Do you delve into research, dipping one toe at a time as you write? Or do you dive headfirst before you write word one?
Whether you write contemporary or historical fiction, you will need to do research. Otherwise, you could find yourself fifty-thousand words into a manuscript and discover you’ve written your characters into a conundrum without a way out. I know from experience.
Now some writers do all their research before they start writing, taking trips to near and faraway places before they begin internet searches. I consider those divers. They plunge into research before they have more than water wings of an idea for a book.
For those of us who are more seat-of-the-pants writers, that’s not always an option. We might have the location in mind and could do a road trip, but we don’t always know WHAT we need to research. We delve, seeking to research the point at hand at that moment.
Here’s another question for you: how do you research a story set in a town that has no written history? That was my conundrum for On Sugar Hill. The town of Sugar Hill, where I have lived for 25+ years, wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1939. My story takes place a decade before that.
My first stop was the Sugar Hill Historical Society. I even bought the book about Sugar Hill. Guess what? You got it … it begins in 1939. I went to the neighboring town, Buford, where I found a smattering of information, mostly maps.
What I wanted to know was who lived where, how the streets looked, etc. Anyone who was old enough to remember what life was like in 1929-30 was by 2020 when I wrote the book, either senile or passed on. Most of my research was done by interviewing the children or grandchildren of those who lived during that time. And I must say, I met some fascinating people.
One of them took me down into a gold mine—yes, I said down. The gold mines in Sugar Hill aren’t like any you’ve seen elsewhere. The entrance of the one I went into, gratefully led by Sugar Hill City Councilman Brandon Hembree, was a hole in the granite no higher than 30” at the peak. When I sat, I had to duck my head to slide down into the mine. Once inside, I could stand up. But it sure brought out any claustrophobic tendencies I had.
If you read On Sugar Hill, and you’re from the area, please don’t write to me to tell me that store wasn’t there, or which one was in its place. One of the most difficult pickles was pinpointing who owned which store during what years. All the accounts vary slightly. And so, once I had exhausted most of the leads I had, I did what any self-respecting author does … I took literary license for the sake of story.
I have accumulated a list of sites that has helped me and thought I’d share it. All of these are free sites to use.
Online Etymology Dictionary: This is the place to check if the saying or word you use is appropriate for the timeline of your novel. There is nothing worse than reading historical fiction and coming across a word that is or sounds too modern. It yanks you right out of the story.
The People History: Gives you a good overview the era and the decades, along with links to more detailed information, like This Day in History.
The Food Timeline: Here, you can research different foods like meats or grains, etc. and find out what was in common use during the timeline of your story. It also has recipes from different decades.
Glossary of Medical Terms of the 18th & 19th Centuries: This speaks for itself and is very helpful.
Behind the Name: I think names are important. Names create an image or personality in our characters. This site tells the origin and what the name means. The sister site is for surnames. Coupled with The Baby Name Survey Book which divulges what people think of when they see or hear a name, these sites will help you find interesting names for your characters. You can also use the Social Security site for the most popular names from 1880 on.
The Postal History Corner: This site gives the cost of postage and shows photos of the stamps.
The Idiom Site: This one is a bit of fun. You cannot only find idioms but give your own spin to them.
Century Past (newspapers): This site has a ton of great information besides newspapers, like historical articles.
Sunrise Sunset Calendars: You can make a calendar for the city, month, and year you need and print it. It lists places all over the world.
Time and Date: Choose the year, create, and print the calendar for your story.
These are a few of my favorites. Do you have some to share with me and our readers? Leave them in the comments.
Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw Mary Martin in PETER PAN, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. Years later, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and The Write Conversation. @AneMulligan
On Sugar Hill
She traded Sugar Hill for Vaudeville. Now she’s back.
The day Cora Fitzgerald turned sixteen, she fled Sugar Hill for the bright lights of New York City, leaving behind her senator-father’s verbal abuse. But just as her career takes off, she’s summoned back home. And everything changes.
The stock market crashes. The senator is dead. Her mother is delusional, and her mute Aunt Clara pens novels that expose the town’s secrets. Then there’s Boone Robertson, who never knew she was alive back in high school, but now manages to be around whenever she needs help.
Will the people of her past keep her from a brilliant future?