7 Ways to Check Your Sources

I’m going through previous blog posts looking for materials to share with you. My intent is to flesh out the 7 Elements of Historical fiction, which just happens to be the most popular post on my blog. Having just reread a bit from Your Grandmother is Lying by Leah Klocek it strikes me that not only is this bit relevant to those writing historical fiction, but in this world of fake news and deliberate misinformation, the advice could be helpful to all of us.

Leah asks: Did you take AP history classes in high school? If so, prepare for a flashback when I say this: APPARTS.

APPARTS is an acronym used to help students critically analyze primary and secondary source documents. It breaks down into the following categories and questions, each of which you should be able to answer before you can decide how trustworthy a source is and whether you can, with any integrity, use the information it gives you:

Author: Who created the source? What was his/her background? Did s/he have a vested interest in pushing a specific point of view?

Place and Time: In what time and place was this source produced? What about this time and place may have affected the meaning of the source?

Prior Knowledge: What additional information do you already know that might be relevant in analyzing this source?

Audience: For whom was this source produced? How does the intended audience alter the reliability of the source?

Reason: Why was this source produced at this time and place? What is its purpose?

The Main Idea: What is the central message of this source?

Significance: What makes this source important? What inferences can you make from this document?

What do you think?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

When it comes to research – How much is enough?

This provocative title – for both readers and authors – comes from today’s guest, Katherine Kayne author of debut novel Bound in Flame, described as historical romantic fantasy and set in turn of the century Hawaii. [That’s the turn from 19th to the 20th century.]

Kayne writes: “Old Hawaii was ruled by chiefs and chiefesses called ali‘i. By 1810 the rule of the island chain was consolidated to one man, Kamehameha the Great, later known as King Kamehameha. Once the western notion of a monarchy took hold, Hawaii was ruled by kings, and finally one queen, for eighty years. That is until the islands became caught within the twin coils of international diplomacy and capitalism. In the late 1890s, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of mostly American businessmen, with military backup from the United States. A kingdom was lost.”

When it comes to research – How much is enough? ~~ by Katherine Kayne

Damn. It happened. I’ve been told these things happen to all authors but still… I’ve been told that this is inevitable when you write historical but here I sit…with a note from a reviewer calling me out on a research point. And double damn, they MIGHT be right.

It’s a minor point, mind you. And the reviewer likes the book anyway. But I am still kerfluffled.

My debut book was just up for pre-order, the ARCs had been out for maybe six weeks when the note arrived. “I like your book very much and I will recommend it.” Relief floods me. Because I’ve been told that early on these things are unpredictable. Dicey even. Sometimes early reviews seem overpopulated with nasty-grams. Then I see the final sentence.

“But” followed by an explanation, polite but firm, of a research point I may have missed.

I know this happens. Sometimes the reviewer is right. More often they are off base at least a bit. Or missing a nuance. Authors possess varying levels of grace in how they handle such events. It is now my moment to determine how much grace I possess.

So here I am, new to the author game, at sixes and sevens. What to do? Yes ladies and gentlemen, I have questions. I pray that all of you have some answers.

Question #1 – How much research is enough? I admit that one of the things I love about writing historical is the thrill of the hunt. The rush of the capture of that nugget (the more obscure the better) the neatly knits up your dangling plot twist. I for one have been known to do a happy dance a la Snoopy upon such discovery. Who hasn’t?

But there is a problem with research. The act itself is without a doubt a most pleasurable distraction from actually writing the book. And provides a comfortable dodge when loved ones ask how the book is going. “I’m still doing the research.

So how do you know when to stop?

Question #2 – How much do you document? One thing I have learned is that there is research and then there is RESEARCH. For me the capitalized variety are the ones I document. Up to this point they have been the things upon which the plot turns or that I think might be questioned or that I know I will never find again. But Is that enough?

Here again I find that there is a time and distraction problem. How to document? Note cards or Scrivener? File folders or Evernote? I unfortunately have never met an office supply I did not like. Or an app. So the research for this current book spans multiple media.

