I’ve always been fascinated by maps. Maybe it’s because I’m Australian, and our wide brown island nation has always felt far from the rest of the world. Maybe it’s because I love how maps represent changes in our understanding of the world over time. I enjoy maps so much I even have them on my tea towels.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the ‘Mapping Our World’ exhibition at the National Library of Australia. This exhibition held a number of maps dating back to a Babylonian map of the world from around 600 BC, through to those drawn by Captain James Cook, with various maps, engravings and images of celestial globes from the British Library, the Vatican and more, showing the progression from a very Euro-centric version of the world to one which incorporated the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
Australia was for many years considered a place of the unknown, with no complete maps of the country completed until the early 1800s, when Australia was circumnavigated by Matthew Flinders (and his cat Trim). This feat not only resulted in the first complete map of the country, but was also the first official recorded use of the name Australia to identify the country previously known by such names as New Holland, Terra Australis Incognita, even Notasia!
I write inspirational Regency, novels set in England between the years 1811-1820, when the Prince Regent was in charge in place of his father, King George III (who was considered to be mad!). My debut novel, The Elusive Miss Ellison, was set mostly in a fictional village in Gloucestershire, with some references to places in London, so ‘mapping my story’ wasn’t hugely important. But for my second release, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, set in 1814 London, I wanted to refer to some genuine events that occurred that year, such as the Parade of Allied Sovereigns. This meant I needed to know how Lady Charlotte and her family would reach the parade route from their home in Grosvenor Square. This necessitated my examining old maps of London at that time, one of which I loved so much I ended up spending hours piecing together on my lounge room floor.
My giant map (of which the above is a sample) was designed in 1814 which makes it perfect for my time period. I love the features on it, places which don’t exist anymore, such as Vauxhall Gardens (also mentioned in Lady Charlotte’s story), and the outline of the City Walls, when London was known by the Romans as Londinium (some of the walls still exist).
My other books are set in such places as Brighton, Bath, the Peak District, Somerset, and Scotland! I also reference places in Spain, India and Australia, all of which has required lots of fun research. Upcoming books are set in the Lake District and Northumberland, and then there are my contemporary books, including the Independence Islands novella collection, set in (fictional) islands off the Georgia coast.
In a world when we can have Google maps tell us where to go, I love to compare old maps with contemporary ones, and dream about the romance of times past, when things like country boundaries were less known, and explorers took their lives in their hands as they sought knowledge and understanding in their quest to better comprehend this wonderful world.
Research is Key—Writing Unfamiliar Places, Times, and Backdrops
One of the most common advices given new writers I’ve heard at least a hundred times is ”write what you know.” It’s good advice, especially for author wannabes. I even gave that advice in my May #BecauseFiction article!
When the New York agent we’d just met at an East Texas writers’ conference told us on the way to the airport—we’d volunteered to drive her—“Write me a historical Christian romance set in the 1800s, and I’ll sell it,” we took her at her word.
I still smile at God’s sense of humor. We knew her as Mary Sue Seymour, but when she got off the elevator at the hotel, she hugged my neck right off and told me, “I’ve never met another McAdoo who wasn’t family!” What an amazing (divine) coincidence (plan)! Right? She grew up Mary Sue McAdoo, surrounded by many McAdoos!
I felt my Father’s velvet hammer whack my head, saying, PAY ATTENTION HERE I’M DOING SOMETHING Less than six months later, Mary Sue sold our new manuscript of VOW UNBROKEN to Simon and Schuster’s Christian imprint Howard Books! No one could deny His glorious involvement!
Let’s back up a bit. She wanted a (1) historical (2) Christian (3) romance (4) set in the 1800s—three out of four wasn’t too bad. We knew a little about writing Christian and historical and romance—with one romance published at that time. We’d written THE CHIEF OF SINNERS, a historical, but it hadn’t been accepted—same with our Biblical fiction.
So the same day Mary Sue flew away from DFW, we sat down at Taco Bueno and decided on the hero and heroine’s names, a little backstory on both, and a premise over lunch. The idea came from a ‘read’ at our writers’ workshop. A retired history teacher who’d been in Clarksville all his life read about how neighbors would travel together to Jefferson to sell their cotton.
We started writing the actual story the next day, researching as much as we wrote to find out everything about the early 1800s in these parts.
We set the story on the McAdoo Ranch land, some nine hundred thirty-six acres that belongs to Ron’s brother. We take care of the ranch and are all over the place. We know it well.
