INHABITING ANOTHER WORLD….by Rosemary Lord

9db14-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

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I was going to write about my many Bad Hair Days. But I realized that, by deciding that I could not write another word until my current strange hair color was sorted, this was just another form of Writers’ Avoidance Tactics – albeit colorful! That is a subject for a whole other Blog to come!

But it reminded me how important I felt the color of my character’s hair was. In my current novel series, my protagonist, Lottie Topaz, has copper-colored hair styled in the 1920s fashionable bob with ‘spit-curls’ on her forehead. ‘Spit-curls’ are so called because you spit on your fingers, then make a couple of curls from your bangs, securing them flat against your forehead with spittle. (Charming – I know!)

Lottie’s best friend, Flora, has jet-black hair in a sleek bob with straight bangs – or ‘fringe’ as we Brits call it. Very sophisticated.

This is why I love writing this series that is set back in the early Twentieth Century. It is such fun exploring the styles and fashions of that era. But not just that: recreating the life-style and sharing the whys and wherefores of a by-gone time. So that I and my readers are immersed in another world.

For instance, I find it fascinating to use a mystery setting where telephones were not readily available. Certainly no mobile-phones. How would they communicate, especially in an emergency?

Mysteries set in today’s world have so many solutions to use: computers, emails, Skype, texting. It appears much easier to explain clues and resolutions of the who-dunnits when you can show your characters following an email trail or intercepting a text message on a stolen cell-phone. Researching people’s backgrounds or tracking addresses or locations for present-day books is swiftly done on the computer.

So, why do I give myself this headache of working out how Lottie and her friends can find out about potential suspects or track locations where they may have traveled to? I guess that’s because one of my favorite things is research. I have Lottie and her friends do what I have always done: Of course, today I do use computer research. But I have always spent hours at the libraries, pouring over musty tomes, looking up old newspapers, checking magazines and advertisements. This gives me the color to weave into my stories, words and names that are not used today. I also glean ideas from those pages as to how to provide clues as well as challenges for my characters.

It is imperative that the details are authentic and that everything rings true. Even when I create situations with a little ‘poetic license’ – I always check it out so that it certainly could really have happened.  As a reader, I hate it when something jars because it is out of the realms of possibility – or just plain wrong! I find it difficult to continue reading after that. So I go to great lengths to ensure I have my facts right.

Then there is ‘the leg-work.’ Over the years I have been drawn to exploring wherever I go in the world. I stroll through streets, note book and pencil ready, checking out addresses and buildings, noting the conditions and architectural style of doorways, windows, even roofs that I can access. Up and down steps and stairways I wander. As I explore these old streets, buildings and gardens, I can really get a feel for what went before me. I get a sense of how people lived and worked.

Basements are especially fascinating. Because they are rarely cleared out thoroughly, I find old magazines, pages of newspapers, abandoned cases, luggage tags and labels on shelves and doors. They all tell a story.

I am very chatty. So in my wanderings I will always chat to people I come across: those guarding old buildings, neighbors in old houses, cleaners, workmen – just anybody I can. “How long have you been here?” I ask. “What was here before?” “How many generations of your family have been here” I ask lots of questions about the past. I am very nosey! But most people are eager to share whatever they know. They love to repeat stories they have heard or tell me about their grandparents, aunts and uncles. I find that almost everyone has a fascinating tale to tell. So I borrow and steal unashamedly from the past.

As I have previously confessed, I have an abundance of scraps of paper with these many notes on them.  Although I do occasionally get overwhelmed by the sheer volume I have accrued, mostly I absolutely love surveying them spread all over my desk and my floor as I piece together my stories.  Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I work out what gem I can place where and string together a necklace of a mystery.

I have written contemporary stories. In many ways they are much easier, as I don’t encounter an ‘oops’ moment when my character switches on a light – at a time before  electricity was available.

Writing historical books and novels is considerably more time-consuming. But, for me, it is so much more fun.   I love to share what I have discovered about times gone by. I love the intricacies of weaving historical facts and people into my stories. I love using a vocabulary from earlier generations.

