The Story of a Fork

Wench fork circa 1600 mother of pearl and beads VandAIf you figger folks in ye olden days had it tougher than we do now, you don’t have to look further than the matter of forks. Oversimplifying like mad, one may say that Europe went from a state of no forks whatsoever, to the slightly more satisfying condition of two-pronged forks, to the multiply pronged jobbies we enjoy today.

Let us go back to the very beginning of fine dining in Europe. Here’s a Medieval feast. White cloth, pretty

Wench bosch wedding at cana crop

click for closeup

dishes, probably wonderful food  and wine or mead or whatever. But the guests were expected to manage the food with their knives and spoons, which they brought with them, and their fingers which they also brought with them and washed from time to time with fingerbowls and clean linen.

See how that table has knives set about here and there. There’s no soup or stew in evidence so folks

Wench 1656 maes crop

I don't know why the knife is pointed at her

haven’t taken their spoons out.


Here's another picture. Her dinner is soup and fish and maybe a veggie. She has a spoon, I think, in her bowl and a knife, but she has no fork. It's 1656. 

We are pre-fork.

Of course, there had been forks in the kitchen forever, poking roasts and holding meat down to be carved and fetching beets out of boiling water. Now the fork emerged into the culinary daylight and took a place at the table. It served two purposes there. It secured food so your knife could cut it. And the fork could be used to convey food to the mouth, a job that had heretofore been performed by the sharp point of a knife or the bowl of a spoon. Or, you know, fingers.

I have no doubt folks were nimble at this eating food off a razor-sharp knife tip. However, I’m glad I didn't have to teach a three-year-old the knack. Knives doubtless made food-fights in the nursery an altogether more deadly affair.

Read more

Choose your gown

RwaJo here, historical fashionista! Well, not really, but in another spot we were talking about which look we'd choose if we were going to a historical costume ball. Medieval, Tudor, Regency?

DonzellaornatapopHere's an image from Vecellio's book of Renaissance Costume, which contains images both interesting and alarming. Some, like this on the right, are imaginable. Some are odd. The one on the left, for example.

VCR071B I'm going to share some other images from different European periods. If you want to go Oriental or such, you're on your own.Which appeal to you, and why?

For example, if I was intending to dance and have fun at the ball I'd choose a more comfortable and manageable gown; perhaps even an early 20th century one. But for show I might go for more structured splendor.

It would be interesting to wear the stiff Tudor style — to see how it felt, and how it made me felt. Do you agree that clothes change us, especially how we move and how we feel about ourselves? Have you ever experienced that?

Which period costume do you think most flattering to women, and which the least?

Read more

Queen Margaret’s Video

Queen_hereafter_trade_pbkThe trade paperback of Queen Hereafter is available in bookstores and online today from Random House and Broadway Books! There's a beautiful book trailer to accompany the book's release — and I'm delighted to bring you a conversation with Jim Lefter, who created the video.

A few months ago I was talking to Jim, a friend and video producer, about books and ways to promote a new release. He asked if I had ever tried a book trailer. I hadn’t, but I love them–I'm very visual and they can quickly draw me into a story and catch my interest.

JimlefterJim offered to do a video for Queen Hereafter, and I was ready to try something new — so we set out on a creative adventure. Jim Lefter is a video producer with twenty years’ experience doing video and television work for Discovery Network and A & E among other production houses. He now does freelance projects through his own company, Cosmic Stuff Media. Recently we chatted about the experience of creating Queen Margaret's video (this medieval lady has a gospel, a chapel, a reliquary, a loch, a bay, a book – and now her own video!).

Final shot susan-editBut first – click here to watch it on YouTube: Queen Hereafter Book Trailer!

Susan: Hi Jim, welcome to Word Wenches! Can you tell us about the starting point for a book trailer?

Jim: The book! I like to have a good knowledge of the book and a feel for the story, so first I read the book. I love reading, so no hardship there.

Susan: Do you prefer to collaborate, or do you produce what you think works best and then run it past the client?

