The Journey of Writing Historical Fiction

By Ellen Buikema

Poring through his files, I discovered my excellent grannys street address in Wausau, Wisconsin, the cause and date of her death, and where she was buried. I also discovered a marriage certificate for my fantastic auntie revealing she wed in Los Angeles, California. The Hobo Code outgrew all this information, utilizing traditionally precise areas and cultures from Wausau to Los Angeles, and the train drops in between.

On this composing journey, one discussion led to another.

A wonderful group of miniature railway enthusiasts– really more obsessors– had a club housed not far from my house when I lived in Arizona. During the drafting of The Hobo Code, I dropped in the club to chat. I left with a couple of books and several tips for internet searches, and the phone number of a gentleman who used to work on the railroad in Chicago.

Composing historical fiction begins with a base of facts that sit atop the whisper of a story. As a kid, my mom informed me stories about her mom, who was embraced by a rather odd, superstitious female with a child of her own. Mom also mentioned that Grandmas older bro and sister got away from the orphanage and ran away with the assistance of hobos, ultimately discovering their way from the Midwest to the West Coast.

Given that I was unable to travel the path myself, I made liberal usage of Google Earth to inspect for train tracks, waterways, state lines, cities, and train stations. Finding and following those train tracks was a bit tiresome, however accuracy is very important. In one scene my lead character areas hobos atop a train death by the cemetery where their mom had just been buried. Google Earth images, combined with a phone interview with a retired railroad worker, allowed me to be sure of the settings credibility.

Research assistance can come from unexpected sources.

For The Hobo Code I began with my moms stories, then added the details I gathered from genealogical studies, interviews( phone, e-mail, text, along with face to face), Google Earth images, YouTube videos, Pinterest pictures, and document searches.

That guy is now the General Manager for the Union Pacific Historical Society. The amount of details he can recollect in an immediate is remarkable. He assisted me determine the probable path taken thinking about the years of travel and the start and end points.

Nothing pushes the research study for a historical novel forward like live conversations.

My uncle spent much of his retirement either on the golf course or on his computer dealing with genealogy for several branches of the family. He sent me the data which I eventually used in my story.

As soon as I was company on the storys instructions, I called a lot of resources:

6 libraries
5 historic societies
2 historic museums
The owner of a bar in Wausau, Wisconsin.

You cant use whatever.

Everyone I talked with mored than happy to join in the enjoyable. The bar was the Glass Hat, formerly referred to as the Langsdorf Saloon, in Wausau, WI and the owner is Gisela Marks The bar is straight throughout the river from my lead characters household house and the daddy in my story often visited the saloon.

Information like this assistance make the history of your unique come alive. The bar owner saved images of the original ceiling tiles as she d thought about restoring them. Those images were important in setting my scene. To fifteen-year-old Jack, my main lead character, those tiles made him feel that someone was seeing him from that ceiling.

For instance, the gangster John Dillinger frequented the Langsdorf Saloon and was as soon as saved from capture by an employee. This would have been wonderful to consist of. Sadly, my story begins in 1905 when Dillinger was a kid making this an unusable however interesting reality for this story.

Gisela and I went over the bars history at length and it was exceptionally valuable. In one scene, I desired to have music playing and considered either a piano or accordion. During our discussion, I discovered that she discovered a box from an upright piano in the basement when she acquired the bar from her parents. So my scene has the father accompanying a piano player.

Tin ceiling credited to Gisela Marks.

I grew up hearing about the Wild West, thinking it was mostly exaggerations.

Hidden behind decent services prowled Electric Alley, Ogden, Utahs red-light district, known for its opium dens and whorehouses. Dora B. Topham, “Belle London,” was Ogdens the majority of notorious madam. She utilized the London Ice Cream Parlor as a front for among her bordellos, situated on the upper level. Running a whorehouse was one of the few business chances open up to ladies at the time. The locals of Electric Alley were kicked out in 1912, however prohibited activities continued there into the 1950s.

I was wrong. Here are some interesting examples.

The Burnt District of Omaha, Nebraska, was a location of downtown where many of the citys whorehouses were located. Price quotes placed the variety of sex employees at over 1,600. The whorehouses had large windows through which potential customers could look at the acts going on within.

The London Ice Cream Parlor structure still stands. You can buy ice cream and sandwiches there while being haunted by the ghosts of days past.

Final Thoughts

When you read historical fiction, what do you intend to discover? Do you feel its important to use historical figures or does that not matter? What is your preferred historic period to check out about?

The research for a historical book is time consuming, I delighted in every minute of it. The Hobo Code became a journey for me, even as it followed my characters across a big part of the United States. They fulfilled fascinating individuals along the way, and so did I!

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About Ellen

Discover her at or on Amazon.

Author, speaker, and previous instructor, Ellen L. Buikema has composed non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories motivating the development of empathy– spraying humor any place possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historic fiction.

Top photo found on Pinterest


Writing historical fiction starts with a base of realities that sit atop the whisper of a story. Alas, my story begins in 1905 when Dillinger was a young kid making this a fascinating but unusable truth for this story.

The research for a historic novel is time consuming, I took pleasure in every minute of it. When you check out historic fiction, what do you hope to discover? Do you feel its essential to use historic figures or does that not matter?

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