Friday, July 12, 2013

Please welcome our guest Jewell Tweedt

Putting the History into Historical Fiction

Historical fiction can be defined as a story set in the past. The setting is real and drawn from history. It should contain details of that time period. Okay-that means that just about any one and any place that ever existed is fair game to build a story around. The possibilities are endless –that’s what makes writing so much fun. Seriously, how can a writer not have a billion ideas swirling in her head?

A few examples include Regencys, westerns, and WW II. Take note- people LOVE WWII, especially guys.  Here a few thoughts from a history teacher turned historical writer:

1)      Write about a time period that interests you. You’ll be spending a lot of time ‘living’ there.

By writing what you like you may actually finish the book. For every 1000 people who say they are writing a book, one person will finish it.

Having enthusiasm for the time period and how your characters lived then will show in your work. It’s kind of like how someone on the other end of the phone line knows you’re smiling. It comes through.

Try to have a quiet place to work because you’re traveling back in time. Ignore the kids, the washer, the lure of Facebook.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been jerked back to 2013 with the shrill buzz of my dryer.

2)      Use a variety of primary and secondary sources to add authenticity.

Primary sources are original materials that haven’t been filtered. Examples are diaries, letters, or newspaper articles of the time. Okay, I know it’s rough to find sources for some periods, but old stuff is cool!

Secondary sources are accounts written after the fact. These include books or articles that have been filtered or interpreted. Cool too, but be careful to read several accounts. There are many sides to a story.

Pick a person from that time period to learn about culture and perspectives during their lives. For example, if your character is an 1870’s school teacher find someone who really was a teacher and read up about how licenses were obtained, how teachers boarded with families and how they had to clean the school room and the privies! Yuck.

3)      Find adventures or mysteries that actually happened to add interest to your work. In my second book Still Faithful  I wrote about Confederate gold that was moved from Jefferson Davis’s  treasury and hidden by 12 year old Rebel  soldiers. It’s true and fascinating.

      In my third book Faith and Hope-Grace’s Story I wrote about a blizzard using a description of a huge one from 1878 known as the Easter Blizzard. The day started at 60 degrees and a few hours later it was 30 degrees below zero and snowing two to three inches an hour with the wind blowing 50 miles per hour.  Why make up something when it’s already there to borrow?

4)      Add details for depth of understanding.

      People who read historical fiction like history. They want to know more. Excedrin Migraine tablets didn’t exist 150 years ago. Migraines did. Instead people dipped rags into vinegar and tied them tightly around their foreheads until the pain eased.

5)      Be sure landmarks, inventions, settings are accurate.

      If your character arrives on a train then that train, those tracks should have really been there. If you write that the Union Pacific Railroad came through Omaha in the 1850’s you’d lose many of your readers. They know UP tracks weren’t laid until after 1865 in Nebraska. Check your facts and avoid turning off your readers. 

6)      Inject some emotion and connect with your readers. If they feel for the characters they’ll want to read more. Humor has existed since the beginning of time. Try it. One of the favorite scenes of my first book Faith of the Heart is when the big, burly sheriff comes to rescue the heroine and she’s already taken out the bad guy with a solid thud of a cast iron skillet to the outlaw’s noggin.

So in conclusion, like what you’re writing, use resources to add accuracy, borrow from real people and settings, provide details, and have fun doing it.

Jewell Tweedt was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, the setting for the back to Omaha Adventure series. She lives in western Iowa and divides her time between teaching middle school students and writing. In her spare time she reads, gardens and grades papers. Lots of papers.  Readers can learn more about Jewell and her books at

One reader will win a signed copy of Faith and Hope-Grace’s Story.

 In this final book of the Back to Omaha Adventure series teacher Grace Freeport has something to hide.Her romantic interest-lawyer Billy Prescott has something to prove.She's in Omaha, he's in Baltimore.What she wants and what he wants couldn't be more different. When she reveals her surprising past some townspeople are ready to send her packing. An unexpected blizzard and support from friends changes everything. Learn if Billy's discovery about her past and his ambitions in life will destroy their bonds or bind them together in a discovery of faith and hope-Grace's story.


Christina Rich said...

One of my favorite parts about writing historical romance is the research. The one thing I don't like to research is clothing. I'm far from a fashionista, and most of my heroines were fashionable either so I try to portray clothing how they would have seen it.

One interesting piece in my Kansas set story that I can't believe I thought to research, okay two, wire screen for doors and windows, and barbed wire. One made it into my story, the other did not. :)

Tonja Saylor said...

Enjoyed reading this post! Now I am interested in knowing more about how migraines and other ailments were treated in the past!!