Jim: It’s a collaborative process if the author wants that. I certainly enjoy that. The outcome is better if the author takes part in the process.

Susan: Could you tell us about the steps involved in creating a book trailer?

Jim: We start with a script — the foundation. I prefer that the author write it for an authentic voice, though I’m open to writing it myself. The script needs to capture the essence of a story in a few sentences — and no one can get inside the story like the author can. And I like to work with a narrator. A voice reading the script carries the viewer into the story more than text onscreen can do. Video is a visual medium, and I want to paint the story in multimedia to evoke mood and tone.

Susan: Do you sometimes use text onscreen instead of narrative?

Jim: Text is appropriate sometimes. It depends on how it works with the story, whether it distracts or enhances, and what the author and I both think works best.

Susan: And after the script comes the image search.

Jim: Right. We discuss what images might work, and then scour the best stock photo houses, tailoring our ideas to what’s available. Great stock photos can be found at reasonable fees, and an image search might inspire new ideas for the trailer.

JThighlanderrnc_bhjt9348hl-wmSusan: For the Queen Hereafter video, we both searched, emailing images back and forth and choosing. For example, Jim found photos of a guy in medieval armor who to me looked like a thug, but Jim liked his toughness for King Malcolm. Good point — but then we found Jimmy Thomas. He’s more a romance hero sort than the real Malcolm Canmore — but what a great stand-in for a medieval Scottish king!

Blond girl horseJim: When a group of stock photos popped up showing a long-haired blond woman in a medieval gown in outdoor settings, we had our Queen Margaret. A variety of images of the same model is very useful. And finding images involves going back and forth, being particular. We looked for naturalness and authenticity, and for visually interesting images. We also used some of Susan’s own photos of Scotland.

Susan: What’s the next step after the images are selected?

Jim: Recording the narration is next. I often work with my wife, Anne, who is a great narrator. The right voice and a nuanced read is essential—the narrator is an artist who portrays what we envision.

Susan: We auditioned a few narrators, but I loved Anne’s warm, rich voice and her natural reading the best! After selecting the images and recording the script with a narrator, what do you work on next?

Dougie in charlottesvilleJim: Music – and that can be the most difficult part of the process. I want to find a sound to match the story and tone. Searching stock music clips – much of which are quite good – takes longer than image searches. Music by the original artists is not always available, but it can be a great element in a video. Susan was able to get permission from Scottish singer/songerwriter Dougie MacLean for his song “The Search," which adds a richness and elegance to the Queen Hereafter trailer.

Once the music is decided, I edit the images to fit the rhythms and pace of the song. The mood of the whole video really comes together at this point. As a producer, I do the editing and production, and I mostly act as a guide, helping to find and blend the elements to create a story. It’s important to communicate and to help the author discover what they want. Using various software, I create a rough cut and run that past the author.

Sue6 001Susan: The Queen Hereafter video took only a couple of weeks or so. Jim worked so efficiently and with real artistry, and has an infallible sense of what works. I was thrilled the first time I saw the rough cut!

Jim: This has been a wonderful collaborative process, with give and take and great communication. My goal as a producer is to create a visual production that is high quality and really enjoyable. And I want the client to be happy with the process as well as the result.

Susan: Even though I changed my mind a lot, you were patient, amiable, and always creative throughout. Thank you!

We had so much fun making this video that Jim and I are now collaborating on a book trailer for Lady Macbeth, and I can tell you that his work in this one is stunning. We'll debut it soon on Word Wenches!

Meanwhile, I hope you all enjoy the Queen Hereafter video -– please share, like, tweet and send to your friends! (If you are interested in talking to Jim about a book trailer of your own, you can contact him at

Be sure to look for Queen Hereafter in trade paperback and ebook as well.

And speaking of multimedia … Queen Hereafter is now available in audiobook from! Click here to listen to an audio sample.

What do you think of book trailers? Leave a comment below to be entered in a giveaway: an autographed set of paperback copies of Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter!


