Four Weeks Until the Release of Regulated for Murder

AdairRegulatedForMurderCoverLoRes My next book, Regulated for Murder, will be released in four weeks, on 14 October 2011.

For ten years, an execution hid murder. Then Michael Stoddard came to town.

Bearing a dispatch from his commander in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat Lieutenant Michael Stoddard arrives in Hillsborough in February 1781 in civilian garb. He expects to hand a letter to a courier working for Lord Cornwallis, then ride back to Wilmington the next day. Instead, Michael is greeted by the courier's freshly murdered corpse, a chilling trail of clues leading back to an execution ten years earlier, and a sheriff with a fondness for framing innocents—and plans to deliver Michael up to his nemesis, a psychopathic British officer.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne's free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Vestal Virgins: the Most Powerful Women in Ancient Rome

Suzanne Tyrpak author photoRelevant History welcomes historical suspense author Suzanne Tyrpak, who ran away from New York a long time ago to live in Colorado. Her debut novel, Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome, is set in Rome at the time of Nero, and Tess Gerritsen says, “Her writing is pure magic.” “Pure comedic brilliance” is how J.A. Konrath describes Suzanne’s collection of nine short stories, Dating My Vibrator. And Scott Nicholson says, “Enter this circus and let Suzanne show you why horror is the greatest show on earth” of Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. For more information, check her blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

Vestal Virgins have always been surrounded by mystery. We’ve heard the term “Vestal Virgin”—Procol Harum sings about them—but who were they? Priestesses of old who protected the sacred flame of the Roman goddess of the hearth, Vesta—in many ways this celibate sisterhood might be considered forerunners to the nuns of the Catholic Church.

RomeVestal Virgins were the most powerful women in the Roman Empire. At a time when women had few rights and were treated like property, Vestal Virgins were revered. Unlike other Roman women, vestals were highly educated. And, although they lived a cloistered life, they had considerable freedom and participated in the world in ways denied to other women.

To be chosen a Vestal Virgin was a great honor, and candidates were usually daughters of leading Roman families. Only six women were designated as priestesses of Vesta, including the Vestal Maxima, who served as the head priestess, similar to a Mother Superior. When a position became available, a number of girls were nominated, but only one candidate was chosen by lottery. Vestals had to be free of physical imperfections, both parents had to be alive, and the girls (usually age six through ten) had to be virgins.

Though most women were completely dependent on men and could own no property, Vestal Virgins had financial independence. They could own property, and the state paid them substantial salaries. Though most Roman women weren’t taught to read or write, Vestal Virgins were highly literate. They scribed many legal documents, and important texts from throughout the empire were kept within the House of the Vestals.

The vestals wielded political and religious influence. They served as members of the Collegiate of Pontiffs, religious advisors to the Roman Senate. After the time of Julius Caesar, the head of the Collegiate of Pontiffs, the Roman Emperor was also appointed Pontifex Maximus. Consequently, the Vestal Virgins were in close contact with the emperor.

The vestals performed many public rituals and sacrifices throughout the year. For example: the harvest festival of Meditrinalia included a chariot race that began at dawn. The victor’s horse was sacrificed, its entrails smeared upon the altar of the Regia, where the Collegiate of Pontiffs resided. It was the job of the vestals to collect blood from the severed genitals to be used the following spring in order to ensure protection of flocks of sheep.

The priestesses of Vesta were believed to hold great power, therefore their blessings were solicited. People gave offerings to the priestesses to ensure that their loved ones would be included in the vestals’ prayers.

A privilege denied to most women was the popular entertainment of gladiator games. Chariot races took place in the morning, and women were welcome to attend, but afternoon brought games that ended in brutal death. The arena was cleared of women—except for the Vestal Virgins. In fact, the priestesses were designated their own box at the Circus Maximus, and the Coliseum, just below the emperor’s box.

Vestals were considered sacrosanct, and a vestal’s word was considered sacred. At times, her word could override an emperor’s. For example: a prisoner, sentenced to death, might escape his fate if pardoned by a Vestal Virgin.

RomeThe six Vestal Virgins are, perhaps, best known for tending the sacred fire which represented the heart of Rome. Once a year, the fire was allowed to burn out. It would then be rekindled in a ritual, using a clear crystal and the rays of the sun.

