Novel Research

by Jenn (eating bender) on February 18, 2012

One of the most challenging – and rewarding – aspects of writing a historical fiction novel is the research. Obviously, a protagonist living in 1890 can’t drive a car or purchase a peppermint mocha from Starbucks, much as I’d sometimes like her to. Every detail, from the clothes she wears to the pencil she uses needs to be historically accurate if I have any chance of appearing credible to an agent or editor.

Much of my research to date has been done either online or at the library. In recent months, I’ve also begun buying a book or two, mainly because they are copies that aren’t in stock at the library or sold at your average Borders (RIP) Barnes & Noble. For example, I now own a copy of an Old Farmer’s Almanac from the 1880s, as well as McGuffey’s First Eclectic Reader.

Today, I had the opportunity to take my research to bigger and better heights: in person.

Papa Bender, Baby Bender and I took a road trip to Prescott, Arizona’s original capital, in order to visit the Sharlot Hall Museum. I can’t say enough great things about this museum. It takes you through so much of Arizona’s history while also giving you a feel for what life was generally like in the West. The building above is Prescott’s first school – a one-room house with a great story to tell.

In Arizona, school used to be held in the winter and lasted for three to five months. In one-room schools, pupils were not divided into grades. They were seated by size, with the smallest in the front of the room. They studied reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic and geography.

Paper was scarce so lessons were printed on slates using slate pencils.

Formal work was done in ink on paper. The blackboard was literally made of boards painted black.

The students sat on benches because there were no desks save for the teacher’s at the front of the room.

And I just have to say…how awesome is this chair? A great example of using the materials available.

Last but not least was the wash basin. A student also said that the back of the room was where a bundle of switches were kept for punishment, something we of course can’t imagine today!

Besides the school room, there was a governor’s mansion, a typical log cabin, a rancher’s home, a politician’s home (the difference between this and the other homes was incredible in terms of its luxury) and a transportation building complete with a Conestoga wagon.

I will spare you from sorting through all 193 photos (!!) but needless to say, I left with some incredible information. It was empowering to see the words I’ve been writing come to life before my eyes. I know now what I’ve described accurately and what could use some work, both of which are fantastic tools to have moving forward. History books and online archives are immensely helpful, but sometimes seeing your subject matter in person makes an even bigger difference.

I’m looking forward to translating all the ideas in my head into scenes for my book! Big thanks to these two for coming along on the journey.

Before we left, we fueled up with a cool “drink” of antioxidants – aka #FebPhotoADay.

Our smoothie was made with frozen strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries and pomegranate, along with spinach, almond milk and protein powder. It was completely energizing and perfect for a day on the road. Thanks to Mama Bender for making it for all of us!

Hope all of you have been having a wonderful weekend!

Do you find history fascinating? Or would you rather leave the past in the past?

I know it’s not for everyone, but I find the seemingly inane details of people’s former lives fascinating.


1 Colleen February 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I love ready historic novels, not only do these type of books provide enjoyment they are also educational. Right now I am reading anything to do with the Jacobites, ( thanks to the outlander series) I hope to one day enjoy your novel as well. Good luck and happy researching!

2 Jenn (eating bender) February 19, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Thank you, Colleen! I would love for you to one day read my book – fingers crossed. :) And I completely understand wanting to read anything to do with the Jacobites. Have you found anything outside of the Outlander series that you’ve really enjoyed?

3 Erica February 19, 2012 at 5:01 am

In all honesty, im not much for history. It always felt pointless to me to memorize dates and events. Seeing historic places or replicas can be really neat though! Glad this helped with the research

4 Jenn (eating bender) February 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I totally get that! I am no good when it comes to memorizing dates or events, either, and I hated history in high school. I think it’s something specific to historical fiction that really makes it enjoyable for me!

5 Monica February 19, 2012 at 6:54 am

I didn’t realize your novel is historical fiction – that’s my favorite genre!! I can imagine all the research it must take to write in a different time, but the process also sounds like a lot of fun :)

6 Jenn (eating bender) February 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Ah – I’m so happy to hear that! Perhaps you would be so kind as to read my draft once it is finished? I would love to have your input, if you would! :)

7 Monica February 22, 2012 at 9:01 am

yes please! i can’t wait :)

8 Emily February 19, 2012 at 9:09 am

I LOVE history!!! I used to really believe I was Laura Ingalls Wilder!!! Or any of the original American Girls (aka Felicity/Addy/Kirsten/Samantha/Molly). Now I get giddy over good historical fiction. I also really really really like old houses! I might go to open houses when old houses are for sale just to look around. Creepy much? Happy writing!

9 Jenn (eating bender) February 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Oh my, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder! And I read American Girl doll books all the time growing up. It’s no wonder it translated to historical fiction, now that I think about it! That’s amazing that you go to old houses that are on sale. One of my best friends in high school lived in an older house and I absolutely loved exploring and feeling the uneven level of the floors. So cool. :) Thanks, Emily!

10 Cara (Twinthusiast) February 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

Well, you know how I feel about historical fiction…;) Hope you left the museum feeling extra inspired!

11 Jenn (eating bender) February 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I do – and it did! :)

12 beatriceqq March 9, 2012 at 9:44 am

what brand of powder protein do u use?:)

13 click here August 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm

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