Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I have a difficult time naming things. One of my children was named while we drove to the hospital, just a few hours before he was born. Another's first name was finally settled on a day or two before she arrived, but she had to live the better part of two days without a middle name.

It seemed like a dignified choice at the time.
Pets haven't been any easier. At an early age, I turned to literature for companion animal monikers. Thus the cat six-year-old me dubbed Romeo. Scout, Sadie, and Marlowe followed over the years. The time I stepped away from literary inspiration, I wound up with a goldfish named Hubert.

It's just so hard for me to name things. A name is a word (or a sparse few) that is forever associated with that person, pet, or character. It isn't arbitrary, it encapsulates the very idea of a person. Sometimes a name just doesn't mesh well with who a person is. Margaret Mitchell originally named her heroine Pansy O'Hara. Can you imagine? Thankfully, her publisher convinced her to change the name, and Scarlett has been an icon ever since--fiery, feisty, passionate, bold. Scarlett. That's a great name.

Naming my own heroines hasn't been my primary difficulty, but the menfolk give me fits. My current work in progress was held up at the beginning of chapter two for nearly a week while I anguished over the hero's name. A Romance hero's name should be strong, and give a hint as to what kind of person he is (the heroine's, too, but I have an easier time with female names). You can't just slap any old name onto a character and expect it to fly. That'll never work!

Sometimes, writers will tell you their characters speak to them. I've seen author / character interviews, and my author buddies have occasionally mentioned something jolly their current favorite character said in passing. Frankly, I just nodded and smiled when I heard of such things. None of my characters has ever spoken to me. That is, until the day I tried to force a name on a hero. This particular hero (A different one than the above mentioned chapter two holdout. These guys kill me.) had driven me batty in the development stage. I knew so much about him--how he looked, how he spoke, the clutter on the desk in his study--but I didn't know his name. Finally, I decided to smoke him out. This hero is a gambler. Temperamental. Proud. Intense. Just to be spiteful, I told him he would be a hobbyist carpenter and that I was going to call him Howard. Clear as day, I heard him. "My name is Ethan, and I sail." Well. Alrighty then.

I thanked him kindly for his time. We never spoke of the carpentry kerfuffle again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Penny for the Old Guy

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

-English folk verse

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is a fascinating incident in British history. You're probably familiar with the imagery of the Gunpowder Plot--the Guy Fawkes mask, bonfires, effigies, fireworks. In the United States (and perhaps elsewhere), the details of the plot itself are not as commonly known, so I thought I'd provide a brief and woefully inadequate overview of the Plot.

English Catholics had suffered intense legal and social persecution during the rein of Elizabeth I. When James I succeeded her in 1603, Catholics hoped the new monarch would undo these injustices. The son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, James did hold personal views much more tolerant than Elizabeth, but his administration brought about no official changes. Tired of waiting for a Protestant government to grant Catholics relief, Robert Catesby (who had previously taken part in the Essex Rebellion) devised a plan to topple the British establishment. 

Honestly, that mask could be the face of any one of these guys. Except for metro over there
on the left.

Nine seemed much older back then.
Catesby's goal was simple: Obliterate the Protestant English government and install a Catholic head of state. To achieve this goal, he and his co-conspirators planned to detonate a stockpile of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, November 5, 1605, when the king and the entire House of Lords would be assembled in one room. With the mass assassination accomplished, they planned to install James' daughter, nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth (Not to be confused with Elizabeth I, who was already deceased. Zombie monarchs rarely work out as well as you'd hope.) as a Catholic queen.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1605, the conspirators set the stage for their coup d'├ętat. They leased an undercroft directly below the House of Lords and purchased the gunpowder required to demolish the building above. Catesby delegated responsibility for the explosives to a devout Catholic and military veteran, a gentleman by the name of Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes is the name most commonly associated with the Gunpowder Plot, because it was his arrest and subsequent torture and interrogation that led to the complete unraveling of the conspiracy. Things went bad when William, Baron Monteagle received an anonymous letter on October 26, 1605, warning him not to attend the State Opening of Parliament. An investigation commenced at once to discover the source of the threat. Just after midnight on November 5--only hours before the scheduled State Opening of Parliament--Guy Fawkes was discovered in the undercroft below the House of Lords, in the company of 36 barrels of gunpowder and a fuse.

