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My articles are not so much related to specific kinds of research as to information about particular topics. I hope you find them helpful:

A Regency Primer

Members of the Bar: Facts for Those Writing Attorney Characters

Need to Know Basis: Research, Pantser Style

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 - 1998)

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 the law.

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 lawyers do:

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 ambulance chaser.

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 type.

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. (Sorry, guys!)

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 companies around.

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.

Final Thoughts

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 writing?

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 another story...)

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...

Write, write...

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 go there.

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 no money.

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 noble name.

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 stopping.

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 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.