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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 October 2007

Travel through Time with Amy and the Earl!

Amy Stevens and the Earl’s brother, Simon West, are two naturally curious people brought together by their interest in a coin that is more than a piece of metal.

Amy appears on page in "Poppy’s Coin," my first novella which appeared in the Bump In the Night anthology. She heard the story from a docent at a small museum in London. On page for just a few reading moments, no one knew her name (including me). She came into being as a way to give some background of the Regency in an anthology where all the other stories were contemporaries.

In the opening of Amy and the Earl, Amy owns Poppy’s Coin, quite legitimately, but under odd circumstances. Simon has been fascinated by it for years. It is the dominant presence in a portrait of the third Earl Weston painted in 1805. The coin is clearly dated 1808. They both want to know more about it and are willing to travel through time to satisfy their curiosity.

To be honest, time travel is the aspect of the story I researched the least. Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan concede that time travel may be possible and is good enough for me. Amy is even more easily convinced.

"According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity there is nothing in the laws of physics to prevent time travel." [Amy said]
"Is that what you’ve been studying here? Physics?"
"Good grief, no. I barely made it through required science in college. I’m not sure where I heard that. Maybe I read it."
"Did your college course included Einstein’s general theories?" Simon could tell she was considering a lie, by the vaguely guilty look on her face. Then she shrugged and her expression cleared.
"Okay, I hate to admit this but I just remembered where I saw it. To be completely honest I was quoting a TV character on the show Stargate Atlantis." She waited.
He was about to say something scathing when he realized that she was being honest. Who but the scrupulously honest would admit that their scientific data came from a TV show?


Is that really how I researched the concept? Through a TV series? Not exactly. I recalled the quote but had no recollection of where I had heard it. I googled and searched online and was more than annoyed that I could find no attribution for it. Then my dear TV expert sister told me where it was from and even sent me a tape of the episode. Lo and behold the geek character, a scientist and all around know-it-all, expounds on the concept of time travel. Lucky, lucky me. As far as I was concerned my research was done.

So is this an anti-research blog? By no means. It is my way of saying that research comes in many forms. The concept of time travel was essential to my story but not essential to me. I do not have a scientific bone in my body. In this case all I felt I needed was someone with "authority" acknowledging the possibility. My online hunt gave me that in the person of Einstein and Sagan (though Steven Hawking does not believe time travel is possible for the simple reason that we see no time travelers among us). The Stargate Atlantis reference added an element to Simon’s understanding of Amy, making Simon wonder if he was wrong in seeing her as a grifter.
I did put my own stamp on the concept. In my time travel world the balance of energy is fundamental. So that if Amy and Simon travel they must switch with someone from the period they are traveling to. I’m not sure what the Earl and Miss Kemp made of their time in London in 2006 (another novella?) but Amy was much less impressed with the Regency than I thought she would be. In the end she seriously disliked it for all the reasons that we discuss: class consciousness, the status of women and the basic modern pesrson’s dislike of living in a world that exists on the whim of one man, the Earl.

Here is one final thing about this story that fascinates me, ego driven as I am. It is something my husband observed when he was proofreading it. For the first time in my writing career of twenty years and fifteen books, I wrote a story more plot driven than character driven. I wonder what biographers will make of that when they research my life?

As a reader or writer what do you think of time travel? What aspects of research capture you and what are you willing to let others "research" for you?

7 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Since I wrote a time travel historical (BY A LADY: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen's England), I'm all in favor of the genre, or subgenre. Do I believe in it? Well, there's where that element of faith comes in -- which is interesting, because there are many many things I just can't seem to take on faith, and yet, how can I account for the fact that there are some places I visit for the first time where I feel on every level like I have been there before. I knew the off-the-beaten-paths and obscure winding streets in Florence, even though I'd never been to the city before and at the time had no map in my hand. I knew the French Quarter of New Orleans that way, too, and had a very adverse physical reaction the first time I visited. My neck suddenly got such a crick in it, while I was sitting in Jackson Square doing nothing but holding a conversation with my first husband, that it took over a week to recover. The pain on motion was the most intense I have ever experienced. A few years later, a friend of mine told me she had a dream where I was a madam during the Civil War. I always wondered if I was a madam in New Orleans in some time-traveling life and was hanged for some crime.

As for research, I'm an utter geek when it comes to historical research, but when I have to research something for my contemporaries, I think of it as more of a chore than a pleasure. I was a journalist for a few years, but the idea of interviewing someone who would provide the sort of insight and information I utterly lack (such as anything on forensics, math, science, diseases or medical conditions), somehow presses all my "shy" buttons.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love the idea of time travel, but I'm not sure that I would ever actually want to do it, for various reasons. As for the Stargate Atlantis quote, I think that's hilarious and adds a layer to Amy's character. I can't wait to read this. I may have to hop over to B&N during my lunch hour. I'm pretty much a stickler for research, but I have been known to watch stuff like Regency House Party as part of my research process!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Time travel was one of the things that fascinated me most in physics senior year. I particularly loved time travel stories growing up, I think because at that age the thought of actually visiting another time and place seemed so compelling. I love research, and I tend to want to be fairly obsessive about checking th facts myself--but I've certainly found information on sources like tv shows which has found its way into my books--I just tend to verify it first as you did. Love the Stargate Atlantis .reference!

9:11 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Amanda, I was hoping you would respond. What about reincarnation? I think it's a more likely explanation of the aversion you feel to New Orleans than the idea of time travel. For what its worth I cannot stand the stories of Reign of Terror and assume I was one of the people beheaded -- not anyone aristocratic just some poor little seamstress in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I love the Regency which tells me that I had a good life in the first half of the 19th century. Honestly, for me, reincarnation is in the "too good to be true" category. As for time travel -- I would go in a second if it was an option.

Elizabeth - DEAD OF NIGHT is not in stores until the end of the month -- make a note on your To Do list!

I thought a minute before I wrote the "history" of the Stargate Atlantis line, Tracy. It makes it all too clear that I am so very easily entertained.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks Mary. I found that out when I went on Amazon.com and pre-ordered it through out chapter web-site. I absolutely believe in reincarnation. I wouldn't be surprised if my love of London stems from having lived there once before probably during the Restoration of Charles II. And I feel the same way about New Orleans, and Venice. I think any place or even people for that matter, that you have an immediate visceral reaction to, probably stems from reincarnation.

11:31 AM  
Blogger rugosa said...

Victoria, an interesting post. I love time travel books and have no scientific background to back it up. Like reincarnation I think their are many things which exist that we don't understand fully, but I do believe in the possibility. It's exciting.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I love a good time-travel romance. I gotta say, I would find the plotting and the story line of a time-travel very hard to do.

Hats off you guys that do it so well!

8:45 PM  

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