Recently I listened to a perfectly delightful Regency romance on audio, but some obvious errors nagged at me and got me to pondering which is worse, too much research or too little?
Those of us who write books that require extensive research are always advised to not let the research show. Weave it as seamlessly as possible into the narrative. That makes perfect sense, though it isn’t easy to do. But what about too little research? That’s when errors become glaring enough that some readers, esp. the ones who also write, are pulled out of the story, saying “Wait a minute, that’s not right.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of historical characters acting or speaking in modern fashion. This can be one of the most glaring problems. Then there is the matter of social mores of the time, which vary from one period to the next.
One of the biggest traps novelists can fall into is writing historical characters with 21st century mores. And nothing can make the reader want to throw a book across the room quicker. This especially applies to women. The double standard still exists, but it was much greater in previous centuries. A young woman’s reputation was golden.
War and social unrest have always upset the normal patterns of life, and social mores tend to fall by the wayside during such periods. Still, a historical female character who shows no regard for her reputation isn’t believable unless she’s already a fallen woman and has no reputation to lose.
Personally, I don’t necessarily mind a heroine who flaunts society’s rules; I just need to believe that she knows what she is doing and is well motivated in her choices. The woman who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions strains credibility. Women had a lot more to lose in the not-so-good old days.
In the book in question, the problem seemed to be more one of the author not understanding how the social season worked. Societal rules were much more stringent, esp. among the upper classes. It was one way the maintained their air of privilege. It all seems ridiculous to us now, but the aristocracy took these things very seriously.
In general, a young lady could not be out in society unless she had been presented at court and made her bow to the Queen. In my Regency romance, Lady Elinor’s Escape, Lady Elinor is hiding out in a dress shop, pretending to be a seamstress, which means she could not also be out in society. But we writers find ways around details like that. The one ball scene in the book is a masquerade ball she attends only because the shop owner retrieved a discarded invitation from the trash. As long as Elinor leaves before the unmasking at midnight, she feels the risk is worth it.
In writing, like Regency society, it’s best to know the rules before you (or your characters) break them.
So too much research or too little? I’m enough of a history freak to prefer too much research showing to wondering if the author did any at all. What do you think?
aka Lyndi Lamont
In 1995 UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) chose April 23rd as World Book Day and Copyright Day to celebrate books and authors. April 23, 1616 is the date when both William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes, and several other authors whose names are not household words all died.
As a lifelong, avid reader, I love the idea of a special day to celebrate love of reading. I recently saw a musical version of Little Women at a community theatre production and was reminded of how much I had loved the book when I was a child. I clearly remember one day when I was re-reading the book and sobbing over Beth’s death. My mother asked in an exasperated tone, “Why do you read that book if it makes you cry?” “It’s so good,” I sobbed. I lost count of how many times I read the book but it had to be at least ten.
Like a lot of authors, love of reading led me to decide I wanted to be a writer, something my parents actively discouraged. I remember coming home in 9th grade with the results of the Kuder Preference Test, which all students were required to take. My results said I had interests similar to teachers, librarians and writers. My folks very quickly made it clear to me that only two of those vocations were acceptable. None of us realized that many writers start out writing around their full-time job.
I decided to become a librarian. At least that way I could be surrounded by books all day. Little did I know my first job would be as a technical librarian, surrounded by books on electronics which I could not begin to understand! It was very odd to preside over a library of books where I could only understand the dictionary and encyclopedia! Later I switched to public libraries and enjoyed my job a lot more.
While I write romance and love to read more romance, my reading tastes are actually pretty eclectic. I belong to a readers group that chooses a topic rather a book every month. This month we’ve been reading books with a Psychology element. I found three good novels to read: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler; Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick; and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg. All were excellent. Next month: Historical Fiction, one of my favorite topics.
What have you been reading lately?
Linda McLaughlin grew up with a love of history fostered by her paternal grandmother and an incurable case of wanderlust inherited from her father. She has traveled extensively within the United States and has visited Mexico, Canada, Australia and Europe. She now lives near the ocean in Orange County, California.
Linda writes historical and Regency romance under her real name and spicier romance under the pseudonym Lyndi Lamont.
Connect with her at her website or on Twitter @LyndiLamont.
One of the most enjoyable parts of researching a new book is when I get to travel to the location where the book is set. That’s the case with my latest release, Lily and the Gambler, a Western historical romance set in California’s Gold Country.
Western romance is popular again right now, but most of the books are set in other states, ones that are more associated with ranching, like Montana and Texas. In California, Western history means gold mining towns.
My husband and I toured California Gold Country twice some years ago and I fell in love with it. The area is best enjoyed by driving State Highway 49. We started at the southern end, in Mariposa, and drove north to Sacramento, and then Grass Valley and Nevada City, where my book is set Valley in September 1868. I recall scribbling descriptions of the scenery as we drove along.
She watched mile after mile of open spaces pass by, all bathed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, clusters of dark green trees dotted a hillside, standing out in contrast to the lighter yellow-green of the grass. Wispy white clouds, without a hint of rain in them, streaked the sky, separating shades of blue ranging from pale turquoise to bright azure.
