Thursday, March 21, 2013

Somewhere in Time

Book Giveaway winners! - Tuesday's winner of Dana Cameron's Seven Kinds of Hell is Grapeshot/Odette. Wednesday we had a three way tie, winners are Mar, Vickie and Gram/Dee. (Winners will each get a vintage gardening book) Please send your snail mail addresses to me at Congrats all! (BTW all the gardening ideas were clever..look for my garden pix in late April.)

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Some of us are in the 21st Century...and then again some of us aren't. I spent most of Tuesday with the fabulous Lyndsay Faye, the author of the Edgar nominated The Gods of Gotham. TGOG is set in the mid-19th century. And Lyndsay was my guest speaker at Norwalk Community College because in addition to being a terrific writer, she's an expert on Sherlock Holmes.

The woman is amazing. Total recall of 4 novels, 56 short stories and countless rehashes, copycats, pastiches, movies, television shows, radio programs - you name it - anything related to The Great Detective. It's as if the woman hasn't moved into the 20th century yet, much less the 21st. (In a good way.)

I'm feeling a bit of that myself lately.

MY WIP is historical. I haven't gotten the lingo down yet, I'm sure there are 87 sub-genres, but the point is, it's not contemporary. For the past month I've been living in 1899, with the occasional dip 20 years earlier and 20 years later. I haven't quite decided what the time frame of the story is just yet but it's considerably longer than the 5 days it took the corpse flower to bloom in my second book. (ala High Noon if anyone remembers that movie.)

I'm not too worried that I'll slip up and have someone use a cell phone or watch videos in 1899. Or say "Awesome!" - but I can't seem to stop doing research. Just when I think I have as much background info as I need, I stumble upon something else and think Wow maybe I should include that. And I go off down another road. Last weekend at a tag sale I bought a stash of magazines from 1912. It was as if I'd hit the motherlode. Other people were looking for the Picassso under the kids painting and I was going gaga over some moldy mags.

I don't think for a minute that all my research is going to wind up in the book. For my first 5 books I don't think 10 per cent of it actually found its way to the page. Lyndsay said that about 20-30 percent of her research wound up in her book, which I thought had an amazingly seamless integration of historical detail and storytelling.

Like anything, it's all in the doing. I've read some books where the research hit me over the head  - "we get're in Africa, now shut up and tell me a story..." and others where I thought "What a delightful story - and it's set in Africa. I love that!" I guess the trick is to write the latter and not the former.

But I'm enjoying the reading (research) so much there are times when I think I may never get to actually write my story...

How much detail is - as Hallie might say - TMI??


  1. I think including the fascinating stuff you find doing research helps to provide a certain richness to the book, to firmly establish the story within the time frame . . . . My thinking is that it’s all good as long as it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the story you are telling . . . .

  2. My mother used to find and save old newspapers. She started doing that as a little girl when she found a newspaper printed when Lincoln was president.

    Her family had moved into a house on Derby Street in Salem, Massachusetts. While changing the linoleum floor covering my grandfather found old newspapers underneath. My mother discovered one that had a tiny notice buried in the middle of the paper reporting that the president's son Willie had died. On another page was an article about songwriter Stephen Foster.

    My mother said what interested her was how little attention was paid to the death of the president's son and so much more to the songwriter. She said that was history not taught in school.

    Somewhere my stepmother has her collection. More likely she threw it out. I managed to rescue the fragile pieces with the references to President Lincoln and Stephen Foster, but they disappeared in the 1980s.

  3. Ro, I have the "how much is TMI" problem all the time. I love doing research. I think what happens is that all the stuff you DON'T put in the book provides richness and texture and a sense of authenticity. When you actually start writing, you can usually tell when the facts are getting in the way of the story.

    Dying to know about this book you're working on!

  4. Me too, Ro. I'd love to know more about it! The history makes it extra special, xo

  5. One of the things I'm loving about reading what was actually written then (as opposed to something written now ABOUT then)is the pacing and the rhythm of the language. And the ads. They are priceless. Apparently painting on china was huge.

    Reine, somewhere I have the front page from the day Nixon Resigns!

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  7. Painted china!

    I grew up in the same house as my mother and her father. It was built in 1915. Everyone who ever moved out seems to have taken only their clothes with them! It is like walking through a junk shop (maybe a "junque shoppe"?). We have several china cups and saucers that my great-grandmother painstakingly edged and monogrammed in shiny gold paint (which would probably be declared toxic today...). She seems to have had a pretty hand!

  8. Gah. "Pretty steady hand" is what I meant...

    (Though her hands were probably lovely...)

  9. Paula - that's tomorrow Berkeley will have announced a new Painting on China series!

  10. Deb, I hope you're right (re not letting facts get in way of story) I tend to err on the side of too little detail. I once drove a copyeditor nuts by not saying how old a character was. Beyond knowing that she was a single mom and still within child-bearing age, I didn't think it was that important.

  11. Ro, I think Deb's right. Even if it's not historical research, as you read your draft the second, third, fourth time, it becomes clear where even you start skipping sections. Then time to get out the box cutters!

  12. The thing about research is you just don't know when you're going to trip over something unexpected and wonderful for your story.

    My new book has a whole subplot about the B25 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945... which I inadvertently learned about when I was doing research about something else.

    I say put it ALL in early. Then, as Lucy suggests, get out the trimmers.

  13. I go through the same thing with every book, Lindsay. I am so fascinated by the research that I can, a 't stop. I reckon I always use one tenth of what I know. But the fact that I know the other nine tenths makes it a better book.
    I have a Sears catalog from 1900 that is useful, loads and loads of photos from 1900 a pattern book for women's clothing as well as magazines.
    And don't you find that some things you learn can never be used because they sound too modern?

  14. What Debs and Roberta/Lucy said. It all enriches. Put in everything, then cut, cut, cut.

    Can't wait to hear more about this WIP, Ro!

  15. OH, Ro, in our basement--like paulabuck's house, everyone who lived there left stuff--we found a box of old newpapers from World War I (Of course it wasnt called that...)

    They are aMAZIng, with incredble photos of the trenches and camels..and you are so right, the ads. Come read them!

    And Ro, abouit your new time period-- either do (or don't, because they are SO fabulous) read The Alienist, if you haven't already. ANd a fabulous mystery that revolves around the new "electricty" called City of Light. They are both incredible.

  16. OOOoooh, I would love to read those old papers - let's talk! I read The Alienist years ago and I remember liking it a lot so may do that again. But also looking through Our Crowd by Stephen Birmingham...a book I've always meant to read and never got around to. This is really the best part..getting to read or reread lots of great books.

  17. I vote for doing as much research as possible. Whatever does not get used for your current WIP may come in handy later on. Keep in mind that I am a research "addict", though! When my job requires me to do research I often keep going, long after I find the info I needed. I just want to know MORE, and I do find that, if nothing else, I will learn where to look or who to speak to for information I might need in the future.

    When I was a child, someone gave my dad a book called Battles of the American Revolution, published in 1876. I have it now, and keep meaning to look through it to read descriptions of the US as it then existed.

    Oh, by the way: back in the fifties my mom enjoyed painting on china! I remember watching her and being impressed with the designs and colors and with how easy she made it look.

  18. Thank you Ro

    I'm honored to be one of the winners of a Vintage Garden book

    I am so excited and looking forward to reading my "new" book when it arrives

    Congratulations to Vickie and Gram/dee also

    So many great ideas on gardening by everyone.

    Can't wait to see pics of your garden :)

    thank you again