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Teaching middle school students??

Give this woman a medal! :D

I have written a historical and I'm writing another, but it's not my favorite thing to do. The research makes me crazy. I go down a rabbit hole and never come out...

Amber Perry said...

Great post! I LOVE writing historical fiction--because like you said, I get to spend so much time living in the colonial era. :) Fabulous insight and advice.
I'd be thrilled to be entered in the drawing. Thank you!!!

Cindy W. said...

Thank you so much for the very interesting and informative post. I love to do research and learn new things!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome back Jewell. I love historicals that are rich with the flavor of the time period. Calgon take me away.

Jackie said...

I enjoyed these tips.

DAR is a good place for research also. Plus those ladies are usually involved in other historical organizations. There are a lot of smaller groups that may involve ties to Native Americans or Civil War or something about 1812.

Southerners also have a tradition of telling family stories back to the Civil War.

My son's cherry dresser was carried to the chicken coop and hidden from the soldiers during the Civil War. It's a big, beautiful dresser, and that story has been handed down through the generations.

Visiting retirement communities can be a treasure trove of historical research.

Last example, the first lady to work in an airport tower (I need caffeine, air traffic controller. Sorry.), anyhow that lady moved to Wilmore to retire. She had fascinating stories.

I hope you all have a great day!

Jenny Blake said...

Welcome Jewell,
As a reader I appreciate the research. I love nothing more than learning something about the area, era etc. I get disappointed when its obvious the author hasn't done their research and have things that couldn't happen in a book. I have actually googled knowing I was right about something to learn it infact was right. But there have been times I knew something was wrong (Like when an author used Australia in a WW2 book and had a naval base where there wasn't one and also had the distance between places so out it was almost laughable.) I love learning new facts.
I would struggle to write a book cos I would want to tell info that may not be what others want to hear. Some of the info I learnt at Gettysburg while true is not what others want to hear.

Rose said...

Good Morning, Jewell!

Best of luck with this new edition to your series.

Hope to see you again soon at a IA/NE get together.

kaybee said...

This was helpful. Right now I only do historicals because the settings are actually easier for me to build a plot around. (There is NO modern equivalent for the Oregon Trail.) People in earlier times had real physical problems in addition to problems of the heart. For example, one of my WIPs takes place in Hell's Kitchen, New York, right after World War I. There was no welfare and there were no stopgaps, so when an immigrant was poor, they were POOR. Thus a whole layer of complications for my hero and heroine. The research is the tricky part, and it never stops.
Kathy Bailey

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Jewell! I love and write historical romances. Research is fun. Though getting the facts right is not always easy. Thanks for sharing those fascinating historical tidbits like the vinegar cure for migraines. Vinegar seems to have an endless variety of uses.

I have Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, an excellent resource for the healing properities of herbs.


Missy Tippens said...

Jewell, thanks for joining us today! You gave some great reminders!

Sherri Shackelford said...

Hello, Jewell :) Great post. I'm always fascinated by what readers think 'did' and 'didn't' exist. Our ancestors were quite clever and resourceful!

Audra Harders said...

Jewell, welcome to Seekerville!

I love writing historical romance set in Victorian England. The research is so much fun. You're absolutely right about choosing a time period you can get excited about because you do spend a lot of time there. I started out writing in the Regency era, but had a hard time making my characters live without the convenience of modern plumbing, so I moved my interest to the Victorian period.

A girl can only rough it so much!!!

Thanks for sharing your helpful insights!!

Mary Connealy said...

Christina, I think clothing is one of my biggest failings as a writer.
I seem to slap the heroine in a calico dress on day one and never mention it again.

Of course most of my heroines OWN one dress.

And my cowboys? What? Are they supposed to change clothes?
For some reason I love researching GUNS. Gun history is really fascinating.
So I may not say what color my hero's pants are but you're gonna know the make and model of the gun he's carrying and why he chose it.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks Tonya, Things like that fascinate me. I always wondered how Laura Ingalls Wilder went to the bathroom.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Christina,
I am not into clothing either. Book covers of historicals have pretty dresses . I also use a paperdoll book called American Pioneer Family. hey, it works!

Mary Connealy said...

VIRGINIA, I have a lot more patience for the research dragging me down a rabbit hole than I used to because I've had two series now come to me because of research that veered off in a strange direction.

Jewell Tweedt said...

what can I say? Someone's got to love this age group!

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Amber,

I love the colonial period too. Right now my living room table is covered with drying herbs. This fall I'll use them in a lesson on colonial life. Makes things interesting for the kids and for me.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Good morning Cindy,

Glad you liked it. This is my first time on Seekerville and I was a bit imtimidated.The list of folks here is impressive. But this is fun!

