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Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Don't be a nozzle!
Tiny Equus africanus asinus
Creative Commons Wikipedia
Note: It seems to me that Roderick Robinson's comments are more interesting than the post. So maybe you should read them!

I've been researching such interesting topics as  total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and so on, hanging with Calvin and the reformed tradition, hanging with Puritans and Separatists. All for the sake of my current novel.

Though in the past I've done lots of reading in seventeenth-century writings, this time I need to understand the theological underpinnings a bit better so I can understand worldview of characters. I'm finding my head a bit hard when it comes to Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, etc. vs. modern-day "Calvinism."

And I've also found lots of curious nuggets along the way. Some of my favorites are words.

How about nazzle?
A "ludicrous diminutive of ass."

Or niffle-naffle?
To trifle and play with one's work.

I like the old word for marzipan. March-pane or marchpane. A still-popular confection of sugar or honey and almond meal. “To make Marchpane to Ice and Gild, and garnish it according to Art. Take Almonds, and blanch them out of seething water, and beat them till they come to a fine paste in a stone Mortar, then take fine searsed sugar, and so beat it altogether till it come to a prefect paste, putting in now and then a spoonful of Rose-water, to keep it from oyling; then cover your Marchpane with a sheet of paper as big as a Charger, then cut it round by that Charger, and set an edge about it as about a Tart, then bottom it with Wafers, then bake it in an Oven, or in a Baking-pan, and when it is hard and dry, take it out of the Oven, and ice it with Rose-water and Sugar, and the white of an Egg, being as thick as butter, and spread it over thin with two or three feathers; and then put it into the Oven again, and when you see it rise high and white, take it out again and garnish it with some pretty conceit, and stick some long Comfits upright in it, so gild it, then strow Biskets and Carrawayes on it. If your Marchpane be Oyly in beating, then put to it as much Rose-water as will make it almost as thin as to ice.”  (A Queens Delight also has a recipe to make marchpane “look like Collops of Bacon.”) From A QUEENS Delight; OR, The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. Never before Published. London, Printed by E. Tyler, and R. Holt, for Nath. Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the Royal Exchange. 1671.

Or how about lollop? To lounge about, to saunter (but heavily!)


  1. I wondered if you what you are planning is a roman-fleuve, but Wiki says not. A novel of ideas, then? That's a genre I'm leery of but since you are, in person, wholly animate I have the joyful suspicion you'll animate the ideas (and the history) and the story will move out of the Groves Of Reference into what Auden rather sourly identifies as "life"; that the genre will be adjusted for the better. As to picaresque, I don't have enough info about the narrative.

    Was it Bathsheba who bathed in ass's milk or only Susan Hayward playing Bathsheba? It may not be ass's milk, but it's clear you've been bathing, perhaps even wallowing, as I was two or or three years ago. In research, that is, that wonderful almost lazy period - often greatly extended - when creation can be put aside and one is required to do nothing more than sift. And isn't sifting almost a passive verb?

    Long passages of Out Of Arizona take place in the cockpit of a light plane where the exigencies of normal life are exchanged for new thoughts, obligations, imperatives and states of consciousness. I needed not only to be technically authentic but, if you'll forgive me, spiritually authentic. Mounds of research passed into ring-binders until - happy thought! - I'd accumulated more data than would be needed to bring the novel to its 100,000-word conclusion. Only ingestion remained. Plus the small matter of putting all the resultant carbohydrates, proteins and fibrous matter to work and... to start writing. Here's to delay.

    1. I tend to be rather secretive about what I'm working on and don't know why I have been some chatty (secretively chatty?) But it is impossible to write about seventeenth-century Puritans without understanding how they think (which is not how moderns think, even if they are the New England inheritors of Puritan thought. As a Southerner, I am not that, and I cannot say that any people I know up north feel like inheritors of that tradition. And as I am not a Yankee, I have to make a few extra strides to reach where I am going.)

