Archive | November 2009

Winter Fare

From an article published with the RWA’s Regency Chapter, The Beau Monde:

In the still largely agrarian world of the early 1800’s, fall and winter became a time to relax after harvest.  Gentry and yeoman alike could take advantage of old feasting customs that had long ago mingled with the Christian holidays.

In Fall, Parliament opened again and society returned to London.  St. Michael’s and All Angel Day, or Michaelmas, at the end of September, marked the end of a quarter year.  The end of the Celtic year itself fell on October 31, and the ancient celebration for the Celtic god Saman (also Samhain) became All Hallows Eve.  October was a month when land owners ate pheasant, partridge, duck and grouse.  Fish for meals included perch, halibut, carp, gudgeons, and shellfish.  And poachers also looked to snared hares for their pot.  Beans were still fresh, and the fruits of summer gave way to pears, apples, nuts and the last harvest of grapes.

On November 5 bonfires burned in mockery of Guy Fawkes and memory of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament.  The Feast of St. Martin, or Martinmas, fell on November 11, and St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, had his day on November 30.  St. Andrew’s day also marked the beginning of Advent to celebrate the four weeks before Christmas.  In November, the landed gentry still dined on wildfowl as well as domestic poultry–which was now getting a bit old and aged.  They also had beef, venison and pork with their meals.  Fish could still be caught and served, and winter vegetables graced the dining room, including: carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, celery and lettuces.  With November, walnuts and chestnuts came into season.

More celebrations lead to Christmas Eve when the Lord of Misrule danced and the Mummers traveled to perform their pantomimes.  Then came Christmas Day, and Boxing Day on December 26, which was St. Stephen’s Day.  Boxing Day did not get its name from gift boxes, for the exchange of gifts was a German custom still new to Regency England.  Instead, Boxing Day got its name from the older tradition of it being a day in which pleadings could be placed in a box for a judge to privately review.  In December, besides beef and mutton to eat, pork and venison were served.  Goose was cooked for more than just the Christmas meal, and there would be turkey, pigeons, chicken, snipe, woodcock, larks, guinea-foul, widgeon and grouse to eat.  Cod, turbot, soul, sturgeon and eels joined the list of fish in season.  Forced asparagus added a delicacy to the usual winter vegetables.  Stored apples, pears and preserved summer fruit appeared on the better, richer tables.

Finally, celebrations mixed tradition and religion when the Twelfth Night feast arrived on January 5, which combined the Roman Saturnalia with the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three wise men were said to have paid tribute to the Baby Jesus.  Deep in winter, there was still plenty of game to eat.  Beside those wild and tame birds available in December, lobster came into season in January, as did crayfish, flounder, plaice, smelts, whiting, prawns, oysters and crab.  Broccoli made a welcome change from the other winter vegetables, as did cress, herbs, cucumbers, beets and spinach.  Preserved fruits would be running low in all but houses with large orchards, and stored apples and pears would have to serve guests until the expensive forced strawberries of February appeared.


There’s a reason disaster movies are so popular–it’s just damn fun to watch stuff blow up and or fall to pieces.  Entropy is fascinating.  But it’s highly distracting if what you’re trying to do is create something (and, yes, that takes making a mess to start, but then it means you have to make the mess take some kind of shape).  So the latest distraction is the buzz on the Internet over the future of publishing, and the looming disaster of publishers wanting a slice of self-publishing by offering deals for authors to pay to publish while the authors still share their profits with the publisher.

Now, don’t get me wrong–this is not anti self-pub, or traditional pub, or even a bitch session on vanity press.  Any choice is up to the creator of the work, and one has to hope the creator is able to make an informed choice.  And if not, well, no one said this world is fair, and frankly global warming is a helluva bigger issue.  I do think it’s nice that if the author takes the risk, the author gets the reward.  Just as big bad publishers who take on the risk, and the distribution, well, they’re not in this for world peace.  And vanity press–hey, they serve a need, too.  I can see why publishers are looking to experiment–not a bad thing in a world that changes faster than anyone can track.  Bottom line, too, I’m not sure this is a model that works. As in, in this economy, it’s a business that expects folks to shell out money?  Hello–has anyone looked at current wages, or the shrinking middle class in this country?  Publishers don’t even have money for risk, so why the hell would an individual?

Which leaves this a distraction that’s not quite as visually cool as 2012.  And here’s why I say distraction.

A lot of folks look at books, and think media, which means a connection to music.  Nice logial connection, and they are the same in the digial sense in that canned peas are like canned pears.  Which are nothing alike.  A digial container does not make the stuff inside the bytes the same.  So…movies, music, books.  All may be digital, but we’ve got canned pears, peas, and sausage here.  They’re consumed in different fashions, for different reasons.  And I can only look at how I consume such things.

I buy music online.  I love that I can buy the songs I love, not the whole record or CD.  And I use lots of services to find songs I like, including the referrals of friends (iTunes is my friend).  I buy songs and do not pirate because I don’t want to a virus, and karma will bite your ass eventually.  I read online, but prefer books–my hardback purchases are actually up, and I love trade paper.  I can’t afford as many books as I once bought, but I do buy.  And online is a great way to sample before I get the book.  And for movies–totally different consumption methods and patterns there, too.  A lot of it is digital, but I want big movies, and my new laptop is smaller (and lighter) than my old.

In all of this, as a buyer, I do not care who published the stuff.  Imprint on the spine–could not care less.  Not for any of it.  Now maybe I’m different, but I’m looking for an author’s name, or a musician’s, or an actor’s.  Big level of caring there.  And the issue for me is how to find stuff I like–the stuff from those particular people.  So I browse.  I read reviews. I follow word of mouth recommendations.  And I don’t really care if a book is self-published, or whatever published.  But I do care if I can find it on an online bookstore, with good reviews and recommendations, or find it in a local bookstore where I can browse it. And I damn well want to own it and not have it deleted (or erased when my hard drive crashes–and that’s happened).

Which leads me back to distraction.  Because I don’t care if an author paid to publish a book, or if a publisher paid the author.    I’m also not going to plough through a TON of work that’s posted online to get to the good stuff.  I’m going to keep relying on others (reviews, and bookstores both online and in malls) to find the stuff I like.  And I’m going to follow authors whose work I like. Period.  And, as an author, well, if the world changes, not a lot I can do.  But I can keep buying the books I like.  Voting with dollars does help (yeah, I buy organic, too, and do my Carbon Net contributions–doing what you can do is not a distraction, but a creative step to make the world that you want).

So, end of western lit as we know it?  Don’t think so.  Will it be harder to find more good stuff out there if the canned section becomes the entire store?  Sure will.  Is it going to become harder for a writer to become published–darling, that’s been going on since the baby boomer got computers.  But I expect I’ll still find the stuff I like based on an author who has done great, amazing work. Based on friends who point me to that great, amazing work.  And at the end of the day I’m not going to care how the stuff is published, as long as it is.

And if the world does end in 2012, or with the changing of the publishing world to some new deal, well, I think we have enough time in there yet to sit down and write a few good stories.  Or in the words of a programmer friend of mine, cut the crap and hand me the keyboard.