Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roses and History

And now for something completely different...Roses!

When I'm not writing books, I'm gardening, and somehow or other, I stumbled into roses. Ouch. When I started growing roses, I discovered the old garden varieties grew best for me and I became increasingly intrigued by the history of roses. In fact, I became so engrossed in roses that I even included them in several of my books, including Smuggled Rose and A Rose Before Dying.

Below are some of my notes about roses and their fascinating history. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps discover a few old garden roses you'd like to try out in your garden.

Historical Tidbits

I'm not the only one fascinated by roses.  This flower has been described, and treatises written about how to grow roses by many ancient writers, including:
·         The Greek, Theophrastus
·         The Romans, Varro, Columella, Palladius, and Pliny.
·         The entire fourth chapter of Pliny's 20th book on Natural History is devoted to the rose.

Roses were used among the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others in their religious, public, and even their private lives.  The Romans apparently preferred to propagate roses by cuttings, since this yielded blooming plants much more quickly than raising them by seed.

Many of the Roman and Greek writers refer to the roses of Paestum, which according to Virgil and Pliny, bloomed semi-annually.  Some historians assert that this rose has died out, although others say it may be or may be related to the Autumn Damask rose. 

The number of rose varieties may have been limited in ancient times to a few spring/summer blooming varieties, but they had a lot of "tricks" to get them to bloom in off seasons.  Pliny wrote that in Carthage, Spain, the roses could be forced to bloom in the winter, and then the roses of Campania bloomed next, followed by those of Malta and lastly Paestum, which flowered in the spring and again in the fall.  The species, whatever it may have been, that bloomed in Paestum may be the one used by the gardeners in Seneca's time in Rome to force in warm-green-houses or retard blooming by withholding water at certain periods.

Nero was so extravagant that it is recorded that at one fete alone he spend more than four million sesterces, or one hundred thousand dollars (probably more now, due to inflation) in roses alone.  The roses were used to wreath their crowns, for garlands, and to cover their tables, couches and the ground.  They used them to surround the urns containing the ashes of the dead. 

Heliogabalus used so many rose petals at his banquet that some were suffocated on their couches.

Lucius Aurelius Verus had a couch made with four cushions made of very fine net, and filled with rose petals.
Rosalia is a Roman feast celebrating the rose, held each year on May 23.

A rose suspended over a Roman banqueting couch was used to indicate to guests that the conversation was sub rosa and therefore, confidential.  This convention was maintained well into the Middle Ages.

Romans often got their winter's supply of roses from Egypt, but eventually learned how to produce roses in winter through the use of green-houses heated by pipes filled with hot water.  During the reign of Domitian, this process for forcing roses in winter was so successful that they looked down with scorn on anyone who continued to import roses from Egypt.

Roses were cultivated in Greece, Rome and throughout the East for many purposes, including perfume.  One method of preserving the flower was to take a reed, split it down a short distance, stuff it with rose-buds and then bind with papyrus to prevent the scent from escaping.  They felt this method could preserve the perfume for a time, if they wished to preserve it while they traveled.

In order to ship roses, the Egyptians in Alexandria and Memphis sent roses in vases and boxes which were planted with roses.  They were shipped at the point just when the roses are beginning to break from the bud, in order to arrive in Rome at the most beautiful time when they are expanding.  The journey was estimated to take 20 days.  No one is sure what roses were grown by the Egyptians.  The French, when they explored Egypt, found the white rose (an Alba) and the Centifolia.  Speculation exists that the Autumn Damask might also have been grown.

The earliest rose concoctions were Greek in origin.  They steeped rose petals in olive or vegetable oil.  Later they learned that slowly heating rose petals in water could produce rose water, but it doesn't smell very strongly because not all of the oils in the rose can be dissolved in hot water.

In Persia or India, they discovered how to distill rose petals:  boil rose petals in water, collect the steam, cool it and you have 'attar of rose'.  Although this is stronger than rose water, it still doesn't last long.  But this is still a key component in perfume.  It takes an acre of roses to produce one lb of attar.

Greeks often planted garlic near the roots of roses and thought this helped the fragrance.

The island of Rhodes really means the Isle of Roses and the Medals of Rhodes have on the reverse side a rose in bloom and on the front, a sunflower.