Because they tended the fire sacred to Vesta, virgin goddess of the hearth, the priestesses had to remain pure, and consequently vestals were pledged to thirty years of chastity on penalty of death. If suspected of breaking her vow, a vestal would face a trial with the Collegiate of Pontiffs and punishment to be doled out by the Pontifex Maximus. She might be tested in a variety of ways. For example: a vestal might be given a sieve in which she had to carry water from the Tiber river. No doubt, cheating did take place—smearing the sieve with grease might provide a way around the test. Or a vestal might be thrown into the river: if she sank, she would be considered pure, and, if she swam, she would be proved tainted—a test reminiscent of the much-later Salem witch trials. Once found guilty, a vestal would usually be sentenced to death. First, hair shorn and dressed in a drab robe instead of finery, she would be paraded through the streets, as if she were already dead. She would then be entombed alive with scant provisions and left to asphyxiate.

Of course, there were exceptions—not necessarily for the better. The emperor, Nero, for example, held himself above the law and is known to have raped at least one Vestal Virgin. The family name she bore was Rubria, but that is all we know of her. This gave me ample leeway, as a writer of fiction, to write my novel, Vestal Virgin: Suspense in Ancient Rome.

After serving for thirty years, Vestal Virgins were free to leave the order, but at a time in history when women were valued mostly for childbearing and life expectancy was short, what fate could a woman hope for in her late thirties? A vow of chastity might be a demanding price, but the rewards were great. Because of the power and freedom granted Vestal Virgins, rather than go to live with a male relative, many priestesses chose to remain in service.

*****

Vestal Virgin book coverA big thanks to Suzanne Tyrpak. She’ll give away one electronic copy of Vestal Virgin to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.

**********

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Six Weeks Until the Release of Regulated for Murder

AdairRegulatedForMurderCoverLoRes My next book, Regulated for Murder, will be released in six weeks, on 14 October 2011.

For ten years, an execution hid murder. Then Michael Stoddard came to town.

Bearing a dispatch from his commander in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat Lieutenant Michael Stoddard arrives in Hillsborough in February 1781 in civilian garb. He expects to hand a letter to a courier working for Lord Cornwallis, then ride back to Wilmington the next day. Instead, Michael is greeted by the courier's freshly murdered corpse, a chilling trail of clues leading back to an execution ten years earlier, and a sheriff with a fondness for framing innocents—and plans to deliver Michael up to his nemesis, a psychopathic British officer.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne's free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Book ‘Em North Carolina 2012 Puts the Squeeze on Illiteracy

BookEmLogo On February 25, 2012, I will join more than 75 authors of historicals, crime fiction, romance, and non-fiction at Book ‘Em North Carolina in Lumberton to show my support of the need to increase literacy rates in communities. Book ‘Em’s mission is to raise public awareness of the correlation between high illiteracy rates and high crime rates. I’m donating a portion of my book sales at the event to literacy campaigns targeting school-age children as well as adults of all ages.

If you’ll be in the area then, please mark your calendar and attend this excellent event. It’s FREE. For more information, visit the Book ‘Em NC web site.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Winners of Gold

John Putnam and Marilyn (M. E.) Kemp have each won a copy of Gold by Steve Bartholomew. Congrats to John and Marilyn!

Thanks to Steve Bartholomew for showing us a slice of the California Gold Rush and the challenges people went through to make the trip to California. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Traveling to Gold

SteveBartholomewAuthorPhoto Relevant History welcomes Western historical author Steve Bartholomew. Steve grew up in San Francisco but now resides in Lakeport, a more remote town in Northern California. He has completed seven novels: five published and two more in the pipeline. He’s mainly fascinated by the California Gold Rush and by the numerous strange and wonderful characters who lived in the West during the second half of the 19th Century. This drama inspired his third novel, Gold, A Tale of the California Gold Rush. His next novel, The Imaginary Emperor, set in antebellum San Francisco, is now available. For more information, check his blog.        

*****

SteveBartholomewBookCover On January 24, 1848, an event occurred in the wilderness of Northern California which was to change the Nation and the World. James W. Marshall, working for John Sutter, was surveying a site for a new sawmill. He discovered a few flakes of gold in the American River. Sutter and Marshall both agreed to keep it a secret, but the news got out.

As a result, the village of Yerba Buena, population about 800, was to swell in size to over 30,000 in less than two years. It also changed its name to San Francisco. People swarmed in from every country on Earth. In the 1850’s California was probably the most multicultural place on the planet.

