Friday, May 31, 2013

The Church in Medieval Society

     I write historical romance set in the 830s, and I’m going to share some information about religion during the Middle Ages.
     My newest release is book three in my Evolution Series. The word “evolution” is meant to describe the changes my characters go through as they grow to love each other, and each of the titles describes the hero. The new book is called Vain, so now you have an idea of what Theophilus is like! He cares very much about his looks, but he is also bored and lonely.
     I strive to present the time period realistically. Living conditions were rustic compared to ours, and most people still lived on a subsistence basis. One segment of society that was already strongly separated and amassing a great deal of wealth was the Catholic Church.
     During the Middle Ages in Europe, Catholicism was the only organized Christian religion. The Pope ruled the Catholic Church from Rome, and often exerted influence over the secular rulers of the day, as well. Cardinals were the senior priests of important churches.
     Bishops were extremely powerful in their respective nations and local communities. They were sometimes members of the nobility. A bishop managed the churches within his diocese. He could tax the peasants and collect a great deal of wealth on behalf of the Catholic Church. In the early Middle Ages, a bishop might even have led his own army. Some bishoprics owned vast tracts of land, making these religious organizations quite powerful in secular society.
     Local priests filled a large role in the community. In addition to collecting tithes (in money or goods) to be shared with the bishop and performing mass and the other religious rites most of us are familiar with, priests educated children and often acted as clerks for the government or local nobility since few people could read and write. Priests were allowed to be married during part of the Middle Ages, and when they weren’t supposed to marry, some maintained mistresses or paid fines to the church to be allowed to do so anyway.
     It is hard to know what the uneducated lay people thought of their priests and bishops. Mass was given in formal Latin which parishioners may have understood due to the repetition over their lifetimes. People in the Middle Ages were firmly segregated in class, and the religious class was considered to be even higher than the nobility because they were closer to God. Much like organized religion today, the quality of the religious experience for a community probably depended a great deal on the personality of the priest assigned to it.
     Here are two links for buildings I used in my new book, Vain. The first is Murbach Abbey, which Theophilus passes during a journey. Also, I based the church in the town of Ribeauville on St. Justinus. Most surviving medieval churches have been expanded and altered, but it is still really wonderful to see the buildings that worshipers visited 1,200 years ago.
     I’ve mentioned Theophilus a few times, so here is an excerpt featuring Lily, my heroine, so you can learn a little about her as she attends mass.


