Research: Would She Say That in 1877?

Yesterday morning West Houston RWA enjoyed a terrific presentation on research, given by our own Deeanne Gist.  Dee spends an impressive five months on research before she begins to write a novel, and not just for her American-set historical tales.  Even her contemporary romantic suspense novel (Beguiled, written with J. Mark Bertrand) required detailed research on its Charleston setting).

It Happened at the FairDee brought along samples of her research material for her upcoming release, It Happened at the Fair, set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and available April 30.  For this novel Dee accumulated numerous spiral binders of newspaper clippings and first person accounts of the Fair, as well as an enormous, disintegrating “Book of the Fair” she found on EBay, full of contemporary descriptions and photographs.

One of our chapter members asked Dee how she tracked down colloquial expressions appropriate for her characters, setting, and time period, and Dee laughed and said she bought every book on slang she came across.

I know my personal library doesn’t rival Dee’s, but I’ve written historical fiction, and I have shelves of research books on a wide variety of nineteenth century Americana, including several on language and slang.  My favorites are three volumes by the late Stuart Berg Flexner, not least because they are the sort of books one can open at random and be pulled into an hour of happy browsing.

Even the titles are tempting to a word nerd like me.  I Hear America Talking, An Illustrated Treasury of American Words and Phrases, was published in 1976.  Listening To America, An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from our Lively and Splendid Past followed in 1982.  Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley, published in 1997 and edited by Anne H. Soukhanov (Flexner died in 1990) combines material from the earlier books with updates and additions.  All three appear to be out of print, but thanks to Internet sources like Amazon and Alibris.com, this no longer means unavailable.  The books are excellent resources for writers and great fun for readers.  They cover, with colorful phrases, historical vignettes, and (important to writers) dates, topics from religion to sex, business to sports, food to technology.  With indices, illustrations, and quotations.

Opening I Hear America Talking at random, I find on page 71 that “Canoes and Cannibals were two concepts Columbus and his men brought back to Europe from the West Indies (they also brought back syphilis, but that’s another story).”  On page 208, I learn that “gravy train” dates from the 1940s but came from the earlier (1910) use of “gravy” to mean profit or illegal gain through political conniving.  And on page 377 I see that “Zombi, often spelled zombie, was also now first recorded (in 1871) . . . Zombie was both the name of a snake god and of a spell that could animate a dead body.”

See what I mean?  I’d better put them back on the shelf right now, or I’ll get nothing else done this evening.

Welcome, 2013!

The weather has been grey today, the temperature dropping from a morning high of 57 degrees.  I went out to get my newspaper at 8:30 and haven’t been out the door since.  I spent a chunk of the morning (after reading the paper and watching an old Perry Mason episode) dithering over all the Productive Tasks I thought I should accomplish on my day off.  I have lists of them, on my computer monitor, on scraps of paper, in my head.  Pieces I need to write, tasks for my RWA chapter, sections of the house to clean and declutter, and so on.  I’m not very good at relaxing.

I finally convinced myself that this was a Day Off, for heaven’s sake, and I settled on the couch with Nutmeg the cat, a Mysteries in the Museum marathon running on the background TV, and Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen.  Stephanie Plum’s insane adventures kept me entertained all afternoon, as she and Lula tracked down a few bad guys, blew up a few cars, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

I haven’t had (or given myself) too many chances to sit down and read a book for a while.  I used to read a hundred or more books a year easily, but it’s harder to do that when you work full time at a paying job and take up writing as your other job.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time, and it’s way too easy to fall asleep over even a good book late at night.

This year I read 39 books.  Yes, I keep a list (you mean not everyone does?).  Ten romances (six on paper, four on Kindle), ranging from Regency (Cheryl Bolen) to steampunk (Zoe Archer), paranormal (Darynda Jones) to inspirational (Deeanne Gist), mostly contemporary settings.  I would read more romance–I have stacks of them To Be Read–if I wasn’t writing romance myself.  I suppose I’m afraid of seepage.  And, of course, if I had more time, because I love other genres, too.

I read nine mystery novels (only one on Kindle) this year, mostly on the humorous end, by Diane Kelly, Elaine Viets, Joan Hess, Susan M. Boyer, and Spencer Quinn, with Marcia Muller on the more serious side and Margaret Maron in the middle.   I only read five science fiction novels (one on Kindle), although it’s not easy to draw a line–Zoe Archer’s romance titles are also science fiction, and Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet is also a romance.

