Guest Post: “The Perils of the Past” by Michaele Jordan

19 Apr

If you’ve read my novel Mirror Maze, then you already know that I’m just a tad obsessive about accurate historical detail. I admit it: it just drives me nuts to read a supposed period piece only to discover that it is chock full of anachronisms and all the characters have a completely 21st century ‘tude. Perhaps my suspension of disbelief is more fragile than some, but that always knocks me right out of the story.

So when I’m writing, I research. But. . . The thing about research is that you never know where it will lead you. Sometimes it won’t take you anywhere (or at least nowhere useful.)  I had a character once who heard a loud bonging noise. I wanted to say that it sounded like Big Ben, but I figured I should check if Big Ben had been built in 1886. It seemed like a simple yes or no question.

I discovered immediately that the tower for Big Ben was certainly in place. The clock was installed in plenty of time. But the bell was put in later. After four hours of research (during which I learned many interesting things about Victorian construction techniques, the sociological functions of large clocks and the legends that surround famous bells) I had the installation of the bell narrowed down to three possible dates. All this for one sentence?  I sighed heavily, and chose another image.

Of course, research can also go the other way. If I wanted my character to get on a train, I had to decide whether she would board at Victoria or Westminster Station. So I went looking for a map to tell me which was closer to her home. Instead I found out that a group called the Fenians—a precursor of the IRA—had attempted to bomb Victoria Station, but only managed to blow up a cloak room. What a wonderful detail!  How could I not include it?  My heroine would never have considered Victoria after that, even if it were next door; she was afraid of terrorists.

These are, of course, only details. You are probably supposing that I had a firm outline that could not be derailed by such trifles. Not so. Since my story involved dark doings in Victorian London I picked up some books about Victorian slums and criminal classes. (Allow me to recommend The Victorian Underworld by Kellow Chesney for a very entertaining read.)  But I never used any of them. Instead, I dragged my poor heroine through the sewer system, just because Liza Picard, author of Victorian London: the Life of a City, got me so interested in ‘the big stink’.

I believe that people are shaped by what they worry about. So I wanted some of my characters to worry about ‘the Maiden Tribute’ which was the hot prostitution/white slavery scandal of the era. (It was also a fascinating story in itself, in which a muck-raking journalist triumphantly proved that the desperate poor would sell their own children, but failed to prove who exactly—except himself—was buying them). I spent weeks looking for an opening. But I just couldn’t work it in. I still kick myself about that.

So perhaps I should have more sympathy for those novelists who are less concerned with historical accuracy than I am. After all, a little research is a very dangerous thing!

—————————————————————- 

About the Author

Michaele Jordan was born in Los Angeles, bred in the Midwest, educated in Liberal Arts at Bard College and in computers at Southern Ohio College.

She has worked at a kennel, a Hebrew School and AT&T. She’s a bit odd.

She lives now in Cincinnati with a grumpy cat, a long-suffering husband and many invisible playmates.

Her first novel, Blade Light, was serialized in Jim Baen’s Universe. Her new novel, Mirror Maze, is on the stands now, thanks to the good people of Pyr Books.  Check Buzzy Magazine, Redstone Magazine and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for her current and upcoming stories.

To learn more, you can visit her website, http://www.michaelejordan.com.

About Mirror Maze

Jacob Aldridge is still utterly devastated by the death of his fiance, when he suddenly encounters her doppelganger. Livia Aram’s uncanny resemblance to the late Rhoda Carothers so transcends coincidence that Jacob becomes obsessed with her. The intensity of his passion terrifies her until her compassion is roused by his desperate plight. A demon is stalking him, a succubus-like entity that feeds on human pain and desire. With the help of Jacob’s sister, Cecily, and Livia’s guardian, the mysterious Dr. Chang, they overcome the demon. Or so it appears . . .

Jacob, Livia, and Cecily are all victims of a single curse, a curse that entrapped and destroyed their parents before them. Now fate has drawn the unsuspecting descendants together, and the curse is playing out again. Nothing can help them, until Cecily’s husband returns from abroad. Colonel Beckford has been missing for years; he has seen strange things and acquired strange powers in his absence. Now he will do whatever it takes to free his wife and end the demon and its curse once and for all.

You should also check out our interview with Michaele here.

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5 Responses to “Guest Post: “The Perils of the Past” by Michaele Jordan”

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) April 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    There is the story of Heinlein using large pieces of butcher paper and a couple of days of calculation to get *one* sentence right in one of his novels regarding orbital mechanics…

  2. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) April 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    On a more historical tone, I’ve heard Connie Willis has reams of information that she didn’t pour into Blackout/All Clear (already chockablock with such info)

    • shaunduke April 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      My understanding was that Blackout/All Clear was full of historical inaccuracies, but as I haven’t read them, nor am I a WW2 historian, I cannot verify whether that is an accurate statement.

  3. Michaele Jordan April 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Paul, I’ve heard that story about Heinlein and I love it! The kicker, of course, was that when he told the story much later to a modern reader they looked blank and asked, “Why didn’t you just use a calculator?” (At least, that’s what I heard–it may be apocryphal.)

    I have no idea how accurate Blackout/All Clear really is. It certainly feels authentic–so many details carry conviction. But Ms. Willis is famed among her friends for the hours of research she puts in.

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    [...] The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Michaele Jordan) on The Perils of the Past. [...]

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