I hope you’re enjoying the series on historical research. Remember, if you have questions for the authors, add them in the comments or contact them directly. Contact information is included at the end of each post.
|Mary Jean Adams|
Cover art for my upcoming novel, Caution to the Wind, is in so I decided it was a good time to add my two cents on conducting historical research.
What is the time period/setting for your novels?
So far, my novels are all set in Revolutionary America and the years leading up to the Revolution. I say “so far” because I’m most interested in the period from the French and Indian War up to and including the War of 1812. The history of these events is intertwined, and it’s hard to study one without developing an interest in surrounding events.
Do you have any special connection to the period? e.g. a degree in American History, well-known family history, etc.
Only heresay. Supposedly my first ancestors came to America in 1535, and I had ancestors who fought in the Revolution. I’ve always intended to do a little research to see if I can verify any of this, but I’m almost afraid to. What if I find out they were Tories!
What appeals to you about this period?
First of all, tumultuous time periods make for natural conflict. They also tend to bring out the true nature in people, the bad and the good. For me, it seems a natural backdrop to romance. Although, I do try hard to make sure the events of the time don’t overwhelm the romance.
I’m also fiercely independent and proud of this country. While I love reading Regencies, I can’t imagine living in a period where you were born into a “class” and expected to stay there unless some Duke took a liking to you. (Which probably rarely happens outside of romance novels.) In Revolutionary America, you see a society struggling to free itself from that system. My heroes and my heroines are often people working for a living, struggling to make ends meet while playing their role in the making of America.
How much time do you spend researching each book?
Quite a bit. While I’ve never measured it precisely, I spend almost as much time researching as I do writing. When I read, my ratio of non-fiction to fiction is about 2:1.
Do you tend to research before you write, or more as you write?
I get many of my plot ideas as I’m reading non-fiction history books. For example, my plot for Le Chevalier really starting taking form as I read Lafayette : Hero of the American Revolution by Gonzague Saint Bris. It’s not that my plot followed anything in Lafayette, but reading books like that inspires my imagination. Plus, it gave me several pieces of historical trivia to weave in and a better understanding of one of my side characters, the Marquis de Lafayette.
Do you tend to use secondary or primary research sources?
|Caution to the Wind|
I tend to use secondary sources. I live in North Dakota, which makes it kind of hard to visit Revolutionary battle sites or pour through historical documents. I’m pretty much limited to what I can access on the web. However, in the very early days of writing Caution to the Wind, I did go to the Tall Ships Festival in Duluth, MN and tour the Pride of Baltimore II. I wanted to see, first hand, what it looked like inside a schooner and what it felt like to be on deck. (Next time, I am definitely taking the sailing tour!)
Any favorite sources?
My favorite source is LinkedIn. I belong to several history groups: American History, Historical Fiction, History Enthusiasts Group.
While they aren’t a primary source, I use these groups to get opinions and gather details on things that I just can’t seem to pull out of the history books. Questions like - What would a man’s slippers be made out of in the 18th century? When did men start wearing underwear?
Have you ever found out after a book was published that you made an error with a historical fact?
No, however up until the last version of Le Chevalier, I had described Alexander Hamilton as being tall. He always looked tall in his portraits, I guess because he was so thin. Thankfully, as I checked and double-checked facts throughout the editing process, I learned that he was rather petite: around 5’ 7”
Which authors in this time period do you enjoy? Or, who inspires you?
Unfortunately, I don’t read a lot of authors who write in my time period. It’s a habit I mean to break, but I’m slightly wary of having an author who writes too much like me influence my work. Other authors I enjoy include: Mary Balogh, Sabrina Jefferies, Jane Feather – just to name a few. If you’re familiar with these writers you can see that, although I don’t write about an aristocratic society, I definitely read about it.
I also read fiction outside the romance genre: C.S. Forester (Hornblower), Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey/Maturin series a.k.a. Master and Commander) and Michael Crichton.
Since all my favorite authors in that category are deceased, may they rest in peace, I decided I needed to branch out a bit. I’ve started reading James L. Nelson and really enjoyed By Force of Arms, the first book in his Revolution at Sea series. I have the second book on order. It’s my hope that I might get him to take time for an interview, as I would love to learn more about his research methods!
If you have questions or want to learn more, you can reach out to me directly at mj@maryjeanadams or on any one of my social sites: