Putting the History into Historical Romance

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Here’s a guest post I did for The Reading Cafe. They are true book lovers, and I cherish their friendship:

I’ll admit it. I’m a nerd. I was the girl who liked school. Really liked it. The priority for most kids on a school day is to see their friends—then think (or worry) about school stuff. I loved seeing my friends, but I really enjoyed learning. And nothing fascinated me more than history.

I soaked up all the fun stuff, especially about US presidents. Did you know that Grant got a speeding ticket for racing his horse and buggy too fast down the streets of Washington, D.C.? Or that Taft’s 300+ pounds didn’t fit inside the White House bathtub, so they installed a larger one!

And Garfield could write the same words in Latin with one hand and Greek with the other . . . at the same time. Naturally, I also learned about political history and economic policies and felt a thrill when I connected those things to the big picture.

I realized my first dream when I became a history teacher (bet you didn’t see that one coming!). I loved watching documentaries or scouring biographies to look for interesting tidbits to share with my students that would help bring history alive to hormonal, self-centered teens.

And when I came up for air from all of the grading and lesson planning and parent conferences, I learned by reading historical romances that I could have my cake and eat it, too. Historicals not only told great love stories in long-ago places, but I actually learned a few things as I read (and sighed and lusted after the hero).

Writing my own historical romances, I wanted to bring that air of verisimilitude to my novels – but I don’t want to preach to my readers and insert dry, boring facts simply because it’s historical romance. My goal is to integrate facts from the past and let them add depth and texture to an interesting plot and great romance.

Researching for my novels is a pleasure. Sometimes I have to limit my research time because I get so caught up in it—and my editor is waiting for a book—so I need to put in the writing time.

I’ve read biographies and history books, along with newspapers. Watched documentaries. Studied old photographs online. Read letters. Looked at maps. Found brochures. Gone to museums. Research opportunities are endless and all around if you’re willing to dig deeply and utilize a variety of sources.

For my October release, Outlaw Muse, I spent time reading about the orphan trains that took children from the ages of 5-18 out west to start a new life. I found emigration rosters with children’s names and ages and pamphlets about foster care for these orphans, along with photographs of them, their faces both hopeful and fearful at the same time. I incorporated bits and pieces of this as my heroine and her twin brother ride the Orphan Train to Missouri as children, hoping to be adopted by a wonderful set of parents and find a stable family life.

While researching aspects for A Game of Chance, my January 2014 release, I had to understand different poker hands since my hero is an ace gambler. About the only thing I knew about poker hands came from playing Yahtzee with my daughter when she was young. I learned the difference between a flush (any five cards of the same suit) and a royal flush (an ace-high straight of the same suit and the rarest hand in poker). I also studied maps of San Francisco in the 1870s to learn where the best-known gaming halls were located. I wrote about the death of  one character, so I even researched cemeteries to see where she might be buried.

For A Change of Plans (coming sometime in 2014), my heroine Maggie is a dime novelist. I found all kinds of facts about dime novels and the publishing world at that time. Maggie writes under a man’s pen name, as many women of that era did. She wants to write a novel about cowboys on the cattle trail and interviews my hero Ben, fresh off a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. Through their dialogue, I’m able to drop several interesting tidbits about what it’s like to be a cowboy riding along the ChisholmTrail.

History is full of untold stories, and I mine research and treasure it as a Forty-Niner might a precious gold nugget, for those nuggets help bring life to my characters and plot!

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About laurenlinwood

I'm a romance author who loves reading, movies, music, and sports. Connect with
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