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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Does it Take to Craft a Historical Novel? by Miralee Ferrell


Miralee serves as president of the Portland, Oregon chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers and belongs to a number of writer’s groups. A popular speaker, when she started writing fiction Miralee believed she’d always stay with women’s contemporary, but has since branched out to historical romance.

Her fourth historical romance with Summerside Press in their Love Finds You series set in Sundance, Wyoming just released. Miralee’s first three are set in 1877, Love Finds You in Last Chance, CA, 1902, Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon, and 1881, Love Finds You in Tombstone, AZ. The first two have a suspense thread as well as romance and the last two have a higher degree of action.

Miralee and her husband Allen have been married 39 yrs. They live on 11 acres in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge in southern Washington State, where they love to garden, play with their dogs, take walks, and go sailing. Miralee also rides her horse on the wooded trails near their home with her grown daughter who lives nearby. She’s an avid reader and has a large collection of first edition Zane Grey books, which inspired her desire to write fiction set in the Old West.

What Does it Take to Craft a Historical Novel?

When I started writing I never believed I’d write anything but contemporary women’s fiction, as I thought the research for writing a historical would be too difficult or time consuming. In fact, I didn’t set out to write a historical, but the Lord had other plans.

Love Finds You in Last Chance, CA started out as a contemporary, until I discovered Last Chance is a ghost town that petered out in the 1940’s. I’d already signed the contract, so with my editor’s blessing it became a historical set in 1877, during the heyday of the silver mining boom in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central CA.

The research for that book was typical of what I’ve done since. First and most importantly, I traveled to the actual old town site, where nothing is still standing but one small house (from the 1930’s) and the cemetery. My husband and I flew into Sacramento, then had a two hour drive to the nearest town and B&B where we stayed. I wanted to see the area for myself, and understand the topography, as well as the route the wagons would’ve traveled, and the vegetation and wildlife.

I’d discovered (via much internet research and help from the woman at the B&B) a number of sources of information while there—the primary being a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist who was an expert on that area. He drove another two hours with us into the mountains and we spent hours with him pouring over old maps, documents, and books.

Another excellent source of authentic information about the time period, area, costumes, living conditions, and more, are local museums and historical societies. Whenever possible I spend a day taking pictures and making notes at museums, then try to find at least one knowledgeable person from the local historical society who’s willing to talk and share what they know.

Of course, the library is generally rich with books covering just about any subject or locale, and non-fiction books can often add true-life events/details that can be woven into the storyline. Each of my historical novels has either real events and/or real people from history who populate the storyline, helping bring the era to life.

In my book Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon, I discovered my own great-grandfather lived in Bridal Veil during the time period I’d selected for my story. He worked for the lumbering company that owned the town, using a team of horses for skidding logs out of the woods. Arthur Gibbs (his real name) became a strong secondary character in that book. In Tombstone, AZ, the event that brought Christy and Nevada together, (a stagecoach robbery) actually happened in almost the exact way it was written.

I work to carefully depict the town at the time as accurately as possible. With my book set in Tombstone I was able to purchase a replica of a map of the town as it was in 1881, with about 80% of the businesses labeled, as well as all the streets. That one item and the information I gathered from the local museum made the trip very worthwhile.


I’ll use the Internet, but I’m very careful about the ‘facts’ I find there. Anyone can place anything on the Internet, whether it’s been proven true or not. Before I’ll use historical data from the Internet, I try to make sure it’s been confirmed by at least one, preferably two, other sources. Pictures of clothing from history, as well as photos of old wagons, houses, cooking utensils, and so much more are now just a click away for anyone versed in using a computer.

The last thing I do is include two to three pages of author notes at the end of the book, filling in the reader on my research, and sharing what people and events were real. I’ve found that it adds so much for when the reader discovers you’ve done your research carefully and some of the things you’ve depicted were a part of history. I’ve found my voice and my passion in writing historical fiction, and pray I’ll be able to continue for many years to come.

NR: To be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Love Finds You in Sundance, WY, leave a comment between now and Friday at 5 PM, EDT. U.S. residents only, please.


Love Finds You in Sundance, WY

Angel Ramirez is tired of living a lie. But can she live like a lady?

On the run from a dangerous outlaw, Angel works her way across several states disguised as a boy and working as a varmint tracker and horse wrangler. After taking a job on a Wyoming ranch owned by a bachelor and his widowed sister, she finally reveals her true identity and must fight to prove her worth as a ranch hand while somehow discovering her role as woman.

Hiring a woman doesn’t sit well with Travis Morgan, and the dark-haired beauty is causing a ruckus among his cowboys. Just as Angel decides she’ll never be able to please her boss, an unexpected surprise arrives from across the ocean and makes trouble on the ranch. Will Angel leave with the person who’s come so far to claim her?

Where can you find out more about/connect with Miralee online?

3 comments:

kristen said...

I just started Love finds you in Last Chance, CA. Enjoying it so far. Can't wait to read this one:)
Thanks for the chance to win.

kristengjohnson (at) gmail (.) com

MommaMindy said...

I love accurate historical fiction and really enjoyed reading your research tips. I'm heading to Helena, MT in a few weeks and am excited to do more research for a novel I've been writing on for too long...

Thank you!
mommamindy@msn.com

Margo Berendsen said...

I'm working on a historical set in Greece... great tips except I can't afford to go to Greece yet! But I'll get there eventually.

Meanwhile, I'd love to win this one because I'm from Wyoming!

berendsen70 at yahoo dot com