History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 October 2006

Welcome Back, Laurie!

My research for writing books began long before I had anything written and even longer before I had anything written worth reading. In 1994, I finally got a computer with special scanner software that turned scanned pages into text my computer could read to me. Since, before the scanner software, I had to have someone read to me, I didn't get a great deal of research done and thus put aside writing for many years. Nothing was more frustrating than needing a scrap of information and not have a reader scheduled for another three or four days.

Once I got the scanner, I became a bit maniacal about scanning. Much of it was novels I had wanted to read, but the research materials began to flow, too. Let me note here that, for a person with a reading disability to scan texts is perfectly legal, as long as she doesn't share them with anyone else. I'm really adamant about this.

Some of the first books I scanned were purely out of personal interest. These were books on aromatherapy. I was editing an alternative health newsletter at the time and the notion of fragrance and healing fascinated me. Amongst the books on scent I found was one called Fragrance. Through a researchist, I found that author's phone number and got my copy directly from him.

Somewhere in all those fragrances the idea for Family Guardian was born, though it didn't get so much as outlined, let alone written, for another ten years. Sadly, because of the length of Avalon Books historicals, I didn't use a fraction of my research. I had to concentrate on the relationships and romance over the perfume.

Other books I read were The Regency Companion and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew—classics. Somewhere along the way, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Quizzing Glass, and I joined The Beau Monde, still with nothing worth reading written. I was still in research mode and working and preparing for grad school. I also subscribed to The Regency Plume for a while, too. One place I got the most information was The Regency Library. I also took on-line classes once I got connected. Victoria Hinshaw taught one on English Country Houses. I just got access to that information a few months ago when I was able to recover data off of my old computer I thought lost forever after a spectacular crash—the joys of being married to a software engineer.

Although I have been to Europe three times, I have never made it to Great Britain. This is mainly because, until very recently, Guide Dogs from foreign countries were not allowed into Great Britain, and I would not leave mine behind for several days. That has changed, so I hope to go there in the not-too-distant future.

Without the advantage of travel, I began scouring used bookstores for travel guides and diaries. I found a couple of gems that are quite old. Our Own Country, circa 1885 and springtime in Britain.

I also asked questions of people in Britain and who had traveled there. I have books of maps, something I will likely always need a reader for, so I probably got a few things mixed up with the translation from person's perspective to mine.

I also have fashion books. I get them mixed up since they all seem to have the same or similar titles, but they and the plates I got through The Regency Library have been quite helpful. In one scene, my heroine is wearing a costume that is straight out of one of those La Belle Assemblée plates of the same year. It just sounded pretty to me and something she would wear.

When researching my Georgian novel, The Widow's Secret, I went to an eighteenth century reenactment ball. Everyone was more than happy to show off their costumes to me right down to the embroidery on their stockings. And my dear friend, the late Lynne Brantley, who introduced me to The Beau Monde to begin with, made me a Regency costume.

It's fairly conventional forms of research, and I am always adding to it. I love the sites like Gutenberg that give us access to electronic copies of old books. I am slowly working my way through about fifty I downloaded from there and Google Books and another site for persons with reading disabilities Bookshare.org.

I have to thank technology for my beginning to write. I had wanted to and knew I could not until I could research. Until I had the software to do that, it was too cumbersome and time inefficient.


Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, Laurie. I had no idea until I read this blog that you are visually impaired. That would make research a challenge. I’m so glad you found a way around the problem.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Jessica Trapp said...

WOW, Laurie! That's amazing. You are in inspiration.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wishing you HUGE success, Laurie. I'm am sure you will have it. Your strength and dedication comes shining through.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

You and I met years ago through Beau Monde. I think I bought the candy money that year for the Beau Monde Soiree at RWA.
I am so glad for your success!

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you all for the kind words. I remember writing a short story for a contest. It was 3:00 in the morning, and I needed one little detail. I had it somewher ein my books, but couldn't find it without someone sighted to help, which wouldn't be for days, as this was the weekend, too. That was when I discovered the joys of careful Internet searching. I discovered the Avalon Project. It was at Cornell then. I think Yale has it now. Every treaty the U.S. has signed since before itwas the U.S. I got the treaty of Ghent and who signed it. Technology and resources like this has made my blindness less relevant as a writer, though I had an agent once upon a time who dropped me when she found out. Stopped me from writing four about five years.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Echols said...

Laurie--My agent, who was an assistant at Simon & Schuster at the time, read the submission of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew and told her boss he needed to buy it. I love that book, too, and I love sharing the story. I'm so proud of her!

1:45 PM  

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