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: A New Approach

HeronI am contemplating taking a new approach to my writing. I have a four-book series that I’ve been working on. I go to conferences and workshops and take online courses and I get excited about the revisions that are needed. And then I sit down to do them, start working through the list of what needs done and I get so overwhelmed that I just quit. In order to do A, I have to stop and hit D, L, Q, and P, and then come back to A. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And I stop.

In order to get my writing mojo back, my new approach is going to be starting a whole new story. The picture is a Great Blue Heron that I see when I hike at a park near my house. It’s my spirit animal so I’m keeping it close for motivation. Part of my motivation for this new approach is that I believe I am a good writer. I read. A lot. And most of what I read is crap, has crappy elements, or has my pet peeves sprinkled throughout. I’m going to write a book that I would like to read. My starting point is a list of what the story will have and a list of what it won’t. Continue reading

Jeanne: Getting to Know You

StilettosRecently here at Eight Ladies Writing, we talked about our cold start processes–how each of the Ladies gets herself going again on an existing project when she hasn’t written in a while. Michaeline wrote about what I’d call a “fresh start” process–how she gets started on a new project.

In mid-February I started work on the third book in my Touched by a Demon trilogy, The Demon Wore Stilettos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the she-demon Lilith, who has been a minor character in the previous two books, finally gets to take center stage.

I’ve had this book in the back of my mind for a while, so I knew the general premise: Megan Kincaid, a recent MFA graduate, sells her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times bestseller list. Continue reading

Kay: Hitting a Wall

I’d been progressing well on the WIP, galloping along at what for me is top speed, until this week, when I hit a wall. I’d written through my first act and was heading into the second, otherwise known as the Middle. And in my case, although barely begun, the Sagging Middle.

I queried my critique partners, who are only too familiar with the problems of Phoebe and her errant friends and fiancé. What to do? I asked. Within minutes, I got a reply.

What’s your story question? Patricia asked.

Ah, yes. What was my story question?

It’s not good if you don’t know your story question. A person can go down a lot of rabbit holes if she doesn’t know what she wants to say. Continue reading

Kay: Time to Vote

What’s in a name? Photo via persnicketypoop on Reddit (2012)

I have to choose a name for a new character, and I wonder what you think.

Picking a name for a character is serious business. I’m sure every writer has a method s/he prefers. I usually go with a combination of the phone book for last names and baby name web sites for first names. When I want a name to sound particularly ethnic, I also search web sites for “common names” for whatever ethnicity I want my character to reflect. I usually go with fairly short names if it seems that pronunciation might be difficult for, say, me.

In my new WIP (!), which is book three of my Phoebe trilogy (book two is finished! Cue fireworks!), I have introduced a character, a young man, who is taking the coursework necessary to become certified in protection driving—the kind of driving that celebrities and politicians hire when they feel threatened. Continue reading

Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story

How was your week? Did you learn anything new?

It’s been good news/bad news here. The good news is that after a frustrating few days when I couldn’t get a grip on my new story, on Tuesday things fell into place. A propos of nothing I had a flash of insight that gave me a premise for the book and the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) for all the main characters. As a bonus, I even figured out who owns the story.

The bad news is, it seems farming and gardening are important to the new WIP, and I have a brown thumb. My mother and grandmother were excellent gardeners, but I don’t even have houseplants, because they take one look at me and give up the ghost.

It would have been great if the Girls had sent up a plot I knew something about, but I’m not complaining–I’m grateful to get a workable idea. The garden stuff is important, but it’s a vehicle for the characters and conflict, and as long as I get those right, everything else is fixable. My current plan is Continue reading

Jilly: Seeking Playlist Recommendations

Anybody up for a playlist recommendation or two? I’d truly appreciate it. 😉

It’s only two weeks since I posted my plan for the rest of the year, and I’ve already made a significant change. I sent off Alexis Book 1 to be edited, (yay!), but when I sat down to start work on the prequel, I realized that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell…not yet, anyway.

The prequel is the story of Alexis’s parents, Daire and Annis. It explains how Annis ends up running for her life, carrying little more than her unborn child and the most powerful jewel in the history of Caldermor. But, but, but… that story stems directly from Daire’s failure to secure the hand in marriage of a very different woman. All the characters from the debacle are major players in Alexis’s story, and I’ll need a novella to give away next year when I finally hit ‘publish,’ so I decided to write Kiran and Christal’s story now, and (hopefully) let the momentum carry Daire and me into the prequel.

I know where the novella is set (Darrochar, the kingdom adjoining Caldermor). I know how it ends, and I know the main characters. I’ve made a few pages of notes, but I need a playlist to really get my imagination working.

The story so far:

  • One arranged political marriage;
  • One clever, rich, handsome, spoiled princeling who’s too busy having a good time to stand up to his ambitious, power-mad mother;
  • One elegant, clever princess, determined not to waste her life and talents on a golden loser.
  • One scheming, murderous Princess Dowager (the mother-in-law from hell);
  • One plainspoken, upstanding career soldier turned princely bodyguard-slash-advisor who’s wondering what the hell he’s let himself in for.
  • Fighting (physical and metaphorical), in-fighting, hard truths told, harder lessons learned, risking all, expecting to lose all and (spoiler alert!) somehow the good guys emerge triumphant.

I’ll add to the list as I build up the story, but here’s my first stab at a few tunes: Continue reading