My husband Ron has always loved history, but I had not—until we started writing that book! I found I loved finding the many aspects of life in 1832. I researched toys since our heroine had an eight-year-old daughter, and slang words, games played, books that were out, and songs sung then.
It’s great writing with Ron. He researched the parts of a wagon, and how the men harvested cotton and baled it back then. Checking out how long the journey would be, he discovered how far a loaded wagon could travel in a day and set the trip out on a calendar of 1832. He knew when the folks would be ready to leave and all the logistics.
So, eight years later in 2020, after forty-plus more titles that we Indie published, we were comfortable to join a multiple-author project completely out of our zone. It was historic and a romance, but the heroines were to be nurses. Ron was a paramedic for several years at the Dallas Fire Department, but I’d never had anything medical in my history. Besides, the “practice” of the healing arts changes drastically over even a few years. Learning about Nineteenth Century medicine took research aplenty!
We found out so much in order to write the short novella, A NURSE FOR JACOB. Well, maybe it isn’t so short for a novella, but it’s the shortest book we’ve ever written at barely ninety-nine pages! I think we wrote it in three weeks. We couldn’t take the pages we usually do to meet the organizers’ requirements; everything had to happen fast.
Set in New Orleans’ Touro Infirmary which actually did serve the community in 1868, the year our nurse Lydia graduated with her class of seventeen from the fictitious Harrows’ School of Nursing,
We’d visited New Orleans in person several years back and had researched it in the nineteenth century for several of our previous books so knew a lot of its history already. We wanted to use a “real” hospital. We love putting in a lot of real stuff from the period to make our stories all the more authentic.
It’s research, research, research if you’re writing in a time you didn’t live in, if your story’s set in a place you’ve never been, and if the backdrop—medical in our instance—is one you aren’t familiar with. A friend of mine made her hero a highline worker. Very ingenious I thought, but she had to do a LOT of research to learn the lingo of the men and all that they did, bad things that could happen. She spoke directly with a few linemen.
Most of our research is online. We google everything under the sun, but another great way to research is talking to the real deal. I asked many inquiries of my nurse friends. I’ve called or visited attorneys, policemen, morticians, farms, horse breeders, lumbermen, and antique firearm collectors. Person to person, you can get a wealth if information.
And then travel can be a great way to research, probably for certain the most fun! Preparing to write a wagon train story, Ron and I took off on a journey that began in Saint Joseph, Missouri. We drove there the first day as that’s where our characters would set out from. The next morning off we went on the Oregon / California Trail!
It proved to be an epic journey, and we gathered so much awesome information, seeing the sites like Chimney Rock, Scott’s Buff and my personal favorite in Wyoming, Independence Rock. We’d been to New Orleans so didn’t go again when we wrote A NURSE FOR JACOB, my July release.
I hope this will give you all some ideas and inspiration to go where many others may or may not have been before! I can’t imagine trying to research back in dark pages before Google! Being an author in those days would take on a whole new meaning.
I’ve arranged for BITTER HONEY to be free for you this month! It’s my 2020 Lockets and Lace May release with two romance stories, first love and second chance! And there’s even a little alligator hunting!
Blessings until Next month at #BecauseFiction!
Linda Brooks Davis
Everyone worked at my home on a South Texas farm near the Mexican border.
My playmates were children of Mexican laborers. Language never hindered playing la casa, making mud pies, or rocking los bebés. Frijoles and tamales served from stewpots over open fires tasted delicioso in either language. I learned outside their homes a broom works great on hardened soil.
Daddy paid workers on Saturdays, some by the hour, others by production. Lining up, they extended their hands, and he laid cash across their open palms. They checked the figures they had scribbled on paper scraps, trusting el patrón to correct discrepancies. Humble, grateful people, they showed respect.
Daddy verified immigration paperwork for those whom he housed. Others lived in the shadows, arriving around sunup and disappearing before sundown. Each evening a car or truck would rattle alongside the field, and the shadow worker would slip inside. Then the vehicle would clatter toward the horizon. And returned another day.
Occasionally, however, an alarm shouted in Spanish would sound across the field. Dropping his cotton sack, a worker would dash toward the cotton trailer in the turn row. Like hounds burrowing under a house, he and a compadre would leap over the trailer’s sides and dig a hole in the freshly picked cotton. The first crawled in, and the other covered him.
