7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Making Research Sing

Contributed by Laura Feagan Frantz

I've yet to meet a writer of historical fiction that says anything but "ahhh!" to research. They're usually quite at home in history books. My friends who write contemporary fiction usually say "ugh" to the same, one of the reasons they choose to write in their genre. Research, to them, is often dry, dusty, stale. I must admit some history, like midwifery, is far more interesting to me than say, fishmongering. And I've discovered that there are ways to make your research sing, avenues you can take to make the leap from antique facts to flesh and blood characters more appealing.

During the years I spent writing The Frontiersman's Daughter, research became more ah-inducing when I created characters who were involved in the things I loved and wanted to learn more about. Here are two of them...

Lael's Garden

I'd always had a love of herbs, flowers, and the woods and wanted my protagonist to find her calling there. The Kentucky hills and hollows became Lael's second home in the novel and she was taught their charms and secrets by Ma Horn, a healer and herbalist. To get into Lael's head and heart, I planted a large herb garden full of 18th-century things like comfrey and bee balm and lavender and chamomile. This became my own special spot and the delight of my heart. I scoured the woods for materials to build a wattle fence and spent hours crafting one just like Lael would have done. Imagine my JOY when those flowers and herbs wended their way around my lovely fence and cast me back to another time and place. I also learned to match remedies to ailments as I delved into what plagued colonials back then, then poured that knowledge into Lael.

When readers say they felt at home in Lael's woods, that the words on the page became vivid pictures, I think it's because the research became a reality via my garden, fence, and woods. If you want your research to spring to life for you, your characters, and your readers, try tending a garden, churning butter, cooking over a hearth, firing a musket, spinning, or a million other old things. Visit a historic site and pay careful attention to the reenactors. Sometimes they let you lend a hand with whatever it is they're doing. Absorb the sights, smells, and sounds therein. Look for amazing resources like the Foxfire books that give in-depth instruction as to what your characters would have done in detail. Your writing will be better for it.

Ian's Fiddle

Another love of mine is the violin. No, I can't play a note so the next best thing was creating a hero who could play in my stead. I made my Ian Justus Scottish. Such a rich fiddling history there! If you haven't read the book, Ian was a doctor and erstwhile fiddler:)

As I was writing TFD, my youngest son expressed a desire to play the violin. When he broke a string or was horribly out of tune, played a song flawlessly and almost made me cry, I instilled this in my hero. I still can't play a note but Ian can - as can my Paul. I agree with one of my favorite characters regarding fiddle music, "Surely the devil had a hand in something this seductive." Heaven did, truly!

Ramp that research up by indulging in some hands on history. You - and your readers - will be glad you did and it will enrich your life in countless ways.

Every writer is different, each story unique, including research methods. How does research work best for you? What sources do you find most compelling? Do you research prior to writing or throughout? If you're a reader instead of a writer, do you prefer historical fiction with lots of detail or just a little? When is too much detail too much - or too little too little?

CQ note from CFP: Leave a comment on Laura's research post (or the Fiction Sampler of CML) with your email address for a chance to win a copy of Courting Morrow Little by Laura.  Drawing will be on Monday morning, Memorial Day.  


  1. Love the article, Laura. Hands on research is my favorite. I'd rather explore a historical site any day than only read about one.

  2. Laura, I loved all the details you put in your books, b/c I could see everything in my mind's eye the way it probably was back in that day, and as far as the scenery...present day as well. It's like watching a movie to me. When you posted that pic on your blog of Kentucky woods where Lael "hung out" it was exactly the way I pictured it when I read your book. I love that!

    I'm going to do something I never have done before that I know of with a book that I've already read...I am entering the giveaway! I loaned out The Frontiersman's Daughter AND Courting Morrow Little and they are being passed around and shared, which I love, BUT I will never see them again. Since I read CML in the throes of grief after my mom's passing I want to read it again, and I NEVER read a book twice. So you may enter Ms. Diana Flowers in this giveaway thank you very much!:-)

  3. And why is google making me anonymous on the blog on which I am a contributor, but not on here? So not nice...;-) OOPS! Email addy for above comment: dianalflowers @aol.com

  4. Often I have to force myself to stop researching so I can get on with writing the story! Or my research turns up so many other story ideas.

  5. Rita and Carrie, It's a good morning when I wake up to your comments:) Thanks so much.

    Rita,I'm such a fan, too, of hands on research that I almost wish I was a historical reenactor instead of a writer! I'm thrilled to see you on a regular basis through Quills. Such a blessing.

