Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Don’t Let Regency Intimidate

The following appears on page one, chapter one, of Connie Brockway’s The Golden Season: “Ecru-fluted silk trimmed the emerald green pelisse covering her elegant and well-curved figure, while her shimmering burnt-caramel colored curls peeked out from beneath a spring bonnet bedecked with feathers, fronds, and flowers.”

Such a well-timed and apt description throws a reader pell-mell down the Regency well and, with a bit of determination, a writer can keep a reader immersed. Notice I said ‘bit.’

I do not yet consider myself an expert on the Regency era. I cannot name every Napoleonic battle and I cannot name which British crops were exported during those years. But I don’t let that stop me from writing about my favorite era. After all, a romance novel isn’t a history book. It merely requires a smattering of well-placed, Regency-based descriptions. The plot, the sexy hero and the feisty heroine are the true hooks. The Regency details work to keep the story three-dimensional and believable.

Often, the challenge is more about what wording to avoid. No reader wants to be tossed from century to century as they read. Such jolts might cause a reader to stop reading mid-story. For instance, a Regency hero would never use the “F” word. Instead, he’d say “bloody hell” when properly miffed. A heroine would never say, “Sure!” in response to a desirable dance request. Rather, she would say something along the lines of, “I would be delighted, my lord.” A Regency lady does not wear an overcoat. For her, it’s a pelisse, cloak, or spencer—none of which keep her very warm. And while a Lady’s blush can be seen on her neck, a Lord’s flush would not be visible there, since his cravat thoroughly covers his neck.

So, how does one go about “Regencifying” their story enough to make it believable?

One of the most important things to do is to read a lot of good Regency. Jane Austen doesn’t describe clothing very often, but her Regency dialog is—of course—the real thing. Georgette Heyer might as well have lived in the era. Her Regency romances were published more than a hundred years after Austen’s, but she is an expert on the times, and her books make for excellent research.

Take notes while you read. Write down the stunning clothing descriptions and vehicle technicalities—not to copy them, but to learn from them. And if you pay enough attention, you won’t make the mistake of writing about a wager made on a barouche race (although that might be something a man trying to grab a lot of attention might do). If you’re a more visual person, watch movies instead of opening the books. Jot down your notes while watching Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Persuasion (all easily borrowed at the local library).

Keep organized lists of words like cloak-bag, rake (not the lawn tool), and ton (not the weight measurement). Also write down key phrases like “a child in short petticoats” and “bowed himself out with a flourish” and “every article of furniture in the room, from the sideboard to the fender.” Make notes about who rides in what, what piece of furniture goes where, and who wears what. Then you can easily insert selected details into your stories as needed, to keep the Regency flavor intact.

Internet research, both fun and frustrating, is a priceless resource. If you’re looking for broad information, the surfing process is wonderful. Particular details are sometimes a more challenging find. Web sites about English titles of nobility quickly taught me that a Duke outranks an Earl and an Earl outranks a Baron. But when I wanted a specific question answered: “Are a son and a father ever called the same name while both are alive, since sons are often called ‘Lord’ out of courtesy?” I had to dig. The answer, by the way, is no. Only the father would be called, for example, Lord Berkeley; anyone referencing the son would add the son’s first name: Lord Robert Berkeley. The peerage is tedious, but it’s a must-know if you’re going to write Regency, so you simply have to grit your teeth and learn it.

Newgate Prison features prominently in my first novel, Love Trumps Logic, but those scenes initially stalled my writing, since I couldn’t visualize what I was writing about. But a Google search of ‘Newgate Prison,’ led me to an actual layout of the jail in the early 1800s. I dug deeper and found a site that taught me the difference between keepers and turnkeys, constables and thief takers, putting an end to my writer’s block.

Since you cannot plagiarize the clothes descriptions you’ve catalogued, a bit of Internet research comes in handy, determining which fabrics and accessories were used.  Muslin, satin, wool, lace, and velvet are all acceptable, but you won’t find nylon or denim in the Regency period. Buttons were often made of pearl or bone, never plastic. Also, the unmarried young ladies were expected to wear pastels or white. The darker colors were considered more sophisticated and were off-limits to the debutantes. Such tidbits about clothing I found at http://www.rakehell.com.

For those who are members of Romance Writers of America, another Web site for Regency information is http://www.thebeaumonde.com. Join for $35, renew yearly at $30.

