Friday, April 25, 2014

THE FINE ART OF MAKING STUFF UP

Julie, here, and I gotta tell you that this post today by guest blogger Siri Mitchell not only made me laugh out loud, but it set me free!

As an author who's terribly allergic to research, I marvel at these detailed author types who scour mountains of books, interview tons of people, and strike out on multiple research trips to their chosen destination. Because, you see, my chosen destination is, uh ... Google, and I was ashamed to admit that before reading Siri's post today. So without further ado, please welcome our delightful guest, award-winning author Siri Mitchell, and be thoroughly liberated and entertained ... not to mention eligible for one of two exciting Siri book giveaways if you leave a comment!

The Fine Art of Making Stuff Up
by Siri Mitchell

On the road to publication, the hope is that if you can just figure out how to write a better book you’ll be able to vault yourself into publication. Common wisdom holds that one of the ways to do this is to make sure you do enough research to get your story details exactly right. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Because as a Christian novelist, you certainly don’t want to lie to anyone about anything! If there’s truth to be found, then we want to do it! And we want our stories to include it.

There’s only one problem with that: we write novels. Novels that are fictional by definition. They’re mostly, in large part, made up. Which means they’re not true. Which might, kind of, sort of, mean that we have to lie. On a regular basis. As part of the profession.

Probably that won’t take anyone by surprise. At least not consciously. But really, you have to kind of admit that sometimes, as novelists, we get carried away with our research. The problem occurs when we let that research carry away our stories.

Let me give you some examples. With all of my novels, I’m reading between 20 and 30 printed books and accessing well over 200 websites or internet pages as I research. In fact, I’m known for my heavily-researched novels. So I’m not advocating that you make everything up. But with my Elizabethan, A Constant Heart, I became so obsessed with ‘getting it right’ that I was determined to track down where Queen Elizabeth and her court had been, on any given day, during the years my story took place. (There were at least five or six of them and she traveled about her kingdom quite a bit.) With my Revolutionary War-spy novel, The Messenger, I was determined to figure out exactly how an escape from a Philadelphia prison was planned and executed even though the only detail I could find was the date on which it happened. For my pen name (Iris Anthony) book, The Miracle Thief, I decided I needed to know when – exactly – a treaty was agreed to and when it was enacted…even though there were no chroniclers of that era during the Dark Ages and the best clue I could find was that the treaty was agreed to in ‘autumn’ of the year 911.

All of those details, I can now say without an inkling of doubt, were impossible to discover. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t spend weeks trying to find them. I wanted the story to be right. And how could I get it right if I didn’t know the facts?

Well…I could do what I ended up doing. I could decide that, my goodness, if I couldn’t find the information after a several-week search, it certainly wasn’t general knowledge. But…what if it was specialized knowledge? What if the half-dozen of my readers who were experts in the Elizabethan era/Revolutionary War period/Dark Ages knew all of those things by heart? What if they learned it in Queen Elizabeth 101? Maybe they give you tables of all 44 years of her Outlook or Google schedules on the first day of class. Or maybe the top-secret spy mission that was carried out during the Revolutionary War by less than a dozen patriots was published as a popular tell-all in some book that everybody but me has access to.

What if they do? What if it was?

What if some people do know all those things? How many of them are likely to read my books? One or two? And is my not-knowing-for-positively-sure going to ruin the reading experience for all the rest of my readers?

On one of my visits to the Louvre Museum in Paris (one of the largest and oldest museums in the world), I was wandering through the Near Eastern Antiquities section, browsing the ancient artifacts on display. One of them was a small wooden box with a hole in the top. I wondered what it was, so I stepped forward to read the label. It said, “Box made of wood, with a hole in the top.” Sometimes, even those you’d think ought to know these kinds of details, don’t. So let that be a lesson to us!

The point of fiction writing is to create a story that feels plausible according to its setting and era without violating the known facts (unless, of course, you’re writing an alternative history). That means you have to do enough research to know what makes sense. I’m not letting you off the hook for that! Efficiency is not often a word applied to writing, but it still absolutely applies to research. If you’re like me, you have better things to do with your writing time than chase a rabbit trail through time and space. Sometimes – and you’re going to have to learn to be okay with this – you’re just going to have to make stuff up. So with that dark day in mind, here are some tips to help you do it:
           
1.     Recognize that trying to completely, authentically replicate a setting or person isn’t just impossible, it would probably also be really boring. Authentic reproduction isn’t what you’re after. Creating a convincing illusion is.
2.     Give yourself permission to say enough is enough. Those books of mine I mentioned might have been marginally better if I had been able to find the facts I was looking for. In some cases those facts might have even altered the plot, but really, it wouldn’t have affected the quality of the actual story. Those details really weren’t necessary to my stories and the time I put into finding them, had a diminishing return for a novelist. Maybe not for a historian, but you’re not one of those, are you? Giving up on finding a detail doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you a competent manager of your precious resource of time.
3.    If it really gives you hives to even dream that you’ve overlooked some important detail that everyone might know, then place your story in an unusual setting or era. (see Puritan Massachusetts colony in Love’s Pursuit; the Boston of Italian immigrants in A Constant Heart; a St. Louis candy-making family in Unrivaled; Louis XIII’s court in The Ruins of Lace; or the Dark Ages of France in The Miracle Thief). 

