Image from http://clipart-library.com/
One of the things about writing historical fiction is… well, the history. Over the years, I have learned that I cannot make assumptions about anything. It’s a real challenge. For instance, I have researched 1860s everything from underwear to the preferred manner of murder (arsenic) to travel, food, hotels, the battle of Gettysburg, and so much more. Often it seems that I cannot get to the end of a sentence without having to look something up.
A Balm in Gilead has been no exception.
Let me give you an example. I am very close to finishing the manuscript, but abruptly realized that I needed to do one last piece of research.
The backstory to this is that I will be spinning Frankie (and Patrick) off to go on their own adventures in their own series. My initial challenge was to decide where they would be going. Fortunately, I already had that in mind. Patrick will be taking a job as a doctor in a small town called Rocky Creek, which is located in the Colorado Territory.
But I had a historical problem. When Pat and Frankie reveal the news to the family, they also must produce some other information, like how were they plan to get to Rocky Creek. That is what drove me into a quick bit of research today. I needed to know how far the railways went in 1864 and when construction on the Transcontinental Railroad began. Once I had ascertained that many railways stopped in Independence, Missouri and when I saw the westward bound trails that jumped off there, I had a clearer picture of how Frankie and Pat would get to Colorado. I even made a decision about which trail their wagon train would take. The end result is that they now can give a coherent, historically correct answer to their loved ones about their journey.
That is why I chose the image at the top of this blog. The couple sitting in the Conestoga wagon looks kind of clueless, an expression that aptly seems to sum up my own westward bound couple.
But why did I choose Colorado? Why not somewhere else?
Simply put, I’m more familiar with the state than with the other western states, with the exception of California, where I lived for a few years before accepting the fact that I’m a Jersey girl and returned to the northeast.
In addition, I have visited Colorado a few times. In my position as an educator in a church, I have had the opportunity to attend conferences throughout the USA. If my memory is correct, I have been to Colorado Springs twice, and to the YMCA of the Rockies twice. It was at the YMCA of the Rockies that I became fascinated with elk. Don’t judge me. They’re big, beautiful, and everywhere during rutting season. Coming from New Jersey, I’m used to white-tailed deer, which are considerably smaller than elk. That realization immediately caused my brain to do this: hmm... if a Jersey deer can do a job on your car by crashing into it, just imagine the damage an elk can do. Yikes! Give those babies the right of way.
Nearly three years ago, I made another trip to Colorado when my family visited Breckenridge. No, we did not go skiing. It was August. Why, you might ask, would anyone go to a ski town in the summer? Because none of us ski! We also like warmer weather and it’s a bit cheaper. So there you are.
Anyway, the trip to Breckenridge inspired me and gave me the idea of where Frankie would go after she becomes an adult. (Notice that an idea can plant itself years before an author actually starts to write something.) And should be no surprise that Rocky Creek will have some things in common with Breckenridge and other mining towns in the area.
Aside from having fun with my family, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of mining towns and the region itself. I know. I’m a geek. I’m so geeky that I’m actually looking forward to doing more research about the European types who wandered into the Rockies, and about the Native people who had been in the area for centuries.
When things settle down COVID-wise, I hope to return to Breckenridge for more research and ambiance – things that are sure to provide me with storylines for Frankie and Pat.
Until next time: Stay well. Stay positive. Be kind.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder