Monthly Archives: July 2011

Veterans, Now and Then

Anyone who reads this blog has probably deduced circumstances currently govern the topics.  Not odd considering my beloved often accuses me of thinking things to death, and with his sixth back surgery looming . . .

My sweetheart got hurt at work.  Over a year passed with no help forthcoming while the injury worsened.  Desperate to help him, I sought pain management, but that provided no relief.  Since I couldn’t bear to watch him suffer any longer, I caved and took him to a veteran’s hospital. 

I’ll spare you the details, but it took two years—and engaging a lawyer—before my love’s employer stepped up and admitted culpability, putting the responsibility where it belonged.  

There are numerous reasons I dislike military hospitals, but I’m deeply grateful to those VA doctors who helped my beloved during that difficult time.  

Unfortunately, most countries haven’t always been willing to care for those who’ve served.  Various things I’d read over the years illuminated the sad plight of veterans throughout history—which started me thinking . . .

Research has made it clear American vets have had an easier road than their European counterparts.  I’m not saying easy, mind you, just easier.

As far back as Plymouth Colony (1636), the Pilgrims passed a law providing for soldiers disabled by their war with the Pequot Indians.  Being of European descent, the settlers had seen and/or lived the horrors visited upon disabled soldiers and their families.  Thus, it’s not surprising they took steps to assure that tragedy didn’t repeat itself in the New World.

 In 1776, the Continental Congress used the promise of a pension for those disabled while fighting for America’s freedom as an enlistment incentive.  Medical care, however, was left to individual states and communities.

In 1811, the Federal Government authorized the first domiciliary and medical facility.  Also in the 1800s, veterans’ assistance was expanded to include widows and dependents.

State Veterans’ Homes, established after the Civil War, provided medical treatment to their residents whether or not the injury or illness was service related.  Indigent and disabled vets from the wars that followed—Indian, the Spanish-American, and Mexican Border—were also welcome.

Care for American servicemen and women grew and expanded until, in 1989, the Department of Veterans Affairs gained a Cabinet position, giving veterans a voice in the highest echelons of government.

We accept the medieval era ran rife with superstition, ignorance, and cruelty that lasted until the ascension of the Renaissance.  In the case of European war veterans, The Renaissance never came; the dark ages lasted well into 19th century.

Most people have some familiarity with feudalism, which had its English roots in the Conquest of 1066.  Truth be told, during most of the dark and middle ages, as a matter of protection, every man owed fealty to someone—even the king held his crown by God’s grace.  If the king’s latest snit resulted in war and soldiers were required, duty called, and, as always, the common people suffered most.

Conscription provided the bulk of the army.  How was it done?  Since some titles with which the modern reader is familiar weren’t used in England until the 14th century, we’ll use the chain of command established after the conquest.  Thus, the king declared war and rallied his earls.  The earls would, in their turn, rally their barons.  Sending men house to house if need be, each earl and baron would conscript from the villages, towns, or countryside under his jurisdiction, sometimes taking boys and old men, until the promised numbers were met.

You could consider it the medieval equivalent of a press gang.

While knights, mercenaries, and garrison soldiers trained regularly, the conscripted, the largest contingent of most armies, were given little, if any, training, and their equipment was rudimentary, at best.  If they wanted better armor or weapons, they had to secure it themselves.

Conscription provided daunting numbers, but that’s all.  Farmers and tradesmen who had never wielded a sword in battle fought for their lives against a mixture of others like themselves and hardened warriors.  While a tabard or device of some kind might be provided to distinguish friend from foe, a man could be dead ere he made the distinction.  It’s no wonder death tolls ran into the thousands.

Sadly, many of the men who survived considered those who didn’t the lucky ones.  As one of my characters says, “A king takes a farmer, makes him a soldier, and if he’s foolish enough to live through it, tosses him aside like rubbish.”

