Justine: Mixing History and Fiction

373px-Paul_Delaroche_-_Napoleon_Crossing_the_Alps_-_Google_Art_Project_2

“Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Paul Delaroche, 1850

As a historical romance writer, I’m very fortunate in that when I work on a book, I get to research interesting facts about the time period, and then try to incorporate them into my stories. (Okay, some people might find that tedious, but I love it!)

My six-book series, The Beggars Club, begins the first week of March in 1815, just as Napoleon is escaping from Elba and making his way to Paris in advance of what is now called his Hundred Days.

Napoleon was cunning in planning his escape. He, along with his mother and his sister, Pauline, one of his most ardent supporters, threw a party on the eve of February 26th, 1815. During the fête, which was quite a distraction, Napoleon sneaked out of his compound and to the harbor, where he met up with seven ships, 1,026 men, forty horses, two cannon, and a coach. Bypassing the Royal Navy, who were supposed to be on the water keeping watch, he landed at Golfe Juan, near Cannes, and had a singular goal: get out of the area of Provence (which was generally hostile towards him) and cross the mountains to Dauphiné, where a more sympathetic population awaited.

Also important to Napoleon was money, and unfortunately for him, while winding his way up a steep and icy track after Grasse, he lost two mules carrying 1/10th of his treasure down a precipice.

I have been able to take this little-known fact and weave it into my first book, His Lady to Protect, which comes out in spring 2019. My heroine’s uncle, a Napoleonic sympathizer, learns of this loss and decides to use his niece’s dowry as a contribution to Bonaparte’s fortune.

What I would love to know, but haven’t been able to determine, is whether anyone ever recovered that missing fortune.

Another event that happened the first week of March in 1815 were riots against the Corn Laws. No, they were not about corn. At that time, all grain was referred to as “corn.” What wealthy landowners (some of whom were also members of Parliament) were attempting to do was to restrict the importation of grain in order to keep domestic prices high, which would naturally favor them. In advance of the vote, which happened on Friday, March 10th, riots occurred in the city, and several members of the House of Lords had their houses broken into and vandalized by angry mobs who opposed the measure. As you can image, the repercussions of such actions were swift and harsh.

In an interesting twist, news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his march towards Paris reached the London papers on the same morning as the vote, and the threat of another long and bloody war with L’Empereur cast aside much of the protests about the Corn Laws, which passed Parliament with little fanfare.

Of course, the passage of those laws would come back to bite England the following year, when the effects of Mt. Tambora’s eruption in 1815 caused one of the coldest summers on record in 1816, leading to massive crop failures and rampant famine.

The riots in advance of the Parliamentary vote also play into my book, creating a diversion and conflict one evening when my H&H are attending a party.

So, do you like it when authors are able to combine the real world (or real history) with their fictional one? What’s your favorite example?

Nancy: Copenhagen (and Denmark) Blues

Black Diamond on the Water. This extension of the Royal Danish Library opened in 1999. It plays a key role in Nick’s story.

As you no doubt gleaned from last week’s post, I’ve recently been an intrepid world traveler. Well, OK, I traveled to one other country, but I crossed six time zones and spent three days on each end of the trip battling severe jet lag, so it feels like it’s been quite a trek, and I’m happy to be home safe and sound and finally getting back on east coast time.

Because you can take the writer out of her cave but you can’t take the cave out of the writer, or something like that, I spent some of my three weeks in Denmark being a tall, dark, and handsome, thirty-year-old, half-American/half-Danish, mixed-race man. In my head, of course. (I might be able to pull off a lot of things, but tall and thirty are not on that list). I’m talking, of course, about my fictional character Nicholai* Jens Olesen, Nicky O to his American friends. This was my first trip to the country since I’d conceived of the Copenhagen-set mystery series, so I did my best to view it from Nick’s eyes. In addition to helping me solidify my vision of what Denmark means to this character, it also revealed important things about the character himself.

A Few Things About Nick

A Very Danish House with Thatched Roof. This is the kind of house where Nick probably spent some of his summers.

