how the heck did they go to the bathroom??? and other questions asked while writing historical fiction

To date I have about 8 different novels that can be classified as historical fiction, in varying states of completion. For Nanowrimo, I am writing a novel that takes place shortly after the Reign of Terror in France.  And this isn’t the first time that I’ve had to research historical bathroom habits.

The drawback to writing historical fiction in general is that small details will throw you out of the story and down a rabbit hole of Google searches.

In chapter one of my current WIP (The Red Ribbon), I Googled:

  • where did people get guillotined in french revolution paris
  • place de la concorde (answer to the above question)
  • rue des marronniers lyon
  • map of paris

(These were to simply get a sense of where my main character was walking and where she lived in the first few paragraphs)

  • matches history
  • lighting a fire in the 1790s

(Because my character needed to light a fire in the fireplace, and I wasn’t sure if matches existed back then.  I’m still not sure.  I managed to write the two sentences without specifically saying how she lit the fire)

  • invitation historical ball
  • invitation wording 1700s
  • french phrases with blood
  • phrases of the french revolution
  • french proverbs
  • qui vivra verra
  • Le Réveil du peuple lyrics
  • 1794 calendar days of the week

(My MC receives an invitation, and I wanted to include the actual words on the invitation… The example I found included a quote that gave hint to a theme for the ball, which led me to try to find some proverb that might work for my story.  And since the proverb was in French, I needed to verify that the translation was correct.  I also decided to make the ball happen on Friday the 13th and amazingly, according to one site I found, September 13, 1794 was indeed a Friday!)

  • rue du colisée paris
  • gossip magazines in revolutionary france
  • garters 17th century
  • how common were pistols in the 17th century
  • pistols history
  • pianoforte
  • pianos history
  • french pianos
  • 17th century french outerwear

(Moving onto the 2nd and third chapters – once again I was trying to place the MC’s home near where the ball was being held.  She also packs a few weapons to bring to the ball because she wants revenge, so I had to figure out a. whether 17th century garters could reasonably hold a knife or pistol and b. whether pistols were common enough for an aristocratic family to own one.  My character also has a moment where she remembers playing the piano, so I had to figure out if pianos existed then, or whether something like a pianoforte or harpischord was more common.  Finally, my MC needed to wear a coat or cloak of some sort as she walked to the ball)

  • waltz popularity
  • panniers
  • french fashion 18th century
  • chic synonym

(In describing the ballroom and the other guests of the ball, I needed to know if the waltz had even been invented, and whether it had reached France, also a few fashion terms, and while “chic” is a French word, it was not in usage at that time…)

  • what poisons were available in france 18th century
  • effects of arsenic poisoning
  • when did red and green become christmas colors
  • old french christmas songs
  • Bel Astre Que J’Adore

(One of my characters dies short after eating poisoned cake, which led to the searches about effects of poisoning, and then what poisons were readily available.  What exactly does rat poison contain?  How long does it take to work?  After I described a color combination as “Christmas-like” I remembered that red and green have not always been used as traditional Christmas colors.  And then I needed a Christmas carol that would have existed back then…)

  • how was it determined that someone was dead in the 1700s
  • pencils history
  • historical term for cataracts
  • what was the bathroom called in french revolution

(Obviously, at this point in the novel, someone has died.  And I was fairly certain that people did not check a pulse to determine if someone was dead at that point in time.  Also, did they have pencils back then and how common were they?)

And the question we’ve all been waiting for.

I know the obvious answer is that people used chamber pots.  You didn’t go to a bathroom in the middle of the night, you just pulled out your chamber pot and went.  But if one was out at a fancy ball in someone else’s home, or in this case, at a hotel, there would have to be a room, right?

In my research I discovered that Versailles and the bathroom situation is a big part of the reason for the stereotype of the French not being very hygienic.  Dogs and other animals that were allowed to roam loose in the palace relieved themselves wherever, and apparently the humans used stairwells or went behind curtains.  Eventually I did find that bathrooms might have been called “lavatories” or “commodes” (I dropped in the term “powder room” as well) and that there might be curtains for privacy while one used the chamber pot.  Obviously, there was no running water.

