History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 December 2007

Lucky Charms ... Magically Superstitious

Every writer has a unique way of working. I tend to be very visual and visceral. I try to engage every sense as I work, and if I have an object in front of me that evokes the specific work in progress, it becomes more than a research tool; I start viewing it as a talisman.

As I was writing THE MEMOIRS OF HELEN OF TROY (Crown, Nov. 2005/Three Rivers Press, July, 2006), I had the notion that Helen would be penning her story on papyrus (she spent the nine years following the Trojan War in Egypt, reunited with Menelaus) with a white swan's feather. Her father, of course, was Zeus, who had visited her mother Leda, in the guise of a swan, and Helen was the result of their cross-species coupling. In the novel, I had Zeus leave a white swan's feather on the plinth where he and Leda had made love. Leda had saved the feather, and after her death, Helen claimed it -- the only thing Helen had of her father.

Swans routinely glide through the cove that runs behind my parents' summer home in Sag Harbor. One lazy afternoon I noticed that one of them had shed a quill. I raced to the dock, hopped into my kayak and paddled over to retrieve it. I kept it on my desk as I worked on the edits for the novel, and it's there still.

When I worked on TOO GREAT A LADY: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton (NAL, Feb. 2007), I felt the power and aura of Emma and Lord Nelson emanating from Emmas's autographs, which I set into a small frame on my desk, and the bust of Nelson made from the melted copper taken from the Foudroyant, Nelson's favorite flagship. Why was the Foudroyant his favorite? Because it's the one where he made love to Emma.

And during the early research stages for ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy (NAL, June, 2008), I found a genuine four-leaf clover pressed into the pages of one of the used books I purchased through Amazon. I'm convinced the clover was intended to come my way -- a good-luck charm that somehow assured me that the project (the most difficult of my writing career, to date) would turn out all right.

So, how about you? Are there any talismans you have accumulated in your research, or which you purchased to keep your memory sparking as you work on a specific novel? What are your lucky writing charms?


Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Mine come from fortune cookies, and are taped to the rim of my computer monitor:

You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier

When love and skill work together expect a masterpiece (I especially like that one because my husband helps me with my books)

And not from a fortune cookie, but from Bram Stoker's Dracula, via romance academic Dr. Eric Sellinger:

There is work, wild work, to be done

7:28 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Pam, I love it!! I collect "significant" prognosticating fortunes from cookies, too. The first one that caught my eye was when I was 9 years old and the fortune cookie told me I "would marry [my] present lover and be happy." At the time I had a wild crush on Anthony Newley -- so who knows what THAT was about!

I had one in my purse from my recent dinner with my agent at a Chinese restaurant. It was very promising, career-wise, but now I can't seem to find it. At the time we both viewed it as a harbiner of good luck and new contracts.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Margaret Evans Porter said...

I have numerous items that relate to my novels...pebbles from beaches my characters roamed, seaweed (in a jar of saltwater) from the waters they waded, plants taken from cuttings of the gardens they knew, photographs of settings I vist. I'm tactile as well as visual.

Portraits are extremely important to my work, because I'm writing the lives of real people.

Currently my favourite talisman is the rare portrait of my female protagonist. I commune with her by staring into her eyes.

I still can't believe it found its way to me!

And I, too, have a collection of tiny slips of paper from fortune cookies, gathered over the years.

It's always fascinating to learn details of other writers' processes.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Margaret, can you share the name of the female protagonist whose portrait you have the good fortune to have acquired?

I have a number of postcards with images of Emma Hamilton, and Nelson, which I also used for my TOO GREAT A LADY research, and I also bought a snuffbox (allegedly from the 1830s) with a copy of one of Romney's portraits of Emma.

Whenever I work, I try to find something connected to the subjects of the book, and treat myself, if I can afford it. I have a finished manuscript about Sarah Bernhardt, which is languishing in my desk until a brave editor wishes to take a chance on it, and during the writing period, I collected Sarah memorabilia. I have photos, original programs, and the headshot postcard of her younger sister, who tried to become an actress herself, but ended up a drug addict instead.

10:41 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

What cool talismans! I love it! I have photographs of the church and other old buildings from the English village where I spent three years of my childhood. That is where my book Lost in Love is set. I have the antique teacup I bought with my Royal Ascot winnings for Lost in Love and it sits on my writing desk. My best good luck charm for Lost in Love? My dachshund/basset puppy, Adelaide, who is named after my heroine.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

"I have the antique teacup I bought with my Royal Ascot winnings for Lost in Love and it sits on my writing desk."

Doglady, that is truly glamorous! I think all gambling winnings should be spent on something that special!

7:31 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love collecting things that connect to my books in some way. I have lots of postcards of paintings (most purchased at museum gift shops)I keep photographs of locations I'm using in my current book in a pretty leaded-glass box on my desk. I also have a paperweight with a portrait of Josephine Bonaparte (who actually appears in the prologue to my current work in progress) and a reproduction of an Ackermann print that I actually based one of Mélanie's ensembles on in "Secrets of a Lady." Sometimes I find things in unexpected places--on a recent trip to Disneyland, I found a silver shop with a collection of pendants based on 19th-century wax seals. I couldn't resist buying one with a griffin--my fictional Fraser family has a Griffin and Dragon on their coat of arms.

11:04 AM  

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