Writing Craft: Don’t let that research show! by Karen Harper


Since 1982, I’ve been published with over 70 novels, both historicals set in England and U.S.-set contemporary romantic suspense. I love to take my readers to interesting places and bring in fascinating careers for the hero or heroine. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s to not let the research I love to do stand out. It has to be smoothly stirred into plot, characters or setting.

When I wrote my Amish-set rom/sus novels, I worked hard to blend in Amish beliefs and their way of life. My readers would have rolled their eyes at the very least if I had let some character spout their traditions, so this is where the old (and important!) saying, ‘Show, not tell’ comes in.

I’ve tackled a heroine who worked in the ginseng trade, one who was a deep sea diver (which I definitely am not!) and numerous heroes who may be lawyers, arson investigators or small town sheriffs. Even an obstetrician who was in a struggle with a midwife! And here, I was “only” a high school English teacher.

But working research into a book gets even more dangerous when I write my historical novels focusing on the lives of real women, such as Queen Elizabeth I. I had to be extra careful and (I hope!) clever when I wrote my Edwardian novel, THE ROYAL NANNY, which is out this month. After putting in three years of intensive reading about the late Victorians and Edwardians, I had to be very selective of what to share.

Although I had been to England many times, I made a special trip to visit places that would help me with this Downton Abbey era novel: The Victoria and Albert Museum and Buckingham Palace. (No, Her Majesty was not in.) This is the first historical setting I’ve used where I can see photos—even some YouTube videos—which make the characters come much more alive than studying the old portraits of my characters “hanging out” in museums.

So I was especially excited about the research work I’d done, but…

With THE ROYAL NANNY, I really concentrated on my rules to not hit the reader over the head with research I was proud of and loved doing. Just as it was forbidden in the Victorian age to show a flash of ankle or “limb,” I tried to remember these don’t guidelines:

–Don’t put research in dialogue unless it’s short and necessary. Beware, because it will usually should fakey. In other words, I can’t have young Bertie (of The King’s Speech) say, “I just love living here at Sandringham which Grannie Victoria bought for her son to keep him out of trouble.” Work this into the author’s voice or narration. Or at least have an outsider ask for information before someone answers.

–Don’t put big chunks of research together. Readers today don’t want to read four paragraphs straight of description unless it is absolutely necessary to the story. Break it up.

–Don’t copy research. Of course, even if you really liked a piece of research, rework it to make it your own. Not only could it be plagiarism otherwise, but key points need to be selected and written to fit the story.

–Don’t let a modern voice or word creep in. I sometimes go crazy when the copy editor who is reading for each little detail, asks, “Are you sure this word (or book title or whatever) was in use in 1885?” But she is right to ask.

Research is like the perfume of a novel. However much of it you have on your dresser, however much you love the scent, its romantic name or the ad promoting it, just a touch in the right place goes a long way. If the book is fiction, even based on reality, avoid spilling too much out at once or your story will be overpowering and not seductive.

Karen Harper HP

Book Excerpt: TRUE COUNTRY HERO by Darlene Panzera

Eonly_9780062394729_CoverMONTANA HEARTS:  TRUE COUNTRY HERO by Darlene Panzera

Sweet Contemporary Romance / Released June 28th by Avon Impulse

Jace grinned as she walked away. The blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty was interested in him even if she didn’t give him her number. He could tell by the way her eyes widened and her lips parted when she gazed at him with that cautious yet yearning expression, which had several beats of his heart tripping all over each other.

He leaned his arms on the rail of the crowded rodeo arena as one of the bronco riders shot out of the gate. The noise level from the stands rose with cheers, applause, and whistles as the buckin’ cowboy struggled to remain saddled. But as impressive as the wrangler’s ride was, Jace found more pleasure watching Delaney.

She stood to the side of the announcer’s box, her camera raised to her eye and her hands twisting the round lens back and forth to make adjustments as she snapped photo after photo. Her friend Sammy Jo stood beside her, and despite the fact that both women’s attention was fixed on the excitement going on in front of them, their differences stood out like salt and pepper.

While Sammy Jo had hair almost as dark as his own, Delaney’s long tresses were a light blond, like a sweeping halo of sunshine. Sammy Jo certainly had the curves, but Delaney’s slim figure appeared more graceful when she moved, which he found more attractive. And while Sammy Jo posed confidently in front of the camera lens, giving the rider in the arena a thumbs-up, Delaney appeared more comfortable behind it.

