Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Resources for Authors and Their Research

I write historical fiction, and researching for my novels brings me the same excitement Alan Quartermain must have felt hunting for King Solomon's Mines.

I've been known to spend an entire day in a library scribbling notes from someone‘s diary, spending a wallet of quarters making copies of maps and old newspapers, and trekking from one book or document to the next with a perseverance Lewis and Clark would have applauded. I enjoy the chase when one clue leads me to the next, to the next…

The South Caroliniana Library
When I venture into a library or archives and history department, wander among the shelves, and delve into boxes of documents, I'm transported into the past and into unknown territory. My efforts are often rewarded when tidbits of information surface and shine like specks of gold in the bottom of a miner‘s tin.

For example, one of the characters in my Civil War era novel, A Perfect Tempest, is based on Oqui Adair, a Chinese gardener, who was briefly mentioned in a SC State Hospital Board of Regents report found in the SC Archives and History Department. The name of the novel itself comes from a quote from General Sherman’s diary that was featured in an issue of the Daily Southern Guardian newspaper. I found it in the South Caroliniana library.

Discovering new resources is always great fun, too. Once, I put an ad in the Civil War Times asking for information about Union officers who were imprisoned in Camp Asylum, a prisoner-of-war camp situated on the SC State Hospital grounds in Columbia, SC, from December 1864 until February 1865, when Sherman‘s troops burned the city. Two gentlemen, one from Maine and one from California, answered my ad, and we wrote to each other over a period of several months. They both sent me materials about relatives imprisoned at Camp Asylum—a photograph, a letter, and an excerpt from a diary.

Sometimes people serve as living, breathing archives. When I was working on my novel, The Chamomile, that takes place in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, my main characters, a couple who are traveling in the swamps with Francis Marion, decide to get married. I wanted the men to build a honeymoon hut and I needed to know the kind of flowers the campfollowers would decorate with. So, I called Rudy Mancke, a naturalist and a walking encyclopedia of flora and fauna, and asked him what would have been blooming in the South Carolina swamps in May 1781. He was so receptive to my questions and so excited about what I was trying to do, I could hardly write fast enough to keep up with him. What a wealth of knowledge he is! We had the most delightful conversation.

I’ve put together a list of resources when researching for your novels.

Researching – Where to Look

1. Internet (Google; blogs; websites)
2. Library/Archives and History Departments; Books, research rooms
3. Diaries/letters 
4. Newspapers/magazines 
5. Pamphlets
6. Advertisements/catalogs
7. Cookbooks
8. Annual reports
9. Graduation programs
10. Thesis/bibliography
11. Music books
12. Pattern books
13. Architects drawings 
14. Movies 
15. Other novels written during the time period
16.  Museums
17. Visits to actual sites (tours that let you "breathe the air")
18. Reenactments
19. Cemeteries (great resources for names)
20. Photographs
21. Movie productions
22. People—walking archives

Colonial American Cemetery

Susan F. Craft authored the SIBA Award-winning Revolutionary War novel, The Chamomile. The two sequels to The Chamomile, entitled Laurel and Cassia will be release in January 2015 and later that year, respectively. She is represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency.


  1. Susan, this was great stuff. Thank you. I hope all our writer friends will print this out and tweet it to help many others. That's what I am going to do. Hugs, Elva Cobb Martin

  2. Elva, so glad you like the post. You can find a longer list of resources as well as some great links to research sites on my website
    Hugs back, :-)