By Elizabeth Ludwig
I never realized when I started out writing historical romance that I would need to develop an archeologist’s skill when combing the Internet. On top of crafting a good story, writing anything with historical significance requires a general knowledge and level of accuracy that readers of the genre have grown to expect.
My latest novel, Dark Road Home, for example, definitely required more research than anything I’ve published so far. Set in and around New York City with key scenes taking place on Ellis Island, I knew early on that I would need to conduct careful study on the more than twelve million immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. It wasn’t enough to know how they came, however. I wanted to figure out why, so beginning at the Ellis Island Foundation’s website, I began looking for letters, pictures, anything I could find that would give insight into the motivation behind so many peoples’ journey. This in turn led me to other sites, like Ancestory.com and the National Park Service website, which were full of information regarding not only the history of the island, but of the people who passed through on their way to a new life in America.
Along with filling the story with facts about our nation’s history, Dark Road Home is about an Irish girl running from her past and a man with dangerous political affiliations, so on top of all of the historical facts I could dig up about New York in 1897, I had to research Ireland and everything that was occurring during the same time period there. That meant learning what I could about the conflict in Ireland-its origins and history. Once again, I tackled the Internet, beginning with a simple Google search on “why Ireland is divided”. This led me to a number of sites, including ibiblio.org and encyclopedia.com. Remember those research papers your English teacher made you do in high school and college? Researching my book was a lot like that!
While it would have been easy to pack all kinds of historical facts into my novel, I had to keep in mind that this was a work of fiction, and that it needed a strong romantic thread. That meant finding a careful balance between what was true, and what was meant to entertain. Too much of one, and the reader would get bored. Too little of another, and the work became less of a historical. In the end, I discovered that sorting out tidbits of information and dropping them into a fictional tale is a lot like digging treasures from the earth-it requires patience and a good deal of dedication. Hopefully, the end result is something the reader not only enjoys, but learns from as well.
Elizabeth Ludwig is an accomplished speaker and teacher. Her lectures include editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. She is the owner and editor of the popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book. To learn more about Elizabeth and her work, visit her at www.elizabethludwig.com.