A source that I reference often is a book, English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. This book gives dates of the first recorded use of more than 50,000 words. Wondering if a word was used back in Regency days? Look it up. If the index directs you to a page that falls after page 208, then the word is too new. I wish I could say that it works as well in reverse, that if you’re trying to find good Regency words to describe ladies underwear it will easily guide you, but it doesn’t. If you have the time, though, it’s a fascinating way to get comfortable with words that are acceptable and might add interest to your story. Some words might surprise: ‘MC’ was first recorded in 1790, and ‘kudos’ was in use by 1800. Thingamabob was in use by 1770, thingummy by 1800 and thingamajig by 1830 (so the last one should not be found in a Regency book).

Another book that’s useful to have is James Trager’s The People’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present. Research the book to find events that happened during the Regency period. Insert some of them into your Regency novel to make it that much stronger. Certain tidbits can even inspire plot points. For instance, in 1818, a London surgeon performed the first successful human blood transfusion using a syringe. Such knowledge could perhaps make for an interesting duel outcome.

The most important thing is to write what you love. I couldn’t spend so much time researching the Regency era if I wasn’t fascinated by it.

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

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Major Household Appliances

 

The big bucks ones! As a woman, who has been for long stretches of her life, a housewife, I don’t take appliances for granted. In fact, not too long ago, “housewife” was shorthand for drudge, and we pampered modern ladies forget this at our peril. Living in an area where I can still see Old Order Amish woman slaving from morning till night—in between dropping babies—and as a writer of historical novels—I’m keenly aware of the comfortable life we modern women lead.

I’m not ashamed to love my appliances. I name them, too, because they are my “serving girls.” I feel lucky, rather like a Jane Austen heroine, to have married well enough to afford them.   😉

The washer came first, while we were still in college. As I had been lugging baby + clothes + diapers to the laundromat for over a year, this was a real joy. I earned it, too, this trendy looking brown Sears appliance, while working as a waitress, picking up the quarter tips which were standard in the early 60’s diner, while my husband  minded our son, Miles, and did his college homework.   We’ve got pictures of me bringing in frozen diapers from the line during a harsh Massachusetts winter, though, and it was a good while before we managed to get the space and the dollars for a dryer. 

I’ve just graduated to a front loader, a Bosch. Her name is “Ursula” because she has a bearish, blockish look. She is German by design, though the salesman  carefully explained she was manufactured at a plant in Ohio.  I love her dearly, because she is already saving us money on water and electricity. More than that, she does a ton of laundry at a time, and has a way with deep cleaning the ground-in dirt that men are champs at producing in a way the top loader never did.

A dish washer arrived at my home only a few years ago, so the thrill of loading it up and then unloading clean dishes has not yet gone away. Her name, (christened by my husband) is “Heidi,” and she is also a Bosch, thrifty and blessedly quiet. I was the dishwasher for years, and vividly remember many Thanksgivings and Christmases at which I spent literally hours at the kitchen sink, washing endless coffee cups, plates and silverware for our houseguests—my husband’s brothers and sisters. I dearly loved being the “Mom” and their lively company, but sometimes it got to be a bit much, and I’d have to go into the living room, turn down the rock’n’roll, and drum up some relief.

One beneficial side effect of not having a dishwasher for all those years was that both my sons were trained early to do dishes, dry them, and put them away. They were sent on to their wives quite domesticated—at least, for boys!

You notice I haven’t said much about dryers. The fact is they aren’t very interesting. They are simple creatures and don’t develop personalities the way the other appliances do. However, I thank my stars to be a woman here in the 21st Century during winter or during weeks of rain like we had last summer, as I dump Ursula’s prodigious output into the gaping mouth of faithful, careful Molly the Maytag.

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In Praise of Romance

Can a man write a romance novel?

I remember one of my college English professors talking of wanting to “pick up a little spare change” as a graduate student.  He decided to write short stories using a female pseudonym and submit them to women’s magazines (this was back in the early 60’s, when magazines published a lot more short fiction).  His comeuppance was almost immediate: several editors sent him personal rejection letters, telling him to stop trying to write as a woman.

His words came back to me in the summer of 2007 while I was competing in the Gather.com romance novel contest.  The first chapter of my novel Lacey Took a Holiday was getting a lot of kind feedback, much of it from other authors and almost all of them women.  Then Starr Toth, the fine romance author whose story Lie to Me took second place in the contest, read and commented on my entry: “This feels like a mainstream novel with romantic elements, rather than a straight romance.”  Busted!  Starr had figured out in one brief chapter that the book wasn’t a “true” romance.  “Oh, she’s just prejudiced because I’m a guy,” I thought.  This was just an insidious prejudice against men writing romances, I assured myself,.