4.     Be confident. It’s not necessary to feel apologetic for not tumbling down every mole hole in your research. There’s nothing easier to detect than insecurity in writing. You’re the master of your story and the more you write around that one elusive detail, the more you try to explain away its absence, the more you point out that it’s just not there. So make it up and move on.
5.     If you’re going to make up a detail, you don’t have to go into great detail about it. The trick to making stuff up is to not overdo it. Oftentimes people who lie reveal their subterfuge by talking too much. A sleight of hand is usually just a slight movement. Same with making stuff up. 
6.     If it’s not important, it’s not important. I’ve spent too much time trying to find era-specific names for things like colors. Pea-colored green works just as well as azoff green, doesn’t? And it’s more descriptive too. If it doesn’t affect a plot point, make it up. (On the other hand, do use the ‘telling detail’ that fixes your story in time and place. Who but the Victorians would have used a celery server? Where but in the South can you buy boiled peanuts?)
7.     If exact location isn’t critical to your story, set it in a fictional place. I do this for my French historicals, gleaning the popular suffixes or prefixes of the region’s towns and re-combining them for an authentic-sounding name. A fictional place gives you all sorts of leeway. Then you can locate it on the most convenient train-line or stagecoach route or river. (Or near none of them at all!) And you can also say terrible things about its inhabitants and without living in fear that someone’s going to accuse you of slander.
8.     I do the same thing with titled nobles. 
  9.     Travel is overrated. I used to be a terrible snob about this, declaring that no one could write convincingly about a place they’d never visited. I’ve changed my mind. Mostly because I can’t afford to do all that traveling. So how can you fake it?
  a.     By looking at photos on Snapfish or Shutterfly or personal blogs from other people’s vacations. They’ve given me some great scene ideas and descriptive details. Just do an image search on the internet.
   b.     Tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Sometimes even visiting places like London won’t do much for you if your novel is set in the distant past (Middle Ages, Tudor, Restoration). I keep telling myself over and over again that even if I were able to go visit my setting, I wouldn’t be able to see it as it was back then.
c.     Use your personal sensory experiences to give life to your novel. Have you ever scuffed your way across a stone floor or stood in the middle of a building with a soaring ceiling? Then you can place a character quite convincing in a medieval cathedral. Have you ever been so cold you didn’t even have the energy to move? Then you can write convincingly about how most characters from pre-history – 1920 felt in the winter inside their own homes.
10.  Use a calendar. Some writers like to track down the lunar calendar for their stories so that they’ll portray the phases of the moon correctly, but as long as you plug your scenes into a calendar at some point, you’re probably not going to err by having a full moon two weeks in a row. Or by having six months of a blazing hot summer. Besides, is anyone going to read your 1843 historical with a lunar calendar in hand? (If they do, then they don’t deserve happiness.)
11.  Pay attention to your adjectives. I had a terrific editor once who pointed out that when I was referencing age or minutes or distance in one of my novels, everything was ‘about seventy’. A character was about seventy years old. The wait was about seventy minutes. The distance to where they were driving was about seventy miles. I’ve also had the phrase ‘the smallest of’ appear in a novel, multiple times. So even when you’re making stuff up, you still need to exercise your creativity.
12.  Do some triage. In both my Iris Anthony books (The Ruins of Lace and The Miracle Thief), terrain figured very heavily into a couple of my pivotal scenes. In the former, I needed a really rocky mountain/hill because I had to have a coffin slide off a wagon and crack open as it dashed against the rocks. In the latter, I needed an avalanche a bit earlier in the season then would normally be the case. Neither scene necessarily made a lot of sense in the settings so I had to make a choice: head way south where there was rocky terrain and there were higher, rougher mountains or give up a bit of accuracy to work within my story’s time-line constraints. I decided the time constraints were more important, so I made up the rocky hill and imagined an early and brutal winter. 
13.  Use common sense. I once heard a writer castigate a novel because ‘no one did that sort of thing back then’ when the novel took place. I happened to know, because I knew the era, that sort of thing did happen once or twice. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but then novelists don’t generally write about the normal choices or things people do every day as a matter of course. We write about the uncommon. It’s probably not a good idea to write a 1976 Chevy into a Tudor setting, but putting one of only 9,000 DeLorean cars that were ever made into the movie Back to the Future worked really well. Sure, it might not be probable, but the better question to ask yourself is, ‘Is it possible?’
14.  Stop trying to collect points. There are none in writing anyway. The sad truth is that no one knows what kind of stories are going to sell. There are no magic formulas. There is no sure-fire, guaranteed method to ensure that what you write is going to gain you representation or place you on the bestseller list. So the idea that doing extra-hard, super obscure research earns you extra points isn’t just a fantasy, it’s wasting your time. The thing is to finish the book you started and then launch it out into the world. And even then, you still won’t get any points. Sorry!
15.  Understand that you are going to get it wrong sometimes. And I’m talking about those things you’ve already researched. That puts making stuff up in a whole new light, doesn’t it? I don’t know how many websites I visited to figure out what kind of instruments might have been played (and by which gender) during the Elizabethan period. Let’s just say lots. And I still managed to work an instrument into my mix that wouldn’t have existed back then. Which leads to…
16.  Practice saying, ‘Oh, well.’ You can even practice saying it with an exclamation point: ‘Oh, well!’ I tried my best when I wrote that Elizabethan novel. I know you do too. We all make mistakes in our writing. Thankfully, the world doesn’t end and no actual people die. It’s never fatal. Oh, well!
17.  Understand that details serve your story. It’s not the other way around. People are going to be amazed at your book, not because you finally figured out what the French call that weird wavy latch on their window sills or because you finally got to the root of that mysterious throwaway comment you read in an interview somewhere about the real purpose of lap dogs in the Middle Ages, but because you told a compelling story.

So I am passing my Pinocchio nose on to you. Go forth. Do your job as a novelist. Start making stuff up! And feel free to share with the rest of us: do you tend to be a nitty-gritty researcher or a carefree maker-upper? Or maybe you’ve hit a wall in your story research. Is there something we can help you make up?
GIVEAWAY:
Leave a comment or question, and you'll be entered to win one of two giveaways from Siri -- a signed copy of her latest release, Love Comes Calling or her latest indie book written under the pseudonym Iris Anthony, The Miracle Thief
ABOUT SIRI:
Siri Mitchell is the author of over a dozen novels, among them the INSPY Award-winning She Walks in Beauty and the critically acclaimed Christy Award finalists Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door. She also writes under the pseudonym Iris Anthony. A graduate of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, she has worked in many different levels of government. As a military spouse, she lived in places as varied as Tokyo and Paris.

Connect with Siri/Iris at:

Twitter -@SiriMitchell or @IrisAnthony
Facebook and GoodReads
or on Pinterest – at Siri Mithell or 1risanthony

138 comments:

Courtney Phillips said...

Hilarious!
I definitely don't mind if an author makes things up. That's what stories are for!If I only wanted the facts, I'd read a biography. As long as the plot makes sense, I'm not going to nit-pick. A fun and unique writing style makes up for less than accurate details.
Great post!
Love the cover for Love Comes Calling, by the way...

Marianne Barkman said...

I'm off to see if the library has any Iris novels!! Loved Unrivalled, Siri. What your novels aren't 100% acurate and here I've been saying they should be used for History class? Books and life are about relationships, right? And you do an awesome job there. Thanks

Melissa Jagears said...

AMEN AND AMEN AND AMEN - History Nazis in the fiction writing world drive me crazy.

Was I too much of a maker upper when I started? ....yeah, just because I didn't realize the access I had to things like etymology.com and google advanced book search and the Ngram viewer, etc. but I was learning the better stuff about writing a compelling story.

Even my mother and I can't agree what color the tile was in the kitchen in 1984, (she says I should believe her since she was not 4, but I swear I remember!) so I know people will fight over facts of any era.

And I just read the Messenger not too long ago, LOVED IT. And you make me so happy not to be a History Nazi when you did such an awesome history job on that book, I certainly am not an expert of the date you were in, but this:

"Besides, is anyone going to read your 1843 historical with a lunar calendar in hand? (If they do, then they don’t deserve happiness.)"

Makes me a fan for life. :)

Piper Huguley said...

This is a great list. I feel as Julie does, a bit liberated. Even though the research part is a favorite part of mine, some authors do get carried away with it and may kill the emotion in the story. There is a balance. So thank you for your post, Siri. Now on another note...

I am a big fan of your work. For instance, there is no need to enter me in the drawing because I have the books already. Let someone else benefit from the exposure! I'm good. Thank you for what you do and enjoy your day in Seekerville!

Melody said...

The stories you have created sound interesting.

Melody said...

