April 24, 2008
There are the facts in the history books, and then there’s the fiction in my books. That’s the basic problem I have as an author – establishing a balance between the two. I’m a bit of a perfectionist; if I write a story set aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, I want the setting, the language and the characterisations to be as historically correct as possible. But there’s a group of people I’m not allowed to forget in my navy-induced euphoria: my readers! Some of them would appreciate a book written in the language of the 18th century, or lengthy descriptions of uniforms; they’d greatly enjoy tons of naval terms and information regarding a purser’s handling of payments and book-keeping.
But the majority wouldn’t. I write to entertain (myself and my readers), and I can’t expect the audience to buy three lexica, four guides and a special edition of The Young Officer’s Sheet Anchor just to understand what the hell I’m talking about. My work must be understandable. It’s a difficult balance act to find the right words and terms to keep the characters and their actions in the correct timeframe but not bore the readers out of their skulls. And don’t say that couldn’t happen – it happens faster than you think! Yesterday I went through a chapter I’ve been very proud of, only to realise that, from a reader’s point of view, it was about as exciting as an article about the mating rites of dung beetles. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t folks out there who would find great pleasure in the love-life of bugs, but – you know what I mean. The chapter had to go.
Too much realism or historical accuracy can ruin my work. I write historical naval adventure with supernatural elements and male/male romance, not a history book or a naval manual. Reading about a supper the heroes enjoy is probably more enjoyable than the details of the food’s contents. Of course, no Age of Sail story without mentioning weevils at least once, but personally, I draw the line at whipworms, hookworms and pinworms. It’s great if a reader thinks at the end of the story “Mmmm, now wouldn’t it be nice if Captain Denningham walked right through that door and stayed for dinner?” I don’t want said reader to add “…but I’ll have him deflea’d, dewormed, thoroughly bathed and sent to the dentist first before we move on to the dessert.” It might be true and historically accurate, but – no. Just no.
If I wrote gritty, realistic drama, things would be different. There couldn’t be enough dirt and stench and whips and whipworms, I guess. But I’m a 21st century person. I have to create a scenario in my head that allows me to throw some romance into the adventure, and that scenario does not allow too much dirt and parasites. Well, not of the animal-kind.
Looking at the final draft of “The Purser, The Surgeon, The Captain And His Lieutenant” now, I can say that all the characters are fitting into the time-period and behave accordingly. But the only character who’s really “authentic” to the core is the purser, Sebastian Quinn. And while many of his actions are ruthless from our modern point of view, they make perfect sense for the man he is and the time he lives in.
Actually – and that’s really a weird thing I noticed – I had more problems writing the chapters set in modern London than those in the 18th century! It was more difficult to describe something I actually know! Switching from one time period to the other really wasn’t easy, especially as the language of the characters differs greatly between the two centuries.
Denningham is not a problem, nor is his sister, but Quinn and Barnett? Somebody pointed out to me that these two are really bad role models, and that it might not be such a good idea to describe the “good guys” as drinking, smoking and swearing. But what can I do? They are swearing. They are drinking. They are smoking. It’s part of their lives and personalities.
I’m all for “cleaning up” the 18th century setting (far thee well, beloved ringworms!), but I refuse to clean up the characters for reasons of political correctness. This is non-negotiable. But maybe I’ll put a special warning label on the front cover: “Being the purser is hazardous for your health! Especially when the lieutenant is close by!” It might increase sales…
(c) Emma Collingwood
April 23, 2008
Posted by Erastes under history Leave a Comment
Lace and Blade is accepting submissions for its second anthology of “elegant, sensual, romantic fantasy, emphasizing sharp verbal repartee as much as sharp pointed weapons, rapier rather than broadsword.
Editor Deborah J. Ross is interested in “characters – both men and women – with vibrant personalities, complex, dashing, and very sexy. I’m particularly interested in stories that have magic and action, but
in which conflict is resolved not by violence but by insight, creativity, and compassion. I’d love to see “win-win” endings, sense-of-wonder, plot twists and turnabout.
