20 December 2006

The Research Queue

343 words into my 500 for today's work on my new Brooklyn story and I realized I knew very few details regarding my protag's goal.

It's 1916. My protag, Anna, has her sights set on Columbia University. She plans to finish her last term of secondary school and head to Morningside Heights in Manhattan for a few years thereafter, where she may just get the notion to study law.

I know that Columbia's women's college, Bayard, opened in 1889.

And that's all I know offhand.

So today, after I complete my 500, I'm studying Bayard's history. All that information is copied into my Moleskine.

I also need to really study American upper-class in the WWI-era, because I need to know what will be good to use as conflict and what wouldn't have mattered so much. I'm dealing with old Manhattan Dutch money (think Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Stuyvesants and Cortlandts) and I need to know my English-bred girl would fare among them (not well, I don't imagine). I also suspect that despite past grievances, upperclass America tried to mirror Edwardian and Belle Epoque England's culture.

If anyone knows of good books or Web references to this time, please please please post them here! I'm new to the era and I want to explore it fully. Oh the fun of historicals!

My questions for all of you out there:

  1. What's on your research queue?
  2. What are your tried-and-true research methods?
  3. Do your organize your research? If so, how do you do it? (or, inspire me!)


jennifer said...

my research queue right now is for a story in modern portugal with a maltese knights of st. john prolugue which is all important to finding treasure in the modern day. not too inspirational about research help i just read up until i know the framework then start writing then go back if i find a bit i can't say off the top of my head. most i do is a seperate file of snippets from all over the place then i can just go read that instead of going to bookmark or card or however. sorry couldn't be more help.

Kim Iverson Headlee said...

My level of organization of my research depends on a number of factors.

If it's a specific detail I'm looking up for a work in progress, it goes either straight into the text or into a file in the work's subdirectory creatively titled "Working Notes.doc". For my current, pre-Viking WIP, I came across a book of old Scandinavian-Russian politics that happened to contain an excellent appendix on Old Norse names and sometimes their meanings, which I plan to mine for characters' names. That info will get distilled into the working-notes file, since I'm really only in the planning stages of this book.

If I'm after a feel-of-the-period level of detail -- i.e., how did they build their houses & boats, what did they wear & how did they make it, what was their jewelry like, monetary and/or barter system, etc., then I'll usually just soak it all in and let it steep in my organic memory until the appropriate textual moment. That way it seems to come out more fully integrated, rather than info-dumped into the prose.

When researching on a large scale, I generally prefer to buy books, which tend to have been vetted a lot better, prior to publication, than articles found on the Internet. There are exceptions in both arenas, of course, but a book in my research library is a lot easier for me to work with because I retain a basic familiarity of its contents -- and that in itself lends a form of organization to my collection.

At one point I had developed a database on my computer, but that was more for character traits than period research.

Then of course there was the method I used in high school -- index cards, grouped by research categories. I still possess those original cards, BTW, even though my time constraints prevent me from using such a method anymore. (And the WIP I had been collecting that research for ultimately took an entirely different historical direction; I keep the cards now more for nostalgia than anything else. :)


Camilla said...

Actually, by this time period, that Old New York society had changed from the rigid society of the 1880s--and most of the new money had begun to bypass NY's approval for the instant success in London and the Continent.

Mrs. Astor went insane in the 1890s, and after Consuelo V was married to her Duke, Alva and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish became social leaders and all society did was have fun. Your heroine, if she wanted to go to college, would be viewed with shock and horror because college was for middle-class young women--upper-class young women were expected to marry.

I can't really name any books off the top of my head since mine focus on the Belle Epoque, but I do know that Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, Harry Lehr's widow, wrote her memoirs and she married a British lord in the 1920s or 30s.

As for research? I'm brushing up on American heiress information, politics of the exact year(1900) and etiquette books. Since I've been studying the Belle Epoque era for over a year, when I start plotting a new MS, I tend to brush up on little things.

Christine Koehler said...

My research queue is all about New Orleans 1795. I can find plenty of information on the city after 1803, but very little on it before then. I know there were people there, and there had to be something written about them and the city, but finding it is proving difficult. My main problem with this WIP is the outside conflict my couple faces. That involves more plotting than research, however.

Starting research is fun, the little details and such, but I tend to mostly skim those unless something cool jumps out at me and I have to put it in the story. Like the wet death that killed so many New Orleanians but was totally ignored by the French government. It was really yellow fever, but wet death is a much more sinister sounding name.

I do have a separate document in my story folders that contains tidbits and such, but other than the initial starting points (where, who, sights, location, all that), I tend not to research anything until I need it.

carrie_lofty said...

