An author once told me he preferred writing fantasy so heâ€™d not have to waste time researching history. He just imagined details as he went, building fantastic worlds in made-up places. Well, let me tell you why I love historical fiction.
I have to admit I didnâ€™t realize just how much time Iâ€™d spend researching when I began writing stories set in the past. But what can you do when thatâ€™s your passion? Over the years Iâ€™ve spent many months reading books about the periods my stories play in, studying old newspapers, websites, images, maps and so on. No detail is too small as I recreate the historical setting in my head.
Sorting out the Puzzle
Itâ€™s sort of like a puzzle that starts with a location and a year. From there I work my way into the â€œatmosphereâ€ of smells, sounds, vistas, clothing, foods, weather, my charactersâ€™ habits and lifestyles. And after a while when Iâ€™ve read and analyzed enough, Iâ€™m able to envision my historical world in great detail, so it becomes natural to move my characters through it.
There are always things I miss and study while writing. For instance how much do a horse and saddle cost in 1881? Or what do you pay for a meal in a saloon? I also studied guns though Iâ€™m not a big fan. Of course, in the Wild West of New Mexico, pretty much all people carried them.
Research Visits are a Must
What I find most helpful is the actual research visit. Yes, I do go wherever my stories take place. Images, no matter how well done, never reflect what the air, sunlight, wind, spaces and vistas really look and feel like.
So in April of 2015 I took a 10-day trip to follow in the footsteps of my protagonist, Max Nerds. Beginning in Fort Sumner, NM, I visited the two Billy the Kid museums, went to the Kidâ€™s grave, traveled southwest across the Rio Grande and into the mountains of the Gila Wilderness. I stopped in Chloride, a former silver mining and almost ghost town at the end of a bumpy road, a few residents are painstakingly refurbishing and rebuilding to return the village to its 19th century glory.
From there the trip led farther west and south into the Black Range. In the 19th century the Warm Springs Apaches called it home, traveling through the vast mountains, maintaining a nomadic lifestyle. On a whim we turned off the main road and found ourselves traveling up and down ridges, through beautiful pine forests smelling so fragrant I wanted to bottle their scent, valleys, shrubby hillsides and along lakes. All the while I imagined how the Apaches must have loved this place and lost it to the greed of the white man.
I Love Historical Fiction
What I came away with is as always flowing into my stories, each part a revelation. The way the sky is so huge and seems to go on forever. The way the land is peppered with prickly plants and shapes itself into folds and ravines, gravelly pits and high ridges. The way the wind whispers through the trees and pine needles form a carpet snuffing out your steps. The harshness of cold and hot every given day, the low moisture in the air attacking your nostrils.
Each detail is precious and an experience. For myself and for my characters. The way I see it, Iâ€™m lucky I write historical fiction.
eBook pre-order December 2015