Research: A Love StoryBy guest blogger Pam Rosenthal.
My husband Michael has always participated in my writing. He’s done some writing and editing himself, and before I began writing historical romance, I was glad to have him as first and most astute reader of my reviews, essays, and erotica.
Michael's a bookseller. An old-school, independent, brick-and-mortar bookseller, he reads what he sells, sells what he loves, and could no sooner accept money from a publisher for front-of-the-store display space than commit grand larceny. He's the kind of bookseller who remembers what his customers have read last, and knows -- sometimes better than they do -- what they might want to read next.
So if my husband’s been my most astute reader, I've been among his most eager customers -- and even better, I get home delivery. Which made it more or less inevitable, I suppose, that when Michael suggested I might be interested in Robert Darnton's The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, I fairly grabbed the book out of his hands.
Reading this brilliant and entertaining account of how French booksellers sold smuggled works of Enlightenment philosophy and erotic entertainment to a readership hungry for social change was like discovering a hidden history, both of my husband's trade as a socially-committed bookseller and mine as an erotic writer. A world opened up, exciting me so profoundly that I found myself moved to write (of all things) a romance novel, The Bookseller's Daughter, about a bookseller (she) and an erotic writer (he).
Michael was astonished, amused, and helpful as ever. He’d never read a romance novel, but throughout the writing of Bookseller’s Daughter and Almost a Gentleman he proved a tough and honest critic – especially of my synopses (you can read his wry, sly observations about synopsis writing here).
It was only when I began The Slightest Provocation, and tried setting a book in the British countryside during the dark, tumultuous, famine-ridden years after Waterloo, I realized that I needed help with more than my synopses.
Because the political situation in Post-Waterloo Britain is a tough nut to crack, especially if you take on domestic espionage as I did. My first try at a spy hero wasn't working; I needed to figure out why. And I needed to figure out a few more things as well, like:
Who were the spies, anyway, that the Home Office was sending out to infiltrate the reform societies that were springing up over the countryside and to foment rebellion?
What did the reform societies want?
And, for that matter, what exactly was the Home Office hoping to accomplish by suspending the venerable principle of habeas corpus and thereby giving themselves leave to imprison British citizens without charges?
I needed to embark upon a systematic study of a confused historical period and the confusing policies of the fierce, frightened faction that held government power at the time. Gulp.
"Michael?" I called softly.
"Help!" I bellowed.
And so, ungracefully, we became a research-and-writing partnership.
And although you can probably guess which of us made more thorough use of the library catalogs, together we collected an impressive set of borrowing privileges. We got our other best-beloved involved in the project as well. England's Last Revolution: Pentrich 1817, by John Stevens seems only to exist in two libraries in the Western hemisphere. But with his sharp bookseller's eye, Michael knew that this was the book we most needed. He located one of those copies, and our graduate student son Jesse was able to borrow it for us.
All of this research into the political situation helped me rethink my hero. Kit Stansell was no longer a spy, but a veteran of the Napoleonic wars who hopes to work in the Home Office, just when the Home Office was sending provocateurs to the countryside. Witnessing the real events of 1817, Kit and his estranged wife Mary begin to realize what’s going on and do what they can to stop it. (Well, they stop the made-up part of the events in my book, anyway -- since sadly, my made-up characters and I couldn't stop real historical tragedies from happening). And as my contentious hero and heroine battle their way to reconciling their marriage, I allowed them to try to make sense of some of the real correspondence cited in the Stevens book, which Michael and I read on microfiche during our trip to the British National Archives in Kew, just outside of London.
Which brings me to the best part of keeping research in the family: the research vacations... or holidays, as you'll call them if they take you to Britain. The day we spent reading the Home Office correspondence at the Archives remains a cherished memory, which you can read more about in my post at the wonderful History Hoydens blog.
And you can also read more here, about our walks through field and forest and over stiles in the part of Derbyshire where The Slightest Provocation is set. We'd planned to rent a car, but we wound up hiking and taking buses because the Derbyshire bus drivers were so chatty and helpful and it was so nice not to have to worry about driving on "that" side of the road -- plus we didn't quarrel, as we usually do when it turns out I've been reading the road map upside down.
Actually, we almost did quarrel, one sunny day when we couldn't find the walking path trail to Pentrich, when I thought Michael might have asked for more directions... as though a man ever asks for directions when he gets lost. But that was good too, because it served as the inspiration for the dark and rainy night when Kit and Mary get lost, and Kit doesn't ask directions... but you can read all about it in The Slightest Provocation.
While as for my next book, The Edge of Impropriety, forthcoming in November?
Well, this one's a romance between another of my brainy pairs of lovers, a popular novelist of the late 1820s and a scholar/adventurer/collector of classical antiquities. Which demanded I learn quite a bit about the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum, and the themes of eros, esthetics, and empire... a process that began in earnest (but by now you see how this goes), the evening Michael brought home a wonderful, provocative book called Erotikon: Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy Edge it when it comes out in November. Isn't the cover lovely?
And thanks for having me, Noodlers, and for allowing me to share my gratitude to my lifetime partner in creating love stories.