The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson *Blog Tour* Author post*

  I am delighted to be involved in the blog tour to celebrate the paperback publication of Jacquelyn Benson's debut novel, The Smoke Hunter on November 3rd 2016 by Headline Press


 London, 1898. Archivist Eleanora Mallory discovers a map to a legendary city . But is it the key to unravelling an ancient mystery or a clever hoax?
Compelled to find out, Ellie journeys to Central America – with a merciless enemy hot on her heels.
In a race to uncover the map’s secret first, Ellie is forced to partner with maverick archaeologist Adam Bates, a man she’s not sure she can trust. Together, they venture into an uncharted wilderness alive with smoke and shadows, where an even greater danger awaits them.
 
For what lies there whispering to be unearthed has the power to bring the world to its knees.

Jacquelyn Benson has written a special guest post for Books, Life and Everything on the subject of Researching an Historical Novel.

Welcome to Books, Life and Everything, Jacquelyn.

Jacquelyn:

Researching a historical novel without getting lost in the past

In Star Trek IV, Kirk and company have to pull off a seriously tight maneuver: flying their stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey at the sun, setting a course near enough that they can capture the star’s gravity to use it as a slingshot to throw themselves into the past.
Of course, if they fly too close, they end up getting fried.
Any time a novel delves into the past – even if it’s the past of a place you know and love well today – you’re going to need to research. But researching a historical novel is a bit like maneuvering that starship: there are more resources than ever available at the stroke of a key, providing the geeky writer with a seemingly endless array of material to help you in your mission of immersing readers in a different time. Yet those same resources can all-too-easily turn into an excellent way of neglecting to actually write your damned book.
When I started writing my debut novel, The Smoke Hunter, I didn’t have a clue what life was like in late 19th century British Honduras, or know the ins and outs of Mayan mythology… or any of the myriad other aspects of history, archaeology, and anthropology that came into play in my story. To write it, I needed a system that would let me acquire the knowledge I needed without falling into the Google black hole.
So, I built one: a simple approach to researching a historical novel that tells you when to start reading and – more importantly – when to stop.
Step one: Fuel up your brain
Before you set the first word to the page, you’re going to want to take some time to familiarize yourself with broader aspects of the time and place you’re writing about.
I give myself a set “free reading” period before I start plotting or drafting a book. There’s a start date and a very firm end date. Between those marks on my calendar, I have free reign to explore whatever aspect of the world of my story catches my interest.
For The Smoke Hunter, I hit Google Books to dig up gems like The Handbook of British Honduras and Victorian travelers’ accounts of trekking through Central America full of fabulous details about local accommodations and what sort of canned goods to bring along. I studied up on Central American history, reading the Mayan Popol Vuh , stories from Aztec mythology, and colonial accounts of the search for El Dorado. I watched YouTube videos of modern Belizeans to get a sense of the rhythm of their language and culture and browsed public Flickr albums for pictures of the buildings, people and landscapes.
What I did not do during this first research period was take copious notes. Instead, I paused in my reading only to jot down things I stumbled across that particularly caught my fancy: content I will term here “Awesome Stuff”.  
Awesome Stuff – whether a fascinating account of violently suppressed Mayan uprising in the years before my story took place, or the intriguing coincidence of a mythical city with the same name showing up in the stories of two distinct cultures – got written down and referenced, in case I found an opportunity to work it into the draft of the book.
Step two: Write the damned book
I don’t mean a polished, finished draft. But whether you’re a plotter or a panster, get the story down on paper in some rough form or another.
When engaged in this part of the process, turn off your WiFi. Work in the garden shed. Take a vacation in a remote village in Finland with no library and no internet. Whatever you do, do not let yourself break off for a quick web query to determine what species of bats live in the Cayo district, or how long it would take to travel 60 miles upriver in a paddle-wheel steamboat. When you hit a point in your writing where you recognize a dearth of needed knowledge, make a big fat note of it and move on. Worry less about historical accuracy and more about pacing, plot, and the emotional journeys of your characters.
Step three: Fill things in
Once you’ve got that first draft or sketch under your belt, it’s time to put your research hat back on and fill in the blanks. Take it scene-by-scene, making a list of the places you noted you needed more information, but don’t be shy about adding to that list if you think of new information that might help deepen or enrich the world you’re creating.
With that list in hand, things get – and stay – specific. If you have a note for “find large public monument in Valencia” – search for that, and only that. Find it, record the relevant details, and move on to the next item until you’re done.
Depending on what you’re looking for, you might end up reading modern-day travel blogs, scanning landscapes in Google Earth (I like to pin all the key locations in my story), or scouring Wikipedia. If you need to know what level of knowledge your characters might have of a place or subject, do a Google Books search with a restricted date range to get materials published in and around the time of your setting. If things get really obscure, pay a visit to your local college library and take advantage of their subscription services, like EBSCO and JSTOR. I find I can still pass for a grad student if I carry a latte and look stressed out.
The sole exception where you’re permitted a research detour is if you stumble across another instance of Awesome Stuff. In said public monument in Valencia, for example – which turned out to be the city’s cathedral – I learned about the Holy Chalice, which some have claimed is a candidate for the Holy Grail. Obviously, I needed to dig a bit deeper into that gem and find a way to work it into my story.
Step four: The final polish
The last stage of your research adventure should take place when you’re looking at a manuscript you’re pretty sure is finished. This is when you do your fact-checking: giving the whole book another read and pausing at any point where you find yourself wondering, “Did I really get that right?”
Do whatever digging is necessary to confirm that yes, London’s Public Record Office was a notoriously chilly place, or that there are indeed wild pigs inhabiting the jungles of Belize. Then put a bow on the whole business and congratulate yourself that you have, at this point, produced a complete novel, instead of still mucking about with 19th century immigration trends that you will never, in fact, reference in your story.   
Marianne: Thank you so much, Jacquelyn. I always love hearing how different authors structure their writing and plan their work. Your post is very impressive and enlightening.

My Thoughts

    The Smoke Hunter is certainly an action packed and dynamic story. It is great fun to read and carries you along.  Moving from London to South America, it is vividly described and visually arresting. Mixing adventure with romance, it is a quest story along the lines of Indiana Jones or Rider Haggard. It never takes itself seriously.

    I was most taken with the character of Ellie Mallory, who escapes the confines of London in 1898.  An educated woman and a suffragette, she finds the expectations of society towards young women suffocating and takes the chance to break out of the ordained path set for her. I found her to be a refreshing personality, full of impetuosity and courage. I did find the male hero, Adam, more of a stereotype, but took him with a pinch of salt, carried along with the fun of the story.

    It was interesting to see how skilfully the historical details were woven into the story. It was deftly done and never jarring. Having read Jacquelyn's post on researching historical fiction, I can see that she never lets such detail bog a story down or detract from the action, but keeps the story on the boil. This gives it a dynamic feeling, never stale.

In short: an entertaining adventure, mixing mysterious legends with a well told romance. 

About the Author:

Award nominated playwright, Jacquelyn Benson can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jacquelynbensonauthor. 
You can find out more at her website www.jacquelynbenson.com
Follow her on Twitter @JBheartswords

                                               Check out the rest of the Blog Tour!


  Thanks to Katie Bradburn at Headline Press for a copy of the book and a place on the Blog Tour.

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