Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Wonder of Words by A.M.Westerling

Dialogue is one of the most useful tools an author has. You can use it to move the plot along because the characters tell what’s going to happen rather than the author. It happens in real time so it’s a nice change of pace. It presents information such as back story (one character talking to another.) It’s also useful as another means to develop conflict – one character arguing with another. However, as an author of historical romance, dialogue is an important tool to identify a character. Word usage and slang defines a person and consequently defines the era in which that character lives. 

When I write dialogue, I have my trusty Merriam Webster Tenth Edition Collegiate Dictionary by my side. (It’s a little frayed along the bottom, an indicator of how much I pull it off the shelf.)  

I use the dictionary to check when a word came into usage and for that you can blame my technical background on my obsession with details. For example, I wanted to use ‘poppycock’ in the book I’m working on now. It came into usage in 1865 which doesn’t work for my story as it’s set in 1800. 

Katherine Pym, co-author of Pillars of Avalon (along with Jude Pittman), Book 5 from the Canadian Historical Brides Collection, does a terrific job of using dialogue to define the era. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“Aye.” Frances dashed some numbers along another line. “The warehouse is large, it only seems empty.” She regarded Sara with a smile. “You’ve done very well provisioning the fleet. Do not think otherwise.” Something caught her eye. “Oiy, you there, where’s the other barrel of wine? I shall not have any thievery committed under our very noses.” Waving her ledger, she advanced sharply on a fellow carrying a cask upon his shoulder.
“What does you want, young lass?” he snarled at her. “Shouldn’t you be home with thy mamma, eating mashed gruel?”
Frances’ back stiffened and Sara knew the man would regret his impertinence. “I beg your pardon? Do you have an incontinent liver that needs correction? I shall call the Watch and have you carried away for rude and disorderly behaviour.” She leaned forward and hissed. “It will surely happen. Now, answer me truthfully. Where’s the other cask of wine?”

Reading this, you know it’s not a contemporary story. Words and phrases like oiy, thievery, thy mamma, mashed gruel, incontinent liver, call the Watch, suggest an earlier time period.

The following excerpt from Barkerville Beginnings, Book 4 of the collection shows another example of how speech defines a person. It’s obvious Robert McTague is a Scot by his word usage ie “me da’s croft” “ma’self” "nae" and his reference to Culloden as well as calling Harrison a “Sassenach”. 

Not only that, in talking to Harrison, Robert gives us a little information on Barkerville ie how many miners there were during the height of the Cariboo Gold Rush. As well, a  bit of back story for both characters is revealed ie Robert comes from a poor farmer’s croft and like most other miners has travelled a fair distance to get to Barkerville and Harrison knows a thing or two about horses. 

Harrison entered Mundorf Stables. “Hello,” he shouted, scanning the stalls. Most were empty and through the open double doors at the rear he noticed his mule team huddled together in the corner of the pen. Nancy, ears pricked forward, hung her head over the top rail, no doubt plotting her escape. At least they were here where he’d left them last night so it appeared the livery owner was a trustworthy sort. However, trustworthy enough to negotiate some sort of bargain remained to be seen.
A red-haired man with a full red beard wandered out from one of the stalls. Harrison recognized him as the fellow he’d shared his breakfast table with this morning.
A grin ripped through the man’s beard, revealing front teeth buckled together. “Well, look who’s here.” He gestured to the map under Harrison’s arm. “See you took my advice and went to the commissioner’s office.” He held out his hand. “We didn’t get around to exchanging names this morning. Robert McTague.”
The Scottish burr in his voice sounded out of place and Harrison knew from their brief chat at breakfast that the other man had also traveled halfway around the world to join in on Cariboo gold fever. He grasped Robert’s hand, giving it a good shake. The other man’s firm grip put Harrison at ease immediately.
“Harrison St. John. I made it there but I don’t know what to do now. Other than see to my livestock.” 
“I’m here doing the same thing ma’self. Rode in on my horse but he didn’t take too well to the trail. I’m resting him up for now and hoping for the best. Hate to shoot the beast although I hate to see him suffer too.”
“Been here long?”
Robert shook his head. “Maybe a week. But long enough to know this isn’t quite what I expected.” He laughed. “I’ve washed a few pans of gravel on some of the abandoned claims and only found enough gold dust ta pay for my food but I hate to give up. There’s naught for me back home.”
“Aye. Me da’s croft is full to bursting so I thought to make my own way in the world. From your accent, I’d wager you’re English.”
“Indeed. By way of Manchester.”
The other man chuckled. “Well, we won’t talk about Culloden, now will we?”
Harrison grinned. “No, I think not.” He pointed into the stall. “Is this the fellow you’re nursing?”
Robert’s face fell. “Aye. That’s Brutus.”
“I know a thing or two about horses. Let me take a look at him.” He ran his hands over the animal’s withers, flanks and on down its legs. “He feels sound enough. A bit bony perhaps but I’d give him another day or two of rest and some good feed before you decide anything.” The horse, a bay gelding, rubbed his nose against Harrison’s shoulder and for an instant he felt a pang of regret for the four he sold to finance his journey here. One day, he vowed, he’d have another set, equally as fine as the first.
“I’d thought the same. Time is the best healer.” Robert patted the horse’s nose.
“Do you know many people here? Have you met a fellow by the name of Edmund Chadwick?”
“Nae, can’t say that I have. But hearsay has it there’s upwards of ten thousand men here and up and around the hills. Could be he’s not made his way into town for some time. These miners can get caught up with the fever and not wanting to leave their claims unless necessary.” He clamped his lips, which made the hairs of his beard stand up around his mouth like a pin cushion, and regarded Harrison through narrowed eyes. “I’m looking for a partner. Two heads being better than one and all that. Until now, I haven’t met anyone I’m wanting to spend time with. But I’m thinking a Sassenach might be a good choice. You lot being pigheaded and all.” He chuckled and held out his hand again. “What do you think?”
“Partner? You don’t know anything about me.”
“You’ve a flair for horses and Brutus has taken to you, that’s good enough for me. And like I said, you Englishmen are pigheaded as far as I can tell. That’ll stand a man in good stead out here.”
Harrison stared at the other man’s outstretched hand. His first inclination was to decline the offer until he noted the trimmed, albeit dirty, fingernails and the calluses on Robert’s palm. The sign of honest labour. He raised his gaze and studied the other man’s face. Or rather, only his eyes and forehead seeing as how his unruly beard covered everything else including his neck.
Robert returned his gaze with guileless blue eyes. “Well?” he prompted.
Still Harrison didn’t reply. Here he was, in Barkerville, with a wagon full of supplies and nary an inkling of what to use them for. It might be helpful to have a partner, especially someone already familiar with what to expect. It made sense that the two would be stronger and more productive together. Besides, half of something was better than all of nothing.
He grabbed the Scot’s hand. “You’ve got yourself a partner. Where to now?”
“Let’s find a saloon. The whiskey out here is rotgut but ‘tis good enough to wet your whistle and raise a toast or two to God and country.” Robert chuckled. “And Cariboo gold.””

