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  • Ronda Wicks Eller

Authoring Historic Fiction – the ‘Jane of all Trades’

Jane of all Trades

Novel and novella writing are not just about getting a story out of your head and onto paper as I pointed out in my last blog post; there’s also the research end of it. It’s an exceptional reason for which the writer must expand their mental horizons!

People have often stated how impressed they were at the broad range of knowledge I've demonstrated throughout life, even before making my first attempt at novel writing. I’m the ‘Jane of all trades, master of none’ type, having always been able to walk into a library and get happily lost for hours. When I purchased my first Internet connectible personal computer I was, well, a ‘goner’! In modern society, where the general trend seems toward fast facts often without a solid understanding of where they derived from, I've often found myself explaining my knowledge away as “useless trivia” just to take the edge off of a conversation. Whether I should have to do that or not is another topic for musing but where it leads to is how the “useless trivia” comes in handy for a writer:

Today, I’m revisiting sections of my manuscript that could use some 'interior decorating'. For example, “shot of whiskey” will become either a small, healthy or stiff dram (to suit the scenario).

In my characters’ travels, the transportion available in the mid-1800s and how much time each mode required will need considerable research (to ensure an accurate time line and means of conveyance) because my novel is historical and uses many real place locales.

I've already found it interesting to hone my knowledge of import/export abilities based on available ports and train systems and realize how predisposed I already was to a basic structural understanding of them (thanks to my tendency to listen in on documentary programs while doing other things, I suspect).

The fictional families in "Milton Side" do not just make their own piece of history but have a real history solidly affected by the Industrial Revolution, Slave Trade, American Revolution, Crimean War and South African Wars (to name a few factors) . My hobby as a genealogist has given me much needed information to work with in that regard, having ancestors in the English towns I incorporate, both north and south, United Empire Loyalists who went through the American Revolution and branch families who ended up in Australia and South Africa. I also admit to having dropped many of them (either individually or as whole family groups) into the storyline in one capacity or another. I began doing that just for the fun of it and then discovered it was a great way to ‘visit’ my ancestors fictionally but in the real environment that was their life!

Sometimes far-reaching errors have surfaced while tightening up the story-line. One perfect example of this came when I introduced my first daguerreotype photo as an underlying thread used to provide hints to the reader about how some characters were interconnected… only to later acknowledge that my memory of photographic history (learned as a museum resource assistant) had slipped since leaving that occupation. The daguerreotype, first commercially-available photograph, wasn't invented until approximately twenty years after the time frame for the baby image referred to in the novel. Uh… oops! Haha. The introduction (and every subsequent mention of it) had to be rewritten with a hand-painted miniature portrait instead. Fortunately, my characters are not paupers who couldn't afford to requisition hand-painted miniatures so I didn't find myself in that "sticky wicket"!

So why is this my muse today? Well it occurs to me that I have not only learned a lot in life through osmosis (simply absorbing what I watch, read and witness around me subconsciously) but I also have a lot more to learn too… and that if people will be reading what I write and will learn by the same process, then I’m responsible to ensure my ‘historic fiction’ is historically accurate as much as possible. The sense of responsibility weighs heavily on me as I undertake this aspect today…

and how often, unless a writer blogs like this, does the prospective reader get to know what an author puts themselves through in the creation of a final product?

Be at peace, be one and live in love,


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