audiobooks & too much information (with video!)

R-Less Edith Wharton
R-Less Edith Wharton

I’ve been trying to concentrate on writing so I haven’t been posting very often. But something has been on my mind for a while and I thought this would be the best way to resolve it — in my head, at least. 

If you have read this weblog for any length of time you’re most likely aware that I was a professor of linguistics for twelve years before I started writing full time. Linguistics is a huge field — everything from the neurology of speech production to reconstruction of ancient languages to universals in syntax. My field has to do with the sociocultural aspects of language, or sociocultural anthropological linguistics (how’s that for a mouthful?).[1. My best-known publication is English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the U.S. and here’s a pdf excerpt if you’re so inclined.] The Santa Barbara campus of the UC system has what I consider to be the best program in the field, and this is part of their short description: 

Encompassing research traditions including sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, discourse analysis, and others, sociocultural linguistics focuses on how discourse mediates the enactment of social life and the construction of the social world.

A couple more basic points: all spoken language changes; all spoken language varies over different kinds of social space. All that just to preface what I’m about to say.

When they started doing the audiobook recordings for the Wilderness novels, it never occurred to me to worry about the varieties of English (or, more simply, the accents) spoken by the characters, and therefore, by the reader. Simply because we don’t know enough about the way English was spoken on the New York frontier in 1792. But we do know more about the sounds of spoken English in 1883 — primarily because some of the people born in the mid 19th century were still around into the 1960s or longer, and their voices have been preserved on tape.[1. There are a few recordings of the human voice around this time, but the technology was in its infancy and the quality is very poor (for example, this recording of President Benjamin Harrison whose term ran from 1889 to 1892).]

My point (and I do have one) is that in my mind, I have an actual sense of the way Anna Savard spoke English. In late 19th century Manhattan, the accent was much like the current day New England accents. The most tangible feature is the loss of /r/ after a vowel — as in John F. Kennedy’s infamous “Paak the caah in Haaavad yaad” (this is referred to as rhoticity).  There’s a very good short video on Youtube on the history and evolution of urban accents over time that provides good examples of rhotic and non-rhotic pronunciations.[2. Some of the explanations I would quibble with, but all in all it’s a good overview. Less serious but a lot of fun: Shit Boston Girls Say and Shit Italian Moms Say. The accents are right on target.] And here’s an example of the way linguists have fun: an article about a study of rhoticity in Hollywood films over time: 

Elliott, N. (2000) “A Study in the Rhoticity of American Film Actors.” In R. Dal Vera (ed.) Standard Speech and Other Contemporary Issues in Professional Voice and Speech Training. New York: Applause, pp. 103–130.

Where /r/ disappears after a vowel for some part of the population, depending on age, socioeconomic allegiances, location, and communication network integration.
Where /r/ disappears after a vowel for some part of the population, depending on age, socioeconomic allegiances, location, and communication network integration.


Anna would sound more like Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis, who were both born to upper class families in Massachusetts. The videos below were recorded when they were both quite old, but the accent still comes through, primarily the loss of /r/ after a vowel, the raising and backing of some vowels, and intonation.

So if I had been able to dictate how Cassandra Campbell voiced Anna — and other women of that time and place — in the recording of The Gilded Hour, I might have said “Do your best Katherine Hepburn.” And that would have been a disaster, because unless you’ve studied the evolution of American English on the east coast, it would sound utterly wrong to you. Technically closer to fact, yes. But not a good idea. 

There are no audio recordings of Edith Wharton’s voice, which is a shame, because while she was of a higher social class than Anna Savard, an argument could be made that they would have been very close in the way they spoke. 

I’m very happy with the unabridged audio recording of The Gilded Hour, but when I listen to it, this issue always comes up for me. Some days it would be good to be able to forget my education.

genealogy, characters, mysteries: wiki

GH Wiki Character Sketch

For those who have mentioned to me that you would like to see the genealogy charts for the characters in the Wilderness novels and The Gilded Hour,  here’s what I can offer you. 

