Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This Day in History: Philip the Not So Fair

This Day in History: there was not a giveaway of a castle going on in 1314.  Well, considering the way politics worked, and considering the recent upheaval of Bannockburn in which many Scottish lords had lost their lands in England and many English nobles were losing their lands in Scotland--and somebody was going to get all those foreited lands and castles--there probably was.

Loyalty to a liege to be entered to win!  On the bright side, entering to win my giveaway is much easier--just leave a comment on the post.  Any comment will do, but hey, be creative.  Who's your favorite monarch?  Who's your favorite medieval madman?  What's your favorite era of history?

On the downside, I don't have a castle to give away--only a notebook with a photograph of one.  But it's a step closer than no castle at all, right?

This Day in History, speaking of lieges, in the year 1314, the world was likely still reeling from the Scots' stunning victory at Bannockburn the previous June, and adjusting to the changes that resulted, and today, on November 30, was waking up to learn that Philip IV of France, known as Philip the Fair, and sometimes as the Iron King, had died the previous day.

Philip the Fair, Philip IV of France, France, medieval history, this day in history
Philip began his reign as King of Navarre on August 16, 1284--to which the astute student of medieval history will of course immediately respond: But of course!  I see the connection!  One year, seven months, and three days before Alexander III of Scotland died on that dark and stormy night while rushing home to his new bride, who was--it's clear by his rush to get home to her!--far more fair than Philip.  Life that night was far less fair, but that's the subject of another post.

He became King of France a year and a bit later on October 5, 1285.

Really, apart from all this fairness, there is a connection, and Alexander's death most certainly impacted Philip's life, and reign.  In truth, a single blog post can barely scratch the surface of this topic--beginning with understanding the interweaving of connections, marriages, loyalties, and allegiances among the nobility.  There's a blog post or ten unto itself!

Let's start with Edward I of England (also known as Longshanks, also known as Hammer of the Scots--because apparently nobody in 1314 was satisfied with just one, or even two, monikers). Edward--purely as an interesting side note--was crowned king of England 3 days short of ten years to the day before Philip, on August 19, 1274.  Hm, there's that number three again!  Clearly there's a Da Vinci Code type secret going on here!  But I digress.  Edward's second wife was Philip's second sister (or, more accurately, his second half-sister--which means what mathematically?  Oh, never mind.)

The story that leads to their marriage is worthy of a novel in itself.  Edward's wife Eleonor of Castile died on November 28 (two days before this day in history, and one day before the day in history when Philip would die--which adds up to three days!  Clearly something is afoot.  But let's stick to the story of Edward and Margaret's marriage.)

Despite all his miserable conduct toward the Scots (whose side I very much take), Edward I has gone down in history as a man who deeply loved his wife, and a monarch who was faithful, no less, in an age where that wasn't common.  He was profoundly grief-stricken at Eleonor's death, but a king has his needs, and by that, obviously I'm referring to alliances and peace, and marriage to a princess of France was an excellent way to meet several needs.

His son, Edward II was betrothed to Blanche, the first half-sister of Philip the Fair.  But, stories of Blanche's fairness abounded throughout the land, such that Edward the Elder decided she was better off with him, nearly forty years her elder, than with his son, six years her junior.

So he sent his emissaries, and Philip the Fair agreed to trade his sister for a truce between the two countries and the province of Gascony.  Edward wanted a truce, anyway, so he could better focus on Scotland, and found Gascony a fair trade for fair Blanche.

Off went Edmund Crouchback, Edward's brother, to get the fair Blanche.  Well, it turns out Philip the Fair was perhaps not so fair after all. He went and promised Blanch to another bidder--Rudolph III of Hapsburg.  "Take my younger sister instead," he said.  (Well, to be fair, I wasn't there.  I'm paraphrasing.  Plus, he most likely said whatever he said in medieval French.)

Edward refused Margaret and, true to form, instead declared war on France.  So much for a truce.  One has to wonder just what Philip was thinking, to trade his sister for a truce and then renege on his agreement.  Of course, he was trading Blanche for a different truce--with Rudolph's father, Albert I of Germany.  (Can't we all just get along?  Apparently only if there are daughters and sisters to trade!)

I'd say long story short, but I think it's too late for that--five years later there was finally a truce.  In the end, neither father nor son got Blanche.  Edward agreed to marry Philip's sister Margaret, while Edward Junior got Philip's daughter, Isabella.

margaret of france, medieval history, bannockburn, hammer of the scots, loving marriage
The interesting upshot of this story is that, despite his rage and initial refusal to marry Margaret, and despite being 40 years older than she was, it seems that the couple ended up quite happy together, with Margaret becoming pregnant quite quickly, following Edward on his campaigns, and holding great sway over him.  He came to value her as a 'pearl of great price,' a woman renowned for her virtue, beauty, and piety.  She in turn, never married after his death, despite being only 26 at the time, saying that when he died, all men died to her.