I also discovered while trying to find this information, that pissing in the streets was such a problem in Paris that in the early 1800s they built “pissoirs” or small buildings where you could go to pee on the street in privacy.

Oh, the things you learn… I just hope the FBI hasn’t put me on a surveillance list…

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October reading round-up

  • # of books read: 11
  • audiobooks listened to: 2
  • horror novels read: 7
  • total page count: 3,149
  • year total page count: 38,498

The first book read this month was from the batch I got signed at the Boston Teen Author Festival.  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was just such a lovely book that I gave a rare 5 stars! The writing was poetic and the story was just beautiful.  I don’t have the words.

I’ll be looking for more of this author’s books, but I had to put that aside, because this month I had vowed to read all the horror!

It was a daunting stack.  But I currently have only 2.5 books left to go!  Which is great, considering some of these have been languishing on my TBR shelf for years.

My absolute favorite horror novel I read this month was Diary of a Haunting.  I loved how the mystery of the house unfolded and how the format of blog posts was affected by the haunting as well.  There were some great creepy moments.  The Women in the Walls was a close second.  Amy Lukavics really knows how to pull you into a story without fleshing out the setting, somehow.

Many of these seemed to be more thriller than horror (Blind Spot and The Creeping).  And sadly, I was a bit disappointed in There’s Someone Inside Your House.  I read so much horror that I was waiting for some new twist and did not find it.

Just finished reading this one – so good! #turtlesallthewaydown #johngreen #bookstagram

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Of course, I vowed to read all horror novels in October, but then this one came out, and I had to read it.  I’ve only been waiting years since his last book!  Luckily it was a fast one and had everything I’ve come to expect from a John Green novel: quirky characters, philosophical discussions, and endings that are not tied up in a neat little bow.

  • Best Overall: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  • Best Horror: Diary of a Haunting
  • Weirdest Overall: Fiendish
  • Fastest Read: Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror
  • Slowest Read: The Copper Gauntlet
  • Best Audio: Highly Illogical Behavior

The full list (links take you to my Goodreads reviews):

  1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  2. There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
  3. The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
  4. Diary of a Haunting by M. Verano
  5. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (audiobook)
  6. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  7. The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy
  8. Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley
  9. Blind Spot by Laura Ellen
  10. Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff
  11. The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium #2) by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare (audiobook)

 

September reading round-up

  • # of books read: 13
  • audiobooks listened to: 2
  • graphic novels read: 3
  • total page count: 3,786
  • year total page count: 35,349

I read a review of The Art of Starving and had to buy it for the library.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a boy with an eating disorder, and yet I know it’s more common than we’d think.  It had a cool element of magical realism in there, which reminded me a lot of A.S. King’s books.

Such a Pretty Girl came from my haul from the Book Barn.  I hadn’t planned on reading it just yet, but I needed a paperback skinny enough to fit in my purse to bring with me to an outdoor concert, because lying in the sun reading and listening to music is my idea of the perfect afternoon.  This story was a super quick read – published by the same imprint that did The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Brave New Girl, both of which I also enjoyed (perhaps odd to note that all three of these titles I mentioned have sexual molestation as a theme…).

I attended the Boston Teen Author Festival on September 23, where I got to meet a bunch of great authors.  I was super excited to meet Adam Silvera after I had binge-read two of his books this month – History Is All You Left Me, and They Both Die at the End.  While neither of them made the top of my list below, I really loved the ideas behind them and the relationships between the characters.

Stalking Jack the Ripper was one I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and I started it on the train getting into the city and continued reading while I waited in line.  While this is part of the Jimmy Patterson imprint, I thought this was far better written than anything I’ve read of Patterson’s.  I loved the historical aspect and had just the right amount of gore, in my opinion.

I read a lot of really great books this month – I gave 7 of them four stars on Goodreads!  So in my overalls below, I have a tie for best.  I haven’t talked about Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  My mother recommended this book to me and I really enjoyed it.  It had a quietness about it but still made me race through the pages despite not being a thriller.

