Michaeline: Add some contemporary to make your historicals more real

A young lady from the mid-1800s reading a newspaper.

Newspapers were a popular source for information of all sorts. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve talked about using contemporary newspaper accounts to make your historical more real in the comments, and I’ve used the technique extensively when researching my Bunny Blavatsky, Gilded Age Spirit Photographer stories. You pick up vocabulary and phrasing for your writing, and background knowledge that would have been part of your characters’ everyday life. You don’t just pick up local tidbits that don’t make it into history books, but in later historicals, you also get world events practically as they happen. The first transatlantic cable was successfully transmitted on August 16, 1858; by the 1870s, messages were transmitted across the ocean in minutes.

According to Wikipedia, there were 43 newspapers in America in 1783; in 1810 there were

A Japanese woman reading a newspaper while clad in a kimono.

Reading a contemporary newspaper could challenge some of the clichés and stereotypes you hold about an era. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

366 (including 27 daily papers), and during the age of yellow journalism and all the good and bad that attended, papers exploded from 971 in 1880 to 2,226 in 1900.

You can find some of these newspapers archived on line; the Library of Congress is a good place to start.

I’m blogging about it today because there’s an astounding article from the today-in-history feature (August 3) on the United Press International website. UPI brought back an article about the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. The story is first told with the kind of drama I’ve always associated with New Journalism – it’s a mix of fact and dramatic speculation about the last hours of Harding and his wife. The story then turns deftly to the facts of Harding’s last days, with wonderful period words such as “apoplexy” and “ptomaine poisoning”. It details the reactions of key political figures before going into a pithy biography of the late president, including his achievements as president. In true UPI style, the end is a bunch of charming anecdotes that can be included or excluded as the member paper’s column inches required.

Even if you aren’t setting a novel in 1923 (although, to be honest, it seems like an underutilized and exciting time to set a romance!), it’s well worth looking at the article for the details and the story telling.

Michille: Characters with Disabilities

Silent MelodyI am reading Mary Balogh’s Silent Melody in which the heroine is a deaf-mute (that’s how she is characterized in the story). It’s fascinating to read the way Balogh describes how Emily views/lives in her silent world, how she communicates with others, and how they communicate with her. And how sensitively/insensitively the other characters treat her. Some of the language used in reference to the character makes me uncomfortable because part of my day job is public school system special education administration. I keep telling myself that it’s like reading a romance novel from 1972 – yes the rape scene is understandable given the genre and societal norms at the time, just as in 1780, there was no such thing as political correctness when referring to someone with a disability. Continue reading

Jilly: Seeking Fashion Advice

Anyone else ready for a break from reality? I hope so. I’m in need of some super-glamorous, exceedingly outré wardrobe suggestions.

Alexis, the heroine of my fantasy WIP, accompanies Kierce, the hero, to a very OTT aristocratic celebration. Something as showy as the Oscars, hosted by royalty, but in a horses-and-swords kind of world. Alexis was raised in a monastery; she’s spent her whole life passing as a boy, so it’s challenging enough for her to have to act and dress like a female. To glam up, and preen, and flirt is her idea of a nightmare.

It’s mine, too, which may be why I’m struggling with her wardrobe.

Continue reading

Michaeline: A Different Kind of Sex Scene

Androgynous image with curly hair on head and curly hair on chest.

Does it matter if the lover is a boy or a girl? In some details, yes. But a lot of technique is transferable. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve been talking about sex scenes this week on Eight Ladies (Kay’s post on February 2), and my book rec for the month is Charmed and Dangerous, a collection of short gay fantasy stories written by women and edited by Jordan Castillo Price. The ten stories are well-written, exciting and full of creative ideas that take paranormal romance and urban fantasy to interesting places. Goodreads link.

The sex scenes have a different dynamic than any of the straight romance I’ve read. Women have this idea that men are ready for action at any minute. I’m not sure if that is acute observation or just urban legend, but there it is. In a straight scene in a straight romance, often the woman is worrying about something: her reputation, her own feelings for this guy, the meaning of the sex, and so on and so forth.

Generally in the scenes in this book, sex is sex. It doesn’t have to mean a thing – as long as the two gay men are in a romantic situation with mutual attraction, there doesn’t seem to be a reason (in this fictional world) for them not to have enthusiastic sex-in-the-moment. So, they drop everything to do so, and have a few paragraphs of sweaty, happy sex, which turns out to be deep and meaningful (the most intimate sex ever) because after all, we’re talking about subsets of the romance genre. The characters often go in expecting orgasms, and come out with orgasms and the love of their lives.

The big question is, can this be applied to straight romance scenes? Continue reading

Michaeline: Descriptions in the Beginning

Don't leave your readers confused! Give them the basic facts up front! (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t leave your readers confused! Give them the basic facts up front! (image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, this week I’ve been reading an anthology of gay fantasy romance, and it’s been really good so far. But, since I’m not writing a review but a craft analysis, I don’t really want to name names – I’m going to take a tiny quibble and blow it up large, and see if I can figure out how to avoid it.

The great thing about an anthology is that you get a variety of usually new writers with lots of beginnings all packed in one volume.

The first story had a rocky start. We started in a Chinatown, and I was ready to roll with that – but I didn’t have a good feel for the “when” of the story. Something about it made me think of a Chinatown from around the 1900s; there were no cell phones or Land Rovers to tell me otherwise, and my first clue that maybe we were in the modern world was a Continue reading

Nancy: More About Nicky O

Copenhagen: Almost gray enough to be Seattle

Copenhagen: Almost gray enough to be Seattle

For the past few months, when I’ve had time to think about story, I’ve had several current and future projects on my mind. One of them is a mystery set in Copenhagen, with one of my (current) favorite characters, Nicholai Jens Olesen, aka Nicky O (to his American friends). You might remember Nick from a few short stories I’ve shared here on the blog, Copenhagen Blues and Lost Hearts in Copenhagen. But one day soon (or you know, a year or so from now), I’m going to write Nick’s full-length story.

I’m already planning the trip back to Denmark for research. And for visiting my husband’s family and having great food and drinks and hygge, but also, research. Definitely research. I’ll want to find ways to use Copenhagen as more than just backdrop and scene setting. I’ll want to infuse Nick’s entire story with a sense of that unique place. And all this has me thinking about another story my husband and I binge-watched, the American TV series The Killing set in Seattle*, which is an adaptation of a Danish TV series (Forbrydelsen, which roughly translates to ‘Crime’). Continue reading

Justine: Pressed for Time? Make a List!

notepad for listI’m embarking on another Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson this coming weekend. I’m really excited to be working with her again and to get my head back into my story (where it hasn’t been for the last several weeks – pretty much since the last Immersion in November). Before it starts, though, there are a ton of things for me to do in a short period of time — to get the family ready, to get me ready, and to get my writing ready.

A complaint many of us in the writing field have is time (really, the lack thereof)…we’re not Nora Roberts or James Patterson, where writing pays our mortgage, car payment, and personal assistant/marketing guru. We’re typically balancing writing with husbands, families, full-time jobs, aging parents, and often more.

Something I’m learning about myself Continue reading