Thursday, December 6, 2007

Historical Hysteria

If you are billing yourself as a writer of historical fiction, you should have at least a basic grasp of history. And then you need to do lots and lots of research on all the details of the time period you are setting your story in.

Some interesting historical "facts" we have seen in both submissions and, alas, published books.

1. Ah, those medieval feasts, with lords and ladies being served a turkey. Wonder how they got these North American fowl in fourteenth century England?

2. You did know that the zipper was common in ancient Egypt, right? Made it much easier to get into and out of those nifty robes.

3. The lord and lady of the medieval manor invited the countryside to their wedding - where they merrily danced the waltz. (The waltz originated in the late 18th century.)

4. The old Earl and his Countess hated their oldest son's bride, so when the Earl died, his wife declared that the title and entailed lands would go to their younger son! Perhaps the author should have done a bit more research on English inheritance laws. I threw the book against the wall.

5. Heroine accidentally breaks a precious vase. So she immediately goes on eBay and buys a replacement. This seems perfectly reasonable - except that this was a time travel, the heroine was now in the early 19th century. Electricity ? Computer ? Internet ? eBay?

6. Historical American Western - the heroine riding in a stagecoach rolls down the glass windows.

7. Setting is colonial New England, early 18th century; hero is an Indian, heroine an English lass. The heroine is injured, and the hero fixes her with a BandAid® !

8. In a Regency-set historical, the heroine describes her heart racing like an engine revving.

9. The mid-18th-century character was caught stealing food and transported to Australia. Um, no on both counts. It was to the Colony of New South Wales with them (starting in 1770), or Van Dieman's Land (actually Tasmania). The name Australia came into use around 1800. And transportation of convicts started in 1788 and went on for about 80 years.

10. A Regency miss was going to elope with her unsuitable suitor - and assured him she'd be awake at midnight to sneak out to meet him, because she would set her alarm clock!

11. Those American Revolutionary War soldiers only thought they were dying of cholera. Actually, cholera did not spread much beyond India before 1829.

12. So nice that the 1920s-era flapper drank Tang instead of something harder. Too bad Tang wasn't around until 1959.

13. Please, please don't have your pre-20th-century character using "cool" as a slang term to mean something fashionable or popular or desirable. A Regency miss wears a shawl when going out for a walk on a cool day and is cool to the undesirable suitor she meets on the way, but she does not describe her new bonnet as "cool".


Shesawriter said...

Oh, my. The internet one is hoot! The stage coach window runs a close second.

Happy TT!

My Thursday Thirteen: 13 men who give me impure thoughts.

Sam said...

This is hysterical - love the zipper one; I had no idea zippers were around in ancient Egypt!

Anonymous said...

oops... Van Dieman's Land was the early name for the island of Tasmania. New Zealand was never a penal colony. It began as a new settlement for impoverished gentlemen and people of good families. Some of the early settlements like Dunedin (means Edinburgh of the South) or Christchurch were settled under the auspices of the protestant church.

Mary H.

SJ Ballinger said...

Don't forget about all those "anti-bellum" romances.

lynneconnolly said...

Made my day!
When I was doing my editor stint I received a submission that started with the heroine climbing up an oak tree outside her window.
Do you know how far oak tree roots spread? That house would have been down for sure!
It turned out that the hero had two names, one he used in London and one in Scotland, Scarlet Pimpernel style. Different accents and all (it was a dinnacanna book). But he was a prominent Scottish peer (in more ways than one!) And nobody recognised him in London?

Anonymous said...

I'd read the one about the Victorian heroine going on E-bay, provided it's suitably steampunk, with difference engines, and her personal clacker-device has lots of polished brass that gleams in the gaslight. Brass that she forces her clockwork maid to polish twice a day.

But I'm weird that way.

Anonymous said...

Lynne, we had a giant oak tree at my parents and I could easily climb out my bedroom window and down the tree. The only dangerous part was the leap down from the lowest branch in acorn season. Those things were slick.

lynneconnolly said...

"Lynne, we had a giant oak tree at my parents and I could easily climb out my bedroom window and down the tree."

This was a townhouse in the middle of London! If you had a big oak with spreading branches the roots wouldn't be too far to the house, but you can't have one of those in Mayfair (unless you live in a treehouse in Regents' Park or Buckingham Palace!)

lynneconnolly said...

And almost forgot - there was another one I adored, but couldn't accept for publication. Just couldn't.

This was set in 1066. The heroine, a maid at an inn, had her own room and she loved reading so her room had books scattered all around. The hero, a veteran of the wars, enjoyed smoking cigars and when his friend met him in the lobby of the inn they were staying at, they sat on the leather sofa and had a smoke.
The plot hinged on a letter, written on paper, and the clue was the watermark in the paper. The hero took it to a local papermaker to find out where it came from.
If she'd added a dragon she would have had a great fantasy story, but historical romance - probably not.
I promise that is true. I still have the sub somewhere.

Anny Cook said...

I had a contest on my blog. If you were going to be trapped in 500BC what two items would you like to have with you? One contestant thought she would like to have her laptop and cell phone...


Anonymous said...

OMG, thank you for the biggest laugh of my day. I was interested to discover the early advent of the zipper.

Kathleen Coddington

Unknown said...

I fear my first historical could have been an example here before my astute editor called me on the mistakes. I think sometimes we become so focused on the characters that we forget the setting. I've learned a lot, and hopefully I won't come back here and find a snippet of my writing as a learning tool. :)

This was great. I needed something to lift my spirits today, and this did the trick.


ECPI Editors said...

Thanks for the catch, Mary H!

Carrie Lofty said...

NO WAY these are all real! Are people that silly??

Anonymous said...

I love history, and if I know something for sure. Like I've read two or three sources, than that for me is set in people roll down windows, use zippers and go on clackers to order stuff out of the air...

My guess would be that these people would be burned at the stake for witchcraft!

Anonymous said...

Eloise Jarvis McGraw, often cited as a great historical novelist, has her Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian characters paying for their bread and beer with coins...when currency was still more than a millennium in the future.

Abigail Sharpe said...

I laughed out loud at the Indian and the bandaids!!!

I read a book that took place in the 1100s where the hero described the loudness of his heartbeat in decibels - a word which came around in the 1900s!

Monya Clayton said...

Lynne - I hope the 1066 effort mentioned in there The Battle Of Hastings and the Norman invasion of England. The rest of it is hilarious.

I blogged on Heroines With Hearts today about my own historical research pre computers and Google. I admit I made a couple of mistakes... But, thank heaven, they were minor! Unless I've missed something altogether.

But these were wonderful lessons in doing your research properly.

Monya (aka Mary)