For the novel I’m currently working on I’ve put a lot of time and thought into researching the historical time period. But reading books isn’t enough. I want to experience firsthand many of the same difficulties of the characters I wish to represent, and although I will never know precisely what it may be like to be in the shoes of 18th century farmers on the frontier, there’s still a lot I can examine on my own today.
I started by actually going to Virginia, where my novel takes place. My patient wife traveled with me through the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as other parts of Virginia last fall so that I could get a feeling for the place. Although I had gone there as a child, seeing it through an adult’s eye definitely gave me some new impressions as well. From colonial Williamsburg to the Shenandoah Valley, I’ve gotten to see the landscape in summer and wintry seasons before as well.
Back home, there are other important ways I’ve researched for this novel. Raising corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins in my yard for successive years, going hunting, firing black powder muskets, grinding corn with a pestle (and yes, it takes forever), making a fire with different tinder and wood, cooking settler and Native American dishes on the stove from basic foods, and a whole host of other experiments all aimed at discovering for myself elements of frontier life. As my writing progresses more and more each day, I suppose the only question that remains is…what else should I try next?