Tuesday, July 28, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting July 2015

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured guest speaker Cindy Thomson.  Cindy writes historical fiction with her most recent novels including Grace's Pictures and Annie's Stories.  Set during the turn of the century, the books immerse readers in the lives of two immigrant women.  It's imperative to conduct extensive research when writing historical novels, so Cindy shared her tips on how to become a research pro with our group.

Even though historical fiction is "fiction" (i.e. a made up story), thorough research is still needed to make the story seem authentic and true to the time period.  Readers won't believe that your 17th century pirate character would eat chicken nuggets, or that your cave man hero would fight a mammoth with a sword.  Such inaccuracies pull the reader out of the story--or worse--make them put the book down!  Researching an entire time period or culture can be a bit overwhelming, though.  What sources can you trust?  What sources should you stay away from?  Cindy explained her favorite research methods that she uses to write her own novels.
Primary Sources
Princeton.edu describes primary sources as "documents or physical objects which were written or created during the time under study."  Cindy loves to use primary sources during her research, and there are lots to choose from.  Libraries are a great source for finding maps, books of letters and memoirs, and novels that were written during the time period.  By immersing yourself in documents from the era, Cindy said you can gain lots of insight on the setting of your historical novel and the culture of the people who would have lived during that time.

Secondary Sources
Princeton.edu describes secondary sources as "sources that interpret and analyze primary sources, and are one or more steps removed from the event."  Cindy explained that they are not always reliable, but can still be quite helpful.  She recommends seeking out academic books, informative blogs, .org websites, and reading other novels on the market that are set in the same time period.  (Cindy has even met some very nice authors who were happy to share their research sources with her.)  She also recommends going to museums and consulting experts when possible.

On the flip side, Cindy warned that the some information from secondary sources should be taken with a grain of salt.  Wikipedia, for example, can be great for finding quick facts, but sometimes provides inaccurate information.  Novels that haven't been researched thoroughly often contain historical inaccuracies.  Even interviewing someone who lived during a certain time or event can have its disadvantages.  They may know a lot about their own experience, but they can't accurately portray everyone's experience.

As long as you keep a good perspective and vett your research, secondary sources can be very handy when writing historical fiction.

Fun Stuff
"Fun stuff" is everything else you do to enhance your research--like taking a research trip, attending local cultural festivals, experiencing reenactments, etc.  You don't have to go to Florence to write a book set in Renaissance Italy, but it sure is a fun way to talk your spouse into taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Cindy's last research tip was my personal favorite: when in doubt, talk to your local librarian.  They may not have the answer, but they will certainly know where to find it!

You can find out more about Cindy and her books on her website at http://cindyswriting.com/.

If you want to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI, be sure to visit the website at http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org.  I hope to see you at the August meeting!

Note: Book cover image is from amazon.com.