The stories you have created sound interesting.

Jackie said...

Hi Siri,

Welcome to Seekerville. Thanks so much for sharing with us today. I write contemporary and still do a lot of research. The thought of writing historicals would be intimidating. You've given us a lot of good tips. Thanks!

Iris Anthony said...

Thanks, Courtney, for your kind words. The Love Comes Calling cover is fun, isn't it?

-Siri (posting as Iris -- confusing, I know!)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Marianne -- Thanks for the vote of support! I do love research, but really there does have to be a balance.

-Siri (as Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Melissa --

Yes, those research Nazis get to me too! There are some periods I really prefer not to write in. Ever!

-Siri (as Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Piper --

Thanks so much for your kind words about my books. I'm so glad you've been enjoying them!

-Siri (as Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Melody --

Thanks for stopping by!

-Siri (as Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Jackie --

Thanks for the welcome! I'm glad the tips can help. I tried to write them with contemporaries in mind as well.

-Siri (Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Thanks, Courtney, for your kind words. The Love Comes Calling cover is fun, isn't it?

-Siri (posting as Iris -- confusing, I know!)

Mary Hicks said...

I love it when people talk about writing 'fiction' and then go on to explain how they spend days and weeks researching details that the average reader will never be aware of—for the sake of truth.
Some detail does matter, I agree, but... :-)
It's a good excuse to travel and write off the trip if you enjoy that sort of thing!

Melissa, that's funny about you and your mom!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Mary --

Well said!

-Siri (as Iris)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning JULIE and SIRI, What a wonderful post and I so needed to hear this. I have traveled to places I want to write about and it does help me, but I still feel a lack of total knowledge so am delighted to have permission to make stuff up.

SIRI, welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for sharing and have fun today.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Sandra --

Thanks for the warm welcome! I love traveling and would if I could, but just don't have the time or money. So glad to offer you permission!!

-Siri

Kav said...

Wait! Siri Mitchell writes under a pseudonym too? THUD!!!!! I see more great reads in my future!!! Woot!!!

Loved this blog. Laughed hysterically at the museum's “Box made of wood, with a hole in the top.” :-)

As a reader, I appreciate the 'ambiance' the author creates with historical detail. I'm not really thinking about nitpicking those details unless there's something so glaring that it pulls me right out of the story. Love the way you've creatively achieved a balance between fact and fiction.

Crystal Ridgway said...

Loved the post, Siri! I write historical western romances, but I'm not a big researcher. I'll start a ms with whatever is in my head, and if I need a detail midway through, I'll reach over and grab my smartphone for a Google search.

Melissa, too funny about you and your mother! So... the question is, what color WAS the tile? ;)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Kav --

Hope you enjoy the Iris books! I remember standing there in the Louvre thinking, "They really have no idea either!" Thanks for your kind words about my writing.

Happy weekend,

Siri (as Iris)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Crystal --

I do a lot of Google spot-checking too. I try to save it for drafts 2 + (however many it takes to get a finished mss)so I don't stop the flow of the story.

-Siri (as Iris)

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Thanks, you don't know how much better I am going to sleep tonight. I am such a rabbit hole person that it is hard to know when to stop researching and when enough is enough.

Peace, Julie

Julie Lessman said...

WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE, SIRI (AND IRIS!) AND GOOD MORNING, ALL!!

Love, Love, LOVE this post, and even now, reading it a 3rd time, it makes me grin! Thanks SO much to the talented Siri Mitchell for hosting Seekerville today with a little bit of laughter and a whole lot of common sense and wisdom!!

I will be out of pocket most of today, but I've stocked up on breakfast goodies before I go, so dive into the omelet bar, the pancake/waffle bar, fruit bar & crepe bar. Lots of Keurig on hand in any flavor you want, plus a great selection of teas -- ENJOY!!

HUGS,
Julie

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Julie -

It IS tough to know, isn't it? The clear perspective is difficult to maintain. You can do it!

-Siri/Iris

Eileen said...

Wow! This post Has been sent from heaven. I have been agonizing about the lack of information on certain historical characters in my book and feel guilty about making up stuff. I wonder if their families will come after me or something. Thanks for releasing me to make stuff up! Please put me in for the giveaway. I love Siri's books and did not know about Iris!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Eileen --

I'm so glad it helped. I was paralyzed with my Elizabethan for a while, and had to talk myself into just closing all the books and writing. You can do it!

-Siri/Iris

Debby Giusti said...

Siri,
Always wonderful to see you, especially in Seekerville. Thanks for an informative post on research! Great info for all of us.

Aren't your covers beautiful. As special as your stories!

A number of us on this site have lived in Japan. I'm waving my Army brat and Army wife hand and giving a little bow: Ohayou gozaimasu.

Julie Lessman said...

LOL, MELISSA ... "History Nazis" ... LOVE IT!!

PIPER SAID: "Even though the research part is a favorite part of mine, some authors do get carried away with it and may kill the emotion in the story. There is a balance."

Oh, PREACH IT, PIPER!!! Balance is key in any story in all aspects, but especially in research. I remember my aunt telling me once that she liked a book I lent her to read (popular Christian author), but there was too much detail about hay-baling or oil-rigging or some such thing that it would pull her out of the story. NOT GOOD!! By the way, Piper, SUPER CONGRATS ON THE AMAZON FINAL -- YOU ROCK, GIRLFRIEND!!!!

HUGS,
Julie

Elaine Manders said...

Hi Siri

Enjoyed your humorous and affirming post. I make up lots of stuff in the first draft, then try to verify it later. If I can't, it comes out or I become vague. Once I couldn't verify that a particular flower would have grown at the time and place of my setting. So it came from the hothouse.

If anyone ever dinged me for some small detail, I'd be thrilled that anyone would read my book so carefully.

Thank you, and all your books look great.

Jeanne T said...

Siri, I loved this. Even in writing contemporary, I get lost in the research, trying to make sure I get each detail perfect. Or, I'm looking at something and another thought comes to mind, so I research that, just in case it needs to be added/considered for the story. I am still learning how to figure how to optimize my research time. :)

I loved your tips and your humor. :) Thanks for the tips for making stuff up too. :) Although, writing contemporary fiction, I probably can't get away with as much of that as historical writers do. ;)

Please do put me in the drawing!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Debby --

Ohayou gozaimasu right back to you! I've always said Japanese restaurants in the States can't be authentic unless they smell authentic. Hard to describe, but unmistakable (and a sure sign of deliciousness).

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Julie -

{waving} Thanks for having me today!

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Elaine --

I once had an 18th century character eat a meal straight from the modern grocery store. So easy to do without thinking. I had to look at some 'produce in season' charts to revise it. That research was worth it, I think.

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Jeanne --

Research can be so fun. And you never know where that next little detail will lead. It's all in the balance as Piper said.

-Siri/Iris

Melanie Dickerson said...

