Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Before jumping into the time travel talk, a word from our sponsors…which would be me!  If you’d like to take part in a blog hop, it’s going on at my other blog.  You’ll find the same article there, but also the entry form for my gift card giveaway and links to the more than a hundred other blogs taking part.  Good luck!

Also watch for coming posts featuring writer Kathy Opie cooking up some medieval recipes I found for her!  I’m excited about posting those!

And now…on to researching for writing time travel novels!


We’ve  asked authors Lisa Mason and Laura Vosika to talk with us about  their time travel books.

Lisa  Mason is the author of Summer of Love, A Time Travel, on Nook and Kindle,  and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel, on Nook and on Kindle. Summer of Love was a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle  Recommended Book. Locus Magazine said, “Remarkable. . .the intellect on display  within these psychedelically packaged pages is clear-sighted, witty, and  wise.”The  Gilded Age was a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book.  The New York Times Book Review called The Gilded Age, “A winning mixture of intelligence  and passion.”Visit Lisa on the web at Lisa Mason’s Official Websiteor Lisa Mason’s  Blog.

Laura  Vosika is the author of Blue Bells of Scotland, on Kindle, Nook, itunes, and at Smashwords, lauded as a book in the vein of Diana  Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and earning many five-star reviews. Nan Hawthorne,  author of historical fiction, called Blue Bells of Scotland one of her  favorite books of the year. The praise was echoed by Robert Mattos of Book and  Movie Reviews, adding that it is a must-have for the book shelves of any serious  reader. The Minstrel Boy, Book Two in The Blue Bells Chronicles is  also out. Visit Laura on the web at or

What  research did you do for the era your time traveler returns  to?

Laura: Every possible sort. I researched medieval times, Scotland, names, food,  castles, weapon(r)y; weather, temperature, and sunrise and sunset on  given days of the year in Scotland; whether the clothing in 1314 had buttons  (no), time travel theories in science and fiction. I brushed up on my classical  music and learned about the vampire of Melrose Abbey. I routinely post a  ‘Researching Today’ status on my facebook author page ( telling about the  interesting things I come across. I flew to Scotland for a two week research  trip to visit all the locations in Blue Bells of  Scotland.

I  read a number of fiction books set in the era, particularly The Path of the  Hero King, the thoroughly-researched novelization of the events leading up  to Bannockburn by the great Scottish writer, Nigel Tranter. My collection of  books on Scotland and medieval time–castles, towns, history, music, and food to  name but a few specialties–spans several shelves. A few that stand out are Robert the Bruce: King of Scots by Ronald McNair Scott, Bannockburn  1314: Robert Bruce’s Great Victory by Pete Armstrong; James the Good: The  Black Douglas by David R. Ross; and Robert Bruce and The Community of the  Realm of Scotland by W.S. Barrow.

I  also used a number of internet resources, including digging up English records  from the time online. I kept detailed charts compiling differences of opinions  among scholars.

Lisa: How did people fasten their clothes before buttons, let alone zippers?  You’ll have to read Laura’s book to find out, among many other  things!

