Research is fun

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the research.  I had originally planned to create an Adah Issac Menken character because she was so unique, unknown, and outrageous.  Then, Josie Marcus Earp grabbed my imagination.  While visiting a friend in Berkeley, CA I visited the Bancroft Library where are stored an enormous amount of oral histories, personal journals, reminiscences, and letters from the era of the 1849 Gold Rush. I was hooked!

In order to put a believable character into a book I had to become informed about the times, the clothes, the attitudes, the landscape.  Thus began three years of reading everything from “Arizona Nights” by Stewart Edward White, published in 1907 and my husband’s grandmother’s favorite reading in small town Kansas at the beginning of the 20th century, through “They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush” compiled by Jo Ann Levy.  I read “Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey and learned where so many of the western cliches began, but mostly I was astonished to discover that one of the central characters in this book is an independent woman struggling to live free.  I read John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country” to get familiar with frontier-minded people, and “The World Rushed In” by J.S. Holliday which is a fascinating and complete correspondence to and from one of the original ’49ers.  In all I read nearly 87 books that included topography, folk songs, and costumes.  I was ready to write my book.

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