It always astonishes me how few writers (and readers) know their history, whether of place names, the guiding forces of both heroes and villains, or the effects of war and disease.
A reviewer called one of my books to task for having ‘too many battles’. Apparently he didn’t study his history. The Civil War alone made me look like a piker – I only had three or four. (Piker – one who does things in a small way)
The city name of London came from Roman Londinium, and Montmartre is named for a large hill. Stratford on Avon – of Shakespearean fame – was probably originally a ‘straight’ ford across the river Avon.
Names, too, have their genesis in everything from occupations – the surname Miller describes an ancestor who milled grain – while Douglas – my own last name – was likely a derivation of ‘dark glass’, glass in this reference meaning a lake.
Do you think G. R. R. Martin is bad?
To understand the forces that drive your heroes or villains – and that some of those villains either really weren’t, or didn’t see themselves as such – study the kings of England and France. Henry the 8th was hardly a nice guy – chopping off the heads of his wives if they didn’t give him boys. Richard III’s villainy has been debated for centuries.
How many writers know that more of history was shaped by disease than by religion or wars – although both played their roles in making disease so disastrous.
The black plague of history was exacerbated by the concept of ‘cleanliness was next to Godliness’ as quoted in Leviticus. The actual quote was to exhort people to keep themselves clean, so as to prevent disease, but in the Dark to Middle Ages was considered hubris to compare oneself to God, and so bathing was discouraged. The witch hunts of the period also contributed. Since cats were considered to be the devil’s animal, and a witch’s familiar, they were killed off in droves. Cats were the mouse and rat catchers, decreasing the fleas that were the carrier/vectors of the plague. Add the prohibition against bathing, and you had the perfect storm to create an epidemic or pandemic. The Black Death, as it came to be called, killed 25 – 50% of the population.
Few folks know that what became known as the Manifest Destiny of the founding of what became the United States was nothing of the sort. The Squanto who was of legendary aid to the English settlers had been kidnapped as a slave by traders and taken back to England. Those same traders brought the diseases of Europe to the new shores. Diseases like plague, smallpox, cholera, flu, and others, to which the natives had no exposure, and no resistance. When Squanto returned, he found his village gone. How many know that the early settlers clashed with the native population as much as learned from them? Or that those same settlers in some cases survived by raiding grave sites?
Of course, neither disease nor grave-robbing is exactly sexy.
History isn’t always pretty, but knowing your history can only help make your writing better.
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Talk about a rough start, Pi had one. She’d been abandoned as a kitten by her owners and left to fend for herself. Born with only one eye and no depth perception, survival was almost impossible. Bedraggled, drenched, she was found by college students in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm – one of the worst in a long time – and taken to the local cat shelter. I had just lost one of my long-time four-footed companions. Bay had also had a rough start. She’d been with me through a lot, and I was missing her terribly. So I went in search of a new kitten.
I found her in one of the last cages, probably because of her missing eye. At the time they called her Bandit, but that name never fit her, at least not to me or her. I called her Pi, because she was my one-eyed pirate cat, and because she was piebald – large white silky patches of fur with multi-colored dark patches mixed with a little gold. She answered to that name right away.
From the beginning, she had personality, stealing the little strainer from the bathroom sink. It became a game. She’d work to get it out then bat it down the stairs. If I didn’t notice, she’d call until I did. I’d find it, then toss it up the stairs, and she’d chase it. Sometimes I’d put it back in the sink. Within an hour or so, I’d hear it tumbling down the stairs.
Now we have a strainer in the downstairs sink, so she’s taken to fishing that one out and calling to me to let me know she did it. She also loves chasing rubber bands. I shoot it across the room and she chases it. Sometimes she even fetches it back, dropping it at my feet so I can shoot it again.
After the recent cold snap and snow, we put up curtains, and she’s taken to playing hide and go seek, poking her head out from beneath them when I ask “Where’s Pi?”
She’s always affectionate, washing my hands thoroughly when given the opportunity. She also licks my toes when I’m in the bathroom. *laughing*
Pi has so much personality that I put her in one of my books. I needed a familiar for one of my characters, and Pi was just perfect for the role.
She’s also very forgiving and very generous – although she wasn’t too sure when I brought that boy-cat (Tango) home. I’d found him trying to scavenge a bitty morsel of food out of a bag from McDonalds. She and Tango now take turns trying to catch the frog (he’s in a tank). However, since she had no depth perception, she can only really see the frog when he’s moving.
Her generosity showed the most, though,when someone threw a kitten to our dogs. She not only took the kitten in, but mothered her.
She loves treats, and has to have some in the morning, more in the afternoon and just before bed.
When I first got sick, and the medications they were giving me gave me a bad reaction, she spent a lot of time curled up with me, giving me as much loving as she could.
As loving as she is, though, she’s also very independent, deciding when she’d be a lap cat and when she wouldn’t.
So, when she didn’t want her treats, I knew it was unusual. Even more so when she climbed into my lap and stayed there. Lethargy wasn’t Pi’s style. So, I called the vet, thinking it was something she ate.
The veterinarian didn’t seem too concerned, until she started palpating Pi’s abdomen, and Pi tried to crawl into my lap. The surprise and dismay on the vet’s face gave me the bad news. (She’s a wonderful vet.)
It turns out that Pi and I have a lot in common – we’re both healthy-looking but very sick. (I have advanced liver disease.) Pi has mass in her abdomen, it may be and probably is cancer. They gave her steroids in the hopes that it will shrink the mass. The vet told me if she starts to show symptoms again, I’m to bring her in for another dose. She also said I’ll know what to do when the time comes.
Me, I keep visualizing the mass shrinking. And I hope.
She’s only four, that’s twenty-eight in human years. She’s still young. So I ask folks to think of her, send healing vibes and prayers.
In the meantime, the steroid shot has perked her up and brought my Pi back. All I can do is hope, and give her as much love as I can for as long as I can.
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