My articles are not so much related to specific kinds
of research as to information about particular topics. I hope you find
A Regency Primer
Members of the Bar: Facts for
Those Writing Attorney Characters
Need to Know Basis: Research,
A Regency Primer
(First appeared in HeartBeat of Denver)
Pick up an historical these days, and chances are
it is set in the Regency era. Or at least the cover will say it is. This
is one hot time period right now, and it seems everyone is jumping on
this fun bandwagon. As the Editor of The Regency Reader, I like the idea.
But only if the book really is set in the Regency.
I recently received a review copy of a book by a
well know author. The cover touts the story as set in the Regency. The
use of the word "Regency" on the back cover was the only relationship
this book had with that time period. On the very first page, a seamstress
was threading the SEWING MACHINE! And the poor overworked dear was making
dresses with hoops.
Sorry, folks, but sounds like this book is set at
least about 50 years AFTER the Regency. I suspect this was marketing's
fault, not the author's, but I was still disappointed. I might have read
farther if the back cover hadn't lied to me.
So when or what is the "Regency?"
Traditional regency novels generally take place anywhere
from 1800-1820, but the 'Regency" itself refers to the time period,
from 1811-1820, when King George III of England was deemed permanently
mad, and therefore unfit to rule. His eldest son, the Prince of Wales,
later George IV, was given the responsibilities of kingship as Regent.
Known as Prinny, members of the upper aristocracy had frequent social
doings with the Prince Regent.
The Regency followed an age in English social history
which had been very loose in moral standards. Prinny was widely believed
to have entered into a secret, invalid, marriage prior to his state marriage
to Caroline of Brunswick. His brothers, and even, it was rumored, one
sister, produced many illegitimate children. Another brother was reputed
to have murdered his valet.
Many of the Regency's older social lions still harked back to that freer
period, but the Regency was a precursor to the rigid Victorian age. Things
were not so uptight that piano "limbs" were covered with skirts
for the sake of modesty, but the rules of Regency society were known,
and violations tolerated only in the highest of the high. In a traditional
regency, society may be considered a character in the book - the behavior
of the hero and heroine will be greatly influenced by what people might
say. A lady, particularly an unmarried one, was always at risk of compromise.
A loss of reputation, warranted or not, meant death to the possibility
of a respectable marriage.
Clothing in the regency was very different from that
period just before, and for women, from the following as well. No more
elaborate hoops or powdered wigs of the 18th century - empire waists were
all the fashion (the empire for which the style is named is that of Napoleon
Bonaparte). Classical Greek styles influenced both dcor and women's clothing;
the lines were straight and only a little flowing. Muslins were worn for
the day; silks and satins for evening. Lace overdresses were popular for
ball gowns, and feathers were only for evening wear. Daring young ladies
would dampen their petticoats, to reveal their slender figures even more.
Outer wear might include a cloak for evening, and a pelisse - a short
jacket - for day time. Bonnets were always worn outdoors. Riding attire
took on a mannish style, with habits emulating military uniforms.
Men's fashions changed even more dramatically, with
the beginning of the century seeing florid waistcoats, satin coats, knee
breeches, clocked stockings and rings and fobs. The colors turned sedate,
and by the end of the period, knee breeches had been forever replaced
by pantaloons, and men wore primarily black superfine jackets (frock coats
were Victorian, not Regency), with white linen shirts, and starched linen
cravats. Men's jackets were so tight, the help of a valet was frequently
needed to put it on. For the cream of the cream, jackets were made by
Weston, and boots, polished to a mirror- like sheen, by Hoby. A single
discreet stick pin might be found in the folds of the cravat, and perhaps
a single plan fob for the watch. Outerwear was a coat similar to today's
overcoats, except a greatcoat would have layers of short capes attached
at the shoulders. Sixteen was the number for the dashing hero. Kid gloves
and beaver hats completed the ensemble. Of course, a military uniform
was always suitable attire for officers.
Socializing took up much of the time of the regency
upper crust. Venetian breakfasts - parties that began about four in the
afternoon - were popular. Al fresco parties generally involved bring all
the furniture, plate and silver out on to the lawn - no ants at a regency
picnic! Theater, opera, and parties such as routs, balls, soirees, musicales,
and masquerades (considered a bit daring, and generally not for debutantes),
filled the evenings. Mornings might be spent paying calls on acquaintances,
or staying at home to receive them.
