31 January 2010

SOLD & SEDUCED Winner!

We have a winner for Michelle Styles's SOLD & SEDUCED guest blog. A free copy goes to:

JULIE!

Contact Carrie to provide your mailing 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! Congratulations!

Guest Author: Carla Capshaw

This week on Unusual Historicals, we're welcoming back Carla Capshaw as she celebrates the release of her January Love Inspired Historical romance, THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION. Here's the blurb:

He came to the colonies for one reason: revenge. Drake Amberly, Duke of Hawk Haven, won't leave South Carolina until he's unmasked the colonial spy who killed his brother. Yet the more he sees of spirited Elise Cooper, the more he's moved by the happiness she brings him...never suspecting the dangerous secret she hides.

Her faith drives Elise to spy for the rebels, dreaming only of freedom for her homeland. Then she meets Drake, and learns that love could be hers, as well. When his pursuit of "The Fox" brings him dangerously close to the truth, she'll risk everything to prove that love and forgiveness are all they need.
***

Hi Carla, it's great to have you back with us at Unusual Historicals. THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION is set in Charleston, SC during the American Revolution. Tell us more about it.

THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION is about Drake Amberly, an upstanding English duke who dearly loves his family. Tragedy has shattered his faith in God and he wants revenge on the rebel spy accused of killing his brother. He disguises himself as a merchant and heads to war-torn Charleston to find the killer. Instead, he meets Elise Cooper a beautiful woman he's instantly drawn to. The trouble is, he falls in love with and marries Elise only to learn she's the spy he's looking for. Torn between his heart and doing what he thinks is right, Drake has to uncover Elise's secrets to learn the whole truth and what true love really is.

THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION includes lots of action, intrigue, love, betrayal, and spiritual conflict--a winning combination for a passionate inspirational historical. How'd you come up with your story line?

I love to read stories with major conflicts. My favorites usually revolve around characters on opposites sides of something, whether it's a war, social situation, political or religious ideal, etc. In THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION, I took all of those elements and thought up characters and a situation that fit one of my favorite time periods, the American Revolution. I came up with a Duke and an American spy who have to overcome all sorts of issues and situations to earn their happy ending!

This book is set in a very different time period from your debut title, THE GLADIATOR. Do you have a favorite historical period, or will you continue to explore a variety of eras in your work?

I love history in general, but I have to say Roman & American Colonial times are my favorites. In both of these settings there is so much going on. They're periods of upheaval and change. They're colorful, dramatic and dangerous. That being said, there are a lot of time periods I find fascinating and I hope I do get to explore other eras in my work.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming titles and current projects?

I just finished THE PROTECTOR, the sequel to my debut novel, THE GLADIATOR. It's the story of Quintus, a Christian man who's been enslaved for his faith and Adiona, a wealthy Roman woman with a questionable reputation. When someone tries to kill Adiona, she needs a bodyguard and Quintus is the perfect man for the job. The Protector will be out in July 2010.

Currently, I'm working on another colonial, this one set in Virgina after the Revolution and a Victorian Christmas novel that is loosely based on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

One last question. THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION is a January release. Since it's almost February, can we still find it in the local bookstore?

Thanks for asking! THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION is only out for a few more weeks depending on when your local store brings in the new books. If you can't find it in your local store or discount outlet, you can still order it on any of the online shops like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Thanks for visiting, Carla!

***

Carla is giving away a print copy to one random person who posts a comment. Since it's difficult sometimes to think of something to comment on, Carla suggests answering the question: What is your favorite name for a romance hero? Check back with us next Sunday when we'll select a winner. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!

28 January 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Carla Capshaw

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming back Carla Capshaw and taking a look at her newest romance, THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION. Set in Charleston, SC at the end of the American Revolution, THE DUKE'S REDEMPTION is a Love Inspired Historical January release. Join us Sunday when Carla will be visiting to answer questions and give away a copy!

He came to the colonies for one reason: revenge. Drake Amberly, Duke of Hawk Haven, won't leave South Carolina until he's unmasked the colonial spy who killed his brother. Yet the more he sees of spirited Elise Cooper, the more he's moved by the happiness she brings him...never suspecting the dangerous secret she hides.

Her faith drives Elise to spy for the rebels, dreaming only of freedom for her homeland. Then she meets Drake, and learns that love could be hers, as well. When his pursuit of "The Fox" brings him dangerously close to the truth, she'll risk everything to prove that love and forgiveness are all they need.
***

Excerpt from Chapter Two

Charles Town, South Carolina
1781

The fine hairs on Elise's arms and the back of her neck stood at attention, alerting her to the odd sensation of being watched.

She glanced around the ballroom, trying to appear nonchalant. Her breath caught in her throat when she noticed the man observing her. He was dark, she noted, handsome in a fierce sort of way. His sculpted lips turned in a half smile, but it was the long scar along his jaw that intrigued her.

Tall and broad shouldered, the stranger cut a fine figure in a black waistcoat and breeches. His stark white shirt and elegant, but simple stock stood in sharp contrast with his golden skin. He wore his black hair tied at the nape, one of only a few men in the room bold enough to refuse a wig.

His gaze captured hers. His magnetic eyes bore into her, seeming within a moment to discern her darkest secrets. He rattled her nerves, made her instantly more aware of herself in a manner that was most disconcerting. To a woman used to being in the midst of trouble, he seemed the essence of it. She decided then to steer clear of him, for in one glance she knew his ilk: pure danger in masculine form.

Zechariah patted her hand. "Elise? Are you ill?"

She blinked and looked down into her spymaster's round face. "I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

"You've nearly drawn blood."

Her gaze fell to where her fingernails dug into his linen-clad arm. She released him immediately.

Zechariah fiddled with the froth of lace at his wrist. "Get hold of yourself, girl. You'll never accomplish what you must if you're more skittish than a colt."

Elise narrowed her eyes and bit back a sharp retort. She kept her expression cheerful so as not to give away the game to onlookers, but she resented his tone. She despised his hold on her life. But he'd offered the escape she'd prayed for as part of the bargain she'd made to free her sister. For now, she could do little but accept his sharp ways. Others believed she was his ward, when in actuality he was her warden.

"I'm neither skittish nor incapable of performing my task. The man by the mantle, the dark one, he startled me is all. I turned to see him staring a hole in my back."

Zechariah observed the man covertly. "That, my dear, is Drake Amberly, the man you're to investigate. You'd do well to encourage his interest. If he were to become besotted with you, it would make your task much easier."

Elise bristled with indignation. Her instincts warned Amberly was the one man in the Colonies she should avoid at all costs. "I have a troublesome feeling about him."

"Perhaps meeting him will alleviate the sensation." His tone cloaked a rod of iron. "Allow me to introduce you."

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The unease she'd labored under for much of the day increased. Her palms grew moist. The closer she walked toward Amberly, the faster her heart raced.

When they came abreast of the man, Zechariah extended his beefy paw in greeting. He spoke loudly, competing with the party's din of music, dancers and conversation. "Amberly, I'm pleased to see you've joined us. I hope the journey from Charles Town was not too taxing."

"Not at all. The river was smooth, the boat swift. I arrived before an hour passed."

"Excellent, I'm glad to hear it." Zechariah rocked on his heels, his hands clamped behind his back. "I trust the maid saw you settled?"