Ofttimes, homes and farms were completely destroyed—if not by the warfare itself, by foraging armies, the desire to assure there would be naught to aid the opposing force, and, sometimes, man’s inhumanity to man.  Barbarism of the worst sort often accompanied armies, either encouraged or mitigated by their commanders’ attitudes toward the populace.  Too often, these noble commanders not only turned a blind eye to the heinous crimes perpetrated by their troops but led them in their vile assaults, leaving decimated families in their wakes. 

Many a veteran returned to find his family either beggared or deceased and his home and livelihood gone—often at the hands of his commander’s allies.   Veterans who lost limbs, appendages, eyes, hearing, sight, or their mental capacity, as well as those suffering chronic pain from back, joint, and/or head injuries, had few options.  Work was scarce for fit men; disabled men were not even considered.

After every war, anger and frustration drove some veterans to outlawry.  Bands of disenfranchised ex-soldiers plagued the land.  The belief the nobility owed them salved the conscience of the more moral.  The morally corrupt or bankrupt needed no salve.  These returned to their natural milieu upon being mustered out (if they didn’t desert first) armed with an excuse they exploited with impunity.

Some veterans were reduced to begging, their injuries such they had no alternative.  Some  watched, helpless, as their children, some mere babes, were sold into servitude (which often translated to prostitution) to cover mounting debts, or wives and daughters walked the streets to provide for the family.  Keep in mind, these were uneducated people.  Their choices were few, and women had even fewer options.  Those women who thought to avoid selling themselves by hiring on as servants often endured the importuning of their master, his guests, or his sons.  If the woman became pregnant,  whether by rape or consent, she’d be out on the street with no recourse.  (The first English law that made rape a crime wasn’t enacted until 1452.)

Disabled veterans sometimes took their own lives rather than endure the humiliation, heartbreak, and helplessness.

You can’t blame them.   At the beginning of the 19th century, the much-lauded Duke of Wellington once described the enlisted men who brought him victory over Napoleon as “the scum of the earth”.  Later in that same century, Florence Nightingale, horrified by what she’d seen, described the hospital in Scutari, Turkey, to which the British wounded were taken, as “the last Kingdom of Hell.”

Much of what occurred with war veterans through the centuries resulted from the aristocratic mindset.  The nobility looked down upon the common folk, considered them rabble.  Regency era toffs called them The Great Unwashed.  Few appreciated those who labored for them, most assuming their lineage entitled them to that labor, leaving little or no regard for those who made it possible for them live as they did.

Unfortunately, that entitlement mindset has reared its ugly head in America a time or ten, but our “government by the people, for the people” has kept the worst of it at bay—for now. 

To quote Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Let’s not.

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Fosterage—‘Twas All About Family

This weekend I finally met my nephew’s new son.  Surrounded by aunts, great-aunts, cousins, etc., there was no dirth of arms willing to hold him.

The Family Photo

Family is important.  Regardless of era, family is the center, the hub, of a young person’s understanding of the world.  Not always a good thing, I know, but that’s how it is and has always been.  Whether it will remain that way has yet to be seen; so much outside interference, courtesy of the electronic age, is bound to exact a toll on the dynamic—as improved travel and the advent of advanced communications did and continued to do.  Government intrusion has threatened in the past (Hitler Youth and the Red Brigade come immediately to mind) and will rear its ugly head again, I’m sure–there is always someone with a personal agenda wanting to dismantle the family, aware the seeds planted in youth tend to have deep roots–but good, bad, or indifferent, for the time being, family remains a basic societal foundation.

As in every age, medieval families faced circumstances particular to their era.

Fostering is something that many modern readers don’t understand.  The idea of sending a child, often as young as five or six, to another family for training, seems heartless to a modern parent, but it served several purposes—some practical, some emotional—within the family structure.

On a practical level, it strengthened alliances.  After all, sending your heir to a vassal or peer required a great deal of trust and shouted the depth of the commitment.  If a possible betrothal was on the table, it enabled the two young people to meet and interact while parents observed, debated, and decided.  We won’t go into the occasional “little pitcher with big ears” scenerio, but any parent will quickly grasp the the inherent possibilities there.  It also kept coddling at a distance when sons faced the dangers of weapons training.  Remember, in this age, even when not at war, feuds and personal battles were always part of the equation.  Survival of the fittest reigned.

