Thought that might grab you.
A few weeks ago a certain Laird Sapir asked her friends if they’d like to host a romance author on their blog who was being interviewed for Time Magazine.
As you might imagine my ears pricked and I raised my hand and said, ‘Hell, yes!’
So began a dialogue with the lovely Sheryl Hoyt who writes as Saralynn Hoyt who has set the indie world on fire with her historical and contemporary romances.
Here’s the interview with Time Magazine HERE.
Now Sheryl is a blogging virgin and gave us a few subjects she was excited about and one of those was how she tackles her historical research. Since I’ve recently had the lovely historical author Katherine Bone on here talking about pirates and undead monkey’s I figured Sheryl’s post on historical research would fit right in.
So, take it away, Sheryl!!!
Historical Research 101
I was interviewed just the other day by Indie Author Land and one of the questions they asked me was about how much research I do and whether or not it’s important to me. My answer was a ton and yes!
I don’t know about the rest of you but there is nothing that bugs me more than reading a book that provides wrong information, unless it’s on purpose. That is a very important distinction. If you are writing an alternate history or building your own world, then the reader expects you to mess with the facts. However, the reader also expects you to know the facts first.
So where and how do find and verify your information? Well, I can tell for sure it isn’t on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a useful tool in your search for facts, but the disclaimer clearly states that Wiki makes no guarantee of validity! Don’t get me wrong I use it all the time, but mainly to find resources. The other no-no in fact gathering is relying on works of fiction for your facts. Artists of all kinds are really good at making stuff up. So again, things like the movie The Duchess, can be a resource to further research, but it is not validation.
So where do you begin?
How about the library! I normally begin my research by checking out a bunch of library books around place, time period, culture or historical event. Grab as many as you can. My library only allows for 20 books checked out at one time, so I start with 20. I don’t necessarily read them all, but I will peruse all of them. Check the table of contents, the pictures, scan the index, looking for anything that sparks my interest or sounds like what I have in mind for my story. I usually have a bunch of stickies I use to bookmark and by the time I’m done going through all the books, there are a handful that I want to read more of. The rest go back to the library and then based on my discoveries, I check out some more. I repeat until I feel confident that I have a good understanding of where and what period I want to write my book in.
I also read diaries and letters from the period to better understand how people thought and spoke in that period. But, you have to be careful here. I don’t live in 1838 or 1905, and neither do my readers. So I use the historical data to add authenticity to my book, sprinkling it in with a light touch so as not to bore my readeAnother great thing about the library are the librarians. They love to research! Go figure. At the time I was writing Dangerous Heart
I had never been to Philadelphia and only had access to a limited amount of books on the period and place I wanted to write about. In 1999 there wasn’t much content on available on the internet yet, but I was able to find an email for the Philadelphia library system. I sent off a quick message asking for some specific information about what various parts of the city looked like in the 1830’s. A week or so later I received a packet of photo’s, maps and copies of pages from books that were only available in that library.
The internet is a fantastic resource as well, but just be skeptical of what you find and try to validate over multiple websites. I find that the best internet resources are usually created by people who are passionate about their topic. And the nice thing about these experts is they are more than willing to share with you. Feel free to email them with questions and they will enthusiastically respond.
Now although I said at the beginning not to use fiction for research, I do use television and movies for inspiration and ambiance when I write. So, for example, when I was editing Heaven Made, which takes place in England in 1905, I had Downton Abbey and The Buccaneers
playing on the TV nonstop. I immersed myself in the time period, listening to the vocal inflections and absorbing the costumes and sets. This also helps me keep the tone of the book on track and ensure that the reader’s expectations are met. After all, if someone picks up a book that takes place in 1905 England, they probably already saw Downton Abbey and have that picture in the back of their mind as they are reading.
A few other things that can help are maps and travel guides. You are going to want to know how long it will take your characters to get around by horse and buggy. You wouldn’t want them on the wrong side of a river or lake without a bridge or a ferry nearby, or walking through terrain where no road could possible exist.
And last but not least, your critique partner or beta reader will point out when something is ‘off’ or ‘too modern’ or they found something that threw them out of the story because it doesn’t seem plausible. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it should be in the story. After all, in the end you’ve created a work of fiction and not a history book.
Bio: Sheryl Hoyt was born and lives in the Seattle, WA area. She resides in the beautiful Cascade foothills with her high school sweetheart and their cats. A business professional by day, Sheryl has been writing novels in her free time for over 20 years. A lover of all things historical, she enjoys research and travel in order to expand her knowledge and add authenticity to her stories.
Thank you very much, Sheryl!
Here are the links to Sheryl’s books and her author facebook page and her blog: