For my first three novels, I used local sources—interviews, books done by community members, newspaper articles given to me—so the only research I did comprised of just general information that can be found on the internet. Pretty easy.
This fourth book has been different. Instead of focusing on a character or characters, it focuses more on the time period and how that time period looked in Iowa in a specific area. I decided I needed to read local newspapers to get details for the novel. Where is the best place for newspaper articles, you ask? Newspapers.com. Except they charge to look at major papers like the Sioux City Journal and the Des Moines Register. And I hate getting subscriptions to those kinds of things. I don’t mind paying some money for their service, but inevitably I end up forgetting to cancel the subscription and I’ve paid for three years, only six months of which I use. (I know you’re thinking that I should be noticing the renewal payments in my checking account, but it’s more complicated than that. And I’m not going into it!)
Then I had an idea! I’ll go through Iowa newspapers at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines. I’ll probably have to pay for copies. What, maybe 10 cents per copy? So I get in my car ( I live in Adel—45 minutes from my destination) and make the drive. I find an open meter right in front of the building, pay the $1.25/ hour on the meter. I figured I’d give myself 3 hours?
No good. The research center is closed because it’s being moved to another part of the building. It will be open in two weeks. I’m in Texas for the next six weeks. I was planning to have research materials to read while basking in the warmth of the Texas sun.
I drive back home (now I’ve spent over an hour in the car on this project, not to mention the very expensive gas and cost of the meter. I still have no research material. Fine, I think to myself—I probably said it out loud—I’ll just suck it up and pay for the newspaper service.
They have two levels (don’t they all?). I don’t see much of a difference between the levels, so I naturally choose the cheaper one. I put in my search words and come up with a ton of articles from Iowa newspapers. As I look down the list, every single one I want needs the more expensive service. I’m not even sure what you get for the cheap service! Okay. I’ll pay for the upgrade.
I’ve got plenty of articles from the major Iowa papers, but this service doesn’t carry the smaller local papers, especially from the towns I need. The service hasn’t loaded the papers going back that far.
My next step is going to involve a drive a few hours away and sitting down at the local newspaper office and going through their back issues. I’m starting to imagine yellowed stacks of old, crumbling copies. I’m not even wasting my time with the historical society since I’m starting to think they won’t have those papers either.
Perhaps I should be writing vampire love stories instead of historical fiction.