Young Wives of Wildwood (Young)

(Quick note: This is another font I downloaded, not one from the system defaults. It might not show up for everyone.)

Font: Young

Chapter: “Young Wives of Wildwood”

Book: And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth

Written: Summer 2012

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is the 13th chapter of my second volume about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder. I’m so glad I decided to use the remainder of the material for a separate volume with its own storyline, since it gave me the opportunity to write a lot of new material. This book was written a lot more organically than I usually do, but working without a concrete outline was a fun challenge.

Feisty, progressive, brash Rachel has been roped into attending the inaugural meeting of a new social club in her new hometown, Wildwood, New Jersey. (I decided to move them away from Atlantic City because Wildwood actually has an established Jewish community, as compared to the Jewish community I made up for my fictional Atlantic City neighborhood.) She doesn’t really want to go, but her quasi-friend and fellow Dutch immigrant Henriette (Jet) Vos was insistent.

Rachel is the exact opposite of these parodies of postwar housewives, women who hate sex, are constantly smoking (even while pregnant), wax on and on about how much they’re in love with their doctors, and live for baking brownies, PTA meetings, ironing, and knitting. They’re horrified at how she kept her last name, is trying to find a midwife for a homebirth, is seeing a very radical female doctor in the meantime, plans to go to university when her child is in school, reads a lot, loves sex, never smokes, and has a hearty appetite.

These women are intended as parodies. I know not all housewives in the postwar era were like this, but it was so fun to spoof that mindset. (And it is a known fact that many doctors in this era enforced some outright dangerous, non-evidence-based prenatal care, like letting women smoke and insisting they only gain 10-15 pounds.) It made for some great culture clashes.

Some highlights:

“It’s just getting started.” Jet took a seat next to her and looked longingly at a plate of cupcakes with thick double chocolate frosting and crushed peppermints. “My doctor will have my head on a platter if I gain one more pound before the end of the year.  Can you please put that away?”

Rachel burst out laughing. “Do you realize I’ve been masturbating since I was eleven or twelve years old?  I also greatly enjoy Jaap touching me there.  I also broke my own hymen years before we became lovers.”

“Okay, I can leave my bicycle in your entryway.  No harm done.  Best to keep bicycle safe, where it may not be stolen.” Rachel pulled her bicycle into the house with one hand and held Ben’s leash in the other.

Rachel shrugged and took off her shoes only after she’d gone into the living room with Ben.  She tossed them across the room, ignoring the stunned looks of the other guests.  These women were just more of the same, matronly-looking young housewives who didn’t seem to know how to have a good time.

The woman rolled her eyes and put her cigarette out. “You’ll probably start smoking soon enough, after you’ve been in America for a little longer.  I smoked through all three of my pregnancies, right into the delivery room, and my children turned out fine.”

Rachel sat stunned as every single woman, without fail, introduced herself as Mrs. Husband’s Full Name, and no one asked for the real name.  Not only did she not remember half of these women’s names, but she had no idea what to call them.  It seemed so bizarre and overly formal to call a peer by a title instead of her first name.

“That is my own name.  Dutch women keep their surnames.  I have my own mother’s last name, and my baby will get our name too.  So, what am I supposed to call all of you?  Do your husbands and friends really call you all Mrs. John or Mrs. William?”

“Unfortunately for you, my parents were murdered in Sobibór in the summer of ’43,” Rachel said loudly. “You won’t be able to meet anyone in my family, because I am only survivor.  Jetje also is only survivor in her family, and in my husband’s family, there are only him and his mother.  Perhaps next time you shall think better before you talk about another person in the room as though she can’t hear you.”

“She’s seeing Dr. Dagny Landvik of Atlantic City,” Jet said in disgust. “And Dr. Landvik’s backup doctor is Simon Ives.  Both radicals I’m shocked are allowed to practice medicine at respectable hospitals.” [Dr. Ives is also Sparky’s doctor.]

