Katherine Longshore Reply Tuesday, July 09, 2013
I'm going to steal one of Veronica's phrases here, and say that one of the things that gives me pride in my work is the one bright detail.  V describes it through the lens of a painter--looking at a piece of art and seeing that one stand-out sliver of image.  She translates it into her writing by including details that make the scene, the story, the characters pop.

I love details.  Sometimes, it's the little things that can make all the difference.  The shadow in a photograph.  The dimple in a smile.  The dash of some unknown spice in a meal.

I haven't watched all of the television program The Tudors, for various reasons, but one of the things I admired about it was a sly attention to certain details.  Allusions to historical characteristics that could easily be overlooked.  The one bright detail I remember is a scene in which Henry makes the decision to visit Katherine of Aragon's bed (I can't remember if it's after coercion or a desire to make an heir, but I remember he wasn't too keen) and before he does so, he bites viciously into a pomegranate.  When I saw this, I started laughing, and had to explain to my husband that the pomegranate was Katherine's emblem--it was carved into wood and stone work and embroidered into her canopy of state.  Now that was a purposeful and cunning detail.

I think the details bring a story world to life.  As Donna mentioned yesterday, the quirkiness of Texas brings SKINNY firmly to its setting.  

I like to find little historical details that root my characters in the past.  In TARNISH, Anne describes Henry VIII as smelling like orangewater and cloves.  A friend of mine, who is an art historian and huge Tudor buff--as well as a former docent at Hampton Court Palace--questioned this.  She said Henry carried a little sachet of roses, so that's what he would have smelled like.  This is entirely possible, but I couldn't have my rockstar, sexy Henry smelling like roses.  It just didn't seem...manly.  My detail came from a snippet in Alison Weir's Henry VIII, the King and His Court, which described his shaving water as being scented with orangewater and cloves.  So I stuck with it.  Call it the Tudor equivalent of Axe (or Lynx, for you UK and Commonwealth readers).

In both GILT and TARNISH, my characters describe the spire of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Anyone who's been to London recently knows that St. Paul's doesn't have a spire--it has a massive dome.  But that dome was built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Four hundred fifty years ago, it would have had a spire.

And in MANOR OF SECRETS, I delighted in finding wonderful little every-day details and salted them in liberally.  A few of them have had to be cut to keep the novel short and sweet, so I can give you a little teaser with them here:

“Janie,” Harry said, coming in behind her and stopping. “I’m supposed to take some eggs to Mr. Foyle, he’s making some kind of cocktail that Lord Buckden has asked for.  Something ridiculous made at his club with raspberry syrup and brandy that is loathsomely called a ‘bosom caresser’. "

--I couldn't pass up that name for a cocktail!  Or the ingredients.

Janie sagged, the metal stays in her corset pinching the skin under her arms and abdomen.

“Damn and blast,” she muttered, and walked to the clean end of the table to lie face down across it, her upper body flat to take the pressure off.  If only she could loosen it without undressing completely.  Or do the scrubbing in her nightshirt.

“Now that’s devotion to detail.”

Janie leapt up, straightening her dress, and turned to face Harry, who stood, leaning on the doorframe.

--During my research, I read that servants would do this to relieve the pressure of a corset.  I had to have Janie--whose attention to detail in her work was well-known--take a break, just for a moment.

Fortunately for me, the Edwardian era--like the Tudor court--is absolutely rife with bright historical details, so cutting these wasn't a hardship.

My own devotion to detail has inspired me to find those bright moments in other books, too.  I love to come across some perfect and pristine fact or description and savor it.  What about you?

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