Friday, February 24, 2012

Researching the American Old West by Elysa Hendricks

By Elysa Hendricks

When I first started writing there was no Internet or at least it was still in its infancy and I didn't have access to it. Google and Wikipedia didn't exist. There really weren't many people using email and Zuckerberg was barely out of diapers. So if I wanted to know about southwest Texas, what its landscape, climate, flora and fauna were I basically had three options: visit the area myself, talk to people who lived or had lived there, or spend a lot of time in the library reading books about the area. Oh, I also watched old western movies, but since many of those movies were actually filmed in Italy (hence the term Spaghetti Westerns) rather than in the American southwest, there was some question about their accuracy. 

Today I can talk with people all over the world via email and Facebook, getting information almost immediately. (Still haven't figured out how to use Twitter.) And when I need to know something about what a location looks like I jump on and take a quick tour. When I was researching my humorous women's fiction book GRANNIES AND TRANNIES:VEGAS OR BUST, I spent the day going up and down the Vegas Strip via Google's street view. I ended feeling like I'd actually walked the whole way, even though I never left the comfort of home and my feet didn't hurt.

Now there's Google Earth which even has a Historical Imagery site where you can take a peek back in time. Think of the possibilities. Now I just have to learn how to use it. Despite my ability to surf the web (does anyone still say that?) I'm pretty much a techno-idiot. I've signed up at two blog sites, but can't figure out how to create my own blog. But I digress.

Where before I spent hours and hours in the library pouring through research books for historical details about stagecoach and railroad schedules, wardrobes, towns, and people, and hundreds of dollars on books, now I spend even more hours on my computer searching through hundreds of web sites on every possible subject concerning history, only I can do it from the comfort of my chair at any hour I please. Having access to the Internet is great when insomnia strikes.

That's not to say I've given up my hours in the library or the research books I've collected through the years. I still love browsing through dusty tomes and unearthing unpolished gems of information. My western historical romances THIS HEART FOR HIRE and HER WILD TEXAS HEART were inspired by my reading of Lucia Robson St Claire's RIDE THE WIND, Larry McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE and T.R. Fehrenbach's COMANCHES: A Destruction of a People. I wanted to re-create the world as it was during that period of history while still giving the reader a satisfying happy ending for the characters they'd come to care about.

One thing I've learned is wherever I'm getting my historical facts I always try to verify them, to find more than one source, especially if the source is the Internet. Sometimes information on the Internet is like the game of Telephone we used to play as kids. I tell someone something then they tell it to the next person and the next and so on until at the end what I said bears no resemblance to what the last person hears. Find at least two or more sources that say the same thing. Sometimes there's a question about 'historical' facts where even the experts disagree. History has a way of blurring the lines between fact and myth. If every source says something different then choose the one that based on your knowledge of the time period seems the most reasonable and/or fits with your story.

That's not to say that you can't play around with some historical details to accommodate the needs of your book. Just remember that if you do so you risk pulling your reader out of the story. And if you do choose to 'adjust' history to fit your story be sure and let the reader know. I love books that include author notes about the 'real' history and the how and why the author adjusted her version.

A convent reared innocent and a gunslinger with no memory struggle to survive and find love while crossing the dangerous west Texas frontier.

Abandoned by his father and betrayed by his half-brother and fiancee on the eve of his wedding, JAKE GALLAGHER no longer believes in love. Though he longs to go home, his undercover work for the Texas Rangers keeps him in a lawless Texas border town. Even though it jeopardizes his mission he refuses to stand by and watch outlaws rape and murder a young woman. Getting shot and losing his memory wasn’t part of his plan.

While fleeing from her stepfather’s plans to steal their ranch, CHRISTINA GOODWIN witnesses her brother’s murder and is left in the hands of a merciless band of outlaws. Raised in a strict convent, Christina has little knowledge of men or the world, its dangers and temptations. Frightened and alone, she is forced to accept the help of the dark gunslinger who rescues her. Though drawn to Jake’s potent masculinity, she hesitates to trust him, fearing her stepfather has sent him to bring her back. Unsure of Jake’s motives for helping her, she struggles against him, determined to find a way to avenge her brother’s death and regain control of her ranch from her stepfather.

In a lawless west Texas border town, a woman has two choices: death or dishonor. Doctor's apprentice and former Comanche slave, KC O'Connor finds a third--she buries her femininity and longing for love beneath a boyish disguise. But the arrival of an injured greenhorn shatters the shell around her hidden heart.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog!


  1. Hi Wendy,

    Waving wildly! Thanks so much for having me to visit on your blog.

  2. Hi Elysa,

    I haven't read the new series yet, but you know I love your westerns. Can't wait to begin.

  3. Hi Dyanne,
    I know, I know, you're still waiting for Red Buffalo's story. :-)

  4. Elysa! I'm so glad to have you on my blog. Today has been great and I hope you'll join me again sometime.

    Wendy Ely