Historical Research, so you want to write a historical, how do you research?
Welcome Phyllis Campbell, thank you for agreeing to give me an interview for Mysteries and Margaritas, on the topic of Historical Research. First, will you please tell us a little about yourself and your publishing history and/or background?
Phyllis: Thanks for having me, Mary. I’ve been published for the last six years, and had approximately 23 books published during that time. My favorite genre to write is historical, but I’ll also wander into another genre – romantic comedy, contemporary, paranormal, westerns. I’m with three publishing companies; The Wild Rose Press, Champagne Books, and BookStrand Publishing. I have a newsletter group on my website, too – www.phyllismariecampbell.com
Drop by and browse around!
Mary: How do you keep your research organized so you aren’t overwhelmed by it?
Phyllis: My favorite era is Regency / Victorian…in other words, the 1800’s in England. A lot of my research carries from one era to the other, so it’s not overwhelming while I’m trying to work out a scene. I have my favorite websites saved on my computer – plus I’ve printed off the first page of that site and keep it in a folder just in case something happens to my computer.
Mary: Do you visit the library for your research?
Phyllis: Nope. Not since the Internet is at my fingertips at home. If I use the library for anything, it’s checking out books from new authors. In a way, this can be considered research if you want to read how a certain publishing company likes their stories, then you check out one (or more) of their books. This is what I did in the very beginning, in my early years of writing to help me decide which publisher I wanted to target. Reading other stories is a great research tool!
Mary: How useful do you find the internet for research? And do you find that it’s accurate?
Phyllis: I haven’t stumbled upon very many websites that aren’t accurate. I’m also part of a couple historical groups who share their new website findings, and if a site wasn’t accurate, they’d let us know. So far, I haven’t run across anything like that.
Mary: Do you have a method to your research?
Phyllis: Before beginning a story, I figure out the place and year. If it’s a place I’m not familiar with, then I do a search on the Internet. While up in the air about my historical paranormal, I couldn’t decide if I wanted the story in England or in Canada. My hero is a shape-shifter...a wolf. The manor is in a forest. In my research, I realized Canada worked much better for my plot. Because of this, my story has a gothic feel to it. I love it!
Once I feel comfortable with my surroundings for the story, then I begin. Usually I’ll write in an era I know what they’re wearing and about their transportation, so that doesn’t hold me up. But if I stumble across something I feel needs to be researched, then I stop where I am in the story and research it. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. But it’s always been worth my time.
My latest story – my first ghost story – my hero travels back in time from nowadays to 1912. Sure, I’ve watched the Titanic. I know what they wear, what they drive, how they act. But in my story, my heroine’s father owns a newspaper. I needed to know how the newspaper worked back in 1912. I also needed to know the first articles talked about after the sinking of the Titanic. Did you know a few newspapers actually printed that all the passengers survived? It was great fun to research that!
Mary: Do you have a list of Brainstorming Research Questions? A list of questions you need answers to before you start your book?
Phyllis: Usually an idea pops into my head before I start a book – and I think about where the best place would be for this story. I don’t really have a list of brainstorming questions, but I generally play the ‘what if’ game. When I was first brainstorming my ghost story, I could see my sexy hero (okay, so he looked a lot like Mick on the tv series Moonlight), but when he first talks to the ghost, I could see her wearing a tight fitting gown with big fluffy shoulders and narrowed sleeves. I could see a big, flat hat with a big feather on her head. She was even carrying a parasol! That’s when I knew, this was going to be a 1912 story…and it was going to be exciting to research!
Mary: Since you can’t interview someone from the time period your story is set in, do you have a way to compensate for this?
Phyllis: Other books that are set in this time period or movies helps to interview my characters. Once I have set my mind back in that certain time and become my character, the interview questions are easy.
Mary: Do you believe it is imperative for your story that the historical culture, current trends, growth, crisis if any, be accurate? Or do you create a fictional town so you do not have to deal with in-depth trends, growth and theories of say a known town like London, or Scotland, etc?
Phyllis: I haven’t created a fiction town. Not really. I see the town, and I may change some things to fit my plot, but usually they’re towns that existed back in those days.
Your characters should be in costume…to the fullest! In other words, you don’t want your hero wearing Levis in the early 1800’s (because they were not created until around 1870). And you don’t want your heroine wearing thong underwear in that time, either, because they wore bloomers (or petticoats), except if she was in the Regency era, then she wore nothing at all underneath her dress but her stockings and garter belts.
You want your characters speaking as close to that era as possible. Everything you as a writer can do to help your reader put themselves in that era is important. No flushing toilets, no blow dryers, no microwaves. If you don’t know what it’s like in the era you’re writing, then read a book – or watch a movie. If you can’t get in that time, your reader won’t, either.
Mary: Did you ever research methods of historical research to perfect your process?
Phyllis: Not really methods. But thank goodness for my historical groups that help me when I need it. Or if I can’t find a website or information about a certain subject, they’re always there to help.
Mary: Are there any areas we’ve left out that you feel is important to the historical writer?
Phyllis: No, I think we’ve covered a lot. Just remember to describe as much as you can that will help your reader put themselves in your story. Describe the dress your character wore, the house she lives in – a mere cottage, or a manor? Is your hero an Earl? Marquis? Duke? Or just a lowly stable hand? Do you know they wear different clothes? Do you know they talk differently, too? Is your heroine born of noble blood? Or does she cuss like a sailor? Heehee Believe or not, things like this will make – or break your story. Because if someone is reading your Victorian, then you know that person has read many others just like it…and you don’t want to give her any reason to not like your story. So stick to the facts as much as you can! And…have fun!
Thank you Phyllis Campbell for making time to answer my Questions!