Tag Archives: research for writing

Writing: historical AND male/female POVs

My critique partner, Mary Lou Rigdon, writes some of my all time favorite male characters, so I wondered, how does she do it? Is it different writing from a male’s POV instead of a female’s? How does she do it so well? So I asked her to share. She writes Regency romances under the pseudonym Julia Donner, and I’m happy to have her visit my blog again. She recently released her fifth novel in the Friendship Series—The Dark Earl and His Runaway. Here’s her author page:
http://www.amazon.com/Julia-Donner/e/B00J65E8TY/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1.
Hope you enjoy our Q&A:

Hi Judy! Thanks for the invite.

1. You write some mighty fine, interesting male characters. So, my first question is—do you find it easier to write male or female characters? Does it make a difference? Why or why not?

One of the things that amazed me were the enthusiastic remarks from men who liked the two fantasy books written entirely in the male point of view. I never thought about the fact that I was writing outside my gender. For me, story is about character, how the character responds to everything thrown at him/her. Men respond to the visual. Women react to the emotional. These are not hard and fast rules. Some characters are a blend. Many cultural factors influence our behaviors, and I do believe that there is something in the genes, or heritage that can play a role. I like that the sexes are different. When it all boils down to a gob of grease, men and women have the same feelings—we just feel them for different reasons.

2. What fascinates you about the Regency period? It’s a lot of work to write, lots of research. Every button and fan has to be right.

Like most regency readers, I fell in love with Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite book, and Persuasion is brilliant writing, a close second. I don’t mind adding period description and usually work to not go overboard. Having spent twenty-plus years in theater, creating a literary scene is set decoration and period style is costuming. Piece-o-cake.

3. What were women’s options during that period of history? They had few rights, correct? In The Dark Earl and His Runaway, Leticia can’t refuse a marriage until she’s 21? And can’t control her money until she’s older?

My impression from all that I’ve read, and I’m no expert on British law, is that the laws were written to reflect and establish the rights of men. Women exist in the law as appendages to men. Legally, women appear to exist in how they relate to men’s rights, especially in the upper class.(In Scotland, some titles could pass through the female line.) If there was a lot of money involved, trustees or the male head of household had the control, made all decisions. Some fathers were careful and made specific inheritance stipulations, but it had to be carefully drawn up. A woman’s property passed to the husband with marriage, that’s why wise parents and guardians had precise settlements documented to protect their daughters’ futures.
When it came to children, women had no rights. Men could take the children at any time. There are historical and court records of heartless, even vindictive husbands using the children to inflict pain on the maternal spouse. The occasional kind-hearted judge might be persuaded to allow the mother rare visitations.
The element of how the law benefited men and not women has been woven into every regency I’ve written and I never realized it until this interview. Interesting.

4. What was schooling/education like during that period of history? For boys? For girls? All of the “friends” respect and are loyal to Rave for protecting them when they were away at school. Please explain.

It depended on one’s place in society. There were charity schools for the lower classes, if the children didn’t have to work in fields or factories. Early education for boys in the upper classes was done by tutors or local clergy with the “living.” Sometimes the girls were allowed to sit in, but it wasn’t common. The higher up the social chain, the less likely a woman learned basic academics. A governess started the girls off in the rudiments, and then before the girl could “come-out” or be presented at court, she was sent to a seminary and trained to sing, play an instrument, learn some French and perhaps some Italian, drawing, a little geography. If the boys weren’t sent first to a school like Eton, they were tutored at home then sent to university. Many wasted the time there, but a few took education seriously, especially younger sons, who had to make their way in the world in the military, clergy, or with a diplomatic position.
In England, the “public” school is what Americans call a private school. Independent and the old public schools, like Eton, Winchester, were breeding grounds for brutality. Hazing and bullying, fagging, as they often called it. The older boys beat the young ones. In the case of the Eligibles, Ravenswold was larger than his upperclassmen. He had a group he protected from the worst of it. Although, he wouldn’t have babied his protégés. They had to learn to fight their own battles, as Sir Harry explained in The Rake and the Bishop’s Daughter. One of the things that astonished my husband while he was in the military was how much the Brits loved to fight.

5. I get the feeling from your Regency novels that the “friends” desire different marriages than the norm. They intend to be faithful to a woman they love, and they want her to share their bed. They don’t intend to take a mistress. What was the typical aristocratic marriage like?

Aristocratic marriages were businesslike, property and lineage paramount, unless funds were needed to keep the family estate afloat. A merchant’s daughter might be wed but rarely accepted socially, unless “polished.” Love had nothing to do with marriage, but that reality would make for poor book sales. After the heir and spare, the couples went their separate ways with discretion.
Also remember that Jane Austen wrote about the gentry, not the aristocracy. Her stories were more about the upper middle class with a few titles sprinkled here and there.

6. Just in a sentence or two (or three), please describe what attracted each of your couples to each other.

The Tigresse and the Raven:
Ravenswold was immediately impressed by Cassandra’s boldness and plain speaking. He had no stomach for girls or anyone who simpered. Cassandra wanted a man she could respect and a safe haven, while protecting a friend from her past.

The Heiress and the Spy:
Lord Asterly loved the image of his friend’s wife and used it to survive the horrors of war. He fell in love with Elizabeth when he finally met her. Elizabeth was intrigued by his clever mind and enchanted with his relentless pursuit.

The Rake and the Bishop’s Daughter:
Sir Harry spent his life fooling the world and bored with the game. Widow Olivia’s practical nature was not impressed by his looks and fame. He didn’t know that she’d fallen in love with him as a girl. Olivia never forgot a kindness a handsome youth had done for a clumsy girl, while Harry became jealous of that secret memory, never realizing he was jealous of himself.

