Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Researching Beyond the Internet

One of my new favorite authors, Cindy Huff, offers some tips on research:

When I started research for my historical romance, Secrets and Charades, I discovered although the internet has lots of information it's never enough. I knew my heroine was a doctor who goes west as a mail-order bride. Her destination needed research. The library had far more information than the internet.  There were atlases from the period showing the train routes were in 1872. I knew Evangeline would marry a rancher, so the maps helped me visualize the route for the cattle drive scenes.

A variety of books on female doctors in the 1800s were available. These women endured prejudice and the abusive attitude of society toward career women. Especially those in what was considered a man’s role. Female doctors had to be strong-willed and determined. Otherwise, society squelched their dreams for success. Men hesitated an often avoided being treated by a female doctor. And many wives were uncomfortable with a single woman examining their husband.   These facts helped build Evangeline’s back story.

A dear family friend is a lover of all books historical and is a Civil War Reenactor. Chris shared some of his extensive library with me. Biographies of pioneer women. Diaries and journals of the time. He also explained in great detail the various guns of the period. I learned a bullet travels faster than the speed of sound. Which meant you saw a victim fall before you heard the gunfire. The scene I created around a gunshot was edited to hearing the gunfire first. After I shared my knowledge with the editor the passage was left as I wrote it.

I visited a few Civil War Reenactments. Thus, my heroine formulated her desire to become a doctor while serving as a nurse during the War between the States. My hero, Jake was a confederate soldier. Backstories for my characters evolved from what I learned from the reenactors I spoke with.
 Soldier's Heart was a common malady veterans suffered. PTSD is the term used today. The symptoms can encompass depression, anger, fear, and hallucinations. Many of the cowhands on the Double M ranch are veterans from both sides of the conflict. Jake struggled to put the war behind him.

I interviewed the Reenactor posing as the doctor. The medical instruments look gruesome. He told a story of a doctor who cut his finger while tending a patient. He amputated his finger to keep from getting gangrene.  The dressing wasn’t always changed or wounds cleaned properly. Infection was the biggest enemy a doctor fought. Hand-washing as a medical practice was scoffed at by established doctors. Female doctors were more willing to embrace the new discovery regarding germs and antiseptics.

Photos and reproductions of mail-order catalogs are a great research tool. They tell a different story of the 1800s than movies. I am always sad to see the movie costumes less than accurate. A long dress and shoulder length doesn’t cut it for me. Most women wore their hair pinned up or braided. Loose falling hair was considered inappropriate in public.

Women’s fashions in the 1870s were different from the Civil War period. Hoop skirts had been replaced with bustles. Corsets, however, continued to torture women. Patterned flour sacks were the material of choice for the poor to make clothes. Flour companies produced a variety of patterns for their sacks. Most women made their own clothes. Others wove their own yarn.  Mercantiles carried catalogs for customers to order things not available in their store. And it was common for customers to establish credit and pay after crops or cattle were sold.

Portions of these historical tidbits found a place in my story, creating a believable setting for my character-driven story.

About Cindy:
cindy-2016Cindy Ervin Huff is the winner of the 2014 Editor’s Choice Award from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is a contributor to Splickety Publishing Group’s anthology and has been featured on Christian Communicator, Suburban Dog,, and Splickety Lightning Blog. Cindy is President of the Aurora, Illinois, chapter of Word Weavers. She and her husband make their home in Aurora, Illinois. Visit Cindy on Facebook at, follow her on, or connect with her at

cindys-bookJake Marcum’s busy ranch leaves him no time for courting, and his wounded heart has no place for love. When battlefield nightmares disturb his peace and his tomboy niece, Juliet, needs taming, somehow a mail-order bride seems like a logical solution.
Dr. Evangeline Olson has no idea her niece is writing to a rancher on her behalf, and she sure isn’t interested in abandoning her medical practice for a stranger. But when an inheritance threatens to reveal a long-buried secret, she travels west to become Jake’s wife.
Jake soon realizes Evangeline is more than he bargained for, especially when her arrival causes a stir in the community. As the two try to find their way in a marriage of convenience, their fragile relationship is further tested by cattle rustling and kidnapping. Can their hearts overcome past hurts to create a real marriage?

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