The Education of Delhomme: Chopin, Sand, & La France
Le Mot Juste
For the historical novelist, thorough research is mandatory. We must make sure that the Union Pacific train ran through Laramie, Wyoming, in 1880 and not the Burlington Northern. Even if it’s anachronistic attire or crops that were never grown in the area, this oversight can have the effect of pulling readers out of the story and losing trust in your writing. Readers will know if you goof up.
Because I am a linguist, I also made sure that words and expressions existed during the timeframe of my book (around 1848 in France), even though everyone spoke French. So, for each one that I wondered about (Did they use shadow boxes then? What about flibbertigibbet?-Yes to both), I checked the history of the words or expressions I had questions about on Merriam-Webster.com to see when it first entered English. Of course, it may not have an equivalent in French, but the book is for English speakers. A word that seems too contemporary may also jar readers and signal that I had not done my homework. Nor did I use contractions, not because people didn’t use them back then in English, but because it added an air of formality, which seemed proper for that era in France.
Too obsessive? Maybe. But I rest easy knowing I can point to a source for every fact, word, and the phrase I used. Savvy readers of historical novels will appreciate this attention to detail. After all, truth matters in historical fiction.
Nancy Burkhalter’s Bio
After college, I was an apprentice to a master piano tuner and rebuilder in Chicago. As I learned to repair instruments in that dank basement, I listened to classical music and fell in love with Chopin’s études and nocturnes. But I also marveled at his fortitude to push through a debilitating illness to create some of the world’s most enduring music. That was when the seed was planted for my historical novel, The Education of Delhomme, a story told from the point of view of Chopin’s piano tuner during one of the most turbulent times in French history. It is my tribute to Chopin’s life and creativity.
It took me years to return to my piano tuner roots and write this novel. In the interim, I tuned pianos in the U.S. and abroad; earned a master’s in journalism and English, and a PhD in linguistics; published 15 scholarly articles, three literacy textbooks for non-reading adults, and one on critical thinking; and taught critical thinking in Kazakhstan and Russia for four years. I love to travel and challenge by knowledge of French, German, Russian, and Spanish. When I finally came back to Seattle, I taught academic writing to international students at Seattle University while honing my fiction writing skills.