This morning on the Best Selling Reads blog I wrote about the methods I use and references I find valuable for creating a sense of time in my writing. As someone who reads all sorts of books—there is no particular genre I find all that compelling—I sometimes come across a story that purports to be set in a particular time and place but as I read I find it either inauthentic or riddled with cliches. The success of Diana Gabledon's Outlander books (which are excellent) prompted a rash of “Highlander” romances, most of which are not. Even when historical details are only the background to a story, that background has to ring true.
Recently I have been interested in Presidential biographies—I wrote about that in my last blog post. I finished reading Theodore Roosevelt's and last night began Thomas Jefferson's. The first thing that struck me was how differently those two men—both brilliant but separated by a century—used language. I am only a few pages into Jefferson's book but the writing is dry, flat, and definitely a challenge to read. If I were to write about that period for contemporary readers, I certainly would not imitate Jefferson's style but it is good to know that there are strong differences.
Another charming reference source I've come across is an online project to catalog and digitize historic American cookbooks called Feeding America. I'm finding this a fascinating resource. What is more prevalent in the lives of any characters than food? As I am working on my new cycle of Marienstadt stories—two of which are set in the mid-eighteenth century—I find myself constantly searching to learn what my characters would eat, how they would dress, what books they might have read, how they traveled, what jobs they might have.
Kindle owners can download at no charge The Whitehouse Cookbook (1887) Cooking, Toilet and Household Recipes, Menus, Dinner-Giving, Table Etiquette, Care of the Sick, Health Suggestions, Facts ... Cyclopedia of Information for the Home which is packed with details that I have been finding useful.
The truth is I love to write and love writing in a way that not only amuses and entertains the reader but which also lets them feel they have entered another time and place. I view good books as little vacations—means of getting away and viewing life from a fresh perspective. Nothing makes me happier than a book that I can slip into and get away from it all for awhile so as a writer, that is often my goal—to give my readers that experience. Resources that make it possible to improve that experience are immeasurably valuable to me.
Thanks for reading.