Research and Frustration

In specific, historical research and frustration. There are a lot of wonderful resources and people keep churning out more. Which is terrific and worth celebrating. And yet, and yet . . . the course of research nevertheless includes a myriad of dead ends and unexpected road blocks.

And sometimes, that terrific, wonderful resource is terrific and wonderful about everything except the particular facts for which one is currently searching. While I’m mostly writing historical fantasy, I’m invested in making it as historical as possible. Yes, some events and likely people are different, and there most certainly is magic, but magic doesn’t change everything. Moreover, the particular kinds of magic in this world haven’t slowed or stopped certain technological developments (they haven’t stopped various other developments either, but that’s another matter and one that, inasmuch as it can, the stories address).

At any rate, I’m experiencing a variation on that at the moment. I used a number of resources while writing “Drinking Unhappiness” aka Twisting the Border #2 (out in mid-July), which is set on a steamboat headed down the Mississippi River in an alternate 1850s America. All was well (enough).

Then the characters had to go and disembark in New Orleans (site of story #4) where they waited for a ship to carry them to the port of Indianola in Texas.

So I promptly began the next round of research. (These rounds mean I have an ever-growing bibliography of sources, which I’ll start adding to the website in June as they become available.) Did the characters take a steamboat along the Texas coast? A sailing ship? How much (or rather, little) space would they have had? What did it smell like? How many crew and in what capacity? How long did the journey take. Oh, so many questions flew through my brain.

To my delight, I found some excellent, decidedly relevant books . . . except they’re missing the very information I require. One, just checked out today, discusses all manner of Victorian travel–but not, evidently, along the Texas coast. The other discusses the shift from sail to steam, but doesn’t have the details I want.

In the end, I’ll mesh these and others together to come up with the equivalent experience in my historical fantasy world. It will be as historical as I can make it–but even writers of historical fiction face research limits (not to mention inconvenient events plot-wise).

Here are the two main secondary sources I’ll use for now. I have a couple of primary to draw elements from too, and perhaps there are more where these come from. I only need enough, after all, not every detail out there under the sun.

Richard Francaviglia, From Sail to Steam: Four Centuries of Texas Maritime History, 1500-1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

John H. White, Jr. Wet Britches and Muddy Boots: A History of Travel in Victorian America. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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