I’m a nerd. I love doing research. When I was in college I was that girl you could always find deep in the “stacks” smelling the old books. I mean, come on, isn’t that what good English Majors do? We read, we dig, we transport back and drop ourselves in the setting of any historical time or place. It’s half the fun of reading!
When I set out to write The Darkest Current, I had wild notions of how fun it was going to be to create an exotic world from a time gone by. A better time. A romantic time. In my mind “Oak County,” Georgia was as vivid as a painting and I knew it would be pure joy to put my vision onto paper. I set aside some time. Frothed by foam for my latte I would giddily consume while my fingers flew across the keypad, and set to work.
And it was so fun.
Until that moment when I realized I didn’t know how much a wedding dress from a catalog would have costed in 1893. Or what it would have been made of. Or what the Catalog would have even been called.
In Historical Fiction, the setting is just as important as the dialogue and plot. It’s a character in and of itself. And to draw your readers in and keep them in that place with you, it has to be done correctly.
So, you can’t just write what you see in your head. That would encompass a total of five pages, ten if you have an immense vocabulary.
Spoiler alert– you probably already know this because you’re a reasonable individual, but it honestly hadn’t crossed my mind — the base price of an umbrella in 1893 is not a fact that materializes itself in your mind, no matter how hard you try.
Fortunately we have the internet. So most of these random facts are easily accessible and found in seconds. Because some genius out there had the foresight to scan copies of the Sears Roebuck Catalog in 1898 so we can all peruse them now to our heart’s content.
So, once I came to the inevitable conclusion that I would need to brush up on my skim reading skills, I thought it would be just a matter of hours spent at the desk Googling on repeat.
But then, I hit the trial scene and in spite of all of my best internet sleuthing skills, I couldn’t find a full transcript of a trial in 1890’s America online. Bummer.
So, I had to dig deeper and eventually came across the Lizzie Borden Museum in Massachusetts where I was able to request and received a copy of the full court transcript from her trial (yes, the one where she gave her mother forty whacks), and from there I was able to recreate a trial in 1893 to a greater accuracy than my limited imagination was ever capable of.
What’s the moral of this tale? It’s this. No matter how beautiful of a scene you’ve created in your head, sitting down to write an Historial novel won’t be the romantic fever-pitched experience you envisioned it would be. But if you do the work, the end result may be.
The Darkest Current is now available in Paperback or Kindle Edition.
One thought on “Pardon Me, Do You Happen to Have a Copy of the Sears Roebuck Catalog, Issue Number 118?”
Love your intellect and perception. Of course, research is often a challenge.