Did you know the sandwich was introduced to Americans in 1840? I had to look up that piece of information recently for the middle grade novel I’m writing. It is set in 1905. Characters in my fourth chapter had plans to buy sandwiches to take along on a trip. Would that have been possible in 1905? When were sandwiches first sold in the United States?
I haven’t written historical fiction before and one of the things I’m enjoying about the process is researching all kinds of topics in order to make my narrative authentic. The character in my story is making a train trip across the mid-west and so I’ve had to find out where rail lines ran at the turn of the century and what cities would have been stops along the way.
In chapter 3 a trio of brothers in my novel go for a walk in the city of Omaha so I had to consult old maps to figure out what streets they would have walked along and what kinds of buildings would have been on those streets. One brother rides a roller coaster. Would it have been made of metal or wood? Looking that up I found out roller coasters had names and the one in an amusement park in Omaha was called The Big Dipper. I added that fact to my story.
At one point I wanted my protagonist to shout out an exclamation in surprise. I thought I’d have him say, “Holy cow.” But wait a minute did people say holy cow in 1905? After a little research I found out they might have, but the phrase only began to gain popularity in 1900. Probably safer to go with “Lands Sake!” an exclamation more commonly accepted in the area where my character grew up in the 1900s and one that could be found in regional newspapers there as early as 1845.
I’ve had to research so many things. What does a copper head snake’s body look like? Do gophers eat berries? What kind of nuts would you find on the ground in the mid west in the month of October? What medical information was available about the disease of epilepsy in the early 1900s and how did people react to those afflicted with it?