Dialogue makes the characters and story come alive!

You can find "Pillars of Avalon", "Barkerville Beginnings" and the rest of the Canadian Historical Brides Collection here: 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

First Nations Pipe Ceremony over Okanagan Lake

Union of the Sacred Pipes ~

Reposted to honor of fellow author John Wisdomkeeper, who could use all of your thoughts and prayers during his time in hospital. 

In the hills around Okanagan Lake Valley is a place called Bear Creek.  As I hiked through these rocks, the echo of fast rushing water vibrated like thousands of flutes playing to the rushing waterfalls that all flowed into one giant lake.  One day I mediated on a large rock in the middle of the Creek - the only access being to jump a log jutting into the water.  Opening my eyes to father sky, I watched crows chase a golden eagle.  The eagle flowed upward in ever expanding circles, and the crows followed, but the eagle flew higher and higher.  A fine mist rose from the rocks and powerful medicine herbs waved in the gentle breezes.  The sweet smell of Lavender and the pungent tang of pine filled the air.  When I stopped and listened closely I heard the footsteps of the ancestors passing through the canyon - stepping from stone to stone - as they followed the game trails.
The People and The Spirits are not gone. Clothes have changed, 
but the soul of both is constant.

One day a white brother came to visit from Texas - a police officer - who loved the culture as I do, and wanted to share the pipe with some of the Native brothers.  We climbed a trail through a ravine of rocks to an old sacred clearing.  At the entrance to the clearing--a circle of rocks covered by moss and surrounded by juniper and Saskatoon bushes--we stopped and I offered tobacco, asking the ancestors to welcome our visitor.  The winds stopped, and a peace settled over the clearing, inviting our entrance.  We sat together, on the ground, waiting for some brothers who were pipe carriers to join us.

 One by one each brother showed up from his journey.  One brother traveled from a rain dance ceremony; another brother came from the sweet grass fields in Montana; a third brother came late, joking that as he had traveled the shortest distance he came on Indian time.  My friend from Texas offered a medicine bundle from his home region and asked for prayers for his family.  He explained that he had spent a lot of time studying and learning the culture of the Cheyenne, the Apache, the Arapaho and the Hopi nations, and to him it was a great honor to come to this sacred ground where lay the bones of ancestors who had traveled here before, and join with this group of pipe carriers for other Native nations.

Together we sat down in a circle and opened our medicine bundles.  Father sky peered over our circle like a bright blue blanket streaked with orange and fringed with white clouds. Wisps of white floated around us as the spirits of many ancestors, gathered around our group as we prepared to share the sacred pipes.

