Research Rant

Posted by on Aug 5, 2015 in A Writer's Life, Books, research | 3 comments

what if I told you
I pride myself on making my novels as factually accurate as possible (though sometimes I know the facts but end up switching them around a bit to better suit the story).

Towards that end, I recently read Empire of Shadows, which covers the early exploration of Yellowstone (before it became a National Park). Not because I’m interested in Yellowstone, per se (though it is a fascinating place, and I’d love to go back there), but rather because a big chunk of the book dealt with the 2nd Cavalry and Fort Ellis, MT, in the 1870s. That’s why I was reading the book in the first place: finding good information on those two topics is very difficult and I’ve learned how to glean info from sources that are only tangential to my own story. 560 some-odd pages and tons of endnotes later, I had some nice, useful chunks of facts.

But then I found an error his editor should have caught. The only reason I recognized it as an error was that one of the specific pieces of info I was looking for was who was the post commander of Fort Ellis in 1873.

The book said this:

  • Col. Albert Brackett was the first commander of Fort Ellis (at least, when the 2nd Cav was there). He was in charge from July-December 1869. (p. 189-213)
  • Col. Eugene Baker took his place, and was transferred in January 1873 (p. 213-373)
  • His immediate replacement was Col. Nelson Sweitzer (p. 388).
  • Sweitzer was followed by Major James Brisbin in February of 1876 (also p. 388)

HOWEVER, in the back of the book is the Dramatis Personae section, which consists of short bios of “major” characters in the the book.
Here it says:

  • Eugene Baker was commanding officer of Fort Ellis 1869-1872. December 1872/January 1873–close enough.
  • James Brisbin’s entry states: “Third commanding officer of Fort Ellis (from 1872 to 1876)…” Hold on a minute. Sweitzer was the third commanding officer, and those were (roughly) his years in command, not Brisbin’s.

When I found this contradiction, I couldn’t double check Sweitzer’s entry because 1. I didn’t photocopy it and 2. I had already returned the book to the library. I did, however, check his entry in Cullum’s Register (an index of all the graduates of West Point), which confirmed that he was in charge of Fort Ellis from March 27, 1873 through September 12, 1875. A bit later I did a search on Google Books and managed to find the Dramatis Personae section online. Not that it did any good–Sweitzer isn’t even listed. Not important enough, I guess.


The bottom line is, this supposedly highly researched, professionally edited book of non-fiction had a glaring error in the facts it presented.

It really, really irritates me when this happens. Why? Because if this piece of information was incorrect, what other information is also incorrect? How can I trust what the author has stated as fact? Usually I don’t have access to the same primary sources that the author used, so I can’t double-check the information.

This same scenario happened in a book on Fort D.A. Russell (Cheyenne, WY) that I was using for research on my previous novel (A Great Wide Nowhere). Here the author stated that the post commander died while in charge of the fort. Cool, I thought. That’s something that would greatly impact my characters. I wonder if his wife and children were with him at the time? So I went digging for more info (again, Cullum’s Register came to the rescue). I found out that not only did he not die at Fort Russell, he’d died 20 years later on the other side of the country. That’s a pretty big factual error there. (Side note: Turned out that I couldn’t use Fort Russell as the setting at all–too many other issues with it. Fort Sanders was a much better choice.)

Yes, I know it is highly unlikely that any of my readers would ever know (or care) if I got the post commander wrong.

Still, I would know, and I care.

It's only fair to share...Pin on Pinterest
0Share on Facebook
0Tweet about this on Twitter


  1. I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely loved your books and look forward to your next one. I love how you have entwined fantasy with civil war romance and historical western romance. I am curious if you are planning on a sequel to A Great Wide Nowhere? I would love to see a story about Lt. Steele and the Half Breed Ho’nehe.

    • Hello Brenda!

      Thank you! It is always a huge encouragement to hear from readers who enjoyed my work.

      There is indeed a sequel on its way (hopefully many sequels some day–I have a whole family tree of characters running loose in my head 😀 ). In fact, just this past week I sent another “bridge story” (currently titled Farewell and Goodbye) to my editor for her little red pencil to work its magic on. I’m hoping to have it available around the beginning of October. Just as Bittersweet Days linked An Uncivilized Yankee to A Great Wide Nowhere, this one links Nowhere to the next book.

      As for that book (which I jokingly refer to as “A Thousand Stinkin’ Cows”), I currently have about 106,000 words written (I usually aim for a rough draft of around 120,000 words). I did most of the big plot-point research for it way back in 2013, got a good start, and then had to put my writing aside for a while as real life interfered (dang reality. Gets in the way every time.) Not writing must have annoyed my characters, as they decided en masse to stop talking to me for months and months. It’s only been in the past few weeks that have they have quit sulking and started talking once again.

      Unfortunately, Ho’nehe hasn’t found his way back into any of my storylines. However, Jim Steele (and Jonathan too) will definitely be having plenty of page time 😉

      The current plan is to have Book 3 available by the end of 2015. That assumes my writing output continues to be as fruitful as it has been recently, and that life doesn’t throw me another three or four curveballs in a row, the way it did before 😛 However events may unfold, I’ll definitely try to keep my readers better updated by posting more often here, and on Yankee and Nowhere‘s Facebook pages.

      Meanwhile, be looking for Farewell and Goodbye‘s release!

      Bis spater! (I shan’t say “good-bye”. The short story will explain 😉 )


    • Hello again!

      Farewell and Goodbye, the bridge story connecting A Great Wide Nowhere to The Slow Trail Home (due Winter 2015-16) is now available on Kindle!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.