Writing Advice

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Eating Good in the Neighborhood (or not)

Published May 3, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Ah, the cultivation of food. What would we be without it?

I don’t even want to think about it. Please don’t make me. *Whimpers in corner, clutching coffee* My Preciousss. It is minesss. Mines by rightses! *pets*

Ahem. Right. Where was I?

Agriculture is a huge part of society, because you know, it deals with food and how we get it. In fact, I would say it is the most important part of civilization.

There are many theories as to why we started to grow delicious food crops, which is likely due to our inherent laziness*, but I’m not going to get into that. I’m not even going to talk about the cultural, environmental, and societal impacts agriculture has had on us. I’m going to talk about how it pertains to you. Or more specifically your book. Or even more specifically, your characters.

In every fictional society, whether one set in Ancient Egypt or a futuristic colony on Pluto, your characters need to eat. And the food they eat will vary depending on where (and when) they are. For instance, in your futuristic Plutonian colony, why do they eat the foods they do? Why does one crop grow better than another? Is it the mineral and PH make-up of the soil, the accessibility of water, the hardiness of the plant? Have they been genetically modified to survive in the alien environment?

Not only that, but how do they cultivate their food? Is it in above ground greenhouses with special glass to absorb the weak sunlight, or are they underground with artificial lamps? Why did they choose to do it one way over the other. Weather, environment, and technology play a huge role in deciding these questions.

If you are writing historical fiction, you should consider not only what they had, but what they didn’t have. If your story takes place during the Tang Dynasty, obviously your characters will not be eating chocolate, because you know, they didn’t have it. Also, chocolate was originally a drink served frothy and delicious. MMM, chocolate…

Anyways, food. It’s important. And so isn’t how your characters get it.

*Purely unscientific assumption



H is for Huns

Published April 19, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

I’m back! Kinda.

To catch up, I’m going to do two posts a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

Yay, double me!

So, the Huns. The Huns were a nomadic people in the 4th through the 6th centuries. Not much is known about where they came from, as there are many conflicting theories. Some scholars believe they orginated on Mongolia, others from around Turkey or Russia. The general consenus is that they were a nomadic confederacy comprised of many cultures.

The Huns practiced artifical cranial deformation, which is as terrible as it sounds. It’s similar to Chinese foot binding, where an infants head would be reformed by applying pressure. The heads were either rounded (Coneheads!) or flattened using pieces of wood or a cloth.

The Huns would also scar a child’s face to prevent facial hair in adulthood to impress the ladies. I don’t know if they actually did it for that reason, but why else would you inflict bodily harm to change your appearance, if it wasn’t to impress someone? I probably just opened up a moral can of worms…

Anyways, Attila the Hun originally ruled alongside his brother, Bleda. However, they each controlled their own territories. Together, they were bloodthirsty and ambitious, forcing the Romans into signing a treaty in which the Romans would allow the Huns to trade in addition to giving them annual tributes. When the Romans failed to pay tribute, the Huns attacked, and decimated the already weakened Roman Empire. And again, when the Romans failed to pay up for a second time. After Bleda’s death, the Hunnic empire was unified under Attila, but fell apart after his death.

Some theorize that they were one of the causes of the fall of Rome. Other sources credit the Germanic tribes. It was probably a bunch of unrelated factors.

Book for reading challenges:

   Fantasy                                                                                            Sci-fi

G is for Greeks

Published April 7, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Ah, the Greeks. Such a long, tumultuous history. From their epic battles, larger than life heroes, and moody gods, they made sure they would be remembered for a long time to come.

The early Mycenaean Greeks of the bronze age were greatly influenced by the Minoans of Crete, and actually thank their rise to the fall of the Minoans. Bronze age Greece were divided up into city-states such as Mycenae, Sparta, Ithaca, Thebes, and Pylos. the Mycenaeans were ruled by a warrior aristocracy, and benefited through conquest.

