Today is the release date of my first published book, TAME THE WILD WIND. Like most authors, I used to dream about this day. I probably spent more time dreaming than writing. It seems like I've always been interested in history and romance and writing - they fit naturally together, just like the old commercial where the candy bar falls into the peanut butter jar! I'd like to discuss historical research but with a twist - immersion into the world you're creating. In some cases this may be impossible, but I think you'll get the idea....
I rode in an 1880s stagecoach when I was 19. It was held up by masked bandits. The seats were narrow boards and we were all squished inside. I felt every jolt and start and stop of the horses. Not a comfy ride, and that was only an attraction at Angel's Camp, a historic gold-mining town in northern California. At 19, I'd already completed 3 or 4 historical romances and kept a ready eye out for research moments like this. As I rode in the stagecoach, I examined the interior: the thinly padded leather seat behind my back; the small lanterns inside. The narrow bench in the middle where the unfortunate occupant would have nothing to support him. I couldn't imagine traveling more than a few miles in such a contraption, but this was a viable means of transportation in the not so distant past. Ditto riding in a steam train at Allaire State Park in New Jersey.
Renaissance festivals and military reenactments are also a good source for the feel of a certain era. I recently attended the Crystal River Civil War Reenactment in Florida. Since Jed Hazard, the hero in TTWW is a former Union soldier, watching a battle unfold was interesting and exciting. The officers waited on the sidelines from their safe perches on horseback, giving orders and watching the fray. Women in bonnets and soiled aprons ran behind lines of soldiers, bringing bandages and water. Young drummer boys with sooty faces stayed out of the worst of it, while rebel yells and gunshot abounded. The best was to come - walking among the camps and seeing how soldiers lived was an eye-0pener. They cleaned their weapons, cooked food, drank from canteens, fed horses and dogs, polished boots, patched torn uniforms, smoked corncob pipes, and talked around the fire on wooden chairs or felled logs. There was even a demonstration of a medical tent replete with a cigar-smoking surgeon calling for ether to knock out a potential amputee, nurses crying over the dead, and a chaplain loudly urging the heavens to accept this "poor lost lamb who will no longer feel pain."
These reenactments are also well supplied with vendors, but of the authentic variety. I bought my son a handmade wooden sword and shield (ok, not Civil War, but at least not made in a store!) and they had rock candy, kettle corn, handmade dresses and bonnets, and then the antique dealers were there with hair receivers, mourning brooches, kid leather ladies' gloves, and other samples of daily life in the era.
I grew up in England, and still recall Sudeley Castle's jousting tournaments and medieval fairs. It was like Medieval Times but without the commercialism. Falconry was displayed the way it had been done for hundreds of years, powerful horses were bedecked in armor and colors of their knights, and the knights themselves - whoo boy! Ladies in flowing gowns and headpieces, jugglers, fire eaters - the list goes on. We visited many stately homes and castles, and it was easy to imagine living in another time! Walking on old parquet or ancient stone floors, peering into gigantic gilt-framed mirrors, examining period costumes or bed hangings and tapestries - this was food for my eager little researcher's mind. When Henry VIII's Hampton Court went through a disastrous fire in the 1980s, my mom toured it months later. They were ushered through one of the rooms that had not been restored, and a lingering red tapestry fringe still hung on the wall. Apparently, during the fire, the firemen had sliced the tapestries from the walls where they were bolted on. The fringes and borders remained. Well, being the "research assistant" she is, Mom grabbed a string and kept it. I later embroidered this 10 inch long, 500-year old faded red thread into a little keepsake for her. That little thread could tell stories, I'm sure!
I hope you enjoy reading historical romance for many more years to come. Immerse yourself in a story the way the writer has. Live the history. Feel the romance and joy. Lose your heart in a book!