Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chili Pepper Advice

When drying and crushing your freshly picked chili pepper harvest, I strongly recommend that you avoid touching your face and eyes, and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Gloves may even be a good idea.

But the end result sure is tasty.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

1700s Fashion

Just some musing on the characters' clothes and the clothes of the era, with help from Becca Whitham's Historical clothing blog.

The French Revolution began in 1789. A Midwinter Night's Revolution begins, therefore, in 1786. Fashion in these days (as far as I can tell,) was dominated by the excesses of the French royal court. Some of the fashions, therefore, were very silly--like the enormous wigs. Others were lovely, if impractical. Regular people, of course, wore much simpler clothes.

Lyta's nicest dress, the one she wears to the second masquerade, is in this style: Felicity's work dress, though hers is brown with yellow stripes and a pattern of yellow flowers. For normal affairs, she might wear something like this quilted dress, or this striped dress.

These are quite distinct from the multi-part affairs like this robe a la francais or this Italian dress. (These are close in style to the one commissioned for the third masquerade, especially the square collar and ruffled cuffs, but hers was simpler, with only ribbon embellishments and no embroidery.) Lyta would have never worn anything like this or this, except perhaps during her brief stay at the faerie court, when her own clothes were ruined.

To be frank, Lyta's father would never pay for a fancy dress unless it had some purpose. Lyta has more affection than her father for "frippery", but her lifestyle is much too active for such things, though a top like this Spanish vest might certainly turn her eye, or this Polish (or Polish-style) dress. This this absurd court dress, though, she would regard with nothing but horror.

Jasper, by contrast, wears extravagant things without a second's thought. Luckily, it was an age when men wore beautiful things; shortly afterward, men's clothing became much less ornate. Fashion in Jasper's world is a bit behind Lyta's world and they have different collars, but he is always keen on the latest human styles.

Jasper would callthis jacket plain,, but the cravat is nice. This lovely blue jacket is more to his taste.

Just as with women's clothing, there's a clear difference between the clothes worn by the wealthy and the common. Another men's jacket. Jasper, of course, likes his jackets decorated with jewels, but the gold embroidery make a nice accents.

The dressing gowns I've found surprised me--I expected something more like a modern robe. I enjoy their emo-style, but I can't imagine Jasper buttoning his all the way up. Here's one in a more decorated style.

And finally, the interior of a carriage--add some magic lanterns, four terrifying dragon-horses, and a set of goblin footmen, and you're ready to go.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing Culture and Gender: Lessons from West Africa and Europe

When we write, it's important to remember that gender norms vary greatly in different cultures. For example, in many tropical agricultural societies, women are (to oversimplify) the primary 'breadwinners' of the household, doing the agricultural labor to support their children and families. Their economic independence translates into social independence, for in these societies, we find far fewer men and women in monogamous pair-bonds.

See, for example, Cosmic Yoruba's post, How single unmarried women thrived in one pre-colonial West African society, the Baule:

"...gender attributes were not rigidly defined. The division of labour in which men and women were assigned different tasks were apparently upheld due to efficiency in production and were not enforced by supernatural or civil sanctions. Deviations were acceptable when necessary or convenient meaning that men could perform women’s labour tasks when the situation called for it and vice versa. Finding a partner of the opposite sex to aid with labour did not necessarily mean finding a husband or wife, but could mean finding a “sister” or a “brother”. Deviations were only rare in the cases of apprenticeship though healers and diviners could be men or women.

Women chiefs were important, although they grew less in number at the time of colonisation. Women could attract vast amounts of wealth and dependants (both men and women), they played their role in trading and gold prospecting expeditions, and acquired domestic slaves in their own rights."

In other societies, like the European ones most of us are familiar with, men have taken on the primary food-procurement duties, while women have taken on more 'homemaking' duties (at least, before the industrial revolution made earning an income less physically demanding.) In these societies, women are more dependent on men (if they want to raise families, anyway,) and we see more monogamous pair-bonding.

When we write, it is not important to create a character who conforms to their society's gender norms and expectations. It is important to understand how the character fits in with their society. One culture may value women who are strong leaders and place few constraints on their sexuality, while another values chastity and meekness. Different behaviors are seen as 'normal', and whether your character fits in, sticks out, or has new and different ways of doing things will affect other people's reactions to them, expectations, and the character's own self-image. And societies are very often in flux.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oberon Tyrannus

One of the scenes I drew for my book, A Midwinter Night's Revolution. The scene has changed in revision--they encounter actors rather than a painting--but I still like the picture.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Diversity in Medieval Europe/Euro-based Fantasy Worlds

I often hear it said that it would not make sense to have much diversity in a Medieval European or European-based fantasy world. Aside from this being a good reason to research and write more fantasy and historical fiction set outside of Europe (I have some ideas for a story set in the Thar desert along the Indian/Pakistani border, but more on that later,) I would just like to note that--not only is it your book if you're writing it, and you can write whatever characters you damn well please--but also that even before the advent of the car and the plane, people actually did move around a fair amount, and thus people of different ethnicities, even non-Caucasians, could be found in Europe at any point in history.

