History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 April 2014

The Little Things

The Ashford Affair, which just came out in paperback last month, goes back and forth between Edwardian England, 1920s Kenya, and 1999 New York, along other stops on the way.  There are wild animals on safari, grand manor houses, fast cars-- and yet, when a reader emailed me recently, she told me the detail that really made the book for her was the reference to Mister Softee trucks, because, she said, it showed her that I knew New York, unlike so many authors, who set books there without ever having set foot in it.

(For the record, my feet have been firmly planted on the sidewalks of New York for the larger part of my life.  Usually chasing a Mister Softee truck.)

Isn't it funny what makes or breaks a book for you?  It's always the little details that make all the difference.  Way back in 2003, when my first book sold, my acquiring editor told me that one of the things that caught her, that made her keep reading, was a mention in the first chapter of my modern heroine's skirt having turned around on her while she was walking.  "Mine always does that!" she said. 

As a reader, it's those sorts of details that catch me.  Recently, I was reading Donna Thorland's latest, The Rebel Pirate.  There's drama and swashbuckling and skullduggery and even a royal byblow, but do you know what I remember?  The pins in the heroine's bodice.  Donna spent many years working at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, dealing with the material arts of just this time period, so when she describes the heroine unpinning her bodice, you know it's exactly the way such a bodice would have worked.  She knows eighteenth century costume the way I know Mister Softee.

And speaking of Mister Softee... I think I hear him playing my tune.

As I go chasing a chocolate/vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles, are there any small things that have jumped out at you as you've been reading?


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