What Is So Historical About Research?

By Tammy Trail

When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hardworking men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.

I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.

If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.

Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with firsthand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.

Other information you may need to research.

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Trades
  • Politics
  • Travel
  • Weapons

In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain.  I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?

I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.

I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.

I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s.  My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.

When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.

Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?

  • Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
  • Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
  • California is admitted as the 31st state.
  • P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.

Click to Tweet: What Is So Historical About Research @InspiredPrompts #writetip #amwriting

 

Happily Ever After or Not?

By Cammi Woodall

“…and they lived happily ever after.” Sigh! How satisfying is it to reach the end of a romance book and the main couple embrace in front of a golden sunset?

But what about when you reach the end of a romance and the couple is not together? Or one of them is dead? Or they broke up? Is this still a romance book?

Let me warn you – this article will contain spoiler alerts about various novels. Proceed with caution!

I did an informal poll among my friends and asked, “Does a romance have to end happily ever after?” The most common response was a puzzled, “Well, isn’t that what makes it a romance?” Another common response was a disdainful remark, “I don’t read romance books!” (Why do people look down on romance novels so much? That’s a post for another time!)

After the poll, I looked at the website for Romance Writers of America. If anybody knows how a romance should end, it should be them. Right? According to the site, the definition of a romance contains two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying, optimistic ending.

So, Romeo and Juliet or Gone With The Wind are not romances? What about more contemporary novels like Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars? Each story contains the love between the main characters as the main element, but none include an HEA optimistic ending!

(Confession time – at age twelve I thought Romeo and Juliet was the epitome of romance. A handsome boy defies his family, compares her to a rose, and dies for her? Pitter patter went my preteen heart! Now I can only see two hormonal tweens who got a lot of people killed.)

I have decided that my definition of a romance will focus on the second element defined by the Romance Writers of America – the optimistic ending. Optimistic means hopeful and confident about the future. So does an optimistic ending mean the main couple is together? Do they get married, build a dream home, have a passel of kids, and spend their twilight years rocking away on the front porch?

Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. Don’t get me wrong. I love romance books! I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Glenna Finley. I expected those books to end happily: i.e., the couple together, the promise of a future, an epilogue with a wedding. It never occurred to me that a romance book wouldn’t end happily ever after!

What if an optimistic ending means that each character learned an important lesson from the relationship featured in that particular book? Every person you touch throughout your life will touch you also. From some you learn patience, from some you gain strength, others give you independence. Relationships, both romantic and platonic, give you the building blocks to become the person you are meant to be.

This is represented by The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Ask anybody who has read the book and they will probably say it is definitely a romance. The story focuses on Hazel Grace, a teenage girl diagnosed with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She struggles with her mortality, worried her parents will not be able to cope after her death. Hazel pushes people away because she knows they will be hurt when she dies. She meets a boy named Augustus Waters, who has osteosarcoma. He is cancer-free after a leg amputation. In contrast to Hazel’s internalization of her fears, Augustus wants to make his mark on the world. He fears oblivion and wants to be remembered. (Remember my spoiler alert warning at the beginning of this article? Take heed!) A logical conclusion to this book would be Hazel’s death. John Green, however, rips our hearts out. Augustus’s cancer returns and he dies.

Does anybody have a tissue? I have dust in my eye. Yeah, dust in my eye.

This is a romance book? Where is the miracle cancer cure for both Hazel and Augustus? When is the doctor going to rush in and say, ‘Oops! We made a mistake. He’s not dead, just in a temporary coma!’ Where is the Happily Ever After?

It is there, just not in the traditional sense. Hazel’s love for Augustus helps her realize she has been living in a shell. Her parents will be sad when she dies, but it is because they love her. She impacted their lives. She made her mark on the world. So did Augustus.

Seriously, a tissue? Anybody?

So does a romance have to end happily ever after? Some people will still emphatically shout YES! Nothing else will do! I used to be one of those people. The longer I live and the more I learn, however, I find I am changing my opinion. Or rather, I am changing my definition of Happily Ever After.

You have to live and learn in your life, but most important you must love. Love is the glue that will get you past sickness, heartache, stress, or anxiety. Romantic love between two people, love between parents and children, love for your best friends.

Just open your heart and let love in. That way you can live your own Happily Ever After, whatever that may be.

Writing prompt – I love prompts that can go in a hundred different directions. Here is my idea: The note wasn’t signed. It simply said ‘Meet me. You know where.’

Click to tweet: Does a romance have to end happily ever after? Cammi Woodall of the Inspired Prompt Crew shares her views. #romance #amwriting

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

By Tammy Trail

Valentine’s Day is just days away. Have you gotten your sweetheart a gift yet? I have done a bit of research on the history of Valentine’s Day. It is rooted in a pagan holiday that ensured fertility.