I have to say that a lot of people liked Lacey, including the Second Wind Publishing people, and I guess the book had enough good stuff in it to make it into print (although I still get comments that the book is not really a romance).  The great thing about the Gather contest and being published along with other romance authors is that I have been give the opportunity to learn a lot about romance—books, I mean.  In fact, I think I’m on firm footing when I say I’ve learned things about romance novels that most guys never understand.  So here are some of the really important things I’ve learned about romance novels:

Fine romance novels are quality works of literature.  Well-written romance is the prose equivalent of fine poetry.  Face it, Jane Austen was a romance author.  If she were living today, some dippy reviewer would be criticizing her for trying to make social commentary in romance novels.  For sheer descriptive power and lyrical beauty that simultaneously deals with the consequences of human actions, you owe it to yourself to read Dellani Oakes captivating Indian Summer or Sherrie Hansen’s poignant Night and Day.  Oakes story deals with Florida in the 18th century, while Hansen’s is a post-modern story of a love affair that starts on the internet—but the social consciousness is a gripping element in each.

In ways other fiction genres cannot match, well-written romance captures and suborns a setting and makes it a compelling servant of the story being told.  How I wish more people would read Juliet Waldron’s magnificent Hand Me Down BrideIt captures precisely what rural life was like in the days immediately following the Civil War (and her characterizations are perfect).  Suzette Vaughn does double duty in her Badeaux Knights.  She depicts small town, Generation X life along the sleepy Gulf Coast, while giving a wonderfully detailed account of Renaissance enactors.  Stormy Weather, Sherrie Hansen’s heartland romance, absolutely captures the essence of a Midwestern small town—gossip and all.

Romance has a unique ability to make the supernatural and the spiritual plausible and accessible.  It’s probably impossible to find two more disparate examples of this than Amy De Trempe’s Loving Lydia and Mairead Walpole’s A Love Out of Time.  De Trempe blends 17th century Catholicism and passionate human love into a tale that is as full of aching and longing as it is of faith.  Walpole takes an equally ancient set of religious beliefs—that are also startlingly contemporary—and twines them into a marvelously intricate story of lovers and a group of sisters who are, well, more than human.  The charming, devilish romance Nora’s Soul, by Margay Leah Justice, manages to spin two tales simultaneously: while a beautiful human couple find themselves drawn inexorably back to their childhood love, a pair of angels vie for a young woman’s soul.  Janette Rochelle Lewie and Suzette Vaughn in very different ways take on the pantheon of the ancient gods.  Lewie skillfully unpacks an ancient myth in a steamy, modern way in Sonya Recovered.  Vaughn, in Mortals, Gods and a Muse, does a magnificent job of demonstrating for modern readers the ancient conceit of what happens when the gods start messing with your love life.

A well-written romance can be every bit as thrilling and suspenseful as the best crime novel—and a lot more emotive.  Safe Harbor, Sherilyn Winrose’s first novel, is a tremendously intense, breathtaking roller coaster that just incidentally is really all about a sweet, compelling love story of a young woman and man trying to right wrongs.  Life and death, virtue and vice, love and deceit all hang in the balance in both of Claire Collins first two novels—that in truth are remarkably distinct.  In Fate and Destiny—a Gather contest semi-finalist—Collins wows readers with a tale at turns frightening, heart-warming and hilarious.  Her second novel, Images of Betrayal, seems to be a paranormal thriller, yet turns on profound psychological insights, all the while describing pure first love.

The truest, grandest form of romance novels, the regency, is among the most exacting and rewarding types of literature.  Back in the days of my ignorance, I referred to these as “lords and ladies books.”  I had no idea the level of historical and geographical knowledge it takes to write these novels.  I had mentioned Amy De Trempe above and I should note that, like Loving Lydia, her second regency title, Pure is the Heart, is seamless in its accuracy—and delightful in the poignant story it tells.  Tart, funny and ultimately joyful is the best way to describe Lucy Balch’s romp of a regency novel Love Trumps Logic (and, brother, she’s right about that!).  Then there is Jerrica Knight-Catania’s first offering, a tender novel of justice and duty (here we are back at Jane Austen again) called A Gentleman Never Tells.

How very distinct from one another these titles are.  Indeed about the only thing they have in common is that they were all written by outstanding women authors.  It’s more than a little ironic that my first published novel falls into the genre of romance.  At least my romance colleagues at Second Wind are kind and accepting.  Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try a second romance novel—just to prove that a man can do it.  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People

Check out the Second Wind Romance Sampler. It includes the first chapters of all these romances, and it’s free! Click here: to get your free download.

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