Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #1

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a research junkie.

I generally have to rein myself in to keep out of the Research Rabbit Hole. It’s a warm and cozy place  to be, but one where we’re not getting writing done.

So I often talk about this conundrum at various conferences (This year at the DFW Writers Con, Roanoke Writers’ Conference, and early next year at a North Texas RWA meeting.) I try to keep my presentation about the topic under 55 minutes, although a lot of that comes with me talking at full El Paso speed.

For some time, I’ve been meaning to post what I have in my presentations along with the thousand other (hyperbole) resources that I have.  So without further ado, I’ll kick off this fall with the first of my posts on RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION!

(That should be mentally pronounced in your head by James Earl Jones.)

The first slide is, of course, my cover:

Not terribly exciting, I admit, but I had to start somewhere.


This is where I usually discuss what sort of historical research I’ve done, so here’s my research CV:

  1. Russian and Chinese culture of 1200, for a series of short stories about an alternate history where the Golden Horde was wiped out by dragons in 1120 or so. (The Dragon’s Child)
  2. 1905-1909 Saratoga Springs, NY, for three novellas set in the horse-racing world of that time. (Iron Shoes)
  3. 1902-1903 Portugal and Spain, for three novels and a novella set then (The Golden City series)
  4. 1920 Portugal, for a novel set post WW1 (After the War)
  5. 1815 Russia, for a novella set at a dacha outside St. Petersburg (The Sparrow in Hiding)
  6. 1918 London, for a short story set in the Third London General Hospital. (Masks of War)
  7. 1820 South Pacific, for my pirate story in Shimmer’s Pirate Issue. (A Hand for Each)
  8. (unpublished) 1933 Saratoga Springs (which is a different place than 1905 SS)
  9. (unpublished) 1909 Portugal Submarine Race story (yes…actually about submarines…not a euphemism.)

You can see which time periods and locales I favor here, and therefore my information may not be as applicable to your particular areas of interest. If you’re writing about a medieval weapons maker, my advice won’t be as on point as if you were writing something set post-1800, for example, or in Russia or Portugal.

However…my basic ideas should be able to transfer across the spectrum of research.


I am, as a researcher, trying to accomplish four things. I want to:

  1. Research the setting/time enough that my reader will feel grounded in it,
  2. But quickly, so that I have time to write, and yet
  3. Making as few mistakes as possible
  4. Without making the research overly-obvious (and thus a distraction from the story).

So this is what I’ll be discussing in this series….how I try to do that.

Your mileage may vary.


And next week, slide 2, where I discuss whether or not I am Isabel Allende…



RRH Confession #1….When I was writing my pirate story, I made myself watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies because I didn’t want to have anything in my story (already written by that point) to resonate with that series.





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