      Of course, it's often little things that make you feel that you understand a world. Baby-clouts. Urine felt to be disinfectant, so why worry about dried urine? Female hygiene or lack thereof. Bodily odors. Spinning thread. Tatting. Stumps. Heat by the fire. Cold away from it. Paths.

      In your novel of the air, were you already at home in a cockpit? When I write of another place (and time is another place, just one we can't get to), I tend to write about a place where I feel comfortable. I've written two Depression-era books because in some sense I have been there. Every summer I spent time on my grandparents' sharecropped farm. Take away the used old Caddy, the running water in the kitchen, the bare lightbulbs hanging down, and the rickety tractor that replaced the mules, and it isn't hard to see the life lived earlier. The poverty, the oppressive heat, the labor...

      When I wrote about the Civil War, I found that book simply an outgrowth from having a small child obsessed with the war (and later with other wars) who wanted to go to battlefields and re-enactments and read lots of nonfiction books. Once we bumped into a man who owned a Civil War museum. He asked my second-grade child ten specific questions about the war and got an earful on each one! So that book came from being soaked in the subject on a daily basis by a child who could recite the story of many battles. Eventually they crept into my thoughts and stayed for a while.

      I also wrote another book set in the seventeenth-century because I've read a lot in the period and feel as if I can come and go there without a huge amount of research. Then I supplement as needed. So I am past the 250-page mark on the novel but just needed to grasp better the sort of fear and pressure that many Puritans felt about salvation and justification, and also the sort of consolation that would be dished out. Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans were rather different from those they left behind, and they faced some frightening possibilities in everyday life. Between their ideas about election and the chance that a tomahawk might be buried in the brain at any hour, the possibilities for religious melancholy ran high.

      What sort of genre is it? No, not a novel of ideas, though I am forced to wrestle with the ideas behind people's thinking a bit more than is usual. I'm sure "historical fiction" would be the label slapped on it. In many ways it is a coming-of-age story--a bildungsroman about a young woman. Beyond that, well, I am still secretive.

    2. Longer than I realized! Ah, well. Writers do natter on.

  2. Writing novels is a lonely business but it doesn't do for me to complain since the loneliness is self-inflicted. As undeserved compensation it's a delight to discuss the odd apartness of novel-writing with one who knows and, especially, one who is generous with her time and energy. Your re-comment is 549 words long, I checked by cut/pasting it to WfW. When I worked on a weekly newspaper I was able to compose (ie, think up and type) articles at a rate of 1000 words/hr, speed being far more important than quality. But in your case there's both; half an hour's application and some (I'll spare your blushes) detailed good info. It's a privilege to visit The Palace At 2 AM, and I must be careful not to abuse that privilege.

    I still hold the view that you write novels of ideas but I'm shifting the goalposts a little. You impose big ideas on your plots. Thus the concept of 17th century Puritans is already a big idea (counter-intuitive too given your upbringing; a test of your imagination given that the tradition may have died out) as is the Depression elsewhere. Through this sturdy concrete (perhaps not the best metaphor) you are running reinforcing rods of detail, as indicated in your second para. A convincing structure is in place and it only remains for the characters to avoid anachronism. And to be real, of course, but then we all face that.

    I need say no more. Apart from your published titles it's obvious you are at home with the slow-pulsed rhythm of novel-writing and it would be patronising of me to commnt further.

    Ironically, I eschew big ideas. My playground is the mundane aspects of the twenty-first century; the heroics are muted and stories tend to revolve round the business of earning a living. Here we converge since I go large on the detail of what it is to be a salesperson, a production manager with a company making washing machines now out of work, a surgeon abruptly prevented from pursuing surgery. My aim is to turn the nature of work into an essential part of the plot. In Out Of Arizona the central character is facially disfigured and reckons there's a life for her in the meritocracy of flying planes. I flew every inch of every flight with her over south-western France and, parenthetically, during a long central interlude chapter, over Arizona and Texas. I worked the yoke and spoke on the RT, gassed up the plane and took out the back seats to accommodate cargo. I enjoyed writing the novel more than any other before and, I suspect, yet to come. And therein lies its weakness. I loved the subject matter and the central character much too much and this love shows up in defects. Never mind, Rictangular Lenses is more sophisticated and I have a feisty woman who is out to murder the competition. Only 75,000 words to go.

