I am thrilled to be a permanent guest blogger on A Novel Approach. As I told Lisa, I will attempt to provide scintillating commentary each month.
For those who don’t know me, I am a writer of historical and a limited number of contemporary romances. Writing historical romances are my favorites and I’ve written them in a couple of periods, with the intent of writing still others.
That brings me to this month’s topic—Research and the shaping of historical romance.
Before I started writing, I devoured historical romance with a voracious appetite. I love history and romance, so you can see that the combo is a natural. As I read more and more, I got the itch to give it a go and Brita Addams was born.
To write anything with authority, one must do their homework. Even contemporaries require research. Unless you are creating an alternative universe, research is an important key to a successful novel. As an author, I would do my readers a great disservice if all I did was make mention of a cravat here, a horse and carriage there, but didn’t set the scene firmly in the time period.
I read a lot of historical romance, in all time periods, and nothing will stop me cold faster than the feeling that the author simply gave a nod to history. I want to feel that I am transported to another time and place. To do this, an author needs to know the way people dressed, what they ate, the style of furniture popular at the time. Dress the characters appropriately, arrange the rooms as they might have been, convey the formality of sitting down in a mammoth dining room with thirty of the host’s closest friends. Meals lasted upwards of three hours in those days, with many courses.
As part of research, I watch a ton and a half of period-set movies and documentaries, to get a feel for the language, the clothing, the attitudes, the politics, topics of conversation, manners. I take tons of notes—phrases used, toys, food, books, and hairstyles. My books have sticky notes and index cards stuck between the pages, lest I forget anything that might enrich a scene.
Conversational language was different in the Regency era. No shortcuts in courting. Language and actions were stunted and somewhat formal. I write with that in mind, in my own version of archaic English. If I wrote as they truly spoke, no one, including me, would understand it. However, I’ve devised a way for my characters to speak that has its own brand of authenticity.
I don’t want two noblemen having a brandy and speaking as though they are at the corner bar in the neighborhood. I actually read a Regency romance once with the line, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” Sadly, the book now languishes in my “Didn’t finish,” folder on my Kindle. Though the phrase could have been used, it is too common today for it to ring true in a historical context.
It takes work to set the tone of a story. A writer has to do that at the outset, or the reader won’t have a world to nestle into. For Regency-set books, I do this using a variety of sources, including Jane Austen’s works, which were contemporaneously written. I have an extensive library of books concerning England’s Regency era, 1811-1820. BTW – the Regency era denotes the period in history when King George III was incapacitated due to mental illness and his son, George, the dissolute Prince of Wales, assumed the king’s duties as Regent. When his father died in 1820, the Regent became King George IV. There was no extended Regency as some purport. A Regent serves as such until the death of the person in whose stead they have served or, in the case of an underaged child, his mother or other assigned person might serve until the heir is old enough to assume his duties.
Research tells us that social mores were such that a woman could compromise herself by the simple act of speaking to a gentleman unchaperoned. Doing so could render her unmarriageable, the theory being, I suppose, that when the cat’s (chaperone,) the mice will play. Young women had to be virgins upon marriage. Widows, of course, were not held to such a lofty goal, but then everyone would know of their prior marriage.
As a writer, I tempt my characters into compromising situations, but I always keep in mind the penalties, should the wrong parties discover the principal’s activities. The death penalty for homosexuality in England existed until 1861. Until 1885, the men could get two years in jail and time on the pillory. Sexual acts between two males was made legal in England and Wales in 1967. These facts must be reflected in m/m historical romances by use of character circumspection and not a little fear. My guys don’t refrain, but they are cautious. :)
In the third book of my Sapphire Club series, a young woman waits for the main character in the man’s carriage, not to place them in a compromising position, but to try to convince him to take her to the Sapphire Club (she’s one of those feisty chits.) When he does the honorable thing and returns her to the party from which she stole away, they are caught and she is compromised.
Duty, driven by inbred honor, for Phillip, the Duke of Thornhill, was very clear and he ended up marrying the chit, despite the fact that he had his designs on someone else entirely—a man. Therein lies the rub!
In historicals, and in the time period, a man’s duty and honor was paramount. A nobleman in line to inherit had a duty to marry well and produce an heir, all to assure the perpetuation of the title and the fortune. There was no equivocation, no hedging. I maintain that that is the reason there were so many unhappy marriages and the mistress trade flourished. The downside—a man could have a dozen children with a mistress, but none would inherit, as they weren’t legitimate, and never would be, even if the nobleman married the mother.
Divorce was all but unheard of during at this time in history. Should a divorce be granted, the shame would finish the woman for her lifetime. Rules were such that a man could do pretty much as he pleased and the woman could do nothing. As an extension of her husband, she was stuck in a bad situation.