For Summer of Love, I set out to capture the sights, sounds, attitudes, and  culture from the inside out. I started out with The Haight-Ashbury, A  History by Charles Perry, a book he worked on for eight years. From there, I  read the daily San Francisco Chronicle from June 21, 1967 to September 4,  1967 on microfiche at the Santa Rosa Public Library (the only place in the Bay  area where I could find such an archive). I acquired the gorgeous facsimile  edition of The Oracle published by Regent Press and found a complete  archive of The Berkeley Barb at the Berkeley Public Library. At Walden  Pond Books, Bibliomania, and the now-vanished Holmes Book Company (all in  Oakland) and Shakespeare & Company and Moe’s (both in Berkeley), I found  rare books such as Lenore Kandel’s infamous Beat poem, Love Needs Care by  Dr. David E. Smith who founded the Free Clinic, and Notes From  Underground. I borrowed people’s home movies, studied Making Sense of the  Sixties, which featured the famous Harry Reasoner clip, and watched Star  Trek episodes (no, I’m not a Trekkie, but that research was fun). I acquired Life and Time magazines for June through September, 1967 from  online bookstores, as well as a privately published corporate history of  Marinship for details on Ruby Maverick’s mother’s experience as a war worker  (found that gem at a military books specialist in St. Louis). I spoke with, met,  or corresponded with Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Katharine Kerr, Allen Ginsberg,  and Allan Cohen, and even spoke by phone with the late Lenore Kandel. She told  me that the bus fare in 1967 was fifteen cents (not a quarter, as I’d thought)  and that there was no Sausalito ferry operating in 1967. We shared a laugh over  the fact that her brother wrote scripts for Star Trek (she proofed the  manuscript for me and loved the Star Trek riffs). And, of course, like Laura, I  visited locations. Alas, I didn’t get a two-week research trip to Scotland. I  live in the San Francisco Bay area and visited the ‘hood, which remains  remarkably unchanged, and walked through the Portals of the Past in Golden Gate  Park.

As  for The Gilded Age, I found an entire library of books about the world  during the 1890s, the United States, and San Francisco in particular. Several  journalists in the 1930s and 1940s published detailed and lively accounts of the  City before the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire all but demolished San Francisco.  These accounts included such classics as The Barbary Coast, The Madams of San  Francisco, and The Tongs of Chinatown. Accounts abound of the amazing Donaldina  Cameron, who rescued slave girls from the tongs and who plays a pivotal role in  my book. Fin de siècle San Francisco was already a tourist attraction in the  1890s, and I found an actual guidebook published in 1899.

But  what about those telling details?

Novels  of the period (by authors such as Frank Norris and Jack London) reveal much  about personal attitudes. At the late, great The Holmes Book Company in Oakland  I discovered recipe books by the famous chefs of 1890s San Francisco with  delicious details about food and drink. I think my favorite resources are the  facsimile editions of the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck catalogs.  There I discovered a wealth of detail about clothing, popular books, harnesses  and carriages, guns, sewing implements, patent medicines, wigs, smoking  accoutrements, makeup, children’s toys, and more. Pure heaven for the historical  researcher!

Laura: It  really is those minute details that bring a story to life, that give it the  strong touch of reality and create the suspension of disbelief. I have been  looking forward to preparing some of the food in my Medieval Feasts book.  I probably won’t go so far as to build a five-man-sized brazier–I have a bad  feeling there are city ordinances against them–but maybe I’ll time the cooking  by saying Hail Marys, as is suggested in one resource, and see how that goes!  I’m currently sampling a few of the Twin Cities’ offerings in mead. All in the  name of research of course!

Lisa: Research,  always! The  biggest, juiciest treasure trove for The  Gilded Age came in a bound volume of a newspaper, The Argonaut, for the  entire years of 1896 and 1897. There I discovered such eye-openers as lady  bicyclists and the scandals surrounding their attire (bloomers!) and how much  the Spreckels sugar baron spent a year on cut flowers ($50,000). It’s hard to  find that kind of delightful everyday detail in history  books.

Thanks to Lisa Mason and Laura Vosika for a lively and  thought-provoking discussion. If you, the reader, wish to join the discussion or  have any questions or comments for our authors, feel free to contact them. And  please buy their books!

Summer  of Love, A Time Travel,  on Nook and Kindle,  and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel, on Nook and on Kindle,by Lisa Mason.

Blue  Bells of Scotland,  on Kindle, Nook, itunes, and at Smashwords, and The Minstrel Boy, Book Two  in The Blue Bells Chronicles by Laura  Vosika.

Congratulations to Karine, winner of the $10 gift card to!  And now, please welcome Nan Hawthorne, novelist, songwriter, and internet DJ!