Roman Emperor, Claudius II ruled that young men in the Army were to remain unmarried. He felt that this would make single men more aggressive in the field of battle. The Emperor put a young cleric by the name of Valentine to death for secretly marrying young couples.  Valentine was later made a Saint by Pope Gelasius and given the date of February 14th to celebrate Saint Valentine.

In the 13th Century, it was synonymous with love and romance because it was believed that this was the beginning of mating season for birds.

In the 15th Century, written valentines were given to sweethearts.

In the 17th Century, valentines were exchanged between those who were smitten with one another.

In 1840, the first mass-produced valentines appeared in the United States. Valentine’s Day is the second most popular card giving occasion. It is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark, Italy, and Japan.

As a child, I remember my mother scouring the house for shoe boxes to be made into valentine mail boxes to decorate for my desk at school. There would be a party, of course, with lots of good treats. After school, you would open your box and read the paper gifts of admiration your classmates gave to you.

I have tried in years past to make my own valentines to give to family members and friends. Last year I made these for my grandsons.

I filled the little sack with treats. They really enjoyed getting a valentine from their Mimi!

I am already diligently looking for options for this year. You may find it just as rewarding to make your own as well. I find a great source of inspiration with Pinterest. What a treasure trove of ideas!

Whether you make your own, or buy a card for that special someone, I believe it’s a good holiday to celebrate. Who doesn’t like candy? And you will make mate, child, or friend feel important with a valentine that you especially picked out for them. You can never go wrong by making people feel loved and important.

For the writer, especially the romance writer, Valentine’s Day is a reminder of why we put words to paper. That boy meets girl stuff is what makes the story, especially when they lived happily ever after.

So, in keeping with that thought! Here is my valentine for all of you.

  1. Writing Prompt: Jessica expected a great big box of heart-shaped candy.  What she found was……..?

Click to tweet: Romance is #alive https://ctt.ec/53mP6

The Inspired Prompt Crew and Romance Novels

Romance novels. Some are good reads but easily forgettable. Some are too formula-bound, others too, shall we say, revealing? There is nothing like a romance novel that holds you spell-bound to the end, loving the settings, characters, and story line. If the story is good enough and timeless, you’ll often find a movie to go along with it.

When it comes to the Inspired Prompt Crew, you might wonder about our favorite romance novel. We’re so glad you asked. Some of our Crew members share their thoughts…

Click to tweet: The Inspired Prompt Crew shares their favorite #romance novels. You might be surprised. #amreading

Harriet Michael

When asked my favorite romance book, my answer comes swiftly, without reluctance—”Lorna Doone”!

I first read “Lorna Doone” as a missionary kid growing up in Africa. We were homeschooled using the Calvert Course curriculum. Back then, and perhaps still, they have elementary students read a child’s abridged version of this classic novel. It made my heart skip and set my mind dancing. For weeks after reading it, my friends and I pretended to be the beautiful Lorna.

A few years ago, I decided to read the original version. It’s a bit challenging since it was written in 1869 and uses very old English terms. In fact, there is one brief section written in the servant’s voice which I had serious trouble reading, so I learned to skim over them. Those parts were only a small section of the book and the rest was much easier to read, especially once I got used to it. (I recommended it to my daughter who also loved it and seemed to have less trouble with those parts. I’ve always known my daughter was smarter than I.)

Author R.D. Blackmore weaves a wonderful story about John Ridd whose father was slain by the Doones, a lawless clan living in wild Exmoor in the seventeenth century. Ridd manages to meet and then fall in love with the beautiful Lorna Doone. They become secret playmates as children and true loves as they mature. The plot is masterful! I highly recommend it to all romance readers, especially if they are also writers. Read this book and learn plot and character development from one of the Masters!

Gail Johnson

When asked for the names of my all-time favorite romance stories,  the first two that leap to mind is Redeeming Love and Pearl in the Sand. In Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers transports her reader to a California gold rush town where she shares the story of Michael (Hosea) and Angel (Gomer).

Tessa Afshar’s, Pearl in the Sand is a fictional tale of the harlot, Rahab. Afshar skillfully depicts Rahab’s struggles, her deliverance,  and her marriage to Salmone, a Hebrew leader. Both are filled with truth and symbolism of God’s forgiveness and love for his people.

Cammi Woodall 

I read a lot of romance books. A lot. My mother started me out on Grace Livingston Hill and Barbara Cartland. As I grew, I devoured series by Jane Austen, Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, and Kathleen Woodiwiss. That’s why my choice of my favorite romance book is… odd.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz is not a typical romance book by any means. The book focuses on the character of Odd Thomas, a fry cook in the small desert town of Pico Mundo, California, who spends his days flipping pancakes and grilling hamburgers. It is a simple life but one he revels in, because Odd has an unusual ability.

He can see dead people. Any time a spirit cannot pass over, they are drawn to this young man. Much of the novel focuses on Odd’s attempts to solve murders and help these spirits so they can go forward to the next great adventure.