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Tina,
Yes, Calgon. I remember those commercials. I'd see those as a kid and wonder how far you could get in a bathtub!

Goofy, I know.

My stories are set in Omaha after the Civil War-a great time in our country.Heck we came close to losing our country, very close.

Jewell Tweedt said...

How cool to have a dresser like that! I'm envious. Don't let that treasure get away!

Thanks for commenting,glad you liked the post.

Jewell Tweedt said...


I know what you mean about a lack of research. That's why I'm lucky to have so many history sources around me. My first book Faith of the Heart talks about Gettysburg. It's dear to me because my grandfather was raised there.I was careful to get my facts right in his honor.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Rose,
That was a fun afternoon at the library and Village Inn. I hope to see you again soon.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hello Kathy,
Thanks for your post.One of my favorite topics to teach is the Oregon Trail.I never get tired of it.

Jewell Tweedt said...

I like your idea about Rodale. I'll look into it. Thanks for posting.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks Missy. Nice to hear from you.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hey Sherri,
I used to think I wanted to live in the 1800's but as I get older i know I'd miss the A/C and hot showers too much.

Nice to hear from you.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Welcome to Seekerville JEWELL, I taught junior high language arts so know what you mean when you say grading LOTS of papers. Its great to escape into another era. Thanks for sharing the hints.

Have fun today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hello Audra,

I love your name. So pretty! Yes, modern plumbing is important.:) Thanks for sharing today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Sandra,
I taught language arts for years. I'd go to sleep dreaming of commas and quotation marks!

Chill N said...

Welcome, Jewel! Loved your comment about how often the dryer buzzer has startled you out of your historical world. And isn't it interesting how when we pull ourselves out of that world we often appreciate something as simple as a light switch.

I've found the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress to be a huge, wonderful, get-lost-forever resource for my time period. Photos, advertising, books, architecture, maps, songs. And boy do those photos often show something different from what I've been told and read. A picture can easily lead to a thousands words :-)

Speaking of which, what an evocative cover ... definitely makes me want to find out more.

Thanks for the post -- enjoyed (and will save) every bit of it!

Nancy C

Mary Hicks said...

I stand in awe of you who write historical novels. I can't imagine keeping all the facts straight.
I would probably go down the rabbit hole too... wearing Mary's calico dress.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks Nancy,
That sounds like a great place for resources. I could pack a lunch and disappear forever.

I hope you'll check me out on Amazon books.

Chill N said...

Clothing -- here's a great resource with photos of actual clothing from specific periods ... and links to other collections:

Nancy C

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Mary,
I'd wear a calico dress if I could write like Mary C. She's awesome.


Elaine Manders said...

Hi, Jewell, it's a pleasure to meet you. I read your first book in the Back to Omaha series while doing research for my western. Actually set in south central Nebraska, exactly where I don't know since the town's fictional. How did it get there? Someone told me a story must be set in the only place and time it could occur. I've found that to be true because my plot came first and I was in search of a setting. The prototype ranch I'd researched was in Kansas, but it couldn't be set in Kansas because the plot required the transcontinental RR. Then I found a 900 page book written by settlers into Nebraska, then my eye doctor, whose relatives settled in Nebraska, gave me another book, and that settled it. I had a lot of fun checking out newspapers of the time too.

One fun fact I learned that I mentioned in my book was that naked Indians would come right up to settlers windows and peer in. They were just curious, but you can imagine the fright. Oh, it's just mentioned in passing. I don't have any nudity in my book.

I also like to read contemporary books of the period. Two by Willa Cather were my favorites for this research.

I'd love to be in the drawing for your book.

Chill N said...

JEWELL -- Just got back from ordering it from B&N with a gift card I received. Eager to read about a blizzard ... it's been well into the 100s temp-wise here :-)

Nancy C

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks for reading the first book. The next two are a continuation of the series and are are Amazon.
Yes, it's important to get the facts right. A railroad in Kansas where one didn't exist might turn off a lot of readers.

Thanks for posting.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks Nancy C. You've made my day!

My books are available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Brand new is a trilogy of the first three books called Frontier Faith. Please check it out!

Carol Moncado said...

Man I can't believe I missed yesterday, but it was crazy busy and I did go post this morning.

But hey - the swim team my two oldest are on took 2nd at the Southwest MO Summer league Championships (Public)!!! Then we went straight to swim lessons for my younger two and my youngest is now "swimming"!! Which is good because they're recruiting him for next year ;).

But back to history...