I also read four uncategorized mainstream novels, two on Kindle and two on paper, and eleven non-fiction books (six on Kindle, five on paper).  Of the non-fiction, four were on writing topics and three on social media.  The others included a gorgeously illustrated book on all things steampunk and a massive (but fascinating) biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here on my blog, WordPress tells me, I published 81 posts in 2012, with 91 pictures.  I had 21,000 page views (I stand amazed!) by visitors from 96 countries (most of them from the US, with significant numbers from Canada, the UK and Australia).  My most-read posts all concern the TV show Hell on Wheels;  that was hardly my goal when I began blogging, but I do find the show fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

On the writing front, I’m afraid I’ve been more involved in RWA activities than in actual writing.  I’ve served as president of the West Houston chapter (that’s a chunk of the To Do list on my computer monitor right there), been a finalist in the Golden Heart contest for the second year in a row, and traveled to the RWA national conference in Anaheim.  I’ve written columns and articles for my chapters’ newsletters.  I’ve done quite a bit of editing/revising/polishing, begun a new novel, and I’m learning to use Scrivener.

So, in short, I always have two or three bookmarks in play, even if I don’t get through the books as fast as I used to.  I’m building my “Internet platform,” but only as fast as I enjoy doing so.  And I’m pretty much always planning, plotting, or writing something.  I hope to continue all of this through 2013.  Maybe I’ll even manage to clean the rest of the house and hire someone to do something about my yard.  And remodel the bathrooms.  Maybe.

Happy New Year 2013

RWA Conference: Saturday

Saturday was the last day of the conference, with thoughts of the trip home creeping in between the continuing activities.  On the way to my appointment with an agent, I stopped at the concierge desk to ask about airport shuttles, and the helpful young man who made a reservation for me also told me how much the hotel was enjoying our conference.  I suspect we left very little destruction in our wake.

After my appointment, I was once more  drawn as if by a giant magnet through the Goody Room, where I managed to pick up two more free books.  The tables of promotional giveaways adjoined a new feature of the conference, the Connect Lounge, a spread of round tables equipped with WiFi stations, evidently quite a success.  Whenever I went by the room was full of people chatting and using their computers.

On to a workshop presented by Sharon Sala, one of the nicest women I’ve met through RWA.  Her topic, When One Door Closes, was meant for published authors who’ve hit a road block or two, been orphaned when an editor moved on, had an agent retire or a publisher go broke.  I’m still waiting for that first door to open, but Sharon’s advice, starting with “never put all your eggs in one basket,” applies throughout a career.  Sharon writes for Mira Books, but she’s also ventured into indie publishing this year with A Field of Poppies (which I’ve just added to my ever-growing Kindle library).

On to another workshop, SOS for Writers, presented by Erin Quin, who discussed the mechanics of tracking and planning scenes.  By this time my head was positively swimming with good ideas and information, but I have to confess the individual workshops had begun to run together.  I’m looking forward to listening to them again on the conference recordings.

After the rehearsal for the awards ceremony (we all walked across the stage and promounced our names into the microphone), I managed to fit in one last wrokshop, one I had been particularly looking forward to, From Aether to Zeppelin: Writing the Steampunk Romance, presented by Suzanne Lazear, Theresa Meyers, and Cindy Holby, three of the ladies of STEAMED, a blog I have been following for a while now.  I’m not planning to write a Steampunk novel myself, not just now, anyway, but I’m fascinated by the ideas and the alternate world environment.

On the way back to my room with a roast beef sandwich and a bottled frappucino from Starbuck’s, I stopped to print out my boarding pass on the courtesy computer in the lobby.  Then I spent some quiet time reading on the patio between my room and the pool.

About 6:30, dressed for the Big Party, I met the rest of the West Houston delegation in the lobby bar.  Rita nominees Vicky Dreiling, Deeanne Gist, and Linda Warren joined us, along with Karen Burns, Julie Pitzel, Lark Howard, and Sarah Andre.  Sarah, a Golden Heart finalist last year, was my “date” for the awards ceremony, where we sat up front at the VIP tables.  The ceremony was great fun, with clips from all our favorite romance movies, funny presenters and even funnier acceptance speeches, and two standing ovations for Lifetime Achievement honoree Brenda Jackson.

My Golden Heart category, Paranormal Romance, was first on the list, so as soon as that was awarded to my tablemate and friend Lorenda Christensen, I could relax and enjoy the show.  (You can see the complete list HERE.)  No one from West Houston won this year, but we all felt like winners.

After the awards ceremony, the Firebirds gathered one last time at the First Annual AfterParty thrown by Samhain Publishing for all the Rita and Golden Heart finalists and their guests.  Wine, cheese, fruit, desserts, and loud rock music–how better to end the 2012 Romance Writers of America® Conference?

I’m not planning to attend the 2013 Conference next July in Atlanta.  Unless, of course, I have a Really Good Reason to go.

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