Kirby Larson is the author of Hattie Big Sky, winner of the 2007 Newberry Honor, and Dash, which won the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Prize. Kirby is known for her historical fiction. We interviewed her for tips on researching. Here are her thoughts:
HISTORICAL RESEARCH INTERVIEW QUESTIONS1) Have you had to do research for your books?
Yep. Every single one of them! I’ve even done research for the fiction picture books.
2) Which books did you research?
3) What method of research was best for you? Going to the library, reading about the subject, taking a class, traveling to the site, interviews?
Not to sound flip, but the truthful answer is all of the above. When I’m tackling a topic I know very little about, my favorite thing to do is check the children’s book section for titles on the topic. It’s a great way to give myself an introduction, and to identify next books to read (from the bibliography). My goal is always to keep drilling until I uncover primary sources – letters, journals, diaries, old newspapers/magazines, recipes, songs, etc. I especially love interviewing people who are knowledgable about a topic. I also love traveling to the site if at all possible. For example, with Hattie Big Sky, had I not taken a trip to the Vida area, I never would’ve realized that prairie grass is dotted with tiny cacti. That information gave me new insights when I realized many children went shoeless all summer! The one thing on your list that I have not done as part of my research is take a class. But who knows — that might be next!
4) How do you fund your research – i.d. personally, grants, contests?
I have self-funded all of my research.
5) What do you enjoy most about doing your research?
When I was in grade school, I wanted more than anything to be a detective like Encyclopedia Brown. My dream has come true, with one great benefit: no danger! I love finding stories others know little about! And I look at research as trying to understand ordinary people in past times and places; my digging is always to deepen that understanding. I have learned that research can be a form of procrastination, however. Sometimes I keep digging for that one more fact merely to put off starting to write. (I’m working on this vice!)
6) What do you do when the research doesn’t match your story – do you write to the research or write the research bending to the story?
This is such a great question and tricky to answer. I would say that I rarely bend important/significant research to fit a story. But if the detail is relatively minor (at least in my reckoning) I have changed it. One example from Hattie Ever After: President Wilson actually stayed at the Sir Francis Drake, not the Fairmont, when he visited San Francisco. But if I learned something that would make my basic plot implausible, I would generally revise the story to fit the facts. Prior to writing Audacity Jones to the Rescue, I would have said I would always revise the story to fit the facts. This new book, however, is more of a historical romp than historical fiction so I felt quite comfortable tweaking what actually happened. In that book, Audacity helps to rescue President Taft’s niece, Dorothy, who has been kidnapped; though, for a 24-hour period on January 1, 1910, it was thought that Dorothy had been kidnapped, it turned out that she had only missed a train. I allowed myself to take poetic license and write a story as if she had been kidnapped.
7) What do you find challenging about researching your project?
Having sufficient time to dig as deeply and thoroughly as I’d like! The book that’s coming out in the fall, Liberty, is the first time I’ve ever had to hire a research assistant. I simply didn’t have more than a few days to spend in the archives of the city of New Orleans and I needed much more time than that. I found a fabulous researcher who really got what I was looking for and proved to be a tremendous help. I prefer doing my own digging but sometimes it’s not feasible.
Liberty will be released on October 11th, 2016.