Monday, April 30, 2018

Hearing 18th Century Paris

Turgot-Bretez Map, 1739

Paris is one of the settings in Refiner’s Fire, and while researching the city, I came across the fascinating video below that recreates the background sounds of the 18th century city. It was created by French musicologist Mylène Pardoen for the Bretez Project, which was presented at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in 2015. In addition to recording historically accurate sounds, Pardoen worked with experts to carefully map out the old streets of Paris and combine the audio with the city’s historical context to create a 3-D rendering based on one of the best maps of the day, the Turgot-Bretez Map of 1739. Turgot was the provost of Paris merchants who commissioned the map, and Bretez was the engineer who directed the survey of the city.

Pardoen explains that they chose the Grand Châtelet district between the Pont au Change and Pont Notre Dame bridges because in the 18th century 80% of Paris’ background noise was concentrated there. Since there was no gas or electricity available back then, many artisans of luxury items, such as jewelers, engravers, and furriers established shops in this district to take advantage of the greater natural light along the river. The tall houses and narrow streets on either side of the bridges captured the sounds, creating a dense sound environment.

The soundscape is based on documents such as Le Tableau de Paris, published in 1781 by Louis-Sebastien Mercier and on works like those of Arlette Farge, who specialized on the history of the 18th century; Alain Corbin, who researched the history of the senses; and Youri Carbonnier, a recognized authority on houses built on bridges.

Joust of Mariners in Front of the Pont,
Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet
In the video you’ll hear 70 sonic tableaux, many created by trades such as shopkeepers, craftsmen, and boatmen. You’ll recognize the rhythmic whoosh of air as a blacksmith in his shop in a Paris alleyway stokes his fire with a bellows; roosters crowing in the distance and pigs squealing as they’re driven to market; the babble of conversation at the street markets; carriages rolling along cobbled streets, punctuated by the clopping of the horses’ hooves; the rush of the Seine, and the washerwomen working under the arches of the bridge; the hum of flies at the fishmongers’ stalls; the noise of the loom in the woolen mill that stood at one end of the Pont au Change; the scraping of hides in the tanneries on Rue de la Pelleterie; and type being set at the print shop on Rue de Gesvres. Overhead are the cries of the seagulls drawn to the city’s waste heaps. You’ll also be able to discern how sounds echo beneath bridges and in covered passageways and the effect produced by the varying heights and construction materials of the buildings.

View of Paris from the Pont Neuf,
Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet
According to Pardoen, most of the sounds are natural, with machine noises, for example, being recorded using authentic antique devices. However, the sound of the Notre Dame pump, which drew water from the Seine, had to be artificially recreated. Pardoen recorded an old-fashioned water mill and reworked the sound based on the estimated size of the pump’s vanes. “It is a research project that will continue to evolve,” Pardoen says. “The next step will be to include the machines and devices that are now missing from the image, and allow the ‘audience’ to stroll freely through the streets of the neighborhood.”

One thing I’d really love to have is a version that has English captions. That would really help non-French speakers like me in doing research.

I’d love to hear your reaction. What did you like best about the video, and what do you think of the sounds, the changing scenes? Did it help you to visualize a distant time and place in a new way? Please share your feedback!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New Look for the Blog!

Do you like the blog’s new look? I’ve been intending to change it forever but just haven’t taken the time. Today I decided to play a bit, inspired by the French setting in Refiner's Fire, and I really like this theme. (By the way, I just discovered that if you're looking at it on a smart phone, it looks somewhat different, and the image in the header doesn't show.)

A while back I happened across some wonderful paintings by Italian artist Arturo Ricci, and for the header image I decided to use one I particularly like, L’Attesa or “The Expectation”. It reflects my characters and parts of Refiner’s Fire quite nicely. I’m thinking the couple on the left could stand in as Elizabeth Howard on the arm of Lucien Bettár, le comte de Caledonne’s son and thus Jonathan Carleton’s cousin. Ideally her hair would be darker since it’s a dark auburn, but good enough. Her escort does look like I envision Lucien.


The little girl with the older woman could sure be Abby and Tess Howard, though Abby is 13 in the story so would be a bit bigger. Then the man seated behind them would be Caledonne, and the couple seated beside the doorway would be their hosts, Caledonne’s daughter and son-in-law le marquis and la marquise Cécile and Eugène de Sevieux. This is undoubtedly as close as I’m going to get to these characters.


The more I look at this painting, the more I’m thinking about using it for the Refiner’s Fire cover. It’s in public domain and I found a fairly large image on Wikimedia that Marisa might just be able to do her magic on and make work. 


I originally intended to use a naval battle painting for book 6, but what do you think? Would you like to see this scene gracing the cover of Refiner's Fire? Please leave your comments and let me know yay or nay—for both the cover and the new blog design.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Life at Versailles


Arial view of modern-day Versailles
In the forthcoming installment of the series, Refiner’s Fire, Elizabeth has been whisked off to France to keep her safe from British attacks. Meanwhile White Eagle is far out in Ohio Territory wrestling with the frustrating and tricky politics of negotiating with the Indians to prevent their allying with the British against the Americans.