     Lily stared up at the clerestory windows, enjoying the flood of bright sunlight in Ribeauville’s magnificent stone church. The light spoke to her of happiness. The two rows of pillars supporting the roof spoke of permanence. The townspeople surrounding her spoke of kinship. The priest spoke of humility, reminding in his thin voice how we must be content with our position in life and not look higher until the day of our eternal reward. Lily thought that was probably good advice for a woman in her predicament.
     She no longer looked farther than her next embroidery stitch. Isolated and alone in her dark shop, she imagined she could just push and pull her needle right into that promised eternity. When she slept, she dreamt of gold thread flowing around her like water. The yellow current carried her and while her mind yelled, Fight! the strands were too strong. They continued to move her, bobbing her like a bit of flotsam among their glistening richness, though she felt nothing. No wetness. No coldness. No fear. In her sleep, she was simply resigned that the river of gold thread was all there was and all that there would ever be. World without end. In saecula saeculorum.
     The priest ended with a Latin benediction most of the congregation did not understand. Lily had purposely chosen to stand in the back corner where she would be least noticed. She waited, watching Arn’s and Belinda’s families work their way toward the exit as one unit. Belinda wore a passable blue tunic and veil that set off her creamy skin. Her rosy lips parted in a giddy smile before she disappeared through the rear door. As Lily approached the same door, the normal noise of post-service fellowship increased with feminine squeals of excitement and masculine laughter. A knot of grinning people surrounded Arn and Belinda.
     Lily saw Cerise lift a clay-stained hand, a silent request for her to wait. Lily pretended not to see, trying to escape, swimming against the stagnant crowd. Cerise caught her elbow gently. “In case you have not heard,” she whispered, “they became betrothed last night. I can say nothing against Belinda. I am sorry for your sake, Lily. I never dreamed you would be left so alone.”
     For as long as Lily could remember, Arn had been the loom she would weave her life upon. Arn had been her choice for her future. That choice had been acknowledged and approved by Cluny and Cerise, Willis and Ramona. The finality of losing him hit her like frigid water, closing on her until she could not breathe.  She had been cast adrift from everything solid in her life. She could not form the words to describe Arn’s desertion, nor did she trust her voice to speak them. She studied Cerise’s pained expression and let her own anguish show, grateful to the soles of her feet for the sheen of tears that grew in the older woman’s eyes. At least someone understood, even if that someone was powerless to help her.
     Lily clenched her jaw and nodded curtly. Cerise nodded back. They separated with a final squeeze of one another’s fingers.
     Lily blanked her face, mouth in a half smile, gaze on the dead grass that surrounded the church. She pretended to feel no more than those dead, dry blades as she wound her way through the crowd that, for the most part, ignored her.
     A man’s voice called her name. The Lord of Ribeauville. He appeared to be inconvenienced. She could not begin to imagine why. She stared at him, almost daring him to say the wrong thing in front of his population. One ill-advised word would have her raving like a lunatic.
     “How is my tunic?” he inquired briskly. “You had made such good progress the last time I saw it, I expected to have the thing worn out by now.”
     He said the right thing. He brought her back to a place she understood while reminding his citizens that a tailor lived among them whom he entrusted with his garment. She rubbed her sore fingertips together, longing for fine wool cloth and the meticulous embroidering work. The Blood of Christ, now her only tether to her pride and her old self. “I am very pleased with it, my lord,” she replied. “Do you wish me to bring it to your house this week for your inspection?”
     “If you are out on other business,” he answered. “Do not make a special trip.”
     “Very well, sir. Thank you.” She hurried away, and later had no memory of her walk down the hill and through the town and into her house. She only knew that another hand’s length of the complex design threaded along the left cuff of her lord’s fine tunic before she slept that night, pressed up tight against the wall and, blessedly, dreamless.


I hope this has intrigued you enough to want to read more of Vain and the Evolution Series available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, AppleKobo, and other vendors. My books are also in print from Amazon and CreateSpace. I have a sweet romance (no cussin’ or hanky panky) called Sass Meets Class set in 1880s Arizona Territory.
If you’d like to keep up with me and my writing pursuits, I write a blog, I am on Facebook, and I tweet @jillhughey.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Life for Medieval Women