The one thing ‘normal’ about his life is his relationship with Stormy Llewellyn. Stormy comes from an abusive childhood but finds the strength to call the authorities and save herself. The two young people share a chaste love and a deep bond. At a local carnival, they see a gypsy fortune teller machine. Each couple in front of them receives bad messages, but they decide to try their luck anyway. They receive a small white card with a decorative border  embossed with the words “You are destined to be together forever.” They both smile, because they already know this.

The novel culminates in a gruesome mall shootout. After disarming the gunmen and disabling a bomb, Odd is badly wounded. During his hospital stay and recovery, Stormy never leaves his side. The two laugh, talk, watch TV, and recuperate, healing both wounds and spirits together. After a few days, Odd’s friends come to tell him the truth, something he has known the whole time but refused to acknowledge. This truth sets the stage for the rest of the books.

This is where the ‘romance’ angle of the book veers away from the normal formula. Stormy and Odd are not together at the end of this book. I won’t go into the details but I do recommend you read the story. I warn you though – you will fall in love with Odd and his eclectic assortment of friends.

The ‘end’ of Odd’s relationship with Stormy is defining, as it sends Odd on a long, spiritual voyage. Koontz summarized it as follows: “You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything; it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

In the end, Odd leaves Pico Mundo. He has no intentions of disrespecting Stormy’s gift of life, but he does not think he yet deserves to spend eternity with his girl. So he heads out into the world to confront his grief and help in whatever way he can. By confronting evil and the woes of humanity, he will struggle through this boot camp of life so he can be with Stormy. After all, they are destined to be together forever.

There are seven books in the Odd Thomas series, with two smaller novellas. The last book, Saint Odd, was published in 2015. I will make a confession. I have only read 5 ½ of the books. I cannot make myself finish the series because I am afraid it won’t end the way I want.

I adore the characters of Odd Thomas and Stormy Llewellyn. The stories are all first person, so it feels like Odd and I are on the front porch watching the sunset while we sip sweet tea. He regales the reader with his humorous, insightful, self-deprecating views on life and the follies/evil we all encounter. He has become a dear friend and I want his story to end gloriously.

He and Stormy are destined to be together forever. I won’t settle for anything less.

And when you read romance or write romance, you shouldn’t settle for anything less either. If writing, use vibrant characters, a good plot line, and a love that goes above and beyond the story itself. If reading, let the story carry you. Root for love and “boo” at the evil. Enjoy the book in your hand.

Maybe one day you can see the movie…

 

1st Saturday Extra: Why I Write Romance

By Janie Winsell

I have always been an avid reader of fiction. I was born with heart problems and barely escaped open-heart surgery as a newborn. Because of my health issues, my mom had to keep an eye on my exertion and stress.

If I ran too much or got upset, my lips would turn blue, and my mom had to figure out ways to quiet me down—enter books. Mom found that reading to me calmed me down the quickest. I fell in love with the stories of princesses finding their princes and the adventurous journeys that brought them together.

When I wasn’t reading about two people falling in love, I created my own stories with my Barbie dolls. I would practice the storyline and then put on plays for my family.

As I grew up, I exchanged my Barbie plays for V.C. Andrews and Maureen Daly books. I never really dated in high school, but I had wonderful book boyfriends. They were gorgeous and sweet, thoughtful and protective. It raised my expectations for the type of guy I wanted to date.

I love bringing couples together. The magic of that first kiss—the moment the heroine knows the hero’s her soul mate drives me. Every story that I write opens my eyes to a new aspect of love in its purest form.

Love is so much more than physical attraction. It’s calling someone up at midnight because you’re worried about an important meeting at work the next day. It’s that person talking you down and calming your nerves enough that you’re able to relax and sleep. It’s forgiveness when we mess up. Love means knowing someone cares about what happens to you.

I think in this world, love has become a word to get something from someone. A child asks their parent, “How much do you love me?” They follow this by whatever toy or electronic device they want. A guy tells a girl he loves her so much he can’t wait for marriage, and if she loves him back, she’ll sleep with him. A Christian tells God they love Him followed by a laundry list of things they want, and if He’ll just provide these items, they’ll know He loves them.

That’s not love. That’s not romance.

I want people reading my stories to know God’s love through human interaction. My hope is that they see God’s love in how the heroine treats the hero and vice versa. I want them to read my stories and realize that they’re worthy of that type of unconditional love.

I write Romance because it’s my calling. It’s my way of sharing God’s love.

Writing Prompt: Write a story about the couple in the picture above. Forget cliche. Try to think of a twist to make it different.

Click to tweet: “Every story that I write opens my eyes to a new aspect of love in its purest form.” Why I Write Romance by Janie Winsell #romance #ValentinesDay


Janie Winsell is a Christian author who writes Contemporary Women’s fiction, Romance, and Romantic Suspense. She received her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. She is a member of ACFW and active in the critique main loop.
She writes about real Christians who, like the world, are not perfect, but through God’s love and discipline, they learn the lessons needed to grow in their relationship with their Heavenly Father as well as with each other.