Researching Biker books and Historical romances –
How was it different? What kind of research did you do?
Both of my books, Lock & Key and Wolfsgate required a fair amount of research. They are each set in a completely different time and place and are almost polar opposites, which made the experience rather fun. Lock & Key is set in a contemporary fringe biker community in a small town in South Dakota, and Wolfsgate takes place in wealthy, high society 18th century England.
Lock & Key is set in the rugged northwestern landscape of South Dakota which ranges from ancient pitted rock formations to grasslands, rolling fields of wheat and sunflowers, lush forests with waterfalls and lakes. The Dakotas also experience extreme and unique weather phenomenon. I chose this particular area for a reason for this story. I wanted this unique land, both barren and abundant, to inform my characters, to be a part of them, especially my heroine, Grace, who has been a wanderer for over 16 years all over the country until she must return home when the book opens.
I wanted to take the readers on a journey of Grace’s re-discovery of her homeland, her realization that this land, which so many others consider to be an inscrutable, barren, and desolate wilderness is full of wonder and life for her. She needs to be here. I think it takes a special kind of person to live, endure and flourish in areas such as these. There is a raw, poetic beauty to be found in these extremes, and this was key to the themes in Lock & Key. The more I discovered through research, the stronger that conviction became.
Through the miracle of You Tube I watched countless videos of people’s personal travelogues through both North and South Dakota. I found one website of a couple who had recently relocated to a small town in South Dakota and documented every mundane, sublime moment of their experience. I contacted them for more specific information about cloud cells and thunder and lightning storms unique to the area. We discussed driving routes that I found on Google Maps, where to stop for a meal, and the kind of scenery to be found along certain routes. I looked up restaurant and hotel web sites and decided on where my characters would eat, spend the night, what their room looked like, what food they ate after consulting the menus of these restaurants. This sort of research was impossible for my 18th century story, so it was a lot of fun to do here. I watched videos people had taken while driving their motorcycles on certain highways in the region so it was as if I was on that bike, on that road. I would watch these endlessly; I wanted to experience it like Grace and Miller would.
In Wolfsgate, the characters are not doing a lot of traveling, the focus is on the hero’s grand country estate and his renovation of it as he “renovates” himself. Landscape design was a very important part of a country estate in the 18th century as it reflected the tastes and spirit of the owners so I had decisions to make. I researched the landscape of Gloucestershire, England and most especially flowers and trees in the winter season in England as the gardens of Wolfsgate play a large role in the story and affect the characters. I poured over photos of potential grand country houses as well for each family, and read descriptions of country villages and shops at the time.
I did have to figure out travel times at two points in the story, but I couldn’t consult YouTube for travel routes my characters might have taken! I did research carriages and modes of travel and what approximate travel times between destinations might have been back then. Google maps was not so useful here. For Lock & Key, I spent a lot of time on the Harley Davidson and the Indian Motorcycle company websites. I was already aware of the proud history of the Indian Company, but finding out more really made a difference to my story. Choosing bikes for the characters was a lot of fun and very important.
Ironically, after years of reading the classics of British literature, the 18th century lifestyle did not feel very foreign to me and reading more about it for particulars was not difficult. But biker culture was new territory for me. The foundation of my research on the life was several older reports made by journalists about the essence of outlaw biker counter culture in the 70’s and 80’s which was an interesting starting point. Then I drew from an autobiography written by a former outlaw biker’s life on the fringe in the 80’s with a national club. I wanted to understand the elemental drive for personal freedom and those original ideas of the sanctity of a brotherhood that needed to be earned. I wanted to understand the passion these men have for their bikes and what that meant for those who chose this liberating yet dangerous way of life.
For Wolfsgate I also relied on a book, the biography of a Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire, an ancestor of Princess Diana (who truly was the Princess Di of her day) to better understand the mindset and cultural expectations of the time. The book is set earlier than my story, but it’s a fantastic insider view into the personalities, the social and political pressures of the times, trendy fashion compulsions, and also what arranged marriages and having affairs were like.
Unable to meet a real Duchess, I was, however, fortunate to have met a real-life biker Old Lady who confirmed that the principles of loyalty and brotherhood have dissipated somewhat over the years in bike clubs. She also set me straight on the heated and often nasty competitiveness between the women in a club, which I made sure to incorporate into my book (ah, the messiness of real life!).
An interesting parallel I discovered between the two lifestyles is that of self-indulgence. So many of the upper class in the 18th century suffered from terrific problems with gambling. In addition, among the rich of this time there was a great sense of frivolity in spending money, drinking, and sexuality underneath the veneer of proper gentility. Of course, there is no such veneer in biker culture where all of that behavior is out in the open without any pretense or the strain of denial. However, the 18th century aristocrat usually had to submit to an arranged marriage in order to preserve his structured way of life. Quite a great contrast to the “live wild and free” credo of the biker! Yet for both bikers and nobility it was interesting to find that there are specific rules as to members’ titles and names and how they are used.