Many moons ago, I got my B.S. in history and secondary Ed. (I also have my M Ed in secondary social studies.)

I LOVE history and reading historicals but after flirting with writing them (I did write one... Thanks to Melanie Dickerson)

I decided to stick with contempt because its where my heart is. But the rest of y'all keep writing them and I'll keep devouring :D.

Myra Johnson said...

Jewell, it's a delight to have you with us today! Having just turned in the third book in my post-WWI historical series, I have to say delving into that time period was fascinating--especially since I focused as much on the setting as the era. Garland County Historical Society in Hot Springs, Arkansas, could not have been more helpful! I discovered so many interesting details to add color and realism to the story.

And you do need to double-check historical facts. During edits for book 2, I learned I'd included sliced bread in a scene several years before sliced bread came into existence!

Jewell Tweedt said...


Sounds like you lead a busy life. Good luck with your swimmers.Thanks for posting.

Jewell Tweedt said...


You are so right. It's important to double check facts. What's the name of your series? I love that time period too.

Mary Connealy said...

CAROL!!! YAY! You're raising champions! :)

Connie Queen said...

I love westerns, but I don't like doing research. Wait, let me take that back. I don't like googling things to do research. I love going through old junk in hopes of finding a treasure.

And I'm with Christina. Clothing frustrates me. There is such a variance from status, location, and just differences in families.

Jewell, you make me want to get my wip and add a few more historically accurate details.

Jewell Tweedt said...


Thanks, then my work is done here!
Really though, adding a bit more does add interest to a story.
By the way, one of my secondary character has the name Connie. She shows up in all three books and is the heroine in book number four, my current wip . It's a Christmas story which I'm writing now in July.

Thanks for commenting today.

So get yours out and take a look

Cindy Regnier said...

I love to write historical. Some of my writing is progressive meaning future generations from a previous beginning point. Two of my stories (and a 3rd WIP) actually take place in the 1970's and 1980's. Most of the time when I see the rules for "historical" as in a contest entry, it is defined as pre-Vietnam era. Anything past the 1960s is considered contemporary. How can 1980 "compete" with 2013? No answers to this question just wondering if anyone shares this frustration?

Connie Queen said...

I don't read the name Connie in many books. I'll bet she makes a great heroine...

Julie Lessman said...

JEWELL ... WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE!! May I just say I LOVE your name!!

Did NOT know that for every 1000 people who say they are writing a book, one person will finish it. VERY INTERESTING!!

LOVE YOUR STATEMENT THAT: Why make up something when it’s already there to borrow?

LOL ... SOOOOO true!!

Excellent post, Jewell -- THANK YOU for sharing!!


Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Julie,

It's nice to hear from you. I've enjoyed your stories for years. Feel free to use my name in a book anytime!

Jewell Claire

Jewell Tweedt said...

She's a great heroine-spunky, smart and business-savvy. Plus she's married to the sheriff...

Hillside said...

Hi Jewell, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE sent your way. So proud of you!

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Hillside Studios!
Jody and Tara, nice to hear from you.I miss Lily Creek and Norwiches.
Hugs and kisses,

Debby Giusti said...

Great blog, Jewell!

Not sure about writing historicals, but the research would be fun.

Loved your idea about using a real person as a source of information.

Also, do tell us more about that amazing blizzard and drop in temperature. East coast? Oh my gosh, can you imagine?

Debby Giusti said...

Jewell Tweedt. Even your name has an historical ring.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hello Debby.
The blizzard hit the midwest in April in the 1870's. Back then there were many fewer trees to break the winds and results were devastating.

Research is fun-I learn a lot to add to my stories and teach my middle school students. They think they're hearing stories but they are learning history at the same time.

Thanks for your comments.

Nancy Kimball said...

Jewell, I am turned off by historical novels that aren't set in a real place. I prefer those set in real places because learning things is part of why I enjoy reading and writing that genre. Your tips were really helpful and I know in my 1st century historicals, I only used about 10% of what I learned. It wasn't wasted because I think readers know when we really don't know what we're talking about or didn't bother to check. But I also don't like books where the historical detail overwhelms the story. A want a story, not a history lesson.

Always enjoy the comments too from everyone else. Sad I was "late" today. This is such a great group. =)

CatMom said...

Thanks for this post, Jewell. I LOVE historical romance (both reading it AND writing it). Even though I didn't enjoy history when I was a student (just a few years ago, LOL) now I love it---especially when I read a work of fiction that is rich in accurate details, so I'm actually learning something!
Thanks again for sharing with us.
Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

Mary Curry said...

Hi Jewell. Great post!