He’s much more American than Danish. Technically, as his (now deceased) father was a Danish citizen and his mother is American, I think he can still claim Danish citizenship (but it’s complicated, so more research required!). As a child, he spent a couple of months every summer and some additional weeks most Christmas vacations in DK, has visited frequently as an adult, and did some of his graduate work in the country, so he definitely has a foot securely planted in this culture. But the majority of his time has been spent in America, and when he’s placed in that character crucible and pressure is applied, his American mind-set and life approach is going to show, for better or for worse.

After his father’s death, his visits to the country will never be the same. Sadly, because of our age and the extent of my husband’s family that lives in Denmark (that’s everyone related to him except his parents, siblings, our daughter and I), every time we’ve traveled to Denmark, there are relatives we’ve lost since the previous trip. It’s especially noticeable when we cross off towns where we used to go from our must-visit list, because the loved ones we used to see there are gone. As Nick’s story begins with him being in Denmark for his father’s funeral, there are going to be lots of opportunities for him to be haunted and heartbroken by memories triggered from seeing old, familiar places. This is an important part of character development I have to keep in mind when I start the deep-dive into Nick’s soul.

A Few Things About Denmark That Impact Nick’s Story… Continue reading

Justine: Prepping for a Research Trip

49665157 - travel holiday vacation traveling laptop technology conceptIn a couple weeks, I’ll be headed across the pond for 10 days of research in London for my next couple Regency romances. It’ll be my third time in the lovely country of England and I have some very targeted sites I want to see. For the most part, I’ll be in London (renting a flat via Airbnb this time that puts me right in the heart of Mayfair, near Grosvenor Square and Hyde Park).

If you’ve never taken a research trip before, here are my tips for things to bring (or do) when you head out one one. Continue reading

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.

Jilly: Local Knowledge

How well do your favorite authors use local knowledge to give their stories depth and authenticity? What would you use in a story about your hometown?

We just spent a week on Long Island at a birthday celebration for a friend’s mother. It’s a beautiful place, and we had a fantastic time, but thanks to our friends we also learned a thing or two and avoided some obvious pitfalls.

It got me thinking about how many opportunities there must be for a writer to use setting to distinguish locals from outsiders, and to create location-specific plot points or conflicts.

Based on last week’s discussions, here are some tells that marked us out as Long Island rookies.

Fishing
Our friends chartered a boat and we went fishing in the bay between South Shore and Fire Island. Everyone else aboard was local, and they’d all been fishing since childhood. I had to be shown everything: how to hold the rod, how to let out the line and reel it in again. I didn’t know I should reel in my line when the captain was ready to move on. I didn’t know the difference between a sea robin and a fluke. I had no idea which fish should be thrown back or which were edible. The crew was friendly and helpful, but openly astonished at my ignorance of the most basic fundamentals.

Poison Ivy
My friend’s mum said that Fire Island supposedly got its name for the poison ivy that’s ubiquitous over there. Cue reminiscences from the family about how painful a poison ivy allergic reaction can be. Also poison oak. Eek. We don’t have either plant over here, and I have no clue what either one looks like.

Ticks
We had to be warned that there are deer ticks in the long grass and dunes. They carry Lyme disease, so it’s an important thing to know. I have no idea what a tick looks like. They’re present in the UK, but it’s a relatively new problem for us, and right now seems to be a bigger problem for pets than humans. I have never seen one, nor do I know anyone who has. I have no idea how to check myself for ticks, how to remove one if I should find it, or what a tick bite would look like. Just writing this is making me itch. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Story Truth vs. Reality

My iPod is full of podcasts that I have saved over the years, intending to listen to, but never quite finding the time for.  I’ve deleted quite a few of them, but the remainder is rivaled only my tottering to-be-read pile.

I’m doing my best to change that, which is why I’ve spent the last few weeks at the gym sweating away on the elliptical while listening to some circa-2012  podcasts by a now-defunct writing couple.  The podcasts often include a segment answering listener-submitted questions and today’s dealt with how much research to do for a story and how important it is to get all of the facts right.

Answering the second part of that first, the response was that you should never let facts get in the way of your story truth.  “You’re writing fiction, not a documentary.”   That really resonated with me (and made me laugh, which garnered me a funny look from the person working out next to me). 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