Siri Mitchell! I just want you to know, I am in awe of you. Your books are amazing, and the research you do is very evident in your books. I am particularly amazed by the fact that your research is obviously very meticulous, and yet you write in a different era and place with every one of your books! You have to start from scratch every time you write a book! I mean, that really blows my mind. I have only written in three time periods and settings (and only my Medievals are published!) but it would be so time consuming if I had to start researching from scratch with every new book I wrote.

But I do agree with everything you said. It's important to do research and try to get your facts straight, but there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough. I also like making up fictional towns, like you said: "If exact location isn’t critical to your story, set it in a fictional place. I do this for my French historicals, gleaning the popular suffixes or prefixes of the region’s towns and re-combining them for an authentic-sounding name."

I do the exact same thing with my Medieval German setting! And I have one book set in Medieval England.

Have you ever had someone accuse you of getting your facts wrong when you know you didn't? That has happened to me a few times. So aggravating!!! I just have to say, Oh well! (like you said), when I have done my research and I know they are wrong and don't know what they're talking about.

I am a big fan of yours, BTW, in case I haven't already said that! I read Chateau of Echoes way back and was enthralled with your writing style and the emotions of the characters that you made so real! And the incredible Medieval feel of the parts that were set in Medieval France. Wow. And I loved The Miracle Thief! Once again, wow! And I had to imagine in my mind the princess marrying that knight after it ended, I would not have been able to go to sleep that night! LOL

Iris Anthony said...

Way to go, Piper, on the Amazon final! How do you guys celebrate around here? I'll throw some confetti:

' ,
~ /
` ' ~
. `
~

Stacy Henrie said...

I need to print this out and stick it by my computer! Thank you, Siri. My husband is always telling me I write novels, not nonfiction, but it's nice to have it reiterated by a fellow author! :)

Melanie Dickerson said...

I also loved Kissing Adrien (I read it TWICE!) and A Constant Heart. I could so FEEL the emotions of the characters. But I have to say, you ripped my heart out with Love's Pursuit, although I loved it and so related to the struggles of the characters against the tyranny of religious legalism. The freedom theme was beautiful!

Stacey said...

I love this post! Thank you so much, Siri. Great words to write by as I'm reading through edits on my civil war novel. It's hard to not get caught up in all the details.

I love your books!! They are amazing and after reading this I want you to know I'm a fan forever. I will hug you if we ever meet in life.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Melanie!

Thank you so much for your gracious words about my writing! I really wish I could stick to a single era or at least not hop around so much. I proposed three books set in one era several years ago, when I was starting out as Iris (it was really hard to juggle two different books), but there was some e-mail silence from my editor and then a '...but your brand is that you DON'T stick to one era. I don't see how you can change that now.' So let that be a lesson to everyone! Unless you want to doom yourself to wander the halls of history forever, try to stick within an era. Or at least a century! This year my Siri release was set in 1924 and my Iris release was in 911. I've literally researched a thousand years of history at this point. I DO love history, but it takes a couple months to work up the enthusiasm to dive into parts unknown once more.

That's neat we use the same place name method!

I have had people tell me I'm wrong when I know that I'm right. It doesn't matter. They can be wrong if they want to :)

My poor princess. And my poor knight! I tried to work it out so they could stay together, but it just didn't fit. I wish it would have! Sometimes truly happy endings just don't work (like The Messenger....)

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Stacy --

It's hard not to get sucked into the research black hole, isn't it? Great to 'see' you!

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Melanie --

Did I say 'The Messenger' at the end of that last comment? I meant Love's Pursuit. I STILL cry when I think about that ending. Maybe that's the trick. If it moves me, then it's more likely to move the reader? I don't know. What do you think?

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Stacey --

I'll hug you back!!!

Hats off to you as a Civil War author. That's a really tough period to tackle.

-Siri/Iris

Terri said...

Siri, you would be safe putting whatever you wanted in your historical novel with readers like me. I enjoy a good historical read, but I'll be the first to admit I would never catch an error unless it jumped off the page and bit me. I so admire the research you conduct for your novels. Please enter me in the drawing.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Terri --

Oh, I'm so glad! You have no idea how terrifying just the thought of The Reader can be to a writer. You'll be the reader I think of as I start to write my next book.

-Siri/Iris

Jan Drexler said...

*stands* *clears throat*

Hello. My name is Jan. And I'm research junkie.


Hi Siri!

Yes, I love research. I also hate it when authors get details wrong. Not minuscule details, but major things. Like what the climate or terrain are in their setting, or things that couldn't possibly happen during their time period.

We watched a movie recently set in pre-Civil War days that used rifles made in post-Civil War days. That's just egregious!

BUT - I can forgive all of those things if the author is telling me a good story. It's when I'm bored with the story that I start seeing the research errors. :)

And now, dear friends, I'm off to spend the day tooling around Deadwood. Yes, THE Deadwood. The museums, the cemeteries, hiking the Hills in the area.

Because, you know, I'm a research junkie :)

Connie Queen said...

"I happened to know, because I knew the era, that sort of thing did happen once or twice."

I love this.

I had a critique partner ask me where a certain scene had taken place. It confused her because it was raining and she thought I had it set in Texas? It does rain in Texas.

About 20 years ago, we moved to Midland in west Texas where it never rains. We were in the process of putting a roof over two trailer houses. (Sad, I know.)It rained 13 inches that July!!! Broke their all time record for the month.

I appreciate the post, Siri.

S. Trietsch said...

Great information about something I had wondered about and chose simply to keep my characters in familiar to me settings!

I'm also fascinated to know why you have published under real and pen names...

Thanks! Stephanie

Iris Anthony said...

No, Jan, no! Don't worry, don't panic. You too can be cured.

Just kidding.

We sound a lot alike. It's not that I don't like research. I LOVE it. I love history. I just don't like the good research = good story feeling that seems so prevalent. Because sometimes (Dan Brown, I'm talking about you) research has nothing to do with writing a compelling, page-turning story. (And yes, I DID take that book of his downstairs and try to follow his characters' journeys through Paris and it made NO SENSE whatsoever...and clearly, I don't deserve my own happiness. Oh, well!)

Enjoy your time in Deadwood and know that I'm jealous! (I think we probably all are.)

-Siri/Iris

Marianne Barkman said...

Just started reading Ruins of Lace ...not good as I have stuff that needs doing TODAY!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Connie --

The strangest things do happen, right? And keep happening!

Someone back about twenty years ago or so heard my husband came from Oregon and wondered if the folks out there had running water yet.

Um, yeah.

-Siri/Iris

Candice Valdez said...

What a great post! I have always wondered how authors know when to stop researching. It seems like you could get drawn in to more and more information and never stop! I would never get the book written! :)
Loved the article!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Stephanie --

Great question!

Iola Goulton asked me that same question and some others as well earlier in the week. I told her that "I use two names because I’m writing two different styles of historicals. My Iris books are set in Europe (France) and stylistically, they’re more experimental and complicated. They also have more POV characters. So far, they involve stories of separate lives slowly becoming intertwined within a larger story. My Siri books are generally set in America as close to the 19th century as I can manage and they feature young women as their heroines."