“This doctor seems to think he’s God’s gift to expectant mothers,” Rachel scoffed as she bit into a boiled potato. “I am afraid for Jet’s and her baby’s health because she follows his dangerous advice about not gaining any weight and not getting any physical activity.  And he’s making her come in once a week for pelvic exams just for the hell of it.  What a pervert.”

Mrs. Gilbert laughed. “What woman wants to read on anything like that?  God gave us smaller brains than men.  We shouldn’t try to overexert ourselves by doing too much reading or research.  A woman’s brain can only handle things like women’s magazines and tasteful love stories.”

The Odd One Out (Optima)

Font: Optima

Year created: 1954

Chapter: “The Odd One Out”

Book: And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth

Written: Summer 2012 (didn’t make separate chapter files for this book, so I don’t have exact working dates)

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is the 14th chapter of the second volume I wrote about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder. When I was expanding my long short story/piece of backstory about Jakob, I didn’t realize I’d use somewhat over 120,000 words for it. So I decided to use the rest of the material for a second volume about his first year in America, and his first real year of being married to Rachel, instead of writing yet another saga. A natural breaking point opened up at the most perfect moment, and I’m glad I made the call to do this story in two volumes, each with its own storyline, instead of forcing it to be a saga.

Rachel was roped into joining an insufferable new social club, Young Wives of Wildwood (to be covered on the Y day), by her quasi-friend and fellow Dutch immigrant Henriette (Jet) Vos. Rachel has absolutely nothing in common with these women, who are all written as parodies of conformist postwar housewives, but she continues going so Jet won’t be alone. She also goes somewhat to be entertained, and to try to expose them to an alternate point of view.

This is where you can write a character out of step with her time and still be historically accurate, since Rachel is the product of her liberal Dutch upbringing. Where she’s from, it’s normal to birth at home with a midwife, keep your name, get a higher education, and have intellectual thoughts. The culture clashes she and Jakob experience throughout the book are a big part of the storyline.

During the chapter, she and Jakob go on a winter vacation to their honeymoon cottage in Cape Cod, and experience more culture clashes at the grocery store. But they do have a wonderful first Chanukah together, without worrying about impressing these conformist drones.

Some highlights:

“Did you not understand when I said from beginning that I do not smoke and that I do not appreciate being forced to breathe in dangerous smoke when I am pregnant?  Jet is pregnant too, and doesn’t smoke either.” Rachel put her hand over her mouth and nose, coughing in a very exaggerated fashion.

“I’m not surprised your husband doesn’t smoke,” Mrs. Gilbert muttered. “We already know he’s not much of a man by how he let you keep your maiden name.”

“Are you really that abnormal?” a Mrs. Douglas gasped. “Only men are supposed to reach, you know, the height of ecstasy.  Believe me, I tried, and it never happened.  Not that I ever wanted it.  Only perverted, deviant women want or initiate that vulgar thing.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so.  All those bored housewives think I’m too fat for this point in pregnancy.  God forbid a woman gain a normal, healthy weight instead of starving herself to please some anti-woman doctor who got his training from a delusional sadist.”

Jakob took in his wife’s body eagerly when she shed her coat and boots in the bedroom. “I can’t wait to see how much more succulent your cantaloupes will be by the birth.  You were already nice and curvy before, but now you’ve got an even more womanly body.”

“Yes, a number of those insipid housewives still can’t believe I’m Jewish by birth, and that there was no intermarriage that I know of in my family.  They’re equally shocked by Jet’s blonde hair and blue eyes.  I didn’t want to waste my breath by trying to explain the concept of Diaspora to them, how it created people who look like all different things.  They’d probably just accuse me of reading too much for my own good.”

“Have you come back to Hyannis for the winter season?” Mrs. Taylor asked icily, not even attempting to disguise her disdain. “I suppose you’re like all normal Americans and have started celebrating Christmas.  I know many Mosaics who put up Christmas trees and hang stockings.”

