Hearts Through History Romance Writers

History Podcasts: For Fun and Research by Jane Rosebery

History Podcasts

Podcasts entertain me during my daily commute, but I also love podcasts because I use them as a research tool. There are several history podcasts I listen to that help me with my research and also teach me about other eras or subjects.

There are a number of wonderful history podcasts that you might want to consider as a research tool.

The History Chicks is devoted entirely to women historical figures. There aren’t any other podcasts devoted just to women in history. The hosts are intelligent, funny and have a great rapport with each other. They spend hours upon hours researching each woman and putting the podcast together.  You can tell that it’s their labor of love.

Stuff You Missed in History class is a fun podcast devoted to lesser-known historical figures and events. A recent episode featured Emanuel Swedenburg. He’s a philosopher I’ve never heard of before and I took Philosophy 101 in college!

Footnoting History is a wonderful podcast that features, well, the footnotes of history.  Examples of two episodes are the invention of the chocolate chip cookie and the one-legged Nazi-fighting Jesuit, Rupert Mayer. I highly recommend this podcast. The episodes are well-researched and under twenty minutes long.

These are just three of the numerous history podcasts I subscribe too.  If you listen to podcasts, (history or otherwise), please let all of us know in the comments!

– Jane Rosebery

Researching How Manuscripts Are Made

One of the tools a writer uses for authenticity in their story is research. Whether it’s how to disassemble and clean a Glock, which poisons are quick killing and leave no trace or what women wore in the 14th century it all takes research. The better you know your facts, the more authentic your story. As a result you become somewhat of an authority on the topic. The added benefit is you are now the go to person when you play trivia and can play a mean game of scrabble.

manuscript 3Writing historical fantasy, even though it’s made up, still requires a level of authenticity. Several of my stories are based on people who are responsible for research. Whether it’s my heroine, Rebeka, the renowned history professor in my Druid Knight Tales or Cari, the exception art appraiser in my upcoming series, River of Time, my stories require research.

My latest release, Knight of Rapture, required an understanding of old manuscripts. While I researched several sites I came across an online class offered by Stanford University. I had a smattering of knowledge about manuscripts but this class explained the making of manuscripts, interpreting manuscripts, working with manuscripts and transcribing them. . It’s been several years…hmmm… decades since I was in school but the lure of finding out the details was too much to pass up. I took the plunge.

What is a manuscript is and how is it made? Manuscript means, literally, handwritten from manus and to write from scriba. Another word for is chirography. Basically, anything that is handwritten using any implement from a quill to a modern biro (pen) is a manuscript.

There are hundreds of thousands surviving today from circa 500 to 1500 CE. Medieval manuscripts can be found in repositories throughout the world.

PapyrusThe early papyrus manuscripts were made from the pulp of reeds found along the Nile River in Egypt through southern Sudan. This medium or substrate (the surface scribes used to make their books and scrolls) was used before animal skins were processed and stretched to create parchment and vellum. Papyrus parallels the use of parchment and vellum until about 800 CE. After this time the use of papyrus rapidly declines.

quires stacked into manuscriptVellum is made from cow skins while parchment comes from sheep. Goat and deer skins are also used. To prepare the animal skins they are dipped in lime for a number of days to clean it of any animal material. It’s then rinsed thoroughly and pinned to a frame to dry. Once the skin is dry it is sanded until it is smooth. Finally, it’s cut into a page or bifolium. These are folded into gatherings or quires. Several quires are stacked together to form the traditional medieval manuscript.

The class goes into details on how papyrus, parchment and vellum are made. It also discusses the early rag paper technology. We are not only learning about how the manuscripts were produced we’re also learning how to transcribe manuscripts. While the details on making the substrates (I’m proud I can use that word in a sentence) it is how the manuscripts are transcribed and interpreted that attracted me to the course.

Understanding how the manuscript is produced gave me some good technical pieces for my story. I can think of other aspects of chirography that I can use in the stories. Perhaps a study of inscribing techniques will help my heroines.

