Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sneaking in Historical Detail by Victoria Janssen

Sneaking in Historical Detail
by Victoria Janssen

Detail is one of the keys to writing fiction in a historical setting. It's a way to show the reader that she's traveled in time. Things are different in the world she's reading about. Even simple differences spawn more and more changes. For example, the heroine of the story doesn't drive a car; instead, a male relative must drive her in a horse-drawn carriage. Instead of worrying about the cost of gasoline, she has to avoid stepping in horse dung and dirtying her silken dance slipper. All these details have to appear normal to the reader because they are normal to the characters in the book.

You don't need to include every single detail you've researched; in fact, you need less than you think you do, though sometimes that depends on your period; for example, romance readers are more likely to have a working knowledge of social mores in Regency England than in Moldavia during the same period. Still, a few telling details can reinforce the sense of time travel.

I use a few tricks to sneak in the details. Most of my tricks are used in tandem with story elements like characterization, so every detail does at least double duty. The thing I try to keep in mind is contrast. The historical detail contrasts with the present day.

First, if there's an opportunity to use a historical detail rather than a general detail, I do it. Especially if the detail involves something that's different now from then; for example, in my upcoming novel Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), which is set during World War One, a nurse is caring for a wound. She cleans the wound with Lysol, common in 1914 but surprising now, when Lysol is most often used to clean bathroom tile.

Second, it's easier for the reader to absorb details if they're included along with action and are meaningful to the point of view character, thus giving depth to characterization. An example from Moonlight Mistress, in which things have changed: "This hamlet reminded him of the ones they'd seen on their way into France, full of cheering people who gave them cigarettes and flowers and loaves of bread. Now it was devastated, all the people gone, gardens trampled, animal corpses bloating in the streets, houses and churches shot to pieces by the guns."

Third, if a character is visiting a new place, or visiting a place that has changed since they were last there, details are a necessary part of transition between scenes or locales. Another example from Moonlight Mistress: "Even in the dark, the hot, dusty streets were mobbed, three times as crowded as a normal night. Compared to that morning, the whole town felt alien to her. Boys hawked newspapers on every corner. Men stood and read the papers under streetlights and in the street itself, arguing vociferously, blocking wagons whose drivers cursed. Singing and pipe smoke, drunken cheers and angry shouts billowed from the open door of a beer garden."

And my last trick? Don't research it to death. As much fun as research is, eventually you have to write the book.


You can check out my blog here.

Excerpts from my books.

Purchase link for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover. Moonlight Mistress is available for pre-order on

Friday, August 7, 2009

Beg For It *Virtual* Release Party

Welcome to the Beg For It Release Party! Thanks for stopping by to help me celebrate my very first release with Ellora's Cave. Everyone who leaves me a comment below will be entered in a drawing to win one of three prizes:

(1) $25 Amazon gift card
(2) A download of any of my books
(3) An Ellora's Cave playing card deck

In Beg For It, Milo and Mya are best friends, co-workers and rivals. They are also secretly in love with each other.

The only thing ad executive Mya Taylor loves more than winning is her best friend Milo Hamilton. Nothing has ever come between them until she finds out Milo is her chief rival for a new account.

Milo’s not sure when it happened but his secret crush has morphed into an obsession. He wants Mya in his bed, screaming his name, and he knows just how to make it happen.
When he proposes a friendly wager on the account, he knows the ultra-competitive Mya won’t be able to resist. She’s more than ready to lay it all on the line until she finds out how high the stakes are—the two of them. Skin to skin.
Suddenly, all bets are off…

When I was younger I always had a lot of platonic male friends. Guys seemed to be infinitely less difficult than girls, more relaxed, just more fun.

Fun without all the drama.

However as I've gotten older, even the idea of having close male friends has become something I can't really imagine. I find myself wondering if my husband will be jealous or if people at work will start to talk. It's no longer the relaxed, simple thing it used to be. When did things get so complicated?

As I was writing Beg For It, I couldn't help thinking back on some of those long ago friendships I used to have. Was I fooling myself in believing we were really just friends?

So I'm interested to get some other people's opinions. Do you think men and women can truly be just friends if they're also attracted to each other? Or do you think the attraction would always be in the way, even if you never acknowledged it, like the proverbial "elephant in the room"?