Mirror Mirror

Snow white“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all…”

Nicola here, talking about magic mirrors! It’s possibly the most famous mirror quote in literature. The evil queen in Snow White has a magic mirror that each morning gives her the validation she is looking for by telling her that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Until Snow White grows up that is, and the mirror, ever truthful, has to break the bad news to the queen that Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than she.

I’ve always loved old mirrors. Not because I’m vain and enjoy looking at my reflection (or at least I don't think that's the reason!) but because they are often so very beautiful and it’s easy to see how myths and magic collect about them. When I was writing my first timeslip book, The Silent House, which is out later this year, I needed an object with magical qualities that had first started to exert its power centuries before the story begins. A mirror seemed the perfect item to choose.

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Words -Historical

Jo3rwablueHi, Jo here, busy, busy, busy. And behind.

All the regular Wench readers will know that Anne, Nicola, Mary Jo and I were away at the RWA conference in San Antonio. For me and Nicola that meant jet lag as well as introvert exhaustion. I used to think that introvert meant someone who hid away from people, but according to the Myers-Briggs personality test, it means we give out energy when we're with people. Once I heard about that it explained why I'd go to conferences, have a great time, but find myself back in my room reading a book. Refueling. In testing, nearly all writers turn out to be introverts, which isn't surprising as we spend a lot of time alone with out inner world.

Extroverts, in MB, take in energy when they're with people, so tend to choose professions involving a lot of contact with people. I haven't read any data on this but I suspect that extrovert writers are the ones who love to write in a busy coffee shop and seek out as many speaking engagements and media opportunities as they can, or perhaps even have a part time job when they don't need the money.

Any idea which you are?

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Rochester sleepingNicola here. Today I’m talking about sleep. Do you sleep like a log (like Rochester in the photo) or are you a light sleeper? An insomniac, even? I tend to sleep for about four hours, wake up, lie awake for a while and then go back to sleep. Until recently I had no idea that this might actually be quite normal and a throwback to the not so distant past. New research however suggests that as recently as the 19th century the idea of “first sleep” and “second sleep” was common. It was only with the introduction of artificial lighting and the push towards a more efficient use of time after the industrial revolution that the idea of sleeping over two separate parts of the night disappeared.

First and Second Sleep

"And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of
Full moon

your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a slake." This quotation comes from an early English ballad called Old Robin of Portingale. In the medieval period it was the norm to sleep in two portions. The “first sleep” started about two hours after dusk. Then there was a waking period of about two hours when people would have a cup of tea, smoke a pipe, write letters, read a book or even go out to visit friends, and then there was “second sleep” until daybreak. Evidence for this comes from court records, diaries, medical text books and other literature including prayer books, which give a number of readings and prayers suitable for the time “between sleeps.” Between sleep was also the best time to have sex, if you believed the medical practitioners of the day, and the best time to conceive.

Spreading the Light

The lamplighter“Second sleep” started to disappear in the late 17th century when coffee houses in the cities started to open all night and more entertainments took places during the hours of the night. Previously the period after dark had been the province of criminals and of the supernatural, the haunt of highwaymen, prostitutes and witches, as one writer said. Although the wealthy could afford candles, most ordinary people could not afford to light the nighttime hours. Paris became the first city to light its streets at night in 1667, with Amsterdam following and London lit by 1684. It became fashionable amongst the urban classes to be up at night although in the country where there was no street lighting, fashions did not change so fast.

The industrial revolution encouraged an idea of clock- watching, time-consciousness and efficiency. Parents were encouraged to get their children out of a natural pattern of two sleeps per night. A medical text book of 1829 disapproved heartily of a first and second sleep; it was no longer the done thing and by the early 20th century the idea of splitting the night into a first and second sleep had completely vanished from public consciousness.

A Fascination with Sleep

Sleep, however, continues to be of fascination to us both in terms of our own experience and also in
Sleeping beauty Burne Jones literature. Fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White involve magical sleep, as do other myths. King Arthur, for example, is said to be asleep by enchantment and will come again to save Britain when he is needed. The myth of the sandman, which I remember my grandparents telling me when I was a child, also stems from the medieval period. Shakespeare wove themes of sleep through his plays, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Macbeth, for example, and wrote beautifully on the subject:
"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, the death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast."

In the past there were not the scientific and physiological explanations for sleep that we have today hence its close association with magic and even death. But that wasn't to say that people had not noticed the detrimental effect that worrying had on good sleep. Charlotte Bronte commented: "A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow." William Wordsworth tried counting sheep and imagining the soothing sound of rain falling and the hum of bees. These days there is everything from Sleep Labs to hypnosis to help us get a good night's sleep but I wonder if the reason some of us still wake is because sleeping through the night is actually an artificial state for our bodies and we are actually meant still to have a first and second sleep?

So how well do you sleep? Do you have a favourite myth or story that involves sleep? Do you like the connection between sleep and magic? And if we still had first and second sleeps, what would you enjoy doing with your “between sleep” time in the middle of the night?

M. J. Putney: Introduction of an Alter Ego

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo, aka M. J. Putney

March 21st will be the 25th anniversary of starting my first book, which was published 18 months later as The Diabolical Baron.  It’s time to reinvent myself again. <G>  Hence Dark Mirror, my first young adult paranormal historical, which hit the stores yesterday. 

