Friday, July 21, 2017

History Happened. Really. So Get it Right.

Allow me to jump back into the blogosphere with a short rant about historical accuracy.

I like writing with historical settings. I have written fantasy and struggle with consistency. I have to draw maps and create cultures and magical systems and naming traditions. When writing with a historical setting, it's all been done for you. Thank you, people who came before, for laying it out for me.

That said, research is required. No matter how much I think I know, I am constantly second guessing and double checking. Whatever the era, there is a plethora of resources available (online, for free!) to help fine tune the details of your novel. You don't want to fudge because you lose credibility as a writer, no matter how great your story may be.

The following points stand out to me both as a reader and a writer.

1. Language
When writing a story set within the Elizabethan Era, I found myself looking up the word Machiavellian. Certainly Machiavelli had existed and been published prior to this time. But even though the educated may have read his work, would his name have been equated with the theme of his writing? No. It's a more modern term and would be inappropriate to use. Word choice matters when it comes to making your setting real. I just read something set in early Victorian where they used the word "perp" in reference to the bad guy and it broke me out of the story completely.
To become comfortable with the word use of your chosen era, read work (primary sources) from that time. If you are uncertain, Wikipedia is a decent and easy resource to double check (I once looked up "cunt" because I wanted to confirm period crude slang for that particular body part. The table full of youth pastors meeting behind me became suddenly silent when it popped up in 100 pt font on my screen. Good times.)
Whether or not you choose to write in dialect (I did originally, but then an acquiring editor at Avon told me to nix that), make certain the speech patterns are consistent with the era, the class, and the setting. Consider period slang, contradictions, and forms of address while still making the dialogue accessible to the reader.

2. Names
I have found church records for marriages, baptisms, etc... from the years I write online. Even if you cannot find direct resources of the names of commoners, looking at the names of the royal families of  will tell you the trends of the time (people tended to name after the people in charge in homage/butt kissing). Depending on your era, historically people were not creative in the name department. Even today there are some countries that have lists of approved names. Learn about the culture of your setting. Are sons named after fathers? Do children take their mother's maiden name as a middle name? Does their birth date figure in to their naming (saints days)?
This can be frustrating because it limits creativity OR it could be a relief that you don't have everything to choose from. I've seen many authors nod to historical naming with the character's given name and then play with nick-names. Personally, I'd rather read about a real guy with an old fashioned name like Edwin than an archetype who goes by Rogue (just in case we didn't understand the archetype)

3. Norms
This is the biggest challenge for me. You want to write something historically accurate that the modern reader can relate to. If your main character is a woman (and mine always is) you have to be careful not to give her modern thought processes. Women's rights were limited but for a woman in that era, that would be all she ever knew and would be, if not content, at least resigned to her lot in life. Depending on the era you are writing there are very specific thoughts about religion, ethnicity, and class systems. Modern readers may see oppression or racism or elitism while the historical characters see it as the way of their world. How you write it will make all the difference. For the historical characters, these aspects of society were normal but can be off-putting for a reader. Finding the balance between historical views and modern sentiment is tricky. Have fun with that.
Being consistent with social norms extends to casual interactions, introductions, conversations public and private, forms of address, seating at the table, manners, class distinctions, etc... It's the biggest aspect of historical setting and what gives the read a feel of authenticity.

4. Costumes
Again, as with norms, it's hard to make historical fashions something the modern reader can comprehend. People have preconceived images of what is attractive now and it's hard to merge modern aesthetic values the historical. Consider your characters from the skin outward, being sure to include their undergarments (or lack thereof) and the correct names for the items. I read a book where the corset was referred to as a busk (a busk is the solid, removable insert in the center front of an early corset). It may be sexy by today's standards to have your heroine forgo her chemise beneath the corset, but consider that the chemise protects the outerwear from sweat and the skin from the coarse, heavy, boned corsets. Research. Look at portraits from the era, look at patterns for construction, and read about the way the garments would have been worn. You can find primary source fashion plates but many of the reenactor websites can be a good resource (they take their attention to accuracy very seriously).
I have to be careful not to make my books a treatise on historical costuming because I love the details. I end up trimming my descriptions down to the bare minimum. I want the reader to picture the character in the gown and how she feels, the impression she leaves, rather than the pleating at the waistband or the embroidery on the shoulder epaulets. It's actually hard for me, but no one wants pages and pages of dress description, they want the story. The dress only matters in how it furthers the character and plot, but it should be accurate.
One positive in understanding all the layers and the way they fasten is that it will help you also undress your character later. :)
The only area where (my personal feeling) it's okay to deviate from historical accuracy in costuming is in the area of hygiene (especially if your work is sexually explicit). Enough said.

1751 Countess of Coventry
A renowned beauty

Ultimately the story has to take dominance over all these details, but working in the true flavor of your chosen era will make the story richer and let the reader truly immerse themselves in your world. Granted, not every reader knows whether or not cotton would have been worn by medieval Scottish peasants (it wouldn't have) but you still owe them accuracy rather than hoping no one will care/notice. It's your name on the cover and your credibility at stake.

You may be asking what gives me to right to lecture on attention to detail in historical romance. If you don't want to take me seriously as a writer (I get that), at least consider this from a reader's perspective. I never read another book by the author that called a corset a busk.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Perceptions on Romance

Romance, as a genre, does have rules. A couple discover attraction/love, there are obstacles, love conquers all, and the couple lives happily ever after. There must be an emotionally satisfying ending. Other than that it's open to however the author wants to tell their story.

