Every author struggles with that question. Even the sweetest romance needs a setting, background, or stability to move the story along. Those like me, who write within a specific time frame, dig much deeper. Whether it’s a specific landmark, a restaurant, hotel, or mode of transportation, you must have the right information to make your story real to your readers.
Guess what? I love research. I know, who of us liked remembering all those dates and names when we were in school. But today, it’s one of the best parts of starting a new story. Originally, with the Pinkerton Man series, I spent a lot of time researching where and how the Pinkerton Agency began. Finding where their offices were located during the early 1900s offered me a wide array of directions to where my characters' stories would take them. This research included which trains traveled to the west and how long did it take to get from one city to another. Did you know that in 1902, a train traveling from St. Louis to Kansas City to Cheyenne took two weeks?
Research for another book allowed me to discover that Delmonico’s, a famous steak restaurant, actually existed in 1906 in New York City. I also learned that the streets in New York were a mess of horse-drawn vehicles and mobile vehicles. The street was unpaved, and the horses had to be cleaned up after.
In another series, research and some help from a retired fire chief helped me discover that the cause of a fire that I had planned, would actually work. It would definitely bring down the building!
A story for me is in those types of details. Finding them and making them true in the stories I write is important to me. When the details are right, a reader feels immersed in the story. He or she can see the character walking down that street in New York. Hear the sounds of the vehicles, horses, and crowds walking by.
That doesn’t mean that historically correct reads are lacking in romance or erotic instances. In fact, the detail of a bedroom or a dark alley can make the romance even better. It brings a realness to the intimate things happening between two characters.
I remember the times I spent hours in the library doing research for some school report. I hated it. Today we have Google©. Thought a trip to the library happens once in a while. Sometimes, I find an overload of information when looking online. It makes for a lot of extra time to sort through it all. Did you know that the Lusitania could cross the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool in less than eight days? I had no idea.
The next time you pick up a book, watch for those little details. The things that make the characters' situations come to life for you. Was it the mention of a street name, a city’s location, the wallpaper in the bedroom, or china cup someone used that sucked you into the story and made it real for you? That’s probably because the author did his or her research.
C.J. Baty writes gay romance/historical/mysteries as well as gay contemporary romance.
Listen to C.J. Baty's podcast episode here.