topic in the past can be a fun and exciting adventure. Sometimes, however, it
can also be a series of frustrating dead ends. You can even compile a history
for places you make up. Simply base it on another town or area nearby.
Decide on the setting and the year for
the story. Look for something interesting that happened during that time in
that area. Begin with the internet, but look for several articles that agree.
Once you have the nugget of a story,
locate newspaper stories, books, journals, and diaries to give you more
If possible, visit the setting before
you start to write. See what the lay of the land is like. How would that impact
the story and the characters?
Read books and watch movies set during
that time, but don’t believe everything you read and see unless it was
written/filmed contemporaneously. Sometimes authors and producers tend to don
rose-colored glasses when looking back.
Keep notes. Print everything,
especially web pages. Photocopy everything. Record movies and other references
you used. You might be asked by an editor to validate a fact that’s crucial to
Once you start writing, don’t let
research distract you from writing. If you arrive at a point where you don’t
know a particular fact, insert a symbol (I use @@) in the manuscript, and carry
on. Go back and look it up later.
In Double Jeopardy, because I wanted to
include mining in the story line, I researched and found that the Colorado Gold
Rush ended around the late 1870s, and the Silver Rush began in 1879. This was
perfect for the backstory of how Becky’s father went to Colorado a year before
the story began.
I’d visited the
Durango area, and loved the landscape. I’d talked with people who lived there,
went up some of the canyons, saw old mines, some ghost towns, and decided I
wanted to set a story there. I created the fictional town and valley of Silver
Valley, and I visited some museums in Colorado where I learned about sheriffs
and law enforcement in the 1880s.
details such as silver mining, I did online research then visited a mining
museum. For minutiae such as when women began wearing dungarees (not until
about 10 years later), when fountain pens came into common use (around that
time, but they were still expensive and a luxury item), and Fourth of July
celebrations and Indian relations, I relied on various articles from Wikipedia
and history books.
So you can that
much of your research can be done online from the comfort of your home, but
don’t rely on any one online source.
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in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical
suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of
Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and
full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers,
Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates
a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also
ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and
research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf
of AKA Literary Management.