Hearts Through History Romance Writers

A Historical Writer Goes Contemporary

As a member of Hearts Through History, I usually write historicals set in America.  However, last spring my critique group (which is now more of a plotting/brainstorming group) got the chance to write a series of five novellas, one by each member of the group.  Most of our group writes contemporary, so we decided the novellas would be contemporary.

Our group went on a weekend retreat and did the plotting/brainstorming for all five novellas.  We started out with the premise of five high school friends who went away to college, and were all together New Year’s eve their freshman year in college.  That night they made a list of the qualities they wanted in a man.  Now ten years have passed and things have not gone exactly as they planned.  Now they are together again at New Year’s, where the make a new list and make a pact to each fine a man by next New Year’s, forming The New Year’s Eve Club.

So what’s this got to do with Seduced by History?  I’m wondering if any of you write both historical and contemporary and any problems you might find in switching back and forth.

For me, I found it’s about all the sex when comes to differences in writing historical and contemporary.  Of course there is sexual tension between the hero and heroine in historicals, but usually as I’m writing historicals, I have to keep the hero and heroine from consummating their attraction.  In my historicals I really have to work to make a scenario where there’s an authentic/realistic reason they might sleep together before marriage.  (One of the reasons a marriage of convenience works so well in historicals.)  I discovered I really had to change my mindset for the contemporary – after all, they are consenting adults.

While I’d anticipated this change in mind set (from a writer point of view), one problem that caught me by surprise was communication. I’m so used to writing historicals, that in writing the novella when the hero wanted to arrange a meeting with the heroine, I had the hero leave the heroine a note.  I wasn’t until I was about three quarters through the draft that it occurred to me that they would have cell phones and had constant and instantaneous communications!  And yes, I have a cell phone, but my husband and grew up without them so we really don’t use them all that much, so it took me awhile to think of the phones.  (And yes, I layered in several phone conversations in the novella).

Since I’ve been writing about cowboys and the American west, I made by hero stuntman on a western movie set, to keep the cowboy theme.  My heroine is a teacher looking for a little adventure when she takes a summer job teaching child actors on a western film set.  At the end, I’m glad to say I must have made the transition as our New Year’s Eve Club novellas are doing well. https://www.facebook.com/TheNewYearsEveClub

Now, to switch my mind back about a hundred and fifty years and get back to my historicals.  If you’ve made the transition back and forth, let me know how it went.

Historical Detail: How Much is Too Much in a Romance?

The authenticity of a historical romance novel depends largely upon the author’s knowledge and use of historical detail. Since it can’t be assumed that a reader is familiar with the time period in which a novel is set, the author must include enough detail to ground the reader in the setting, but not so much that it slows down the story and overshadows the romance.

Even those of us who love history have likely come across a book that had so much historical detail we put it down to take a nap. Conversely, we’ve likely also read a book that had so few historical details that we couldn’t picture how the hero and heroine’s world looked.

Most historical authors spend countless hours, days, even weeks or months researching a book. So how do we decide how much of that research to include in our book? While each author has her own personal style, I think a commercially successful book must provide a framework for the story while keeping it firmly focused on the romance between the hero and heroine. (more…)

How I come up with names for my characters

    When I started to write Kentucky Green I had an idea of the time (1794) and place (Kentucky frontier) for the   setting as well as some vague plot ideas.  But the hero and heroine only become real to me when I find out, or give them their names. Part of the names came from my family history and part comes from my study of history.  Like they say, write what you know.

