Tea with Henry HELP!!!!!

Hi everyone. I’ll be doing my usual blog later today BUT I wanted to run my cover by you and see what you think. I like it a lot. I hope you do as well. Let me know if you want to. I’m shooting for a just-before-Halloween release. Yes that’s really him, too. He was in his early to mid-thirties. You begin to see the resemblance to the tyrant series as he aged, but he’s still in good shape.

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Seeing the People Behind Historical Myths: Henry VIII as a Man

I’m expecting to release Tea with Henry in time for Halloween, my favorite time of year. This novel was seven years in the making. One night to conceive the idea. Five years to dink around and forestall writing it. One NaNoWriMo to commit the core ideas to paper, and one year to rework it, have it professionally edited, and perfect it. The idea came to me when I asked a simple, “What if…” question. Where it led, how, and why are questions I can’t answer. The unexpected aspect of writing the novel, however, is that it led me to delve deep into the personae of the characters, particularly Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Right now we’re watching the presidential debates or descent into infancy (if one follows Trump and his crew) and we’re affixed to the t.v. and media coverage of the events. Much as in Tudor times, we are only permitted to “see” what the candidate wants us to. It’s hard to imagine that historical figures were just as adept at spin as modern-day politicians. I would posit that they were better at it because access to “instant” messages and images did not exist. That gives us the portraits of Henry VIII appearing much more imposing and imperial than he actually was. Likewise, Anne Boleyn, if we even have an accurate portrayal, is shown as mysterious, dark, almost sinister.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, Henry didn’t leave much behind regarding his personal life. Anne Boleyn wrote copious journals that were destroyed by the Crown following her execution. When I was confronted with how to portray these larger-than-life personae, I had quite the task to undertake.

Here’s an example: did Henry VIII have pets? Would PETA want to murder him for cruelty to animals or did he love them? Logic would tell us if he enjoyed hunting, then he enjoyed horses and the dogs that would accompany the hunt. Chalk one up for he probably had a pet. We know that his daughter, Elizabeth I, had a little lap dog. They were popular, but what about Henry? I imagine he would want something larger, something with as big a personality as his. Can’t you picture it? What about Anne? I don’t know but I kind of see her as a cat person, although I doubt many people in the royal circles would own cats due to their association with witchcraft. I see her having a lap dog.

As it turns out, I was correct. Henry loved dogs and favored, according to Alison Weir, my favorite source for Tudor history, “his dogs, especially beagles, spaniels and greyhounds; the latter were considered a particular noble breed…Henry’s own dogs wore decorative collars of velvet – permitted only to royal dogs – and kid, with or without torettes (spikes) of silver and gold; some were adorned with pearls or the King’s arms and his portcullis and rose badges. His dogs’ coats were of white silk, and the dogs had their fur regularly rubbed down with a ‘hair cloth’. Sixty-five dog leashes were found in Henry’s closet after his death.” As for Anne, according to The Anne Boleyn Files blog (a great resource) , “Anne Boleyn had two dogs: a lap dog called Purkoy and a greyhound called Urian.” Can’t you picture this? The name Urian is interesting as it comes close to Uriens of Gore, one of the Arthurian kings who hails from the legendary land of Gore.

In other words, Anne and Henry both loved and cared for their dogs much as we do today. It could be said that Henry mollycoddled his. That speaks volumes of his character. People who are inherently selfish and evil don’t tend to relish more attention on third persons let alone animals. Catherine of Aragon was portrayed sitting with a monkey.

How about their food? What a person favors at table is as interesting as the physical things they did. The Tudors favored fruit as a sweet. It is also common knowledge that the royal Tudor table was a carnivorous one. Henry brought apricots to Britain, and planted them at Nonsuch, his magnificent palace that is no more. He liked artichokes and ate vegetables, kind of, when he wanted them. He and Anne favored strawberries, Damsons, plums, and pears. Heck, so do I. Sugar had also come into the royal foodosphere (yes, I made that word up) with a vengeance. Dental issues far beyond what already existed exploded into everyday reality if you were wealthy enough to afford the sweet stuff. Beverage of choice? Ale or wine. Henry had outlawed beer and often requested nothing made with hops. That changed over time. Water? Are you kidding? Plech.

