Blog #5: Research!


Ah, historical fiction. Why the hell did I choose to write historical fiction?In all fairness, I didn't choose to write about Anastasia - she chose me, and I succumbed. This weakness then led me to the real-life struggles of a historical fiction writer. I guess most novels require some research - whether it's checking the geography of a setting, learning about an unusual profession, or finding just the right kind of poison.But holy crap, historical fiction takes it to a new level! There is nothing in my story - no location, no item, no saying, and in some cases, no individual's actions or words - that I can't get embarrassingly wrong if I don't do the necessary research.Let's take a random scene from my draft as an example: Anna and Evgenia visit the latter's home. To make this scene plausible I must know: - what peasants' homes looked like, what they were made of, how large they tended to be, whether they had windows and floors, whether animals stayed inside or out, how they got water, how people stayed warm or cool, how homes were decorated, etc.; - how big peasant families tended to be, who lived together in one house, how old people were when they got married, what role children filled when they lived with parents, what kinds of chores needed to be done in a typical peasant home, who in the family would do each kind of chore, what time of day those chores would be done, how long they would take, etc.; - what kind of food people of Evgenia's class and in that part of the country regularly ate, how it was prepared, how it was stored, how it was served, what they drank, what utensils and dishes they had, what kinds of crops they farmed, etc.; - what people looked like at that time and in that place - what kind of clothing did they wear, how did men and women wear their hair, how did children wear their hair, what kind of facial hair men of different ages wore, etc.; - what Russian expressions they might use, how their speech might sound different to someone from St. Petersburg, how someone who grew up as royalty in St. Petersburg would sound (and look) to them, what kind of accent Anastasia could claim to speak with without revealing herself, etc.; - and since Anastasia was a real person: what might be familiar and disconcerting to her about entering a peasant's house vs. what kinds of things might she have been exposed to during her life already, how many days have passed since her family was murdered and where she might be in her ability to interact sanely with other people, ergo what is the healing process actually like for teens who have suffered such extreme trauma; and now we're descending down yet another research rabbit hole....All of that is relevant to one tiny, not-particularly-eventful scene. Expand that out for a whole book, taking place in multiple cities, with multiple real live historical people, with higher-stake situations, and.... Why on earth did I choose to write this??Just kidding. I mean, the task seems overwhelming, but I am enjoying it. I'm on vacation this week and I've spent a good amount of time in the New York Public Library, researching and editing and chilling in the lovely Rose Reading Room (see pic above!). Here are some superb reference books I've found along the way:

They're all highly readable histories with scads of good information about the time period, and I recommend them! Of course, if you're looking for info on the Romanovs themselves, just go straight to Robert Massie, the foremost popular U.S writer on Russian royal history (and deservedly so).