With three upcoming books set in the weird and wild American West, I’m going to need to make sure I get things right. Well, sort of right. Steampunk is forever taking twists on actually historical materials and giving them a whole new perspective…sometimes from an airship.
But I digress. As a writer I need to research my topic (which for me is often one of the most fun parts). So today I’d thought I’d share with you a little snippet of my research library on my shelves. Some books are good for giving me images. Some are for details of how and why things happened. Others just give a precious glimpse into the attitudes and social behaviors of the time.
This first group is just a sample of the historical reference materials I’m looking at while researching the American West. Among the titles are The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800’s by Marc McCutcheon, Wild and Wooly An Encyclopedia of the Old West by Denis McLoughlin, A Dictionary of The Old West by Peter Watts, A History of the Southwest The Land and Its People by Thomas E. Sheridan, How Would You Survive in the American West by Jacquelin Morley, Age of the Gunfighter Men and Weapons on the Frontier 1840-1900 by Joseph G. Rosa and The Industrial Revolution by John Watney. My hero, Colt Jackson, is a supernatural hunter/gunfighter. His brothers, Remington and Winchester, are a lawyer and a lawman. You can understand why I’d need to be familiar not only with the history of the location, but particularly with the gunslingers themselves.
The second set of reference books has more to do with accurately describing my settings inside. There’s The Victorian Catalogue of Household Furnishings by Studio Editions with a introduction by Stephen Calloway. There’s Victorian Splendor, Re-creating America’s 19th-Century Interiors by Alison Kyle Leopold. I’ve looked through A Guide to Biltmore Estate (which is a guide book to an absolutely amazing Victorian era estate of the Vanderbilt family in North Carolina and if you ever get the chance you simply must go). And my personal favorite is a reprint of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. Consumers Guide for the Fall of 1900 (which is awesome because it not only gives images, descriptions and details, but prices as well on everything from guns and violins to ladies’ shoes and blister ointment.)
This entry in particular caught my attention in the entertainment supply section. Among the Magic Laterns and Graphophones was an Acetylene Gas system for Stereopticon Illumination. In essence, hey, let me sell you an acetylene torch to light up your picture show! (God, I pity the projectionist who was probably permanently blind after about six hours on the job). The description is classic. A really high class light for the projection of stereopticon pictures. Portable, simple, durable, inexpensive and clean. Produces a brilliant light. Price for the generator: $8.00. Price for the burners (not included): $7.00. Being able to show off picture shows to the neighbors as a sign of ostentatious consumption and being “scientificically-advanced”: priceless.