Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest post - Mastering Historical Research with Carla Stewart, author of "The Hatmaker's Heart"

I'm so thrilled to welcome to the Alley today a talented writer who is also one of the dearest souls you could ever meet. If you haven't had the privilege of reading the novels of Carla Stewart, you're missing out on one of the most masterful and powerful voices in Christian fiction. This woman can write! Over to you, Carla!

Karen, thanks so much for inviting me to The Writer’s Alley. What a fun and interesting year this has been! To be truthful, it’s also been the most challenging year of my writing career. When I was growing up and put more food on my plate than I could eat, my daddy would say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” At times that’s how I felt when I was writing The Hatmaker’s Heart (and the next book A Flying Affair immediately afterward). I wasn’t sure I could finish all the things on my plate that I’d agreed to.

It all started because I wanted to write in a more historical vein than my nostalgic novels from the 1950s and 60s had been. My agent and editor both encouraged me to do so, and I chose an era that’s always intrigued me: the Roaring Twenties. I have a new respect for authors of historical novels—wow! The research alone was daunting, but I learned so much, and I’d like to share a few of my research tips with you and your readers.

1)    Lay down the fear of tackling hard subjects. Remember how geometry once instilled breath-stealing fear from you? And then you learned the first theorem and the next, and they were building blocks. That’s how research is. Take it in small chunks, expanding your knowledge base. For me, it was spending my leisure hours reading a book on hat making. I didn’t think about my novel; I just became knowledgeable of the terminology, material, and techniques involved. Those hours paid off when I began to write the story.

2)    Develop a system for organizing your material. Do it in a way that makes sense and works for you – Scrivener, Evernote, doc files, bookmarks. The main thing is that you want to “save” virtually all your research links somewhere. You may need them for a date, a minor detail, or to answer your editor’s queries. You will save a lot of time if you have a system to fall back on. I do recommend that you keep a physical folder (s), too, for anything you’ve printed out, notes you’ve scribbled on napkins, calendars (great for showing holidays and moon phases), time lines, pictures of your characters, sticky notes, etc.

3)    Visit your setting in person or virtually. I love research trips and would have loved to have returned to England and New York City while I was writing The Hatmaker’s Heart. Sadly, that wasn’t possible, so I relied on books, maps, photo searches, and watching period films. When watching films, take notes on clothing, hairstyles, turns of phrases, slang/special terminology of the era. YouTube is a gold mine as well. Some things I’ve watched on YouTube when researching: an iron lung in operation, a tour of a working oil rig, a black and white clip of the 1923 Royal wedding that takes place in The Hatmaker’s Heart - Yes! It really does exist.

4)    Be aware of rabbit trails. It’s so easy to get caught up in research that you spend too much time on a particular aspect. While it can add texture and authenticity to your writing, the novel will never get written if you veer too far off course. And yet sometimes, following the trail can lead to important discoveries so learn to strike a balance.

5)    Pinterest is your friend. For the last three books, I’ve used Pinterest to capture images of household items, clothing, settings, and anything that might tie in to the story. While brainstorming, you may want to have a secret board that has loads of images that you will pare down later for your public board. The beauty of Pinterest is that almost all pins link back to websites where you can get valuable description. Here’s my Pinterest board for my new novel:  

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. What I’ve found is that I love the research part of writing, and while it can be exhausting at times, the end result of a carefully researched novel is worth it. Blessings to all of you in your writing!

Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” 
She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then she’s had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla was the 2011 trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”, an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) finalist in 2011 and winner in 2012, a two-time Genesis winner, and an Oklahoma Book Award finalist four times. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more about Carla at 
Back cover blurb:
For Nell Marchwold, bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived to create hats that bring out a woman's best qualities. She knows she's fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell's fresh designs begin to catch on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she's had since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.

But it seems Nell's gift won't be hidden by Oscar's efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Carla!


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Carla, you share some great ideas for researching here. I've definitely been caught up on rabbit trails. Time suck!

And thanks for the suggestion to save everything in files, or in some way so it can easily be accessed if needed later on.

Great tips!

carla stewart said...

Thanks, Jeanne! Even saving everything, I've sometimes pulled my hair out trying to find something I knew I had. Love the research and learning new things, though.

carla stewart said...

Karen, thanks so much for having me today. Love it here at the Writer's Alley! Happy researching.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Carla, thanks so much for being here today! I love your tip about using You Tube videos for research - what a great idea!

Casey said...

Hello Carla!
What fun to see you and your gorgeous book cover up on our blog! I have loved watching this book tour and all the fun hat pictures you've posted on FB. Thanks so much for sharing our blog today!! :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Welcome!!! I confess, I think Pinterest is BRILLIANT for researching! Not just for books, either. :) Great tips here on research.

I adore your bookcover...and I love the premise of your story. It is definitely going on my list!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Carla,

I have been researching my latest historical set in 1914 and boy, can I relate to everything you've said here. I should have saved all my research from my first book, but at the time, didn't realize I'd be writing a sequel!

In the process of trying to get organized now. Thanks for the tips!


Laurie Tomlinson said...

Carla! How fun to see one of my favorite people here! I love the interesting variety of stories, time periods, and themes you choose to write about. Your stories are as rich as you are a person :)

carla stewart said...

Thanks everyone! Learning from other writers has been invaluable to me. I'd cherish any tips you might have. I think I learn new things with every book if not every day. Bless you all in your writing.