Category Archives: History
So, I was thinking about the history of sleuthing/detecting in fiction/literature and I decided to do some digging. I’d heard of Anna Katherine Green, and I’d heard about her character, Violet Strange, who’s credited as the first female sleuth in fiction.
But Green is also known as the mother of American mystery, and she’s credited as writing and publishing what’s known as the first American detective novel, The Leavenworth Case, in 1878 (image below). It’s available at Amazon, if you’re interested (reprinted, obviously). This book, featuring detective Ebenezer Gryce, was published nine years before the debut of Sherlock Holmes.
source: C. Martinelli’s blog
If you haven’t strolled down 80s lane with me and you’d like to, pop on over to Women and Words. Because I totally went on a nostalgia tour.
One of the comments over there mentioned Armistad Maupin’s work, and yes, I’ll concur. His first Tales of the City captured a particular era and community at a critical juncture in its history. I mentioned several movies that might have some of you walking down your own nostalgic road. Unless you were born AFTER the era, in which case, it’s a great historical lesson, especially if you want to set any of your writings in the 80s.
And that led me to THIS thought. No interwebs, no smart phones (and very few mobile phones), not much by way of cable TV, VHS, and satellite TV dishes nearly the size of the ones at the VLA. OMG how DID we survive? Easily. Because that’s how things were. Those of us who came of age in that era are thus immigrants to the digital world, as opposed to the younger generations who were born into it/with it. Those folks don’t know what it is to NOT have the interwebs and mobile/smart phones. So think about how technology and what’s available figures into plots and characters.
So that’s how a jog down memory lane made me think about writing.
Okay, so I went to see The Hunger Games this weekend. I’ve read the trilogy (which I really enjoyed), but the movie could only do so much in 2.5 hours. A lot of the characters got short-changed, I felt, and the movie didn’t capture what I’ve been calling the utter banality and brutality of the Capitol. But again, there’s only so much you can do with a 2.5-hour movie. The cast was great, and I enjoyed the pacing of it, so there you go.
ANYWAY, my point is, I was sitting in the theater getting ready for The Hunger Games and the previews came on, including. . .
For reals, yo. And it freaking looks like it’s going to kick some serious ass. Check out the trailer:
OMG you know you want more of this! Keep reading!
“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.” — Adrienne Rich
source: Jezebel (re-sized here)
When I heard that Adrienne Rich had died (March 27), I immediately re-read some of her poetry, which I hadn’t done in a while. And after I’d read it, I thought about words I would use to describe her and what she wrote. I came up with several: fierce, brave, uncompromising, intellect, passion, visionary, unrelenting, inspiring. There are many others, but because of her work as a poet, it’s not necessarily about how many words you place on a page. It’s the words you choose and how you place them.
I heard a story on NPR on Saturday (yeah, I’m a geek. I listen to NPR on the weekends!) about the approaching “cashless society.” This dude tried an experiment, where he didn’t use cash for two months. He has a smart phone with the apps that allow you to purchase things with the codes, and he liked the ease of not carrying cash around, but some things, he noted, needed cash. For example, tipping. He ended up having to stiff people, and that really bothered him. And he also noted that some people still prefer the anonymity of cash when making purchases, and he acknowledged that with cash, there are no hidden fees. It is what it is.
The story got me thinking. I still carry cash for tips and small purchases, and “just in case.” I never travel without cash, and I never leave the house without at least a few bucks and some change. Call me weird. It’s how I grew up, and it’s a habit I’ve refused to break.
So what does this have to do with writing characters? Well, click on and find out!
As some of you may know, I cut my spec fic teeth back in the day reading everything I could get my hands on that was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB was doing most of his writing from about 1912 to the mid-1940s. He wrote classic pulp fiction, which is what I try to model my space opera series, the Far Seek Chronicles, after. That is, in terms of his spec fic, high adventure, high drama, and amazing settings.
And c’mon. You know who this guy is. He’s the creator of Tarzan. But he’s also the creator of myriad other worlds, including a vision of Mars that his Earthling character, John Carter, had the opportunity to visit and make part of his life.
I also want to be clear. ERB was writing at a time when it was okay and even expected to be racist and sexist. ERB himself leaned toward eugenics, as author John Taliaferro notes in his biography of the writer. (read chapter one here) So yes, these books are racist and sexist, some more blatantly than others. But they’re also highly imaginative, with amazing creatures, characters, and settings. ERB was definitely a product of his time and background, which certainly doesn’t excuse some of the things in his books, but hopefully, it explains it to you, people who may not be familiar with his work. As much as we don’t like to admit it, writers are products of their times and contexts, too, and yes, that can and does get reflected in our writing.
There’ve been tons of Tarzan movies over the years, but here, at long last, is a movie version of what I’m guessing is the first book in ERB’s Mars series, though the title’s wrong. The first book in the Mars series is A Princess of Mars, and it was published in 1912. This was the first novel ERB wrote. So though he’s known more for the Tarzan series, he was writing the Mars series as well.