By researching the human aspects of Henry VIII and his court, I was able to lend reality to my characters rather than satire and/or stereotype. I think my readers will relate to Henry and Anne and perhaps view them with a little more kindness than history traditionally affords them.

Read more: Alison Weir, Henry VIII: The King and his Court.
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The Times They Aren’t A’Changin’

Many people read historical fiction to escape to another place and time. Obviously I like the Tudors the same way I like ice cream, which is a lot. I find a commonality of existence as do many authors who set their stories in ye olde Englande. Why?

Think about it: literature is escapist. It is the only vehicle that can instantly transport you via your imagination to another time, an alternate universe, or a place much more depressing and heinous than where we are today. England isn’t simply close in geographical terms, it is also similar in language, mannerisms, culture, habits, and dress to America minus the whole melting pot thing. Even that isn’t quite accurate.

Tudor England was no stranger to non-caucasian complexions and cultures. (See, http://www.historyextra.com/feature/missing-tudors-black-people-16th-century-england)  Native Americans were brought to the English Court as well, although whether it was voluntary remains to be seen. Henry VIII and his father had an African American “trumpeter” in their house band. Remember, the Moors ruled Spain and Portugal during this time. They heralded immense cultural immersion for any European traders and their contributions to the northern European culture cannot be underestimated.

Oh that’s so dry, right? No, not if you open your mind. When I write about Henry VIII, I try to imagine what he was like as a person, not the satirical portrayal of his “personality” by his courtiers and palace spin doctors. How did he live? Did he wear fragrances? How did he shave, brush his teeth, and engage in other day-to-day activities? What was it like to have that power?

Think about it: do you know what Anne Boleyn looked like? Is the alleged portrait of her accurate? I don’t think it is. It is colored by how she was perceived by the court at the time. That perception was far from flattering. Meantime, poor rejected Anne of Cleves was portrayed in a painted miniature as not half bad. She shows up, Henry sees her and screams, “I like her not!” The portrait had been, ahem, airbrushed a la Renaissance.

Do I believe that happened? You bet. He was a major Donald Trump when it came to female appearances. That is well documented and I can accept it as fact given that he was king and, under the rules of the time, God on earth; equal to Il Papa, the Pope, but never to la papa, a potato, although he vaguely resembled one in the end.

People in the court of Henry VIII were crazy. Think of the unthinkable when you consider what their priority was, especially when the Court was on the move (no pun intended): how to dispose of human waste. Good God, thousands of people in one building complex for months at a time. London was a festering sewer of incomprehensible filth until their sewer system was created.

Henry VIII was plagued by waste around him, but he was clever enough to engineer the water supplies at his palaces to account for all that “pastime with good company” without overflowing the honey bucket if you know what I mean. In fact, he had a full bathroom with hot and cold running water in Hampton Court Palace. Shudder at the thought. No town or city today could exist without adequate methods to dispose of human waste, period. Ick. It remains a grave health concern today, particularly in third world countries and certain portions of the United States.

Tudors loved to dance and jam out, too. Their clubs were the homes of the nobility and, of course, court. People ran about, got drunk, and misbehaved. Their court gossipers and tattlers, who were never scarce, were the facebook of the time. They read beautiful books and painted. They looked at the same stars we admire today and went to bed on soft down or coarser stuff. The materials they used in their clothing (the nobility) were exquisite even by today’s standards.

Yes, in the end, history does repeat itself albeit in ways we might not perceive right away. That’s why I love the Tudors and history in general. If you view it as a human being, you leave your bias of year markers behind and vicariously experience the pleasures of way back when, whatever they may be.

Although “The Tudors” was pretty hilarious, I loved the dance scenes. They’ll give you a feel for the time, dress, and dance above all.

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Henry VIII – Who was He for Real?

My latest novel, Tea with Henry (release date: late September 2015) , is a labor of love. I say this because Henry VIII is one of the most, if not the most reviled and least understood monarchs of all time. What I cannot understand is why he committed some of the more heinous acts that characterized his reign. After all he sent more individuals to their death than any other monarch in history.

I explore who he really was in Tea with Henry. Let’s be honest. If you love Tudor history, you watched the HBO series, The Tudors. It’s okay, I did, too, although I marveled at the radically-inaccurate portrayal of the monarch’s appearance, among other things. It’s fair to say, however, they got the attitude correct.

