Let me just say how thrilled I am to have author Maria Grace visiting today on Leatherbound Reviews! If you have not had a chance to read her novels, you must!
If you have followed Maria Grace around the Internet or read her bio, you know she is quite the accomplished lady! In addition to the various degrees and black belts she holds, Grace is also a rapacious researcher. You can always learn interesting tidbits about Regency history from Grace on her blog, Random Bits of Fascination, as well as English Historical Fiction Authors.
As I know many of my readers are writers, whether published or not, I thought Grace would like to share about her research process, especially in conjunction with her latest release, Remember the Past.
Please give a hearty welcome to author Maria Grace!
It’s all in the details…or not
Thanks so much for having me, Jakki. It is always such a pleasure to visit with you! You asked me about the research process and challenges in writing. I really had to think about that. I tend to get so close to the process, I don’t think about it too much, I just jump in and do, then look back later and wonder what I did.
I think for me, one of the biggest challenges is getting the details right and getting the right level of details into a story. Hitting the sweet spot means transporting a reader into a new world that comes alive with sights and sounds and even smells as well as all the character and plot details. Working in an historical context though presents an extra level of challenge in trying to determine what exactly those details should be.
I know some authors take the approach of just focusing on the story and not dealing in the specifics. While that is a viable option and it does save a great deal of time on the research end of things, I am way too compulsive to cope with taking that route. I have always loved stories rich with enough evocative detail to transport me there. That is what I want to create.
To do that, I find myself doing two different kinds of research. I guess they would be best described as ‘big picture’ and ‘fine detail’ research. As an aside, the hands down number one best tool for me to keep up with all my research is Microsoft One Note—now a free app! It is a virtual three ring binder that acts just like a ‘real’ binder, with the added feature of being able to search all your files with for a word or phrase. Makes it very easy to find what you are looking for. I copy all the useful stuff I find (with appropriate citations!) into my One Note research notebook. I do not rely on bookmarks or url links because one too many times I’ve found the sites I need are dead when I most need them.
For big picture research, I will take a broad topic, like the Regency era navy or etiquette and search for references.( By the way, Google Books has a gazillion digitized public domain period books that are the hands down best references.) Then I read and take notes until my eyes bleed—a little like going back to graduate school!
In my latest book, Remember the Past, I cast Mr. Bennet as a younger son who joined the navy and became Admiral Bennet. I needed to get a picture of what naval life was like to understand how that would shape his character. Things like leaving home at 11 years old to serve under his first captain, who would have likely been a family connection and would have possibly helped him get his first posting as lieutenant aren’t so significant from a plot standpoint—those never really came out in the story. But they did enable me to shape the character into someone who was believable and real—his prickly demanding nature had a reason for being there and he became a three-dimensional person.
In the same way, studying etiquette books of the period offers not just answers to particular questions like how were people introduced to each other (lots of rule governing that, by the way), but it also gives insight into how people looked at situations and each other. What would a young woman be concerned about going into a social situation? What would she want to get right? What little things might make her uncomfortable or cause others to be uncomfortable? It all paints a wonderful social backdrop in which my characters can interact.
Where big picture research helps create the rick background, like a theater stage, the small details come together to bring it all to life. The often are little things that could easily be glossed over, but when included give that something to the scene to make the reader feel there. I have poured hours over period cookbooks to find the right food for a particular scene. I want the confectioner to serve the right sweets. By reading the recipes and incorporating my own knowledge of food and cooking, I can bring in the smells and tastes of the food to the scene—the pips of lemon floating in the tart-sweet lemonade, the crispy-sugary crunch of the crust of an almond clear cake, followed by the smoothly melting sweet jelly sliding down the throat. No, these details don’t turn the plot, but they build a world for the reader.
As much as I love, love, love all the details, they have to be used like seasoning in a fine dish. Used correctly, they make the meal. Too little, and the experience is bland and unmemorable. Too heavy handed and it is inedible. The trick for me is to try and put myself in the head of the point of view character and try and figure out what would they notice at that particular time and what would they notice about it. At one time it might be that their mother loved those almond clear cakes and each bite made it seem she was in the room too, at another the crumbly sugar crust all over her fingers, already sticky with the jelly that melted too soon just reminds her of the arsey-varsey mess her life has become. Same food, but very different relevant details.
Most of the time, I end up adding those details in the final editing stages, like finding the right jewelry to go perfectly with an outfit. Occasionally I make myself crazy with the process, but overall, it is a satisfying treat to ‘decorate’ my manuscript and build a world for my readers.
Here’s a little excerpt of Remember the Past where I’ve tried to use little details to build a world for the reader:
Elizabeth sat on the bed, taking in the glories of Pemberley’s guest room. What luxury! The elegant oak furnishings, softened by rich silks and velvets did not compare to the greatest indulgence–a room to herself! Whilst traveling, she shared with Jane and sometimes even her brothers.
Luxurious, but lonely. She invited Jane for a sisterly tête-à-tête before retiring.