Alternate sexuality is welcome; eroticism a definite plus; exotic, non-Western European settings also encouraged. Please read the first volume to see what I’m looking for.” The deadline for submissions is
August 1, 2008. There are no minimum or maximum lengths, though Ross says longer stories must be “extraordinary.” Ross will pay a 2 cents a word advance against royalties. The book will be released Valentine’s Day, 2009. Complete guidelines are available at http://www.norilana.com/norilana-lb-guidelines.htm
Macaronis say: No reason why the fantasy can’t have its feet in history! (and Erastes would like to drool as the slashiness of The Duellist picture below)
April 21, 2008
Mots people would recognise Brighton as being possibly the gay capital of England. (And like Provincetown, MA, it combines this with being a family friendly resort.)
The Brighton Museum has an exhibition on until August 31st called ‘On the Pull’ has a number of references to the town’s development as a place where gay people felt at home.
If you’re in the area, I’d recommend a visit - the museum is entirely free to enter and has a number of excellent permanent and changing displays.
April 21, 2008
I’ve managed to get my mitts on a the most wonderful academic essay – “Prosecution for Sodomy at the beginning of the 19th Century” by D Harvey from The Historical Journal Vol 21 No 4 Dec 1978- pp 939-948 and it’s not only wonderful enlightening reading, but it also shores up a lot of the research I did when writing Standish and other regencies.
The trouble is, that I did the research for Standish so long ago, that I used the facts I knew, absorbed most of it like a sponge, weaved it into the book and then promptly forgot about the research. Not the facts, so much, but where I’d got them all from individually. I should have, I realise now, have cited them all in the back, so at least I looked like someone who had actually worked their socks off on the period, rather than some moron who made it up as they went along!! But, lesson learned, and I’ll certainly not make that mistake again. I did acknowledge Etymology Online and Rictor Norton both of whom I spoke to via email and both of whom couldn’t have been more helpful.
Anyway, this article: I’m going to mention some of the salient points, not bang my way through the article because I’m sure some of you will be as interested in the period as I am, and might find the facts surprising. Direct quotes are in italics
It was the case that in the first third of the nineteenth century, trials and executions for sodomy were much commoner than they had been in any earlier period
That is to say that fifty men were executed within that time, and trials, punishments and executions were more common than at any earlier period.
This reached a peak in 1806 when more men were executed for Sodomy (6) than for murder (5). Not huge amounts but rather telling when compared with the murder figures.
HOWEVER – these figures don’t take into account the Naval Courts Martial which of course dealt with these matters themselves and produced a steady flow of cases similar to that in the civilian courts. An average of two or three were sentenced to death for sodomy each year.
The article also goes to state (thank you article!!) that it wasn’t just the hoi-polloi and the rabble who were subject to the full force of the law, the aristocracy and wealthy were just as vulnerable.
It was a naval captain, Henry Allen, convicted of sodomy and hanged on board the Adventure on 15 May 1797 who had the unfortunate distinction of being the most socially prominent victim of his society’s intolerance in this period.
The most notable civilian to be hanged for sodomy in these years seems to have been Isaac Hitchen, one of a homosexual coterie at Warrington which was prosecuted in 1806; he was said to be one of the richest men in Warrington , worth £60,000.
There were also rumour concerning even more distinguished personages such as the earl of Leicester, afterwards Marquess Townshend, and King George III’s unpopular 5 th son, HRH field marshal the duke of Cumberland, afterwards king of Hanover. One of the most notorious scandals of the time was that involving the fabulously wealthy William Beckford, M.P. for Wells, and the Hon William Courtnay, afterward Viscount Courtenay and earl of Devon in 1784. Both Beckford and Courtenay spent the following TWENTY FIVE YEARS virtually ostracized by society and in 1811 Courtenay was forced to flee from his ancestral home at Powderham Castle and go into exile to avoid prosecution for sodomy. The nearest a member of the aristocracy came to indictment for homosexuality in this period was in 1822 when the bishop of Clogher, the Hon Percy Jocelyn son of the first earl of Roden, was caught buggering a Guardsman in a public house and escaped trial by jumping bail and fleeing to Scotland.