    And I'm so glad you loan your copies out, Diana, but know how often they don't come back to you:( More than happy to have you in the drawing. It's almost Morrow's birthday - she came out about a year ago (June 1). Am thinking about you (and your precious Mom), dear friend.

  6. Jennifer,
    So true! I love research almost as much as the writing:) Hope today is full of both for you!

  7. What a great post, Laura. I'd love to do more hands on research (including gardening, but alas, I have a very black thumb). Living on the west coast and writing about a time period and events on the east coast often makes that difficult. We do have late 1800s Mountain Man Rendezvous in these parts, the nearest thing to 18th century Colonial reenactments I can reasonably attend. But I do love the book research too. One reason being is that I often find the kernel of my next story while reading the history that serves as a backdrop, or framework, for the current story. I like to read the history around an event for several decades, because what led up to a certain time in history is as important as the event itself. But back in those decades or years or month preceding there's likely to be an event as exciting, one that grabs my imagination and sparks a string of what ifs. Then a file gets created and the bare bones of a new story take shape.

    If I'm not careful, I'll be writing stories set further and further back in time until I have to move them to Europe!

  8. I just read The Fronteirsman's Daughter last night (stayed up until 3am!). Laura, you are a gifted writer and I greatly appreciated the details and rich storyline. I have read hundreds and hundreds of Christian romance novels and have to say that besides Francine River's Redeeming Love, it is now my new favorite!! The love story was absolutely captivating and you had me wanting her with Captain Jack AND Ian...which is a rare thing because I usually have a clear favorite. You helped the reader to feel as if we were Lael with your descriptive words. Amazing work...can't wait to read more from you. Keep it coming!!

  9. Laura, I love that you have a passion for research! If there's one thing I can't stand, its an unresearched historical novel. The research is always the backbone. What I love most is finding odd bits of fact and also just the day-to-day ordinaryness of life centuries back. Its amazing how much things can change over time, even things that were just so 'every day.'
    I already own a copy of CML so I'm just stopping by to say 'hello.' Its an excellent book though and I know whoever wins will really enjoy it! Perfect for a good summer read!

  10. What a wonderful piece, Laura! I love the fact that you planted a Lael garden and fashioned a wattle fence. How wonderful for you to have the sound of a fiddle in your home while writing this novel. My favorite research is hands on. I want to get as close to the experience the characters would have as I can. I want to know what the wool feels like in their hands, hear the sounds that are near them, all of it! It's not always possible so sometimes I seek out second hand experiences. I've even emailed perfect strangers to ask them even stranger questions. And I often try to find experiences folks have written about in the past - diaries, news reports, other accounts from back in the day. I do extensive research, sometimes over years while a story is brewing.

  11. Laura Frantz is having trouble with Blogger on her end. We will try to get her responses up here shortly.

  12. Although I write contemporary, I do like hands-on research. Of course, my main character lives in a beach house in South Carolina . . . LOL Don't I wish!

    Bless you, Laura, for sharing the story of the wattle fence. One of my favorite things about Lael is her love and knowledge of plants. It so makes me wish I'd listened more when my grandmother tried to tell me about every single plant along the side of our little red-gravel road. Now I want to know what she knew, and I have to learn it the academic way. She always smirked when I would come back with a "Mama says" to something she'd said. She would say, "Your mama learned everything she knows from BOOKS. I learned from EXPERIENCE!" LOL

    Bless you, Laura!

  13. Laura, I am thrilled that you wrote this post! You know I am a fan of you and your wonderful works of fiction. You are an inspiration. Now when I go to my own garden and rub the lavender leaves together to obtain that wonderful smell, I will be thinking about you in your garden weaving a tale!

    66 days until TCL!!


    PS..You don't need to enter me in the drawing. I already own CML

  14. Laura, I love your writing whether it is a book or a blog! Reading this post reminded me that one of my favorite parts of TCL was the relationship between Ma Horn and Lael. I appreciated the history of herbs and could tell that a great deal of research preceded the storytelling.

    One of the reasons I choose the genre of historical fiction is to increase my knowledge of history via an engaging read. And I love detail, as long as the book does not get bogged down in detail, making the story dull.

    Laura, guess what! You and I have something in common -- a love of the violin. I don't play either, but love the sound, particularly slow (adagio)music!

    Since I already own both the paperback and Kindle editions of Courting Morrow Little, you need not enter me in the drawing. I hope the lucky person who wins enjoys Morrow and Red Shirt's story as much as I did.

    I just wanted to stop by and say "hello"!


  15. Ah, love that Google Chrome:) Now I'm here in a flash! Thanks, Carrie and Carla for the tips on mastering Blogger.

    Lori, I think that's the hardest part of living on the west coast. The history here is quite new! Washington State has only been a state a little over 100 years. I think, if I lived in Kentucky again or Virginia, I'd just stop writing and become a re-enactor at Colonial Williamsburg:)

    Sara, A warm welcome to you!! I'm so sorry I kept you up late but that just thrills me at the same time:) Here's hoping you sneak in a nap today! I think it's the best kind of compliment to tell an author her story kept you up late. I love when a book I'm reading does that. You really enter into the story and get the full effect when you can't put it down. Guess what I have on my desk? Redeeming Love:) I'm so happy you're in the drawing for Morrow's story and hope you like it as much as Lael's. Thanks for your gracious words. They've sure blessed me! Please stay in touch!

  16. Heather, I know you draw inspiration from a lot of sources like we writers do. But wait, you're a writer, too! Your love of history is so apparent in your artwork!

    Carla, I've often wished I lived in Maine or somewhere along the eastern seaboard so we could do some researching together. I think it's often more fun in pairs and I know you and your mom have a wonderful time together. My favorite blog posts of yours are the ones where you share your research experiences:)

  17. Regina, That's a precious story. Sometimes I wish I had my granny's brain (she was a lot like Ma Horn), too. I regret I didn't ask her more when she was alive. She passed away right before TFD was published. And I had to chuckle about your SC beach house! Now that's my kind of research, dear friend;)

    Elise, Oh, so glad to see you here! We do have some beloved things in common. I think of you when I post violin music on Facebook as you always give a thumbs up:) You'll be glad to know my current hero for this Pennsylvania series plays the violin and it's a story thread that plays out over 4 books (no pun intended;). Having you for a reader is such a blessing. Thanks for taking time here today. And happy Memorial Day to you!

  18. Stacie, Wow - only 66 days? I just heard this morning that the book will be in the Baker warehouse by June and ready to ship by early July. I always have a few jitters...

    It's good to know you have a garden. Somehow I thought you might;) Bless you!

  19. Well, I was in colonial Philadelphia with my characters, Laura, and just got your comments I copied and was going to post here. So glad you are back up with Blogger and able to post. I have CML here and ready for someone!

  20. Some readers and writers have asked me to list my favorite research books. Aside from the Foxfire books by Eliot Wigginton I mentioned above, my most beloved books are Eric Sloane's. Here are just a few...

    Diary of an Early American Boy
    The Seasons of America Past
    A Reverence for Wood
    A Museum of Early American Tools

    These are just a few as he was very prolific and worked as both author and illustrator. Public libraries usually carry them. They're just priceless - full of winsome, incredibly detailed pictures/drawings and text. They just have a beauty unequaled by any other source, IMHO. I just ordered several more of his that I don't have for this next series and found them for a very reasonable price on Amazon. If you check one out or purchase one, I think you'll delight in it just like I do.

  21. I am sooo anxious to read "Courting Morrow Little". Aunt Diane's (Diana Flowers) copy never made itself around to me! LOL Please enter me to win. :) ncmom@att.net

  22. So happy to see a niece of Diana's here:) Hope you enjoy Morrow's story when you read! Thanks for entering the drawing!

  23. I love the idea of planting an herb garden as research.
    And I love a well-researched historical. I don't think a book can be over-researched, if the information is sewn into the story properly.
    I use Google to research and the library, of course, but my favorite thing to do is talk to experts. The personal interaction is the best!


  24. Beth, You've made such an important point - talking to experts opens up a whole new world:) So true!

    Like you, I don't think a book can be over-researched either. One of my favorite historical authors, Liz Curtis Higgs, has over 900 books on Scotland and has been there a dozen or more times. If you've ever read one of her novels, you'd believe she was a Scotswoman. I have a hard time letting go of her books, esp. this last series. It's so good to meet you here.

    Thanks for stopping here and for your insights:)

  25. So glad you made it in here, Laura! It's been a wonderful conversation. And it's so kind of you to respond to all.

    Having a research buddy is fun, it would be so nice to do some of that research with you! You know you are welcome to Maine any time!

