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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Researching Obscure Facts, Or Don't Take Your Librarian for Granted

This is my first post here at Seduced by History, though my name has been on the blog roll for a while. So I'll start with an apology for not stepping up sooner.

I just finished the seventh book in my erotic Regency series Brothers In Arms. It hasn't been sent to my editor yet, but just the act of typing The End always makes me giddy. The book, Love's Fortress, is about Gideon North. Gideon was a captain in the 14th Light Dragoons in the Peninsular War. He was injured quite badly at the second siege of Badajoz, as a member of the Forlorn Hope, the first troops to storm a fortress during a siege. The purpose of the Forlorn Hope was to draw fire and to hopefully make the enemy blow any mines they may have laid before the main force attacked.

Those of you who are familiar with the second siege of Badajoz and the Forlorn Hope are saying, "The 14th wasn't at Badajoz, and they certainly did not volunteer to lead the Forlorn." Yes, that's true. So I had to find a reason to place Gideon there, and a way to get him with the Forlorn. Which leads me to the main purpose of this blog. How to find reliable sources for obscure information during your research.

I went to Melvyl. Melvyl is the catalog for the University of California Libraries. The beauty of Melvyl is that it allows you to search WorldCat, a database of libraries worldwide. I think Melvyl is easier to use than WorldCat so that's why I recommend it. I find searching Melvyl far more helpful than a Google book search. Their database is more current and geared toward academic research.

After my search I had a list of books on some pretty obscure aspects of the Peninsular War: fortresses, sieges, fighting techniques, and military medicine. General histories of the Peninsular War touch on these subjects in a page or two, but I needed a more in depth understanding of them to figure out Gideon's story. I looked for the books at Amazon. After all, I never miss an opportunity to collect more books on the Regency period. But some were not available, and others were more expensive than I was comfortable with. I can't see writing another book about this particular aspect of the war, so it would not have been money well spent.

What was a writer to do? Go to her local library, of course. I went to the Interlibrary Loan desk. If you have not made friends with your local librarian in charge of interlibrary loan get thee hence. It took some doing, two of the books were in only a couple of libraries willing to lend them out via interlibrary loan. I may be late returning my kids' books to the library, but I am NEVER late returning my interlibrary loan books. I'd be up a creek without a paddle if I lost that privilege.

So, the books that were most useful to me were: (these aren't full citations)

McCallum, Jack Edward. Military Medicine: From Ancient Time to the 21st Century.
Fletcher, Ian. Fortresses of the Peninsular War, 1808-14.
Myatt, Frederick. British Sieges of the Peninsular War.

So, why was Gideon there? He'd been traveling and heard about the siege and went to talk to the commander of the 4th Division, who was at Badajoz. I based this on the true story of a captain who did just that. And then Gideon unofficially attached himself to the Forlorn. Again, based on a true story, although the officer in question did not attach himself to the Forlorn Hope but to the 4th Division. Why would Gideon attach himself to what was essentially considered a suicide mission? For advancement and reward. But that's another story.

Gideon's reason for being at Badajoz is perhaps one or two lines in the book. But I had to get it right. What are some things you've spent hours researching only to need them for a line or two?


Sally said...

The advent of google and the internet has robbed technophiles of the romance of a library. I love walking through the stacks, reading through titles and finding a hidden treasure printed years ago. The value of a good librarian is without measure. I am in agreement; don't take your librarian for granted.

Samantha Kane said...

I spent a few hours in the stacks researching breeding carriage horses, and horses in general. I love it, too. I worked in the library all through college and graduate school. Have a life-long love of them. And librarians. :-)

librarypat said...

I don't write, but I am an information junkie. I collect old books because they give you such a wonderful window into a different time period. They often give you a better feel for things than internet research. I loved working at a library. It is amazing the number of people that do not realize the skills and knowledge someone needs to be a librarian. Many municipalities are hiring people with no training or experience to run libraries. I heard one town commissioner say librarians didn't do anything but put books on the shelf so why did they need college or need to make more than minimum wage. With all the cuts many communities are making, libraries are being some of the first things hit and the quality of service is suffering. Unfortunately many libraries have boards controlling them with people who don't even use the library or have any idea what employees do.

I am glad you have been able to get so many books you needed through interlibrary loan.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Samantha, great post. I spent tons of time researching Irish Hunters - the horse, that is - for my upcoming Irish historical romance novel, Coming Home. My heroine's father breeds them, and although it's not a major part of the story, it is an important one. I looked them up in books, on the Internet, and even talked to a horse expert. I love my research!

Samantha Kane said...

librarypat~ I think that's a shame. Librarians are an invaluable research resource. Especially on obscure historical subjects older or hard to find books are sometimes the best resources to use. Librarians know how to find those and how to put them in your hand.

Cynthia~ I knew nothing about horses except the basics when I began this book. I'm not sure why I decided to have the hero breed them. I also looked online, watched videos of how to train a horse on a lead, talked to a carriage driver, and read a LOT of books. I'm still not an expert. And how much of the book is about horse breeding? All total, because I mention something here and then a line there throughout the book, maybe two or three pages. The things we do for historical accuracy. :-)

Carol L. said...

I'm not a writer and so I don't need to research for a book but I appreciate your post. I have always had to surround myself with books and love looking things up. The only research I have done lately was about the fight at Culloden in Scotland. For some reason I just had to know about it. I love Highlanders. A sad fight it was too.
Thank you for all the info.
Carol L.

Samantha Kane said...

Carol L~ I've had readers tell me they like to know the research and writing process that went into my books. And as a reader I'm the same way. Glad I didn't bore you! And yes, Culloden was yet another sad fight. History, unfortunately for the the participants, is full of those. They make a rich background for us writers, though.