So Rafe was lucky, really. I was not hard ENOUGH on him in a true historical context – particularly as he was not entirely English and NOT a member of the aristocracy.. But I imagined that he’d stay in Wiltshire afterwards. Perhaps. .
This single article might not show that men were in danger in their own houses, and I don’t think they were – not in the way that the police (such as there was) would break in to arrest them as they did do after the Labourchere Amendment – but they were very much in danger if they went into other “private” establishments to have sex.
The laws against buggery and sodomy have nearly always been known as “The Blackmailers’ Charter” (see the wonderful film “Victim” for that, filmed before sodomy was legalised) and this was no different here. A lot of prosecutions (as in Ambrose’s case) were begun with letters. Many men would succumb to blackmail rather than face their chances in court, for obvious reasons – a lack of social standing – being excommunicated from society must have been almost as terrifying as the risk of prison or death.
The article goes on to try and explain why there was so much more legal and punitive activity at this particular time and says that it is unlikely that increase of prosecution was merely an index of the increased frequency of homosexual acts. – After all, it’s not as if homosexuality was fashionable, like cuff frills.
The essayist purports that it wasn’t a case of more men being homosexual, but more that it was a case of urbanization, where they concentrated together and were able to form a sub-culture for the first time. And such a “large” proportion of homosexuals in a city (there were 20 houses of male resort in London, compared with 80 years later when there was only four) was more likely to draw attention to the authorities (and the people who would denounce them) than two men living quietly together in more remote areas.
Public opinion was violently against homosexuals at this time and the subject was an extraordinarily emotive one.
In the 1780s, when 15 Exeter homosexuals, ‘most of whom were men of rank and local situation’, were tried and acquitted, they were burnt in effigy by the mob, and in 1810 when 30 homosexuals were arrested in a raid on the White Swan, Vere St, London, those discharged for want of evidence were so roughly handled by the crowd as to be in danger of their lives.
The hardening of sexual stereotypes also, sexual slander became rife at this time, sexual knowledge become more widespread – more people were learning about such “Unnatural acts” which then led to sexual intolerance.
“Damn the fellow! Now I think of it, I never remember his having a girl at college!” remarked an acquaintance of a man who had brought a charge of malicious prosecution against a solider who had accused him of attempting an unnatural act.
There were other reasons, too, all of which helped – The Evangelical Revival probably helped spread the intolerance, the overhaul of the whole system of law enforcement, public pressure (letters to the papers, etc) which all helped to bring the “problem” to the public eye, calls were made to “do something about it.”
All of which goes a long way to explain why – instead of being more tolerant in the early 1800′s, things were actually a lot lot worse.
Never mind boys! It will soon be the Victorian Age..
April 18, 2008
I could wish that it wasn’t necessary to ask this question; that all historical novelists naturally came with an inbuilt desire to learn all about their setting before they tried to publish a book about it. However, experience of reading historical romance proves that there are some writers who think that—for example—if they want to write about Highlanders all they have to do is watch Braveheart a couple of times.
I choked on my tea one day on reading the blurb for a book the hero of which was a handsome Scottish Highlander by the name of Seamus O’Hennessy. Possibly there was a reason for the fact that he had such a very Irish name, but the blurb did not hint at it, so I felt free to point and laugh. Seriously, that’s bad! Getting the nationality of the hero’s name wrong means that almost any reader will know, just from the blurb, that the author knows nothing about what they’re writing about, and the book is not worth reading.
There is one reason to research right there. It may be that you have a scorching tale to tell; your characters are fascinating and your plot is breathtaking. But if you get your historical facts wrong there are readers who will throw your book across the room nevertheless. Then they will ridicule it to their friends. There are readers who will pick it up in the bookshop and mock it aloud. You can guarantee that every review you get will pick up at least one mistake and shake its metaphorical head with disappointment over it.