The immigration officer making his rounds would walk into the field and occasionally stomp around inside the trailer, searching for man-sized lumps. I never witnessed the discovery of a shadow worker, but I heard about them on other farms. Worst of all, I heard about tragedies. With very little oxygen between tightly packed fluffs of cotton, a man could suffocate and occasionally would. I wondered what would lead a man to take such chances and how my law-abiding, God-loving father justified his complicity. So, I asked, and he answered, “Desperation, sugar. All they want is work. A man wants to provide for his family wherever or however he can. I can’t turn them away.”
Sounded like work was a gift. Huh? my ten-year-old brain asked itself.
Years later, I understood this principle. The second chapter of Genesis shows us that God created man not to laze around all day, but to work.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15
Therefore, not only in “the beginning,” but on our farm in 1956, a man’s strength to work was God’s gift. The opportunity to work was Daddy’s gift to the men. The fruit of each man’s labor was the gift he sent home each week and the fulfillment of his need to provide for his family.
At Christmas we enjoyed preparing bushel baskets of meats, fruits and vegetables, candy and nuts, and toys for each family. I wondered about those who stayed around for a single day. Would their children find fruits, nuts, or even a piece of candy on Christmas morning?
Answers evaded me then—-as they do now—-but as a writer in my eighth decade of life, one truth I hold onto is that the strength for each day of writing and less pain in my arthritic hands and back are gifts from God. Each opportunity to write is an opportunity not only to entertain but to inspire readers to seek God in their everyday lives. Each word, unique turn of a phrase, or plot idea . . . is my gift to Him.
Protecting our safety is a far more complicated endeavor in 2020 than it was in 1956. Threats arise like none presented five decades ago, but work is still a gift. God wired it into our DNA. Come to think of it, the ideas for A Christmas Tale for Little Women and the subsequent novel—one set in the southern tip of Texas, a story about a loving, destitute man who wants only to provide for his family—are gifts.
Those diligent workers of 1956 and other years deserve a story that honors them. My gift to them and to Him is A Christmas Tale for Little Women.
Thank you, Lord.
Marguerite Martin Gray
The Wee Thoughts
The first thoughts of my first literary “baby” was much like planning for the addition of a baby to a family. The hours, days, months, and sometimes years in my case before the birth of a child. It was six years for us. The commitment to a child is humongous and permanent. I now have adult children and the continuous cord is not broken. Either no one ever told me, or I didn’t listen to the warning that having a child is forever! I love it, though.
A novel shares some of the birthing characteristics of humans. The wee thoughts for my first novel began as dreams and questions. What? Historical Fiction. Who? Elizabeth and Louis. When? 1770s. Where? Charles Town, S.C. How? Write, just write, and then figure it out. Why? A heartfelt urge, a longing, a desire, write because I can’t not write. See the connections? I asked all of these questions before I had children. As with parenting, I had no idea how to write and then publish a novel, yet I did it, depending on God and others to show me the way. It would take too long to list the people who encouraged me and directed and redirected me on this journey. Like bringing a child into adulthood, I have a feeling the publishing and marketing and even writing process will forever change. I will never learn it all.
The idea of a book became a 90,000 word manuscript. Hold Me Close, then Surround Me, existed in infant form, resting as so many pages of paper. I wrote three more books, joining my growing family. I did all of this when my own children left the nest for college. Now, after four published novels, they have morphed into mature forms compared to before.
Edited, rewritten, edited, submitted, edited, rewritten, submitted again. Along came awesome professionals to guide my education. Although, my novels would have been all right in their paper/computer form staying at home with me, it was time to move on.
Book One—the first Child
Hold Me Close, Book One in the Revolutionary Faith Series, found a home with Celebrate Lit Publishing in 2018! It has been very happy in its new form.
Here is the backcover:
The leisurely life Louis has intended does not include revolution.
Charles Town, South Carolina, 1772—Louis Lestarjette arrives from France without purpose or plans beyond reconnecting with family and making a profit. Finding the town questioning its alliances, Louis must make decisions about the direction in his life, even though he tries to avoid all political conflict. He wonders if he will be able to stay neutral in a battle for independence. When decisive events confront him, Louis finds himself torn between staying with the woman he loves or escaping the coming conflicts.
Elizabeth Elliott trusts that God will hold her close in uncertain and changing times. Faced with difficult decisions about her loyalties, she finds comfort in close friends, a devout sister, and her music. When the mysterious Frenchman with no commitment to God or Charles Town enters her life, he challenges her role in the political battle. She must decide what actions she can take for the cause, if any at all.
As human children remain attached to their parents as they grow, so do authors and their novels. At least I’m still greatly part of the life of Hold Me Close. I’m watching it grow and experiencing the challenges of life in the published world. I’m eagerly waiting to see what God has in store for this child of mine.
