It doesn't often happen here on Getting Medieval, but today we are very pleased to have this particular guest blogger. Award-winning author Margaret Frazer, author of two very popular medieval mystery series, the Dame Frevisse series and the Joliffe series, is here today offering insight into her modes and methods. She's got a new e-novella out called WINTER HEART and wants you to know about it. Here she is:
The Joys of Research
by Margaret Frazer
If there’s anything that I enjoy in the same degree that I enjoy writing, it’s the research that goes with it. My life might be simpler if I wrote books set some more “convenient” time than late medieval England, but as I recently described to Karen Johnson at Release Notes, my fate was to become enthralled with that time and place and the people there. Nor was it enough simply to read what other writers said about it. I wanted to know what it was like from as far inside it as I might go.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that what I really wanted to do was tell my own stories about it. Because to write truly about a time and place, a writer has to inhabit that time and place, must learn to think and act as people living there and then would have thought and acted -- must learn to see the world through their eyes and consider it according to the shape of their thoughts, so that the stories grow out of what actually was, rather than be simply a story with a few period details pasted onto it and people that could be put into another time or place without much trouble.
Of course, as I lately shared in detail with Patricia Stoltey on her blog, it’s possible to write stories without going as deeply into a time as I do – to skim the possibilities without ever sinking deep roots or draw enduring strength from the richness of a different time and place. Such stories can be fun, but to me it’s like taking a trip to an exotic foreign locale and never venturing beyond the streets closest to your luxury hotel.
I started, as a teen, with a small town library and whatever was readily available, which usually meant general studies of late medieval England (things like Thomas Costain’s The Last Plantagenets). But I very early moved on to more detailed biographies (like Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III and Warwick the Kingmaker). Those latter had – wonder of wonders! – bibliographies that listed other books, including primary sources! My young self was thrilled by the vast vistas that were opening before me and I set forth to explore them. First, there were interlibrary loans. This was long before the world of the internet – long before personal computers, come to that – and I may have been the first person to ask my hometown library for an interlibrary loan. So imagine when I went into the heady world of university libraries! And then -- traveled to England itself!
I honor the friend who went with me that first time. She was going to England for the fun of going to a foreign country. I was going in quest of a lost world. I’m sure she saw far more castles, churches, battlefields, and out-of-the-way museums (Weald and Downland Open Air Museum -- actual medieval houses rescued and restored!) than she ever counted on, but she was a good sport about it. She gave up on me in York (Look! Actual medieval streets!) and went home, but I carried on, not only with travel then and later but with reading and researching, constantly wanting to see and know more and more, wanting to use all I was seeing and learning to tell stories.
Yes, you may think “fanatic” here. And I confess you’d not be wrong. And, yes, only a very small percentage of what I learn goes into the actual novels and short stories I write, but everything I learn is there behind what goes into the stories. And there’s never any knowing when something learned in passing will circle around and be ever-so-useful when least expected. For example, I’d read about drovers and drove roads because they were interesting, without any plan of when or how to use them. Yet when I came to plotting my lately e-published novella Winter Heart, there was that nugget of knowledge that slid perfectly into place with hitherto unused facts about medieval village government acquired along the way for other stories (such as The Reeve’s Tale) to give me a plot webbed into and out of the nunnery world already built for my series of Dame Frevisse novels.
It’s that sort of serendipity that keeps me reaching for one more book, going through one more bibliography, attending one more convention of medieval scholars, because there’s no knowing which next, sometimes tiny, piece of information will give insight and depth and texturing to what I know about late medieval England and send my characters (and me) away into another mystery and adventure.
My Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and my Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America are in their second year of sponsoring the California Crime Writers Conference. This is a very special event in Pasadena on the weekend of June 11 & 12 for writers of all stripes, for the newbie to the weathered veteran. That's because there is something for everyone. We're offering tracks about the craft of writing, the business end of it (contracts and advice about agents), matters of crime (talks from police detectives), the nuts and bolts of writing (e-publishing info, small press vs big press) along with a cocktail party with agents and authors.
I'll be teaching a workshop on Researching Historicals on Saturday and you should be in for a good time. The manuscript critiques are all filled but there's still plenty of info to glean and plenty of schmoozing opportunities. You can see more info as well as register here. I hope to see some of you there!
One of our local NPR stations in Pasadena invited listeners to come on down to their wonderful facility The Crawford Family Forum to spend a hour with humorist and author Roy Blount Jr. He is also one of the panelists on my favorite NPR radio show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. As you know, there is a great deal of difference between a comedian and a humorist. The latter gives you literary sly humor along with Twainesque stories of relatable funny of the human condition. Humorists tend to be wordsmiths and can turn on the least little bit of etymology and find the sacred along side the profane. It was an enjoyable evening. Any excuse to escape the Inland Empire for the night is okay by me.
Makes sense. Those who apprenticed themselves were supposed to be cared for, nurtured, taught a new skill with which they could make a living. All well and good if you made it to adulthood.
