Recently I came upon a couple interesting recipes.
The first one calls for 1 ½ oz. of cinnamon, 1 oz. of burnt alum, and the toughest ingredient to put your hands on was 1 ½ oz. of dragons blood. I suppose you simply mixed well before using.
The second recipe calls for 2 spoonfuls of the best honey, a pinch of green sage and 1 oz. of myrrh (the fine powdered variety rather than, I’m supposing, the unground sort).
The third recipe requires 1 oz. cream of tartar, 15 drops of clover oil (and I would suspect it takes one heck of a lot of clover to make up one drop much less 15!), 2 oz. cuttlefish bone (courtesy of last night’s dinner?), and 2 drachms drop lake (whatever that is). One then powders each ingredient (which seems to imply that the lake dried up), mixes it then shifts it? Like from a flour shifter or more from the table to where one wishes to use it? The recipe doesn’t say.
All three of these are recipes for substances to brush your teeth with. The second and third are 19th century mixes but the first comes from around 1780, which I find surprising because I didn’t think there were any dragons around yet in that era. Wouldn’t the British have used them to best those revolting Americans, maybe sunk George Washington’s boat before it ever got far enough away from shore for the painter to set to recording his crossing of the Delaware?
I digress. Apparently I’ve also been reading too much fantasy and alternative history tales and my muse is tainted now.
What’s the point in all of this? Probably that research is a dangerous thing. Particularly for those of us who can easily get swept up in it…yes, “Hi, my name is Beth and I have a research addiction.”
This is good – considering I write historical related fiction -- and this is bad – because I’m supposed to be writing historical related fiction, not collecting recipes I certainly will never use. Although, Naomi Novik did toss dragonkind into the Napoleonic Wars, so backtracking to using them in the Revolutionary War might not be that farfetched – not that original either, considering her Tremeraire books do very nicely.
The trick, you see, is reigning back to accomplishing only the research you NEED to do and stop having too darn much fun collecting what basically falls into a trivia category because chances are you won’t be using it in a story.
This doesn’t merely apply to those of us who write history related tales (be they actual historicals, alternative history fiction, or fantasy related – legendary or folk lore beings being historical in their own way). No, it applies to other things you might need when detailing a character’s profession or the town or area of the world in which you set the story. Little things like making sure your characters don’t drive the wrong way on a one way street, and are driving on the correct side of the road, at that.
Fortunately for writers of contemporary fiction, answers are just a few clicks away.
Oddly enough, they are for the writers of historicals, too. Just a blink of an eye ago (in cosmos time) research took forever and it frequently required travel to specific libraries. Well, naturally, there are still some things that require that sort of travel but every day more and more items arrive on the Internet (like maps – I love old maps), and that makes research far easier.
And dangerously addicting, too. When I spent all that time with my head in books or scrolling through microfiche, it never entered my mind to wonder how long products for brushing your teeth were around. Now I know – the Chinese invented the modern toothbrush between 1498 and 1600. Probably depended on what configuration of bristles you preferred, although given the choice I’m not sure whether I would have rushed out and purchased something that used the hairs of pigs pasted on bamboo sticks or on the bones of yesterday’s chicken chow mein. Still, by 1780 the Chinese system had reached England. That means there was a big search on for dragons blood, right?
Think I’ll set the dial on my time machine (when it comes it – backordered, you see) to return home when it comes to dental hygiene. While I may give thanks for the conveniences of the modern world personally, I don’t intend to allow my historical characters the same option. They might need to come up with a better sounding recipe for toothpaste than I did though.
Beth Daniels, aka Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane
Frequent Savvy workshop presenter Beth Daniels will be seen roaming the website hallways frequently in August with two 4-week workshops in progress. PUZZLING OUT THE NECESSARY BITS is an adventure in deconstructing other books in the genre you’ve targeted to find out what the repeated themes or elements are and where things can go off on your own tangent…and how far off is too far off, at that. STORY SENSE, STORY LOGIC is an exercise in understanding sequence in a plot and how to help your reader buy into the “reality” of the story. Both workshops work with the basics, in other words, and how to build on them.
Beth herself is hard at work finally finishing the Steampunk novel she’s been working on…well, it seems like forever since life keeps interrupting the flow. While this is her first adventure into extreme alternative history, she’s been putting characters through their hoops for 22 years now and has 28 novels, 2 non-fiction titles, and a host of articles about writing fiction plus a couple of short stories that have all brought in a few bucks along the way. Visit her at www.RomanceAndMystery.com
A good book should never go out of print, should it? And yet they do just that. Doesn't mean they can't be brought back -- particularly if the story is one of the author's favorites. That's AT TWILIGHT for me. When it was originally released by Leisure back in 2004 Romantic Times' reviewer said: At Twilight is a powerful, unforgettable story—a western that’s at once tender and gritty, passionate and exciting, with a climax that will both shock and uplift. It comes alive with historical details and offers readers a journey of the heart." It's Texas 1868, there's a posse after the hero, and the heroine is on the run with a baby on her hip. Need I say more?
Buy link: www.amazon.com/AT-TWILIGHT-ebook/dp/B0047T7ooA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325464369&sr=1-1