The biggest challenge I face as an author of historical fiction is placing my reader in a particular era without sounding like a history book. I enjoy research and it’s not difficult to find the information I need. As far as finding websites, Google is my friend! I can find anything on Google but I do try and find sources other than Wikipedia. I also aim to let my readers experience the sights, sounds and smells of the particular era I’m writing in through my characters.
As well, l’ll search online for books pertinent to my story. I found three great books about Barkerville, all of them with pictures of this gold rush town at its height. It’s always easier to write description when you have an actual scene plus it’s easier to capture the atmosphere of the location. But I have quite a collection of research books, everything from books on Regency manners to castles to Norse mythology. A lot of my reference books are generic ie: Cassin-Scott's The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Costume and Fashion , Williamson's Kings and Queens of England, Litchfield's The Illustrated History of Furniture, and several books on herbs and edible plants.
If all else fails and I can’t confirm a detail or fact, I will approach historians. I find they’re always delighted to help out an author. For Barkerville Beginnings I worked closely with Caroline Zinz, the archivist and librarian for Barkerville Historic Town and it feels like I made a new friend. In those cases, I will include a thank you in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book.
The two reference books I can’t live without are the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition and Brohaugh’s English Through The Ages. The reason these two are so important to me is that I try and use dialogue that reflects the period. Both of these books tell me when a word comes into usage. The other thing I do is use similes that reflect the period. Ie. “Her stomach churned like a twisting eddy on the Fraser River” (from Barkerville Beginnings) or “The words exploded from her as if from a fermenting keg left in the sun too long.” (from the Countess’ Lucky Charm). I also avoid modern terminology throughout the books so again, the two references listed above help me with that.
Finally, the third reference book I can’t live without and which is always within reach of my keyboard is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Human emotion and motivation hasn’t changed. We still feel love, anger, greed, joy, despair, fear. We still face challenges whether it's finding enough money to pay the rent or passing that all important exam. We still want to help those less fortunate, still want to find our one true love, Perhaps some of us even want revenge.
And then I can write about it!