This is a research day on A Writer's Wisdom Wednesdays, and I asked Vickie McDonough to answer the following questions:
"You're the author of a number of historicals set in the 1800s. How important is it to you to connect with other historical writers of your time period who are willing to share what they have learned through their research? Do you have three or four of your personal favorite sites, books, or blogs you can share here, and what makes each special to you?" - Sandy
Vickie: Thank you for having me as a guest, Sandy. I’m excited to be here.
In this day and time, researching a historical novel is far easier than it’s ever been. The Internet makes researching a topic fairly simple and quick, but you do need to be sure that the information you find is correct. It’s always a good idea to find at least three sources for the same information before you trust it to be accurate.
Online writers groups are another modern resource. I’m a member of several, including ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and a couple of local groups. It’s nice to have other writers, especially those who write in your genre, to bounce ideas off of and to go to for research help. I’m in one group that is especially helpful as it’s a group of 150 writers who all write books set in the 19th century. This allows us to discuss topics that relate to all of our books, and we benefit from each member’s special expertise.
Finding tiny details is often hard, but those minute details, like the kinds of flowers that grow in the town I’m writing about or the type of fabric my heroine’s dress is made of really make the story come alive to my readers. They can see the vivid color and scent of the flowers in their mind and hear the swish of the heroine’s silk dress when you give them the details. There are many great websites to help with this kind of information.
One of my favorites is the Food Timeline: http://www.foodtimeline.org
This website is a wealth of information, all about food. I found the name of a historical cookbook that my current heroine will be using. Besides checking out the timeline on the Home page, be sure to click on the ‘Food history A-Z’ link to discover gobs of food information and history. And if you don’t find what you need there, you can email the website’s owner, Lynne Oliver, who very graciously answers questions and helps with additional research.
When I need to know the types of flowers, shrubs, and trees in a specific area, I’ll Google “native flowers of Kansas”—or whatever state I’m writing about. Here’s a good one I found yesterday: http://www.kswildflower.org Most states have similar websites.
Tip: Another good way to find local flora and fauna is to do a search on ‘ranches for sale’ in the area you’re writing about. Often the ads will list the wildlife and types of trees and grasses that are found in the area, as well as include some fabulous photos. I’ve found this usually works better for ranches with a western setting.
Historical societies are another place to find excellent information, and they often include links to other sites. Here’s the one for Kansas: http://www.kshs.org/ (Can you guess where my current series is set?)
I’ve written a number of books set in Texas, and my favorite research site for that state is The Handbook of Texas Online. You can find it by going to the Texas State Historical Association: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online There is an incredible wealth of information on Texas history there.
Texas Bob has lots of interesting info on his website, including a fabulous Texas Timeline: http://www.texasbob.com/txdoc/index.html
When I get stuck and need a new way to describe a physical attribute, I go to The Book Thesaurus website: http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com I love this site. If you scroll down, on the right-hand side is a list of different kinds of thesauruses, from a Physical Attributes thesaurus, to Color and Shapes, Emotions, to a Settings thesaurus. This website is gold, and any writer not using it as a resource is missing out.
One final website I’d like to share is an especially important one. When you write a historical, no matter the time period, you want to be sure to use words that were in use then. Nothing jars you more than reading a historical set in the 1870s and to read that the hero carved a toy truck for a child. A great website for finding when a word was first used is http://www.etymonline.com
I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore you. Research can be tedious but it doesn’t have to be difficult.