This photo was taken last year sometime, but it seems to be appropriate for today as well - quite honestly, it looks almost the same, just not quite as dark. It reminds me of writing historical fiction. Things look the same, but aren't the same. Things that you know existed didn't. So, here I am to tell you of some of my favorite problems for my most current novel.
Background: the novel for January 2013, has no title yet other than Mob Rules. Its setting is Buffalo, NY December 1919. A mob boss has died, and the two main characters are in on the investigation.
Simple. Not only do I have the ability to research my own backyard, but it is a time period that I actually enjoy studying.
Problems abound from the beginning. Some of these problems are more because I am not from Buffalo, though. For example, I had the hardest time finding the old county/city hall. Now, everyone in Buffalo probably would just tell me where it is, surprised I didn't know. Other items:
- Buffalo's current skyline did not exist as such in 1919/1920.
- City Hall - the bedrock of the community; the iconic Art Deco building of Niagara Square - was not built until the 1930s. The old city/county hall is about a block and a half away.
- Niagara Square - the current shape was not present until after 1920.
- Sports teams. I know the current sports teams - they've been there for ages. The football teams of the 1920s had at least four different names, various owners and various leagues.
- The Peace Bridge - it did not exist until the late 1920s (a freight bridge did exist, though).
- Buffalo had several newspapers at the time, so I have plenty of available sources. Actually, the entire area of Western New York had a variety of newspapers.
- Stuck as it is between Toronto, Chicago and NYC, Buffalo has similar problems when discussing Prohibition. In just a cursory research of Buffalo's history in the 1920s, I found that I had more than enough information to work with in a series. Let me just say that the mayor of Buffalo owned a brewery before Prohibition.
- While Prohibition is the main topic during the 1920s, there were other things going on in the city that lend fodder for a mystery series: Socialists, KKK, and serial murders (some still unsolved).
- Photographs do abound. I found a 1911/1912 skyline of Buffalo that would have been similar to the 1919 time period, though one of the larger buildings had been torn down in 1919.
- Locals - both in Buffalo and Western New York have a great deal of pride in their territory. Historians have much information to share. Expanding the scope of the series even a little will not be difficult.
When you've done research for a new book, have you discovered some interesting facts? Have you been frustrated by what you cannot find?