An eye for detail

I’ve been swapping chapters and talking story with some of the other historical fiction writers from Pitch Wars. One of them, Gwen C. Katz, drew this to illustrate a scene in the first chapter of my Victorian ghost story, Within the Sickle’s Compass; or, The Haunting of Springett Hall:

Lucy

Trust a historical fiction writer to catch the details, right down to the black-on-black embroidery on Sir Edmund’s waistcoat. 🙂

Of course, I’ve noticed that the artist-writers I know have a knack for detail and description. I have a theory that they’re so used to studying and capturing detail that they know just how to convey it to readers. Gwen’s writing was no exception–it provided me with very clear mental images. Since details are especially important to setting the scene in historical fiction, I spend a lot of time studying literature and artifacts from the time period I’m writing about, and I try to keep a strong mental picture of the setting my characters are moving through. I’ll admit to being jealous of my artist-writer friends for whom that process seems to be second nature.

You can see more of Gwen’s work, and a little about her historical fiction, Among the Red Stars (about the “Night Witches,” Russian women who flew biplanes against the Nazis in WWII), at her deviantART web page here.

Did Lady Macbeth have a first name? Shakespearean name etiquette

I’m working on an Elizabethan historical fiction, and I’ve been struggling to find out what a male and female character who are lifelong friends would call each other in the sixteenth century. I wrote about it here, but I turned to Shakespeare for more research, and I feel a little more confident about my answers now.

First, the question of Lady Macbeth. In Shakespeare’s play, she has no name of her own. She is simply the wife or lady of Macbeth. That’s her entire identity. Though some of that is dramatic convention, there’s also a lot of historical weight behind it. Elizabethan men and women were defined to a large extent by their social and political roles. Women had no legal standing outside of their family role (though they did sometimes have their own jobs and could hold some positions in the parish or community).

**My site statistics tell me a lot of visitors come to this page searching for Lady Macbeth’s first name, and I don’t want to disappoint. The Shakespearian character Lady Macbeth is based on a medieval Scottish queen named Gruoch, daughter of Boite, and granddaughter of Cinaed (Kenneth III, King of Scotland). Macbeth was Gruoch’s second husband, and while I’m not familiar with medieval Scottish naming conventions, I’ll bet that she was not called Lady Macbeth in her own days.**

A lot of Shakespeare’s characters are known only by their surname or role, but not all of them. Romeo and Juliet, of course, have first names and use them to address each other, as do Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest, and the characters in Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have foreign or fantastical settings, though, so the characters may not be following Elizabethan conventions.

The Merry Wives of Windsor takes place in an England that would have felt contemporary to Shakespeare’s audiences, so it may be more accurate in showing English customs. This is the play, then, I’m trusting the most to help me get my name usage right.

The men usually use “Master So-and-so” when speaking to each other, and sometimes just call each other by their last names, especially when speaking to someone lower down the social ladder. Knights and priests are given the title “Sir” along with their first name. The men also address each other by roles or relationships, such as “cousin.”

The women, likewise, address each other as “Mistress So-and-so,” even when they’re close friends. In families, people use first names, including wives speaking to their husbands. Women call servants by their first or last names (gender doesn’t seem to influence which they use).

The character who interests me the most for my purposes is young Anne Page, who’s being courted by several men in the play. All the men–whether courting her or not–generally refer to her as Anne Page or Mistress Anne, and when speaking to her, most call her Mistress Anne. The exception is her favorite beau, who calls her Anne or Sweet Nan. She calls him Master Fenton (Fenton is probably his surname).

So, “Master” or “Mistress” was generally used as a sign of respect, often with last names, but sometimes with first names when the people knew each other well and/or one of them was much younger (I don’t think married women were ever addressed as “Mistress First-name,” and I’m getting the assumption that young men would use “Master First-name” with each other from Much Ado About Nothing).

First names might be used alone between single men and women, but this was probably more common when the couple was courting or at least had a romantic interest–friends would probably still use Master/Mistress. Unlike the Victorians, however, using first names does not seem to have been an indication of betrothal. Also, the use of first names alone seems to have been reserved for private moments. In public, more formal address was probably considered proper.

This all applies to middle class Elizabethans. Members of the nobility would have had titles to complicate matters. Servants seem to have been more relaxed in their name etiquette, and might call each other by just surnames or even first names regardless of gender.

E.B. Wheeler’s official unofficial Pitch Wars mentee bio

Pick me, pick me, for your Pitch Wars mentee!

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I’m taking part in Pitch Wars this month, a chance to pitch my book to a group of awesome mentors in hopes that one of them will fall in love with the story and help me polish it for the agent round in November. Pitch Wars is hosted by the wonderful Brenda Drake. You can read more here.

Many of the Pitch Wars hopefuls are participating in #PimpMyBio, and I wanted in on the fun, so this is mine. Go here to see everyone in the blog hop lineup. The animated gifs are kind of a Pitch Wars thing, but I’m trying not to go overboard with them, because they’re addictive.

