RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION #9

This turns out to be a very basic section of my presentation. You know what sort of resources you need to pay for. The thing to remember here is that you should spend your money wisely.  So I’ll start off with a couple of suggestions:

  1. If you’re looking at a resource to purchase, check it out first on-line. Read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon to learn whether other readers felt the book delivered. If you’re on Amazon, try the “Look Inside” function and check out the Index if there’s one there. You could also try getting it through your library first, just to see whether it’s useful. Due your due diligence before you lay out funds….if you waste money on a bad book, that may prevent you from buying the good book.
  2. If the book is from 1923 or prior, consider reading it on-line first. Since it’s out of copyright in the US, there are a lot of places where you can skim through that book (GoogleBooks is a good place to start) and determine whether it’s worth spending your money on. This can save you lots of money and time. (And you may decide just to keep using the online version instead of buying.)

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If you’re looking for some basic resources, most people will start with Histories and Biographies, but let me also suggest the alternatives of Journals (or Diaries) and Novels that come from that time period. While I did read histories, I actually find that Journals and Novels give me a lot more atmosphere. They tell me what people were eating, what street scenes were like, how people felt about this law or that.

I read several novels by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, which gave me a great feel for the daily life of a young gentleman of Lisbon (including the fact that everyone smoked!), and how the houses would be decorated (the living room in the Pereira de Santos home looks a great deal like Eduardo’s office in Os Maias). I read the journals of a wealthy Russian serf and learned that he regularly ate pirogis for lunch.  Those are the sort of details that a history won’t give you.

In addition, I have purchased several travel guides. My favorite is the Baedeker I purchased for $50 (it was worth EVERY penny), and I talk a lot about using it here. Not only did that book tell me the price of cabs in 1901 Barcelona, the train schedules for crossing Spain, the presence of a hotel omnibus, where the embassies, post offices, and telegraphs offices were, they also told me what a visitor would visit…or NOT visit. (The Sagrada Familia didn’t even make the book in 1901.) I also found, in one of my travel guides for Saratoga Springs, the dinner menu for the hotel in which my character is staying (and thus I made her sit through all the courses with an overbearing man!) It was great!

And MAPS. I love maps. You can, quite frankly, simply download a lot of them online, but if you’re like me and prefer to see the period maps, you purchase them. Where do I purchase my maps? Surprisingly enough, I got most from ETSY. Yes, the vintage sale site also has a ton of period maps, most torn out of altases or guide books like the Baedeker mentioned above. It was a surprise to me to find them there.

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Finally, you can take courses. The RWA in particular is good about offering online courses to its members on a myriad of historical topics. Some are available to non-members as well.  Community colleges often had history classes on various topics, and your research librarian friend might be able to hook you up with different classes of other sorts (like the once-weekly Farsi class they have in Edmond or the Fencing Class down in Oklahoma City). And an organization like the YMCA often offers unusual classes as well (I learned to sail via the YMCA).

So if you’re going to pay for a resource, do your homework before hand. It’s never fun to get a book in the mail only to discover that it doesn’t have what you want at all!

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Next Week: When to Stop Researching and Fudge Your Answer

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RRH Confession #10

I purchased and watched (several times) the movie Saratoga Trunk. It’s not a particularly good movie, despite having Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, but it was filmed in the hotel that I mentioned above…only a few years before the hotel burned to the ground. You can catch a few glimpses of the United States Hotel in this trailer.

How much it actually showed up in Snowfall is another matter…but I researched the snot out of that hotel!

 

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