In the East, the author Abu-Abdallah-ebu-el-Fazel described four roses:  the Double White with more than 100 petals; the Yellow; the Purple; and the flesh-colored which is the most common of them all.  He also says that the number of species is large, with the Mountain or Wild; the Double which is variegated with red and white shades; and the Chinese.  The Double, he says, is the most beautiful and have 40-50 petals. 

The Moors in Spain loved roses and reportedly multiplied them through suckers, cuttings, budding and grafting, so these methods are indeed old.  One Moorish author indicated the following as a method to for a rose to bloom in autumn: 

Choose one which is used to periodical waterings, then deprive it of water entirely during the heat of the summer, until August, and then give it an abundance of moisture.  This will hasten its growth and cause the expansion of flowers with great profusion, without impairing its ability to bloom the next spring as usual. 

Or, a second method:  In October, burn the old branches to the ground, moisten the soil for 8 days and then stop watering.  Alternate periods of moisture and drought as many as five times and in 60 days, or before the end of autumn, the roots will have thrown out vigorous branches which will be loaded with blooms, without impairing the plant's ability to bloom again in the spring.

Damascus, Cashmere, Barbary and Fayoum in Egypt all cultivated the rose for distilled oil or rose essence.  India was also famous for its rose gardens and the commercial cultivation of the rose.  Of all the countries, though, Persia was preeminent for roses during the 14th through 20th century.

Roses were widely cultivated in the Middle Ages and often worn by knights at tournaments as the emblem of their devotion to grace and beauty.

By the 8th century, the Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) issued a decree that all cities would plant roses in their public gardens, as they were thought to have medicinal value.

The Crusades introduced new roses into Europe, including new strains of Damask and Gallica roses.  Devout pilgrims to the Holy Lands often brought back roses as well.

When Saladin retook Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187 (3rd Crusade) he ordered 500 camel-loads of rosewater from Damascus to purify the Mosque of Omar.

Then there was the famous War of the Roses and its use of roses as emblems for the houses--something created by Shakespeare, by the way.  A red rose for the Lancaster and a white for the York.  The York house most certainly used either the 'Alba Maxima' or 'Alba Semiplena' for their rose.  The red is more difficult, but could have been the Apothecary's Rose.

In England in 1402, Sir William Clopton granted to Thomas Smyth a piece of ground called Dokmedwe, in Haustede, for the annual payment of a rose to Sir William and his heirs, in lieu of all services.

The demand for roses was so great in England that bushels of them were frequently passed by vassals to their lords in England and France.

Among the New Year gifts to Queen Mary in 1556 was a bottle of rose-water.

In an account of a grant of a great part of Ely House, Holborne, by the Bishop of Ely, to Christopher Hatton, for twenty-one years, the tenant covenants to pay, on midsummer-day, a red rose for the gate-house and garden, and for the ground (fourteen acres) ten loads of hay and ten pounds per annum; the Bishop reserving to himself and successors free access through the gate-house for walking in the gardens and gathering twenty bushels of roses yearly.

By the Renaissance, the Dutch and Flemish painters discovered roses and painted the lovely Centifolia.  If a rich buyer wanted a yellow "Rose of Provence" (Centifolia) they could certainly have one!  (Even if it didn't exist in nature!)

Micholas Culpeper (1616-54) prescribed a dry conserve of rose hips from Rosa canina for weakness, and a conserve of "sugar of rose" to help digestion.  Cuttings of the Gallica Rose 'the Apothocary's Rose' or 'Officinalis' were often tucked away by goodwives and others for medicinal purposes.

John Gerard's Herball in 1597 listed 16 different roses, grown in his Holborn garden.

John Parkinson (apothecary to King James I) published Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris in 1629 and lists 29 roses.

Mary Lawrance's work, A collection of Roses from Nature (the first monograph on roses) in 1795 listed nearly 90 roses.

Pierre-Joseph Redoute published Les Roses between 1817 and 1824, and expanded the list of cultivated roses to nearly 170.  The is probably the most famous and influential work on roses.

By 1848, some 1,500 different roses were listed, described, and offered for sale by William Paul's "The Rose Garden" catalogue.  There were nearly 800 Alba, Centifolia, Moss, Damask, and Gallica Roses.  But, by the time of the 10th edition in 1910, this list of old roses fell to below 90 roses or around 20%, and the bulk of the roses were now as we know them:  Hybrid Teas and other remontent classes.

