WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY FOR THIS POST IS JENNY LEO. CONGRATULATIONS, JENNY! YOUR BOOK IS IN THE MAIL!
Tyler Tichelaar, author of Creating a Local Historical Book: Fiction and Non-Fiction Genres, is visiting today with his advice and stories about writing local history. In addition, Tyler has autographed a copy of his book for me to give away, so be sure to leave a comment to enter the drawing.
Welcome, Tyler! You have been very successful and prolific regarding the writing of history for both the fiction and non-fiction genres. I have questions for you about your experiences, so let’s get started.
In researching local history, would you please list your favorite ways to nail down the data for a writing project?
I would suggest you explore and do not overlook all the primary sources available. By primary sources, I mean historical items like newspapers, but also museum collections, city directories, cemetery tombstones, family letters and diaries, oral histories, and of course, the memories of senior citizens in the community. Of course, relying on people’s memories causes issues, but so do many printed sources. Newspapers make errors, and relying on a historical article means you’re really relying on a secondary source. For nailing down anything, you really need to consult and compare as many sources as possible. For example, I would often find two newspaper articles on a historical event such as the first train coming to Marquette, the town I mostly write history about. One article would say it happened in 1855 and the other that it happened in 1856. In this case, if possible, you should find the newspapers from 1855 or 1856 to confirm. If not, look for a third source and look to see what the sources were for the articles that contradict one another. Too often, people assume someone got a fact right when the person got it wrong, and an error from an article written in 1980 gets repeated in an article in 1995 and 2012 as a result, so you always need to check and double-check and question such details, and it’s not just names you need to double-check, but dates, relationships, addresses, and the list goes on.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing non-fiction history?
Not being able to pin down facts and having to use my best guesses or be vague about items, or write my way around them. Sadly, I’ve found lots of details about the period of 1850-1950 in Marquette, but the later twentieth century is not so well documented because it’s not thought of as historical yet. Restaurants and businesses that existed in the 1960s or even 1990s that are gone now, no one thought to document for the future, and as a result, much of that information is lost, especially if the owners or family members have passed away also.
What was your greatest challenge in writing fictional history?
For me, the greatest challenge, at least in terms of writing The Marquette Trilogy, was deciding what to leave out because there was so much rich history to choose from. The other challenge was working the history into the plot and imagining how the characters felt about the events they experienced. I decided that every chapter of my trilogy must fulfill three requirements: 1. To depict something historical about the city or period. 2. To develop the characters. 3. To move the plot forward. If an interesting historical detail could not be worked in to include the second and third requirements, I left it out. For example, there was a 1913 trial at the Marquette County Courthouse in which Theodore Roosevelt was involved. It’s a great story, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that event into the plot, so it is only mentioned in passing. I’m saving it instead to use in more detail in a future novel.
I wish I could tell you the details of that funny moment, but let’s just say it involved some information about family members that no one had ever told me, and had remained a family secret for a reason, but that said, the write-up that I found in the newspaper of the event was hilarious. Of course, anything unexpected that I found in my research was fun, and especially anything I found relative to my family’s involvement in the community and its history. I love finding out new things about my family and the other people they would have known—that makes facts and history become reality for me. It makes me realize who these people were and how their choices influenced me and how their character traits have been passed down in the family and made me who I am. Whether they made mistakes or they acted nobly with courage, it affected not just them but the generations that followed, and to realize I’m a part of that string of influence is fascinating and fun for me.
Did you run into a lot of fees for using historical photos from museums or other archives?
I wouldn’t say “a lot of fees,” but yes, you do need to expect to pay fees. Many of my photos in my book My Marquette came from the Marquette Regional History Center, and I believe I paid them $20 for every photo I used from their collection. And that was only to use them in the book. That did not include using them on marketing pieces, my blog, etc. I also got a lot of photos from Superior View, a local photography company that specializes in historical photos. In one case I was refused a photo by a museum—of the Moss Mansion in Montana—I wanted one because that house was the inspiration for a house in my novels—but because my house was fictional, they didn’t want the museum associated with it. Fortunately, I already had a photo but was seeking a better quality photo, so I used the one I already had. I also took a lot of my own photos of historical buildings. In those cases, I took exterior photos only. You would need written permission to use interior photos. I was refused to be allowed to take photos at the Marquette Branch Prison, also, but again, I had older photos from when their security was not so high, so the lesson here is always to ask permission before you take photos or use historical photos.
