Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Good Old Days


This week I’ve been working up a proposal for a new “Jess McConkey” book which includes writing the first three chapters. So far it’s going well, and without giving too much of the plot away, it’s going to deal with the story of two women—one living now, and the other living in 1890, and how the ripples from the events in the 1890’s are affecting the first character’s life. And yes, this is going to be a tricky proposition. I don’t expect to have too much of a problem with the character living now. After all I am a woman, I’ve lived in Iowa all my life, and I know how things work in a small town.

No, the hard part is going to be writing about life in the 1890’s. And it’s going to take a lot of research. In fact, I almost made a pretty glaring error in the first chapter. I had my character opening the doors of a Hoosier cabinet—one problem—they weren’t built until the late 1890’s. Thank goodness a little voice told me that I’d better check it out!

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do research—in fact I really enjoy it—and based on my past experiences, I know that some of the things I discover won’t necessarily wind up in the book. But I’ve always felt that the more I know, the better able I am to make the words sound true. I think fiction starts out with a grain of truth, and from that, one builds their castle.

So what kind of grains do I need? First—how did the 1890’s, specifically a farm wife, dress? What was the average marriageable age? And at what age were women considered “old”? What was the floor plan of a typical farmhouse? What was a farm wife’s daily life like? (I’ve already found out some information to this question, and the answer is “pretty grim.”) What kind of property rights did a woman have? What were the institutions for the insane like? What kind of drugs were available in the 1890’s, that when administered, would put a person into a deep sleep? (Coming up are the kind of questions that have led my children to think Mom’s a bit odd. *g* ) And once said person was in that deep sleep, would they wake up if someone stabbed them with a butcher knife? What would such a crime scene look like? How did law enforcement in the 1890’s conduct an investigation without all the forensic knowledge we have today? Would they know if the guilty party was left handed or right handed??? The list goes on and on, but you get my point.

To me, all this stuff is really interesting, and it’s given me new respect for all those authors who write historical’s. If I need this amount of research for a book that’s only partially set 140 years ago, can you imagine how much research is required for one set entirely in the past? Truly, it boggles my mind, and will I ever attempt it?? After this book…probably not!

Have a great rest of the week!

Best,
Shirley

2 comments:

Casey said...

I've always enjoyed research. And that's a double-edged sword. It's easy to get sucked into the reading and the searching and the learning and set aside the writing!

Sharon S. said...

I also find the amount of research authors have to do boggling, but if they don't, there are readers out there that will call you on it (little nitpicking toads). I am not a historical nut so I wouldn't have even given a second thought to when the Hoosier cabinet was made. I can be pretty hard on authors who try to tackle anything of a biological nature (being a microbiologist) so I guess I shouldn't throw stones .