Contrary to Hollywood myth, most of these people did not arrive by way of wagon train. Some did, but thousands more came by sea. On the East Coast, businesses, banks and government offices had to close their doors because the employees were headed for the Gold Rush. The fastest and most comfortable way to get there was by ship. Old sailing ships were dragged out of the wrecking yards and refitted to meet the demand. Every vessel that could float was booked up. Those who could afford it bought tickets for the new sidewheel steam ships.

Imagine yourself living in a New York tenement in 1850. You are working twelve hours a day for barely enough to live on; the place is freezing cold at night and sweltering in the day, with no running water. Maybe five or six others share your flat. You have no future except more of the same. Then, suddenly, you’re offered a way out. You can travel to a different world if you can scrape up the fare, about $200. You can go to a land where gold pops out of the ground, the weather is always warm and sunny, and there’s plenty of food and room.

There’s only one catch: to get there you have to trust a new, untested technology. You will be out of contact with humanity for months at a time, and you’ll have to live on bully beef or salt pork and hardtack. There may be storms, and it’s always possible the ship may blow up and sink. This was the choice faced by eager passengers electing to go by steerage in a steamship. There was no lack of applicants.

The typical sidewheeler was about two hundred feet long and thirty feet or so wide in the beam. She was the largest wooden-hulled ship ever built. Her engine had only one cylinder and a tall smoke stack that often drifted black cinders onto the passenger and crew. The engine was noisy and might burn as much as 60 tons of coal per day. There were masts and sails in case the engine broke down or ran out of fuel. The ship could carry up to a thousand passengers.

The main advantage of the steamer was that she could get you to California fast. New York to San Francisco in as little as four months! The steamers were not actually faster than sailing ships, but they had a shorter way to go. The canvasbacks had to stand out a hundred miles or so from the coast to avoid being blown ashore. Steamships, on the other hand, stayed as close to shore as possible in order to shorten the journey and save coal. Moreover, steamships could use the Straits of Magellan route, which was deemed too risky for sails, but saved several hundred miles. There were also the Pacific winds, which tend to blow north to south. This forced sailing ships to tack far to the northwest before coming about and sailing downwind to California. The longest voyage on record was a ship that left New York in January and didn’t arrive in San Francisco until November.

Then again, you had a choice. In theory you could make the journey shorter by landing at Panama. Take a mule train to the Pacific side, then wait for another ship to take you north. The only problem with this idea was that during the Rush, you might have to wait on shore for three or four months for that other ship. There was also the risk of “Panama Fever” and other diseases.

Somehow, thousands of our ancestors endured the voyage. Few of them became rich, but some of them became productive citizens of a new land. They may not have found the gold they sought, but they learned to live together and create a new society under the golden light of the Pacific sun.

*****

A big thanks to Steve Bartholomew. He’ll give away two print copies of Gold to people who contribute comments on my blog this week. I’ll choose winners from among those who comment by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Countdown Begins for Regulated for Murder

AdairRegulatedForMurderCoverLoRes Two months until the release of my next book, Regulated for Murder. 14 October 2011.

For ten years, an execution hid murder. Then Michael Stoddard came to town.

Bearing a dispatch from his commander in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat Lieutenant Michael Stoddard arrives in Hillsborough in February 1781 in civilian garb. He expects to hand a letter to a courier working for Lord Cornwallis, then ride back to Wilmington the next day. Instead, Michael is greeted by the courier's freshly murdered corpse, a chilling trail of clues leading back to an execution ten years earlier, and a sheriff with a fondness for framing innocents—and plans to deliver Michael up to his nemesis, a psychopathic British officer.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne's free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Winners of The Nightmare and Midnight Fires

Liz Veronis has won a copy of The Nightmare by Nancy Means Wright. Sally Carpenter and Shelley have both won a copy of Midnight Fires by Nancy Means Wright. Congrats to Liz, Sally, and Shelley!

Thanks to Nancy Means Wright for sharing scoop on a courageous early feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The New Cover for The Blacksmith’s Daughter

AdairTheBlacksmithsDaughterCoverLoRes Here’s the new cover for the electronic version of The Blacksmith’s Daughter. What do you think of it? I recently posted the new covers for Paper Woman and Camp Follower.

The theme for this trilogy as depicted through the cover images is “independent women in history who can take care of themselves.” Many people have the impression that women in history were fragile, domesticated damsels. In truth, few women in history had the leisure to be fragile. Especially not during the Revolutionary War.