Now, this really does all tie into Philip the Fair, wars, truces, treaties, alliances, and Scotland.  But I think we'll get to that tomorrow.  Just remember, kids, Edward's initial goal was to buy a truce with France, the better to fight Scotland with (at the risk of mixing in a fairy tale or two).  We'll see tomorrow just how well that worked out because, remember, kids--Philip the Fair wasn't always that fair.

See why it's so much easier just to leave a comment and get a picture of a castle (with a notebook attached, in which you can keep track of all these people and their alliances and backroom deals and so on!  You'll need to know this stuff if you ever sleep in this tower and wake up in the wrong century!)



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Berwick and the Bruce
Angus Og Lord of the Isles
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Writing Prompts: Advent Traditions

[A giveaway is going on right now, for a coil bound small notebook (but not too small) with a picture of Glenmirril on the front.  Leave a comment here to be entered.  I'll post the picture of the notebook at the bottom of the article.]

As November winds down, and we've entered Advent--a simple writing prompt: Do you have Advent traditions?  Any favorites?  Where do they come from--family traditions, a cultural heritage?

Coming from German heritage, we do St. Nicholas Night here.  Shoes out by the door, and in the morning, we find St. Nicholas has left gifts in them.  The tradition may well date back to medieval days, or even earlier, since Nicholas (or Nikolaus) of Myra was born in 270 A.D.  He died on December 6 of 343--hence we put out shoes on the night of December 5.
st. nicholas, advent, traditions, shoes by door,

The tradition of giving gifts in shoes springs from Nikolaus's habit of giving secret gifts.  One story, in particular, tells us of a man with three daughters who could not marry because he didn't have money for dowries.  Nikolaus rode by in the night, leaving three bags of money for their dowries, so they might marry.

Advent calendars are a great tradition, and in my family, so--apparently--is stealing your brothers' chocolate and denying it!

With nine children, we've moved to trading names for giving gifts.  This is a big event for them these days, which usually takes place when everyone is home for Thanksgiving--now that I have a son and daughter both living out of state.  Last weekend, they did the big name exchange and went out shopping together in groups.  There's always much excitement about this!

What are your traditions during advent?  What good times with family, and which family members, do they recall?  What feelings do they bring up?  If you're writing about a fictional family, what might be a unique tradition they have, or a unique twist on a common tradition, that gives insight to them as a family?  Might there be a family member who especially loves the tradition and another who hates it for some reason?  How might their celebration of these traditions give light to this darkest time of the year?

And of course, use lots of senses--colors, textures, patterns, light and dark, the sounds of bells or snow crunching underfoot or the Salvation Army calling for donations, shoppers rushing, horns beeping; the smells of cooking, spices, apples, pumpkins, turkey (unless your family is medieval--then no turkey allowed!)


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Writin Prompts: Where is Everyone Going?

As we come to the end of National Novel Writing Month--how are you doing?  Are you going to make the 50,000 words?  What is your story about, and have you ended up liking it?  Were you at all surprised by...where it went?

In my own writing, I've often been surprised at where stories end up.  Characters speak and do things, and suddenly, the story changes from what I had planned!

Today's writing prompt is partly an exercise in observation.  You need to be a good observer to be a good writer--to be able to detail the senses of the scene--the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations--to really bring it alive for a reader.

Tie this in with imagination.  Do you ever drive down a lonely highway in the middle of the night and when you see one other driver, wonder, Where are they going at this hour of the night?  (For that matter, where are you going in the middle of the night!)  Do you likewise wonder that during the day when in theory most people are at work, yet the road still has plenty of traffic?

Do you ever wonder what's happening in their lives?  If you're a writer, yes, I bet you do!  It's what makes us writers.  I don't think it's a nosey sort of interest.  In fact, it's not personal at all.  It's an interest in human nature, in how other people think and feel, because this is largely what fiction is about--bringing people to life so that all who read learn and grow by seeing the world through someone else's eyes for a few hundred pages.  At least, I think, this is what good fiction is about, the kind that leaves us a little bit changed, the kind we remember.

There are times a writer builds an entire story out of one glimpse of someone in a car, in a grocery store, at the park, in a hospital bed.  Try these pictures.

writing prompts, creating character, senses, writing craft, how to write, story ideas
Are they brothers?  Step brothers?  Foster brothers?  Best friends?  Cousins? Have they known each other since high school, since childhood?  Did they just meet 24 hours ago and decide to go somewhere together?

Names?  Based on the clothes they're wearing and the car they're driving, what kind of work do you think they do?

Where are they heading?  Somewhere local--the beach, running errands, to work?  Or are they on a long-distance drive--to Los Angeles to make it big? (In acting, in singing, in script-writing?)  Are they driving from Maine to Southern California (of from Southern California to Maine?) to the funeral of a grandmother they both hated?  Or back to visit the orphanage in which they grew up together?

