Research can be too much fun
I’ve had to research some pretty interesting things for my books:
For An Exotic Heir, I had a great time reading the diaries of British women in Calcutta during the Raj. The hard part was finding some that were close enough to the time period of my book because I was not only looking for how they lived, but how they thought about Anglo-Indians and the Indians themselves. British opinion of the Indians swung wildly back and forth between thinking them horrid, backwards natives who knew nothing and were crass heathens, to realizing that Indian culture is a rich and fascinating thing with an amazing history behind it. My book is set during the time when the British didn’t think much of the natives, and even less of Anglo-Indians who were neither Indian nor British. They really didn’t know how to treat such people and so, sadly ended up treating them very badly. The only good thing about that is that it gave my hero a strong conflict.
More recently, I had loads of fun research on the Corsair or Barbary Pirates for my book Falling for a Pirate. I had to learn all about the ships they sailed, where they sailed and what pirating they actually did—they were really awful people! They would sail up to a fishing village and nearly empty it of its citizens who they would then sell into slavery back in Tunisia or wherever they came from. They would also ransom people back to their relatives if they were wealthy—the author Miguel de Cervantes (who wrote Don Quixote) was kidnapped by Corsair pirates and then sold back to his family.
In order to write a scene where the pirates attacked another ship, I read through a number of accounts of pirate attacks to learn exactly what they did (attacking another ship was actually a really complicated business and involved a lot of thought because the way you did so depended on the size of your ship and crew vs. the size of ship and crew of those who you are attacking).
The pirate hero is also sick in the book so I had to figure out both what he would be sick from and an easy, natural way for him to be cured that would have been available at the time! I had to skim through a lot of websites looking for something plausible, easy to detect and curable.
Doing research for a book can be a slippery slope – it’s so much fun to do that sometimes you completely lose track of time. I could go on researching for days! And then once you’ve got all this information, working it into a novel without sounding like an encyclopedia can be tricky. Basically, you want it to sound natural and make sure you aren’t just dumping information in—you need to trickle it in a tiny bit at a time (a sentence here, part of a sentence there). Sometimes you don’t even use a lot of the information you find, but trust that the essence, the feeling of accuracy is there as you write your story.
I love writing historical romance and I love doing the research necessary to make my stories both accurate and come alive on the page. And there’s nothing better than doing that research first hand—actually walking down the streets your characters walk, seeing the buildings, smelling the smells (for A Spanish Dilemma, I went to Basil, Switzerland where the book is set and I was so glad I did! I had thought to have my hero and heroine take a romance boat ride down the Rhine River which flows past the city, but when I was actually there I could see that the river has such a strong current a romantic boat ride would be physically impossible!).
Note: An Exotic Heir is a sweet, traditional Regency romance. The first half is set in Calcutta and then the action shifts to London.
Falling for a Pirate is a M/M gay time-travel romance that most definitely is not sweet. 😉 It’s set off the coast of Spain and mostly takes place on board a pirate ship in 1799.