  • Best Overall: Stalking Jack the Ripper / Ask Him Why
  • Weirdest Overall: The Library at Mount Char
  • Fastest Read: Smooth, Volume 1 (1 day)
  • Slowest Read: Theft by Finding (technically, since I had to wait 3 months in the hold queue rotation, but only took me a little over 2 weeks) / The Witches (actually, took me over a month)
  • Best Audio: Theft by Finding

The full list (links take you to my Goodreads reviews):

  1. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (ebook)
  2. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
  3. Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) by David Sedaris (audiobook)
  4. The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of a Serial Killer by Jason Moss
  5. Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick (graphic novel)
  6. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
  7. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (graphic novel)
  8. The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
  9. Such a Pretty Girl by Lauren Wiess
  10. Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  11. The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (audiobook)
  12. Smooth, Volume 1: Birth (graphic novel)
  13. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

my favorite evil clown movies (aside from It)

Stephen King’s It is generally considered the standard for the “scary clown” in horror movies, but there are so many other great ones! Here are my faves.

 

Stitches (2012)

(Stitches had quite the attitude, even before he died)

Highlights:

  • killer clown origin story
  • intestine balloon animals
  • pretty much the most clown-themed deaths of any movie I’ve seen except Killer Klowns from Outer Space*
  • or at least, the most punny deaths
  • Stitches’ potty mouth

 

Killjoy (2000)

(Killjoy the clown, apparently shooting someone with bullets from his mouth)

This gem was an extra in the Puppetmaster collection DVD.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an American horror movie with zero white people in it.  The highlights:

  • “Biiiiiiiiiitch”
  • Why won’t the hot girl give the nerdy guy the time of day?  Maybe because all he has is “Killjoy [his clown doll] and dark magic”?
  • The so-bad-it’s-good effect – pretty hilarious if you’ve had a few drinks (can’t say the same for the sequels, though…)

 

Clownhouse (1989)

(Cheezo the clown’s come-hither look, and this was before an escaped mental patient stole his costume)

  • a young Sam Rockwell acting like a complete asshole
  • I know what I like to do is make out with my boyfriend at a family circus
  • clown unibrown (clownibrow?)

 

Clown (2015)

(That wig is his hair now…)

  • creepiest/dirtiest clown costume (actually a demon skin, but whatevs…)
  • feeling dirty after watching it

 

The Last Circus (2010)

(The Sad Clown gets his revenge)

This Spanish film earns a spot on my list largely because it’s the one circus movie with a death by aerial silks! Highlights:

  • clown makeup applied by an iron
  • feuding clowns
  • lots of actual circus performing

 

In my opinion, a good evil clown horror movie should have a least a little humor – after all, aren’t clowns meant to make us laugh?  And while scary clown make up is, well, scary, I think it’s better for the clown to start out looking like all the other innocent clowns, and then grow more evil-looking – because clowns really aren’t meant to scare people!

 

*I personally didn’t like Killer Klowns from Outer Space, mostly because the clowns looked too fake for me (they were aliens, but come on).  But there is death by cotton candy, so you might find it worth watching.

school required reading: books I hated, books I loved

booksm-collection-2578237_640School is back in session, and as a librarian trying to run both a teen book club and a teen writers club, I get a lot of teens who don’t have time to read or write for fun because of school reading.  I’ve always been a big reader, but even I hated quite a few of the books I was required to read.

Of course I have loved quite a few of those books.  Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, and The Stranger (I read this first in French, then on my own in English) are just a few that I’ve read and re-read.  Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel are two poetry collections I really enjoyed, despite maintaining for years that “I hate poetry.”

But the bad ones were just so bad.  Freshman year I had to read Great Expectations, and hated every moment of it.  Never mind that my English teacher spoiled the ending of the first chapter for us all, it was 52 chapters of snooze.  And is any teen at a point in their life when they might enjoy Siddhartha, the story of a man’s spiritual journey to Buddhism?  The Jungle was another that I could barely get through.  The only thing I remember from that book was when one of the factory workers

There is something about a book being “required” that sucks all enjoyment from it.  I might have enjoyed The Once and Future King if it hadn’t been required summer reading (and over 1000 pages…).  The Sound and the Fury was by far my worst summer reading assignment – the only book I’ve ever needed CliffsNotes to comprehend.