In both stories there are characters with a drug addiction. In Lock & Key the issue is cocaine, in Wolfsgate it is opium. I found sites where users described their experiences with these drugs and the after effects. I especially needed to find out how these particular drugs affected a user’s sex drive. Sadly, for L&K’s Butler cocaine made his sex life extremely difficult, whereas for Wolfsgate’s lucky Brandon, the aftereffect of a morphia opiate caused a surge in desire and physical capabilities. These crucial facts added an enormous amount of emotional detail and colorful plot possibilities for both characters and their stories!
Just as the history of the Indian Motorcycle company helped inform and reflect certain themes in the story of Lock & Key, the idea of the wolf as a family symbol came to life by a stroke of fate. After I wrote my first draft of Wolfsgate, I decided to expand on the wolf theme which initially only had a very slight presence. I threw myself into the history of wolves in England and learned a few intriguing aspects of medieval British history which gave birth to the idea of Brandon’s family bearing a curse of the extinct black wolf. This only gave me a whole other rich vein to work with concerning Brandon’s character and gave the piece more of an air of gothic mystery.
Then there were the clothes! I have several books about clothing through the ages because as a teenager I was obsessed with the 18th century, so it was fun to refer to them for specific pieces, but there are so many amazing web sites by people who are costume designers or Georgian historians or just plain Jane Austen lovers who go into detail about petticoats, corsets, stays, chemises, etc. I learned how the fashion trends of the period were influenced by the French Revolution raging at the time, and travelers discovering the Middle East and India and other such exotic locales. That was a lot of fun. (Yes it’s true, no underclothes for the ladies back then- oh, the possibilities!)
My clothing research for Lock & Key consisted of referring to old photos of bike clubs, but also stripper apparel sites, and high-end lingerie boutiques where I “shopped” for my characters. I watched videos of biker rallies to see what women actually wear to these events. There’s nothing like live video as opposed to sketches!
Furniture and home design were extremely important to tell the story of Wolfsgate. My background in art history (side note: I spent my junior year of college studying art history in London at the same institution where Book Boyfriend Ethan Blackstone’s girlfriend studied!) really helped me with this. I read up on design trends and architectural styles that reflected the old and new money nobility of the times. I decided on furniture and decorative details that each family might prefer. For Lock & Key, I needed to educate myself on the layout and design of strip clubs and how they are run. I also devoured sites devoted to how an exotic dancer should dance, talk, act, choose a stage name. I endured it all in the name of research!
For Lock & Key I read about Lakota Sioux culture and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as that is where my hero grew up. I found a web site with the Lakota language which is how I found Miller’s grandmother’s name Kimimela meaning butterfly providing a wonderful contrast to all the strong, powerful imagery I was using for the alpha male characters. While working at an art gallery in New York a long time ago, I had the privilege to once work with paintings by a Lakota Sioux artist, and I’ve never forgotten it nor what little I had learned back then of the tribe’s great history. This now was my opportunity to dig deeper. By the way, that scene of Miller’s quick nude charcoal drawing of Grace is based on my favorite artist on whom I wrote my senior thesis, Egon Schiele, who was notorious for his brazen erotic nudes around the time of the first world war.
My research for both these contrasting books was a wild combination of story necessity and my personal obsessions from years past. As we begin doing research writers often groan about such a tedious chore. Me too! But every time I push myself further and move through it, I find glorious details that always bring the very heart and soul of my stories to life in fresh, unexpected ways.
My resurrection, they call it.
They have no bloody idea.
Shipwrecked and lost, left for dead,
Abandoned by my own family.
Drugged and addicted.
My wife saved me, brought me home.
I didn’t even know I had a wife—can I trust her?
I know I want her.
We are two of a kind—the manipulated, the tossed off, the rejected.
Bitter disappointments, painful secrets, age-old jealousies are my new shipwreck,
and my wife my new opium.
Is satisfaction to be found in revenge or revenge in satisfaction?
One thing I do know, without each other we’re both doomed.
A sensual 18th century tale of deception, revenge, and the hunger for love and absolution.
I suppose some of us have to get really dirty before we can become truly clean.
I was allegedly South Dakota’s most famous old lady.
Sixteen years ago I survived my old man’s murder
Never again will I surrender my heart.
Never again will I sacrifice to the Club.
But that all changed in one night.
I came home and crashed into him,
and my past and present blew up in my face.
Both of us lonely, running on empty, and unwilling to admit it.
Now I feel things I’d forgotten about, want things I’d cut out of my insides.
Love not only stings when you lose it, when it’s ripped away from you.
When it first sinks its teeth in you, it can cut just as raw and sting just as deep.
I’d forgotten that.
Who holds the keys to betrayal? To suspicion? To trust?
To brotherhood? To family?
To redemption and a bleeding heart?
Right now, I just might.
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