The Duchess and the Duelist:
Duelist Freddy can’t resist the secretive Evangeline, an attraction that gets out of hand. Evangeline, worn down by years of lies to protect her child from his creepy uncle, gives in to her attraction to Freddy, who refuses to give up until he has her.

The Dark Earl and His Runaway:
Unbeknownst (I’ve always wanted to use that word) to Leticia, Lord Bainbridge has loved her since she was a baby. Only a lad at the time, Bainbridge took seriously their parent’s discussion to merge their properties with a cradle engagement that never became legal but was firmly seated in the boy’s mind. Leticia couldn’t understand the earl’s devotion offered just when she needed it. His chivalry won her admiration before her heart.

Okay, I’ve bugged you enough for answers. Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your novels with us.

Mary Lou’s blog: https://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/
Webpage: http://mlrigdon.com

Mary Lou’s other series: http://www.amazon.com/M.L.-Rigdon/e/B0086UZFGA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1431382365&sr=1-1

Writing: historical fiction

I asked my friend/critique partner/and awesome writer, Mary Lou Rigdon, to share her VAST knowledge of writing historical fiction with us, since I know diddly about it. She doesn’t just write historical. She’s one of those naughty writers who indulge their love of different genres. She writes fantasy, contemporary action/romance, and YA (which you can find on Wattpad). I love everything she writes, but I especially love her Regency novels, which she writes under the pen name Julia Donner. My husband knows that I have a huge crush on Lord Asterly from her novel The Heiress and the Spy, but since Asterly only makes me hot and bothered on paper, my John chooses not to worry:) Anyway, for anyone who’s interested in writing historical or adding research into stories (like I do with myths in my Empty Altars series), here’s some solid advice from Mary Lou.

09/21/14

Critique partner, Judy Post, suggested we swap blogs as a change-up, saying that her readership would be interested in how to write in the historical genre. My thing is regency and western, but the American West will have to wait for another posting. Both time periods have masses of information and juicy historical tidbits.
Research isn’t always first but is mandatory. The internet is a wonderful thing, but one has to be careful when applying the information floating around out there. This shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but anything and everything written by Austen is a must read. Not only is she as sly as all get-out, she presents on a palette the everyday life and mores of her time period.
The most important rule is to understand the nature and mindset of the time period. Your reader wants to “live” there. To be safe, I stick to reliable books specific for the era. Because of the internet, in minutes, we can find out exactly what was occurring, and where, on any particular day. This means you can take your reader there with a trivial piece of information, and that’s not to say you’re going to smack them in the face with it. Have it lazily dropped into a conversation. Men were horse mad and something can be said about a recent race. Women were interested in these events, because many spouses and other family members won and lost fortunes.
If your story is about the aristocracy, gossip was the mother’s milk of society. Make it something interesting, like the Green Man, no not the mythical forest creature, but Henry Cope of Brighton. Everything he wore and ate had to be green. This included his furnishings and the servants’ liveries. The antics of someone like that makes for interesting dialogue. The regency period was loaded with famous personalities, like Lady Laetitia Lade, the Holland House set, Poodle Byng, the fabulous Beau, an endless list of colorful sorts. Reams were written about them, their habits, movements, clothes and politics. The trick is to not overdo with an info dump. As they sang in The Producers “keep it light, keep it happy, keep it gay.”
Remember the constraints of the era. There were no light switches. What is the time of day or was the room so enclosed it required lighting at all times? At night, a light had to be carried to their room, or servants carried it for them, or the rooms were lit before, a fire laid, and in winter, the sheets warmed. Wealthy households had a servant just for all the lights.
Servants had a strict hierarchy that didn’t disappear until the end of the last century and is still practiced at Buckingham. Know the size of the house, which servants stay in place or move with the household. How much money are we talking here? To maintain a house in town and in the country, we’re talking a £10,000 yearly income, a lot of money back then.
So where do you start? Do some research, but don’t make yourself nuts, and write the story. It’s your characters that count, their problems, how they solve them, and grow. Once the rough draft is done, I go back and verify. Plots can be tweaked—your characters and situations can’t be fake or contrived.
There were many rules, written, spoken, and unspoken. Discretion and following the code was the imperative. Some of the people who populated that era broke all the rules to become beloved and accepted. Before he was Wellington, Arthur Wesley (later Wellesley) was Irish born and thought to not go far. Admiral Nelson, the impoverished son of a preacher, was so admired that he survived a scandalous affair.
Having gotten that said, now comes a scary caveat:
Readers of regency know the time period, and that means they really know the time period. They’re fussy about the details, just as I am. If you’re going to break the rules of regency, be careful how you tread. The rules did get broken, but they were done with a certain style. Some things were never forgiven, never forgotten. Even though popular in certain circles, Lady Holland was not accepted by the high sticklers because of her divorce. She didn’t care and led a bustling social life. Even if your story is about servants, remember that the working class in the finer houses was as snobbish, if not more so, than their employers, for whom morals ran fast and loose, as long as one was married and played by the rules, especially discretion. It’s been written that on her deathbed, Lady Cowper’s mother, Lady Melbourne, told her daughter to always be faithful to her lover, not her husband, and that’s the regency mindset.

Suggested reading for a start:
The Regency Companion by Laudermilk and Hamlin
Wellington by Elizabeth Longford (family approved biography)
The Age of Elegance by Arthur Bryant (if you can find it)
Any writings by Captain Rees Howell Gronow (observer and prolific writer of the era)

Thanks for sharing, Mary Lou! And if you want to read more from her, here’s where to find her:

M.L.Rigdon
webpage: http://mlrigdon.com
blog: http://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/