There is a Gilded Hour wiki, as you may be aware.


The purpose of the wiki is to serve  as a place to keep and organize all the research I’ve collected while writing the novel (and continue to pull together for the sequel, of course).  If you pop over there and scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see a list of wiki categories on the right. Genealogy will take you to a list of the pages that include genealogical charts and information.[1.  Note: I know there are continuity errors (inevitable over a fifteen year writing period), but if you feel the need to point something out, please leave a comment on that page. Note also: I had to do some restructuring over there, so if you click on a link and it gives you an error, please let me know so I can fix it. You can do that by leaving a comment on the page where you found the broken link.] 

GH Wiki Character Index
GH Wiki Character Index

There are two ways I’m keeping track of characters: first, a general list or index,  in which every character should (eventually) be listed (see to the right).

Second, character sketches or pages for primary and secondary characters (see below).

You will note that character pages are incomplete. Try this: put the name Anna Savard into the search box (in the top banner) and click on the article with that name.  You’ll see that Anna’s page has a great deal of information, but if you do another search, this time for Oscar Maroney you’ll note that Oscar needs some attention. There are many names not yet entered — in the index and in the list of character sketches.  All the existing pages have some information, but getting them into shape will take me a long time, working on this a half hour at a time.  

GH Wiki Character Sketch
GH Wiki Character Sketch

Right now the GH Wiki is limited to characters appearing in The Gilded Hour, but if there is interest enough, I may set things up so that all characters from the Wilderness novels could be included. 

So now here’s the thing: if you have a burning desire to add information to the wiki (for example, to fill in empty character charts, or add information about a landmark), that may be possible in the near future. Right now I’m looking for just two people who have a little time and energy to invest in the wiki, to see how it goes. Those two people will be upgraded from ‘subscriber’ to ‘contributer’ and that will give them limited ability to edit all the wiki pages. If you’re interested, please let me know in the comments.

Just so you know: wiki page edits are kept track of and older versions of an article can be restored should disaster strike. As it always does, sooner or later.  

So there you have it. Go on over and look through all the family genealogy pages. If you would like to see a page on something in particular — for example, you are wondering about the elevated trains in 1883 — you can suggest that anywhere — there, here, FaceBook. If on the other hand you are an expert on the subject of elevated trains in NYC in the 1880s and you’d like to put a wiki article together, please shout at me. I’d love it if people with specific knowledge got involved. 

Character Sketches: Your Input

For a while I’ve been thinking about the best way to put together character sketches for characters in all of the Wilderness novels and GH. Not a small undertaking, I know, but I think of it as a long-term project.  

There are many websites/wikis devoted to book series and movies that do a good job of this.  Examples include Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games) has a character sketch which is exhaustive and very carefully put together and  Debra Morgan (Dexter) is another example of a very intense and detailed character breakdown. Wikipedia has character pages for fictional characters across time and space (here’s the Wikipedia very elegant approach to Katniss Everdeen). Game playing sites go to great lengths and make very complicated character infoboxes.  Wikia provides an example character template which would not work for fictional characters, but could be adapted. It’s interesting to see what they throw in, at any rate:

{{Character Infobox
| name                     =
| image                    =
| alternate name           =
| aka                      =
| d.o.b.                   =
| age                      =
| birthplace               =
| residence                =
| race                     =
| height                   =
| weight                   =
| shoe size                =
| hair                     =
| eyes                     =
| body shape               =
| tattoos                  =
| jewellery                =
| dress                    =
| appearance-other form    =
| dress                    =
| emblem                   =
| markings                 =
| accent                   =
| language                 =
| weapons                  =
| transport                =
| motto(s)                 =
| favourite music          =
| likes                    =
| dislikes                 =
| pastimes                 =
| family                   =
| powers                   =
| fighting style           =
| food                     =
| businesses               =
| lovers                   =


janeaustencslistAt (a kind of Jane Austen super wiki) there’s a simple but effective approach, as you see here to the left. Click for a larger image.

