Monday, June 15, 2009

Bucking My Own Trend

I wrote traditional Regency romances for six years with Kensington. I read Regency romances. I researched the period, read about the period, loved the period, so when I switched to longer format historical romances, I would naturally write about the Regency period, right?

Well, no.

I veered off to the late Georgian era. My Awaiting series (Awaiting the Moon, etc.) was set in 1795 Germany, and Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark (Sourcebooks Casablanca – April 2009), the first book in a new series, is set in Yorkshire 1786. Why? At first, I didn’t know a thing about the period, except that George the III was mad (he wasn’t really… oh, he was ill, but it was physical not emotional or mental) and… well, that was pretty much it.

You think I’m exaggerating?

I wish I was. My first problem with Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark came right away, when I had to write the first scene, where Lady Anne is traveling north to Yorkshire at the desperate request of her friend, Lady John Bestwick. Seems there’s a werewolf in Yorkshire, and Anne needs to get there as quickly as possible. Royal Mail was the only way to get there swiftly. Luckily, I found out that the Royal Mail had begun accepting passengers by 1786, and had improved the route to the point that Anne could get from London to Yorkshire in one day, more or less.

That was just the beginning of the research I needed to do, I realized, when I tried to describe her dress. When, exactly, did the waist on lady’s gowns rise from Georgian lows to Regency highs? How did you light a fire or a candle in 1786 (hint… not with a match). How were Georgian gowns constructed? (I became familiar with the ‘Stomacher’, a section pinned or fastened on over a gown front). And the gowns! There was the robe à l’Anglaise, à la Française, à la Polonaise, à la Mayonnaise! Okay, so that last part I’m making up. No mayonnaise.

But why would I do such a thing as completely depart from an era I had spent years researching and learning about? It wasn’t out of necessity. The Regency is a tried and true period popular among romance readers, after all. But that was the problem. With the ‘Awaiting’ books, and again with the Lady Anne series, I wanted a kind of Gothic feel: mystery, menace, madness. The Regency felt too light and bright for me, too modern, too known.

I’ve now done the acres and acres of research on the Georgian period to credibly clothe and inform my characters, so, much of what I read now, I read out of interest not necessity. I’ve fallen in love with the art, the music, the literature. And I think I understand better now, what made me travel back a few years from that tried and true Regency era. I wanted the challenge, and I longed for the unknown. I needed to take a break from the familiar and step into the unfamiliar.

It’s worked, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

Have you ever taken a step outside the familiar to travel down an unknown road, either literally or metaphorically?
Have you ever promised to do something at work and realized you didn’t know how to do it?
Volunteered for a committee or project, and found out it entailed a lot more work than you realized?

Has a favorite writer of yours ever changed the era in which he or she set their books, and you wondered why?


  1. "Have you ever taken a step outside the familiar to travel down an unknown road, either literally or metaphorically?"

    Actually, I did with my first SEAL book. I jumped into uncharted waters in every way.

    First of all I'd never written a romance. I had everything to learn about the beats, the plot points, that make the romance form work.

    Second, far from knowing much about SEALs, I'd always been one to eschew learning about anything military.

    Third, I had a successful practice as an NLP Master Practitioner and had no need to add another career.

    I look back on it and ask myself, "What was I THINKING?"

    But really, I know what I was thinking.

    I was thinking, "I haven't had this much fun in years!"

  2. Whew! You've just convinced me to never begin writing historicals!
    I sort of switched from contemporaries to sci-fi, but I only did it with that one book, and look what happened! Maybe jumping genres is a good thing...

  3. When I actually get scuba certification I'll get back to you.

    Don't hold your breath!

    I so admire all the research historical writers do. Mind boggling.

  4. Have you fallen in love with Yorkshire yet? It's such a perfect location - the weather, the moors... (I'm a Yorkshire lass.)

  5. Judi... scuba certification... 'don't hold your breath'... LOL.

    Sheila... I've long been addicted to Yorkshire settings, even though I've never been there. I've read all of Jame Herriot's books, and have a photo book of his. May I use you as a resource some time?? Pick your brain?? Hmmm?

  6. I love writing about the medieval period. It's a time when men fought with a sword, which is like an extension of their...uhm, well, it's just more swashbuckling than pulling out a gun and shooting some guy between the eyes. There were no clocks, everything was based on the church bells to ring in the times of day. I just found the whole period fascinating. :)

    Oh, then there be wolves...

    Oh, and Sheila, cool that you're from Yorkshire! I have this medieval tale where...

  7. Oh yeah, know all about the unfamiliar! When I first started writing it was due to crazed inspiration to write a love story. I knew zip about the Regency or any other Era in great detail. I learned as I went along, often over time having to go back and correct a mistake I had made in some detail earlier on. Thankfully I love history and that sort of challenge, because when I decided to write a story about Georgiana Darcy set in the post Napoleonic Empire in France I had to start all over!

  8. I think it is so interesting when authors can successfully travel between eras/cultures etc. The first author that comes to mind (other than some of our very own authors!) is Anita Diamant with The Red Tent (biblical), Good Harbor (contemporary) and The Last Days of Dogtown (1800s)--not to mention her nonfiction books and her newest release (which is set in WWII, I think).

    I love research--thanks for sharing part of your process Donna!!