As I stand naked in front of the Iowa Historical Building, plastic bottle filled with red punch and vodka, I’m thinking to myself: Why didn’t I wear some socks? I just know it’s going to be cold in that research room, and I hate having cold feet!
Just kidding. I was wearing socks. OK, I’ll stop fooling around. But I had your attention, did I not? As I writer, I’m always thinking about my beginnings and how I can grab my reader’s attention. My other job, aside from writing, is research. As an historical fiction writer, I spend as much time digging through history as I do sitting at my computer, trying to think up interesting sentence construction.
For my first three novels, I used local sources—interviews, books done by community members, and newspaper articles given to me. The only research I did was comprised of just general information that can be found on the internet--pretty easy.
This fourth book has been different. Instead of focusing on particular characters, it focuses more on how the time period looked in a specific area of Iowa. I decided I needed to read local newspapers to find details for the novel. Where is the best place for newspaper articles, you ask? Newspapers.com. Except they charge to look at major papers like the Sioux City Journal and The Des Moines Register. And I hate getting subscriptions to those kinds of things. I don’t mind paying some money for their service, but inevitably I end up forgetting to cancel the subscription and paying for three years’ worth, only six months of which I use.
Then I had an idea! I’ll go through Iowa newspapers at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines. I’ll probably have to pay for copies. What, maybe 10 cents per copy? So I get in my car and make the forty-five minute drive. I find an open meter right in front of the building, pay the $1.25 an hour on the meter. I figured I’d give myself three hours.
No good. The research center is closed because it’s being moved to another part of the building. It will be open in two weeks. I’m in Texas for the next six weeks. I was planning to read research materials while basking in the warmth of the Texas sun.
I drive back home (now I’ve spent over an hour in the car on this project, not to mention the very expensive gas and cost of the meter). I still have no research material. Fine, I think to myself (I probably said it out loud). I’ll just suck it up and pay for the newspaper service.
They have two subscription levels. I don’t see much of a difference between them, so I naturally choose the cheaper one. I put in my search words and come up with a ton of articles from Iowa newspapers. As I look down the list, every single one I want requires the more expensive service. I’m not even sure what you get for the cheap service! Okay. I decide I’ll pay for the upgrade.
Now I’ve got plenty of articles from the major Iowa papers, but this service doesn’t carry the smaller local papers, especially from the towns I need. The service hasn’t archived the papers going back that far.
My next step is going to involve driving a few hours away, sitting down at the local newspaper office, and going through their back issues. I’m starting to imagine yellowed stacks of old, crumbling copies. I’ve got some pretty serious dust and mold allergies, so I can just imagine my sneezing, hacking, and nose blowing. What a girl goes through to get a little information!
I’ve decided I’m not even wasting my time with the historical society because I’m starting to think they won’t have those papers either. Days like this make me wonder if perhaps I should be writing vampire love stories instead of historical fiction.