Certainly, I write heroes and heroines who “buck the system,” and do so because readers tend to read with today’s values in mind. However, a writer can only go so far and still stay true to the spirit of the historical genre. I’ve seen bad reviews for Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s works, because people judge them through a prism cast on today’s attitudes and mores. To understand history, in all its nuances, helps a reader better understand the attitudes and actions in historical romance.
I research such things as what fabrics were used to cover buttons, what type of furniture would you find in a fine home, and conversely, what did the poor folks live like?
For my April/May release from Dreamspinner Press, Tarnished Gold, the novel is set in old Hollywood and covers the years between the 19teens to 1930. I’m a huge old Hollywood fan and it was a joy to read and research the period, the stars, watch so many old movies, and finally, get to know my characters. Hollywood wasn’t all speakeasies and fun. There was an insidious pall poised to creep over our hero, Jack Abadie, one that took the livelihood of many a gay actor. At one time, being gay in Hollywood was a plus. Then it wasn’t.
I read hundreds of heartrending stories of actors forced to hide who they were for the sake of their careers. I combined real names with characters for the story, along with the places and things that made up that golden era. But research was mandatory and it took six month’s worth to get me to the point of confidence at starting the book, then another six months to write it.
Now, I’m writing a series of books that will trace the lives of generations of one family over the course of one hundred years. I am from upstate New York and I want to write the story of those everyday folks who served and endured what the wars brought upon them.
The first book begins in 1754, during the French and Indian War. In the area of New York State where I grew up, Abenaki Indians, allies of the French, came down into New York, and often raided farmsteads. They killed whole families and often kidnapped women and children as well as some men. My heroine in that one was kidnapped, and lived several years in the Saint Francis village of the Abenaki, until the famed Roger’s Rangers raided the village. The story tells just a bit of the years spent in the village before we go into the aftermath and the romance begins.
Some of the stories I will write are inspired by my own genealogical history. Before I started writing, I spent years as a genealogist. For the series, I did a serious amount of research on every aspect of the period. At this time, I have 75k written and the story could likely exceed 100k before I’m done. I have a long list of books and websites I’ve used to research, to say nothing of the movies and documentaries I’ve watched.
I admire those who can create an alternative world, where there are no rules, but I can’t do that. To place my characters in the settings I do, I have to paint that world as it existed.
See you next month.
Serenity Damrill has returned to her husband, Lucien after a ten-year absence. She carries with her a secret that could destroy her life and possibly all that Lucien has built.
Lucien was quite happy in his life running the Sapphire Club and has no need for the frigid wife who deserted him the day after they were married.
After Preston Meacham’s lover dies trying to lend him aid at Salamanca, hopelessness becomes his only way of life. Despite his best efforts at starting again, he has no pride left, which leads him to sell himself for a pittance at a molly house. The mindless sex affords him his only respite from the horrors he witnessed.
The Napoleonic War left Benedict Wilmot haunted by the acts he was forced to commit and the torture he endured at the hands of a superior, a man who used the threat of a gruesome death to force Ben to do his bidding. Even sleep gives Ben no reprieve, for he can’t escape the destruction he caused.
When their paths cross, Ben feels an overwhelming need to protect Preston from his dangerous profession. As he explains, “The streets are dangerous for men like us.”
Born in Upstate New York, Brita Addams has made her home in the sultry south for many years. Brita’s home is a happy place, where she lives with her real-life hero, her husband, and a fat cat named Stormee. All their children are grown.
She writes, for the most part, erotic historical romance, both het and m/m, which is an ideal fit, given her love of British and American history. Setting the tone for each historical is important. Research plays an indispensible part in the writing of any historical work, romance or otherwise. A great deal of reading and study goes into each work, to give the story the authenticity it deserves.
As a reader, Brita prefers historical works, romances and otherwise. She believes herself born in the wrong century, though she says she would find it difficult to live without air conditioning.
Brita and her husband love to travel, particularly cruises and long car trips. They completed a Civil War battlefield tour a couple of years ago, and have visited many places involved in the American Revolutionary War, with more to come in September of 2013. In May, 2013, they are going to England for two weeks, to visit the places Brita writes about in her books.
A bit of trivia – Brita pronounces her name, B-Rita, like the woman’s name, and oddly, not like the famous water filter.
Please visit my website, blog, say hello on Twitter or Facebook. I love to meet new people:
Hey, remember that giveaway I mentioned in the title? Well, here’s the scoop. Brita is giving away an ecopy of any book from her backlist-Winner’s Choice! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post sometime between now and 11:59pm Pacific time on February 15, 2013, and you’ll automatically be entered in the drawing for a chance to win! Good Luck!
**Note: For A Complete List Of Brita’s Work, Just Click On The “Bookshelf” Link Above.**