Today I'm chatting with my friend Erica Vetsch about her debut novel, The Bartered Bride from Heartsong Presents. She won the Barbour contract at the 2008 ACFW conference and I was privileged to be there and share in the joy and excitement.
Since I'm a research junkie, that's what we're talking.
Which do you like better, the writing or the research?
You know, each has their joys and trials. I love it when something unexpected and serendipitous happens while I'm writing a story. I'm going through that right now, where pieces I didn't even realize were out there, groundwork I'd laid in two previous books, are falling together into the third book in a series. That being said, I also love research. I'm a self-admitted history geek. I love all the interesting bits of information I glean when doing research. I never quite know how I can use them when I first see them, but I file them away for later.
I have yet to meet a writer of historical fiction that isn't easily sidetracked on research rabbit trails. How do you deal with that temptation? I don't always avoid the temptation, because story ideas are often spawned from something I didn't know I was looking for until I found it.
Have you ever gotten a good story idea from a rabbit trail? Oh yes. I have stumbled upon a couple of story ideas while reading old newspaper articles on one topic and something in another article in the paper jumps out at me from another column. I try to jot these ideas and bits down so I won't forget them for later.
What was your favorite time period to read about before you started writing? I love American History, westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, the Industrial Age, the Gilded Age. Egyptology and the British Empire have always intrigued me, too. Really, anything historical.
What period is your favorite to research in? The easiest for me to research is Minnesota History. We have, seriously, the best historical society ever. The MN Historical Society was founded when the state was still a territory. And the access scholars have to the archives is amazing. I recently went on a back-stage tour of the archives, and the collections are just stunning. And the state is so diverse in its history, I'm always finding something fascinating to me.
What are some of your favorite research websites? www.mnhs.org Hands down. Beyond that, I don't rely too much on internet research. I prefer to hold books in my hand, to be able to verify the accounts, and to know that the works were published by reputable, scholarly publishers. University and Historical Society presses are usually reliable. Wikipedia, not so much. I spend a lot of time at my local library, and I purchase books online and at historical site bookstores all the time.
If you could go back in time to one historical event, what event would it be? Wow, how do you choose just one? I'd love to witness creation, the birth of Christ, the building of the Pyramids, the signing of the Magna Carta, the building of the ark, the crowning of Elizabeth I, the invention of the telephone, the list goes on and on.
I know that you did a lot of research at your historical society about the ships of the Great Lakes. Any suggestions to pass along to writers researching on location at a local historical society? First, don't be intimidated. The curators at these local museums are ACHING for someone to take an interest in the artifacts and stories they have been entrusted with. They are dying to talk to you. So ask.
Second, ask if there is a publication, a book, pamphlet, DVD, anything, that is specific to the area. These history books, though not widely circulated, often have gems hidden in their pages that you can't find anywhere else.
Third, check the archives of the local newspapers. Nothing will give you a snapshot of the society you're studying like the daily news will. The language, the mindset, the social-strata, they're all there waiting to be discovered.
Do you have any research books that you consider invaluable and would never part with? There are different books I treasure for each subject I'm studying. For The Bartered Bride, one of my favorite books was actually a Paper Doll book. Fashions of the Gilded Age by Tom Tierney, published by Dover. One of the dresses I had my main character wear came out of that book. The real dress, from Worth's in Paris, is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. For each of the plates in the book, Tierney gives a detailed description, which makes it easier to portray in the story. I highly recommend any paper doll book by Tom Tierney for research.
Oh I completely agree about the Tierney paper dolls! Those are a treasure trove of costume research and very affordable too.
Please leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Bartered Bride. Erica, thanks so much for stopping by!