Guest blogger: Liz Harris
The research diet
STOP PRESS: A pain-free diet that actually works—The Research Diet
I heard you groan at the word ‘research’. And I, too, have been known to groan when faced with a day of digesting facts. I’d far rather be digesting something that comes on a plate in a café while chatting to friends.
But if you write books set in Wyoming in the 1880s, you’re going to have to do some research, and if you live in the UK, where better to start it than in Wyoming? So, never one to shirk my duty to my readers, I set off for the American West for some hands-on research in a place where men were men – tanned, lean, athletic in build.
Travelling the same Wyoming trails as my characters (albeit by air-conditioned car, not stagecoach), breathing the same air as they’d breathed – yes, it’s been recycled a few times since the 1880s, but that’s a small point—I did the things they did. Well, some of the things at least: making the soap for my shower and the butter for my bread would have been going a weeny bit far, I thought, and I by-passed those.
But when it came to riding a bucking bronco, there I was in leather boots, my lipstick safely in the bag slung over the horn, ready for action. Off we rode, just me and the wrangler, a rugged, good-looking man with deep blue eyes—not that I noticed any of that, of course, I was far too busy studying the beautiful scenery.
My performance on the horse was impressive, though I say it myself. The camera captured one of my few moments of repose on the horse, and to anyone who suggests substituting ‘docile bronco’ for ‘bucking bronco’, I say you are mistaken! Prior to the click of the camera, the horse had been rearing, snorting and steaming. It had been all I could do to keep my seat. And that’s the truth. Ahem.
Between the piles of books I read and my hands-on research, I learned some interesting things about Wyoming.
In 1869, Wyoming Territory (it didn’t become a State till 1890) was first in the US to give the vote to women, and in 1870, it appointed the first female justice of the peace in the US, the first women jurors and the first female court bailiff. In 1924, it was the first US State to elect a female governor.
Wyoming is clearly known as the Equality State with good reason.
BUT I also learned that some were more equal than others in its history.
I discovered that the treatment of the Chinese population in the US in the 1870s and 1880s was shameful, even though the reasons for this are easy to understand. US friends in California, the State in which it all really began, tell me that this period of history doesn’t appear on their school curriculum, which explains why it’s hard to find any reference to it in fiction.
So I’ve remedied that. My third romantic historical novel set in Wyoming, The Lost Girl, is set against this fascinating period of US history.
I see, I hear you say in a somewhat bemused tone of voice. But where does the diet come in?
Aha! Researching your novel, whether on location or at a desk in your house or in the library, is so absolutely brilliant and so utterly absorbing that you’ll completely forget to eat! You see.
Many thanks for allowing me to talk to you—I’ve really enjoyed it.
The Lost Girl
When seven-year-old Joe Walker rescues an orphaned baby girl, he has to fight to get his family to keep her. Charity, as she comes to be called, is Chinese by birth, and in their little mining town that’s hardly going to count in her favour. A decade after finding Charity, the pull of the wide plains grows too strong, and Joe leaves town for a life in the saddle, encouraging Charity to befriend the only other Chinese girl in town, Su Lin. But when he returns, he finds a town rife with racial tension and Charity grown into a beautiful woman.
An ecopy of The Lost Girl will be provided by the author (the paperback is not out in Australia until November). Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will go into the draw to win the ebook. (The giveaway is now closed. The winner is Jen Gilroy.)