Monday, March 5, 2012

Author Credibility

If you can't tell from my backlist, historical western romances are my favorite genre to write, although the most challenging. A lot of time and effort goes into writing any story, but I spend even more time researching my work and making sure my historical facts are correct. There is no faster way to lose credibility as an historical author than to refer to equipment not yet invented in your era, or speak in a manner not befitting the time period.

In my debut novel, Prairie Peace, I took my first adventure to the Dakota plains. Although cast iron stoves were available, my astute editor pointed out that it wasn't very likely that one would be in a run-down shack in the middle of no where. First they were cumbersome and hard to move, and shacks generally consisted of one large room with a fireplace and hearth where cooking was done. I knew that, but in telling my story, I didn't stop to visualize the obvious.

 As an author, typing a story doesn't always allow your brain to stop and focus on what fits and what doesn't. This is a real great reason why critique groups come into play. I cannot give enough credit to the ladies in my historical crit group who have caught numerous things that were not historically appropriate for the western era, or suggested that I tweek my language skills a tad.

Words as simple as "kids" referred only to goats, so to have a mother refer to her children in that manner was something you wouldn't hear. You certainly would be pulled right out of the story if a pioneer woman fired up a vacuum to clean her rugs instead of hauling them outside to beat them with a straw broom. The images we paint have to put the reader in the moment, and the moment has to be right.

In Sparta Rose, I spent a lot of time researching pistols.  My heroine goes to the mercantile to buy one in order to teach herself to shoot.  Her goal is to best the hero in a contest to win favor with her pa.  It was extremely important to gun experts who might read my story that the model I selected by appropriate for a woman's smaller hand while assuring it was one offered for sale in the 1800s.  I learned more about guns that I ever expected to know, but there are those folks who read with a critical eye for detail, and you want yours to be spot on.  A gun is not just a gun to everyone.

In Odessa,  although I had creative license with names of characters, I researched Wells Fargo for their stage coach runs, the railroad for the date they came to Phoenix, AZ, and also made sure of the existence of the towns I choose to showcase.  Yep, research teaches the author as much as it does the reader, and I love it.

I lived in Show Low, Arizona for a while, knew it's history, and I was fascinated about how the name came to be.  I used that little tidbit in the story, and I thought it added interest to an exchange between my heroine and a young man she met in the saloon who was from there.

For the sequel to Prairie Peace, White Heart, Lakota Spirit, I spent even more time researching the rituals and lifestyle of the Lakota Sioux as my heroine was their captive.  I'm fascinated with the American Indian, and this is probably my most favorite topic to delve into.  The Sioux, along with most other tribes, were and continue to be very spiritual people who believe that even something as simple of as the number four is symbolic.  Visions questions, Sun Dances held in the summer, sweat lodges, women's huts...who could ask for more interesting fodder for books.  The secret is peppering the facts into the novel so that the story doesn't resemble a history lesson yet still provides interesting details that put the reader in the time and place.

So, you see, there is a lot that goes into creating a novel, especially historical ones that require accuracy in detail.  It's always important to make a story as believable as possible...if not the plot, then the personalities of the characters.  If the reader cannot connect with those who hold the starring roles, then they are more likely to lose interest.  Hooks, conflict, and emotion go a long way to creating the desire to continue turning pages.  My goal is to put my readers in the character's shoes and have them feel the emotions, the wind, the pain, smell the aromas, and cry real tears.  If I'm lucky, I'll remember to SHOW rather than tell to help them make the connection.  As an author, I learn something new almost every day. 

Have you read any good books lately.  Leave a comment and share what about them made them more memorable for you.  In case you'd like to give one of mine a try, you can find them all listed on Amazon, most in print and download.  Of course, I recommend Kindle cause I'm in love with mine.  :)  I also have trailers for most of my books posted on my website.

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