This week I have the fabulous opportunity to be part of a join mystery tour featuring two of my favorite mystery writers, Rhys Bowen and Tasha Alexander.
Make sure to check out my reviews this week on both of their latest books.
In the mean time, check out this join post/conversation from both authors about becoming incidental writing experts!
The Incidental Expert
RHYS: I was watching PBS on Sunday when they showed two subsequent programs, one on Coco Chanel and one on Paris in the early 1900s. And I found myself adding my comments and corrections out loud to both programs because I knew more than they were telling. I wouldn’t have said I’m an expert on modern art or on Chanel, but it seems I have become one because they were both featured in my books. Coco Chanel played a role in my Royal Spyness book called Naughty in Nice and post-Impressionist Paris is the focus of my Molly Murphy book City of Darkness and Light.
Since I write historical novels it’s become very important to me to get everything right. After all my books take place in the first half of the Twentieth Century—there were newspapers for every day. There were photographs of every scene I need to describe. There were newsreels featuring famous people. So I have no excuse for getting anything wrong.
I don’t know about you but if I find one detail that I know to be wrong in a book, that entire story loses validity for me. I no longer believe in those characters. I have recently been asked to blurb books in which significant details about London or life in the 1930s were wrong. I think it’s up to the writer to do her homework properly and thoroughly, to make sure all the little details are right. For Molly Murphy, where the books are usually set in New York, this involves walking the streets Molly walked, noticing what she would have seen—is the Brooklyn Bridge visible from here? Have the leaves fallen from the trees in Washington Square in late October? I have also acquired a large collection of photographs from the time and I can check what was on the billboard or what was the name above the tailor’s shop on a particular street. Not necessary maybe, but satisfying. In this upcoming Molly book, The Edge of Dreams, I had to read Freud’s treatise on the Interpretation of Dreams. Not that I agree with everything he said, but it’s the basis for my plot. I did a course in dream psychology when I was a student in Germany. I found it fascinating then and still do, so it was fun to set a book in that world.
What a wonderful extra bonus, as well as writing a story I enjoy, and seeing it get good reviews and a large readership, I am constantly expanding my knowledge, delving into areas I would never have explored… becoming an accidental expert.
So I’m interested, Tasha—what have you learned during your research that now makes you realize you are somewhat of an expert in an area you didn’t expect to be?
TASHA: No one is drawn to writing historical fiction unless he or she loves research, and a large part of the fun is digging into things you never expected to draw your interest. Like you, I have a nearly endless collection of photographs from the period in which my books are set—not just of the locations, but also of people, ordinary and extraordinary. One of the things that inspired me to write The Counterfeit Heiress was a treasure trove of photographs taken in 1897 at the Duchess of Devonshire’s fancy dress ball thrown in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Seeing pictures of the elaborate costumes was amazing; they were far more ornate than I ever would have imagined. You couldn’t be more right, Rhys, about how essential it is that we do our best to get details right—and photographic evidence is extremely helpful when it comes to this.
In the course of my research, I have studied Foucault’s History of Madness, unearthed everything I could about the intricacies of marriage negotiations in Renaissance Venice (which then led me to read extensively about the wild behavior that went on in the city’s convents—and how it was those marriage practices that led directly to it), and delved into the tumultuous history of the UK Women’s Liberal Federation. I read the letters of British Ambassadors wives to the Ottoman Empire, an experience that threw over pretty much everything I thought I knew about social mores in Constantinople at the time.
The trickiest thing, I think, is to figure out which details to include in a book. It is so very tempting to put in everything, but that makes for a muddled novel. You have to limit yourself to those things that either forward the narrative or provide necessary information for character development and/or a fully fleshed out setting. There is an art to combining the history, the social mores, and the location in a way that enhances the story, and sometimes this means that we have to leave out some of the fascinating things we uncover during the research phase.
The consolation, of course, is that someday those rejected tidbits may fit in another novel…
About Rhys Bowen and THE EDGE OF DREAMS:
I was born and raised in England but currently divide my time between California and Arizona where I go to escape from the harsh California winters
When I am not writing I love to travel, sing, hike, play my Celtic harp.
* Constable Evan Mystery
* Molly Murphy Mysteries
* Her Royal Spyness Mysteries
THE EDGE OF DREAMS will be released on March 3 2015, pre order your copy via Amazon here!
About Tasha Alexander and THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS
Tasha Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Emily series and the novel ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and Medieval History. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK.
Pick up your copy of THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS today via Amazon!