This morning was bittersweet for me. My son’s wife is having a baby (our first grandchild) in about a month. Since they live a day’s drive away in Cleveland, they stay in my son’s old bedroom whenever they come to visit. Having a baby on the way means the room will no longer work for them as it is now.
So this morning, I packed up some things my son left behind when he moved out. Two shelves worth of his old Lego® masterpieces went into boxes. His collection of wild animal figures from his “maybe I’ll be a park ranger” days went into more boxes. Thankfully, he already took his books and movies and video games when he moved out, so that saved a bit of packing and hefting boxes for me. My husband lugged the two old dressers downstairs to make room for a crib and changing table.
For some reason, taking down the sports pennants he tacked on his walls years ago made me the most nostalgic. My son was a little boy when he put them up. I think the one of Brett Favre is from one of his first seasons with the Packers. Now, instead of my son’s sports pennants on the walls and his old games on the shelves, it’s time to make way for my son’s little boy or girl. Which is why I did leave one box in the room – a box of his old baby blankets I found in a closet. I’ll ship that to my son, so he and his wife can go through it. Many of the baby blankets were handmade by friends when my son was born, and I like the idea of him using them for his baby now, especially the one his grandmother made.
Where do the years go? It seems like just yesterday, I had a cute little blond boy picking me dandelions in the yard. Now, he’s an adult with a home and yard of his own. In a few years, his baby will be picking dandelions. It’s an exciting, joyful time for us. But it also reminds me to cherish every day, because they all pass so quickly.
As I mentioned in earlier blogs, I have been researching the Georgian era for my latest work in progress. This research has taken different forms. I spent hours looking at pictures online of houses, costume, gardens, old maps, etc. I spent more hours poring over books, such as the one which recreates patterns and describes how people then would have sewn some actual surviving dresses from the time.
On Friday, I wanted a fascinating documentary called At Home With the Georgians. It was a three-hour presentation by Professor Amanda Vickery, who spent years reading old diaries and letters and rummaging through old buildings to understand how the increasing importance of their homes changed British society at all levels. At Home With the Georgians provided a unique perspective on some of the lesser known aspects of daily life, as told through the experiences of real people.
I found it to be full of interesting tidbits of historical trivia. For example, did you know about one third of upper class women then never married? The reason was simple, once Professor Vickery pointed it out. The women were expected to marry a man of their class, someone who had wealth and a nice home. There simply weren’t enough of these men to go around, so many women chose to remain single rather than be ostracized for marrying down.
And yet, while we assume it was the women who were so anxious to be married, men were equally eager. Not just for the obvious reasons of a wife and family, but also because having a home (and a wife to run it) was the ultimate proof that the man was now a mature, responsible citizen. In many areas of England, a man could not vote unless he was a homeowner.
For the servants, the only private place they had was the locking wooden box which held all of their possessions. Some maids even decorated the inside of their boxes with wallpaper, etc. This was the closest they would ever come to setting up or decorating their own homes.
I enjoy learning bits of history like this. It makes the time period seem more real, more three-dimensional. Perhaps this is why I spent eight hours watching a three-hour documentary, and probably many more hours than I truly needed looking at books and online sources. To me, history isn’t simply fun; it’s a glimpse into how our grandparents and our great-grandparents and our many-many-greats-grandparents lived. It’s a look at past events which still shape our current lives.
Do you recall the old Roburt Burns quote about best laid plans? That was my day yesterday, though not necessarily in a bad way. It all started when I sat down about ten o-clock to write my daily quota. I thought “I’ll just finish up a little bit of research first, before I write.”
When my husband came home in the late afternoon, I was still at it.
You see, when I started my Georgian romance, I did not have a solid historical understanding of the mid-18th century (beyond a general idea of really cool dresses and lovely Robert Adams rooms.) Hence, the long trip down a research rabbit hole yesterday. It all started because my heroine is taking a long trip via carriage, and I was wondering what type of carriage she might have used. This expanded into a “quick” refresher on the various types of carriages in both the 18th and 19th centuries. After that, I wanted a few more examples of the clothing my hero might have worn. (I didn’t have too much trouble narrowing down the heroine’s dress styles, but still needed to pin down his attire.) Well, then I remembered I still needed a good image in my head of what her home and the hero’s home might look like, both inside and out. Do you see why I was still at it when my husband came home?
But I can’t really blame it all on pure research. Part of it has to do with my writing habits. I like to combine pictures of the characters, key locations, etc. into a collage mounted on a large piece of foam board and hung on the wall next to my writing space. Looking at this helps me to get into my story more quickly when I sit down to write. This year, I was thinking how much fun it would be to go a step further and have a doll wearing some of the fabulous outfits my heroine gets to wear, until my practical side pointed out this would take a lot more time or money than it was probably worth. But then a little voice in my head said, “Yes, but what about paper dolls? Wouldn’t it be fun to have one sitting next to your laptop in a long hooped gown? Think of the inspiration!”
So this is why a grown woman found herself looking online for paper dolls yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Apparently, there are many different paper dolls available for not just different time periods but also movies, etc. (Who knew?) I found several for the Georgian time period, complete with several outfits. If I choose to use these, they will give me great visual inspiration to come up with designs for my heroine’s dresses.
I also found a nice booklet with a Regency paper doll and several outfits, created by Isobel Carr. This is all in one nice free downloadable file. Since I promised to add “something fun” to my website from time-to-time, I included a link to download the doll from her website on my “Fun Stuff” page.
This gives you an idea of the things I will do to set the proper mood or tone when I am writing a story. What are some other ideas?
Yesterday, I attended a family reunion for my father’s family. These are always fun. (And not just because my mother makes dozens of individual-sized pies and brings them along. Yes, I already had my share.) We also have various old family artifacts, letters, photos, etc. there to thumb through, which is always fun. While I was doing this with my cousin, she made a comment about when our ancestors came to America, which got me thinking. My family, like any other family, can overlay our family history over world history and see where the two intersect.
For example, because I was curious about this, I did some research earlier today about exactly when did my father’s family and my mother’s family arrived in America. I spent quite a bit of time looking at printed genealogies I am fortunate to own for both families. My great-great-great-great-grandparents on my father’s side emigrated from the canton of Basel, Switzerland in 1738. As it happens, there was a revolt in the canton from 1726 – 1739. Is this why they chose to come to America, to get away from the revolt? Or was it simply for a chance for greater opportunity? I’ll probably never know.
On my mother’s side, the surname is common enough that it is a little hard to pin down when they arrived. I’ve been told an early ancestor was a cousin of William Penn, so did my ancestor arrive with William Penn in 1682? Or was the first American ancestor a man who arrived in 1720? I’ll probably never know this, either.
Regardless of when my ancestors arrived in America, they lived through many interesting times. If I name a major event in this country in the last 300 years, it probably affected my family somehow. For example, even without knowing exactly when they arrived, I know my ancestors witnessed the early turmoil and fomentation which became the American Revolution. They were also here to participate in the French and Indian War prior to that. In fact, if the hero of the story I am starting now were a real person then, he could well have met some of my ancestors.
When I look at it this way, historical events take on a whole new meaning and importance to me. Thinking about history this way makes it come alive in my mind. I guess, when all is said and done, documented history is really a compilation of the personal histories of many, many families. And I hope, in some small way, every historical romance I write represents history at a very personal level, from the hero and heroine’s point of view.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.