Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hottie Hunt Giveaway Hop: Meet Adam Becker from Ashfall (The Wasteland Trilogy #1) by Denise A. Agnew

Welcome to my stop on the Hottie Hunt! Before I put this Hottie on the hot seat, I should let you know about all the potential perks of reading this post:

STOP GIVEAWAY: I’m giving away an electronic copy of my own historical romance, Tyburn, as part of this hop. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment here, working in the name of the hero I’m interviewing. This comment also counts as one of the entry options in the....

HOTTIE HUNT HOP GIVEAWAY: We've got a $10 Gift Card up for grabs. The lucky winner will be announced shortly after the hop’s end. The Rafflecopter at the bottom explains all the fun entry options.

But wait, there's more!

HOTTIE HUNT $100 HOLIDAY BONANZA: Entries in the Hottie Hunt Hop earns you bonus entries in our Holiday Bonanza. In addition to a $100 Gift Card, there's a ton of eBooks and other goodies up for grabs. Find out how to enter on our Hottie Hunt Landing Page.

With the admin stuff out of the way, let me scoot a little bit closer to...

What do you think readers like best about you? Worst?

Adam: Those I care about can count on me. I mean, I’m reliable in a firefight, and I’m a damned good friend. I don’t give up. Worst? I’m a bit anal about things like rolling up the toothpaste tube. Stuff like that. You know…loading the dishwasher the right way. (Smiles.)

Okay, we have to have a little naughty fun. Favorite place to seduce your partner?

Mally and I almost made love in a very public place. Okay, I wouldn’t have gone that far because that could have gotten us arrested, but I was damned tempted.

What do you wish your mate/spouse understood about you?

I want Mally to trust me. She’s a bit skittish at first, not used to being able to trust a man at all. She can count on me always.

If you could rewrite one scene in the book, what would it be? How would you rewrite? 

Damn….uh…that’s tough. The author pretty much let me have my way. When Mally was in danger it was hard to take. And being a bit of an ass here…maybe selfish…when I realized she was gone, that someone had taken her, I thought I’d die right there. It scared the shit out of me.

You see a dangerous situation unfold—Do you call the authorities, or handle the situation yourself?

My gut reaction is to jump right in, but I also take orders. I was an Air Force pararescueman and you can’t go off half-cocked. There’s a chain of command to follow. If there is immediate danger where I have to act, I won’t wait.


It was a pleasure spending some time alone with Adam, but now he must depart. If you’re curious, Nick Virtue from my romance, Tyburn, is being interviewed over here. There’s an ebook you can win there as well (and yes, he's also one of the hotties on this hunt).

Thanks again for stopping by! You should now have the necessary information to complete one of the entry options below. To make it even easier for you, the Hottie # is on the clue button above. Just drop Adam's name on the appropriate line, and continue your hunt.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Don't forget to enter our $100 Hottie Hunt Holiday Bonanza on our main giveaway page (you get 1 free entry just by clicking)!

And now, a bit more information on the book and the author...

Ashfall (The Wasteland Trilogy #1) by Denise A. Agnew

A strong woman and a former Air Force pararescueman tangle with a new world forged by an apocalypse no one could stop.

Mally Andretti survived an apocalypse that has altered the world. Tucked away in a huge compound she should feel safe, but loneliness eats away at her. Until a deep, mysterious voice tantalizes her over the ham radio and invites her into soul deep conversation. Who is the man who claims to be her friend, who awakens mental and physical cravings?

Working for a private security company takes all of former Air Force pararescueman Adam Becker’s time, until a sexy voice on the ham radio tempts him to do and say things he’s never done before. Mally calls on every fiercely protective instinctive inside him, and when she’s in serious danger he’ll do anything to get to her in time.

Order it now on Liquid Silver Books 

About Denise A. Agnew

Denise A. Agnew is the author of over 60 novels. Denise has written paranormal, romantic comedy, contemporary, fantasy, historical, erotic romance, and romantic suspense. Archaeology and archery have crept into her work, and travels through England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have added to a lifetime of story ideas. Denise is also a paranormal investigator, Reiki Master and Creativity Coach.  Visit Denise’s website at

Twitter | Facebook | Website | Blog

Featured Author: Suz deMello

And now for something a little different (and very naughty!), I am pleased to introduce you to Suz deMello, author of Perilous Play. This fictionalized memoir is part of the eighth What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey boxed set of "squirm-inducing, edgy erotic fiction." Sounds like fun! Read on for a special excerpt...

Perilous Play by Suz deMello

One woman's journey into the contemporary kink underworld, Perilous Play is Suz deMello's explosive personal account of her experiences with BDSM. Engaging and honest, this groundbreaking memoir will grab you and never let you go. 