Or as the author of the tumblr People of Color in European Art History puts it:

"The all-white reinvention of Medieval Europe commonly depicted in popular fiction, films, tv shows and art is entirely that: a fiction. An invention. An erasure. Obviously, people of color have been an essential and integral part of European life, European art, and European literary imagination since time immemorial. To cite “historical accuracy” as a means to project whitewashed images of the past into the future to maintain a fiction of white supremacy is an unconscionable farce.
People of Color are not an anachronism."

Prehistory: As far as archaeologists can tell, different humans and human-relatives, like Neanderthals, left Africa and eventually wandered over to Europe. Different waves of people looked different, acted differently, and may not have even been Homo sapiens, but it appears that they did occasionally inter-marry. We don't know exactly what these early people looked like, but from what I've read, our best guess is that they looked like the Khoi-San peoples of southern Africa. Skeletons like those of Grimaldi man (actually two skeletons,) appear to support this idea. No one is sure when (or why) people in Europe became light-skinned--some think it was long ago, in response to the climate; others think it was much more recently, in response to agriculture. But even as some groups began looking like some modern Europeans, other groups were moving around, migrating, intermarrying, wiping people out and getting wiped out in turn.

Here's a painting from Bronze Age Crete, 2,700-1,500 BCE:


No one knows who these brave folk were, (and the painting may not have been intended to be a portrait of anyone in particular,) but clearly, the artist had met folks with more than one skin tone.

Classical times: By the time the Romans showed up, the ancestors of most of the modern European ethnic groups we know today were hanging out and interacting, and they sometimes showed up in in surprising places. For example, sub-Saharan Africans (as well as North Africans and Egyptians) lived in Roman York, (as we know from their graves). The Romans liked to mix things up by moving their soldiers and mercenaries far away from their homelands, so they'd be less likely to unite with the peasants in an uprising.

"There is evidence of the presence of black people in Roman Britain. Archaeological inscriptions suggest that most of these residents were involved with the military. However, some were in the upper echelons of society. Analysis of a skull found in a Roman grave in York indicated that it belonged to a Black African or mixed-race female. Her sarcophagus was made of stone and also contained a jet bracelet and an ivory bangle, indicating great wealth for the time." Wikipedia.

So there were black folks living in England before the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

The Mediterranean was the highway of the Classical world, and many famous folks came from places you might not expect. For example, Herodotus, of the Histories fame, was born in Turkey, and the famous Roman Christian St. Augustine was born in Africa, in what is now Algeria.

And this guy:


Terentius Neo, was a baker in Pompeii. (Sadly, his wife's name does not appear to have been preserved.)

Medieval times: In the Middle Ages, North Africans ruled Spain for hundreds of years, Arab and African merchants traded gold and spices, Roma wandered, Jews did various things, Africans were sold into slavery, ambassadors and mercenaries did their jobs, people settled and moved and intermarried, and of course there were the Magyars and Turks and Mongols and Sami and Basques and so on and so forth.


This Romani lady is being robbed.


Sami family, from far northern Europe.


Alessandro the Moor, one of the de Medicis of Italy.


Hasekura Tsunaga, the Japanese ambassador, painted in Italy in 1615 by Claude Duret.

Not to mention that ethnicity is relative--if you grew up in a small, isolated community in northern England, those folks in southern England might as well have been in a different country as far as you were concerned. They'd speak with substantially different accents, perhaps be on the other side in a civil war, might practice their religion differently, etc. But at least they're still kinda English, unlike those Irish over there, who even in the 1800s were depicted by non-Irish as subhuman. Unusual hair or eye color for one's area could really stand out, for better or worse.

And as we approach Lyta and Jasper's time, we have:


Kalmyk girl Annushka, 1767, Russia (Eastern Europe: the forgotten 2/3s).


Queen Charlotte of Great Britain and Ireland, painted by Ramsey in 1769, and


Thomas Dumas of France, painted by Oliver Pichat in 1790. (Lyta and Jasper could have met this guy.) Dumas, you say? Why yes, he is the father of that Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers:

Keep in mind, much of this goes in reverse, too. White folks showed up in places you might not expect them, either. People have always moved around.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Working List of the World's Awesomist Animals

1. Narwhals
2. Baby Narwhals
3. Cartoon narwhals with blogs
4. PANGOLINS
5. Sloths, if they bathed
6. Definitely platapi
7. Echidnas, I did a report on them once in 6th grade. They lay eggs, too, but platapi get all the glory.
8. Extremo-philes
9. Those things with sulphur DNA
10. Chinese giant fucking salamanders
11. Jumping spiders
12. Cephalopods
13. Chinchillas
14. Baby seals

Feel free to post pictures. Of the animals.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kindergarten, oh my!

Just dropped my little fellow off at his first day of kindergarten. Big day!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."
--Fran├žois de La Rochefoucauld

Jasper and Lyta, all decked out for the masquerade.
At one point, when the story was only about forty pages long, I had the notion of illustrating it myself. This was my 'cover'. Then I decided that it would be greatly improved by having a revolution, and it turned into a novel.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Alberich the Cunning

"Albert the who?" asked Lyta.
"Alberich the Cunning! He's the greatest smith who ever lived," said Durin, smiling.
A distant look entered Jasper's eyes. "Nurse always told us his tales before bed. This volume tells how he stole the Rhine Ring back from Odin, married a mermaid, and for his cleverness became king of the Dwarves."