History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

20 January 2012

Way Back Then – or Was It?

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to stumble across an occasion where I’m not sure what century it happened in.

Very early one morning, I was driving down a narrow road through a national park. A brick house rose out of the mist and forest to my right. A Civil War soldier relaxed in the doorway, rolling a cigarette, his musket beside him. When I glanced back an instant later, he’d vanished – with no signs of another modern vehicle anywhere around.

I felt as if I’d set foot on a Civil War battlefield during the 1860s.

The first time I visited Williamsburg, the weather was freezing cold and the wind howled. Very few guests came that February. Traversing the old city meant dashing from one building to the next, always hoping the door would be unlocked. By the end of the day, my family was chilled to the bone and desperate for more comfort than a historically accurate slate floor to rest our senses on.

We lunged into the last house before the bus stop back to the hotel, figuring it would be more comfortable to wait there than on a bench in the open air.

Instead we found soft pastel colors and artwork, wrapped in warmth. The mansion was a beautiful house, a loving recreation of where Williamsburg’s finest citizens had once debated the meaning of patriotism. We started to happily wander its halls but a delicious aroma caught our attention.

Soon we found ourselves downstairs, in the kitchen, staring at an enormous table covered with a feast fit for a king. A turkey, a goose, and more, glowed under candlelight, more lovely and believable than any magazine spread because I could see all the little details behind making it.

And it all smelled so incredibly good.

For an instant, I felt as if I’d been transported back to 1775 Williamsburg.

When I write, I try to capture moments like those, when my senses came alive in another time period, and use them for my characters and their world. The relaxed ease of a man, his cigarette, and a heavy musket. The enormous cave of an old-fashioned kitchen hearth with its heavy pots, balanced by the food’s subtle aromas… Hopefully, the result’s vivid enough to transport the reader back to another century.

Authors, have you ever experienced a moment when you almost touched another time? Have you used it in your writing?

Readers, have you ever read something that swept you into another time?

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Blogger Isobel Carr said...

This is why I love doing historical re-enactment so much. When you have that perfect moment and there’s no modern world intruding, it’s truly magical.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Wonderful post, Diane. It's how I feel every time I visit Bath. I love to catch those moments on the streets in the old portion of the city when no one is around and I can just imagine life there 200+ years ago. My favorite kind of vacation is visiting the old sections of cities and soaking up the atmosphere, imagining who walked before me and following in their footsteps; and then visiting the historic museum homes. Beaches? Feh. Anyone can go to a beach.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Isobel - historical reenactors are awesome to be around. If I catch a glimpse of a cavalry picket line, I'll turn around right away, just because fhere's so much magic in that collection of horses.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Leslie - I'd love to wander the streets of Bath. Just breathing in that atmosphere would be so awesome.

I visited Siena once at the end of their medieval horse races. It was a scene that could have happened centuries ago, with the cheering crowds dressed in medieval clothes. Yet when I slipped off to explore the back streets, the atmosphere was even more evocative of days gone by.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

Sometimes a writer can just propel me back to the point when I am actually there. Unfortunately, I get interrupted back to reality by my husband or children. I love when writers can do that! The imagery is so powerful that I often have to stop and get a cup of coffee (that they were just talking about) or a piece of bread and butter. That's when I know I'm there. I crave whatever the character craves. I LOVE IT!

5:23 AM  
Blogger Rachel Donnelly said...

Wow! The soldier in the doorway story gave me goosebumps.
I would love to visit Williamsburg someday.

5:12 AM  

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