By Caroline Clemmons
Historical writers—at least those of us who want our work to be accurate—delve into research with the enthusiasm of a crack addict for drugs. We never get our fill of details to add credibility to our work. Often while researching one subject, we come across information that spawns a new book idea. Lucky, right?
Not that we need new ideas. Most of us have so many plots and characters buzzing in our heads that we’re set for about a hundred years. Still, we welcome new information. Each of us wants to get better and better as our writing career progresses.
My friend Mary Adair (fellow blog member) recently sent me a wonderful research book titled BLEED, BLISTER, AND PURGE: A HISTORY OF MEDICINE ON THE AMERICAN FRONTIER, by Volney Steele, M.D. Mary knows and shares my addiction for research of the historical time period about which we write. Her time period is earlier than mine, but each of us spends countless hours making sure our books’ historical details are correct.
I’ve taken blog member Beth Trissel’s herbal medicine class a couple of times and have her herbal book PLANTS FOR A MEDEIVAL HERB GARDEN IN THE BRITISH ISLES (http://amzn.com/B00IOGHYVU). Although the title says British isles, those who immigrated to America brought their seeds and seedlings, making this book important for historical writers whose subject is America. In her classes, Beth covers Native American medicine as well as European.
Although I love my Kindle Fire for reading, for research I want to be able to thumb through print books. I underline, highlight, and stick post-it strips on pages. My book on Victorian fashions from Harper’s Bazar have post its on the pages I’ve used in my books. But I use a wide variety of research. Hence, my several book cases of research material.
Don’t think we writers want our research to appear as such in our books. The style of a woman’s dress, the flowers blooming, the style of house, and the miles a rider covers by horseback are examples of details we want to be correct without being pedantic. No, we want our research to enrich our books without the reader ever noticing those details. They’re supposed to slip into the story without distracting.
When I read a book and see an anachronism, not only am I distracted but I lose faith in the author. That’s why my friends and I work so diligently to prevent this happening in one of our books. I hope I’m succeeding.
Do you notice anachronisms when you read? If so, does they detract from the story?