Have Gun Will Travel… or NOT!
by Constance Gillam
If you can’t travel to New Orleans, Edinburgh or a South Dakota reservation for your next book, the next best thing is the internet. This blog includes basic research points that a seasoned writer might find elementary, but I hope will be of value to a newbie.
- Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it factual. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone.
- Include primary sources (newspapers, personal letters and documents written in the time period in question) e.g. https://archive.org/details/rachelplummernar00park
- Use expert sources when at all possible. Experts are people who have degrees in your research subject or years of practical experience.
I write contemporary mystery and suspense. I’d never written a historical novel because it involved way too much research. But when my readers expressed an interest in learning more about two historical characters I included in my contemporary suspense, Lakota Dreaming, I said to myself “what the heck”. I know these characters. I’ll whip out a novella, give my readers what they want. No problem.
The historical prequel to my contemporary romance takes place in three different locales: South Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana. It involves three different Native American tribes with three different cultures: the Comanche, Cheyenne and the Oglala Sioux. I had to develop a believable storyline because these tribes did not exist peacefully together in 1850.
My biggest concern was dealing with three different languages. I found a wonderful source online.
Use Expert Sources:
Laura Redish is the director of Native Languages of the Americas. She was invaluable in helping me find appropriate names for my Native American characters that didn’t insult and didn’t use family names of historical characters. She gave me pointers on how the different tribes could communicate with each other.
Dr. Aaron Frith, a Professor of Native American history and an archivist, provided me with primary sources written by women captured and enslaved by Native American warriors. From these sources, I got a real sense of the horrors of captivity, but also of the day to day routines, the beauty of the plains, the flora, and wild life of the times.
I used google maps to navigate several Indian Reservations. This was especially useful for my contemporary novel. I saw the homes, the desolation of the land, the poverty but also the beauty and vastness of the Plains.
I’ve received multiple compliments from readers who have (1) lived in the Dakotas and (2) lived on an Indian Reservation.
One bit of advice: Know in advance what you’re looking for on the internet. Don’t get carried away or overwhelmed with the information out there. Don’t include every little thing you learned. Sometimes the research is just for the author, to give the novel flavor and not to impress the reader with all the information you’ve dug up.
Enjoy yourself and write a great story.
To learn more about author Constance Gillam
visit her WEBSITE