My Five Favorite Fiction Research Resources

Thanks to the internet, I can research without leaving home. Still, it doesn’t eliminate my need for live sources, like:

1. Historic Sites

A visit gives me a visual image of the location. And I often find a brochure with concise historical data, saving me hours of digging.

2. Newspaper Collections

There’s nothing like a newspaper to give you the flavor of the times you’re writing about. This is a great source for discovering:

● how people dressed

● how they traveled

● what they ate

● how they thought

● what they bought and what it cost

A professor advised me to visit the University of Missouri Columbia campus, which houses the largest collection of historical newspapers west of the Mississippi. I loved it.

3. Letters

When writing about the Civil War, in my local library I found a volume of letters from a Northern woman trapped behind Southern lines. Keepers of family memorabilia provided me with letters from a Union soldier. Love letters between a widowed farmer with four young children and a maiden school teacher provided information on the era’s courting habits.

When researching a book on WW II, a source sent me a letter from a mother on the day she learned her son — missing since the first week of the war — had died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Such letters are hard to find, but they add a unique dimension.

4. Experts

Never be afraid to consult a doctor, a museum curator, or a university professor, even if you’ve never met them. Tell them you’re working on a book, and you’ll find most experts enjoy sharing their knowledge. Some go out of their way to help — like a museum curator in upstate New York who invited me to meet her at the museum on a day it was closed to the public.

5. Ordinary People

While visiting the site of my Seventh Son trilogy, I stepped out into the night and asked my hostess, “What am I hearing?” She identified all the night creatures. When I wanted to know what would happen if you race a horse for twenty miles, I called my father. For my WW II work-in-progress, I tracked down a veteran who’d been stationed at the site of my story. I found him through the internet and interviewed him by phone.

Take advantage of the internet, but don’t overlook live resources.

Joy P. Gage is a mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, president of Northern Arizona Word Weavers, and the author of seventeen books.

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