The image above is not all of my Paris-themed stationery, but it was what I could readily reach, fueled by only part of my first cup of tea for the day and the knowledge that getting this post written was one thing I knew I could get off my to-do list. When I put them away after the picture, I realized I had a lot more than I thought I did. This may be about half, which makes me want to rearrange my unused notebook storage to make Paris-themed books its own category. This may be about half.
That surprises me. I haven’t written anything set in Paris, apart from maybe some long-ago fanfiction (and here I will get language nerdy; no, I do not write about location X or Y. I write historical romance that may be set in location X or Y, but I’ll leave the writing about the location to others, because nobody wants to read what I would turn out on that front.) so I’m not sure why I gravitate toward this theme so much in stationery matters, but as, we can see above, I do. As one of the aspects of my From Fan Fiction to Fantastic Fiction (new version, Play in Your Own Sandbox, Keep All The Toys) workshop is to examine why we like what we like, this may be something for me to try here.
Basically, stick the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe on a piece of stationery, and I want it. Fleur de lis also work, maps, French text (I don’t speak or read French, but I can figure some out if I’m not hurried) the streets of the city, the Seine, the general vibe of the place. Do not ask me to describe that (see above) because it’s something I’m not sure how to put into words. Interesting challenge for a writer, but there it is. I’m not as much about the facts and political histories of a setting, but the zeitgeist instead, the spirit of the times.
My best-best method of research is being there. Barring time travel, living history museums or reenactments are the closest I can get. I will never forget the reenactment of a pre-Revolutionary War British army regiment, held on the grounds of the John Jay house, some years back. Growing up in Westchester County, NY, the American Revolution was all around me (okay, the French were on the side of the rebels, so maybe I got some exposure to the French through that?) especially in the year of the Bicentennial, and it never left. So, when the date of a reenactment, at a venue that had been one of my big treats as a child, coincided with my birthday (or very close to, IIRC) Housemate decided that would be the perfect gift.
It absolutely was. I made a tour of the merchants’ booths, talked to re-enactors (best-best for me is when neither one of us breaks character) and wanted to show Housemate some of the grounds. There we were, meandering the dirt path, a sea of white tents to our left, a field filled with re-enactors and modern folk alike on our right, and the ground behind us trembled. A deep male voice bellowed for us to make way for the King’s men, so we jumped to the side of the path, and a river of redcoats marched past us, footbeats and hoofbeats vibrating into my very being.
That, for me, is what I want in a historical romance, whether writing or reading. I want the full immersion, not only who was on the throne or in office, but what my people would see, smell, hear, taste and feel in their daily lives. What people of however many centuries ago wanted are, at the heart, the same things we want today. My stories start, always, with the characters. Once I know who they are, then it’s time to figure out where and when they might have lived. It’s more a matter of following them around and climbing into their skins. Where do they go when they go home? If they’re late, who misses them? What does their voice sound like when they speak? These aren’t, most often, things I can dictate, but things I have to discover.
Which may, in the end, be what’s up with my collection of Paris stationery. The voices will come when they come, at the right time, and when they do, it will be the most natural thing in the world.