Friday, October 23, 2009
History Geek Speaks~Erica Vetsch
Greetings, Seekerville! I’m thrilled to be back amongst such excellent and admirable writers.
I wanted to give you a peek at my bookshelf and talk about how I research settings for writing historical fiction.
First, there are a couple of things you should know about me:
• I am a history GEEK! I love all things historical and am fascinated by American history.
• I have a serious addiction to books. The picture below is about 1/10th of the books in my office library. I have many more books on bookshelves all over my house. Fiction dominates, but my library of research books is growing steadily.
• I take my historical research seriously. It is one of the things my editors have mentioned that they appreciate about my work. It is thoroughly researched, and I pay attention to detail. (Does this mean no mistakes ever creep in? No, but it does mean I’m trying my utmost to make sure that doesn’t happen.)
So, here’s a peek at part of a bookshelf in my office.
The top shelf in the picture is full of writing books. Everything from my Webster’s Dictionary—a gift from my parents when I was fifteen—to the new Christian Fiction How-To book A Novel Idea. On this shelf are a couple of “Go-to” books that I dip into every time I’m starting a novel. One is GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. The other is the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.
Below that are research books grouped by topic. Cowboys, Indians, Orphans, Prisoners of War, Minnesota history, Lighthouses, MN Transportation.
On the bottom shelf are books on the US Cavalry and Frontier forts, women doctors in the west, mail order brides, dress and costume, a Sears Roebuck catalog from 1897, and books about the Gilded Age. And more.
Here are the US Cavalry/Frontier Fort books laid out. As you can see, it’s a subject I’m passionate about learning.
So how do I utilize research books?
• First, it is no chore for me to read these. As my family will attest, I have to pull myself away from reading history books to take care of life responsibilities. Many people buy research books and never open them. I’m deep into the research for a new series, and I want to learn all I can about what could and did happen at frontier forts in America. I read with post-it notes to flag interesting bits that I might like to incorporate. I cannot and will not write in a book. Not even a highlighter. It goes against my librarian soul. Post-its are my friend.
• Distill the information through the eyes of the characters. It’s all too easy to want to throw in everything I’m finding out, and the book winds up sounding more like a history book than a story. When I’m reading the research books, I’m more looking for historical events and happenings that I can incorporate into the lives of the characters. For instance, with my debut novel, I took a massive November storm on Lake Superior in 1905 and made it part of the story-line. The book isn’t about a November gale, it’s about an arranged marriage, but the storm ramped up the tension and carried part of the plot.
• Some of these books show how my characters would dress, some show daily life, some give me a feel for the political climate of the day. I would venture to say that 85% of what I read in these books won’t make it into the novel at all. Does that mean it’s not valuable? NO! Just as learning your character’s back-story that will never make it into the book but helps you to know how and why they would react to certain situations, learning the setting inside out helps you know what is and isn’t realistic for the characters to consider as an option. Historical characters must behave in historically accurate ways, which means knowing the setting and social parameters of the era.
If at all possible, I try to visit the place I’m writing about. Recently I was able to visit several frontier forts, and walking the parade grounds, climbing the steps to the commandant’s house, photographing the inside of the blockhouse, standing inside a cell and contemplating who had been locked in there before me...invaluable.
So, how do you research? Do you buy books? Visit sites? Talk to experts?
Erica’s debut novel, The Bartered Bride, is now available. You can order a copy by clicking HERE. Or by phoning (740) 922-7280.
Jonathan Kennebrae is furious when his grandfather informs him that his future has been decided. He will marry Melissa Brooke or be disinherited. Jonathan has invested years of his life in Kennabrae Shipping, but heaven help him if Grandfather decides to take it all away for this.
Melissa, too, is devastated when her parents make their announcement. As little more than a bargaining chip in her father’s business maneuvers, she feels her secure world slipping away. Engaged to marry a man she has never met—someone “considerably older” than herself? What have her parents done?
Can Jonathan and Melissa find a way out of this loveless marriage, or must they find a way forward together?
Erica is giving away a free copy of The Bartered Bride. Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing.
ERICA VETSCH is married to Peter and keeps the company books for the family lumber business. A home-school mom to Heather and James, Erica loves history, romance, and storytelling. Her ideal vacation is taking her family to out-of-the-way history museums and chatting to curators about local history. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Calvary Bible College in Secondary Education: Social Studies. You can find her on the web at On The Write Path