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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

This story starts, as do so many, in the vast swamplands of my ignorance.

That is to say, there was a time when I knew considerably less than I do now about Regency naming conventions, and in that state of limited knowledge, I decided to name my book’s hero Christopher.

Fine, time-honored English name, right? Christopher Wren, right? Christopher Marlowe? Christopher Plummer, Christopher Lee, Christopher Robin?

Now, maybe somewhere in the back of my brain I did note that I couldn’t recall ever encountering a Christopher in Jane Austen… or in any Regency romance I’d read… but I’d come across at least one in Dickens, and that was pretty close (especially if you overlooked the fact that the character was one of Dickens’s saintly poor kids as opposed to the overprivileged baronet-in-waiting I was writing), and the name sounded so nice (tremendously pleasing distribution of plosive, fricative, and sibilant-fricative consonants, for those who take an interest in those things), and really, what were the odds it would ever find its way to publication anyway?

So I back-burnered the issue of name accuracy, and wrote. And by the time the thing was finished, and the idea of publication was beginning to seem a little more plausible (it had placed first in a contest and netted some agent requests), I was mighty attached to that name.

I knew by now it was an unlikely name for a baronet to have given his firstborn son in the year 1788, but surely it wasn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility… was it?

To find out, I went to the Baronets listing of ThePeerage.com. I figured if I could just find one real-life Regency-era baronet named Christopher, I’d take it as a green light.

And a little way into the B section of the alphabetically ordered listings, I found one! I was in the clear, right?

Well, not really. Because the baronetcy was created for this guy, perhaps in recognition of his distinguished military service. For all we know he was born in the merchant or working class, where naming requirements weren’t nearly so strict. In short, he wasn’t the proof I’d been looking for… and a search through the rest of the baronet listings failed to turn up any more Christophers. I mean not one.

And still I didn’t change my hero’s name. I’d spent more months than I care to admit with this manuscript, and this character, and dammit, his name was Christopher. That was who he was. He simply wouldn’t answer to George, or James, or anything else on that short list of names that late-Georgian-era gentry gave to their sons.

So Christopher he remained through submission to my eventual agent, through submission to publishing houses, through sale and website and editorial revisions.

I rationalized, privately: Surely if the name were so wrong, someone at my agency or publisher would have mentioned it by now… Does it really matter that much? – Lots of the best-selling historical romances aren’t all that accurate… And it would be boring if we all named our heroes Edward and Henry and William.

But here’s the thing. I am a writer who is going to make mistakes. I try to be scrupulous in my research and fact-checking, but there’s no getting around the fact that I come from an English-major background as opposed to having a degree in history or a lifelong passion for the world of Georgette Heyer. For all my efforts, almost certainly I will get some things wrong.

Did I really want to get this rather substantial thing wrong, on purpose, in my first published book?

By the time A Lady Awakened went into copy edits this past spring, I’d been away from the characters long enough that to change a name didn’t feel entirely unthinkable anymore. So back I went to the Big List o’Baronets, and there among the Johns and Arthurs I found…

Two hundred and thirty years of baronets named Theophilus.

Theophilus! Now here was a name I could work with. I could picture my hero’s father saddling him with something so grandiose, I could picture my hero growing up slightly mortified by it, and I could have him be “Theo” for short.

The word even had a lot of the same pleasing phonetic qualities as “Christopher.” It fit with the description I’d already written for the first time the heroine ventures to pronounce his given name:

The name floated out like milkweed-fluff blown from her palm, wayward and ephemeral.

So I bit the bullet and authorized a great big search-and-replace.

And, vowing not to go through this again, took care to name my next hero Will.

(The historically persnickety among us might wish to take issue with my heroine’s name as well, but this one I’m sticking by. Jane Austen herself had a friend named Martha, so we know it’s a plausible name for a respectable, if not aristocratic, lady of the era. And since my heroine’s father was a sober-minded, Bible-studying man not terribly concerned with what names were fashionable, I think it works.)

