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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Becoming an instant expert by Gerald Costlow @RebeccaJVickery @GeraldCostlow #romance #books

From The Sherritt and the Sharpshooter:


Daniel picked up a rifle and held it out for her to examine. “Here’s what I’ve been using lately,” he said. “Brand new on the market. This is a Sharps breech loading carbine, tape primer, paper cartridge, modified by Sam who’s a wizard with guns. I have two of these I use in the show. It’s an eye catcher with all that custom inlaid scroll-work, but rugged, extremely accurate and easy to load. I have a deal with the company so they supply me with all the cartridges I need in exchange for showing it off every chance I get.”

She looked it over. A lot of what he’d said didn’t mean much to her, but it sure was pretty. She’d bet her pa had never owned a gun worth half as much in his entire life. “You’re going to shoot at me with this?”

And thus our plucky heroine Nancy and hopefully the reader has just been given a crash course in what sort of rifle a professional sharpshooter might use around 1858 in Kentucky. Am I an expert on antique guns? Nope. I have many hobbies and interests but that's not one of them. I had to become an instant expert.

I spent more time researching the details of 1850s frontier life for this story than I did actually writing it. If you're an experienced writer, you know details can make a difference. For instance, many readers won't know or care that after you shoot a black powder rifle a few times you have to wait for the smoke to disperse to see anything. Adding that detail puts a little pinch of realism into the story and keeps the real experts out there from noticing a flaw.  

Sometimes a writer can stumble onto something fascinating during the research. At one point I needed my heroine to ride a horse into town. Sounds simple, right? She climbs on the horse, lets the guy adjust the stirrups for her shorter legs, gathers the reins, and away they go. But then I got to thinking. I'd already established that this woman was modest in spite of her dire circumstances, How did they keep from showing a woman's legs when in the saddle? So off I went doing research.

Turns out proper women in their long skirts didn't sit astride a horse back then. There was that whole (cough) protect the maidenhead thing if you were a young maiden, but also their pretty ankles and legs would be exposed for all to see and that just wouldn't do. Neither did women in the 1850s wear pants, in spite of Calamity Jane's fame. Side-saddles were rare and never really caught on because they were dangerous and required lots of practice. Women mostly walked or rode buggies and wagons. In other words, Nancy riding astride a horse down this town's mainstreet was going to cause comment. I had to find another way for her to sneak into town. 

Until then, it simply had never dawned on me that women on the frontier led such a restricted life when it came to the most common form of transportation. Continued reading taught me that not all women thought this was fair and they didn't always take the restriction sitting down (so to speak). Further research taught me that the struggle for the right to ride a horse the same way as men arose at the same time as the Suffragette movement for the vote and was just as emotional and controversial. Fascinating.

So now I know a whole lot about the history of horse riding when it comes to gender roles. Those Western movies that show the women riding alongside the men using a man's saddle are about as accurate as the high noon fast draw gunfight. A tiny detail in the story caused me to become an instant expert. If you're a writer, was there some fascinating research you've done for a story that sticks with you?
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Gerald Costlow is currently writing a supernatural romance series that spans generations for VTP Publishing. You can find a list of his published stories at Gerald Costlow at Amazon.com. His blog (such as it is) can be found at http://theweaving.blogspot.com/ and he promises to get it caught up as soon as he finishes his next story.     

17 comments:

  1. Good blog post, Gerald. I am reading your advice on research before breakfast and I'll return and read your excerpt afterward. But for now, I'll answer your question. My most "in depth" research has involved the Civil War and the thing I had to do most research on was the medical procedures of the day. And I agree that one small mistake can made a reader doubt everything you say. I've been told many times, that a writer does not have to tell everything they have learned about a subject, they just need to KNOW the accurate facts, and speak with a voice of authority and the readers will feel secure in your knowledge. Your new series sounds great and I wish you luck with that.

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    1. I've tried reading about the medical procedures of the Civil War era battlefield and it's a horror show, isn't it? They did the best they could, but I believe the story of the surgeon who bragged he cut off a leg in under a minute, and that included two fingers of the soldier helping hold the leg down.

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  2. I like that you research before you write, Gerald. Getting the facts right is so important to keep the story as realistic and true to history as possible. Readers who are not writers may never know the hours of research a writer spends to make their story realistic and interesting.
    Some of us get so caught up in the research we forget to write. Most often we only use a thimbleful of all that research, but it's worth it. Good to know your heroine didn't ride that horse down the middle of town in an unacceptable fashion.
    I want to wish you great success with The Sheriff and the Sharpshooter.
    All the best to you, Gerald!

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    1. Oh, I think good writers have an abundant curiosity about the tiny details that make up the human experience. I once had to research antique "risque" or nude postcards for a story, since I had to know when they first started being made for a story set in the late 1800s. Wife walked in and caught me drooling over naked Victorian women. Told me I've used that "This is research honey!" excuse once too often.

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  3. I'm with Sarah, I sometimes get so involved with my research I forget to write. lol Love the research anyway. :) Enjoyed the post.

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  4. Always glad to hear from you, Karen. You're a talented writer and editor.

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    1. You're very sweet. Thank you. Just to let you know, I enjoy reading your posts and checking out your wonderful stories.

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  5. fascinating

    I remember my dad building a black powder rifle from a kit...

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    1. Do you remember him firing it? I was told "the fog of war" was quite literal on the battlefield when black powder weapons were used. Smokeless powder couldn't be safely used in the old weapons and people hung onto their cherished old black powder firearms until well into the 1900s (another tidbit from my attempt to become an instant expert in antique guns)

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  6. I still don't know what a "Sherritt" is. What? The female, obviously in the story...so what is it?
    I knew you were a stickler for research, and from this post I learned things I never even thought about researching. It was very good, and I wish you much luck!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. LOL! I wish they'd let us edit the posts. A "Sherritt" is a member of the Sherritt clan from back in the Tennessee mountains. They arrived in their Holler a long time ago, chased there from the old country and then the colonies because people accused their women of being witches and kept trying to hang or burn them. Some of the women are born with what they call the "Talent" and can do amazing things, but it has nothing to do with the Devil. They tend to keep a low profile about the whole business anymore.

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    3. Thanks. I had no idea. At first, I read it as The Sherriff..but, I thought, Sheriff only has one r..see how easily I'm confused? Thanks for the explanation.

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  7. Goodness, until you pointed it out, I never thought about how with the font I picked out, people will glance at it and think I misspelled sheriff.

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    1. Maybe not, Gerald. Others may not see what I thought I saw.

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  8. I LOVE a well researched historical. Awesome details and how fascinating about women's riding history. Those are facts I'll not be forgetting.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Look for more stories of the Sherritt clan in VTP anthologies and stand alone novellas.

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