Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Thousand Words

As a writer, what inspires you?

As a writer of historical fiction, what inspires us?

If I could, I would gladly travel back in time to the places and periods I write about: Meiji-era Japan, Great Britain in the age of chivalry, and a passenger ship bringing immigrants to Ellis Island in 1907.

Alas, and alack.

The best I can do is a lot of research. A LOT. For BLOODSISTERS I spent days at the New York Public Library, interviewed two university professors of Japanese history, and downloaded countless photos of castles, weapons and armor. I read books that terrified me and I bought a book on the real history of ninjas.

For THE HOLLOW QUEEN I use these photos as inspiration. Based on my research, White Star Line - most famous for their ill-fated ship the Titanic - was one of the top passenger lines of the era. While the other companies focused on speed, White Star prided itself on the comfort and care of all its passengers - even those not traveling first or second class. As you can see from the photos below, while third class - renamed instead of "steerage" - was not as luxurious and grand as first class, it was still a decent way to travel. The dining room boasted white tablecloths and real napkins, allowing third class passengers to dine with dignity and respect.

The R.M.S. Cedcric, circa 1907: one of the ships I use as the
model for The Hollow Queen.
A 1st Class cabin aboard the Cedric

A 6-bed 3rd class cabin aboard the Cedric

The 1st Class dining room aboard the Cedric

The 3rd class dining room aboard the Cedric

The 3rd class children's playroom aboard the Cedric

The crew of the R.M.S. Cedric, circa 1907

Passengers arriving at Ellis Island, circa 1907

A mother and children arrive at Ellis Island, circa 1907

One major change I made: White Star Line often gave their ships named ending in -ic: Olympic, Cedric, Atlantic, Celtic, and, of course, Titanic. For the sake of my story, though, I named my fictional White Star Line ship The Hollow Queen.

After the first draft I'll be taking a field trip to Ellis Island; thankfully, I live in New York City, so I don't have far to go. In fact, the view of New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty, from my apartment balcony is part of what inspired me to write THE HOLLOW QUEEN.

What inspires you? What art and photos do you look at to help you write? What research do you do for times and places you can't possibly visit in person?


  1. Most of the stuff I write is urban fantasy type stuff, or mostly made up, so to answer this I kind of have to dial it back to the ideas themselves, which come from anything, i.e. I see something, and some part of it strikes me and I start developing that kernal of an idea into something else. So no art and photos, no research, just a lot of making up!

  2. The crazy questions my students ask me are my inspiration! :o)