Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How to Make Unpalatable Historical Facts Into Romance...

How to Make Unpalatable Historical Facts Into Romance…

by Gem Sivad

Telling the story of men and women of previous eras includes an honest look at the conditions in which they lived. I write historical western romance, and in order to achieve a sense of realism, I do quite a lot of research into the cultural and mechanical deficiencies and imperatives of the day.

For example, to write about a woman in 1880 Texas, I have to move their mentally. If my character is a good cook like Lucy Quince, (Intimate Strangers) I need to know what kind of stove she would have used. Once I learn that, I have to research what kind of food was available, how it was obtained and preserved, and basic preparation facts.

Lucy Quince wakes up with no memory, abandoned for dead. She makes a life for herself cooking in a small restaurant while she waits for someone who knew her to make a claim.

Excerpt ~

Her head and back hurt something awful. She’d been up and on her feet before dawn, baking biscuits and bread for the breakfast crowd.

“Whew-ee, Quincy, it sure is hot in here.” Roberta came through the swinging door, fanning herself with the white lawn handkerchief she always carried. “It’s halfway through morning. Why do you still have that oven going?”

Quincy Smith wrinkled her nose and blew a strand of hair from her eyes. Her brow glistened as the heat from the baking rolls wrapped her in steam and the smell of cinnamon.

“Do we do this for you to practice your social skills or to make money?” Roberta made an impish moue at Quincy’s wry question and rolled her eyes.

Patiently, her partner in the Robin’s Nest Café explained, “The cowboys have a love for sweets. It’s easy to pinch off some of the dough to make cinnamon rolls. It cranks up the heat in the kitchen some, but since it never cools down much anyway, and fixing food for men who will buy it is our business, stop complaining…”

In the course of writing about the Old West I’ve found some very detailed research sites devoted to information such as: The Food Timeline FAQS: 19th century American foodways. ~ ~

Looking at the changing fashions and how they were adapted by Western women has also brought me to some interesting sites, one of which is named, 19th Century Fashions ~ ~

Women who traveled to the West brought with them the stiff, restrictive clothing of their Eastern counterparts. But, the impractical nature of the many layers that made for difficult maneuvering, quickly brought about necessary modifications. Such is the case with Naomi Parker, recent arrival to Flat Rock, Texas when she encounters half-Kiowa bounty hunter, Charlie Wolf McCallister (Wolf’s Tender).

Excerpt ~

He’d been waiting for her first challenge and it pleased him to cut away the iron trappings that compressed her flesh as he would cut away the false trappings of her society. He drew his blade and once again pulled her to him.

“What are you going to do, cut my hand again to punish me?” Her words were derisive, not the respectful tone of a squaw. It occurred to Charlie right then that Miss Naomi Parker wasn’t exhibiting the usual white woman’s fear of him.

In one motion, he cut through the fabric of her clothes—the dress, the chemise underneath, and the lacings of the corset that constricted her flesh. He stroked his finger down the pinch mark that marred her flesh, pleased to see pink flesh and rounded breasts spring free. “Don’t wear one of those damned things again.”

Apparently struck dumb, she said nothing when he shoved the cut material wide, pushing it off her shoulders, to the floor, where the corset landed with a loud thunk. She stood before him in nothing but cotton drawers.

So, telling a story set in 1880 Texas, is a composite of the 19th century West, and includes defining the roles of the residents… the sheriff, the rich ranch owner, and the local saloon riff-raff—but also the society ladies, ranch women, homesteaders wives, and town floosies.

Since my primary objective when I write historical romance is to explore a relationship between lovers, my inquisitive mind has to ask, Did these women really have no influence, no autonomy, no freedom?
I think they had influence and as much freedom in their lives as they chose to demand or command.
Progress in obtaining, indoor plumbing, gas lights, coeducational schools, and the right to vote were the product of female preachers, unsung female political leaders, noted writers, and savvy wives who were partners in western settlements.
The most distressing, but challenging task for me in writing western romance is to make sure that my heroine is not a prisoner of circumstance.
No one wants to read about some poor woman who is stuck with an abusive husband and six kids unless I can help her get rid of him and let her use her wits, seductive skills, and courage to take charge of her individual destiny.
Whatever the setting or genre, when writing romance, the success of the tale rests in the grit of the girl and the mesmerizing strength of the man. But a fascinating detail can make the entire read something to remember and ponder later.

A Brief Overview of the Women’s Movement in the 19th Century

1791~The Rights of Women (Déclaration des droits de la femme) written by French woman Olympe de Gouges, had a unique perspective. Gouges suggested that females should share equal status with males, an idea which caused immediate consternation.

1792~ Vindication of the Rights of Woman written by Mary Wollstonecraft the next year in Britain was considered feminist literature, but was still published in Boston and Philadelphia the same year it appeared in England. Wollstonecraft argued passionately for a woman’s “God given rights of civil and religious liberty.”

1848~ The Declaration of Sentiments, principally authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton was written at Seneca Falls, New York at a convention attended by 300 hundred men and women who had come together to discussthe social, civil, and religious conditions of women.

1852~ The Rights of Women were discussed at the Syracuse Convention and suggested that women were linked together by a history of biology that superseded laws and cultural conventions. This outrageous notion prompted the London Times to suggest that the most “volatile segment of society …are women insurrectionists.”

You can learn more about Gem Sivad at Gem’s Place. ~ ~

NOTE: There are some mighty handsome, skin-showin’ cowboys over at Gem’s blog if yer in the mood for some lookin’ and apprciatin’.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yippee! Welcome, Gem, to Happily Ever After

Meat and potatoes reading for me, meaning I dived right in and adored the history you shared.

And, of course, your excerpts are gorgeously written.

Gem Sivad said...

Thanks Savanna. I appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed sharing some of my research with you.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Welcoem, Gem, to HEA! This is a brilliant blog, full of really interesting insights and facts! As a wrtier of historical romance, I loved all of it - thank you so much!

Serena Shay said...

Hi Gem,
Awesome blog!! I'm on pins and needles here waiting for Wolf's Tender to come out! I loved Intimate have a way of making romance in the wild west just come to life!!


Gem Sivad said...

You are too kind. I think a woman then was just as savvy as women are today.

We do what we need to do to survive and use what's available to make it all happen.

Glad you liked the post I enjoyed writing it.

Hope you'll check out The Bounty Hunters series as it unfolds at Liquid Silver Books.


Alanna Coca said...

Great post Gem. Your research shows through in your writing believable scenes. I like that we're plopped into the 19th century and feel the additional stress that women had back then.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Hi Gem! What a fabulous post. I love how you've researched the women's' movement in particular, that interests me very much. Every woman should read Mary Wollstonecraft. I highly recommend Clare Tomalin's biography of MW - she didn't have an easy time of it herself. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, I really loved this post. :)

Jane x