I teach 4th grade and this year we spent some time reading about the great blizzard of 1888 that swamped the East Coast. Sounds very similar to the one you described.

Just like you said, the day before was incredibly warm Then...

From Wikipedia -
The Great Blizzard of 1888 or Great Blizzard of '88 (March 11 – March 14, 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America. Snowfalls of 20–60 inches (51–150 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m). Railroads were shut down and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.

I always wished I'd lived in another era until my mother informed me that I would have died at birth because she needed a complicated C-section. That kind of took the glow off it. ;)

Thanks for sharing your expertise at Seekerville.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your comments.It's a bit of a balance to have some history but not too much. I don't want to force information but it does add to the story if it's done correctly. Thanks again for posting today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi CatMom,

I hear that a lot from my former students too. Many times they'll come back to the middle school and say they wish they'd paid more attention to me!

Thanks for commenting today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for the information on the blizzard. It's always good to hear from other teachers.

I used to say I was born too late but then I realized I wouldn't like living in a sod house because of all the bugs and fleas dropping down on me.
Oh yeah, I'd miss the hot showers too!

Thanks for your comments today.

Sally said...

I hadn't thought about all the work that goes into historical fiction. Thanks for talking about it and explaining the process! Very informative post!
tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Thank you for being here, Jewell. I enjoyed your post. I write and read mostly historicals. I agree that it's important to be excited about your time period. So glad that you love the WWII time period and that there continues to be interest in that era. I love doing research, and was fortunate to be able to travel and do research in the country where part of my novel is set. Doing this made my story come alive in my mind. My WIP in set in my own historical city of Phila. at the turn of the 20th Century. I try to have historical figures engaging with my characters.
All the best to you, Jewell.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hello Sally,

There can be a lot of research or just a little. I guess it depends on the topic. For my second book-Still Faithful,I did a lot of research on missing gold. It was fun to realize much of it is still missing.

Thanks for stopping in today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Pat Jeanne,
How fun for you to travel for your stories.I'd love to go to some actual Civil War battlefields.

Some day!

Thanks for your comments.

Dianna Shuford said...

Thanks for the advice, Jewell. It's helpful no matter what genre you write.

I teach history for part of my day so I know how fascinating some of the real life history can be. We've visited several places in GA that are civil war sites. It's always a lot of fun to wonder what life was really like during that time. Well, except for when you look at the medical equipment for that time period and think about what those soldiers went through. That is just scary.

Lorna Woods said...

Very helpful tips, Jewell! I can't wait to see what you will write about next!

Lyndee H said...

Great tips, Jewell. I have gone to the research extreme by serving as a volunteer docent at a local living history museum. I get to wear accurate clothing from the 1850s, try some of the food, 'live' in one of the houses on site (well I pretend to live there while I work my shift) and during slow times, I just sit on the hallway steps and study the parlor's furniture and decor. It's a great history lesson.

Walt Mussell said...

I do love the time periods I write about. My favorite is still medieval Japan. Bringing it to life so that others enjoy it remains the biggest challenge.

Mary Preston said...

The research would be fascinating. I'd find myself so side-tracked I think. I always appreciate the Historical facts and snippets that make their way into the Historical reads I so enjoy.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jewell, welcome back! I love that you immerse yourself in your work the way you do! I started this welcome yesterday, Friday...

Life intervened and I couldn't move to Saturday's Weekend Edition without thanking you for being here!

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Dianna,

I've seen photos of medical equipment. I agree, the old surgical instruments are scary.
Thanks for commenting.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Lorna,

I am working on a Christmas story with my Back to Omaha characters. it's called 'When Christmas Bells are Ringing" and will be out in October.


Jewell Tweedt said...

How fun for you! I'd like to do that for a few days!

Thanks for posting.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hi Walt,

I'm impressed-Japan! Wow! I'm sure the research is interesting.


Jewell Tweedt said...


Thanks, I do enjoy the research. Thanks for looking in today.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thank you Ruth,
The folks are so nice here on Seekerville that i hope to come back and visit again.

Barbara Thompson said...

Jewell, I enjoyed your post and advice. You are a new author to me and I love new authors, because there's more great books. Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you for sharing.
Barbara Thompson

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks Barbara,
This has been fun.It's my first time on Seekervilleand people are so nice.

Sandy Kirby Quandt said...

Thanks for the helpful post, Jewell. I love writing historicals with all the research, interesting facts, and new discoveries. When I taught elementary students I used historicals throughout social studies. The books made the time periods come alive.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Hello Sandy,
I'm glad you liked the post. Historicals are fun! I hope you'll take a look at mine.