Trapper and I spent the rest of the day together. We went to a vegan restaurant and two bars, including one dive so obscure that even Trapper got a little lost in the vast transit system despite his wealth of knowledge about the east bay. As we went back to school so he could pick up his bike, he started a conversation about sex.

Bondage sex.

BDSM sex.

My heart raced. I said I was interested.

He wanted to know what role I preferred.

I said I thought I tended toward submission while trying not to squirm too obviously.

I found some courage and asked him out Saturday night. He said he wanted to go to his condo at Sea Ranch, a beautiful beachside getaway on the Sonoma coast.

I tried not to be too disappointed.

Later in the week he clarified—he wanted me to go with him.

I was stunned.

I was actually considering going with a man I barely knew to his condo, alone, a hundred miles away from my home, where I would have BDSM sex with him as his submissive.

Had I lost my mind?

Yes, but not completely. I might not have known Trapper well, but I saw where he hung out. As far as I knew, few serial killers were bike-riding, Birkenstock-wearing Berkeley-based vegans. In fact, even though I had a legal background and an interest in true crime news, I had never heard of a bike-riding vegan serial killer.

So I figured I’d be okay.

About Suz deMello:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written seventeen romance novels in several subgenres, including erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms as Totally Bound and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Blog | Email for Editing Services

Here’s where you can find this What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey boxed set:

Kindle US:
Kindle UK:

Friday, November 28, 2014

One Night at the Rose & Crown: A Time-Travelling Introduction to Upcoming Character Interviews

Southwark Fair. Hogarth, 1733
When I was given the task of interviewing the characters of Tyburn ahead of its December release, I was both excited and daunted. Excited because I would get to talk to some of my favorite people, or course, and daunted because I would have to find a way to get myself back to London in 1671.

Although I’m sure that you are aware that authors have magical powers capable of transcending both time and space, this one had me stumped. Restoration London was hopelessly confusing to seventeenth-century tourists, not to mention visitors from the twenty-first. Nevertheless, the temptation to meet Sally, Nick, and --dare I hope?-- Mark, has outweighed my terror of falling into the Fleet or being flung into Bedlam, and after calling in a favor from an old friend with a TARDIS, I find myself on Love Lane in Southwark peering into the wide open entrance of the Rose and Crown.

To my modern eyes, the Rose is terrifying. Four or five rickety stories high with a top floor overhanging the street by some feet, this relic looks like it could topple at any moment, and yet it’s one of the best buildings on this street. The noise is deafening and bar is so full of smoke that I can’t see how far back it goes. It could be five feet deep or fifty. A pair of dockworkers pass me talking in incomprehensible cant, and the smell of salt water and sweat nearly knocks me over.

Still, many of the stars of Tyburn have been known to drink here, and the man in the blue box has arranged a meeting for us this very night. It would be rude of me not to go in. 

Besides, maybe I’ll finally get a good look at this Mark Virtue everyone’s so mad about. Could anyone really be that handsome? 

My phone tells me it’s somewhere around eight o’clock, but I’m not altogether sure if that’s the local time or my time back in 2014. I shove the phone into my admittedly out of place neon pink purse and make a mental note to try to dress closer to the part next time. 

I plunge headlong into the crowd, looking for a table. The first thing I notice is that the people here aren’t as short as I’ve heard. The men here are as varied as they are today, tall, short, slim, or broad;  some are handsome and some aren’t. It’s just like walking into a bar in 2014, and if it wasn’t for the clothes and smoke indoors, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Rose and a few pubs I worked in during Uni. 

A Harlot's Progress (detail). Hogarth, 1732
There are maybe a dozen tiny tables between the people, and all of these that I can see are covered in cards and beer. There is so much spilled drink adhering the thick rubber soles of my Converse to the floor that it takes real effort to walk without losing my shoes.The walls are ringing with voices and laughter. Half a dozen men crowded around one of these little tables look at me curiously -- and I must be an unusual sight in a pair of jeans and a sweater -- but a barmaid walks in front of me and their attention is immediately diverted. This must be one of the famous Henshawe sisters, but which one?

I feel a tug on my sweater and spin around, expecting a pickpocket. Instead, I find a girl. She is no more than five feet tall, and has a small, perfect face with enormous eyes the color of a storm at sea. Her pale brown hair is gathered into a messy bun at the back of her head.

“You must be Alice,” I say with a smile, trying to make her feel at ease.

I need not have worried. She leads me through the crowd without a sound up a short flight of stairs and to a table in the back corner of the bar. I take the seat she offers, and she sets a cup of coffee in front of me.