The Thrills and Spills of Researching the Distant past

Nan Hawthorne, author of Beloved Pilgrim, a novel of the Crusade of 1101

In history class in college we learn about the difference between primary and secondary sources, but anyone who has tried to research events in the Middle Ages knows that primary and authoritative are not necessarily one and the same.  The Crusade of 1101 stands out as one example.  Of the three so-called primary sources for chronicles of this time and event, only one, Anna Comnena’s “The Alexiad”, is truly primary, the others by Exxehard, Abbot of Aura, and Albert of Aix being respectively written by someone who did not travel with the three arms of the crusaders in Turkey and by someone who was never there at all but writing ten years later.  Even Anna’s is by someone present for only those events that took place in Constantinople at her emperor father’s court.  How then can one be certain what she reads bears any resemblance to the historical facts?

Many historical novelists, Sharon Kay Penman, for instance, do intensive research by traveling to locations where their stories take place and finding those primary sources in court records and monastery libraries.  The amount of this sort of material is surprising and a testament to the packrat mentality of the record keepers themselves.  However, even where an individual author can lay hands on this sort of primary source, not every event was written about or can one find the records still in existence.  This is very much the case of the Crusade of 1101 and many other events of the early Middle Ages.

My own research on the Crusade of 1101 for my novel “Beloved Pilgrim” started with the work of historian Sir Steven Runciman.  His highly regarded “A History of the Crusades” (three volumes, Cambridge University Press 1951) is admittedly secondary and based entirely on materials such as the chronicles mentioned above.  What you have with Runciman is a combination of masterful research and analysis.  He clearly compiled his information painstakingly and made a coherent narrative from it.  However, even I as a lowly historical novelist with my research buddy, a medieval warfare enthusiast, found some unlikely conclusions based on knowledge of the fighting techniques of the era and the terrain and nature of the land where the battles occurred.  How does this reflect on the rest of his research?

Whether an author is a strict historian or a novelist aiming to turn historical events and characters into enlightening entertainment, it is important to think outside the box of the chronicles of the era.  The fact is that monastic clerks kept most records on the events.  They could certainly be relied upon to keep track of certain economic and legal information, but when recounting events let’s just say their bias was showing.  It is the contrast with narratives by Islamic scholars this is made most clear.  These latter tended to present factual detail while the monks were the “spin doctors” of their culture.  For example, while the Christian chronicles make little or no reference to women who were involved in the Crusades and in particular in battle, the Islamic scholars had no compunction about describing the bodies of female combatants after a battle, such as the siege of Acre.

The researcher can derive some insight into the personalities involved in such an event by what people involved in what happened are willing to say about it.  That occurred to me with the very fact that the leaders of the Crusade of 1101 who acted in what seems to my mind to be a desperately dishonorable desertion of their followers nevertheless admitted to what they had done.  What sort of people would expect admiration and approval for cowardice of this magnitude?  Luckily, being a novelist, I was in a position to use this in the characterization of these historical figures.  I was able to show them behaving badly, whereas a historian would balk at such storytelling.

My conclusion about doing research on the Crusade of 1101 was that I needed to do four things:

  1. Read the generally accepted accounts,
  2. Consider what I read against other sources,
  3. Apply my own judgment and common sense, and
  4. Remember that I am a storyteller and not writing a history textbook.


The historical novelist has a responsibility to her readers not to stray egregiously from the known facts of an event or historical person, but when the “known facts” are in question, are secondhand and may even consist of propaganda, it is necessary to come clean to readers about any embroidery on the facts as they are known and to stay faithful to what one has learned, not imagined, about the life and culture of the periods she depicts in her novels.

Nan Hawthorne’s recently released “Beloved Pilgrim”, the story of a young woman who chooses to live and fight as a man in the doomed Crusade of 1101, is available at Amazon and Smashwords.


About Nan:
Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and doted-upon cats.  She has been in love with history and historical fiction since, at four, she discovered the Richard Greene “The Adventures of Robin Hood” television series.  She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLE SAXON ENGLAND (2008).  The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages. 
 Her latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101.  She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio Dé Danann.