 For my hero’s back story (all the stuff you know about what made your character who and what they are at the start of the book) I gave him a Scottish grandfather, so his last name is McKenzie. Grandfather, as so many Scottish immigrants to America settled west of the Appalachians Mountains, where the land reminded them of the hill of Scotland.  Grandfather married a Shawnee Indian woman, so the hero’s father was a half-breed, so my hero is ¼ Indian, and therefore subject to some racial prejudices.  Looking at historical characters of the time, Daniel Boone stands out – not only was he a person active at the time and place I wanted to set my story, Boone was also noted as being much more open minded and known to treat people for who they were, not for their race.  So I imagined that my hero’s father and Daniel Boone went hunting together.  (my family history tells of  one of my great, great, however many greats grandfather used to go hunting with Daniel Boone.  So, if Boon treated my hero’s father well, so it was obvious that he would name his son after a friend, which was a common way to name at that time.  So my hero is Daniel Boone McKenzie. (more…)

Marriage and Sex in the Middle Ages

The concept of marriage that existed in the Middle Ages was a different thing entirely from what we think of when we think marriage today.  Was it about love?  Was it about happily ever after?  Or was it a cold and heartless contract?

Well, actually, the truth is that it was something both between those two extremes and entirely different from them.

Marriage has always been the focal point of family life.  In the world of the upper class, marriage meant the successful continuance of the estate or the alliance of one family or estate with another.  It was an important political bargaining chip, used to make or break peace with neighboring people of power.  Did the bride and groom have any say in it?  Well, not really.  A little bit.  But there seems to be this mistaken concept that nobles were married off when they were still children and because of that their lives were loveless pieces on a chessboard of politics.  The truth is a little stickier.


How Much Historical Accuracy?

I joined several other authors for tea this last weekend, and one of the things we discussed was how much accuracy do we want or need in historical romance.

Being a history teacher, i like stories to be as accurate as possible. At our tea we generally agreed that as long as the plot doesn’t turn on a historical inaccuracy, error or anachronism, then it was acceptable. What I strive for is authenenticity for the time period I’m writing.

But again, because of the teacher background, I include Author’s Notes in to explain anything Imight have changed or altered that the reader might question.

All this is easier to show by example, so here are the notes from
Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold.

Author’s Notes

Writing fiction can be difficult for the historian. The fiction half of me says ‘what if’ when the historian half of me says ‘but it happened this way’. So I have compromised, bending history ro fit my story and hope these notes will be of insterst to those readers who want to know the factual history.

Although the Pinkerton Agency is more wll know, the Wells Fargo Company did, in fact, have its own detective force. Among these notables wer Fred Dodge and James Hume. dodge once held down a job as a deputy in Tucson while working undercover for Wells Fargo. James Hume, the cheif of detectives, was one of the pioneers in the field of scientific investigations, catching the notorious stagecoach bandit Balck Bart, by tracing a laundry mark on the bandit’s handkerchief. Wells Fargo also employed a corps of young boys to ride messages around San Francisco at twenty-five cents a message.

In the 1880s thre were no laws rstricting the conduct of a law enforcement officer. A detective of that era wasn’t constricted by such concepts of forcible entry, illegal search and seizure or jurisdictions. Wes’s activities in pursuit of his job would have benn considered legal and acceptable.

For the purpose of my story Ihave made some changes and additons to Durango’s fire. The fire actually started on July 1st, but Ihave moved it ot several weeks later. A stiff wind fanned the blaze which burned over seven blocks. Half a million dollars in business and residential property went up in smoke as the residents tried everything, including dynamite to stop the fire. The actual cause of the fire was never determined, so I have supplied one out of my ‘what if’.

The two major smelters that operated in Durango eventually consolidated due to the business climate in the late 1890s. The way Wes shows Julie to refine gold using quicksilver was one of the standard small scale methods used at the time. Today more is known abaout the hazards of mercury poisoning.

For events in Philadelphia, those familiar with histry will recognize that I have anticipatd history by a few years, and have borrowed the concept of Hull House in Chicago which opened in 1889 as a model for the Bradley Center. I similarly borrowed the idea of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1910 for he scandal involving Julie’s sister.

And last, condoms make from latex rubber haave benn available since the 1840s and were called, appropriately enought, ‘rubbers’. The primary prupose was for the prevention of sexually transmitted disease with the side benefit of contraception.

So, how do you feel about historical accuracy in your work? As a reader, how much do you care about historical accuracy and authenticity?