Sculpture of Poseidon in Copenhagen, Denmark

There were several major gods in the Greek pantheon, and like the Mesopotamians, the gods were often associated with certain cities, even foreign ones, like Poseidon with Troy. However, the Greeks believed that the world was created by Chaos, who eventually gave birth to the primordial gods, who eventually gave birth to the titans, then the Olympian Gods.

Psyche crossing the river Styx

The Greeks believed in an underworld called Hades, named after the god who ruled it. They thought that if a funeral was never performed, a person’s spirit would never reach it, and would remain a ghost forever. the underworld was guarded by a three-headed dog named Cerberus, and souls had to cross the river Styx. Later Greeks believed in Tartarus, where the dammed went, and Elysium, where heroes (like Achilles and Ganymede resided) too.

Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse

One of my favorite tales is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. At their wedding, Eurydice went for a walk and was chased by a satyr. When she tried to escape, she fell into a nest of vipers and was bit. Orpheus discovered her body, and overcome with grief, traveled to the underworld and begged them to return his wife and played such sweet, sad music that it softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth only if  he walked in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. However, in his anxiety, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, but she had not crossed over into the upper world yet, and she vanished for the second time.

During the Greco-Persian wars, the Spartans came to the aid of the Athenians, in one of the most famous moments in history, when king Leonidas held off the Persian army with only 300 men (it was more like a couple thousand) at the battle of Thermopylae. However, less than twenty years later, the Spartans and Athenians fought against each other in the Peloponnesian War. the people of the Peloponnese were fearful of Athens growing power.

Alexander the Great managed to conquer much of the East, and accomplished what many great men before him had failed, he overthrew the Persians. Alexander was also responsible for the spread of the Greek language.

Greek, Greek, it rhymes with meek. But meek they were not.

More on Alexander the Great from John Green:

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                            Sci-fi

E is for Egypt

Published April 5, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

The Egyptians are known for the impressive buildings, and of course, their elaborate burial practices. The Egyptians took such great care of the deceased because they believed it was necessary to insure immortality in the afterlife. After mummification, they were buried, sometimes in elaborate tombs, with everything they thought they would need in the afterlife (which was basically everything they owned in life. Yes, even their pets) Of course, these practices were only available to the elite.

Pharaohs (and some nobility) practiced polygamy and incest, often marrying their sisters, and sometimes their step-mothers (as is the case with Hatshepsut and Thutmose III). And, like The Celts, The women were treated as equals, and could rise to positions of power (although it wasn’t common).

There have been women to become Pharaohs, like Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VI. After 30 years of reign, a Pharaoh celebrated the Sed Festival, which celebrated their continued reign. The festival would be held every 3 years afterwards. Notable exceptions were Hatshepsut, who celebrated hers after only 16 years on the throne. Many scholars speculate she counted her years as co-ruler with her husband. Pharaohs who followed the typical tradition, but did not reign 30 years were promised a “millions of jubilees” in the afterlife.

One of Akenhaten's wives, Nefertiti

In the 14t century, Amenhotep IV, who later changed his name to Akhenaten, turned Egyptian religion on its head, when he converted to monotheism, and worshiped Aten, a sun deity. This was so blasphemous, that when he died, his successors tried to wipe him from history. Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun.

Ramses II is perhaps the most famous Pharaoh in Egyptian history. He was said to have celebrated more Sed festivals than any other Pharaoh. He led many campaigns for expansion, including the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites, and later signed a peace treaty with them and married a Hittite woman. Legends say he lived to 99 years, but he probably only lived to be 91 or  92.

Egyptian gods were depicted with animalistic qualities. For instance, Anubis (god of mummification and the afterlife) was depicted with the head of a jackal, and Ra (the sun god) had the head of a falcon.


It was said that the breath of the warrior goddess, Sekhmet created the desert, and she has such fierce names as the (One) Before Whom Evil Trembles, the Mistress of Dread, and the Lady of Slaughter. Sekhmet was born when Ra, the sun god, created her from a fiery eye to destroy mortals of Lower Egypt who turned against him. However, Sekhmet’s blood-lust could not be sated and she went on a rampage to destroy all of humanity. Ra had to trick her by turning the Nile into red wine that looked like blood, and when she drank it, she got so drunk that she gave up the slaughter. This myth explained why the Nile turned red every year when it became inundated.

