Researching a Ghost Town



Writing about a ghost town is not easy! When I started research for my novel, I knew I wanted it to take place as close to Penn Valley as possible. I had lived at Oak Tree Farms for about six months when I was in high school. It was here that the beginnings of No Eye Has Seen began to take root. When I discovered the town of French Corral had been a booming mining town during the period my story took place, I knew it would become the setting for my story.

There is not a whole lot of information available via the internet. Although my story is fiction, I want as many details as possible to be authentic to the time and place of my story. So, I was thrilled to discover that the Doris Foley Library for Historic Research was nestled in my home town of Nevada City, and that it was opened on Saturdays.

This past Saturday, I visited the library for the first time. My intention was to get there the minute they opened the doors at 10am and stay until the afternoon. But, I ended up making the trip a multitasking event, and brought my 17-year-old daughter along for a driving lesson. We didn’t get to the library until about 2pm, but I was able to get copies of several articles and a personal journal by a woman who lived in French Corral as a girl.

From the tid-bits I read, I discovered that some of the residents in French Corral had vineyards. This was an important factor, as my original manuscript has a character owning an apple orchard. This detail is not really relevant to the story plot, but how wonderful I can now change his business to owning a vineyard, knowing this is a historical fact.

I really don’t know how much research other authors do to ensure the details they present in their fiction novels is accurate. As much digging as I have to do to find this information, I doubt many of my readers would know if this detail was accurate or not. But to me, every nugget I can authenticate, brings my story and setting to life. And I think that regardless of whether or not my readers know the details are authentic, they will embrace the story all the more.

Another interesting fact I learned was that it was a regular tradition for the fathers to read aloud Charles Dickens to the children in the evenings. I just love knowing this, and actually plan on building a scene to include this tradition. This invigorates me because my protagonist loved hearing stories from her mother, so her experience in hearing a story from and by someone else will be a milestone for her character. I just love it when my imagination and real life collide to enrich my stories!

I am sure I will discover many more details and interesting facts over the next few months. Though I hope none will cause me to have to make major changes to my story, I am eager to get back to the library to uncover more.

In the meantime, I have three chapters to revise in light of the feedback from my critique group. They gave me the push I needed to re-create my chapter one “hook”. I am actually happy with it for the first time. However, with that in place, the chapters that follow need some major tweaking as far as details in dialogue and making sure I am moving my characters along and not getting them lost in descriptions.

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