Digging through the Footnotes of History

By Regina Jennings

At the library’s used book sale, I always head to the folding table covered with history books. I’m amazed by what my neighbors have had in their collections. A full-color, hard-backed encyclopedia of the Soviet Navy? A book on the history of boxing? An illustrated guide to historical cosmetics? I never know what I’ll find, but it’s guaranteed that I’ll leave with a paper sack full of resources.

When trying to think of ideas for my historical romances, it’s tempting to steer away from the old favorites. Some events in history have been so thoroughly probed and prodded, that it’d be difficult to come up with a new angle. Besides, as a writer who uses humor in her works, a lot of historical events don’t fit. A light-hearted romance about the Titantic? The Alamo? Nope. Not gonna happen. But I shouldn’t turn down books about those events too quickly. Often in studying the well-known stories, we find stray tidbits that can be quite valuable.

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Camels being loaded for the trip to America. (National Archives)

When I picked up the book titled Orphans Preferred, I didn’t have any plans to write a romance about the Pony Express. After all, no woman of the times would set out to marry one of the poor, hard-working, ultimately dispensable riders, but my reading proved beneficial. Somewhere in the discussion of the mail delivery methods that were tried before the Pony Express was organized, there was a paragraph that taught me something new. Before the Civil War, the U. S. army attempted to replace their cavalry horses with camels in the southwest desert.

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(US Camel Corps) – “A member of the legendary southwestern ‘Camel Corps’ stands at ease at the Drum Barracks military facility, near California’s San Pedro harbor.”

Wait, what? Here was some interesting fodder for a story, but the book was about the pony express, not the camel express, so nothing more was told. Rushing to my online resources, I began combing through articles and books on the U. S. Camel Corps stationed near San Antonio. After chasing down leads, and following footnotes, I found the material I needed for a fresh story that will be new to fans of the Old West. That story will be coming out next winter in a collection with Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, and Melissa Jagears.

You can never predict where you’ll find that one spark that’ll light up a whole manuscript. Sometimes you already know the event, but you are searching for the right angle to tie the story together.

That’s what happened with my new release For the Record. The Ozark Mountain Romance series is set in…(drumroll)…the Ozarks, and we’d worked our way up into the Bald Knobber era. Now for those of you who haven’t been to Branson, the Bald Knobbers were a gang of vigilantes that tried to impose justice during a time of lawlessness in the mountains. Unfortunately, the masked gang soon turned their justice into revenge and they became the feared and hunted ones.

Sounds like a fun, light-hearted romance, right?

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The Bald Knobber Gang from the 1919 movie “Shepherd of the Hills”.

So, where was the spark that could move this story away from the inherently dark history? Once again, it was just a line, perhaps an afterthought that the author decided to insert at the last moment. According to the source, because the local law enforcement officers found impartiality difficult in polarizing, post-war Missouri, Governor Marmaduke hired out-of-state sheriffs and deputies to come impose order.

Bingo! I had a handsome, young deputy from Texas from a previous book that just happened to be hero material. A “foreigner” from Texas sent in to straighten out blood feuds, how could that go wrong? There was plenty of conflict, room for misunderstandings and the perfect foil for my dear little heroine who was already convinced that she’d never meet the right man in Pine Gap, Missouri.

All from that one little mention in a Bald Knobbers book.

