October 13, 2011

Research? Who needs it?

Before I start talking about research, I want to announce a few places where you could come meet me:

This Saturday, October 15, A Book Release Party for Maggie's Journey
Mardel Christian Store
Grapevine Highway at Hurstview
Hurst, Texas
1-3 pm

Friday, October 21, A booksigning
Lifeway Christian Store
Flower Mound, Texas
5-7 pm

Saturday, October 22, A booksigning
Lifeway Christian Store
Hurst, Texas
11 am - 1 pm

I'd love to meet you there. Have our picture made together.

One of the things I like most about writing historical novels is finding nuggets of information to make the time period more accurate. While I was writing my latest book to release Maggie's Journey, I was having a hard time picturing Seattle, Washington Territory, in 1885. I had looked for books and computer links, but still not much to go on.

When I quit working full-time and stayed home to write (the first time that happened), I started volunteering in our local library. I'm a real people person, and writing is a solitary endeavor. Imagine my surprise when they put me in the back of the library mending books. Still not much contact with actual people. But I learned a lot about how a library runs.

Every library has a reference librarian. This person will help people find the information they need. Since the advent of cell phones with nationwide free long distance, I have contacted a few of these librarians when I couldn't find information.

I decided to contact the Seattle Public Library. I didn't ask for anyone to do my research for me, just a few suggestions on books about the time period. I hit the Mother Lode.

Seattle Public Library system had digitized literally thousands of historical photos and loaded them on line by decade. I used a number of these pictures to help me construct in my mind the areas of the city that I could use in my book. A couple of weeks ago, I found a similar site for San Francisco, which is one of the settings in the book I'm writing now.

At one time in writing Maggie's Journey, I wanted to find the name of a nice hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1885. When I used Google to find the information, a map of St. Louis in 1885 appeared along with photos and text about various buildings and areas of the city. Another valuable moment.

Here are a few of the links I've been using:


The use of research enriches all our books, whether historical or contemporary.

How do you use research?
--Lena Nelson Dooley


AliB said...

Hello Lena
I've just started my first ever historical novel and am finding it fascinating. I do agree that pictures and maps are invaluable. Finding a map dating from 1830 of the town in Scotland where I was born and showing the street where my heroine lived actually kick started my writing. I used to be a librarian myself, but now I can't access all the online resources I would like to. Still a great journey to be on. Good luck with Maggie. -

ann said...

I'm also in the process of writing a historical novel. In the midst of being passionate about the topic, I need to remember not to be "encyclopedic." Many, many details need to be let go, and just because I find them to be fascinating, doesn't mean the reader will. Enough detail to give authenticity and atmosphere, but not so much the reader is overwhelmed by unnecessary drivel.