I couldn’t write the novels I write from where I live if not for the internet. I would have to have access to an academic library, or to the libraries and historical societies in New York, New Orleans, DC, Chicago and more recently, St. Louis and Santa Fe.
When I first began writing Into the WIlderness I was on the faculty of the University of Michigan, which has an outstanding library. And still I had to buy a lot of material for research purposes. I spent as much as $5,000 a year on books, old newspapers, journals and maps.
Now it’s rare that I buy an actual book. Last year I think I bought a total of eight books that I couldn’t access in any other way, and about as many old journals that research libraries don’t carry. But I have the internet. There are what may seem like infinite places to find historical resources — The Library of Congress, for example — which are free for anybody who cares to go rummaging through their attics in the clouds. That is not to say that I don’t spend money. I pay for a wide variety things. This is a partial list.
|Service Name||Purpose||Annual Cost (approx)|
|Zotero||reference management database, unlimited storage*||$100|
|Evernote Premium||research notes organization and storage||$96|
|JSTOR||academic publication access||$200|
|Ancestry||includes Newspapers.com and Fold3.com||$400|
*I have to be able to find the articles I use in research once I have them, thus the need for reference management. I have to be able to find my notes about those resources I’ve found, too.
Ancestry is the resource I depend on most often, because it includes full access to newspapers.com. I use the census and other databases accessible through Ancestry every day, but I depend most often on the millions of pages of newspapers that were printed on the exact day in the exact place I’m writing about.
If I need to know what a dozen eggs cost in Boston on January 1, 1872, I can find that. Usually exactly, but sometimes within a day or two.
There are very good maps on Manhattan in the 1880s, but sometimes information on the map itself isn’t enough. I needed to know about a bookstore on Union Square, and I found that info in a newspaper ad.
When historical, real life people wander into something I’m writing, it gets serious.
For example, I have done a lot of research on two people who practiced medicine in Manhattan in the 1880s. Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi and Dr. Abraham Jacobi, a married couple, both well known to historians of medicine. They both appear now and then in The Gilded Hour, and a little more often in Where the Light Enters, and I have done family trees for them both. Mary interests me because she was the first female physician to challenge the idea that a woman must be maternal first, even in her role as a doctor. The newspaper editorial you see here helped me flesh out her character.
You’re wondering why I would need to do genealogical research on the Jacobis, right?
I know from biographies that they had a son who died as a child. The idea that I would have either of them popping into my storyline to participate in a light-hearted meal with friends on or near the day their son died? Nope. Can’t take that chance. Thus the need to research their lives. I blame my training in the social sciences. I just can’t leave that kind of thing to chance.
I often run across incredibly interesting bits and pieces in the newspapers that make a storyline come to life, and sometimes I post them here, or more likely on Facebook. Here’s one I may put to use at some point:
AIMED AT COURT HARPIES.Lawyers ask for an Italian speaking-officer In the Tombs Police Court.Lawyers who practice in the Court of Special Sessions and the Tombs POlice Court are anxious to have a policeman attached to the Court squad who can speak Italian.This, they say, has become necessary from the fact that a great many worthess Italians hang around the courts and make a living preying upon their unsophisticated countrymen, making all sorts of promises to influence their cases for a consideration.John J Delaney recently appointed to the Tombs, has done a good deal towards the abolition of the system but enough of it remains to call for the intervention of the Board. With this object in view a step will be taken within a day or two to lay the matter before the Police Commissioners.
The Evening World, 26 Jun 1890, Thu, Second Edition, Page 1