Sam Julian
Sam Julian asked Lalita Tademy:

What is your research process like, and how do you check your work for historical accuracy? Can you describe an instance when you decided, for dramatic or plot purposes, it was better to overlook historical precedent?

Lalita Tademy Thanks Sam.
Every author's research process is different, but mine has been similar for all 3 of my historical novels. First, I zero in on a time period and geography that interests me, and then I read everything I can get my hands on that describes the events that unfolded there. I read non-fiction, fiction, biographies, cultural analyses, political essays, old newspapers, family genealogies, interviews, period cookbooks, old letters, absolutely anything that will give me an increased sense of time and place. I look for the what, and then began to try to understand the why. What was the mood of the times, the conventions and customs, the tensions at play? How can I, as an author of fiction, capture the big picture, keeping in mind that my individual character may not be aware of much of what I know through research and hindsight.
Only after steeping myself in the times do I begin to weave the narrative, and develop the voices of the characters, at which point the need to create a compelling story arc might (and often is) in conflict with absolute faithfulness to a forest of fact. This is the intricate dance - balancing accuracy with storytelling.
The very first time I played (quite guiltily) with what you're calling historical precedent, is when I moved a yellow fever epidemic in Louisiana to 2 years earlier than it really broke out, but it was a convenience to the plot. I justified this to myself by reasoning that the flavor and possibilities of the times trumped an actual date.
After my story is very developed (at least 5 drafts in), I get very serious about inadvertent historical goofs by having "experts" read the manuscript to uncover those obvious and not-so-obvious breaches that I haven't yet caught. And no matter how bullet-proof I think the historical elements are, the publisher's copyeditor usually catches at least a handful of errors - a rifle that can't shoot as far as I've depicted, a river flowing in the wrong direction, a maritime captain who wouldn't be the one to actually steer a vessel, girls playing a game of stickball despite the fact that only boys were allowed to participate at that time in that culture.
And hopefully, most inaccuracy is caught before publication, because if there is even one wrong fact, the unwritten law is that at least one reader will find it:-)
Lalita Tademy

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