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Shelly Greenhalgh-Davis

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Researching Eagle Rising
by Shelly Greenhalgh-Davis   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, February 12, 2010
Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010

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A description of some of the detailed research that goes into writing a historical novel.

One of the tasks I enjoy the most about writing my historical fiction books is the research involved in crafting a believable story.  It is those little details that create a sense of time and place, and though they may sometimes be little noticed by the reader, they are largely responsible for the feeling the reader experiences of being immersed in another era.  And as a bonus to myself, I get to learn all kinds of interesting facts and stories, often running across nuggets I wasn’t looking for but which make it into the book anyway.

For instance, although it is established early in Eagle Rising that the town of Timber Fork has a doctor, you will notice that there is no mention of summoning a doctor to attend a childbirth.  For medical matters, I relied heavily on a book entitled Bleed, Blister, and Purge:  A History of Medicine on the American Frontier by Dr. Volney Steele.  It states that a normal childbirth was not considered to be part of the medical realm, and in fact, was regarded as a waste of a busy doctor’s time.  Not a well-known fact and certainly not something for which I set out to search.

Old West-era guns was a subject that took up a lot of research time and held some fascination for me.  I spent probably more time than necessary watching a moving animation on the internet of a Gatling gun to determine how it could be disabled quickly.

In Eagle Rising, the main character, Nate Hunter, spends much of his time amongst the Cheyenne people where undoubtedly all of the dialogue would have been spoken in the Cheyenne dialect.  Obviously that wouldn’t work in print, but I did like to include a few words here and there in the Cheyenne language.  Don’t even try to pronounce them unless you know the language!  Phonetically they sound nothing like the written words.  They appear in the book solely for effect.  Meanwhile, the English words in those scenes may sound slightly unnatural for dialogue.  My intention was to convey how the words may have translated into English.  I avoided the use of too many contractions and leaned toward a simpler vocabulary.  The unusual method I used to help me was to imagine the English words appearing as subtitles at the bottom of a movie screen!  If I could see the print as subtitles in my mind’s eye and it matched the feel of the scene, I put it into the book.

My own fascination with astronomy shows up a couple of times in Eagle Rising.  A simple planisphere was a tremendous help and sometimes a distraction for me as I held it above my head till my neck hurt trying to imagine the sky as Nate and Tara saw it before towns lit by artificial light came to the frontier.

Late in the book you will very briefly meet the character of Sergeant Travis Van Deen.  He shows up as an ‘orderly of the day’ at Fort Mason.  In my reading about military life on the frontier, I learned that this was a very coveted position that the soldiers vied for each day because it was easy and got them out of doing any serious hard work.  They were often chosen based on how well they were turned out in uniform.  A true story is told of two soldiers between whom the commander could not decide for orderly of the day.  Both were dressed immaculately and according to the rule book.  Finally the commander had them lift the bottoms of their pants to reveal their socks.  One man’s socks did not match, thus he lost the job to the other one. 

Pay attention to Sergeant Van Deen in Eagle Rising.  I am setting him up to be a major character in the next book.  He even has a secret, to which I alluded in Eagle Rising, although it is so subtle I am certain that no one will get it!

Finally, I am most excited to share with you that in Eagle Rising, you will be a rare witness to an authentic Cheyenne sweat lodge ceremony.  This scene probably required more research time and thought than any other, for not only did I need to capture the emotional intensity of the ancient ceremony, but for the first time in either of the Eagle Shadow books, I had to get in touch with Nate Hunter’s true religious feelings.  It took some time for those feelings to manifest themselves to me, but when they did, the scene flowed smoothly and easily.

It is my hope that I can convey to you, the reader, the power of this story as I felt it while researching and writing it.

Web Site: Shelly Greenhalgh-Davis

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