My previous post gave a historical overview of Versailles, which is one of the story’s settings. One of the fun things about writing a sweeping historical saga is all the potential for intrigue on so many levels, and it’s so much better when history presents a treasure trove of factual material to work with, as in this case.

Versailles, just as every other royal court, was not only the nation’s power center, but also a hotbed of juicy rumors and delicious gossip. And there was plenty of fuel for the fire since even acts expected to be the most private—including personal bodily functions, dressing and undressing, sexual encounters, and births—were attended by courtiers and nobles who held various levels of rights of access. Naturally, the greater the Rights, the higher the individual’s personal prestige, so they were avidly flaunted. Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, developed these elaborate ceremonies in the 17th century as a way to control the nobles. By the late 1770s, when Refiner’s Fire is set, power struggles playing out on the field of etiquette were rife.

The most important nobles held Major Rights, which included things like being able to sit in the royal presence or to address the king as Monsieur instead of Monseigneur or Majesté, a privilege that indicated the highest intimacy. Lesser nobles and servants such as physicians and valets-de-chambres were granted only Minor Rights—much less impressive, but nevertheless an indication of a degree of royal favor that could be lorded over those less fortunate.

Marie Antoinette being dressed
Every day started with the ritual morning dressing, held separately for king and queen, beginning with a petit lever attended only by those who held Major Rights and followed by a grand lever open to those who held Minor Rights. The king and queen could not put on any item of clothing until it had been handed to them by whoever held that particular right. On one occasion, while Marie Antoinette waited stark naked and shivering, not to mention increasingly frustrated and humiliated, ever greater rights-holders kept entering the chamber, which meant that the person in possession of the article she was waiting for first had to hand it over to the one who outranked her. One presumes that by the time the grand lever began the king and queen at least had their underclothes on! The ritual undressing, the coucher, followed in the evening with the same formalities as the monarchs were put to bed—in separate chambers—with the assistance of the highest ranking members of the nobility.

Salon of the Grand Couvert
There was also a regular public dinner called the grand couvert, which pretty much anyone could attend to watch the royals eat. At left is the room where this took place at Versailles as it appears today. People did have to meet minimum standards for dress, such as a sword and hat for the men. If one came unprepared, however, the proper equipment was available for rent at Versailles’ gates. Surprisingly, considering the formality that reigned at the palace, the service at meals was usually haphazard, with special dishes for the royals sometimes going astray, only to be enjoyed by one of the servants later.

Marie Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste
Gautier Dagoty, 1775
At court ladies were expected to wear the cumbersome court dress like the one Marie Antoinette is wearing at left. It featured extremely wide hoops and a long train to display the expensive fabric it was made of. Men’s dress was no less ornate, and of course both men and women had to have their hair powdered. Pomatum was applied to the hair, then an enormous cape was draped over one’s clothing and powder was blown onto the hair. This made it impossible for men to wear hats, so they carried them under their arms at their sides instead! For ladies wool, tow, pads, and wire were added to their own hair to construct towering coiffures called poufs, which featured ornaments such as feathers and jewels. Imagine managing a really wide, long dress while wearing a tall monstrosity on one’s head for hours at a time! How would you sit down? Or go to the bathroom?

Madame de Pompadour
Wearing rouge was also de rigueur.
Because it was so expensive, it was seen as a badge of rank and distinction. No one outside the court was allowed to use it. There was nothing subtle about how it was applied either. You painted a precise circle of the stuff in a color pretty close to scarlet on each cheek, as shown in Madame de Pompadour’s portrait at right. (Look closely, and you can see the little case of rouge in her hand.) The effect was so…um, striking…that sensible Germans like Mozart thought it detestable and unbearable to the eyes.

Another interesting feature of the French court was that every subject traditionally possessed the right of access to the sovereign. This made security at the palace essentially nonexistent. The common people freely roamed through the palace’s salons, hallways, and chambers, and not necessarily in decent dress—which the poor certainly couldn’t afford. They even entered the king’s apartment as soon as he stepped out. Though the queen’s apartment was generally more or less off limits, the fishwives held an ancient right to address the queen on certain prescribed occasions. This eventually morphed into a general right of access for all the market women, and they would flock into the queen’s rooms and boldly admonish her and the princesses on their perceived failings.

What struck foreign visitors to Versailles in the 18th century most was the smell and the dirt. Much of it resulted from the royals’ numerous pets. Cats, dogs, monkeys, birds—you name it, they had it. You can imagine the chaos of animals bounding through the palace at will and doing their business wherever. To say nothing of the vagrants who settled into the palace’s many nooks and crannies in such numbers that they occasionally had to be routed out with spaniels. According to some reports, you could smell the place five miles out, though that seems a bit extreme!

All in all, life as a French king or queen wasn’t as glamorous as one might imagine. What’s your opinion of the “royal” life? How would you feel about having a whole crowd of people involved in your most private moments, including standing around gawking while you ate or even were in the process of giving birth?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Palace of Versailles


The palace of Versailles is going to be one of the settings in Refiner’s Fire, so today let’s take a look at the home of King Louis XVI of France and his queen, Marie Antoinette.