And lastly, because John Green says it better…

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                    Sci-fi

B is for Babylon

Published April 2, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Babylon was an ancient Akkadian city-state in Mesopotamia. It is famous for 2 things, the Hanging Gardens, and the place where Alexander the Great died.

Throughout it’s history, Babylon has been has conquered by the Hittites, Persians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Arabs.


What is the capital of Assyria?


Like other ancient cultures, Babylon had a patron god that protected them. The Babylonian god was Marduk, god of magic, water, judgement, and vegetation (Also, he had a dragon). It is said that Marduk has 50 names (Take that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt). He also had quite a fantastical history. As a young god, he answered the call to end the civil war between the Anunnaki gods after being promised the position of head god. First, he challenged the leader of the Anunnaki, the dragon Tiamat, to single combat and defeated her. After her, he defeated Kingu, and took control of the Tablets of Destiny.

The Hanging Gardens are fascinating because they may or may not have existed. And because the sheer improbability of them (maybe the Heart of Gold was in the area?). It was said to takes 8,200 of gallons a day to keep up, and while the city was situated between the Euphrates and the Tigris, that is still a lot of water. King Nebuchadnezzar II purportedly built them to please his homesick wife Amytis of Media. Despite their dubious existence, they make a great inspiration for a city… hint hint

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

    Fantasy                                                                                                               Sci-fi

A is for Aztecs

Published April 1, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Mesoamericans believed the gods would only provide for them if they were nourished by humans.

the braver the captive, the better the sacrifice. William Wallace would have counted for at least 3 men

There were many ways the Aztecs appeased their gods (and there were hundreds of them), but the most common way was by paying a blood debt, which they believed they owed to the gods. This was achieved by ritual blood-letting, piercing, animal sacrifice, and human sacrifice. The Aztecs (and other Mesoamerican cultures) were not the only cultures who have performed human sacrifices (In some sources, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to appease Artemis), but they were perhaps the most prolific.

They believed that if they did not feed their sun god, Huitzilopochtl, human hearts, then the sun would not rise. They sacrificed to avoid destruction.


The Aztecs did not have a formal military, but every able boy was trained to fight. They learned how to fight in school and were considered men after they had taken their first prisoner.

War time was a happy time for the Aztecs. Warriors were able to prove their strength and courage. Their costumes were designed to illicit fear among their enemies and tribes they intended to conquer, and the more important the warrior, the more elaborate his costume.

Their chief weapon was surprise and fear. Wait, their two chief weapons were surprise, fear, and ruthless efficiency. Their three… oh bloody hell.  Anyways, other than being forced to pay a tribute, the conquered subjects had relative freedom.

Like Egyptian Pharaohs their emperor, the Huey Tlatcani (Great Speaker) was worshiped as a god.

Individual families did not own land, but shared it with a group of families called a Calpulli. The leader of this group was responsible for their basic needs.

The nobility and priesthood held a lot of power, but were not always in a position of power. In cities, the heads of the Calpulli formed a council, and within it, four members would form an executive council. One of these members would be the Tlatcani (not to be confused with the Huey Tlatcani), or leader of the city.

The Aztecs used chocolate as currency.

Perhaps the most important fact of the day.

And then this happened… Sorta

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

                 Sci-fi                                                                                                Fantasy


A Lesson in Euphemisms

Published November 16, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

So, it’s been a few days. I’ve been busy NaNo-ing and editing, and you know, procrastinating.

I have a new look. I’m not sure how I like. We’ll see how it goes.

So, to save all our time (since I’m sure you’d rather be upping your word count too), here is a video, illustrating example of how to use euphemisms from some of the greatest minds in the 20th century.


Also, if you’re feeling week 2 blues, and your wip is starting to give you massive headaches, and look like a bunch of random gibberish, here is an inspiring song to remind you that it could be worse. MUCH worse.



You’re welcome. Now, get back to work!