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This question is difficult to answer without perhaps offending someone, and I'll take a stab at it.
Poor research. The Internet, though possessing some great resources, is not the definitive source and needs to be augmented. Neither is reading one novel of the time and making an inference from it that that was how things always were. Especially before World War I, class distinctions were profound, and if someone doesn't understand this, they make stupid, avoidable mistakes. Too few authors understand this.
Dialogue is another one. Authors have started substituting dialogue for emotion and tension. Although dialogue can convey these things, pages of it in expository form is contrived and forced. No one talks like people put dialogue in books. This is mostly common in contemporary fiction.
Too many books are just plain boring. It has nothing to do with length. I've read 900 page books I couldn't put down, and 200 page books that made me sleep before the end of the table of contents. Seriously. I just put a book aside because the table of contents sounded like the subsequent chapters—fiction—would be utterly tedious and pointless.
Which brings me to the final problem—pointlessness. I read too many scenes in books or books themselves where my first reaction is: So what? Why should I care? Apparently someone did, since they're published, but I encounter it so much along side books I can't put down, I haven't yet figured out the appeal of the tedious ones.
1: Which do you like better, the writing or the research?
That's a tough one. I love them both, and they use different parts of my brain. Research is more left-brain, and writing more right. I think I am subconsciously writing with the right half while researching with the left. So I get the pleasure of doing both together. Pushed for an answer, probably the writing is more fun, but I do love research.
2: I have yet to meet a writer of historical fiction that isn't easily sidetracked on research rabbit trails. How do you deal with that temptation?
I'd like to say I'm really disciplined and stick to a schedule, and I cannot lie. I tend to follow them because they can turn out valuable. I'm so bad about research that if I read about something in an historical novel that doesn't sound familiar to me, I go research it. The Sarmacians for example. I recently read a book by Gillian Bradshaw called Island of Ghosts that was about a Sarmacian. I'd never heard of the Sarmacians, let alone that they were in Roman Britain. I spent a day reading about them. Totally irrelevant to my current work, but I had to know more.
3: Have you ever gotten a good story idea from a rabbit trail?
Oh, yes! In my newest book, Better than Gold, I got sidetracked reading newspaper accounts of the time in which my story was set—1876 Iowa. I had plenty of material for the story, but I couldn't stop reading these actual newspaper articles from the Davenport, Iowa paper. I read one that led to not only the sort of homey, community event that played well into the theme of my book, but gave my brainstorming partner and me an idea on how to solve the mystery. That's only the most recent one. It's happened many times over the years.
4: What was your favorite time period to read about before you started writing?
Revolutions—the American and the French. Both fascinated me since I was a child. They're not unconnected, you know. And I suppose they fulfilled my rebellious spirit. But by the time I started writing, no one wanted American Revolutionary War stories. I have one set in that time period, but mostly in England. It has some serious flaws, but I may try to rework it one day. It's still one of my favorite stories.
5: After Regency England, what period is your favorite to do research in?
Hmm. The whole Georgian period, encompassing Regency, is great. But probably the Restoration—Charles II was just a romantic figure, though he was, in truth, a bit of a reprobate and quite immoral. Still, the romanticism of his story re-collected a shattered kingdom and got them through some terrible times like wars with Holland France and the black plague epidemic and the great fire of London. But I haven't been inspired to write in that time period—yet. I've just researched it extensively. Probably one of those rabbit holes.
6: If you could go back in time to one historical event, what event would it be?
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