"Most comfortably, thank you. Your hospitality is much appreciated."

Even as he spoke with Zechariah, Amberly's eyes returned to her face again and again. Heat rose to her cheeks for no reason at all. She hoped the powder and rouge she'd applied before the party disguised her reaction.

"We're pleased to have you here." Zechariah turned to her. "Amberly, I'd like you to meet my ward, Miss Elise Cooper. Elise, this is Mr. Drake Amberly, direct from London. He'll be staying with us for the next few weeks."

No one told her he'd be a long-term guest. She offered her hand politely, schooling her features to prevent her dismay from reflecting on her face. His large, tanned hand engulfed her much smaller one. He bowed and kissed the back of her knuckles. His scent of spice and soap teased her senses. She shivered, aware her response to him was profoundly peculiar. Only the force of her will kept her planted before him.

Intense, lushly lashed eyes caught and held hers. "The pleasure is all mine, Miss Cooper. I am most fortunate to make your acquaintance."

His voice was deep and smooth except for a few clipped words that reminded her of the English upper class. The observation brought her halfway back to her senses. She had to remember her orders, not allow herself to be waylaid by a handsome face.

She giggled, resorting to her role as a featherbrain. Experience had taught her a man let his guard down around a woman he considered a simpleton. "I'm charmed, Mr. Amberly. A girl could lose her head with a man as handsome as you in the room."

"Why thank you, Miss Cooper. I'm flattered."

He seemed more amused than complimented. She tapped him playfully with her fan and gifted him with a flirtatious grin. "Surely not. I've seen the other ladies swarming you tonight. Most likely you've grown weary of praise." She motioned toward the dancers behind her. "Forgive my boldness, but would you be so kind, sir? I truly love to dance. Since my escort is the guest of honor, he's obliged to take a turn with the other ladies tonight. I fear I'll be left to sit with the matrons if one of you fine gentlemen doesn't take pity on me."

"It would be my honor, Miss Cooper. However, I never acquired the skill of dancing. May I interest you in some refreshment instead?"

"You never learned to dance? How unusual," she remarked, her eyes as wide and innocent as a babe's.

"Dancing isn't a sport in large demand on a ship."

She smiled coyly. His refusal to dance might work to her advantage. Perhaps she could get him alone, away from the crowd and music that would disrupt conversation and her ability to uncover more about him. "I so wanted to dance, but I suppose a glass of refreshment will do. Why don't you fetch us a drink? I'll gather my shawl and meet you in the garden. It's such a pretty night. I see no reason to waste it indoors."

Amberly grinned. "A superb idea, Miss Cooper. To the garden it is."

27 January 2010

Humor: The Satirical Work of James Gillray

By Erastes

He was a withdrawn, silent and lonely man, greatly slandered in his lifetime, probably by his victims and their friends. He worked in such a fury of creative energy that even his acquaintances years before his breakdown, wondered if he might be part-demented. He was so popular that there were often queues at the print shop, above which he worked, waiting for his latest cartoons and caricatures. At once the most ferocious and most brilliant caricaturist of his time, Gillray had a genius for turning public figures into monsters that were yet recognizable, his wild exaggeration being itself a criticism of their personalities.*
Born in 1757, James Gillray was educated at the cheerless and funless Moravian Academy in Bedford and later apprenticed to Harry Ashby, an engraver in the printer's district in London.

When qualified, he broke away from the engraving business and studied at the Royal Academy. He set up his own studio and intended to paint portraits but he was not patronised and eventually he had to return to the money-spinning business of engraving.

A Little Music or the Delights of Harmony

After experimenting with social subjects, such as the etching above, he started to do political satire and his popularity flourished. No-one was safe from his earlier work, neither politician nor royal prince.

The Prince of Wales

He worked exclusively for Hannah Humphreys in Bond Street, and moved into the premises.

Towards the end of his career Gillray's primary target was Napoleon Bonaparte and as "Little Boney"s power and ambition increased so did Gillray's caricatures of him become ever more extreme.

He was eventually given a "pension" by the Tory government, after which his attacks concentrated less on the Tories, and more on the Whigs... Perhaps the Whigs should have given him a pension too...

When his eyesight began to fail, and he was no longer able to create the quality of work he had been used to do, he began to drink and sink into depression.

Sadly, in 1811, Gillray attempted suicide by throwing himself from the attic of Humphrey's shop, after which he was deemed insane. Hannah Humphreys tended to him until the day he died in June 1815.

* The Prince of Pleasure, J.B. Priestley.
James Gillray Online

26 January 2010

Humor: Wartime Laughs

By Carrie Lofty

WWII was a military, cultural, and humanitarian watershed, where just under 200,000 people died every week around the world. To say that citizens and soldiers everywhere needed a good laugh just to make it through the day is a big understatement.

New forms of popular culture had already started to flourish in the years leading up to the war. You'd think that the Great Depression would curtail spending on entertainment, but the exact opposite happened. Those who could afford it consumed music, films, plays, books, and periodicals in greater numbers than ever before. Even dirt poor families, like my dad's Okie farmer parents who migrated to California, found a way to keep smiling. His mother, my late grandmother, was considered the best storyteller in her family, so everyone would save money to send her--alone!--to the movie theater. She would then come home and retell the movie to her siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins after supper.

Can you imagine? I get chills just thinking about it.

One of the best known venues for humor during the war were USO shows. The USO was established in 1941 with the motto "Until Everyone Comes Home," and served as a home away from home for Allied soldiers. The best entertainers of the day performed pro bono--probably grateful to do so because they weren't actually on the front lines! This is from Wikipedia:

At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs, and curtains were rising on USO shows 700 times a day. From 1941 to 1947, the USO presented more than 400,000 performances, featuring entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Danny Kaye, The Rockettes, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, The Andrews Sisters, Lucille Ball, Glenn Miller, Mickey Rooney, Dinah Shore, and most famously, Bob Hope.
I love the following clip from Danny Kaye performing about an aircraft. His song is "Melody in 4F," which I saw in the National Museum of American History in DC this past July.


Radio was essential to those on the home front. One of the most famous radio programs of the war was The Kraft Music Hall, which Bing Crosby hosted from 1936-1946--straight through the key war years, when war bond drives were imperative. The program was most popular among people in their twenties, which was a key demographic for securing war support. Bing signed off one such performance with this:

In the meantime, if in any way any of us here this evening has given you a moment of relaxation, a laugh, or perhaps even an idea, how about paying us off for the half hour in war bonds? The invasion's on. Every $75 you invest now to join the attack will give you $100 of comfort, contentment, and peace when the job is done.
But don't think the radio programs were all serious appeals! Far from it! Comedian Alan Reed, as his persona Falstaff Openshaw, offered lines of "poetry" such as: "Gertrude looks three times as cute since the moths got into her bathing suit," and "Said the black widow spider to the little red ant, let's play tag in Hitler's pants."

And then, of course, movies were also key to keeping up wartime morale. I love this song, written by Irving Berlin, which shows how humorously the trials of Army life could be portrayed. It was probably a helluva lot more fun to laugh than to become morose about conditions. I think entertainers and even the War Department were in tune with morale issues to realize that blowing off a little steam was useful for the troops.


