Researching to Write a Contemporary vs a Historical Romance

Today, Denise Weimer returns to share some helpful insight into research. She writes in both historical and contemporary romance which means taking a different track to gather background nformation for each genre. Take it away Denise.

 

Hi, readers! I’m delighted to be visiting on Cindy’s blog, sharing about my TWO novels that release this month through Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, one a contemporary with Candlelight Romance imprint, and one a historical with Smitten Historical Romance imprint.

 

Fall Flip, Candlelight contemporary romance, set in the river town of Augusta, GA

The tragic death of Shelby Dodson’s husband—her partner in a successful Home Network house flipping business—stole love, status, and career. Now a bungalow redesign thrusts Shelby into the company of a new contractor. Scott Matthews remembers high-and-mighty Shelby from high school, and her prissy, contemporary style goes against his down-to-earth grain. When the house reveals a mystery, will its dark secrets—and their own mistakes—cost a second chance at love? https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645261883/

The Witness Tree, Smitten historical romance, set in Salem, NC, and Cherokee Indian Territory (now NW GA)

Past betrayal has turned John Kliest’s passion to his work as a builder and surveyor in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. Now, to satisfy the elders’ edict and fulfill his mission in Cherokee Territory, he needs a bride. But the one woman qualified to record the Cherokee language longs for a future with his younger brother.

Clarissa Vogler’s dream of a life with Daniel Kliest is shattered when she is chosen by lot to marry his older brother and venture into the uncharted frontier. Can she learn to love this stoic man who is now her husband? Her survival hinges on being able to trust him—but they both harbor secrets. (https://www.amazon.com/Witness-Tree-gain-break-heart/dp/1645260623/)

 

As you can imagine, researching for these stories looked very different.

 

For a contemporary romance:

  • My research emphasis falls heavily on the careers of the characters or things that happen during the course of the story, like home renovation. Sometimes I interview experts or visit job sites.
  • A trip to the setting proves imperative. Where do the locals eat? What smells and sounds predominate? How do the people talk? And what do the neighborhoods look like? When researching for Fall Flip, I’d picked out online a specific historical neighborhood to be the upscale spot where the parents live, only to discover in person that the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair.

 

For a historical romance:

  • I tend to start with the real history, poring over web sites, books, and microfilm, funneling pertinent facts into a timeline. From what really happened in history, I salvage bits and pieces into my fictional plot. I need to know what’s realistic before I can begin to picture the story.
  • I add to that timeline maps that help me figure distances, terrain, and travel time.
  • And I add portraits and drawings of real historical figures, fashion plates, and buildings. And yes, sometimes the handsome actor who helps me picture my hero just right.
  • A visit to the location can be extremely helpful, though it’s important to remember that time may have significantly changed the landscape. Even with a building, like Chief James Vann’s house in The Witness Tree, the elaborate interior trim-work was only added after my story by the chief’s son. You can’t assume anything. The other people in my tour group were probably rolling their eyes behind my back at my many questions by the time we reached the detached kitchen. LOL!
  • I’ve also been known to attend or participate in the select living history event. Great for sparking sensory detail.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She is the managing editor of Smitten Historical Romance and Heritage Beacon Historical Fiction (imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:

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Homestead Homes: Soddies to Cabins

In creating settings, a writer does a lot of research. Historicals require just enough information to help the reader see your story world but not too much to slow the story down. Housing from the era and geographical location can become the juxtaposition of a dramatic twist. While researching my novel I found the homes built on the prairie ingenious.

neat soddie

Well maintained soddie

sloopy soddie

This soddie looks thrown together.

 

Soddies and Dugouts

Because in some areas wood was hard to come by, the first homes were often soddies made from handcrafted blocks of dirt. These blocks were cut and placed on a frame. Up until the 1880s, sod bricks were cut from thick grasses with a shovel. With the invention of the grasshopper, a special plow designed to cut through the thick sod, the task went faster. It was not uncommon before this invention to build on a hillside using the hill as the back wall.

in a hill soddie

Soddie built into a hill.

 

If having shelter quicker was needed a dugout would serve. A hole dug in the side of a hill large enough to house the family could be constructed quickly. Either sod blocks or a wood frame covered the entrance.

 

Both of these were intended to be temporary shelters. Soddies and dug-outs housed insects, snakes and other underground varmints in the walls. Lining the walls with wood or plaster helped create a barrier between crawly creatures and human inhabitants. A large rain could flood a dug-out or destroy a poorly constructed soddie. Once a proper cabin was built the soddie or dug-out were often repurposed as a storage area, a barn or quarters for either a newlywed eldest son and his wife or aging parents. Some soddies were so well-constructed they lasted for decades.

 

dugout home

Dugout with a roof.

 

Shanties and Cabins

Another throw together dwelling for new homesteaders might be a shanty. The walls were of thin wood covered in tar paper. The siding might be added after the first cash crop. They were drafty and did little to keep winter cold out. The floors were dirt and often windows were made of butcher paper rather than glass. Butcher paper (used to wrap fresh meat.) would be rubbed with lard and affixed to a window opening. You couldn’t see through it but some light came in through the greasy film.

cabin

Small cabin

 

A real cabin might only be one room wooden structure with a sleeping loft. Much warmer than a shanty and far cleaner than either a soddie or dug-out. Windows might still be butcher paper unless the owner could afford glass. Often windows were made of many panes rather than one large sheet of glass. The small squares were more economical in case the window was damaged only the smaller broken portions need be replaced.

 

adobe 2

Adobe structure

 

Adobes

In desert areas or flat plains homes were made of adobe. A special mixture of mud, the base being clay and sand and sometimes dung. Straw was added. One account I read mentioned horsehair. The mixture is poured into frames to create bricks. They were sundried. Adobe bricks have been used all over the world for thousands of years. And are still used as an economical way to construct a home in some areas of the world. They are sturdy and keep the homes relatively cool in summer and warm in winter.

Whatever kind of home a pioneer built the interior walls were whitewashed as soon as possible. This gave a cleaner appearance and reflected light.

Setting creates mood

The Double M ranch in Secrets and Charades is made from adobe bricks. Jake has a soddie on his ranch. It is used by his ranch hands if they are too far afield to make it back to the bunkhouse before dark. And his family’s original homestead is a cabin. Each of these locations is a crucial setting in the story.

Even after all the research on their construction, I chose not to put that information in my novel. Too much description draws the reader out of the action. Evangeline’s observations of her new surroundings set the mood. Each structure plays a key in building the emotional tension between characters. Had I taken the time for Jake to explain how each structure was built you would be bored. Now, if they were building one of these structures together, the process becomes part of the emotional struggle the characters experience.

What have you researched for your WIP to help create your story world? How much of that information do you feel really is necessary to use? Please share in the comments.

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