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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Research: A Love Story

By guest blogger Pam Rosenthal.

My husband Michael has always participated in my writing. He’s done some writing and editing himself, and before I began writing historical romance, I was glad to have him as first and most astute reader of my reviews, essays, and erotica.

Michael's a bookseller. An old-school, independent, brick-and-mortar bookseller, he reads what he sells, sells what he loves, and could no sooner accept money from a publisher for front-of-the-store display space than commit grand larceny. He's the kind of bookseller who remembers what his customers have read last, and knows -- sometimes better than they do -- what they might want to read next.

So if my husband’s been my most astute reader, I've been among his most eager customers -- and even better, I get home delivery. Which made it more or less inevitable, I suppose, that when Michael suggested I might be interested in Robert Darnton's The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, I fairly grabbed the book out of his hands.

Reading this brilliant and entertaining account of how French booksellers sold smuggled works of Enlightenment philosophy and erotic entertainment to a readership hungry for social change was like discovering a hidden history, both of my husband's trade as a socially-committed bookseller and mine as an erotic writer. A world opened up, exciting me so profoundly that I found myself moved to write (of all things) a romance novel, The Bookseller's Daughter, about a bookseller (she) and an erotic writer (he).

Michael was astonished, amused, and helpful as ever. He’d never read a romance novel, but throughout the writing of Bookseller’s Daughter and Almost a Gentleman he proved a tough and honest critic – especially of my synopses (you can read his wry, sly observations about synopsis writing here).

It was only when I began The Slightest Provocation, and tried setting a book in the British countryside during the dark, tumultuous, famine-ridden years after Waterloo, I realized that I needed help with more than my synopses.

Because the political situation in Post-Waterloo Britain is a tough nut to crack, especially if you take on domestic espionage as I did. My first try at a spy hero wasn't working; I needed to figure out why. And I needed to figure out a few more things as well, like:

Who were the spies, anyway, that the Home Office was sending out to infiltrate the reform societies that were springing up over the countryside and to foment rebellion?

What did the reform societies want?

And, for that matter, what exactly was the Home Office hoping to accomplish by suspending the venerable principle of habeas corpus and thereby giving themselves leave to imprison British citizens without charges?

I needed to embark upon a systematic study of a confused historical period and the confusing policies of the fierce, frightened faction that held government power at the time. Gulp.

"Michael?" I called softly.

"Help!" I bellowed.

And so, ungracefully, we became a research-and-writing partnership.

And although you can probably guess which of us made more thorough use of the library catalogs, together we collected an impressive set of borrowing privileges. We got our other best-beloved involved in the project as well. England's Last Revolution: Pentrich 1817, by John Stevens seems only to exist in two libraries in the Western hemisphere. But with his sharp bookseller's eye, Michael knew that this was the book we most needed. He located one of those copies, and our graduate student son Jesse was able to borrow it for us.

All of this research into the political situation helped me rethink my hero. Kit Stansell was no longer a spy, but a veteran of the Napoleonic wars who hopes to work in the Home Office, just when the Home Office was sending provocateurs to the countryside. Witnessing the real events of 1817, Kit and his estranged wife Mary begin to realize what’s going on and do what they can to stop it. (Well, they stop the made-up part of the events in my book, anyway -- since sadly, my made-up characters and I couldn't stop real historical tragedies from happening). And as my contentious hero and heroine battle their way to reconciling their marriage, I allowed them to try to make sense of some of the real correspondence cited in the Stevens book, which Michael and I read on microfiche during our trip to the British National Archives in Kew, just outside of London.

Which brings me to the best part of keeping research in the family: the research vacations... or holidays, as you'll call them if they take you to Britain. The day we spent reading the Home Office correspondence at the Archives remains a cherished memory, which you can read more about in my post at the wonderful History Hoydens blog.

And you can also read more here, about our walks through field and forest and over stiles in the part of Derbyshire where The Slightest Provocation is set. We'd planned to rent a car, but we wound up hiking and taking buses because the Derbyshire bus drivers were so chatty and helpful and it was so nice not to have to worry about driving on "that" side of the road -- plus we didn't quarrel, as we usually do when it turns out I've been reading the road map upside down.

Actually, we almost did quarrel, one sunny day when we couldn't find the walking path trail to Pentrich, when I thought Michael might have asked for more directions... as though a man ever asks for directions when he gets lost. But that was good too, because it served as the inspiration for the dark and rainy night when Kit and Mary get lost, and Kit doesn't ask directions... but you can read all about it in The Slightest Provocation.

While as for my next book, The Edge of Impropriety, forthcoming in November?