Because so many of the radio recordings, and certainly most of the USO shows, are lost to us now, movies are perhaps the most accessible form of comedy
from the era. But they were just a part of the massive effort to keep spirits afloat.

**Both radio show quotes are from the fabulous second disc of Bing Crosby's Those Great World War II Songs, which features two complete Kraft Music Hall programs.

25 January 2010

Humor: Too Many Ideas Spoil The Book

By Jennifer Linforth

A great many of writers work around distractions...mainly in the family form. These well meaning loved ones support us--and drive us nuts. Come, I challenge any author to claim this to be untrue. We've all had humorous encounters of the family kind while writing our books. In my household it comes in the form ideas for my series that expands The Phantom of the Opera, in particular. Keep in mind the Phantom is a very famous character and my husband...not so famous.

Below are some of his suggestions when I have had cases of writer's block.

When perplexed as to how to turn a scene around during the performance of an opera, he suggested the Phantom come out on stage carrying a violin case with a hidden machine gun inside so he could cause a distraction, a la The Godfather.

Trying to figure out a way for the hero and heroine to escape Paris unknown, he reminded me of Kansas and hot air balloons. No one looks up you know, and if it was good for Dorothy...

I needed to up my conflict. The solution? A fig famine! A huge fig famine across Europe is discovered when the Phantom slipped on a banana peel. It was even suggested to me that this event happened in 1848...

I asked for some insight on ABENDLIED's ARCs. My husband suggested showing off Erik's jewels when the ARC reviews came out. Can you imagine the look on my face with that double entendre? The Phantom with big...*ahems*. He clarified, and thought it would be cool if Erik's father and grandfather had hidden jewels that he inherited...big ones...

Now the author herself is not without her mistakes that make her do double takes. My husband is not the only one giving me whiplash. Take for instance my brain envisioning Raoul drinking scotch on the rocks, but writing it as iced burgundy. Yes...ice in red wine. Or the time I wrote about Erik's stomachs, seeing as he is a cow and has multiple stomachs to begin with! Or the amount of times I wrote grand duck instead of grand duke...

Care to share? I know you are out there and many of you have stories just like this. What are your most famous typos that made you spew latte on your computer screen? Post away!

24 January 2010

HALF PAST DEAD Winner!

We have a winner for Zoe Archer's HALF PAST DEAD guest blog. A free copy goes to:

RAQUEL VEGA-GRIEDER!

Contact Carrie to provide your mailing 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! Congratulations!

Guest Author: Michelle Styles

This week on Unusual Historicals, we're welcoming back Michelle Styles as she celebrates the US release of her Roman romance, SOLD & SEDUCED. Here's the blurb:

In just seven days, she will beg for his kiss!

Lydia Veratia made one mistake--and now her freedom is forfeit to the man who all Rome knows as the Sea Wolf. Sold into marriage, the one thing over which she still has control is her own desire. So when Fabius Aro offers her a wager--if she doesn't plead for his kisses in the next seven days, then she will have her independence--Lydia thinks it will be easily won.

But Aro is a dangerously attractive man. And Lydia is finding his lips more and more tempting...
***

Welcome, Michelle. When can we find SOLD & SEDUCED in the bricks and mortar bookstores?

You can't. Harlequin Historical has released it in their Direct programme, which means it is being released as an e-book everywhere (including Amazon's Kindle and B&N's Nook platforms), and as a print book only through E-Harlequin. So if you want a print version, you will have to order it from E-Harlequin.

Is there any reason why?

SOLD & SEDUCED was first published in the UK in 2007. It was also felt that in general the Roman period has not done as well in retail as the Viking period, so they wanted to give the time period a chance to grow rather than being hampered by net sales considerations etc. The intricacies of scheduling are beyond me and I am just delighted that it has finally been released in the US. I believe A NOBLE CAPTIVE will be released sometime this year in Direct as well.

Are you going to write any more Romans?

At the moment I am concentrating on writing my Regency/Victorians and am busily researching the Ottoman Empire during the Regency period. However, I have promised my editor that I will try to write an Undone featuring Piso, who is Aro's second-in-command. I am not sure if I can write short and so it will be an experiment. Then there is the question of what to do about the Vikings, as several people have written requesting Dagmar and Thrand's story.

Given that you were speaking about Plautine plots in your Unusual Historical blog on Wednesday, does SOLD AND SEDUCED have a Plautine plot?

No, the one with a Plautine plot was THE ROMAN'S VIRGIN MISTRESS. SOLD & SEDUCED has a Beauty & the Beast premise. Beauty & the Beast, of course, is the reworking of the first half of the Psyche and Eros myth. The second half of Eros and Psyche is when Aphrodite becomes the mother-in-law from Hades. This happens to be one of my favourite set-ups.

You seem to know a lot about plotting structure. Is it a subject you are interested in?

Plot structure fascinates me because I love folk tales and folk lore. I really enjoyed Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces, as well as Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey and Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! series. It is the whole concept of Jungian philosophy about archetypes and tribal memories being applied to plot. It is also why I use enneagrams and Myer-Briggs when creating my characters. And I think it helps, particularly as a commercial fiction writer to use such things in your creation as they can help people connect and understand the deep character. Of the books mentioned, Blake Snyder's is perhaps the most accessible.

How did SOLD & SEDUCED come about?

I had been to a RNA workshop in 2005 and was in the car with Presents author, Kate Walker. Kate was describing some of her problems with her then-editor and the book that was just coming out--THE ANTONAKOS MARRIAGE. Suddenly a light bulb went on in my head as she said that the heroine was having to marry because of something her father did. I thought--ah, this is Beauty & the Beast, and then completely misunderstood the rest of Kate's point as I suddenly started to think how I could use it in my work, particularly as I wanted to explore the different types of Roman marriage. I told Kate about my inspiration and she was very gracious about it. Then when I later read THE ANTONAKOS MARRIAGE, I realised I had completely misunderstood what she was saying. Anyway, that book remains one of my favourite Kate Walker's.

Any other inspiration?

As I was working, I kept listening to the song--SOMETHING GOT TO GIVE, and that provided the idea about the kissing wager. In order to get out of an old fashioned marriage--one where the husband controls the wife's property, rather than having her family control her property--Lydia wagers Aro that she can go seven days without kissing him three times. In Spain and South America, SOLD & SEDUCED was called Siete Dias sin Besos or "Seven Days Without Kisses." I thought the Spanish cover was particularly striking.

Thank you for being here, Michelle!

***

Michelle is giving away a print copy to one random person who posts a comment. As sometimes it can be difficult to think up something to comment on, Michelle suggests answering the question: What is your favourite fairy tale? We'll select a winner next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!

22 January 2010

Weekly Announcements - 22 Jan 10

Blythe Gifford's IN THE MASTER'S BED and Margaret Mallory's KNIGHT OF PLEASURE are both up for Best Historical of 2009 at The Season. You can vote now!

***

The cover of Blythe Gifford's HIS BORDER BRIDE is now available--and it's gorgeous! We'll have more information soon.

***

Join us Sunday when Unusual Historicals will chat with contributor Michelle Styles. She'll be discussing her latest US release, SOLD & SEDUCED, set in ancient Rome! She'll also be giving away a copy. Don't miss it!

***

We'll also draw the winner of Zoe Archer's HALF PAST DEAD. You still have time to leave a comment or question for your chance to win.