    Other than this sentence a mere 491 words so I'm still indebted.

    1. Well, then, I shall give you a short answer, as I have just written some pages and am taking only a quick break!

      I don't really think of myself as pursuing ideas that are big, but I do wish to deal with large subject matter. And to do things I don't know how to do. If ideas appear to come out of the process as characters bump up against each other, well, that's okay, but I don't tend to consciously implant any. I do, however, sometimes (in this case, definitely) know what ideas might be in a character's head.

      Everything is such sleight-of-hand, anyway. Nothing is "realistic." It's all fabulous. Just the act of leaving so much out when you write a book means radically re-making the nature of life.

      The real trick is capturing the energy of life in words, isn't it? So that it doesn't seep out over the years.

      You know, I think it's a shame that there aren't more books about work, so I think your subject matter is just fine. There's a real dearth of novels that show people at work or with the problems of work, whether the work is regarded as menial, blue collar, or white collar. So keep pushing the words along!

      Sometimes I think this may be my last novel, and that I may simply write poetry afterward. But I never am clear on what I am going to do, and am often impelled to leap into something that I had not dreamed about the day before. (Maybe I dreamed it at night.) Sometimes it's a thing that feels ridiculous for the current day and current interests, like writing a post-apocalyptic epic. I do what I do, it seems.

      Off I go. A bit of leftover soufflé, something to drink, and I'm back in the chair.

  3. Several winters ago, I took from the shelves my copy of The New England Mind of the Seventeenth Century, purchased something like thirty years previously, and read it through. It was most interesting, though what I retain of its discussion of religion is chiefly the difference of church organization between the New England Congregationalists and the Reformed (including Presbyterian) churches of Europe, and the theological implications that followed on this. I have since picked up a copy of Institutes of the Christian Religion, but haven't had a chance to tackle it.

    Marzipan to look like bacon could be a hit at county fairs, don't you think?

    1. I am thinking that I've seen such a thing somewhere... Anyway, little pink pigs! Did I earlier include the receipt for candy that looks like bacon from an early cookbook? I can't remember which one, though.

      I'm thinking that I read the Perry Miller book way back in grad school, or at least used elements from it. Nothing left in the memory bank.

      The thing that I find most useful, story-wise, is the Massachusetts Bay Colony stringency and strictness, and the prevalent beliefs about the supernatural world, and the fearfulness associated with salvation and justification. Some divines from England went back home again, and to them the differences between the two places seem quite sharp. Reading something from the colony like Sewall's Diary, you have a strong sense of children being raised with the thought that they may not be about to die and yet not among the Elect, and a concomitant and not-infrequent hysteria. It's a backdrop where any strange, wild interpretation of an event can burst out at any time. And sometimes does. I find that sad but useful to my little Puritan escapade in words.

    2. That comment tells me that I have a terrible memory! No worse than before, I hope. Mind that retains too much trivia and not enough in the way of reading and dates and terms.

    3. Yes, Miller touches on the anxiety. And of course that was part of what Martin Luther was trying to alleviate when he kicked off what became the Reformation. I have not confirmed this with the Institutes, but I have the impression that John Calvin worried not at all about anyone's anxieties.

      I have certainly seen marzipan pigs. An old friend, a German emigre of the 1930s, used to give us marzipan around Christmas time, and I think that marzipan pigs sometimes made part of the haul.