You can read the whole interview here: http://christianreads.blogspot.com/2014/04/author-interview-iris-anthony.html

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Marianne --

I hope you enjoy it! It's definitely more experimental in style.

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Candice --

That's the danger! It helps to set some deadlines or draft goals, otherwise you could end up reading just one more book...

-Siri/Iris

Debby Giusti said...

Siri, I know that smell! :)

Also authentic Japanese stores have a certain smell. Went into a shop in Hawaii some years ago, and it took be back to my childhood days in Japan because of the way the store smelled.

:)

Which should remind us to always include scents in our stories!

Hugs!

Kristie said...

Wow!! There certainly is a lot to think about when writing a historical novel. I'd be tempted to write contemporary because it's not as much research. And I'm a librarian!! *LOL* kristiedonelson(at)gmail(dot)com Thank you!

Mary Connealy said...

Siri I love this, really seriously love it.

I used to say I hated research but the REASON I hated it was because I LOVED IT! And I'd start reading about something or other and just be gone. A four hour time sink and not a word written. So I hated to start because I knew I'd not get any writing done for a while.

Mary Connealy said...

HOWEVER I realized that my research was giving me inspiration for the next books.

The whole Trouble in Texas series came out of research for Seth Kincaid's stint in Andersonville Prison.

As I read that I discovered The Regulators. I discovered diaries and first person accounts. I discovered there'd been a BABY born in Andersonville prison.

I started to see that men who survived that, especially the Regulators, might have a bond that would last a lifetime. And that because the background for my heroes in Trouble in Texas. So those hours of Research which began when I just needed to know when Andersonville opened and closed, just that ONE TINY THING, so I wouldn't slap Seth into a prison camp that didn't exist, because about four hours of reading and...it became three more books.
So I've embraced research and come to see that all that reading is sewing seeds that may bear unexpected fruit.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Debby -

Yes, a great reminder about scent. It's so often overlooked!

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Kristie --

You have my dream job!

-Siri/Iris

Mary Connealy said...

ON THE OTHER HAND I sometimes catch myself researching and following rabbit trails and then I'll realize that for the last 30 minutes following no path I can remember, I've spent looking at albino animals or reading about Keith Urban's childhood or some disconnect like that. I doubt albino lemurs are ever going to work their way into my books, though an albino deer is possible. Andthere was an albino two headed snake that is just WEIRD. And a full grown albino moose that was fascinating, which reminds me I saw a white deer which is...I don't believe albino with Erica Vetsch in a case in St. Ansgar, Iowa..........
sigh
get back to writing!!!!

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Mary -

I find the same thing. Usually I come up with my ideas for books as I'm researching a different book entirely. The temptation for me is to think, if I just read one chapter more (currently I'm reading several histories of West Point, so strictly since the book is set in 1850s, I should be reading from 1830s just until the Civil War)...you never know what fascinating information is waiting on the next page. Maybe we could figure out how to be paid for just researching? Maybe that's the dream job!

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

Albino two-headed snakes! Either of those words in combination with 'snake' is enough to scare me! I've done the same thing. With my French-set Ruins of Lace, I somehow got caught up in the Man in the Iron Mask story and which of the seven (?) candidates it could have possibly been and I must have spent about a week looking into it and another week figuring out how my choice could be worked into the book before I realized one of history's great mysteries had hijacked my book, dang it. And I'd let it!

-Siri/Iris

Tina Radcliffe said...

THIS WAS THE BEST POST!!!!

Thank you. My ego thanks you.

I love this line "Stop trying to collect points. There are none in writing anyway."

Now here is the interesting thing. I write contemps. Every time a reader DINGS me, it's on THE TRUTH, not made up stuff.

But what I have learned is to turn it around. Make a friend of someone who is at first accusatory.

It takes very little. Mostly they are harmless readers who are armchair experts.

They love to tell you all they know.

Let them! You have won a fan and possibly an expert for a future novel.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Oh, and I welcome both your personas to Seekerville!

Welcome. Welcome.

I brought croissants, chocolate filled. From a little bakery I imagined to be on the corner of Fifth and Main Street in a town called, Seekerville.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Tina --

Thank you so much! I'm glad my words encouraged you. That's wonderful: turning an adversary into a friend. And I would love a croissant!

-Siri/Iris

Mary Connealy said...

And I guess I never think of making stuff up as lying exactly.

Just because...we all know we're reading a story, people! Relax!

A book I really loved, the Winds of War and War and Remembrance was so eye opening to me. How Herman Wouk created those books by having someone standing right beside huge historical figures. So her characters are working with Roosevelt, living in a concentration camp, etc. I loved that way of writing

Pepper said...

Siri,
This was an AMAZING post. Printing NOW!! And as Julie said, it IS freeing!!
Your newest (under your real name) is next on my reading list! SO EXCITED!!! Now I'm going to start stalking Iris Anthony online too. YAY!

(Tina Radcliffe can tell you, Siri, I'm a dangerous stalker ;-)

Jennifer Smith said...

Siri, I'm excited to read your books, and thanks so much for this valuable information! I'm one of those who thinks about "that one reader who may be an expert" and may find a factual error in my writing.

Interestingly enough, I just finished Robin Lee Hatcher's book "The Heart's Pursuit." The male lead is a bounty hunter, and I thought it was interesting that at the end of the book Robin noted that the term "bounty hunter" was not in use at the time of the story. She says she used creative license when writing the story. (Which still shows she did her research!)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Siri, somehow I figured out how the princess and the knight could stay together. I don't remember how just now, but if you ever want to write a sequel, I could help you brainstorm! LOL! I just couldn't bear the idea of them not getting together eventually.

And yes, if it means something deep and profound to you, it will mean something to the reader, I think.

Iris Anthony said...

Hey Pepper --

Great to see you! I hope you enjoy the Iris book as much as you do the Siri ones.

-Siri/Iris

Iris Anthony said...

I love that way of writing, too, Mary. Which brings up it's own research issues. Researching for our own story and then researching the real people for your story during the times they brush up against each other. I'm wrestling with just how much of that I want to do with my West Point story.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Jennifer --

Those bounty hunters! I had the same problem with my Iris Ruins of Lace book. I never did figure out the historical term that was used even though I knew it wasn't that one. Sometimes all you can find out is that you can't find out!

-Siri/Iris

Loves To Read said...

What an interesting post! As a reader it doesn't bother me if the author uses creative license. I'm all about the story and the interaction between the characters. Please add my name for a chance at the giveaways!

Iris Anthony said...

Melanie!

If you remember, let me know! Maybe I could talk THAT publisher into letting me stay in the same time period.

-S/I

Jana Vanderslice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iris Anthony said...

Hi Loves To Read --

Thank you! I can remind myself of those things, but it makes all the difference when I hear it from someone else.

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Jana --

My favorite place as a child was Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Seattle down on the waterfront. Shrunken heads, two mummies, the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice. Loved that place!

I'll take a cookie.

-S/I

Marcie Sextro said...