Or to put it in a more positive way, if you do research and get things right you will garner critical acclaim. The Powers that Be will gush over your details and praise you for your erudition, and you can justifiably feel proud.
A second – and IMO better reason – is that research is (a) interesting and (b) a fantastic source of ideas.
If you’re not finding a historical period interesting – if you’re not going ‘ooh, that’s cool!’ or ‘oh, fantastic, they made false teeth out of wood!’ or ‘hee! ‘jonquil’, what a great word, I wonder what colour it is?’ – you may be better off not writing in that setting at all. It’s hard enough writing a book when you enjoy the world it’s set in. It must be purgatory writing in one you don’t.
If you’re enjoying yourself with your research, looking up more stuff than you actually need to just soak in the culture of the age, you may find inspiration hits you from the most unexpected places. Need to get Edward to Bath in time for his worthless beau to dump him in favour of a rich widow, but can’t think of a believable excuse he can tell his guardian? While you’re idly reading up on 18th Century Opera it may come to you in a flash that Edward is a big fanboy of the castrato Farinelli, and that him asking to go to Bath to see his musical idol would seem perfectly innocent. And now you also know that Edward is musical. And you can wring some extra angst out of him being dumped in front of his hero.
If I was asked that perennial question; ‘where do you get your ideas’? ‘Historical research’ would come close to the top. Researching Native American tribes for ‘Captain’s Surrender’, for example, made me aware of the massive complexity of the situation in 18th Century America. I wasn’t able to get any of it into ‘Captain’s Surrender’, but boy do I now know that there’s a fascinating setting there that I would love to explore for a future book.
When should you research?
Because research gives me inspiration I prefer to do a lot of it before I even start a book. If I don’t know what the inside of a Roman house looks like, or whether they eat breakfast in the morning or how many hills Rome is built on, I don’t feel equipped to start. I like to soak up enough for a broad brush picture before I set pen to paper. Often at this stage I will discover things which are too cool to be left out, and figuring out a way to get them into the book will influence the development of the plot.
I do know people who start writing and research as they go along, stopping to check that everything is correct as they proceed. This probably cuts down on the amount of irrelevant stuff you have to read and makes the writing process faster.
But I don’t recommend writing the book first and researching afterwards! While this approach would certainly cut down the amount of research you need to do, it will inevitably lead to big re-writes when you realize that nope, plot points x, y and z couldn’t have happened like that, characters a and b are unbelievable, and settings i-xii all have to be thrown out.
Where should you research?
Places you can go to find out more about your era of choice:
1. The Internet.
A Google search will usually turn up something of use. Sometimes it may even be exactly what you were looking for.
Advantage – it’s quick and easy.
Disadvantage – except when it isn’t.
There is a lot of information out there on the internet, but not all of it is accurate, sometimes it’s downright wrong. Sometimes it’s misguiding – without being wrong itself, it leads you to a wrong conclusion. If you need something specific, like the date when something was first invented or built, check it in at least three places before you start to believe in it.
If you’re looking for more general information, then scrutinize the facts carefully – don’t be tempted to use the cool thing you’ve just discovered until you’ve checked that it was actually known in your time, in your area of the world, and by more than the one person who invented it. Just because a thing was technically available doesn’t necessarily mean that it was actually used. (For example, 18th Century doctors could have used laudanum to anaesthetise their patients during operations, but they didn’t use it because they thought it was better that the patient be awake.)
Sometimes it’s also frustratingly impossible to find something specific on the internet – you’ll get hundreds of sites telling you hundreds of versions of the same thing, and never actually the thing you want. This is often the case when looking up information about facts specific to gay or lesbian subcultures, because sex as a whole is an area of embarrassment to the essay writing segment of the internet. If you try looking up ‘the gay subculture in medieval England’ the chances are that you’ll get porn – and it won’t even be medieval porn.
