The trouble with writing historical novels is getting lost in your research.
I write at a pretty rapid pace. The first of the Jackson Speed novels (at 75,000 words) took 28 days to write. The second novel (about 85,000 words) took four months, but there were a couple of long periods when I didn’t write at all because other projects were occupying my time.
I am currently writing the third novel and that is also moving along rapidly. My goal is to have it finished by late April.
I’ve written one thing or another all my life, and particularly as a journalist I am accustomed to writing quickly under deadline pressure. I developed this skill when I was a student and would put off writing lengthy essays until the very last minute. My teachers and my parents thought I was procrastinating, but actually I was developing skills that would benefit me as a future journalist and novelist.
Or maybe I was procrastinating.
But as I write these novels, a big part of my time is spent in research. My friends know that if I’m going to write a historical novel it is going to be historically accurate. If I write in a novel that the first gun fired in advance of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg was shot off at 1:07 in the afternoon, I write that because that’s what time it was fired. You can take it to the bank. If I write that General Taylor ordered a retreat just as Colonel Jefferson Davis was about to take the Grand Plaza at Monterrey, I write it because that’s what history recorded.
My desire to be historically accurate stems from my love of history. I’ve always been a sort of arm chair historian, and any time I’ve run across inaccuracies in films or novels it has always rankled me.
As a result, when I start to do research for a book or a chapter or a scene, I tend to get lost in my research. I’m easily distracted. I go to find out what road Fitz Lee was on when he discovered Hooker’s flank on the Orange Turnpike at Chancellorsville, and two hours later I’m reading about Dan Sickles shooting Francis Scott Key’s son for fooling around with Mrs. Sickles.
One of my favorite sites for research is sonofthesouth.net where they have posted all the Harper’s Weekly issues published during the Civil War. I could (and do) spend hours reading these and studying the sketches and forgetting the nugget of history I was there to discover.
Today in the mail I received a book that contains diary and journal entries, letters and other first-hand accounts of Gettysburg, not from the generals or soldiers (whose accounts I have by the hundreds already) but from the civilians who lived in Gettysburg.
I am currently working on the third novel in the Jackson Speed series “Jackson Speed at the High Tide.”
In it, Speed deserts his way into the biggest battle of the war, and on the first day at Gettysburg finds himself caught in the town between the two armies.
I’ll give you one guess what brought Ol’ Speedy to Gettysburg in the first place. The first person who comments here on my blog with the correct answer wins a free, signed copy of “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” (due out in late March).
So in doing my research I sought accounts from Gettysburg’s citizens and found this book. Seriously, I salivate over civilian accounts of the American Civil War and am most fascinated by those.
So I bought this book for “research,” and I will use it accordingly, but I doubt very seriously I will be doing any quality writing in the next few days as I once again get lost in my research.