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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

11 February 2008

Historical Games

Or maybe I should say historical gambling. I’m working on a book right now that has gambling as a key element. I’m really familiar with gambling during the early 16th century (since I do a lot of 16th century re-enactments; in fact, this post is late because I was at one all weekend *grin*). So I can play Landsknecht, Hazard, Alquerques, etc.

But I don’t know how to play Whist (mores the pity). So what’s a writer to do? I found a few sets of rules, bought a few bottles of wine, and invited a few friends over . . . and hilarity ensued. Whist is not an easy game, but it is a lot of fun.

Wikipedia has simple rules for what I’ll call “normal” Whist and Widows Whist (Three-handed), but the whole point was that I wanted my two characters to play a hand just the two of them. Enter Two-handed Whist!

I love games and bets and intrigues in my books. And finding Two-handed Whist gave me all kinds of ideas . . . and playing it with my friends gave me enough grounding to feel like I can write it believably. Now I just have to master chess. I mean, I know the rules (sort of) but I can't really play. It's a huge failing of mine.

So, am I crazy? Does anyone else enjoy this kind of thing. I love taking my research this far and I hope to sponsor a Whist table at the Beau Monde Chapter of RWA’s annual convention party.


What about period food? I was thinking of including period recipes in my quarterly newsletter, along information about my own attempts at recreating the recipe and how it turned out, or didn't. Does that sound like fun to anyone?


11 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I think that's fascinating Kalen. I've only gone so far as reading the books I think my heroine might have read, listening to period music or close enough (I've been listening to a lot of Showboat lately). I haven't gone so far as to make period dishes but since my book is set in 1895, a lot of the dishes that we eat today were around then including macaroni and cheese, and there is a claim that fudge was first made by college girls using a chafing dish in their dorm at Vassar. So I have made fudge! And I'm attempting Lobster Newburg since I may have a scene at Delmonico's. I've also worn a corset on stage, so I know intimately what that feels like. I love delving deep into the everyday life of my characters, even if I only attempt a fraction of it. I have been trying to find out what board games besides chess and backgammon might have been available back then.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Your whist party sounds like so much fun! I love things that give me a tangible sense of the life of my characters--period music, books, food, wine (writing a sequence set in a wine cave during the Peninsular War was a great excuse to try Spanish and Portuguese wine :-). I haven't tried playing any actual Regency card games, though I've read enough to blunder my way through a sequence at a faro bank. I do play chess--not very well, but it's helped a lot in several chess sequences I've written in books.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Margaret Evans Porter said...

I used to provide period recipes I know and use and love in my mail-out newsletter. They seemed to go over well. I'm trying to think of the strangest form of "character immersion" I've done in my research efforts. The weirdest, I do believe, was gathering wrack (seaweed) on the shores of Jersey in the Channel Islands.

I had to "teach" myself hazard and faro, from period gaming books, for one novel. At which point I vowed no more hardcore gamesters as characters!

I've never had the nerve to try the card games at the Beau Monde conference, but the set of rules they used to supply has been very useful.

Elizabeth, cribbage would've been popular in your period. My husband's family play it.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thank you Margaret for the suggestion. Now that you mentioned it, I've actually heard of cribbage before somewhere in the recesses of my mind where all sorts of odd tidbits of information lurk waiting to see the light of day.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm the world's worst card player (my savvy bridge-playing parents have never been able to believe it), so when it came time for me to write my whist scene in Almost a Gentleman, my husband had to learn the rules and invite the neighbors in for a few hands, or deals, or rounds... or whatever they call them, since I've entirely forgotten all the specifics since then. It was fun at the time, though.

As for period recipes, if you do it, Kalen, you should get hold of Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I think period food sounds like great fun (I have a "game" that's dinner on shipboard with Nelson and Lady Hamilton that has a bunch of recipes; I've yet to invite people over and actually do it).

And learning how to play the card games, esp. Whist, is exactly the thing that historical authors should be doing. If we have the chance to actually take part in the kinds of things we write about, those opportunities are golden and add verisimilitude to our books.

I never liked cards (my younger sister and father played when I was growing up, particularly cribbage; and my sister was really into backgammon for a while), but I'm not a game player (in every sense). Still, I would love to learn the period games, because to me that's different. After all, it's "Research".

12:04 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Kalen, I think playing whist would be a blast. My family has always been big on games - card games, board games. We have a Christmas tradition of playing Monopoly after Christmas Dinner and after Thanksgiving and Easter Dinner too. We are a really ruthless bunch and it gets fairly rowdy.

I know there is a book about the history of gambling on my list of research books to acquire.

My late DH collected chess sets so I have over a dozen sets from all over the world.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I love period food . . . that would be wonderful to include in a newsletter. I look at my great-great grandmother's diary for recipes on aspic, and grilled chicken (she makes it sound good) and she was an avid Whist player. Wish I'd played with her now, or at least watched.

5:22 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

You're not alone Kalen, I taught myself to play Bridge and Baccarat, the two card crazes (with bridge edging out baccarat) of the Edwardian era, because I had to know exactly how and what my characters would do in the process of a game. I also own many, many books on sports like fox-hunting, steeple-chasing, archery, etc--am currently taking a fencing class--as well as doing what Elizabeth listed. I can grow obsessive. *g*

Your ideas for your newsletter are great, and I'm sure a Whist game would be so much fun.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Yay, Kalen. Count me in on the whist table. Cara King is going to be at National, too, this year, and she's a whiz at the games. BTW, don't forget to add me to your mailing list.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I'm not a big card player, but I do love playing with friends just for the fun of it. And it's nice to KNOW what I'm having my characters do.

I'll have to comb through all the period cookbooks I've downloaded from various places and find my first recipe . . . I'm thinking of doing "kickshaws" (aka appetizers) first.

11:58 AM  

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