Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Write What You Know or What You Want to Know
Now, about those physical places that I'd like to travel to do research for my writing. I love hearing about the on location research that authors conduct: M. L. Tyndall as she visits Tall Ships From Coast to Coast, Geraldine Brooks' investigating the dark history of Eyam, England's Year of Wonders, Lori Smith's Walk With Jane Austen, or Liz Curtis Higgs travels in Scottland. How I long to travel to the locations of my stories in reality. As my imagination soars I am there already, but it requires knowlege the ground the stories. Mainers have a little saying, "Cahn't get theyah from heah.", which is often true for me. But thanks to the Internet I can travel anywhere I want to go. One the same token, I can "meet" people who I would never have had the opportunity to know. My one little caveat is that not everything on the internet is true, so if "facts" are learned you will need to verify them.
It is ironic to me that I'm now writing about a place so far from my realm of thought, America's southwest, when I've spent years with my mind in other locales. It has been a fascinating adventure so far. I'm really enjoying learning about this area and have now decided that Colorado is the place I would want to live if I ever had to choose to leave Maine, aesthetically speaking. Here's a little sampling of how I've conducted some of my research on my southwest novel in regard to learning about the location. This has been crucial for me since I've had to discover if some of the towns that would potentially be in my novel even existed at the time (in the process I've also learned that some no longer exist.) I've included some direct links and also sample links to some of my actual research.
Google Maps (San Juan Mountains) is one of my first stops on the web. It is here that I can get a visual of my location, learn the area, check distances, terrain, even see photographs and plan my characters routes of travel.
Official Travel Guides (Pagosa Springs) are a great resource which you can usually get for free from a tourism website of the region or the exact town. One of the towns of interest in my book is Pagosa Springs and today I received my free travel guide in the mail. What a blast it was to look through all the color pages and the great map that had even more interesting locations noted.
Internet Archives Texts (History of New Mexico, 1891) and Google Books (History of Colorado, 1898) both offer free public domain publications on on town and state histories, as well as all kinds of historical files. Since these sites provide comprehensive information I do a search on my specific topic, though I have been tempted to learn much more than I've needed to learn.
Town Website ( ) and Regional Websites
Town Websites (Creede, CO) and Regional Websites (Scenic Byways) A search to the exact town or region isn't always the most direct route so sometimes I start with Wikipedia (Creede, CO)which provides basic information and resource links. When I research for historical fiction it's crucial to learn if these towns even existed, etc. in the time period of my story.
Historical Societies (Silverton Historical Society) (Animas Museum) - state, county, and town - are another valuable resource. You can often access information online and inquire of the society to conduct some additional research for you (however, there may be a small fee). Some of these societies have their own museums.
Special Topics (Colorado Mining History) can also reveal facts about locations to help authenticate your work.
Transportation History websites (Stagecoach Lines of the American West) are also very revealing. In my research of stagecoache routes and railroads I learned much valuable information about the area of travel then and now.
New York Times Archives (Hayden Survey) has articles from 1851 forward. This is one of my favorite places to get little known facts about an area or persons. This site is fascinating and probably very underused.
Please tell me what are some of your secrets for doing location research online or off.