Louisiana research trip: the bibliography

People who’ve been reading this blog for years will know the score. Way, WAY back in 2009 (that’s, like, two generations ago in blog years), I started the first draft of my Civil War-era novel set down in Louisiana. And even though the story itself isn’t true, there were so many historical facts and regional details I didn’t want to mess up that I took some time out to do some research, and I got so involved in it that I wrote a whole series of blog posts on how to research for fiction.

But then I knocked out the draft and I set aside the research. Hurray for me!

Except that wasn’t nearly the end of things. Because I knew all along that when I finished that first draft, I would still need to do two things: one, I’d have to revise the hell of out it. And two, I’d need to visit Louisiana and walk around in the bayou and refresh my childhood memories of the place. And both endeavors would involve more research, just to cover my bases.

I tinkered with the book off and on over the years, but last summer, in 2012, I finally got around to revising the novel wholesale, and while I worked on it, I sat down to stacks and stacks of books. For my first draft, I was overseas, where the libraries didn’t have much on the American Civil War (why would they?), so I relied heavily on internet research and emails to librarians and other experts. But this time, I was in the States, and I finally had access to those holy tomes, the dusty old books in the stacks. And boy, did I read.

That research fleshed out what was missing in the novel, and the revision that resulted was more or less perfect. There were still a handful of what I considered minor details that I’d want to check against the actual region, and I wanted to hit the public library in Cameron, Louisiana to pick up any local material my own nearby libraries wouldn’t have. But that was about it — I mostly wanted to make my trip to Louisiana so I could walk in the world of my novel and make sure it all felt real.

And I did. And it was amazing. (I’ll write about that later this week.)

But in the library, I also wound up reading another dozen books or so, and I was finding such great material that I drove up to Lake Charles and hit the library there as well. In all, I made my way through 20 more books on local history, culture, language, folklore, weather, and so on.

(I showed the list to my students, who are writing research papers right now, because I wanted them to know I was down in the trenches with them, doing research of my own. They collectively gasped. One said, “Are you kidding me with that?” I said, “Nope. This is what you all should be doing. This is what your research should look like.”)

So, here, all compiled into one epic list, are the sources I looked at while writing, revising, and double-checking my novel, including both print and web resources. Looking back, these 70 or so sources seem like a hell of a lot of reading, and it was, but bear in mind that I started this three and a half years ago. Also bear in mind that when I was in high school, I was planning to get a history degree before I switched to English in college, and I still love reading this stuff. I know a lot of writers who hate doing research, and I get why, but no kidding, this is fun for me.

Anyway, here’s the giant list of stuff I read for the novel:


* I haven’t actually read Gay Gomez’s two books yet, though I browsed one of them in the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center. But I met Gomez at that visitor center, where she was volunteering, and we talked about her books and the region for a while. They’re on this list because it’s a working bibliography, because I do plan to read them soon, and because I got to meet the author, who was generous and friendly.


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8 thoughts on “Louisiana research trip: the bibliography

      1. It’s firmly deep SW — the western edge of the story is Johnson Bayou, the eastern edge is Cameron (then called Leesburg), and the northern edge is somewhere just south of what is today I-10. So while I did get as far east as Lafayette during my trip down there, and I visited family up near Deridder, that smaller region was my “home base” during the trip.

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