Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Joys of Research

Lodge Trail Ridge as seen from behind the picket at Fort Phil Kearney
Been a long time, folks.  In mitigation, I've been working on a new novel, reading and research mainly.  I've done some writing, scenes here and there, snippets of dialogue that may or may not make it into the book when I start writing in earnest, the odd character outline.  But mostly research, research, research.  It's one of the great, fun, fascinating things about writing historical fiction, the research, but it can also be a slog at times.  A lot like homework when you were a kid, Sunday night looming and that Monday-due essay unfinished (in my case, mostly, unstarted) in the bottom of your school bag.  'Damn, I have to go upstairs and read that woman's account of her trip up the Bozeman Trail in 1865...or do I?  I could finish this newspaper and then watch Match of the Day 2 and read that dull, dull and oh so prim and romanticised account tomorrow...'  Some of it's like that, the books you feel you have to read because somewhere in them will be that gem, that phrase or detail that will open up wide vistas, change the plot, make a character or scene more authentic.  Others, most really, are fascinating.  You wouldn't be writing about the period or subject matter if you weren't interested in it in the first place.  Currently I'm reading primary and secondary sources, diaries (as above) of soldiers who served in the American West, Indian accounts, histories etc.
The arid western side of the Big Horn mountains.
It was 110 F
when we took this photo.

 But the best part of research, by far for me, is actually visiting the places where the events in the planned novel happened (or will happen in your fiction).  With out giving too much away, the new novel will be set in the Powder River country of what is now Wyoming.  Here are some photos I took on a trip my wife and I made there this past summer.  My lousy photography aside, it is truly one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in America, if not on earth.  Sadly, you can see why men (and women) would fight and die to keep/claim it.
The scene of the Wagon Box Fight at dusk, the Big Horn mountains (eastern side) in the background. There is a herd of antelope in the distance in this photo.  Take my word for it, they're there.