I like to designate a four hour block for research where I take my notebook that is divided into several sections of a time period: important people, events, quotes from the newspaper, description of the area, etc. I always have a section at the back of it for other story ideas I find in my research which I pull out and put in a file for future reference.

Then I break out the yellow pad the next day and write away.

This article was so fantastic! I will be giving myself permission to make things up from now on.

Jana Vanderslice said...

I do the get lost in the research! It's so easy! It's like Pinterest on Crack!Creativity and curiosity must be closely linked in the brain.
I once paid $5 to see a stuffed, two headed calf at a roadside museum. My only excuse is that I was 13 at the time & it was my daddy's money. :)

I'm making Dear Abby's Potato Chip cookies for my mom's bridge group. Come on by & try them!

*sorry had to repost!

Mary Connealy said...

Just today, through JAN DREXLER I found this book...Letters of a Woman Homesteader
It's currently free on Amazon and I can't wait.

I LOVE first person things like this because I've realized that sometimes we can't get to the REAL truth in history but a first person account is HER truth and if she felt some way then that's a legitimate angle for a story, even if she is misguided or had a poor experience.

When I read the first person report of a guard at Andersonville prison who had been on duty and see the baby that was born, his words just gave me goosebumps. It was such a strong reaction, the wonder of it, the fear for the woman and baby until they got her out of the camp, the disbelieve as the man saw something that absolutely COULD NOT BE! AND YET THERE IT WAS...HE HAD TO BELIEVE HIS OWN EYES!
That hit home, that journal he wrote, because if he was affected so strongly then my character -- Dare Riker -- could be affected just as strongly and life in the midst of death could have inspired him to be a doctor.

Iris Anthony said...

A baby at Andersonville -- that's just so amazing! I truly can't even imagine it...

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Marcie --

I admire your method. I haven't settled on one for myself yet. I might have to try yours out!

-S/I

Savanna said...

Thanks, Siri, for this great post! It's exactly what I needed to hear. It's so easy for me to get swallowed up in the research and lose my writing time. I need to remember this advice. ;)

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Vince said...

Hi Siri:

I’m a lifelong history fan! I took enough history courses in college to teach it in high school. But I never did. And I’m not a history Nazi.

My big complaint is not with wrong history but rather with the lack of history in so much of today’s historical fiction. I cringe at the squandered opportunities I see all the time.

For example, I read a American historical romance that took place in March and April of 1898. This was at the height of yellow journalism. The big newspapers were trying to get the US to go to war with Spain. A war would sell lots of newspapers. The coming war was a major topic of conversations. War was declared on April 25, 1898.

Annie Oakley, by the way, wrote a famous letter to President McKinley offering the government the services of a company of 50 “lady sharpshooters” who would provide their own arms and ammunition should war break out with Spain. This letter was recoded on April 5, 1898. What a wonderful opportunity this was to weave a little real history into the narrative.

Talk about women in combat! No army would want to go up against 50 Annie Oakleys. With these ladies there would never had been a need for Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. (That's probably why the ladies didn't get to see action.:))

I think women readers would have loved to have read this about Annie Oakley. Again, my wish is for there to be a little more history in historical fiction. People did talk about what was in the newspaper that day. With no tv, radio, or movies, the print media was often a major source of conversation. I’ve read about children from that time period who had to read at least one newspaper story and be prepared to talk about it at the dinner table that night. (That was way back when the whole family would eat together!)

BTW: I found your title “She Walks in Beauty” to be irresistible. A famous blessing in Navajo is “May you walk in beauty”. Does your title having anything to do with this blessing? (I have not started reading the book yet.)

One last thing: I think you have one of the most animated, interesting and memorable author photographs that I’ve ever seen. As a former photographer, I’m very jealous. Will you tell us the story about that photo? Did a pro take it? Did you enhance it in Photoshop? I can almost guarantee you that if there were 100 author photos displayed at the entrance of a writing conference, yours would be the most remembered by the most attendees. Simply perfect! I would love to have the credit for taking that picture!

Vince

DebH said...

hi Siri (aka Iris),
confession: um, i've never seen your books *hanging head* but on a bright note - I've now been introduced to a new author (yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy)

really enjoyed your post. i'm currently working on a story where I hope I treat the occupation of my hero (US Coast Guard investigator) properly. So, researching and talking with USCG guys (not known for liking romance books, btw). Don't want some coastie to read the story and think "idiot... doesn't she know THAT wouldn't happen?"

i'm still giggling about “Box made of wood, with a hole in the top"

priceless.

would love an opportunity to win either of your giveaways. both look really cool.

Meghan Carver said...

Siri, I love your books! Thanks so much for this wonderful post. I enjoy reading historical novels, but I am too much of a detail-freak to ever try to write one. :-) It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think of all the hours of research. I would get so engrossed I would never get the book written. (Now, just watch. I've said that publicly, and the next thing you know, I'll be writing something historical.) I would love to win the autographed book. Have a great weekend!

DebH said...

p.s.
i'm one of those readers who doesn't know enough to figure out if something is incorrect unless it's uber blatant. although... i do think better researched books have an extra depth to them, subtle but there. this usually translates into a difference of reaction to a story of: (little or erroneous research) Oh, that was a nice book to (lots of research) WOW! what a great book! must tell my friends about this one.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Vince --

I'd never heard of that Navajo blessings before, but I love it!

Writing historicals always involves trade-offs. At least for me. So much of interest goes on in any era. The books I've written in the Progressive era were especially filled with material and great historical anecdotes. (I always wanted to teach history too, by the way!) The temptation is to include it all. My editors are always having to put limits around my enthusiasms. Some periods (like the Revolutionary War) can seem over-familiar since most Americans feel like they learned it all in elementary school. Other events (like the Spanish-American War) feel obscure and frankly, not very interesting even though you and I find it fascinating! I once wanted to write a contemporary that had links to the Kosovo War. I was told (rightly or wrongly) that it wouldn't be of interest to general readers because most of them were confused by the conflict and didn't really understand it. (That was one of the reasons I wanted to write it! I was looking forward to reading up on it.)

When I make choices about what to include I also spend a lot of time thinking about my theme and my moral premise. Storyworld is always artificial. I hope the illusion feels real, but I can only allow those things into it which further my plot or illustrate my premise. I wish the days of Michener would return when an author could really dig into the history of a place and it could all be included, but I keep being told that faster is better and less is more. That's probably another reason for the lack of history that you're noting.

As far as the author photo, thank you for the compliment. I was going to ask if you wanted the short or long story behind it, but who are we fooling? I stink at novellas, so I'll answer in a separate comment below!

-S/I

I love that story about Annie Oakley.

Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, Siri! Welcome!

My favorite line:

"Besides, is anyone going to read your 1843 historical with a lunar calendar in hand? (If they do, then they don’t deserve happiness.)"

LOL!! I love it. :)

You know, my latest wip (coming out in Oct) has a heroine who's a microbiologist. That's what I did before kids…24 years ago. So I used an experience I had in the lab but had to tone down the science stuff some, then check to see if they still did things the same way in the lab as I did back then. I about drove myself crazy with worry over getting it wrong (and looking like a dinosaur). I asked a friend who's still in the field a gazillion questions. But I ended up cutting out so much of the science so the general reader wouldn't be turned off (some of it grossed out the Seekers who read a portion! LOL), that I'm hoping I got it right.

I finally just had to let it go. But I still worry a microbiologist might read it and think I got it wrong! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Oh, and my next favorite quote:

Which leads to… 16. Practice saying, ‘Oh, well.’ You can even practice saying it with an exclamation point: ‘Oh, well!’ I tried my best when I wrote that Elizabethan novel. I know you do too. We all make mistakes in our writing. Thankfully, the world doesn’t end and no actual people die. It’s never fatal. Oh, well!

Love that also! Am telling myself that now. :)

Michelle Gregory said...

a great post. and once again, i am delighted to see that i can find more of your books under your pen name. :)

Iris Anthony said...

As far as the author photo, all the credit goes to Tim Coburn: http://www.timcoburnphoto.com I hesitated in choosing him because he does high fashion photo/layout shoots and national ad campaigns and actor headshots and who am I but Mousy Authorgirl? But I thought, if I'm going to do this, I might as well have it done right and anyone can smile for an hour, right? How bad can it be? (Plus he had an associate do hair and make-up at the studio).

He was terrific. He made ME feel like a high fashion model even though the wardrobe choices I brought were, 'This navy blue t-shirt? Or this purple-colored t-shirt?'

He does a lot of actor headshots and said they can pretend to almost anything he asks and take on almost any sort of 'look'. With me, it was the opposite. "Look like you're trying to pick someone up at a bar. Flirt with me. No? Then...how about, look like you're the one in charge here. Like you're not going to take anything from anyone. Um...maybe..." Regrettably, I just couldn't look like anyone other than me. It amused us both! So that picture was just me standing in front of some reflective material with my arms crossed having the best time in the world with Tim! He was great.

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Deb --

Thanks for stopping by! I hope there's a little more depth to a well-researched book. I feel like once I do the research, as I write the book, I try my hardest to keep it all out. What seeps through seems to have to be there, but I'd love to be able to write sometimes about all the things I've left out.

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Meghan --

I've stopped saying 'never'. Especially in terms of time periods!!

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Missy --

I have a Victorian botanist in next spring's release and I did the same thing! First I cut out all the Latin names (or most of them) and then I cut out a lot of the technical talk and then asked my critique partner what she thought...and my editors still said there was too much science in it :(

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hey Michelle!

I hope you enjoy reading them.

-S/I

Wilani Wahl said...

Hi Siri,

I love this post. When I read historical fiction, I remember that it is just that fiction so as long as it is written with what would have happened in that time period then I am in love with the story.

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Wilani --

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I need to remember what you said as I write. Great perspective.

-S/I

Melanie Dickerson said...

Siri, now I'm going to go read the ending of The Miracle Thief again and remember my made-up scenario of how the princess and the knight ended up together. I only hope it wasn't too far-fetched for anyone besides me to believe!

Iris Anthony said...

Thanks, Melanie!

-S/I

Myra Johnson said...

Siri, what a wonderful--and freeing post! Thank you!

I avoided writing historical fiction for these very reasons, so concerned I could never, ever, ever gather enough knowledge to write convincingly of an earlier era. In writing my post-WWI romances, I got really hung up at times on finding out exactly when and where a battle took place. Or where the streets ran in 1919 Hot Springs, Arkansas.

With my Army and Navy Hospital setting, I had sketches and photos of what the grounds and buildings looked like, but nothing specific about the interiors. So I made stuff up and kept the details vague enough that readers could invent their own mental pictures.

And, of course, disclaimers in my author's notes and apologies to avid historians for any mistakes or assumptions made for the sake of storytelling.

Myra Johnson said...

BTW, Missy's favorite line is also mine:

"Besides, is anyone going to read your 1843 historical with a lunar calendar in hand? (If they do, then they don’t deserve happiness.)"

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Siri! First off, I LOVE that your pen name, Iris, is "Siri" backward! Not many can have that make sense (mine would be Einahpets, which NO ONE would want to read!).

Second, I really enjoyed this post. I read a lot of historicals, and I always appreciate the research that goes into them. I have no problem making certain things up,especially when those facts aren't known, but it drives me CRAZY when a writer KNOWINGLY changes something "just because." I think I was reading an author's note after finishing a novel and they wrote that they changes the day of the week of a battle from a Tuesday to a Thursday "because it just made more sense." WHAT??? I can't even remember what the book was about, but really? Changing the day of the week because it makes more sense? I wouldn't have even known if the author hadn't pointed it out, but still, I thought it was a dumb change. As an author writing historical fiction, shouldn't you make your characters work in the real-life setting you've put them in?

Anyway, I'd love to be in the drawing. I've read a few of your works and realyl enjoyed them, but neither of these two. Have a lovely weekend!

Missy Tippens said...

Oh my goodness, Stephanie, I didn't even pick up on that! :)

Mine would be Yssim. Try to pronounce that! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Siri, you could have fun having your botanist character spout off Latin names, leaving other characters totally confused. :)

Andrea Strong said...

Great post!

I'm (pathetically) making very little headway on my first novel, and have been in that place for years. Part of my problem is there's so much of the history that I want to know for the sake of accuracy, but I despise research; always have.

This post gives me permission to look for the big details I need, but let some of the smaller ones go. It's kind of freeing.

Thank you.

Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Wow, this post is a gold mine! Siri, I have always loved all the history and details in your books. Thank you for passing on your wisdom. :)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Myra --

Sounds like you've been doing a great job of making stuff up already!

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Stephanie --

...that does seem a little odd. You guessed my the first name of my pen name. The second is the first name of my husband. I write under my married name as Siri, and my husband has always been so encouraging in my writing that I thought he deserved to in on Iris too.

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hey Missy --

Kind of Ypres. Good point about the Latin. That might help!

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Andrea --

I'm so glad that I could help. Hang in there!

-S/I

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Anna --

Thanks so much for your kind words!

-S/I

Annie Rains said...

Thank you for a wonderful post! And I have to add, your book covers are gorgeous! All of them!

Iris Anthony said...

Thank you so much, Annie! And you're welcome.

-S/I

Amy C said...

Interesting post! I did not know Iris and Siri were of the same.
:)

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Amy --

Thanks for stopping by!

-S/I

Chill N said...

Siri! Thank you! I now have a way to encourage myself to back away when I can't find an historical detail I'm searching for. I will sit back, take a deep breath, and say, “Box made of wood, with a hole in the top.”

I didn't realize you also write as Iris Anthony. I've discovered a new author!

What do you find the most challenging about writing in a more experimental vein than you previously have?

What a fun post. Thank you!

Nancy C

Chill N said...