I’ve always written romance, almost always historical, though some Diabolical Baron--Original contemporaries and historical fantasy crept in.  But YA is a new country, a new genre with new rules.  Though history and romance are still present. <G>

(Note: I am NOT giving up historical romance!  The Bargain will be reissued in April, and Nowhere Near Respectable, the third Lost Lords book, will be out in May, and I’m about to start book 4.)

Dark Mirror is a young adult novel with history, adventure, magic, and a dash of romance.  (Of course romance!)  I’m getting a lot of questions about the difference in writing between romance and YA.

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ The answer is reader expectations.  Different genres have different core stories.  Epic fantasy is the struggle between good and evil.  Mysteries are about justice. 

For romance, the core is the courtship story of the developing relationship, while the heart of a YA novel is the growth and life journey of the protagonist.  (Though lots of other things can be added to those core stories, of course.  Romance is found as a subplot in all genres.) 

But while the core stories for YA and romance are different, good storytelling is good storytelling.  That’s the foundation of all popular fiction,

So why YA?  I love combining history, romance, and magic, and I wrote several adult books of that ilk. But on the whole, historical romance readers prefer to get their fantasy reading kick from the setting, which is why lords and ladies and Cinderella stories are so popular.  When I changed publishers several years ago, I found that all the editors we talked to wanted me to write straight historical romance without woo-woo elements. 

Marriage Spell--300 dpi That was okay—obviously I like writing lords and ladies and Cinderella stories, or I wouldn’t have written so many of them. <G> But I still wanted to write magic!

In particular, I wanted to write a story that connected the Napoleonic period and World War II, because I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities in these two eras.  In both cases. England stood alone against a powerful Continental conqueror, protected by the English Channel, the British Navy, and the stubborn courage of her people. 

From there, it was a short hop to thinking that Regency mages would be drawn to a Napoleon-Bonaparte similar time period where their abilities were be needed.  I had the story idea for Dark Mirror in mind for quite a while before my Del Rey fantasy editor said rather casually that it would work well in YA. 

Bingo!  The heavens opened and the trumpets sounded!  I’d never considered writing YA, even though I’ve read it for years, but I immediately knew that this story should be written as YA. 

DM takes place in a Regency world where magic exists but is disdained by the nobility.  My heroine, sixteen year old Lady Victoria Mansfield, performs an act of heroism that condemns her to the dread Lackland Abbey, where well-born children are “cured” of their magical afflictions. 

Tunnel under Dover Castle Tory chooses to cast her lot with those students who study magic in secret in the chalk tunnels below the Abbey.  One of them is Allarde, the handsome, enigmatic heir to a dukedom.  When a magical artifact draws her through time to a war torn 1940 Britain, she wants nothing more than to return home.  But duty calls, and she and her friends must use their magical abilities to help save their nation from disaster at Dunkirk. 

Mega research!  Especially on the 1940 section of the book, which is within living Dunkirk beaches memory.  But there is nothing like stepping off a creative cliff to get the juices flowing.  <G> 

At least three books will be set in this world.  The YAs will be published under the name of M. J. Putney to indicate that they’re a different kind of book.  (Though you who have long memories may recall I did one historical romantic fantasy, Stolen Magic, under my initials before returning to my full name.)

This is a rather scary leap for me because the YA market and distribution are quite different from adult popular fiction.  Plus—could I fake a young adult voice?  I wasn’t a very good teenager even when I was one!  On the plus side, the readers are wonderfully enthusiastic, and there is a tremendous freedom in YA storytelling.

Besides, I had a story I wanted to tell.  <G>  I’m grateful that so far, the reviews have been very good.  Even from the teenagers. 

Here are a few of the reviews.  I particularly liked the first because it says what I hope and believe: that a fair number of my adult readers will enjoy Tory’s story.

“An amazing young adult novel from an established romance author! Mary Jo Putney’s adult readers will delight in her latest offering.”
 Leah, YoungAdultRomanceWriters.com

“One of the best stories I've ever read that mixes history, magic, and time travel.”
 Angel, 15 years old, from the teen advisory board of New Albany-Floyd County Library in Indiana.  5 star rating.

 “Absolutely riveting, Putney creates a vivid historical fantasy and delivers a page-turning read.  The plot builds slowly and deliberately and then suddenly you're got magic-wielding, time-traveling teens in WWII England, as Putney gives us a magical explanation for an incredible historical event.”
    Raven Heller, 4 1/2 stars, Romantic Times Bookclub

Evacuation_Dunkirk Since I am new to the YA genre, St. Martin’s Press wanted to release the first books close together.  Book 2, Dark Passage, is scheduled for September 2011, and the third book, not yet written, will be published some time in 2012.  (You can see why I’ve been so busy!)  There will also be a free downloadable short story, a sort of prequel, that will be available soon online.  It’s called “Fallen From Grace.” 

I have a basic website up at mjputney.com , and also a Facebook page, though I don’t pay as much attention to the sites as I should.  I can write more stories, or have a great online presence.  Not both unless I figure out how to clone myself. Triplets would be about right.  <G>

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ If the story interests you, or you know a young reader who might be enjoy Tory and her adventures, I hope you’ll give it a try.  Leave a comment between now and Friday midnight and you may win a signed copy of Dark Mirror from me.  So tell me what you think about this latest reinvention!

Mary Jo, aka M. J.