Hannah
Hannah asked Karen Witemeyer:

Your books are on my short to-read list, and I'm looking forward to some good Texas historical stories. What is you favorite way to research? Do you create the characters first and research next, or are your characters inspired as you do the research?

Karen Witemeyer Great question, Hannah. It often depends on the book. Sometimes I have a very clear picture of who my characters are, and I research in order to flesh them out or come up with time-period crises they might face. Sometimes, the research is what inspires the characters. That is what happened with my latest book, Full Steam Ahead.

When I was brainstorming ideas, I wanted something exciting, something explosive. I thought to use a chemist—think laboratory experiments gone wrong—but my high school chemistry skills were too rusty. Then I remembered the steamboat disasters of the 1840's and 50's. Steam engine boilers exploded with alarming frequency, taking many lives. So I put my hero aboard an actual 19th century riverboat, the Louisiana, on the day that its boiler exploded in New Orleans, and his obsession with boiler safety was born.

And since Texas didn't have too many rivers to support these steamboats, research led me to Galveston where steamers were used in abundance. And Galveston let me to pirates - Jean Lafitte. Which helped me develop my heroine whose grandfather worked with Lafitte and was presented with a pirate dagger when he saved the pirate's life. So now I have a heroine with a pirate legacy and serious knife skills to pair up with my obsessed scientist. And it all started with the research. :-)

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