I’m sitting at my dining room table, enjoying the breezy view of my backyard. Don’t let the dappled sunlight and shady oaks fool you. It’s sweltering outside. It’s during these early August days that I feel the most guilt about my garden.  There are days when I rarely venture outside, and if I do, it’s only to drive from one air conditioned location to the next.  I can’t imagine how women in the past managed. No wonder they were always swooning. You may have noticed that most romance novels avoid the mention of sweat and other bodily fluids. Who wants to finish reading a love scene and have it followed up by a trip to the bathroom? I do!

For my own part, I enjoy crossing that line when writing. Look at how cool and comfortable the young women in the Gone with the Wind movie appear. I’ll tell you what, I don’t even live in the South, just the mid-Atlantic, and this is absurdly inaccurate. There’s not a stinky armpit among them. Not even a dewy cheek.


One of my favorite book series is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. I’ve read all of the books and, though I enjoy the show on STARZ, I prefer Gabaldon’s writing. The attention to everyday detail is mind-blowing. It’s the same with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. [Note: I had to twist my own arm to watch the last season before the release of the book—can’t I at least pre-order it already!]

Outlander takes place, in part, in the 1700s. When imagining Colonial attire, think: layers. Start with a shift or chemise, cinched by corset or stays—betimes both, followed by petticoats and perhaps panniers. Don’t forget to put on pockets, usually on a string to be tied around the waist. Layer over this a skirt or dress. Then, tie on an apron, wrap a scarf or fichu over your shoulder and neck, pull up your long woolen stockings and prise your feet into uncomfortable shoes. Finally, top everything off with a mob cap, hat or powdered wig. I love that Gabaldon’s heroine perspires; she is constantly trudging about in sodden garments. She has thick, massively heavy hair to boot. I sweat just thinking about it.

But Gabaldon is a one-of-a-kind author. Someone once told me that her writing breaks all of the rules of the romance genre. Her heroine is older than her hero and is married to two men at the same time—well, not technically, thanks to time travel. And, the hero is a redhead. Gasp! Perhaps the most amazing fact of all is that her first book was almost  900 pages. She writes about urine and vomit and diseases and all sorts of nasties.

Personally, I try to break the rules as often as I can, knowing my editor will rein me in if necessary. When writing The Queen’s Dance, I threw in a scene at the end of the book which I believed would never make it through the first round of cuts. As soon as my editor sent the manuscript back with his notes, I skipped to the end before even reading his editorial letter. Hah! It made the cut!

Trian leaned forward to grab a cushion to place behind her. Then, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “Stay here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going,” Claire asked.

He looked at her with a sheepish grin. “Well, er, nature calls.”

I also managed to work in the following terminology: privy pail, privy bucket and accumulated waste. Aches are treated with bee stings, and wounds are sewn up with sharpened hair pins. My heroine is covered in mud, once of her own accord and another time when she is chasing her horse through a swamp. She is often soiled by her own vomit, other characters’ blood, and finally tattooed against her will.  Just because I write fantasy historical romance, doesn’t mean everything has to be a bed of roses.  Spoiler: no dragons.

p.s. And speaking of roses, I am looking forward to a cooler September and a chance to wrest control of my garden from the morning glories, mountain poppies, and bamboo grass. It’s August here in Northern Virginia, where the only thing louder than the sound of the cicadas is the hum of mosquitoes. Thank heaven for AC.