More than half of “history” is “story.” If you’re a writer of fiction who incorporates history into your story, you better get the parts you make up right.

No one is likely to shoot you if you have Washington crossing the Ohio instead of the Delaware. But you better believe some astute reader will inform you of your error. And, worse, they probably won’t buy another of your novels.

Knowing your facts is important. How you introduce them into the story is equally important. You don’t want a laundry list of facts. Description needs to be blended in as a bridge and not a barrier between dialogue and action.

The majority of my books have been set in places I’m familiar with and I’m also fortunate as librarian of my county historical society to have access to period newspapers, diaries and other documents related to the periods I write about. Don’t neglect research. It requires time and dedication, but can be fun—as well as distracting. Though that’s another story.

My latest novel, Something So Divine, was inspired by an actual murder, though imagination led me far from the facts of that case. Employing “what if” often creates  wholly new and surprising outlooks on the most mundane of facts.

When a young girl is found murdered in a Pennsylvania rye field in the autumn of 1897, Ned Gebhardt, a feeble-minded youth known to have stalked the victim, is the prime suspect. Incidents involving another girl and gossip stir emotions to a frenzy, nearly leading to a lynching.
Evidence against Ned is circumstantial and there are other suspects. Influenced by the opinions of Ned’s stepsister and Ellen, a woman who has perked his interest, Simon Roth, the investigator, is inclined to give Ned benefit of the doubt. Then he discovers damaging evidence.
Still unwilling to view Ned as a cold-blooded killer, Roth puts his job and reputation in jeopardy as he seeks to assure a fair trial for the accused.

J. R. Lindermuth is the author of 15 novels, including six in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series set in a fictional rural community near Harrisburg PA. A retired newspaper editor/writer, he is now librarian of his county's historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He has published stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and on line. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is currently vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Additional information on his books and writing is available at


jrlindermuth said…
Thanks for providing me this opportunity, Marilyn.
The new book sounds intriguing, JR! I love doing historical research for my short stories and books. I actually spent a year looking through old newspapers, almanacs and maps before I wrote my first novel. It's easy to get carried away with it if you aren't careful. :-)

bobbi c.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks, Bobbi. As I mentioned, research can be fun AND distracting.
Hi, John,

I very much enjoy doing historical research for my writing as well. Congrats on the new novel, it sounds like a winner! Wishing you many sales.
Earl Staggs said…

Good points, John, and I agree with you about historical facts and research. I'm now doing more research than ever for my historical mystery series on Kevin Tipple's blog site, and I'm enjoying it. Keep up the good work, my friend.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks Jacqui and Earl. As always, appreciate the support.
Virgilio said…
I use quite a bit of natural and human history in my Rural Cop Series set in southeastern Arizona. I take great pains to make sure the history, which is often related by my Apache Policeman or by amateur historian Deputy Sanchez is accurate. I also strive when writing fiction related to the history to make it consistent with the period and with actual history. My first book The Wham Curse was built around the lost gold from the 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster near Ft. Thomas, Arizona. Two of my reader reviews took a star off because "I should have used more of the actual history, and less fiction." Wait, this is a fictin story... Most people get that, but we historians can be pretty pedantic. Very interesting post!
jrlindermuth said…
Being consistent with the time period is definitely important. Your reader wanting more history gave me a chuckle. I guess you can't please all the readers all the time. Thanks for commenting, Virgilio.
Dac said…
I write Westerns. If you do that, you'd better get the guns and the horses down pat!
You are welcome on my blog anytime, John.
Holli Castillo said…
I find that even when I am writing about things I knew intimately, like my city and criminal law, I am still always double checking my facts and researching. When I wrote Gumbo Justice, which revolves around murders in a housing project, I drove to the project with my best friend and we took pictures and noted the street names and where they intersected each other and the main streets so that my info would be correct. It was a little scary because murders happened there all the time back then. Our city tore down most of our projects and made them into mixed income housing, although this particular project was torn down to make room for a Wal Mart that is now thriving, so I incorporated that into the novel. Even though most people wouldn't have known if I got street names wrong, and they definitely couldn't check on the accuracy now in person, I felt it was a respect thing to the people who lived there just as much as an accuracy issue. I feel the same with history--even if no one who reads your book knows your info is wrong, it kind of shows a lack of respect for the players involved not to portray the events accurately.
Marja said…
Excellent post, John. I've done a few books with history included in the story, and I've enjoyed every moment of the research. And you're right. If you make a mistake or fudge and make up an historical fact, a reader will definitely bring it to your attention.
Marja McGraw
jrlindermuth said…
That's what I'd call dedicated research, Holli. And I like the idea of respecting people for accuracy. Thanks for your comment.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks, Marja. You're right, readers do notice when you make a mistake.

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