How to Write a Hysterical, Oops, Historical Romance

Norse Hearts 3Thirty-eight years ago, for ten cents, I picked up my first Historical Romance at a garage sale. To this day “The Wolf and the Dove,” by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, remains my favorite. This started my addiction to romance stories. I quickly found some to be better than others and the dream of  writing my own was shuffled to the back burner as I started raising a family.

The one part of history that fascinated me was the Vikings. So little was known about them, but they made a huge impact on the world that is still seen to this day. Through the years I gathered notes on scraps of paper, watched every documentary, checked out books at the library, visited the Smithsonian when they had a traveling exhibit, and bought research books. Thirty-eight years later, I finally decided to make my dream come true.

And that’s where it got interesting. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable, but even though I had some facts in my head, I didn’t have them all. Writing my first two books had been easy. They were based on the here and now and information was readily at hand. Starting from the first page of Norse Hearts, I had to step back into time. In the 700’s town names were not the same. Language and customs were not the same. Walmart didn’t exist of course, and everything had to be made by hand. Words we use now, were not used then. To get someone from one continent to the other, was daunting and took weeks. How would I fill in the time during the journey?

Depending on the time period you choose to write about determines, of course, how much research will go into it. I was delighted to find they had a website on “How to Curse in Norse.” I found that they used more animal parts then and less curse words, much to my husband’s delight. Since it was a man dominated time period, I leaned on his manly expertise on the art of cussing, fighting and insulting.

Every story is like a well prepared meal. The courses must compliment each other, the spices must be just right. So how much of the Old Norse language do you use? How many of the strange personal names of the period can you put in before you lose the reader? How much detail do you describe about food, clothing, ships, customs and routines? How about their religious beliefs and practices?

Since I never do things that are easy, of course, I picked a time and period of history that not much is known about. So what were the wedding ceremonies like? How much fiction can I invent before it is unbelievable or not historically accurate? Even the historians disagree, so what happens when I have a reader who believes I have not done my research because they hold a different view of the facts?

Last but not least, I discovered the irritating problem of trying to write a scene, being in the moment, then suddenly realizing I would have to go back to my ocean of notes and references to find one small detail such as does Norway have skunks? Or what type of tree would they be burning in their firepit?

Though I had a lot more freedom as to plot, and my imagination went wild with the possibilities, I was not prepared for the mountain of time research would continue to play during my writing process. My husband was a dear during this time. For instance, it is one thing to see a sword fight in my mind, another to try and describe it. I know the neighbors definitely wondered about us as we picked up kitchen spatulas to simulate the moves during a sword fight so I could get a feel of how to describe it.

During one of my rants at my inability to find a tidbit of fact that I had just had the day before, my husband unwisely noted that I should not get so hysterical over such a small piece of information and the joke in the family began. I became quite cranky over the inquiries about how my “hysterical romance” was progressing!

Overall, it was a great challenge and I’m grateful I waited until this time of my life to try my hand at writing this form of romance. It is not for the faint hearted, easily discouraged, or impatient writer. It has stretched my organizational skills to the limit, but was one of the most exhilarating writing experiences I’ve ever had. Writing historically gave me a chance to develop characters who were not as confined by laws, society and religion as we have now. Because I used Vikings, I was able to create people who were not afraid to live, express their feelings or be colorful and headstrong.

Maybe it’s just that I’m now in a permanent state of hysteria, but  either way, my editor has her work cut out for her!