Writers: Do you struggle with these details? How do you deal with the very short list of viable names for Regency-era gentry and aristocracy? Readers: Does it make a difference to you? Or are names something you’ll overlook as long as the characters grab you?

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Pile of research books

Somewhere in here, I’m hoping hard, is the plot for my next book.  I know who the hero is, and the heroine is starting to take shape, and I have some ideas for the dynamic of their relationship, but beyond that it’s all a daunting blank.

Plot = blood; Cecilia = turnip.

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This is it.  Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, pedal to the metal.  No more blogging, and no more than 20 minutes per day reading other people’s blogs, until this book is finished and handed in.

Topics hover around, though, stacking up like MD80’s over O’Hare, and I need to at least radio out and let them know they haven’t been forgotten.  So here are ten things I wish I could be blogging about:

  1. This item I got for a quarter from the closeout bin at my supermarket:

    "New Moon" themed Sweethearts candyIn case it’s not clear from the photo, the candy hearts pictured on the box say:

    • “I ♥ JB”
    • “Howl”
    • “Save me”
  2. The fabulousness of Sherry Thomas.  I read His at Night a few months back, and spent some time trying to put my finger on just what it is that makes this author’s books work so well for me.  I have some thoughts I hope to whip into essay form.

    Also I can tell about my ignominious moment of meeting Thomas at RWA Nationals (same publisher; same publisher party).  Basically, I said Hi and then clammed up for fear that even a simple “I really like your books” might cascade into such effusive gushing as could make the Deepwater Horizon look like a pinhole leak in a garden hose.

  3. More about my family’s trip through the South, including our visit to Colonial St. Augustine where I annoyed all the costumed colonial tradesmen by asking whether a woman might ever conceivably have done that job.  Don’t give me that look, Sir!  I happen to know there were female silversmiths in 18th-century London!

  4. “You mean those books were free?” How I made it to the last day of the RWA conference without grasping why people would miss workshops to stand in those long lines for the author signings.  And other incidences of my stupidity at Nationals.
  5. Business cards collected at Nationals, featuring…

    Mini business cardsMini-cards!  Aren’t they adorable?  They kinda remind me of those mini supermarket club cards that go on your keychain instead of in your wallet.

  6. My resolution to broaden my reading horizons beyond my current narrow diet of historicals set in the Georgian, Regency, or Victorian periods.

    Because every writer I met at Nationals, YA or erotica or romantic suspense, said, “Oh, I love Regency” when I told them what I wrote, and I felt like a total jerk not being able to reciprocate.

    At least I had sufficient wits about me to ask for recommendations in their genre(s), and now I’ve got myself a reading list to work through.

  7. Cool people met at Nationals, starting with the awesome Molly O’Keefe, a Harlequin author who’s expanding into single titles with Bantam and who won the Rita for her novella The Christmas Eve Promise while I went quietly nuts at my table.  (“Omigod I know her!  I know her!  I had lunch with her just today!”)
  8. A promo giveaway so inspired, I may have to steal the idea.  Historical author & promo whiz Jeannie Lin is leveraging social networks in an impressively organized way to promote her upcoming debut, Butterfly Swords.

    The whole scheme sounds pretty brilliant, with prizes for her promo elves, but the part that really caught my eye is that one of the prizes is an annotated manuscript of Butterfly Swords!

    Sez Lin:

    Think of it as the DVD commentary, book version. It will include discussion about story elements, reflections, how parts of the story evolved. Thought it might be fun to do.

    Am I the only reader geeky enough to get chills at the thought of an annotated manuscript?

  9. On my genre’s right to respect, and how I think it’s getting closer.  This is a big and perennial topic for me.  Most recently I read Jon Meacham’s editorial in Newsweek‘s Books issue (Aug. 9) asserting the merits of the mystery and thriller genres.  As usual with this sort of piece, I read through his various arguments thinking, yep, you could say that about romance too.