In the days that followed, Fawkes and his co-conspirators were arrested, tried, and executed for treason. As I noted previously, Catholic emancipation did not take legal effect in England until 1829. Following the Plot, tighter laws were passed to curtail Catholic religious observance and legal rights. In January of 1606, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act 1605. The Act declared November 5 an annual, public day of thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Initially observed with sermons and other boring services leading up to the iconic Bonfire Night festivities, it has since evolved into an excuse to set off fireworks, hang out around a big fire, and drink with friends.

The sinister smile of freedom.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Gunpowder Plot conspirators did not wish to create a religiously tolerant England. Rather, they hoped to revert England to a papist state--essentially turning the persecution tables on the Protestant population. Nevertheless, Bonfire Night was observed with decidedly anti-authoritarian tones in pre-Revolutionary Boston. The Guy Fawkes mask has been adopted as a symbol of anti-establishment sentiment thanks to the graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2006 film adaptation. Most recently, both the hacking group Anonymous and Occupy protesters around the world have donned the mask as a sign of rebellion and group solidarity.

Like all political movements, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 will continue to take on new meanings and interpretations as time passes. For some, the conspirators were regicidal traitors. For others, they were freedom fighters taking a stand against tyranny.

What would have happened if Guy Fawkes had not been arrested in the early morning hours of November fifth? Would the Plot have succeeded in killing James I and everyone inside the House of Lords? Oh, yes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, pressed the coffee, and turned on the computer, as is my custom. My intention had been to cancel an unwise Amazon order I'd placed the previous evening in a fit of nostalgia and Ambien. When I opened the browser and fired up my email program, I noticed things were running sluggishly.

And by sluggishly, I mean not at all. Page Cannot Load. Server Not Found. Flagrant System Error.  I turned to my husband still lying abed. "Hey, we don't have any internet," I informed him. He told me he'd go buy a carton of it later and rolled over.

A short time later, Mr. Boyce declared our household internet service dead in the water. This was bad news, as Chez Boyce is highly dependent on the internet. We use it for the computer, obviously, but also for our home phone and streaming entertainment to the television. Without the internet, we had been dropped into a virtual oubliette.

We had to wait until Monday for help, so we hunkered down for a weekend sans web. Saturday passed slowly. I kept thinking things like, Since I can't check Facebook, I'll just look up that recipe I've been meaning to try. Oh, wait. It's on the internet. Then I'd decide to call a friend, instead, but I couldn't do that, either, because we had no internet. I could still use my cell phone to text, thankfully, but bite-sized morsels of conversation aren't very satisfying.

Sunday wasn't any better. It's strange to realize how much you rely on something only when it's gone. I read and worked some puzzles and took a nap. Mr. Boyce kept wandering into the room where the modem lives to watch its lights flicker.

By Sunday night, despair had begun to sink in. We were alone. Stranded on a deserted island in the middle of suburbia. It felt as if we had always been isolated like this, and that we might never contact the outside world again.

After some hours, my tears ran dry.

On Monday, Mr. Boyce got word that help was on the way. Someone was coming in a life boat / cable company van. We arranged our afternoon to make sure one of us was here every moment to meet our rescuer.

The promised help never arrived.

Bitter and betrayed, we gathered the tatters of our dignity about ourselves. We didn't need the internet, anyway, I declared. We were fine without it. Just fine. I helped the Boycelings get ready for Trick-or-Treating. We had a fun evening walking the neighborhood, saying hello to neighbors, and congratulating children on clever costumes.

I realized we could still be connected without the internet--if on a much smaller scale. I arrived at a place of peace about our lack of internet. Of course, it was vexing to not be able to dial 911 in case of emergency, but we could always run to the neighbor's house if necessary. We have neighbors, a fact I sometimes forget as we isolate ourselves inside our house, connecting to everyone in the world except for the other humans in our physical proximity.

Today, obviously, the life boat arrived. I rolled out the red carpet as my hero replaced our terminally vegetative modem with a new, lively one. So here I am, reconnected. No longer alone. Alone as ever.