Ideas for my historical novels grew out of my employment as a journalist–or, more exactly, from the places my job as magazine writer and editor took me.
One of those places was Seneca Falls, NY, where I traveled to write a town profile for a regional magazine. I toured Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house, visited the remains of the Wesleyan Chapel where the First Woman’s Rights Convention was held, walked the Cayuga-Seneca Falls towpath. It quickly became clear that there was a whole lot more here than a magazine article. I enjoyed historical fiction–and wouldn’t Seneca Falls be the prime setting for a book on women’s rights and abolition? I thought so.
I ended up writing two historical novels. The first, A Shocking & Unnatural Incident, is, of course, set in Seneca Falls. The second, Wixumlee Is My Salvation, takes place farther west down the Erie Canal in Buffalo NY, where I lived for five years. The third book in my Canal Tales Series takes place in Louisville, Kentucky and Oberlin, Ohio, which I visited twice. I’ll be touring Louisville this year to find out where the fancy houses (brothels) were located. I also need to see for myself if a person can walk across the Ohio River at The Falls. I hear August to November, when the water is lowest, is prime time.
So, travel and keeping an open mind–what else might have happened here?–are reliable sources of ideas for me. Looking up information online also fosters creativity. That’s where I read about The Falls and got the idea of tossing some of my characters into the Ohio River and seeing if they can make it across alive.
One line on a web page about “the fancy houses along the Louisville waterfront” formed the entire premise for the second half of Book Three. Of course reading print books for research purposes are a serious source of ideas for setting, situation, background, character names, conflict and predicaments.
I find research fun and entertaining. Nothing compares, however, to sitting down and molding it all into a fascinating story.