Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Guestpost: Kathy Fischer-Brown

Yesterday I posted a review and giveaway for Lord Esterleigh's Daughter by Kathy Fischer-Brown.  Today I am thrilled to have Kathy join us for a guest post. 

Thank you so much for popping by and talking about your research.

Researching the Historical Novel Then and Now

When I started writing seriously back in the dark age before computers, researching the historical period in which I had chosen to set my books was no easy task. The local library didn’t always have a particular resource on its reference shelves, and if the book was long out of print, it was unavailable at any cost (no Alibris back then). Inter-library loan was the only way to go and even that didn’t always pan out for one reason or another. Travel was not always possible, especially on a limited budget. Writing letters to experts was a practical resource, as were phone calls, but in the days before the breakup of Ma Bell, calls from Indiana to New York were expensive. 

Today, those same resources and more are just a few key strokes away. Many of the books I used to wait weeks for through inter-library loan have been scanned and uploaded to the web on a variety of sites devoted to history and genealogy. In addition, there are hosts of fabulous materials I would never have dreamed of back then. Old maps and documents, in addition to diaries and other first-hand accounts, are all available online.

When I pulled “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy out of mothballs and dusted it off for an overhaul prior to its publication with Books We Love, I found myself tapping in to these resources. With all of the material I was able to find, I scrapped entire portions of the story in favor of rewrites based on information that was not available to me back then.

As a native New Yorker, I was especially fascinated to learn of the changes that made Manhattan what it is today, especially since a portion of the third book in the trilogy is set there. From street names to the layout of the streets themselves, the old town of the mid-eighteenth century can no longer be found. Photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries of long-gone buildings and first-hand descriptions in old books give the 21st century time traveler a glimpse into this world. Paintings and maps also provide hints of what the city looked like back then. 

Street names were especially interesting. During and after the American Revolution, many thoroughfares, such as King, King George, and Queen Streets, were renamed, remapped, and/or rerouted. Today you’ll find in their stead Pine, William, and Pearl Streets. In The Partisan’s Wife, the place where Peter and Anne’s house stood was called Wynne (or Winne) Street between Bayard’s Lane and St. Nicholas Street. These street names are no more. Wynne is now part of Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown, an area that was basically unsettled in the mid-18th century, as was pretty much everything north of Wall Street. It’s hard to picture Greenwich Village as the farmland and rolling hills it was when Anne makes a trek on foot from Wynne Street to what is now Harlem. 

Many streets and avenues in today’s lower New York evolved from long driveways belonging to huge mansions with gardens, orchards, and expansive lawns. For example, the long drive that belonged to the Bayard homestead in the late 1700s was for a time called Bayard’s Lane. It’s now a section of Broome Street on the Lower East Side.

To write historical fiction is to live for a while in that period of time and become comfortable not only with the clothes, attitudes, and customs, but with the physical place as well. It’s my desire to take the reader back in time with me and hope they enjoy the journey.



Faced with an impossible choice, Anne Marlowe is torn between her husband’s love and the hope of her receiving father’s forgiveness. As American forces follow up on their tide-turning victories over the British at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, Peter is drawn deeper into the shady network of espionage that could cost them both their lives.

Is his commitment to “the Cause” stronger than his hard-won love for Anne? Will her sacrifice tear them apart again...this time forever? Or will they find the peace and happiness they both seek in a new beginning?

The Partisan’s Wife follows Anne and Peter through the war torn landscape of Revolutionary War America, from the Battle of Saratoga to British-occupied New York and Philadelphia, and beyond.


Excerpt from The Partisan’s Wife

Whether the shadowy figure had been put off by their subterfuge, Peter could not be certain. From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw him, lurking among the burned out buildings and piles of rubble along Whitehall Street. If not for his large, shiny brass shoe buckles, he might have been any one of the vagrants inhabiting the ‘canvas town’ that encompassed most of the West Ward since the fire. Peter made his way from the slip and up Whitehall toward his carriage. The man did not follow.

Having given orders to Mr. Schoonhoeven to meet him in two hours in front of Moore and Kekr’s shop, Peter continued on foot toward the bowling green. Along the way, melting snow collected in muddy puddles. Packs of wild dogs gathered to drink, only to scatter at the approach of rare coach-and-four or a lumbering wagon hastening to and from the ferry slip. Children danced and splashed to the admonitions of their mothers. Harried passers-by dodged snowballs hurled from behind piles of rubble by churlish lads who vanished into the ruins at the first sight of scarlet coats marching smartly from the garrison at Fort George.

To the drone of pipes and the beat of tabors, the king’s men assembled for maneuvers on the soggy grass of the green. A large crowd had gathered around the iron fence skirting the square—some cheering, some with awe-struck children on their shoulders—while street vendors hawked their wares and fleet-fingered urchins darted among the assembly in search of a promising pocket.

Peter forced a path through the throng. Neither the sounds of the crowd nor the crisp volleys of musket shot would divert his thoughts or stay his progress. He smiled, partly with a sense of accomplishment that the transfer had gone smoothly and that the man in the buckled shoes appeared nowhere to be seen. He also smiled with the anticipation of redressing a wrong. Anne would be happily surprised!


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  1. Thanks again for hosting me today :-)

  2. Hi Kathy, yes the internet has certainly made historical research a lot easier. I really enjoy that part of writing historical romance because as you pointed out, it's like living in that time period. Too, I find research gives me story ideas. :)

    1. Hi Astrid, it's also tons of fun and hard to leave once you've been there a while.

  3. I'm impressed with how much research you've done, Kathy!

    1. Thanks Ann. Research is probably the most fun part of the writing. It stimulates the imagination and opens doors to other places to explore. The hard part is figuring out the best way to use all that fascinating stuff, and--in many cases--what not to use.

  4. No wonder you write such awesome books, doesn't surprise me at all to hear how much work you do on them.

    1. Thanks so much, Jude. I appreciate your confidence in me :-)