And still, even though I am CONVINCED that the point made by this reviewer is invalid, I can’t prove it if I can’t find the damn thing in the book/app/clipping/folder where it is hiding.

What do you document? And where?

Question #3 – Do you even respond to these things? I follow lots of authors I admire on social media. That means over time I have witnessed a variety of responses to reviews. They range from just ignoring the commentary to responding with detailed citations.

Fortunately this comment came to me in a personal note so responding will be easy. But what if it had been in the body of a review? My author friends with multiple books tell me two things. First, never read your reviews (easier said than done). Then never respond to them (hide my keyboard). My friends tell me readers find it creepy if authors respond. That reviewers have their own community and authors should not intrude.

So how do you defend a research point? Or do you just get over yourself and let it go?

Unfortunately, getting over myself is not my strong suit.

Let me just say this. I have learned enough to know that I am grateful for each and every review I get, even negative ones. The last thing I set out to do was write a bland book. Who does? So every time a reader cares enough to take the time to write a review of the book it’s a win.

But still, my researcher’s heart wants to jump in when it comes to the history. What about you? What do you think? I look forward to any comments you might have.

Many thanks, Katherine. I hope many readers and authors who follow this blog will chime in with their thoughts.

Bound in Flame by Katherine Kayne ~~ Letty Lang is a suffragist of the most fearless kind, with a bullwhip, big plans, and ancient power she doesn’t understand. Will a fast horse and a stubborn man derail her dreams?

Banished to boarding school to tame her wild temper, Leticia Lili‘uokalani Lang sails home to Hawaii, bringing her devotion to animals with her. She’ll be among the first female veterinarians in history—most remarkable in 1909 when women still cannot vote.

With one mad leap into the ocean to save a horse, Letty sets another destiny in motion. She is a mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the land, her beloved ‘aina. Letty must fight to harness the ancient power that lives within her, fueled by her connection to the islands. But the price of power is steep. Her inner flame burns hot—hot enough that her kisses can actually kill, a precarious inconvenience since the horse’s owner, Timothy Rowley, lights another kind of fire.

Can Letty learn to master her power to have a chance at life and love? Or is the danger of the flame too great?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

5 Research tips for writers

5-tips-for-researchingKnee deep in research here at my writing corner (and it is a corner – of our bedroom in fact, and this morning an unmade bed stares accusingly at me). But I digress.

A few stacks of books and materials printed from Internet sources litter the desk and dresser and will soon take over the floor with impressive sounding titles such as:

  • Costume: 1066 to the Present by John Peacock
  • Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris by Henry Labouchere
  • Elihu Washburn: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris by Michael Hill
  • Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth Century France by Susan Hiner
  • From place to space: Napoleon III’s transformation of the Bois de Boulogne by Richard S. Hopkins

And so on. But I promised a few tips:

Tip 1: Research is crucial but don’t forget the writing. In many ways research is easier than writing and it gives one an excuse not to get down to the business at hand. “I just need to understand whether the Prussians had any part to play in the Paris Commune before I begin.” That’s the excuse I used a few days ago.

Tip 2: Cast a wide net. If you consider the seven elements involved in writing historical  fiction – setting, characters, dialogue, theme, conflict, plot, and world building – you need to examine many, many aspects of living as part of the writing process.

Tip 3: Sometimes understanding comes later. Often when you are in the midst of writing a scene, you will stumble on the critical piece of information required for your characters in your story. When researching you can’t possibly know what that will be.

Tip 4: Don’t get stuck on one historical event. At the moment, I’m stuck on the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune that followed it. Having written three novels with WWI as a backdrop, I seem partial to war, however, I know there will be much more to the story than those nine months in 1870 and 1871. Move one, woman, move on.

Tip 5: Like a properly cooked stew, it takes time for the ingredients of research to blend into coherence. A year from now, I know I will have almost as deep an understanding of this period in France’s history as I do for the battles and trenches of WWI. Patience is required.

Now, get back to work!

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.