Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another Day with Connie Stevens!

organzapin2cphoto © 2009 Ny more info (via: Wylio)
Day 2

One of my favorite things about writing historical novels is the research. I became so absorbed one day in digging into the details of the construction of the 19th century windmills and irrigation systems that I was startled when the phone rang because for a moment I didn't know what that noise was. Historical details, portrayed correctly, don't have to read like a textbook. Hinting at things past can transport the reader back in time. It can be a simple act, like having my character bank the fire in the stove or blow out the oil lamp. Other distinctions can be intricate, such as the specific parts of a wagon into the story so the reader finds them perfectly natural.

One of the things I had to research for the writing of Revealing Fire was the treatment of burns in the 19th century. Some of the information I uncovered made me shudder. Did you know that one of the accepted treatments involved holding a flame close to the skin to further blister it? Burns often resulted in death from either infection because of unsanitary conditions and lack of antibiotics, or hypothermia because the body has difficulty regulating its temperature if portions of skin are missing.

Another thing I found interesting in my research was the way law enforcement tracked information on bad guys. Without databases or modern means of communication, officials often had to wait for weeks to receive requested information. I found the history of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency particularly fascinating.

Researching family genealogy has become a hobby for many folks, uncovering facts about long lost uncles or discovering a great-grandmother who was honored for a special accomplishment. One of my most treasured possessions is a cameo brooch that my grandfather gave to my grandmother the day my mother was born. Grandma gave it to my mother on her wedding day, and my mother handed it down to me the day I married. When I hold the brooch in my hands and study the old-fashioned profile of the Victorian lady craved in ivory and set in seed pearls, I like to imagine my grandmother's face. What did grandfather say to her when he presented his gift? Did she gasp softly at the brooch's beauty? Did she get tears in her eyes? Did they kiss? Some history can't be researched, but rather only imagined. It's my job as a writer of historical Christian fiction to present the details, both real and fictitious, in a way that the reader cringes at the archaic medical practices, wonders how bad guys were caught, and feels the tingle of a soft kiss.

Can you remember keepsakes that made you dream of another time and place?


  1. It wasn't so much a keepsake, as sepia tinted photographs. My grandfather's brother served as a cavalary officer in the British Raj (rule) of India before India's independence. I grew up on stories of my Irish ancestors who served during this fascinating era in India. That was the stimulus of my own debut novel, Shadowed in Silk. I think our own family histories are what seed the best stories in us.

  2. What a wonderful post, Connie! Finding fascinating historical facts while researching is so much fun. And genealogy, too! I love that story about your cameo. What a treasure. I have my Swedish grandparents Bibles that they received from their parish when they decided to immigrate. I often imagine their lives then and what it was like for them.

  3. A lovely post, Connie.

    I have a sideboard that belonged to my husband's great aunt. I think of all the years it sat in her farmhouse kitchen, the catch-all just inside the back door, the holder of the family keepsakes.

    I wish it could tell its own story, so I could learn more about the past hundred and fifty years and my husband's family.

  4. Old photographs and Bibles are such personal things. I found an old photograph in an antique store of a young man, and he became the hero of my current work. I have the photo posted on the wall by my computer so I can look at him while I write. I ADORE antique furniture and like you, Erica, I try to imagine some of the family history attached to such a piece.

  5. Wonderful post, Connie! Made me remember a purse I have of my Grandmother's....turquoise, beady, dressy. I never knew the story behind it, but wish I did.