Archive for 'Research'

Be Careful What You Research!
by Our Guest on January 15th, 2009

It started out perfectly innocent. I just needed a little information, nothing much, just enough to add that touch of realism to a group of scenes in Dark Temptation. My hero wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know why.

Slow acting poison. That was the culprit, and I needed to know about the various kinds and what their effects were. So I turned to the internet and typed in my query.

Holy crap!!!

Suddenly I had images of the FBI banging down my door, confiscating my computer and dragging me off to prison. Because as I perused the website I’d opened, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t an informative description of poisons and how they work, but instructions on HOW TO MURDER SOMEONE! Seriously. I felt as if I’d just descended to one of Dante’s levels of hell, where the real demons lurk and plot their evil deeds. I can’t tell you how fast I clicked off, dropped my computer cookies and decided books were the way to go. Writers Digest has volumes on everything, and I found my answers there. Phew!
So the lesson learned was be careful WHAT you research and HOW you research it.

Anyway, not all research comes second hand. Yesterday I mentioned something about fleas and castles. While in Ireland and touring Ross Castle in Kilarney, I learned a little something that, at least momentarily, blew all my romantic, fairytale concepts about lords and ladies. Seems they had a little system to help combat the vermin crawling in their clothes, which was to hang said clothes along the tiny passage that led to the privy in the lord’s solar. Apparently the acidic stench filtering back up from the cess pit (or moat), was enough to kill anything. I know! I’m sorry! But can you imagine how that clothing must have reeked??? Especially on a summer’s day. Still, I suppose that was better fleas and lice. For the most part I just put it out of my mind. It’s my romantic fantasy, and in MY world, lords and ladies bath regularly and their clothes are clean, anacrynisms be damned!

Another bit of research that blew my preconceived notions? Despite the Victorian Age being one of stuffy traditions and strict family values, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. From what I’ve read, after a grim, sheltered childhood spent in shabby surroundings, Victoria became quite the party girl upon ascending to the throne! But maybe it’s not so hard to believe. Imagine yourself an eighteen-year-old who has been overprotected all your life, and suddenly finding yourself the leader of the most influential country at the time, with a crown on your head, no less, and everyone bowing and curtsying every time you walked by. Might make you want to act out just a bit, huh?

Can we say, Power Crazed? Not that she abused her authority, mind you. She was at heart a sensible girl, but the first thing she did upon moving into Buckingham Palace was relegate her mother to rooms far, far away from her own. Victoria was free, and she intended partying until the wee hours of the morning! It was actually her husband Albert who instilled a steadying, quieting influence on the royal household, but Victoria had no problem going along with it by then because she ADORED him. Which leads me to my final reasearch surprise — her majesty did NOT like babies or young children. I know! In her mind, pregnancy and looking after infants interfered with time that could be better spent with her darling Albert, and she resented it!

So that perfect family image that lent its shining example to an entire era was, well, maybe not so perfect. The good news for me, though, is that while I came away a little disillusioned, it all makes great fodder for romance novels!

How about you? What surprises have shocked you, scared you, or just blew your preconceived notions out of the water?

Cooking Up Ideas
by Our Guest on December 18th, 2008
I’m a daydreamer. Always have been. One of the great things about being a writer is that I can sit staring into thin air indulging in my wildest fantasies and say, “Hey, I’m working…I’m plotting.” I’ve always also had a sneaking suspicion I was born in the wrong century. I just feel more “right” when I’m around old things, while too much modern sets me on edge just a little bit.
Idle daydream, or brilliant plotting? Only the author knows for sure!
I’ve always said I don’t have the foggiest idea how to plot a contemporary story. I read contemporaries and enjoy them, but my mind becomes a bumbling blank when it comes to envisioning enough plot points to fill a book. Give me a historical setting, however, and suddenly my passion fires up and my imagination kicks into high gear.
I usually start with a simple premise — what happens when a young woman with an insatiable curiosity encounters a man with a lot to hide and everything to lose? That example is from Dark Temptation, but around a basic kernel like that my stories grow layer by layer, often in successive drafts and with a lot of help from the historic accounts I read as I do my research. Cornish history is rich with tales of pirates and smugglers, secret tunnels and wild ocean storms that sent many a ship crashing into the coastline. That all found its way into my story, both in setting and actual plot. It never fails that in doing research I’ll stumble upon some specific event or person that fits right into my theme, which was the case with the real life pirate, Lady Mary Killigrew, who became the basis for my fictional Meg Keating, whose ghost might or might not be terrorizing the characters in the story. But until I discovered the real Lady Mary, that element didn’t exist in Dark Temptation.
Lady Mary Killigrew, or the evil Meg Keating? Wait, both were pretty evil!
 So my germ of an idea when mixed with research becomes bigger ideas and subplots, which in turn leads to more research and more ideas. Sometimes when I start a book I worry that I won’t have enough material to fill 350 plus pages, but I always do — in fact I usually end up trimming. It’s a process I’ve learned to trust.
Allison’s Plotting Recipe:
1. One pint daydream — as in, what if I were lost and found myself in a mystical churchyard…would I trust the brooding stranger who wrapped me in his arms?
2. Sprinkle with several generous pinches of historical detail
3. Fold in a scoop each of pacing, conflict, motivation, relationship issues
4. Whip all ingredients to a vigorous froth
5. Bring to a passionate boil, then simmer until plot thickens.  
What’s your recipe for a delicious story?