“My parents taught me when I had four years and I asked where babies come from.  I never thought the word uterus was dirty or a difficult concept.  I can’t imagine how confused and scared I would’ve been as small child if I’d been told babies develop in the stomach.”

How NOT to write historical

I’ve just been really disappointed in a number of the YA historicals I’ve encountered recently. The best ones I’ve found were published outside of the United States, like Tamar (in spite of the iffy YA designation, given how over half of the story centers on three adults in their twenties), The Ausländer, and My Family for the War. There was obvious copious historical research that went into writing those books. They weren’t just short, lightweight period pieces.

A good historical actually uses and incorporates, you know, actual history. It’s not just used as a minor backdrop in a costume drama or soap opera. Even a historical romance, where history often serves more as window-dressing than an integral aspect of the plot, needs solid historical research and facts. The historical romances of today also seem somewhat more attuned to their historical backdrops than the average historical romance of the past.

In my very early days of writing 20th century historical, I made the embarrassing mistake of writing stories that came across like 1990s contemporary stories that just happened to be set in the past. These characters were talking, thinking, and acting like American teens of the early 1990s, not teens on the American homefront in WWII or people in their late teens during the Russian Civil War. You can’t just set a story in the past, throw in periodic references to current events, dress the characters in the latest fashions, and declare it a real historical. Oddly enough, I never had this problem with my 18th and 19th century historicals.

People in the past operated under a different moral code, used different vocabulary, matured earlier, had different priorities, and entertained themselves differently. It annoys me so much when I see a series like The Luxe, with young upper-class Manhattan socialites in 1899 carrying on like Gossip Girl in period clothes. You could not just saunter all around town having all sorts of sexual dalliances publicly, with no social consequences.

Of course premarital sex happened, but it was a huge taboo, and there were serious consequences, particularly for the woman, if the couple were caught. And society was very rigidly separated by class. No upper-class socialite would’ve considered her stable boy a potential lover or husband. The thought wouldn’t even cross her mind. Even the upper-class had lines according to new and old money. This is also one of the countless reasons why a certain extremely overrated movie from 1997 about one of history’s greatest maritime disasters is completely historically inaccurate and implausible. People knew their place, and kept to it, like it or not.

Women did not have the same types of freedoms as today. But you can still have a character who’s feminist, empowered, and enlightened for her time (like Scarlett O’Hara or Amber St. Clare) without anachronistically giving her 21st century values. She just has to be ahead of her time and express those views in ways that would’ve been plausible for her time. Even  Katrin, the most radical of my female characters in my Russian novels, has her limits. She hyphenates her last name after marriage, writes for the left-wing presses, cuts her hair as short as a man’s, sometimes wears pants, and holds weekly Socialist meetings at her penthouse, but she also is a huge advocate of twilight sleep and some components of the eugenics movement, and never would’ve considered “living in sin” with her husband before the wedding.

Someone in 1919 wouldn’t have been reading some kind of precursor to today’s teen magazines. Someone in 1943 wouldn’t have gone around lecturing people on not smoking. The average woman of 1950 would’ve happily been identified as Mrs. Husband’s Full Name and gone to the hospital to be knocked out for birth. If you’re going to give a character views out of step with his or her time, have a solid reason for it, like it’s the norm for Dutch women to keep their names and use midwives at home, or he always thought smoking to be a low-brow habit but doesn’t mind his friends doing it around him.

The people around him or her should react to that in certain ways, instead of accepting it as completely normal. Much of my book about Jakob and Rachel in America focused on how out of step they felt with postwar American life, and the frequent conflicts and shocks they experienced with people who didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t try to understand how the Dutch customs they came from were very different from the supposed American norms.