Much of the Regency period coincides with momentous
international affairs - most notably, of course, the Napoleonic Wars.
Prior to 1809 or so, many English feared an invasion by the French. Trafalgar,
a naval battle at which the French were defeated and Lord Nelson killed,
put an end to those fears, but the land war waged on across Europe. Americans
are more familiar with the War of 1812, but to the British, those skirmishes
were of minor importance compared the threat of the French.
A substantial proportion of the male population served in the armed forces.
A hero who has been serving in the army likely served on the Peninsula
- in Spain, where there were several years of hard campaigning and many
major battles. Waterloo, in the decisive battle Belgium that saw an end
to Napoleon's reign, occurred in June, 1815.
There are many loyal Regency readers who are happy
to read longer historicals set in the period. However, Regency readers
know their history. If the details aren't right, they probably won't read
your next book.
Members of the Bar: Facts
for Those Writing Attorney Characters
(First appeared in HeartBeat of Denver -
Time was, every mom wanted her daughter to marry
a lawyer. My mom certainly wanted me to marry one. Nowadays, moms can
wish for lawyers to marry their sons, too. And, lawyers jokes notwithstanding,
lawyers make for popular characters. Just ask John Grisham!
My life is no where near as exciting as that of any
attorney appearing in the potboilers, but you can take my word for it,
lawyers can be romantic (Just ask John Grisham ... um, I mean, my husband!).
So if you want to make a lawyer out of your hero or heroine, step up to
the bench, counselor, and Ill fill you in on the particulars of life in
On Being a Lawyer
Just what do lawyers do, anyway? I mostly sit around
writing, and get paid for it, too! A dream job, except I rarely get to
slip witty lines into a brief.
Like medicine, law is increasingly specialized. A
small firm or solo practitioner might do a little of everything, especially
in a small town, but anyone working for a large firm or the government
will have a fairly narrow practice. Some typical fields, and what those
Criminal litigator - either
prosecutes or defends persons accused of crimes. Everyone I've known,
on either side, is committed to the point of zealotry. By the way - its
not just a TV fact, prosecutors and police officers frequently do hook
up. I've known three such couples.
Civil litigator - prosecutes
or defends civil cases in court. A civil lawsuit is any case where somebody
sues someone else. Subspecialties of this type of law include:
Divorce - represents
individuals in divorce and custody issues. Most will represent men or
women, some do specialize in one gender. Good for a crusading type hero/heroine.
Personal injury -
represents persons injured in accidents. Also good crusader, but proverbial
Insurance defense -
represents the people accused of responsibility for the accidents, actually
work for insurance companies. Hard working, conscientious types, but
not sympathetic to underdogs.
Environmental - prosecutes
or defends claims regarding pollution or other with environmental impact.
Many work for the EPA. This is a great field for Colorado hero/heroines
- CU Law School is known for its strength in this area. Also a crusader
Collections - represents
creditors, usually collecting smaller (under $5000) debts. No one wants
to grow up to do this. Actually, it is a good field for a villain lawyer.
Corporate lawyer -
represents corporations, usually in business related activities, such
as mergers and acquisitions, government regulations, preparing contracts,
etc. May give tax or intellectual property advice, but on a basic level.
Usually won’t litigate, unless case is small time. A good field
if the lawyer’s job isn’t a big part of the story.
Bankruptcy attorney -
represents debtors (individuals or corporations, rarely both) who have
filed bankruptcy; also, some specialize in representing creditors, particularly
in Chapter 11 actions where large debtor corporations have assets worth
seeking. Good field if you want a compassionate attorney helping folks
who’ve had bad breaks (for example, catastrophic illness is frequently
a factor in bankruptcy), or a high powered type who helps turn failing
Tax attorney -
if not working for government, gives advice to individuals or corporations
regarding taxes, may represent clients in tax court. A tax attorney
is going to be detail oriented.
Patent attorney -
assist clients to obtain patents for inventions. This field, unlike
any other in law, requires scientific training and special licensing
from the federal government. I can envision a ditzy inventor and the
strait laced patent attorney!
Passing the Bar
A lawyer must be licensed, and every state has a
bar exam (licensing exam). It's given in February and July, over two to
four days, depending on the state. The test includes major fields of law
similar across the country, areas particular to the state, ethics, and,
in some states, a practice portion, which requires the examinee to write
a motion or brief. An additional exam directed at ethics is required in
most states, and often taken by students in their final year of law.
