Month: November 2014

A WORD ABOUT REGENCIES

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Writing historical fiction is especially rewarding because it allows one to wallow at will in another time frame. (And one learns so much!)

George_IV_by_Sir_Thomas_LawrenceWith the exception of In Enemy Hands (WWII), my work has been limited to Regency Romance. The “Regency” is named for George, Prince of Wales, who became official regent of Great Britain when his father, George III (“Mad King George” of the American Revolution) became too ill to carry out his duties. Strictly speaking, the Regency period lasted from 1810 to 1820 when the king died and the prince became George IV. Writers tend to be pretty liberal with the dates, though, dealing with from roughly 1800 to Victoria’s accession to the throne in the 1830s. England was in an almost constant state of war—in the colonies and then with Napoleon’s France—for fully two generations. (Sound familiar?—think two Gulf wars and Afghanistan plus.) This was also a time of great social upheaval which included the struggle for women’s rights; protests against persecution of Catholics, evangelicals, and Methodists; the industrial revolution with worker rebellion;, and the Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats). (One is reminded of the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.)

Jane Austen is, of course, THE standard for Regency Romance. Pride and Prejudice is the perfect example of the genre. The second best known author of Regencies is Georgette Heyer, who wrote in the mid-20th Century. Regencies nearly always deal with titled ladies and gentlemen—or at least members of the “gentry” (Austen’s milieu). The stories center on manners and mores of Regency society as dictated by the ton, the elite level of society just under the royal family. Regency novels are traditionally “sweet”—that is, they handle sexual affairs verrry discreetly (though I must note that apparently people then were not nearly so “nice” about such matters as the novelists of that era would lead us to believe). In any event, no one would ever have accused JA or Mrs. Edgeworth of having written a “bodice ripper.” Today, many Regencies, especially the “Regency Historicals” (which tend to be longer) often do deal more explicitly with the intimate lives of characters. The main emphasis—as in all Romance novels—is on the relationship between one man and one woman, though a given book may include a panorama of characters. Some Regencies may involve suspense or mystery or the paranormal. Still, the focus is on the hero and heroine.

Some writers of Regencies dwell too heavily, I think, on the esoteric language and customs of the period. I try not to do that, but I’m sure I am not always successful. It is, after all, the universality of the human experience that is most important, not tiresome descriptions of period clothing and using the slang of a given period—beyond giving “flavor” to a scene here and there.

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FAMILY VALUES?

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Now there’s a term that gets used and abused to an incredible degree—especially in election years. Many unthinkingly assume “family values” is a monolithic term (i.e., written in stone), one that has universal meaning like “a blue sky” or something. It conjures up images of motherhood and apple pie, Ozzie and Harriet (not Archie and Edith!), but I daresay there are as many variations of family realities as there are families. What’s more, individuals within a given family unit often have very unique views of their experiences.

I don’t know. Maybe it was inevitable that I would grow away from my family as I went off to college (the first and, so far as I know, only one of my generation to do so)and then took a job that would have me halfway around the world for the formative first half of my adult life. Certainly I have not—with most members of my family—achieved the degree of closeness I must have desired in moving back to the west coast. And I don’t think I am merely stubborn. I am not particularly happy about this state of affairs, but I am not unhappy either. It just is.

People evolve as human beings from their experiences, and my experiences have been very different from theirs. But does evolved suggest something superior? Or only different? When I was a kid I must have seen black people in that year that Mom and we three older kids lived in Portland, Oregon, to be nearer Dad who was then stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, but I don’t remember any making an impression on me. Certainly when we moved back to the southern Oregon coast, I never knew any. I do remember liberal use of the word nigger, especially from my father. And Myrtle Point at one time was rather proud of its “sundown rule” about black folks. There were very few black people on campus when I went off to college—just as the civil rights movement was heating up! As for gays, I never even knew what a homosexual truly was—just that “homo” was a pejorative term (though I did not know what the word pejorative meant either.)

Today I am embarrassed and ashamed of how ignorant I was. But I truly think I have grown from what I was. Grown. Evolved. Are those words of arrogance? I surely hope not.

TECHNOLOGY—FRIEND OR FOE?