Wench Susan’s New Venture


Pat here, proudly announcing:

Susan King's first historical romance, The Black Thorne's Rose, originally published by Topaz/Penguin–is finally available in e-book form in an "author's cut" — to be followed soon by The Raven's Wish, Angel Knight and several of Susan's earlier historicals.

First, to whet your whistle, here’s the official blurb:

  The Black Thorne's Rose
A high-born lady…a mysterious forest outlaw … a daring deception

With her castle and lands forfeit, gently bred Lady Emlyn refuses marriage to a cruel lord and flees into the greenwood–where she falls for a bold forest outlaw, the Black Thorne, who courts danger in King John’s England. Caught in a game of passion and daring deception, Emlyn learns too late that the mysterious outlaw and the ruthless lord she despises are one and the same man. Now, for Thorne and Emlyn both, the greatest risk of all exists in the truth…and love.

“Excellent…filled with mythical legends, mystery and mayhem… an extremely powerful story.” — Black thorne Rendezvous

"Magnificent!" — Virginia Henley

Now, here’s Susan!      

Pat: Your debut historical romance, The Black Thorne's Rose is now finally available! Tell us something about the book. Why did you choose to begin your career with a medieval romance?

Susan: A lifelong love of forest outlaws and Robin Hood tales, and bookshelves (and a brain) filled with medieval research sources — what better reasons to write a medieval romance? Seriously, at the time I didn't realize that writing historical fiction was about to become a career for me. I was on an academic track, and took leave from that because I had three sweet little guys at home who needed a full-time mom for a while. And writing fiction was my guilty pleasure then. It was something I loved doing in my little bits of free time. So I was curious to see if I could really write good fiction and actually finish a novel, maybe even see a book published before I resumed the PhD work and teaching.

I had been playing with this particular story idea while working on my dissertation (medieval manuscript illumination and a study of iconography). During my leave, I wrote the story of Lady Emlyn, an English medieval lady (and manuscript illuminator in her spare time!), who loses her family castle to one of King John's barons. Fleeing  English forest an arranged marriage, she meets a forest outlaw who has hidden ties to the man she has refused to marry. Emlyn and her outlaw are soon caught up in danger and vengeance, while love develops unexpectedly between them–though not unexpected to the reader!

In Black Thorne's Rose, I wrote the sort of story that I wanted to read myself — an adventure-romance, a Robin Hood sort of tale, with a passionate and layered romance developing between the heroine and her mysterious hero — and a lot of old-fashioned adventure too. The excitement and danger of hiding in the forest, practicing archery, escaping the baddies, jumping off cliffs, risky rescues, mixed with legend and mystery, and even touches of humor (well, I laughed, but hey, I wrote it!). And there's a certain last-minute escape at the end that may still be unique in romance!

Pat: Did you find that the story held up after several years? You've obviously changed and grown as a writer–what was it like to go back to that very first book and bring it out again?  And what exactly is an “author’s cut”?  

Susan: Reading it again myself, years later, I found that I still loved this story, still had that sense of excitement and anticipation and great fun that I had felt while writing it. So bringing this book back–which received fabulous reviews when it first came out, and for which I'm still grateful!–has been a wonderful experience for me. I look forward to going through my other early romances to get those ready for ebook publication.

Though this ebook version is not quite the same book that was published years ago. This is a new version–the "author's cut," I call it — meaning that the author has cut, trimmed, edited and vastly improved the book! When I sat down to read BTR again a Glasses few months ago, it was no longer as a newbie writer, but as an experienced author. Here was my chance to improve on a book I still truly loved. Some of that extraneous language had to go. Out came the red pencil and the "delete" button… I got rid of the "'tis twas, 'twere" contractions sprinkled liberally throughout; cut extra description (how many times do we need to describe the hero's gorgeousness?); and a lot of exclamation points bit the dust. I trimmed language — but the story, the events, the characters, all remained. I'm happy to say that The Black Thorne's Rose is fresh, lean and trim in its new incarnation, and still a fun story. 

