Monday, February 24, 2014

Research and the Writing Process


As we continue our look at various authors and their writing process, today we welcome Andrea Downing, author of the new book, Loveland. Andrea, you write historical fiction.  How do you combine your research with your writing process?  Did you fully research the time period first?
     First let me say thanks so much for asking me to join in this discussion, Rebecca.  Like most writers, I’m always anxious to get underway on my next project so I tend to view research with some trepidation, though that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it.  When writing Loveland, I first had to get the voices of the people and their language correct, so I read a load of memoirs of the period first.  However, once I had started the book, I was still doing research.  I’m a member of the Center for Fiction here in NYC so I went down there and made use of their many resources, getting the historical background for the time period as to what was happening in the country at large.  I didn’t fit in many historical events because they weren’t pertinent to the story, but it certainly gave me a feel for the time.  Finally, I took a trip out to the Loveland area in Colorado so my descriptive passages and place names could be correct.  So, to answer your question, no, I didn’t fully research the time period first.
  
How do you come up with your characters?  Do you develop them first or do you come up with a plot first?
     In Loveland, Lady Alex and Jesse were fully formed before a single word was written.  With my present 3 other books, the MO was different for each one.  I was on a ranch in NV and a young cowboy said to me that he thought his name was perfect for a western character in a book: Dylan Kane.  I was looking for something to write for The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series and Dylan just became the lawman and Lawless Love evolved from there.  For my forthcoming story Dearest Darling for the ‘Love Letters’ series, I had the plot idea first.  And for the forthcoming novel, Dances of the Heart, I have absolutely no idea where that all came from—those people just walked in off the street and wrote it themselves.  


Do you fully outline your story before you start writing?
     No, though I’ll probably have to outline my WIP as it’s fairly complicated.  I did once do an outline for a book which I wrote but that ms is still ‘under the bed.’


How do you keep your stories true to your time period?
   To me, language is the absolute must.  I work with the etymological dictionary and check as much as I can.  Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than a glaring anachronism, especially a linguistic anachronism.  To be describing a character from the 1800s and talking about the hero’s “abs” or the heroine ”accessorizing” an outfit just drives me up the wall.  Of course, it is a matter of knowing what words to look up in the etymological dictionary and no one is perfect.  That’s where having a great editor comes in!


What made you want to write historical fiction?
    I grew up on a diet of television westerns and I think that era has always fascinated me.  People had a whole different set of standards, some of them better than today’s and, of course, some of them a lot worse—especially if you consider their treatment of minorities and their total disregard for preserving the world around them.  But I like to think of feisty women having to fight for what they want and men with a code of honor they struggle to live by.   


What advice would you give beginning writers who are interested in writing historical fiction?
     Do your research so you know what you’re doing.  Writing historical fiction is not just a matter of putting two characters in a different time setting; their actions and reactions, their language, their movement, their vision of the world at large---all of it would be different than today’s.



Thank you, Andrea, for giving us insight on how a historical author approaches the writing process when there is research necessary to make a story more realistic.  What about you?  How do you research for your time period books or for stories that require research?


18 comments:

  1. Hi, I really enjoyed this, especially as I also write historical fiction for the Wild Rose Press; in my case, set in Victorian England. Having an editor in the U.S. is really making me check my facts! Totally agree it's about understanding the culture and language of the time - also about relating that to how we feel these days. Some of the things I've discovered about attitudes to children in those days would be quite unacceptable today. PS I love westerns - we just have nothing like that in England.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an interesting comment! I'm wondering why you say, 'having an editor in THE U.S. is making you check your facts? Wouldn't a U.K. editor make you check your facts as well?? Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Delete
    2. It's like your point about knowing which word to look up - the 'unknown unknown' if you like. Some things are just in our culture and we 'know' them. For example, oranges in England at Christmas were a surprise for my editor. And quite right - where did they come from? We can't even grow them in the summer (the answer is they were imported from Seville and Tangiers and available all year round to wealthy Victorians.) It's a fascinating process. I'm loving it.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for your reply. That goes back to what I said below trying to do 60s language--so much of it is absorbed into our cannon of everyday language one would have to think really hard to know to look it up.

      Delete
  2. Andrea,
    What a great interview. Thank you for your insights into how you research. You are really thorough. Good luck with the new book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marilyn. Let's hope my editor thinks I'm thorough too! ;-)

      Delete
  3. Great post! As an historical writer, I agree with everything here. I immerse myself in the research so that my stories are authentic to the time period I'm writing about. And I'm cognizant of the language of the time, too -- I have a lot of dictionaries surrounding me while I write :) Thanks for sharing this info, Andrea!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We'll have to compare dictionaries sometime, Alice. Thanks for your comment

      Delete
  4. I enjoy reading historical stories and also dislike linguistic anachromisms. I understand they can sneak into print, but when it happens, I make a point not to read that author again. (NOT a problem with your books.) Thanks for the insight into your writing and research process.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to find another person who seems to be strict on the linguistic side, Ashantay. And thanks for your kind comment about my books!

      Delete
  5. Great post, Andi,
    One of my favorite research tools is to visit local museums to gather facts and artifacts: a visit to Hull House as a character did in 1899, a party dress, a lady's gun from the Cody Museum, table-top sewing machine, etc. In Bisbee,AZ I came across a story about the Josephine who inspired my first book and incorporated it into my story. Rich in material, these visits are fun, too. Thanks Andi...and the NYC Center for Fiction sounds wonderful! Arletta

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arletta, I LOVE picking up or just looking at historical artifacts and thinking about who might have owned them, what they were like, where they went with them. Having a sense of the past, a feel for it, is certainly a necessity to writing historical novels. Thanks so much for coming by.

      Delete
  6. Andi, I enjoyed your comments, especially about the language of the day. That is my pet peeve as well. As you know I enjoyed Loveland a lot and have your other writings on the TBR stack. And is it ever a stack. Good to read something from you here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most writers are weighed down under their TBR piles. If it isn't other author's books, it's research books or books to make us better writers, along with books we just bloody well want to read! But I'm glad to know I'm part of yours as you are of mine. Thanks!

      Delete
  7. Andi, thanks for taking time to answer everyone and these have been great comments. I totally agree with not just learning the language but also taking those trips to the museum to see first hand the clothes of the period or even simple things like household items. It helps you as a writer to see things better through the eyes of your characters.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's been a great visit, Rebecca. Thanks so much for having me here today and I, too, enjoyed everyone's comments. It's reassuring to know other writers agree with me, too! Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  9. My first novel was a late 1800s western while the current one is set in 1969, another kind of history. I lived through it of course and we had a language all our own but it is hard to remember. I'm mining other people's memoirs to see what they wrote at the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I sympathize with you there. My daughter recently asked me 'what were the slang words when you were growing up?' she referred to the '60s and, you know, I couldn't think of a dang word except maybe "cool," and that was actually from the late 50s. The trouble is, all those words have been absorbed into our language now. You're really going to need the etymological for that one!

      Delete

5 Tips for Developing Research Techniques

This past week researching has been on my mind for a number of reasons. First of all I am working on a project dealing with a Native Ameri...