What’s fun when you’re writing a book, especially historical fiction, is trying to find the expert who knows just the obscure fact you need to add a realistic detail to your story.
Books, articles and websites can take you most of the way. But you always end up hitting a wall with some fact that nobody bothered to research or write down. While lots of people have done research on education in pre-Confederate Newfoundland, nobody was curious about, say, when was the first time a woman sat on a local school board. You hunt around, ask people for recommendations, try to find just the person who might know this. Nobody seems to know, and nobody seems to know whom to ask, and eventually you hit a brick wall. Where are all the experts?
Then you say, “Ah, forget about it. It’s not that big a deal,” and you go ahead and write a scene set in 1928 in which your character is a member of the school board in her small community, in a scene which takes up all of four pages in a three-hundred page book. And the book is published, and you go out and give a reading, and when the floor is opened to questions afterwards a thin, anxious-looking man with a permanently furrowed brow raises his hand and says, “I see you have your character serving on the school board in 1928. Now, my mother, Hepzibah Harrington, was the first woman to serve on a school board in Newfoundland and that wasn’t until 1943.”
And you smile through your clenched teeth and think, “Oh, that’s where the expert went. Where were you when I needed you?”
(Note: I actually solved the school board mystery — I just used it here as an example. But there are still random facts I’m trying to chase down for That Forgetful Shore, and I know the person who knows the answer is out there … just waiting till my errors are preserved in print).