I am tireless when on a quest, and nothing if not determined. In addition to the usual intensive digging for seemingly random but all-important facts, on top of the obviously vital ones, I have picked the brains of historians, anthropologists, archeologists, reenactors… Anyone in possession of the knowledge I require to proceed, beware.
And then there are the treks to sites. Thus far, this has not included the trip to the British Isles my mother would love, our ancestral homeland, so I must rely on friends and family who have been, plus copious research into flora and fauna, etc. There’s a whole lot of ETC in research. It’s like opening a door that leads to other doors, and entire rooms, and I find myself at Pinterest admiring 18th century ladies’ hats and wondering how the heck I wound up here when I’d set out on an entirely different errand. I also admit to a great deal of stalling when I don’t want to actually write, so research instead. Or write blog posts.
Back to the sites. When it comes to my American historicals, I have been to all the places featured in my books. I’ve hiked colonial battlefields, including Kings Mountain and Yorktown, was deeply moved envisioning the events that took place there. I’ve toured historic Charleston, admired umpteen old homes all over Virginia and the Carolinas, (grew up in several) ducked into rustic log cabins, hiked mountain trails, and braved some of my greatest fears.
For the cavern scene in Through the Fire, I accompanied husband, Dennis, and daughter Elise (about 12 at the time) to one of our many local caverns. Bear in mind that I’m claustrophobic and hate these places. It took therapy to get me to use elevators. I once walked all the way to the top of the Washington Cathedral bell tower rather than ride the elevator, so touring a cavern was daunting. I did not find it remotely amusing when the guide, to whom I clung like grim death, turned off the lights to give us the sense of what it would’ve been like in the old days when your oil lamp or candles went out. I didn’t scream because it might alarm the children in the group, but the woman behind me hissed, ‘This is Hell.’ I silently agreed. After the tour was over, Elise wanted to do it again. No way. We never ever went back.
There’s a mill scene in Enemy of the King, so off we went to visit mills, the older the better. I bought a thick book on mills, coffee table size, for just that part of the book. Over the top? Maybe. But I wanted to get it right. I also draw on experiences I’ve had, and the places I’ve visited. All the hiking and camping outings Dad took the family on came in handy, plus he used to lead wilderness survival courses, so I consulted him when we were out in the wilds of the Alleghenies for some of my NA themed books.
My growing knowledge of herbs and native plants comes in handy. I even learned how to load and fire a black powder musket, in theory. I cannot abide loud bangs and would’ve surrendered at the first shot just to keep from hearing those blasts. My characters are dauntless, but I direct them from a safe distance. And there are real dangers. Mom and I nearly got knocked on the head by an enormous falling limb while walking through the Congaree Swamp. We adjourned to the museum after that close encounter.
Apart from the musket fire, colonial Williamsburg is among my favorite places to visit and a wealth of info. The research I went through to write Traitor’s Legacy, the sequel to Enemy of the King, was mammoth. Yes, I had help for which I am grateful, from the head Williamsburg historian, but much of that digging I did on my own. With much assistance from the good folk at Historic Halifax.
If I were sensible, I’d hone in on one time period, learn all there is to know about it, and confine my writing to that era. But I shift around. And every time I do, that means a lot more research. I’m also an avid viewer of historical based films. Gives my eyes a break and my imagination a boost.
If I’m really stalling, I rearrange my musical selections and find something new to add. Music is an important source of inspiration. Seriously though, how many playlists do I require to write that next chapter? Apparently, one more.
Sail on, Silver Bird.
***Colonial Williamsburg, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old Mill, cavern