For me, the earliest days of our American history would seem difficult to research. Fortunately, that didn't stop author Beth White from finding the resources she needed to write her novels. Today, she shares some ideas for those resources. -- Sandy
Beth: First, let me get something off my chest. Research is messy. Research is frustrating. Research can take over your life.
But for most readers, a big part of the enjoyment of a historical novel is learning about an alien time period—which means the author has a responsibility to make that landscape as authentic as possible. So research we must.
I usually start with museums, historical landmarks, and reenactments— whose associated preservation societies can be extremely helpful—within traveling distance. For example, while writing the first draft of The Pelican Bride, I drove up to French and Indian Days at Fort Toulouse in Wetumpka, Alabama, just a couple hours drive north of Mobile. While poking around, I took videos and pictures that were invaluable in developing my setting and characters.
One of the most productive results from that day was a conversation with a French soldier who turned out to be a member of my church! We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, and Jeff has shared pictures and videos from other reenactments he’s participated in, as well as connecting me with other knowledgeable historians.
Period maps can be found on the internet now, but often those images are reduced to such a small size for web purposes that they become pixilated when enlarged. Local genealogical libraries offer more useful documents, and state libraries have large collections of maps that they will loan or copy for a small fee.
Many primary sources like journals, letters, and essays are available for free in Google books and in the Kindle store, and Writers Digest offers a wonderful series of “Everyday Life in the…” books. Of course all kinds of legitimate sources of information are as close as your favorite search engine, but the most reputable are related to history museums. One of my favorites for the 1700’s is the Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, site. The pages for children contain lots of pictures and rich descriptions of people’s daily lives—as well as some really fun interactive elements. I got lost for a couple of hours one afternoon, clicking around on the “dress a character” page.
For each of my novels, I buy one solid nonfiction history devoted to the time period and setting. I select an accredited author who documents primary sources and still composes a readable narrative. For Pelican Bride I chose Professor Jay Higginbotham’s Old Mobile: Fort Louis de Louisiane 1702-1711. For Creole Princess it was Thomas E. Chávez’s Spain and the Independence of the United States. For Magnolia Duchess (next year’s release), it was Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte at the Battle of New Orleans by the inimitable Winston Groom. All three of those books are now dog-eared, highlighted, coffee-stained, and sticky-note-filled. As I read, I make an Excel timeline, because keeping track of related historical events and people by date facilitates plotting and story construction.
Do you have additional ideas for finding those historical tidbits that make less known eras come alive?
Torn between loyalties to family and flag, one young woman is about to discover that her most important allegiance is to her heart.
It is 1776 and all along the eastern seaboard, the American struggle for independence rages. But in the British-held southern port of Mobile, Alabama, the conflict brewing is much quieter—though no less deadly.
Lyse Lanier may be French in heritage, but she spends most of her time in the company of the ebullient daughter of the British commander of Mobile. When a charming young Spanish merchant docks in town, Lyse is immediately struck by his easy wit and flair for the dramatic. But is he truly who he makes himself out to be? Spies abound, and Spain has yet to choose a side in the American conflict. Is Lyse simply an easy mark for Rafael Gonzalez to exploit? Or are his overtures of love as genuine as Spanish gold?
With spectacular detail that brings the cultural gumbo of the Colonial Gulf Coast alive, Beth White invites you to step into a world of intrigue and espionage from a little-known slice of the American Revolutionary War.
Beth White is the award-winning author of The Pelican Bride. A native Mississippian, she teaches music at an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. Her novels have won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award, the RT Book Club Reviewers’ Choice Award, and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. Learn more at www.bethwhite.net.
“Duplicity, danger, political intrigue, and adventure.”—Booklist on The Pelican Bride
“New France comes alive thanks to intricate detail.”—Publishers Weekly review of The Pelican Bride
“The brutal New World [is] captured with distinct detail in this fast-paced romantic adventure.”—RT Book Reviews on The Pelican Bride