And don’t get me started on Shakespeare.  I read three of his plays during high school – The Merchant of Venice, Romeo & Juliet, and The Taming of the Shrew – and hated every single one.  Especially Taming of the Shrew, which raised my feminist hackles.

When I got to college, however, I took a Shakespeare class and discovered that I actually really liked Shakespeare!  All it took was having a great professor.  (I still wasn’t a fan of Dubliners, which I had to read in both high school and college).  The Great Gatsby, which I disliked in high school, wasn’t quite so bad as an adult.

It’s unfortunate that schools have to require reading, because so many books would have been better if I hadn’t been required to read them.  Then again, would I have read them if they hadn’t been required?  Probably not.  Which is why I’m glad I’m not still a student and can read whatever the hell I want (sorry, students!).

August reading round-up

  • # of books read: 11
  • audiobooks listened to: 2
  • OwlCrate books read: 2
  • total page count: 2,689
  • year total page count: 31,563

This month I dedicated myself to making a dent in my Owlcrate books as well as the haul from the Book Barn.  It was a busy month, and I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have liked.

First up was The Upside of Unrequited, which as you can see I unboxed back in April.  I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out, because I really loved Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda.  This was more of a typical teen romance – the main couple was straight, but almost all of the minor characters were not.  There was a lot more sister drama and the pain of losing best friends to boyfriends/girlfriends.  Overall it was enjoyable and fun, perfect for summer.  (Plus it takes place in the summer, so there’s that!).

Eliza and Her Monsters was, apparently, the one OwlCrate I haven’t Instagrammed, but I really enjoyed it.  I think, partially, because it reminded me so much of Fangirl, which I loved – and because I’m in a bit of a fanfiction-writing phase again (*sigh*) I totally understood where Eliza was at.

I’m amazed that I’ve read 5 of the 9 pictured in this stack!  A Curious Tale of the In-Between was one I put on my Goodreads TBR list a while back and ended up buying on Thriftbooks.  I wanted to read it to give away this summer as a prize (I had some swag from BEA given to me that ties in) but that didn’t happen… The book was a bit darker than I expected but still managed to stay fairly light.

Book haul from my trip to the Book Barn #tbr #bookstagram #bookhaul #vintageya #usedbooks

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Well, I read The Lie and the Forbidden Game trilogy last month.  This month I continued to pare down this stack by reading Season of Ponies and Saving Max.  Saving Max was a decent, if slightly implausible, thriller.  But Season of Ponies!  Let me tell you, I have been looking for this book since fifth grade.  It’s out of print, and I’ve never been a member of a library that owned it, and used copies online are usually unavailable or cost far too much.  I suppose I could have requested it through interlibrary loan but what a hassle, when I found it at the Book Barn for $1!  This book brought me straight back to my childhood.  It’s such a simple story, but I loved it.  I was such a Zilpha Keatley Snyder fangirl back in the day (and clearly, a little bit now).

I couldn’t believe it when I saw this in my library’s Wowbrary newletter.  A new book by Michael Crichton?  Hasn’t he been dead for ten years?  And it looks just like Jurassic Park??  Dragon Teeth was much different, sort of a Wild West dino hunter vibe (Jurassic Park meets Westworld?), and it felt a bit like a bare bones first draft, but hey, it’s summer and fun, fast reads are what I like!

  • Best Overall: Eliza and Her Monsters
  • Worst Overall: Saving Max
  • Fastest Read: Season of Ponies (1 day)
  • Slowest Read: The Wood (25 days)
  • Best Audio: You

 

The full list:

  1. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
  2. A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano
  3. The Last Star (5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey (audiobook)
  4. Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
  5. Season of Ponies by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  6. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
  7. Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten
  8. You by Caroline Kepnes (audiobook)
  9. Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5) by Morgan Rhodes
  10. The Wood by Chelsea Bobulski
  11. The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders by Anthony Flacco with Jerry Clark

July reading round-up

  • # of books read: 15
  • audiobooks listened to: 3
  • graphic novels read: 2
  • total page count: 4,402
  • year total page count: 28,874

This was a crazy month, and despite having a week of vacation, it wasn’t exactly *restful* vacation.  Plus with all the running around for the summer reading program at my library, and planning for the trip, I didn’t get as much reading in as I would have liked.

Chapter one… #empireofstorms #sarahjmaas #currentlyreading #bookstagram

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After waiting for what seemed like forever for the ebook of Empire of Storms to come in, I broke down and checked out the physical book.  I hadn’t realized how small the font is in these books – it made me feel old!  The book design, however, is quite nice (as you can see from the chapter headings, above).  But I still read it in under 2 weeks.  I felt a bit like this world is becoming too unwieldy and I enjoyed many of the side characters’ stories more than Aelin’s, but I’m still looking forward to the next book in the series.  Maybe now I can move on and read A Court of Thorns and Roses

I ❤️vintage YA #bookstagram #ninetieskids #ilovethenineties

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I read a bunch of vintage YA this month, largely thanks to a visit to the infamous Book Barn in Niantic, CT.  First up was After the First Death by Robert Cormier, which was just as dark as any of his others I’ve read.  The plot sounded similiar to Ransom (aka Five Were Missing) by Lois Duncan – children on a school bus held captive.  In this case, however, the ransomers were Middle Eastern terrorists who were ready to kill all the children to make a political statement if their demands were not met.

In a stroke of luck I found the entire Forbidden Game trilogy by L.J. Smith.  Look at those amazing neon covers!  The fast pace of the books brought me right back to my teen years.  I read a few reviews of Caraval that compared it to The Forbidden Game, but so far I’m not seeing too much by way of similarities aside from a character named Julian and the fact that they are playing a game.

Book haul from my trip to the Book Barn #tbr #bookstagram #bookhaul #vintageya #usedbooks

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One book I managed to read during one flight was The Lie by C.L. Taylor.  The description on the back was vague enough – four friends go on what promises to be an amazing trip and turns into a nightmare – that I had no idea what was in store.  Didn’t expect any of it!  This is a great thriller for anyone who liked Girl on the Train or In a Dark, Dark Wood (in other words, you kinda wanted to slap the narrator, but also you wanted to race to the end).

In bookish news, I visited the Trinity College Library on my trip to Ireland and it was just as amazing as I dreamed it would be.

I listened to a bunch of audiobooks this month.  One was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and it was amazing, highly recommended! (I’ve been waiting months for the audio of this!).  The other two were duds I downloaded via AudiobookSYNC.  Beast by Donna Jo Napoli was another Beauty and the Beast remix and it was strange, to say the least (do I need to imagine the Beast as a lion, sniffing after the female lions?  Not really).  The other was Remember to Forget by Ashley Royer, a Wattpad fanfiction novel.  The premise was interesting but overall it was a bit boring.

I thought maybe I’d add a little superlatives list for my round-ups, so here goes…

  • Best Overall: The Hate U Give
  • Worst Overall: The Beast
  • Fastest Read: The Lie (under 6 hours)
  • Slowest Read: Empire of Storms (12 days)
  • Best Audio: The Hate U Give
  • Best Illustrations: Olympos

The full list:

  1. I Am a Hero book 1 by Kengo Hanazawa (graphic novel)
  2. Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (audiobook)
  3. After the First Death by Robert Cormier
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audiobook)
  5. Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5) by Sarah J. Maas
  6. Remember to Forget by Ashley Royer (audiobook)
  7. Olympos by Aki (graphic novel)
  8. Sextrap Dungeon by Kurt Knox
  9. The Hunter (The Forbidden Game #1) by L.J. Smith
  10. The Ghost Files by Apryl Baker
  11. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  12. The Lie by C.L. Taylor
  13. The Chase (The Forbidden Game #2) by L.J. Smith
  14. The Kill (The Forbidden Game #3) by L.J. Smith
  15. An Illustrated History of Notable Shadowhunters and Denizens of Downworld by Cassandra Clare, illustrated by Cassandra Jean