What Is So Historical About Research?

By Tammy Trail

When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hardworking men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.

I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.

If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.

Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with firsthand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.

Other information you may need to research.

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Trades
  • Politics
  • Travel
  • Weapons

In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain.  I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?

I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.

I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.

I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s.  My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.

When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.

Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?

  • Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
  • Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
  • California is admitted as the 31st state.
  • P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.

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A Little History of Cartooning

by Betty Thomason Owens

Cartoons have been around for centuries. Even the cave dwellers drew cartoons on the walls of their caves.
Were they:

1. Documenting history?
2. Lampooning local government?
3. Entertaining the kids?
4. Drawn by kids?

Fast-forward a few years:
Woodcuts and mezzotints are used in the early printing process. Those were a bit like rubber stamps. Artists carved their cartoon or illustration backward, so when the print was made, it showed up correctly.

Long before you could attach a file or snap a shot of something and post it to Facebook or include it on your latest blogpost, illustrators and artists created cartoons. These were often political in nature. Imagine that.

Political and editorial cartoons usually express one man’s opinion–also called lampooning and often involves caricature. Have you ever had someone draw you in caricature? They will usually overemphasize and under-emphasize some of your features to make it slightly comical, but still recognizable.


An editorial cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, 1865, entitled “The Rail Splitter at Work Repairing the Union”

This is a well-known example of early political/editorial cartoons. Notice the detail (click on it to enlarge). As you can see, it’s hand-drawn with a pencil. Most of today’s cartoons are a lot more professional, but personally, I still love the look of pencil drawings.

Note: I’m providing links below for modern examples, since most are copyrighted and require fees for use.

800px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_DieBenjamin Franklin was one of the earliest Indie writers. Yes, he self-published, and was best known for Poor Richard’s Almanac. He was a very busy man. When he wasn’t electrocuting keys, he wrote, taught, mentored, helped draft the Declaration of Independence, wrote books, made a fortune, printed…well, you get the picture. At a critical point in American history, he created this cartoon to encourage the colonies to join together during the French and Indian War.

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

Another famous cartoonist was Theodore (Ted) Geisel. You may know him better as Dr. Seuss. He drew political propaganda cartoons during World War II. He took a lot of flack for it, also, but his signature style shone through those cartoons. There is no doubt who drew them. If you’ve read many of his children’s books, you’ll know he was very concerned with politics (Butter Battle Book, for one).

As an aside, cartoonists were also utilized by the war departments of some countries including Great Britain, to work on accurate maps for bomb crews.

My Grandpa Christy was an armchair politician. He drew cartoons for local “rags” — tiny hometown newspapers. He kept a scrapbook of those. I tried to get my hands on it in time for this post, but it didn’t happen.

His favorite subjects were (then) Presidents Nixon and Johnson. Why? He loved to draw big noses. He had one. He also had big ears and the biggest smile I’d ever seen. An omnipresent smile. Mom has many pictures of Grandpa, and that smile was in all of them. Except in the picture I have of him when he was about five or so, but they were warned not to smile for photos in those days.

20150313_134209Grandpa had a great sense of humor, which is one very important requirement in a political satirist/cartoonist. Open your newspaper and turn to the editorial pages. You will probably find at least one editorial cartoon. They are almost always political in nature. They can seem snarky, even cruel. Apparently, the ruder, the better.

Political/editorial cartoons sometimes make you laugh, but more often make you think. And that’s their reason for being.

Here are the promised links to some present-day quality political and editorial cartoons:




Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our quarterly drawings! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments.

Writing Prompt: Senator Douglass opened the morning paper and was shocked to see…


Little Boys, Comic Heroes, and Heroes of the Faith


By Betty Thomason Owens

Comic book heroes were one-dimensional when I read my big brother’s latest editions. Superman was my favorite, with Captain America in a close second.

Many early comic book writers meant to inspire children to read and also to impart good morals. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Heroes, in our minds at least, are usually superior in some way. Like Captain America, they show bravery in the face of difficulty and step up when called upon, whether it’s to save a kitten from a fire or the whole world from a dangerous criminal.

A superhero stares down fear and walks into dangerous circumstances for the greater good. How many little boys aspire to do this? I grew up with brothers then raised three sons. I’ve watched enough cartoons and movies, read comic books, and observed enough little-boy-games to tell you this with some certainty. They love heroes and they aspire to become one.

My sons grew up studying heroes, beginning with some of the greatest of all time, Samson, David, Joshua. Reading about these biblical heroes inspired them to believe that anything is possible. Like the comic book heroes, these men often made human errors. Really, this makes them more human in our eyes. For instance, Samson is publicly humiliated when he loses his power. But he repents and in his final moments, completely annihilates his enemy, and makes history in the process. It is said that Superman’s creator modeled him after Samson and Hercules, with superior strength, ready to right wrongs and fight for justice.

Some little boys and little girls do grow up to be heroes. They move beyond the childhood stories and games to work in hospitals, on fire crews, police squads, as soldiers, teachers, and even pastors. The greatest of these don’t do it for notoriety, but because they want to do it.

They become the greatest heroes to their children as the process begins again, to inspire leadership and inner strength, an abiding faith, rooted deeply in the Word of God and the greatest hero of all, Jesus Christ. The one who gave his life one time, for all of us.