He didn’t relish the media attention or ask to take pictures with every new woman he met but something curiously sweet about the camerawoman had tugged at him the moment he saw her. Maybe it was the attentive way she went about her work, as if she truly cared about the quality or was passionate about the subject matter. Jace had hoped it had been the latter. He pulled up the photo of the two of them together on his cell phone and glanced at the smile she’d flashed at the last second. He may have acted like an attention-seeking fool, but he didn’t regret it for one moment.

Not for that shot.

And if she wouldn’t give him her phone number, he’d find another way to get to know her better.

Giveaway -2 Honeychurch Hall Mysteries

The Book Breeze is giving away two hardcover mysteries to delight Downton Abbey fans by Hannah Dennison – A KILLER BALL AT HONEYCHURCH HALL and DEADLY DESIRES AT HONEYCHURCH HALL.  Giveaway runs from July 18 to July 31, 2016.  Tell your friends!

61QJhJ2c+FL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_A KILLER BALL AT HONEYCHURCH HALL by Hannah Dennison / Mystery / Released May 3, 2016 by Minotaur Books.

In this captivating new mystery our heroine Kat Stanford stumbles upon a hidden room in an abandoned wing at Honeychurch Hall.  However, Kat’s initial excitement soon ends in horror.  There, lying on the cold, stone floor, Kat comes across the body of a young woman dress in an Egyptian toga and wearing a tawdry fairground trinket around her broken neck.

Suspicion falls on some of those who live at the Hall – both upstairs and down – and even those who are just passing through.  Kat uses her knowledge of antiques and sleuthing to discover that secret trysts and cads from the past point to the murderer.

61ZgJX7tIJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_DEADLY DESIRES AT HONEYCHURCH HALL by Hannah Dennison / Mystery / Released May 2015 by Minotaur Books.

When the body of a transport minister is discovered on the grounds of Honeychurch Hall, suspicion about his unusual demise naturally falls on the folks in the village.  After all, who could possibly want a high-speed train line built in their front yard?

News of the murder soon reaches Trudy Wynne, the nemesis of our heroine, Kat Stanford.  A ruthless tabloid journalist and the ex-wife of Kat’s discarded lover, Trudy is out for revenge.  She is also interested in exposing – and humiliating – Kat’s mother, Iris, who is secretly the international bestselling romance writer Krystalle Storn.

As the body count begins to build, Kat becomes inextricably embroiled in the ensuing scandal.  Is the minister’s death the result of a local vendetta, or could it be connected to her mother’s unusual (to say the least) past?


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway contest runs from July 18 to July 31, 2016.  Tell your friends!

Books mailed to U.S. addresses only.


51G4kPheI4L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_MY MAD FAT DIARY, A Memoir by Rae Earl / Released April 19, 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad seventeen-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire, with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint-green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from.  She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward.  My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing, and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now on Hulu.

Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is, and keeping a diary to record it all.  My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England.

QUICK WALK TO MURDER by jd daniels

51E7aRUg6cL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_QUICK WALK TO MURDER The Second Jessie Murphy Mystery by jd daniels / Released Dec 2015

Brace yourself for an “electrifying and page-turning” read where zany, Thrift Store Fashion Queen Jessie Murphy once again proves that artists can master the art of deductive reasoning.  She may trip.  She may skip.  She may even get lip from an inanimate object.  But, in the end, she nips the killer.

Gifted college student, Tomas Moore, is the son of a crusty Pine Island crab fisherman and a Mexican homemaker who often seeks psychic guidance.  When the young man is found murdered, his parents and the locals fear the law will not place a high priority on solving his death.

It is up to Jessie Murphy to find the killer.  Is it another crabber?  A rejected lover?  His rich girlfriend?  Her brother?  Two cagey fisherman?  Or, his college roommate?

Ties that bind.  Rivalries of the heart.  Threat of collapse to an island’s livelihood.  As Jessie tries to unravel the mystery of this promising young islander’s murder she finds herself in a heart-stopping race against time in which honesty and love are tested, greed is rampant, and no one – including Jessie – is safe.

Interview: James MacManus

James MacManusTell us about your new release. MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN is based on the true story of how Colonel Noel Macrae, a British military attaché, knowing the futility of appeasement, planned to assassinate Hitler on the eve of WW2.It is also the story of Sara Sternschein, a young Jewish woman forced to work as a courtesan in a Nazi brothel. The book weaves these two characters into a story of love and betrayal set in a city held in the grip of the Gestapo and fearful of the coming war.

