Researching Where Demons Dance
Every book you write is a different journey. It’s an adventure with new characters and new plots. The same can be said for the research process, especially when it comes to historical fiction. In 2014 I was living with my sister and my brother-in-law and their two children. I was nineteen, and we lived together in a three-bedroom house.
I hadn’t written a book in over a year and that troubled me - I had been on a writing streak, writing a book every year, and I had been doing it since I was thirteen. It had been so long, and I was afraid my creative pool had run dry. I knew I wanted to write a historical fiction novel, and I wanted to model it after my previous book, Ghosts that Haunt My Steps—a historical fiction murder mystery based around the Great Chicago Fire. So I knew I wanted a murder mystery and I knew I wanted historical fiction but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be about.
You’d think you’d be inspired to write a book right off the bat, using ideas you have for your continuous inspiration, but for me, Where Demons Dance was much different in that it went the other way around. I went looking for the inspiration to write the book, instead of waiting for it to come to me.
I began to research little known events in American history. I knew I wanted to write about something that wasn’t well known and as I was doing this research, I began to talk about it with my sister and her husband. The first thing I looked at was the Donner wagon party but that didn’t quite fit with my plan for the novel. The Donner Party was a group of people who froze to death and had to eat each other to stay alive as best they could but they all died at the end of it. It wasn’t something I really wanted to write about. That was when my brother-in-law told me about the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. As soon as I found out about it—it clicked. The wheels began turning and I wanted to write about it.
So to research this, I began to read everything I could find on the massacre, fiction or nonfiction, whether it was online or in a book. There were many important books such as American Massacre that gave me a ton of insight into what actually happened during that great tragedy. So I read everything I could. For my last book, Ghosts That Haunt My Steps, I had been able to go to Chicago and visit the museums. However, in this instance, I couldn’t go to Utah. At the time I was working at a factory and I didn’t have the money for the trip.
So, instead, I found pictures. There are a lot of pictures of the Mountain Meadows area and I would try to pair them up with the accounts written about the massacre so that I could get an idea of how the massacre took place. The same went with the cities mentioned in the book as well.
It was over a large period of time that I spent researching the massacre, and the process was very gradual. I would get an idea for the book and write it down, and then go back to reading. It went back-and-forth all of the time.
In 2015 I moved out of my sister’s house and began working at an outdoor history museum called Old World Wisconsin which centers around 19th century life. This became a huge asset for me in writing this book. I don’t think I could have done it if I hadn’t worked there. You were required to wear period appropriate clothing. It spanned from 1860 to 1915. So I began to learn about the 1860s, 70s, and later time periods in more detail. So it was such a benefit to learn the history of every-day living, especially the 1870s in particular. Working there, you were assigned to a particular house which was set in a certain time period so you had to dress per that time period and do certain things that were done in that time period. I learned to cook on a wood burning stove, spin wool into yarn, wash wool and prepare it for spinning. I started to learn about flax. I learned how they built their houses, the layouts of their farms, and much more about the different ways that people lived their lives when they had to face the world on their own and live off the land. It was also in Old World Wisconsin where I met a lot of people. There were so many people there that were that were so well versed with 19th century history that I would just ask them questions - for instance - what would a woman wear to a wedding?
We usually picture women in a white wedding gown, but instead they would wear their ‘Sunday best’ which was usually a black gown. Gives you quite a different picture, right?
I worked there for two summers so I was able to learn a lot. And while I was there, I had a little leather notebook. In the down times I would write little scenes for the book.
Every book you research is different. For this book, I was lucky enough to find and meet many people that aided my learning about the time period.
So that’s just a glimpse into the large process that went into the research behind Where Demons Dance.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about what goes on in the researching process (or writing in general), let me know!