This is obviously just a glimpse of the history, but at least it shows you what a valuable and wonderful plant the rose truly is.  Can you imagine being able to lease land by just allowing the owner to come and pick roses from the gardens?

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to deal with practical terms

So was I and here is practical advice on dealing with it. Make them your best bud.
It's not as crazy as it sounds.
The news is full of stories lately about bullies and there is a lot of fuzzy advice out there that really doesn't help all that much, speaking from my experience that is.

What credentials do I have to even discuss this topic? Well, experience for one thing. And PhD parents (child development and psychology) who thought their children were a pair of lab rats. And dealing with a lot of animals. That last isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, because we're all just glorified animals, and as Cesar Millan always says, "There are no bad dogs, just people in need of retraining." It all amounts

Here is a relevant truism.
People live up (or down) to your expectations. You expect them to be mean and they will be more than happy to accommodate you.

Side Note: Have you ever noticed how happy-go-lucky people always seem so lucky? Expectation, baby. If you expect to be lucky and you expect to be happy, chances are good it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure, no one gets 100%, but you get more than your average bear who expects to fail or be unlucky. (This is relevant. Really.)

So, back to the advice bit. I'm going to have to intersperse this with my own story so that it kind of makes sense. I hope.

Back in 8th grade, my gym locker was directly beneath this hood's locker. (In my day, we called the folks who smoked, cut school, and were generally bullies, "Hoods.") She made my life a living hell for the first few days.

Eventually, even my mother noted I was not my usual self.

Side Note: There is no situation that can not be made worse by going to your parents or other person in authority.

I was reluctant to tell her (and rightfully so), but I eventually divulged just enough to get one sentence back from her that changed everything. "Smile. Make friends with her." Of course, Mom also offered to do the parental thing and makes matters a whole lot worse by going to my school, but I deftly handled this by telling her I would handle it myself. No problem. (I hate it when others offer to help me. I'm an independent little cuss. Always have been, always will be.)

The next day, when this hood showed up, I turned to her, smiled, and said, "Hi!" I may have also added, "How's it going?" It's hard to remember every word spoken 40 years ago.

After that, instead of avoiding her, pretending she wasn't really there, or any one of a number of essentially passive and fearful avoidance behaviors, I smiled and talked to her. I even went out of my way to talk to her in the hallways and around school where normally I could have safely avoided her.

She immediately stopped bugging me. Not only that, less than a week later, I found out she'd defended me against some other kids ( had no idea and really should have thanked her).

We didn't exactly become best friends, but the bullying stopped. Turns out her life wasn't all cake and roses, either. She was interesting, too, even if our friendship was pretty much limited to a few classes in school. I often wonder what happened to her, because she was traveling a very hard road. I hope her life got easier, because she was never really as tough as she made out to be.

Were my actions manipulative or fake? Possibly. I know my immediate reaction to what my mother advised was, "You've got to be kidding me!" But over time, I've realized that smiling does make a difference (there are even physiological changes that occur when you smile...but that's another story and my interest in biology coming out).

People who smile and exhibit easy-going confidence (as opposed to confrontational behavior) will almost always diffuse a bad situation. Project the idea that you like the person in front of you. After all, most bullies are greeted with fear, avoidance, and downright hatred. That's bound to make anyone hostile. If you start greeting people with affable good humor (something few see now-a-days), you'll be amazed at the results.

Lessons Learned
Cesar Millan, in working with dogs, would immediately recognize the lessons here.

  • Projecting fear, avoidance, and the attendant emotional responses is like chum to a shark. Even if you have no confidence whatsoever, you project it. Walk like you have someplace to go. Shoulders back. Plaster a smile on your face. Believe that it is possible to like any humanoid facing you, even the drooling, knuckle-dragging ones.
  • Do not avoid. That's like running away from a lion. The lion's (bully's) first impulse will be to attack and kill. When confronted, do not tense up. Relax. Smile. Show an interest in the other person. What's the worst that can happen?
Your Action Plan
So here are the practical steps.