2. Google Image Search
Advantage – they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I find that’s often true, particularly for describing scenery or costume. Image search also often turns up more interesting articles than just searching on text.
Disadvantage – all the same disadvantages as plain Google search; make sure your image is of what you think it is!
Advantage – generally what goes into history books has been checked for factual accuracy by at least a couple of people. (Don’t believe anything that doesn’t cite its sources.)
Books are also short on the ‘white noise’ factor which you find on the internet. The information they contain tends to be more condensed, more in depth, and more relevant to your needs as a historical writer than an internet article. Obviously there are exceptions, but this is what I find in general.
If you have other history mad friends it’s always a good idea to compare the books you’ve got on hand and see if you can lend or borrow anything.
Disadvantage – books are not cheap. They may not be available from your local library, or if they are, you may have to wait months for them to arrive. And of course they still may not contain the answer to that question you’re trying to get answered. There may not even be a book in print that deals with the specific thing you are interested in.
4. Contemporary Sources
Pictures, books, plays, poetry, paintings, artefacts, even film from the era in question.
Advantage – nothing can more accurately give you an insight into the mindset of the people than reading a book, play or poetry written at the time. Want to know the kind of thing an educated Roman might have thought during Augustus’ time – read Horace or Virgil. Want to know whether your 18th Century hero can get away with an assignation at an inn – read Fielding’s Tom Jones. You cannot get more authentic than that.
I would say that it’s essential to at least look up the pictures, paintings, chairs, furniture, dress styles, tableware and general paraphernalia of living for whatever era you’re writing in. Visit the stately homes and the museums, look at the flea traps and the tassels on the swords. Nothing is too small or obscure to ignore because any of it might be useful for just adding that touch that convinces your reader they’re in a different time.
Disadvantage – this may take some effort and time. Possibly expense too. But if you love the period enough to want to write in it, it will also be good fun.
5. Find an expert
Many of the larger public libraries in the US have people who will do searches on request–some of them are very helpful.
If you have a museum or university near you (or even somewhere you can look up on the internet) it may be worth emailing and seeing if there is a postgrad student or friendly professor who would be willing to answer questions for a mention in the dedication and a free book.
Other places to look
Writer’s groups – someone may have already looked this up for their book.
Local History Groups
Churches/church wardens/college secretaries (for details on Oxfordcolleges for example)
Local Libraries (ie local to the place you need)
Tourist information offices
Your friends-list – someone may have already looked it up, know where to look, or have local knowledge.
Yahoo groups – somewhere out there is probably a group of enthusiasts already discussing the problem. Need to know whether the Great Western Railway carried a post van? – ask a group of trainspotters.
Re-enactors – these are people who live and breathe the period they re-enact. They will often know more about the nitty-gritty of day to day life in that period than anyone in a museum, and they can give you hands on experience of what a musket/corset/hangarok/longbow etc felt like to use or wear. Chances are there is a group somewhere out there re-enacting your period of interest. You can start by looking up your local SCA on the internet, or if you’re in the UK by going to a re-enactor’s market: http://www.reenactorsmarket.co.uk/
Again, the only real disadvantage to all of this is that it takes time and effort.
6. Ask the Macaronis,
We’re not guaranteeing we’ll know, but we can always just have a good grumble together. But check on this list first, because there are an awful lot of useful sites available here: http://erastes.com/historical-research-links/
To conclude: Research is your friend, and sometimes it’s also a wonderful form of cheap entertainment, and inspiration. Good luck!
Thanks to Erastes for the wonderful resource list, and to all the Macaronis for the suggestions on how and where to research, which I’ve incorporated above.
April 14, 2008
It seems strange to introduce myself as a veteran writer of m/m historical romance when the fact is that my first book was only released on the first of January this year (2008). However, ‘Captain’s Surrender’ certainly is a gay historical romance. Set in 1779, just before the end of the War of Independence, it’s a sea-faring adventure in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian. If PoB had given greater prominence to his gay characters, that is.
