Saturday, October 20, 2012

Research Your Book on EBay! by Sarah R. Shaber

Sarah R. Shaber is an award-winning mystery author from North Carolina. Her new historical suspense series begins with LOUISE’S WAR. It stars Louise Pearlie, a young widow working for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, during World War II.

Shaber’s Professor Simon Shaw murder mysteries are available as ebooks for Nook and Kindle or as trade paperbacks. She’s also the editor of Tar Heel Dead, a collection of short stories by North Carolina mystery writers.

Sarah is involved in speaking engagements, teaching writing classes, and conferences. 

She lives, writes, cooks, reads, and chills with her husband, Steve, in Raleigh.
Research your book on EBay!
by Sarah R. Shaber

My Louise Pearlie suspense novels are set during World War II in Washington DC.  Writing successful historical fiction means, first, that the tone, language, and setting of these books bring Louise’s life alive for my readers.  Which means that her times have to come alive for me, too.  I’ve found that the best way to do that is to bury myself in material from the period--books, magazines, diaries, even menus and maps, so I can recreate the feel of wartime Washington DC for my readers.

I’ve written about this before, but I suspect few of my fellow writers took me seriously. I’ve discovered that a great way to recreate the past is to cruise EBay for research materials.  I just plug “1943”, “Washington DC 1943”, or “February 1943” into the search engine and see what comes up.   Thanks to EBay I own a perfect copy of an Esso tourist map of DC from the forties, complete with street names and the location of parks, national buildings, hotels (the Mayflower!) and department stores (Woody’s! Saks!).  I can move Louise around her city with complete confidence.  I’ve also found several Sears catalogs, women’s magazines, and popular novels.  Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote some of her mysteries during those wartime years, and I’ve got a copy of “The Yellow Room” that is a great source for language, customs, and clothing.

But, you might ask, isn’t shopping for research materials expensive?  Not when you compare it to the cost of a trip to a library or archive.  Most of what I’ve purchased cost just a few dollars.  A library card for the college library near me costs $160, and I can’t park nearby for more than two hours.  Plus I have never found menus, maps and old women’s magazines at the library! 

Let me share with you just a couple of my recent finds.  First is “Your Share”, a Betty Crocker pamphlet of recipes for housewives coping with rationing.  Where else could you find dishes like “Full O’Boloney”--a bologna casserole, jellied ham loaf, or a war cake made without eggs, flour, and butter, described in such unappetizing detail. 

Then there’s a little magazine I bought called “The Woman,” chock full of articles like “I’m a Housewife on War Plant Hours” and “Pre-Marital Relations Ruin Marriage.”

My favorite is “What! No Husband!  A Bachelor answers 5000 Women.”  This bachelor suggests that “old maids” need to think more about babies and religion and less about themselves to catch his attention!

            You can’t buy this kind of material for your book—oh, yes you can!  And if you do you’ll own it and can refer to it throughout the writing of an entire series!


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Sarah - Hello and Welcome, my friend! I'm a huge fan of eBay, but I'm an idiot - I never would have considered it such a prime source for writing research. You, m'dear, are a genius.

AND - what's this I hear about you being a Local Guest of Honor at the 2015 Bouchercon in Raleigh?! Congratulations!

I am so excited about this guest line-up - Wow!! Y'all - take a look - . Very impressive, huh?!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the terrific tip about research on eBay, Sarah. I imagine the research would be a bit more pricey for items dating from several centuries back, right?

That "Full o' Baloney" dish sounds nasty, doesn't it? But you and Louise baked the War Cake on my blog a few months ago, and that didn't turn out so bad.

Sarah Shaber said...

You are correct, Suzanne--and the cake wasn't half bad! I've not looked for research materials older than WW II on ebay, but who knows what you might find.

lil Gluckstern said...

I read Louise's War and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just put Louise's Gamble on hold. I have found the most interesting things on eBay. Now i want to search for stuff like yours. thank you for a fun post!

Barb Goffman said...

I think some of us old maids and married ladies should get together and bake that delightful-sounding jellied ham loaf and shove it down the throat of that mysognistic bachelor. No need to focus on babies. I'd be so happy after that my smile surely would attract a good husband. You with me, Sarah?

Msmstry said...

Sarah, if you ever need a research assistant, I'm your gal! I've been an e-bay fan for years, finding items for needs as diverse as therapy, costumes, and senior singers.

On the library note, you've probably been searching the wrong library's files. Meredith College has a great collection of women's magazines--and the last time I was there, no charge for parking!

jenny milchman said...

What a different world you inhabit in your books--and what a great way to discover it!

Wendy Dingwall said...

What a super idea, Sarah! Thanks for sharing. You might be interested that one of our High Country authors, Nora Percival, recently turned 96 just published her 3rd memoir and it's about her time as a counselor to women working in the factories during WWII. I found it fascinating and you might get several insights of women during those times from someone who lived through it. Her book is called "The Whirligig of Time."

Can't wait to read one from this series!