Let’s start with a basic fact: his height. People think that many actors are tall, especially the men. Not so. Anyone who works in “the business” will tell you even some sets are altered to make the leading man appear larger than life, literally. Likewise, in history, people assume those who lived further in the past must have been super tiny. Maybe not Lilliputian, but somewhere between dwarf and petite.

Reality check: Henry VIII was 6’2″ – that’s six-foot-two-inches tall. Not too shabby, eh? Being five-foot-ten (5’10”) myself, I like that differential. He would tower over me. So, all you erstwhile readers of Tudor love stories, now you know Henry was closer in height to Liam Neeson and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). In his day, he was a hot property and it wasn’t just about the money.

Hair color? Not almost black as portrayed in the Tudors. Nope Henry sported reddish blond locks. The “official” portraits were sort of like P.R. shots celebrities have done today. Airbrushed and fixed to hide flaws and emphasize, well, you know. Anyway, as is the case today to a degree, red hair was viewed as a weakness of spirit. Elizabeth I changed all of that, but Henry’s portraits were altered to suit the public’s idea of what a king should look like. Bizarre, isn’t it?

Eye color? Hmmm…trickier than you might imagine. Faded oil paintings; fanciful imaginings in oil paintings…I am guessing here since I have yet to locate an actual written description by his contemporaries…blue-grey. That one’s still up for grabs.

Was he always huge? When Henry VIII died, he weighed almost or a little over 400 pounds. When he was young, and into his 40s, however, he was a Studley Do Right to be sure. The man played sports like none other: tennis, jousting, hunting, archery, javelin throwing (?!), riding, bowling. The king was a jock. In the end, however, he had a 51-inch waist. Ouch.

Like many politicians today who sport makeup to hide their flaws; dye their hair; pluck their eyebrows; maybe hide the fact they’re in a wheelchair, the monarchs had to maintain a strong appearance to keep the support of their people. After all, who would want to be ruled by someone whom the people perceived as anything short of fabulous? They don’t want it today (witness the harangue about Christie’s weight) and they didn’t want it then. Personally, I think that attitude is shallow and stupid but hey, that’s me. Not to mention that the Tudors’ actual entitlement to the throne of England will always be questionable. Henry was a player and an actor. He made himself look pretty even to the bitter end. Now that’s hubris to be sure.

It’s time to do a monumental myth busting on this man. Consider this a start.

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Gender Issues in the Literary World Exist Why?

Many of you may assume that when I use the term, “gender issues” I will speak about LGBT literature. No, that’s for another post. I am taking this time to elaborate a little on the issue of female gender (trans would be included by the way – trans to female that is) and writing. The topic was inspired by a piece that I heard this morning on NPR. For those of you not in the know, “NPR” is National Public Radio. Ever since PBS (Public Broadcasting System) was outre and cool enough to show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in the heyday of the 1970s-it was my favorite show – I have listened to NPR and watched PBS.

This morning, NPR did a piece on the renowned science fiction author James Tiptree Jr. whose “real” name was Alice B. Sheldon. Writing during the era of Ray Bradbury and other male science fiction authors, Tiptree, er, Sheldon bent the public perception of gender roles in science fiction. At that time (the 1960s and 1970s) science fiction sported a multitude of male “leads” and a vast array of alien coochie and hoochies. “Supporting roles” were reserved almost exclusively to women. Pity that.

Once exposed as, “GASP!” a FEMALE….oh my GOD, banish the thought, Tiptree’s seven-year star faded and went out with a fizzle rather than as a super nova decades later. Other female novelists also changed their pen name to a male gender (George Eliot, for one) or made their name gender neutral in order to be published in the first place (J.K. Rowling). I swear I still don’t understand why this is necessary. I thought that bra burning was a little over the top, after all, they are useful when it comes right down to it. I am likewise far from being a radical feminist. However, as a female, I do believe in equality in pay; equality in opportunity; equality in all things even though I, personally, would never apply to be a firefighter, police officer, or soldier. The time has come to acknowledge that we are all human beings divided only by differences of opinion and ideologies NOT gender. I won’t even venture down the religion path because that’s a morass I won’t touch.

