Monday, July 15, 2013

Researching for Historicals: Part One by Pamela S. Meyers

Pamela S. Meyers

Hey, everyone! Annette here. Wave at me if you write historicals. Like so many writers I've spoken with, including our guest today, the amount of research required for accuracy intimidates some writers so much they avoid penning historical novels. But sometimes God has other plans. Pam Meyers is here to share this month on finding those elusive details. Read on!

Using Local Newspapers to Make 
Your Historical Setting Come Alive
By Pamela S. Meyers

Ever since I began writing fiction, I shied away from writing historicals because you also have to make sure you have all the details right down to what type of shoes they wore, food they ate, even whether or not their words were part of the vernacular at the time. Otherwise the historical junkies will be sure to spot your mistakes.

I stuck to writing contemporaries until I told the editor from Summerside Press that I was raised in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Intrigued that I was from the very popular Midwestern resort area, she wanted to know more because they were interested in resort settings. I instantly began plotting a contemporary in my head. Then the bubble burst when she said, “Why don’t you work up a historical proposal for me?” Of course I agreed and quickly decided on 1933 when the iconic lake shore building known as the Riviera was opened.

Growing up in the town did give me somewhat of an advantage but I still needed to know what the town was like in 1933, not when I was a child. I owned several coffee-table type books about Lake Geneva that featured pictures from the past, but I needed a more up-close-and-personal snapshot of the town. I decided what better place to find that than copies of the weekly newspaper from that time.

Fortunately I live about an hour away from Lake Geneva and was able to make frequent trips to the public library where I discovered a treasure trove of information hidden in the microfilms of the Lake Geneva News Tribune.

Not only did I find needed information regarding the building of the Riviera, but I also found the heartbeat of the town as I read about how everyone came behind the plan to make the lakefront a tourist magnet. Tourists meant money spent on lodging, using the beach and dancing up a storm in the Riviera’s new ballroom. After all, this was the time of the Great Depression.

I’d grown up seeing the Riviera daily, but as I read, I began to feel the same passion for the structure as the townspeople of 1933. And when I later began writing the story, I brought that same passion and excitement to my heroine and the other characters.

Not everyone can travel to their story setting to take advantage of the local library’s microfilm library, but there are a lot of newspapers from the past available on line. By typing “newspaper archives” in the Google search bar, I received dozens of hits to sites—some free and others by subscription—that just might have newspapers from your story’s setting. Some go back to the 19th Century! So start exploring!

Next time I’ll discuss another way the newspapers helped me bring the setting alive for my readers.

LFY in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin by Pamela S. Meyers
A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago. She served on the ACFW Operating Board for five years and has also served her local ACFW chapter in leadership roles. Her historical romance, which is set in her hometown, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, released in April 2013. You can find more information on Pam at or on Facebook at


  1. I love prowling through old newspapers online. It's a great way to learn about life way back when--advertisements and, sometimes, even the weather for a particular day.

    I enjoyed the Love Finds You novel, Pam!

  2. Great article, Pam. Your book is a must-read for me, since I write Historicals in the 1930's era and am also a native of Lake Geneva, where I found love. (Lake Geneva, Alabama, that is! :) )

  3. Good information, Pam. What a great source for historic novels.

  4. Way back before the Internet, that was the only way to do historical research. I used to love to go to the library and play with the microfiche machine. The advertisements were one of my favorite forms of research. They would show the prices of things, what people thought about them (slightly exaggerated LOL) and what people wore.

    Love your hint to google "newspaper archives." That's a great idea. :)

  5. The historical I've just started working on is set in Seattle where I live, and I was thrilled to discover newspaper archives online. Such a great resource!I didn't have that same gold mine when I wrote the story set in my small Wisconsin home town. Even the information gained from historical societies was limited.

  6. You're so brave, Pam. Not sure how I'd respond if my editor asked me for a historical proposal. Stop breathing until I passed out?? lol. Lovely post!

  7. Terrific information here, Pam. How lucky you are to be inspired by your almost-backyard! I am hoping to get my long inspirational Western historical contracted...I finally set a book in my almost-backyard, the goldfields of Southern California. I admit to writing several sensual long historicals set in, go figure, Nebraska and Texas.

    That said, I love research. I think my days, duh, years, as an American Lit teacher really got me to love our history.

    Wonderful stuff as usual, Pam and ladies of Seriously Write! Love to you all.


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