Although I am very grateful for modern plumbing, medical advances and internet access, I often feel that the world I write about was a kinder and gentler place – most of the time, anyway.

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16 thoughts on “INHABITING ANOTHER WORLD….by Rosemary Lord”

  1. As another historical fiction writer, I completely understand the fascination with a time and place different from our own. Research has been an important element of my writing for the reasons you state, especially since once readers catches an anachronism – and they always do – it throws them off. Breaks the magic of the world you’ve created. What I’ve always admired about your novels is how you take that research and weave it into the story so well, something I’ve tried to emulate. Great post.

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    1. Thank you, Miko. What always drew me into your ‘Petal In The Wind’ novels was your authenticity, clearly stemming from your amazing research. It makes all the difference.

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  2. I can imagine you “questioning”elevator operators and doormen. So innocent, and yet they might wind up in your next book! It makes me rethink my research techniques for my current-day mysteries. I would benefit from slowing down.

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    1. It is fun talking with real people and feeling bold enough to ask too many questions, all in the name of ‘research.’ But it is time-consuming, Jackie.

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    1. Thanks, Kate. I, too, love to escape into bygone eras. But I also escape into the future with your sci-fi stories. Yet they sound so real as if you, too, have done a lot of research!

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  3. What a terrific piece. What you are providing in your stories is an education. I love to learn new things and when the vehicle happens to be a darn good mystery, what a gift. Your research shows and it gives us readers a great vacation from all the gadgets of today. Of course, I am typing this on my computer and posting it on the Internet, but reading something historical or even from a mere twenty years ago, I can show that there actually was life before iPads… iPods…. whatever.

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    1. Thank you, Gayle. And look at the fun we had following the breadcrumbs of clues in doing our research – as well as honoring those gone before us, as you do in your wonderful SPYGAME trilogy.

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  4. Rosemary, this is a fabulous post. Not only did I learn the origin of “spit curls” (ewww), but I also got a priceless insight into your research process. No wonder “Lottie’s” world reads so authentically. Although I don’t write historical fiction, your type of research can apply to contemporary stories too, if one wants to get a good feel for the setting. Thanks for sharing your experiences. And I think your hair color is magnificent.

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    1. Bonnie – I have a lot more curious terms, like ‘spit-curls,’ I learned from my mum, who absolutely loved Old Hollywood and the world of Clara Bow, Mae West and Clark Gable. And my hair is an ongoing ‘work in progress’! So thanks!

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  5. Rosemary, so enjoyed reading this post. To escape to your fictional world(s), as you say, “…I often feel that the world I write about was a kinder and gentler place…” is a place and time where I love going to. And even broader, for me, “going there,” whatever world the author takes me to, is the essence of successful story telling. (I can just see and hear you chatting-up people during your leg-work) Wonderful.

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    1. Thank you, Madeline: isn’t it fun to immerse oneself in a totally different world – where you can be and say whatever you want?

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  6. Loved this, Rosemary. I too love doing research the old fashioned way though I have to admit for my WWII romances, I’ve often looked up photos on the Internet of towns, buildings, what folks were wearing back during those days in England, etc. Still, when I think of some of the best times in my life I remember sitting at a wooden desk with a green lamp focused on the page of a book I discovered in the old library at USF atop Lone Mountain. For me the best part of getting my advanced degree was the research. Still love doing it. Great article. Thank you. Paul

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    1. Aren’t old photographs wonderful? It’s often the small details that we notice in the background that will give us writers a great character idea or storyline. I am so glad you stopped by, Paul. Keep coming back! Thank you.

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  7. You are a better man (woman) than I, Gunga Din. I’m not one for research. I’m more “quick & dirty” as my hubby calls the style. I guess that’s why I like to write flash fiction, or edit other people’s work.
    The tone you get in your Lotty novel is so evocative and spot on, that I can see how all that detailed study, interviewing, peering, and listening really works. I’m so glad there are writers like you, because I love to read historical fiction.

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    1. Why, thank you, Jackie. But we need all styles and types of things to read. That’s why your “quick & dirty” flash fiction also has its place. Besides – you are always travelling too much to sit quietly and lose yourself in research.

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