H is for…History

In broad terms, I write what’s known as speculative fiction. Basically, this is an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, or anything with elements of the supernatural. While a few of my short fiction pieces (especially the ones about adultery) are straight up “regular” fiction, most everything I write has some aspect of “but that couldn’t really happen.”

Everything’s fair game in my imagination.

Anyway, even though Some Flew North happens entirely in a made up land (but oh so real in my head!), the novel I’m currently revising takes place in a made up town that looks an awful lot like several Minnesota towns. And it draws heavily on state history, especially the history of Blacks in Minnesota.

While I was on sabbatical during the 2013-2014 academic year, I delved deep into this history, reading a number of secondary and primary sources, including monographs and newspapers on microfilm. (Monographs? Microfilm? Oops- see how I just slipped into library talk.)

I was blessed with a flexible schedule and access to the collections at the Minnesota History Center. (I am also blessed with several friends who lived/worked nearby, and who were happy to take lunch breaks at various local restaurants.) I’ve continued the work this year, primarily through exploring federal and state census data (wait, did I just lose you – it’s cooler than it sounds. Kinda).

(Read more about one of my past research trips & a cool coincidence.)

The materials I’ve gathered have informed, inspired and helped shape the novel I’m writing. The historical research I’ve done has grounded the novel by providing natural constraints to wild plot twists. Finally, my characters are also doing their own research, so undertaking the same work helped me write about it from their perspectives.

But, as one of my archivist friends said, “Good luck making federal census data interesting to a teen audience.” We’ll see what my beta readers have to say…

5 thoughts on “H is for…History

  1. Ooh, story research! I love it, and I am doing it constantly- but (I fear) mostly on the Internet (and in the reference books I’ve accumulated over the years). The Internet Archive is my best friend for primary sources, but I also love that many villages and small towns (in England, at any rate, where a lot of my stories are set) have collected, digitalized, and published vast amounts of local data. I am especially fond of the local historians of Appleby Magna, who took the trouble to do this: http://www.applebymagna.org.uk/appleby_history/
    Also, this is an amazing database: http://www.census1891.com/
    And this beautiful searchable database of who went to gaol in Bedfordshire in the 1800s and why: http://apps.bedfordshire.gov.uk/grd/
    Anyway, my main point is that research is awesome, and can be an inspiration in itself. And sometimes a picture of a past era emerges from “dull” raw data that is so much more complete and varied than the picture you get from secondary-source histories.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful, interesting comment! I’m a huge fan of digitized data (my day job is a librarian) – it’s remarkable how digitization of archival materials has transformed access to sources. I’ve been using a lot of US census data, too, much of which has been digitized. I’m going to geek out a bit looking further into the links you shared. Totally agree – research is awesome and a great source of inspiration. Thanks for reading!


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