Hi, everyone, I love being a guest on this blog because I happen to think this is one of the best blogs for readers and writers. I want to discuss that nasty little word research. No matter what an author writes, it seems at some point that author must stop long enough to do a little research. But how accurate is that research?
For the last three years, I've
spent quite a bit of time doing research on the history of our "Wild"
West. It all happened by accident. I wrote a contemporary romance, A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming, which
is a little east-meets-west-type of story. It was loads of fun, but I had no
idea that I was going to open a big can of worms. I never intended to
write historical. I know several authors who do and the stuff they've had to
research... Nope, not me. Never ever would I write that! Well, never say
never in this business. It all happened by accident. I wrote a contemporary romance.
The contemporary that I wrote
mentioned an old diary. People began to ask for the diary. When enough readers
asked for it, I thought I might as well write it. So I began. But as usual,
it's easy to get sidetracked. Debra Holland asked me to be part of her
Christmas anthology, Sweetwater Springs
Christmas, and I said yes. So I wrote about a young man who leaves
Creed's Crossing, Wyoming to ask his long time pen pal, Adie Reiner, to be his
wife. And as I wrote that story, I realized I had another one brewing between
her older sister and a Crow Indian. That story became A Rancher's Woman.
Sounds simple, right? Quite the
opposite. I was buried in research. I'd write a few sentences and then spend
hours looking up something. It's been a fascinating journey for me. Having
lived my life in the eastern portion of the United States, I can talk about the
colorful history of the east. To make matters worse, history in school is
taught mostly from the standpoint of important battles. But east is east and
west is west, and I probably read three lines about the railroad being laid, a
single line or two about the Pony Express, and not much more on the early
settlers of the west. I had to learn everything from scratch! Plus, I hadn't been in the
beautiful state of Wyoming in years. I actually managed to contact someone
within the Farm Bureau who was wonderful. He was also a rancher, and he gave me
all sorts of answers to the strangest of questions. Oh, yeah, I really did, I
asked what color the dirt was. When he quit laughing, we had a long discussion
on soil types.
I didn't want to write about pretty
dresses. There are plenty of authors who do that. I wanted to write about real
life. I found it in photographs, letters, and all those wonderful things that
historical societies collect. Plus many companies have fabulous records. Even
simple things such as pens needed hours of research. Did you know that the
railroads employ historians? The Bureau of Indian Affairs was wonderful - once
I reached the right people within that organization.
So after hundreds of hours of digging,
and some awesome contacts, I wrote A
Rancher's Woman. The Diary of Clare Coleman is still being written.
That one is more difficult because it starts in the 1840's and records are
I just finished writing A
Rancher's Dream, which follows A
Rancher's Woman, and that second novel should be available around the
end of this month. As I wrote these, I realized that my grandmothers would have
been the same age as the young teenage girls in the stories. My one grandmother
and her son, my father, grew up on a self-sufficient farm. That gave me a
slight edge as I’d heard all those old stories.
I know that what I've written is
historically accurate, and it's a slightly different glimpse of the past than
what most romance readers might expect. That's because I didn't leave out the
day-to-day chores, the lack of plumbing, or all the other stuff that is not
mentioned in most books about our west. And those gals who went west were
tough! They had to be to survive!
What do we do when it gets a little
too warm? We turn on the air conditioning. If it's cold, we use the heater.
They didn't have that luxury. If it was hot, they still had to cook over a wood
stove and churn cream into butter. They didn't jump in the shower to cool off!
And they certainly weren't wearing corsets under silk dresses as they milked
the cows. Maybe reading Roberta Gellis
spoiled me. If I'm going to read historical fiction, I want it accurate. And I feel
as though I owe it to my readers to write with the same care and accuracy as
Roberta Gellis. (Thank you Ms. Gellis for giving me so many hours of reading
pleasure and for being such an inspiration to me!)
So that dirty little word, research,
has become part of my life. The diary is no longer on the back burner. It's
become a labor of love. But using the Internet is tricky. I can't take a single
source and assume it's correct. I try to find several sources. Wikipedia has
been my friend, but I make certain I have other sources and not just the ones
Wikipedia cites that will back up my info. Even photographs can have errors.
They might say the photo was taken in 1880, but really it was taken in 1903.
I've learned to look for those flaws.
I've had some training in working
with old photos. Find something that you know is a certain color, and then, in
theory, you can pick out everything else in the photo which is that color. I
often felt as though I was looking for Waldo! Depending on the tribe, the white
man's influence on their clothing changed. They wouldn't be wearing shirts or
blouses made of flour sacks until they were confined to a reservation.
We gave them bags of white powdery
stuff that had no taste. They didn't know what to do with it. They dumped that
flour out and used the bags for all sorts of things. It's really sad. Plus every tribe has its own
language. Some were similar and some were as different as Portuguese is from
Swahili. Just toss out most of what you probably were taught or thought. Chances
are it's wrong!
Creating a historically accurate
book takes extra time. As an author, you must check, double check, and check
the information again. And then it has to be applied to what you are writing.
Sometimes that research yields hardly anything applicable and other times it
showers you in useful info.
If the author is researching
something for a contemporary novel, be creative! I know of an author who joined
a dating service and made it quite clear she only wanted someone who could feed
her information for her novel. She got lots of that and a few marriage
proposals! Never be afraid to ask. Most people are more than willing to share
When I wrote A Cowboy's Kiss in Wyoming, I needed
medical help. Fortunately, I knew several doctors in a large sports medicine
practice. I learned more about hip replacements than I would ever need. But
that entire office was so willing to share information. And as a way of
double-checking, I contacted a physical therapy group in Wyoming and got the
same information with a slightly different slant. Apparently, those cowboys
don't believe their doctors when they are told to stay off the horse for at
least six weeks. Stubborn men! Why don't they listen?
Research is research. It makes our
stories better. If you are an author, just jump in and don't be afraid of it.
It's amazing what you will learn! And sometimes it’s fun. If you are a reader, do you prefer
to read stories that are historically accurate or do you only want a romantic
story that skims over all the not so glamorous aspects of life years ago?
When E. Ayers isn't busy
writing, she's often doing photography. She'll be away from her desk most of
the May 23 with her camera, but she's promised to respond to everyone as soon
as she returns that evening.
Her historical western A Rancher's Woman has been added to a
Native American encyclopedia and is a USA Today Recommended Read. It is
available in e-form and in paper.
You can visit with her on her blog. Her westerns are sweeter than
her contemporary stories but nothing is ever extremely hot. She writes down the