Versailles was the royal residence and center of political power in France for little more than a century, from 1682 until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Now a world-class museum, this palace is famous not only as a building, but also as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

Before 1038 in the Charter of the Saint-Père de Chartres Abbey, Hugues de Versailles was listed as the seigneur of the insignificant village of Versailles, whose small castle and church lay on the road from Paris to Dreux and Normandy. The population of the village declined sharply after an outbreak of the Plague and the Hundred Years’ War, but in 1575 a Florentine citizen, Albert de Gondi, purchased the seigneury, and he invited the future Louis XIII on several hunting trips in area.
Versailles on a 1652 map by_Gomboust

The young dauphin was delighted with the forest and meadows that surrounded the village and the abundance of game he found there. The location was ideally situated between his principle residence at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Paris, and after he was crowned king, he hunted there again several times, finally ordering the construction of a stone and brick hunting lodge in 1624. Eight years later, he obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the lodge.

The king and his successors, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI each renovated and enlarged the structure during their reigns, creating extensive gardens and adding numerous other buildings to the site until it became one of the most costly and extravagant palaces in the world. More than 36,000 workers were involved in construction, and when the building was completed it could accommodate up to 5,000 people, including servants. An additional 14,000 servants and soldiers were quartered in annexes and in the nearby town.

The short video below is a cool 3-D presentation showing the progression of the chateau’s enlargement and the development of the gardens and additional buildings. In all, about 37,000 acres of land were cleared to make room for tree-lined terraces, walkways, and thousands of flowering plants, with 1,400 fountains and 400 pieces of sculpture.


Versailles is most associated with the Sun King, Louis XIV, who personally took on the role of architect. He made the chateau the new center for the royal court in 1682, establishing all the power of France there: government offices and the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues, and all the functionaries of court. The nobles of a certain rank and position were required to spend considerable time there, which enabled Louis to solidify his control of the government by preventing them from developing their own regional powers that would compete with his. Thus the French government became an absolute monarchy.

Below is a longer and very interesting video documentary about the history and development of Versailles.


In Refiner’s Fire, Jonathan Carleton’s uncle le Comte de Caledonne brings Elizabeth Howard to France to keep her safe from British assassination attempts. While there she meets the American commissioners to Paris, among others, and is drawn into the intrigues at court.

In my next post, we'll take a look at what life was like at Versailles during the mid 18th century.

What attracts me to Versailles the most is those fabulous gardens and the works of art housed there. What fascinates or attracts you the most about this palace turned museum?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Northkill Amish Series

Voting for the Christian Indie Awards is now open, and Bob Hochstetler and I covet your vote for The Return, Book 2 of our Northkill Amish Series, closely based on the inspiring true story of our Amish ancestors. Voting is open through March 31, 2018. To vote, go here, click on the link, scroll down to The Return, in the Historical Fiction category, and submit your vote. Book 1, Northkill, won the 2014 Foreword Magazine Indie Award, and The Return has already won the Interviews and Reviews 2017 Silver Award for Historical Fiction. We greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word about this series, and contest awards are one of the best ways to do that.

Below are some of the latest 5-star reviews for the Northkill Amish Series. We thank all our readers for their encouraging feedback!

“This first book in the two-part Northkill Amish series was a reading experience unlike any other. What makes this novel even more gut-wrenching is that the story is based on true events that happened to the ancestors of the authors. In astonishing descriptions based on solid research, the authors bring to life the story of an Indian attack on an Amish family during the French and Indian War. It is brutal and painful to read, yet so astounding in the depth of the spiritual struggle of the captives that are forced to undergo suffering and separation from loved ones. It is a book I could not put down and will never forget. I am anxious to read the sequel.” —HistoryLover (Amazon)

“I stayed up till 2 am this morning so I could finish The Return ... the story of an Amish family whose lives were shattered when Indians attacked their home and three family members were killed while three were kidnapped. This novel ... is based on true events. It was also written by descendants of the family, who obviously poured themselves into the research behind this book and produced a stellar series.

“I barely know where to begin with my review because this book is more than a historical tale. It is a life-changing experience as you read about people of faith who must deal with the reality that God sometimes allows suffering. The why of it is not always plainly seen. Sometimes God’s truth and purposes in that suffering are revealed in time. Yet there are situations in life that make no sense from our earthly perspective and may never make sense in this life.

“Powerfully written and engaging, The Return is a must read for Christians who think that pain and suffering only happens to sinners. For indeed it does, because we all have sinned. Yet not all of us must go through such suffering. Read this series and be changed forever. Five plus stars.” —HistoryLover (Amazon)

“Beautiful story. It is like Swiss Family Robinson, The Odyssey, Daniel Boone and Light in the Forest all rolled into one.” —Bill Hostetler (Amazon).

“I have heard the stories about my Amish ancestors, but they always seemed more legend than reality. The authors have succeeded in filling in the gaps of the family folklore by giving flesh-and-blood reality to the characters in this drama. I was impressed with the thorough research that supported the narrative, and with the vivid description of frontier life for Amish immigrants. But I was most impressed by the quality of the writing that kept me engaged throughout.” —Arvilla (Amazon).