29 March 2009

Musings About Research, by Debra Denson

I attended high school/college during the late 60s-early 70s, when research depended solely on the quality of the library to which one had access. I passed many hours of my young life in San Diego, at its public and private (university) libraries. My instructors doggedly refused to allow any short cuts such as Cliff Notes, rather they insisted upon authentically documented research. I would look-up articles in a vast tome, fill out a chit of paper and hand it to an aged librarian, who disappeared into the bowels of the library. Then I waited, hoping one of those references would provide that special bit of color for my project. If not, well back to the drawing board, as they say.
My how times have changed! While writing my second novel, set in 1811, I wanted to use an actual playhouse of the era. With the click of a mouse and carefully worded queries (and that’s the crux, wording your question to achieve results) via Google, I discovered the Federal Street Theatre, located in downtown Boston of that time. Further clicks revealed local boarding houses, where it was likely such travelers/tradesmen would be housed. I then retrieved a readable map of historic Boston and was able to pinpoint one of these quaint ‘hotels’ a few blocks from the theatre. Wow, all of that in a matter of minutes (well, maybe nearer to an hour).
During this process I stumbled across a bonus, and the creative writer loves options. Odd as it seems, the Eastern United States was visited by a seismic event in 1811 and 1812 called The New Madrid Earthquake. Centered in Missouri, it was felt as far away as Boston. Although I manipulated the timing a bit (is that called creative license?) this offered the perfect distraction needed to evacuate the theatrical troop safely from the US before the War of 1812 erupted. It also added wonderful color to a romantic tryst between my two major characters! Did the earth move?
I have been an avid reader of historical romances from my early days in high school, having cut my teeth on one of the greats of the genre, Anya Seton. I attribute a great deal of knowledge, a love of English history and perhaps an inspiration to be a writer, from the remarkable detail of her books. I also doff my hat to a more recent inspiration: Patrick O’Brian. My father built sailboats and passed on his passion to me. Although when I began these novels, my knowledge was rudimentarily, by the time I finished the twenty-first book my education included a minutiae of maritime knowledge, including rigging, sails and masts, foods eaten and prepared aboard, weapons: from cannonades to muskets, and the differences between a sloop, a frigate and a xebec, just to name a few. This was entirely unplanned research, but what a fantastic journey!
My upcoming novel Magician’s Spell takes place aboard a 36-gun privateer during the early 1800s. Upon reading further books in the nautical genre by various well-known authors, I began to wonder what would happen if a woman were thrown into this masculine dominated world? Granted, at times gunner’s wives were aboard to look after younger midshipmen, and oft times a captain might travel with his wife, my intention, however, was to introduce a feminine interest who would not be relegated to being a mere passenger. Thus came about Johanna Cornehl, the independent daughter of a Lord Admiral of the Royal Navy. To introduce more explosives into the mix, her father was instrumental in court-martialing the captain of Magician, the ship on which she travels. The relationship arising between Lady Cornehl and Captain “Hal” Monroe provides the primary romantic theme, which develops amid plenty of adventure, including battles at sea, a frolic in the theatre, an imprudent affair, misguided obsessions, and a nasty bastard whose disappointed greed leads to kidnapping and ransom. This villain provides the impetus for a secondary plot exploit involving an American slave who escaped his abuse only to be rediscovered, much to her chagrin, during his quest for vengeance against Hal and Johanna.

There is a lot of juicy intrigue and action to keep readers interested. If you like historical novels with lots of action, I hope this brief peek will encourage you to download Magician’s Spell when it becomes available from Red Rose Publishing.

1 comment:

Obe said...

The earthquake acutally moved cabins off their foundation and the Mississippi River ran backwards for two days forming the New Madrid lake. There was another earthquake similar time frame (I think) that created the lean in the Charleston Lighthouse and rang church bells in Washington DC.. Your book sounds very interesting. I can't wait to read blurbs