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Historical Research - The Truth Behind My First Book

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message 1: by Michelle (last edited Aug 28, 2018 07:50AM) (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments One thing that always fascinates writers and readers of historical fiction is the research. It’s a subject I’m frequently asked to talk about at various book events or interviews. “How do you go about researching?” or “How much research do you do?”

While I can’t speak for all authors, I can offer my own method, which is somewhat unique in that I rely heavily on first-person interviews.

I had the good fortune of working in a nursing home on Chicago’s northwest side about twenty-five years ago as a social worker. No, I had no social work degree or experience, but still I found myself in this position (It’s a long story – maybe someday I’ll write it!). It was wonderful, though, because I heard literally hundreds and hundreds of stories about “the old days,” which usually meant, given the average resident’s age at the time, the 1930s and ‘40s.

So a lot of those stories, either just little details or whole characters, find themselves in The Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. Of course, I use various online sites, such as Encyclopedia of Chicago or neighborhood-specific historical society sites for additional, solid information. I also use a huge variety of sites that showcase the food, fashion, news, cars, movies, etc. of the era.

And just to top it all off, I’ve invested in a book of manners from Jane Austin’s day forward, a huge book on the history of fashion, and a nifty little book called, “To Marry an English Lord” by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, which have proved handy on more than one occasion.

All of these resources, however, merely serve to flesh out the main story line—to fill in the blanks, if you will. The original concept for “A Girl Like You” came from a woman I met while working at the nursing home. If you’re so inclined, you can read her story HERE and find out which parts of the book are taken directly from her life!

I also invite you to check out my very popular weekly blog: Novel Notes of Local Lore, in which I take a different resident’s story (disclosure: I change the names!) and share it with my readers. These are all TRUE stories about Chicago’s forgotten residents—I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to!

Hope you enjoy! I’d love your comments below. Remember – I'M GIVING A BOOK AWAY (your choice from the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series) EACH DAY! Winners announced at the end of the week. All you need to do to be eligible for each day's drawing is to make a comment on the daily posts and sign up for my newsletter: http://michellecoxauthor.com/contact/ Good luck!


message 2: by Laurel (new)

Laurel (ldhuber) | 27 comments This is great - and it's true, you never know where you'll find your greatest research treasures!


message 3: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Artson (barbara_artson) | 21 comments As you know, Michelle, I love your writing! You and Murder Under the Bridge's author, Kate Jessica Raphael have turned me into a mystery novel lover. I've learned so much about history. How great is that?


message 4: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments I have always loved History. I have a habit of sitting around thinking,"I wonder what it was like to live during such and such period" and when I am reading a historical romance or biography, I get lost in that particular book.


message 5: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments I meant to say Historical Fiction in my above comment, sorry.


message 6: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Laurel wrote: "This is great - and it's true, you never know where you'll find your greatest research treasures!"

Thanks, Laurel! Yes, you never know! I also get ideas from listening to my parents or grandparents (when they were still alive) and weave some of those details in, too!


message 7: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Barbara wrote: "As you know, Michelle, I love your writing! You and Murder Under the Bridge's author, Kate Jessica Raphael have turned me into a mystery novel lover. I've learned so much about history. How great i..."

Thanks for that, Barbara! I know it's hard to sometimes adopt a new genre, so that is high praise!


message 8: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Angela wrote: "I have always loved History. I have a habit of sitting around thinking,"I wonder what it was like to live during such and such period" and when I am reading a historical romance or biography, I get..."

Yes! I always wish I had some sort of time machine I could use to go back to different eras for a day...or maybe a week, if I was having fun! Short of that, the next best thing is a book. That's why I love historical fiction so much , too. You can really escape your reality.


message 9: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments I would love to go back to certain time periods. I think I missed my calling. I should have a career dealing with history


message 10: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Angela wrote: "I would love to go back to certain time periods. I think I missed my calling. I should have a career dealing with history"

Yeah, I know what you mean. Some kind of historian or researcher, maybe? What would be your top era to travel back to? Or top three, if you can't narrow it down...?


message 11: by Beverly (new)

Beverly What a wonderful source of material...the nursing home residents stories...and historical perspectives as well. Very astute to turn it into historical fiction!


message 12: by Debbie (new)

Debbie | 78 comments I think that is a great way to research. Real life stories told by the person who experienced it have always been interesting to me. My grandpa was a storyteller and I loved his stories so much!!


message 13: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments I would love to go back to the Renaissance era, the Early Modern Period and the Late Modern Period. I have always loved anything to do with England, Scotland and Ireland. I have read a lot of Phillipa Gregory, Alison Weir, and Ken Follett.


message 14: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Beverly wrote: "What a wonderful source of material...the nursing home residents stories...and historical perspectives as well. Very astute to turn it into historical fiction!"

Thanks, Beverly! Are you a writer as well?


message 15: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Debbie wrote: "I think that is a great way to research. Real life stories told by the person who experienced it have always been interesting to me. My grandpa was a storyteller and I loved his stories so much!!"

Yes, those are definitely the best, especially because you hear them so many times over the years that they really become part of your psyche. Is your grandfather still alive, Debbie? Any stories of his you'd like to share?!


message 16: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Angela wrote: "I would love to go back to the Renaissance era, the Early Modern Period and the Late Modern Period. I have always loved anything to do with England, Scotland and Ireland. I have read a lot of Phill..."

Ooo! Some of my favorite authors, too. I'm not going to expound too much on authors because that's the subject of my Thursday post. I love those eras, too. Would love to see medieval and Victorian England as well.


message 17: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments Me too! I have so enjoyed you this week. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us.


message 18: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Michelle wrote: "Beverly wrote: "What a wonderful source of material...the nursing home residents stories...and historical perspectives as well. Very astute to turn it into historical fiction!"

Thanks, Beverly! Ar..."

Yes, historical fiction inspired by my grandparents. I'll be hosting next week.


message 19: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ej_conn) | 17 comments I checked out your "Novel Notes of Local Lore," which I loved. Those types of tidbits I always find interesting. Thank you for sharing the link with the woman in the nursing home related to "A Girl Like You." I could research all day long, it never gets boring!


message 20: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (ej_conn) | 17 comments Oh, by the way, I love the 19th century. Whether it is England, France, the United States, Africa - it doesn't matter. That time frame holds the most interest for me. Although I do love the flow into the early 20th century also.


message 21: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Beverly wrote: "Michelle wrote: "Beverly wrote: "What a wonderful source of material...the nursing home residents stories...and historical perspectives as well. Very astute to turn it into historical fiction!"

Th..."

Ha! Sounds good!


message 22: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I checked out your "Novel Notes of Local Lore," which I loved. Those types of tidbits I always find interesting. Thank you for sharing the link with the woman in the nursing home related to "A Girl..."

Thanks for checking out the blog, Elizabeth! I love those stories so much, too, and I'm glad I found a way of sharing them with the world. Some of them I plan to turn into novels, but others aren't long enough or have enough of an arc - so this is a great way to showcase them.

You're so lucky that you love to research! I like to to a certain extent, and then I get overwhelmed!


message 23: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Oh, by the way, I love the 19th century. Whether it is England, France, the United States, Africa - it doesn't matter. That time frame holds the most interest for me. Although I do love the flow in..."

Thanks for sharing that. Yes, love that era, too! And you're right - any of those countries!


message 24: by Dyana (new)

Dyana | 189 comments I signed up!!! Dyana Hulgan


message 25: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 122 comments Dyana wrote: "I signed up!!! Dyana Hulgan"

Yay! Thanks, Dyana!


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