Tuesday, October 13, 2009

a world of research

This post is for my friend and fellow 18th-century writer, Lori Benton, over at www.loribenton.blogspot.com. She asked me to post about the research I did, or the bibliography, for The Frontiersman's Daughter. Lori is very close to publication and has a terrific blog about her writing journey. Since she creates (and illustrates!) incredible children's stories I wondered why she even bothered with historical fiction. But then I read her excerpts of Kindred:) She writes in the style that I like - rich, detailed, and lyrical. And she has a fondness for Scotsmen like I do:)

Recently I went out into the garage and found a drawer full of research notes for TFD in an antique dresser. Since my house is small I have to keep things out there and I smiled when I saw them. I'd forgotten all the research involved in that 412 page book! Loads of it:) But I love research almost as much as writing itself so don't feel sorry for me. Once I was accepted to law school and nearly became a research attorney. But I think book research is so much better!

When researching TFD, I couldn't afford many research books so I used inter-library loan A LOT. It's free and fast and you can get nearly any book out there, even the very expensive ones. The only drawback is your time limit. So I hauled the books home and took copious notes and saved my pennies to buy my favorites. Here are the primary sources for Lael's journey:

The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining (I love all the Foxfire books - there are many and they are exceptional)
The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America by Dale Taylor
The Land of Saddlebags by James Watt Raine
Southern Mountain Speech by Cratis D. Williams
Smoky Mountain Voices by Harold Farwell and Karl Nicholas
Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave by Margaret Bennett
Colonial Living and Colonial Craftsmen by Edwin Tunis (my very favorite research books which I now have - Tunis was a master writer/illustrator)
The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert (each and every book in his Winning of America series is incredible and gave me a feel for the people and events of that time)
Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by George Neumann and Frank Kravic
A Sorrow in Our Heart, The Life of Tecumseh by Allan Eckert
My two favorite Boone books by Lyman C. Draper and Ted F. Belue, The Life of Daniel Boone and John Mack Faragher's Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer

This is just a partial list. I'm not able to include all the books and history I grew up with or those that are secondary sources. But I love every one and they helped make Lael's journey believable.

Do you enjoy research? If you write, what parts of the process do you enjoy most? Least?


  1. What an awesome list, Laura! And using the inter-library loan is a great idea. Not only do you not have to pay anything, you don't have to store the books when you're done.

  2. YES, Lorna, no book storage! Hallelujah:) I bet you have a stack of research books of your own - all that lake history sounds so interesting. Can't wait to read, "Making Waves"!

  3. OK, you just made me go to Paperback Swap and wishlist a couple of those books!

    I have always adored history, biography, and culture. I love learning about people and places, both contemporary and historical. I like research but I don't want it to take the joy out of writing fiction. You know, sometimes you just want to make stuff up!

    Here's an example that makes me laugh. One time I was reading a review of a book and the reviewer said, "I'm concerned that readers might get the wrong idea about 15-th century medieval tapestries." The book was The Lady and the Unicorn, can't remember the author.

    Another time I read a review of One Thousand White Women, can't remember the author, and someone complained that the "entire book was just a wild figment of the author's imagination!" Hello? It was FICTION.

    I *do* appreciate attention to detail but I also like writers to have lots of freedom :-)

  4. Thanks Laura! I agree about Tunis's books. They are wonderful, and I have about five or so of them. I'll have to check out "The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining." And "The Land of Saddlebags."

    But how I wish our inter library loan was free. Alas, ours cost $5 a book (last time I checked, which was years ago). It's often not much more expensive to buy a used copy. Our county libraries closed completely several years ago, for about a year (during my research for KINDRED), and now are open on a limited basis, with all services greatly raised in price. Inter library loan was never free here, but it used to $1.50 a book, which was certainly worth it. I'm just thankful to have my library back, limited ops or not.

    Thanks for mention of my blog, although being "very close to publication" is optimistic! :) I only wrote the one children's story, but who can say. Maybe there will be others one day. Frontier/historical fiction has my heart by a firm grip now, though.

    Thanks again for posting your bibliography. Lots of good leads.

  5. Mary,
    I wholeheartedly agree - excellent point. That's where literary license comes in!. Sometimes you just have to wing it when research doesn't provide you with what you need. We can't be consumed about every niggling thing:) Like you said, it is fiction.

    For example, I'd gone to a church Christmas tea and had this wonderful tea and came home thinking how much Lael would like that tea (don't laugh!) so I snuck it into the Tory tea shoppe scene. Later I wondered if any purists would take me to task. None so far:) For all I know colonials did indeed drink that kind of tea!

    Hope your writing is going very well this week!

  6. Lori, Yes, love our libraries and hate when they shut down even temporarily. I bet ours here may have instituted a charge by now, esp. with the economic downturn. You will just LOVE the Foxfire books - they're filled with photos and are often told in the vernacular of the Ky people, etc. For me it was just confirmation of what I'd grown up with and had been hearing all my life. I wish I owned every one:)
    And you are way too modest - you are closer than you think!

  7. Mary, I forgot to add that I love your examples about the tapestry and the wild figment of the author's imagination! What a hoot:)

  8. What a wonderful list. Research is so valuable. One can use it the first time for that moment's need, and then go back a bit later and find much more information. I have to say I am glad that you became a writer, Laura, rather a research attorney! {: As you know, my work is hand embroidery....and even though I know a bit about it...I still research. I could never part with my sitch books! blessings, Kathleen

  9. I bet stitching books are beautiful - a real feast for the eyes! Just like your blog. I wish I had more time for handwork (and cooking). But like you, I'm thrilled I'm not a research attorney. The Lord wisely steered me in another direction! Bless you, Kathleen.

  10. I love the inter-library loan, even with the $5 charge. One of my best research books is out-of-print, and used copies run $150 or more - it's highly prized by WWII buffs. Another very useful book was a yearbook for the flight nurse program (in Kentucky BTW), which is simply unavailable for sale - but I got a copy on loan :)

  11. Laura,
    Small world regarding your research. Ted Belue is on the facutly at Murray State! Believe I was told he was a consultant on Last of the Mohicans and also had a small role in the big fight scene.

  12. Great finds, Sarah! I've been told that Goodwill and other places are great for having one of a kind or out of print books but I don't have much time for all that looking. So hats off to inter-library loan! I can tell you're a fan like I am:) Your upcoming book is top of my list, BTW:)

  13. Patti,
    I knew Ted was hiding out at some college in Ky but didn't know it was yours:) I'd love to meet him as he is quite a historian. Better yet, I'd love to sit in on some of his lectures. You can tell him so if you see him!
    The fact that he took part in my favorite movie just adds to his flair:)