Ciara Gold penned her first novel when she was twenty and confesses that first attempt is still gathering dust under her bed. Her first historical western, Sarah’s Brass Token, came out in 2006 and was nominated for a CAPA award. Since then, she’s written four more, three of which are sequels to the first. A member of RWA and EPIC, she won the Eppie in 2008 for a sci-fi futuristic romance, A Noble Sacrifice but while she loves delving into other genres, her heart is in historical westerns. In fact, for her next few projects, she’s gone back to stories that feature hardworking cowboys and the strong women who tamed them.
Research Sets the Scene
by Ciara Gold
Research for some can be an exciting adventure, for others a daunting task. For me, it’s both. I love finding out new tidbits that can enhance my writing and make the story more believable, but good research takes time and effort.
I’m working on a book now that I felt needed more punch, more golden nuggets of info to enrich the plot. My basic premise involves a heroine who was captured by Cheyenne warriors and adopted into their tribe so naturally, my first order of business was finding out more about the Cheyenne. My second order of business was learning more about the backdrop I’d hoped to use, Oklahoma Indian territory.
I sought out books and sites on the Internet, but this just wasn’t enough for me so when my mother asked me to take her to Norman, OK for a wedding, I promptly agreed with one stipulation – she’d join me in touring as much of OK as we could in the allotted time frame.
The adventure proved awesome – a real treat. I could tell you all about the trip, but I’ll let you visit my blog for details. For this blog post, I mainly want to discuss the nitty gritty details, the pearls that complement the story. For this, research is so important to the writer. These little gems of discovery add spice to the story and help the reader visualize what it meant to live in rural America when we had no cell phones and a good doctor was miles away.
I’m always intrigued by antiques and I have several family heirlooms that I’ve incorporated into various stories. My favorite is one I never gave much thought to, but makes perfect sense. My great grandmother’s glove stretcher makes an appearance in my story Once Jilted. The more cultured women of the 1800s always wore gloves. Gloves made of kid fit tightly and had to be stretched before donning.
One of the museums I visited had a covered wagon display and strapped to the side was a rocking chair. I’d never given much thought to a trail cook’s comfort but why not? I think this next book I’m working on will have a cook with a rocking chair.
House construction is another area where the writer can really bring forward the hardships endured. I found one reference to a fort that was constructed using sod but they had to abandon the buildings a few years later when the field mice became so bad. Saw one reconstruction with packed dirt floors and another with wood floors. The dirt beneath the wood floors gives the building a unique odor, a sweet musty smell that’s pleasant and nostalgic.
I’m a tactile person. I love seeing the object so that I can paint a clearer picture with words and I like doing things. For example, I attended a DOG about two years ago that was a hoot. DOG is a Dutch Oven Gathering. I’d cooked on a Dutch oven before but not the way these folks did it. I learned a whole new appreciation for the skill. One of my duties as a Girl Scout leader was to train other leaders how to clean lanterns using newspaper to wipe the soot and how to trim the wick. Without having done this, it would have never occurred to me that this was a normal chore for the settlers. (Yep, I included this in a scene from Eliza’s Copper Penny.) To me, these are the sweet morsels that make a story setting more believable and rich.
So where do writers go to find these wonderful extras? Well, the Internet is a great source. I start with a search on images when I want something specific. I just recently discovered YouTube as a source of information when I wanted the hero of one of my stories to be a blacksmith. I found a ton of blacksmithing demos to shed more light on the inner workings of the profession. Re-enactments are a great place to get ideas as well, but they can be costly. Trips to museums offer a lot of visual experiences but if that’s not doable, then try antique stores. I was so excited to find a cobbler’s sewing machine at one of the museums as I’m working on another book that involves a shoemaker. The local libraries often have old newspapers from the time period which can be quite eye-opening. Remember – fact is often more absurd than fiction.
Writing a good historical western or any historical for that matter is more than just getting the facts straight for that time period. It’s about immersing the reader into that world and making them feel as if they are living amongst those cowboys and cowgirls.