So, I’m E.B. Wheeler, and here are some reasons you want me as your Pitch Wars mentee:

  • I’ve worked as a freelance writer for nine years, so I work hard, I’m self-motivated, and I know how to get along with a variety of clients and work partners.
  • I’m a member of one of the roughest, toughest critique groups in the wild, wild West (full of talented writers and great people). I’m not afraid of critiques, and I know how to use them to improve my writing.
  • I read widely, though I always make my way back to historical stories. Some of my read-’em-over-and-over books include The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Huck Finn, A Midwife’s Tale, The Secret Garden, Northanger Abbey, Night Watch, and The Lord of the Rings. I’m currently reading Unbroken and rereading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
  • I have a plethora of random skills, like fencing, archery, playing harp and hammered dulcimer, knitting Viking helmets, and getting crayon off walls (heat it with a hair dryer and use dish soap–it wipes right off). And, yes, I know what a plethora is. 😉
  • I have direct access to rich, smooth Spanish chocolate. I also make some pretty scrumptious cookies.
  • Applejack is my favorite pony, but I’m most like Twilight Sparkle.
  • My book, Within the Sickle’s Compass, is a YA historical supernatural mystery (that’s a thing, right?). It was my NaNoWriMo book last year and has gone though a lot of polishing since then. In short:
    Lucy is haunting the Victorian estate of Springett Hall, certain she died trying to fix a terrible mistake–one she must remember and set right before oblivion reclaims her.

Still want to know more about me? Since I’m a huge history geek, and this is a war, I decided to use questions from a Civil War veterans’ survey to tell you about myself. The state of Tennessee created this survey to capture “a true history of the Old South.” Some of the questions are so delightfully biased that I’m including them as they were written, though I’m tweaking the answers to fit my purpose. You can find more about the surveys here.

Remarks on ancestry

I’m part Celt (Welsh) and part Viking (Danish), so I go after what I want with dogged determination. Being an underdog just makes me fight harder.

As a boy and young man, state what kind of work you did. If you worked on a farm, state to what extent you plowed, worked with a hoe and did other similar types of work. (Certain historians claim that white men would not do work of this sort before the war.)

Certain historians sure are shady, aren’t they? Not at all like surveys that beg you for the “right” answer. I love history.

As a young woman, I mucked out horse stalls, set up chairs and tables for a local church, and did filing and other paperwork. In college, I worked early morning janitorial, waited tables, tutored other students, worked at a fabric and craft store, and managed a computer lab (not all at the same time). I then taught high school English and went back for my MA in history and MLA in historic landscape preservation. I’ve worked as a teaching fellow, historic preservation consultant, and freelance writer. I’m currently a work-at-home mom with two wonderful, challenging little girls.

To what extent were there white men in your community leading lives of idleness and having others do their work for them?

This question was just too funny (and awful) to pass by. A-hem. In my experience, people of all nationalities, cultures, genders, belief systems, etc., are capable of working hard, and of being lazy. People are people. I generally like them as individuals, and I recognize we all have unique challenges and experiences to add to the human story, but in day-to-day life I prefer to focus on the things we have in common rather than on our differences. Love, longing, heartache, fear, wonder, hope–these are the makings of our shared humanity (and elements of a good story, no?).

State in your own way your experience in the War from [enlistment] on to its close.

By “the War,” we mean writing, of course. I’ve always loved stories. When I was little, I would dictate my bedtime story preferences to my mom, who was often totally baffled by my requests (i.e., “Tell me a story about a unicorn, a dragon, and the Smurfs”). I won some elementary school writing contests and had my stories published as a result. I’ve been involved in a wide range of writing projects as an adult (some paid, some not): community plays, web site content, scripts for educational software programs and training videos, field trip guides, guidelines for historic preservation, and both fiction and creative nonfiction. I’ve gotten plenty of rejection letters along with the successes, but I love writing and telling stories too much to ever quit.

If you were in hospital or in prison, state your experience here.

I’ve never spent any time in prison, but I had an extended hospital stay after I broke my neck and back in a car accident and had to get back on my feet (literally). I now have Brown-Sequard syndrome (1,000 points if you know what that is without looking it up!). So, I’m differently abled, and dealing with that has given me a unique perspective that I try to bring into my writing. I’m currently working on a YA novel based on my experience, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

Give the names of some of the great men you have known or met in your time.

Who are my heroes, you ask? As a kid, I often found my heroes in books. Adaon in Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron was one of the first people/characters I remember admiring, due to his willingness to do what was right regardless of the personal cost. I also really like Lloyd Alexander himself, who took time to write back to a little girl who loved his books and give her some encouraging words. I think Bill Watterson is one of the great geniuses of our age. There are some historical figures I look up to, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Smith, Rosa Parks, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and many others who took a stand for what they believed in. My favorite heroes, though, are everyday people I see quietly pressing on, doing good in their corner of the world despite whatever personal hardships they face. That may sound cheesy, but I won’t apologize, because it’s true. 🙂

So, pick me for Pitch Wars, and it’ll be like:

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