Funny, I don’t remember mentioning that I like coffee. 

To my considerable surprise, Alice takes the stool across from me. We regard each other for a moment, and I am struck again just by how pretty she is. She should be about thirteen years old. Her skin is clear and milky white, and she has strangely ageless eyes. In 2014, she would still be in school for a few more years, but here in Restoration England, she’s working around the clock as a barmaid. She’s quiet and serious, and I can tell that she’s sharp. 

Finally, she leans in and asks, “Did you get my letter?”

I feel like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy all rolled into one. I can barely contain my joy. “Is he here?”

Alice looks at me with suspicion, before she nods to the next table over. Not five feet away is a boy of fifteen of sixteen, short with a sweet face. His most distinctive feature is his hair -- it’s dark, curly, and there’s tons of it.

“He’s cute,” I say to her.

She blushes and covers her eyes with her hand. “Could you have said that a bit louder?”

I laugh to myself, relieved that thirteen-year-old girls are the same regardless of the century. “I got your letter,” I reassure her. “I think you’ll like how things turn out.”

She leans in, deadly serious. “When?”

I wink at her. “Spoilers.”


This week I have the honor of participating in a blog hop with some of my fellow Liquid Silver authors and, as part of this, Denise Agnew will be posting a special interview with Nick Virtue tomorrow. I can hardly wait for you to meet him! In return, I get to spend a little bit of time with Adam from her upcoming post-apocalyptic romance, Ashfall. Eeee!!

In the coming days until Tyburn is released on December 8th, interviews with Mark and Sally will also be popping up, so be sure to check back to meet them! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Contraception in History will be back next week with another fun installment. I hate to miss one, so you know that whatever it is I'm doing must be very important. So what is it?

I am celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband and friends by eating the rest of my rose macarons and watching Legend. 

Macarons + Tim Curry = Success

I hope that all of you are having a wonderful day with the ones you love. Today I am especially thankful for my family, friends, the 5 pounds of roasted sweet potatoes in the fridge, and Tim Curry. God bless us, everyone. 
My new flavor, Gin & Roses

I am also very thankful to Redz World for hosting me today with a surprisingly serious blog post about some of the other things I'm thankful for (life experience, writing, and so on). Be sure to visit Redz World for this post and more thankful posts from some other really great authors. 

Stop back tomorrow for a very special time-travelling post to see the Rose and Crown through modern eyes! I'll be introducing you to some of Tyburn's characters through a series of character interviews over the coming weeks, and I am very excited for you to meet them. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cover Reveal: Dawning of Light by Tami Lund (Lightbearer Book 2)

Dawning of Light is a great new Paranormal Romance coming out on December 15th from my fellow Liquid Silver Author, Tami Lund. I am thrilled to be able to share the cover with you! Isn't it pretty? Read on for more about the book, the author, and some exciting giveaways.


Finnegan Hennigan meets his match in spunky Cecilia Druthers, a woman he can barely stand. Cecelia’s opinion of Finn? He’s an oaf and a killjoy. But, opposites can’t resist each other in Dawning of Light by Tami Lund. You’ll love Book 2 of Tami’s hot fantasy series, Lightbearer, a saga about lightbearers and the shifters who hate to love them. 

The Lightbearers are a group of magical beings who have lived for five hundred years hidden away in their warded and protected coterie. Now that the princess of the Lightbearers is mated to a shifter, their peaceful lives have been turned upside down. 

In this second installment of the Lightbearer Series, shifter Finnegan Hennigan is doing his damnedest to keep lightbearer Cecilia Druthers out of trouble. His job is made all the more difficult by the fact that Cecilia doesn't want to stay out of trouble. 

Despite their mutual annoyance, sparks ignite between this odd couple. As it becomes increasingly more apparent that someone is out to get Cecilia, the flares of attraction become impossible to resist, and soon, Cecilia and Finn tumble into, well, a closet together. And then the bed. And if Finn wants to keep her there, he's going to need to keep her alive. 

Which means figuring out who the hell keeps trying to kill her. 

Content Notes: Hot, Non-sexual Violence, Fantasy, Fairies, Paranormal, Shifters, Suspense

Tami Lund

Tami Lund likes to live, love, and laugh, and does her best to ensure the characters in her books do the same. After they've overcome a few seemingly insurmountable obstacles first, of course. 

Tami is multi-published, both self and with a few publishers, including Crimson Romance, Liquid Silver Books, and Soul Mates Publishing. Chances are, there is a new book coming out soon. Be sure to stalk her on social media, so you know when.