The electronic version of The Blacksmith’s Daughter is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

*****

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Misconceptions, Scandal, and a Quest for Truth

Nancy Means Wright author photoRelevant History welcomes Nancy Means Wright, who has published sixteen books, including five contemporary mystery novels from St Martin’s Press, and most recently two historicals: The Nightmare: A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft (2011) and its prequel, Midnight Fires (Perseverance Press, 2010). Her children’s mysteries received both an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Poems and short stories have appeared in American Literary Review, Green Mountains Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books, and elsewhere. Longtime teacher and Bread Loaf Scholar for a first novel, Nancy lives with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats in Middlebury, Vermont. For more information, check her web site.

*****

How many poets, writers, and artists were undervalued during their lives, even scorned, and only posthumously called genius, classic, great? I think, among others, of the reclusive Emily Dickinson who published a mere handful of poems in her lifetime, or eccentric Vincent Van Gogh who sold only a single painting, cut off his ear, and was considered mad.

Few, it seems, were as misunderstood and maligned as 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft. Her groundbreaking Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was greeted with cries of outrage when she called for co-education for girls with boys, and for female political, economic, and legal equality. Marriage she declared, was “a slavery; arranged marriages a legal prostitution.” For that, they called her a “hyena in petticoats,” a “philosophical wanton.” Even her own sex belittled her: “There is something absurd in the very title,” the conservative writer Hannah More said of Vindication; “I am resolved not to read it!”

Some of her disrepute came about through her own conflicted character. Her open-mindedness and impetuosity, along with her intolerance of sham and injustice, made her an easy target. She rescued her younger sister from an abusive marriage—and society called it “kidnapping.” She compelled a biased English captain to rescue a sinking boatload of French sailors, and was labelled “presumptuous.” As governess, she taught her pupils to love Shakespeare and to think for themselves, but was dismissed when her aristocratic employers claimed she’d neglected to teach their daughters to embroider—and worse, had stolen their affections from the neurotic mother.

“I want to live independent or not at all!” Mary cried as she fled to London with the manuscript of her first (autobiographical) novel.

Her life was a struggle between her principles of independence and her passions. In London, she horrified society when she sought a platonic ménage à trois with artist Henry Fuseli and his pampered wife. In revolutionary Paris, with heads rolling from the guillotine, she lost her own head to the dashing American captain, Gilbert Imlay. To Mary, still a virgin at 34 when he bowled her over, the act of love was “wholly sacred.” When she got pregnant, Imlay abandoned mother and illegitimate child to the taunts of society. Her attempts at suicide after the betrayal caused yet more scandal. Back in London, doors slammed in her face.

Finally, honest William Godwin came along, to offer genuine love and commitment. Their short happy marriage ended in the birth of daughter Mary (who later wrote Frankenstein)—and with the young mother’s death. Yet writer Godwin naively added shovelfuls of coal to the public fire with a posthumous memoir in which he gave full, unverified details about his late wife’s relationships with Fuseli, and then with Imlay and their illegitimate child, Fanny. Godwin praised her rejection of organized religion but neglected to mention her belief in God and her deep spiritual nature. Mary’s letters show her as loyal, loving, and monogamous, but horrified Londoners saw only an atheist and a wanton, an unwed mother involved with three men—even simultaneously, according to salacious rumor.

The slander persisted throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. Although a few carefully researched biographies came out in the late 19th century, it has only been since the mid-to-late 20th century that a flurry of biographies have shown Mary to be the highly original, intelligent, compassionate woman that she truly was. She made some crazy mistakes in her life as we all do, but always owned up to them, and came through her trials with remarkable resilience.

Feeling her to be an admirable sleuth through her intolerance of sham and injustice; and determined to clear up falsehoods and to bring her to full life, I began a series of mystery novels with Mary Wollstonecraft as protagonist. One might call it a Vindication of Mary! In Midnight Fires she is a beleaguered young governess to the notorious Kingsborough family. In The Nightmare, just out from Perseverance Press, her quest for truth leads to a madhouse chase to free a man accused of stealing Fuseli’s famous painting, “The Nightmare,” and to discover the rogue who strangled a woman to resemble that painting. Book 3 will take her to revolutionary Paris, “neck or nothing!” as she famously declared—and to meet the rogue Imlay.

Mary once wrote her sister that she was going to be “the first of a new genus of woman,” and so, despite the misconceptions and overwhelming odds, she was.

*****

The Nightmare book coverA big thanks to Nancy Means Wright. She’ll give away one paperback copy of The Nightmare and two paperback copies of Midnight Fires to people who contribute comments on my blog this week. I’ll choose three winners from among those who comment by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available within Canada and the U.S.

**********

Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address: