Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Research Wars - The Struggle is Real

I write historical romance novels set in early nineteenth century England, a time and place better known as the Regency Era. The average romance reader has gained most of her knowledge of this era from reading Jane Austen and / or Georgette Heyer or from watching BBC's Pride and Prejudice or Emma Thompson's beautiful film version of Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen's works are the best source of information about this time period as she lived during these years. Georgette Heyer isn't a bad resource as she lived not too long after this era and had access to people who remembered the time period.

My point is, the average romance reader is unlikely to spot historical inaccuracies in a historical romance novel. HOWEVER, there is a large contingent of Regency romance fans out there who have spent years reading this genre and can spot a historical inaccuracy like a mother-in-law can spot a speck of dust on the table you just spent five hours polishing. And their reaction can make that mother-in-law in full meltdown look like Mother Theresa visiting an orphanage. A Regency author lives in fear of ...


These readers pour over the latest Regency historical romance like a ninth grade English teacher trying to flunk the quarterback because some jock broke her heart back in 1952. There are serial killer stalkers featured on Criminal Minds that don't follow their next victim the way some of these readers follow an author in whose work they have found a single mistake. And if you don't think these readers post reviews in excruciating detail and call an author out on Twitter and Facebook I have ocean front property in Arizona I want to sell you.

The only thing worse than a devout Regency reader having you in the cross hairs is a fellow Regency writer having you in theirs. A couple of rappers Twitter-bashing over song lyrics is a walk in the park. We Regency writers have turned the Research Wars into a blood sport. How many times have you heard of a RWA Chapter Forum devoting two days to arguing over whether chamber pots were present in Regency era dining rooms? They were, by the way, and men thought nothing of getting up from the table and using them - USUALLY behind a screen, but still in the same room. And you thought frat boys had a corner on EWWWW behavior.

With all of these people chasing an author down like the villagers after Dr. Frankenstein, the question is, exactly how historically accurate does a historical romance have to be? A romance novel that reads like a history book is not likely to attract many readers who are looking for a smoldering romance, some hot sex, a couple of balls and some carriage rides. And lest anyone forgets...


One of the truly glorious things about writing historical romance is immersing the reader in a different time and place without pushing their head under and holding it there. I have over 260 Regency research books in my library. I have countless notebooks and binders full of information about the minute details of life during this amazing era in my second homeland - England. I spend hours researching seemingly silly details like how a gentleman's shirt buttoned - hey, if you know how it buttoned, you know the quickest way to get him out of it! It is these little details that create the Regency world into which I invite my readers.

Research, when done correctly, is seamlessly blended into the story. It is very like walking through a beautiful home and noticing the window dressings, the comfortable sofa in the den, the arrangement of throw pillows in the formal livingroom. This includes the research pertaining to human behavior, manners, societal norms. If a writer has done her homework and has the skill, a reader will believe a man can be forced to marry a woman whom he simply kissed on the cheek. If the Regency world is real to the writer it will be real to the reader. When a writer has the skill to invite you into a world, to wrap that world around you like a cozy blanket before a warm fire with a mug of cocoa in your hand and their book in the other, it is because that world is sometimes more real than the one in which the writer lives. 

The Regency era was a real time and place in England. Not a single writer writing today lived during this era. Not even Nora Roberts lived during this era. (Don't tell her I said that!) Many of the research wars I have observed on historical romance writers' loops have been about people's behavior. It is a touchy topic. 

"No well-bred young lady would act like that in the Regency era!"

I received my two bachelors degrees at an Alabama Baptist women's college founded by the same people who founded Vassar. The college emphasized academic excellence and ladylike behavior. Our Dean of Women addressed us after a scandalous event involving the daughter of a major university's football coach, a young cadet from the military academy, and a hasty exit from a dorm window. She said something I have never forgotten.

"A lady can do the very same things as a tramp so long as she doesn't do it in the street and scare the horses." 

The way a shirt buttoned or the presence of a chamber pot or the number of times a man might dance with a young lady without causing a scandal was unique to this era. Human behavior was dictated by the rules of society, but as we all know, in love and war - rules are very often broken. The key is to do so in a way that doesn't snatch the reader out of the world the writer has wrapped around them.

