Historical fiction requires a completely different writing process from contemporary fiction that takes place in completely fictional locales.
My research for the Rockland Chronicles is usually limited to ensuring that I have the right style of phone for the era, seeing how to make candles from tallow, or learning how to best use poison to kill someone. Yeah, as Nicole Deese and I said during our interview, if the US government ever decides to check out my Google history, I’m toast.
But historical fiction doesn’t give a lot of leeway.
Yes, there are always people who buck the system–who are mavericks in their eras. But most people follow the culture and customs of their times. Add to that misconceptions of the era (Regency novels so often have Victorian social customs applied to them–so annoying) and you can write a piece of historical heresy! (hyperbole there, but you get my point).
But historical research is also fascinating–all those research surprises While it does get annoying to have to lose a funny quip in your novel because “Amy get your gun” doesn’t work in 1945–the play Annie Get Your Gun wasn’t performed until 1946 and the movie (where someone from Napa, California would likely see/hear of it) didn’t come out until 1950–learning those tidbits is also exciting.
For example, I assumed that the price of a bottle of soda would have risen after WWII. The Depression is over, soldiers are home, the economy is booming–why isn’t the price of soda rising? It turns out that that it was crazy expensive to change the machines over to require a higher price. The price of soda bottles didn’t change until around 1959!
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But by far the most interesting tidbit I learned for Deepest Roots of the Heart came as I wrote about the Battle of San Jacinto. I remember this battle from my history books. After Santa Anna’s crushing blow at the Alamo, American textbooks are eager to share Houston’s defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto.
However, there are two little facts–tiny little tidbits–that I do not remember from my textbooks.
- The battle lasted 20 minutes. That’s right 20 minutes. Now think about this. This happened back when the Kentucky long rifle was a popular gun for snipers. And it takes the better part of a minute for the average Joe to load this gun. So that means that if an amazing sniper could use this gun to fire at the enemy, the best he could hope for was a whopping 40 shots. Whoa… That’s just not very many in the grand scheme of things.
- Santa Anna’s army (or at least his higher ranking officers) was/were asleep at around 4:30 in the afternoon. ASLEEP.
No wonder only 9 Texians died compared to 630 Mexicans (and the 730 who were captured). I’m still astounded. 20-minute battle. That so was not in my history textbook–and it should have been. Wow.