Writer’s Block can be real. When writing mysteries, I have the plot lined out before I begin writing and this eliminates most of that malady for me. Still, I sometimes get stumped on how to get the storyline from point “A” to point “B” while I am writing. I take a break. I then can usually bulldoze my way through a draft of some sort and work out the kinks after I have arrived at point “B.” Sometimes this takes more than one or two tries.
When working on the Conor Armenta mysteries, I am often inspired by news paper articles from Las Vegas in the 1930s, the time and place that the stories take place. Much of the plot in Shifting Sand (book 2) came from 1930 Las Vegas Evening Review newspapers that I researched while writing The First Light of Dawn the previous year.
Another unique inspiration came to me while taking a shower. After completing Shifting Sand, I naturally had a great feeling of accomplishment, but no idea where to begin book 3. While taking a shower the next morning, a recent news headline came to mind and within a few minutes I began mulling over how I could fit a similar set of circumstances to take place in the 1930s. By the time I finished my shower I had the entire book outlined in my head. When I got to my desk, I started researching some critical technology needed to make the plot plausible for the era. It so happened that everything could fit together and I had the plot for book 3 outlined less than 24 hours after completing book 2.
I sincerely hope so. My writing career was born in historic non-fiction. A quick glance at my first two books will reveal a large number of footnotes and extensive bibliographies. I am a bit obsessive when it comes to details and accuracy.
Fiction gives the author free rein on the story, but I continually verify that words or phrases in my books were used in the time the story took place. I often check lunar charts to see what phase the moon would have been in and when it rose and set for a midnight ride. What time did the sun rise in April 1930 when Brice Campbell’s body was found in The First Light of Dawn?
When an adolescent Conor Armenta received a used Winchester Model 94 rifle as a gift in 1907, how generous was this gift? A local hardware store ran brand new ones on sale in the newspaper two weeks earlier for ninety-nine dollars. Even a used one would have been very expensive at the time.
Sometimes it is quite difficult. I try to categorize sources as a one, two, or three. A one would be very reliable. This might be a diary or journal, hand-written beside an evening campfire after a log day on the trail. If that person who was barely educated enough to scribble notes with a blunt pencil, phonetically, and without punctuation took the time to write it down in near darkness, they must have thought it was worthy of recording and would not take the time to embellish the event. It’s probably a one, or at least a two. If they were repeating a story heard from someone else? Maybe not so noteworthy. Probably a three. Maybe a two if you’re lucky.
Newspapers have always been in the business of selling more papers. The more interesting the story, the more papers they sell. Most are twos, some are threes, and on rare occasions, they are ones. Many historic newspapers have developed reputations with historians. You might be able to evaluate opinions of your peers in some cases. Mostly you develop a feeling for truth or tall tales. If your only source falls into the threes category, you may be forced to try to pick the right pieces of the document, tell the story as accurately as possible, cite your source and report it as “probable” or “likely.” I once had an event that had three or perhaps four sources. None of them agreed entirely. I wrote each story and cited the sources. Then I created a plausible amalgamation of the stories and told my readers that it was probably close to what actually happened and why.
I can only speak for myself. I do not. For one thing, I would have had to live a very, very long time to have experienced all of the eras of history I find fascinating. Secondly, I would have needed to be a whole lot tougher than I am. I answered a similar question that way in a QA period at a speaking engagement. I told the audience that I just plain was not tough enough to have lived in the time and place I had discussed. The person who asked was a rather large burly fellow. He responded, “You would have been tough enough if you lived back then.” I countered, “Or dead.” He nodded his head and returned to his seat. He may have been right; I might have been tough enough. I find it much more enjoyable sit reading a book about it in front of my fireplace on a cold winter evening and glancing intermittently at the snow falling beneath the streetlight on the corner.