We began by filling our smudge bowls with sage and sweet grass, which we lit and fanned with eagle feathers until the smoke drifted towards Father Sky.  Each of us reached into the smoke and brushed our arms and legs and heads with smoke to cleanse the hardships of our travels and prepare ourselves for the ceremony.  The pipe carrier facing the North started the traditional song of offering to the ancestors, and one by one we joined into the song, lifting our voices to invite the ancestors to travel across the spiritual realm and join us in our ceremony.  As one, we bowed our heads in the circle, sharing prayers for our loved ones and the great nations, asking for blessings for all mother earth’s living and spiritual beings.  We offered prayers for the animal kingdom, the plant world and the mineral world.  The pipe carriers lifted their pipes, pointing the stems to each of the four sacred directions requesting blessing for the circle, and then the pipes were lit. As we passed the pipes, we shared the stories and teachings of our ancestors, and laughed together at the antics of trickster and the pranks he had played on our friends and elders over the years.

When we fell silent, each of us settled into the peace and harmony that had fallen over the sacred circle.  In the darkness the voices of a thousand crickets hummed in harmony, and beyond our circle the coyotes howled to the night spirits.  Grandmother moon rose into the sky and shone her light over our circle.

When the pipes were out, we packed our medicine bundles.  Standing, we joined hands, offered prayers for a safe journey for the travelers, and returned to each a hug of friendship and a common wish for a future reunion of the pipes.

John & Friend

John Wisdomkeeper
Sus' naqua ootsin'

Read John's personal story: 
Along the Red Road

Juliet Waldron's historical novels:

Friday, May 17, 2019

Apple Peels and Snails to Snare a Husband by Diane Scott Lewis

My Canadian Brides novel turns on a betrothal gone wrong. To celebrate May, I leave Canada and travel to England, and the serious search for a mate in the eighteenth century.

Folklore abounds in the villages of England around the single girl’s search for a husband—as in the eighteenth century marriage was what most young women had to look forward to, or they’d be ridiculed and regulated to spinsters, farmed out as governesses, or forced to live on the charity of their family.

Most of these search-for-true-love customs revolved around the seasons.

At the ruined Abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, girls flocked around the wishing-well in all seasons. To obtain their heart’s desire, they’d pluck a leaf from a nearby laurel bush, make a cup of it, dip this in the well, then turn and face the church. The girl would then “wish” for presumably a man she already has in mind, but must keep this wish a secret or it wouldn’t come true.

Other customs included, in Somersetshire on May Day Eve or St. John’s Eve, a lass putting a snail on a pewter plate. As the snail slithered across the plate it would mark out the future husband’s initials.

On another ritual to this end, writer Daniel Defoe remarked by saying: “I hope that the next twenty-ninth of June, which is St. John the Baptist’s Day, I shall not see the pastures adjacent to the metropolis thronged as they were the last year with well-dressed young ladies crawling up and down upon their knees as if they were a parcel of weeders, when all the business is to hunt superstitiously after a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night that they may dream who should be their husbands.”

Throwing an apple peel over the left shoulder was also employed in the hopes the paring would fall into the shape of the future husband’s initials. When done on St. Simon and St. Jude’s Day, the girls would recite the following rhyme as they tossed the peel: St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude, By this paring I hold to discover, without any delay please tell me this day, the first letter of him, my true lover.

 On St. John’s Eve, his flower, the St. John’s Wort, would be hung over doors and windows to keep off evil spirits, and the girls who weren’t off searching for snails in the pastures, would be preparing the dumb cake. Two girls made the cake, two baked it, and two broke it. A third person would put the cake pieces under the pillows of the other six. This entire ritual must be performed in dead silence-or it would fail. The girls would then go to bed to dream of their future husbands.

On the eve of St. Mary Magdalene’s Day, a spring of rosemary would be dipped into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water. The girls, who must be under twenty-one, fastened the sprigs to their gowns, drink three sips of the concoction, then would go to sleep in silence and dream of future husbands.

At All Hallows Eve, a girl going out alone might meet her true lover. One tale has it that a young servant-maid who went out for this purpose encountered her master coming home from market instead of a single boy. She ran home to tell her mistress, who was already ill. The mistress implored the maid to be kind to her children, then this wife died. Later on, the master did marry his serving-maid.

Myths and customs were long a part of village life when it came to match-making.

In my novel, On a Stormy Primeval shore, which takes place in eighteenth-century Canada, Amelia is slated to wed one man (a match made by her father), but refuses him, and through no effort of her own, the perfect man comes along in the guise of Gilbert, an Acadian trader. A bear is involved...

A short blurb:

In 1784, Amelia sails to New Brunswick, a land overrun by Loyalists escaping the American Revolution, to marry a soldier whom she rejects. Acadian Gilbert fights to preserve his heritage and property—will they find love when events seek to destroy them?
To purchase On a Stormy Primeval Shore or my other novels at Amazon or All Markets: Click HERE

For further information on me and my books, please visit my website:

 Diane Scott Lewis grew up in California, traveled the world with the navy, edited for magazines and an on-line publisher. She lives with her husband in Pennsylvania.

Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1935.