The Joy of Research

Written By Bobbi Smith

As a writer, these are some of the basic sources I've found to be indispensable for my historical romances.

Webster's 9th Dictionary.
Provides me with the dates that words came into usage. It wouldn't be too swift to have a character in 1856 say "Cool," to the suggestion of a ride down to the river for a picnic. A word that wasn't used in that manner until the 20th century.

Word usage was a particular challenge to me in my new book Passion. A Viking romance set in the late 900s, it was tricky creating dialogue that seemed authentic without making it too awkward to read.

A good Encyclopedia.
The first and foremost place to start seeking basic information. This shows you what you don't know, so you can figure out where to look next for more details.

Factually Up -To-Date.
Domestic Technology ($40) covers all inventions pertaining to the home and daily life. For instance when were London Streets first lighted? (By lanterns in 1415 and suspended oil lanterns in 1681.) Use of Matches? Sulphur matches were first mentioned in England in 1530, as a result of Marco Polo's discoveries in China.

Any and all books on Costumes.
I buy many books on this topic, because good ones are hard to find. I understand that The History of Undergarments ($9.95) was a bestseller at the RT Convention! After buying a copy I can see why! I am also fond of Duelling in America ($9.95) for everything on this male practice, and Driving Horse-Drawn Carriages for Pleasure ($11.95) covering details of coaching, harnessing and stabling.

Check documentary section at local video store.

Historical Societies.
The people who work there are friendly, helpful and love history. Also, a Chambers of Commerce can be a lot of help.

Research Trips.
Since these trips are business deductions I take every opportunity to tour the places I'm writing about.

I've visited many plantations in the South-Nottoway, Rosedown, Oak Alley, D'Estrehan, Madewood, Mount Vernon, and a number in the James River Valley. I've stayed in Williamsburg, Virginia, and glimpsed what it was like to live in the 1700s.

Nothing can match actually visiting the places you're writing about if you're aiming for authenticity. You'll hear from readers if you don't have it right!

I also recommend RT's Manuscript Evaluation Service once you have your novel under way. Their experts will evaluate your first chapter(s) to see if you have the facts blended correctly with the story, and will also help you create your query letter or synopsis. Rather than waiting until the book is finished, use them to evaluate the beginning in case you're off base.

Call or send an SASE to RT's office for info. The service is reasonably priced.