Misty M. Beller
Camas Roots: How Early Nez Perce Women Built a Business Empire
As I’ve been researching for my current Call of the Rockies series, I’ve had the pleasure of diving deep into the culture of the Nez Perce tribe. I found it interesting that one of the primary food sources of The People (as they called themselves) was camas roots.
But what really drew my notice was how the women would cultivate entire fields of camas root, store what they needed for their family through the winter, then use the extras for bartering. Some savvy women would become quite wealthy from their business dealings!
Why camas root?
The bulbs of the camas plant are full of calories and nutrients, and each fall, Nez Perce families would travel to their particular camas meadow (a section of land whose camas rights had probably been passed down from generation to generation within their family). Many of these meadows were located near present-day Weippe, Moscow or Grangeville, where the onion-shaped bulbs grew thickly.
Women used pointed wooden tools to harvest the bulbs, and could often gather over 50 pounds a day, satisfying their full winter’s supply within just a few days.
The Nez Perce are known for their detailed knowledge of the plant life around their region, which was helpful because there was another type of camas that sometimes grew in the same area as edible cams. This other type was called death camas, and the results that came from accidentally eating that bulb are self-explanatory! The two are easy to tell apart by flower color—edible camas is blue, the other creamy white. But since harvest occured after flowering was over, this color cue would not be present. The Nez Perce women had to know their camas roots!
Camas bulbs were cooked to improve taste and food value. A carbohydrate in camas called inulin is difficult to digest, but after cooking for up to two days in a carefully tended pit oven, the inulin converts to fructose, which is more easily digested and tastes sweet, almost like a sweet potato. When Lewis and Clark’s expedition spent time in the Nez Perce camps after almost starving to death passing through the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains, they were initially excited to have camas roots to eat. Until the stomach upset started!
Baked camas can be eaten right away. For long-term storage, though, the cooked bulbs were sun-dried, pounded into a flour, shaped into a flat loaf, and baked again.
To remain productive, camas meadows need to be open and sunny, free of encroaching tree growth. Fire was used as a tool to accomplish this. Camas bulbs themselves were tended, too. During harvest the bulbs were sorted by size: large ones were collected but smaller bulbs or bulblets were put back into the newly worked-up soil for next year.
A Business Empire
Native American peoples who ate camas include the Nez Perce (Nimíipuu), Cree, Coast Salish, Kalapuya, and Blackfoot, and Yakama, among many others. Not all of these people groups harvested camas themselves. Instead, many relied on trade in order to procure it. Trade networks were established all the way from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, and a shrewd businesswoman who tended her camas meadows well could provide everything her family needed and more!
Wild Heart Books
Behind the Scenes of The Sugar Baron’s Ring by Lorri Dudley
The Sugar Baron’s Ring is the third book in the Leeward Island series. My heroine is caught between social classes as the daughter of a sugar baron and an impoverished white beggar since her guardian sold her inheritance to pay his debts. To generate the feeling of being a misfit, I delved back to those awkward years of middle and high school, where we often struggle to discover where we belong. Before my senior year, my family and I moved to New England for a job change. I’d had a great group of friends at my old school, but at my new school, I was a stranger—an outsider—trying to find acceptance, much like Hannah.
Bradlee, the hero, on the other hand, was fashioned in a completely different manner. At my house, the slang terms “bruh” and “noob” are tossed around by my three boys, along with constant fraternal teasing. A lot of their sarcastic wit and camaraderie are portrayed through Bradlee and his grand tour companion, Colin. Their light-hearted banter depicts the tight bonds of a deep relationship where faults may be mocked, but offenses are overlooked, and if ever in trouble, they have each other’s backs. Hannah is drawn to Bradlee, craving a similar connection but loses her heart to him in the process.
The first opening scene came about because my family loves Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. After binge-watching practically every episode, I knew my hero and heroine would meet under the duress of a shiny, steel-gray fin plowing through the water. (Queue the Jaws theme song.) However, our resourceful heroine contains the strength to rescue the hero as opposed to the other way around.
All these things, being a misfit, teasing, and shark attacks, playout in a grander scheme to show how God never leaves us nor forsakes us. He’s laying out the pieces of our happily-ever-after while developing our character and purpose. The Sugar Baron’s Ring demonstrates how God’s light shines bright even in the darkness.
To learn more, check out my website at lorridudley.com or click here to watch The Sugar Baron’s Ring book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWRQr3drZY8&feature=youtu.be