Guns and Pumpkins

I have two favorite bloopers from the writing process of From Unseen Fire. They’re both historical screw-ups — massive, glaring anachronisms.

One of them, we caught in the midst of main edits. I headdesked pretty hard over it. It was one of those idiomatic phrases that just slipped out without my brain being aware of its passage — a dangerous thing for a writer, really, but let’s face it, something we all do when the words are coming out hot and fast.

Yup. I did that. I used an idiomatic phrase about guns in a book set in 63 BCE.

Good work, Cass.

I think I initially changed it to something like, “Rather anticipated yourself with Sempronius Tarren, didn’t you?”, but that conversation took a slightly different tack by the final product anyway, so nothing resembling that line remains.

The second made it through all the way to page proofs, somehow. Neither my agent, nor my first editor, nor my second editor, nor my copy editor caught this one. It almost slipped through.

Y’know what the ancient Romans didn’t have, y’all?

Pockets.

Admittedly, unlike the gun reference, that one might’ve been subtle enough that it would’ve bothered very, very few people. (The history of pockets is difficult to trace, especially since they started out as sort of hidden pouches, separate from the garments but worn underneath them and accessed through slits in the clothing — but they didn’t develop until the late medieval period at the earliest). But I’m a history nerd, and if I came across it in a book written by someone else, it would bother me. So I’m glad I caught it before it could embarrass me for all time. That one was an easy fit — purses instead of pockets.

The thing about this type of error is it’s in a squishy area, writing-wise. Almost none of the words I’m working with were words the Romans had, so it’s all hand-waving invention. But I have to make sure it’s all stuff that would be conceptually available. (Someday I’m going to write up something for my own blog about the difficulty in talking about energy-based magic in a pre-atomic culture, because so much of the vocabulary English uses for the movement and transfer of energy didn’t exist until the early 20th century, even though the idea of energy goes back to the ancient Greeks).

So it’s a balancing act. I can use words that aren’t Latinate in origin, of course, but it bothers me if they’re really obviously non-Latinate. I don’t use “ghost” or “witch”, for example, because those are just too overtly Germanic in their flavor. And I definitely can’t use words or references that are dependent upon knowledge that no one in my work could have. I’ll never forget reading Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series — a magnificent body of work by a fantastic and rightfully time-honored author — and bumping hard on a reference Mark Antony made to something being as orange as a pumpkin.

A pumpkin.

Mark Antony does not know what a pumpkin is, y’all.

Just like the Aventans don’t know what guns or pockets are.

Cass’s birthday is one month from today! She’s trying to hit 50 Amazon reviews on From Unseen Fire by that date. Want to help her out?

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Cass Morris lives and works in central Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

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