I research like mad for about a month and let the information help shape the storyline. The alchemy aspect to my WIP -- well, I started out thinking she'd be an alchemist. I didn't know how to make that feasible or what she could do. All of that, including the plot to go with it, comes from the research. I get the technical bits later if I come across a strumbling block -- or if I do not want to write anything that day! I have a master's in history and LOVE research, to the exclusion of other things, so my trick is to limit the "I just want to know more" tendencies and work on only the stuff that advances the story.

As for organization, I have seperate Word folders for all my research, from "plot fodder" to the hard technical bits, photos I've scanned, a language database, and useful weblinks. I start everything on Wikipedia to get ideas, refine at the library, and then go back to the internet to fill in gaps.

Happy holidays from England (we made it here just fine, despite security's best efforts!)

Anonymous said...

Let's see have you tried The Golden Age of American Gardens Proud Owners Private estates 1890 - 1940 by Mac Griswold and Eleanor Weller ISBN 08109 2737 Lots of photographs of various estates from the period. Gardening and the creation of gardens was one outlet that upper class women had.

You should be looking at Hyde Park and the area around there. there is an absolute ton of info and of course there is the Roosevelt library at Springwood. Eleanor and FDR's life -- including their early married life is fairly well documented, so some these could provide insights. Springwood still reflects Mrs Sara Roosevelt's tastes. (I visited Springwood this summer)

As I have now finished my Victorian, I am going back to my Vikings (793 AD) and will be revisiting the research done at that time. There will undobutably little things I know but I have done the major bits. This is why I like to write several books set in the same period...

Delia DeLeest said...

My research all centers on post-WWI, 1920's middle class, so I don't know how much help I can be. One book I've found helpful is Only Yesterday by uh...Fredrick Lewis Allen(?). It was written in 1931, so it looks at the '20's as the immediate past, which gives a little different spin on the decade than those written by someone with knowledge of the 20th century as a whole.

Sandra Schwab said...

I am an abebooks slut. Whenever I start a new book and I take a fancy to a particular subject, I'll go immediately to abebooks and see what they've got on said subject. For "The Lily Brand", I bought several books about Holland House and the Holland House Circle (resided over by the incomparable Lady Hollandw, whose dinner table was always notoriously overcrowded and who loved ordering her guests around). For "Castle of the Wolf" I bought loads of books about the history of the great duchy of Baden, and now, for "Bewitched", I'm researching Albany, that bachelor appartment house in London, in detail. And the Fen District.

In addition, I always seem to buy books which I might need in the future -- stuff about the Regency, of course, but also more exotic books. My two latest acquisitions are a book about East Prussia (with 1440 old pictures, all taken before 1945) and a book on tree houses. :)

Morag McKendrick Pippin said...

My research at the moment includes the British armed forces in the Falklands, Serbia, and Sierra Leone - anywhere else they were involved in the '80s and '90s.

Um, organize my research? I have certain headings - for example:
Current political scene
Current films and music
etc, put them in neat piles on my desk return for quick reference. Unfortunately, my Princelings like to nest there. They tend to leap up and push everything off my desk to make themselves comfy. They are huge 25 pound Maine Coon cats. I don't argue with them. So I make neat piles on the floor. Hubby enters the office walking all over them. They end up everywhere. Very soon I just leave everything where it is. After many searches through the piles I actually know where everything is.
The only time my work space is actually clean and organized is between books.

PennyAsh1 said...

In my que right now are ancient China, Minoan Crete, Paleolithic Europe, the CIA, Urumchi mummies, Trolls, Genetic manipulation and Cloning. I use Wikipedia and Google searches mostly along with a large collection of archaeology and anthropology books. I usually start with a broad search like Paleolithic then narrow it down to things like cave art, artifacts, climate, and and images or maps I can find. I talk a lot on IRC and I ask a lot of the people I talk to questions about the places they live also. Usually I save the bits of research I need in a file I go back to when I need details.

Marjorie Jones said...

Jennifer - I wrote a book for a paranormal series (seven authors, one book each) that is being rereleased over at Mojocastle early next year. The series concerned the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the book I'm referring to had to do with the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus ... which one can 'see' from the castle your very knights built. How wicked is this? The hero was a priest *grin* Fun stuff.

And Morag! Hi doll (I've been horribly scarce and just found you here) Your office and mind sound very similar LOL... I'm so proud of my desk and level of organization when I'm NOT writing. When I'm writing? I'm lucky if the dinner dishes I used while I ate while I worked for weeks on end actually make it back to the kitchen. It would be easier to toss them all and buy new stonewear! Simply scandalous.

Marjorie Jones said...

*sigh* correction: Your office and MINE, even. Your MIND is clear as a bell and something to behold, indeed...no comparison at all. I've read your books so I know what of I speak, there. LOL.