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Technology has long been the bane of my existence. When the college required that instructors post their syllabi on-line, I had to have a student aide virtually (no pun intended) do it for me! However, this IS the age of technology. Those who don’t have at least a bit of a handle on that entity are likely to be considered troglodytes—or worse. The whole world is ruled by computers these days.

Alvin Toffler once wrote a book, The Third Wave, in which he discussed three “waves” of human development. The first was the agricultural revolution when man became a food producer rather than a food gatherer. The second was the industrial revolution when manufacturing moved from homes to factories. The third is the age of technology. Toffler wrote the book in the 70s, I think, and it has resonated with me more and more over the years. In fact, I need to reread it.

Technology has given us the age of information. Information overload, in fact. Google is trying to record every book ever published—that is, they were doing so until, as I understand it, they ran into a snag with copyright laws. In any event, there is more information at one’s fingertips (literally: just put your fingers to the keyboard!) than any one person can hope to command. A parallel to this is, I think, the transformation of American culture from being a manufacturing culture to a service-oriented culture—basically, that is. We shall always have to produce “goods” to a great extent—we still need to eat and drive and furnish our homes—but it seems to me that more and more the job openings are in service areas. And this change-over appears to be part and parcel of the huge issue of lack of jobs in today’s economy. Such monumental turn-arounds in culture are always accompanied by social and economic unrest. However, I’m sure that idea offers little comfort to folks standing in unemployment lines!

IN THE WAKE OF ISIS (OR ISIL)

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Fear mongers delight in spewing hate.

Since 9-11, one of their favorite targets seems to be Muslims. Muslims in general—no distinctions among sects and offshoots. No hoods and burning crosses in the 21st Century. Today they hide behind the anonymity of the internet, polluting cyberspace with stuff often innocently titled “Information about _________” (insert topic: Obama, the evils of government, Muslims). Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? After all, most Americans are willing (eager?) to learn about people and cultures with which we are unfamiliar. But, often as not, the stuff that frequently gets passed around today is vicious MISinformation.

The writers generalize about a whole umbrella culture by focusing on beliefs and actions of fanatics. The fear is upped several degrees when we see the “success” of groups like ISIS, but I wonder how self-styled Christians would like it if they were to be judged by humanity at large on the actions and beliefs of, say, snake-handlers or a Jim Jones cult?

Recently, one of these diatribes popped up in my email purporting to lament the plight of women under Islam with a dire warning about what the jihadists have planned for American women when they (inevitably) establish Sharia law over the ignoramuses in main street America.

True: Women in the Middle East pay a heavy price for their life as human beings because fate gave them a certain set of chromosomes. For a sober look at the life of ME women behind closed doors and under Taliban-like edicts, I recommend three books. Jan Goodwin’s The Price of Honor is a collection of real-life accounts of how women fair in several Middle East countries. If nothing else, the book shows a tremendous variety of laws and beliefs that parallels the variety one finds in Christian-dominated states. The Price of Honor predates America’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is still appallingly accurate, I think. Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azer Nafisi, gives another insightful look at the struggles of women in a country run by the most conservative (fanatical?) practitioners of their religion. Finally, I recommend a novel by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini, a naturalized American citizen who grew up in Afghanistan, knows and understands well the women of his native culture.

It is an on-going struggle, but women in the West may rejoice that we are freer than our sisters in the Middle East. Had it been up to most “Christian” men in America, though, women today would not be able to own property on their own, vote, serve on juries, enter certain professions, and so on. Few American women would even consider living life under Islamic law as practiced by the ayatollahs or the Taliban, but how many would like to return to 19th Century America or England? My point is that in the West women themselves were largely responsible for their “liberation” (aided and encouraged by enlightened males!), and it will probably be women in the Middle East who win their own freedom (aided and encouraged by enlightened males).

Spreading fear of some grand jihad is not going to advance the conservative (evangelical?) cause—nor is it going to make America a better place. In an area at least equal in size to the U.S. and with a total population exceeding ours, one finds as many disparate religious and political factions in Islamic as in Christian nations. As for Muslims or any other religious faction “taking over” in America— Well, call me naïve, but I have more faith in our system—and in our people—than that!