***

And stay with us through the coming weeks when we'll be featuring the best unusual historical authors! Carla Capshaw, Jennifer Linforth, Amanda McCabe, and Sandra Hill will be our guests. We hope you'll join us!

***

Have a good weekend! Remember, you don't have to be an Unusual Historicals contributor to submit good news to the weekend announcements. If it has to do with unusual historicals, we'd love to shout it out to the world! Send announcements to Carrie. See you next week...

21 January 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Michelle Styles

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're featuring a taste of Michelle Styles' Roman romance, SOLD & SEDUCED, which is available now in the US for the first time. Join us Sunday when Michelle will be answering questions and giving away a copy!

When Fabius Aro went to the Veratii household, he expected to find the Flarian wine that Vertius had promised as payment for rescuing from the sea. Instead, Aro discovered Vertius's daughter Lydia had sold the wine. Unable to make payment, Lydia is sold into marriage to the man known as the Sea Wolf. In this excerpt, Aro explains the situation to his cheif captain, and gets a bit more than he bargained for.
***

You can read the first excerpt from Michelle Styles's SOLD & SEDUCED here.

***

'Could you have chosen a more disreputable place to drink, Piso?' Aro remarked when he had finally run his most senior captain to ground.

The bar was typical of Piso's watering holes, Aro thought crossing the narrow room. Dark even on the brightest day, and lit with too few olive oil lamps. The frescoes portrayed gaming with dice and knucklebones, an activity replicated on the tables that were dotted about it. Despite it being only the seventh hour, the bar was full of the flotsam and jetsam of humanity – labourers intermingled with branded slaves and other more dubious characters. The barmaid behind the counter also did a brisk trade in the pleasures of the flesh. The elaborately embroidered toga she wore and the explicit frescoes on the back wall proclaimed it.

Piso stood up, disentangled himself from one of the women and indicated a stool next to him.

'You can learn things here. The barmaid is an old and valued friend.' Piso gave a wide smile and signalled for another cup. 'Have you come to pay me the money you owe me? That wine was sold to Ofellius, weeks ago.'

'Why should I owe you anything?' Aro remained standing and kept his face without expression. 'It is you who owe me. Veratius did not sell anything.'

'But, but the wine has been sold to Ofellius.'

'The bet was Senator Veratius sold the wine to Ofellius. He didn't. You should pay attention to the wording of any bet.'

'I should know better than to bet against you. You have the luck of the gods. I had thought the denarii were mine this time.' Piso laughed and then he leant forward. 'If Veratius didn't sell the wine, who did?'

'You should be seeing to fitting out of your ship, not seeing to the knucklebones and listening to Forum gossip.'

'My men know what to do. Not everyone is like you, Aro. Some of us like to take refreshment and enjoy life.' Piso drained his cup of wine and wiped his mouth, giving a satisfied sigh. 'When do we load the Falerian? We can set sail before nightfall. The wind is still in blowing in the correct direction. A risk, true but with your good fortune...By all the gods on Mount Olympus, you are the luckiest man I know.'

'We don't.' Aro tossed a pouch of coins into Piso's lap. 'You were correct about the wine. It was sold. Congratulate me. Instead of acquiring the wine, I marry.'

'You're doing what?' Piso's large hands fumbled with the purse, spilling two coins on the table.

'Getting married to Senator Lucius Veratius Cornelius's daughter.'

'A joke is a joke, Aro.' The colour drained from Piso's face and he took a gulp of wine. Aro sat down on the stool opposite Piso, enjoying his friend's discomfiture.

'This is no laughing matter, my old friend.'

'Marriage? You? You have always maintained that marriage is for weak-minded fools who have nothing left to lose.'

'Do I look like I am joking?' Aro narrowed his eyes at the reminder of his view on marriage.

Piso shook his head slowly.

'Good, then you may wish me good fortune and join me at tonight's betrothal feast.'

'I would rather face the rocky shoals in the teeth of a gale than face marriage to respectable Roman matron.'

'I have faced the rocks outside Corinth in one of the worst storms Neptune has thrown up and lived,' Aro said with a shrug.

'By Hermes, I thought we were paying a visit to Poseidon's nymphs that day. You save my life and the rest of the crew that day with your superb navigation.' Piso held out his hand. 'See it shakes from the memory.'

'We made it through safely. Trust me now.'

'But marriage? That is a whole other venture.'

'And what makes you believe that the gods are not with me this time?' Aro raised his cup of wine to his lips and tasted the overly sweet wine. 'They were with me then, and they have not yet deserted me.'

'If you need a woman that badly.' Piso gestured towards the barmaid who sauntered over, her thin tunic leaving little to the imagination. 'Why not take Flora here or use one of the higher class houses of pleasure? What was that little matron from Baiae called? It is what you told me to do when I made a fool of myself over that little serving girl in Athens. You remember the one with the big eyes and the even greedier fingers?'

'I have had enough mistresses. I desire a wife.' Aro banished from his thoughts how Lydia's gown had hinted at her curves, the brief glimpse of her throat and the way her lips parted very so slightly when his lips had brushed her forehead. Physical desire had nothing to do with the reason he made his offer. It was a business transaction. It solved several problems. Most important, it eliminated the need to pay for a fixer. Senator Veratius had enough influence with the censor to ensure he would be elected to the senate. The sparkle in her eyes was incidental.

'Why?'

'You're not a Roman.' Aro began. His hand touched the ring he wore on a chain about his neck, his father's signet ring. A ring he would not wear on his finger until he had fulfilled his scared vow, until he had restored the honour of the Fabii.

'For that.' Piso gave a laugh. 'For that, I get down on my knees and thank Hermes and the other gods every night, they saw fit to make me Greek.'

'If I were Greek, I wouldn't have chosen this bar to drink in.' Aro regarded the various workmen, branded slaves and sailors who intermingled in the bar. The usual waterfront mob.

'We Greeks know excellent wine when we see it, and Flora is pleasing to the eye and not too pricey on the purse.' Piso tapped the side of his nose. 'Tell me why now. Why not earlier this year when that Roman widow was pursuing you all over Baiae? She was a patrician. What has changed?'

'Sulla's reforms are being done away with,' Aro said. 'I told you about this last Ides. The dictator's shadow was not very long.'

Piso wipe his hand across his face. 'Why do you need to be in that particular pit of snakes and schemers? You have enough money and estates as is.'

'I vowed to regain everything Sulla unjustly took from my family and I intend to keep that promise.'

'How so? How will marrying this woman give you anything you don't have?'

'Marrying a Veratii will mean give me the votes I need to enter the senate without having to resort to a fixer.' Aro tapped his cup against the table. 'Lucius Veratius Cornelius controls enough tribes to make men wary about voting against him. He has promised to support me. He wants his daughter married to a senator. When you think what the going rate for a fixer is... The loss of the gold is cheap compared to what I have gained.'

'Romans are slippery characters. There is many a man who has come to grief with a Roman woman. I would not trust them further than I could throw them.' Piso took a swig of his wine. 'This is why I stick to barmaids and women of easy virtue. You know where you and your money stand with them.'

'I am not a seaman, facing his first voyage. I have navigated around senators before.' Aro regarded the dregs of wine in his cup, remembering the negotiations he had with Cornelius Veratius after his daughter finally left the room. 'We drew up the contracts this afternoon. The betrothal takes place this evening, and the wedding tomorrow. I have been to see the priest. For a fee, he has agreed the auspices are excellent for tomorrow.'