Midnight in BerlinWhat led you to write this book? Firstly I was very impressed with the story of how a lone diplomat stood up against the clearly misplaced appeasement policies of his government and offered to sacrifice himself to prevent war. Secondly the fact that the Gestapo did indeed run a brothel in Berlin to entrap their enemies gave me the opportunity place a young Jewish women at the heart of the story and let her loose to challenge the bestiality of the Nazi regime – and fall in love .

Did you have an interesting experience in the research of this book? I did plenty of research in Berlin – a fascinating city that still guards its secrets behind a warm welcome for visitors.

How important is setting to your story? Vital. Berlin in 1938-39 when the book is set, is a menacing, fearful city that has fallen to the Nazis but still remembers a great cultural past. The book contains two maps showing exactly where many of the scenes takes place including Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, the Adlon Hotel and the British Embassy.

Which is more important characters or setting? Oh, very much the characters; if your characters do not come alive on the page and appear real and interesting to the reader no amount of beautifully portrayed setting is going to rescue the book.

Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life? Most of my characters are indeed drawn from real life. William Shirer, the CBS correspondent in Berlin at the time, Sir Nevile ( note one l) Henderson the British ambassador, Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister, Reinhard Heydrich the Gestapo chief are all real people. The lead character Noel Macrae is very much modelled on Col Mason MacFarlane the actual British military attaché at the time.

Do you people watch for character inspiration? Yes but mostly one does so without realizing it. Quirks of character, small personal habits like the way some people tug at their ears when thinking, the different ways women put on make-up, all these and others come back to one when writing.

Do you have a favorite fictional character by another author you’d like to meet? There is hardly a character in Dickens I would not like to meet but above all Becky Sharp from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. She is trouble all the way – a real mischief maker and thus well worth an invitation to a long lunch.

What do you hope readers take away from your work? One reviewer said this was a morally charged book and indeed I hope reader take some lesson from the way the western powers turned a blind eye to Hitler’s warlike intentions and bestial treatment of the Jews in the 1930s.But above all I hope this is a story of how the power of love can help people survive even the worst circumstances.

Do you have an interesting quirk about your personality that you’d like to share? Not really unless to say that like many others writers I do find a glass or two or good red burgundy a great help when the black dog of writers block descends.

What do you do when you are not writing? Research the next book, yoga, worry (needlessly) about my children, worry about humankind’s capacity for savage intolerance, drink red wine.

Which book impacted you as a teenager? I fell in love with William Faulkner aged about 16 .I read everything from Soldier’s Pay to The Reivers and revered every word .Sadly find him unreadable now. P.G. Wodehouse was an early favorite to and he has stayed with me. A great author to re-read on a dark night

Do you read the same genre you write? No. I certainly read historical fiction but modern authors like James Salter are more my taste.

What is #1 on your bucket list? I want to spend time in Japan to try and understand a people that caused so much havoc in the last century and seem to made peace with the world – and themselves – also I love the food.

Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out? Sex scenes are very difficult especially for male writers of fiction. I have sometimes written such scenes trying to be honest without being too graphic only to have them cut and criticized, indeed mocked, by my editors (mostly women.) And they were quite right

Do you have a favorite writing place or writing rituals? Same desk, same time, 9 am every morning. I place an hour glass on the desk , turn it oer, and do not move until the hour is up .I do this for three hours with strong green tea in five minute intervals. It is the only way to get words down.

Do you have a reoccurring theme to your books? Not intentionally but I have been told my books do all show strong women characters overcoming great adversity and – mostly- triumphing in love.

What are you reading now? James Salter’s Dusk – a collection of short stories. He is a superb stylist and only after his death last year (2015) was he hailed as the master story teller that he was. His early novel A Sport and a Pastime is rightly recognized as an erotic masterwork.

What social media do you participate in? Fb twitter Instagram.

What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you? Have you ever really truly been in love?

What’s next for you? I have written a play but would rather not say any more.

Book Excerpt: MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN by James MacManus