    And then I came to this part:

    The narrative [of a mystery/thriller, just like any other work of fiction] gives us a glimpse, however fleeting, of what William Faulkner called the “old verities and truths of the heart…love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”

    Deja vu!  I’d cited that exact same Faulkner quote in a “Why do you read/write romance?” discussion on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog just a few weeks earlier.  Kind of a tingly, zeitgeisty moment.

  10. I did have a #10 but I forgot it.  So instead, another look at the New Moon candy:

    Box of New Moon Sweethearts candy

    See where it says “You’ve felt the flame…Now catch the chill”? There’s an Edward version of these too, but the closeout bin didn’t have any of those. Make of that what you will.

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Some years back I took my daughter to a bookstore for an appearance by Ann Brashares, who was at the time promoting the third in her four-book Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  Ann read an excerpt, and spoke a bit, and answered questions from the overflow audience.  And two things in particular have stayed with me from that Q & A:

1)  How sincerely interested she was in the opinions of the teen & tween girls who’d shown up to hear her.  “What do you guys think of the cover? Is the color okay?” she asked in the same way you might ask your best friend about a shirt you’re trying on in a department-store dressing room.  (This has nothing to do with the rest of today’s post, but I’ve remembered it vividly.)

2) What she said about writing the character of Bridget, the soccer jock.  Ann herself was not at all athletic, and so Bridget was her chance to sort of try on that life; to think about how a supremely confident athlete’s mind would work; to educate herself in the things Bridget would know about soccer, etc.

This is on my mind today because I’m struggling with writing a heroine whose brain readily grasps things that confound me.  Lydia is a gambler who possesses, as she describes it, “a certain facility with numbers and an excellent memory for what I’ve seen.”  People like that fascinate me, all the more because I’m not one of them.  Writing Lydia gives me a chance to try on a numberish brain at the same time I’m trying on life for a woman in the early 19th century, which is an irresistible double challenge.

But it’s also hard, hard work.  I’ve spent the morning taxing my poor non-numberish brain over Charles Babbage’s An Examination of some Questions connected with Games of Chance.  (Published in 1820, so Lydia couldn’t have read it, but it does give an idea of what a mathematically gifted person with an interest in gambling might have come up with around that time.)

I make it through page 1 okay.  Martingale betting; yup, I know about martingale betting.  I’m with him through most of page 2, when he introduces variables of p and q to represent number of hands (or coin-tosses, or whatever) won and lost.

But at the bottom of the page he assigns the value of 2u to the gambler’s bet.  And there’s got to be a reason for the 2, right?  Otherwise he would just call it u.  However he offers no explanation for the 2.  So I’m troubled.  But I’m forging ahead.

And then comes this:  we may represent the gamester’s profit after one event is decided by 2u(-1)a, a being any whole number; for since the nature of the number a is left undecided, whether it is an even or an odd one, the expression just given will represent either a profit or a loss.

Okay, but where does a come from?  What does it represent?  Dammit, Lydia would know this on first reading.

Seven lines later he’s brought in a cosine.  Okay, I can see that the cosine is optional.  But it’s still deeply troubling.  Then come thirteen lines of plain old text, and I’m actually following along for a bit.  But suddenly he’s referring to a b and a c in addition to the a, and a peek ahead shows grim pages of successively longer and more recondite equations, and I am feeling like a cartoon character with my fingernails dug into the side of a cliff, sliding inexorably down.  What on earth possessed me to write a character who was good at math?

Well.  One thing that possessed me, undoubtedly, is that I do have a numberish brain in the family.  My brother has by now grown used to receiving e-mails with requests like “Please review these rules for a 19th-century version of blackjack and tell me how strategy would differ from modern blackjack strategy” and sending replies like “Well, the obvious big difference is you get to see your first card before determining your wager.”

(Right.  Obvious.  Totally obvious.)

So, off goes Babbage and his Examination, hopefully to be translated into understandable terms.  And next time, I swear, I will write a heroine who’s a spelling prodigy or something.

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