'A toast to the favoured couple then.' Piso snapped his fingers and the barmaid refilled the cups. 'I drink to your happiness, my old friend.'

Aro ignored the cup of wine. Happiness was not part of the arrangement. 'To the marriage.'

SOLD & SEDUCED, Copyright 2007 Michelle Styles, used by permission of Harlequin Enterprises SA.

20 January 2010

Humor: The Roman Comic Tradition

By Michelle Styles

Following on from Anna C Bowling's post, I wanted to talk about comedy in Roman theatre. It is the precursor of Commedia dell'Arte, and where Commedia dell'Arte draws most of its plot lines and stock characters from.

The two most famous Roman masters of comedy were Titus Maccius Plautus (it is thought that it is a stage name as a loose translation is Dick Bozo Flatfoot) and Publius Terentius Afer, a former slave possibly of African origins--near Carthage in Libya.

Plautus's plays were some of the first performed in the Renaissance and continue to be performed today. The hit musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was based heavily on a Plautine play. Indeed, the Plautine plots form the basis of much of Restoration comedy, and because she was heavily influenced by 18th century theatre, Georgette Heyer novels and thus the historical romance genre in general. It is popular rather than high literature and relies heavily on stock characters and familiar plot lines.

Unfortunately, not much of the original transcripts of the plays or more accurately musical comedies remain. Of the more than fifty plays Plautus wrote, only twenty survive in some form and none have a complete musical score. The best surviving source is an Augustine palimpsest where the monk worked with vigour in some places and not in others to scrub out Plautus's words. Thus far even with modern scanning techniques, not all of the words have been recovered. So it is like having the libretto for Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and none of the music. The Marriage of Figaro has a definite Plautine storyline, in case anyone is interested. Pautus in turn was inspired by various Greek playwrights including Menander.

As opposed to the highly refined comedies of manners of the Greek playwright Menander, Plautus was more coarse and earthy. It was of the people and for the people. It is sometimes said that Menander wrote Pygmalion to Plautus' My Fair Lady. His works were of the people and meant to please the ordinary worker, rather than necessarily the patrician. They are normally set in a stylized Greek city rather than Rome. This is because the Roman authorities are thought to have been sensitive to criticism. Thus he was able to mock because the setting was in a different country.

Plautus is known as being a master at comic timing--knowing how far to take a joke or run a scene. He was supposed to be the master of the pun or double entendre. Like Shakespeare he was very fond of making up or changing the meaning of words. Many of the stock characters such as the cunning slave, the rapacious brothel owner, the prostitute with a heart of gold appear in his plays. Plautus was also interested in the nature of the father-son relationship, and there is often a young lover with his father or occasionally older male authority figure. It is thought that this may point to changes in Roman society at the time. The twists and turns were such that at the end of the play, the gods were called on to put things right and unite the lovers. Hence the term Deus ex machina.

Terence also drew heavily on the Greek tradition. He tended to use the familiar plots and to put them into the Roman vernacular. His plays are less earthy than Plautus and Martin Luther thought they could be used in the instruction of children.
But even after more than two thousand years, these works do continue to influence and provide the basis for much of theatre today.

Michelle Styles's latest North American release is SOLD & SEDUCED.

19 January 2010

Humor: Ribaldry in the Middle Ages

By Lisa Yarde

Ribaldry, or risqué humor has always existed, but some of the best examples of it originated in medieval times. Can you guess what's being referred to in these medieval riddles? It's not what you’re thinking.

1. I'm told a certain something grows in its pouch, swells and stands up, lifts its covering. A proud bride grasped that boneless wonder; the daughter of a king covered that swollen thing with clothing.

2. A strange thing hangs by a man's thigh, hidden by a garment. It has a hole in its head. It is stiff and strong and its firm bearing reaps a reward. When the man hitches his clothing high above his knee, he wants the head of that hanging thing to poke the old hole (of fitting length) it has often filled before.

3. I am a wondrous creature, a joy to women, useful to neighbors; not any citizens do I injure, except my slayer. Very high is my foundation. I stand in a bed, hair underneath somewhere. Sometimes ventures a fully beautiful churl's daughter, licentious maid, that she grabs onto me, rushes me to the redness, ravages my head, fixes me in confinement. She soon feels my meeting, she who forced me in, the curly-haired woman. Wet is her eye.

4. The young man came over to the corner where he knew she stood. He stepped up. Eager and agile, lifted his tunic. With hard hands, thrust through her girdle. Something stiff, worked on the standing. One his will. Both swayed and shook. The young man hurried, was sometimes useful, served well, but always tired sooner than she, weary of the work. Under her girdle began to grow. A hero's reward for laying on dough.

These examples of ribaldry, or risqué humor, date from the tenth century Exeter Book, during the Anglo-Saxon period. Monks in the service of Bishop Leofric of Exeter copied them. In the Middle Ages, humorists often used sex as a metaphor, implying sexual situations where none existed, particularly in the form of riddles like the examples above. We often think medieval people had no sense of humor, in part because of the supremacy of the Church in their lives, but humor has always been a part of medieval traditions. The Church couldn't have frowned too much on it, particularly if monks were transcribing salacious riddles.

And, the answers to the riddles above:

• Bread dough
• A key
• An onion
• Churning

18 January 2010

Humor: Tall Tales of the Old West

By Jacquie Rogers

Tall tales aren't anything new. The structure has been around for millennia, and many follow the same structure as the Greek myths. So from Ancient Greece, let's climb into the time-machine and step into 19th Century America. The wild country and isolation of the North American west where each day brought a new battle with nature, was fertile ground some pretty entertaining stories to sprout.

Let's sit around the campfire or the family hearth and chew the fat about these tales.

What do Paul Bunyan and John Henry have in common? They're seemingly ordinary men in ordinary jobs, average Joes, really, except these men have extraordinary abilities. Nineteenth century superheroes, you might say. They run into a problem, something we all relate to, only their problem is escalated. Not to fear, though, because they also have a solution--something a normal person would never have thought of.

Seemingly ordinary man in every day circumstances
Finds himself in a pickle
Uses extraordinary powers as a solution

Most of the stories were (and are) funny because of the imagery, metaphors, and exaggeration. Here's S.E. Schlosser's interpretation of Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado, which explains in just a few short paragraphs how the Grand Canyon and Death Valley came into existence, as well as the creation of rodeo. Quite a tall order, I'd say!

Exaggeration is the key. A tall tale just isn't tall without stretching the truth a bit--sometimes a good bit. Like my grandpa always said, "A little embellishment always makes a good story better." His brother took that to heart when he wrote Can Farm Boys Be Cow Boys.

Now, if this had taken place in about 1868, with cowpunchers sitting around the campfire eating sourdough biscuits and beans, you can just imagine how this story could grow with each telling. Pretty soon, Nebraska Neil would be there right beside Pecos Bill, riding a tornado or using a river to rope a lightning bolt.

The Greeks had Herakles and Perseus, the Spanish had El Cid, we have Superman and the Green Hornet, so it's no wonder that the cowboys came up with Pecos Bill, Bigfoot Wallace, and Sal Fink, the Mississippi Screamer.

And we're not done telling tall tales yet!