Getting the slang and vocabulary right is also very important. There’s no excuse for using a 1990s slang word in the 1940s, or an outdated 1920s slang word in the 1950s. Some words also didn’t exist yet. No one in 1920, for example, would’ve used a word like “brainwash,” “vibes,” or “reprogram.” And of course, you wouldn’t use a term like Native American, Latino, or African-American in 1900. I can’t get over how, in Jillian Larkin’s Flappers trilogy, the term Black is almost exclusively used. No one in 1923 would’ve used that word. Was she too afraid to use the terms Negro and colored? I have no problem using the words Negro and Indian in my historicals, even though I don’t use those terms in real life. (I will say Indian once in awhile, but most of the time say Native American.)

If you’re too offended by having to honestly depict or subject your characters to something like anti-Catholic prejudice, a teacher attempting to switch a lefty, the stigma against premarital sex and cohabitation, anti-Semitic quotas, or racial prejudice, maybe historical shouldn’t be your genre.

Six Sentence Sunday—Unwanted Flashback

In honor of the recently-begun holiday, this week’s Six Sentence Sunday is Chanukah-themed. This is from my last completed manuscript, And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, my second volume about Jakob DeJonghe, a young Dutch resistance fighter turned official soldier turned American immigrant.

It’s now 1946, and he and his wife Rachel are taking a two-week winter vacation at the Cape Cod cottage they honeymooned at over the summer. They’re using the chanukiyah Jakob made out of hollowed-out jackfruit while he was on a tour of duty in the Dutch East Indies during the second half of 1945. Unfortunately, both Jakob and Rachel have attacks of PTSD every so often when they encounter triggers that remind them of their wartime experiences.

***

After finishing three doughnuts, Jakob set the last candles in his jackfruit chanukiyah.  As Rachel was making the blessings as she lit the candles from left to right, Jakob felt a sharp ache in his bad ankle and flashed back to the first Chanukah after his accident, when he’d been lying in Vrouw Visser’s basement, drifting in and out of sleep, pouring as much alcohol and liquor as he could hold down his throat, barely cognizant of where he was and what was going on.  The most he could remember about that dark period was that he’d been racked by the most bizarre dreams and worst nightmares of his life.

Rachel put her hands on his shoulders when she saw him shaking and struggling for breath. “What are you remembering, sweetheart?  Would you like me to get you some tea or more cider to calm you down?”

***

A chanukiyah is the nine-candle holder for Chanukah candles. A menorah actually refers to the seven-pronged candelabra used in the Temple, even though the words are often used interchangeably.

Horny Hump Day—Something a Little Sweet

(Out of reverence for Yom Kippur, this post is pre-scheduled and a bit sweeter than usual. I won’t be able to hop around to other participants till tonight or tomorrow.)

Warning:  Not safe for work or appropriate for those under 18!

Because this week’s Horny Hump Day coincides with Yom Kippur (my favorite holiday besides Halloween), I chose something a little sweeter and tamer for this week’s offering. It’s set a bit earlier in the recently-finished manuscript I’ve been sharing snippets from. After Jakob came to America with his mother at the start of the book, he went on a bit of a spending spree in New York City, putting most of his bills on credit, and just now, after his honeymoon, has been hit with belated sticker shock.

His wife Rachel is horrified to learn just how much he spent, far beyond his means. She was so upset she went to the beach to be alone while Jakob sought advice from his mother several blocks away. Jakob finds her as ebb tide is starting to come in, and the morning after the near-disaster, Rachel wakes to a bouquet of flowers, a tray of breakfast, and a love letter containing, in part, these lines.

Gepje is the Dutch nickname for Rachel, since the Dutch pronounce CH like a guttural, growly GH.

***

I want my Gepje to love me and be happy with me.  When my Gepje smiles at me, everything is right in the world.  Your eyes are like beautiful sparkling emeralds polished to perfection, your hair is like the finest woven cornsilk, your skin is so soft and sweet, your hands are so loving and gentle, your breasts are like succulent cantaloupes, your kisses taste like honey fresh from the hive, your caresses and embraces are so tender and sweet, your beautiful flower is the most divine treasure in the universe, your elixir tastes like ambrosia, your scent is so womanly and feminine, like perfume made from fairy dust and exotic flowers, and your voice is so sensual.