Yet I, being female, am already familiar with this phenomenon. In law school, one of my professors (and this was in 1987, mind you) told the entire class about the glass ceiling that women will probably never break through. She told us that for every dollar a male lawyer made, a female lawyer might make $0.60. This was no run-of-the-mill professor either. She had served as a law clerk for Warren Burger on the U.S. Supreme Court. I don’t know, I think she probably knew what she was talking about. I got to experience it firsthand. Oh, and that $0.60 today? It’s up to $0.82 according to the ABA Journal (April 23, 2014). The last incident of gender bias I experienced? Last November. I prefer to focus on doing the best work I can despite this idiocy that is unnecessary in 2015.

It would seem that one level playing field for both genders is writing. My literary mentor was a female. There have been many renowned female authors, to be certain. However, not until 2014 – 2014!- was an upswing even noticeable in the percentage of female authors reviewed or “taken seriously” as authors regardless of genre. The London Review of Books performed abysmally (no real surprise there); the New York Review of Books fared less poorly; Harper’s; and the New York Times Book Review. (see http://www.vidaweb.org/category/the-count/the-2014-vida-count/). I can’t find any reliable stats on ebooks yet but rumor has it that women tend to dominate in that platform.

It seems that females are uniformly relegated to the realms of romance, chick-lit, charming YA, dark YA (witness Harry Potter), and other genres that have no bearing whatever on how and what we write in reality. Forget that Danielle Steele remains the bestselling author alive; and fourth bestselling author of all time; and her website crashed when she crabbed around in 2013 about being asked by men, “Are you still writing?” Hm. My bent tends to be historical fiction and literary fiction. Damn, and all of those hot sex scenes still work. Who knew?

All speculation aside, however, this issue is ponderous. I mean seriously, are ALL editors of literary reviews from the turn of the last century? Is there something inherently pedantic about the “male” voice in literature? I don’t think so. I remember when Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” came out and the F-word was spoken of (a “zipless f**k no less) in hushed tones like you might burst into flames if you said it out loud. Reading the passages again today, I honestly can’t tell that a female wrote the words, can you?

I write this because I think that women who write – in whatever genre, about whatever topic, for whomever they do so – should keep on writing and don’t be self critical based on a skewed model of reality in the publishing world. When I write a story, it doesn’t even enter my mind whether a male or female will read it. I could care less because it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you enjoy my story.  I would like to imagine a sort of booktopia wherein we can all read, not be ugly to each other, and not demean people for any reason. There’s enough dysfunction in fictional musings to populate every insane asylum around the world and then some. There’s more sex, love, wizards, witches, angels, Vikings, kings, queens, and above all, fools, to fill our lifetimes with wonderful prose.

Let the words speak for themselves regardless of the gender of the author giving rise to those words. The world truly will be a better place.

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Write Historical Fiction? Keep Their Language to Yourself or Risk Losing Readers

I love a good, “Huzzah” blurted out by Niles or Frasier Crane any day. When writing a work of historical fiction, however, it is best to keep the quaint phrases, stereotypical exclamations (i.e. – forsooth), and other verbal faux pas out of the story. The reason: you want the average person to be able to read your writing and not have to either google a word or look it up in their Random House Dictionary or Chaucer, take your pick.

My preferred time period is medieval/renaissance. There were some strange sayings back then in any given romance language. For example:

“…assuring you that on my side the ennui of absence is already too much for me: and when I think of the increase of what I must needs suffer it would be well nigh unbearable for me were it not for the firm hope I have and as I cannot be with you in person, I am sending you the nearest possible thing to that, namely, my picture set in a bracelet, with the whole device which you already know. ”

Otherwise known as part of a letter that Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn. I must needs tell thee, then, that English thusly spake is not very comprehensible to the modern reader and ennui (aka boredom/melancholy) shall hastily ensue. Argh.

See what I mean? This is a brief but important matter to take to heart. We in America do tend to race about writing things that we fancy to be “English.” Most times, it leads to tedious prose that your prospective readers will NOT want to slog through in volume 2. They might even ban volume 1 permanently from their e-readers. That’s never good news for you, the aspiring author.

We all realize that historical pieces must be believable, but sometimes-no, more often than not- the historical detail, including language, enhances the character but does not define the character.

In both my War of the Roses series and Tea with Henry (set in middle Tudor England), I did have to use period-specific language to describe, say, the bill men who charged into battle first. There is no other way to say it. They wore armor with specific names to the pieces such as sallets and vambraces. But I swear you will never EVER read, “must needs” in any of the 3 volumes.