  26. I love doing all the hands on stuff, here's a list of some of the things I've done:

    milked a cow
    milked a goat
    churned butter
    rendered lard
    made soap
    tanned hides
    we have both a vegetable & an herb garden
    we have a small orchard & berry patch
    sheared a sheep (okay - LOTS of sheep!)
    spun wool along with all the steps to prepare it
    hand sewing
    hand quilted
    made baskets out of locally found materials
    tended laying hens
    butchered chickens (hate that job - feathers!)
    hunted & dressed out game
    cooked over an open fire

    I guess I've learned a thing or two over the years about surviving. :) If anyone ever needs a "live" resource, I'm happy to share the knowledge gained.

    Thanks for entering me in the drawing! twinwillowsfarm at gmail dot com

  27. Pegg,
    LOVE your list! Thank you for your generous offer:) I will keep that in mind. You sound like a woman after Lael's own heart. And mine! If I could choose two things from your list I'd like to try it would be quilting and tanning hides. Both quite different but equally interesting.

    Twin Willows Farm sounds like a lovely place - so glad you want to take part in the drawing. Bless you!

  28. Carla, Thx to you and Carrie for showing me how to overcome browser /blogger booboos. I still don't know how to clear cookies but I'm learning:)

  29. I've been wanting to own Courting Morrow Little since I can remember! Please count me in on this giveaway. Thanks Laura and all the ladies here on Colonial Quills for the posts y'all do!

    ~ Katy

  30. Hi Laura! Thank you for your wonderful post! It's fascinating to get a glimpse into how you write your books.

    The first time I read CML, I borrowed it from the library, so I would love to have my own personal copy for my second reading. Like Diana, I have never read a book twice, but your books are so exceptional, I will definitely read them again. : )

    Thank you for entering me in the drawing!
    scraphappy71 at sbcglobal dot net

  31. Ahh, I love research. I love getting my 5x7 cards out, ready to write interesting facts, and plowing through some great books books. My most favorite new book series I found was written by authors involved in the Federal Writers Project during the Depression. They wrote state guides for all the states with tons of great info, including history of the region, and the "current" information. The one for WA was published in 1941, so it's perfect for my WIP set in 1934.
    I research generally at the beginning, and then write. Once I write, I know what specific things I have to do more research on.
    Thanks, Laura

    kristengjohnson (AT) gmail (.) com

  32. Well, I just realized that I failed to put Laura's name on this post, so I fixed that. Sorry, Laura! So glad readers immediately knew this was our very own Laura Frantz, author of two fabulous colonial books with another coming out in August. Kristen J, so glad to see you here, I miss seeing you at ShoutLife. Katy and Michelle, I entered you in the drawing, too. LFF is on PST I believe and I am on EST, something they never imagined in colonial times.

  33. Hi Katy, So happy you're in the drawing! I'd love for you to meet Morrow;)

    Kristen, I've recently discovered the JOY of index cards, too, and a little filing system for research:) So much better! Your new book finds sound amazing - thanks for sharing that here!!

    Michelle, Oh, you're a true blessing wanting to read CML again. I must confess it's hard for me to read a book twice unless I truly love it so your words mean a great deal! Bless you bunches!

  34. Carrie,
    I didn't even notice my name was missing but bless you for adding! Off to an estate sale with hubby - maybe I'll find some good vintage books:) Bless you all!

  35. I love research! I get lost in it. When I took my research road trip to Colonial Williamsburg it was to get a flavor and understanding of how they lived, what they did,what their homes looked like. I also took a ride in a carriage. My character traveled by carriage and I needed to know what it was like. Also the driver was VERY knowledgeable in how long it would take to get from one place to another.
    Then I went up to Massachusetts, home of my character. It was a phenomenal feeling to sit in her kitchen. Walk through the rooms she walked in over 300 years ago.
    I can't wait to finish this book and go onto the next one in the series - More research & road trips!

  36. Teresa,
    So glad to meet you through our mutual love of research:) Isn't CW amazing?! The MA trip sounds wonderful, too - so much history there. The time and care you take with your research is bound to show in your manuscript. Like you, I get lost in research and sometimes feel it should feel more like work but it never does!

  37. Having grown up in a very historic area, with French, British, and Native American sites to visit and now living in the "Historic Triangle" of Virginia, I can go to the 18th century any time I wish, so I am really spoiled. Yesterday was visit to the Virginia War museum.

  38. Congrats to Diana's niece, Cathy, picked by random.org. I tried to only count the ppl who had not already notated on the Monday post or here that they already had a copy. Oh and don't worry about aunt Diana, I think the gal whose blog she contributes to might have a backup for her ;)

    Congrats to Joan Hochstetler, too, who won on Monday's post.


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