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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Current Day Research While Writing Historical Novels

Please welcome guest blogger Nancy Lee Badger

How does a writer go about setting their story in a land they have never visited? What about the story you wish to set in a time hundreds of years before you were born? How do you as a struggling author, working on your first or third or seventeenth manuscript make your story historically true? Research.

When my story DRAGON’S CURSE came into my head, I knew I wanted my characters’ adventures to occur in historical Scotland. After I decided my hero, Draco Macdonald needed to be cursed in order to turn into a dragon at inopportune times, I scouted the internet and my personal library. I didn’t want Draco to be a shape-shifter. It has been done and done well. I love witches so I made a secondary character a dead witch. I had a few questions to answer in order for my plot to make sense. I also needed a location.

I hit the history books again. I came across an island off the western coast of Scotland famous for a massacre of its four-hundred or so inhabitants. I checked out the date of the event and read up on the two warring clans before I made my decision. I decided to use the island of Eigg. In 1588 the inhabitants hid in a cave. The marauders spied one person and returned. They smoked them all to death. I took a few liberties (DRAGON’S CURSE is a fictional historical novel, remember) and made the murdered clan healer accuse Draco of being the one who caused them to die. He escaped because he was elsewhere on the island, but Agata will not listen.

After she curses him, he exiles himself on another island. Back to the maps and internet I went. I chose an uninhabited island near Eigg. Staffa is an unusual island of volcanic origin and has a huge cave that many artists have painted and others have photographed. Treeless, with a few animals and odd birds, I began to write. When I stumbled across someone’s vacation movie on You Tube, I was sure I had chosen the right place.

Maps are also important when doing research of a place or time you have never visited. My son bought me a Scotland Clan Map. It shows the islands, yes, but also divides the entire country into historical regions by clan. This helped me decide the homeland of my heroine, Brianna Macleod. I found, through the help of an on-line chapter of Romance Writers of America dealing with Celtic life, the description and detailed photo of an ancient fishing vessel. When you realize one character has to arrive on the island inhabited by the other, getting her there means you have more work ahead of you.

My husband is of Scottish descent and studied European History in college. We have a large library of books complete with tartan plaids, lists of kings, photos of battles, and more. When I have a question, I ask. I have another historical paranormal out with several agents. When I wanted a time period prior to the massacre at Culloden, and a conflict to give my hero Kirkwall Gunn a reason not to pursue Haven Mackay, finding an edict by the current king of the year 1598 was like hitting the jackpot! With the conflict, I twisted my heroine’s escapades in her search for her own time with Kirk’s honor and sense of duty to sacrifice his happiness for his clan. SPELLBOUND HIGHLANDER is another reason why current research is so important. If I mention the wrong king or have my characters act other than they would when faced with the laws as they pertained to that place and time, my readers will know. I want to impress them, give them the means to get away from their own life, not upset them with untruths. Believe me, someone will catch discrepancies.

Period costumes must match the time period as well. Again, the internet is your best friend. Another way I found for an example of how a man from an ancient period might dress stared me in the face every summer. My husband and I are longtime volunteers at the New Hampshire Highland Games. This gathering of many thousands for three days of Scottish music, food, athletics and more is filled with men and women dressed in period costume. A quick photo gives me something to use when writing a book. At the recent Romance writers of America annual conference in Orlando, Florida, a fashion show was well attended. Women in period costume gave those in attendance a glimpse into another time as well as fodder for a book.

This article is my way of telling you to keep your eyes open. Or, do as I do time and again. Ask. Many others writers have already done the research, or know the link that might give you the answers. This chapter is filled with knowledgeable people. Make use of them by asking. I am always willing to help the way others have come to my aid.


Dragon's Curse

Sometimes a special gift and an unwanted curse cannot keep destined lovers apart.

Brianna Macleod has accompanied a shipload of her guardian’s friends to a remote island off the coast of Scotland. She eludes these Highland hunters to keep her innocence…and her gift of sight. Her attitude against falling for womanly desires changes when she nearly drowns. Saved by the talons of a terrifying winged beast, she awakens—naked—in a cave, beside an unusual man.

Cursed by a vengeful witch to transform into a dragon at inopportune times, Draco MacDonald hides on this deserted island to live alone: until he plucks a servant girl from certain death. Fueled by jealousy, and tempered by fear for her safety, he succumbs to an unfamiliar desire to mate. Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.

Set in 1592 Scotland on the Scottish island of Staffa, the cursed hero battles a ghostly witch, a hunter set on rape, and his own growing desire for a young woman with premonitions of his death. Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.


Nancy Lee Badger writes full-time and lives with her husband in Raleigh, NC. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, Celtic Heart Romance Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She also writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense, such as her recent release from Red Rose Publishing called DESTINY’S MOUNTAIN, as Nancy Lennea. Visit her at http://www.nancylennea.com

Visit her website at: http://www.nancyleebadger.com

And her blog at: http://www.RescuingRomance.nancyleebadger.com

7 comments:

Beth Caudill said...

Nice post Nancy.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Beth. Writing articles that will appeal to the 800+ members of ff&p is a challenge. I hope someone out there is helped by my words.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Nice PICs, Nancy. One of the things I love about writing is doing the research. I can never have enough reference books on the shelves of my office. :)

Rita Merlow said...

Thanks for an enlightening post, Nancy.
I see your point about doing thorough research. Certain facts can't be ignored when writing, and your post certainly alerts us to the need for attention to detail.

Maeve said...

Great post, Nancy, and I enjoyed the pictures of the Highland games.

Nancy said...

I am lucky to have a lovely library about 2 miles from the house. They have an easy to use on-line reservation website so I can find so many research books, even if they are sitting in a far away library. The Scottish games are great fun, too!

ciaraknight said...

Great post, Nancy. Research is so important in historical books. There is nothing worse than reading a book with incorrect facts, besides obvious creative changes for the purpose of the story.
Great pics! Thanks for sharing this.w