If you want a stressful period for your hero or heroine,
taking the exam is a biggie in a lawyer's life. The only thing worse is
waiting for the results, which are not released until often several months
later. This is a period when those sweating the results have trouble passing
any bar or tavern in their path!
How Lawyers are Born
No, I don't mean why people become lawyers - although
it is a good bet that your lawyer character is somewhat inclined to be
argumentative and analytical. But how do people become lawyers?
In every state except California, a lawyer must graduate
from an ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law school to take the
bar exam. In most, if not all, accredited law schools, an incoming student
will already have a degree. Many lawyers were history or political science
majors, but I went to law school with folks with fine arts, forestry,
and chemistry degrees. My students often have degrees in engineering,
international studies, marketing, and many others.
Law school is usually a three year program, and students
are prohibited by ABA accreditation rules from working more than 20 hours
per week. If your heroine worked full time while putting herself through
two years of night law school, you have a credibility problem! Night or
part time programs are usually four to five years, and relatively few
school offers such a program.
In California, a person can read for the bar, a phrase
that has no specific meaning. Some people study on their own, some go
to unaccredited law schools, and some serve a sort of apprenticeship in
law firms. About 50% of examinees fail the California bar exam (other
states also have very high failure rates). Nevada has had a law school
inside the state only since 2000; Alaska has none. Right now, it isn't
too likely your character put him/herself through school as a Las Vegas
poker dealer or a Juneau salmon fisher.
Law school has been proven to change personalities
permanently. A study tracked law and medicine students, testing them before
they started school, during the middle of their programs, and a few years
after graduation. Both types of students showed an increase in paranoia
and competition during the program. After graduation, doctors returned
to their prior personalities. Lawyers did not. So that's why I am the
way I am!
Need to Know Basis:
Research, Pantser Style.
(First appeared in HeartBeat of Denver)
In the lexicon of writing styles, I am what is known
as a "seat of the pants" writer or "panster." Or at
least, a modified version of a pantser. When I begin to write a story,
I have the kernel of an idea – a general idea of the beginning and
the ending, and perhaps even a major plot twist or two. For novels, I
even work out a synopsis that lays out those major plot twists.
And then I begin to write.
While I am writing, ideas for the story come to me.
Of course, the ending is unlikely to change – since I write romance,
it is pretty safe to assume the hero and heroine will end up together.
But never has my final product ended up exactly like my original vision.
Very interesting, you think, as you stifle a yarn.
But why am I going on about how my story changes during the course of
Well, Caro, our fearless leader, asked me to write
an article about how a pantser does research. My initial reply, perfectly
sincere was, "Research? What research?"
She laughed. She thought I was joking. Okay, maybe
I was, in a way. (Especially since my day job is teaching people to do
research!) But the truth is, the research this pantser does is always
so unexpected, and unplanned, that I barely think of it as doing research.
I rarely spend more than 15 minutes at a stretch doing research (I may
started wasting time, following up a few research trails, but that’s
To illustrate my point, I will tell you about the
research I did for my Golden Heart winning novel, Cruising for Love, currently
ensconced, I assume, on a "requested material" pile at Harlequin.
Nearly all of the action in the story takes place on a cruise. Now, I
did know this much before I wrote a single word. But the book itself starts
in a veterinarian’s office. Unlike cruise ships, I’ve been
to a vet’s office. So no research needed to get started.
The second scene takes place in a coffee shop, with
a brief interlude in a parking lot. Been to both of those places, so no
research needed. Next up, cab ride to DIA. I’ve never taken a cab
to DIA, but I’ve been in cabs, so, of course, no research needed.
BUT – the conversation here involved inoculations needed for the
cruise. So I whipped out onto the ‘net to find out what inoculations
are needed. The key to last minute research is knowing how to frame a
query. My cruise was headed to the Caribbean, so I typed in "inoculations"
and "Caribbean," and sure enough, found a list of recommendations
for travel to the tropics.
Next up, airport and plane scenes, so again no research.
But my characters were about to actually get on the boat soon, so I needed
to find out about cruise ships. I had seen every episode Loveboat, so
I knew what boarding was like. But what about the rooms themselves. I’d
been told they tend to be cramped – not at all like the spacious
rooms in the TV program. Research was required. Back to the ‘net.
Cruise lines have many details about their cruises
offerings and their ships. Too much detail for the scene I needed right
then, so I bookmarked a few sites, and kept writing.