I launch myself down the rabbit-hole of research about the Regency era because I want my books to be historically accurate. I am enough of a history geek to be a bit obsessive about it. I read books about and take courses on writing craft because I want to be able to incorporate all I know about this wonderful era into my books in such a way that it is no longer historical research. I want to do my job so skillfully that the reader is surrounded by the very real, vibrant, exotic, romantic world of 200 years ago. I want that world to become so real and all-encompassing that when my readers get to the end of the book and close it, they feel as if they have just awakened from a vivid and magical dream. I want them to feel as if they have lived and experienced the Regency, even if only for a few hours.

My goal is to write books in which the romance is real beyond all else, in which the research and the world are as accurate and vivid as they can be, and in which the Regency Nazis can find no fault. Because in spite of the fact I might tease those RN's, they keep me honest and keep me on my toes. May we all be blessed with readers and fellow writers such as these.

How about you? If you read or write historical romance what things make you nuts about historical inaccuracies or do you not care so long as the story is good? In other genres, as a writer what sort of research do you do to create your characters' world? As a reader are there things you demand a writer do to keep you in their book world? And for those who read and write paranormal romance - what are the problems of creating an entire world? What do readers of paranormal romance want and / or hate about the worlds that paranormal romance writers create? Is contemporary romance easier or harder to write than genres set in other worlds? Join the conversation. Let the research wars begin !!   



Friday, October 02, 2015

Location, Location, Location

Jillian here. I just got back from a trip to the Pacific Northwest- taking in Seattle, Mt. Rainier and Olympia, Washington and having a grand time with some friends. It reminded me of the old phrase Location, location, location and how it relates to writing.

Realtors use this phrase all the time and I like to think of it as I start a new novel as well. To me, location can be used almost like an additional character- especially some cities-like New Orleans, for example.  
Stories are fun to plan and one of the most interesting things to me is selecting where the action will take place. I, for one, like foreign or exotic places. The tag line for my website is Romantic Adventures with an International Flair and those are my favorite tales to tell.
Traveling can assist a writer in making his or her stories more authentic.  We’ve all gone on trips, be they short or long, to the next town or across the ocean.  I recommend that those ventures to other areas be mined for material. Using a small notebook, I jot things as I move about- such as what neighborhoods abut each other; where the nicest homes are; where the dodgy areas are; and other little details that will add to setting the scene.
I always grab a map or two of the places I visit in case I later decide to set a story there so I’ll have them to compare to areas that my character goes to. I’ve seen several movies set in places I’ve been and it always bugs me when I can tell they’ve moved around in the shooting and that the place where the character is at one point is nowhere near where they are in the next moment. I know that makes me sound anal and maybe I am but I sure do like to try to be authentic.
I recently received a review from a reader who lives in London and she praised the fact that I nailed the area of London where the story was set (Greenwich). I spent time over there when my son was living in the neighborhood. I made notes of streets, pubs, food, types of drinks, the railway stops and also picked up those maps that I love. I really think that made a difference for that reader to feel as if she/he were really in that area with the characters.
I’ve mined my real life visits for scenery descriptions as well as tourist spots that characters may visit. I have also set a few stories in places I haven’t been physically but I’ve researched by ordering maps and tourist books as well as talking to friends who have been there. I mine that information to use sporadically in the story to make the readers feel they are there. It seems to work as readers have contacted me to say they feel like they are in the places I describe.
Another thing to add when you've been to the location you're writing about is the smells around you. For New Orleans, the Quarter smells like stale beer and vomit- everyone knows that smell, right?
Or maybe you prefer the scent of powdered sugar on the air as you pass CafĂ© Du Monde. LOL! 
A rose garden in England smells different than a woods in France.  See where I'm going with this?
I recommend the above for adding authenticity to your stories and to make them come alive for the reader.  Making your story’s location an integral part of the action will add flair to your tale that readers will love. Try adding the little touches that can make a difference like personal notes or information that a map or tourist guide can provide. It’ll make your stories shine.  If you’re a reader, please leave a comment letting me know your thoughts about scenery and location. I’m curious if it makes a difference if you’re reading about an area you know well if you can tell if the writer has been there or not.
Speaking of New Orleans settings and smells, my alter-ego has a new book out on the 24th of this month. It takes place in that awesome city.  Here's the cover. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DARK SECRETS is Out--Wanna Have a Facebook Party?

