One of our readers asked this question in our survey: “How much research do your historical authors do to write their novels? What does that look like?” My answer, of course, was: I have no idea. But I do know who to ask!
I decided to get some answers by asking the authors of our two historical fiction releases for this month. Methods, time spent, and overall enjoyment level will vary from person to person, but here’s a little glimpse inside the research process from Melissa Jagears and Connilyn Cossette.
Amy: On a scale from 1-10 (1 being I’d-rather-be-live-bait-at-a-mosquito-farm, 10 being this-is-better-than-pure-happiness-dipped-in-chocolate), how much do you enjoy research?
Melissa: 6. (Using the research while actually writing is much more fun.)
Connilyn: 10! I absolutely love research and spend many happy hours following rabbit trails of information that don’t ever make it into my books or that constitute the background of one line that no one will probably ever notice. But that’s okay with me! I am a well of useless knowledge. Although research paired with chocolate would be even better.
Amy: What’s one research tip you’d pass along to a writer who was working on a historical novel for the first time?
Melissa: Don’t stop writing to check on historical accuracy unless you know it will derail your story or make you rewrite a significant portion if you’re wrong. For example, don’t stop to look up if the word “thingamajig” was in use yet or what sort of car your hero could drive, just make a note in the margin to look it up and go on. You can lose your writing momentum and hours of work in history rabbit holes. Go back to your margin notes and fill in the details when editing, because who knows, you might ax the whole paragraph anyway.
Connilyn: Keep track of your sources so you can find it again later. This was something I did not do for my first book and I sorely regretted it. I like to double-check my facts and if I cannot find my source then I have to waste time in the editing stage searching for it all over again. Nowadays I keep links to most sources in Evernote and Scrivener so it’s pretty simple to check back later.
Amy: What’s one research tidbit that played an important role in your latest novel?
Melissa: For my Teaville Moral Society series, I had to figure out how they’d treat and discuss an infant with fetal alcohol syndrome before anyone knew what it was.
Connilyn: Alanah, my main character, is an archer so I had lots of fun researching archery. My kids just happened to be taking an archery class during that time so that helped, but I also spent a couple of hours watching videos about how to construct a compound bow from wood and sinew, just like Alanah would have in Ancient Canaan. If the power grid goes down and I have to hunt for my own food, YouTube totally has me prepared.
Readers, is there an era of history you especially like reading about?