Sources:
American Folklore
ibiblio.org
42eXplore

Jacquie
Faery Merry Christmas (a Kindle novella) Down Home Ever Lovin' Mule Blues (See the Book Video featuring Justin Saragueta) Jacquie's website * 1st Turning Point * Myspace * Twitter * Facebook Faery Special Romances * Book Video * Royalties go to Children's Tumor Foundation, ending Neurofibromatosis through Research
Read a book by Jacquie Rogers

Redraw: THREE DECADES OF LOVE Winner!

Since no one stepped forward to claim the free copy of Jan Scarbrough and Magdalena Scott's THREE DECADES OF LOVES, I'm drawing a new winner. A free copy goes to:

SILVIE KAYE!

Contact Carrie to provide your mailing 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! Congratulations!

17 January 2010

SCOUNDREL'S KISS Winner!

We have a winner for Carrie Lofty's SCOUNDREL'S KISS guest blog. A free copy goes to:

ALISON!

Contact Carrie to provide your mailing 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! Congratulations!

Guest Author: Zoe Archer

This week on Unusual Historicals, we're welcoming regular contributor Zoe Archer as she celebrates the release of the duology she shares with Bianca D'Arc called HALF PAST DEAD, which features Zoe's historical novella "The Undying Heart," a daring historical paranormal set during the Crimean War and in 1850s Yorkshire.

Samuel Reed had no idea magic existed, until it almost destroyed him. Thirsting for vengeance against the enemy who made him something less than human, Sam returns to England and crosses paths with Cassandra Fielding. His best friend's little sister has become a fearless woman on a dangerous mission of her own. And against all odds, she sees past what he's become, and stirs a desire he thought he'd lost forever...
***

"Two...novellas combine themes of love and zombies. Vintage horror, high adventure, and soul-aching romance blend in Archer's compelling 'The Undying Heart,' prequel to the upcoming BLADES OF THE ROSE series.... Readers [will] love Archer's powerful, polished tale." -- Publisher's Weekly

"Four Stars! These zombie stories stand out in a genre dominated by vampires. The two tales of lovers reunited feature strong, courageous women who won't let zombies stand in the way of getting their man. Archer's imaginative and unusual tale will have you cheering for the characters, while D'Arc delivers a creepy and pulse-pounding story of danger." -- Romantic Times

***

What makes "The Undying Heart" unusual?

A few things. It's set in England, in 1858, two years after the Crimean War. Our hero, Major Sam Reed, is a veteran of that war, which has become famous as one of the most messy and problematic conflicts in Europe. You've got England, France, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia in alliance against Russia, fighting not only each other, but tactical mistakes on a monumental scale and horrific conditions that resulted in huge numbers of fatalities from illness, not combat. Sam and his men are killed in the attack on the Redan in the Siege of Sebastopol.

Wait--Sam is killed? Isn't he the hero?

That's one of the other things that makes "The Undying Heart" unusual. Sam has been transformed into the living dead.

So he's a zombie?

He prefers the term "living dead."

Isn't that kind of…gross?

Our culture has been conditioned to think of zombies as shuffling, rotting corpses that hunger for human flesh. But that's a pretty recent development in the concept of zombies. Sam is much more rooted in the vodou tradition of the zombie: a revived dead (and sometimes not dead) person under the control of a sorcerer, or bokor. In Sam's case, the man who killed, revived and controlled him is his former commanding officer. Sam has managed to break free of Colonel Broadwell's hold, and now he wants revenge, both for himself and the men that Broadwell betrayed.

But Sam's still dead, right?

Yep. He's got no pulse and no heartbeat. He doesn't sleep and doesn't eat. He can sustain any wound except a bullet to the brain or beheading. Even though he isn't a rotting corpse, there's still something deeply uncanny about him that unsettles people on a subconscious level, so he sticks to the shadows, existing only to make Broadwell pay. Sam considers himself a monster. However, Cassandra Fielding doesn't see him that way.

Who's Cassandra?

She's a gently-born young woman who campaigns for factory reform. But she's got a secret life, far from drawing rooms and factory yards. Cassandra is also a member of the Blades of the Rose, an organization of men and women protecting the world's magic from unscrupulous men who would use that magic for their own malevolent purposes--like creating an undead army. Cassandra also grew up with Sam. Her brother Charlie was Sam's best friend, and she's nursed a crush on Sam for years. Her heart breaks when she hears that Charlie and Sam are killed in combat, and when she learns from Sam that it was their commanding officer who betrayed them using stolen magic, she, too wants vengeance. They join forces to try and stop Broadwell's plans to make more undead soldiers.

Cassandra is shocked and angry about what has been done to Sam, but she can see past the curse surrounding him to the man beneath, the man she never stopped caring for. And, trust me, Sam might not have a pulse, but he isn't unaffected by Cassandra. Far from it.

Wow--I never thought I'd read about a zombie, sorry, undead hero.

I never expected to write one! But my editor asked if I'd like to contribute to a zombie-themed anthology, HALF PAST DEAD. At first I thought I would have the hero and heroine battling zombies together, but then I thought, wouldn't it be really, really unusual if our hero was already dead? And it went on from there.

What's next? More zombies?

Not exactly. "The Undying Heart" is the prequel to my upcoming "BLADES OF THE ROSE" series, coming this fall from Kensington. The series is set in 1874-1875, and the setting are really unusual. We're talking Mongolia, the Aegean, the Canadian Rockies, and some of the more unusual parts of England. The series is paranormal historical adventure romance, which means there are lots of chases, action sequences, sexy guys in leather braces and tall boots, fearless women, magic, steampunk gadgets, superhot love scenes and thrills. If you like Indiana Jones films, or The Mummy, or Romancing the Stone, you're going to love the "BLADES OF THE ROSE." Zombies might make another appearance, but I'm not saying when or where.

One of the best parts about the series is that the books are being released back-to-back, which means that WARRIOR comes out in September, then SCOUNDREL in October, REBEL in November, and it wraps up with STRANGER in December. No waiting!

The "BLADES OF THE ROSE" do sound unusual!

They are. And they're tons of fun. Can't wait for fall!

***

If you'd like to win a copy of HALF PAST DEAD, featuring Zoe's "The Undying Heart," then leave a comment or question here. Maybe let us know your feeling about zombies, or try the historical angle and ask about the Crimean War! Either way, you're entered with just a comment. Void where prohibited. We'll draw a winner next Sunday. Best of luck! And thanks to Zoe for stopping by!

16 January 2010

Weekly Announcements - 16 Jan 10

Michelle Styles was featured in the latest issue of Living North magazine! You can read the full PDF here. Congratulations, Michelle!

***

Carrie Lofty has been busy on the internet promoting SCOUNDREL'S KISS, including this video interview that is currently featured on the Romantic Times homepage. You can also view part two and part three.


SCOUNDREL'S KISS has also garnered a few more excellent reviews. Elizabeth of Scandalous Women said, "It's been a long time since I was sad to see a historical romance end, but I wasn't quite ready to leave the world of SCOUNDREL'S KISS." Book Junkie wrote, "With both of the characters learning how to live again with the love for each other...you can't help but be mesmerized by the beautiful poetry that Carrie has created," while Wendy the Super Librarian declared, "Historical romance needs more risk-takers like Lofty."