The premise of the Mars series is John Carter, a veteran of the Civil War (who fought for the Confederacy). After the war, he goes prospecting in Arizona and ends up in trouble with some Apaches. He hides in a sacred cave and there’s something hinky/freaky in there, because BOOM he’s transported to Mars (Barsoom), which is a dying world ravaged by war (and awesome characters and creatures). Because he’s from Earth, he has amazing powers in the low gravity of Mars. He gets caught up in the battles for justice, and there’s all kinds of adventure and some romance, too.
The title of the movie is John Carter, and I’m thinking that probably it’s an amalgam of several of the books, though I could be wrong and it could be based on the first book in the series. Princess of Mars celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and Library of America will be releasing a special commemorative hardcover edition. Kinda cool. And kinda neat that this movie will be released March 9th. ERB fans, rejoice! Let’s hope this one does the pulp fiction master proud.
To everyone who celebrates it. If you don’t, Happy Thursday and hope you have a great day.
For some fun, here’re 10 myths about T-Day.
I came across this piece today via Twitter and The Advocate magazine. It’s a write-up by Dianne Anderson-Minshall about the death of Yvonne “Miss Dixie” Fasnacht, at the age of 101. I love stories like this, because I’m a history geek, but also because it’s characters like this that provide inspiration for writers like me.
Anderson-Minshall bills her as a legendary New Orleans gay bar owner. And it’s a great story. So read on…
So how is everyone feeling about Halloween? I know some parts of the country are going to get some snow this weekend (holy crap–I’m so not ready for this…), so that might put a damper on your festivities (I hope not), but why not dress up ANYWAY? Just cuz? It’s not every day, after all, that you get to put on something gory/goofy/freaky/totally off the wall and wear it around town and nobody bats an eye.
I’m not suggesting you go supah mac daddy like THESE folks (but those are pretty awesome), just that you put a little Halloween in you and get into the spirit. It’s a festival with a long tradition embedded in the shift in seasons from fall to winter, and the mystical aspects about that. Ancient Celts believed that on the night of Samhain, the boundary between worlds was at its most transparent, and the shift in seasons mimicked the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Samhain celebrations were often marked by bonfires, and that tradition still continues in areas of the British Isles.
That holiday’s roots come from indigenous cultures of Latin America, and for all its macabre iconography, it’s actually a celebration of life — when the living acknowledge their ancestors and people who have died before them, some family and friends, others not. They celebrate the lives of those people, and reflect on life in general. It’s a little wink at death, which claims us all, and a recognition that life, and the people in it, can be absurd. I like those juxtapositions.
So have yourself some fun n’ games!
Hey, kids! Let’s talk about booze, sex, and immoral behavior! WOOOO!
Or rather, let’s talk about the historic context for those in the U.S. and how a political and social movement to ban alcohol actually ended up fueling all the vices it hoped to eradicate/regulate.
To that end, I HIGHLY recommend Ken Burns’ series that just aired on PBS called Prohibition. Burns is a skilled documentary maker, and he always finds really interesting people to talk on the films and he gets great archival material and super soundtracks. This one is no exception. You can find out more about it and see the episodes RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK, along with some great information about the era and the history of the movement, which, my friends, dawned some 80 years before the 18th Amendment was actually passed in 1920. It was the first and remains the only amendment to the Constitution that has actually curtailed rights in this country.
I’m a historian, and sociopolitical movements like Prohibition prove fascinating to study because of the myriad layers. The movement was fueled by religious fundamentalism, but it ended up providing a venue for women to enter the public sphere and engage in radical civil protest that was considered appropriate for them, given that they were trying to put an end to drink to save the household.
The movement was also fueled by xenophobia and “Drys” directed a lot of their ire at the onslaught of immigrants who entered this country in the late 19th century and early 20th from European and eastern European countries. Tied up in that was anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism (the movement was Protestant), directed again at many immigrants to this country. The Dry movement framed its arguments in terms of “true Americanism.” Those who don’t drink are somehow better and more American than all the slovenly immigrants/Catholics/Jews who bring their drinking habits with them and try to ruin the country.
However, as you’ll see, when you try to outlaw something, and basically legislate morality with a self-righteous “we know best for you” approach, chances are, lots of people are going to flout that. And, indeed, that happened. Illegal alcohol sales and production climbed, thousands of illegal bars mushroomed in cities across the country, and for the first time in U.S. history, women were going to these clubs. Because when nobody is supposed to do it, then everybody does it and all bets are off. Hence, the 1920s Jazz Era created the social milieu in which traditional boundaries within the realms of sex, gender, and sexuality were tested, crossed, and ignored. Crime escalated, too, as big crime bosses developed illegal booze businesses (think cartels) and as a result of that, violence escalated.
This is a great series, and it provides a window into our past. I said elsewhere that if you want to understand America today, look to the past. You’ll definitely see some parallels in the political and social movement of temperance and some of the movements on the political landscape today. There are lessons to be learned from history, and I’m always amazed when I delve into it that the more things change, the more they do stay the same, in many telling ways.
Here’s a trailer for “Prohibition” to wet your whistle.