And most important, if you enjoyed one of Tami's books, please let other readers know by leaving a review on the site from which you bought it, or on Goodreads. Otherwise, how will they know which book to read next?

You can find Tami at, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, too.


Tami is hosting a giveaway for some eBooks of Into the Light (Lightbearer Book 1) and an Amazon gift card to celebrate the reveal. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Tami Lund is hosting a book release party on Facebook with author takeovers, contests and prizes, and swag, and would love for you to come! Click here to join the party!

Pre-order Dawning of Light and email Tami the receipt to be entered to win!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Five More Common Ways to Die in Restoration London

This is a page from John Graunt's Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality listing some of the recorded deaths from 1662. Here we have Excessive Drinking, Executed, Grief, and Leprosy, as well as "French Pox" and the King's Evil (both of which I covered on Kimber Vale's blog yesterday). Although some people did die of "Itch" (12, to be precise), most deaths were caused by much scarier things. To follow up from yesterday's piece, here are five of the most common (but no less horrible) ways to die in Restoration London.

Childbirth and Puerperal Fever (Childbed Fever) - Complications and infections related to childbirth were the number one killer of women. Puerperal fever could be contracted during or after childbirth or miscarriage, and was often caused by genital tract sepsis from improper hygiene. Of course, they might not even get the chance to contract it: if it took too long for the afterbirth to come out, impatient midwives might reach in and just pull it out. This could result in acute inversion of the uterus, which would definitely kill them.

Being a Child: If infants survived birth, teething could kill them. Infants’ gums would sometimes be lanced for relief, after which the wounds would become infected, causing fever and death. If they made it past teething, they were vulnerable to mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, German measles, diphtheria, meningitis, erysipelas, typhus, and rickets.

Smallpox: Smallpox was incredibly infectious and could lead to death, especially in children. It was treated by bleeding and could be survived, but might cause loss of sight and scarring, and as many as half of all Londoners had smallpox scars. Smallpox scars were even seen as desirable in servants as their employers know that they would not catch the disease again.

Tuberculosis (Consumption): Probably the most prevalent killer during the Restoration period, this chronic condition was blamed on everything from witchcraft to “vapors from women.” Graunt estimated that at least 44,500 people were killed by tuberculosis between 1641 and 1661.

Fire: The Great Fire destroyed at least 13,000 houses and it’s impossible to know how many people were killed. The Bills of Mortality weren’t published that week. The areas hit the hardest were the poorest with very dense populations, and there were few remains that were recognizable as human. Fire was also the second biggest killer of women as their sleeves and skirts could easily catch while they were cooking over open fires.

If you missed Part 1, visit Kimber Vale's blog for Five Horrible Ways to Die in Restoration London. You don't want to miss the Plague!

Stop back tomorrow for the cover reveal of Tami Lund's Dawning of Light (Lightbearer, Book 2)! I'm not allowed to show it to you just yet, but believe me when I say that it is gorgeous! I can't wait to share it with you!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Excerpt #2 and Blog Tour Kickoff

Today is a very exciting day for at least three reasons:

1) It's my birthday! I am ringing in my twenty-ninth year in my husband's pajamas with a piece of pecan pie and a nearly empty bottle of sparkling cider. No, you didn't just crash land into Bridget Jones, this is my actual life. Anyway, who needs the normal stuff that normal people do (cake + ? = birthday) when I have the best and most exciting second and third reasons ever? Here they are:

2) I have started my blog tour as a guest of the marvelous Kimber Vale! My post will appeal to my fellow fans of medical history: Five Horrible Ways to Die in Restoration London. Oh, honey... they were way more than five. Read about the King's Evil, Jail Fever, and my personal favorite, Syphilis. I know you'll love it.  Read it, share it, and leave a comment for Kimber because she's amazing. Thanks, Kimber! 


3) I have another excerpt for you! I wasn't sure which one to pick, but because today is my birthday, I knew I had to go with my favorite. Here we have Nick and Sally in Hyde Park after dark. Enjoy!


Excerpt #2

Darkness had fully settled over the forest and he was in no danger of being seen as they headed for the city. There were no new street lamps so far out of town, and as often as she glanced at his face, all she could see was the outline of his profile by the light of the moon. He moved soundlessly through the night as criminals must, the warmth of his hand in hers the only reassurance she had that he was still beside her.

They reached the edge of Hyde Park and Sally felt Tyburn looming near before she saw it, the residual tragedy of the gallows rippling along the field in a mournful, near perceptible howl. Because she could not look away, she turned toward the evil and saw the fearful silhouette of the triple tree dark against the violet sky.

This is your future, they seemed to whisper.

In her heart, she answered, I know.