With the release yesterday of Dark Secrets: A Paranormal Noir Anthology, much was discussed among the six participating authors about how to promote the book. What was paranormal noir? What did the six novellas (by Rachel Caine, Cynthia Eden, Megan Hart, Jeffe Kennedy, and two Southern Magicians, myself and Mina Khan) have in common?

Well, one thing we had in common was that Mina wrangled all the authors--somewhat akin to cat-herding--into something vaguely approaching organization. Which was a miracle.

But our stories, and our interpretation of "paranormal noir," varied wildly. How could we promote it?

Someone along the way suggested a Facebook Party! And here's the result:

Uh, that would be a no. But I hope you find time to check out DARK SECRETS! (And thanks to Rachel Caine for putting together the video!)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Researching My Next Series

Release Date: February 16, 2016
A couple times recently, I’ve been asked about my research on my latest series, Brothers of Mayhem. First, let me say that most writers love to do research. We love to read about other people’s lives and the way they handle certain situations. Hey, we love to sit in a mall or in front of stores and watch people walk by. We will assess their way of life by the clothes they wear, how they hold themselves (their stance), the way they walk, and often they will show up in our books.
So when writers research a book or new series, it’s a win-win. Books and reading about other people lives, we’re in hog heaven.
For my next series, I did research about outlaw motorcycle clubs. Youtube was helpful. There are lots of documentaries, specially for each outlaw MC known to man. Well, it feels that way. I probably watched ten of the videos, including just general ones on riding motorcycles. And of course, I watch shows on TV. Previously, Sons of Anarchy along with whatever shows that have popped up on TV (e.g. Outlaw Chronicles: Hells Angels).
Then I bought two romances with the central characters being in outlaw MCs. I quickly realized that was a mistake. They are NOT the kind of heroes I want to write. I love alpha heroes, but I don’t want them crude or just downright mean. That was all confirmed when my beta reader mentioned she started reading MC stories after my first three chapters hooked her, and some of the stories she read were waaaay over the edge. She liked the milder but still sexy ones.
I also bought two autobiographies about undercover agents in MCs and one about a confidential informant. Here are the books.
  • No Angel by Jay Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton – “My harrowing under cover journey to the inner circle of the Hells Angels.”
  • Under and Alone by William Queen – “The True story of the undercover agent who infiltrated America’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gang.”
  • Gods of Mischief by George Rowe – “My undercover vendetta to take down the Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang.”
And I drew from my misspent youth for a few other aspects of the book. I’ve talked a little about that before. Click here.  When I was younger, I had ridden on a few motorcycles (passenger only – chopper, touring bike, and dirt bike – yep, it was rough bitch-riding on the last one), but never felt the need to buy one or keep riding.
Research can become addictive. So you have to learn to limit it. I felt I have it covered now.
Brothers of Mayhem series
Hidden Heat 2/16/16
Full Heat 7/5/16
Naked Heat 11/29/16
Raw Heat 4/18/17

Carla Swafford
Look for me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, & Google+l
Time Magazine, [Circle of Danger] ". . . involves deadly assassins, drug lords and doing it."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Online Classes: Opinions? Advice?

So, I'm not sure that this qualifies as an informative blog post or anything, but I thought I would take a minute to let you know what I have been up to in my writing life! In my "day job" life, things have been super crazy, but I have tried hard to keep my writing life active. Recently, I submitted my complete manuscript and made PRO--and that was great! Now I am working on another project that has been giving me fits over the last few months. So, I decided to try to jumpstart my interest in it again, and I enrolled in an online writing class through another writing group.

I want to say right away that the class has great materials, and the instructor is wonderful about corresponding and answering questions super fast. So, all of that is great, of course. My problem: I don't know that I am cut out for online writing classes like this. I feel a disconnect, and think I am the kind of person who does better when I am talking face-to-face with someone or am in a classroom/group situation. Like I said, this has NOTHING to do with the materials or the instructor. I really think both are great, and I am learning various things, so it is a win either way.

So, I want to poll the audience! 

Have any of you ever taken an online writing course/workshop? If so, does it work for you? What advice or opinions do you have?