Long about here, however, I realized that I had made
a major error. My characters were not going on a Caribbean cruise –
my hero just THOUGHT is was a Caribbean cruise. No, really, it was a cruise
to Alaska. Hmm, if you go to Alaska, you don’t need shots ... OH!
That’s why that scene is so funny! He didn’t even have to
get the shots! Wonder what he packed...
Good thing I bookmarked those sites, because now
I need to take a look at the Alaska cruise ships. I was writing a swimming
pool scene and needd to make sure the Alaskan cruises HAVE a big open
air pool. Tra la la, surfing through the cruise line sites. Oh, cool.
This one has a huge pool area with a glass ceiling. Hmm, didn’t
my husband once tell me that ultraviolet rays don’t go through glass?
Which would mean the hero would not really need to rub sun block all over
the heroine. And he’s a smart guy, so he’d know that. Off
I go, checking out whether DH is right. Hmm, conflicting evidence on this
one. It depends on the glass. Oh, well, what is important is the hero
thinks sun block is not necessary, but keeps rubbing the sun block all
over the luscious, smooth skin of heroine.
Write, write, write. Dinner scene? What’s on
the menu? Check the websites. Write, write, write. You know, These people
REALLY need to get off this boat for awhile. But my original vague idea
of sandy beaches or exploring pyramids in Mexico really doesn’t
work. What shore excursions to they have? And now that I think about,
just WHERE are they? Hey, glaciers! Cool. They’d take a helicopter
flight. And what about a town? My hero wants to propose in a romantic
restaurant. Off to the ‘net again. Hmm, here’s a restaurant.
Yikes, not at all charming from the pictures – it’s attached
to a seedy looking motel. And look at the décor – snow shoes,
and moose heads. But this website SAYS it won most romantic restaurant
in Juneau. Heh, heh. Won’t poor hero be disappointed....They’ll
Write, write, write.
Hmm. I need a Russian noble name. You see, about
two thirds of the way through this book, I had decided that my hero’s
former wife, who also happened to have come on the cruise with her new
fiancé, was actually planning on marrying the hero’s father.
Then I had to figure a reason for dad to marry this bitch (well, sorry,
but she is – which makes for some funny jokes, because hero is a
vet...). Anyway, ex-wife is a blue blood type, and Dad is really into
that. First I had made her a gold digger type from New Jersey, but that
wasn’t working. So instead, I made her an English blueblood, with
What does this have to do with Russian names? Well,
one of the first scenes in the book involves the heroine telling her the
hero that her parents had been Olympic professional ice skaters. (Mom
gave up her brilliant career when she married and had kids – this
plays into heroine’s reasons for not want to marry, ever). Up until
this point, I was just assuming that her mom and dad were American, but
NO! It turns out her Dad was Russian – and descended from Russian
princes. This makes hero’s dad very happy when he found out, which
irritates the heck out of the hero, who would be put off by another blue
blood anyway --, except that she is not at all snobbish, doesn’t
use the title, considers herself 100% America, etc. This ties the whole
story together in a great way – it was exactly the element I needed.
So back to the ‘net to look for some plausible
name. Found a site giving Russian titles, (the title of prince in Russia
was rather comparable to Duke in England), chose a minor line of princes
with a reasonably pronounceable name and voila!, my heroine now had a
That was the final piece of research completed for
the story – actually done long after the first draft had been completed.
In fact, that particular change, with its required research, occurred
during the polishing stage just before I sent it off..
So there you go – research pantser style. Definitely
on a need to know basis.
Now, all the plotters out there are thinking –
oh, just look at how you had to interrupt your writing all the time in
order to research. If you just did all that research at the beginning,
you could have sat down, and written the book straight through without
Nope. Not me. Because I did not know the various
nuances of the plot, I had to do the research as I went. After all, the
only thing I knew for sure was there was a cruise – and the location
changed halfway through. So if I had done tons of research about Caribbean
cruises and shore excursions and so on, it would all have been for nothing.
And anyway, since I finished the book, and I am VERY
pleased with the final product, my way obviously works. And remember –
any way that works for you is the right way.
PS – when it comes to research on the ‘net,
I often just use AOL’s search engine. But if that doesn’t
get me to articles right away, I move on to google.com. I tend to use
simple searches – "Alaska cruise" for example, or "innoculations
travel." All of my research is via the internet these days, even
for my historical WIP.