Jane lounged against mountains of bed pillows on a soft feather bed and brushed Elizabeth’s hair. Lady Catherine had offered the services of her lady’s maid, but tonight even a servant’s presence was more than Elizabeth could bear. The balm her soul required resided in Jane’s serenity—and company.
“I expect we shall not experience scenes beyond Derbyshire for quite some time.” Jane slid Lady Ellen’s silver brush through Elizabeth’s locks.
“You are probably right. Fortunately, the county is lovely, and I do not expect restless to overtake me any time soon.” She surrendered to Jane’s strokes, the hairbrush drawing her tension away.
“I think—no, I am determined—I shall like living here very much.”
“Because the landscape is so attractive—or the neighbors?”
Elizabeth looked over her shoulder. Jane’s expression was just as she expected: a mix of shock and approval only Jane could achieve. “You do not disagree?”
“I … what … what would you have me say?”
“Col. Fitzwilliam spent a great deal of time staring at you. He is a well-looking man, though perhaps a bit too much like Francis for your liking.”
Elizabeth tucked her knees under her chin. “Did you not recognize the mischief in his eyes? He bore an uncanny resemblance to our brother.”
“I perceived nothing of the sort, though I did notice the attentions Mr. Darcy cast your way.”
“You may stop noticing that immediately.” Elizabeth turned her back.
“Scoot closer so I can plait your hair.” Jane’s sure fingers worked through Elizabeth’s tresses. “Mr. Darcy is very well-looking, too.”
“I had not observed.” If Jane did not see her face, she might well get away with this tiny falsehood.
“Yes, you did. You also discerned his well-formed opinions, his excellent taste and his faultless manners, all on display from dining to drawing room.”
“I grant you, he is a gracious host but nothing more.” Also untrue. He was a doting father, attentive brother and kind, devoted nephew.
“Hand me the ribbon.” Jane plucked it from Elizabeth’s palm. “I fail to comprehend why—”
“No, please.” Elizabeth slid off the bed and put several steps between her and Jane’s suffocating words.
“Derbyshire is not London.”
“No, but people are still people. They change little with location.”
“The ton is very different—”
“How do you know?” Elizabeth edged back. The window bench halted her retreat.
“Why do you insist—”
“How do you expect me to forget what happened? You do not, cannot understand.” She veiled herself with the curtains. Jane must not see her face, not now.
“You must allow not all men are like him,” Jane whispered near her shoulder.
“Perhaps not.” She sat on the window bench. “How is one to tell for certain?”
Jane knelt beside the bench and leaned her head in Elizabeth’s lap. “How might one ever be certain? Consider though, his family does much to recommend him.”
“Perhaps.” The denizens of Pemberley did, on first acquaintance at least, seem agreeable. More than agreeable, they were … at ease with one another and entirely unpretentious.
Sweet Jane’s assumptions might be utterly correct. But even if Mr. Darcy fulfilled every one of Jane’s expectations, did that not make it all the more likely he would find Elizabeth as lacking as the ton had? Derbyshire might be different from London, but their move had not altered her.
Then again, Mr. Darcy did seem very dissimilar to other gentlemen who bore the distinction in name only. His demeanor, even with the high spirits of the youngsters, was respectful and courteous, accepting their natures as they were, not critical and dismissive. And the way he looked at them—was not that the truest measure of his character?
Perhaps it was possible. He might be worth a chance.
THANK YOU, Grace! My word! Now I have a desire to use One Note and eat some yummy confections. :) That almond cake sounds divine. Please do send me a recipe! I love that you desire to build a world for the reader because that is what really pulls me in as a reader. I wish you tons of success on Remember the Past!
Maria Grace is kindly giving away one (1) e-copy (Kindle, ePub, or PDF) of Remember the Past to ONE lucky commenter. OPEN WORLDWIDE!
To enter, please leave a comment for Grace with an email address or Twitter handle. (no address/handle, no entry)
Please feel free to tweet or Facebook this post for extra entries. Just leave a comment with the link.
Giveaway ends September 1, 2014!
Best of luck!! =)
Elizabeth Bennet’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, assures his daughters that his retirement from His Majesty’s Navy will be the start of a new life for them all. Little does he know his family's battles have only just begun.
Well-connected and in possession of a good fortune, their entry into society should have been a triumph. However, their long-awaited first season in London proves a disaster, and the resulting scandal sends the Bennets fleeing to the wilds of Derbyshire.
Widower Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, wants for nothing, most especially not a wife. From the moment the Bennets arrive in Derbyshire, Darcy’s neatly ordered life turns upside down. His sons beg to keep company with their new playmates, the young Bennet twins. His mother-in-law sets her cap for Admiral Bennet. Worst of all, Darcy cannot get his mind off a certain bewitching Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but she has sworn never to let another gentleman near her heart.
Darcy’s best efforts to befriend and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry, alienating first Miss Elizabeth, then her father, and finally endangering what both men hold most dear. Can the two men Elizabeth loves most set aside their pride to prevent catastrophe for their families and win the love they seek?
About the author:
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sown six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
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