      As for memory, I said something here:

    4. The part I find confusing about Calvin is the way "Calvinism" is not just Calvin but a whole batch of other people, Bullinger, Bucer, Zwingli, etc., but we act as though it was one thing--as, indeed, we act as if Puritans or Separatists were just one thing. Then you look at documents, and it doesn't feel that way. Also, pre-destination in Calvin doesn't seem to be turning out to be what I thought it was.... So I'm still kicking around a lot of ideas, though really they're all in the background, all part of why people behaved so differently from contemporaries.

      Yes, marzipan pigs are still around. Still haven't found the "march-pane bacon" recipe, but I know that I saw one. Or maybe it was a different candy, but it was definitely meant to look like bacon!

    5. Diarmuid Macculloch wrote a most interesting book on the Reformation. It is about seven hundred pages, but written mostly in twelve-page sections so that the reader has a sense of making steady progress. I see that the volume covering 1300 through 1700 in Jaroslav Pelikan's history of Christian doctrine is almost six hundred pages: on the other hand, Pelikan's custom of putting his references on the outer margin of the page makes for far narrower columns and many fewer words per page.

    6. There's a daunting assignment! Might be a help, though I almost think that I have looked at too many sources--it is interesting to find a lack of agreement, though I believe it often comes from looking at Calvin vs. looking at "Calvinism."

      It's not clear to me in what detail I need to understand details of doctrine that underlie thought. (I'm always conscious that too much research can spoil a book, and has spoiled many.) It is behavior that I need to draw, and I am finding that the doctrine that creates the behavior appears to be--from comments in diaries etc. on various events--as variable and as misunderstood by ordinary people as in any era. Some events (like the witch trials, say) illuminate division and disagreement, and how deep they can run.

      Thank you for the recommendations. I'm sure that there's more digging and delving ahead.

    7. Were I a novelist aiming to write about 17th or 18th Century New England--and the reading public, or at least the publisher's readers should be grateful that I am not--I think I'd lean on Perry Miller, whose focus is determinedly regional. But if you have time to follow out the ways of theology, Pelikan is remarkable; and if you want to tie it in with the rest of the culture, Macculloch is as I say very readable.

    8. Perry Miller is good. I also love David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed," which traces the four migration strands.

      I'll see what I can manage! And I'll be at a great research library for about 10 days in the spring. Needless to say, I'm not near one in Cooperstown.

  4. For what it's worth, I agree that it's a shame there aren't more books--novels, specifically--about work. There's a torrent of cable TV reality shows about all sorts of jobs most of us never get to see, from crab fishing to trucking to veterinary surgery--that suggests a market for such things, but I'm not sure the publishing industry is all that in tune with such things.

    (My sister managed hotels for several years. If she hadn't gotten out of that business to save her own sanity, I'd be helping her write a book about the experience. What goes on in even the most dull-looking chain hotel is downright shocking. Good material for a comic novel!)

    1. Okay, now we all want the dirt on hotels! I've had a few horror story experiences, and once when I was pregnant we kept trying to find a hotel and finding one disgusting thing after another. Checked in and out of several and finally drove all night. There was some auto show on the east coast that had eaten up hotels everywhere we went...

      Oh, I didn't know about cable, as I don't watch t.v. Maybe people who do will write one, two steps removed from the reality!

  5. My favorite hotel story of hers: A shambling, unshaven fellow lived at one of her nicer chain hotels. His room contained nothing but empty pizza boxes and plastic bags. He paid with a huge wad of cash every week or so. He looked homeless, but because he spent so much money there, he was a super-duper-Platinum rewards member--and, it turned out, the eccentric scion of a wealthy local family. He was apparently a lovely, gentle man. He just startled the guests when he'd shamble down to the front desk to pay, and everyone could see his underwear through gigantic holes in his pants.

    And then there were the bedbug infestations, the time not one but two circuses came to town; the employees who embezzled; the front-desk worker who set up a hammock in the reception area, one of several employees who posted their inappropriate behavior on Facebook; the guest who mailed himself a huge box of cocaine but forgot to put his name on it, so the staff opened it...she was too close to these experiences to find them funny, but I think she's amused by them now, in retrospect.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.