How did I learn what I needed to know to write Mercy’s Embrace? Easy. I read old books. I’ve been doing that since I was ten, and I’ve absorbed a lot over the years. (So my bachelor’s degree is in history, who cares? I have learned far more from reading.)
And then there’s Google, my second brain. So often I recall only part of something, a fragment of a quotation or expression. I google that, and links magically appear. A virtual trail of knowledge, if you will. Before long I have my answer.
Glory be, there are bloggers who love explaining historical stuff. And there are etymology resources and galleries of period artwork. And displays of antiques and clothing, and even musical recordings. Since I first began to write (1999), what’s available via the Internet has exploded. You won’t hear me complain!
But historical fiction has a nemesis: the desire to to “educate” the reader. It’s enticingly tempting to show off how much research I’ve done–because I’ve done a ton! (And I am SO much more than just an airhead romance novelist!) I engage in showing off to my book’s peril, because the story will suffer. Nobody wants a history lesson.
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
~ Elmore Leonard
Novels are about story, not history, so details must be skillfully woven in. Fictional characters are like us, caught up in the drama of daily life. They don’t observe their surroundings unless there is a reason to. And that reason had better be important to the story.
An experienced historical novelist advised me to go easy on politics too, because people living within any given era do not care. So we chuck a plastic bottle in the recycling and move on with our day, right? Without thinking about the threat of global warming. Or how the polar ice is melting, stranding countless polar bears and penguins. And the oceans are rising too, so that in 500 years life as we know it will be extinct because everyone will starve. Aieee!
“Love you, mean it, let’s do lunch.” Most of us shrug off larger issues because, look, it’s just a stupid bottle. Meanwhile, down at the office, the threat of a layoff looms, or so Joe says. Then again, he’s a jerk; what does he know? But Mary says so too, and you remember what she said about the company Christimas party…
Here are some Internet sources I use for Regency research:
- Online Etymology Dictionary (to date word use)
- Napoleonic Guide (military history)
- Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher
- The Regency Redingote
That’s it for today. If you’d like to see what other challenge authors are blogging about, you can find their blogs here.