She heard the brutal crack of Claude’s strong, young neck reverberate through the darkest corners of her memory, felt his cold lips against hers once more in a terrible promise, and in her bones she felt the stillness of one who is certain they are about to die. She was immediately aware of the unique texture of every breath she drew, the sweet sigh of the breeze whispering through her hair, and the dirt, the calluses, the very fingerprints of the hand in hers.

So little of Sally’s life had been left up to her.

She might have days, hours, mere moments left, but she would be damned if she wasted them.


Stop back tomorrow for Five More Ways to Die in Restoration London.  Expect tuberculosis, as well as the top two causes of death for women in this period. Can you guess what they were? 

Tyburn is still 20% off at! Pre-order yours now and have it waiting for you on your e-reader on December 8th!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Expedition to Replacements

My name is Jess, and I collect tea cups.

Antiques have fascinated me since I was a kid. Blame it on being a writer, but I would look at the pieces and I try to imagine who they belonged to and what they’d been through. Now when I look at antiques, I wonder about the history, the origins of the patterns, and sometimes one object is enough to give me and idea for a whole story.

If every piece tells a story, Replacements is a library.

For my birthday this year, my best friend, Jen, took me to Replacements to buy a teacup. She’s not into china like I am, she’s just a really good friend. Nevertheless, we had a great time.

It was my first time visiting Replacements and impressed just doesn’t cover it. Facilities of half a million square feet house the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver, and other collectibles. That’s right -- that’s eight football fields full of china. As large as that sounds, the whole place is cleverly designed so it feels warm and inviting.

Lovely pieces I got from the Overstock section
The staff certainly don’t detract from that feeling. Everyone there was very friendly, helpful, and totally available. Free tours are given of the premises on the hour by knowledgeable guides happy to talk about the history of the collections. Even the display cases have stories: these beautiful nineteenth-century antiques include an enormous piece that once served as J.P. Morgan’s back bar.

The collection contains 12 million pieces from more than 400,000 patterns and an additional 70,000 new pieces are received every week. If you’re looking for something in particular, they probably have it, and if Royal Copenhagen is a little outside of your budget, you can pick up a gorgeous bargain from one of the overstock sections for under ten dollars.

Long opening hours allow you plenty of time to enjoy the tour and to be sure you don’t miss a single piece in the showroom and onsite museum. If you get worn out between the tour and marveling at all the pretty, there’s a comfortable visitor’s lounge where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a sit-down until you get your second (or third) wind. Visitors are even welcome to being their well-behaved pets into the store.

Rand McNally named it one of the Top 25 Free Attractions in the United States. I don’t know about the other twenty-four, but I can assure you that Replacements is one of the most impressive places I have seen in the US or Britain. In terms of china and silver, it just can’t be beat. Whether you’re a history lover, antique collector, or just someone who wants to know where they can find all of the gorgeous dishes on Pinterest, there’s something for everyone at Replacements. 

Search for a particular piece or just browse at
Poor picture of a beautiful piece:
Wedgwood Florentine pattern in gold. Note the little dragons!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Contraception in History IV: Minos, Pasiphae, and the Most Metal Euphemism for V.D. Ever

One of the earliest mentions of condoms as we know them dates back to 150 CE to Antoninus Liberalis’ telling of the legend of Minos and Pasiphae. 

Pasiphae and the Minotaur
Minos was the mythological king of Knossos and the son of Zeus and Europa. He is probably best known for the labyrinth he used to feed children to the Minotaur, the lovechild (lovebeast?) his wife had with a particularly good-looking bull. Every nine years he would put fourteen Athenian children into the labyrinth to get lost and eventually eaten by this giant bull-creature until the Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus with the help of Minos’ human daughter, Ariadne. 

His wife, Pasiphae, was the immortal daughter of Helios. As the daughter of the sun god, she had magical powers, and used these to cast a spell on Minos when she discovered he had been unfaithful to her. Instead of just turning him into a frog or a better-looking bull, she cursed him to have serpents and scorpions in his semen. 

(This was in no way an explanation for something nasty he picked up from one of his many, many lovers.**)

The idea was that the serpents and scorpions would kill his other lovers (and they did), but that Pasiphae would be protected because she was immortal. 

She also had a condom made out of a goat’s bladder. 

The goat’s bladder was used as female condom because it was put inside Pasiphae to protect her from the killer scorpions, as opposed to protecting Minos from her. It was used to prevent the spread of infection rather than pregnancy, and condoms would continue to be used mainly to protect men from contracting diseases for centuries.