     My historical romance series is set in the 830s, just after Charlemagne’s reign, during the Middle Ages or medieval period of history that most historians consider to span 500 -1500AD. Comparing the Middle Ages to present day is a wide-open topic because things are so different now. I’ll limit myself to the Carolingian Empire in the 800s.
     I chose to write about Charlemagne’s empire because it has the strong societal structure that many of us enjoy in historical romance, but is not England or Scotland, which are heavily used in the genre already.
     The three books in the series feature very different women as heroines. In each, I created a woman who represents the female reality at the time. None are warriors, none are formally educated, none escape society's expectations of her, though each, in her way, exert her influence to make her life suit her.
     In Vain, my heroine is from the merchant class. Her life in her parents’ weaving and tailoring shop is very simple. They have a front room where they work and sell, and a back room where they live. The home has one open hearth with a small hole in the roof to release smoke. Fabric is woven on a rough frame of wood. Metal pins and needles exist but are too precious for her to buy. Hers are made from bone or thorn. She eats bread, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables grown or gathered nearby, and meat rarely. She drinks watered wine or ale. It sounds dismal, but Lily loves her life, and she fights to maintain herself when she is unexpectedly left alone.
     Theophilus, the hero in Vain, is a nobleman. (Don’t worry, his name is often shortened to Theo, so you won’t be reading that eyeful for an entire book.) When he is forced to marry Lily, her transition to life in his great house is challenging because she has crossed a societal boundary, and he is pretty angry at having marry her.
     Life as a noblewoman is still rustic by our standards. She has an outside wells and latrine, her kitchens walls are black with soot from an open cookfire, and only she and her husband enjoy much privacy. Most of the nobility can’t read or write, entrusting such work to clerks, though I found it hard to stick to that with my heroes. In addition to clerks, there are servants to do the less pleasant physical work, a much better selection of food from the countryside around town, and social diversions.
     The Evolution Series fits into the medieval historical romance category because it is more rustic and gritty than, say, a regency. In my recent release, Vain, I say that in this time period “lives were, for the most part, everlasting struggles for survival.” Though those struggles are not the main focus of my stories, suffice it to say that none of my heroines gets the vapors because an earl steals a kiss on the veranda. Each of them has a life path she is trying to follow, and I do my best to show her story while respecting the reality of the time period.
    Now you just have to pick which one to read! The stories stand on their own, so you can start anywhere. The titles describe the hero of each book. I list them here in order, with a short description, and they are available on most online book vendors.
    Unbidden - When the emperor chooses a husband for Rochelle, she tries to drive her betrothed away, but by the time she realizes she might want to keep him, she has been too successful and other forces are dividing them as well. Unbidden is only $0.99 and since it is the first book, I am providing a few buy links here. Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Smashwords
    Redeemed - Can a quiet widow help a damaged, secretive man find redemption? This book features the villain from Unbidden and if available in the Evolution Series bundle with that book.
    Vain - A tailor’s abandoned daughter fashions a vain nobleman’s tunic, finding passion between the neckline and hem as misfortune forces her into his precarious aristocratic world.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Top Ten Actors to Play Theo

A blogger I visited asked me to pick the top ten actors I would like to see play Theophilus (Theo) in a movie. I had so much fun I thought I'd share it again here!

Many authors find pictures of half-naked men to “flesh out” the physical appearance of their male characters. I don’t. My new release is Vain, and it is the first book for which I even sought headshots of characters. These I gleaned randomly off the internet. No celebrities included. So, needless to say, the request to pick, not one, but TEN actors who could play my hero was a little tough but ended up being surprisingly fun!
The hero in Vain is named Theophilus, though it is often shortened to Theo. He is a nobleman in Charlemagne’s Empire. The important characteristics an actor would need are the ability to portray both authority and sympathy, soulful eyes, a tidy beard around the mouth only, and a strong but not overly bulky physical build. He must be aristocratic, and I found myself drawn to English and Irish actors.
I had to use the IMDB website to make sure I was choosing men the right age. Scrolling through the “Best-looking and Talented Male Actors Under 40” list is not a bad way to kill a half hour of your life, I’ll tell you that. Here’s the link if you want to look up these handsome gentlemen.

1.                    Rupert Penry-Jones – he’d have to dye his hair a little darker, but his hazel eye color, ability to play both cool detachment and sympathetic tenderness, and overall gorgeousness would overcome any other obstacles. Solid body without steroidal overtones = perfect. If you haven’t seen the version of “Persuasion” where he looks deeply into Anne’s eyes and says A man does not forget such a passion with such a woman…. OMG, he rocks Jane Austen.
2.                    Jonathan Rhys Meyers – hair would have to be longer and darker, and too bad about the addiction issues, but he can play the tender aristocrat. I love him in “August Rush”.
3.                    Ryan McPartlin – anyone watch the TV series “Chuck?” I always liked Ryan’s voice.
4.                    Matt Bomer – another “Chuck” actor, currently on “White Collar” and cute as a button. Love that strong jaw.
5.                    Adam Brody – perfect hair, good eyes, and if you haven’t seen “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” his fifteen minutes are wonderful.
6.                    A young Richard Gere (if I had a time machine), because of the hair and the shape of his eyes. Lily, the heroine, describes Theo’s eyes as soulful and a little droopy at the outer corners, and I often thought about Richard Gere’s eyes as I was writing. He definitely has the authority with sympathy thing down, too.
7.                    Hayden Christensen – nothing like going from “Star Wars: Episode III” to the Middle Ages!
8.                    James Franco – he wouldn’t be my first choice – a little too popular and sort of odd, if one believes the tabloids. His looks would work, though.
9.                    Joseph Gordon-Levitt – that’s a stretch, but maybe….
10.                 Max Thierot – no idea if he can act, but the looks are right on.

