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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11th consecutive nanowrimo win!

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winnerI achieved the coveted 50K word count on Monday night, with only 48 words to spare… yikes.  My novel is not complete but I feel like it needs quite a bit more editing to get it to a coherent enough place to figure out an ending, therefore The Mist that Falls at Night is now a page under the Works in Progress tab.

While I would like to finish this still having some idea of what’s going on, I think I am going to sit on it a bit before trying to do some editing.  But that’s okay, because I have a lot of other things I want to work on, including a new edition of The Art Kids, an omnibus edition of the first three Wolf Point books, and finishing the second Wolf Point prequel novella.  I have a feeling I’ll be needing to make some New Year’s resolutions in order to get all this done!

nanowrimo 2016 progress update

I neglected to post here about my Nanowrimo novel for this year…

Lately I’ve found the Mandela Effect rather fascinating, and I wanted to write something that would incorporate it somehow.  Yet without a firm idea, I instead decide to create a creep-tastic cover that might inspire me.  I scrolled through the sample covers on Canva and found this one: The Mist That Falls At Night.  Well, the title might need a little tweaking, but for now it is the title of my work in progress!  I changed up the background photo (mostly so I wouldn’t have to pay for it) with this one from Pixabay, and voila:

tumblr_inline_oet1k9qilp1sptpzz_500

I’m really digging it, and although my story idea has so far not been as easy writing as I’m used to (especially considering I actually did some outlining!!), I think I’ll be able to go the distance with this one.  Last year was sort of a bust, since I ended up writing mostly a random assortment of fanfiction rather than the next Wolf Point novel, but I’m back on track this year.  So far I’m keeping up with the word count…

update

It’s been a long time since my last post… Amazingly, I’ve been writing more than ever.  The caveat?  It’s been 98% fanfiction.  *sigh*

During Nanowrimo I attempted to get a start on a 4th book in the Wolf Point series – WIP Title: Fighters, from Misty’s POV – but the call to fanfic was too great, and I ended up working on several different fics and applying those word counts.  In other words, I’m a cheater.

I am hoping to get out an omnibus edition of the first 3 Wolf Point books, and possibly redesign the covers, but lately time has been a precious commodity… for writing fanfiction.  I don’t know what’s happened to me.  Hopefully I will return to writing original fiction soon – the fanfiction thing is just too much fun for me at the moment!

forgot to mention…

beast cover 2The Beast – a Wolf Point prequel novella – is out!

You can find it at Amazon for 99 cents, and free at Barnes & Noble.  Over at Smashwords you can download it in any file type for free.

The Beast is the origin story of Geo, the oldest known werewolf.  This is the first of a series of prequel novellas.

As Nanowrimo rapidly approaches, I’m torn about what I want to write.  I’d love to finish Scavengers before November 1st (highly unlikely), but I’m considering just using November to write/finish a number of projects.  Finish Scavengers, and start work on the next prequel novella, since I have about 30,000 words left to go before finishing Scavengers and the novella would be between 20-30,000 words.  That equals 50,000 words…

On the other hand, I could write a fourth book in the Wolf Point series, which I want to be from Misty’s point of view.

Or, I could write Wayward Ghosts, which is already a few chapters long, so kind of cheating.  Seems like unless I write Wolf Point #4, I’m going to be a Nano cheater this year. Decisions, decisions.

8th consecutive Nanowrimo win!

2013-Winner-Square-ButtonThat’s right, folks.  I won Nanowrimo, this time a scant half hour before Janina!  I finished on November 28th and while I made it past the 50,000 word finish line, I’ve still got a little work to do to actually finish the story.  And surprisingly, I still WANT to finish the story!

I mentioned before that I chose to do Forever Young Adult‘s cover story challenge, which means that I based my novel off someone’s invented description of Lauren Barnholdt’s The Thing About the Truth based solely on the cover.  Of course, I had to “zombie-fy” the cover:

thethingaboutthetruthcover

 

 

I was surprised that the story was as fun as it was to write.  Hopefully it’s as much fun to read!  I have posted the (slightly incomplete) draft up on Figment for your reading pleasure.

Glad it’s over so I can start on Christmas crafting, and also because I need to finish Dreamwalkers!

my Nanowrimo cover story

I haven’t posted in a while, mostly due to Halloween costume crunch time (pics coming soon!  I promise!), and most recently because of Nanowrimo.  But I want to share what I’m doing for Nanowrimo, because it’s slightly different than what I’ve done in past years.

This year, one of my favorite blogs, Forever Young Adult, has a Nanowrimo challenge.  One of their regular columns takes the covers of YA books (usually of the cheesy variety) and writes a summary of what they believe the book is about based solely on the cover.  So FYA challenged people to write a Nanowrimo novel based on one of these cover stories.

It was a tough decision, but I decided to go with The Thing About the Truth.  Not surprisingly it’s about zombies.  (A close second was Click to Subscribe… can’t wait to see if anyone is writing a novel described as “This high school re-imagining of The Human Centipede tells a horror story of harrowing survival and burgeoning romance between best friends who always have each other’s backs.”)

If any of you out there are also taking the FYA Nanowrimo Challenge, please add me as a writing buddy!

Thus far I am still ahead of the game… hopefully it stays that way!