Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jumping Into Historical Research by Carrie Turansky

Do you want to write an historical novel, but you’re not sure how to tackle the research? Come along with me and I’ll give you some of my best research tips! I enjoy history and traveling, so doing research for my English historical novels is a fun task for me. I can easily get lost in a stack of books when I’m gathering background information and plotting out a new story.

Getting Started
I begin by looking at the big picture to get general background information about the time period and location, and then I focus in on the exact time, place, and social circles of my main characters. This is where I do my detailed research. I want to get to know my characters' corner of the world so well that I can move around there in my imagination. I can picture my character walking down a street or sitting at a table and know exactly what the character would see, hear, feel, and smell. I want to research until the historical part of my novel becomes almost second nature and I can focus on the story.

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources
History books and biographies can be very useful in research, but they are what are known as “secondary sources.” I always try to track down “primary sources” when possible. A primary source is something that was created during the time period itself, such as a newspaper, magazine, journal, diary, historical document, movie, radio broadcast, or a firsthand account from someone who actually lived through the moment and recorded an oral history, interview, or autobiography. Historians and biographers build their works by examining primary sources. As an author of historical novels, I try to go directly to the source whenever possible, so I get an unfiltered view.

In my latest novel, Across the Blue, I focused the story around the development of early aviation and the pilots who were preparing to be the first to fly across the English Channel to France. I came up with the idea when I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and saw an exhibit about the Wright Brothers. I noticed a poster for the First International Air Meet in Reims, France, in 1909. I love the Edwardian era, so I jumped in and started my research. That led me to the newspaper owner who was offering the prize for the first cross-channel flight, and that sparked the ideas for the heroine and her family. I wanted to give her a dream and goal that was as worthy and inspiring as the hero’s, so I made her long to become a journalist in a time when that kind of work was rare for women.

I read some wonderful books to give me background information for this story including The Wright Brothers by David McCullough; Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics by J. Lee Thompson; and Aviation Century: The Early Years by Ron Dick and Dan Patterson. I watched YouTube videos about early airplanes, reenactment flights, and drone movies of the Cliffs of Dover and Kent where the story takes place. Pinterest and Google image searches were also a great help. I saved all these images on my Pinterest Board for Across the Blue. Take a look at this link: https://www.pinterest.com/carrieturansky/across-the-blue/


Take a Research trip!
I've traveled to England twice to research my novels set there, once with my husband Scott, and another time with fellow author Cathy Gohlke. Seeing the settings for my books, meeting people living there, and taking in the countryside were a wonderful ways to absorb the atmosphere and settings for my novels. But if you can’t travel to the location of your story you can always watch movies and documentaries describing the era, places, and people.

So jump in! The water is fine! You’ll find your best story just below the surface in your research!


What sources have you found to be most valuable in your research, whether historical or contemporary?


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Carrie Turansky has loved reading since she first visited the library as a young child and checked out a tall stack of picture books. Her love for writing began when she penned her first novel at age twelve. She is now the award-winning author of nineteen inspirational romance novels and novellas. Carrie and her husband, Scott, who is a pastor, author, and speaker, have been married for more than thirty years and make their home in New Jersey. They often travel together on ministry trips and to visit their five adult children and five grandchildren. Carrie leads women’s ministry at her church, and when she is not writing she enjoys spending time working in her flower gardens and cooking healthy meals for friends and family. She loves to connect with reading friends through her website, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. 

Website and Social Media links:
Carrie’s website, blog, and email newsletter: http://carrieturansky.com/
Carrie’s BookBub Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/carrie-turansky


Across the Blue:
Love soars to new heights in this Edwardian romance filled with adventure, faith, and
inspiration, but how much will it cost Bella and James to follow their dreams?

Isabella Grayson, the eldest daughter of a wealthy, English newspaper magnate, longs to become a journalist, but her parents don't approve. They want her to marry well and help them gain a higher standing in society. After she writes an anonymous letter to the editor that impresses her father, her parents reluctantly agree she can write a series of articles about aviation and the race to be the first to fly across the English Channel, but only if she promises to accept a marriage proposal within the year. When James Drake, an aspiring aviator, crashes his flying machine at the Grayson's new estate, Bella is intrigued. James is determined to win that race across the Channel and gain the prize Mr. Grayson's newspaper is offering. He hopes it will help him secure a government contract to build airplanes and redeem a terrible family secret. James wants to win Bella's heart, but his background and lack of social standing make it unlikely her parents would approve. If he fails to achieve his dream, how will he win the love and respect he is seeking? Will Bella's faith and support help him find the strength and courage he needs when unexpected events turn their world upside down?

6 comments:

  1. Hi, Carrie, great article! When I researched for a story set in the 1920s, I found it most helpful to scroll through microfilm of old newspapers. Even the ads were useful! You really capture the "tone" of the time ... which I found shockingly different from modern days even though it was only the 1920s. For earlier historical research, I loved the chatty, oral history vibe of books written in an earlier period about family and local history.

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    1. Chronicling America is my friend, Denise! I love prowling through old newspapers. They can provide some great story ideas too. Thanks for the tip!

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  2. Hi Denise, that's fun to hear you've written a story set in the 1920s. Reading old newspapers is a great idea! You can find many of these online. I learned a lot from reading Harper's Illustrated Weekly when I wrote a novel set during the Civil War. I agree about those advertisements! They were fun and enlightening!

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  3. Since my historical romances have been inspired by my home town, I know the area well. I'm actually third generation to grow up there, so I've heard stories, seen photos, etc. I also use a 1902 replica of a Sears, Roebuck, & Company catalog. It's been extremely helpful!

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    1. If ever need anything, Dawn, I've got catalogs of Fall 1900 and the 1908 Sears, plus 1894-95 Montgomery Ward.

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