This week instead of talking about what I've researched lately, I'm going to say a little about why I research, and my goals when I sit down to write historical fiction.
I know there are readers and writers out there who love historical fiction, especially historical romance, for what I'll call the "once upon a time" factor. For them it's not so much about 1315 or 1815 or 1865 as escaping to a world unlike ours, and probably one with better clothes and manners and far more hot single dukes.
I get the appeal of that, I really do. And I hope that anyone who picks up my books looking for an escape gets it. I always try to provide a full dose of romance and adventure. Granted, I haven't written a hot single duke yet, but I like to think Will of The Sergeant's Lady could hold his own in more aristocratic company. (Way before I sold, I used to pitch the book to my friends as "Nathan Fillion in a Rifle uniform, ammirite?!") And A Marriage of Inconvenience has a viscount who looks a bit like Ian Somerhalder.
But as both a reader and a writer, I'm not looking for "once upon a time." (Not in a historical novel anyway. It's just right for certain kinds of fantasy.) If the logline atop Chapter One says "1815," I want it to BE 1815. I write Regency/Napoleonic era because I'm fascinated by all the upheaval of that specific quarter century. Many of the key figures of the era feel as real to me as anyone in 2011. In some obscure way I feel like I owe it to them to respect their time and their culture and to write it as accurately as I can--and when I do something as off the wall and unlikely as pairing an heiress with a common sergeant, to not make light of the degree to which my hero and heroine are breaking the rules. I know I can't recreate the past perfectly. But I feel obliged to try.