Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

The Autumn of My Discontent

The Idaho Territory in 1863. © 2004 Matthew Tr...

The Idaho Territory in 1863. © 2004 Matthew Trump Idaho territory in 1864 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The toughest part about writing a historical novel is research. I am discovering researching is becoming as addictive as dark chocolate Dove bites. I can’t seem to stop once I start.

For instance, having characters taking a walk in winter is not a simple undertaking. The month, year, and locale all become significant. There is also clothing considerations, appropriate interactions, and possible terrain aspects.
I ran into this when I decided the sisters would walk outside with two brothers after a neighborly get together. I scampered to my files to find if young people did indeed walk unchaperoned, if  the area had some snow–or too much. Which leads to clothing, which leads to age appropriate mannerisms, which leads to..

It’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie syndrome–one aspect leads to another. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point.

Yet, here’s the problem–I’m too far into the novel to abandon it (again). I have this quirk about finishing projects. Especially when I get encouragement from agents, editors, friends, and critique circlers to finish it.

When I do feel bogged down in detail I turn to my inspirational muse, Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. She won the Newberry Honor for her novel about a sixteen year old girl who inherits her uncle’s Montana homestead claim. It’s a dazzler for historical detail, characterization, and overall verisimilitude. It flows with imagery, sparkles with plot points, and it’s based on her great grandmother’s homesteading adventures. It’s becoming a favorite yearly read.

As inspiring as Larson’s Hattie is, I’ve unfortunately hit that dratted writing wall. Right now I’m stuck between seasons. What would my homesteaders be doing in autumn? Winter and Spring are covered. October and November? Hmmm…

I can see why fantasy novels are popular–creating worlds has got to be easier than traipsing backward to figure out what’s already taken place in ours.

Any Idaho historians out there?

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9 thoughts on “The Autumn of My Discontent

  1. Not an Idaho historian but share your love of research. I have notebooks full of details, only small bits actually used, but I think the knowledge seeps into the writing anyway.

    • I hope the tidbits I’m collecting come through as I set up scenes. Knowing the name of a particular bird or road lends legitimacy. At least I like it when I come across it when reading.

      • There were some scenes in my book where I relied VERY HEAVILY on personal journals by military men I incorporated as background characters. I got so excited when an old slang word popped up. At one point I drew up a detailed map based on Robert Utley’s books on the US military in the 1860’s and 70’s. It was like being back in grade school when making maps broke up the tedium of bad teachers’ speaking. 🙂 Good luck with your block.

  2. It is addicting, that’s for surr!

  3. I feel your pain. I write contemporary women’s fiction, but research can be tough. I find police and other organizations have locked doors. Conundrum: you have to be famous to open the doors, but you can’t get famous. . . . You get it!

  4. I’ve run into this issue as well. I spent 7 months researching a time period and I still didn’t feel like I had enough information and was worried about doing justice to the time. I abandoned that project, though I do hope to go back to it.

    • I’ve been working on this project on and off for five years thinking I don’t have enough background and now I sift through pages of information wondering how to fit it all in!

  5. Pingback: Leading Ladies of Fiction Faves | cricketmuse

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