On an emotional level, parental concern could stand in the way of proper training.  Ask any coach why he prefers parents—especially mothers—not attend practices; it’s difficult to tell a young man to suck-it-up when Mom’s hovering or Dad’s bellowing disapproval. 

This is not to say young women weren’t fostered as well.  They were, and for similar reasons, but this is not something most people realize so is rarely debated.

When young women married, as stated in a previous post, they knew they might never see their birth families again.  Having been fostered and away from their homes early helped mitigate the emotional turmoil that might have, otherwise, thrown a young woman into despair.  Also, the possibility of wedding into or being near her foster-family went a long way to ease fears and loneliness.

Even so, it appears the medieval family remained a strong, cohesive unit.  Good foster-parents didn’t try to replace birth-parents, they just became an extension of the family.  Pushed to choose—as some were by changing monarchs and other circumstance—I found no instance where the fostered son or daughter chose the foster-family over his or her birth-family.  Understand, this doesn’t mean it never happened, only that I found no evidence it did; until the advent of the printing press, it was, while not unheard of, uncommon for those outside the clergy, even among the nobility, to read and write, so historical records in this time are incomplete.

Fosterage had a place in history.  As a parent, my heart aches to think of those babies being torn from their homes and the arms of their families.  As a person who enjoys understanding history, however, I, now, better understand the nobility’s propensity for nursemaids—even if some of them would be prison-fodder in this day and age–and can appreciate that fosterage served a purpose unique to its time.

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Getting Started

I don’t know about anyone else, but starting a new project always throws me into a tailspin.  Not because I lack ideas.  Not because I’m not excited.  Not because the story isn’t jumping up and down on my head screaming, “Write me, Woman!”  Any of those I could handle.

What, then, is the problem?

The problem, dear reader, is there is so much to say, so much to write, so much roiling around in my mind, it’s a hot mess!

And I  don’t know where to start.

In a perfect world (translation: in a world where I made the rules to suit myself), I’d write a dark prologue.  The scene would be set in a cavern lit by smoking flambeaux, bright only in a limited sphere, leaving blurry edges in which any number of critters, whether real or imagined, could hide.  Sound would be magnified; the slightest whisper would become a shout within the high, stone walls.  And my heroine would not yet exist except in the mind of the man orchestrating the scene, planting seeds that wouldn’t sprout for nigh a millenia.

In case you didn’t get the memo, it isn’t a perfect world.  

The previous two books in the series, while originally written with prologues, have since swallowed them at the insistence of my CP and a best-selling author who happened to judge the second book in a contest.  Digesting those graphic but somewhat gruesome scenes came hard, and I cursed in five languages (yes, I can!) as the body of the story refused to accommodate the necessary information they provided.  It kept rejecting them, vomiting them out.  Naught I did would induce acceptance when the scenes were served whole.  Their violence glared from the page, angry red hives erupting on otherwise smooth flesh.

It’s like the danged thing developed a severe allergic reaction.  Leave it to me to have a manuscript—or two—with anaphylaxis.

In the end, small, brutally edited bites served over the course of several chapters did it, but my inner-purist had a hissy fit the size of a small continent throughout the process.

Since I’m not into masochism, I promised myself I wouldn’t make the same mistake yet again.  I would write the story sans prologue, putting things where they belonged in the first draft.

That’s a promise I will, in the interest of getting the draft done during my limited lifetime, probably break.

Writing this series has taught me several rather annoying things about my process, not the least of which is that, while I plan to write in a spare, linear fashion, it never works out that way.  Elements in book three have required minor tweaks in both the previous books.  That translates into writing complete series prior to submission of any part of a series.

Yay.

Even so, that little snippet of book three on my About Gwyn page has taken on a life of its own, opening doors I never anticipated.  It’s exciting.  It’s exhilerating. 

It’s driving me quite crazy. 

