History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 September 2010

What Do You Read As You Write?

Most writers would say, if pressed to discuss how they work, that they have a system. If they're feeling lofty at the moment they might refer to it as a "process." And all of us are avid readers as well as writers, or chances are, we wouldn't have ended up facing the business end of the computer in the first place.

Since my career began a little over a decade ago I've written in three genres (four if you count the 1940s mystery in my desk drawer). I've been published in women's lit (some of the titles would fall under the "chick lit" category), historical fiction, and historical nonfiction. And I've tended to make it an unwritten policy not to read other people's titles from the same genre I'm writing in at the time. My rationale is that I don't want to be influenced, even subconsciously, by my colleagues' plotlines, characters, or twists. And when I'm working on a nonfiction title, it's always such a scramble to get all my research accomplished that I don't have time to read anything else.

That said, my self-imposed policy has been difficult to maintain at times because historical fiction in particular is like "literary crack" to me.

So this past summer I decided to try something new: every night before I went to bed I would read Someone Else's Fiction for a half hour or so. And I discovered that rather than have another author's words gumming up my own "process," the act of reading right before bedtime ended up calming my brain into a sedate trot, slowing my blood pressure, and enabling me to sleep more fully and awaken with a clearer, less stressed head.

And before you comment about my choice of reading matter providing a soporific, I will hasten to add that I knew my selections were going to be marvelous; they were books at the top of my TBR pile just waiting for me to find the time to grab them. Plus, they were all written by personal friends.

Indeed, every title has proven to be "unputdownable."

I began with my friend Sharon Pomerantz's stunning literary fiction debut, RICH BOY, then moved on to Leanna Renee Hieber's THE DARKLY LUMINOUS FIGHT FOR PERSEPHONE PARKER.

Then it was on to our own Lauren Willig's THE BETRAYAL OF THE BLOOD LILY (and now I'm catching up on THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE.)

Just waiting to have their spines gently cracked are C.W. Gortner's novels THE LAST QUEEN and THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI

(I love reading historical fiction about the women I cover in my nonfiction Royal series for NAL and both "Juana the Mad" and Catherine de Medici merit chapters in NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES.)

And after Gortner, comes the latest from Susan Holloway Scott, THE COUNTESS AND THE KING.

How do you work? Do you read other authors while you're researching and writing your own books? Is there a method to your madness? Do you steer clear of pleasure-reads in the same genre as your wip, or do you dive in? Do you tend to read within the same genre as you craft your own books, or are your literary tastes more eclectic?

I apologize for writing a quickie post; multiple deadlines are claiming my attention this month. But in this economy, that's a good thing, so I'm not complaining.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd definitely be lost if I didn't read while I wrote. I read to relax like you do Leslie, but sometimes, I also read to work past writer's block or recharge my writing batteries. I don't go looking for 'bits to borrow', rather, it lets me immerse myself in another story and free my brain from the plot point that will not untangle itself or the character who refuses to behave as I want them to. And somehow, giving myself the freedom to not think about writing makes the process easier sometimes! So, I read everything in other words :)

5:48 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I can’t read historical fiction of any kind when I’m writing. Not because it influences me, but because some part of my brain is set to “analyze” for that topic, and I find myself picking apart books I would otherwise enjoy. So I buy them as they come out and save them up for trips and vacations.

I read a lot of non-fiction. Mostly historical research stuff like autobiographies. These books often dovetail in nicely with what I’m writing, sparking ideas or filling in plot holes. I also read fiction. With my last book, I was on a contemporary romance kick. This time around it’s *gasp* paranormal romance and urban fiction. I’ve been all over Gail Carriger’s wonderful Parasol Protectorate series, Nalini Singh’s Angel books, Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series, Larissa Ione’s Demonica series, and Carolyn Jewel’s “My” series. Right now I’m just staring the very first Harry Dresden book.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I find that I'm best, while writing, if I'm reading anything that makes me remember what a glorious adventure the written word can be. These days it's BLEAK HOUSE. Also a very fine piece of academic lit crit: ROMANCE WRITING, by Lynn Pearce, whom I met this summer at the IASPR conference. Our own Janet Mullany's IMPROPER RELATIONS. Every Harry Potter except the bloated fourth or fifth book (the one with all the bathtub scenes).

9:04 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I don't avoid the whole genre I'm writing in, but I'll stay away from anything too close in plot or setting. Not so much because I'm afraid I'll be influenced as because it makes me anxious, though. Picture me thinking, "Oh no, X did this so much better than me! What if there isn't room for two series on Regency Vampire Puppies?!" (Which I'm now totally tempted to write as a parody.)

10:02 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Regency Vampire Puppies! LOL, Susanna!

All fascinating replies, ladies; I'm not surprised.

Elysemady, I am indeed finding that reading other authors is freeing my mind. For so long I steered away, because, like Isobel and Susanna, I do tend to analyze what I'm reading and my inner history geek (or even my inner editor), will catch things: whether they are goofs, or things that the other authors did so well I will be afraid my writing will pale in comparison. And, like Susanna, I still won't read anything too close in setting, and particularly if the book covers the same historical personages that my wip does..

So, like Pam's lovely comment about the "glorious adventure," I am choosing specific works of "voice-y" fiction right now because I already know that these authors are masters of their craft and I'm all aboard for an enjoyable adventure.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'm the opposite of Kalen. I can't read anything *but* historical fiction when I'm writing. I think it keeps me in the mood. Although I do succumb to Susanna's thoughts of "Oh, this writer did it so much better that I did!"

But still I plug along with historical fiction, simply because I enjoy it so much.

My reading list is similar to yours, Leslie. In fact, I'm just now finishing Scott's novel, THE COUNTESS AND THE KING.

12:31 PM  
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3:16 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I agree, Christine, it can be an occupational hazard. As you read other authors' HF, do you ever think, particularly when you've done research on the same era or historical personages, and think you know your stuff pretty well by now, "Oh, crap, I didn't know that; should I find a way to include it?" and then wonder if perhaps the detail in question is something the author invented for fictional purposes?

I think that may happen to Regency authors who read Heyer (please chime in, here, folks!). I have to confess that I've never read a word of Heyer; it's on my "one of these days I should really get around to it" list.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I must freely admit that I have a *couple* of exceptions to my "no historicals" rule, and Heyer is among them. Sometimes, when I just can't get in the groove I pull out an old favorite and thumb through it. I don't read the whole book, just favorite scenes.

And yes, with all of my “keepers”, there’s always a moment of damn she did it better than I ever will.

The downside to all my paranormal/UF reading is that the lizard part of my brain is now plotting a paranormal series I’ll never have the time to write, LOL! Doesn’t help that I’m addicted to Being Human.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Leslie! I do have times when I can't bear to read, but it's usually when I've just turned in a book or a proposal and am waiting for feedback. Then I'm likely to find that reading anything beyond the latest Vogue will convince me of some horrible flaw in my recently submitted material. But when I'm writing, I find reading energizing. Usually historical fiction or mysteries (or historical mysteries) and since I write historical suspense/adventure that means what I read usually relates to what I write. Right now I'm rereading Pride and Prejudice on my ipad, though I may take a break as I just downloaded the new Elizabeth George...

9:26 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks, Tracy! I'm usually the opposite: until I recently changed my "process," I viewed the latest Vogue, or some clothing catalog, as the sort of mindless palate-cleanser I need when I'm working and savor Other People's Fiction when I'm in those in-between times.

7:13 AM  

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