by Julie Lessman
“But I don’t write “historicals,” I said stupidly to my agent. “I write romance.”
Uh, wrong. And, yes, I really was that green, a writer who didn’t consider the historical aspect of my story as important as the emotional tug-of-war between hero and heroine. I mean, come on now, everybody knows the most important thing is WHAT happens in the story, not WHEN it happens, right?
Wrong again-a lesson I learned the hard way, which is my usual mode of study, apparently. My eyes still glaze when I think about the 24 pages of feedback my critique partner gave me on my debut novel A Passion Most Pure. Simple little things-nit-picky to me, but deadly to the historical accuracy of my story.
• “Julie, the chocolate chip cookies Mrs. Gerson serves in chapter seven sound good, but this is 1916, and chocolate chips weren’t invented until 1939.”
• “Julie, the word “sync” in the sentence, “A twig with a heart-shaped leaf plummeted to the ground, in sync with her mood” is too modern for 1916.”
• “Julie, sorry, but the O’Connors drinking orange juice in the winter is not realistic given fresh fruit was not readily available.”
And WORST of all? A HUGE blunder that sailed past me, my CPs, and my editor, caught, ironically, by my editor’s husband who happened to be-what are the odds?-an Irish historian! He innocently pointed out the O’Connors traveling via ship to Ireland during WWI was not feasible since passenger ships were commandeered for war and German U-boats made it too dangerous to travel. Sigh.
So, how does somebody who despises research make sure the setting, speech, hairstyles, clothing, mannerisms, appliances, music, movies, etc. are authentic to the era?
Very carefully! I bookmark “favorite” research links or paste them in a “Notes” document I create for each book. Here are some of my favorites:
1.) LIBRARIAN JUDY GANN’S SEEKERVILLE POST: Shhh … Library Secrets You Really Need to Know.
2.) PATTY SMITH HALL’S SEEKERVILLE POST: Mining Through History to Find a Gem of a Story …
3.) SEEKERVILLE: A blog of 15 ACFW authors who share experience and advice on writing/contests/the journey to publication and beyond. This is a specific link to hook you up with 15 GREAT articles on research.
4.) HISTORICAL TIMELINE: Fun website!!
5.) ONLINE ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY: THIS is one of the sites I use more than other! As a historical writer, I have to ensure the words and slang my characters use typify or qualify the era for which I’m writing.
6.) CHARLOTTE DILLON’S “RESEARCH FOR WRITERS“
So when my CP nailed me again recently, I sighed. “Julie, when Katie is typing, she can’t “push the return key with a focused glint in her eye” because it wouldn’t be a key, it would be a lever, right?”
“Key,” “lever”-who really cares? Well, when you’re talking historicals, the reader does, apparently … and now, so do I!
ACFW’s 2009 Debut Author of the Year, Julie Lessman was voted #1 Romance Author in Family Fiction magazine’s 2011 and 2012 Readers Choice Awards, plus #1 Historical Fiction Author, #3 Author, #4 Novel, #3 Series, as well as Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and 14 RWA awards.