Pasiphae managed to conceive while using the goat’s bladder as a sort of scorpion-filter, though why anyone would want to have kids with that guy is beyond me. King of Crete or not, he cheated on her, imprisoned Daedalus and Icarus as a thank you for building him a labyrinth, and kept her half-beast son in a weird basement where he fed him live children.

All things considered, I can see why that bull might have seemed like a good idea at the time. 

**That’s exactly what this was.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sneak Peak: Chapter 1

I am thrilled silly to announce that Tyburn is now available for pre-order on This is really happening! By way of celebration, I am posting the first scene here for you to give you a little taster before the big day on December 8th. There are only two more Mondays between now and Tyburn's official release, so I'll be posting excerpts from the book on each one to tide us over until then, starting with this one. 


Chapter 1

     Sally was there the day they hanged Claude Duval.
     It was madness in the January snow, the stands filled to capacity and creaking beneath the weight of too many bodies. Spectators filled the pit surrounding the gallows shoulder to shoulder. The grounds were packed and still they let them in.
     The usual families with picnic baskets were disappointed at the lack of open ground on which to lunch. The vendors had sold out of hot potatoes and cakes and stood uselessly between the stalls, their hands in their pockets to protect their profits from the Tyburn Blossoms, young pickpockets who could hear two pennies rub together at one hundred paces. Prostitutes of every age and disposition sauntered through the crowd, anticipating a very profitable day. At least a dozen apothecaries, sorcerers, and quacks waited at the base of the gallows, jars at the ready to collect pieces of the corpse.
     There was magic in a dead man’s blood.
     Claude’s execution was remarkable, not only for the falling snow that so seldom blanketed London, cold as it could be, but for the staggering number of ladies in attendance.
     The pit swarmed with them. From fashionable residences in Leicester Fields and St. James they came, traveling all the way to Tyburn in private coaches and hired hacks, sacrificing their silk shoes to stand in the muddy snow. They must have ruined ten thousand pairs among them.
     They chattered happily, trading daring stories of times Claude had robbed them of their jewels or better, some of them true, all of them embellished. They speculated as to how he was caught at long last, and bemoaned the loss of such a handsome face. Their fans churned their sighs and scent in a gale that assaulted Sally’s senses with the smell of lilies and idleness.
     Why anyone would require a fan in January was beyond her. She pulled her ragged cloak closer around her shoulders to fend off the wet chill of the morning. The ladies, their dresses no doubt ordered for just this occasion, pouted and postured in plush fur capes, their little hands encased in gloves and muffs of sable and mink, impervious to the punishing cold.
     Rounded cheeks flushed and eyes alight, they were quite breathless at the prospect of seeing Claude in person, deriving no little thrill from the knowledge that they were about to see him die.They gasped over copies of his “Last Dying Confession” so recently printed that the ink rubbed off on their gloves.
     Sally hated every one of them.
     They took up places that should have belonged to the people who knew him and loved him as she did, ragged wretches obliged to crowd outside of the gate, too poor to purchase a seat, or too late to find room to stand.
     Sally had arrived hours early, standing in the cold in threadbare finery with an empty belly. She waited alone, not a blood-thirsty spectator or a sighing ninny, but a friend.
     She had met Claude in Normandy when they were children, long before Charles had regained the throne, neither of them ever dreaming they would end up in England. They had been respectable in those days, but in the dank, stinking streets of London, Claude had become a robber and Sally a whore.
     The crowd fell silent, parting as he rolled up in a lacquered cart behind an enormous black horse. Claude stood proudly in his long coat and wide-brimmed hat, hands tied behind his back.
     The ladies collectively gasped.
     The cart stopped abruptly. He gave a measured bow.
     The crowd erupted in cheers. The woman beside her clapped wildly and reached out to him, her gentleman escort reddening.
     Claude stepped off the cart and began his slow walk to the gallows.
     He nodded and smiled pleasantly as he passed, greeting people and winking at the ladies. He was the very picture of a swaggering hero, handsome at twenty-seven, proud to meet his end among so many devotees.
     Then he saw her.
     His eyes were empty and his expression rigid. His pale, ghostly face belonged not to her first love, but to a man who had already died. He paused before her.
     “Celestine.” He called her by her childhood pet name and ventured a sad smile. "Send me off right?"
     Tears clouding her eyes, she took his cold face in his hands. He closed the distance between them with a chaste kiss.
     Claude Duval, beloved of ladies everywhere, gave Sally his very last kiss.
     It was the last kiss of a condemned man.
     The woman beside Sally swooned into her escort’s arms. Several others whined in protest, ready to fling themselves at his boots if not for the watchful eyes of their husbands and guardians.
     Claude felt their disappointment. Perhaps was afforded some satisfaction from it. As he continued forward, smiling at those he passed, Sally contemplated her fate. His kiss was cold as death and tasted of ashes on her lips.
     A chill ran up her spine.
     The horse beneath the gallows stomped impatiently, the falling snow melting into his glossy coat. Steam rose from his nostrils in great clouds, a promise of brimstone. As far away as she was, Sally could have sworn that horse was breathing down her neck.
     It felt like a curse.
     “Hats off!” someone bellowed, and the cry was repeated throughout the crowd until every hat had been removed. It was not a gesture of respect for Claude. They did it so everyone would have a good view.
     At last at the gallows, Claude climbed onto the second cart. They removed his hat and lowered the noose around his strong neck. His face was blank. He gave one last devilish smile as the signal was given. The horse sprung into a trot and pulled the cart from beneath his feet. Sally looked away before he began to swing.
     She choked back a sob and forced her way back through the cheering crowd. He had marked her with that kiss, and she knew she would be next.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Contraception in History, Part III. Silphium and the Origin of Love (or at least the heart-shape)