  • You run into the bully. Smile. Stand your ground, but keep your body relaxed. Under no circumstances will you avoid the bully. Be glad to see the bully. Really.
  • At a minimum, say, "Hi." If you feel you need to say more, just ask general social questions like, "How are you?" If you can, say, "I'm glad to see you. Are you going to be in class today?" And really project that you are, indeed, glad to see this person.
  • Response. Initially, you may get a negative response like, "Why?" or "Are you crazy?" 
  • Your response. Shrug. Smile. Say something/anything that is even vaguely positive like, "I don't know, I just think you're kind of interesting/cool." Of course, try to avoid sexual connotations here or things may disintegrate. :)
  • Another negative response. The bully is probably still unsure what is going on and may be angry because of it. Expect something like, "You're a total jerk/idiot."
  • Your response. Chuckle. (I mean it, chuckle like the bully said something really funny--even if it was a terrible insult. Believe that the response was just joking around.) Shake your head and smile. Say, "You crack me up." Then make an offer like, "You on your way to class?" and gesture/wave to indicate you wouldn't mind the bully's company to walk to class.
If you persist and meet the bully's reactions with humor, you will diffuse the situation. You may even end up with a new best bud. Or not. But at least you will stop being the victim and stop projecting, "Victimize me!"

Finally, I know a lot of you are thinking, "Easy for you to say." Or even, "Yeah? Well, you don't understand. I'm miserable at school and I hate these people. I'm not happy, and I'm going to plaster a happy smile on my face and be a total fake."

That's fine. But just realize that you are making a choice when you do that. You're choosing to be miserable and victimized. The power is in your hands. Use it or lose it.

Of course, in the end, your mileage may vary. And this works in the office, too, not just in school. Dealing with other people is very much like dealing with aggressive dogs and other animals. To a large extent, their reaction is entirely dependent upon what you project. Project confidence and ease, and the others will relax, too.

Most of all, just be happy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

JASNA and Last Chance for a Free Copy of Escaping Notice

Just got back from Maryland where I had a wonderful time at a book fair hosted by the Jane Austen Society of North America (I'm joining, too--these folks are wonderful!). I was thrilled (not to mention intimidated) by the amazing authors who did readings from their books and there were a ton of fascinating books for sale. I had to really resist adding more than a few books to my library, which is already full to overflowing.

The author panel included: Sandy Lerner, Margaret Sullivan, Catherine Reef, Janet Mullany, Lori Smith, and Diana Peterfreund. Oh, and me. Everyone was so nice that I hope they'll make this an annual event as it is a terrific way to start the summer season.

Speaking of celebrate, I'm offering my latest bestseller, Escaping Notice, free for the next three days. That is, Thursday, June 14 through Saturday, June 16, 2012. Here's a bit about it and a teeny-tiny excerpt. Hope you enjoy it!

Escaping Notice

Discarded by his betrothed with a parting sally that “being an earl does not excuse being a bore,” Hugh Castle, the Earl of Monnow, joins his brother on a relaxing cruise, hoping to forget. But a storm capsizes their boat, and despite Hugh’s desperate efforts, he can’t save his brother’s life. Then, when the wreckage reveals evidence of sabotage, he realizes he was never meant to return to dock. Someone intending to murder the earl killed his younger brother, instead. Angered and grieving, Hugh travels to London to enlist the aid of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency in finding his brother’s murderer.

Helen Archer attended the Earl of Monnow’s ball in expectation of joining the celebration for his betrothal, but the event seems destined for disaster. She arrives late, the earl makes no announcement, and Helen manages to lose the fabled (but cursed) Peckham necklace her sister reluctantly loaned to her. Unwilling to admit her carelessness to her sister, Helen rashly decides to return to the earl’s estate and retrieve it in secret.

When his aunt threatens to send him to the Earl of Monnow, his purportedly cruel uncle, Edward Leigh-Brown decides he’s had enough of female interference. He’s going to join the navy and follow in Lord Nelson’s footsteps to become a military hero. But finding his way to London is a lot harder for a young boy than it seems, and he’s soon lost. When he bumps into Miss Helen Archer at an inn, he’s more than happy to accept a ride in her carriage, even if she seems determined to escort him to an inquiry agency to hire someone to locate the family he doesn’t want located.

When the three meet in London at Second Sons, Helen impulsively decides to accompany Hugh to the earl’s home. They will be disguised as servants and free to pursue their secret goals. Hugh hopes to uncover a killer, Helen hopes to find her necklace, and Edward just hopes he can find the opportunity to escape again.

