I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice (or thrice) that my current work in progress has taken about 18 years of my life to get to the complete first draft point. I can assure you, it hasn’t all been about writing and editing and revising. A huge chunk of that time has been spent on research.
Because I believe in historical accuracy.
I love reading good historical fiction – I’d either start screaming hysterically from joy or faint from shock if I were ever to actually meet John Jakes. Any historical fiction author worth her salt knows the value of honest, accurate research. Part of creating your world is understanding… well, the world you’re writing. And nothing makes me more twitchy than reading historical fiction in which the author has obviously not done the required homework.
I don’t care what your historical passion is, but if you want to be taken seriously, I really believe you should know what you’re talking about when you place your characters in the middle of the American Revolution or Tudor-era London. If you want me to read your book, do your homework. Yes, you can sometimes get away with vague references, and a little creative license is allowed as long as you’re not changing history. But that said, nothing makes me put down a book faster and think the author is an ignorant git more than stumbling across a fact that is blatantly wrong.
I am a slave to historical accuracy. When I sat down six years ago (!) to start my complete rewrite, I vowed I would fill in the historical blanks in my original manuscript. I felt it was important for my characters to exist in a world that was as true as possible (at least, true from their perspectives). And besides that, in the years between my first attempts at publication and the start of the rewrite (years that included a personalized rejection letter stating areas I needed to improve upon), I had done a slew of my own research and exploration into the Civil War. Not specifically for my book – rather, I am a geek. And while I am an avid student of all history, the Civil War is, by far, the most fascinating to me.
Anyway, I digress.
Because historical accuracy is so important to me, and because I’m sure there are writers out there who also would like to churn out a bit of historical fiction of the Civil War persuasion, I decided to list out some of the resources I’ve used over the years to hone and expand my knowledge. This will be something of a “living document” post, as I will add and edit as necessary (especially in the case of websites). If anyone comes upon any broken links, please let me know!
- Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson (2003)
- Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction by James McPherson (2000)
- Everyday Life During the Civil War by Michael J. Varhola (1999)
- Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (2004)
- They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers of the Civil War by De Anne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook (2003)
- Civil War Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott (Dover unabridged version, 2006)
- From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War by James Longstreet (1898/2010)
- Reminiscences of a Rebel: The True Adventures of a Confederate Soldier by Wayland Fuller Dunaway (2008)
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs (2004)
- Library of Congress: Selected Civil War Photographs
- Civil War Animated (part of the History Animated website – animated battle maps with detailed descriptions of troop movements and conditions leading up to and following major battles)
- Manners and Etiquette in the Antebellum South
- Civil War Medicine
- Civil War Trust: History Center (photographs, battle maps, biographies, primary sources, etc.)
- Examples of letters written during the Civil War: Civil War Letters, Civil War Love Letters, The Civil War Archive
- Library of Congress: Selected Civil War Resources
- The History Channel: Civil War 150
- Civil War Portal (Wikipedia) (one of the topics on Wikipedia I trust to be accurate, and also provides excellent references and external websites for further research)
- “The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns” (PBS, 1989)
- The History Channel, “Battlefield Detectives” (Antietam(2004); Gettysburg (2004); Shiloh (2006))
- The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 (Open Yale Courses – iTunes Podcast) – Excellent lecture series by Yale professor David Blight