The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave
I sat on a panel with Warren Bull, M.E. Cooper, Will Thomas, and Eleanor Sullivan (moderator) to discuss HOW DO I MAKE IT SOUND LIKE I WAS THERE: Researching. As a panel, we were primarily writers of historical mysteries. Any mystery needs to put the reader in the place and class of people, but historical writers have to move readers out of time as well. We all agreed that sensory perception is important and one way to do this is to take a reader through an ordinary task.
For instance, cooking a meal will be very different based on the time and location and the character’s social standing. Do they draw water from a creek, a well, a tap? Is it cooked in a fireplace, over coals outside, atop a wood burning stove? Going through getting dressed with a character can be equally enlightening. Since we live in ordinary situations, it’s one of the better ways of leaving our own time and experiencing a new place and time.
Each of the panelists differed on our favorite way of conducting research. Several tap into expert re-enactors of their preferred time period. Another writer found paintings of a time period to be very enlightening. I like sitting down with old books and maps. My special favorite is a magazine of the period and the ads. Then I compare that “wish list” of available material goods to those mentioned in memoirs.
So the next time you’re drawn into a historical book, spend a moment and see if you can detect at what point the author really made you feel like you were there. It’s what we strive to do.
NEXT WEEK: PREPARING FOR A SAFARI PART 1