Monday, May 28, 2012

Doing a Little Research

An interesting thing happened that became the basis for my current novel. In 1995 my father gave me a packet with letters and stories from my great-grandfather and my grandfather. As I read them, the “what ifs” began swarming through my brain. One particular letter my great-grandfather wrote to my great-grandmother was dated in November of 1864 shortly before the battle of Nashville during the Civil War. That letter so intrigued me that I began researching Manfred and Sally Whiteman.

The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with their story and their lives. My grandfather was captured and sent to Point Lookout Yankee Prison in Maryland and was released just after the Armistice in April of 1865.  Upon his arrival in St. Francisville, he and my grandmother Sally were married in Grace church there.

His long walk with his younger brother back to Louisiana led to many stories told by them to their children and passed on in the family. The more I read, the more I wanted to tell their story in a novel. I met with my cousins, and they agreed the story should be told. Thus was born the novel, Homeward Journey. It sat around for years until it became the first book in a new three book proposal to Charisma. Although the title is changed, the story is the same.

Of course, we didn’t have all the facts, but the ones we did have are incorporated into the story. I gave my hero and heroine my great-grandparent’s names as well as his brothers and her brothers and sisters. Even portions of Manfred’s letter to Sally are included in the story as well as a few stories we’ve heard passed down in the family.

Research for historical writing can be quite difficult, but it never ceases to amaze me with the things we can learn about our ancestors. Researching this novel not only shed light on my own family, but also gave me an insight into the Civil War that was not there before. Reading letters and first-hand accounts of the events sheds light and gives meat to the story.

Researching can uncover facts and tidbits of information that become fodder for a completely new story. So many authors say they don’t write historical because of the research that must be done to “get it right.” That’s the fun of the research for most of us who do write historical novels.

Story ideas can come from anywhere at any time whether it’s while we are researching or simply observing life around us. In fact, a lot of what happens in real life would not be believable even in fiction. Still, we can glean from it and come up with plot ideas and situations that mirror what we know and what we’ve experienced ourselves. The world is full of stories. We just have to find them.


Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I know it's fun to add details from your family's history in your books.

With my Minnesota series of 4 Heartsongs that later became the one-volume Minnesota Brothers, I used elements from my family history in the first book.

Martha W. Rogers said...

Makes the research more fun, too.

Crystal Laine said...

I love this, Martha! I think using family stories makes for more depth to the story because you care already for the characters.

And Lena, I don't think I knew that about your Minnesota brothers. My mother's people settled in Minnesota. I'm going to have to revisit that.

I love family stories. Thanks for sharing this!

Martha W. Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martha W. Rogers said...

Thanks for stopping by Crystal. Family stories are fun and I can't wait to use some my aunt has told me about my mother's family.

Linda Yezak said...

How wonderful that you have such a rich history to share with your readers in your novel! I can't help but to be a bit jealous. Mom handed me the letters between her and Daddy while he was in Korea--with the strict order to burn without reading. The temptation to disobey remained even as we built the fire and threw them in.

Jillian Kent said...

Hi Martha,
It's amazing how much I don't know about my family history. You're blessed. Fascinating stuff you have there.