Unlike many more professional writers, it never occurred to me to find out what the market was like; what was hot, what was not. If I had, I might have been discouraged by the fact that there seemed to be fifty contemporary novels and ten paranormals for every historical. This was an instance in which my own lack of savvy came to my rescue, because I just wrote what I wanted to read.
I’ve been in love with the 18th Century Royal Navy since watching ‘Master and Commander’. I wanted all that military glamor, all the excitement of battles, storms, shipwrecks, combat and life-or-death peril, combined with a strong focus on characterization, star-crossed, forbidden romance, true love conquering all, and a happy ending. In short, I wanted a book that would satisfy both the masculine and the feminine side of myself. I have to say that – for me at least – I managed to succeed in that.
My other published novel is called ‘The Witch’s Boy’, but as a pseudo-early-Norman fantasy, which is neither historical nor particularly gay (though hero and villain are ex-lovers), it’s probably not appropriate for this blog.
I do however have an Age of Sail short story called ’90% Proof’ coming out soon in an anthology (called ‘Inherently Sexual’) from Freya’s Bower.
And at the moment I’m working on a second Age of Sail novel, under a working title of ‘Secrets’, examining how society’s condemnation of same sex love harms not only GBLT people but society itself. Which sounds very pretentious, I know, but which also involves battles with pirates, the white slave trade, cannibals, threesomes, family angst, and recurring appearances by famous castratos, so it can’t be all bad.
I run the ‘In Their Own Words‘ blog, which is a promotional resource for GBLT novels, where authors can put up interviews with their own characters. I also moderate the Gay and Lesbian Excerpts blog on both WP and Myspace. I occasionally review on ‘Speak Its Name‘ and I blather on incessantly about anything that takes my fancy on my own blog: HMS Gruntleship.
I’m really hoping that The Macaronis becomes a great place for anyone who loves gay historic fiction, and if you have any great ideas for how to make it better, do get in touch.
April 11, 2008
Posted by markprobst under writing
| Tags: Intro
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My first post here at The Macaronis will be both an introduction and a few words about my writing process. First of all let me say I was thrilled to be asked to be a contributor to this new weblog and I hope I will be able to add something interesting and useful to both readers and writers of gay historical fiction.
My debut novel, The Filly, was published last October. It’s meant to re-invent the classic Hollywood Western with a pair of cowboy lovers.
I’ve had an interest in writing all my life, but I only seriously took it up five years ago. For the past 20 years, I had it in the back of my mind that I was going to write a novel, but I just couldn’t come up with an original idea. Then I finally had a revelation. Why not write a Western? I had literally watched hundreds of Western movies and countless Western TV shows. My devotion to the genre had practically made me an aficionado. Mix that with my true-life experiences of being a gay man, and I had something. Thus, The Filly was born.
For me, the process works best, when I have a well-constructed outline. I find that without one, my writing gets bogged down and tends to meander all over the place. A strong outline of the plot is like the spine of the story. Later, in the writing process I am able to brainstorm all the little details that become the “meat” of the story. Research, I tend to do along the way. I’ll find that I need to verify certain things, so I’ll scour the internet looking for tidbits of information that will bring authenticity to the details.
I find that the most thrilling thing that can happen during the process is discovering a new angle that was not originally part of the plan, yet fits perfectly into place. One of the character turns in The Filly was just such an example.
Once the first draft is complete, I share it with my family and friends to get some feedback, but more importantly, I set it aside. It is necessary to gain some distance and perspective that only time can provide. For The Filly, I didn’t start working on the second draft until a year had passed. With all the cobwebs cleared out of my mind, I reread it and could see its weaknesses. There were sections of the book that were much too thin and needed some serious beefing up. Draft number two was quite a bit longer and I also delved deeper into the psyches of my characters. Once again, I shared it with my friends and set it aside. The third draft was really not a rewrite, but simply polishing and making small changes based on comments from friends. Then I began working with an editor, but that is a whole other story.
