When I set out to write one of my Malcom/Ives Magic books, I never know what rabbit hole I’ll stumble down. I only knew the book following CHEMISTRY OF MAGIC needed to be Will’s book. William Ives-Madden is one of the late marquess’s bastards, and from the beginning, he’s been an atypical Ives. He’s big, yes, but he’s more blond than dark, he’s silent and not in the least charming, and we never see him gracing the ballrooms of society. He has the usual Ives scorn of flibbertigibbet Malcolm females, although he has reason to suspect he has more than a little of his grandmother’s witchy weirdness.
Several of our wenches are researchers par none, digging into historical minutiae with zeal. While I admit to a fascination with these intriguing details, I am not a researcher of fine points. I like to see history as a big picture and reflect on how and why we so often repeat our mistakes. Naturally, much of this will never show up in a romance, but it often shapes the background of my stories.
One of the things that fascinated me with my magic stories is the way science developed. In my Georgian era (1750s) series, science had only recently been defined as a body of observations or propositions concerning a subject of speculation and was more akin to philosophy than anything with which we’re familiar. Scientific methods were unheard of. My hero who grew mangelwurzels did so after talking with other farmers and learning that he might better feed his cattle with the rough land he owned. He learned to experiment with productivity by reading articles from other gentleman farmers. The word agronomist hadn’t yet been invented. Universities taught Latin and Greek, not agricultural science. (Must Be Magic)
Before I can put the first word to the page of a new book, I need research. The characters may be hopping up and down in my mind, shouting their ire, but they’re still too unformed for me to “see” them—and I don’t mean their appearance.
As a for instance—the heroine of the Magic book I’m currently plotting has already appeared in other volumes, so I know what she looks like, and I know something of her personality and background. I know what she wants. But I have utterly no clue how she can go after it because this is 1830, after all, and they don’t have the internet or Craigslist. I don’t want to give her away just yet, until I’m ready to write (yeah, I’m one of those authors who can’t talk about plot until after a book is written).
But this time, I’m not writing one of my Ives heroes (pause for silent weeping). He’s scientific, yes, but I needed a titled nobleman and the Ives family has more bastards than titles. I had some odd idea that he might be a physician, or possibly someone who works with microscopes. Until I can “see” what he does, I can’t do anything. So I started by researching microscopes.
Yes, they had microscopes in 1830, but they were pretty crude. Even in the 2nd century BC the Greeks knew that water bends light. By 100 AD, the Romans could create glass that was thick in the middle and thin on the edge and learned this lens could magnify an image. Although, since they called them burning glasses, I suspect they spent more time trying to create fire with them.
The microscope above is an old German monocular, probably from the early 1700s. The one below left is a solar microscope by Peter Dolland of London from about 1790, considered one of the finest makers of microscopes at the time. But think–solar…London. Does not compute, right?
It wasn’t until the 17th century that Leeuwenhoek invented anything close to a microscope, and that was only a single lens. Low quality glass and lack of light created distortions that prevented microscopes from real usefulness until nearly 1870, unfortunate for my hero. Although several glass problems were resolved by 1830, lighting wasn’t, and that limits usage. So in my time period, the best use of microscopes was determining the existence of cells and their structures—interesting but not exactly hero material. My guy might be able to discover a bacterium if he uses glass manufactured by my fictional Ives experts, but how do I work that into the story in my head?
To tell the truth, I don’t know yet. I’m now researching arsenic and medicine and tuberculosis and my characters are about to pitch fits. Anyone want to make a story of all this? Or I could just make my hero a gambling lout who changes his spots… But then I’d have to research gambling! Anyone know any good books on any of these topics?
(and this post is playing hide-and-seek today, sorry. Hope it shows this time around!)