Historical Research Series Guest - Tessa Berkley

I hope you're enjoying this series on how authors conduct the research necessary to write historical novels that are compelling - and believable. 

I’m joined today by author Tessa Berkley.

First, a little bit about Tessa

Tessa loves nothing more than to be immersed in a good story. Growing up, along the east coast, she would often fantasize about riding the range. In truth, it could be said that as a child, she never met a book she didn’t like. She would often pick a character from a tale that intrigued her and write their story.

Eventually, she found her hero and married him, had three wonderful children and graduated from Old Dominion University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Writing for years, she finally decided to create her own wonderful worlds to share. She loves to hear from fans and is delighted to be released with The Wild Rose Press.

Tessa, tell us about the time period and setting for your novels.

Castillo's Fiery Texas Rose
I love setting my novels in the period just after the civil war up to the turn of the last century around 1900. There were so many changes, so many challenges with a civilization in tatters and trail of misery that wound its way through the American west as the survivors tried to find a new beginning and a place to redefine themselves, to set down roots, to forget the horrific human tragedy an entire nation had experience and begin again. 

Do you have any special connection to the period?

I majored in history at a local university while getting my elementary teaching degree. My family still holds bibles from 1812 with lists of names, notations for cures from whooping cough to Aquinsy (Strep throat).  My favorite is to cure diphtheria you must be hit in the head three times by a hang man's left hand. I seriously doubt it worked.

I am the last person on my father’s side of the family.  An only child, I understand the meaning of the end of a history. As I grow older, I do wish, there would have been a brother to carry on the family name. It seems rather sad to know this branch of life will come to an end. But that’s why we tell stories to our children so they shall remember.

What appeals to you about this period?

I’ve lived my life on the back of a horse. I know, it seems strange to say that coming from an easterner. But the west is where I feel I belong. I grew up riding. I have pictures of me at two, in those horrid French bonnets, but I’m sitting on a horse grinning from ear to ear. So, it seemed only natural to gravitate to the time period where the horse was king.

You have to admit, the life of the cowboy is pretty heroic. Man against nature, man against man, the ability to make your own code and stand up for your ethics is pretty marvelous stuff. Heroic men were often just plain ordinary fellows, who seemed to find themselves facing insurmountable odds, then rising to the occasion and winning. 

As a writer, matching women to these alpha males is just pure joy. It’s almost as if you are writing to the human condition. A person who studies the historical past feels a kinship with these figures. They aren’t two-dimensional figures upon a printed page, but figures that come to life and leap from the annals of history to whisper into your ear, this is how it was.

How much time do you spend researching each book?

Research depends on the book. If I am doing something lighthearted, I might spend a week or two searching locations, looking at the population make up.  But if I’m going into something that has more than one or two books involved, the research is heavier. I might spend three months or longer, researching, compiling sites for review, making notes, character arcs, even timelines. I want to know and understand the sociological, historical, and diversity of my characters' territory. Once that’s done, I focus on the story by listening to the voices of the characters in my head and follow their lead as best I can.

Do you tend to research before you write, or more as you write?

I have a general concept before I write. But the more the characters talk, the more research I’ll do to make sure, books or music mentioned will fall into that period. I might even look at social prejudice. Of course, clothing has to be researched. Ladies, we don’t realize how good we have it now days compared to days of old. All that underwear or lack there of.

Do you tend to use secondary or primary research sources?

I use both. I enjoy reading firsthand accounts. Diaries give you a real feel for the period. Perhaps in many ways it is that first person account that puts you into the period. Remember in reading class, the idea of first person was to make you feel you were telling the story. Diary accounts from those that lived through the period do the same for me.  Sometimes even old newspapers will start the wheels churning.

Any favorite sources?

No, I can’t say that I have favorite resources. I do use Google to get a running list. I visit my local library. I can’t say whether it's excitement I see in their faces when I walk in or the dread of oh no, here she comes again.

Have you ever found out after a book was published that you made an error with a historical fact?

I think we all have. We strive for accuracy, but again we are only human.

Which authors in this time period do you enjoy? Or, who inspires you?

Inspires? Authors who can weave a good tale inspire me. Authors who make me forget where I am, my troubles, my frustrations inspire me. I do find that if I am reading a historical novel, I cannot write a historical. It’s just that I want to enjoy their story without worrying about my own. One of my favorite historical stories, was written by Mary Stewart involving King Arthur, Crystal Cave, Hollow Hills, Last Enchantment. I’ve read it so much that the covers are falling off the books. Another is Owen Wister who, as governor of Arizona, wrote The Virginian. Wouldn’t that be something to put in a book?

How can readers reach out to you if they want to learn more?

I’m on the web, you can find my latest releases on my website: http://tessaberkley.com/  or follow me on twitter at: https://twitter.com/tessa_berkley  or Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/tessa.berkley#!/tessa.berkley.7

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for having me. I appreciate your kindness.