Why are two relatively young men driving a minivan?  Maybe they're not two single young men.  Maybe between them they have 9 or 10 children and this is their one day free of the factory jobs--or their law practice--where they work to support those kids.  Or maybe they're heading to the store to buy a whole slew of new bikes for all those kids.  

Or maybe they're going to pick up bikes to donate to needy kids.  Maybe they just hit it rich with a brand new invention that took the world by storm and want to help others--maybe because they grew up in an orphanage in Maine.

Maybe it's not their car.  Maybe it's stolen.  Or maybe they care for an elderly man (a relative?  as a job?) and they're on the way home from visiting him at the hospital where he's having a heart transplant.  Maybe they're helping a friend move and returning for the next load.

Are they singing?  Or screaming at an on-coming truck?  What hand gestures would make you think they might be singing?  What music do these two listen to?  60s?  70s? 80s?  Can you, in your wildest imagination, image that they're listening to Cat Stevens sing Morning Has Broken right now?  Why or why not?  Glenn Miller's String of Pearls?  Hmmmmm...that's a stretch!  But hey, maybe they really get into swing.  Maybe this is their own unique rendition of Glenn Miller that would accommodate the type of singing they appear to be doing, and that's why they're headed to Los Angeles to try to sell their new take on the big band music of the 30s and 40s!

Don't forget the senses of smell.  What does it smell like in this car?  Expensive cologne (hey, they just hit it big with a new invetion, remember!)  Or French fries (they're helping a friend move, haven't had time for more than a drive-through.)  Or bike grease?

And there we go!  A full blown novel from one picture.  I was going to do three or four pictures--of two old men in a car, of a family in a car, and so on.  But it seems there's more than enough here from just one picture.

Purely as a sidenote, I went to Barbaric Yawp last night--an open mic poetry reading that happens the fourth Sunday (usually the fourth) of every month.  I read two paragraphs from Blue Bells of Scotland (where the gypsy is dancing as Shawn plays the sackbut), Mea Culpa (a poem written by the host, Christopher Title, in which he expresses regret, but not quite, for failing to save a rabbit from a cat--in fact, he got rather hungry and had a sandwich!), and two poems of my own.

Thanks to Jen Walls for taking photographs of everyone!


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

In the News: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Yesterday (Black Friday), the Minneapolis Star Tribune published--on the front page!--a story about me, Night Writers, Gabriel's Horn, and the rise of indie publishing, written by Hannah Covington and photographed by David Joles.  It can be read online at the Star Tribune.

vosika, music, publishing, Gabriel's Horn, harp, 9 children, historical fiction

I was really impressed with all the research Hannah did for this piece, and the number of people she talked to--not only a number of members of Night Writers, Jack Stanton, co-founder of Gabriel's Horn, and Chris Powell who now runs GH with me, but also representatives of Bowker, the company that issues ISBNs (which every published book and e-book must have) and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association.

In addition to all of that and phone interviews with Jack, Chris, Genny and Lyn, Hannah spent an evening at one of our Night Writers meetings as we read our pieces for the week and critiqued each others' writing, and spent nearly 4 hours at my house a week before the article came out, meeting my kids and seeing first hand a bit of what I do each day, with regards to writing, publishing, and music.

Two days before the article came out, David spent an hour, photographing what I do each morning--which in truth involves a lot of sitting at the counter with my laptop!  My older daughter, Caoimhe, by luck, had just gotten home from Tennessee (where she's studying for her Ph.D. in neurolinguistics) and arrived with the makings of cinnamon rolls, so she's in the picture above.  As a side note, Caoimhe is fluent in French, and did the French to English translations for me in Food and Feast.  

As a further side note, Caoimhe is a somewhat common name in Ireland.  It's pronounced Keeva which makes perfect sense if you're familiar with Gaelic phonetics, in which aoi makes something like an ee sound, and mh and bh both make a v sound.  It's been a great ice-breaker for her all her life and she wrote a very entertaining article about the responses to her name, her freshman year at St. John's University--including the story of one professor who pronounced it differently every day, finally stumbling on Chow Mein....Chow Mein?  Is Chow Mein here?

All the tangents and side notes aside, in addition to spending a lot of time at my laptop, most mornings I do play piano, harp, or with any luck, flute, and my daughter Cara often does sing as I play, as per the picture.

Well, truth be told, it's been months since I've had time to play flute at home.  Luckily, I teach it a couple of days a week and get to play it then.  I also played it at MacKenzie last week with Joe, who plays his cello there every week.  That was a lot of fun!  And now seems like a good time for a shameless plug.  As long as we're talking about flute, this is my favorite one--the alto flute (played here at Crossraguel Abbey).  With its lower voice, it has an incredibly rich, lush sound.  It is a terribly underused instrument, as beautiful as it is.



Ahem...back to the article--I was amazed and impressed at what went into it.  Many thanks to Hannah, David, and to Dena, my publicist, who were all part of this, and also to Night Writers, who have played a huge part in it, too.
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Creating Setting, Using the Senses, and Creating Character
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