first under the guidance of Monty Montana, and now with Monty Montana, Jr., and the Montana family.

101 Wild West Rodeo makes the same claim.
It was 1905 when the Millers offered to perform what they called a 'round-up' or 'buffalo chase' as an entertainment incentive for a National Editorial Association convention. Visitors were said to come to the ranch in 30 regular and special trains, and the crowd estimated at nearly 60,000 was thrilled to the exhibition of cowboys recreating real life ranch work from bronc riding and roping to Tom Mix's debut as a roper and rider.
Most agree that saddlebronc was the first official event, but not in the format we know today. The eight-second ride hadn't been invented yet. Instead, the cowboy who rode the longest, providing that the horse was still bucking, was the winner. This, too, could be how we ended up with separate scores for cowboy and horse. (Modern day: judges score 50 for the horse and 50 for the rider, so there's a possible 100 points for an 8-second ride.)

One of the earliest saddle bronc stars was Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn, better known as Jackson Sundown. A Nez Perce Indian who, at 14, endured the Nez Perce Retreat under the leadership of Chief Joseph. Sundown made it to Canada, then moved back to Idaho in 1910 where he married and started a ranch. His name was legend, and he last won the saddle bronc world title when he was 53 years old.

No doubt about it, Bill Pickett was the man who brought bulldogging, now called steer wrestling, to modern rodeo. As the story goes, when Bill was a boy growing up in Texas, he watched the dogs subdue cattle, and he copied their technique. He could jump on a steer, bite its lip, and the steer would stop struggling. There's certainly no lip-biting in modern rodeo, but it's still spectacular to watch a cowboy leap from his horse and wrestle a steer twice his size to the ground. This is a timed event--no points for finesse in bulldogging.

The traditional events in rodeo are saddle bronc, bareback bronc, calf roping (tie down roping), team roping, steer wrestling, and of course the most popular of all events, bullriding. Of these events, only bullriding is of no use on a working ranch, although I doubt much steer wrestling goes on, either.

Women have a lower center of gravity than men, and even though they're generally not as strong, many women showed they could compete on the same level as men. During the 1910s until 1929, there were many prominent women who were champions in their own right, performing side-by-side with the men. But in 1929, Bonnie McCarroll (right) was killed in the bronc riding at the Pendleton Round-up in Pendleton, Oregon, 14 years after this photo. A huge outcry forced most of the rodeos in the west to ban women from competition, and the cowgirls headed east, but eventually, their opportunities died there, too. For a brief time in WWII, women were allowed to compete due to the lack of men, but as soon as the war was over, women were relegated to barrel racing. Some of the champion women athletes were: Prairie Rose Henderson, Goldie St. Clair, Bertha Blancett, Norwegian emigrant Tillie Baldwin (first woman bulldogger), and bullrider Tad Lucas.

Bullriding is a spectacular event, called the most dangerous eight seconds in sports. The only men in more danger than bullriders are the bullfighters--rodeo clowns, but their business is anything but funny. Some of the best I've ever seen are Wick Peth and Leroy Coffee.

I loved watching Leon Coffee fight bulls--he was an incredibly gifted athlete, the best at cowboy protection, and was a terrific entertainer. In Down Home Ever Lovin' Mule Blues, I patterned my hero's moves after Leon's style:
Brody did a little fancy footwork, loving the sounds of the boys' ooo's and ahhhs, then got a laugh out of them by snagging his green derby on one of the bull’s horns. For the grand finale, he teased the bull into charging, then did a handspring over the bull’s head and walked the length of his back, jumping off the tail end.
Another rodeo clown and bullfighter that I know personally is Jim O'Keefe. He gave me this scene:
Brody thrived on danger, just like all the other men she'd known until she moved to the city.

Fearless, daring, and downright foolhardy, Brody rushed to the side of the bull, jumped up, and jerked the bullrope's tail, releasing the hung cowboy's hand from the bull. The cowboy flew several feet in the air and landed off to the side like a sack of potatoes.

The bull whipped around and bashed Brody in the ribs with one huge horn. Even though Brody’s ribs were probably broken, he kept the animal away from the downed cowboy until the chute crew could drag the unconscious man off to the ambulance. Finally, the pick-up men herded the snorting bull back into the corral.
Jim's ribs have been broken a few dozen times. He has a plate in his head, steel rods in his spine, and has had well over 200 broken bones. This is actually fairly typical of a rodeo bullfighter.

Thrills and spills . . . rodeo is getting more and more popular as the years go by. Yes, the sport evolves, but it seems that the further away from the Old West we get, the more we savor the values of family, hard work, and an honest relationship with our animal friends and the earth.

Find a rodeo, put on your best hat and boots, grab the kids, and go have a great time!

Jacquie

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