notes for cabinet particulier, part i

maudefealy
Maude Fealy, American actress, circa 1901

Dear Internet,

I spent most of last week working on my book by scraping most of my original notes, reworking some plot points, researching down rabbit holes, outlining the first six chapters, and taking copious new notes. I reactivated my Tumblr/Pinterest accounts for the book for inspiration and historical note taking as well as started a Pinboard bundle for other links of research/interest/do-not-forgets.

I am insanely curious of how other people approach their writing habits/research/thought process, even more so on topics of specific interest to me. When I come across these works of fictional interest and there is no research notes, thoughts, or the only comment is something along the lines of “well-researched/heavily researched,” I am suspicious. I am, at heart, a librarian after all and part of my job is to verify the authority of a work. Example: I was looking for other titles in my time period and came across a soon to be released YA title of interest by someone who lived in England for numerous years and showed horses/was a horse trainer. The book has nothing to do with horses, but is about a young girl who is breaks free from social ties to go to art school. Early reviews have been hugely favorable on the work and much of the commentary notes how heavily researched and accurate to the period the book is. Fabulous! Good to know! But where did this person get all their research from since the only bio background they provided was they trained horses and lived in England? Why is there not a bibliography page or something of note to let readers wander through related interests on their own, even on their website?

[Addendum: Krazy Kate, once when we got into a heated debate about Dan Brown, said the whole reason she adored Dan Brown was that he had a bibliography at the end of each book. I have to grudgingly give the man props.]

I purposefully made the conscious effort to keep track of all my research, online and off, for this specific complaint. It keeps me better organized and I know others are looking for the same research so why not keep make it freely available?

My specific interest for the book is 1890s – 1915 or thereabouts, with the main action to take place sometime between 1907-11 England. Depending on the geography, this period is referred to the Gilded Age (US), Edwardian (UK), or Belle Époque (France) with Art Nouveau and Modernism filling in the edges.

I love this period for its swift social, cultural, and technology changes. It was important to me to have a time that I could play with and bend to my will, that things my character do are not so far removed from modernity as we know it, but new enough to raise an eyebrow or two in the time the books are being written. Motor cars, electricity, telephones, indoor plumbing, bicycles, public transportation, portable photography –  the list goes on of the number of things that we take for granted every day but were all coming of age during this period. I wanted my main protagonist to have the latest and greatest but have it still have new enough that it would be considered. I wanted to specifically concentrate before the First World War or even before the Titanic sinks. I wanted the real world to still have a touch of innocence to her before all the chaos of the 20th century takes its hold.

My main protagonist is an American stage actress living in London who makes a modest living and occasionally gets close to being famous except for one thing: She has massive stage fright. She gets such anxiety over public speaking, which has gotten worse as she gets older, she’s barely able to support herself. She is beyond beautiful (Maude Fealy is one of my female inspirations), but she’s getting a little long in the tooth for this acting business and frankly, she’s a bit bored with it all. She has lived a bohemian life (married numerous times our girl has and also counts numerous women of note in her conquests), but she wants something more. She is bestowed a Kodak Brownie from one of her admirers and everything changes.

I wanted her to be “other” enough (American, living/working in England, going against societal rules) that some of her actions would not seem out of line with her personality but with enough toes in the formality of the period to not be rejected from “those who matter.” I imagine it would not be too difficult of a  stretch for her to have dinner with Arthur Conan Doyle, be escorted to a ball given by P.G. Wodehouse, or flirt with Henry James. The working title, Cabinet Particulier, is Edwardian slang to refer to a private rooms, usually in restaurants, where men would meet their mistresses. I liked the sly side wink of the context and the infinite possibilities of the suggestion.

When I got the idea of the book in the summer of 2012, I thought it would be a good idea to research everything from class and behaviour, to theater of the period, even make up and shopping . I also thought it might be a good idea to read authors written in the era and downloaded whatever I could from Amazon (or Project Gutenberg) of  works from G.K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and so on. Contemporary authors writing fiction in the period are slim, namely as many pick up with the First World War and go forward, or they skip over the Edwardian age by calling it high Victorian and wrap everything under a single bow. I’m half way through Sick of Shadows, the third book the M.C. Beaton Edwardian series, which has been great for research as I’ve been keeping tabs of slang, behaviours, and other things of interest. I’ve also started a list of future reads over at Amazon as I find them.

As always, any suggestions for authors / blogs / interest, please don’t hesitate to pass them along!

x0x0,
Lisa

This day in Lisa-Universe: 2011