Update: The winner of Jannine Corti Petska’s Charlotte and the Gypsy is Barbara Britton!
I’m in three places at once today. Maybe four. Physically, I’m in California for the Aspiring Writer’s Workshops prior to the Romantic Times Convention. I’m also starting my puddle-jumping blog tour for Touch of a Thief at History Undressed. Be sure to leave a comment there for a chance to win a signed copy!). It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’m also blogging at Brava Authors about my expectations for the RT Convention.
And here I am at my own cyber-address, introducing my guest blogger Jannine Corti Petska, a historical author who chooses unique settings for her stories. I know you’ll enjoy her take on the quixotic lives of the Romani.
Writing a Story Involving a Culture I Knew Little About
by Jannine Corti Petska
CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY was the most challenging book I have written so far. I knew a smattering of information about the Gypsy culture, but it wasn’t until I researched the book that I realized I was out of my league. So what does a stubborn writer do? Writes the book anyway, of course!
There are plenty of books available about Gypsies, as well as Andalusia, where the story is set. Unfortunately, many gloss over the Gypsies’ lives in the Fifteenth Century, the time of my story. The Rom didn’t keep records of births, marriages and deaths. Romany is predominantly a spoken language. Many Gypsies didn’t know how to read or write. This is probably the reason most books and information available about Roms in medieval times are sketchy.
What I did find left me with more questions than I had going into the research. I contacted the Union Romani in Spain and learned very little from them. They suggested using the internet, which I had already done. As I perused many books and articles, I began to doubt I’d ever write this book, the second in THE SISTERS OF DESTINY trilogy about three medieval psychic sisters separated at birth. I thought I had conjured up a story that wasn’t meant to be written.
Then God must have taken pity on me as I stressed and turned over every stone, hoping I’d find a more detailed glimpse into the medieval Gypsy culture. He brought an editor, who is also an author, into my life; she is an honest-to-goodness Gypsy. Without her, I may have ended up in a padded room before I finished the book. As it was, I struggled for 7 long months writing the story.
There are so many aspects of Gypsy life to write about. Here, I’ll give a few examples of how their culture differs from ours. Before I began writing CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY, I wanted to be certain my facts were correct. If a true Gypsy woman read my book, I didn’t want to anger her if I wrote about how I perceived the Gypsies—which came mostly from watching movies. In researching, I discovered that there was a generality among the Gypsies, yet there were distinct differences from one tribe to another, from one country to another. Gypsies spoke the Romany language and usually picked up the language of the country in which they lived and mixed it in with their own. Certainly, this played a fact in tribes from different countries speaking variations of Rom. I also learned that I couldn’t do all my research beforehand. It was a 7 month affair between research and writing.
Through the centuries, Gypsies have been a nomadic people, erroneously blamed for the majority of crimes in the towns in which they lived near. The fact was most Gypsies were more the playful sort than criminals. Even the ones who borrowed a good-looking horse or two. They were also a prideful people forced to move at a moment’s notice due to the gajes (non-Gypsies) who didn’t understand them, who feared and condemned them because of their mysterious lifestyle and the dark color of their skin. The Gypsies adjusted easily to any place they set up camp.
Non-Gypsies considered fortune-telling an evil practice associated with witchcraft. Yet these very people sought out a Gypsy woman to read their palms, to learn what their future held. The Gypsies usually caravanned into towns to earn money by telling fortunes, reading palms, dancing and selling handmade goods. The men hung around looking for work as blacksmiths or horse traders. They didn’t need much money because they primarily lived off the land.
Out of fear of having a horrible spell cast on their soul, a non-Gypsy never traveled into the woods or hills to find a Gypsy’s camp. Gajes weren’t welcomed into the Gypsy’s small village. The Gypsies believed their presence brought the filth of the white people (or anyone not a Gypsy).
One of the biggest differences between our cultures is pregnancy. When a Gypsy woman becomes pregnant, she is believed to be marime (impure). Although the announcement of an eventual birth was a joyful time for the woman and her husband, she is isolated as much as possible from her community. However, for all, her pregnancy means another Gypsy born to carry on their traditions. During the months the woman carries the baby, only the other women are allowed to care for her, and her husband spends short periods of time in her company.
When her time arrives, she will give birth in the fields or in a special tent erected just for the birthing. Never is she allowed to have the baby in the tent she shares with her husband. If she can’t make it elsewhere and does have the baby in her tent, the home is considered impure and will be destroyed.
The Gypsies have a multitude of rules about pregnancies and the birth mother, as well as a special rite performed before the baby is born. This topic alone is an article in itself. As is marriage and death, all of which I will leave for a future blog.
In history, Gypsies have been and always will be wanderers at heart. It’s a vital part of their existence. Vardos did not exist in the 15th century, so their tent is their home, the outdoors their walls and the sky their ceiling.
Charlotte Nikolos was raised in a Gypsy camp, her pale hair and light skin in stark contrast from the darkness of her family. After she learns she has two sisters somewhere who share her looks and psychic powers, she’s determined to search for them and learn why her birth mother sent her away. But where does she begin?
After three years of roaming, Rafael Cazares returns to his Andalusian Gypsy camp to persue the woman he left behind in disgrace. He must win back Char’s trust and recapture her heart. He insists on helping her find her true family but soon realizes someone is determined to keep them apart. When Rafael’s deep, dark secret is revealed, he will do everything in his power to protect the only woman he has ever loved. Even if it costs him his life.
Thanks for visiting with us today, Jannine. I didn’t know much about gypsies either–though I love Deanna Raybourn’s gypsy hero Nicholas Brisbane in her Lady Julia Grey mysteries. Here’s Jannine Corti Petska’s published book list:
CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY, book 2, The Sisters of Destiny trilogy OUT NOW!!! (at present, only the ebook is available)
LOVE’S SWEET WAGER, love along the California Trail, available July 2011l
THE LILY AND THE FALCON, book 1, Italian Medieval series, release date TBA
SURRENDER TO HONOR, book 2, Italian Medieval series, release date TBA
For more, please visit www.jcortipetska.com.
Be sure to leave Jannine a comment or question. She’ll be doing a giveaway for one lucky random commenter. And remember, you can find me today at History Undressed and Brava Authors! Hope to see you there.