Theo can be found in Vain available from most online book vendors including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

Jill Hughey writes a blog, is on Facebook, and tweets from @jillhughey.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Meet Lily

Today I am interviewing Lily, the heroine of Vain. Her gray eyes are lively, and topped by thin, angled eyebrows. A delicate blue veil covers her hair, though the color of her brows would suggest her locks are dark, perhaps even black.

We are visiting in the cavernous hall of the Lord of Ribeauville’s home. We sit in wooden armchairs with comfortable pads on the seats. A small table between us holds our silver goblets of watered wine. Smoke rises from the central hearth nearby, the low fire warming the chilly spring air.

Lily has been welcoming to me, but tentative, not yet completely comfortable in her role as mistress of such a great house since her marriage to Theophilus last fall, in the year 839. She smiles expectantly as she awaits my questions, revealing tiny dimples in her cheeks.

What do you do to relax?
“This will sound odd. Designing a garment relaxes me. By designing, I mean those first moments when the fabric is spread on the worktable and I have the image of the tunic in my mind but I have yet to place it on the fabric.” She nods, reliving the memory of such a moment. “Perfection is possible then. The pursuit of it diverts me so much that I do not worry about other things.”

I think maybe I can guess, but as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lily brushes at the fabric of the cornflower blue tunic that seems simple yet flows around her legs with the perfect drape. “The only thing I ever wanted to be was a tailor, just like my parents.”

Tell me about your family.
“The beginning of my answer is very difficult for me to talk about.” Lily frowns and repositions her arms so that her fingers can caress a needlecase hanging from her simple gold girdle. “My mother died about eighteen months ago. My father abandoned me very soon after her death, leaving me to fend for myself in my parents’ weaving and tailoring shop here in Ribeauville.” Lily smiles faintly. “If not for Theophilus — his friends and your readers would know him as Theo — if not for him, I do not know what would have happened to me, but now he is my husband and the most important part of my family. We have Nox, our orphaned house servant, and my father is trying to get back into my good graces.” She shrugs. “That is my family.”

If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?
Lily looks away to a point near the door to the master chamber. “There is a young noblewoman who thought she would marry Theo. She was very mean to me when I was a lowly tailor, and she tried to…interfere…with Theo and me after he was forced to marry me.” Lily frowns as she looks back at me. “I was sharp with her, without really understanding the trouble she was in. I am not proud of that moment, even though Theo and my friends assure me she was more in the wrong than I.”

Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
Lily smiles. “Marian is an older woman who did her best to advise me in the early days of my marriage. I was miserable. I did not know what to do about my equally unhappy, angry husband. She told me to begin as you mean to continue. It was good advice because she taught me to not accept behavior in myself or Theo that I did not want to persist through the rest of my life.”

Do you have any special routines or rituals?
“Oh, this is embarrassing.” A blush stains Lily’s cheeks and she shakes her head. “To get me to stay in bed when I was little, my father told me to sleep tight against the wall so the monsters could not reach me. Now I find it hard to fall asleep without something solid against my back.” What does your husband think of it? She blushes even more. “He is even better than a wall, so we have both learned to cope.”

Vain, Book Three in the Evolution Series, can be purchased at most online book vendors, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

Author Jill Hughey can be found at her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter @jillhughey.