Historical Fiction: A Leap of Faith, A Ton of Research

© 2014 Liz Curtis Higgs8b1033a5-a891-48ab-bc82-00e5b9d0eb5d

When my first historical novel, Thorn in My Heart, was released in 2003, I was known for children’s books (1997: The Pine Tree Parable), funny books (1998:Help! I’m Laughing and I Can’t Get Up), edgy women’s Bible studies (1999: Bad Girls of the Bible) and lighthearted contemporary novels (2000: Bookends). My faithful readers had every right to be skeptical: “What’s Liz Curtis Higgs doing writing serious historical fiction?”

Here’s the answer: I was finally writing in the genre I most loved to read. Few things bring me more joy than exploring different times and places and then imagining how people lived centuries ago.

My love affair with history began in childhood, when my parents took me to Williamsburg and Yorktown, to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, to Boston and Plymouth. I’ve always lived in old houses, including the nineteenth-century Kentucky farmhouse my sweet hubby and I call home. Plus, my writing office is crammed with books on Scottish history—nearly 1,000 at last count! An abiding love for the past is simply in my blood. And a passion for telling stories even more so.

I’ll admit, I take research to a crazy level, inhaling books on every subject: architecture and art, customs and folklore, food and gardening, music and literature. Annual trips to Scotland help, too. (Those frequent flyer miles come in handy!) I tromp about the villages and glens, visit libraries and cemeteries, snap a gazillion photos, ask questions of everyone I meet, and take copious notes in a little digital recorder, making me feel like a spy. Then comes the challenge—and joy—of weaving all that research into my story without making readers feel like they are choking down a history lesson.

I also read novels written and published in my time period. For example, Here Burns My Candle was set in 1745, so I immersed myself in Samuel Richardson’sPamela, originally published in 1740, not only to examine his literary style but also to absorb a 1740s mindset. What did folk think about, worry about? What topics were never broached? How did people express themselves? What words were commonly used? How did men and women interact? How did they spend their days? It’s particularly heartening to see what a huge role faith in God and a knowledge of the Scriptures played in the lives of people three centuries ago.

Historical fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but for those of us who have a passion for it, all that research is time well spent.

Ed. note: To learn more about Liz’s Scottish historical fiction, visit her web site My Scottish Heart or connect with her on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest. To learn more about writing historical fiction, take a virtual tour of her writing study, A Room of Her Own.
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Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of more than 30 books with 4.5 million copies in print, including her nonfiction bestsellers, Bad Girls of the BibleThe Girl’s Still Got It, and The Women of Christmas, and her Scottish historical novels, Here Burns My Candle and Mine Is the Night, a New York Times bestseller. Liz has also presented more than 1,700 inspirational programs in all fifty United States and fourteen foreign countries. 

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