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Monday, February 27, 2017

Romance and Research

Judith Ashley is the author of The Sacred Women's Circle series, romantic fiction that honors spiritual traditions that nurture the soul.

Research has shown that we learn best when we are entertained. And the best romance authors do their research so you learn something as you go on a journey with their characters. And the best romances, IMHO, are those that play over and over in our minds long after we’ve closed the book which means those well researched details become a part of our general knowledge.

I love to read historical romance and have learned much more about living in those faraway times. Most recently I read all of 
Jo Beverley’s Malloren World books set in the 1760’s. She showed the glamour and glitz of the aristocracy but she also showed the depths of despair, the plight of women and children, the filth and disease of the greatest city of its time. In the last book I read, she included information about the water system in London at the time of A Scandalous Countess.

Several of the Genre-istas write in another time period. Paty Jager, Kristin Holt, Lynn Lovegreen, Maeve Greyson all work to make sure their readers understand the time period and thus the life style of their characters. Genre-istas who write in various genres also pay attention to the research needed to bring their stories to life.

But what about Contemporary Romance Writers? Do they have to do research? Do they build worlds? Do they have well-honed imaginations?

Since I am a Contemporary Romance Write, I’ll answer that with “yes”!

Research? For Lily, I spent time talking with my physical therapist to make sure I had the right timing for Lily Hughes recovery from a devastating accident. And, I set up the fictional Fremont, Oregon (based in part on my home town of Portland). Why didn’t I use Portland? Because I wanted the freedom to have a doctor’s office, a restaurant, etc. where it worked best for the story and not where one actually was.

For Elizabeth, I not only refreshed my memories of my trip to Ireland by reading my journal and looking through albums of pictures, but I also talked to my friend with whom I journeyed. And I used Google Earth to check out New Grange as we hadn’t gone there. I looked at the countryside to determine where to site Michael Murphy’s fictional home and The Sacred Grove.

Most recently, for Gabriella, I spent more time on Google Earth figuring out where Giovanni Migliori’s villa might be on the West Coast of Italy overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I also researched Sacred Geometry before deciding to show Sacred Geometry in nature with references to it also being man-made. I wanted to give my readers a sense of the power of Sacred Geometry without overwhelming them.

Sophia, Book Seven, involves a police officer and a teacher. I both worked for a sheriff’s department and taught high school English. And since Sophia has been a main character throughout the series, her dedication to her students, her garden and the other women was already well known. I’ve even been concussed! But, I’ve never been shot!!! So that required some investigating in order to make my hero, Cam Mitchell’s, predicament real.

But here’s where the research butts up against our characters. Not everyone in contemporary times is glued to a cell phone or spends hours on the internet, etc. So when my editor commented on Diana “That’s not real, she should just dial 911 on her cell phone.” I took a look at how I use technology in my stories.

It’s there.

Not as much in the first books set in 2001 – 2002 but by Sophia set in 2005 - 2006 it is more evident.

Believe it or not, to this day I have friends and family who do not have cell phones or do not keep them on. And, I have friends and family who are well-connected. I, for one, have not been to a movie theater for decades and I seldom watch movies on television and although I’ve heard of streaming, I’ve no idea how to do it.

What does this have to do with anything?

A well-written romance (or any story) will draw you in. The characters will make sense to you as will their decisions. After that comment from my editor, I went back and inserted a few sentences here and there to show the reader that while my character knew about and had a cell phone, she (in this case) was not wired 24/7.

What’s important is that the technology is congruent with who the character is as a person and within the context of the story.

What are your thoughts on author’s research? Have you ever read a book and known some fact was inaccurate at best and Wrong at worst? What did you do?

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