Reading non-fiction books is a great way to research different time periods, careers or industries. However, nothing beats talking to an expert in order to really get the details of a specific industry or occupation correct. There are a wealth of people for contemporary writers to turn to in order to learn. Who should a historical novelist speak with in an effort to better understand or accurately portray their chosen time period?
Interpretive guides at historical sights are a great resource for historical writers. Interpretive guides are well versed in their time periods and historical facts, and they love to share what they know.
Yorktown when I was there a few years ago. We discussed 18th century medicine and surgical techniques. At the time, I was writing a scene about removing a musket ball from a man's arm. One advantage to speaking with someone about the procedure instead of just reading about it was the ability to ask questions. At the Yorktown surgical tent, different medicine in small jars as well as an array of surgical tools were available to touch. One guide clutched a musket ball in his fist and then had me "extract" the ball using ball forceps. Sounds easy, right? It's not, and I ended up pinching the poor man's hand. The lesson drove home the importance of the patient being awake during the operation to help guide the surgeon, and how a surgeon needed speed to perform the operation with minimal damage. I also learned that vinegar was used as an antiseptic and that the wound probably wouldn't have been sutured. These were important details.
If you enjoyed this post then you will love the history in my books because there is a lot of it.