Scavenging for Research Books

Like most historical writers, I do a lot of research before, during, and sometimes even after I write a book, so I’m always on the lookout for research books and other resources. Half Price Books held a huge warehouse sale this weekend at Dallas Market Hall. All books were two dollars or less, which was a good deal for hardcover and trade paperbacks, some of which were brand new.

Bookshelves_at_the_libraryI’m a librarian, so naturally I’m very particular about how books are organized. When I visit a library or bookstore, I always reshelve books that are out of place. I simply can’t stop myself. Given this tendency, I approached the warehouse sale with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the books had at least been sorted into loose categories (I’m using the term loose loosely here).

I immediately headed for the History section. Books were stacked in long rows three across on top of the tables, and haphazardly piled in boxes below the tables. I would have classified most of the books as political science or current affairs, but there were a few true history books sprinkled between them. I skimmed the titles on the table, turning books so the titles were all facing the same direction and righting books that were upside down or backwards as I went. I can’t help it. The librarian in me will not be denied.

After making a few good finds on the tabletops, I turned to the boxes underneath the tables. The boxes really set off the librarian in me. The books were piled haphazardly, and horror of horrors, some were even bent. So of course I had to organize all of the books into rows with the spines facing up.

In all, I managed to find ten books, but I was so exhausted from all the straightening, I didn’t have the heart to look through any of the other sections. I did walk away with a book about the history of royal roads in Great Britain, castles of Britain, defending Britain from attack, and markets and marketplaces of Britain to name a few.

Book Sale


Have you made any good research finds lately?


Ally Broadfield writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December. She would love to have you visit her website or Facebook page.


Writing Historical Romance and Who to Invite for Dinner

I found this interview I did a few years ago, and thought it had some good information on writing historical romance, as well as one of my favorite questions about who to invite to dinner. Hope you find it interesting.

1. Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold is your second historical romance. Would you tell us a little about the book?

The book is set in Durango, Colorado. I created this story around the setting. When I was a child we lived in California, but every summer drove back to Illinois to visit the grandparents. I remember how beautiful Durango was, so I wanted to set a historical here. I got a book of Durango history, and used what I found for the background for the story, the mining, the smelters, etc. 2. Both the hero and heroine are hiding secrets .What problems did you run into maintaining this tension and how did you deal with them?

The fact that they are hiding secrets is what keeps them from going right into a relationship. The reader is privy to Wes’ work for Wells Fargo and why he’s in Durango right up front, so there was no real problem in writing Wes. I had to be a little more circumspect with Julie, as the reader knows she concealing something, but not exactly what she’s concealing. The hard part for writing Julie is not to reveal too much when in her point of view or internal thoughts. Just enough to keep the reader wondering, but not enough to give the secret away until the proper time. This creates a push-pull in their feelings, as they are attracted to each other, but don’t feel they can do anything about the attraction.

3. Both your first book, Kentucky Green, and Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold are set on the American frontier. What in your opinion is the hardest part of writing stories in this setting? What is the easiest?

Well, since I a BA and MA in History and taught I was familiar with the history so once I decided where and what type of story I wanted to write, I had a general idea to start. Doing the detailed research is easy and fun for me. For Kentucky Green I did research on Kentucky long rifles, Conestoga wagons, their average speed, how far it was from one little town in Pennsylvania to another. You can find really great thing, such as a WPA travel guide to Pennsylvania that listed all the little towns, when they were founded, if they’ve changed names, what they might be famous for, etc. And I used this as a guide for the wagon train trip.

For Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold, I learned about mining and smelting in Colorado, the history of Wells Fargo, etc. The hard part of this is to stop doing the research and start writing. And while I like research, my formal training didn’t cover what clothing people wore, so I had to do a lot of research on who would be wearing what, when.

One problem I have is conveying the social conventions of the time I’m writing in without over explaining (author reader-feeder). For instance in Kentucky Green, it takes a while for the hero and heroine to even think of each other by their first name before actually addressing each other that way. That was the convention of the time, where even married people addressed each other as Mr. and Mrs. in public. Another problem is writing in a time period where S*E*X* (as Erma Bombeck used to write) wasn’t quite so prevalent. Today there is S*E*X everywhere you look. So it had to balance the actual conduct of the time with today market that wants things hot, hot, hot.