Confession time: I spent an hour last night reading (online) several copies of a local paper from 1883. I not only picked up tidbits like prices, what products were available in the area at the time (canned oranges!), and what the big news items were ... I found out some major impacts were happening in ranching and the education system ... both of which figure prominently in my plot.

Now I can sprinkle in just a bit of what was happening, and I think the story will be the richer for it.

Nancy C

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Nancy --

I browsed through the 19th century archives of the NY Times quite a bit as I wrote She Walks in Beauty. Great details for parties and other events!

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing more experimentally is that I have to remind myself that it's okay to stray beyond my normal strictures. I have to remind myself that I can branch out a little more.

-S/I

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Siri.
Thanks for the excellent post on research! Even with making stuff up, I'm impressed with the extensive research you do.

I write Americana so my research isn't as difficult as the periods you write about. But, I've made mistakes. Sadly the book's already in print before I know so I'm not able to fix the error. Your "Oh well" is a gift. I can now replace my Loser L with your Pinocchio nose. Way more fun!

Janet

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Janet --

Thanks so much for your kind welcome. Glad to be of assistance!

-S/I

Piper Huguley said...

Thank you for the congrats Julie! I so appreciate your support as well as everyone else here in Seekerville!
Tina, you had a really great idea about what to do with the person who points out the error--to make a friend. Then something affirming and positive happens.
I've been taking the questions that I've seen in my reviews and turned them into blog posts, but I like your idea too.
Thank you for the confetti Iris! I think people who can make those little pics are so clever!

Starlight Starbright said...

This was so interesting to read :)

To be completely honest, I think that if the author of a book makes things up, it makes the books even better because it comes from their imagination :)

Your books sound so interesting :D

Iris Anthony said...

Hi Starlight Starbright --

I like that!

-S/I

Pam Hillman said...

When it doubt, leave it out, make it up, or if your Mary C., shoot somebody.

Iris Anthony said...

Hey Pam --

I'll have to try that next time...

-S/I

Tanya Agler said...

Thanks for the post. To echo many of the others, my favorite line was anybody who has the lunar calendar in hand doesn't deserve happiness.

Thanks for the information about researching. It's amazing what is at your fingertips, and what you find yourself researching while you're writing a book. I recently had to do a search on the status of cellars and basements in antebellum houses and that led me to research different towns in the South with still existing antebellum houses that led me on a search of floor plans and typical square footage for those houses. Sometimes I love getting sidetracked so much I purposefully go somewhere without wi-fi to get more writing done!

Micaela Wood said...

Loved this post!! Thanks so much fr sharing these tips...I'm not a published author yet but I hope to be someday soon, and with the latest completed manuscript I found myself trying to be too authentic. This post has helped me so much!!

Thanks for the chance to win one of your books, as well!! :)

~Micaela
bookworm9404(at)gmail(dot)com

Natalie Monk said...

Haha! Love # 16!

Whenever I hit a wall with research, I yell, "Creative license!" in my mind and forget about it. Or if I feel particularly guilty, sometimes I make a note that I couldn't find anything on it.

My most recent research roadblock (R-R-R, sorry), is my hero's occupation. He trains raccoon hunting dogs for a statewide hunt (a big thing in the South--or MS and TX at least), but I can't find a specific record of any organized statewide coon hunts in 1878 in Mississippi--or anywhere for that matter. I've looked at the national coon hunting organization websites and asked the avid coon hunters I know. I'm wondering if there would be a demand for hunting dog breeders back then with the Panic of '73 still having a grip on the economy. Hmmm. I'm about to yell "creative license" on that one.

Oh, man. The boiled peanuts comment cracked me up (aagh, what a horrible pun). I'm a Mississippian who just made a trip to Wyoming and marched up in their Walmart craving boiled peanuts. I searched and searched the nut and snack sections. I exclaimed, a little too loudly, to my traveling companion, "They don't have boiled peanuts!" That drew some fun looks. ;)

Mary Preston said...

As a reader I do appreciate the research done, but will always forgive 'poetic license'.

Carol Garvin said...

Thanks for this, Siri. You really put researching into perspective. :) I guess I'm somewhere between 'nitty-gritty' and 'carefree'. I write contemporary novels so don't have to worry so much about historical details, but since I use real locations I worry about portraying them accurately. I like your idea that we're novelists, not historians, and we're not failures if we don't get every detail perfect.

Dana McNeely said...

Great hints, thanks! Lots of chuckles, too. :)

Kelly Goshorn said...

Siri, Thanks for this wonderful post! I'm writing my first historical and this is just what I needed to hear! Loved the line about people reading your novel with a lunar calendar in hand! Hilarious! And hey isn't that what the Author's Note is for - to fess up to anything too egregious?

Vince said...

Hi Siri:

I hope it’s not too late for you to read this message. Thanks so much for the facts on your photo. Portrait photography is as much psychology as it is the science of light. I think you have proven that there is something to be said for hiring the best. Maybe someday you will appear in that photographer’s book of great portraits.

Here’s something you might find of interest as an author of historical fiction. I just had a college course on the best selling books in American history. The mega best selling authors over the last 25 years have written what the professor calls high information novels. These include Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell a few others. It seems readers want to learn new things while they are reading for entertainment. This makes the time more productive and it gives the novels added value in the minds of many readers. The reader may think that ‘this is a book that is improving my mind’. Of course, the facts must still act to move the story forward.


With this in mind, consider your comment about readers not being interested in the Spanish War. I agree that most readers are not interested in that war. However, a little history can go a long way.

Look at it this way: a very important part of the story setting includes what is happening in the world that the characters inhabit. If this part of the setting is left out, then the setting is lacking.


For example, suppose it’s April 1898 and the story calls for the hero to be injured in a fist fight. He could be hurt trying to stop a fight. This injury must happen to further the plot no matter what the fight was about. This need is a way for the Spanish War to get into the story. One character says, “we should stay out of the war because it is being drummed up by big city newspapers to sell papers. The war is about Cuba and is none of our business.” To this the other character says, “Spain sunk the battleship Maine and only a coward would not go to war. Even Annie Oakley has offered to fight if there is a war. If you ask me, that girl is more of a man than you are!” POW! The fight starts.

That’s all. In this example a simple mention of a historical fact acts to advance the story. Later in the story a character could announce to family and friends that he just read that we have declared war on Spain.

With just a few snippets of historical fact, the reader learns that the Spanish American War began in 1898. The reader also learns that the sinking of the Maine is associated with the war with Spain.

That’s not much history and it does not get in the way of the story advancement. But it does give a richer picture of the historical setting. It makes the story seem more realistic.

While a few facts in a historical novel may not seem like much, the reader may read many such romances a year. A few facts here and a few facts there add up to a store of knowledge that might help the reader look smart and feel proud of herself when she quickly answers Jeopardy questions that her family doesn’t know.

That’s all I am asking. Complete the setting with some historical facts. Make the reader feel smarter. Sell more books. Do the above and the rest is history. : )

Vince

Olivia said...

Thanks for the pertinent blog. Siri. I am trying to fictionalize some actual locations for my first novel. Please enter my name in the drawing.