Chasing Leads

If you’re a writer then you know that a large portion of our work consists of research. That is especially true of historical writers, but none are exempt. Did you ever run across something in a fiction book that was so wrong you groaned. If only that author had taken the time to look it up and get it right, we would trust her more for the rest of her “facts.” For even fiction contains facts. Gone are the days when we can invent everything. Even fantasy must be based on certain facts.

In my writing, I can look up nearly everything and find out about it, but when it comes to writing something everyone will want to read, I want to see what it is I’m talking about. And so, that’s how my daughter and I came to be journeying through the rain Friday in search of a couple of locales I wanted to include in my latest book, The Boston Mountains: Lost In The Ozarks.
We went to Hazel Valley, though I’d been there a long time ago, just to make sure not much had changed, then we headed out for a place called Combs Chapel, where Nathan Combs brought his family from Kentucky in 1860 or thereabouts. We had directions from two different sources, but the outskirts of Fayetteville had usurped what we knew to be a cemetery, the only visible remains of the small community.
With thunder in the distance and rain threatening, we drove slowly, and spotted a large, very old brick house back in the trees. As soon as I could turn around, we went back and drove into the driveway. My idea was to take a picture of the house, but when the lady came out and greeted us we found much more than we expected.
She and her husband were descendants of the Combs party that came into Arkansas, and they owned the house. It is the original home of Nathan Combs. Built of bricks made on site, the house is today on the National List of Historical Places, and the young couple are putting it back together while living in it. We had a delightful conversation, then she gave us explicit directions to the cemetery. We were able to drive right to it.
The old iron arch that led to the cemetery was overgrown almost to the point of being unreadable and we could barely squeeze our SUV between the rock gate posts and onto the old burial grounds. My daughter hopped out with the camera and while I strolled among some of the nearby stones, she began to circle the grounds in search of the old pioneer burials. After making two complete circles, she discovered the stones, completely overgrown by trees, not 20 feet from where we’d parked.
Now that I’ve been there, I can better write about this community church and school and the Combs family who settled there so long ago.
If you can at all, make personal visits to all the places you write about, but if you can’t, be sure you study writings by people who have been there and find pictures and diaries, journals or whatever you can telling about these places. Your reader will know when you make mistakes and the next time, they may hesitate before reading one of your books. That said, I have to also say that mistakes are inevitable. None of us are perfect, and sometimes we get something wrong. Don’t let it eat you up, make up for it the best way you can and go on. It’s especially easy to get something in history wrong because of all the different reports on events. Search and search some more, then do the best you can.
Even as she took the photos, rain began to fall. We left the hidden cemetery behind and drove away, satisfied with our visit into the past.
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About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
This entry was posted in Boston Mountains, cemeteries, Combs Chapel, Fayetteville, Nathan Combs, Ozarks, Velda Brotherton. Bookmark the permalink.

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