Research is a funny thing. Everyone does it differently. Some use internet, some libraries. Some, like my critique partner, Karyn Witmer-Gow, fondle original journals like small infants. For the longest time, I felt completely unworthy of the task. I don't do non-fiction very well. My eyes glaze at the first foot note, and I get lost in a time period. I once tried to write a WWII romance and ended up, six months later, trying to figure out how I could fit the Treaty of Versaille into the action on the day Hitler invaded Poland, because of course, one was directly related to the other.
The problem is, no character is going to stop running from Stuka fighter planes long enough to say, “Well, you know, if we just hadn't signed that blasted treaty that stripped Germany of its dignity, we wouldn't be in this position.” So I put my desire to write historical fiction away with all my research away for a time I could use a bit more discipline.
Yes, the internet did change everything. Now I can check the phase of the moon the night of Waterloo and the tides at Lyme Regis. I still have a tendency to get lost, but I'm slowly training myself to rein in the obsession. The other thing I realized which made all the difference in the world, was that I am a global learner. I'm the kid who annoyed the teachers and scared museum security by wanting to play with everything. I don't just learn visually, but audibly and tactily. I have to smell it and taste it and roll around with it if I can.
Which brings me to the most wonderful thing I learned about research. If I save my pennies and my husband's frequent flier points, I can actually go walk the places I write about. I can smell and taste and listen and see the same sights my characters did. Oh, not exactly. Nothing in this world stays the same—except maybe Venice. But close enough that I can imagine the rest.
So here I am in Lyme Regis watching the clouds skim Golden Cap and the sea snarl its way to shore. I can smell the damp and see the fresh spring green and hear the endless symphony of seagulls as they laugh and chatter and scold their way along the rocky beach. I can hear the same from the people who meander along the steep, winding streets. I even walked the cliffs to the west of town where my heroine Sarah Clarke lives on her husband's small estate, and actually found the very farm she will be protecting from his evil cousin. I found the route my hero Ian Ferguson will take to escape the soldiers that hunt him for allegedly shooting at the Duke of Wellington. And I found the post office where Sarah mails a fateful letter that sets terrible events into motion. It is, coincidentally, the same post office in Lyme Regis, where Jane Austen mailed her letters.
The land isn't quite what I expected. I thought that cliff edges would look like Ireland, with green quilted pastureland snipped off at cliffs like a ragged hem. But here, where the cliffs are ancient limestone that has hidden away the treasure of fossils, the land crumbles easily, settles and reforms. It is untidy and overgrown and thick with brambles and ivy and ferns. The sheep who survive on these disordered lands are hardy and bold, jumping from one hillock to another like acrobats. And there is mud everywhere.
But I knew the minute I saw it that this was my Fairbourne, ragged edges and all. Because when I approached from the road, there were a set of pillars where the gate should be, topped with the kind of ornate statues the Italians love to stick on everything. It betrayed a certain arrogance when coupled with this landscape, as if the owner were saying, “You can't overcome us. We are special.”
In the world of Fairbourne, the family is certainly unique. What the men didn't gamble away they gave away in an effort to keep the ladies from knowing their dire circumstances. What those women spend their time on is pretending that the world is just the way they wish it. One paints the flora and fauna of the neighborhood. One plays piano and pretends she's going back to her select girl's academy. Only one is dealing with reality, because she has to. It is why she was brought here. It is why she stays.
She has nowhere else to go. Her name is Sarah Clarke, and she is the bastard child of a high-ranking aristocrat who arranged her marriage to give her a home and her husband some help. But her husband has yet to return from the battle of Waterloo. And when she finds an injured Ian Ferguson on her property, all that could be forfeited. Worse, her very life could be forfeit. Ian Ferguson, after all, is wanted for treason. It's just Sarah's continuing bad luck that he decided to rest on her land.
I know where that land is, now. And how hard it will be for Ian to get away.
Isn't research fun?
NY Times Bestselling, award-winning author, Eileen Dreyer, and her evil twin, Kathleen Korbel, have between them accounted for 37 books and 8 short stories in romance, suspense, paranormal and now, historical romance. A lifelong resident of St. Louis, the ex-trauma nurse has taken only twenty years to fall in love with research and the effect it has on any book.
Eileen will be releasing, for the first time in ebook, five of her suspense titles beginning with A MAN TO DIE FOR on July 20th, 2012.
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