***

Elizabeth Lane has received the cover of her upcoming March release, THE HORSEMAN'S BRIDE, which is set in 1919.

A magnificent man on a splendid stallion. Fiery Clara Seavers is determined to have them both. At nineteen, Clara is accustomed to getting her own way. But there's more to the handsome stranger than meets the eye. Jace Denby is a man of deep and troubling secrets--a man who can never promise her his love.

Clara is a rich man's daughter. Jace knows she's trouble, but he can't seem to keep his hands off her, especially when Clara seems so willing. It would be all too easy to fall in love with her. But Jace is a man on the run--a man who has to keep moving or die at the end of a rope.
We'll be featuring Elizabeth's book during a March promo, so keep an eye out!

***

Join us Sunday when Unusual Historicals will chat with contributor Zoe Archer. She'll be discussing her latest release, the novella "The Undying Heart" in HALF PAST DEAD, a daring historical paranormal set during the Crimean War and in 1850s Yorkshire! She'll also be giving away a copy. Don't miss it!

***

We'll also draw the winner of Carrie Lofty's SCOUNDREL'S KISS. You still have time to leave a comment or question for your chance to win.

***

And stay with us through the coming weeks when we'll be featuring the best unusual historical authors! Michelle Styles, Carla Capshaw, Jennifer Linforth, and Amanda McCabe will be our guests. We hope you'll join us!

***

Have a good weekend! Remember, you don't have to be an Unusual Historicals contributor to submit good news to the weekend announcements. If it has to do with unusual historicals, we'd love to shout it out to the world! Send announcements to Carrie. See you next week...

14 January 2010

Excerpt Thursday: Zoe Archer

This week on Excerpt Thursday we're featuring a scene from Zoe Archer's newest release, "The Undying Heart" from the duology HALF PAST DEAD, a daring historical paranormal set during the Crimean War and in 1850s Yorkshire.

Stop back on Sunday when Zoe will be answering questions and giving away an autographed copy!

Samuel Reed had no idea magic existed, until it almost destroyed him. Thirsting for vengeance against the enemy who made him something less than human, Sam returns to England and crosses paths with Cassandra Fielding. His best friend's little sister has become a fearless woman on a dangerous mission of her own. And against all odds, she sees past what he's become, and stirs a desire he thought he'd lost forever...
***

He stared at her, and there was a tiny, nearly imperceptible gentling, even though his face lost none of its striking angularity. "I cannot understand you." His voice was low, smoky. She felt herself drawn closer. "Why are you not sickened by what I've said? How can you bear the sight of me, knowing what I am and what I've done? Aren't you horrified?"

"Make no mistake," she answered. "Everything you've told me, it's torn me open, down to the heart of me." She curled a fist over the center of her chest. "Yet, despite it all, I know you, Samuel Acton Reed. I know you. And I'll never turn away from you."

"Clinging to the past," he muttered, yet his gaze warmed.

Was she? Were her girlhood dreams manipulating her woman's judgment? Perhaps she so desperately wanted the fantasy she had created in her youth, she willingly overlooked evidence that could shatter such finely-wrought constructs. This man before her was not Sam, not as she knew him, and, by his own admission, he'd done terribly, ghastly things. He had been killed and rose again as the living dead.

And yet, gazing into his diamond-blue eyes, that seemed to yearn without knowing they did, the instinct on which she so assiduously relied told her no. He'd undergone the most profound change possible, alive, then dead, and then this awful amalgam of both. The things he had been forced to do…no wonder he had to cauterize his emotions. Anyone would have been turned into a true monster from such suffering. But not him. Not Sam.

"I've cut free from the moorings of the past," she said, taking his cool hand between her two warm palms. "The current of the present has brought us together now."

He stared down at their joined hands--his large and roughened from soldiering, hers smaller and slender, but stronger, she hoped, than they appeared. She inwardly grimaced to see slight crescents of grease under her nails, but she'd only just returned from inspecting a cotton mill when the Blades' summons came. No time for washing up, she'd dashed back out the door.

If now he saw the grime on her hand, he didn't seem to care. For a moment, his hand lay motionless in hers, but then, very slightly, his thumb rubbed against her wrist. A shiver ran through her, sparking sensation. They both glanced up at each other, and their gazes held with a new awareness.

13 January 2010

Humor: Commedia Dell Arte

By Anna C. Bowling

Barring time travel, how many of us can claim to have seen performances of sixteenth century Italian theater? Show of hands, please? Hm, I don't think that number is right. How many have seen the US or UK versions of Whose Line is It Anyway? Ah, more. UK friends, how about traditional pantomimes or a Punch and Judy show? More there, as well. How about Matt Groenig's cartoon series, Futurama? Thought so.

Wait a minute, what does Futurama have to do with sixteenth century Italian theater? I'll share the exact connection a bit later, but many traditions and stock characters found in the comedy that entertains us today was equally entertaining half a millennium ago.

Commedia Dell Arte, which can be translated as "comedy of craft" or "artist's comedy" originated as a form of professional theater in sixteenth century Italy. As we can recognize favorite characters today through images of their distinctive costumes audiences of the time could identify the players by the costumes and masks particular to the character. Though an audience member might not see the same troupe twice, as the players traveled, the characters stayed the same, and actors improvised from suggestions given by each particular audience.

The roster of characters could vary from locale to locale, but usually could be divided into: Inamorati, male and female lovers; vecchi, the older people, often parents of the lovers; and the zanni, who were servants or commoners, and from whom we get the word "zany." Other names used in commedia are still well known today: Rafael Sabatini's classic novel, Scaramouche, gets its title from the boastful swashbuckling character, and singers who perform the Queen song, "Bohemian Rhapsody" invoke Scaramouche as well. (It has yet to be determined if he will do the fandango.)

Arlecchino gives us Harlequin, which brings to mind not only a Renaissance clown and distinctive diamond pattern, but the largest publisher of romantic fiction in the world. Iconic as well are the images of Pierrot, the sad, white-faced clown whose tear-streaked face tops a huge white ruff. Then, as now, Isabella was a very popular choice for the name of the female lover. The absent-minded professor, crotchety miser and bumbling official all have their histories in commedia as well.

The usual plot of a commedia performance often revolved around the lovers wishing to marry but being kept apart by the machinations of one or more of their elders, until with the help of cunning servants, the obstacle is removed. This may sound familiar to readers of romance novels today. Of course, exactly how any of the above might come about would vary according to actors, audience, local political or religious climate. Working from a basic framework with characters needed to fill certain roles, one can imagine that provided enough variations that the same play was seldom performed twice unless the actors worked from a script. Actors frequently performed outside, with elaborate masks and costumes making up for the lack of setting or props. There was no fee to see the performances, and actors passed the hat afterward to collect what the audience could pay.

By the seventeenth century, commedia troupes began to work from scripts and the style became stricter and less improvisational, moving from outdoor performances to inside more traditional theaters. As time progressed and other forms of theater came into vogue, commedia took a back seat to more modern entertainments but true classics never die. In the nineteenth century, the likes of George Sand and Frederic Chopin constructed a theater for performances of commedia in France. Interest in the form revived through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. True romance is, indeed timeless.

What about the Futurama connection? Visit the Commedia Dell Arte entry at TvTropes.Org and scroll down to the Western Animation section.

What commedia characters can you find in modern television, movies or books?

