An ever-resourceful widow, Elenora Watkins arrives in El Dorado ready to go into partnership with Miles Rutledge. When he refuses, Elenora becomes the competition across the street. Is this town big enough for the two of them? Miles can’t help but stick his well-polished boot in his mouth whenever he comes face-to-face with Elenora. Can he find a way to win her heart while destroying her business? Miles’s mother, Maude, is bent on Elenora becoming her new daughter-in-law while Elenora’s daughter, Tildy, thinks Miles would make a perfect papa. How far will these meddlers go to unite this enterprising pair?
Five Places to Ferret Fun Facts for Historical Fiction
by Keli Gwyn
Research rocks! I’ve been known to get so immersed in it that I lose track of time, let laundry languish, and leave dinner preparations to the last minute.
As a historical romance author, I love learning about the past. Finding an interesting fact I can use in a story is a high. Garnering a gem I can spin into an entire story makes me downright giddy.
And where do I go to perform my research, aside from Google, of course.
I have five favorite places…
When I’m preparing to write a new story, I peruse antique stores. Wending my way though the displays takes me back in time and gets my creative juices flowing. I look for items I can use in my stories. Seeing them for myself helps me enhance my descriptions.
Since my stories are set in the Victorian Era—primarily the latter half—I watch for cartes de visite, wallet-sized photographs adhered to cardstock popular in the 1860s, as well as cabinet cards, 4½x6½ inch photographs, also mounted on cardstock, that became the preferred format in the 1870s.
I love using images of real people as models for my characters. I take note of every aspect in the picture: clothing, accessories, hairstyles, facial hair on men, items seen in the background, and, yes, even personality. I realize exposure times were long, requiring people to sit still for several seconds without smiling, but I can still tell a lot about a person’s character from a picture. For instance, I have a picture of a man with a button missing on his jacket. Considering how few pictures were taken and that he’s likely wearing his best outfit, this tells me appearance isn’t all that important to him—or that he has no woman in his life.
I often begin my research by visiting bookstores. But not just any bookstores. I’m talking about used bookstores and small local bookstores. Both can provide a wealth of information.
The used bookstore in my hometown of Placerville, The Bookery, has several sections devoted to local history. As I inhale that old book scent I love and thumb through the selections, ideas will come to me. I pay particular attention to possible settings and professions at this point. Actual events can serve as inspiration as well.
One of our most historic buildings houses Placerville News, a combination gift store, office supply, and bookstore. There are a few NYT bestsellers and a wall of magazines, but what I’m there for is the local history section. While there are books by well-known authors covering California history that can be found in big box stores or online, I’m after books written by local people who have documented the various small towns where I set my stories, books which are hard to find anywhere else but in the area itself. Such displays exist in many towns and are a wonderful resource.
As my story begins to take shape, I pay my local library a visit. The fact that many of the books on the shelves have been there a long time doesn’t matter. I actually prefer it that way because the older the book, the closer the writer was to those who lived in the period. For example, if I’m researching quilts, older books will have older patterns.
Old newspapers are one of my favorite resources. I’m blessed to live in the town that’s home to California’s oldest continuous newspaper, the Mountain Democrat. The Placerville branch of our county library houses copies of the paper on microfilm going all the way back to the 1850s! Old papers can tell us about historic and social events taking place. The advertisements let us know what products were available at what prices. And we can get lessons in how people spoke and the interesting words they used.
Historical facts abound at museums. The displays are great, but the best information comes from the staff and docents. They tend to be passionate about the history of the area and know so much. Ask them questions, and prepare to learn lots.
Some museums have researchers. The El Dorado County Historical Museum here in Placerville does. A research room such as this is often open to the public at specified times. On Tuesdays I can take my questions to the researchers and come away with more information than I dreamed possible. They have bulging files for each town in our county, as well as binders filled with historic photographs. I highly recommend getting to know your museum’s research team.
When possible, visiting the settings of our stories gives us a complete picture, enabling us to bring those places to life, complete with sights, sounds, and smells authentic to the area. While this isn’t always possible, the Internet can help. With Google Earth, we can “see” almost any town. We can locate people who live there and might be willing to answer our questions. And we can contact the local libraries and locate bookstores that carry books by local authors.
What are your favorite places to perform research?
What fun facts have you discovered during your research?
Keli Gwyn writes stories that transport readers to the 1800s, where she brings historic towns to life, peoples them with colorful characters, and adds a hint of humor. A California native, she lives in the Gold Rush-era town of Placerville at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Her debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, set in the heart of the Gold Country where she lives is currently available.When Keli’s fingers aren’t hovering over the keyboard of her newfangled laptop, she enjoys strolling past stately Victorian houses in her historic town, burying her nose in reference books as she unearths interesting facts to include in her stories, and interacting with other romance readers. Her favorite places to visit are her fictional worlds, the Coach factory outlet store, and Taco Bell.
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