Silphium was a type of giant fennel that grew in Cyrenaica (present-day Libya) between the sixth century BCE and the first century CE.  It was so central to the economy of Cyrene that most of their coins had images of the plant or its seeds. It was delicious to eat, smelled wonderful, and could treat everything from sore throats and indigestion to snake bites and epilepsy. It was its other uses, however, that made its name and caused its eventual extinction.

What did it do?

Silphium was known throughout the Mediterranean as a highly effective contraceptive and abortifacient. It was regarded as “worth its weight in silver,” and was believed to be a gift of the gods. The Egyptians and the Knossos Minoans had a special glyph for it. Even Catullus, my favorite of all of the classical perverts, alluded to it in his naughty, naughty poems.

Pausanius’ Description of Greece leaves little doubt as to what it was used for in his story of Dioscuri meeting Phormion’s maiden daughter: "By the next day this maiden and all her girlish apparel had disappeared, and in the room were found images of the Dioscuri, a table, and silphium upon it."

Given the fact that the plant looked more or less like a big modern-day fennel, it probably wasn’t there for decorative purposes.

Women were commonly advised to mix the juice from a small amount of silphium (about the size of a chickpea) with water to "regulate their menstrual cycles". “Silphium water” was also effective when applied to wool and used as a pessary. Its effectiveness was unquestioned and may even help to explain the exceptionally low birth rates in Ancient Rome. (The other explanation? Lead poisoning. See previous post, Contraception in History, Part I)

Unfortunately, Silphium was a very temperamental plant and its growth was restricted to a narrow coastal area only about one hundred miles long. That doesn’t sound like so much when you consider that this plant provided contraception to much of the ancient world. It was farmed to extinction within six hundred years.

Although Pliny the Elder reported the plant extinct by the first century CE, we have not been able to positively identify it, so it is impossible to know for certain whether this is truly the case, and we will therefore never be able to find out whether it was really as effective as it was believed to be. Related plants have been used for similar purposes over the years with mixed results. At the time, Asafoetida was used as a poor substitute for Silphium, but these days it has been consigned to the spice rack.

Heart-shaped birth control

Many explanations have been given for the origins of the heart symbol over the years. Actual human hearts are not remotely heart-shaped, and as for the upside-down heart shape of a woman’s arse? Please. One more likely explanation is that it comes from the image of the Silphium seed that was etched onto coins and known by sight throughout the Mediterranean world. It there was a plant you could eat that provided effective contraception without otherwise killing you, you’d want to know what it looked like, too.

And what does it look like? A heart:

Coin depicting a silphium seed
Upside-down arse, indeed!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Contraception in History Part II, Ancient Egypt: Hormonal Birth Control, Pregnancy Tests, and Crocodile Dung

Cleopatra. John William Waterhouse, 1888
Ancient Egypt was a remarkably advanced society. They had one of the first known written languages, the earliest form of paper, a 365-day calendar, toothpaste, and breath mints. Egyptians even invented eye makeup as far back as 4000 BC by combining soot and galena to create kohl. It was worn by both men and women for status as well to protect the wearer from the evil eye.

Preferring small families, they also invented enough different methods of contraception that you’d be forgiven for wondering if someone in a TARDIS gifted them with the secrets of the universe (or at least a modern health textbook).

For those who were really serious about avoiding pregnancy, hieroglyphs from the second century CE recommend castration for either gender. Surgeries such as the ovariotomy (the removal of the ovaries) were also available, if mercifully rare.

Most people depended on much less invasive forms of contraception. One of the most common was spermicide administered in a sort of tampon made of linen and soaked in acidic oils. Some minerals found in the water also had spermicidal properties when mixed with sour milk, which had the added benefit of making the vagina more acidic to make conception less likely.

