Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Historical Research -- Reading Books

Now I've read probably thousands of historical romance books, but I don't consider that as research. Reading books for research consists of stuffy literary histories, maybe a few biographies, letters, authors of the time (Jane Austen, the Brontes etc.)

However, all this actually does is give me a headache. Flipping back and forth through a 500 page volume trying to take notes is not what it's all about. I need the facts, I need them now, and I need my research to be easy to comprehend. Sometimes, you can find everything you need to know on the internet, but that isn't really research -- Okay it is, but I generally refer to that as "light" research.

To fully understand whatever it is, you need to immerse yourself in. What I've begun doing, what I've found most enlightening actually is the "childrens" section in the library. They have everything, and it's easy to read, and easily comprehendable. Biographies, battles, even some classics that have depth and meaning.

When I was doing research for THE CAPTAIN'S LADY, I needed all kinds of things -- ships, manifests, slavery, North Carolina, Boston, abolitionists, the underground railroad -- etc. etc. A LOT of stuff.

I started with the classics Uncle Tom's Cabin. Gone with the Wind. (Yes, this was set later than I would have liked, but I wanted to get the "feel" for how I wanted to portray the slaves and land-owners.)

But then I got stuck in the abolishonist movement. William Wilburforce was instrumental in England, but what about in the America's? Harriet Tubman, of course, Frederick Douglass, John Brown. And yes these people were all decades later than when my story takes place, but the plight of the slaves and those who helped them are timeless. So I took those books from the children's section and read those. Easy, light, factual, everything I wanted. I hate getting bogged down.

And then on to the other things I needed. How to sail a boat, what crops grow in North Carolina (besides tobacco), pirate ships in North Carolina, architecture...everything was there in the children's section.

Now some might say I'm taking the easy way out, and I'll be the first to admit it. But if you're writing three books a year, you need to have "easy" on one list or another. Why not make it research. After all, I'm not writing about "history", I'm writing about fictional characters who are in history. If I get the facts right, the characters won't have to worry about what they're doing there.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013


  1. Frederick Douglas has popped up a lot recently in popular culture, most notably after the CPAC that happened earlier last month. Republicans referred to themselves as "Frederick Douglas" Republicans. Mocked on "The Daily Show" by John Stewart with lines like "If you're going to try and be about something more current than Frederick Douglas? And on a side note: wasn't he killed by Django?"

  2. Oh and I think you should add Django to your research...just sayin'


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