Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's all in the lingo by Giselle Renarde

I'm reading Half-Blood Blues at the moment--an incredible novel set in the jazz world in Europe during WWII. Happens to be my favourite era, but the really tremendous thing about this particular book is the language. Not language--lingo. It jumps out, first thing. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep up. I'm not fluent in WWII-era jazz speak, but you get into it quickly. And what you're left with (what I was left with, I should say) is just this incredible awe.  I don't know how Esi Edugyan did it. Pretty sure she wasn't alive during the second world war. I'm blown away by her ability to transport the reader.

Burlesque Print Cover
And I'm also reminded of what it was like to write my book A Little Burlesque. Not that I'm in any way comparing the two! Half-Blood Blues is brilliant. If I live to be 100, I will never write anything that even approaches its genius.

A Little Burlesque is set in the Canadian Maritimes, but not in the heart of the vaudeville era. The little burlesque house by the sea is distant from city life, in time and place. Burlesque went out of fashion ages ago, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It's the last house clinging to the tenets of classic burlesque, and they cling to their lingo as well.

Writing A Little Burlesque required a lot of research, like all historical fiction, but what I most remember focusing on was the language of the burlesque house. I wanted to get it right. I wanted my characters to use the right terminology, but I didn't want to go so overboard that all the reader saw was a wall of lingo. It had to flow.

Burlesque ebook cover
Kitty took a step in Orchid’s direction, but it was Madame who said, “We’ll make a hoofer of you yet.”

"A what?” Orchid squealed.

"A hoofer."

"A dancer,” Ginger clarified. “Get it? Like hooves on a horse?”

Orchid scrunched up her nose until it wrinkled. “But horses don’t dance.”

“Depends which circles you run in,” Madame said with a shrug. “Anyway, it’s just an expression. Don’t give it too much weight.”

“How could an expression have weight? It’s not a thing.” Orchid ruminated for a moment, and then shook her head. “There are so many funny words you use here. I hardly know what the girls are talking about half the time.”

A Little Burlesque is published by eXcessica and is newly available as a paperback, so yay about that. I love paperbacks. To me, they have a lasting quality... but my burlesque beauties probably thought the same of their language.

And where did I do most of my research about burlesque lingo? On the internet, of course.

So maybe ebooks will ultimately win the space race to posterity. Who knows?


  1. This sounds luscious, Giselle! And how nice that you get not one but two juicy covers!

    You're definitely right that "the lingo" is critical for pulling the reader into historical fiction. Jeremy Edwards' "The Pleasure Dial" is a great example - his characters really sound real. I remember him doing a blog post at my place, about all the work he put into researching terminology and expressions, to make sure he got it right. The result is, I suppose, worth the effort. But that's exactly what scares me about historical writing!

  2. I love doing lingo. Lingo is part and parcel of the atmosphere of our work. Get that sound right, or at least convince the reader of what he/she thinks is right, and half the battle is won. Considering most of our understanding of historical speech comes from film and early literature, the research material is out there. The technical research is in the history books.

  3. Gypsy Rose Lee (do I need to explain who she was?) besides being a famous stripper and later actress and all-round entertainment personality, wrote at least one murder mystery and possibly more. Hmm, I should do search. Anyway, Iong ago, as a teenager, I came across a copy of "The G-String Murders" and was fascinated by the depiction of life in burlesque shows, including the "lingo." I wonder whatever became of the book. I found it second hand someplace like the Hospital Guild Thrift Shop (where I also found such treasures as "The Sheik" by Ethel M.Dell, possibly the "50 shades of Grey" of its era, but lots more fun.

  4. Great point about the lingo. Like Lisabet, I hesitate because I worry about using it wrong. I love reading it and knowing about it, though. And a giant hell yes to burlesque! I'm going to a burlesque show tomorrow night. It's pretty awesome that New England has a healthy burlesque scene.

  5. Even the town where I live has a burlesque scene! It seems to be coming back. Giselle, I can't keep track of your books! You must be one of the most prolific writers here. Interesting take on the lingo of past periods. I recognize the word "hoofer" - I'm sure I heard it in my childhood.


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