Did it irk me to lose the syntax and beauty to the spoken language? Sure, but I would rather sacrifice that than have a modern reader message me that my writing sucks because he or she can’t understand what I’m saying. Take it to heart because it would be a shame to sacrifice readers for 100% historical accuracy in everything.

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Why I Love Writing Historical Fiction

I do enjoy writing about the law, editors, agents, self publishing, etc., etc., etc. What my heart wants is what it wants, and I love history. I crave knowledge about the past because in knowing and understanding the past, we will create a better future,at least theoretically. As one of my mentors told me, “pick a time in history, live it, write it.” Those were the only words I needed to hear to craft my first work of historical fiction, a two-book series, “Reign of the Holy King/Reign of the Oak King” set during the Wars of the Roses (a historical misnomer by the way – the term was not contemporary to the time).

I’m not going to give away the plot but leave it to say, it opens doors that I found long buried in the historical record.  I grew up going to the Donnell Library in NYC to listen to medieval instrumental music, the madrigals of Spain, and the songs composed by Henry VIII. I laughed my head off about the instrument called a sackbut (a form of trombone) and still do. In Chicago’s Art Institute, I perused real medieval manuscript illuminations, studying the intricate detail and painstaking care it took to produce even one page on vellum (sheepskin) for my final paper in AP European History. I always disputed the theory that the dark ages were dark in intellect and achievement. They were far from it.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Every year it seemed, something was being revealed, discovered, dug up, or brought to light that made my chosen field of study (Renaissance/medieval history) closer to accessible in the modern age. DNA testing, forensic archaeology, architectural scans…none of these existed when I was a kid. The only reality for me was found in Chaucer, Chretien de Troyes, pages of “The Once and Future King”, and every variation of the Arthurian legend I could get my hands on. Throw in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (grounded in Norse sagas) and I was set.

I think when we look at how people lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago, it gives us perspective on two facts: (1) excluding technological advances, we really haven’t changed all that much, and (2) we’re still interested in the same types of things although they take a different form in 2015 than in, say, 1415.

I often wonder what I would do if I had to hunt for my food; lacked motorized transportation; and make my own clothes. Think about it: make your own clothes? Hunting I can handle, travel by foot or horse, check, but making my own togs (love that word), ouch. And with no sewing machine no less. Clothing, therefore, would have a very high value the more refined the fabric used to make it with, right? That is part of the reason why nobility dressed so fine compared to, say, a local farmer in France. That’s also why it would be bizarre to assert they were filthy people. Sure, bathing was not popular with the Puritans, but the nobility most definitely bathed and often. Edward III of England put hot and cold water taps in Westminster Palace in 1351 to fill his tub (personal bathtubs were rare).

We all see parodies of Renaissance feasts where turkey legs are hucked all over creation. Not so. Because the clothing was so expensive, the nobility took care to keep it clean. Pages with ewers would pour scented water over guests’ hands between plates or courses so they would be clean.

A good piece of historical fiction can bring the time period to life and lend insight into how people lived, loved, and fought. We can read these books and see ourselves reflected in the characters. I think some things would have grated a bit, for example, the fact that women were considered property during the Renaissance. Dower and curtesy is what you paid (a bride price) to marry into a good family. That system was finally abolished during the early 20th century.  Surprised? I wasn’t. Women nonetheless ran households, commanded armies, and had real power in their own right. That was cool.

Some recent series and films offer a glimpse into the late Medieval/pre-Tudor world. The Vikings series is beyond awesome. When you see people dressed differently and definitely not speaking the English they would have in The White Queen, their reality comes crashing into our own in a very pleasant way.  We watch them and think how much we the same yet different. I love that.

I’m working on several historical pieces now set in various countries and spanning almost a thousand years between the three. I devour archaeological news scanning for something wonderful and exciting that has come to light. I know there are many of you out there who share that passion for the time when nights were dark, roads not traveled, and the only light was golden and emanated from a taper or torch. The time when the world was a quiet place and magic was as real as peoples’ connection to the land and earth that has long been lost. Is it a place lost to memory or the renewed act of remembering? I prefer the latter. I would love to read what your favorite period in history is. Oh, a note about the clip below: Edward IV did die suddenly. Many suspect he had untreated type 2 diabetes which really wreaked havoc on him as he grew content and became quite the glutton.

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