In this scene, Helen Archer has met up with a young boy, Edward, and has offered to convey him to London in her carriage. She little realizes what an expert Edward is at impromptu fiction, particularly when he wants to get rid of unwanted company.

Chapter Seven

“A chief part of his duty consists in assisting in the rough work ….” —The Complete Servant

Edward Brown-Leigh studied Mr. Stewart as Miss Archer left the room. The man was really offensive, another word which had recently come into his vocabulary and was already proving useful. Edward wanted to punch him in his red nose for the way he stared at the delicate Miss Archer.

“You were lucky, sir,” Edward said when the man turned towards him. Despite teasing Miss Archer, Edward had rather liked her. She was pretty and she hadn’t treated him like a sapskull, two qualities which immediately endeared her to him. He was also tired enough after walking all day with his heavy valise to be grateful to her for her offer to take him to London tomorrow in her carriage.

He did not like Mr. Stewart, however. Or the way his beady little eyes had followed Miss Archer.

After Edward’s comment, Mr. Stewart laughed, although it had a hollow, false note.

“Lucky? I agree. It was a lovely piece of luck to find the inn so full that I was forced to share a room with such a charming couple as you and your fair sister.”

Edward shook his head and fixed a pious expression on his face. “Oh, indeed. But what was lucky was that my sister hadn’t the opportunity to serve you anything to drink.”

“To drink?” Mr. Stewart echoed Edward’s words before giving another, less hearty, laugh.

“You saw the blue vial she carries?” Edward shook his head mournfully.

“Yes. What of it? Just smelling salts or some similar medicine. All delicate ladies carry such things.”

Edward sighed. “If it was only that ….”

“Only that?”

“We’re going to London to see a doctor, you see. I only hope we can get there without any more … incidents.”


“Yes. I probably shouldn’t tell you about our difficulties, but it’s been preying on my mind ever since father took ill last winter and left it up to me to see that my sister gets the care she needs. I’m only praying she won’t end up in Bedlam, though if another man …. Well, I shouldn’t tell you our troubles.”

“Bedlam?” Mr. Stewart’s voice squeaked. His ruddy face grew pale although his blob of a nose remained bright cherry red.

“Yes. You see, my sister is easily annoyed by strange men. And when she gets annoyed, she has a way of slipping a little something extra into their drink.”

Poison? Why in God’s name isn’t she locked up?”

“Oh, she hasn’t actually killed anyone.” He smiled reassuringly and widened his eyes to prove his earnestness. “Not yet, anyway. And fortunately, she listens to me and is quite docile when I'm present. We have every hope for a cure after we get to London. We’re going to see a specialist.”

Lifting his hat in one hand, Mr. Stewart wiped his sleeve over his brow. When the door behind him opened, he jerked violently, hitting the table with his hip. Edward stared at the floor to keep from laughing at the expression on Mr. Stewart’s face when Miss Archer entered the room, followed by a woman Edward presumed to be her maid.

“Oh, you’re back!” Mr. Stewart exclaimed. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but you must excuse me. Terribly sorry.” He dashed past the two women who stared after him, open-mouthed.

Edward smiled triumphantly at Miss Archer and was rewarded with a puzzled look that made him somewhat nervous. A slight frown pinched the skin between her brows. If she heard what he had told Mr. Stewart, she might take it amiss.

He shuffled his feet and gazed at the door, wondering if discretion really was the better part of valor as The Aunts had insisted.

Perhaps they’d been mistaken about that and he should admit the truth to Miss Archer and hope for the best.
 * * * * *

For those who have more eclectic tastes in literature and a fondness for short stories, you might be interested to know that Edward Brown-Leigh is my small tribute to H. H. Munro, who wrote under the pseudonym of Saki. Munro was rather plagued by Aunts, as well (yep, that's Aunts with a capital "A") and he might feel a great deal of sympathy for poor Edward. Munro is one of my all-time favorite authors and I never tire of reading his biting, witty short stories.

And if you've read any of Munro's stories, you might say that just like Edward, romance at short notice was his specialty, too. (I hope fans of his story, "The Open Window" won't roll their eyes too much. I know, it's a groaner.)

Have a wonderful weekend!