Nancy: Writing What You Know…Or What You Don’t

The Bellagio water show in Vegas made its way into my heart and the My Girls story.

The Bellagio water show in Vegas made its way into my heart and the My Girls story.

If writers stuck to that very limited advice to write what we (already) know, most of us would run out of stories very quickly. Luckily, most of us spend more time writing what we could learn or, even better, writing what we would like to learn. For example, Michaeline spent much of January researching fun and fabulous stuff about the end of the 19th century. My of most recent projects – the series of Victorian-era romances – have me going back even further than that.

If one didn’t know better and thought I was only writing what I already know, one would possibly have to conclude that I have a gambling problem, because 21st century or 19th century, I seem to have a fascination with heroines who are card sharks. In my Women’s Fiction book My Girls, one of the three leading ladies (Sarah) has a photographic memory for numbers and patterns, making her hell on wheels at a Blackjack table.

The idea for this actually came to me because I have a friend whose mind actually works this way. He travels to Vegas on occasion and when he does, he always wins enough to cover his trip, including the cost of some really nice meals and a few expensive shows. My friend always walks away from the table when he’s comfortably up on his winnings. Sarah is not quite so wise and bets way too much of her and her friends’ money, and as you can imagine, ‘plot devices ensue’, which in this case means losing big.

In addition to picking my friend’s very interesting brain, research for My Girls included studying strategies and cheat sheets you can actually take with you to the tables (strategizing Blackjack is harder than it sounds). I also watched a fascinating documentary  about card-counting Christians (yes, you read that right). And of course there had to be a trip, in this case, to – where else? – sin city itself (AstroTurf in lieu of grass – of course! but I’d never considered it before visiting Vegas).

For the Victorian series, more specifically, the second book in the series, tentatively titled The Lady’s Wager, I won’t be taking a trip to Victorian England, although a trip to London might very well be in order some time in the next few years. But I have gone down the slippery slope of buying books on Regency-/post-Regency-era gambling, including The Georgian Art of Gambling, which I just had to have after seeing it at Justine’s house. At this point, it looks like the most likely games for my rather risque heroine to play are Faro or Rouge et Noir, which sounds so much naughtier than Red and Black. Now I just have to figure out how to card count or strategize or even downright cheat in those games. Or I should say, how my heroine will do those things, because, really, I don’t have a gambling problem. Apparently, I just like to write about them.

So, while Michaeline and I have been sloshing about in the 19th century and I’ve been cheating at cards, what have you been reading/researching/learning, for fun or for your writing?

7 thoughts on “Nancy: Writing What You Know…Or What You Don’t

  1. Plastic surgery. I have an idea for a story about a really homely woman who wins an extreme makeover, so I need to know timelines, possible issues and, most of all, how that feels. A couple of high school friends have had tummy tucks/body lifts, so they’ve been able to provide useful first-person stuff. I’ve already decided she can’t have a fanny lift because they take too long to heal.

    • Oh, I remember those extreme makeover shows that were on TV several years ago. What I remember most is seeing the ‘winners’ covered in bandages and bruises, looking like they’d barely survived some horrible accident. And I’d imagine the physical pain and healing are only the first step after something like that. The emotional impact must be huge.

  2. I’ve done some research on card cheating myself, Nancy—and I’ve got 13 books on poker and cheating at poker to prove it! My story at that time was about contemporary card sharking, though, so I don’t think my research would help you much. Texas Hold ’em, that was my fictional game of choice.

    I’ve always meant to write another book that included card cheating, just because of the investment I made in the research. But the current book, in which the hero has an electric car company, has made me google a bit about the issues of making electric cars feasible. But it’s nothing like the card stuff I dug up a few years ago. Good luck with the research!

  3. (-: I am eyeball deep in the second Madison Square Garden. I should probably just write a first draft on this scene, but I’m trying to feel more “solid” when I write the scene. Right now, I’m trying to map the environs and find pictures that go with the place names. I see a lot of pics from 1925, but things change so much in 25 years. Heck, a lot of things changed in 1899. Seems like a lot of people wanted to get things built before the turn of the century . . . .

    This may sound a little bit like complaining (it probably is). But, the miracle is that there are so many pictures, and pictures from 1899, available. The internet is wonderful!

    • There was so much going on at that time, I’m sure it’s a lot to wrap your brain around. And there was no doubt some turn-of-the-century craziness in the air, the 19th-century version of Y2K.

      I was thinking that the Chicago World Fair was in 1899, but a quick Google reminded me that it was 1893. Still, lots of innovations came out of that, which I’m sure were still influencing things six years later. And thinking about that World Fair made me think of the book Devil in the White City, which was really amazing. This research thing really can take you down some rabbit holes!

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