Pat: Why did you decide to e-publish your earlier books, and what has that experience been like?

Susan: I've been planning to get my Susan King historical romances out in ebook form for a while now, and finally all the aspects came together — the time to review and edit, and the right company with the expertise to prepare and handle the ebooks. Not to mention my own understanding of the whole complicated process – trying to grasp what needed to be done and the best alternatives to choose. The learning curve on getting these books out in this form is very big, and I've been fortunate t
o have the advice and expertise of some wonderfully talented and knowledgeable people. My ebook publisher is ePublishingWorks!, a company run by Nina Paules, one of our own Word Wenches readers.  Nina is doing a beautiful job with all aspects of the e-pub process, and with the help of her company, I'm very excited to get these early books out there and into reader's hands again!

Black Thorne's Rose is now available for Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, iBook, and several other venues, with more options appearing all the time. And I'm happy to announce that my second historical romance, The Raven's Wish, will Raven be available very soon. Raven's Wish was my first Scottish-set historical. Here's a sneak preview of the cover!

Susan has a new Facebook author page – click here to see Susan's page, and be sure to "like" it!  


How many of you are eager to see the return of medievals? Raise your hand! Have any of you been straying from historical romance lately? Do you have any idea why?


Update! Nina has offered to give three Amazon gift versions of BLACK THORNE'S ROSE to random commenters. These versions can be read on your computer as well as other devices. I'll call the cut-off time as midnight Thursday, April 28th. Drop a line and say hi and you may be a winner!

About Chalice of Roses

Cor Jo here, talking about the anthology Chalice of Roses, which has stories about the Grail.

The reviews have been great, including this one from Library Journal. "Based on legends surrounding the mystical Holy Grail, this quartet
sweeps readers across time periods with emotionally compelling, often
lyrically written tales of courage, sacrifice, love—and roses. A young
woman of ancient lineage is destined to bring peace to 12th-century
England when she finds her protector, and together they call forth the
chalice in Beverley’s “The Raven and the Rose”; a Guardian must use her
powers to keep the Grail safe during World War II in Mary Jo Putney’s
“The White Rose of Scotland”; a debutante is charged with keeping the
Grail out of Napoleon’s grasp in Karen Harbaugh’s charming “The English
Rose: Miss Templar and the Holy Grail”; and an American grad student
studying in England becomes involved in a strange fey tale involving
the Grail in Barbara Samuel’s “Eternal Rose.” VERDICT: This beautifully
crafted anthology by some of the genre’s best is graced with flawless
writing, touches of humor, and magical, creative plots.

I'll start with a bit of history — business history. Most romance anthologies are put together by an in-house editor. There's a theme or link and she then looks for writers to do the novellas. (A novella is a story of about 10-20,000 words, though they can be longer.) I have to say that sometimes the blend of stories doesn't make a lot of sense, and sometimes the stories don't stick tightly to the theme.Ifmmpb

In SF&F, a writer or two invite submissions and select stories, and generally their vision of the collection is stronger, as with another anthology I'm involved with — Songs of Love and Death, edited by Gardner Dorzois and George R R Martin, whose names will be on the cover when it eventually comes out. The SF&F people are often bewildered by the romance genre system and keep asking why the editor isn't named. If you click on the cover of Irresistible Forces you'll see the editor, Catherine Asaro, named.

So, some years ago, four romance writers had an idea for a collection of linked novellas and decided to put it together themselves and then sell it. Thus was born Faery Magic. A few years later they did Dragon Lovers, and now, Chalice of Roses. The author are Barbara Samuel, Karen Harbaugh, and two of the Wenches — myself and Mary Jo.

I asked the other members of the Faery Four contributors to give me a short description of the historical basis for their story.