4. You’re ready to begin a new project. What’s the first thing you do? Research? Character bios? Plot and plan? Or just jump in and let the muse take you?

The staring place can be the setting, or just the idea of a hero or a heroine, or a plot line such as a marriage of convenience. Then you noodle around with the characters (how are they wrong for each other, how will they be right for each other) and the plot, until I have a vague outline. Then I’m fortunate enough to belong to a critique group, that over the fifteen plus years we’ve been together we’ve become a plotting group. We have an annual retreat where we each bring an idea and do the brainstorming to flesh out the characters and the plot line.

Then I write a narrative outline of the story with all the important points before I actually start writing. I sometimes do a first person bio, but not always. I know some writers feel that plotting takes away the mystery of the story, but I like to have a road map, but with my general outline, all the details somehow revel themselves as I write the story.

For example, in one of my ms. I wrote in the outline ‘Johnny finds out where the fence cutter will strike’ but had no idea how he would find out, but as I wrote the story, it figured itself out. Too weird, huh? 5. What advice can you offer to writers who are working toward publication?

Have friends who are also writers – no one else understand except other writers what we worry about, or understand and support us. My husband loves me, but he just doesn’t get ‘writing’.

And you have to keep thinking of the line from Galaxy Quest – “Never give up, never surrender!”

6. And lastly, if you could invite three people to dinner (real, fictional, living or dead), who would they be? What would you serve and why and what would you want to discuss over coffee?

Wow! What a choice. Did you ever watch the old PBS series Meeting of the Minds where Steve Allen had historical figures to dinner and a discussion?

After a lot of thought (too many possibilities!) I think I’ll have dinner with George Washington, Elizabeth I and Alexander the Great. These are personalities who fascinated me while studying/teaching history. I think it would be interesting to find the real person behind the historical persona they’ve become. All of them seem to be bigger than life characters but from my studies I think they all were in essence really very private people who only allowed a few real friends to really know the people they were.

And it, it just occurred to me, none of them left a direct descendent. What to serve would be a real problem since George, Elizabeth and Alexander come from such different times. So I think I’d go with a simple menu, roast turkey and new world vegetables such as corn and tomatoes, some bread, then round it out with fruit (apples, pears, grapes) and nuts along with a couple of types of cheese, one or two types of wine, and of course coffee and tea.

Discussion is easy as we would discuss leadership and the responsibility there of. George was a natural leader, who was willing to step up and take on the role and responsibility.

Elizabeth had to keep her head (literally) on her way to becoming queen. And then as a woman in a man’s job, learn to lead men without making them resent it.

Alexander must have been some sort of super charismatic man to get his troops to follow him to the ends of the earth.

These three were also in a sense the first/originator of their role – President, a reigning Queen, a conqueror.

If you got to invite three people from history for dinner – who would it be?

How far would you go?

We seem to be on a research binge. How far would you go to get the information you need for a story? Do you dig and dig until you get the answer or do you give up when it looks like it will be a lot of work? Especially knowing you may only use a minor piece of the information for the story?

I’ve been digging up information for two stories lately. I’ve borrowed books from the library, purchased used books on the subject, and I’ve sent out email feelers to loops and people I know to get more information to make my characters jump off the page. I now have some scholars in my address book and I’ve corresponded with experts on railroads in my area(and made a new friend) not to mention I joined an online group of Native Americans to pick their brains.

I’ve also cornered people for interviews, had some hands on experience with tools my character will handle, and walked as well as I could in the shoes of my characters.

After writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper in a town where the museum curator went out of her way to help me, I now have a standing invitation to do book signings at the museum.

Along my long and winding road of searching for the illusive bit of information that will make my characters and setting come alive I’m gaining a larger list of support people and new friends.

And volumes of notes either highlighted in books or scribbled on various colored notepads and stuck in binders.

How much of the research you do, do you think actually makes it into your books? And do you also feel that research isn’t so much the words you put in a book but also the tone and setting you impart?