If writing has taught me anything, it’s to look for the stray, little-known facts that show up in well-researched history books. What someone dropped in as an aside can be the foundation for another story, because meandering down the road less traveled can lead you to the story yet to be told.

~~~~

 

 

Regina Jennings graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a history minor, and has been reading historicals ever since. Regina has worked at the Mustang News along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She makes her home outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and four children.

Her latest release is For the Record. She loves to hear from readers at her website – http://www.reginajennings.com and on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

For the Record

Betsy Huckabee might be a small-town girl, but she has big-city dreams. Writing for her uncle’s newspaper will never lead to independence, and the bigger newspapers don’t seem interested in the Hart County news. Trying a new approach, Betsy pens a romanticized serial for the ladies’ pages, and the new deputy provides the perfect inspiration for her submissions. She’d be horrified if he read her breathless descriptions of him, but these articles are for a newspaper far away. No one in Pine Gap will ever know.
Deputy Joel Puckett didn’t want to leave Texas, but this job in tiny Pine Gap is his only shot at keeping his badge. With masked marauders riding every night, his skills and patience are tested, but even more challenging is the sassy journalist lady chasing him.

 

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30 Comments

  1. Blessed be the non-reader that boxes up old books they will never want or read to donate or just dispose because they are a trash to treasure find in the hands of the right person. In this case namely you, Regina. I bet you have even more good tidbits awaiting you in those piles of books for a lot more of your future MS or WIP, manuscripts or works on progress to those that may not know those terms. Good luck scouting out more good finds in this next year as many will bundle up even more old stuff in this next month or two when they clean up and out for the holidays making more room for new things while the piles of old things including books and journals go to the junkyard, charity, Goodwill and other places. Thanks for letting us in on a few things coming up Regina and actually I did know they imported camels at least once but forgot the specifics of it. As forloving a Pony Express rider well that was basically for smaller young teens and probably orphans true. I know they are still talked about today because they all carried a Bible with them and that is what gets talked about on a few tv shows, remaining Bibles found today and a few other references. Thanks again Regina for the quick history lesson and like you I find history fascinating and informational with the little tidbit references here and there as well. Keep those facts coming and have a good weekend ahead.

    1. Elaine, yes, I love those dusty old boxes that come in filled with books. Sometimes there are receipts, dead crickets, live spiders in there, too, but it’s still worth a look!

  2. When I was growing up I hated history, largely because of memorization of dates, but as I grew older I embraced a passion for history. I love reading historical. I find that I always learn something new when reading a historical as the writer usually tucks in a lot of tidbits regarding the time period they are writing about and I usually check it out on line to learn more about it. So when I read a historical book I usually receive a lesson in history right along with it.

    May you be blessed today.

    Cindy W.

    1. I agree, Cindy. Even if the books were fictional, you still learn a lot about the times! Thanks for the blessings! 🙂

  3. Wow, what a terrific post! I love learning new tidbits of history that usually has the effect of sending me off on more research and more reading. (I majored in English too but it was a close call for it to be history instead which I have continued to read since school days.) I hope you don’t mind that I say I thoroughly enjoyed your writing style and sense of humor. I’m sad to say, though, that I haven’t read your books (where on earth have I been??) but your post will definitely make me fix that omission toute suite.

    Would you mind if I ask you a couple of questions–but only if you have the time?

    Is the “Orphans Preferred” book you mentioned by Jim Miller, Michael Newman or Christopher Corbett? Those are the three I found on Amazon. I see that Wikipedia based its article mostly on books by Glenn Bradley, Raymond and Mary Settle, as well as Christopher Corbett. As you can probably tell, you’ve sent me off in that direction too. 🙂 Thank you.

    Do you have any plans for a book set in Oklahoma since you’re from there? My mom and her family were from there since right after the war, and I find myself always drawn to Oklahoma settings.

    Thank you again for your wonderful post.

    1. Eliza,

      You had me at tout suite!

      The “Orphans Preferred” book is the one by Christopher Corbett. I apologize for introducing new topics for you to research. I feel that way every time someone tries to get me to try a new dessert. Just what I need, another irrepressible vice.

      And yes, my next series is going to be set in Oklahoma in the 1880s. They are set at Fort Reno which is about 20 miles from me and was at that time at the edge of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nation. I’m doing rewrites of the first one right now, and it’s going to be a hoot!

      Thanks for asking!

  4. I just love reading these posts. Always something new to learn. Thanks

  5. Great post. Library sales often offer up gems. Like an out of print book I can’t find anywhere else.

  6. Historicals have always been my favorite. In school I always wanted to know the back story, about the people and not just dry facts. That’s one of the great things about this genre, you learn so much and it’s all wrapped up in a wonderful story. Authors minds are a wonderful thing!!!

  7. I love history and book sales! I especially love history of my state, Oklahoma. I’ve lived here all my life and love it.

    1. Then you’re going to be excited about the next series! It’s set at Fort Reno. I’ve had a blast researching close to home.

  8. A fascinating post. History interests me greatly. Learning history is so important and interesting. Thanks for your great feature and giveaway.

  9. History is captivating and fascinating. I read historicals since they give me background and are real. book sales have always interested me.

  10. Your post today was wonderful since historicals are my favorite. They transport me to another era and place and from them I learn so much. History gives me so much to think about and is meaningful.

  11. I love researching, though I often get caught going down rabbit trails. Granted, those rabbit trails are generally where the most interesting bits of history can be found . . .

  12. Love learning history I didn’t know about.

  13. Thank you for the giveaway!

  14. Looking forward to reading this book.

  15. I love scoping out library book sales and finding great new things! By the way, we have something in common. I also have a degree in English with a history minor.???

    1. Honestly, there wasn’t a class in my degree program that I didn’t look forward to. Literature and history… how could you go wrong?

  16. Thank you for the post. Enjoyed reading it.
    Hope to read your new book soon.

  17. I really want to read this now!!!

  18. A Camel Corp in America? I hadn’t heard of that … that would be interesting to read about. For the Record sounds like a fun read.

  19. Regina – What a awesome author. I enjoyed your blog & learning more about the history years ago. I too love history, my best subject in school; I couldn’t get enough of the old west, the Native Americans, the first settlers, the Roman empire and many more.
    I too have many, many books I plan to get around to reading in my book collections….I love to pass my books on for others to enjoy. So many books so little time…..
    I would love to win a copy of your book. Thanks for the chance.

  20. Great, great post! Thank you for sharing! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  21. Uh oh! Someone’s face will be so red when her article is read by the object. Im excited to find out just how he stumbles upon it.

    1. There are some scenes you just can’t wait to write. That was one of them.

  22. Great post and yes I have always loved history. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  23. I bet you are still going to be finding neat tidbits here and there and scenes will just be flying through your head so fast you can’t wait to jot down notes Regina!

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