Next week, I’ll write about a different kind of hero. Heroes of the Faith, who gave up ordinary lives to accomplish the extraordinary. I hope you’ll stop back by. And don’t miss our special Wednesdays here, when we ask one of our favorite authors 3 Questions.

Today’s Prompt – Finish this statement: “I think my dad is Superman, because…” Have fun with it!

A Few of My Favorite Things

Last week, Ginger’s post expressed very well her disdain for classics. We welcome her honest opinion. So, is classic literature boring? There is a chasm between lovers and haters of classic lit. Most of us developed strong feelings for the classics early, probably in high school, when we had to read things like The Crucible, Animal House, and Les Miserables

I admit, I was bored too, in high school. But as I read over the list, my eyes were arrested by Aesop’s Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…just to name a few. What would my childhood have been without these wonderful stories in it? They, and others like them, kindled my fertile imagination.

My childhood was not always easy, so I often looked for escape in the pages of the wonderful books named above, and in many others. My all-time favorite top-of-list is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, (1911). I also loved Little Women (1868) and Little Men (1871) by Louisa May Alcott. And how many little girls growing up in the twentieth century loved The Little House on the Prairie Books? My heart still thrills every time I hear the name Laura Ingalls Wilder. More than any other series of stories, her books made me want to write.

What about Mark Twain’s books? I read them and was delighted by the humor and voice. I grew up in the South, between two brothers, one of whom could have easily passed for Tom Sawyer. The Prince and the Pauper. How many times did I dream of something like that happening to me?

Okay, enough rambling. I may be boring you even more than some of the titles on the classics list. I set aside my love for all things Austen and picked out a few of my other personal favorites:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865)
Alice: Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (1871)
The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling (1894)
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie (1911)
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1881)
Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss (1812)
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1908)
The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1903)
The Red Badge of Courage (Short Fiction), Stephen Crane (1895)
O.Henry’s Short Stories (1903-17)
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells (1895)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum (1900)
Mary Poppins (Series), P.L. Travers (illustrated by Mary Shepard) (1934-68)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)
Nancy Drew Mysteries, Various Authors, (1934-present)

As noted in my first post on classics, the list at this link supplies the published date, so you can easily find books to include in your historical novel. The list also provides many direct links to read these classics. So, if you are interested in increasing your awareness of classic literature, the blog’s author makes it easy. And don’t miss the Modern Classics list, which includes Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner.

Perhaps my mentions and list above have convinced you classics are not all boring. Or maybe you are more convinced than ever that they are. It matters not. The main purpose of our posts this month is to provide information and positively edify your creative aspirations (see our mission statement). But if I have also encouraged you to expand your literary boundaries, that would please me very much.

Be a Winner!! This month, we’re offering a ten-dollar Amazon gift certificate for one of our commenters on the “Classic Literature” posts. You can either complete one of our prompts or comment on our post. Think of the books you can order on Amazon! Let us know how you feel about classic lit. What is your all-time favorite book or story? Which of our present-day books do you think will make the classics list of tomorrow?

Drop us a line below, join our blog, or “like” our Facebook page (see the “Like” button in the column on the right) or share this post on your favorite social site. As always, thanks for reading!

Today’s Prompt: If I had access to a time machine, I would definitely travel to (insert date here) so I could…


Motorcycle Land-Speed Record and Writing

800px-Glenn_Curtiss_on_his_V-8_motorcycle,_Ormond_Beach,_Florida_1907What do you think of when you hear the word motorcycle? Freedom. Recreation. Relaxation. Speed. While John shared with us the aspect of freedom last week, I want to talk about speed. Specifically land-speed records set by motorcycles and their riders.

The motorcycle land speed record is the fastest speed achieved by a motorcycle on land. It is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions. These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles.

The first generally recognized motorcycle speed record was set unofficially by Glenn Curtiss in 1903, on Ormond Beach, Florida, using a V8 aircraft engine of Curtiss’ own manufacture, housed in a spindly tube chassis with direct shaft drive to the rear wheel. Curtiss was timed at 136.27 mph, making him the fastest man on earth in any vehicle on land or air at that time. The automobile record stood at 76.08 mph, the rail record stood at 126 mph, and the Wright Brothers flew at approximately 9 mph.

In the March 2013 edition of Motor Cyclist Magazine, an article on the land-speed record drew my attention. The race is on for 400 miles an hour. What a change from one hundred years ago.


User:cole24_ at flickr.com

On 25 September 2010, Rocky Robinson achieved an average speed of 376.363 mph in his Top Oil-Ack Attack streamliner at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.

Will a racer reach 400 miles an hour? Records are made to be broken.

How does all this relate to writing? Our month on motorcycles will be helpful if you need information for a novel or short story involving the two-wheeled modes of transportation. Pushing the limits should not only be related to motorcycles, but also writing and writers. We should never be afraid of new technology or new avenues opening daily in the world of writing. Stretch past the limits of the formulated story to something unique or peculiar. Even if the story never sees the light of day, your imagination has been expanded and new ideas can abound.
And isn’t that what we all want as writers?

Writing prompt: “Salt Flats.” Don mouthed the words on the road sign to his right. His father’s dream, never realized, now fell to his…