Pessaries blocking the entrance to the cervix altogether could be made from the sap of the acacia tree, another natural substance with proven spermicidal properties. The modern equivalent of this would be using a diaphragm with nonoxynol-9. For a back-up method, certain plant extracts could be eaten to alter hormonal balance and inhibit ovulation, much like the birth control pills used today.

For the more adventurous woman, a medical papyrus from 1850 BCE assures us that: “Crocodile dung mixed with honey and placed in the vagina of a woman prevents contraception…”

I can only assume that this one worked by putting all parties off of sex altogether.

Unfortunately, the Egyptians had not yet invented statistics to help us to quantify the success rate of these methods, but in the event that they failed, the recipes for herbal abortificients were passed down from generation to generation.

If all of this isn’t mind-blowing enough, the Egyptians even had the first urine-based pregnancy test. Women were told to pee on some barley and emmer every day and if they grew, she was pregnant. Amazingly enough, modern tests have actually confirmed that this was a fairly accurate way to detect pregnancy.

Sadly, this kind of pregnancy test fell into disuse and the next one was not introduced until 1929.

Condoms even existed, but they were more for show than contraception. Many have been found in the tombs of aristocrats for use in the next world. Fully prepared for one crazy party, they were entombed with sheaths made of animal skin dyed bright colors and trimmed in fur.

Also strap-ons made of mother of pearl. You know, just in case.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guy Fawkes Day: 400 Years of Fire and Madness

Guy Fawkes and seven of the thirteen conspirators. Crispijn van de Passe, 1605.
“Remember, remember the fifth of November” is more than just a line from V for Vendetta. Also known as Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Day (or Night) is a holiday celebrated every year on the fifth of November in the UK. Bigger and more widely celebrated than Halloween, people get together after dark to drink mulled wine and watch massive displays of fireworks. But what is it, where did it come from, and what did Guy Fawkes do that was so great?

The Execution of Guy Fawkes, January 31st, 1606.
Claes Jansz Visscher
 Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy planned by a group of English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant James I and to replace him with a Catholic leader. On November 5th, 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested while guarding explosives that had been stashed beneath the House of Lords for this very purpose. Fawkes was tortured into a confession and was sentenced to a traitor’s execution of hanging, drawing, and quartering, but managed to end his own life by throwing himself from the scaffold to avoid suffering the rest.

Why would we celebrate that?!

The tradition started that very week when people around London lit bonfires to celebrate that King James had survived the plot. In 1606, the Observance of 5th November Act actually enforced annual celebration on this day. It became known as Gunpowder Treason Day, and was celebrated on command every November.

Three Hundred Years of Madness
Guy Fawkes Night in Windsor, 1776

If it’s not weird enough for you to be ordered to celebrate, you just can’t have that much fire and booze without attracting a certain amount of madness. Gunpowder Treason Day became the focus of a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment, with effigies of the pope being burned alongside other hate figures. This only got worse when Charles I married the Catholic Henrietta Maria in 1625. During the Interregnum, Parliamentarians feared further Catholic plots, and fueled the paranoia of the public by suggesting that Catholics were plotting to blow them up, too.

New life was breathed into the holiday with the Restoration of Charles II. It became a celebration of “God’s preservation of the English Throne” and was taken over by London’s apprentices as a sort of fire festival “attacking sobriety and good order.” The fires got bigger and the celebrations madder and more violent until fireworks and bonfires were banned by the London militia in 1682.

The damage had already been done, however, and celebrations continued in various forms over the years, all incorporating the element of fire.  Frequent violence between the classes in the nineteenth century only added to the festivities, and the Observance of 5th November Act was finally repealed in 1859 (but the violence continued into the twentieth century).

Guy Fawkes Today

Sometime during the late 18th century, children began to drag effigies of Guy Fawkes around while begging for pennies “for the Guy.” This became a thing, and Gunpowder Treason Day gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day (also Guy Fawkes Night and Bonfire Night). Today it’s a pretty harmless and family-friendly holiday celebrated with fireworks, music, and if you’re unlucky, laser shows. In most places in Britain, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an effigy of anybody, let alone an open flame. People may not be cooking potatoes on sticks over bonfires anymore, but food trucks aren’t usually far away.

For those of you who have read Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta or seen the movie but missed the context, the Gunpowder Plot is a pretty central theme and is repeated through the use of one of the traditional rhymes, V’s plan, and his Guy Fawkes mask.

Here’s one of the better known (and actually least unsettling) Guy Fawkes Day rhymes:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By God's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?

Burn him!