Midnight in BerlinMIDNIGHT IN BERLIN by James MacManus
She reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Frown lines creased her forehead. The dark eyes looked at him imploringly. She was breathing heavily – hyperventilating, thought Macrae. He saw the swell of her breast against the red dress. She’s going to faint, he thought. He looked around for a waitress. “Look at me,” she whispered. He looked at her properly for the first time, swirling the dregs of brandy in the tulip-shaped glass, badly wanting another one. Her eyes were dark and deep beneath long lashes heavy with mascara. Her small oval face, pale and powdered, looked fragile and pretty, like a fine china doll. Claret-red lipstick traced a perfect bow over her mouth. There was a beauty spot on one cheek and faint beads of perspiration along her upper lip.
She would have looked childish but for the long ringlets of dark hair that dropped to her shoulders. Her sleeveless dress rose from ankle to neck. It was tight, designed to emphasize her figure, and he could see the faint rise in the fabric made by her nipples. The image of a china doll dissolved, to be replaced by that of an actress. That’s what she was, he 2 P r o l o g u e thought, a beautiful actress, with the powdered face and imploring eyes of a silent-movie heroine. “I’m not asking much, just news of my brother.” “Joseph Sternschein?” he said. “Yes. I’d give anything to know that he is at least alive.”
She shifted slightly in her chair, taking her hand from his arm, sitting up, her shoulders back. “Anything,” she said again. He shook his head, finished his brandy and got to his feet. “If I asked, they would want to know why. The Gestapo would be curious. I am a diplomat, after all.” “And he’s just a kid in one of their camps, right? Just another number on a file?” He sighed and looked across the room at the door. “We have to deal with these people every day; it’s not nice and it’s not easy.” “And you don’t want to upset them – is that it?” Her eyes had lost their soft appeal. She was angry. “You know, I hear things back there .  .  . She jerked her head towards the fanlight door. “What sort of things?” “You’d be surprised what some very important people tell me. It’s all part of the power thing, isn’t it? Men want to impress me with their little secrets.” “I must go,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but . . .” She reached across and took his arm, this time gripping it tightly. She stabbed her forefinger at the table, the varnished nail beating out an urgent tattoo. “I’ve told you what I’m doing here. I’m doing it with some of the most powerful men in this country. I’m good at it. They like me. And I don’t have any choice – do you understand?” She got up and walked back to the bar. Almost immediately, a man sat beside her.

ARSENIC WITH AUSTEN by Katherine Bolger Hyde

51I5SIcY6NL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ARSENIC WITH AUSTEN by Katherine Bolger Hyde / Mystery / Released July 12, 2016 by Minotaur Books

When Emily Cavanaugh inherits a fortune from her great aunt, she expects her life to change.  She doesn’t expect to embark on a murder investigation, confront the man who broke her heart 35 years before, and nearly lose her own life.

Emily travels to the sleepy coastal village of Stony Beach, Oregon, to claim her inheritance, centered in a beautiful Victorian estate called Windy Corner but also including a substantial portion of the real estate of the whole town.  As she gets to know the town’s eccentric inhabitants – including her own once-and-possibly-future love, Sheriff Luke Richards – she learns of a covert plan to develop Stony Beach into a major resort.  She also hears hints that her aunt may have been murdered.  Soon another suspicious death confirms this, and before long Emily herself experiences a near-fatal accident.

Meanwhile, Emily reads Persuasion, hoping to find belated happiness with her first love as Anne Elliot did with Captain Wentworth.  She notices a similarly between her not-quite-cousin Brock Runcible, heir to a smaller portion of her aunt’s property, and Mr. Elliot in Persuasion, and her suspicions of Brock crystallize.  But as she and Luke continue to investigate and events speed toward a climax, Emily realizes that underneath the innocent-looking rocks of Stony Beach lurk festering jealousies that would have shocked even the worst of Jane Austen’s charming reprobates.

Katherine Hyde has lived her life surrounded by books, from teaching herself to read at age four to majoring in Russian literature to making her career as an editor.  She lives in California with her husband.  ARSENTIC WITH AUSTEN is her first novel.

New Release: CURSE OF THE MOON by Beth Trissel

51VTancLINL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_CURSE OF THE MOON The Secret Warrior Series By Beth Trissel

Released May 4, 2016 by The Wild Rose Press in print and ebook

The bad news? Morgan Daniel’s wolf is out of control. The good news? There’s a treatment. She just has to get a potion from a lizard shifter witch—without looking into the witch’s eyes. Easy, right? But when the witch puts a spell on her younger brother, Morgan has to do the witch’s bidding to save him. Fortunately Morgan isn’t alone. She has Jackson to lean on, a few witches coming into their powers, a secret warlock, and the always mysterious Chief Okema. What could possibly go wrong?

New Release: SMOKE AND MIRRORS by Taylor Anne

IMG_0256SMOKE AND MIRRORS by Taylor Anne

Spicy Romantic Suspense Released May 25 by The Wild Rose Press in print and ebook

Drug deal and Murder: In her fight for justice, Abby Monroe is forced to flee to protect herself and her family, seeking out the only man she’s ever fully trusted. Seeing him again threatens not only her safety, but her heart as well.