According to a study by an archaelogist from the University of Reading in England:
Two thousand skeletons of young people from the early 16th Century have been discovered in two cemeteries – St Mary’s Spittel in London and Barton-on Humber in Lincolnshire. For the first time researchers will be able to look at the adolescents’ health in detail and discover what kinds of diseases and fractures they suffered...“Those buried in London’s medieval cemeteries appeared to have a lot of fractures and respiratory infections, suggesting occupational hazards..." said Dr Mary Lewis.
Worked to death. The hazards of apprenticing. Of course, children weren't treated like little darlings till the industrial age, and then only the wealthy, then later the middle class. It's a relatively new notion to protect one's children from working (although those with farms have a differnt outlook). Life was tough for kids. There's a book I recommend about that, called GROWING UP IN MEDIEAVL LONDON by Barbara Hanawalt.
If you'd like to read the full article (not very full) go here.
Crispin will soon also be read in Polish. The first four books of the series were scooped up by a Polish publisher, so we anxiously await that development as well. It's nice to hear good news when so much of the publishing news out there is kind of scary. E-books are drowning out print and publishers are scrambling trying to figure out how to stay in business. Authors are wondering that, too, and how to make a living, which was already pretty sparce in this hourly-changing world.
The competition to get the lowest prices of e-books isn't necessarily a good thing. If you are traditionally published as I am--and this is the model that I still favor--then publishers have to find a reasonable way to be able to afford to publish midlists. Like me. I'm what you call a "midlist" author. I'm no blockbuster bestseller. I'm right there in the middle. (Actually, is there a low list author?) I plug along, making back what the publisher spent and also making them a small profit on the side, and in the meantime they have plenty to offer in their catalogues that end up on library and, hopefully, bookstore shelves. I get an advance and royalties and therefore, make a living. A very small, modest living with my husband as the main breadwinner. As I am fond of saying, "I'm making part time office assistant money now!" Whoo hoo! Let the good times roll!
But start pricing books at .99 cents and consumers begin to think that this is what a book should be priced at. Can I make money this way? Let's look at the numbers that I'm stealing from author Lori Lake from the Sisters in Crime blog (and you can read the whole thing here):
"I’ll use Amazon as an example because they have some of the best rates for writers publishing their own work – 70% for $2.99 to 9.99 price points and 35% for .99 to 2.98. Applying their price points, here are some calculations for how many units I must sell to make $30/hour for the work I did on the book:
• I have to sell 37,714 if the e-book sells at .99 cents. • I have to sell 18,857 if the e-book sells at 1.99. • I have to sell 6,316 if the e-book sells at 2.99. • I have to sell 4,204 if the e-book sells at 4.49. • I have to sell 2,699 if the e-book sells at 6.99. • I have to sell 2,223 if the e-book sells at 8.49. • I have to sell 1,889 if the e-book sells at 9.99.
I share those numbers to illustrate how ridiculous – or perhaps I should say, damaging – a .99 cent price point is. How can the average non-blockbuster author make ends meet?"
That's pretty scary. What a .99 price point book does is make it impossible for authors to make a living at writing novels. Simple as that. I hear from some self-published authors that they are making $2000 a month. Can they possibly sustain those sales numbers or is it just because their release is the next new thing? Talk to me at the end of the year. I'd like to see those numbers then.
Here's more on ebooks that explains it quite well. Go here.
In the meantime, I've put out a memo that it would be keen if all those interested in buying my next novel, TROUBLED BONES, would purchase it the week it is released. A big splash on the first week of sales would make my publisher very happy. That's the week of Oct 11 through the 17. Bookstore, online, whatever. Purchase during that week and we'll be thrilled. I'll send you another reminder as we get closer.
Loved the Agatha Banquet Saturday night. I hosted a table and surprise! I had a table full of people. They actually heard of me! (left is my posse) And then, met up with fellow attnedee Elizabeth Duncan...wearing the same jacket as me! We had to get our pictures together. (see insert)
Fellow Guppy Avery Aames won for best first novel, so a big congrates to Avery and her cheese shop mystery.
Then the next day it was the Sisters in Crime breakfast (do you see a theme here? There's a lot of eating involved.)
A few more panels and while I was sitting there, I clicked off a shot of someone's book cart. Attendees bring piles of books from their favorite authors to get them signed. There were a few folks like that. Someday, someone will be carting around my books!
Had a really great moment while sitting in a room waiting for a panel to begin. The person in front of me was reading a novel and I happened to glance over her shouler--and it was mine! She was reading Veil of Lies. I did a little happy dance (can you dance while sitting?) and then I tapped her on the shoulder. "Did you get that signed?" "Are you the author?" "Why, yes I am!" So I signed it for her and told her she had made my day as this was the first time I caught someone reading my book.
Later we watched an interview with Sue Grafton, the guest of honor, had an Agatha tea (without tea, though. Hotel people seem to have a hard time with the concept of having it all on the table) to say farewell and to listen (because I certainly couldn't see them) to an interview with Agatha winner John Curran who wrote a book concerning Agatha Christie's notes and papers.
I met a lot of new authors and Sisters. Thank you Malice. Thank you Verena Rose, Malice Chair, for inviting me. I will be back, especailly since they will now have an historical award added to the Agathas!
(I LOVE the Maryland flag. Quite the medieval banner from Lord Baltimore.)