Sunday, January 4, 2015

researching for writing and fun

 Montezuma's Castle, Arizona 1972

When I finish Rose's story for the Arizona historicals, then I will finally begin writing the fourth Arizona novel. When writing an historical, there is figuring out the characters but also getting the history right. Research, lots of research even if what I learn doesn't get used.

This heroine was introduced in the third Arizona historical. She is an anthropologist with an interest in doing an archaeological dig in the Southwest. This was before the Southwest was having so many digs. The big interest in 1900 was in Europe. The ruins had been seen, of course, but people didn't know what to make of them or the ones who had left them rather precipitously.

With a serious interest in finding ancient Pueblo settlements there were those who like Virginia McClurg, a journalist at Mesa Verde in '82-85. She found several of the dwellings and many artifacts.

A family of ranchers in southern Colorado, the Wetherhills, are credited with finding most of the big ruins at Mesa Verde. The Native Americans of the regions told them of the dwellings, which they said had been built by the ancient ones. It was December of 1888 when Richard Wetherhill and Charles Mason found Cliff Palace. If you have ever been there, you know what an impressive dwelling it is even today.

 Pueblo Grande 1976 Arizona

Across the southwest are these kinds of dwellings which have intrigued many with their beauty and mystery. Why build such elaborate and often graceful structures and then leave them with often their pots and tools as though they might return? These are the questions archaeologists try to answer by doing the kinds of digs that reveal the items and when they were put in place. They do this through soil analysis and detailed notations to leave the information for future scientists to take farther.

From the beginning of their being found, coming to these sites were the curious, artifact seekers, vandals, and gold hunters. Many didn't care what damage they did to the structures. Some archeologists had goals like Indiana Jones-- What can I take away. A good example of this was Gustaf Nordenskiƶld, the son of a polar explorer.  Nordenskiƶld was a trained mineralogist who did introduce scientific methods to his collecting, recorded locations, photographed, diagrammed, etc. but he took what he found and sent it to Sweden where the artifacts found their way to a museum in Finland. This inspired the United States to make Mesa Verde into a park to protect it.

I've been to many ruins across the Southwest and always find them fascinating. Even with a crowd of people, you can feel the energy in such sites. Mesa Verde is, of course, spectacular, but Chaco Canyon has the advantage of letting you go through the structures with no one around. I've hiked into ruins hidden away without names. Always, if I can sit long enough, I begin to feel the energy of those who had come before, can imagine living there in an ancient time. Between these sites and petroglyphs, I've had a life long interest in archaeology (my daughter is an archaeologist although currently she is not working in the field).


 Mesa Verde 1981

When I begin writing the fourth Arizona historical, I will set its dig in a little known site... actually an imaginary one because I like the freedom of that. My heroine will be ahead of the time archaeologists became interested in the Southwest. She is looking for artifacts, of course, but more it's the story she wants to prove or discover. For her though, there is an even more personal reason, which will be brought out in the story.

This book will also involve an outlaw family which led to more to research regarding the Outlaw , Hole in the Wall, and Robber's Roost in Utah. My hero has an outlaw father and his three predatory brothers (imaginary names, of course) who he has spent his life trying to get shed of. His skill with a gun has complicated his life time and again. Keeping most of the characters fiction makes it easier to write what I wish-- but I like to know the real stories of these outlaws and how the community regarded them-- often with great favor. Times don't change as much as we sometimes like to think!

So research has been a big deal for me lately. I've been sidetracked by my real life but also other things I came across in history which I can't use but will share as who knows maybe someone else reading this will be interested in creating their own historical. History was one of my minors in college and has been a lifelong interest. There just aren't enough hours in the day to cover all that fascinates me. Kind of neat to have it be that way as it means I am never bored-- well rarely.


2 comments:

Tabor said...

My son, like me, writes in his spare time. I was telling him how my writing of a novel is always a fail because I cannot get my mind around a compelling story. I can paint scenery and characters, but they have no ladder! He is writing a book and said that it is fantasy (not sci-fi) because with fantasy you do not have to work so hard at fact and you do not have to know the subject so thoroughly. I do admire your work at writing historical fiction, which is sometimes the hardest to do!

Rain Trueax said...

Well, I like history; so it's not really work for me to explore some region or area. I also stick to western history for books even though I find history around the world of interest.

Keep in mind if you are aiming for a literary work, you don't need a plot as such. Literary fiction can literally go nowhere. They offer deliberate commentary on larger social issues, political issues, or focus on the individual (your characters) to explore some part of the human condition. Ironically romances can do that also but they go somewhere and hence don't get the credit from the intellectual crowd ;).

I prefer writing contemporary stories but I have these characters I have liked, like the Stevens family from the Oregon series, and they seem to carry on another story eventually just by their relationships. Then I have to research what that would mean but since I love historic research, that's not a bad thing for me :)