Well, this one's a romance between another of my brainy pairs of lovers, a popular novelist of the late 1820s and a scholar/adventurer/collector of classical antiquities. Which demanded I learn quite a bit about the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum, and the themes of eros, esthetics, and empire... a process that began in earnest (but by now you see how this goes), the evening Michael brought home a wonderful, provocative book called Erotikon: Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Edge it when it comes out in November. Isn't the cover lovely?

And thanks for having me, Noodlers, and for allowing me to share my gratitude to my lifetime partner in creating love stories.

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At 9:52 AM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Wonderful piece, Pam. I love the idea of the Nick and Nora Charles-type research team.
I think it's interesting too that your ideas stem (mainly) from books. I wrote Forbidden Shores after reading Hochschild's book about the British abolitionist movement, Bury The Chains.
Does anyone else want to tell us about their research partner?

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Pam, that cover is pretty enough to smite the unwary eye. I look forward to taking a virtual vacation by reading all your adventures!

I'm so happy to have your books brought to my attention. I love history, and history featuring the role books play is the best! Thanks, Janet, for inviting Pam here!

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad you like the cover, Esri, and hope you enjoy reading more about my adventures and those of my characters.

And yes, thanks to Janet for inviting me. Though, hmmm, Nick and Nora -- well, if you can imagine a pair of bookish unreconstructed hippies as Hammett's boozy, glamorous detective duo, I'm all for it. ;-}

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I'm very impressed with your husband helping you with your research, and I have to agree with Esri--the cover is gorgeous!

At 12:58 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I'm impressed with the cover AND with the research assistant hubby, but your description of the two of you made me smile. You are so lucky to have such a great research relationship.

With the expense of research books, my critique partner and I (we both write Regency) are trying to make sure we don't buy the same books. Combined we are well on our way to a great Regency research library.

Any books you want to recommend, Pam?

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Ooh, good question, Doglady.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Does Michael have a single brother?

Great blog, Pam. I'm totally envious of your having such an avid critiquer, astut researcher, and all-around great guy.


At 2:20 PM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

doglady (who's also another Pamela) and Esri: As to research books, there are so many, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be Ellen Moers's The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, to my mind shockingly neglected by Regency romance writers. You can get similar information other places, but the more I read the other sources, the more impressed I become by Moers's wit and judgment. And I also like the idea that she follows the dandy-ist state of across the Channel and through the century. It was, of course, the inspiration for Almost a Gentleman, but I used it a lot for my forthcoming The Edge of Impropriety.

Out of print, sadly, but not too hard to find, I think -- I got mine years ago from Daedelus.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I meant "dandy-ist state of mind" of course.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Gosh, Pam, liked everyone else, I love your cover and wouldn't mind at all having a research-helping husband. What fun you two must have on your writing adventures together. Your books sound wonderful. Thanks for coming today and sharing.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Michele Ann Young said...

Your research assistant is worth his weight in gold. Actually, I have to brag a little, my dh accompanies me everywhere we go in England, even the V & A which surprised me this last time, but he sticks to being driver, camera finder, package holder and general timekeeper (because I get stuck taking notes ad nauseum).

I have taken note of both the books you recommend. Thanks so much for that and for your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your books,
Best wishes


At 5:20 PM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the congratulations, folks, on cover and spouse both.

And doglady, special thanks for the comment that I made you smile. Doesn't get much better than that for a writer, does it?

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

s to research books, there are so many, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be Ellen Moers's The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, to my mind shockingly neglected by Regency romance writers

I'm in awe of your research, Pam! And I've never heard of Ellen Moers's book. Now I'm on the search for it.

I fully support a research vacation, the very best kind, especially if it is in England. Amanda and I still talk about our England trip with a whole group of researchers.

Thanks for being a guest blogger!

At 10:14 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I just ordered my copy of the Moers book from Abe Books, O Divine One, along with The London Encyclopedia you recommended. I believe they had a number of copies of the Moers book. I LOVE research books!

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Don't be awed, Diane, I'm a research bumbler and stumbler, luckily doing it hand in hand with somebody I love and can communicate with -- but when life really gets good, it gets like... a research vacation.

And oh that's great, doglady, that you found The Dandy -- hope you enjoy it!

And thanks again, Diane, Janet, and Noodlers, for having me here today.

At 12:20 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I was one of the searchers for Dandy, O Doggie One! I bought mine through Amazon - the used books (I know. I know. they are the devil but there's nothing like a used book site when a book is out of print!)

Pam, give your hubby a kiss from all of us. If he cooks and changes kitty litter he might just be the perfect man....except I think Todd has that title....or at least that is what Todd tells us!

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

He cooks. Fabulously. If I ever invite you to dinner make sure it's onhis night.

But as for the kitty litter... hmmm... we're running a close race there for last.

I'll leave the field to Todd, I think. ;-}


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