Janelle Mowery is the author
of several novels, including When
All My Dreams Come True, When Love Gets in the Way, and When
Two Hearts Meet in the Colorado Runaway series. When not
reading, and researching, she is active in her church. Born and raised
in Minnesota, Janelle now resides in Texas with her husband and two
sons, where she and her family have the opportunity to raise orphaned
raccoons, look at beautiful deer, and make friends with curious
armadillos. More information can be found at www.janellemowery.com
Researching Historicals vs. Contemporaries
“There’s no way I’d write a historical novel. There’s just too much research involved compared to contemporaries.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this comment. And each time I’ve heard it, I’ve explained that I believe this statement is a misconception. All books take hours of committed research to make sure the details are as accurate as possible . . . regardless of genre.
When I started writing, I focused on the books I loved to read: historical romance, mainly prairie or Westerns. As I wrote my Colorado Runaway series, I encountered many items that required research, anywhere from raising cattle to the clothing women wore. When did cowboys round up and brand cattle? When did they hit the trail, driving the cattle to a railhead for sale? What kind of doctoring was required? What takes place in a livery or stable? How does a nurse survive in the Old West? Not to mention the lumber mills, silver mines, and Civil War elements that came later. I spent hours looking up the answers to each of these questions and many more to make sure my details were precise. We even took an eight-day family vacation touring the state of Colorado, stopping at several mining sites and ghost towns.
Who knew all that time researching and writing about the Old West would be preempted by a contemporary mystery series? While shopping my Colorado series, I was asked to come up with a mystery for a new cozy line. Although there’s a thread of mystery in almost every historical I write, I knew nothing about writing a mystery, let alone a contemporary one. But the editor convinced me I could do it. So I did. Until that time, I was like most everyone else. How hard could writing a contemporary story be? It wouldn’t take nearly as much research, right? Wrong.
The cozy mystery series contained a few different poisons as well as bomb-making materials to be used by terrorists. I knew nothing about either. My coauthor and I scoured the Internet for answers to many questions. What poison would work best in the storyline? How do the chosen poisons affect the body? Could they be detected in an autopsy? What if it was mixed with something else? We couldn’t find all the answers. Thankfully, I had a nephew in college at the time, studying for a degree in biology with a forensic science certificate. I sent him my questions. He took them to his professor. In days, I had all the answers we needed. So we thought.
As we wrote the stories, more questions came up. We needed to know if finding fingerprints was as easy as what we’ve seen on television shows and movies. The answer came in a way I wasn’t thrilled about. My pickup was broken into at a restaurant and my laptop was stolen. The police were called. My coauthor and I
were able not only to watch the officer check for fingerprints, but he also informed us that some surfaces are close to impossible from which to attain prints. We needed to know police procedures in certain instances. A detective was more than willing to answer questions. We needed information about volunteer firemen, libraries, and plants. Then came the need to know how we could move bomb-making materials in nonconspicuous ways. It seemed each scene required some kind of research.
Each genre, whether historical or contemporary, calls for difficult and detailed research. From medieval and regency to Amish, from prairie romances and Westerns to contemporary suspense, and all others not mentioned, the author needs to know the proper dress, hairstyle, and speech patterns. When were items such as weapons, clothing, cars, and appliances invented and used? And though I’ve written very little about law enforcement, and nothing about the military, I would imagine they have their own unique terminology. Regardless of the time frame in which we write, it takes extensive research to make our stories realistic and believable to give our readers an authentic experience they’ll never forget.