Hi, Charlotte Russell here. Thank you for inviting me today. I love talking about writing and am especially happy to chat with readers. My novella, Splendor in the Moss, is one of six included in Romance in the Rain. It is a historical romance. All of my previous stories are set in 19th century England, but because we six authors decided to weave a Seattle connection into our stories, Splendor in the Moss takes place in the Territory of Washington during the early days of the settlement of Seattle—1853..
Why do I write historicals? Well, honestly, it just comes naturally to me. I have always loved history—I was that nerdy girl in high school who read biographies of historical figures and knew the kings and queens of England, in order, by heart. In fact, one of my favorite geegaws (more on words like that in a minute) is an actual 12-inch ruler that has the Rulers of England listed on the reverse side! So, it all started with a love of history. Because it’s been a part of me for so long, I really can’t explain why I’m drawn particularly to English history. Perhaps it was all that royalty and pageantry? When I decided to turn to writing instead of reading, I started with what I knew—historical romance.
Research—the Internet is your friend:
Only I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. Not only did I have to learn how to craft a story (trust me, that is so much easier to do in your head than on paper) but I also had to learn everything I could about the time period I was writing in—Regency England, 1811-1820. Thankfully, I don’t find research daunting. As a child, if I was ever curious about something, I would pull out a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia and start learning. Fortunately for me, by the time I started writing, there was a ton of information already on the internet. The internet is a researcher’s best friend. Can you find everything on the internet? No. Is everything on the internet accurate? No. However, it’s a place to start and it’s quick and easy, especially for simple questions like: On what day of the week did July 17, 1815 fall? And what time was sunrise that day? (Answer: Monday, and the sun rose at 4:00AM. Thank you, Wolfram Alpha!) Now, do I absolutely need to know the exact time the sun came up that day? Not really, but it’s nice to know, just so I don’t goof and have it still dark at 6:00AM in July.
Now, the internet is useful for more than just fact-checking. In writing historicals, I also need to have my characters clothed appropriately, speak properly, drive the correct vehicle, mind their manners, etc. There are a few sites with tons of accurate information and some even have pictures (for instance the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has photographed and catalogued numerous items from their collection). In addition, the internet gives me access to experts. Quite a number of these experts are in writing groups I’ve joined and—if I have a question about, say, a building in England—I can usually find a way to contact someone over there via email. People are always willing to help.
Libraries and Books—not forgotten:
Does this mean I never use research books? Not at all. I’ve got plenty in my library, including maps, books on Regency society, manners, clothing, houses. But again, the internet comes into play because I can buy hard-to-find books from fabulous sites like Abe Books, request expensive, hard-to-find books through Interlibrary Loan, or find out-of-copyright books on Google Books (this is wonderful for primary Regency sources). I will admit, however, that I used my local library extensively for researching Splendor in the Moss. I’m not a native of Seattle, so I wasn’t very well-informed on its history and while there is a little information online, there isn’t nearly as much available as on the Regency period (most likely due to Jane Austen). I dragged home tons of books about the discovery and settling of the Pacific Northwest and dove in. I even found a firsthand account by the “Father of Seattle,” Arthur Denny! Fascinating stuff and I hope you catch a glimpse of it in my story.
Speaking the language:
So, what’s the hardest thing about writing historical romance? I would have to say the language. I don’t speak Regency-ese (and I think my family would look at me oddly if I did). Not only is there a different cadence to the language (check out the ever-popular Jane Austen) but also, language evolves. Words in use then, such as “geegaw” are rarely heard anymore. If I want to use them I need to make certain the reader can understand the meaning from the context of the sentence. If I did it right, you were able to figure out that a geegaw is a bauble or gadget of little value. Also, there are many, many words I cannot use because they didn’t come into existence until long after the Regency period. Now, some people don’t care about this, but I like to be as accurate as I can, especially when I have online resources like the Online Etymology Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary to help me out.
Even with all this research, I’m sure I make mistakes all the time because, well, I’m not Jane Austen and I didn’t live during that time. But it’s fun to replicate that world to the best of my ability and create a story within it.
Question for readers:
If you could pick one time period to return to—even just for a visit—which would it be? I think you already know which one I would choose—England during the Regency period.
P.S. It’s called the Regency period because old King George III was too sick—both mentally and physically—to reign, so his son—also named George—ruled in his stead as Prince Regent.