12 January 2010

Humor: Knife to a Gun fight?

By Lorelie Brown

Holy crap-a-doodle, am I late or what? But it's still Tuesday, so while Carrie will yell at me, she won't actually beat me up. In my defense, I've been pretty busy the last few days, putting the final touches on a manuscript that has to go out tomorrow. Then I got a super fabulous new idea for my next project. And I got the cover for JAZZ BABY today, which makes me so happy I am silly-goofy with it. My first cover! It should be shareable soon.

Ok, on to my funny-funny which will probably be ridiculously short:

John "Old Smoke" Morrisey was a gangster in late 1800s, but he got his start as a boxer (actually an unsurprising career move for someone who wanted to go into politics in NYC at the time). In addition, he sometimes ran a small gambling outfit, particularly faro.

In 1852, a man named Jim Hughes decided he'd been cheated. In the way of things, he challenged Morrisey to a duel. Morrisey agreed, but requested the right to choose the weapons.

The duel never happened.

Apparently seeing Old Smoke Morrisey arrive with two butcher knives in his hands was a little much for Mr. Hughes. I can't say as I blame him much.

11 January 2010

Humor: Sarcasm

By Isabel Roman

I recently tried to write a humorous story--100,000 words of ghostly, sexy humor. I plotted the story out, I broke it all down, I even wrote little snippets of humor. And then managed 750 words, scrapped the entire thing, rethought my premise, and went back to doing what I do best. Angst.

But it did teach me something. I'm more the sarcasm type than the sitcom type. On the other hand, I did realize something about sarcasm and my sarcasm. Too much is really annoying! I stopped watching Fringe because Peter Bishop's (Joshua Jackson) constant and inappropriate sarcasm grated on my very last nerve. I enjoy sarcasm as much as the next woman (probably more so), but his went above and beyond the need for it, was often used in unsuitable places and times, and was more rude than anything.

I wanted more examples of sarcasm in books and movies, but got sidetracked with this site, thereby proving that there really are too many websites out there!

How to Have a Sarcastic Sense of Humor
When you have a sarcastic sense of humor, people can find you a real curiosity.

It can be hard for some people to tell when you are really joking. You rarely
say exactly what you mean, and there's an edge to sarcastic humor that few
people can truly appreciate. Your straight-faced delivery and dry cynicism will
either leave everyone laughing or have them wondering what they missed.
With this step-by-step guide you, too, can be sarcastic.

And then there's the site "Movies on the Theme of Sarcasm." I kid you not. There's nothing there, the page is blank, but somewhere someone thought this would make a good heading.

CENTER FOR ADVANCED SARCASM...I just really love the title. The posts are eh, but the title of the blog is hysterical!

So we're all sarcastic. We all enjoy a one liner, or a Buffy quip, or one of those looks. But in the end, it's probably best to limit what you put in, it really does get old after a while.

10 January 2010

Guest Author: Carrie Lofty

Hi, I'm Carrie Lofty. When I founded Unusual Historicals back in November 2006, I hadn't yet conceived of the idea behind SCOUNDREL'S KISS. I only knew that I loved stories set in unusual places and times, and I wanted to revel in that love with other romance fans.

Now check it out! Medieval Castile! In a romance novel! I'm so glad to be here, more than three years on from beginning this blogging adventure, and to talk about Gavriel and Ada...

When it comes to temptation...

Turning his back on his old life as a rogue, Gavriel de Marqueda has joined a monastic order in Spain and taken a vow of chastity. Before he becomes a monk, he must pass one final test: help a woman who has lost her way. But when he lays eyes on Ada of Keyworth, he is tempted beyond measure by her sultry beauty and dangerous curves.

Rules are meant to be broken...

Far from her home in England, Ada has been battling inner demons for more than a year. When she discovers that her only friend has abandoned her, she has no choice but to grudgingly accept Gavriel's help. But Ada is not fooled. Though Gavriel wears the robes of a monk, Ada sees that he is a virile man who looks at her with a hunger that matches her own--one that begs to be satisfied again and again....
***

I think I'll keep this relatively brief, because I know you're busy and want to get straight to the giveaway! So here I present my "Top 10 Unusual Facts About Medieval Spain":

10. The Iberia Peninsula, which today consists of Spain, Portugal, and British-controlled Gibraltar, was actually seven separate kingdoms in 1201AD (when SCOUNDREL'S KISS is set): Castile, León, Navarre, Catalonia, Aragon, Portugal, and the southern Moorish territories held by the Almohads.

9. Opium was easily obtained in medieval Iberia because of heavy Mediterranean and North African trade with Arab tribes. The Arabs got their opium via the long spice road to China. Opium was prescribed frequently, especially among the richer strata of society. Therefore it's highly possible that drug addiction could have afflicted a portion of the population.

8. Reconquista is the term for Christian "reconquest" of Iberia, as they pushed Moorish powers farther and father south. Reconquista took no less than 800 years, culminating when the last Muslim leader of Granada surrendered his forces to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.


7. Jews were integral to courtly life and were, under certain monarchs, awarded noble estates called juderias. They had survived Visigoth and Moorish occupations, and thus proved very useful to the Christian kings because of their centuries-long familiarity with Moorish culture. Only after Las Navas, when Jewish knowledge was no longer as essential, were their rights seriously curtailed.

6. The balancing act of living among Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim cultures was called convivencia. This forced proximity created new terms: Mozarabs (Christians in Moorish-held lands), Mujedars (Muslims in Christian-controlled territories), and Muladi (Christian converts to Islam).

5. Sexual relations between Muslims and Christians was punishable by death for women. Men might only lose their hands to start, but multiple transgressions led to execution. Even prostitutes had to stick with their own kind. This was all to further reconquista efforts.

4. But...because the need to secure tenuous Christian bloodlines was paramount, and with Christian women so scarce on the Almohad frontier, provisions were made for mixed-race children. If a Christian man fathered a baby on a Muslim slave, and then that baby was baptized, the man could name the child as his heir.

3. A man's official mistress was called a barragana and was afforded almost all of the rights of a wife. If the affair came to an end, the woman was not ruined. Frontier fathers still wanted their daughters to find reputable matches, and frontier suitors did not want the small issue of an affair to take a possible mate off the market. No banns and no priest were required for an official marriage. Society only required the husband and wife's word!

2. Children inherited equally, regardless of gender. A man's six children, for example, would split his lands and worldly goods six ways. The only exception related to implements of warfare such as weaponry and horses, which went to sons alone. Daughters were compensated with gold. This goes a long way to explaining why Iberian kingdoms were so fractured.

1. Even monks were afforded special dispensation under the goal of reconquista. To attract more men to the Order of Santiago, Pope Alexander III permitted that the Jacobean monks, as they were called, could own individual property, marry whom they liked, and practice conjugal chastity--with celibacy only enforced during Lent. Here's the fleury cross they wore:


Good thing Gavriel de Marqueda, the hero of SCOUNDREL'S KISS, chose to become a Jacobean rather than a Dominican or Franciscan!

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Now you can win a signed copy of SCOUNDREL'S KISS. Just give me your questions: anything else you want to know about medieval Spain? I just revel in how different Spanish society was compared to that of medieval Britain. I'll draw a winner at random next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Good luck, and thanks to everyone for being a supporter of Unusual Historicals! I'm so proud!