Have you ever had a reader come back to you with, “You got that wrong.”?
I’d like to meet the author who hasn’t had this happen. Most of the time, an error is not from lack of research, but just a complete lack of knowledge that such could be the case. That’s why authors need to do a lot of research. Unfortunately, as I said, a lot of Marquette’s more recent history wasn’t documented very well, but often it is in living memory, and so people were bound to point out errors to me. I’m glad to say the errors have been very minimal and I did update them in the second edition of My Marquette and I keep a document of corrections as well as updates to be made if I ever come out with a third edition. That’s another thing an author has to realize—that your history book will quickly be out of date. Since I wrote My Marquette, three years ago, several of the businesses I mentioned have changed hands or gone out of business, so all those items need to be updated in future editions.
What is your fondest memory, so far, of researching and writing history?
I think what fascinated me most, especially in terms of writing about Marquette, was knowing that my ancestors had lived here and knew and interacted with everyone else whose history I explored. I especially found it fascinating to write about the historical homes in Marquette, owned by the very wealthy, and to realize how closely connected were the families who owned them. I spent a great deal of time trying to unravel family trees. Nearly every family that lived on Ridge and Arch Streets in Marquette was related to every other family by blood or marriage. These people believed in keeping the money in the family.
What’s next for you?
I was commissioned last fall by the Marquette Regional History Museum to write a historical play about Will Adams and Norma Ross, who lived in Marquette at the turn of the last century. Adams was “ossified” (a form of paralysis) but he and Norma Ross composed an operetta together, he humming the music and she writing it down. The play is scheduled to be performed at Kaufman Auditorium in Marquette on September 18 and 19 at 7:00 p.m.
I am also branching into writing historical fantasy. I’m currently working on a five volume series, titled The Children of Arthur, which will be set in medieval Europe as well as the modern day and intertwine the legends of many historical and pseudo-historical people such as King Arthur, Melusine, Charlemagne, and Vlad Tepes. Visit my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com for more information and updates. The first volume, Arthur’s Legacy, should be out this summer.
And I’m still toying with that Teddy Roosevelt trial….
Thank you, Donna, for the interview. I especially appreciate being interviewed by another fine historical fiction author like yourself.
Here’s a little about Creating a Local Historical Book:
Does your city or region have a fascinating story that needs to be told before it’s forgotten?
Yes, it does, and you can be the person to write it!
In this short text, Tyler Tichelaar, author of My Marquette and The Marquette Trilogy, talks in a conversational format about how he became interested in writing both local history and regional and historical fiction and his research and writing process to bring his books to fruition.
Find it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Creating-Local-Historical-Book-Non-Fiction/dp/1615991786/
Here’s a little about Tyler Tichelaar:
Tyler R. Tichelaar began writing historical fiction out of a love for his hometown of Marquette, Michigan, and his family history, which spans seven generations there. He spent thousands of hours researching and writing The Marquette Trilogy: Iron Pioneers, The Queen City, and Superior Heritage as well as four other historical novels and his local history book My Marquette: Explore the Queen City of the North. Tyler has a Ph.D. in Literature from Western Michigan University, and Bachelor and Master’s Degrees from Northern Michigan University. He has lectured on writing and literature at Clemson University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of London. He is the current President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association and the co-owner of Superior Book Productions, a full editing, proofreading, book layout, and website design company. Tyler lives in Marquette, Michigan where the roar of Lake Superior, mountains of snow, and sandstone architecture inspire his writing. Visit him at his website www.MarquetteFiction.com and its sister websites.
To enter the book giveaway, please leave a comment that finishes this sentence: My local history story would focus on what happened…