Ok - I'm back. Now, as I was saying, Lydia and I aren't the only two writers who have strong feelings about research in historical romance. Writer and reviewer Anne Marble has a great article at Writing World - Research Flaws in Romance Novels. There are many passages I could pull from it to illustrate its value, but I think this one is one of the best:
Don't base your research on what you've read in other romance novels. Remember -- those novels might have gotten the facts wrong. Also, remember that research is more than just facts. Research is a great way to find information that can help you out of a tight plotting situation or give your characters a more detailed background.
Sonia Leger also appreciates a well-researched romance novel. In an article written for the Heart of Denver Romance Writers, Getting the Facts RIGHT--Historical Romance 101, she points out one of the biggest problems with inaccurate research:
While I did enjoy the book, I could not give it a five-star rating. Why? Because although the plot line and the characters were well thought out, the historical inaccuracies kept bringing me out of the story. The author had written a good contemporary story that, for some reason, she then decided to drop into the context of medieval times.
The conclusion of her article sums up my feelings on the topic:
I think that a good historical writer needs to have a grasp on the political, religious and social issues of the era in which she's setting her story-often the three are intertwined, and they always have a direct bearing on her plot. Whether the characters deviate from historical norms or go along with them, a writer needs to do her research all the same. Don't forget, people read historical romances because they are supposed to be just that-historicals.
The final sentence in the above quote is what I'd like to zero in on here. The majority of people who read historical romance do so because they WANT to be taken into the past. For some this means a very lightly coloured historical past - with just enough detail to give them a sense of the period. For others, those who study the period, read about the past, love historical movies and watch documentaries about times past, it means they want to read about characters who feel like they were born in the past. And want the verisimilitude provided by detailed, accurate research that's woven so tightly into the narrative it can't be seen, but without which the book wouldn't ring true.
Are you totally freaked out now? If so, I'm sorry. Don't mean to sounds so horribly pedantic. The above is achievable - if you take your time and really work hard to build your setting and characters based on learning as much as you can about the period in which your story takes place.
How? Never fear, there are lots of articles out there to help you. Tina St. John, for instance, has a really good article at her website - Research: Setting Your Historical Romance. Start there, and move on to Nancy Henderson's Writing the Historical Romance Novel, Cheryl Ferguson's Writing the Multicultural Historical Romance, Michelle Hoppe's Researching the British Historical, Charla Chin's Researching the Historical Romance and Deborah Hale's Walking the Historical Tightrope.
Other not-to-miss articles include Researching Historical Fact, by one of the grande dames of the genre, Roberta Gellis.
Looking for Research Links? Check out Lydia's list - scroll down on the page, past the Writing and Industry related links to her very comprehensive Research ones. Also, there's Deb's Historical Research Page and Charlotte Dillon's Research Links for Writers.
If you're writing a novel set in Britain, I also recommend stopping at Jo Beverley's website - there you'll find enough information to get you well and truly started on your way. Click on the various links under A Miscellany to access the site's resources. Then move on to Jaclyn Reding's Research Links for Writers, another of the best known sites on the web.
But you want to use books instead of the web? No problem - there are good bibliographies available online as well. One of my favourite places to find research books is at Literary Liaisons - each quarter a new book is highlighted, but Michelle also maintains a full Researching the Romance bibliography for writers. For the medieval period, the aforementioned Roberta Gellis provides a list of her research books.
That should be enough to get you started :-)