Today begins my Author Spotlight Wednesday endeavor, and who better to launch it than New York Times Bestselling historical romance novelist Grace Burrowes! I am deeply honored to welcome Grace to my blog, and very thankful the publishing fates crossed our paths. Grace and I met several years ago at one of the RWA National Conferences (I can’t recall just which one) due to the fact that we share the same publisher. Gradually over time we have grown to know each other better, and Grace has shown her extreme kindness to me on a number of occasions. Including being here today!
So let’s welcome Grace Burrowes to the blog with a BIG round of applause!
Grace Burrowes grew up in central Pennsylvania and is the sixth out of seven children. She discovered romance novels when in junior high (back when there was a such a thing), and has been reading them voraciously ever since. Grace has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Bachelor of Music in Music History, (both from The Pennsylvania State University); a Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University; and a Juris Doctor from The National Law Center at The George Washington University. Her debut novel, The Heir was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Top Five Romances for 2010, and is the first in an eight-sibling historical romance series published by Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Language Dilemmas and the OED by Grace Burrowes
As a writer, some days stand out from all the rest: The day you finish your first manuscript, the day your hero finally, finally tells you why he left the heroine all those years ago, the day you get how to wrap up the story with a perfect, satin bow. I love the writer days, even when the author days aren’t so cheery.
One writer day from early in my publication journey that stands out for me is the day Regency author Sallie MacKenzie mentioned that she always writes with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online open in her browser.
“You can get it online!?” I squeal. One credit card transaction later, I had a new favorite toy.
In fact, online is the only way you can use the current version of OED. The old print version, one volume about eight inches thick, with type so small I needed a magnifying glass to read it, is no longer sold—alas for every household that needed a temporary high chair. (see image to right)
OED is my most favorite reference, also my favorite rabbit hole. As much as is practical, I try to avoid using words that hadn’t been invented in the Regency, and I try to stick to Regency meanings for them. Because all we have are written records from that time, it’s impossible to be absolutely certain what spoken usage entailed, but the written word is often informative enough.
Some of my British readers, for example, insist that referring to the season between summer and winter as “fall” is a lazy, Yank expression. OED, with many, many citations, clarifies that at least through the Regency, Brits used term as American do, to refer to autumn. The Victorians are responsible for shifting British usage—busy people, those Victorians.
Similarly, OED refutes the notion that our Regency characters would never use the word “momentarily.” They would not use the term to mean soon, as in, “I will be finished momentarily,” but they would use the word to mean fleeting, or instantly. “I was momentarily struck dumb,” for example.
I love this stuff, though, alas, OED cannot solve every puzzle. I call this the Great Cufflink Dilemma. Cufflinks as we know them—the little pieces of jewelry that hold the cuffs of a sleeve closed—have been around since the 1600s, but in Regency parlance they are sleeve buttons. When describing this wardrobe accessory, the author must choose between accessibility and accuracy, or some compromise of the two, and this is only one of many language choices facing an author of historical tales.
English is an enormous, fascinating language, one with many stories of its own to tell, but it’s also the very stuff of characterization and narrative. Would Darcy’s letter make half the impression it does if he’d started out: Dear Lizzie: Don’t worry that I’m just writing to tick you off again the way I did last night.
Oh, no, it would not. When I’m struggling to ensure that my characters remain as true to their time as good story telling allows, OED is my surest and dearest asset. And if I ever reach a point where OED no longer holds my interest, there’s Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), about which, more on some other day!
Grace’s questions for you are: What are some of your favorite Regency turns of phrase? Are there some you don’t care for?
Comment on this post to win a $25 gift certificate to Amazon to use as you wish AND two signed copies of Trenton: Lord of Loss. That means 3 lucky winners will be chosen! Deadline to comment for selection in the giveaway is May 3 at midnight.
After a short, troubled marriage Trenton Lindsey, heir to the Wilton earldom, finds himself a widower with three small children. His year of mourning leaves him adrift, until his brother Darius forces him to take a repairing lease in Surrey. Social conventions require Trent to call on his recently widowed neighbor, Elegy Hampton, Lady Rammel, and as friendship develops, consolation of an intimate sort tempts them both. Just as Trent acknowledges the joy and pleasure to be shared with Ellie, an unseen enemy threatens him and Ellie, too. Can he reach for the love Ellie offers, when some one else is trying to take his life?