The research into Celtic mythology has been both frustrating and enlightening.  Every myth has numerous versions, and every god or goddess several names or incarnations.  Unlike the more studied mythologies that have gained some degree of standardization over the years, the Celtic myths remain much as they have always been.  This can be either blessing or curse; I get to choose the version that best suits my story, but there will be some reader somewhere who is acquainted with only one version—and you can bet it won’t be the one I need.

The heroine’s physical blindness being mitigated by her perception of visual energy has demanded deep consideration of things usually taken for granted.   What would a squirrel’s quivering energy look like?  What colors would a tree’s energy be when the sun is high?  How about at night?  What color is a lie? 

And the prophecy, the heretofore unknown thread spun in the age of Arthur, weaving itself through time to destroy a unifying threat, has thickened, gaining filaments until it has become a cord strong enough to pull all the stories together—and finish what was begun.

Yep.  This story could prove a one-way ticket to the white-coat fashion expo.

I’m foundering here, folks.  Please share how you begin a story.  Keep in mind, I’m a pantser.  I’ve tried plotting and storyboards and every other trick I’ve read about or heard mentioned to no avail.  My process is inefficient, annoying, and the only thing that works for a mind as convoluted as it seems mine is.  Still, I’m desperate.  This story is stealing my sleep, my peace, and my sanity.  If you haven’t a rope or a floatation device, I’ll settle for a pumpkin or a few empty milk jugs—anything to keep my head above water until this particular hot mess begins to take shape, cool, and gel.

When it does, when all the pieces finally come together, this is going to be one kick-ass story.  And that’s a promise I intend to keep.

 

 

 

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After the Ball is Over

I’m home. 

Finally.

While I’m happy to be here to hug my beloved and pet my dogs, I’m also sad it’s over.   So many friends, so much to share, laughter and music, angst and elation, excellent food (Junior’s Carrot Cake Cheese Cake is an orgasm on a plate!) and good Scotch, can be both exhilarating and exhausting.

NYC is horrendously noisy, yet it has a heartbeat, a rhythm unique unto itself.  It engenders its own excitement, its own mystique.  Like any large city, it displays both ugliness and beauty, but NY does it with a certain elan, rather like a blowsy old courtesan who still believes herself desirable and, because of that belief, influences others to see her as she sees herself. 

Don’t misunderstand; there are acres of glass and chrome, but they are upstarts, brazen hussies strutting their stuff amid the understated elegance of the more conservative ladies.  Of brick and stone, their jewels cornices of astounding intricacy, these stately matriarchs bear crowns of startling curves and subtle boldness and defy the encroaching modernization of their world.  They are the bastions, the keepers of New York’s heart.

Their magnificience defies even a writer’s vocabulary.

Of necessity, New Yorkers have little concept of personal space and often seem oblivious to what happens around them, yet at the same time, they proved friendly and helpful.  I thought only my one arm, the one under which I tucked my bag, was mottled black and blue from the numerous times people bumped into me.  My sweetheart disabused me of that notion as I prepared to sleep in my own bed.  The mirror confirmed it.  NYC did a number on this old gal; I look like I spent the week wrestling alligators.  Still, I enjoyed my time in the Big Apple. 

I’m blessed in that I’m close enough to go back without difficultly.  I’m cursed in that there is no way known to all of mankind I would willingly drive in that city.  My heart is still in my throat from the last “almost” I witnessed.  Yet I will be going back.  The lure is indefinable, but it’s definitely there.

I’m not going to regale you with all the ins and outs of the conference.  I do hope, if you are interested, you will pop over to the  Ruby-Slippered Sisters site  www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com and check out the posts, most with pictures, by the sisters.

There is naught as energizing for a writer as time spent with other writers, people who don’t think having a scene dictated by a fictional character or being awakened and compelled to your desk at 4 a.m is crazy.  The camaraderie, the encouragement, the different perspectives all combine to alleviate the hours of aloneness (I can’t say loneliness because it’s difficult to be lonely when your fictional worlds are as densely populated as ours) our passion requires.

I’m home.  And I’m both happy and sad to be here.  Until next we meet, sweet, wonderful, dear friends, write well.

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