Writing historical fiction is an adventure. It’s a combination of time travel (but without a fabulous Tardis), storytelling, and a few dozen history lectures. With the Internet, we have a veritable smorgasbord of information. The problem comes in sifting through it all to find truth rather than supposition or utter revisionist history.
I didn’t expect to enjoy research as much as I did. After spending hours trying to figure out the nuances of culture in Regency England, I thought I’d find the same frustrations in finding accurate information and interesting tidbits from the mid nineteenth and twentieth centuries in America. So what I did is write the story. When I needed a break, I’d go research just how the Battle of San Jacinto went or how long it would take to get from Texas to California in 1836. As I stated in my release party post on historical surprises, the Battle of San Jacinto was a particularly amazing read. I spent hours poring over accounts from both sides of the battle. I remember studying that battle in history, but I do not remember reading that the battle that ensured Texas independence lasted only twenty minutes or that the General of the opposing army, Santa Anna, and his officers were asleep when it began. Asleep at 4:00 in the afternoon. My husband and I have spent a lot of time discussing it—studying it—simply because it’s fascinating.
I expected to write about grueling travels across Texas or even up through Arkansas and then over the Rockies before arriving in California. Then I discovered that it didn’t happen—not then. At that time, overland passes were blocked by various tribes. The Panama Canal didn’t exist either, so the only way to get from Texas to California until much later was to travel to the eastern seaboard, down the coast of South America, around the treacherous tip of Cape Horn, and then back up the side of South America to Mexico and then California. In regular ships it took eight to nine months. A clipper could make it in four.
Then there was the Napa area itself. The series takes place in both Sonoma and Napa counties of California. When I wrote the first scenes, I used pictures to imagine where the vineyard might be located—to imagine what roads might have existed. When it came time for the dance at the Grange Hall, I did an Internet search to find one that existed at that time. It had to be close enough that they might have gone, but long enough for a nice drive in the evening. I also had to write the town, and in particular, the churches in the town.
Then last January, I drove to Napa and took a tour. I walked through the downtown area of Napa and realized it was nothing like I’d imagined. I think my childhood memories of the area were more rooted in the smaller surrounding towns. I drove to the edge of Sonoma County and checked out the roads there and back. Then I drove to Yountville where the Napa Valley Museum is located. The first thing I noted was the Catholic Church. St. Joan of Arc. It was exactly where I’d imagined it—exactly how I imagined it. Then as I wandered through the town, it hit me. It was the town I’d written. It’s exactly as I saw the area in my mind. The Veterans’ Home gave me an idea for a more plausible place for Avelino to stay, and then I went to the Museum.
It was closed.
I almost cried. You see, I live in California’s Mojave Desert—SEVEN HOURS from Napa. I couldn’t stay any longer. I had to go home. The crew working on the exhibit found someone in charge, and she let me into the historical exhibit—the one I wanted to see. I spent over an hour taking notes from the exhibit descriptions. I found the woman in charge and asked if I could visit the gift shop—to see if I could find books for further research. She bent over backwards to make it possible for me to purchase the books, and then she took down my email and sent me all the notes that a summer intern had generated in her research. I received it a couple of days later. That research will be useful for the entire series. I can’t tell you how grateful I was and am for it.
But by far the most exciting thing for me was the trip to Rutherford to see the Grange hall. That drive was almost surreal. The curves in the road, the vines, the trees—everything felt exactly as I’d imagined and written it. I pulled up to the Grange itself and it nearly choked me. I could see Avelino and Amelia pulling into the space next to it, parking, going inside. I could hear the sound of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or “Cielito Lindo” playing—hear Avelino singing it to her.
But many of the most interesting things I researched were small things such as foods they ate, how wine is made, the prices of things in the war years, and how people lived. I was astounded to discover how common it was for houses still not to have indoor toilets or refrigerators. I was also shocked to learn that green fabric was extremely expensive. From the price of a bottle of Coke to California laws, I learned a hundred little things that helped me feel like I was living the life I wrote.
Deepest Roots of the Heart is a combination prequel/sequel to the series. Right now, I’m finishing up the true first book in the series, Crushed Dreams. So much of the research I did in Deepest Roots is now being used in the second book. Loading a Kentucky long rifle, how to light a fire with a tinderbox, flour from a barrel. I learned about the grand Californio parties, their courtship practices, and more Spanish than I’ve ever used outside of Spanish church in 1983 Ventura, California. It’s all going into this book.
When I started this, I dreaded the research. Now, I can’t wait to learn more. I’m going to make another trip to Napa. I’m going to walk through the vines, smell the earth. I’m going to bury myself in the Gold Rush and the genius of Juana Briones. And maybe… just maybe, I’ll go back to the restaurants I enjoyed while I was there—eat another amazing pork chop or scallops and lentils. Because along with historical research, you also get to “taste” the modern side of the area. And for me, that means eating foods I’d never get to eat with my husband. Yeah. I think it’s time for some more research.
Books. I love them– always have. From my earliest years, I spent most of my free time lost in a book, until one day I realized that I had stories in my mind that I wanted to tell. Time passed, life, family, and work got in the way, and my dream of being a writer seemed to vanish into the desert winds.
Dreams are beautiful things, though; they never quite disappear.I began writing again, editing, writing, editing, and now I have over a hundred books in progress– some of them finished. I write the stories of fictional people who have real problems, weaknesses, and triumphs.Through their stories, I try to share the Hope that is within me.
I live in a small, remote town in California’s Mojave Desert with my husband and seven of my nine children. When not writing, I enjoy paper crafting, sewing, and trying to get the rest of my children educated so that I can retire from home education.