My current writing projects are a Filly pre-quel, which is an earlier story about Travis before he meets Ethan; a tentative sequel that takes place some 20 years after The Filly; and I also have plans to write a fictional biography along the lines of Miss Potter, but with a real-life character of my own choosing.
Stay tuned for my next post. I’m calling it “Writing a Western: Historical Accuracy Vs. the Mythical Old West as Rhapsodized by Literature and Cinema of the Early 20th Century.”
Happy writing, everyone!
April 7, 2008
Perhaps other members might follow this, and we could have series of posts on the same theme – all of us work differently I am sure.
I was hooked on The Past from the first time I read The Pickwick Papers. I was extraordinarily young, I remember, about 7 or 8. I probably didn’t understand one half of the book, but I loved the illustrations and I adored the jokes, the characters, and so much else.
It’s a very lively book and like many of Dickens’ novels travel is an important theme; as a child I was fascinated by donkey carts and hired hacks, post-chaises, post-coaches, or people walking from one end of the country to the other. Pickwick is probably still my favourite Dickens and the jokes don’t get any less funny with time.
As I grew up I read voraciously, and my mother being a fan of historicals, I used to read everything she did. Her favourites were Victoria Holt and Norah Lofts but anything about Kings and Queens were hoovered up by her and me. I developed an appreciation for the difficulties of the genre and knew that one day I wanted to write.
When I finally started, I realised just what a Herculean task it was – it I wanted to get it right. By this point I’d read a lot of “not so great” historical fiction – modern acting and speaking heroes and heroines ponceing around in a Disney-esque past where all the English roads were tremendously flat and one could travel, like Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, from Dover to Nottingham in one day.
So how do I write? Probably not in a correct manner. I know people who won’t write a word until they’ve researched the era to death, sometime researching for a year before they write a word – but I admit that I tend just to jump in with both feet and work through it as I go. This does to lead to interruptions, which can often be frustrating such as when, for my latest WIP I spent hours looking for the price of whores in the 19th century. You would not believe how hard that information was to find. Sometimes it’s easier “how much was a letter in 1815″ or “or long did it take a ship to get to Venice?” or “daily newspapers?” but sometimes my Google-Fu fails me and I have to ask friends, yahoo groups and (shock!) sometimes have to resort to going to a library!
For me, the characters are the important parts of the story and although I have an inkling of who the two main male characters are, I may not even have names for them when I start to write. This might sound reckless in the extreme to others who have huge character outlines written down before they start, but I like it because it means that the reader is learning about the characters at almost the same speed as I do. I didn’t know how stubborn Ambrose was going to be in Standish until he grew that way and I didn’t know about Fleury’s doctor until he told Ambrose the story. Any author who says that this process of characters dictating the process is hogswash simply haven’t had it happen to them and I feel sorry for them!
I am a bit of a “jigsaw” writer too. If there’s a crux scene that I know will appear in the book (even if I’m not sure of the steps that will take the characters there) I’ll write that scene pretty early on. This is a good way of avoiding being blocked in your novel and for me it’s the equivalent of eating the best chocolates out of the box and dipping into the bottom layer and eating my favourites there too. In addition – and up to now, I always write the last scene/chapter early on too. I copied the idea from JK Rowling and I find it works well; It anchors me, and gives me a finishing line. Some of my other friends worry about ending and panic about how they’ll get the loose ends tied up, but I find writing the final scene early on helps enormously.
What I’m constantly aware of is the senses. I don’t simply concentrate on the thoughts and the feelings of the character because humans aren’t like that – they are affected, all the time, by external forces – and this can be used in historical fiction to good effect. Simply by having your character observe what is (after all) perfectly normal for him – the carriages/horses/sedan chairs, the muck in the streets, the smells of shops as he passes, the noise of street sellers, the tang of smoke in the air, the cries of prisoners from the barred windows of the prisons - all this can create a wonderful ambiance without you having to info dump on your readers at all.
Anyway – that’s my process. Scrappy, untidy, not at all organised but a lot of fun. I look forward to reading my fellow Macaroni’s processes.