KarenHarbaugh Karen Harbaugh

Whose story is set in the Regency. "As with most conquerors, Napoleon Bonaparte sought to maximize his power in whatever way he could.  Whether he believed  the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny had actual powers or not is not precisely known, but what is certain is that the city fathers of Nuremburg, Germany were terrified that Napoleon would seize the Spear when he marched his armies toward that city in 1796, and so sent it out of his way, and that after the Battle of Austerlitz in the winter of 1805, Napoleon did indeed seek to get his hands on it, but it was smuggled out of the city and he did not succeed.  Napoleon's conquest of Italy actually brought the "emerald" grail (there is more than one, apparently) into his hands, but it turned out to be Egyptian glass and broke (could it be that someone substituted a glass cup for the real thing?)  I like to think that my hero, William Marstone, had a part in smuggling them into England, but the Spear and
the Grail seem to have a habit of appearing wherever it might affect the course of human events."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

Maryjophotosm160 Mary Jo Putney

Whose story is set in WW II. "There is a metaphysical tradition that says Hitler was fascinated by  ancient artifacts of power, and that he sent his people to search for such  items so he could use that power.  INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE  LOST ARK uses that tradition, with the Ark of the Covenant as the object,  while INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE goes after the Grail itself.  

So, since we were doing a Grail themed anthology and the Nazis make such  resonant villains, I decided to use World War II as a setting.  Other  historical bits I threw in were Rosslyn Chapel; a Canadian tradition of  Grail connections in the area of Halifax (that courtesy of Jo!);–and why did  Rudolf
Hess, deputy fuhrer of the Third Reich, really fly  to Scotland, claiming he wanted to negotiate for peace with the Duke of  Hamilton?  History has such lovely material to play with! 

I used the world developed while I wrote my Guardian trilogy because I  wanted an excuse to return there.  The World War II research was  interesting, and also tricky because it's within living memory.  In fact,  after I turned the story in, I wrote a blog on the research:  It was great fun!"

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

Barbara Barbara Samuel

Whose story is set in the present day. "The historical pins in Eternal Rose came from my fascination with the old epic poem The Romance and the Rose, in which a rake is turned into a rose bya jealous fairy.  I've always loved the period of courtly poetry–forbidden love and bargains made by lovers, and secret trysts.  The setting of a small village in England comes from visits we make to my partner's mum's house in southern England, where there is a field I walk, and the tree that stands in the middle of it.  A white horse lives close by, and it all feels tremendously ancient and enchanted.  My story is contemporary, but in mood draws heavily from the period of courtly love."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

And now me.

Whose story is set in the middle ages. "As the Grail is strongly connected with war and peace, I set my story among one of England's civil wars, the period in the 12th century called The Anarchy. Henry I, whose early reign features in some of my medievals, had a son and heir, but the young man was tragically lost in a shipwreck when returning from France. Despite his attempts to beget another son, in the end he compelled his barons to swear to support the succession of his daughter, Matilda. The trouble was, she was married to a foreign prince, so when the time came most of the barons supported the rival claimant, Stephen of Blois, who was at least a man. Thus began war, chaos, and suffering which in the end the Grail is summoned to end.

In my research I discovered that the term grail wasn't used for the
holy cup at this time — it was still a common word for a dish — and
so in my story it's the Graal, an interestingly pre-Christian term connected to the Horn of Plenty."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

So as you see, we all have a different take on this deeply rooted mythical story.

…four formidable authors stretch their imaginations…each unique voice
calls upon historical incidents and paranormal elements to contribute to an anthology
that lifts the human spirit.
” 4 1/4 stars, Top Pick! Kathe Robins Romantic Times Book Club

The book has been out for a few weeks, and if you've read it we'd love your comments.

What does "the Grail" mean to you? Do you connect it most strongly to the Christian element of the cup used at the Last Supper, or is it a more general mystical entity?

What are your favorite Grail-related stories, in print or screen?

Do you enjoy anthologies, and do you prefer them to have a fairly tight theme?

We'll be picking four winners from among the comments on this blog and each will get a copy of Chalice of Roses from one of us, so have at it!Davyhead

Jo — and Davy.