Every once in a while I spend a half hour experimenting in the best way to do this for my characters. Full disclosure: this is something I should have been doing since the beginning.

The easiest way would be to do it just like the Pemberly folk have done for Jane Austen’s characters. So for example anybody who wants to contribute would go to the page for a given novel and leave a comment (if this were a proper wiki, you could edit the page yourself, but in this case, a comment would be enough):

Endless Forest (W6). Mr. Turner. Shopkeeper in Johnstown  who sells Ethan and Callie supplies.

That would certainly be a great start if I could compile a complete list of all characters showing up in the novels.  But historical novelists are OCD by nature and so I also imagine a more detailed accounting, something like the following, for characters who are more substantial. Rough example:

Full NameEthan MiddletonImage/AppearanceBlond, middle height, elegant build
Role__Primary __Secondary __Transient
Date of Birth1792
Place of Birth[[Paradise]], Hamilton County, NYAppearing inW1, W3, W4, W6
Date of Death
Place of DeathHudson River (steam boat accident)
OccupationOwner of most of the town of Paradise, town manager and plannerQuote"I'm a cousin, but I go home eventually to an empty house and I don't like it. You're alone in the world too, and we have always got on just fine. I thought we could help each other." W6
BiographySon of [[Julian Middleton]] and [[Kitty Witherspoon Middleton Todd]], nephew of [[Elizabeth Middleton Bonner]] born after his father's death. Raised by his mother and step-father [[Richard Todd]]. As a young man spends two years. .Marriage or other romantic relationships--Harrison Quinlan, short term
--[[Calista WIlde Middleton]] married 1824
SourcesW1, W3, W4, W6, GHChildrenGuardian to the children of [[Jennet Scott Bonner][ and [[Luke Scott Bonner]] after their mother's death
Factual Conflicts

Before this could get started there’s a big decision to be made: should all of the character sketches be folded into  The Gilded Hour kinda-wiki or should I start a separate wiki for the Wilderness novels. The thing is, I don’t expect this to take off right away or at all, even, so that’s something that could be discussed. So the question is, if you are one of those people who re-reads the entire series on a regular basis (and bless you if you are), would you be interested in participating in the very brief way described first above? You’re plowing through Lake in the Clouds for the xxth time, and you come across Captain Mudge and you wonder, hey, has he been entered into the character list yet?   So you’d go to the page for Lake in the Clouds and leave a comment:

LitC W3. Captain Mudge. Captain of the ship that takes the escaping slaves to Canada.

Now, somebody might come along and say, wait, he has a first name. Or, he’s too big a character for a one line entry, he needs a full template because ….

So then that would be a debate. This kind of discussion is common on real full-size wikis, because the community puts the entries together and debates about the best way to do it. I don’t imagine that anybody has a lot of time or energy to devote to something like this, but maybe contributing once in a while when you come across something — that would be the idea. 

If you know of a website that uses character templates that you like, please leave a link in the comments. I’d be interested in seeing what appeals.

Now I have to go back to writing a very difficult scene. 

Poll: Your Favorite Men


I tried to post this on the GH discussion forum but things went haywire, so here it is.  

This is just for fun. Note:

  • Nathaniel is missing. I’m going to assume he’d get everybody’s vote, so I asked him to step aside. He didn’t mind at all.
  • The men are in no particular order, and I did that on purpose.
  • Just the Wilderness novels and The Gilded Hour men are represented.
  • You can vote for two, and only two, men.

If there’s somebody I should have put on this list (I’m almost sure there must be) please say so in the comments. In fact, any comments at all are welcome.

I plan other polls (and I’m open to suggestions on more):

  • Your favorite women
  • Character you’d like to have dinner with
  • The worst of the bad (men and women who you love to hate)
  • The person you’d most like to see star in his/her own novel

I’m really looking forward to your comments.

Your Favorite Guys

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...