I find romance novels (the one's that I enjoy, that is) have strong, well developed characters that I can relate to on some level. They story lines are optimistic but that's not saying they're all warm fuzzies. There can be heartbreak, tears, death, and abject misery. But the reader is promised that it will end well. In the real world full of uncertainty, I find hope in stories like these. They are mocked for having any sort of formula (as if fantasy doesn't have the chosen one saving the world or mystery having the detective following clues to uncover the bad guy). All genre fiction has some sort of trope or norm (which is how it's categorized as genre fiction), however romance is the genre that people disparage the most (based on my own experiences, I'm not citing any studies here).


Some say that romantic fiction is looked down upon for sexist reasons. It is a genre predominantly written by women, for women. I think there is absolutely some truth to this. You can go back the early days of mass market publishing and see women writing under men's names for credibility. And while women writers no longer such a sore thumb, in genres outside fiction intended for the female demographic there are STILL prejudices. (What boy would want to read a story about a boy written by a woman? Publishers had Joanne Rowling publish Harry Potter using her initials for marketing purposes.) Although I would like to think that our society is enlightened enough for matters such as gender to impact the perception of whether or not a book is of quality, I have a feeling we have a long way to go before we're there.

My own personal opinion of why romance is so denigrated by the reading community, even by those who read romance, is because of the perception of the sexual component. If you read the genre norms as I explained them above about what makes a book a romance you may notice that sex was not included. Sex can be included as part of the story, but sex is not THE story. I'll agree that some romance readers chose books based on the sexual content, but the books themselves are so much more than sex. Every time I explain to someone that I write romance, they will bring it up.

Smut. Trash. Porn. One relative even described it as "scatological" (I like to think it was a vocabulary error on her part, but maybe not. Maybe she does see it as shit. (OR maybe she reads scatological fetish stuff--in which case Christmas is going to be awkward. (And I'm adding a triple parenthetical aside here because I'm feeling saucy.)))

Whether it's a complete stranger or close family, I see ewwww stamped on their forehead the moment I bring up my writing. I may as well admit to being in a donkey show in Tijuana (I'm not linking it, you can look it up if you really want to, but you don't. Trust me.)

I'm amazed at how people get hung up on sex as if it is the sum total of the story. Yes, most of the time there is sexual content, but if it's a well written story, that content only furthers the emotional development of the characters. It's part of the story, not gratuitous. Are sexual components of fiction outside the romance genre criticized? No. It seems the readers are willing to accept that these scenes go toward telling the story. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Song of Ice and Fire series,these novels are not categorized as romance, but have both romantic elements and explicit sexual content but no one is embarrassed to admit they read them.

Writing a sex scene is something I do not find easy. I have to be careful to not be clinical or boring. I also have to make sure that the descriptive tone matches the way the character would think, including includes sequence of events, emotional response, and vocabulary choices. The sex scenes have to serve to further the story and not simply exist for the purposes of titillation (that would be porn). It will be as sweet or gritty as the confines of the characters allow because it is entirely based on the characters.  If it doesn't belong, it doesn't go in the story. If my main character wouldn't say something like "silken covered rod of pulsing steel man meat," I don't write it and I don't read authors that do. The character arc and story has to take precedence.

Ultimately readers want to read good stories, whether they're classified literary fiction, young adult, or even romance. It's just a shame readers are so insecure they latch onto the aspects they expect to be judged upon (or perhaps, they judge themselves) rather than the emotional experience of reading.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Lost in Translation

This post was completely inspired by my daughter's obsession with Hamilton and her recent discovery of this gem.

Personally, I think this is brilliant.

So I took the blurb from my Courtly Pleasures one-sheet (below):

An arranged marriage.
After ten years of marriage, Frances LeSieur has faded into her role. A lady wife, mother, and chatelaine, she has no idea who she is as a woman. In the midst of depression, Frances joins Queen Elizabeth’s glittering court and discovers a part of herself she never knew existed—one she’s sure her neglectful husband would never notice.

Living, not just surviving.
Henry has always done his duty to family and crown despite his own desires. When Frances asks for a separation then transforms into a confident and vibrant courtier, Henry is floored. After years of silent alienation, can he woo her back before it’s too late or will he lose her to one of the rakes bent on having her?

A second chance at love.

Henry’s service to the crown has made him many enemies. One becomes fixated on Frances. When the killer strikes, Henry realizes that Frances is more important than duty, and love is worth fighting for.

Then I used Google Translate to take it from English to Polish to Icelandic to Hindi to Traditional Chinese to Hebrew and then back to English.

After ten years of marriage, fulangxisi lesyeur its role has Faded. Wife, mother and belt, she does not know that she is as a woman, that is. In depression among fulangxisi joined Queen Elizabeth and had a great stadium never knew part of his existence, he is convinced that her husband would not have realized that to find negligence.

Field, and not just survive.
Henry holds whether your desire is their responsibility, and family crest. When fulangxisi asked to rest, and then Transformed into safe and vibrant court, Henry grounded. After years of silence, before you resort to it, it was too late, or it going to rake may lose one of them?

A second chance for love.
For the Crown servant, Henry has made him many enemies. Look fulangxisi. When the murderer attack, Henry fulangxisi considered more important than responsibility, love is worth fighting for.

Good stuff.

All of this, by the way, brings me right back into the beautiful days of News Radio and Jimmy James reading his English to Japanese and then back to English memoir with it's new title, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.

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