We made the trip twice, first strictly as a vacation, though I kept thinking how I’d like to set a book in the area. The second was a research trip for me, if not for my DH. At one point, he threatened to divorce me if I dragged him through one more mining museum!
A lot of the old Victorian homes have been turned into bed and breakfasts, and we took advantage of that to stay in some lovely old homes.
Interesting stops along the way include:
Sonora, a lovely little town that hosts the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. For the kid in all of us.
Columbia State Historic Park, the best preserved Gold Rush town.
Angels Camp, where Mark Twain heard a story on which he based his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Placerville, formerly nicknamed Hangtown for the zeal of its law enforcement.
And my favorite, Grass Valley, a charming town with the attraction of having the wonderful Empire Mine State Historic Park, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of 19th century miners. I could see the rudimentary escalator they used to convey the miners down into the shafts, holding their lunch boxes, spherical tins that held tea in the bottom and a pasty on top. At the boarding houses, the cooks carved each miner’s initials into one end of the dough before baking them.
Grass Valley was especially interesting to me because of the large Cornish population in the 19th century. This area had deep gold veins that couldn’t be panned. The Cornish miners were encouraged to come because of their experience in the tin mines of Cornwall, which were petering out. To this day, the Cornish pasty is a local treat, and the city still celebrates a Cornish Christmas. I chose to make my heroine a Cornish lass looking for a respectable husband. Of course, she falls in love with a gambler.
If you’re up this way, do take a side trip to Sacramento, the state capital, with its charming Old Sacramento historic area, and the amazing California State Railroad Museum. This is one of my all-time favorite museums. It was fun to climb aboard the old trains and imagine a different time.
If Bob were still around, I’d be nagging him to take another drive north. After all the rain, the scenery should be gorgeous this spring, esp. when the poppies are in bloom.
by Linda McLaughlin
Blurb: Respectability is in the eye of the beholder, or so Lily hopes. After her lover’s death she pretends to be his widow and travels to California to marry a mine owner. Then she meets King Callaway, a charming gambler. King knows he’s found his Queen of Hearts. But can he convince her to take a chance on a foot-loose card sharp? Only Lady Luck knows for sure…
Linda McLaughlin grew up with a love of history, so it’s only natural that she sets most of her books in the past. She loves transporting her readers into the past where her characters learn that, in the journey of life, love is the sweetest reward. Linda also writes steamy romance under the name Lyndi Lamont, and is one half of the writing team of Lyn O’Farrell. A native of Pittsburgh, she now lives in Orange County, California.
I’m finally writing again after a long hiatus, thanks to the wonderful Speed Writing class I took this year, taught by M.M. Pollard. Here are three of the books that helped me to get back on track.
The 8-Minute Writing Habit: Create a Consistent Writing Habit That Works With Your Busy Lifestyle
(Growth Hacking For Storytellers)
by Monica Leonelle
Spaulding House, 2015
This book was recommended in the fabulous online Speed Writing class taught by M. M. Pollard for OCCRWA, and it’s the method that helped me break a long-standing writers block. I tried the 8 by 8 Challenge, which required me to write at least 8 minutes every day for 8 days. After the first couple of days, I was writing for more than 8 minutes. And now I have a first draft of my novel. Color me happy.
Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind
(The 99U Book Series)
by Jocelyn K. Glei
Amazon Publishing 2013
I’ve been listening to the audiobook in the car, and I am really loving this book/ I expect I will read/listen to it more than once. Glei includes lots of ideas from other people, to wit:
Featuring contributions from: Dan Ariely, Leo Babauta, Scott Belsky, Lori Deschene, Aaron Dignan, Erin Rooney Doland, Seth Godin,Todd Henry, Christian Jarrett, Scott McDowell, Mark McGuinness, Cal Newport, Steven Pressfield, Gretchen Rubin, Stefan Sagmeister, Elizabeth G. Saunders, Tony Schwartz, Tiffany Shlain, Linda Stone, and James Victore. Plus, a foreword from Behance founder & CEO Scott Belsky.
I’m not familiar with most of these people, but their ideas are thought-provoking and useful. For instance, setting time aside in your weekly schedule for those big projects, and if someone wants to do something else at that time, just tell them, “Sorry, I have an appointment.” It’s okay to make an appointment with yourself. Another compared time to a jar of rocks. If you put the big rocks in first, the little ones will squeeze in around them. If you fill the jar with little rocks, sand and water, there may not be any room for the big rocks.
A similar idea to that last one is…
Eat that Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
by Brian Tracy
Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2007
I’ve only read about 20% of the book, but am finding it quite interesting. The frog quote comes from Mark Twain, who said that if you have to eat a frog, do it first. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. In other words, tackle the big, important tasks first while you have the energy to deal with them. Good advice. Too bad I don’t take it more often. Guess I better finish reading the book!
But first it’s time to tackle those revisions!
I’m re-working a sensual Western historical romance called Lily and the Gambler. An abbreviated version of the story was published by Amber Quill Press as a mildly erotic romance. I’ve lengthened the book considerably, revised the plot, and plan to self-publish it some time this year. It really does feel good to be writing again.
aka Lyndi Lamont