Thursday, February 04, 2016

Recommended Rebel Mechanics Reading

Yesterday as I was working out how to incorporate actual conflict into my story, I realized I should probably map out the rest of the major events, and then I figured it might be a good idea to take another look at the synopsis for this book, and then I realized that there was a whole plot line I'd planned but was neglecting. I remembered pieces of it, but I'd forgotten the underlying reason. And it's good, so it's not one of those things where once I start writing I can forget the synopsis because I'll have internalized all the good stuff. Of course, I got the idea for what to do about it right as it was time to leave for choir. Fortunately, it wasn't a normal children's choir night. It was the children's worship service, and my kids' role was to sing the prelude, so after they were done standing in front of the church, clapping occasionally and making no sound at all, I slipped out the back and sat in the fellowship hall, frantically scribbling out notes and ideas before I forgot everything.

While I was digging through my notes, I found some of my original notes and thoughts for Rebel Mechanics. I spent about a year doing reading and research related to that story idea before I even had a full plot, and I read more than 50 books while I was developing and researching that story. Since it may be a while before anyone gets to read the sequel, I thought I'd share some recommended reading of things that went into this book that you might also enjoy.

One of the first things I did when I had the first germ of an idea that my heroine might be a governess was re-read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (I read a few other Bronte works while I was at it). My initial concept was to go kind of Gothic with it, with my heroine working in a house full of secrets and her employer a mysterious single man responsible for children. That went by the wayside once I started developing characters because I don't really do dark and brooding very well, but this is kind of the ultimate governess book.

Another inspiration book was The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy. That's where I went with the bandit thing once I realized dark and brooding wasn't going to work. This novel is about a nobleman who secretly helps rescue people from the Terror following the French Revolution, and he deflects suspicion by acting like a fop. I decided to make my bandit act like a nerd instead. This book reads surprisingly well even now, and it's fun to think of an adventure novel from the early 1900s that was written by a woman.

To get a sense of the Gilded Age New York in which I wanted to work, I read several novels by Edith Wharton, including The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. There was also Washington Square by Henry James. These are actually set about a decade earlier than my book, when living up by the park was practically being pioneering, but the manners and activities of the upper crust are similar. For the opposite side of the equation, Maggie by Stephen Crane provided a look at life in the tenements and among the street kids. I wielded that book like a weapon at every editor I dealt with who questioned the slang and language of the kids (particularly the term "outta sight"). The book was written in that period, and I took a lot of my street kid slang right from it (though I also made up some of the Rebel Mechanics' slang).

I know that novels don't necessarily count as a reference, but in these cases, the novelists were capturing a particular era and were trying to do so at least somewhat accurately. They were novels written either in the period itself or written by people who had lived that life in that era, so they were based on first-person observation. I also read a bunch of entirely unrelated books that were written around that period. I was particularly interested in the use of language by novelists working in that era because it gave a good sense of what words were and weren't in use at the time. For instance, there's a lot of question about when the word "okay" came into common use, but since I didn't find it in any novels of the period, I'm not using it in these books. That can be a real struggle. I didn't realize just how much I use it.

On the non-fiction side of things, I got some sense of the life growing up in Gilded Age New York from Consuelo Vanderbilt's memoir, The Glitter and the Gold (if you get the Smithsonian Channel, her story is one of those featured in the Million Dollar Princesses series). She was the heiress who married the Duke of Marlborough, and her story is fascinating, but for my purposes, I focused on the story of her childhood.

For the other end of the economic spectrum, How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis is a heartbreaking look at lower Manhattan in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I think one of the earlier editions in which the photos were turned into engravings is available on Project Gutenberg, but it's worth it to find a more recent edition that has the actual photos. Riis was a journalist and social reformer who took a camera into the tenements to document the living conditions, especially among recent immigrants. We studied this book in journalism school, and I dug it out again as a reference for this book.

There were dozens more books on life in New York in the 1800s, as well as books on the American Revolution, since I had to research how things happened in order to move the events to a different time. I read about a few other revolutions to see what other things might happen. Plus I researched airships and steam engines, the development of electrical power, other transportation technologies, clothing, and interior design of the period. Fortunately, most of those mansions along Central Park were well-photographed because almost all of them were torn down within a couple of decades. I suppose I should find my list of sources and put a "read more about it" page on my web site.

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